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Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone in Sobriety with Ellen Woods




Ellen Woods is the creator of Sobriety Sisterhood. An American living in France, Ellen has been sober for four years and Alex & Ellen met online during the pandemic! Alex had the great pleasure of being the yoga teacher on Ellen's most recent Bali retreat in November 2022! In this episode they speak about stepping out of your comfort zone in sobriety, overcoming social anxiety and the value of going on a retreat!


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You can check out Ellen's community and offerings here: https://www.sobrietysisterhood.com/. Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/.


Transcript:


Alex: Hi friend this is Alex McRobbs 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.


[Music]


Alex: Hello hello. Hi everyone welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl. I am so excited to be sitting here with Ellen Woods today and Ellen was a guest on the podcast way back in the day. I honestly don't even remember when we did that first connection but since then the journey has evolved so much because Ellen and I actually met in Bali in November. She hosted a retreat here which I got to be the yoga teacher on. Which was so amazing and I'm just so excited to have her here today to hear more about her journey and her story and our thoughts around stepping outside of your comfort zone in sobriety, so welcome Ellen how are you?


Ellen:​​ Thank you very much. I'm really super happy to be here and it like the universe just aligns everything happened in it to make sure that we connected in person in Bali. Um and I was trying to tell somebody today I think it's like two years. It's during the pandemic that you and I connected on into Instagram and I started coming to your classes online and you weren't in Bali then and then when I saw you in Bali I was like Alex can do the the yoga and it was so funny because I hadn't told any of my people that you were doing yoga and they were like oh Alex is in Bali the sober yoga girl is in Bali, I was like yeah Alex is doing all yoga so is it really treat for everybody.


Alex: And it was so amazing for me to connect with other sober women who were not necessarily in my community because I just got such different perspectives and experiences and it was just really cool Fusion to kind of bring different communities and groups together.


Ellen:​​ Yeah 100%. so it was a great time.


Alex: I know I wish we were back there. We were just reminiscing before the episode but we will be soon.


Ellen: We will be,​​ yeah.


Alex: So I was wondering if we could start out with you sharing a little bit about how your sober Journey has evolved in like the past, well maybe you could tell us a little bit about your sober story to begin with. Just in case people haven't heard that first episode you were on and then just a little bit about how your journey has evolved since we last talked?


Ellen: Yeah, I feel like so much has changed in the last kind of 18 months or so. I think since the last podcast but um, I had a what I thought was a great relationship with alcohol. I was a very enthusiastic um drinker like in the UK in the 90s with the whole Alco pups for teenagers. Started drinking in my early teenage years and continued drinking and I never really liked the control that alcohol had over me. However, I had not one adult around me that didn't drink alcohol as far as I was aware unless you were an alcoholic, sobriety wasn't a thing. Um so, it was just something that every adult did and I, I said in my early 20s I didn't like the control it had because although it didn't feel like it was an issue, not drinking was an issue. Um, if I was going somewhere and there was no alcohol. So, I'm not going there and and I used alcohol all the time to celebrate, to commiserate, um children's birthday, parties wherever we went it was all based around alcohol and I got to my mid-30s and started kind of toying with sobriety but more from health and fitness point of view. Um, I have been a coach of some sorts um, to do a behavior change mostly since my early 20s but we were never ever kind of told that sobriety you know, no alcohol really is the best best way forward. Um it was always about controlling and drinking the right kind of drinks to make sure that you're not gaining weight and it's not affecting your training so I started taking breaks from alcohol. Um and then at the end of 2018 I had high blood pressure, high resting heart rate. I looked a certain way which I hated. Um and so I gave up the Dry January and in fact I started a couple of days before because I hated, like I was, I'm done. I'm really done. My brother joined me in the Dry January and I did loads of research about it and I kept on being really aware of what was changing and sleep was one of the major things for me. I realized as I was taking breaks just how much alcohol was affecting my sleep and how great my sleep was when I wasn't drinking. So at the end of the 30 days when I originally had thought I'm going to treat myself to a drink like at the end of the month I was like, who am I kidding? If I'm going to treat myself it's to stop drinking. Um, I never thought it would be long term because alcohol was a huge part of who I was, it was like my identity. I was known as party girl when I had a few drinks and I was a happy drunk person, I never got in any trouble really drinking. Um and yeah here I am four years later with no alcohol and love my sobriety wholeheartedly like there is never a time that I'm missing, feel like, I'm missing out um in not drinking.


Alex: Incredible and Ellen when is your sobriety date? I know I'm sure we've talked about this before but?


Ellen: Um like 28th of December.


Alex: Okay amazing, so you literally you hit four years already, congratulations.


Ellen: Yeah.


Alex: That's amazing.


Ellen: Thank you very much.


Alex: That's incredible.


Ellen: It's um yeah, it's absolutely crazy. I think everyone around me is kind of like huh, how did that happen?


Alex: Yeah.


Ellen: Um and to start off with I had that complete like pink clouds that people talk about. I was just, I used to be yoga yoga is what's going to change the world. Now I'm like sobriety is what's going to change the world. With yoga as well. Um and that sobriety really is that keystone for me. Everything else falls in place if I have sobriety. Um, over the last four years my life has completely changed and in the last two years especially. It's been really, really tough and but, people keep on saying you do not want to have a drink and you're not tempted to to numb out? And I'm like, no it's the last thing on Earth that I feel that I need is to numb out from everything. Yes life is tough but it's tough for lots of people and it's much, much better going through it sober than it is like adding fuel to the fire.


Alex: It's so true and it's so under um, I feel like it's so just misunderstood you know, like and so few people want to attribute like you know, if you're feeling anxious it could be related to even just having one or two drinks like it's you don't even have to drink that much for it to be impacting your mental state and I feel that we always want to put the blame somewhere else when really it's a huge connection.


Ellen: Yeah, absolutely and it's not until I keep on going back. When we were in Bali you mentioned the um ‘the clarity in the contrast’ and I keep on going back to that phrase. Is that, you don't realize until you just try sobriety um, you don't realize how much alcohol affects every area of your life. How you treat your friends and family, how you treat yourself. Um, that social anxiety thing I, I had questioned yesterday like how do you deal with social anxiety if you are not drinking and so many people use alcohol if they're going to an event. Um or they're in a situation that they're uncomfortable with but the reality is I was never comfortable in my own skin when I was drinking alcohol. I would show up, I might make a fool of myself if I was drinking. I certainly during the day wasn't showing up how I thought I would. Um, as a parent, I wasn't showing up as a partner and so when you remove alcohol and you start showing up as your authentic self whatever that is and but you know how you're conducting yourself and you can come away from saying, oh yeah okay I'm happy with that. You kind of, you stop that anxiety to a certain extent and the other thing I stopped doing was going to things that made me feel anxious. Like I started listening to my body if it was screaming at me and my nervous system was like no no no these people are not safe, this place is not safe. Then I stopped going to them.


Alex: Isn't that so interesting. How and and when I think when we hear that like people are not safe or the place isn't safe sometimes it's even just a feeling of like I don't feel um like loved here or appreciated or sometimes it doesn't even have to be like a physical danger thing, it can be like this just doesn't feel like it's like safe for my sort of well-being and you would never notice that while drinking.


Ellen: Absolutely not you, your body talks to you and there are certain people that you're comfortable with and certain people that you're not comfortable with and if you're having to drink alcohol to feel like you fit in maybe you're not comfortable around those people.


Alex: So true.


Ellen: And it's only when you remove alcohol that you can have that space to listen to what your body is telling me. Um when you were doing yoga for us in Bali and you worked through all the chakras, one thing that I really came away with was, with the third eye of ‘I will trust my intuition’ and I keep on going back to that. That's my intention going into this year was ‘I'll Trust my intuition’ if, if somebody is um safe and feels safe for me and that yeah as you say it's not necessarily a fight or flight. I don't think this person is going to beat me up or um and try and stab me it's purely like do I feel comfortable around them? Do I feel that they're not judging me, um and that they're not going to go away and talk about me. You know, all those kinds of things, those little things but my body can tell me those things if I'm able to listen.


Alex: Right? Yeah, so tell me a bit about your journey in like the last 18 months since we lasted the podcast episode, like how has your life been, whatever you feel like sharing that?


Ellen: Oh I'm an open bed and I do, I love sharing about it because I think the more we share it the more we understand that people are going through hard things and that we can do hard things without alcohol and we can do hot things anyway. Um, I think when I did the podcast with you my husband was in hospital um after his first suicide attempt and since then we have um split up and so this was somebody that I was with for 25 years. Since I was 17. So, it's, it's strange because I can like, in my relationship to alcohol with alcohol started when I was like 13 and um and then I was 17 and I got together with my husband so he was very much tied into my identity as well and that kind of codependency between both of us. Um but he has um in his 40s probably when he hit about 40 it became apparent that he was slipping into at the time we thought it was depression. Um and actually he's got really quite serious mental health problems and the pathology of that illness is really uh adapted very quickly and my body was screaming at me like this is not a safe space to be in um and so being sober and being able to kind of recognize that I just yeah couldn't keep on living in that situation. Um, he is still in hospital. Actually, he's been in and out of hospital um, so I had moved house just before that uh taking on a renovation project which with the help of amazing friends have kind of more or less done um and built up the business as well and um had life learning life new things as single mom. Um, whilst yeah navigating what has been mentally like and emotionally a real, real difficult time. Uh, last year was definitely uh really really emotionally difficult. Um, I've never suffered with depression but I could just feel it like nipping at my heels all the time last year. Um, so it's been an interesting time for sure but sobriety has like been my keystone it, whatever else happened I knew that that really was the base that I work from.


Alex: Wow, oh my goodness, I just feel, when you're sharing what you've been through I just, almost get like shivers just thinking of how much you like held on your shoulders for so long and um I've seen like I don't share a lot about this but I've seen something really similar in my mom. Like my mom having to kind of keep it all together and be like the, the person the mom the like, the superhero you know, and, and I just know what that takes and what that draws out and it's just um, I mean I appreciate your vulnerability and sharing and I also just think it's incredible that you come through it all and, and also manage to like support this huge community of women in sobriety at the same time. It's just inspirational.


Ellen: Thank you. It's uh resilience is the word people kind of keep on using or you're so strong. You'll say resilient and I'm like yeah I'm looking forward to time but I don't need to be quite so resilient but I'm thankful that I am. Um, I'm thankful that I am not intoxicated through it. That I have sought out um help with psychotherapists and psychologists when I felt that I've needed it. I, I have great friends who when they have the capacity I do always ask like do you have the capacity for me right now to offload um and yeah and knowing that okay I'm not doing okay and I keep on going back to I'm not doing okay right now but it's okay, this will change. Things will move along.


Alex: And you said that sobriety has been like a keystone habit like, what do you think would be, how would it have been different if you were drinking?


Ellen: Emotionally, I feel like it would have been a like so it was a roller coaster you know, there was a real grief to losing the life that I thought I was going to have and um and for things to take such a drastic turn and for, for my kids like I'm, I'm devastated but my kids don't have both their parents here and how they should have but I feel like those, those valleys and the mountains would have just been so much bigger had I been drinking. I think like, I'm so proud that I can show the kids that they can get through hard things without having to numb out. I'm proud that I can show them that. I can cry sometimes and I can also find joy in everything that we do um and I keep on going back to that yes things are bad at the moment however look at the people who are here helping us like we can go and we can go climbing and we can go paddle boarding. Like, we can do all these cool things to get through today. Yes our nervous systems are kind of like but also we can connect with people and there are things that we can do to bring us joy. So I, I'm really thankful that I can be that kind of um, we show them that also, I, I hate to think things had happened. My husband actually he met somebody whilst he was in hospital as well so it like, it just everything felt like it was going wrong. It was huge, huge kind of um trauma really and I'm just thankful that I'm like okay. I can take a step back and think about what I'm feeling and how I want to go forward. I keep, I always go back to my core values, what are my core values in this? Um, how do I want to present myself because I want to be proud of myself when I come through something. So um, I want to be a safe place for my kids that's the main thing, I want my house to be a safe place for them um and I want to be kind as well. Like my husband ultimately is still ill um and I want him to be well. Unfortunately, illness doesn't work like that but um I want to always act from a place that kindness with, with that and for my kids.


Alex: Wow, you're so um, I just think it's so incredible the way that you're like role modeling you know, well-being and the types of things you're talking about like you know, regulating your nervous system and taking care of yourself and like looking for the helpers like I'm like, I wish I had that kind of conversation when I was like slung and going through like, like some of the challenges that I went through like, I just think that that's um, it's phenomenal.


Ellen: My kids think I'm crazy. Anna's especially, my oldest, she's like oh my God I wish we had a normal mum who doesn't like talk. It's funny as well because I now have a dry house as well from living with somebody who has mental health problems, anyone that does know that you're very unsure of what you're getting from day to day and from moment to moment sometimes. So, everybody in the house was kind of on edge including the dog, the poor dog. Um and so I realized that being around people that drink and when they change that energy shifts I actually don't like that so I don't have alcohol in the house but I do however have lots of sober people coming to the house and we talk so openly like you and I are um but one day I was like is it strange that I only have sober people in the house and that we talk about like you know, how do we navigate this and what's a healthy friendship they're like yeah, it's really odd. Um but Oliver's gone to Motocross this morning and I said to him I'm so happy that I'm able to give you that opportunity to experience like Motocross, he's nine and he was like should I say thank you to that, no no I just want you to know that there's good ways to chase like dopamine and adrenaline and you don't have to drink or take drugs to do that and he's like okay mum.


[Laughs]


Alex: That's amazing, I love that. So, we talked a little bit at the beginning, we were kind of chatting about social anxiety and um sobriety and I was wondering if we could chat a little bit about like the value in taking risks and kind of stepping outside of your comfort zone and sobriety.


Ellen: Yeah, absolutely. So many people think that sobriety is going to be boring.


Alex: Yeah.


Ellen: That's one of the themes that I hear it's like a big fear, what am I going to do when I give up alcohol? Because alcohol has become like the hobby um and it was a driving force for me. I'd realized that actually I had become really boring and I wasn't sure whether I was really boring because I was just drinking or the drink had made me really boring? I, I was like, oh I don't know um but when I gave up alcohol I, it took me a little while and it does take a little while because you need everything to kind of regulate but I started stepping outside my comfort zone and things that I had wanted to do and when I was drinking but never ever had the confidence to I started doing. I, I was doing paddle boarding and climbing um, zip lining, I did a skydive. All these things that I had said I will never ever do, like Oliver with the motorcrafts all of a sudden I was seeking things that were outside my comfort zone and they boosted my self-confidence and when I gave up alcohol it's like I can take on the world because it was something that had such a control over me and not many other people love sobriety like I do or you know, you, you see people feeling like I have to give this up and feeling like I was choosing to give up something that was such a big part of me. Really, really boosted my self-confidence so um I really felt like I could do anything.


Alex: Like going to Bali.


Ellen: Like going to Bali yeah, the retreats. I mean Bali in fact when um when Marie approached me with Bali I was determined that year my intention was like to say yes to everything every opportunity that came my way so when she was like.


Alex: What was that? Was that pre-pandemic? Was that 2019?


Ellen: That was during the pandemic.


Alex: Okay.


Ellen: That was, literally I think the pandemic had um you know, it was like the first couple of months of the pandemic when we thought it would be over by August so.


Alex: Yes.


Ellen: and it kept on getting pushed back and pushed back and, and I'm, I'll be honest until I actually, actually stepped foot outside of the airport in Bali I was like I'm not sure that this is happening.


Alex: Yeah.


Ellen: Um.


Alex: I had it in my calendar so many times that I actually didn't even, I don't even think I had it written down like I didn't even know when you're happening at this point and I said to Marie recently because she recently reach out to me about a September date and I was like, I was like is it Ellen's retreat in September and then I was like I think your retreat was originally in September like the year before so that's why I had this, this month in my head but yeah I totally know what you mean. It just felt like everything was like up in the air.


Ellen: Yeah we really didn't know and um, sober travel, for me sober solo travel um was a huge thing before I gave up alcohol. I had never ever traveled on my own. Um, I was so codependent on everybody else like I didn't have confidence in myself and when I gave up alcohol um I started doing little trips with the kids on my own and then I traveled to New Zealand on my own and met up with my brother. Um and so I traveled halfway around the world and I knew what it did to me like every time you step outside your comfort zone you realize that actually it makes you feel amazing and you achieve something that maybe you've got loads of beer around and there's quite a lot of anxiety but facing the anxiety and achieving stuff and doing it is like fantastic and I really wanted other people to experience that, other women and there's lots of people who've never traveled on their own so being able to offer the retreats and then whilst we're in Bali offering like a safe space for people, it was really really important to me.


Alex: Were there any moments in the Bali retreat in particular that really felt like out of your comfort zone or like anything that really um.


Ellen: Yeah, there was a couple of things. Um, first of all I, I'd um, I'd really asked Marie to go out and find me some good hikes and I really wanted people to uh to experience that hiking's been a big thing for me. Climbing the mountain because that's what it feels like in sobriety, doesn't it? Like this path might feel really uncomfortable and really difficult but look at what you get when you get to the end of it. Like, it is so worth all the hard work. Um, so we went out hiking, we swam in waterfalls and that for me was the day that I fell in love with Bali and I just said to you like it took me a few days. I was like huh and then we went out into the like the jungle and uh trekking it was just absolutely amazing and feeling seeing the joy in the other women's faces of being completely outside their comfort zone and being able to help them. I'm a personal trainer by trade so like it's nice to go back to that. It's just one foot in front of the other, you just worry about the here and now not the climb that's to come and going back and helping them with that, I loved that and also the cookery class there's something so therapeutic for me in community all cooking together and nourishing each other and sitting and talking and eating together I absolutely love that as the breakfast. oh my God the juice at this,