Recovery works with Austin Cooper
We talk a lot about addiction and treatment here at the Liberty Ranch. But it’s also important to consider how life in general changes while in recovery. Recovery works for so many, but it involves shifting one’s priorities entirely. Entering the world as a sober person can be a huge adjustment. When alcohol and drugs play such a central role, it can be hard to imagine what life will look like without substances. The mere idea may feel extremely daunting, as recovery means reconsidering one’s habits, thinking, relationships and goals. Even though this change can feel scary, especially in early recovery, it also allows for many new experiences, emotions, possibilities, and challenges.
To help our readers understand how recovery works, and provide examples of what life could look like, we’ve decided to highlight individuals who have survived addiction and are finding unique, impactful ways to end the stigma of addiction through social media, entrepreneurship and activism in our new monthly series. As our first sober changemaker notes, sometimes seeing someone else’s successful recovery story can help us realize that we too can build a healthier, happier sober life.
Free consultation on treatment options & how recovery works
If you are considering addiction treatment for yourself or someone in your life, now is the time to take action. Addiction is a deadly disease that has taken too many lives, broken up families and destroyed futures. Liberty Ranch offers free consultations. Call 888-387-1531 to talk to a specialist that can let you know about the treatment options available and help you select the right program.
Influencing and Inspiring with the Sober Evolution
For our first monthly feature, we chatted with Austin Cooper, Ohio native creator of the popular recovery-focused Instagram account @soberevolution. He believes that recovery works, no matter what way you find it. In addition to sharing his recovery story, Austin discussed the importance of finding mentors and told us how he is using his platform to help others struggling with addiction and alcoholism.
By day, Austin uses his skills and social media savvy at Stodzy Internet Marketing, helping clients in healthcare and addiction treatment grow their businesses, while leveraging online platforms and resources. In his free time, He focuses on his passion of connecting with and supporting others in their recovery through social media. Austin has also released his own Sober Evolution version of the Reframe app, a smart and powerful tool geared towards helping those in recovery stay accountable. Read on to find out more about how Austin was able to use recovery principles to turn his life around and find success.
What was your experience with addiction & recovery?
Sober Evolution: I went to a treatment program back in 2013. I was presented with an intervention that looked exactly like the show Intervention. Basically, I walked into a room and my whole family was sitting there. It was actually my boss that drove me to the intervention. Unbeknownst to me, they were all working together because they knew that I was struggling with addiction. Looking back, I was very blessed, lucky, or whatever you want to call it, to have had that support.
But ultimately, the decision was up to me. It was either treatment or continuing down the path that I was going down and to keep suffering the consequences. I knew that if I didn’t accept help, my relationship with my family would have ended because of how bad things had gotten with my addiction.
Was there something in particular that resonated with you & made you recognize that your addiction was a problem?
Sober Evolution: One of the good things that they did during my intervention is that everyone wrote handwritten letters to me. In their letters, each person talked about the person I was before my addiction. They reminded me of how loving and kind I had been, about the moments that made them proud of me as a child and how I loved helping others. Then they wrote about how I hadn’t been that way for the past 10 years. It was all very true, and I couldn’t say that they were wrong.
For years, my parents had told me that what I was doing wrong and I needed to completely change my life. And I was defensive. In contrast, the letters reminded me of who I was and the things I used to love to do; Making art with my grandparents, giving gifts, and the feeling I had at the time. It took me back to being this happy kid who was doing these amazing, creative things and loved helping others.
Part of me feels very blessed to have had the family that I did because I had wonderful memories to refer back to. Looking at the past 10 years, I realized I had done nothing but drink and party. I remembered my near death experiences during this time. I realized that either I get sober or I stay this way. It was life or death. I had to go all in with this recovery thing that I knew nothing about. I became a student of life so that I would never have to return to the place I was in, go to jail, or wind up dead. It really was life or death for me.
Talking to a loved one about getting help
If you are concerned about a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to sit idly by. Overdose is an all too real possibility. Friends and family can be instrumental in encouraging a person to get help. Although you cannot force someone to attend treatment, there are a number of ways you can encourage them to seek help without inadvertently enabling their addiction. Check out our guides on how to talk to your adult child, teenager, parent or significant other about their addiction and getting treatment. Contact Liberty Ranch for a free consultation for more help.
It really wasn’t until I had the intervention and reflected back on a friend’s facebook post sharing their recovery story that I was able to recognize that I had a problem. I had to admit that my parents were right all along. That was such a tough thing. It was something that I had to work on for months and months. I had to ask myself if the excuses I used to come up with were true. Come to find out, not a single one of the excuses that I had at the time were justifiable at all.
Coming to terms with that truth and then allowing honesty to be the foundation for my recovery was key. Recovery works to help you change your mindset. I learned how beneficial it was to truly be honest with myself. That is how I was able to get my real estate license and accomplish my career and life goals. I was only able to define and accomplish my goals by first dealing with my addictions. I really can credit every success I’ve had back to my early recovery, changing my past ways of thinking and putting recovery principles into practice.
Treatment, recovery work & learning honesty
Tell us about your treatment experience.
Sober Evolution: At the time, the idea of going to a treatment center to get help seemed really scary, but I needed to see if I could put the pieces of my life back together and repair my relationships. What was really interesting was that while in treatment, my mindset completely flipped. I knew that I had to give this everything or I would lose everything. I took out a notepad and asked the counselors for a pen to take notes. That’s how serious I was about learning how to live life productively without alcohol and drugs.I took note of everything, studied as hard as I could, began to understand how recovery works, and really practiced what the treatment center was preaching.
Recovery works to help so many heal. Which principles helped you most?
Sober Evolution: Personal honesty was the biggest one for me. It’s such a tough thing for anybody to practice. But once you start practicing it more and more, you can really have fun with it. When you learn to be honest with yourself, you can actually start accomplishing your goals. I think the most important part of recovery, at least for me, was being brutally honest with myself. I had times where I’d have to look in the mirror and have a conversation with myself to figure out what the truth was and what was holding me back from accomplishing my goals. In recovery, we have to be truthful with ourselves in order to figure out what the problem is in order to be able to solve it.
Can you give an example of how self honest worked in your recovery and life?
Sober Evolution: When I first started going to school for real estate (post-treatment), I had to take two tests, both which I failed. I could have come up with many different excuses, placing the blame on others because it doesn’t feel good to recognize the part we play in our failures. Instead, I had to take a step back, and literally look in the mirror and say, “Okay, the problem is that I did not study hard enough” or “I could have studied the way that was suggested to me by my professor, instead of doing it my own way.” So I buckled down, studied the recommended way and eventually I passed both tests and became a real estate agent. By taking accountability and making the necessary changes, I was able to accomplish my goal.
I also had to learn to practice this honesty in terms of my addiction. For years and years, my parents had tried to sit me down and say, “Austin, we think you have a problem with drugs and alcohol.” They would point out what I need to change, and I would get so defensive. Immediately my walls came up, and I would just start yelling at them, which would allow me to get out of the room. I did that for many years. I came up with excuses like, “everybody else is drinking” or “everybody else loses their wallet from time to time or wrecks a car.” In hindsight, it was ridiculous. But in the moment, the last thing in the world I wanted to do is admit that I was doing something that was causing these negative consequences. It’s what anybody who has an addiction does automatically.
Recognizing signs & symptoms of addiction
Whether you are worried about yourself or a loved one, it’s important to be able to recognize the hallmarks of addiction. Many believe that they have their alcohol or substance use under control and are unable to admit that they have a problem. Behavioral changes, drastic shifts in moods, unexplained health issues, changes in appearance, problems in relationships, isolating oneself from their social circles, secretive behavior, issues with money and valuable items gone missing are all indications of a substance use disorder. If some or all of these signs and symptoms are present, it is probably time to find a facility that provides treatment services. Recovery works and can save lives.
How did your life change after attending treatment?
Sober Evolution: A lot started kind of flipping around for me; my mindset and my everyday habits had to change around completely. Early on in my recovery, I realized how important my physical health was towards my mental health. So that became a big focus for me. And, of course, becoming organized and goal-oriented, which was the complete opposite of what I was doing before.
It was uncomfortable, and I knew it would be, but I also knew that through being uncomfortable, I could start seeing big changes in my own life. It was just one foot in front of the other. I put what I was learning into practice and things really started turning around. From there, I was able to go back to school and start a career as a real estate agent.During this time, I also started finding mentors. Early on in my recovery, I attended 12-step meetings. The social aspect of it was key since I didn’t know many people in recovery. I also began meeting business and life mentors that taught and shared really great books with me, even though I didn’t really like to read. But I did it anyway. I thought it was really interesting that the principles of life they shared with me were pretty identical to the principles and ways recovery works in 12-step meetings. Once I began applying these principles in business and life, it drove things forward very quickly. I became so infatuated with accomplishing goals and being healthy because I saw how far away it took me from negativity, drinking and using drugs again.
Career and success in sobriety
What made you decide to start your widely followed instagram, Sober Evolution?
Sober Evolution: A year or two before I went to treatment, I saw that a friend from high school had posted online about his recovery, as I mentioned. I saw him building a new life, which created the spark in my mind that recovery works for him and it might for me also.
After getting sober myself and rebuilding my own life, I started to wonder if I could create something that might be that spark for someone else. Something to help others make the decision to move forward with “big scary treatment,” so that they could begin to live without alcohol or drugs. I found Instagram and thought, “let’s try this out.” So I started posting about my story and recovery. I would post an addiction quote, a meme, or whatever.It was really interesting to see how many people could relate to what I was going through. It basically became part of my recovery program because it helped remind me of where I once was and the hard work that I had put into my recovery. People really caught on to the whole Sober Evolution thing that I was creating. From there, it just grew and grew. I’ve had a bunch of fun, and if that helps inspire people along the way, even better.
Was it difficult to open yourself up to the world & share your recovery work?
Sober Evolution: During elementary school, kids began to pick on me, something that I wasn’t used to. All of the sudden, toward the end of elementary school, I was being bullied and I didn’t understand why. I started wondering what was wrong with me. I went from being this outgoing little kid to a shy kid with my walls up all the time. When I was a little older, I saw that alcohol broke these walls down temporarily and made me into that outgoing person again. So one of the things I worried about early in recovery was that people might judge me for some reason or another.
But I remembered my high school friend who inspired me through his openness and transparency, even though he doesn’t necessarily know that. I wondered if I could do that for someone else. I realized it was no longer about feeling insecure. I needed to share my story. So I posted something and the feedback was incredible. There were a couple of people that did not give me good feedback, which surprised me, but I had to learn to filter them out. I needed to live for me. People started private messaging me, and I realized that I could be someone that could actually help others. That was the best feeling in the world.
What current projects are you working on in the recovery space?
Sober Evolution: Right now, I work for an internet marketing company, so I get to help treatment centers, doctors and practitioners build their own internet presence. In terms of the future of Sober Evolution, I’m working on a project that I’m really excited about geared towards helping people in recovery and, specifically, small businesses owners in recovery. I don’t want to give too much away on that yet. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m really excited to help small businesses owners. Even more so during this crazy time we’re in right now. It’s hard for so many, Covid-19 and recovery.
I’m also working with Reframe on a Sober Evolution version of their recovery accountability smartphone app. I can’t take a whole lot of credit for that, but I had been reached out to previously by several app developers. But they just didn’t really work with what I wanted to do with Sober Evolution. When they reached out to me with Reframe, I had never seen anything like it before.
Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I feel that this can be such a helpful tool to people’s recovery. The company gave me the opportunity to create my own package for that app. I decided that I would create a recovery workbook to integrate within the app. It’s called the Sober Evolution Challenge. It incorporates the practices and philosophies that I’ve used in my own recovery.
With the Sober Evolution package, we’ve created a unique tool that helps people visualize, track and hold themselves accountable in their recovery. It’s really functional and easy to use. There are other packages by other people, but of course, I love my version. I think it’s really well done. The app developers are doing such a good job on continuously updating it and they’ve partnered with Johns Hopkins and other mental health and behavioral health organizations. I’m very proud to be associated with it.
Recovery lessons worth passing on
What is one thing you would like to share with people struggling with addiction or whose loved one struggles with substance abuse
Sober Evolution: Before getting sober, I thought there was only one way to recover. Once I went to treatment, I realized there were so many types of 12-step recovery programs alone. Recovery works. There are so many different ways to recover, and if one doesn’t work, there are 1000 more options out there.
Being able to connect to people all over the world has shown me how many pathways there are to recovery. There are a huge number of tools available to help. One of the best things about social media is learning about diverse tools out there to help people with their recovery. All of us thought that recovery was impossible at one point. 110% we’ve all felt that way. I definitely did before my intervention. I thought, this is just who I am and it’s not a possibility for me to live without alcohol or drugs. But I proved myself very wrong. I want everyone who thinks that something is an impossibility to realize that’s just not true. It is possible. We all can surprise ourselves in different ways, whether it’s a physical goal, business, school, or in this case, recovery. It’s all about putting that one foot in front of the other, and not giving up. That’s what it takes. And, of course, exploring the different resources and options can make it easier. Just opening up and talking to people. There are millions of people in this world who are more than willing to help out.