Ray of Light Interview No. 15 :: Ellen Atkins

I had the good fortune of meeting today's interviewee, Ellen Atkins, while enrolled in Holly Whitaker's Hip Sobriety School. Almost everyone featured in my new Ray of Light Interview Series has mentioned Holly or her school. I promise you, Holly's interview is in the works and you will soon get to know her genius + generous spirit.

Until then, I'd like for you to meet Ellen and be inspired by her story of leaving the safety of her corporate job to found a company that brings her complete and utter joy, The Suburban Monk. I have long admired Ellen's positive attitude, her take it or leave it mentality with regard to alcohol and have enjoyed watching her company grow and have great success. She continues to be a seeker and a giver, donating a percentage of all Suburban Monks sold to charities near and dear to her heart. 

Ellen Atkins
Creator of Syd + The Founder of The Suburban Monk
Instagram: @thesuburbanmonk
Twitter: @thesuburbanmonk
Facebook: The Suburban Monk
Blog address:www.thesuburbanmonk.com

When was your last drink? May 23, 2015

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic? No.

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
I notice time once in awhile. While in Hip Sobriety School One (HSS 1), I counted days and then months, got to a year and now isn’t on my mind except maybe at the yearly mark.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?
It was becoming a habit that I never even liked.

Did you have any trepidations about doing this interview?
When I told you that I don’t relate to the word sober or even recovery regarding alcohol, I assumed you would think that I didn’t belong here. At the same time, Hip Sobriety School (HSS) will be one of the best things I’ve experienced. This tribe is such a huge part of my heart. When you replied that I belonged and you’d be honored if I shared my truth, my heart melted.

To help me and my readers understand, can you tell us why you joined the Hip Sobriety School if you don’t relate to the words sober or recovery as they relate to alcohol?
Sure. Here is my truth. I don’t have a long history with alcohol. When we became empty nesters, it was becoming a habit. I finally said to my husband, “I need to break this alcohol habit.” Then Holly (@hipsobriety on IG) posted on Instagram and when I saw that she was talking about Kundalini (which I was already obsessed with) and things like neuroplasticity (that stuff makes me drool) I reached out to her, we spoke and 10 days later I joined her Hip Sobriety School. It was her very first HSS and there were only 11 of us and it started in May of 2015. It was then that I knew I was done with alcohol.

I am a seeker through and through. I am deeply sensitive, like a lot of us. I think most of us have addictions and mine from an early age had been food. It probably still is my go-to.  My life fell apart in my early twenties (four family members died in a 10 month span, including my mom, and we were attached at the hip), so I turned to sleep, food and work.

When I quit my corporate job, a doctor decided I had ADD and put me on Adderall. Looking back, it seems strange that I went for most of my life this way and didn’t need drugs, but I was a mess so I went on them. It made me feel better. But every month I had used my allotment and there were a few days I had none. Umm, think I have a bit of an addictive personality? Yup? That drug is bad news and once again I said done and I took myself off Adderall and coffee on the same day. I don’t suggest it, but that seems to be the way I do things.

So while I no longer have coffee or meds or alcohol, I don’t consider myself sober or in recovery. I agree with the She Recovers tagline that we are all recovering from something but to say the words I am in recovery just doesn’t feel right to me. What feels right is I am a seeker just constantly trying to raise my vibration and have the best life possible. The life I came to this earth school to have.

So why did you feel comfortable being in the first Hip Sobriety School (HSS1) and then going on to be an Elder in HSS2 and HSS3 if you didn’t consider yourself sober or in recovery?
Holly, the Founder of Hip Sobriety, asked me and so I said yes. These people were my people. Maybe I didn’t have the exact matching stories at least with alcohol but we were the same. I got so much from them and I think they did from me. I tell you this was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life and I have had so many.   

So what is the hardest thing you have done in your life and are most proud of?
Well, I don’t need to give that much thought. It was finding the courage to quit my corporate life as a CPA after 30 years, not knowing what I would do next. The second thing was going through a year of feeling lost and depressed with a major void in my life. The past was over but I had no idea what the future would bring. But through that void I created a company called The Suburban Monk and a magical little two thumbs up statue named Syd. Out of this dark time, I created a life that is aligned with who I truly am. A life that makes sense and feels good and right. One that I never have to retire from. I still can’t believe it. What a journey this last 8-9 years has been!

Can you tell my readers who Syd is and what he symbolizes?
Syd is a magical little two thumbs up buddha-like statue that I created during my time of transition and transformation. I had quit my corporate job and so that part of my life was over but I had no idea what the future would hold. Syd is a universal symbol of hope and healing and that everything will be OK. To everyone he might be a little different but when I look at Syd I know magic exists in this world because if someone had told me I would leave my Type-A corporate life and create a statue and a business around positivity well let’s see, I would have said they were on drugs!  No way this accountant who never took an art lesson could create a statue. But it happened and in a way that is unreal and would take a lot more pages to explain just how magical this path was. For example, the name The Suburban Monk came to me  before I even knew what the business would do. I found out I had been a Monk in a lot of past lives (OK here we go with my woo talk) and then found out the backsplash in my kitchen, which I thought was a Greek ruin, was actually a monastery from the 1800’s. So I have been living with a monastery in my kitchen for 20 years without realizing it. So Syd represents anything is possible.

Can you recommend a few books, bloggers or teachers that have helped you on this path to sobriety?

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
Miracles are real. For me I guess recovery was mostly getting out of dark places where I felt hopeless. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer, like the drop-to-your-knees kind. Even if you don’t believe in it, just do it. There is so much light and joy waiting for you on the other side.

Are you part of a tribe or a recovery community that supports your sobriety? If so, how did you figure out how to find that tribe/community. What was your path to discovering it?
In the early days when I quit corporate and was starting my spiritual path there was no one or a tribe to speak of. It was hard. Someone had recommended going to the annual conference at Omega NYC, so I went.  I also prayed that I would meet some like-minded people because I was so lonely. I figured if I hated the weekend I could always go shopping and order room service. But that weekend started so much in motion. I met names like Marianne Williamson, Michael Beckwith, Debbie Ford, etc. and my whole world opened up.

What are the top tools in your sobriety toolbox?

  1. Meditation.  

  2. Kundalini yoga.

  3. Connection with like-minded people, like the ones in HSS and the HOME FB group.

  4. And, of course, Syd!

What are you most proud of now that you live a life without alcohol, drugs and coffee?
I am most proud of the fact that I created a life that I really love to live and maybe can be some kind of a role model for people that want to reinvent their lives. My old life (corporate) the most creative thing I did was finding a new place to insert a column in an excel spreadsheet. Now creativity is everywhere in my life. I have created a life that I never have to retire from. It is fun and I am always helping people. So I get to give back in so many ways whether I am donating a percentage of my sales to charities near and dear to my heart or supporting other people in various ways. I feel so, so blessed.

I'm struggling to find a new method for these ray of light images. I've tried colored pencils, wood panels and acrylic paints. I'm interested in trying a new medium to see where I can take this series. The adhesives are proving troublesome on the wood panels and bubbling up quite a bit. Collage is kind of calling me, so I may mix it up soon as I prepare the artwork for the next set of interviews.

Thank you for opening up about your journey, Ellen. You absolutely do not have to use words like sober or recovery if they don't feel right. I'm glad you stayed true to what resonated with you and shared how you removed substances from your life that no longer served you. You and Syd radiate the best kind of light and by sharing your story here, you are helping others to know that there is another way to walk this path.

*If you are interested in owning your own Syd, please visit Ellen's website The Suburban Monk to purchase one in a color of your choosing.