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Episode 095: A Conversation on Addiction and Sobriety with Beth Shelton

Conversations on Conversations Episode 95 Beth Shelton

Join Sarah Noll Wilson and guest Beth Shelton as they explore the complexities of addiction and sobriety. Sharing candidly from her personal experience, Beth provides valuable insights into understanding addiction, supporting loved ones, and embracing vulnerability for personal growth and healing.

Beth Shelton is the Chief Executive Office of Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa, overseeing all operations for 13,000 members in portions of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. With thought-provoking discussions among hundreds of speeches, conferences, podcast interviews, and articles written, Beth has reached millions of people from coast to coast, on topics ranging from workplace transformation to mental wellbeing to sobriety. Beth unapologetically speaks about the human experience and has received national accolades, highlighted on platforms ranging from Good Morning America, CNN and Working Mother Magazine, to The Washington Post, USA Today and the Today Show.

Beth is persistently curious, an avid reader, and uses solution-focused leadership to encourage radical innovation. She received her BA from Simpson College and MBA from Drake University, and has been named an alumni of achievement from both, while recently completing the Artificial Intelligence certificate program at MIT. Beth, a life-long amputee, embraces a spirit of empowering others, having served various causes; including the Iowa Amputee Golf Association, leading a local Girl Scout troop, serving on her local school board, and coaching youth teams in multiple sports. She has a lifelong love of sports, having been a 3-time collegiate MVP in tennis. She loves driving her vintage Jeep with the top off, just took up guitar lessons, and is enjoying the journey of visiting every national park.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations where each week we explore a topic to help us have more powerful conversations with ourselves and others. I’m your host, Sarah Noll Wilson. And joining me back my friends is my dear friend, Beth Shelton. So some of you may recall the conversation we had last year. It was last year. Where we talked about her amazing leadership and everything she does to try to be a more human leader. I highly recommend you check it out. For those of you who it’s the first time you’re meeting let me tell you a little bit about Beth. Beth Shelton is the Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa overseeing all operations for 13,000 members in portions of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. With thought provoking discussions among hundreds of speeches, conferences, podcast interviews and articles written, Beth has reached millions of people from coast to coast on topics ranging from workplace transformation, to mental well being to sobriety. Beth unapologetically speaks about the human experience and has received national accolades highlighted on platforms ranging from Good Morning America, CNN and Working Mother Magazine to The Washington Post, USA Today, and the Today Show. Beth is a lifelong amputee, embraces a spirit of empowering others, having served various causes, including the Iowa Amputee Golf Association, leading a Girl Scout troop locally, serving on her local school board and coaching youth teams and multiple sports. Helped me in welcoming Beth to the show. Beth! (chuckles) What, –

 

Beth Shelton  

Sarah!

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

What else has been going on in your world since last time we connected? You like that big question? (laughs)

 

Beth Shelton  

Yeah, as it does, life continues, and things have been really great. I’m very blessed. So I appreciate you having me back on. I always love our conversations. I get to listen and learn as much as I get to talk. So it’s always great.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Likewise. I’m, I’m so excited about this particular topic. So just so folks know, we are going to be talking about alcoholism, navigating sobriety, what that journey is like, this is a topic that we have not covered on the show yet. And it’s a really important one. And I think, especially the timing of when we, when we’re recording this and when it’ll air will be during May, Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s something that you have been so courageously brave about your journey and your story. So, Beth, I guess, can we just sort of start like, where do you want to start with catching us up on like your journey in realizing that you were an alcoholic?

 

Beth Shelton  

Yeah, thank you for dealing with this with so much compassion. And I always like to level set with people that I’m not an expert, I’m just one person with a lived journey. I’m not certified in anything. I’m not a, you know, a certified or licensed mental health therapist. So, you know, what I talk about is my journey, the bumps that I experienced, and some of the things that maybe worked for me, but I always like to remind people of that. It’s just singularly my lived experience. So, you know, I have listened to a lot of alcoholics talk about their rock bottom and their stories. And there’s no one, there’s no one universal truth, you know, or way those stories go. But I would say mine feels a little bit different than what I used to have perceived as people who had a problem. So because from the outside, it didn’t really look like it. And I had a really good life on paper. And that makes it really complicated to navigate. Because there’s, it’s, you know, alcoholism is a thing that’s problematic in our lives. But it’s on this sort of spectrum. And there’s no one clear delineator that says, okay, yeah, like yep, now, you know what, yes, like, there’s no one blood test. There’s no one definitive line that says that, yeah, you know what, now you are this. And so not only do you have to combat the actual problem, you have to accept that you have a problem, you have to realize you have a problem. And that is a huge part of my journey was trying to figure that out. I didn’t have a problem until I had a problem. And there’s not a clear line on when that happens. So that’s one of the complicated things in talking about this. And to this day, I’ll get people that say, Oh, I didn’t, I didn’t know you had, I didn’t know you were an alcoholic. I didn’t know. You didn’t look like you had a problem. And I think that was a little bit of the curse that I experienced in that it wasn’t evident to others and it wasn’t evident to me because of that, because my life wasn’t completely falling apart on the outside, it didn’t really always look like it. You know?

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

It’s such, a I mean, that point of it’s not like there’s some definitive “check these boxes” and absolutely, yes, this is true about you or not. And the thing that as I was reflecting and getting prepared for this conversation, in really my mind went to what were all the, what are all the assumptions I make about what it looks like? Right? Because I think a lot of times we, I mean, this goes to a lot of different illnesses and challenges, we may go, well, this is what it looks like, versus what it really can look like. And so one of the things I’m curious about is, what were you observing in yourself? Or maybe what, what was brought to your attention by other people, that gave you the pause to say, this might be a problem? Especially because, you know, we have global audience members, but especially in American culture, a lot of socialization is around alcohol. You go to somebody’s house, and you bring a bottle of wine, right? Like, it is a very socialized thing, especially when we think about, you know, even women, and all of the bullshit t-shirts, like “It’s wine time, somewhere,” like it’s this, this this this culture of, you know, like, kind of perpetual drinking. So I’m curious, like, what was that moment like? Or maybe it wasn’t just one moment, it was a series of thoughts that gave you the the pause to say, this might be something different?

 

Beth Shelton  

That’s a great question. I always had a fondness for alcohol. But I was able to moderate. I was able to manage the doses, the when, the appropriate time and how much. And so I was thinking about this conversation today too Sarah, and I remember the first time we sat down and had a one on one. I remember the exact restaurant, bar that it was, and I am very introverted, have a little bit of social anxiety. And I got there before you did. And I had two glasses of wine before you got there. Just to you know, loosen, loosen things up, get ready. And I remember when you got there, I was ordering a drink. And asked if you wanted one. And you said no. You said no, I’m not. I’m not much of a drinker. And we talked about a lot of other great topics that day, and it was a great conversation. I don’t know what your perception was there. If you walked away thinking, you know, oh, that lady had a lot to drink. I probably in the course of the evening had three or four total too before you got there. But I remember starkly thinking, what is that like? I wonder why she doesn’t want to have a drink? Like I wonder and this was before, this is just when, I’m going to say I had a fondness for, this was years ago, I wouldn’t say my tipping point really happened until 2020 or 2021. So this was before that, but I always had this, you know, it’s gonna make the experience better. As long as I have some, it’s gonna make the experience better. It’s just that I was able to manage the doses, to your point on how socially acceptable it is. My life was really difficult in 2020, as was millions of other people’s for so many reasons. And what happened at that time, due to all of the difficulties of trying to lead an organization and going through a lot of personal strife. I was already in a marriage that was strained and going to marriage counseling. So the pandemic certainly did not help matters, in that way. Having three kids suddenly at home all the time didn’t help matters, trying to lead through a crisis at work through this really difficult territory didn’t help matters. It was kind of the perfect storm, in many ways. But what I came to realize, of course, is like the I did not have a strong foundation. And so not only was my foundation really rocked, but my resilience, my resilience was already really low because of these factors. And so all of these things came together. So 2020 progressed with alcohol more frequently. So I didn’t have this situation where I was blackout drunk every night, or, you know, having public appearances where people might think, “Oh, wow, that was really inappropriate.” It’s like I was high functioning enough to know how to, how to, you know, cut it off at some point or when, when to hide it, how to hide it. But what I will say is, eventually, it became a seven day a week habit, it became a habit that I looked forward to every day, and with the pandemic, the ability to access that at earlier and earlier timeframes, you know, the accountability of being around other people, it of course, got lower and lower and lower. And I saw that with a lot of other people, there were Zoom, happy hours that were hosted, you know, left and right. And so it got a little bit easier and easier to hide. And what I started – here are a few of the defining moments for me. I started to realize, I heard someone else describe addiction this way. And it really rang true for me that the the lane of things that bring you happiness was getting narrower and narrower and narrower. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Beth Shelton  

And pretty soon I felt like alcohol had to be, it had to be at the thing, whatever the thing was, I don’t care if it’s a conversation with a friend, I don’t care if it’s sitting on the couch watching a show with my kids. I had to make sure like that consumption piece had to be part of it. It was tugging on my soul to make sure that that was part of it, you know, couldn’t imagine any experience in life and even the mundane daily without it. So that was, you know, a factor, deep unhappiness, deep disconnection. So I at the time was seeing a therapist and was at by far the most unhappy time of my life having suicidal ideation. And, you know, a lot of difficult conversations on that topic, which was so unlike me. I had never experienced depression in my life. I always had sort of an optimistic can do attitude about anything. And so to have this deep hopelessness, I even at the time struggled to correlate with alcohol. In retrospect, it was like I was consuming a depressant every single day. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Sure, yeah. 

 

Beth Shelton  

But I didn’t want to admit that that might be contributing to my depressed feeling, you know? And then the last thing I would say is, so you know, I, it was my lane of happiness was getting narrower, I was clearly feeling hopeless in despair. And then last that was getting some feedback that was difficult. I, my kids came to me in late 2020. And I, at the time, they were teenagers, and they pulled a list out and they said, Mom, we have a list of 10 ways you can be a better mom. And I was pretty defensive, I was pretty hurt, I was pretty mad, you know. I still remember some of the things on that list that felt really unfair, you know. They’re teenagers, it was pandemic times, everyone was in a rough spot. But one of the things on that list was, we wish you would stop drinking alcohol. And I just felt, first of all, I felt so defensive, I felt so mad, I felt how unjust that was, they don’t know. They don’t know what it’s like to be an adult, they don’t know that, you know, all the list of things in my head. And one of the things I have learned in life is, the more defensive I feel, the more it’s strumming a chord in me about something. And it’s a good time to pause. And it was really strong and allowed chord in me, I felt so mad, that these two people that loved me so much, and who I loved so much that they would dare say that. So I took that pause. And I thought, of course upon reflection, wow, like that’s, it’s really startling. I didn’t think they noticed. I didn’t think anyone noticed. I thought I was high functioning enough. I was leading through a crisis, I was working out, I was reading books. When I say my rock bottom, it was 100%, this internal job of rock bottom that I was in a hopeless despair, and falling apart. But that doesn’t mean my whole life was falling apart. Someone recently on social media, just in the last week said, this lady doesn’t know what rock bottom is. And talking about –

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Like talking about you?

 

Beth Shelton  

She’d seen a clip online of me talking about rock bottom. And, you know, I what I would say is probably my rock bottom doesn’t look like her version of rock bottom. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, yeah.

 

Beth Shelton  

Right? I know that I wanted my life to be over. And I felt like it couldn’t go on. And so that was, you know, for me, that was certainly rock bottom enough, you know, to think about making changes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. You, I mean, it’s one of the things that I love about you and really admire about you is your willingness to be so honest about talking about a number of things that, quite frankly, a lot of people keep in the shadows. It’s not, I think it’s an act of courage to say I got to a point where I didn’t want to live anymore, that my kids are calling me out, and I’m getting defensive about it. And that, you know, there’s so much that you shared that I want to unpack a little bit. The first was that idea of how you’re sort of like, what felt like fun became more narrow. And it always had to be there. And it it makes me think of my good friend and colleague Shadley Grei. He’s actually, he wrote a post for us that we’ll be sharing this month, and he talks about loving somebody with addiction. And, you know, the way that he described it is, it’s, it’s like this voice that’s telling you, I’m it, I’m the only one that can make you feel good. And, and so when I was hearing you talk about it, it reminded me of of that experience, that that he’s going through, and other people I know who have struggled with addiction. You know, and also like some of that language you’re using, the disconnection. I mean, that’s something that I’m curious to get your thoughts, because sometimes I’ll hear people talk about like the cure for addiction is connection. And that’s something I know that you speak on a lot. And so I’m curious, you know, like, on your journey, how has that been true? Or what would you expand on that? And again, and I’m coming from a place of knock on wood. I mean, I have I have lots of, I have lots of challenges. My brain is a very complicated creature. And I recognize that I have the privilege of having never experienced that, yet. Right, because who knows what life brings? So what would you like? What have you learned through this process related to that idea of connection?

 

Beth Shelton  

I absolutely agree with that statement. I’ve heard that as well that the opposite of addiction is connection. And I think part of the reason it’s hard to have connection when you’re in that state is because you’re, you’re wholly unhappy with something or many things, but largely with yourself. And one of the things that got rocked for me at that time is not only was I going through a divorce, so this part of my identity that was so sure that I – I had so much shame around going through divorce, and what that what that meant about who I was and what I stood for, and what what people think and how, you know, I’m not, I wasn’t capable of solving this difficult thing and sticking it out with someone. So I had a lot of shame around that. And then I had a lot of questioning my entire identity, because in 2019, pre pandemic, it was, it was almost like I was on this rocketship in life. And even though I would like to think that I stayed humble and approachable, I also still was experiencing for the first time, all these accolades and speaking all over the country on these stages, and it became part of my identity, this is who I am, this is what I’m good at. I’m a speaker, I’m a CEO. So when the world shut down, and all of a sudden, I was, you know, not only did all of the norms and habits in my life change, all of a sudden, I have three kids at home remote learning, which was just tremendously difficult, going through this divorce tremendously difficult. My very identity, I’m a CEO and a speaker, and I contribute ideas to the world was like, well, what if, uh oh. Like, that’s not, I don’t know, if you are, what are you now, if you’re sitting in a living room in front of a screen all day long, and your kids want lunch, and you don’t know how to do that in the middle of the day, and like, it’s like, I had to relearn. So all that to say, connection was hard, because I had shame and loathing about this person that I was trying to get to know. And so that makes connection with other people really difficult because you’re not really, I wasn’t really fully in touch with myself, right? I almost had to accept and grieve all of those things in order to have deep connection. Deep connection with other people involves mutual vulnerability, right? Mutual, it’s a mutuality there. And if you hate yourself or loathe something so deeply in yourself, you can’t give that to someone else. Because it’s too, you feel like it’s too ugly, it’s too broken. And so to me, that is a foundational piece of my addiction experience that I had to learn, and go through the therapy to not loathe and hate those parts enough to be willing to have mutual vulnerability and love with other people again, and that stuff’s really hard to do. That’s why when they say you have to do the work. It’s not just removing alcohol, that’s step one, which is difficult enough. It’s doing all the other things to help have your relapse prevention plan in place, and solving some of those broken loathing pieces. You know, in my experience.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. It’s, uh –  I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of what you’re saying that’s hitting, it’s hitting a very personal chord, right? With people in my life who I know have struggled with similar shame, my own shame, that self loathing, and I think there’s something really powerful in how you said that of, when I feel like who I am is broken, that’s hard to offer up to someone. What do you feel like? What do you feel like people get wrong about somebody who might be in your situation? Because it could be so easy to, you know, like you said at the beginning, you know, I’ve followed your career for a while. You’re incredibly well thought of, you know, thought of, you are a community leader, you are an innovative leader who’s doing amazing things, right? You are on stages. And so it can be so easy to hide behind. Yeah, or to just like to you and put up a really good front. What do you feel like people miss or get wrong?

 

Beth Shelton  

Well, I think about my experience of addiction, what people get wrong is that it doesn’t, it doesn’t always look like what you think and I even really shied away for almost a year, for months and months and months in my journey from calling, saying the word sober because as soon as I said sober, it meant like, Oh, well that must mean then – what’s, what’s the opposite of sober? The opposite of sober is alcoholic. So I would use words like well, I’m going dry. I’m alcohol free. I’m sober curious, you know like that was like soft enough to be like, but don’t worry, I’m not that thing. But I’m not that I’m not that terrible thing. You know, because of the the misconception, the labeling, the alcoholics are among us, all among us. You’d be shocked at how many people struggle with addiction. And it’s no, we can almost take these like character assassinations with a few, there’s like a few topics. It’s such an – oh man. Okay. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. Get into it.

 

Beth Shelton  

There’s a few topics that we put on a pedestal with vulnerability. And it’s like, oh, this person is so, so great. I love that they’re so vulnerable about this thing. And it might be their weight loss journey. It might be their, their mental health journey, maybe, like, whatever the topic, right? There’s a few things that we are like, “Yes! Well good for them.” And then there’s a few topics, where people are like, Oh, really? Really? You know, this is my perception. And I think addiction can be in that bucket, I think, issues with relationships, and fidelity, divorce. People, it’s so much, you know, I don’t know if it’s deeply rooted fears people have. But somehow that judgment, that judgment court is so easy on a few topics. And I’m not sure why. But to me, addiction and alcoholism, particularly, can fall into that bucket for people, you know. So that is something I think people get wrong, but it’s just very human. And the statistics actually show on, on all of those things I just mentioned that kind of get in our little bit cast a little more easily in that judgment bucket, that character bucket. It affects a high percentage of people, both of those they all you know, divorce does and addiction does. And yet those are the ones that we are quick to say like, Oh, really? Did you hear so and so is it did you hear Beth was an alcoholic? You know, or did you hear so and so got divorced, and it’s but we don’t, we don’t tend to do that about these other vulnerabilities. So I think that’s something people really get wrong, and that I really challenge myself when I think about others. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I can’t I can’t help but wonder – one, that’s such a, it’s such a great point. And as you’re talking about it, you know, you can’t help it go, oh, yeah, I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. Right?

 

Beth Shelton  

I’ve done it. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Like I’ve contributed to that. And in that language of, right, like the character, like who you are. And it’s interesting to think about how that belief or bias gets in the way of people getting the help they need or being able to support somebody when they feel like it’s a character flaw, or well just, you know, just don’t do it anymore. Why is it so hard? I, you know, I don’t know if you’ve encountered that. But I could imagine like, well, I just, I mean, –

 

Beth Shelton  

Yeah. I get the, yeah, have you ever tried just drinking less? Like why don’t you, do you have to give it up? Why don’t you just try drinking less? Okay, Captain Obvious, good idea. I should, you know what, I should try that actually. Yeah. (chuckles) 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Isn’t that. Okay, no, keep going?

 

Beth Shelton  

Well, I was just gonna say like, here’s all the evidence I need on this topic about about judgment. If I write about my other vulnerabilities in life, maybe it’s having a physical disability, maybe it’s my mental health journey, ADHD, people will in the comments publicly be like, Oh, my gosh, yes. And me too. And rah, rah. And if I write about or, you know, if I write about alcoholism, I’ll tell you what blows up, my private DM blows up. And so what’s the difference? The difference is people don’t want to be outed, they don’t want to say in the comments publicly, that really resonated, oh, and me too. You know, and because that’s a private thing. And they don’t want to be labeled. I mean, the difference is stark.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I’m not surprised by that. And, and, you know, and therein lies a place for us to continue to do better work. What would you you know, for somebody who’s listening to this right now, that’s maybe thinking to themselves, Shoot, maybe, maybe I’m struggling with this, and I’ve just been avoiding it, or I’ve been minimizing it, right? Or I’ve been deflecting, and I’m sober, curious, I’m going to do a dry January or whatever the case is, you know, what would you invite them to consider, to hold on to, or to think about?

 

Beth Shelton  

Here’s, I think, the simplest advice. And I’ll steal it from Leo Tolstoy, which is he says, people do all sorts of clever and difficult things to make life better. Instead of doing the simplest thing, remove the stuff that makes life bad. And so I would say, is this thing serving you? Alcohol, maybe? Sugar, maybe? Caffeine, maybe? Toxic relationship, maybe? Is it serving you? So just do a little objective analysis. Is it making, do you think it’s making you happier? Do you think it’s making your work better? Do you think it’s, you’re getting better sleep? Is it contributing to your physical health? Is it contributing to better relationships in your life, because I could have ticked the box on everything else in my life at that time was doing those things. I’m reading books, and I’m volunteering and I’m working out and I’m doing all those things because I’m very discerning about what is good for my life. But in that one thing, I had a blind spot. And I did not want to admit because I didn’t want to give it up. And if I were actually able to step back and be objective and say, is this making my relationships better? Is it making my physical body better? Is it making my brain better? Is it making my career better? I probably would have been like O for five on answering those questions. So removing the thing, just, it can be as simple as you don’t have to have a label. You don’t have to write about it like I did. But you could say to yourself, Is this making my life better? Is this thing serving me? And if you’re not sure, then it’s probably a no. If it’s not a hell yes. It’s a no. You know? 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. Yeah, it’s such a good point. What did it look like for people to show up powerfully for you? Or even, how do you wish people would have shown up? Because, you know, all the things you’re talking about, right? Navigating mental health challenges, navigating disabilities, there is a real challenge for a lot of us of not knowing how to show up in those moments. And what do you do? Right? How do I? Okay, so I catch that I’m being judgmental and now what do I do? Just be like, awkwardly, you know, like, – I just, I’m curious for you, in your experience, what did it look like to be powerfully supported? Let’s just start with that question.

 

Beth Shelton  

It’s a great question. You know, I have since had some of my best friends say to me, I, we didn’t know. Like, yes, we saw little, little things here and there. Yes, we saw at this one overnight vacation, you know that you drank more than everyone else. But we really didn’t know the extent because of course, one thing, high functioning alcoholics are really good at is hiding it. We get used to, we get good at that. Right? We’re good at a lot of things in life if you’re high functioning. And guess what, I was good at that too. But what I tell them because then they’ll say like with remorse, I wish I would have done more, I wish I would have wished I would have XYZ. And here’s what I say. There’s nothing anyone could have said that would have rang, you know, that would have helped me acknowledge and see, I only would have been defensive 100%, it would have created a strain in our relationship. The things that were most supportive were the people that said to me, somewhere along the journey, maybe once they found out or even before that, “How are you doing, and I love you, and you are good as you are.” Like, it wasn’t that they were rubber stamping this, you know, you’re doing great things with your life. But they were trying to acknowledge not the alcohol, but that foundational broken self loathing thing. You can’t make someone stop doing a toxic thing. You can’t, even if you’re their best friend, if you’re their spouse, if you’re their parent, or their child, you can’t make them. This is, you know, what Al Anon is all about. You can’t make them do it. What you can do is show them that they’re worthy, and they’re loved, and they’re not broken. And so people that, you know, when you show actions like that, when you just tell people that they’re worthy, that they’re loved, that the thing that they seem to be stuck on or multiple things, is not evidence that they’re broken.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Beth Shelton  

You know, okay, you’re going through divorce, that’s really tough, you’re still, you’re still loved, you’re still amazing. Okay. You lost your job during this hard thing, you’re still loved, you’re still amazing. That, you know, the more you can try to cement, you can’t hand someone’s self worth. But the more you can try to reinforce for them that they have it, I think that’s the most loving thing you can do from my lived experience.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

How has this changed how you show up with other people who are reaching out to you in your DMS, who are coming up to you quietly? People maybe who you’re observing going, Hey, I just want to check in with you. Like, I’m curious how, how that, how this whole journey has shaped how you show up differently?

 

Beth Shelton  

Oh, so much. I would be extremely hesitant to address the question of alcohol in someone’s life, even if it’s someone really, really close to me. So, you know, because again, I would be met with defensiveness and the one or two times I’ve even remotely had that conversation, it did not go well. That’s not what that’s not what people are ready to hear. What, how it’s changed is that I really, of course, I can see some of the signs now a little bit more clearly having lived through it, right, that, that that maybe someone does have a struggle that maybe is an unhealthy relationship, or I can maybe see, from my viewpoint, maybe it’s not serving them well. I really just try to show compassion and show that love. On the occasions where they reach out to me, here’s what I’ve really had to learn. So when I first was six months sober. I wrote a LinkedIn post about it. That’s how I sort of came out. And I wrote it. I wrote it on LinkedIn, because I was worried about judgment on Facebook, because Facebook is like the real people, right? Like the neighbors and the people I work with and, right? It’s the real people, the moms and dads that I sit in the bleachers with. So the LinkedIn was like, I don’t know, no one’s really gonna see it, but I just had this compulsion to write it. And it was my six months sobriety anniversary, and I wrote it. And that post went viral, and you know, 2 million people engaged with it. So I commented on it. And then I was like, uh oh, you can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube. Like that’s how I sorta came out with, you know, with being sober. But what happened as a result is that 1000s of people messaged me, and commented and I also –  strangers all around the world. And I, all of a sudden it was like, uh oh, like, how? Now how do I deal, people are, you know, spilling their guts to me. First of all, is getting buried in that. I mean, the very algorithm, I can’t, I literally won’t show me all of the responses, right? So people were, you know, I felt like I was leaving them hanging. But I really had you know, for I would say, for the first week, I tried to stay caught up, I tried to send thoughtful messages to people who I don’t know strangers all over the world. And finally, I talked to somebody about it, a therapist about it. And I said, I don’t know what to do here, I can’t, this has taken a toll on me, people are talking about suicidal ideation at all hours of day and night to me and I, I’m not equipped to deal with this. And they gave me the best advice, they said, Beth, you know, first of all, manage the doses on anything in life. And secondly, the hug and roll. Like when it comes to vulnerability, people are attracted to vulnerability, because they’re like, Oh, I see this beacon of vulnerability. And now I have mine, and let’s do this mutual vulnerability thing together. But I was getting it from 1000s of people all at once, becoming sort of like this safe space. And I had to learn to hug and roll, I had to learn to end the message with you know, and something along the lines of like, thank you so much for sharing that with me, I can feel your whatever you know, whatever it is, I can feel your pain, I can feel how your journey and how deeply this is affecting you. I truly hope that you get some support you need, here are a few resources. And I would just start copy pasting because I can’t be their person, you know. So that’s one of the things I learned is that I’m not a counselor, and I can’t be everybody’s everything, even though my heart wants to be. So I had to learn about the hug and roll. That’s something I do a little bit different now. I think it actually trickled into my sort of real life as well, that there are just times and places I can’t be everything to someone. And that was probably a boundary I was lacking a little bit before that experience.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I, you know, that’s something I hear from a number of friends and colleagues who, no matter what it is they’re sharing, whether it’s about their mental health, whether it’s about, and sometimes it can feel like trauma dumping. But you know, you just sit there and I know you’re such a highly empathetic person, to go, I might be the only person they’re sharing this with, and how do I honor that? And how do I hold it sacred while recognizing that I’m also a human with a limited capacity and skill set, quite frankly? Like, I’m still healing, I’m still navigating this journey as well. One of the things that I, I haven’t had the chance to ask you and I, and I’m curious to hear is, I know from our many conversations and people who listen to your previous podcast, will pick up just how intentional you are, from a leadership perspective. How intentional you are in the authority you have, right? Not only in supporting your team members that you serve, but also all the 1000s of Girl Scouts that you support. How, in what ways has this journey changed and shaped how you view your desired impact, your leadership, all of the above?

 

Beth Shelton  

That’s a great question. And I think it, I think it kind of goes along with the question of people sometimes asking me, aren’t you worried it could hurt your career? You know, to be open about this. And so how it has shaped my leadership journey? I will say first of all, I, no question, have privilege, and gratitude that at the time that I talked about it, you know that there was not immediate backlash. I didn’t completely think through how many people might see it and what the result might be. I truly didn’t. I have a personality and a writing style that once it starts to flow, part of being ADHD, once the flow comes, I can’t stop the fingers and they are writing it out. And then it’s there. And then oh! Okay. That’s my heart and push send. And I never had a topic like that, that I was concerned, you know, about until that one went viral. And I had a few moments of like, uh oh, like, now everyone’s gonna know. And so, I am very privileged that my, my board didn’t react, the the team, if they did react, they didn’t do it to my face, you know? 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Beth Shelton  

And also, it was in 2020, when the world was kind of falling apart. So in some ways, it’s sort of like, everyone’s got bigger fish to fry than to worry about what Beth is saying online, you know, so maybe, maybe that was part of it. I also, you know, now of course, have seen in hindsight, how supportive people are even our members. So when I say our members, you know, our volunteers and our girls, it would be you could you could write a narrative where people would say, this lady is leading kids, leading an organization with kids, and if she had this issue, what might that mean? You know, like, how is she equipped, you know, how was she, you know, why is that okay, or whatever the thing is, and I didn’t get any of that. I still I think part of it was that people had a lot of trust. I had been there several years, right, things had gone well, I was very engaged with our members, they knew me as a human? When we humanize people, and when when they see us as a real person, they’re a little less likely to show that kind of vitriol. Online is a little different story, of course. And then my team at work, no one, you know, directly came out and talk to me about it at first. It took a while. Again, most of them were remote working at the time, so, but now it just kind of comes up in conversation, you know, here and there. If we’re at an event. I had a staff member, we do an event where alcohol is present. It has to do with craft beer. And I am at all of our biggest fundraisers and all of our big events. And this event was in like year four or five, and a year ago, I was about, you know, just two years into my sobriety at the time. And she came to me and she said, I’m so sorry, we never thought about this before. But what’s your comfort level with being at this event? Have you ever wished you weren’t and didn’t have to be at this event where everyone’s drinking craft beer, that’s the very thing you do. That’s the premise of the event is to go and drink and do these fun things, right? And for people who aren’t alcoholics, they have a great time. And it was just so kind and thoughtful that she even thought to ask me that question. You know, and so it’s kind of changed the dynamic on my team in that way, that some of them are even, you know, thoughtful about my experience, when I try to, as a leader, always think about what’s their experience? How can I remove their hurdles? Like that’s my job, do that, do that do that. And for just a moment, someone stopped and did that for me. And it was, it was really touching.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

It’s it, it seems so simple. And it’s something that I wish would happen more. I mean, I, again, when your culture is largely socializing around beer, alcohol, booze, it can feel really jarring to people when you aren’t, you know? We, you know, my husband, Nick has never drank. Just, just never has, just was never apart. And, and I don’t say that from any sort of like, Oh, look at us. We’re high and mighty. It’s not that it’s just, right? And, and I occasionally, but not often, right? And how often you’re met with, like, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want to drink? Instead of it just being like, cool. I mean, I actually love that the whole sober curious movement has come about from the standpoint of giving people more options. And if they’re feeling that stigma, right, that maybe they’re not ready to come forward and say, here’s – but at least it’s becoming more acceptable to say, yeah, no, I’m good. I don’t, I don’t actually actually drink or I don’t enjoy alcohol, and that there’s no judgment, and there’s no pressure because honestly, there’s like, a lot of times, I mean, I’m speaking from experience, again, not through the lens of addiction. We just stopped going out a lot of times with a lot of people because their only form of entertainment was drinking and no judgement, I want to be really clear.

 

Beth Shelton  

Right.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

That’s awesome and fine if you love craft beers, if you like tasting exquisite wines. The challenge is, is that when like, it’s really hard, it stands out, I feel like and people don’t know what to do with that. And so I love hearing how like your team is even thinking about and you are and maybe people listening to this will think about, like, let’s not just assume everyone’s cool with this, you know, like, how do we check in and go like, what, you good with this? Like, are we are we good here? Like, I mean, imagine?

 

Beth Shelton  

Right? I mean, I think about it now like this, I didn’t realize that I had this lens on. And again, it’s not from a place of judgment. But if I was out and had a few craft beers, I had a certain lens on life. And most of the other people there have the same lens on. And if all of a sudden, you’re the one in the room with a different lens, it makes sense that you see the world differently. And you think different things are funny and different conversation is relevant. And so to your point of it’s not maybe as engaging or rewarding to work with people when everyone else is drinking. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong. It’s just that you now have a different lens on and it’s a little, it’s a little harder for me now to fully connect when other people – so talk about life change because every person, all the infrastructure in my life was centered around this, including, you know, executive meetings and conferences and travel. That is a huge part of the culture of everything, right, but including that, and that first year, particularly – so for reference, I’m 972 days sober. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

(claps)

 

Beth Shelton  

So in September – thank you. It will be three years in September. And that first year, I – oh, it makes me choked up thinking about it. It revealed so many new parts of me when I didn’t soften the edges of every experience with alcohol. And it revealed things about me which was the most important thing, but also it helped me sometimes reveal things about others. Because now I saw life with a little different lens. And of course, it changed almost every habit I have in my life, all for the better, because I had a little more discernment. And I was fully present. And I didn’t have that before. So, you know, everything I did was through that new lens, social, you know, social groups, what I did for hobbies, right down to, you know, I travel a lot for work, as I know you do. And often – I always want to tell people, I don’t pay for this. I don’t book it. But I often get a free upgrade when I travel because of the miles or something. Right? So I had to turn down free upgrades that first year because I couldn’t sit next to someone drinking alcohol in first class or Comfort Plus, without. I would sit there the first time it happened. I was like, No, I’m good. I’m good. I got this. I’m going I’m good, I’m good. And then I sat there and she had a glass of red wine. And we had a short delay on the runway, and I just it was like my nostrils was like, (inhales) like, I just I could smell, I could feel it in my brain. I could feel it changing my brain chemistry like it was, it was like otherworldly, like transcendent experience of I want that so bad. And yet rationally, it was such a dangerous moment that I was like, Okay, I gotta turn down. I have to turn down free upgrades for a while until I figure this, this new Beth out, this like, I don’t have the lens yet for that. I’m not quite ready for that, you know? Now, when that happens, I can smell the alcohol. I can see it and it does nothing to me. You know, thank goodness. Today, right now, knock on wood, I just, you know, twirl my little Sprite and with my straw and I just feel gratitude that that does nothing for me, you know, and I no judgment for that person. Like you enjoy your red wine sister. Like, it’s no judgement. You know, there was a day I could do that. And now I can’t. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. What do you, what do you wish I would have asked that I haven’t yet?

 

Beth Shelton  

The journey to getting dry was real bumpy. And so I never want to sugarcoat and have people think, like how? You know, sometimes we’re like, but how did you go from seven days a week and wanting to end your own life to not, 972 days later. So I, when I say a lot of things, created that catalyst moment for me that to say, Okay, I’m going to stop drinking, I had to make that same decision again, and again, and again and again and again and again. Eighteen tries, 18 tries in that year, so 17 of them, I would tell myself, like, Yep, I got this I am I have got willpower. I’m smart, I’m capable, I’m privileged, I got this. And then the alcohol free counter would start, the app on my phone, that started up, here we go. And it’d be four days, and then I would drink and then eight days, and then I would drink and then two days, and then I would drink. And then over and over and over and over and over and over. And so it was not a linear journey. You know, I learned every single time. And for me, a lot of things, you know, had to transpire for me to finally get to the 18th try that has stuck. And I can’t say it was one thing, but I can say one thing I learned is I have a relapse prevention plan. I underestimated you know, I learned about triggers, and cravings and associations, and what the difference was for all three and how to address all three. So you know, sometimes if I, if I have a trigger, that’s an emotional response, and I almost always have that to this day, when I feel less than worthy, when I feel like I’ve disappointed someone. If I have deep strife with someone I love deeply, that’s when I get a trigger. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, I’m gonna go to the bar, oh my gosh, I just want I just want a glass of wine. And that’s the only time I feel that. And association for me is being on the lake, being on the golf course, something where, being on the patio with friends that is like, Oh, I would have had a cold beer in a frosty mug and everyone else is doing it. So just naming the difference because then I can have a relapse prevention plan for each one of those experiences and I just didn’t fully understand what was happening. Now when I get that trigger feeling I can be like, okay, that guess what, that that’s a feeling we don’t like it. It’s a bad feeling to feel like I’ve disappointed someone and I can name it and I see it now like this little cloud this weathercloud. Like, here comes, okay, here it is. It’s gonna be here for a while but it doesn’t mean I have to avoid it. It doesn’t mean I have to push it away with alcohol and numb this experience. It means learn to feel it. It’s okay. It’s gonna it’s gonna keep going just as the weather does and I just truly didn’t know that. You know, I thought that I had to soften or eliminate that that hard ugly feeling.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Beth Shelton  

And now I let myself feel it for a minute. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

What – that, that’s really fascinating because – and I appreciate you being so honest of this wasn’t like I woke up some day and said I’m good and look at how strong I am and look at how much willpower I have. It took you 18 times and I know and I can only imagine, you know, when I think about situations where whether it’s somebody I love who’s trying to kick a habit, even myself, right, like like there can feel, you can feel like a failure, you can feel a lot of shame. Can you just and I know we’re coming up on our time. But can you just speak a little bit more explicitly about what does a relapse prevention plan look like? Just because I think that is such a valuable concept that I wasn’t familiar with. It makes, it makes total sense. It’s like, yeah, that makes sense. And I want to make sure that I really understand it. And I want to make sure that people who are listening, understand what that looks like, what that process is, what are examples of what what what the plan is? So just say more about that. 

 

Beth Shelton  

Yeah, well, of course, I, as I started to learn the types of things that were I was more likely to relapse. So a hard feeling, an association of a fun event. I was then able to plan ahead for those things. So now, for instance, there’s a conference I go to regularly, it’s like four times a year, and I travelled to this other city. And what I learned is a huge part of the culture there – when I was part of it, I couldn’t see I couldn’t see the water I was swimming in. Once I was no longer swimming in the water, I could see it. And the thing we do at night after the meetings are over, everyone sits in the lobby and drinks. But this particular bar has no non alcoholic beverages that I drink. And I don’t usually drink pop or soda. So it was very limiting. So what I learned is the second my airplane lands in that city, I get on Instacart, the app, and I have groceries and sparkling water delivered to my hotel, it’s going to be there waiting for me. And now I have a six pack of sparkling water for the next two days, I have a cold frosty can when I’m sitting in the lobby. For me, that’s enough. It just took having what’s something else I can drink and be part of. And it’s cold, and it’s refreshing. And it feels fun to sit there. Maybe that sounds silly. But for me that did the job there. I have to think about it when I go golfing, you know, when people are loading up the cooler that the clubhouse gives you. They’re putting all their you know beer in it, and everyone’s getting ready to have a good time. What do I have? Did I call the course ahead, I might have to call the course ahead of time and say what do you have, because they might have no options that are non alcoholic, they might have only pop, right? And so I plan ahead, if I need to bring something I will. Most courses have a rule read can’t bring your own beverages and I’m like, well, then you know what, you can check my bag and you can stop me if I can’t have my sparkling water. That’s not what they mean. Right? They mean like don’t bring a pint of vodka in, right? They’re not going to stop me for having my sparkling water because I’m an alcoholic. So. And then. And then lastly, things like I had habits. Like when I would go to the airport, I don’t care if it was 6 am, I would stop and have a beer before I would fly. I would stop in the airport bar and have a beer. And now I am aware of walking by those airport bars, you know, breaking those habits, or getting bold enough to start a new habit. I mean, it can be as simple as taking a different path on the way home. You know, I had like a course of a few certain bars that I got to know over the years. Places that I knew I could sit discreetly, people wouldn’t bother me, whatever, take a different path home. If my relapse prevention plan means take 10 miles out of my way to not drive by that bar because I disappointed someone today and I don’t want to lean on that old narrative that I know that means pull into –  I mean, if you talk to alcoholics, they can feel like their car is driving them, like they just pulls right in. And then all of a sudden, like these old wiring, these stories take over. Be intentional before you get behind the wheel. Get in, you know, I will take a longer path home if I have to. Now I don’t have to do those things nearly as often today. But I had to do a lot of that stuff my first year. All the time, thinking ahead.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And I would imagine, right, when you’re having to do – first thank you for being so explicit in how you describe that. Because it’s super, it just illustrates this is what it can look like. And it shows possibilities of what it can look like. And I could imagine that, you know, anytime we’re trying to let go of a habit or build a new habit, it’s requiring us to get off of autopilot and be much more intentional, which is exhausting. It’s exhausting to not just get to operate on autopilot. And I would imagine that, you know, not only was it like difficult at times, but it was probably also physically and mentally just exhausting to constantly be like don’t do this. Okay, we’re gonna do this instead. Okay, we’re going, right? Is that a fair assumption? 

 

Beth Shelton  

Absolutely. It is. One of the books I read, you know, I love to read, I love podcasts. One of the books that really changed my life which I think is applicable to a lot of addictions way beyond alcohol is, it’s called This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Because she, she talks about the, the power of the subconscious, and how it really is, it is really, you know, steering our ship for us in so many cases and how to combat that with alcohol and other things. And so, but it takes time, it takes intention, you know, and it was, it did take a lot of energy for sure. But you can change your subconscious, you can change that. It just it just took a little more time, which is why the 17, you know – I also just talked myself into saying I didn’t have a problem, right? When I would relapse, I’d be like, Okay, well, this situation has happened. I would like to drink now, and I don’t have a problem anyway, I’ve gone 17 days without it clearly I don’t have a problem, you know? 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, sure.

 

Beth Shelton  

One of the things I want to make sure I get in before we wrap is I would, as I was navigating these 17 tries, the sober curious, I even hashtagged it a few times, going back and looking at my old stuff, I would sometimes read a book and hashtag sober curious, you know, because I couldn’t say like, I have a problem. And I don’t, I’m afraid of saying that word. And I don’t want the accountability and – but one of the things that would pop up then is this algorithm about sober and sobriety and sober curious, and I would see people who talked about how rewarding it, how rewarding sober life was, and how great it was, and how concerts could still be great. And boating could still be great. And golf could still be great. And flying could still be great. And I did not believe it. I was like, that is propaganda of who? Like, like Big Sober, Big Sober is behind that propaganda. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

(laughs)

 

Beth Shelton  

And they just, they just want us to get sober. But that’s really not real. And like, that’s not rational.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

So facinating.

 

Beth Shelton  

But that’s what I truly thought. I’m like, there’s no way that is real. And it is, and I wouldn’t have believed it. And the reason I couldn’t believe it is because that lane of the things that made me happy was so narrow, I couldn’t believe anything out there. That’s just not true. Big Sober is behind that, right? (laughs) And then all of a sudden, what I didn’t know what happened is like that it would go like this. And to be fully present at a concert, are you kidding me! To wake up and feel great, to not have the edges softened, of – you know, I also told myself a story because I was introverted. It was making me better at the thing. Better at listening, better talking to people, better in small groups. And that’s just not true. It is not true. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Beth Shelton  

You’re gonna get your, your teeth are going to be stained with wine, you’re going to be saying things, you’re going to be, you know, mumbling some of your words, you’re going to be not an attentive listener, you’re not going to be remembering the things people said, and you’re not fully, I can tell now, when other people are not fully present with me there. They’re not in it. And it’s really hard for people to stay present when they’re two or three drinks in, no judgment. It’s not a place to judgment. It is literally observational. But it’s not making you better at that thing. That’s also a lie we tell ourselves. So those are two things I just want to say that I did not believe it. You could not have convinced me that those were true. And I just want to say like I got no agenda here. I’m not part of Big Sober. I got no agenda. (laughter)

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I didn’t know Big Sober exist. (laughs)

 

Beth Shelton  

I don’t think it does. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I like –

 

Beth Shelton  

Who’s benefiting from that?

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Right. Right. Right. Beth, you – I’m so grateful for you. And I’m so grateful for you being honest about your journey, honest about the challenges, normalizing it, testing all of our assumptions about what it can look like. And I you know, you I mean, you know how much I love you and you know how much I adore and admire you. And I just want to really thank you for this conversation. It was a gift to be with you in it. 

 

Beth Shelton  

Likewise. I feel like you’re so intentional about using your platform for true good and true curiosity and true learning. And I appreciate that, not just with me, but the many other interesting, amazing, eclectic guests you have on. It’s really incredible what you’re doing, and it really matters. So thank you for the invitation.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, I appreciate you. I mean, you’re welcome anytime. Like you’re part of the, you’re part of the return, return list. Now, okay. So we will put in the show notes of variety of resources of if you find yourself struggling, if you need information, we will have those in the show notes. If you’re interested in hiring, I’ll pitch you. If you’re interested in hiring Beth to come and speak to your group, to talk about, you know, her life experiences, whether it’s with her sobriety or any of the other amazing topics, Beth, what would be the best place for people to reach out if they’re interested in bringing you to their group?

 

Beth Shelton  

Yeah! Beth Shelton dot com. Is the easiest place. I also speak of course, on behalf of Girl Scouts frequently and depends on the audience. And then we decern after the first conversation what makes sense. But anything from mental well being to being a college athlete was you know, I would say the theme of what I love to talk about is some form of overcoming life, doing life, like the rough draft of life. And, so thank you for that plug. I appreciate it. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for being on the show my dear. 

 

Beth Shelton  

Thank you. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Our guest this week has been Beth Shelton, and while I always leave my conversation so touched by her, that that idea that she was talking about about the relapse prevention plan was so valuable and could be applied to so many situations and the way that she was breaking down triggers and associations just, I think that is such an invaluable tool. And as always, my friends, we do want to hear from you. We want to hear what resonated with you, what came up for you? What questions did you have? You can always shoot us an email at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com, where I read and respond to each of the emails you send our way. And if you like the show, two ways you can support us. The first is to rate, review and subscribe to the show on your preferred podcast platform. This helps us increase exposure and bring on great guests like Beth Shelton. Another way you can support the show is by becoming a patron. You can go to patreon dot com slash conversations on conversations where your financial contribution goes directly to supporting the team members that make the show possible. 

 

Speaking of which, it’s not just me up here! Behind the mic is our producer Nick Wilson, our sound editor Drew Noll, our transcriptionist Becky Reinert and the rest of the SNoWCo crew along with our marketing consultant, Jessica Burdg. So thank you all. And just a final wholehearted thank you to Beth Shelton for coming on, for being so honest with us and hopefully making it safe for others to be honest with themselves. This, my friends, is another episode of Conversations on Conversations. Thank you all so much for listening. And remember, when we can change the conversations we have with ourselves and others, we can change the world so be sure to rest, rehydrate and we’ll see you again soon.

 

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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