How to Get Sober Without it Feeling Like Punishment
“When we get inspired, we change”—Nicole Peltier Hall
Nicole’s story is devastatingly familiar.
A desire to stop drinking, the inability to do so, and many silent attempts at sobriety. But what she’s discovered from her path to sobriety is moving, and shifted this writers understanding of a new path to putting down the bottle.
Over the phone, on a winter afternoon, Nicole relays her story of sobriety and building her yoga empire. Her presence is commanding, even over the phone, much like her light blue eyes staring intently from photos.
She is a presence, the kind that makes you stop and pay attention, much like a mountain does — strong and sure.
And her story is no different. Filled with pitfalls, but laced with inspiration — a true silver lining.
Despite building a successful yoga studio in Tulsa, OK, Nicole’s alcohol use was spiraling, along with her discomfort around drinking. “I was in this luxury working routine, where you’re working your job and you drink with the girls and you have too much and then you somehow get home and then you wake up to work the next day and nobody knows,” she recounts.
Nicole says at that point, she didn’t know what sobriety felt like, because she was drinking at least one drink every night. She recounts whiling away mornings and afternoons with friends and too much champagne, and the “thousand little moments of suffering at 3 a.m.”
Despite her shame and guilt rising, Nicole was trapped in a belief that alcohol is a luxury afforded to those who hustle, “I bought into the idea I was a privileged drinker,” she says.
In retrospect, Nicole understands her drinking was partly fueled by a desire to fit in with a group of people, who weren’t necessarily in alignment with who she wanted to be.
“Its this ‘I get to be in this club’ mentality, and that’s very powerful, but the problem is that we’re fitting in with the wrong people,” she recalls.
During that time, a woman she knew, someone that Nicole says was beautiful, whom she would get nervous just talking to, died by suicide. “She had her 12 day chip, and she relapsed, and she couldn’t do it anymore,” Nicole says.
After the tragic event, the words “wake up Nicole,” began to echo in her head. Nicole says “I went to her service, and I had to sit in my hot discomfort about being an alcoholic, and I kept thinking ‘how am I gonna get out?’”
When the shame became too much, Nicole attempted to stop drinking. “I started to quit, but I couldn’t do it. I would say ‘I’m not gonna drink until Thursday,’ and I couldn’t do it.”
During that time, Nicole had met another woman that stopped her in her tracks — someone who laughed like she hadn’t laughed in years, she was strikingly beautiful. Nicole felt intimated, but as she got to know this woman, she found out she was sober.
Nicole was instantly inspired by this picture of sobriety, and a piece inside her stood up and declared “I want that too.”
But stuck as she was in the cycle of alcohol, Nicole wasn’t yet out of the weeds. She recalls a nondescript afternoon in which she had quietly decided she wasn’t going to drink, but when friends called with the temptation of a champagne brunch, she answered it.
“I had too much, I went home, almost got a DUI in the middle of the day, and then I was going to my stepsons talent show at 2 p.m. That night I got drunk, and the next day I said ok that’s it,” she remembers, but says again, she didn’t tell anyone her plans to stay sober.
That night, her friend poured her a glass of wine, and “being a people pleaser, I drank it and I got drunk.”
The next day, after 20 years of drinking, Nicole decided she was done trying to get sober in all the ways she had before, she was ready to take the next step, “I reached out to a friend and told her my plans to get sober and didn’t drink again.”
From Suffering to Inspiration
Before Nicole’s journey to sobriety, she had a different change of heart to make, one that involved yoga — an activity she never anticipated jumping into.
Living in Santa Cruz, CA at the time, Nicole says “I was a people pleaser, eating disordered, I had a diet of coffee, bagels and was a runner, everything I did was very energetic, all about output and distraction.” She says her body started breaking down.
As she sat impatiently outside the aerobics room at Gold’s Gym one day, waiting for the yoga class to wrap up, she noticed, even in her annoyance, how inspired she felt looking at the beautiful, grounded people inside the class.
Something in her shifted, and she decided to try a yoga class for the first time. “I started going to yoga and I hated it because it was still and slow, and all the things I hated, but I knew I needed that,” she recounts.
“It was a challenge, and I liked a challenge, so I went to yoga every day for two years,” she says.
Around this time, Nicole decided to jump into her van and “tootle” around the US for a year, which eventually landed her back in Tulsa, where she’s from.
She arrived, deeply in love with yoga, and yet she found no yoga classes to attend, so out of the need to do yoga, she became a yoga teacher. Nicole’s success was automatic, and eventually she decided to open her own yoga studio, The Yoga Room, considered the first studio to open in Tulsa, and again, success was almost immediate.
But none of this success was exactly what Nicole was after.
“It all happened to me because I didn’t want to do yoga, but I did it, I didn’t want to be a yoga teacher, but I became one, I didn’t want to own a studio, but I ended up owning one,” she says, laughing at the sequence of events that brought her to where she is now.
From this experience — of choosing inspiration over suffering, after witnessing the yogis on that first day all those years ago — she made inspiration the foundation of her life, and credits this as the reason she was able to get sober.
“I want to focus on the future, as opposed to circling on past mistakes, to lift people up, to help people see that sobriety is an incredible life, not a sorry lot,” she says.
She’s changing the perception of sobriety from suffering, “missing out,” and a punishment for those that “can’t handle their booze,” to an inspirational choice — something you get to do, not that you have to do.
“I used to suffer a lot, and if I would have waited to get sober until the suffering become insurmountable, I don’t think I would have quit. I think it’s when we get inspired, that change happens,” Nicole says.
The Law of Conservation of Energy (and what it has to do with getting sober)
Nicole often explains sobriety like the law of conservation of energy, which says:
Energy cannot be created or destroyed in a closed system
“Imagine all the energy you could have if you closed the doors of alcohol, where all that energy is seeping out,” says Nicole, who shut the doors on alcohol, and opened so many more to a deeper, more fulfilling life.
“I thought I was going to put down alcohol and see two empty wine glasses and that it was going to suck,” she says, “but I put down alcohol and picked up an amazing life.”
In her 30-days of sobriety group on Facebook, which you can join here, Nicole explains that sobriety is an elevation, not a decrease in worth because you’re not allowed to participate in a behavior that is ultimately toxic, no matter how you cut it.
“I think the revolution has begun, and it’s spreading out so wide. What a liberation and empowerment sobriety is, and you don’t wake up with guilt or shame. I want to be a part of that movement, instead of being a part of a mommy’s happy hour,” Nicole says.
Nicole’s sobriety has lead her to create a new style of yoga she calls Raven Yoga, after the “wise bird, because you never see a raven in a cage.”
For Nicole, ravens represent freedom during a time when “I felt like I was caged, by my own hands, with my own conflict with drinking.” Although alcohol represented a luxury and privilege, Nicole says “the cage was well decorated, but a cage is a cage, a prison is a prison, no matter how pretty it is.”
Putting down the bottle allowed Nicole’s world to open up, she is no longer wasting energy on a dead end, and toxic activity, but digging deep into this life, and helping others dig deep too.
“When I finally fled the cage, I crawled, I walked, I ran, I flew, I soared,” she says, and is on a journey to help others find their own freedom too.
(Photos by Ryan Magnani and Kassi Patton)
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