Emily Lynn Paulson: "Soul Sickness", Addiction Spectrum & Creating a Life Worth Living
Updated: Jan 21
Emily Lynn Paulson (@highlightrealrecovery) is the author of Highlight Real: Finding Honesty & Recovery Beyond the Filtered Life. Emily is an entrepreneur, certified professional recovery coach, She Recovers Designated Coach, and a member of the long-term recovery community. Formally trained as a chemist and a teacher, she rose to success in the top tiers of a skincare company, where she gained her voice and a platform for sobriety and healing. Sober since January 2, 2017, her recovery path is focused on ruthless honesty, grace, and self love. She is passionate about connecting women with resources for recovery from trauma, eating disorders, and substance abuse and believes that sharing our truth with each other is the best resource of all. Emily lives in Seattle with her husband and their five children.
When did you first notice that you had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
I questioned my drinking on and off for a very long time. I was always able to justify it based on the fact that I could quit if I wanted to. I would give it up for a month or more at a time, assume I was fine, convince myself that it wasn't that bad, and return to it again. I tried to set rules around it and always broke them. If I controlled it I couldn't enjoy it, and if I enjoyed it, I couldn't control it. I knew I needed to quit but I didn't know how.
When and how did you decide that you wanted to quit?
I knew it was on the horizon, but I was always waiting for the "next thing." I told myself I'd quit after a certain event or trip in the future, and when that came, I'd have something else I'd hold out for. Meanwhile I kept having more and more trouble with it but I just couldn't stop. I'd been in trouble with the law, in trouble in my marriage, and in the hospital more than once. I woke up one day and realized that the next "rock bottom" was going to be me dying, because it was killing me. I finally had enough one day, listening to the sound of my kids and my husband downstairs living life as I was in bed with a hangover. I knew that I was listening to their future, and I knew I couldn't wait anymore to take the steps toward recovery. I called a friend who was in AA and asked her to take me to a meeting.
What have been some of your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?
For me, reliving trauma from my past and understanding the reasons why I drank in the first place were the most crucial, and the most difficult. It takes a ton of time and patience. I did a ton of therapy and EMDR to reopen old wounds and heal them properly. Letting go of shame and not drinking through things that I wanted to numb out were key to retraining my brain and my body to learn new coping mechanisms.
How has your life changed since becoming sober?
It has changed in every way. My social circle is smaller, but stronger. I don't live with secrets and shame. My focus is more on my kids and my spouse than ever before. I no longer want to escape my life. My health is better, my anxiety is reduced, and I'm mentally and spiritually more at peace than I've ever been. It is not easy, but I always say that my worst day sober is infinitely better than my best day was when I was drinking.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love that I am comfortable with who I am. I haven't always been able to say that. In fact, I don't think I was ever able to say it until a couple of years ago, which is why I love that about myself so much now!
Was there any one piece of wisdom or element of treatment that helped you stay the course? I was told once that I should be grateful for having alcoholism. That this is the one disease that, if you do the work, you WILL recover from. It's a guarantee. If you have cancer (which I've also had) you are given treatment and a probability of survival. No guarantees, ever. But with this disease, you WILL recover, 100 percent, if you're willing to do the ONE thing that's required: not drinking today! Even if you don't believe/agree with the disease model of alcoholism, as a behavioral model, this still holds true. It's always stuck with me.
How did alcohol affect your spirituality? How is your spirituality now that you are sober?
I was spiritually bankrupt when I first walked into the rooms of AA. Someone described it to me as a "soul sickness" and I couldn't agree more with that description. I didn't think that there was anyone out there who had done things as horrible as the things I'd done. I wanted to die and my connection with God was non-existent. When I got sober, I noticed how light I felt when I walked into church. It sounds odd, but I felt a huge weight off of me. It wasn't the absence of judgement or condemnation from some old man in the sky, but I truly felt the positive strength of my higher power when I worked the steps. I walk into church now with my head held high, and know there is nothing hidden. There are no secrets, not with my kids, not with my husband, not with friends, and not with God. I feel spiritually whole.
What tools have you used in our recovery? (Books, podcasts, groups etc.)
All of the above! I always say, take what works, and leave the rest. While I've talked about AA, and give so much credit to it, it's not perfect and not for everyone! I attend a weekly women's AA homegroup. I utilize SHE RECOVERS sharing circles, retreats and podcasts. I find ways to be of service to others. I've read ALLLLLL of the recovery books out there. I am a member of many online sobriety groups, and I recover "out loud" everywhere I go!
Describe sobriety in three words.
Living Life Fully
What else do people need to know about addiction & recovery?
There is a huge spectrum of addiction and recovery. There aren't just two groups: addicts and non-addicts. If you take the two extremes, there are people who have never used anything, and people who are dying of cirrhosis, and then there is EVERYTHING in between. EVERYONE is somewhere on that spectrum. There's no one definitive test that says who is an addict or not. You can be a person who self-medicates once in a while and not think you have a problem and still be addicted. You can "just" have a glass of wine with dinner every night and be addicted. You can come from a family with zero alcoholism and still become addicted. You can quit for long periods of time and still be addicted. You can drink "only a little" and still be addicted. Get the picture? Everyone should be aware of how alcohol fits into their lives. On that same note, recovery is a spectrum too! You don't have to be a rock-bottom drunk to seek recovery. Recovery is so much more than just "not being addicted," it's about recovering the person you were always meant to be. It's a gift.
You can find Emily's Book "Highlight Real: Finding Honesty & Recovery Beyond the Filtered Life" on both Amazon and Audible.
More information @ https://www.emilylynnpaulson.com/
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