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The Intersection of Desperation and Grace with Nancy McKay

In this episode, I sit down with Nancy McKay and hear her inspiring sober journey. Nancy McKay is a life coach who helps women find their voice and build their courage. She is the founder of Amazing Outlook Coaching and works with women virtually and with the help of horses to uncover the limiting beliefs and behaviors that are keeping them stuck in the muck.

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Intro: Welcome to the "Sober Yoga Girl" podcast with Alex McRobs, international yoga teacher and sober coach. I broke up with booze for good in 2019. And now I'm here to help others do the same. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.

Alex: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl. I am delighted to have Nancy McKay sitting with me here today. And Nancy is all the way in Colorado. So on the other side of the world. And Nancy is a Resilient and Recovery Specialist. So welcome, Nancy. How are you?

Nancy: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Alex: Nice to have you. And nice to meet you.

Nancy: Nice to meet you, too.

Alex: So tell me a bit about yourself. I know that you're based in Colorado, but tell me what else kind of makes you unique.

Nancy: Well, let's see. It is so nice to be here, Alex, and I appreciate the opportunity. I grew up in Colorado, so I've been here all of my life with the exception of four years spent in the Pacific Northwest, which really feels like home to me. It's a very odd thing when I landed in Portland in 1987, I felt like I was going home for the very first time. And unfortunately, my mother became ill in 1991, and I moved back to Denver at that time for you know, moral support and so on and so forth and never really intended to stay. But I have. I've spent most of my life here, and I was raised in a high functioning alcoholic household, and as a result of that, you know, there was a level of trauma just by not--you know my parents, you know, by and large, did a great job. But it's interesting when your parents aren't completely present because they're under the influence of alcohol. And so not only was it, I learned to walk on eggshells because you didn't want to upset anyone, right? Because if they were drinking at the time, then that could become volatile. And you know, God forbid, you did anything like that. But also you learned that--or at least I learned that I couldn't really depend on my parents. You know, when the chips were down, and I had a few instances where I needed them, and they could not be there physically or emotionally. And so when that happens, that sets you up for a high-stress baseline, I guess that's kind of what I'm trying to say. And so I never felt at home there because I never felt like I could really relax, you know. I felt like I was always on guard, you know. And it was uneasy. You know, it was how I know a lot of people grew up, you know, and I'm not saying that I didn't grow up in a loving household. But to have your parents not be present literally and figuratively is a traumatic difficulty. And you know, again, I wasn't beaten. But it's interesting how people relay trauma to really big violent situations you know, like war or physical abuse or you know, rape or big things, and trauma can be much more subtle and take place over a period of time and have a very debilitating effect. And so you know, that's what happened to me. And I learned a lot about this just by reading recently Oprah Winfrey, her book with Dr. Bruce Perry about trauma. And the title of that book is “What Happened To You?”, and it's a fascinating book, and it gave me a glimpse into how my childhood affected my life. And that's one of the reasons I also became an alcoholic. You know, not only was it in my genes, but it was how I learned how to cope with the fact that I was uncomfortable in my own skin, and I didn't know how to depend on myself, let alone anybody else. It was a very convenient coping tool. You know, so I started drinking in high school and not heavily, you know, just on the weekends for a thing, but the trajectory of it, it wasn't automatic. I've heard a lot of alcoholics tell their stories and many will say you know, from the first time I had a drink, I was off to the races. You know, I was a blackout drinker from day one, you know and blah, blah, blah. And that wasn't my experience, my experience from the time I think I was 16 or 17 when I started drinking, and I was 52 when I quit. And so it took a long time for it to get out of hand.

Alex: Right.

Nancy: But out of hand, it did get.

Alex: So tell me about that. How did your drinking escalate over time?

Nancy: So when I was in my 30s when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I remember distinctly, one evening, I think I've had company over the weekend. I think maybe I had a dinner party or something, and I may not remember exactly that, but I do remember the first time I poured myself a glass of wine by myself. One of the questions you know is if you think you have a drinking problem, are you drinking alone? It's one of those questions. And I thought I'm pouring myself a glass of wine. I'm by myself. I'm not socializing. Do I have a problem? And that was the first time that that thought entered my mind. During that period of time, those four years that I was in the Pacific Northwest, I was definitely drinking more. I was drinking in more risky ways. I didn't have as much accountability. And so you know, I made some stupid choices and under the influence of alcohol and so you know, touch wood, I'm still here. I didn't die at that point. And I tried a few times, you know, but at that point, I was partying hard. And then I moved back home and you know, things tapered off because I was more responsible. Now I was one of my mother's caregivers and that sort of thing. And so, you know, I put on my big girl panties, and I was still drinking. But I was being very responsible about it and so on and so forth. And then meanwhile, my father is getting sicker and sicker in his alcoholism as my mom is getting sicker and sicker with cancer. And my dad finally decided that he needed help about three months before my mom died, and amazingly, I took him to the ER to detox, and amazingly, he stayed sober for three years while he was grieving the death of my mom, which is miraculous. It was nothing short of a miracle. And then you know, he got the idea in his head that he had been dry really long enough, and he could probably go ahead and drink again without you know, the wheels falling off, which of course, didn't happen. The wheels fell off in a pretty short period of time, like within six months. You know back to rehab, we went, and that happened a few times. And then he ended up killing himself in March of 2007. And that threw my drinking into overdrive. I went down the rabbit hole of guilt, and I felt like I should have been there for him. You know, I should have seen the signs. And I just felt guilty as hell. And my drinking really took off. And it took two years for me to get into the same position that he was in. And one night after happy hour, my husband and I got home and I-- before we had left, I'd finished off a little bit of Chardonnay that was in the wine bottle in the refrigerator, and I forgot to you know, give him the heads up. When we were on our way home. We need to stop and get some more wine. And when we got home, I was just like, damn it, we forgot to stop and get wine. And he said, well, I think you've had enough. And those five words just threw me into a tailspin. And I went into the bedroom and slammed the door and proceeded to have one hell of a pity party. And that shifted into a very melancholy, everybody would be better off without me frame of mind, and I got my husband's handgun out of the nightstand and put it to my head and the damn thing wouldn't fire, and I realized that I couldn't figure it out. You know, I was drunk enough that I wasn't thinking clearly, and I almost called my husband into the room to have him help me. You know, what is wrong with this damn gun sort of thing? Then I realized, oh, it's the safety. As soon as I took the safety off, the gun fired. Unfortunately, it wasn't pointed at my head. So the only thing that got shot was an innocent pillow on the bed.

Alex: Oh, my God.

Nancy: And that ended my drinking. Right there, as I like to say. And I've titled a chapter in a book about it that I was standing at “The Intersection of Desperation and Grace”. You know, something saved me, and I knew that I could never drink safely again. And so as much as I didn't want to because I felt like it was the most demoralizing thing ever would be to have to go to AA. I called one of my neighbors who had been watching my progression and alcoholism go, and she had left me little breadcrumbs. You know, you can always ask me for help. So I called her the next day and said, I need help. And she took me to my first couple of meetings, and my last drink was on Friday, the 13th March 2009.

Alex: Wow. What a story.

Nancy: Yeah, I have to say it's a pretty good story. You know, it's a powerful story, and it's one that I hope by my telling it, people won't have to get to that point, and they will understand what alcohol is doing to them before they almost lose their lives over it. And you know, we all need to understand that alcohol is poison. It really is a poison, and it's marketed not to be a poison. And when we ingest it, it affects our brain matter, and it affects how we think. It lowers our inhibitions. It increases our risk-taking. And that has been proven time and time and time and time and time again with my own behavior. I mean, I did things that I would never consider doing in a sober state of mind while I was drunk. And I mean, really and truly, I've been so lucky that I never died doing any of those stupid, stupid things up until the last really stupid thing I pulled. And that was the gun. It's really important for people in general, but women specifically, to understand how the alcohol companies are you know, have you in their sights, as far as marketing goes, and making sure that you know, that life isn't worth living unless you've got a glass of champagne or something in your hand, you know, a beautiful glass of wine you know, that is dewy on the outside, and just they romanticize the hell out of it. And they don't want to take any responsibility for the consequences and the lives that are being lost every year from the results of alcohol and you know, alcoholism, let alone people getting behind the wheel of a car, which I did many times. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I did it many times and you know, never got a DUI. You know, I never suffered any consequences other than my own, my shame and guilt and self-hatred for not being able to manage something that I thought was manageable. That I had used to you know, argue with my parents about you know, how come you can't stop after just one or two. Now I understood that because that was me. You know, it was like, okay, now I get it. But I didn't understand what that was until after I got sober and started my recovery process.

Alex: So what did your recovery process look like? You said you went to AA. Were there any other tools that you used?

Nancy: Not really. I mean, I read a lot. The day after Friday the 13th, I sat on my patio drinking lots of coffee and smoking lots of Marlboro lights, and reading every book I had purchased up to that point about drinking. Because you know, I knew I had a problem for a long time, but I never read any of those books because they scared the hell out of me. You know, it's like, oh, now I've got the information. Now I need to quit. It's like I wasn't ready to quit. And so I gathered all those books and I sat on my patio and I read all day long and understood that I have a problem that can be corrected. You know, there is a solution, and it's not at the bottom of a bottle of Chardonnay. As I said, I was full of shame and guilt, and especially because I had tried to kill myself. But also there was this little glimmer of hope that things could get better. And so I went to AA every day for over a year. I got a sponsor. I did what I was told. You know, I did the steps and all the things, right. And then I got a really good job after about I think I was 13 months, little over a year sober, got a really good job, started slacking off on my meetings a little bit. You know, I went to a few downtowns, and then I found a new homegroup that I started going to every Saturday morning, religiously for years, and made some incredible friends and that I still have to this day. I mean, I'm very connected. But the one thing that struck me is that you know, AA saved my life and it's an incredible organization, and it wouldn't still be around you know, almost 100 years later if it didn't work. So it works. You know, there's no question if you work the program, you can get and stay sober. However, I feel like the anonymity of the program, which is at its core, at its foundation and I respect that. Except for the fact that I feel like the anonymity keeps the stigma alive. And the stigma kept me drunk for a long time because I didn't want to admit that I was an alcoholic, that I went to these meetings, I was ashamed of being in AA, and for me, it was like okay, I was afraid that people would find out that I was an alcoholic. That I went to AA. Then I started realizing that also we're only as sick as our secrets, you know. And so if I've got a secret like that, that's going to gnaw at me. And something like that could make me drink again.

Alex: Right.

Nancy: You know, now that I have you know, 12 and a half years of sobriety behind me. Now I've got lots of coach training behind me that really emphasizes mindset and how our thoughts create our reality. You know, my mission is to shatter the stigma of alcoholism and addiction and to really make people aware that drinking is an abnormality. And being in a sober state of mind is how we were created. You know, we don't have to drink to have fun. That was the first thought that I had when I realized that I couldn't drink anymore. I was like, okay, well, no more fun for me. You know, that's it. I will never have fun again. And that's a load of bs. And so it's just helping people understand that. And you know, if you're a normal drinker, you know, that's fabulous. And I vaguely remember the days of being a normal drinker because I think I have that genetic gene. But I also know that if you have a problem and you're looking over your shoulder, hoping that nobody figures that out. Then that's something that you really want to look at. And you know, the question is, why don't you want anyone to figure that out? And what is it about that? You know, what is it about your overdrinking that worries you? And if you're worried why? And if you think you might have a problem, you probably do, because normal drinkers don't wonder if they have a drinking problem. It doesn't even cross their mind. Right?

Alex: Right.

Nancy: And so when we get to the point where we think, I wonder if, yeah, you probably do have a problem. And that's the time to address it. Not when you have a gun pointed at your head. And so you know, in my effort to shatter the stigma and help women understand that there is a better way and that they don't have to be a prisoner in their mind and be obsessed with alcohol. They don't have to live that way. And that's a hell of a way to live. I mean, it's just you know, being in that obsession. When do I get to drink? What time is it? You know, it's got to be 4:00 somewhere. What do I get to drink? When do I get to drink it? And for how long? And I'm awfully glad I don't live that way anymore.

Alex: Tell me about how you got into coaching. How did you become a coach?

Nancy: So about six years after I got sober, I was still in this wonderful job and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on my 58th birthday. I was fortunate. I was very fortunate that they caught it early. I had you know, several months earlier, I had doubled over in pain thinking I was having an appendicitis attack, and they said it was a fibroid tumor at that point, I don't believe that that was the case, but at any rate. So a few months later, we did another ultrasound and, turned out that it was a mass. And so on my birthday, I had surgery. It was either my birthday or my husband's birthday. So I decided to you know, take one for the team and have surgery on my birthday. And I had stage one C. Ovarian cancer, which is very rare that they catch that early. Ovarian cancer is a very deadly disease because usually by the time they catch it, you're in stage three or four, and that's not good. So they caught it early. I went through six rounds of chemo, kind of as an insurance policy. I realized a few things going through chemo. A, how lucky I was, B, how many people really cared about me, which I wasn't really aware of. And after a while, my perspective on life began to change, and I wasn't happy in my job anymore. I kind of had hit the limit of where I could go, and my mantra became I didn't get sober and survived cancer to be miserable. And so I had been doing a bunch of reading and personal development. I'd been studying Renee Brown. And then I came across Martha Beck, who I'd read before her column in Oprah Winfrey magazine. But I hadn't read any of her books. And then she wrote a book called “Diana, Herself”. It was a work of fiction, which was her first, and it just felt like she wrote it just for me. I felt like the woman in the book was just like me in many ways, and it shifted something for me, and I knew I needed to learn more about that. And so after I went to a workshop that she held in California, I signed up for her coach training program. The year before that, I had actually gone through the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, which was fascinating, but it didn't really help me become a coach. Great information. So then through Martha's class, her coursework, I became a certified Wayfinder Life Coach, and then I became a certified Equus Coach. And so I use horses as co-facilitators to help horses really speed up the process. As far as getting to the root of what's going on and helping people transform. That's my favorite model of coaching to use is working with horses. But you know, coaching and just helping women realize that they can have so much more. The key is to look inside and find your inner wisdom, as Martha likes to say. And so I repeat it. I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know about yourself. If you take the time and get quiet enough to look and look inside and listen to your heart, you have all the answers that you need. I just help you uncover them. And you know, it's just such an honor to work with the clients that I've worked with and you know, hopefully, make a difference for them. And you know, like I said, working with women who are worried about where their life is going because of their drinking is huge for me.

Alex: I have a question for you. If you had any advice for anyone who wanted to quit drinking, what advice would you give?

Nancy: Well, the first thing I would say is don't do it alone, really, you know, for a couple of reasons. One, if you're drinking really heavily, you absolutely shouldn't do it alone. You should do it with medical supervision. You know, if you are drinking 24/7, it will be very dangerous for you to quit. Cold Turkey. Detoxing by yourself is not a good idea. Now, when I quit, you know, I wasn't a 24/7 drinker. I was an everyday drinker, but I usually was able to wait until 4:00 in the afternoon before I started drinking. And then I was in bed by 9:00 at the max, you know. So it was five hours a day. But I was hungover every day and I had the shakes of that I couldn't put my eyeliner on and all of that fun stuff, but I didn't have to detox medically. You know, it was just a matter of you know, I slept a lot for the first couple of weeks, but other than that, you know, I wasn't in any kind of physical danger out of detoxing. So I think the biggest thing that you need to look at is how is detoxing going to affect you? So don't do it alone. And second, you know, the other part of getting help is it's so much easier when you have somebody to talk to about the process. I highly encourage people to join AA because it works you know, and it saved my life. And it's a fabulous program, and I've got some fabulous friends from it. But it's not for everybody. And so if it's not for you, don't keep drinking like I did, you know. I wasn't ready to go to AA, so I kept drinking. I didn't think that there was any other choice. You know, I didn't think there was an alternative. Now, you know, thank God we have sober curious movement. And the Gray Area drinking is people are becoming more and more and more aware of the dangers of alcohol, and the recovery community is exploding because so many people are using alcohol to cope with life's pressures. Right. And so even if AA isn't your cup of tea, there's a lot of resources out there for you to you know, find a community, and so find a community. Call me. You know, I'm happy to help. And then the next thing is, of course, put away the boost, throw it down the drain, get it out of the house, whatever. And really take the time to get to know yourself and be honest with yourself. Maybe for the first time ever, you know, when you look at yourself and you're honest, that's where the magic happens. And that's also where having help is so critical is because having someone walk you through that because some of the stuff that's going to come up is going to really be difficult. And unless you have someone like a sponsor, an AA, or a coach, it's hard to look at some of that stuff.

Alex: Right.

Nancy: And get through it without feeling an incredible amount of shame. You know, this is not a place for shame or judgment or anything else. This is a place for inspiration and congratulations. And you know, you get to start a whole new life now and you know, good for you. It's exciting. You know, it's really exciting.

Alex: Well, Nancy, thank you so much for being on the show. Honestly, your story gave me, like, shivers and goosebumps, and it's so inspiring to see from where you started to where you are now and how you're helping people move through these challenges as well. It's really inspiring. So thank you.

Nancy: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was really nice visiting with you, Alex.

Alex: Nice to chat with you, too. And I hope that we meet again soon in the sober world.

Nancy: Yes, me too.

Alex: All right. Take care, Nancy.

Nancy: Thank you.

Alex: Bye.

Nancy: Bye-bye.

Outro: Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of "Sober Yoga Girl" with Alex McRobs. I am so, so grateful for every one of you. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss the next one and leave a review before you go. See you soon. Bye.