Kayla Lyons: Addiction and Escapism, Letting Go of Resentment & Finding Freedom Through Sobriety
Updated: Jan 26
Kayla Lyons, CFT
Founder of the Alcohol-Free Challenge @1000hoursdry
Tell us a little bit about you!
I am currently living my best life in beautiful Orange County, CA where I operate two amazing Lagree studios: Pilates Plus OC. I am working towards my BA in Psychology at Arizona State University, Class of 2021. My hope is to continue my graduate education at the University of Irvine, and become a Doctor of Social Psychology.
When I’m not working or focusing on school work, I am spending my time planning content for my page (@1000hoursdry we’ll talk more about that later!), working out & grabbing juice with friends, or reading a great book. It’s amazing how my perspective of “fun” has changed since going alcohol-free, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
When did you first notice that you had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
I started pretty young, probably around 14/15 years old. My relationship with alcohol was turbulent from the start; I didn’t experience years of fun and THEN the bad, it was pretty much a 50/50 from the get go. I went to high school in a small town, where there really wasn’t anything to do except go to bonfires, field parties or football games; which all centered around drinking. Even back then, it was super normalized to get hammered and black out, or embarrass yourself but I got into the habit early of going the extra mile. Before I turned 18, I had 3 underage drinking citations (the equivalent of a drunk in public for underage individuals) and my parents were breathalyzing me every night when I got home. Even with the negative impact of getting suspended from school for being drunk at a football game, and having to take a string of “troubled teen” alcohol-related classes, nothing was going to stop me. Getting in trouble was like a badge of honor in some sort of twisted way, I knew where the party was and even students from other high schools knew to hit me up if they wanted to have a good weekend. I hung out with other teenagers with the same drinking and party habits as me, but instead of being the classic “stoner outcasts” you see in movies, we were the go-to popular party crew because we were varsity athletes and cheerleaders. In a way it validated what we were doing. It’s really sad when I look back at it, we all had so much potential, and I’m one of the lucky ones. The majority of my close friends from those days are either dead, in jail or still using/drinking.
When and how did you decide that you wanted to quit?
My sobriety date is July 22, 2016. It wasn’t my first run at ditching booze, but I know it will be my last. I had already been to rehab, tried 12 step meetings, therapy, in-patient and outpatient treatments and nothing was going to stop me from my idiotic belief that I could moderate. I had been in therapy since I was 8 years old, but I was never really present for sessions, and I most definitely didn’t take advantage of any tools the therapist tried to give me. I lied about taking my medications, and I would just sit with the therapist and not speak for 45 minutes (what a brat! ha).
I left rehab in the summer of 2015, and stayed sober for a few months, but ultimately decided to go back to drinking because I wasn’t really sure if I had a substance abuse disorder. Even the treatment center I went to had told me and my parents that I should be in a dual-diagnosis center (an in-patient facility for substance abuse and mental health issues), not just a detox/rehab facility. They wanted to transfer me over to their DD center, but that meant starting my 30 days over and that was NOT about to happen. I had a strict contract with my parents of what I had to do in order to continue to be supported by them, and on that contract, among other things was “Complete 30 Days Impatient.” Check. Done. See ya! What a total mistake that was.
Another part of my contract was going to 12 Step meetings and going to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy 3 times a week. Both of which I did, even when I started drinking again. I am a very literal person, so even just sitting in the meetings, taking nothing away from them was good enough for me because it abided by the contract. Obviously I was missing the point of why it was on the list, but I didn’t care. I kept drinking for about another year until July 2016. By that time my life was totally cyclical and purposeless. I was a bar back, dating a meth addict, living with family doing the same thing every week and every weekend: work, get drunk, get into some sort of domestic altercation, meltdown, start over. I was completely miserable. How had I gotten here? I asked myself. I was a biology major with hopes of becoming a surgeon, I was a student athlete who had gotten offers to play lacrosse at universities, I attended a top state university (Virginia Tech go Hokies) I had an amazing, supportive family who loved me and wanted the best for me and I managed to throw it all away. And for what?
Escapism. All I wanted to do was escape. Escape my constant anxiety. Escape my constant disappointment in myself and my decisions; which was a snowball effect. I felt completely trapped in the decisions I had made, and honestly didn’t think I deserved anything better than what I had at the time. Perhaps drinking was a form of self-punishment and self-harm. I didn’t have any self-love back then, and being a bit of a masochist, I enjoyed the pain. Twisted right?
Well, during a family gathering for BOTH my grandparents death, self-loathing, drunk Kayla decided to come out and make the event all about me. It became an all out sparring match between me, my brother and my cousin. It was a mess; trying to drive drunk, screaming, violence, and mind you I was also an avid benzo user back then (if you know anything about benzodiazepines, then you know they do NOT mix with alcohol and they create major black outs and bouts of aggression in users.) I finally got away, and as I was driving through the Grape Vine, stuck in traffic for probably 5 hours coming down from being high and drunk, throwing up in a large Mcdonald's cup, experiencing panic attack after panic attack, I was hit with a wave.
You could call it a God shot or an epiphany, but I would probably refer to it as an experience referenced in the book “The Biology of Desire” by Marc Lewis as follows, a “familiar feeling crept over me, I was filled with dread and disgust. The promise(s) offered by (alcohol) had been tainted by too much loneliness, too much remorse, too much anxiety and suffering. Attraction and repulsion now came in one package.” My threshold for negative experiences attached to alcohol had been reached and I just knew I was done. To even think about drinking after that day made me sick to my stomach and filled me with dread. My run had finally ended, and as soon as I got back to Los Angeles, where I was living at the time, I found a 12 Step meeting, and the rest is history.
What have been some of your biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them?
Some of the biggest obstacles in going alcohol free have been the overall lifestyle changes. Imagine trying to brush your teeth a different way after 10 years of brushing the exact same way, day after day; it was automatic. I had no idea what to do with my free time, especially on the weekends. Most of my friends were party friends, and had no interest in activities that didn’t revolve around drinking or clubbing. I had no coping mechanisms for my anxiety or my unhealthy romantic relationship at the time, so in the beginning of my sobriety there was a TON of crying and major meltdowns. It felt like a regression to childhood, unable to control my emotions, outbursts, tantrums, bursts of fatigue then energy. I knew therapy would help (IF I applied what I was going to learn) so I sought out a new psychiatrist. This woman, who I still see today, honestly helped save my life. She knew who I was and saw me for the person I was going to be if I just stopped throwing my potential in the trash. Applying her lessons and actually taking my medications, I began to cope and handle my emotions better. I also started to read, and I mean any self-help, self-actualizing book I could get my hands on. If I was going to be a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, I was going to be the best damn butterfly I could be.
As far as friends and the boyfriend went, I eventually had to ditch 99% off them. I started going to 12 Step meetings and surrounding myself with like-minded individuals. It got harder to relate to my party friends, we had less in common and nothing to talk about. My ex went back to using, and I no longer had any interest in the ups and downs of addiction, especially when it wasn’t my own. It was also hard to be around other people who had clear substance abuse issues because they reminded me so much of myself. Dr. Carl Jung describes this as the “shadow self,” which is the darkest part of ourselves that we are ashamed of, our character defects. Being surrounded by multiple shadow selves was not on my agenda, and it certainly wasn’t going to help me heal and grow as an individual.
Even though I no longer participate in AA, I did complete the 12 steps, and I did find that the program was extremely helpful to my sobriety and recovery in the beginning. The 12 steps helped me to understand that I played a major role in my decision making, and that holding resentments was dangerous to my sobriety. To this day I still pull out my old sponsors 4th step email template and fill it out every few months to “check myself,” and help me better understand why I’m feeling resentful of someone and how I can change the situation. I eventually left because my personal beliefs and that of the program did not match, as I do not believe in the disease model of addiction or the idea of powerlessness, but I hold not ill-will towards AA, and frequently recommend it to new-comers. Nowadays there are so many different communities to quit drinking in, including one I created called 1,000 Hours Dry, or The Dry Club. It’s all about finding a program that works for you, and that makes you feel at home.
How has your life changed since becoming sober?
Everything has changed. I’ll put it like this, I went from dropping out of college to returning to school and keeping a 4.0, I went from working part-time, medial jobs to operating 2 extremely successful Lagree studios, I have the privilege of living in Orange County, CA where the sun is always shining and I get to live by the ocean. I have REAL friends who emotionally support me, and share my values and priorities. But the biggest change of all has been the growth of self-love. Sobriety allowed me to fall in love with myself. I now value my own time, and have respect for myself; I don’t just sleep around, or give my attention to those who don’t deserve it and I take care of myself with exercise and proper nutrition. I ENJOY spending a majority of my time alone, reading or working on 1HD, where before I feared being alone. Sobriety has given me self worth, and every day I don’t drink I drop another coin in my piggy bank for reasons I don’t drink. I’ve built a life worth staying sober for and I can finally say with confidence that I AM worth staying sober for.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love that I have a huge passion for alcohol-free living, and that my passion has turned into a program and community where I can help other individuals better their own lives. Because I love the way my life has changed since I stopped drinking, I decided to create a “wellness challenge,” to help others experiment with the benefits of a sober lifestyle. In April of 2019, I created an Instagram page called “1,000 Hours Dry,” which is a platform for a health challenge that encourages participants to go 1,000 hours (42 days) alcohol free with the support of myself and other sober influencers who help run the Instagram page. 9 months later, and almost 10,000 members participating, I never even imagined we would grow to this extent. Lucky for me, sobriety happens to be the newest health trend, and I honestly don’t care why because I’m just thrilled people are beginning to question their relationship with alcohol in the first place. I hope that we can continue to grow and spread the message that an alcohol-free lifestyle is the best option for everyone, not just those in the recovery community.
Was there any one piece of wisdom or element of treatment that helped you stay the course?
Having a sober community was crucial, like I stated before, I originally participated in a 12 step program but now I have my own community of like-minded individuals, the Dry Club, that hold me accountable. I also HIGHLY recommend the following books, as they changed my perspective on addiction and my purpose in life: “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not A Disease” by Marc Lewis, and “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl.
How did alcohol affect your spirituality? How is your spirituality now that you are sober?
I honestly didn’t have any spirituality or religion before or during my drinking. I intended on finding a higher power while in AA, but never did, it always felt inauthentic for me to pray or admit powerlessness to “God”. I am currently finding my own connection with the universe through reading; so it’s to be determined!
What tools have you used in our recovery? (Books, podcasts, groups etc.)
Honestly there are SO many, too many to write down. But if you check out my page @1000hoursdry on Instagram, I have created highlights each individually labeled with resources like BOOKS, PODCASTS, ARTICLES, that are fantastic sources.
Describe sobriety in three words.
I don’t even need 3, just 1: freedom.
What else do people need to know about addiction & recovery?
I find a lot of people are not educated properly about substance abuse disorders, and sometimes rely solely on only 1 source to carry their sobriety. If I could give anyone advice about recovery, it would be to seek out MULTIPLE different sources before choosing just one, and to always keep an open mind. Addiction is a spectrum, and it can affect anyone. I personally believe in the Diathesis Stress Model to explain addiction, which you can learn more about here https://dictionary.apa.org/diathesis-stress-model
** If you are sober, or curious about sobriety, we would love for you to join our Facebook group - Mindful Times Facebook Community for support, encouragement, accountability and questions.
Private Sobriety Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/511982812958932/