Noelle Van Vlierbergen. is a certified integrative health and addiction recovery coach, writer, founder of a coaching practice for women in recovery and creator of an online resource that inspires women to ignite their lives.

In recovery since 2011, Noelle recently published an ebook titled The Sober Leap – Practical Wisdom to Create an Amazing Life After Addiction, coming out in paperback in June 2018, where she shares her experiences and 11 principles that will change the way you look at sobriety.

Noelle has been a corporate management and executive coach for over 20 years and understands the stress of striving to maintain sanity and balance in challenging environments. She works with professional women on the other side of addiction, to embrace a more holistic approach to mind/body wellness and stress management.

Conversation with Noelle

Liv: As this is Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, let’s kick off with a food question: what have you had for breakfast today? Ah, let’s see, I actually started off this morning with a green smoothie. I’ve been trying to eat more veggies throughout the day and this feels almost like cheating because I get to throw in some strawberries and bananas with my spinach. I also have a need to eat a lot in the morning, so about an hour later I had some peanut butter on toast.

Noelle’s Journey to Sobriety

Liv: Moving to your story, you described your journey as having spent ‘a decade trying to temper the noise.’ What do you mean by that? Well, I was a social drinker for most of my 20s but by the time I hit my early 30s it was pretty non-stop. My life had become a bit more complicated. I had ended a very toxic relationship that had left me doubting not only my self-worth but my sanity at that point, so I spent a ton of time just trying to feel better and silence the negative chatter in my head.

Liv: Five years ago, you made a decision, which you emphasised as critical, to stop drinking. Why was it critical and what were your realisations at that point? It was critical because I honestly knew in my heart that it was my last chance. I can remember sitting on my bed staring blankly at the wall, listening to this faint voice inside my head telling me if I didn’t stop, I was going to die. I know it sounds dramatic, but I was at a point in my drinking that I was physically pretty sick. I had relapsed after several years of sobriety, so I knew I could do it, but this time I needed for it to stick or there were going to be serious consequences.

Liv: You talked about having two lives; outwardly you were on a track of a successful career with a budding social life, but behind closed doors you were struggling with relentless self-doubt and anxiety. Talk to me about your view of a functioning alcoholic, specifically if that life was functioning at all? Oh my, that is so funny because when I look back on it now, I certainly thought I was functioning just fine. I mean, I was making it into work each morning and getting the job done but it was with bleary eyes and the help of lots of caffeine.

I was also trying to keep up a social life, so every night I’d find an opportunity to go out and take the edge off, before going home to do more damage. This definitely took its toll. I became anxious all the time and soon thereafter, the depression set in. At which point all bets were off and I just became more reclusive. It was a maddening cycle.

I’ve said before that I was able to get away with it without anyone knowing because I was a good liar and I drank alone. As time went on, the only one I was accountable to was myself – and as we all know in addiction, that just makes things exponentially more complicated.

Liv: You describe getting sober as both the hardest thing you’ve done and nothing short of a miracle. How did you get sober, and why would you describe it as a miracle? I stopped drinking without a clue, much less a plan of what to do next. I thought I would stop drinking and just figure it out. I had no idea that sobriety would crack me open like it did and that there would be so much listening, learning and healing to be done.

When I first got sober, I went to a few AA meetings but it just never resonated with me. So, after a bit of time beating myself up about it, I decided to follow my own path. I read countless books on addiction, nutrition, co-dependency, meditation, yoga, healing trauma, adult children of alcoholics, you name it, I gobbled it up. I also relied on my therapist, my sister, my yoga practice and the amazing people I met through recovery communities to provide support. Through all of this, I built the foundation for my recovery. That gradual and subtle process in and of itself has been a true miracle. 

How Sobriety Brings Out Our Best Selves

Liv: Since getting sober, you shared how many incredible changes have happened in your life. Tell me about them?

There have been so many. I began writing again and that has truly saved me. I finally found my voice and I get to help others in the process, so that has been a treasure. I became a certified addiction recovery coach and I now have the opportunity to work with and learn from so many amazing women who are on this incredible journey with me. Lastly, I have a much deeper and profound connection with myself and my family. I know it’s because I’m more grounded, I take more time to listen and I’m just more tuned into the world around me.

Liv: You’ve used your strengths and focus to help professional women to find joy in sobriety by exploring a more holistic approach to self-care and stress management. Tell me what that looks like? And can you talk a little of the importance of stress management?

Stress management is so critical to success in recovery. In fact, I’m writing my second book on this very topic! I’ve spent the past 20+ years in the corporate world as an HR professional working with women who are under tremendous amounts of stress and pressure to stay ahead and stay relevant.

The natural tendency is to reach for that precious relief at the end of the day and when they make the decision to get sober, the anesthesia is gone, leaving them with only two choices. Find other means to calm their anxiety and manage their day or go back to drinking and as we all know, that is not a viable option.

I work with them to incorporate practices into their daily routine to build physical, spiritual and emotional strength. This could involve meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, nutrition, thought work, there are so many variations of each and every individual has different needs but having a plan is the key to success.

Self-care in Recovery

Liv: What does your self-care routine look like? In the morning, I do some form of restorative yoga to get my body moving and then practice a Sadhana that involves a short meditation and Breath of Fire, which is a kundalini breathing technique (Pranayama) that calms the central nervous system while circulating energy throughout the body.  It’s my 30 min daily ritual and when I miss it, I can really feel the difference.

Liv: You describe your purpose as helping others move beyond the discomfort of recovery and to start living a life unencumbered by limitation. What are some of the limitations we put on ourselves, and how to they encumber our lives? I work predominately with women and I think we limit ourselves all the time. We continuously tell ourselves we are not powerful, strong and amazing when the evidence we see every day is to the contrary. This comes from social conditioning of course, but it’s time we snap out of it.

I can’t tell you how many women I speak to who have such a skewed sense of their own personal power. Although we’re slowly beginning to see the light – mainly due to the exorbitant amount of these women in our midst who are lighting the world on fire with their brilliance. It’s still a painfully slow process. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am part of this tribe so I’ve had my share of self-doubt and then some, but even I can so plainly see the crazy power we possess and utilize only a fraction of on a daily basis.

It’s really quite incredible. Sorry, I’m going on a mini- rant here, but don’t even get me started on those of us in recovery. Talk about a powerhouse of game changers! We’ve basically been through hell and back and are now out there with all of this insight, wisdom and experience to share with the world. It’s beyond ridiculous. We need to realize that our impact is truly limitless.

Liv: Moving on to the physical aspect of recovery. How has your relationship with your body evolved in recovery? Oh my. Well, I can honestly say that I actually have a relationship with my body now. I think it took about a year of practicing yoga for me to even start feeling physically present inside my own body. I spent years disassociating and numbing out, so awakening to the experience of physically feeling and identifying emotion was eye opening.

Liv: What has changed with your relationship to food? When I was drinking, I was dealing with blood sugar issues constantly, so my relationship with food was a simple one. Food was merely a means to an end. To keep my body stable and out of fight or flight mode. Essentially, I would make sure to eat something when I drank, so I could stave off a horrible crash in the morning. Now, I see food as a way to nourish my body. I enjoy it so much more and it gives me the energy I need to stay healthy and active.

Top 5 Recovery Tools

Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?

Meditation- I believe the stillness of silence for even 5 min a day can change your life.

Yoga – movement of any kind releases emotion in the body. Up and out. That’s a good thing.

Nutrition – nourishment is key to staying emotionally and physically strong.

Connection – is the heart of recovery. You can’t go it alone.

Creativity – whatever it looks like for you. It’s the most potent energy you can put out into the world.

More information on The Sober Leap and to contact Noelle.

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