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Sober Yoga Girl Podcast: The Nomadic Addict with Zac Spowart

Hi, friend. This is Alex McRobs, founder of The Mindful Life Practice, and you're listening to the Sober Yoga Girl podcast. I'm a Canadian who moved across the world to the Middle East at age 23, and I never went back. I got sober in 2019, and I now live full-time in Bali, Indonesia. I've made it my mission to help other women around the world stop drinking, start yoga, and change their lives through my online Sober Girls Yoga community. You're not alone, and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how. Hello. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl Podcast. I'm really excited to be sitting here with Zac Spowart. And Zac and I, we weirdly got connected through this girls traveling Facebook group. I posted something about being sober and being in Bali and loving the Middle East. And someone commented who I don't know who it was anymore, being like you sound like my friend who is also sober and also lives in Bali and also lives in the Middle East. And I was like, Okay, I have to meet this person. And so we got connected.

And Zac, I was looking at Zac's social media and it's so cool. So he's created nomadic addict, which is basically an online platform and started a blog that's to promote sober traveling and adventures, which I just think is so amazing and cool. And so I wanted to have him on my show to hear more about his journey and his story and what he does. So welcome, Zac. How are you?

Yeah, Alex, thanks for having me. No, this is awesome. Yeah, when I heard your story and the way that you find out about me and we connected, I was equally intrigued. So really, really glad to connect with you and the work that you're doing. I'm doing great. I'm just happy to be visiting with my folks of all places, even though I'm based out of Bali, like you mentioned, I find myself in sunny California right now. And some time with the family is always a good thing.

Amazing. And I'm also at my family's right now at my mom's house. I'm in my childhood bedroom, which is the podcast studio.

Yeah, the podcast studio. I love it.

And so we were chatting before we started recording the episode, but Zac shared that you're 16 years sober, right?

Yeah, November 28th, 2006 is my marked sobriety date. So I'm 21 years old when I got sober. And say, hey, look at that. It's a really good time to get sober, a really bad time to get sober. But for me, it ended up being a really good time. And to start off, I thought it was the end of the world, but turned out to be the beginning of a whole new world. I guess, #Ariel there, but it was a beautiful, beautiful way of life. Yeah, very, very grateful.

Amazing. Oh, that's awesome. And I was wondering if you could share a little bit about your journey before sobriety. What was your childhood like and your story?

Yeah, for sure. So yeah, I mean, I grew up middle of three kids, older sister, younger brother. I was the first to probably get into some substances, but I was always drawn towards them. I don't know. I was like the good kid drawn towards the bad things, if that makes any sense. There was just that curiosity and intrigue of the mystery of the other side. So the football practices and doing the homework and the rigidity of the good grades and everything was not a super, I wouldn't say super fulfilling. I always had that intrigue. My next door neighbor got me to smoke cigarette when I was 13. And it was just the hidden feeling like a badass or something at the time. I don't know, something about it always grabbed my attention and then wanting to have a little bit of drinks to lean into that. But yeah. So I grew up my dad's a doc, my mom's an artist. I showed you my Art Studio just before this. It's actually where I'm sitting in right now at home here. Great loving people. I don't have a sob story in that regard. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who do.

But my story is not that. I mean, my story was a very loving, caring, providing family that we definitely had our dysfunction. Don't get me wrong, we weren't perfect. But a couple of glass of wine at dinner and all that. There was nothing. There was no major abuse or anything crazy. It was just that. But I struggled a lot with anxiety. And I think that's a huge part of my story that really launched me into a spaceplace of wanting to self-sooth and wanting to find ways to be at peace with myself. Anyway, I start going too far down that road. That was really what kinder led to my drugs and drinking, which I know we'll talk more about on this. But my upbringing was pretty good. A little bit of sibling fights here and there, a little bit of family vacations, that stuff.

Amazing. Thanks for sharing. And so when did you start getting into drinking? What was your teenage years like?

Yeah. So almost went right into that in the last question. But I wanted to leave space for the next one. I was joking with you, Alex, before a short story long with me here, I chat a lot. So I started drinking probably around 15, 16. And when I noticed my anxiety started getting really high, I would get so anxious that I would actually throw up. It was almost like my body's physiological response of the world. Whatever I'm experiencing so much that I can't take it that it's like this release of, I don't know, the burden of life, I guess. For a 15-year-old, it sounds comedic to say in all honesty, I think it's fine to make light of it in some regards, but also to honor anybody else's story that's out there that could be struggling with the same thing. But so much of what was going on was just the lack of awareness of what was happening within my body. And I think if there was anything that I wish, no regrets or whatever, but I wish for anyone out there, I wish for, could have been a little bit more normalized or explained to me at a younger age was just what anxiety felt like and what was going on.

Because it's one thing to be nervous. It's another thing to have crippling or debilitating anxiety that actually... I could literally go to go lock down the hallways in high school and throw up in a trash can or something. That's to the point where it's actually a disability, where it's too... I'm having a hard time just doing daily normal activities. But I made it worse. Drinking made it better, but I also made it worse. And I didn't learn about this until I got sober, too. The laws of physics here, whatever, for every action is equal and opposite reaction. So for as much as I choose to drink down my feelings and suppress those emotions, there's an equal and opposite reaction of that same anxiety that manifests later in terms of panic attacks and what have you. So that was something I didn't learn until later. But definitely from 15 to 21, when I got sober, it was my career drinking. And it was primarily founded upon, A, trying to find a sense of self and leaning into just some degree of like there was a girl at the time that caught my attention that was a big drinker.

That'll happen, right? You're first love and you get caught up in whoever you're attracted to and what they like and trying to conform to that persona. But I'm not a victim of anything, and sobriety teaches me that today, too. That was my own decision to participate in that. But they were serving me. I would drink and my brain would calm down. And I was at peace. So I felt like, oh, cool, I drink and everything's going to be okay. And that lasted for a little bit until it didn't. But that was my only coping mechanism for life. So when we get into chatting about how and why I got sober, that was the main catalyst was the alcohol worked until it didn't. And when it stopped working, it really stopped working. And then something had to shift.

Thanks so much for sharing that. I feel like at this time, even the time when I was growing up and I was a teenager in high school, there just was very little education around mental health. I don't think there was like, I don't think there was anything about mental health in high school. I think I learned about it in university when I had to take a psychology course. Even then, I was only because I was doing a Bachelor of Education, it was like a requirement to get the degree. It wasn't like a common thing. There were so little resources available that you find something that works, which is alcohol, and you're like, Okay, well, this is the answer then, rather than actually get to the root of like, Okay, how can I work with this without a substance?

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And at the time, 15 years old, when this first started happening, I mean, everyone was doing the best they could. It's one of my favorite lines that I learned is, everyone's doing the best they can with what they got. And it really takes the pressure off of just about anybody that I interact with. But my mom and everybody, everyone just wanted to help, including therapists that didn't necessarily know what the right thing was to do or putting me on prescriptive medication. I believe they were all just trying to help me, but getting me on clotapen or some of these benzos that just perpetuated the problem. Now, looking back on it now, it's like everyone was doing the best they could. I do genuinely believe that they all wanted to help. Nobody's at fault. It's just the way that the cookie crumbles as it goes.

Totally. Yeah.


So then what happened over that time between age 15 until 21? How did your drinking accelerate?

Yeah, it was definitely exponential in nature for a bit. I started with just a little bit of drinks here and there, obviously at 15, 16. My parents were pretty strict. They're a little bit old fashioned that way. It was pretty hard to stay out late, live in a relatively remote area. So trying to commute back and forth, it wasn't like you could just walk outside and crawl out of the bedroom window and go to these parties. You're like 20, 30 minutes removed from town. And so it makes a lot of noise coming into the house. And my dad's a light sleeper always on call as a doctor. So it wasn't easy. I had to do a lot of tricks. I remember lining up four, five, six excuses just to buy myself an hour an hour, an hour, an hour just to get myself a little bit of time. But yeah, most of it centered around some hidden opportunities when I could. Eventually, I found myself skipping football practice and doing some of these things to go drink and party with my friends. But the acceleration of the drinking came, I think, synonymously with the acceleration of my anxiety.

And as the anxiety worsens, my desire to drink and calm those nerves also increased as well. And I'm not trying to blame it on the anxiety, but I do recognize that as a large precursor and reason for my use. And it's a big part of my story for that reason. But yeah, and the whole idea of tolerance, needing more to achieve the same desired effect became very real and alive for me of like, okay, I have to drink more to get to the same base. And then the more I drink, the worse I felt. The worse I felt, the worse the anxiety got, the more I needed to drink. So it was this like, again, this perpetual cycle of like, okay, I really need to figure out how I can get this under control. But there was no figuring it out, because, again, like I mentioned, there was any doctor was giving me benzodiazepines, which is a tranquilizer, more or less, or if you're not familiar with that, a calming agent that's prescriptive medicine that's highly addictive and will also make anxiety worse without the medication. So, yeah, I just I would drink more hard liquor than the girlfriend at the time I was dating.

She was really big on that. And so we get together, we drink a lot. And she was the only child who lived in a space where her parents were okay with it. So that was a safe space for me to go and drink. And as long as we didn't leave the house, there were some enabling opportunities, such as life. There's always a will, there's a way you'll find a space to be able to operate the way that I wanted to operate. And so I did that. But as a result, it got worse and worse. And my parents tried some early intervention. They found some hard liquor bottles when I was 16 and I was losing weight because of my anxiety and because I wasn't able to hold down food very well. And I was getting pale and sickly looking at drinking more and being anxious and not really feeling like I wanted to eat a lot because my stomach was so upset. So my mom intervened and tried to get me into a treatment program as early as 16. But a 16-year-old kid who's barely been drinking, I don't know, it was a very, very hard for me to think that I was alcoholic at that age.

It was pretty hard at 21. But by the time it progressed to that point, there was much more there. A couple of DUIs and a minor in possession. I had an accident and injury with my little brother. He had actually fractured his neck in a car accident. And I was responsible for it at 21. Yeah, oh, my goodness, right? I blew a 0.18, I blew a 0.26. And that was a result of just fast forward to the story being on the Benzos, being on the Kalao pin and blocking out of the wheel. I've driven drunk many times. I'm not proud of that. But I told you, I'm an open book because I want people to know that stuff happens. And I'm super blessed, as is everyone else that I came encounter with on the road that I didn't get like nothing worse happened. It's crazy to think that that was who I was. And I take full ownership responsibility for that. And I've done my five-year felony probation. I've done my jail time. I did four months. I had one month at Credit-12, and I served the remaining three months of a house arrest at 21 as part of my sobriety story.

But there was a lot of reparations that had to be given. There was a lot of restitution, as it were, given back to pay my dues. But yeah, that was my story with my little brother and going to jail and blocking out of the wheel. And that was the main catalyst of, like I said before we started the recording, it was almost like my higher power who is a part of my recovery. For those of you listening out there, if that sounds too magical, no worries. I totally get it. But the idea of the universe or something guiding me or something redirecting me or just bad luck, whatever you want to talk it up to, I call it actually good luck, because it redirected me. But pushed me to get sober and led me down this path of a lot of legal interactions at a very young age, which forced me to shift my focus and direction. So I took that question and ran with it. But anyway, it gives you a bit of an idea.

Yeah. Thanks for sharing. Well, thanks for being so vulnerable because I'm sure that some of those things are not easy to share. I'm definitely talking about some of the drinking and driving things. I know that's something that can can be just super vulnerable to share. But I'm sure there's people that are listening who that's part of their story too. And it helps release some of the shame when you hear parts of your story and other people's stories and know that you're not alone in it.

Absolutely. Yeah, I was chatting with the girl recently who just trying to do some sober support. And yeah, she's driving on to the influence with her kids in the car. And the first thing I do to her is like, I don't want to enable the behavior. I don't want to say it's okay, but because that's certainly not anything that I think societyally and understandably, any of us want to accept that that would be a thing. And on the same token and that's also something that people that struggle with alcohol addictions or recognize themselves as alcoholics, it's what we do. And so, yeah, none of what I did was okay. I want to make that very clear. I'm very aware of that. But on the same token, I'm also very aware that I'm grateful that nothing tremendously horrible happened. My brother, by the grace of God, he fractured his C1 and C2 vertebrae, could have easily been paralyzed from the neck down, if not completely passed away. He had a full recovery. And he in and of himself is sober now over 10 years. So we have this dual brotherhood, not just by blood, but also through our sobriety and our recovery, which is pretty rare.

But anyway, I definitely have empathy for people who are going through that because I know deep down, I'm a big believer that deep down or even at the surface, all of us want to be our best selves. All of us want to push the shopping cart back to the spot it's supposed to go. All of us want to pay for someone else's coffee in the Starbucks line or whatever and pay it forward. I really believe that there's so much good that lives within all of us. And it's just tapping into that. And what is our best selves, our higher selves and our higher calling is something that, unfortunately, I think the drugs and drinking robs us of, and it's often times driven by the burdens of life. In the AA, they say life on life's terms. And I don't know, I don't know, maybe that sounds too enabling, but I don't know if that's anybody's fault. There's a lot of societal pressures and there's a lot of baby steps taking us off of the road that we were maybe called towards. We find ourselves way over here one day wondering how we got there. And through responsibilities and obligations and debts and whatever, there's a lot of pressure attached to that.

And I think it's okay to just stop and pause and recognize it like, hey, it's all right. You happen to find yourself in that space. One of my favorite quotes is nothing is good or bad. Nothing is good or bad. It's thinking that makes it so from William Shakespeare, and it's our own attachment to what's occurring that leads to that situation being good or bad. So if we can just honor that space as it doesn't have to be good or bad, it just is then we can operate from a space of like, okay, cool. How can we get ourselves back to where we want to be? Because that's really what it's about. If you want to be over here and you find yourself here, okay, you don't have to be good or bad. It just is you're here. And how can we get baby steps back that way? That's the approach I take with my own self, my own self healing, but also, of course, for other people who are going through what they're going through as well. Okay, there doesn't need to be any shame around that. We just somewhere along the way found ourselves taking these steps, maybe to self soothe, maybe because there were some societal pressures, maybe there are marital or relationship pressures.

We find ourselves in toxic relationships often times, wondering how we are doing these things that we thought we would never do. And one day you wake up and you're here. And it's really just about trying to get back to where you want to be. Yeah.

So when you went through this accident, this must have been, was this the catalyst for you, for your sobriety?

Alex, yeah, I want to say that I woke up and I'm like, oh, my God, I need to change. My life is not going the way that it was supposed to or that I wanted. And this is why I'm okay saying I'm an alcoholic today. Some people are really having aversion to that word, and that's cool. I'm not here to push that word on anybody. You do what you want to do around your own terminology. We talked about sober, curious and alcohol free and whatever. To each his own. I got sober through AA and a sponsor. So excuse me, that's part of my story. But yeah, I think for me, the catalyst was, it was primarily that. But as one of my counselors said, at Hazelden, Betty Ford, which is where I got my addiction counselor degree, gosh, almost like a decade ago now. He used to say he got sober because he had a back problem. And I love that saying because it was like the lawyers were on his back, his parents were on his back, the courts were on his back. It was like he had a back problem, right? And that was my situation.

I didn't wake up at this moment of clarity, this spiritual experience at all. I woke up in jail wondering when I was going to get out. And I remember asking the person like, hey, I don't understand. Why can't I go? The first DUI I woke up and you let me out. How come the second DUI don't get to you? And I remember him just looking at me in the eyes like, dude, you're in jail. It was like to him, it was really simple. You're an idiot. And you got in a car accident that you're responsible for. You shouldn't have done that. And you're in jail now. And I was waking up in the super entitled enabled space of like, release me. I'm free now. I'm sober. I slept through the night in this padded room. It doesn't work that way, man. And I remember beginning to make sense of like, oh, there are consequences, negative consequences for my actions. But sad to say that wasn't the major catalyst, although it was in some degree, the very first thing I did when I was released from jail was another guy that had a DUI that was released at the same time.

We walked right across the street. We got a couple of 40s and we drank. And then I called my parents and I said, oh, the that no one else to pick me up from jail at the time. And I said, oh, they just released me hours later. You have to come get me. And my parents being the loving borderline codependent, enabling people that they were at the time, of course, drop what they were doing at 2:00 in the morning and came pick me up. But it eventually became the catalyst because of all the legal stuff that I had hanging over me, the consequences of my actions. And that's why I said I'm really grateful for that, because at 21 years old, I I wasn't in a position to get sober. And my life would look drastically different today if it wasn't. So I'm super grateful. But yeah, in some ways, that was the catalyst, but not of my own volition or desire. It was definitely the back problem scenario, the five-year felony probation, I ended up getting a lawyer who was like, hey, you need to go to treatment. You're alcoholic. And me going to treatment and then none of that being enough, I was like, okay, I did inpatient.

I did outpatients. I did three years, no license, the five-year felony, probation, all that stuff. And after that, after one year of living a life sober and not getting in trouble anymore and things being just better, that was my true catalyst. That was when I was like, wow, I can have good relationship with family members. I can have good relationships with friends. I can not be wondering if I'm going to get in trouble when a cop pulls me over. I can do the right thing, quote-unquote, right thing, the legal thing anyways. And this is a possibility. It's funny. It almost never even occurred to me that that was a possibility of a way to live life. I would baby step my way off of the path in some regards. That was the catalyst. All of that hanging over my head and a long winded answer for your question.

Yeah, thanks for sharing. Wow, you just went through so much at such a young age, leading up to that the moment in which you got sober.

Yeah, I think so. Thanks for pointing that out. Yeah, I think it was a lot, but I think we all also go through a lot. Again, because like we talked about before, it's like everyone has their journey, everyone has their story. For some people, it's going to look drastically different around their familial brain, the way that they're brought up, trauma, abuse, physical, domestic, sexual. There's all sorts of different ways. Some people completely take an advantage of financially. Some of it's all the above. Some of it's none of the above. Some people are just like, hey, drinking was something I enjoyed and it worked. And then one day it just stopped and I started losing friends. And we're all part of the same club, I guess, of like, hey, we just are looking to live life in a better way, I think. Maybe not even better, because it goes against the whole good or bad thing. It's just, I don't know. For me, like we talked about before the show, it's just I just am really about promoting, living the life you want to live today. Itried so, so big on, tomorrow is not promised. And that doesn't mean to live foolishly, right?

Of course, we have our responsibilities. We have our obligations. If you have children, you've got to save money and you've got to pay for their schools, you've got all that stuff. And there is this element of waiting until one day I will do this. One day I will do that. And that just for today saying really hits home for me, because tomorrow is never promised. And to draw some of my diving career and my sober diving career into this as an example, a lot of places are being closed down. A lot of animal interactions are being shut down. And opportunities to do some of these dives are disappearing. And an opportunities to engage in these wonderful experiences are disappearing. I had a really incredible borderline, if not complete spiritual experience diving with sperm whales in the island of Dominica in the Caribbean. And I'm in a friend of mine who was asking me about it. I started helping them look into permits, and they're already heavily regulating that. And it was pretty regulated. But they're getting it to a point where as early as 2024, the common person like me and you, unless you're involved with National Geographic or something, might not be able to do that ever again.

Isuagadalupe, which is a place we used to go the best location they had to study great white shark behavior. They were doing tons of ocean conservation and awareness around that. They shut that down as of 2020 or 2021, can no longer go and have those experiences anymore. And you can name off a ton of things. This is just my ocean conservationist awareness piece of it. But there are small examples of it's very easy to think like, I'm going to go do that one day. And I can't do it this year, but I'll do it in two years when I have more money or when my kids are in school or when I'm out of the relationship, whatever the example is. When I finish this career. And so much of my recovery has taught me that don't live foolishly, but live opportunistically, for sure, around like, hey, just for today, tomorrow's never promised. And pay attention to those universal cues like, I'm here today. What does here for me look like? And what can I embrace in this moment that is given? I was long winded.

No, I love your long winded answers. You dropped so much wisdom in your shares. And I was thinking as you were sharing, I was like, gosh, there's so many things you've shared that make me think of components of yoga philosophy.

Yeah, totally.

Yeah. Are you a yogi? Have you looked at yoga philosophy or do you know a little bit about it?

A little bit of yoga exposure. I need to do more, to be honest. I did triathlons for a bit, and yoga helps prevent a lot of injuries. And then when I stopped doing the triathlons, I stopped doing yoga. But I have leaned a lot into breathworks and meditation, mindfulness, which are in the pranayama, things of that nature, a lot of breathworks, orientation. So there is the overlap there. I would like my dad and I were just talking about this earlier today over coffee this morning, but I would like to get more into the stretching and the yoga. I've done some of that because the benefits of that are tremendous. I stand by 100 %. I'm a little bit of a hypocrite there because I'm not actively practicing.