Austin F Cooper is the man behind Sober Evolution. He is in long-term recovery and is passionate about living a life that is both fun and full of possibility. Austin has a platform that inspires a movement of over 30,000 followers which shows fellow alcoholics and addicts the road to success! I hope you enjoy this week’s interview on the feature Kitchen Table Conversations.
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and was raised in a home filled with positivity and possibilities. However, early on in my childhood, I experienced life altering instances which contributed to my anxiety and depression. During high school, I thought I had encountered the elixir to all of my problems…alcohol.
I would go from a shy introvert and turn into the life of the party as soon as alcohol entered my system. I went from good grades and a life of possibilities, to the black hole of drug and alcohol addiction in the blink of an eye. Later I became a college dropout living in my parent’s basement, guzzling down bottles of liquor while sneaking my father’s pain medication with no hope in sight. Contemplating suicide became a daily habit at one point.
But instances of witnessing someone’s vulnerability on social media and being given the opportunity to receive help is what ultimately saved my life. My family’s intervention hit a switch in me that would forever change my perspective on life. 22 days in rehab became the opportunity of a lifetime. It became clear to me early on that I would create something on social media that could help me become vulnerable enough to change other people’s lives. In 2016, I created SoberEvolution on Instagram which quickly became a wide spread form of media–giving hope and encouragement to those who have been through substance abuse.
It has allowed me to truly help people! Sober Evolution has been featured on ABC’s 20/20 show, it has been shared by celebrities, given me speaking opportunities, it led me to meeting the love of my life and most of all, it has allowed me to find my true passion: helping people. I went from contemplating suicide to becoming the happiest and most grateful person I could have ever imagined being. I truly believe that we can make a huge impact on the world of addiction and mental health.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: As this is a Liv’s Recovery Kitchen interview, let’s kick off with a food question: What have you had for breakfast today?
I had an egg over easy, some potatoes and a side of hummus. It was amazing!
Liv: You described your active addiction days as, “At one point in my life, I was guzzling down liquor bottles by my lonesome, not to mention snorting enough cocaine to kill a horse, swallowing opiates like there was no tomorrow and smoking enough weed to rival Willie Nelson.” You said that you used alcohol and drugs to cover up emotional pain. From what were you running?
I had a few things that I was trying to hide from. I had a relationship with a girl for four years thinking I was going to spend the rest of my life with her–only to find out she had been sleeping with my best friend for two of those years. I was also ashamed of myself for dropping out of college, twice, and for having to move back into my parents house due to me spending all of my money on drugs and alcohol. I would get a sense of comfort from becoming inebriated.
Finding Addiction Recovery
Liv: Moving to your recovery, you said that your recovery journey—or spontaneous construction—began on April 10th 2013, when your boss drove you to an intervention. Your mother was in the room waiting for you. While terrified, you chose to get help. What motivated that decision, beyond what you might accomplish in recovery—what did your heart tell you to do?
Well, I knew that I had two choices: either refuse to get help and continue to destroy my life and be left homeless or get help, have a roof over my head and potentially build my life. I also believe that by seeing my old drug dealer get help himself and revamp his own life motivated me as well. I thought that if he can do it, I can do it.
Liv: In choosing to get help, you went to a treatment center. You made a poignant comment in your blog post describing the 22 Days of Rehab that, “I remember my initial reaction being that I was nothing like the others who were attending, but I quickly reminded myself that we were all there to better ourselves. From that point on, I knew that we had a common bond, no matter what the drug of choice was, no matter what we did in our past…we were all there because we were addicted to substances that were tearing our lives apart.” How did that perspective influence your success at staying sober beyond rehab?
I would say that it made me feel at home. For so long I was trying to fit in with a crowd that didn’t necessarily share my same values, but once I realized that I had such a common bond with so many people, I felt like the real me was actually part of something.
Liv: What is your program of recovery? Do you use a specific modality, or do you incorporate a number of tools into a holistic program?
Health & nutrition, personal development books, meditation, goal setting, positive affirmations, and removing negativity.
All of these things have been essential to my recovery. I knew early on that exercise and nutrition would be key for me to begin producing the natural endorphins I needed to be happy without the drugs and alcohol that I became dependent on for so long. But I had no clue about all of the other incredible benefits it would also have on my life. My sleep improved tremendously, my energy during the day sky rocketed, my motivation was boosted and I started seeing results of the goals I set which made me want to go out and accomplish more.
Today, if I take a few days away from exercise and eating healthy, it becomes obvious how much I need it. I would not be where I am today without pushing myself hard at the gym and working rigorously to get my diet right, period. Personal Development books have been key towards growing my understanding of self control and self awareness. When I understand those things, my life becomes open to opportunity. My character today is a direct reflection of what I have learned from those books. Without those, I don’t know where I would be either. Meditation is something that allows me to start my day and wind down before bed. It keeps me balanced and allows me to become patient. Goal setting is also a key element to my program because it motivates me to work harder today. It also gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment when I accomplish those goals both big and small. Surrounding myself with positivity and eliminating negativity was tough at first, but I knew that I had to make changes in what I surrounded myself with. I believe and have experienced the drastic effects of changing what I put into my head. I had to pay attention to what I was watching, what I was reading, what was on social media, who I was surrounding myself with and what I was listening to. The first time I really looked at all of those things, I realized how much negativity was right in front of me. I had to get fully honest with myself and eliminate the negativity, even if that would be at the expense of other peoples opinions. This is my life and it will be for the rest of my life so I need to take action now towards bettering it, otherwise I will be living in the self imposed prison of other peoples opinions and regret life to the fullest later on.
Transformation in Addiction Recovery
Liv: What I love about your story is the theme of hope that weaves through it. You talk of the realization that you could achieve greatness in life without drugs, and that we all have potential to succeed. What are some of the things that you have accomplished in the last four years you have been sober?
Oh wow, I love talking about this stuff because it was all unimaginable at one point in my life. Right out of rehab, I decided that I was going to shoot for getting my real estate license, no matter what it took. I worked hard to be able to afford the three weeks of class necessary to get my certificates, I then failed my real estate exams, I took them again and passed the state exam but failed the national one. Third time’s a charm and I officially became a licensed real estate agent. That was by far the biggest accomplishment of my life other than getting sober.
After that, I realized that I could use the same relentless mindset I used to get my real estate license to really do anything I wanted to in life. It opened everything up and eliminated a lot of my negative self talk. In 2014, I decided to quit smoking cigarettes and decided that I was going to get in the best physical shape of my life. I immediately signed up for the Tough Mudder that April which was about a 12 mile mud race filled with obstacles. I was already committed because I spent a lot of money on tickets, so I used that as motivation to start running–which I hated at the time. I would go to the gym in the morning and go for a long run in the evening. I pushed myself to achieve personal records every day. I then nailed the Tough Mudder and probably could have gone through it an extra time or two that day because of how physically conditioned I was.
But the biggest physical accomplishment came when there was a 5 mile race on the 4th of July. People from all over the nation came in to race at the event. There were college and high school track athletes as well as people who competed in triathlons and Iron Man events. I was beyond nervous. I even hit a rabbit, breaking my headlamp on the way to the event. It was a blazing hot day but I decided to give it everything I had. I got a trophy for 3rd place in my age group! I couldn’t believe it. Out of hundreds of competitors, I won a legitimate trophy in athletics for the first time of my life. I am damn proud of that.
In 2015, I joined a marketing team which is where I really began reading those personal development books. I hated that too until I realized how much my life and perspectives were changing. In 2016, I started SoberEvolution on Instagram. I thought I would create a page for myself where I could put quotes and mindsets down for reference, but it became something much greater than that very quickly. It blew up to 10,000 followers within the first few months and people such as celebrities, CEO’s bloggers, vlogger, podcasters, and news networks started reaching out to me. In August of 2016, ABC reached out to me to help put something together through Sober Evolution for their 20/20 special with Diane Sawyer interviewing Elizabeth Vargas about her addictions. That for me was huge! But most of all, out of anything on my list of accomplishments, I have been able to truly help people on their paths towards recovery. The feedback I have received, the conversations I have had, and the friendships I have made, have been the most fulfilling things imaginable!
Liv: Moving on to one of your great accomplishments, Sober Evolution, who’s mission is to “ get you or a loved one the help they need with substance abuse and/or mental health; and a movement geared towards inspiring those who are looking for a successful and enjoyable sober lifestyle. What does a successful and enjoyable sober lifestyle look like?
Well, I will start by saying what my opinion of a successful sober lifestyle looks like. I believe that means having the understanding and ability to build onto one’s life. It is true self-awareness and moving past the feeling or need to drink or use again. I had to look at it this way, instead of wondering how I was going to stay sober, I had to accept the fact that I was going to live my life without drugs and alcohol and only wonder how I was going to enjoy life without those things and then go and figure all of that out. It is living a joyous life in recovery without worrying about whether or not you’re going to slip up and drink today. My goal with Sober Evolution has been to bring that perspective to people and teach the mindset principles of that thought process. Another goal is to make Sober Evolution a place where people can ask questions and get them answered. Family members of those who are still out there sick and suffering tend to be the ones who have questions about helping that particular person and I have been able to form groups and pages where they are able to ask questions and get answers from peoples experiences.
Liv: Sober Evolution provides a range of gear with the message of recovery clearly displayed. What was your motivation behind being out and proud, and what impact do you think it has had on not only the recovery community, but society as a whole?
The shirt idea goes back to when my old friend became open on social media about him going to rehab and building his life from there. He wasn’t directing it at me, but he was posting that because he was proud of himself and letting himself become vulnerable, all while enjoying the new sober lifestyle. It completely broke the stigmas I had in my mind about drug addiction and alcoholism. I knew that if a post could break the stigmas for me, that there could be even more ways of breaking it for others. The stigmas about drug addiction and alcoholism are one of the main reasons why people are so reluctant to asking for help. If we can break the stigmas, we can change the world of addiction. So, I thought, why not wear your sobriety so not only that you can learn to be proud of yourself without worrying about what others think, but also to help people who may be walking by, see your courage and not be so judgmental. And who knows, you could walk by someone who knows they need help but it too afraid of the stigmas until seeing someone be proud of sobriety. I believe that as we grow the amount of people who stand up against the stigmas, the less people will hesitate to ask for help.
The Physical Aspect of Addiction Recovery
Liv: Moving on to the physical aspect of your recovery. How has your relationship with your body changed in recovery?
It has completely changed, especially after seeing results to me cutting out alcohol and drugs. I saw my body as a vessel. I have to take care of that vessel to help me live longer and be happier. I want to give it good fuel in order to run better much like a car or a ship. If I give it bad fuel, I will break down and fall apart.
Liv: What has been your relationship with food in recovery? Were there any noticeable changes?
Like I mentioned earlier, I view food as fuel. I decided to study about health and nutrition on my own time, and gained the understanding about what I was putting into my body when I eat or drink whatever it is that I choose to eat or drink. Right out of rehab I knew that I would have to change around my entire diet in order to feel good so I did. Fruits and veggies became a big part of my life and the results became completely obvious to me within 30 days of my changes. I had much more energy during the day, I was happier which was extremely noticeable from my diet change, my sleep improved greatly and I could focus more, plus it helped me workout in the gym. It is a no brainer to me today that food was and still is a key factor in my sobriety. Yes, diet changes can suck for the first few weeks, but why not sacrifice a few weeks of your life to completely revamp it and make it enjoyable?
Liv: What is your favourite meal that makes you feel great?
Plain Greek yogurt with honey, fruit, nuts, protein powder. It is such a huge boost of energy and it satisfies my sweet tooth with natural sugar from the honey. As for something more savoury, I love me some chicken stir fry, especially after working out so I can replenish my body with good nutrients and protein.
Top Five Addiction Recovery Tools
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
- Exercise/Nutrition–hands down #1
- Personal Development Books (The Four Agreements, The Slight Edge, You Are A Badass, Think & Grow Rich, etc.)
- Goal setting & striving
- Laughter/Positivity/Affirmations/Removing Negativity
Thank you for taking part in Kitchen Table Conversations.