Conversation with Robin Bright, That Sober Life
This week Liv speaks to Robin Bright, from That Sober Life. That Sober Life started as a blog (click here) but quickly grew into a mission: To help individuals struggling both IN and OUT of addiction to find the true SOLUTION. Robin is truly lovely. Read the conversation below.
Liv: As we’re having a Kitchen Table Conversation, it seems apt to ask what have you had for breakfast today?
Ahhhh, breakfast. I’ve always liked the idea of breakfast but never really participated in it. I drink black coffee daily and that’s what I had today. Actually, it was espresso. My daughter bought me an espresso machine a couple of Christmases ago and I use it every morning now. I brew myself up a nice couple of shots of Café Bustelo…which I guess is appropriate, because I don’t do shots of alcohol anymore.
Liv: You struggled with the torment of addiction for over a decade and described that experience as one of desperation and hollowness. You said that you believed you had become the worst version of yourself? How so?
Those words are actually from the movie, “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s this one part where Tom Hanks says, “Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself?” It’s one of my favourite movies. My daughter and I have watched it well over 100 times and I really related to that line in active addiction. It jumped out and spoke to me.
I remember thinking about those words after a binge. I’d be trying to work…trying desperately to string thoughts together (I was a web developer and a ghost writer —still am) and I’d be dealing with this overwhelming heaviness. I felt like such a failure…as a parent, as a friend, as a pet owner, as a child of God, as a human taking up space on this planet.
I wasn’t benefitting anyone, not even myself. My existence felt like more burden than blessing, if you could put my internal on a scale. I felt like just the worst kind of person. I never lost my business. I was never broke or homeless, but I remember the second time I was arrested for a DUI. I spent the night in jail and threw up all over the waiting room when I was trying to call a cab after I had bonded out. I didn’t even try to clean it up, or tell anyone for that matter. I was alone in this big reception area (on a surveillance camera) and I just stood there on the phone, throwing up on the carpet, wiping my mouth and going on with my call like everything was normal. I had sunk so low that nothing was surprising to me. When I arrived back at my house and told my kids I had been arrested, no one really blinked an eye. After almost a decade in addiction your family gets used to your mess and they aren’t surprised. That weighs on a person.
Knowing I had become the kind of person that was expected to be out of control, expected to be drunk, high or stumbling in the house after a stint in the hospital because I had totalled my car….that’s just the worst. One day I realized that if I died, it would probably be expected too. It would be tragic and hurtful to the people who loved me…but expected. That is the definition of the worst version of myself.
Liv: In your I am Not Anonymous Story, you spoke about how you bravely shared your addiction and recovery with your world. You had a 99% supportive response, but some struggled, some blocked you, you lost some clients and were asked by your church to stop broadcasting your recovery and to remain anonymous. What advice would you give to your former self-about anonymity- knowing what you know now?
What a great question! I literally wouldn’t do anything differently. I chose not to be anonymous because I had become incapable of compartmentalizing my life. I’m probably “too much” for some people but if I am in your life, you get all of me. I can’t keep certain stories for appropriate times and people. I don’t know how to do that, and for me it’s dangerous, because I had lived in hiding for so long. My son was actually the one who encouraged me to “stand in my own truth” and be who I am. He knew I’d never make it in sobriety if I didn’t live out loud. It all started with me posting on Facebook when my sister was driving me to rehab.
For me, this was freedom, because I had lived as a fraud, and as a person in hiding…and that was a really stressful existence. To the outside world, to my friends, and to my church I was this picture of success. Great career, held a Bible study in my home, Community Chaplain, happy single-mom….except it was all bullshit. I was binge drinking at least twice per month and my binges were lasting longer and were growing more out of control. Inside, I was profoundly unhappy. So when it was time to change, I wanted an upheaval. I wanted massive change, and that included being public about my past as well as my present.
I remember when I hit “send” on that first Facebook post, announcing I was on my way to rehab. It got SO MANY responses and positive comments. People started messaging me privately telling me they were struggling as well. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone. I knew that others were following my journey toward recovery….even if they never commented or liked a post, I knew they were there. It gave me a sense of purpose that is hard for me to explain.
So, in the midst of all the positive feelings, I get this message from a leader in my church. He says, “Hey. You need to stop posting on Facebook because you’re breaking anonymity. Get some healing. Get some recovery. Focus on yourself.”
First off, I was confused because although I was not familiar with AA or any type of organized recovery groups, I didn’t see how talking about myself broke any anonymity, except my own, and that was my decision. I never mentioned programs or groups, and I have never been a member of AA or NA. I brought his message to the owners of the treatment center I was in and they actually encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. I am a writer, so writing is very cathartic for me. It helps me sort my thoughts. I guess I was using Facebook as sort of a daily diary. I was chronicling my time in treatment…the good, the bad…and it helped me. I still get messages from people who find those old posts.
I remember sitting on the back porch at the girl’s house (when I was in rehab) and finding the group I Am Not Anonymous. As I read through their mission statement and the stories of the people in recovery something inside me danced. I felt like I had found “my people.” It is a strange and wonderful feeling. I felt free and I suddenly knew there were other people who felt free when they told their stories publically as well.
Kate Meyer and Tom Goris, the creators of IANA (I Am Not Anonymous) always say, “The world knows what addiction looks like. It’s time they see what recovery looks like.” I have lived on those words for a long time. I tell my story because I want people to see that recovery is possible…and it’s beautiful. My relationships have all been restored. My life is wonderful. I am clean, sober, and in my right mind. I remember things. I laugh. I cry. I allow myself to feel. God, it’s like waking up after being in a coma. I really love my life, and I want to tell everyone.
Liv: Leading on from the previous question, you said ‘I guess I’m still a little ballsy. I like to surprise people.’ I love that. Talk to me about being a ballsy woman and what that brings you and the world?
I think I drank and took drugs because I gave up. I got in this box…you know, the one the world calls “normal.” It was a box with parameters that said: Don’t be too crazy or too emotional. Don’t have too much drama…don’t be too loud or too head strong. I had been outspoken, abrasive and a little crazy all my life…and the weird thing is, drugs and alcohol silenced me. Drinking was my way of giving up and throwing up the white flag to a world that I could not change into the way I thought I should be able to. Now that I’m free, I got my balls back. Lol.
I love to surprise people with my story, especially when I’m talking to young women who are beat down, supressed or abused. I am a sexual abuse survivor and as a result of the trauma, I found myself undervaluing myself most of my life. I don’t do that anymore. And I help other women to “not do that anymore.”
I am in the middle of opening a women’s transitional living home, because I want to help women learn how to do life after rehab. So many women run to relationships with men and get right back into unhealthy, or even abusive, situations because they think they can’t make it alone. They CAN make it. I have been the single support system of my family for years and years. I am a successful business owner. I am also a high school drop out with a criminal record. That’s funny.
If I can make it in this world, any woman can. Women just need to be encouraged. Now, of course I’m not against relationships, but you know what I mean. Addiction is only one piece of the pie. We often get ourselves into layers and layers of dysfunction. I like to help women get out of those layers. I like to help them be ballsy.
Liv: You founded That Sober Life in December 2014. It started as a blog which has grown into a mission: ‘To help individuals struggling both IN and OUT of addiction to find the true SOLUTION.’ You said that, ‘There are so many former addicts who are now clean and sober, but desperately unhappy. They are not living in active recovery and still believe the lie that we have to fight not to pick up every single day.’ You go on to say that you believe we have experienced a state of being recovered. Tell me about that?
I never liked going to AA meetings. That’s just my story and I hope no one hates me for saying it. The main reason I didn’t like them is because I didn’t want to keep saying “Hi. My name is Robin Bright and I’m an alcoholic,” for the rest of my life. It made me sick to say it. It felt wrong.
When I first needed to get sober, yes, I get it….I needed to level myself and get to the place where I saw myself as having a problem that I was completely powerless against. So, in that moment…in that first part of early recovery….I needed to say, “I am Robin and I am an alcoholic.” But then, once the recovery begins….once I have pushed the whole shit storm of my life over onto God and say, “Okay…this is a big mess. I don’t want to do this anymore…please take this from me…” the obsession is lifted.
I live every day of my life and I do not think about drinking or doing drugs. I have come to terms (VERY HAPPILY) that I can NEVER drink or take a mind altering drug again. Once I agree that I am powerless and I turn to the one who has “all power” …as the Big Book states, I don’t try not to drink any more than an apple tree tries not to produce oranges. That’s the thing about my recovery.
God has changed me. He has changed who I am and has changed my foundation. He brought me from darkness to light. The Bible says, “Behold, all things are new.” I didn’t do it. He did it. And because He changed me, I’m not going to keep identifying with who I was in my past. That just gives it strength. But I realize my journey is not everyone’s journey and that’s fine. If someone is reading this and they are offended because they need to say they are an addict every day, okay…cool. Please don’t think I’m against you. I am not. I love you no matter what you choose to identify yourself as.
But I have found…for me…that I relate with the Big Book in the forward to the first edition where Bill W. states that the main purpose of the book is to “show other alcoholics precisely how we have RECOVERED from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.”
I am recovered.
I have been set free.
I’m a different tree than I was before and I have different fruit as a result…without even trying.
Liv: Leading on from the previous question, why do you believe that some people in recovery live in a state of focusing on the problem?
I believe anything you focus on, you ultimately give strength to. It’s like TRYING not to think about a purple elephant. That’s all you can see.
Life is meant to be lived. We are meant to progress and grow. We are always either moving forward or we are going backward. If we are moving with the universe, we are moving toward healing and wholeness…So, if ten years from now I’m still saying, “Well….I’m going to try not to pick up today…” that’s a problem to me. I don’t want to have to think about not using every day. I want to live. I decided that was going to be my reality (to not focus or think about the problem) and it is. I know I can’t fully explain it in this space here in this interview, but I believe our choices make our reality. Nothing is impossible. Nothing is beyond our scope if we choose to believe it and walk toward that reality. I think it was Paulo Coelho who said, “Whatever you believe…when you believe it the universe conspires together to make it so.”
Liv: How have you recovered?
I have recovered only because I choose to walk in awareness every day. I choose to be fully alive and to honor my journey. It is a journey of letting go and holding on. I let go of alcohol and drugs and held onto the things sobriety brings. Some of those things looked like pain, sadness, grieving and remorse. But I did not shoo them away. I felt them. I honoured my feelings and I moved on toward healing. I watched, fully awake and aware, as the drug and alcohol addiction rearranged itself within me and took another form.
Food. I started to binge eat. I gained about 15 lbs.
This was nothing more than a different manifestation of the same root problem. So, I stopped. I took a look at myself. I sat with my feelings and asked God what it is that needed to heal. I’m not the same person I was before, so when unhealthy thoughts, behaviours or “fruit” starts to grow out of my life, I don’t feel shameful. Instead, I say, “Hey. That’s not good fruit. That’s not the kind of fruit God produces in my life. I better see what’s up.” And He does.
Sometimes I need to forgive someone. Other times I need to get past something scary, like a trigger from my past.
I’ve been known to be bad with relationships, especially friendships and romantic ones. I was an only child, really isolated and a victim of sexual abuse, so I can start to revert to isolating when things are scary. Isolating and eating. But today I recognize that. I address it. I confess it, and I put myself in a place where I can receive healing. To me, that is what being RECOVERED means. It’s not that you’re perfect or do everything perfectly.
It’s more like a realization that when you start to think or do things unhealthy that it’s NOT YOU, because you aren’t that person anymore.
Liv: Your site shares journeys into the light. Which talk about ‘getting free, staying free and loving ourselves through the process.’ Tell me about the process of self-love, and what advice you might give someone who is struggling to be kind and loving to themselves?
We are all ultimately searching for love. It is the root of everything.Through the recovery process I have learned to truly accept and love myself where I am. I have learned that my flaws make me beautiful. We spend so much time disapproving and devaluing ourselves, and it really takes it’s toll. I hear people labelling themselves and talking poorly about themselves all the time. That is like self-abuse and we really have to be aware that it’s a problem. I don’t care what you’ve done or what kind of mess you’ve made of your life; you are valuable. Even if you’ve hurt people. Even if you’ve hurt your own family. The cycle of addiction is a pain inflicting cycle of bondage. It affects everyone it touches. Please don’t see YOURSELF as the enemy. Addiction is the enemy.
You are worthy of recovery. You are worthy of a beautiful, peaceful, fulfilling life. Allow yourself to believe that. Allow yourself to trust my words when I tell you it’s not too late for you.
When I first started practicing self-love I had to literally picture myself as two people. I would see myself as a nurturing parent and as a small child that I would protect. I know that sounds silly, but it’s how I had to start. It helped me to see myself as both a nurturer of self and as an individual in need of nurturing.
Liv: What is the importance to you of good nutrition in recovery?
We are holistic beings and food is fuel. Nutrition is everything in recovery. For me, I had to cut out sugar. Sometimes I relapse and start on the bread and sugar again, but it always bites me in the butt when I do. When I remove sugar, bread products, and processed foods I feel a surge of mental clarity and well being. I am not living my life out of a fog. My food plan is simple. Eat foods with “one ingredient.” That’s what I strive to do. So, fresh meat, veggies, fruits, herbs and spices. Those are my staples. You’d be surprised at how many delicious meals you can make using whole foods.
Liv: Has your relationship with food and your body changed in recovery? If yes, how so?
Yes, definitely. Addiction manifested in food choices and overeating in early recovery. Now I have an awareness of the foods that act just like drugs in my body. I used to literally put myself into a chocolate stupor when I was in rehab. I would make these peanut butter, chocolate, oatmeal cookies and we would all sit in front of the television and eat ten cookies a piece. Or maybe I was the only one who ate ten.
Regardless, it was addiction switching and I’ve learned to treat that as just another manifestation of the root problem.
Liv: What is your favourite meal?
This is going to sound silly, but I don’t think I have a favourite meal. I love blackened salmon. That’s probably a top choice, but it’s more important who I’m eating with now.I love to go out to dinner with my kids. To share a meal with the people I adore, any meal. That’s the good stuff.
Liv: What are your top recovery rituals/tips/tools?
Set your mind right first thing in the morning. Whether I wake up anxious and fearful or happy and free, I do the same thing every morning. I talk to God. Not like a prayer that is memorized. I talk to Him and make myself aware of His presence. I invite Him into my life and my day. I listen to worship music a lot of mornings. Sometimes I read the Bible, but not every morning. It’s more about recognizing that He is here…He is with me, and surrendering my day to Him. That’s my recipe for peace, because ultimately this is all His thing anyway. I am here to learn how to love God. I’m here to learn how to know Him better and to allow myself to be loved and changed by Him. The first step in that is to have communion with Him, visit with Him, recognize that He is near. He is in us.
It’s a crazy thought and some mornings (like today) I just get so overwhelmed by His goodness that I just break down and cry. I was just drinking my espresso, singing this worship song this morning and crying. Sounds crazy, but I love it. The song had this line that said, “You make all things new, when You walk into the room. Please walk into the room. Please walk into the room.”My daughter showed it to me. It’s really good.
I don’t think there is anything more important than knowing God, in my life anyway.
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