Episode 11: Kevin O'Hara Tips in Recovery Coaching

Kevin shares his journey from a 30-year drinking 'habit' to aiding others through sobriety coaching, offering an alternative perspective.

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Episode #11 Podcast Transcript:


Good morning and welcome to the Choices podcast, “Where You Always Have Choices.” 

Today's guest is one we have been waiting for - Kevin O'Hara of Habits Unplugged. Kevin has helped countless people live alcohol free lives around the world. He comes to us from Andorra, a tiny, breathtakingly beautiful country in the Pyrenees mountains, situated right between France and Spain. Welcome, Kevin. And how are you today, sir? 

I'm very good, thank you very much. How are you? 

Excellent. I'm well.  It's a rainy day in New York City, so we are dealing with that. But believe it or not, it's warm.  So that's all good. I'm going to go into asking you the first question. Yeah, the first one is.

So how does a guy from Western Ireland end up in a Dora coaching sobriety? 

Well, I moved to Spain after my son. My son was about 19 – 20 - he started college in Galway. And myself and my partner Esther, we decided it was time. We've been thinking about it for a while. We thought we'd move to Spain. So we got on a boat and came across to Spain.  We were in Spain for ten years and we've been traveling up and down this country for a while.  The summers in Spain are quite hot -  around 45 degrees Fahrenheit – rather Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.)   it's pretty hot. we decided that, we found this little place, a little nook in the Pyrenees, where it was a lot cooler in the summer. we decided that, and moved here. 

It sounds very exotic.  I mean, I'm surrounded by buildings. 

It’s a small country, with a small population. The towns are fairly packed. This There's a lot going on here. There's a lot of places where you can escape where there's no building so you can get out into the mountains and forests. And even though it's a small place, it’s beautiful - a nice little haven. 

That sounds wonderful. It's a lifestyle I eventually would like to live someday myself. So, Kevin, you broke a 30-year drinking habit. How did we do that?

Just stopping really.  I came to the conclusion that I was being a bad influence on my son. When he was coming over for his vacations over to Ireland or to Spain.  We were drinking when we were celebrating and when you're a drinker, that's what you do.  And my son is 20, 21, and we're going out drinking together.

And I was watching him after we'd had a session walking around the pubs.  We were on the beach the night before and kind of, what would you call it, sort of wrestling around. And he'd lost his iPod in the sand. And the next morning, the two of us with a hangover, and he said, I've lost my iPod.

So I sat on this balcony watching him pacing backwards and forwards with his head down in the sand. I just thought, I can't do this. Every time he comes over now, we're going to be drinking. So that was the start of it. I'd been thinking about it for a long time anyway, that I had to make changes in my life and moderate it for tried to moderate for so many, so many years with no results.  it was just the straw that broke the camel's back, you know. 

I understand. I understand. So two things. Did you use any type of assistance? Sometimes we go to rehab programs and it's a two-part question. Did it also help your son, you stopping drinking?

It is that I mean that was the point was to try and help him that was why i was doing it - to try and get him off the alcohol. I mean, he didn't have much of a the same type of problem that I had, but I didn't use any assistance. I thought, this is the way I'm going to do it. I was always a walker.  that helped me a lot. Just getting out, walking for two, 3 hours, 4 hours every day.  The idea was to get him to stop.

He stopped drinking now - he's nearly a year and a half sober.   it took a while.  I haven't had a drink now and it'll be 11 years in January.  he's a year and a half into it. And his life has changed beyond everything he thought - mentality and the way he thinks, just in the clarity of thought and the ideas.

When you're living in Ireland, it's a social thing. It's so inter woven into the fabric of life that it's very difficult to get out of it. But, you know, anyone who does, they find that there are other things. There's alternatives as well. you don't have to drink. I mean, 50% of Irish people don't drink, at least.

So that's good to know, ireland and even the Irish here in the city has that reputation.  Alcohol, they say in the medical journals is a disease. What are your feelings on that? Do you feel it is a disease that you get like a cancer or M.S. or something like that?

I don't think so. I don't think it  should be. I think maybe for doctors, it's an expedient thing for them to think about it as it's something to be treated as a disease because, you know, how do you go to a doctor and get treated for something that they don't really generally know much about? for me, it's a habit.

it's a habit that is, as I said, it becomes so fixed in people's lives that they they're drinking for different emotions.  I started drinking for peer pressure. You know, your mates are drinking and you don't want to be left out, but then you soon I realized in my life that I could use it for shyness, you know -  So I go into a bar, have a few drinks, and I wasn't shy anymore. Yeah, I wasn't compos mentis anymore, but I wasn't shy, at least. So then you think,  I think, as you go through life, it just becomes habitual. I think dependency is a better way of looking at it because dependency you can put on a scale from 0 to 100 and a lot of people, when they start drinking, they become dependent on it, to where even if you're drinking once a week, it starts to become a part of your life.

And from that sense, you get dependent on it.  And if you’re at a hundred then it is off the scale. its another area where people are dependent and you get up in the morning and you have to have a drink, that kind of thing. 

Yes, I have a lot of identification with that. I mean, I started drinking as you mentioned with peer pressure with my older brothers.  I wanted to impress them and their friends and then you just look up and it's a way of life, you know. So what is the first and most important thing when it comes to your program?

Is it this walking you do or is it what do you attest to your sobriety. 

in terms of the program we kind of work off the principle of first, have to stop the flow of alcohol, then do the work and then move on. And I think that last part, moving on, is the most important part to me, because you're leaving behind the identity not only of the drinker, but of the alcoholic.  you are moving on from the alcohol in any way, shape or form. So for me, it's the first step across the lane, you step through a door or whatever way you want to say – but you have to stop the alcohol before you can do anything else. 

What are the three things you work on? Specific things that you do. 

A lot of the stuff that we do, I think for the first 2 to 3 months, it depends on the person as well. It's coping without alcohol in your life anymore. I think in the beginning, the more you've been drinking, the more parts of your life are not controlled by alcohol, but you are used to using alcohol and then when you take the alcohol out, you're still in that frame of mind.

All the pathways are still there, all the routines and rituals. your friends are probably all drinkers. So, I think there's a lot of coping being without the alcohol.  socializing, relaxation. How do you do any of those things. That takes a while for the person to get up every day, to know that they're going to get through the day and no matter what happens during the day, they're going to go to bed that night without a drink.

Thats a mindset that they really have to get themselves into before they can move on, before they can move on with everything else. And this mindset shifts. It's a lot of the time, it's dealing with painful stuff in life. You know, life is going to give you shit sometimes.  everyone's life has given them stuff.

you have to deal with that and understand that not all pain is bad.

So I know you have something in your repertoire called “what is the con?” What does that mean? 

what is that in terms of the alcohol? 

I think everyone knows that it’s the alcohol itself we're talking about, they are the advertisements to the market and the way it's pushed across all platforms.  you go into a wine bar and you've got the sommelier giving you the spiel about the wine and then what happens.

I mean, I drank Guinness. So I don't think anyone walks into a bar and says, Give me some alcohol.  Rather, it's all wrapped up in a nice little bow.  for me it was Guinness. I wouldn't drink Murphy's, I wouldn't drink Beamish. It had to be Guinness.  So and I think the same thing happens across the board.

You hear people talking about whiskeys and brandies. And in all this kind flavor and flow.  so that's the con. I think people are conned into putting a toxin into their body for fun. 

I gotcha. So, Kevin, how is moderation a con?

I look at moderation as a cycle.  people don't stop, don't even try to moderate until there's enough pain to get them to step across the line and say, I'm going to do something about this. And instead of saying I'm going to stop, it's one of those things that I went through so many times in my life where I was confused.  the thing that will help you the most is to stop drinking. But the next best thing is to cut the alcohol down. I think a lot of people talk about moderation in terms of the alcohol, if only I could drink less alcohol, then I would take away the problem.

But  for me, it's the reverse of that.  It's you fight in a bottle over and over again, for the same thing because you moderate, the pain dips down, you go back to normal again, the pain rises up, you moderate again, the pain dips down.  So it's this cycle of moderation.

Is moderation sustainable? 

I don't think it is.  It depends who you're asking.  I think for people who can moderate then it's sustainable. But then again, you're talking about putting a toxin into your body, you know what I mean? 

So do you believe in abstaining completely - no drinking at all? Or do you believe there should be some moderation and you can continue to drink if you don't drink to excess, what you think? 

Yeah, I think at the end of the day, it's only since I stopped drinking that I was able to move on from it. I think if you're trying to moderate and you're still in that brain of thinking that alcohol has given you anything outside of yourself – like it's given you that relaxation, it's given you the socialization, whatever it is, you know, you're still in that frame of mind.

Whereas when you stop, I always tell people, look, the moderation thing is a battle that you have to keep going over and over again.  whereas when you stop drinking, you've won the war.  You move on from it. 

So, Kevin, what do you think some of the biggest challenges are when people are trying to stay sober?

I think what we're saying earlier on about relaxation and socialization, I think those two are big challenges with friends. I mean, one of the things that I get, either you've got people who are isolated who have found that they can't go out and meet people because of their drinking.  People who drink on their own and then they find it difficult to get friends or you've got the opposite - people who are and their whole world is alcohol and drinking. That was me in Ireland. I was with all my mates, they were all drinkers. So when I stopped drinking about five years before I got a DUI. I was off the road for a year – so I had to stop. I said I won't drink anymore until I get my license back. And I tried to go back into the pub with my mates and it just didn't work at all.

Everyone's getting drunk and you're not. You get trapped in not only the alcohol, but you get trapped in the lifestyle as well. And that's the difficult part - people trying to push themselves in a different direction, to understand that there is a different direction. If you ask people in Ireland about alcohol, they'll say everybody drinks. You know what, you're in that bubble. So it's extracting yourself out of that bubble and experimentation and trying new things. And, some of this stuff you're going to fail at.  Plus you've got no escape hatch anymore. You haven't got this thing yet – like when you're a drinker and things are not going your way, you can drink and you can forget about it. Now you've got to deal with things head on and you can't forget about it anymore. There are  a lot of issues like that. That's why we say it's that process of staying stopped. That's the real issue. You know, stop drinking alcohol. I can tell a five-year-old to do that but it's staying stopped and growing back into yourself and becoming a different person, becoming that nondrinker and getting rid of that drinker's brain. So that's the issue. There's a lot of them there but it depends on the person.  Everyone's different. 

Yes. Yes, I do agree. You know, I used it as a social lubricate all the time.  I'd walk into a bar as Pee-Wee Herman and after a few drinks, I am Superman.  You know, that's exactly right. So my next question, the comments in your videos, alcohol is a great decompressor.  So what are some of your suggestions for dealing with stress and maintaining sobriety? 

The first one is I think you can split up into two things. So first one is just dealing with the short term stuff When you're there, a lot of people, they focus on too much.  I teach people how to stop smoking as well. And with smoking you get up in the morning and you have a cigarette and then you have another one and it's continuous throughout the day.  With drinking, it's generally, for 90% of the people - it's towards the end of the day that they start drinking - when they're finished work and as you say, they're decompressing or chilling out with their mates. So focus on that time. And generally, if you can get somebody to get out for a walk or just to change that mindset, don't stay in the same place. Don't go to the places where you would normally drink. And obviously don't go to a bar.

If you're at home and you're drinking at home, get out of the house.  Change your mind set.  Do something else, - listen to an audiobook or music or whatever it is, but you don't have to do it for the whole day. It's just within that space of time. And you'll find that if you can get past the first hour or two, then the rest of the evening, you'll sail past it.  In the long term, it's a change in, as I said, in your mindset.

And then it's dealing with boredom and just those mundane things in life.  my life is way more exciting than it was when I was drinking - because when I was drinking, it was the same things that I was doing over and over again, going to the same bars, drinking the same stuff, hanging around with the same people.

And now I just do different things. I mean, I wouldn't be talking to you, if I'd still been drinking. So you get what I mean. 

Yeah, I wouldn't be talking to you either. Can you  tell me, do you have any parting thoughts for people that are on the fence or they or they are miserable and they're looking to change their lives. What is some of your thoughts on helping someone like if I came to you first and said, listen, I drink too much, help me give it a go? 

I mean, for a start, you've got nothing to lose. A lot of people are trying the 30 day challenges these days. And I think that might be a good start. The problem with the 30-day challenge is that people have the mindset then that you're going to go back to alcohol. So it's kind of having in your mind that maybe I'm going to give this a go and keeping that first, upfront in your brain and then just see how you get on.

But keep an open mind about it. If it's not for, it's not for you. It's not for the want to try and that a lot of people don't stop you know a lot of times they try and try again and it's that train that can really sap somebody's self-confidence head on. So sometimes that's what we recommend the most, is we can give people advice and keep giving encouragement and accountability.

That's one of the big things that we can do. So it is what it is, you know? 

Yeah, It's sometimes it's just the right word here and there, and hearing the right thing said that flips you over. Like I said, for me, it was watching my son walking along looking for an iPod. That was the thing.  So it depends if a person doesn't want to change or they're not ready, it's very difficult to convince somebody to do something they don't want to do.

You know, they have to be in that frame of mind to do it. But, hopefully something like this, that’s why I've put so many videos up. We put up maybe three or four videos a day now.  it's just to give somebody different frames and maybe something will spark them to give it a go. 

because somebody wanted to get some help from you.

How would they do so? How do we contact you, do they call you directly?

Our website is called habitsv2.com; It's free to come. That's where all our information is. So that's where to go – habitsv2.com   

So, Kevin, can you tell us a little bit more about “unplugged” - how it works, what goes on?

Mostly it's videos.  we've got a two week preparation stage. We get people in the right mindset to get them to top the flow. Then they stop the drinking and we go through coping.  it's the first two or three months, it depends on the person. We help them to cope with just having the alcohol not in their system anymore, nor in their life anymore, help them to deal with their environment and deal with other people, which is a big thing.

we've got that side of the thing. It's a video every day for a year. Then we've got group calls where we get together and just chat about this thing - it the best thing - I mean, if you're trying to learn anything, you can pick up a book and you can learn a lot from the book. But if you can speak directly to the person who wrote the book, you're going to get a lot more – it will make a lot more sense, especially one on one.

And we have one on one calls.  We try and bring as many different challenges into it as possible. And encouragement, accountability.  As I said, it is an important thing.  So try and bring that into it – into the journey. 

We have a lot of people who are here for years - not because they drink anymore, but because they want to help other people. So we have people in the community that keep going back to encourage other people.

Yeah, I'm a great believer in you can't keep it unless you give it away. it's one of the best ways that you can learn yourself is by teaching.

I love your logo, by the way that you always have choices.

Thank you. 

That statement is huge. If you can get that into people's heads - that they have choices in this. 

 I do believe that - I believe a lot of the time  - people are in the insanity of it – and don't realize that you do have a choice. You just think, this is my life and I've got to deal with it but it just doesn't have to be that at all.  

Kevin, so I understand you don't use the words alcoholic or sober. Can you enhance that a little bit? 

Yeah, it's, I think it's a good thing to use before you stop. I think if it can give you motivation to step across that line to stop I think alcoholic is a good way of looking at things. But also, I think alcoholic, that idea of alcoholic, it kept me drinking for a lot longer than I should have  because I was never there. my idea of an alcoholic was somebody who was in the gutter, sleeping in the streets, who'd lost everything. if you can keep pushing that idea onwards and onwards, you might know somebody who's got a real bad problem with alcohol. But then you get to that stage and you can say, well, no, I'll push it a bit further, you know, not deliberately, but in your mind. And I think afterwards, then once you  stop, I think you need to divorce yourself from the old you. It's like if you've got a divorce from a bad person in your life - you're not going to keep associated with that person, you know, And I think it's the same thing here.

You have to think differently. For sober was in between drinks.  I drink on a Friday night. I'd be sober on a Saturday morning. I drink on a Saturday, and  I'd be sober on Sunday.  So that was sober for me. So calling myself sober now - I mean, alcohol's got everything to do with my life in terms of helping other people, but it's got nothing to do with me in my life and what I put inside my body anymore. So that's in a nutshell why I don't use it. I think I always referred to my myself as being on this new journey. it's just a better way of looking at things.  

I understand that. Its like a diet. It's not a diet - It's a life change.

Yeah, exactly. You know, Exactly. 

Because diets don't work, you can't come on and off, and come back and you’ll just gain it back.  

So it's the weight loss industry knows that as well. They know that, you know like if they the people are going to keep coming back to them and back from every diet is is the new diet. And every day is the one that's going to bring you there – to the weight loss.  But they never do get you there. 

Yeah, it's got to take an extreme psychic change.  Yeah, exactly that. 

So I want to say, I want to thank you so much. I really enjoyed meeting you and talking with you. It's always a pleasure. So I'm going to close with some comments, if you don't mind. Thank you for tuning in to “You always have choices.” We're looking forward to seeing you next week. May God bless you and look after you, always.