Looking through a social media lens, Mary Tilson has a perfect life. The international yoga instructor and retreat leader has spent years traveling the world and teaching yoga in some of the most picturesque places around the world. But, her life now looks remarkably different from how it used to. 13 years ago, Mary was struggling with daily addiction. But, it was the brave and powerful steps she took back then toward her recovery that led her to create the beautiful life she has now. Nine years sober, Mary is now an Addiction Recovery Coach, passionately committed to ending the stigma, showing others how to get sober, and supporting them on their journey.
Skye Gilkeson | Cover Image via Ashley Drody
You are now 9 years sober. Congratulations! Tell us a bit about your personal path to sobriety…
Thank you! It was around 13 years ago that I began secretly questioning whether I struggled with addiction. The harmful consequences of my drinking and drug use had started to far outweigh any benefits, and yet, I couldn’t seem to stop.
Like so many others, I had developed a pretty strong set of beliefs that I needed alcohol to socialize, have fun, release stress, date, and so forth.
I also fell into the trap of using external achievements like maintaining a high GPA and getting promoted at work to justify why I wasn’t that bad.
In 2010, I went to outpatient treatment and started attending AA meetings for a brief period but quickly went back to drinking, convinced I could get a handle on it. Those next few years were filled with a lot of denial, inner turmoil, and confusion because of it.
I finally had a wake-up call on April 27, 2013, and made the decision to surrender fully to the path of recovery with a newfound enthusiasm for building a fulfilling life free from addiction.
What role did yoga play in your recovery and lifestyle shift?
It’s played such an important role, it’s hard to know where to begin.
For one, my daily yoga and meditation practice help me stay anchored in the present moment, which immediately alleviates so much of the suffering tied to past experiences and fears about the future.
It’s increased my capacity to be with discomfort, versus seeking relief through substances or harmful behaviors.
It’s enabled me to access and widen the space between impulse and action, which leads to more conscious decision-making.
Yoga also offers us a powerful set of tools to regulate the nervous system when the relief we’ve become accustomed to is no longer available to us. This is also important because when we’re dysregulated, we’re much more susceptible to cravings.
Having that daily check-in has allowed me to pick up on early warning signs when I’m off balance, and make necessary shifts in my day to prioritize self-care when needed, even if that’s just taking a little bit of time to disconnect and take a walk in nature.
I really believe all healing and self-care should have an integrated mind-body approach.
Was the shift for you gradual or quite immediate once you had decided to become sober?
I would say both. My life changed pretty dramatically from an outward perspective after getting sober.
But the real inner work has been much more gradual and will be a lifelong journey.
When I first got sober, I needed to relearn healthy ways to navigate difficult emotions, and social situations, rebuild confidence, practice self-care, and so forth, and all of that takes time.
Would you say your practice is essential for maintaining your sobriety on a daily basis?
Definitely. There’s an obvious shift in the way I feel when I don’t make time for some form of conscious movement or meditation.
Even if it’s just a super short and simple check-in, it’s been key and I genuinely look forward to it!
What do you think the hardest part of the journey has been for you?
Overcoming my fear of how my relationships would be impacted and learning to navigate social situations where alcohol is present.
I will say though, for anyone who has that fear, sobriety has been the greatest thing to happen to my social life and relationships.
The work has really been about deconstructing where those beliefs come from and practicing self-acceptance.
How is your life different now from a decade ago?
10 years ago I was living in Chicago, working in a cubicle under artificial lights at a digital advertising agency.
I was drinking seven nights a week and using Adderall and cocaine to fuel a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle.
I was completely disconnected from myself and nature.
Today, my priorities have changed completely. I find incredible joy in the simple things. Getting outside in nature every day, conscious movement, meditation, and genuine human connection are non-negotiables.
I still have challenging days, but I don’t turn to coping strategies that ultimately make my life worse.
Above all, I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to spend most of the last decade sharing what I love – hosting retreats internationally, teaching yoga and meditation, and coaching others through their recovery journey.
What would you say to someone who is sober-curious on how to get sober or begin that journey?
- Try taking a month off of alcohol, and notice how your life changes. I always recommend This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, a paradigm-shifting book that has really expanded the conversation about sobriety beyond addiction recovery circles. This will help with making an honest inquiry into what’s shaped your beliefs about alcohol up until this point and the true impact it’s having on your life.
- Start to follow people who normalize sobriety versus glamorize drinking.
- Listen to podcasts (like the Sun & Moon Sober Living Podcast).
- Join sober communities online and in person.
- Explore new hobbies and activities that don’t involve drinking, and keep an open mind!
Everyone has unique circumstances, so in some cases, seeking out support from a therapist is useful and necessary.
At what point in your own recovery did you realize you now had the capacity to help others on their journey?
I think we can all help others in meaningful ways by simply offering a non-judgmental ear, and providing unconditional love and support, and I’ve always made an effort to offer the same generous support to the recovery community that was given to me.
On a professional level, it was after three years of continuous sobriety and completing specialized training in trauma-informed yoga, addiction recovery, and Y12SR Leadership Training that I hosted my first workshop on Yoga for Addiction Recovery.
I later became certified as a Professional Recovery Coach before beginning to work 1:1 and in a group coaching format.
You live in a very beautiful but quite rural part of the world. Do you think that makes it any easier to stay sober? How much of a factor is your environment?
Yes and no. There’s a lot of research to support how being in a natural environment can lower stress hormone levels, reduce anxiety, enhance mood and calm the nervous system, and all of those factors support sobriety.
Living close to nature has also typically meant living close to others who prioritize a healthy lifestyle, versus a city where you’re more likely to be surrounded by a heavy drinking culture.
That said, I really resonate with the quote, “wherever you go, there you are” and don’t think you can rely solely on a location cure. I’ve had to confront my own inner demons, even in paradise!
What first sparked the idea for Sun & Moon Sober Living?
The idea to help end the stigma around addiction and serve the recovery community had been brewing in me for a long time.
But, it was the rapid decline in mental health and increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic that drove me to take action on it.
How is this program different from others offered around the world?
It’s an inclusive, community-based approach that doesn’t require you to identify as an alcoholic or addict or assume any labels.
We promote the message that sobriety is an empowered lifestyle choice that everyone can benefit from, and aim to remove the stigma of sobriety that can so often stand in the way of people feeling their best.
The focus is on getting to the root of what drives us to turn to substances and harmful behaviors in the first place and establishing a holistic set of self-care practices to promote sustainable long-term sobriety.
The name Sun & Moon also carries a lot of symbolism.
It’s about embracing the entirety of the human experience, the light and the dark; acknowledging our cyclical nature, growth, and decay, and creating harmony within ourselves, each other, and our environment.
What can participants expect when they join your program?
The Holistic Sober Living Course is an opportunity to deconstruct your beliefs about alcohol and begin building a fulfilling life alcohol-free.
Participants can expect a total mindset shift around drinking, and to walk away with a solid set of skills and practices that support making positive changes in all areas of their lives.
We cover the physiological impact of drinking on the body, and the nervous system, the science of behavior change, habit formation, establishing healthy boundaries, practical skills like how to turn down alcohol in social situations, navigating shame, self-compassion and so much more.
It’s an 8-week group program with 8 unique video training modules, 8 live group coaching calls, a workbook, an on-demand library of guided meditations, and a private group chat.
What kind of support is offered after those initial intensive 8 weeks?
I offer free virtual community gatherings, which anyone can be a part of, as well as 1:1 coaching for ongoing support.
There is also an abundance of free resources shared across social, on my email list, and weekly podcast episodes with leading experts in the field of addiction recovery, mental health, and yoga and meditation.
What plans lay ahead for Sun and Moon?
We just completed the first group program, and enrolment has just opened for the next group.
I’m in the process of building out shorter, bite-size workshops and also offer 1:1 sobriety coaching.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller. She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health. As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Skye created The Fit Traveller as a beautiful online space and community where people feel inspired to escape the desk to move and explore more.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her insatiable appetite for adventure.