Updated: Aug 23, 2021
I'm super excited to have Jeff Graham on the show today! Jeff is a new member of the Mindful Life Practice, so you've probably met him in classes. He's also the host of Getting BAC 2 Zero. In this episode, Jeff describes his challenges with anxiety, and how he used alcohol to medicate his anxiety - but alcohol only made it worse, not better. He finally drove himself to rehab in November of 2019 and has been sober ever since. In this episode he tells his story and also shares what a positive impact joining The Mindful Life Practice and Sober Curious Yoga has had on his life.
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Catch Jeff on his show, Getting BAC 2 Zero, here. https://www.gettingBAC2zero.com. Join me and Jeff in yoga classes at www.themindfullifepractice.com! Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/live-schedule.
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: All right, hello, everyone, welcome back to another episode of “Sober Yoga Girl”. I am super excited to have Jeff G. with me here today on the show. And Jeff is the host of “Getting BAC 2 Zero”. And if you're part of The Mindful Life Practice, you need--you probably met him because he joined us in the past week. And I know it's like super late right now. It's 1:30 A.M. Eastern Standard Time for Jeff, but he's here on the show, which is amazing. So welcome, Jeff.
Jeff: Well, I'm such a partier and wild man that you know, I'm always up this late on a Saturday night. No this is good. It gave me a reason to get some stuff done in the office. So plus I'm still a little bit partially in traction from taking your classes all week. My body's going, what the hell are you doing to me? But it's all good. I'm having fun with it.
Alex: Awesome. We're so happy you joined.
Jeff: Yeah, it's-- the classes are great. The instruction is great. My biggest thing is I feel safe in the classes, which is nice because I was really afraid or nervous that I was going to get asked to put foot behind head and then lift you know, all these other things that are obviously aren't going to work. But no, it was great. The instruction has been fantastic. It's been fun. And I'm at that stage where I'm not doing them right yet, but I'm doing them and I'm seeing that there's so much opportunity for improvement. I'm really excited about it. Very motivated.
Alex: Awesome. Well--
Jeff: And I balanced for like three seconds the other day on one foot. Yes. Well, that includes the time falling to the floor, but that was still. It was three seconds before impact. So that's a new record.
Alex: That's amazing. And I know that was something you mentioned. The balance is something that you knew was going to be like a challenge for you.
Jeff: Well, as I get-- I'm 57 and I know that the two things that are going to get me as I age are going to be flexibility and balance. Those are the two that I could see with my dad and just what I know about my body. So those are the things versus I've been such a-- well, not a weightlifter, but I've always been that kind of everything's been strength my whole life with football and some of the other sports that I did, and it's time to let a lot of that go when I got to start working on the flexibility and balance. So that's good. I'm really excited about it though. It's fun.
Alex: Yeah. Well, let's get into-- I want to know more about you. Like, tell me about your background. So you've mentioned that you played lots of sports, lots of football. I see all your sports memorabilia in the background. So let's start off with you. Just kind of tell me a bit about you.
Jeff: Well, I grew up in the States, Northern California, and ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio. To play well, for college here and met my college sweetheart on my recruiting trip to the city and 30-- well four years of dating and 31 years of marriage, we agreed we were going to move 24 hundred miles back to Sacramento. And we now live point two miles from her parents. So you can guess who won that battle. But-- so Cincinnati's been home. And yeah, I love it, it's great. Midwest. I like the culture out here and the people. It's a good pace for me.
Alex: And we have-- I don't know if you’ve meet Leigh yet, but Leigh is also-- I think Leigh is also in Cincinnati or maybe Cleveland anyway. She's in our Sober Yoga community.
Jeff: Yeah. I did meet her. Yeah, I just-- I think I don't know, two days ago I talked with her and doesn't live too far away. We actually know a couple of the same people which is crazy.
Alex: Oh my God. That's so crazy. It’s the coolest thing about this community is like it's so global and yet there's like all these little pockets of little mini communities around the world, which is well--
Jeff: That's the other thing. The way you have the community, part of the chat, set up very welcoming in the group. And it's immediately feeling a part of the family, which is really nice as well.
Alex: Yeah, it’s awesome. So tell me about your drinking. Like when did you start drinking and kind of what shape that?
Jeff: Well, mine is-- I started the usual. For me it was late high school and strictly for fun, which it was. But I've always been a kid that was shy. Didn't-- I've never felt like I fully fit in, and if you ever played softball, the last person picked on the team got stuck in right field. And that's how I kind of felt my life was that I was right field on the softball team of life. And even in football, being a big guy, I was stuck on the line. And the offensive line is one of those positions where as much as I loved it, it was still the-- okay, you're not going to touch the ball, you're not going to score the touchdown. You're not going to get the girl. But you're kind of large. And so I'm going to let you just run into another guy on the other team and you just kind of flop around with him and stay out of our way. And then you can that way you can be on the team. So I always felt like I never fully was a part of life. I think drinking really helped that. But it was when I-- in 1990 I was I guess 26 and we just got married. We were pregnant with our first. I was starting my first real job. We just bought a car and I was home visiting my folks, telling them that I was not going to be moving back home, I was going to stay across the United States from them and I was driving to see a buddy and I got floored with a panic attack. Like I had never even-- I didn't even know what anxiety was. I knew what, I guess shyness or some of those things. But I got a full blown panic attack that completely changed my life. It was-- well, scariest thing, I thought I was dying, of course, and it started out that was a roller coaster of anxiety for the next 30 years. And I found, I've done everything known to man, including of you know, prescription medicine, but self-hypnosis, relaxation, exercise, visualization, tapping. I've watched lights go back and forth across bars. The only thing that ever worked to really deal with my anxiety was alcohol. And on that day in 1990, that's when-- that was when alcohol turned from being fun to-- it was fun, but it also became medicinal. And the best medicine in the world took me 30 years before I realized that alcohol also was the cause of anxiety, which I wish someone had told me a long time ago. But I self medicated with it for 30 years, which now I find that now-- I realize I was just dumping fuel on the fire the whole time. But it was-- you know, it took my panic attack and anxiety took ten years of my life, a solid ten years where I wasn't housebound. But I was as close to that. I was a salesman and I was afraid to go on sales calls, kind of hard to land, the big one, when you're afraid to even go in and talk to a customer. I couldn't go across certain bridges, actually a lot of bridges on the highway. I couldn't drive in the fast lane. I couldn't go to the grocery store without drinking beer before. It got to the point where if I was even if we were going to go out to socialize or drink with friends, I had to drink at home first so that I could go out to drink socially. So it snowballed fast and I was a very good-- I hid it better than anyone. I've always been-- my kids tell me, and I believe that I was actually a very good father, still am. But I coached everything. We were always in the yard doing things. I was always doing stuff with my kids until I guess about eight o'clock at night, and that's when I handed the reins over to my wife, and that's when I disappeared into the garage and the real drinking started. But even looking back, people didn't know it. But I was--there was not a game that I coached or practice that I didn't have a buzz. It was how-- it's what I needed to function and I hid it very well. I drank a lot of Diet Pepsi. I chewed a lot of beef jerky and corn nuts and all sorts of the great breath. Neutralizing at least what I thought. I got off very lucky, I never wore handcuffs. I've never had a DUI, but I never wrecked a vehicle. I didn't lose my wife, I didn't lose my family. I didn't lose my job. But I was Alex, I was a day away from all of that happening. And especially the last year, I've been sober now. Coming up, it'll be November. It'll be two years, I did have a three months into it relapse, so year and a half legally by the numbers, but just under two years. But--I was on the verge of losing everything in the last year, especially. It really started-- the toilet started to flush. It was-- I was going down fast and I got a couple ultimatums from the family. A couple of rough incidents and I actually got busted by chewing gum, because some people said, you know, how much have you been drinking, and I said, I haven't had anything. And they said, well, you're chewing gum, dad, you never chew gum. So it was a pack of gum actually got me. But that was-- I remember the night that I quit drinking was the night that I ran out of excuses. I was-- the fight was-- I no longer had any fight in me and I just sat when I was accused this time and I had no responses, I was done. There was nothing left in the tank to fight back, to defend, to lie. They were gone. It was empty. And I realized it's over. And I think it was the next day. But I checked myself into a seven day rehab. And locally here in Cincinnati, I actually drove myself in the following morning. My wife asked me, offered to give me a ride and I said, you know I'll do it, and I kind of felt that was the first just driving myself in that morning was the first take account for my own actions step. It was the first time I had to, you know, I've got to do this, no one else. I've relied on everyone else my whole life. I need to do something for myself and take action for myself. So did that, did the seven day. I am a 12 stepper, but I'm also and you know, obviously that's AA. AA was a great structure. It's what I needed. But I also-- my program is anything and everything I can get that I can take. And I think the--what my program, I got a lot of knowledge from the 12 steps. But what breathe what, breath, whatever the word is, I couldn’t even think of it because it's in the middle of the night, Alex, I'm not sure if you're aware of that or not. Some people have normal hours, but what made a difference was the connection. It wasn't until I started talking with other people that get it. Before it all made sense. And I kind of got the momentum and you know, we hear the term I like to say, talk to me as someone that's struggling, I say talk to me, I get it. Because my wife tries, but she doesn't get it. She's not an alcoholic, she comes close, but she just doesn't get it.My best friends are not alcoholic. They don't get it. But I can talk to someone that I don't even know. That is you know, in recovery or struggling and there's an immediate bond and I don't know what that magic is, but there's something talking to someone else that's going through the same thing. It's crazy, but that's what really-- that's what my program took off, I guess. I felt-- I didn't feel like a right, the right fielder and sobriety, I felt like I was welcome on the team, I was a part of the team. I felt like I wasn't alone. I felt like I had people that I could-- I never talked about it, I hid everything from everyone. I held it inside and I think for me, it's like a cancer inside, and that's a horrible word and maybe I should-- but that's what it was. It was eating me up inside. And it wasn't until I talked to people that I actually let it out of my system before I could start healing. And that the connection is just--that's the number one thing. I needed to get the instruction, but the book, tapes, pod casts, quit lit, none of that--that's all great stuff, but it wasn't until I did this with other people and connected with other people that it all took off in the right way. So I got about a year and a half and things are going real well right now. It's--I think when I started recovering, I thought it was maybe what I'm hoping yoga is that I just have to do it for a few weeks and I get my diploma and I'm done. But recovery is not about-- it's almost for anyone that gets in shape, physically gets in shape, well, even like you with yoga, once you got to where you are, you weren't done at that point because if you stop doing what you're doing, you stop practicing, you stop doing the basics every day, the stretches, whatever it is, you get out of shape very fast. Well, for me, recovery is staying in mental shape, mental strength and staying, you know, exercising just like you work at your body. If you're a runner, you have to run every day to stay in shape. I have to-- whatever my program is, I have to work it on a regular basis or I'm going to fall out of shape. I got to stay in that sobriety shape.
Alex: Yeah. Wow, what an inspiring story and congratulations on your year and a half. That's amazing.
Jeff: Yeah, it is. And it's-- I've never-- I'm saying all the corny things that I swore I would never say. You know, people are like I notice the trees and the lights and the smells and that,that,that. I thought, okay, you're a goofball and I'm using nice terms. That's not me. And I was walking with my wife the other day, said, that house is gorgeous. When did they-- do they just paint that? She said, Jeff, it's been that way for 30 years. And I think I just started noticing that kind of stuff.
Jeff: But it is fun. It's relaxing and fun to be able to enjoy a moment because I never enjoyed the now because I was always either hating myself for what was what happened before or I was completely focused on the fear I had for tomorrow. Or I was focused on where my next drink was going to come. I couldn't relax and enjoy the moment because it was always about where's my next beers coming from. How am I going to get them? How am I going to hide them? I am I going to have enough. How am I going to get rid of them in the morning? All those things, how am I going to work?
Jeff: How am I going to lie. It was to be lifted from all of that is such an unbelievable freedom. So now I'm saying all those corny one liners that all the people that I laughed at in recovery I said and now I'm the one saying keep coming back. It just--but no, it's really-- what I love about I'm getting out of sobriety is every day you know, and this is the connection part of it. The book or a book or whatever your instructions, whatever your program is, rereading that will probably get monotonous and mundane and stagnant. But talking with other recovering alcoholics or other people that are struggling is a-- that's fresh every day, and that's where I'm really excited because I don't-- I think if it was just a matter of every day reading for AA, the big book or reading a recovery lit program or whatever the other programs are, whatever the mundaneness, I'd get burnt out. I'd say this is-- I've had enough. You know, I need something more exciting. But there's always someone new to meet, someone to talk to, someone new to listen to. It's a fun, fun journey right now. And the other thing I think for me, that's amazing, is that I've learned or I've been given the gift to dream again. I never-- I had definitely lost for me-- the dream--my dream for the day was to pass out at night without having lost my job. Without my wife, knowing that I was tanked, without getting in trouble, without whatever and with having had enough beer. If I could accomplish those things, that was a win for the day. Nothing above that was even-- I gave up on all the dreams. And now I actually I anticipate. I look forward to tomorrow of what I could do, what I can accomplish. What-- where can I go, what can I see? It's definitely the-- for me the ability to dream again. I had forgotten all about that. At least or believing I actually had a chance, I had-- I might have had dreams, but I knew they were unattainable because of--you can't do what I was doing and never achieve those. But now I actually have hope that I just might like one of those positions that you did the other day that caused me to almost hemorrhage my base from basement floor.
Alex: What are your like--let's talk about your dreams and so what inspired you to start BAC 2 Zero and what is your kind of passion behind that?
Jeff: The BAC2 Zero, Just BAC is spelled BAC and that came from a gal from one of the groups I was in. And it's for blood alcohol content, and it was-- I actually kind of thought of it about blowing into a breathalyzer, getting our blood alcohol content back to zero versus-- but then it kind of-- zero became not only a blood alcohol content goal for me, but also just a place to start again where I get to begin again. So we added the getting into it. So it's back to zero.
Alex: Yeah its “Getting BAC 2 Zero”.
Jeff: Getting back two zero was added. But I don't know where I'm going with it. All I know it gives me something to look forward to working on. I get to meet people like yourself and interview fantastic people. It's people thank me for it, but I'm doing it for me. It's a selfish act. And if other people don't get me wrong, I love that other people are having fun with it, getting some good out of it, too. But this is-- I'm doing this primarily for me. But this is where--it gives me-- you know part of my problem with drinking was boredom, idle time. When the only thing I had to listen to was my own voice in my own head. And listening to Jeff is not a great idea for someone that wants to be in sober, because Jeff has for 30 some years has proven that he's got some real lousy ideas on how to live a sober life. And that's why I ended up at the-- five and they’re the quick and cold down the street every day buying beer. But-- so if I can just get out of my own head then I have a great chance of staying sober tonight, and that's-- part of that is talking to people like yourself with right now, I'm not worried about it, but if I was just looking at my life when I was sitting by myself, there was a good chance I'd be drinking. Right now, while I am sitting on this, your podcast talking to you, there's a real good chance I won't drink during this time.
Jeff: So I kind of look at-- it's not just this moment, but my whole life is I need to-- I want to find things to do when I'm doing your yoga classes. That's-- I'm occupied, that's my mind is not in my mind, is try is on something other than, gosh, I'm bored, whatever. I need to drink beer, it gives me something to distract my head and get out of my head and just like with the “Getting BAC 2 Zero” we do a lot of interviews. And I also-- I'm starting to write and do some things with that and just having a lot of fun with it. You know, it gives me a purpose, also something to look forward to. You know, who I'm going to be interviewing next tonight or should I say the wee hours of the morning for you. You know, there was anticipation tonight. I was looking forward to-- hey tonight I get to talk with Alex.
Jeff: Well, that I was looking forward to doing something other than, gosh, I'm sitting here bored by myself. Why don't I drink beer? So just this act right here is keeping me sober.
Jeff: So those are my goals, is to just I-- and I know I've seen your face and when you see someone succeed on the yoga mat. Or you see me staying on the yoga mat, facing the right direction. You get a look of contentment. I can see that you're happy because you're providing a gift that other people and you're seeing other people succeed and you're seeing a guy like me start to make sense of all this and see progress. It is a big boost and I kind of get the same thing with recovery. When I talk to someone else’s, that is also struggling and working together and helping each other stay sober and seeing someone, you know, if I get someone that says, hey, thanks for talking to me last night. You know, you got me through a rough evening. My motivation tank just went through the roof of full go. I'm set with that kind of stuff, it fuels me. So I'm very fortunate because I'm doing stuff that is giving me a reward that I did not get from my job. I sell some very boring industrial lifting equipment for cranes and what not. And I never--no one has called me in tears and said, I just want to let you know that, that crane cable you sold me today was the most important thing and that touched our family in a way that I'll never-- no one’s-- they couldn't--I'm not touching lives doing that. And I don't know if maybe that's something I needed. But to have someone say, wow, that was so great. And you know, knowing that together, the two of us or whoever talking, got through an evening and we didn't drink. And we are both set on a course for more happiness than we had before is a damn good feeling. I mean, I know why you do what you do, because it's very rewarding. And I see the smiles on your face when you're teaching it. Either that or you're just laughing at me, one of the two. So I can't tell.
Alex: But I can completely relate to everything you said because it's like people will say to me, you know, The Mindful Life Practice, thank you for doing this. It's changing my life. And it's 100% I'm doing it for me as well. It's a selfish thing because--
Jeff: Yeah. And I thank you for it because I finally-- I'm at something I know I need this and I am-- you've given me the gift of achieving my goals with it. So I can understand how you feel that way.
Alex: Yeah, it's selfish and selfless at the same time, like doing this kind of work.
Jeff: Yeah, it's a rush, and that's what they always say that to really get-- it could give to someone else that's maybe newer in recovery or trying to get sober, struggling with that, and I could give them some of the gifts that got me through those early days. That's just a great feeling.
Alex: Yeah. So tell me about you mentioned your anxiety earlier and you were drinking to kind of medicate your anxiety. When you quit drinking, what was that like for you? Did you like-- how did you address that anxiety? Did it resolve without drinking? Kind of what was that part of the journey like?
Jeff: I feel guilty for how well it went, but I think for probably 75% of the people I've talked to, they have similar results. But when I went into-- I was on Xanax as well. For years, for years. And that was the only thing that I could-- it would allow me to function during the day. I wasn’t great, but I could at least function with it. I was pretty heavily-- a pretty good amount, but I never got a buzz off it. And I'm such an addictive person. If it was pain medicine, Adderall, I'd all over that stuff. But I don't know why I did not. Maybe because I didn't see it as a pleasure thing that I thought was just as a survival tool. But when I went into rehab, they took that away from me. Well, they, I said, okay, well, make sure you gave it back. And they gave-- I don't know what the medicine, whether it was Valium or what they had us on in rehab, but they kind of made sure because some people are going through DTs and withdrawals and it can be a real rough and dangerous time. But so it-- they-- I was comfortable, but when I got out they had taken and they didn't give it back and my doctor said, you know what? We're done with it and you need to get off it because it's been too long and I was pissed and I told my wife, I said I'm not because I was feeling hey I'm now out of rehab, so I'm not getting the Valium or whatever the good stuff they had. So I'm now having to just live with my emotions. And there's that anxiety, because now I don't have the other medicine. I don't have my Xanax to deal with it and I don't have my alcohol to deal with it. Which was alcohol, smoked Xanax. As far as effectiveness, of course, you can't work that way because you're-- when you're tanked, you kind of lose your job sometimes. So the Xanax was almost my--when I was sober coping mechanism, and then when I didn't, I could get away with drinking, I just, the alcohol but that first, I remember telling my wife, I said, I'm not going back to that, I am not going to go back-- because I was feeling all those panic attack rushes like it was real close, like we're right there. We're about to hit full blown again. I said, I am not going back to that life. I'd rather drink. I will not-- because I was lock myself in the basement. I couldn't do anything with that anxiety. And if you're going to take my medicines and my alcohol away, I can't do it. I can't do it. And they, I think, tough love me in that first week, I proved them, I was having a horrible time. My anxiety was really bad. And then the second week, it started to ease. And that after two weeks, it almost vanished. I don't know, and I hate saying that because there's that 25% or maybe it's a lesser number that still struggle with anxiety. I feel guilty as it could be. That I was so fortunate to have it disappear when the alcohol was taken away. So that would have literally been three weeks of without alcohol before it left.
Jeff: And I have never felt-- I haven't been this anxiety-free since my 20’s. It's unbelie--, but I mean that the anxiety alone, there's my reason to drop all the other benefits of giving up alcohol, just the anxiety alone, it's worth it.