Esther Nagle found her sobriety in yoga, and her life purpose in sobriety. She is the author of Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga, host of the Sober Living Rocks podcast, and teacher of Yoga for recovery. Esther loves to dance, adores the Beatles and particularly George Harrison, loves walking in the mountains, reading to herself and her little boy, and is still catching up on the sleep she didn’t get in 20 years of alcohol dependence! She believes that we can and must all work together to create a better future for us all, and knows that helping break the stigma around addiction is a big part of that work.
1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
My rock bottom was a very slow process, which spanned many years. The moment when I realized that I had a problem, however, was when I was listening to a song I was totally addicted to, ‘I Appear Missing’ from Queens of The Stone Age’s ‘…Like Clockwork’ album. I had been utterly obsessed with the song for months, and one night, after a training course with my new job, as I sat on the doorstep to my house, smoking and drinking furiously when I should have been asleep, I was listening to this album on repeat. When I listened to the words to ‘I appear missing’ this one time, I suddenly realized that they spoke of exactly how I felt. I was utterly lost to myself, and had been for a very long time. I was going through one of the most traumatic 8 months of my life, with job insecurity, serious family health problems (including the discovery of a long hidden addiction in a close family member, a rather painful mirror for me to look into), and a very acrimonious battle with my ex over arrangements for our son. I was fragmenting more and more with every day that passed, and the realization of just how bad I felt (isn’t it strange how we can be in such a mess and not even have the faintest idea?) sent ripples through me that turned into a tsunami just a few weeks later. 4 weeks after this moment, I sat on the M5 after a festival, in floods of uncontrollable tears, knowing that I couldn’t go on. I had already decided that I needed to quit my job, and now I knew for sure. I emailed my family when I got home, told them that I was really struggling to cope with every aspect of my life (not recognising my addiction at this time, alcohol was my friend that got me through it all) and quit my job.
This was my lowest moment, or at least, the one that was particularly significant. This breakdown led to my disintegrating completely for a few months, but then I started to take the reins of my life and grab back control.
A few months later I started Yoga teacher training, expecting that I would learn to teach postures. I did, but I also learned a whole lot more. I met myself properly for the first time, started to unravel the tight knots I had in myself, to break down the many walls I had built between me and myself, and learned to relax, to breathe, to feel gratitude, to see myself without judgement, to forgive. Slowly, through the work I did on this course, I began to heal the wounds that had kept me tied to alcohol for so many years, and, for the first time in my life, to begin to acknowledge that I did indeed have a very dangerous dependence on alcohol. I could only see this once I was able to live more and more without it, and once I started to develop other coping strategies. I started to recognize situations which would have previously led me to drink, but the desperate need was no longer there, I was still binge drinking at weekends, but it was for ‘fun’, not to hide.
2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
On October 12, 2014, I woke up with the mother of all hangovers, and vowed never to feel this way again. I know I preferred waking up with memories of the night before, energy, clear-headed, and able to open my eyes without searing pain in my head! I decided that I wouldn’t drink the following weekend, and for the next 6 weeks, I kept telling myself ‘not today’. I had no plan at this time to quit for good, I just enjoyed getting through each day sober. When I went to my brother’s wedding and shunned the champagne and red wine in favour of elderflower cordial, and had a wonderful time, I knew I had turned a corner.
My early recovery wasn’t a struggle in any way. Because of the work I was doing on my course, I had processed a lot of the difficult emotions people often experience in early recovery, and had cleansed my body effectively as well, so I had no physical symptoms. I didn’t really acknowledge that I had quit until 6 weeks had passed, so the first 30 days were easy, I was just doing ‘not today’ and working on myself through my coursework. By the time I realized that I really could quit, I was totally ready for it, and knew that I was much happier sober then I ever was when I was drinking, and that I had the coping strategies that would help me get through the tough times.
3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
• I have achieved a lifetime dream of becoming a writer, when I wrote ‘Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga!
• I travelled to India last year to speak about my experiences at the Women Economic Forum conference.
• I have become a podcast host, and have interviewed some amazing people, including Veronica Valli! (http://www.soberliving.rocks/episode-4-veronica-valli-recovery-rocks/)
• My children and those I love have more respect for me than they did before
• I have discovered self-respect, which I NEVER had before.
• My youngest son, who was 3 when I stopped drinking, has no recollection of seeing my drink or smoke (I quit smoking on the same day!)
• I feel that I have a purpose in life now, rather than simply drifting from one catastrophe to the next.
• I experience life in all its richness now, and can deal with problems instead of hiding from them
• I NEVER have to lie in bed trying to remember how I got there or what chaos I may have created before I got there!
Stop trying to fit in, you aren’t meant to fit in, you are meant to inhabit your own place in the world. Don’t worry about what they think of you, let it go, and love you. And BREATHE!
5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
• That I can write – I had always suspected this, and been told I am a good writer in the past, but I never really believed it. Having received emails from people who tell me that my blogs and book really help them is an amazing experience, I love that in helping myself (I find writing very cathartic sometimes) I can help others as well.
• I have learned that I created a lot of the problems that I was trying to escape from, that I have far more control and power over my life than I ever realized, and that I can do anything that I put my mind to
• That I love sleep – when I was drinking, I feared going to bed, because that was when the demons would wake up and tell me what a scumbag I was, but now, when I go to bed, I sleep, it is wonderful!
6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
A friend of mine is trying to have a few months off drinking to give his body a break. He was given a bottle of wine by a colleague just after he decided to have this break. Rather than have the temptation of having it in his house, he gave it to me to look after, safe in the knowledge that it will still be there when he wants it. It is in my cupboard, and I see it everyday, but I barely actually see it. When I was drinking that would never have happened, I would have been the last person to be trusted with a bottle of wine, and if it was in my house, well, it wouldn’t have lasted very long. This really shows me how much I have grown and changed in recovery and is a wonderful constant reminder of the way we can change so much.
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
My biggest one is a motto I was given in my yoga teacher training, three ‘rules’ of yoga – don’t judge, don’t compare, don’t beat yourself up.
8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
To take full responsibility for your life, to live life on your own terms, not at the whim of an addiction, to have clarity, good sleep, self-respect, to let go of shame and judgement, to be fully present, to be a good role model for my children rather than a great example of how not to do life, to inspire and help others, to know who I am, to know that fun and enjoyment of life doesn’t require a bottle and oblivion, to fully feel all my emotions, and to know that all will pass…all this and so much more makes life in recovery a far richer, fuller experience than I could have ever imagined. I used to think that you needed excess to be ‘rock n roll’, but recovery rocks so much better (plus, you can dance so much better when you can be coordinated!)