Ray of Light Interview No. 14 :: Nicole Morgan

I met Nicole in a private Facebook group, along with 500 other women who were either sober or trying to get sober. I later read more about her as part of the Meet The Unruffled series that Sondra Primeaux features on her blog, The Unruffled. Last November, we finally had the opportunity to meet in real life. I ended up practicing my downward-facing dog right next to her at a yoga workshop led by Laura McKowen in the most beautiful studio in Austin, Sukha Yoga.

Fun fact: Nicole didn't even care that I couldn't hold tree pose or that I was in child's pose for most of the workshop. She wasn't judging me and that's when I knew we would be friends forever (wink!).

But seriously, I think this interview is such a beautiful testament to listening to your truth and then living it. Nicole has created her own program of recovery and makes no apologies for it. She's strong, creative and smart. She is living an examined life and does so with a great deal of integrity and raw honesty. She walks the walk and talks the talk She also does roller derby. I mean, c'mon, could she be any cooler?

Original photo courtesy of photographer Jeffrey McMillian Artwork by me :: mixed media b/w image with acrylic paint

Original photo courtesy of photographer Jeffrey McMillian
Artwork by me :: mixed media b/w image with acrylic paint

Nicole Morgan
Accountant by day; seamstress, knitter, and rollergirl by night!
Instagram handle: @nicolemorgan86

Do you remember how we first met or came to know one another?
I met you in the HOME Facebook group. I loved your gratitude journaling posts, and eventually they inspired me to start making some of my own!

You might remember that when I shared my first gratitude list in the HOME podcast Facebook group, I mentioned that I'd always thought gratitude lists were stupid and cheesy and a waste of time...even though I'd never actually done one! Eventually, I kept seeing yours, and they were so cool-looking that I wanted to make my own. So I did, and shared it in HOME, along with my previous thoughts on gratitude lists, and that's when Sondra clued me in to the phrase "contempt prior to investigation" and it was such a lightbulb moment for me. I'd had contempt prior to investigation for just about everything ever, my entire life! So a big part of my recovery story has also been about keeping an open mind, trying new things, being less judgmental, etc. etc.

When was your last drink or your sobriety date? 10/29/15

Do you count days, months or years connected to your sobriety?
Not really. I recognized my one-year, but usually the 29th goes by mostly unnoticed. I'm just busy living life!

What recovery modality do you use in your recovery from alcohol?
In the beginning, connecting with other sober women to reassure myself I could still have a fun life without drinking was SUPER important to me. I really thought my life was going to be incredibly boring, and I needed to hear from others that it would get better. So in those first few months, talking with women in the HOME podcast secret Facebook group and listening to the HOME podcast was really the heart of my recovery.

Around that same time, I started dipping my toes into Secular Buddhism, which really helped me identify why I was drinking, how I was using drinking to try to solve my problems, and what needed to change in my life to break those patterns. I used some of SMART Recovery's resources, especially the Hierarchy of Values worksheet, to help me determine what I most wanted out of life. Once I could see more clearly what it was I wanted out of life, it became very clear that drinking would stop me from achieving those things.

So then I started experimenting to figure out what worked best for me to help me live a life that felt fulfilling. I did volunteer work. I signed up for Hip Sobriety School, and I tried a lot of new things (kundalini, daily readings, mantras, breathwork, etc.). I took classes and learned new things like flower arranging, brush-lettering, calligraphy, abstract painting, etc. I threw myself into activities I'd already loved, but never had as much motivation for before, like sewing and knitting my own clothes. I tried weightlifting and swimming and hula-hooping and yoga and skating. I experimented with morning routines (hot lemon water, spiritual readings, meditation). I experimented with night routines (baths, yoga, tea). And I was just patient and waited to see what shook out.

Being open to all of those things and just trying them out helped me identify which things don't work for me, and which do. I don't do the things that don't speak to me, no matter how many sober people swear by them. Instead, I spend my time doing what makes me feel alive at this point in my life. I also try to be open to the fact that we change, and need different things over time. There was a time in my sobriety when I really needed meditation, and now I don't need it as much, or do it as much. I try to just be okay with knowing this thing will never be something I just check off my list, but something I'll always be exploring and journeying through.

Do you identify yourself as an alcoholic?
Not really. It's not that I have a problem with the word, more that it just doesn't feel right. I mostly say "I'm sober", or "I don't drink".

What are your top three tools in your sobriety toolbox?

1. Moving my body. Specifically, I started playing roller derby last fall, and I skate 4-5 days per week. I love the adrenaline rush. I love how fun and childlike it feels to skate, the sense of accomplishment I get from learning new things and getting better at them, and the teamwork and camaraderie. I also practice yoga about once per week, and do cross-training for derby a few times per week. I love how physical movement allows you to melt off the stress of the day, and how there's always some type of exercise I can do that will give me the emotional release I need. Sometimes I need to strap on my gear and knock people off their skates, and other times I need to sink into some restorative yoga poses for two hours.

2. Being creative. I have always identified as a maker, and feel such a sense of peace and accomplishment when I'm creating. My biggest creative outlets are sewing and knitting. I make all of my clothes. I also enjoying cooking and baking, and dabble in other creative things like writing, drawing, painting, etc. I do something creative at least once per day, usually knitting on my lunchbreak or sewing clothes in the evening. I don’t hold it as a specific goal, but instead just find that a little creativity each day helps my mind get quiet, so it’s just become a natural thing.

3. Keeping perspective. Secular Buddhism, especially the concepts of impermanence, self-compassion, and acceptance, have really helped me to see that the present is all there is, and to have gratitude for whatever I'm experiencing right now. My favorite little thing right now for when I'm going through a tough time is this mantra/prayer from the book Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff. It helps me accept whatever is, recognize that discomfort is a normal part of being human, and love myself right through it.

This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the self-compassion I need.

Why or how did you know or decide that you had to quit drinking?  
Nobody I knew actually thought I had a drinking problem. In fact, I distinctly remember my husband actually LAUGHING when I first mentioned that I think I might have a problem, and he said something along the lines of, "You just overdo it a little sometimes." But essentially I had started to wake up to how much of my life was spent drinking or recovering from drinking.

Drinking was my escape from boredom, from stress, from discomfort, from anything I didn't want to deal with. I started seeing how it was keeping me stuck in a life that honestly felt repetitive, boring, and unfulfilling, even though I had pretty much everything I wanted. But of course life felt repetitive, boring, and unfulfilling, because I was spending a good chunk of my time finding new beers, going to restaurants, drinking at home, etc., rather than doing things there were actually fun and fulfilling!!

Author Sarah Hepola said this in an interview and I've quoted it a million times: "Probably what got me to quit was fear of inertia. I didn’t think: If I don’t quit drinking, I’m going to die. I thought: If I don’t quit drinking, I’m never going to change. That was the terror."  I knew that I wanted more out of life, and I also knew that if I kept allowing myself to escape from life by drinking, I'd never get around to doing any of it. Drinking was just too easy of an escape. So initially I decided that I'd quit drinking just for a year, to see how life felt without it. About half a year in, I made the decision to go all in. And life is just so much better this way.

From time to time, mostly when on vacation, or when at fancy food event, my mind romanticizes drinking and thinks, "Hey, maybe I could have a drink! Life is so much better now!" But as quickly as the thought pops up, I remember to NQTD (never question the decision). I remind myself that life is better BECAUSE I'm not drinking anymore, and I'm instead filling up my life with other great things. Drinking again would ruin all that.

Do you feel you are more or less creative since you have stopped drinking?
I was still creative back when I was drinking (I once almost chopped off a finger with a rotary cutter while sewing with a bottle of champagne...), but it's different now. For one, I actually follow through with what I set out to create more often. But primarily, I'm less fearful of trying new things or starting new projects. I used to have big plans about things to sew, but it all just seemed so HARD that I'd settle for easier projects. Now, I cut into my precious fabrics without fear, I try challenging projects without fear, I test out new silhouettes with fear, etc. etc. That didn't happen before.

Do you feel you are more productive since you have stopped drinking? If yes, how so?
YES. I know for a fact I wouldn't be able to go to roller derby at 8:30am on a Saturday if I was still drinking, and I probably wouldn't have the determination to stick with something that's so physically and mentally demanding. I'd still be taking the easy road. Literally, my weekends used to consist of drinking fancy beers or champagne, eating a lot of takeout, watching movies/TV, and forgetting loads of laundry in the washer. These days, I can go skating twice, do yoga, go on a date, take a bubble bath, do the laundry, go grocery shopping, watch a movie, do a little sewing, read a book, and I'd still have spare time. If anything, I might have a bit of a problem now with doing too much! But, it's a problem I'm happy to have, because it means I get to do all the things I love and get the most out of life.

What has delighted you most since you quit drinking alcohol?
There's SO MUCH time to do things that are actually fun and meaningful and wonderful.

Do you have any advice for those in still suffering or those in early recovery?
For me, in order to make the decision that I wanted to be sober for life, it was crucial to identify the needs I was trying to fulfill by drinking, and to find better alternatives. For example, adventure was a huge reason I drank. It felt adventurous to try new drinks, to go to new places, and because I'd never know where the day would take me when I was drinking. So when I first stopped drinking it was like, "What the fuck, why is it all so BORING?!" And that's mostly because I just removed alcohol from my life, and hadn't actually replaced it with anything better to fulfill my needs. Once I started finding new things, it made me see how bad alcohol had actually been at fulfilling my needs in the first place.  

Also, don't worry too much about finding the right thing, right now. Just throw the book at it, and try all the things.

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

1. Holly's and Laura's blogs and podcast. I truly do not think I would have gotten sober without these, because I was just too afraid sobriety was going to suck. Holly and Laura helped me be brave and just give it a try, having faith that life really would get bigger and brighter.

2. Annie Grace's book, This Naked Mind. I had SO MANY arguments in my head for why I should keep drinking, and this book was excellent at diffusing all of them. A must-read for anyone newly sober.

3. Noah Rasheta's Secular Buddhism podcast, which was my gateway into learning about Secular Buddhism. Embracing this philosophy has completely changed my outlook on life, and has helped me get emotionally sober, instead of just being a person who doesn't drink. Because of Secular Buddhism, I don't fall into the trap of believing that anything external (drinking, drugs, food, shopping, exercise, praise, affection, etc.) is going to fix me, or save me from the discomforts of life (grief, sadness, boredom, anger, etc.). I approach things from a much more rational place because of Secular Buddhism. I'm also much more grateful for everything in my life.

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?
I lucked into joining the HOME podcast private Facebook group right when it was first started, and having that kind of connection with people who fully understood my sobriety was crucial. In those early stages, I think it's important to try to connect to any sort of group of people who you can listen to and say "me too". If it weren't for seeing so many other intelligent, successful women who hadn't necessarily hit any sort of rock bottom, I'd probably have gone on a long time waffling about if I should quit or not. But seeing how much better their lives were inspired me, and helped me make that decision to get, and stay, sober.

These days, I honestly don't engage as much in groups that are specifically about sobriety, such as the HOME podcast FB group. Instead, I am very open and vocal about my sobriety in my everyday life, and everyone I know supports me 100%. So pretty much anywhere I go, anything I do, I have people that understand me and want me to be happy, and they know that for me, that means not drinking. I've also been shocked to find out that so many people I interact with in normal life don't even really drink, or are sober themselves, so it feels as if I can find support anywhere I go now. I know this goes against what a lot of people believe and I mean absolutely no offense to them, but I really didn't want my new life to be as focused on not drinking, as it previously was on drinking. So after I had cleared those initial hurdles in sobriety, I kind of wanted to move away from sobriety-centric groups, and instead move towards the things that really interested me. Just finding people who enrich my life and who I have lots in common with and who are supportive of me not drinking, whether or not those people are actually sober themselves, has been the best sort of community for me personally.

What are you most proud of now that you live an alcohol-free life?
That I'm no longer afraid to be exactly who I am, and to stand up for what I believe. I never realized until I quit drinking how much alcohol muted who I was. It sounds so cheesy, but I fully embrace and love myself now, quirks and all.

I've run into a few snags with my art-making process for this series. I'm in search of a new top coat that won't force the image to bubble up when affixed to the hard wood panel. I've narrowed down a few new options, but have yet to make it to the art supply store. I will affix Nicole's image to a 4" x 4" panel once I track down the magic topcoat.

Thanks for allowing me to share part of your story, Nicole. I work on this series as a labor of love with the sole intention of helping to spread the message of sobriety and hope.

If you'd like to be considered for this series and have at least one year of continuous sobriety and are okay with recovering out loud, please contact me at tammisalas@mac.com.