As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Courtney Andersen is a southern girl at heart but raised in Pure Michigan. She is a Sober and Health Coach, Podcast host and the Founder of Sober Vibes an online support community for women in recovery and sober-curious women of all ages.
Courtney is also the co-founder of Real Aligned Women. They help women heal from addiction so that they live their best life in recovery. Together, her and her business partner co-founded National Sober Day, which kicks off its inaugural event on 9/14/19.
She is a wife to her husband Matt, and a cat mom to Fiona. Both Matt and Fiona saved her life by encouraging her to get sober.
Her favorite day of the year is August 18, 2012, because that is the day, she finally stopped the madness of addiction and started to do some real LIVIN!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
My childhood felt lonely and emotionally chaotic. From the outside it looked normal but the family dynamics was built around divorce, mental health issues and alcoholism. I grew up in a white upper middle-class family (I included this because I want you to understand addiction does not discriminate) and the youngest of four children. My father worked in corporate America, restaurant management and my mom stayed home with us four kids. When my parents divorced my mom would then start her own business inside the home and work 14-hour days. We moved around a lot due to my father’s job, I lived in five different houses by the time I was seven. As a kid, I was always shy and always sought approval. I never wanted to upset anyone and my people pleasing skills came early. We traveled, went out to dinners each week, never went without. However, I could always remember feeling tension in the home between my parents and a sense of walking on egg shells with both of them.
At seven years old, my parents got a divorce then the emotional chaos unfolded. We had to split time between two homes and in the early nineties no one’s parents were divorced. My siblings and I were the odd kids out in our community. Very soon after the divorce our trusted babysitter killed herself in our home while she was house-sitting and watching our pets for the weekend. My mom was out of town and us kids were at our dad’s. The police brought my mother into the home to go through the “crime scene” the suicide was that brutal, she repeatedly stabbed herself with the block of butcher knives in our kitchen. These series of events would then lead my parent into having one of many mental breakdowns and the other parent continuing their relationship with alcohol. I grew up in a home where I knew what Alcoholism and Bipolar was by the age of 8. Emotional chaos and emotional needs were not being met from then on and that really was the start of my own trauma. That trauma and loneliness would then lead me down the road of addiction at age 19.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
I was initially introduced to my drug of choice by what I was shown and born into. I believe addiction is 50% learned behavior and 50% genetics. This statement is controversial as some do not think addiction is genetics and some don’t even think addiction is real. I grew up in home where drinking was everything! There was always a Miller Lite in one’s hand or the discussion of cocktails. If you had a good day you drink, you needed to decompress drink, you had a bad day drink, birthdays there must be alcohol, etc. etc.
In high school I drank a few times because I wanted to stay away from it since alcoholism ran in my family for generations. I smoked pot and experimented with mushrooms and ecstasy. None of these drugs were gateways for me. I was already conditioned as a child with my drug of choice and un-dealt trauma. At 19 years old I fell in love with alcohol and started my decade long love affair with it. I loved how it made me feel, it was like a warm fuzzy blanket to mask that shy, insecure girl who never felt like she was good enough. Love at first sip.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I was masking hurt, anxiety and unhealed emotional trauma. I was continually chasing avoidance that then lead into the shame cycle.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
I had so many from my own suicide attempts to waking up in jails, hospitals, strangers’ beds who I had zero clue of their names but slept with. This one drinking evening always stands out to me the most. I woke up in a hospital not knowing how I got there. I was told I fell at a bar and hit my head and was carried out on a stretcher and put in the ambulance all while a Saturday night out at the local bar was going on. I was on a drinking binge and the last thing I remembered was being at a bar drinking a chocolate martini, that wasn’t even the bar I fell and hit my head at. The nurse also told me when I woke up the next morning that I was pregnant, that week I would have a miscarriage. You would think at this time I would stop drinking, I didn’t. I continued on for another 6 years.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
The last night of me drinking consisted of yet another evening of me blacking out, yelling at friends, threatening my boyfriend and losing my cat for the second time. My boyfriend at the time told me the next day that if I wanted to continued drinking I could but he would not stick around for it. I made a promise to the universe that if I found my cat who was a rescue, that I would give up alcohol and start my sober life.
I found Fiona 3 days later and that boyfriend of mine is now my husband. I was at the point of my addiction at 29 that I was so tired of the cycle and myself. My addiction was a cycle which included a continuous ride of shame, self-sabotage, deceit, and a slow suicide every time I picked up the bottle. It was time to start living a life without alcohol and I have every day since August, 18th 2012.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
I gave myself grace and it was a slow process of grieving those feelings. My one-year sober birthday, I made my amends with the people I hurt the most and that were still relevant in my life. It was the hardest thing to do of telling them and owning all what I had done. Lots of tears but it’s something all us addicts/alcoholics must do to set that shame and guilt free and start moving forward.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
My first 3 months sober, I Mod Podge picture frames and binged watched Friday Night Lights. I needed something to keep my mind and hands busy. I chose this show because it was wholesome and not chaotic. As much as I love my housewives and reality television during that time, that noise was too much for me. I was dealing with massive anxiety at this time. My drinking was very social and always outside of the home so I really had to sit at home and become one with being content and not chasing excitement.
I also slept a lot those first few months my body and mind were exhausted. I put my body through the ringer for a decade. Binge drinking, cocaine, and even some crack usage is not the fountain of youth. I had to get right with myself and being able to sit still in my own thoughts. I then started baking, journaling, working out, reading and meditations. All these hobbies slowly came into my life during my recovery. Fun fact, I legit had to google hobbies when I got sober because I had zero. Drinking was my hobby and everything in my life revolved around it.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
Personal development, exercising, creating, meditating, journaling, baking, laughing every day and getting outside in nature.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
My entrepreneurial journey started when I was 9 years old. I started my own Lemonade stand. I was going to visit my grandmother in Florida that summer and my mom told me I could go but had to bring my own spending money. My brother at the time played baseball and each week he had games where there were about twelve other fields and each field had games going on. So, there was a demand needed for thirsty fans. Remember this was 95ish so big corporations had not taken over fields yet with Coke/Pepsi Machines.
With the help from my mom we came up with this idea! I ran my own lemonade stand that summer and raised close to four hundred dollars. Each week when Chad played, I would go out with my table, my sign, homemade lemonade and of course two different size cups charging .25 and .50 cents. Always give two options. People loved, and I mean loved it. The response was huge and I remember going back the following year and I saw another girl set up her own stand that summer. I got the taste for being my own boss. From that summer on I would always have a job. When asked when I was a kid, what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always said, “help others and be my own boss.”
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
I am still me but a better version of who I was back then! Being a hard worker even in my active addiction is just in my DNA. My parents, my siblings and my grandparents are just hard workers. It’s part of who we are. In my active recovery I have really worked on my word. When I say I’m going to do something, I must. This is huge for me, the follow through. The one bad trait that is still with me is my self-sabotage. I have to be very mindful of this because it can show up in many forms. Recovery is a work in progress, a journey not a destination.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
Alcoholism is not talked about nearly enough because of a few things. It’s legal and so embedded into our society. There is so much shame, guilt, hush hush wrapped into the disease. I mean one of Alcoholics Anonymous founding principles is being ANONYMOUS. Also, it’s forced to look inwards into the family unit. Addiction is a family disease. It causes people to have to look at their relationship with alcohol. There are many levels of alcoholism and if you want you could look at it as a spectrum. From high functioning to the lowest of functioning. It looks different for everyone. There is also a reputation that to be an alcoholic one has to be drinking every day which is not the case or that people never have a rock bottom moment. So, if these two things didn’t happen you don’t have an issue. Everyone processes alcohol differently but I will say this, if you have questioned your drinking and relationship with alcohol more than three times you probably have an issue. One drink is too many and a thousand is never enough.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
- First piece of advice I would give would be to get help. Don’t be ashamed to reach out and ask for help! It’s 2019, help is everywhere! There are other ways to recover besides just twelve steps groups but they are also a great place to start to see if it is for you. Therapy, sober coaching, courses and free online communities are also great avenues to look into. Fill your tool belt with as many tools as possible during this phase.
- Second, tell someone you trust. A friend, partner, family member and you can always reach out to me! Stop keeping this a secret, if you know you have a problem free yourself of it by just someone. Going it alone does not work. The opposite of addition is connection.
- Third, give yourself grace. No one is perfect, even if your Instagram feeds “tells” you differently. Sobriety/recovery is not a straight line and perfection does not exist in this avenue so get that idea out of your head. Focus on today and only today, focus on how you will not use today. If you slip today, tomorrow is a new day and take it from there. Zero shame is trying.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Podcast: Real Aligned Women
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!