Episode 137: Sobriety, Substances, and Choosing to Live Awake

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I was listening to two friends on a podcast talk about their journey with substances (drugs and alcohol), and then when I came home to have an editorial planning meeting with Mike about our podcast (which looks like me saying, “What do you want to talk about?” to him while we clean the kitchen) he said:

Why don’t we talk about alcohol and sobriety?

Part of the reason our marriage works is because we have these glorious moments of being totally synced up (and then the other part of it is because we work at making it work).

I’ll be honest: I knew this conversation was a long time coming. I knew it would be powerful because Mike and I have somewhat unusual relationships with substances.

What I did not expect is that it would be hard to hear about Mike’s past.

I assumed that because we’ve talked about his past with drugs and alcohol A LOT, I wouldn’t have a hard time hearing him talk about it on this episode.

I was wrong.

Today’s episode is pretty different than a lot of our other ones, but it’s really important.

You’ll hear:

  • Why I wasn’t alarmed when I first learned of Mike’s history with making money in illegal ways (and why I actually thought it might bode well for our future).
  • What my parents taught me about alcohol and why it kept me from wanting to rebel by using it.
  • Mike’s unconventional approach to getting clean that didn’t involve ever setting foot in an AA meeting.
  • A few unsettling stories that, even though I’d heard them before, made my stomach turn.
Sobriety, Substances, and Choosing to Live Awake

In This Episode

  • Mike’s past relationship with drugs, alcohol and smoking [9:26]
  • How he realized things needed to change [16:44]
  • What life in college looked like for Mike [25:50]
  • Our thoughts on the legalization of certain drugs [27:51]
  • Some personal stories of Mike’s experiences [33:26]
  • His perspectives as a non-drinker now in social situations [37:55]
  • How drinking alcohol affects Kate and who she follows now to learn more about a sober life [41:10]
  • Why we really wanted to bring this conversation and topic to you today [44:47]
  • What made Mike decide to become a better person [49:22]
  • The best way to make lasting changes for a lifetime [63:37]

Selected Links from the Episode

Join The Do Less Immersion 

Order Kate’s New Book!

Kate’s First Book, Money: A Love Story Get On The Origin ® Waitlist!

Melissa Urban’s Podcast, Do The Thing (Holly Whitaker Episode) Tell Better Stories When They See Us on Netflix 13th on Netflix

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Connect with Kate & Mike on Instagram!

People Mentioned

Andrew Yang Gabby Bernstein Aydian Dowling

Podcast Details

Apple Podcasts


  • Dear both, i cannot begin to say how much wisdom en joy you bring me with all you do, but certainly these podcasts…. I lóve them. Mike, you are such an inspiration I cannot even express how much . I follow you Kate for a while now and you are one of my most favorite women in general and for sure you are a major example for female empowerment ( leading by example). But ‘getting to know’ you Mike, about your life and struggles, you really are an exemplary man and human being. Thank you so much for being candid, honest, funny, full of lightness without being ‘light’ or being happy go lucky. Or loosing your masculinity ( which,
    i know, is different for everyone). It just feels inspiring and certainly this topic, which in the netherlands near amsterdam where i live is a problem, I got a lot out of it. I loved this episode. Thank you for being so open !!!

    Just to end, grazie per tutti!! your really are awesome and I love your work! ( and I hope in toetje future to have created the circumstance and money to attent one of your classes kate. :-))

    • Kate Northrup

      Wendelijn! Thank you for reaching out. I’m so glad that you’ve gotten to know and love Mike. He really is a true gem! Thanks for listening in and being part of our community. P.S. Amsterdam is absolutely one of my favorite cities in the world!

  • I am proud of you both for creating this discussion with one another. I took so much away from it. One thing is that I aim to be brave enough to have these types of conversations with my partner – not be so guarded, so often planning and preparing how to say what I need to say, and to trust in our bond and how it will get us through any tough conversation. Additionally, when Mike talked about how he would watch Seinfeld to laugh again. I realized that I do that with a favorite show of mine (and I’m so happy watching it and sipping a glass of wine). I’m really thinking about that today. Thanks so much!

    • Kate Northrup

      Alison – it touches my heart to know that our uncomfortable conversation gives you courage to go there in a more unguarded, authentic way with your parnter. Do it! It’s so worth it!

  • Vilasi

    Kate! Your singing… I heard a sound of delighted laugh and clapping. That was me! You just woke up something in me. 💞👏🙏

    • Kate Northrup

      I do love to sing! I mostly only do it at home with my girls but occasionally it makes it on the podcast too :)

  • Patt Vega

    I am an adult child from an alcoholic mother, I drank on my early twenties and at one point didn’t make sense anymore. People doesn’t understand why I drink water when on a party or celebrating. Thank you Mike for sharing your story, happy to listen to you talking about your determination for stopping habits that don’t serve you anymore, it resonates with me. Thank you Kate for sharing your family story and about not being understood for not drinking.

    I always enjoy your podcast and every week it gets deeper and deeper. Thank you so much for everything you put out there.

    • Kate Northrup

      Thanks for listening in Patt. I’m so glad what we’re putting out there is resonating. Please let us know if there are any topics you’d love for us to cover or go deeper on!

  • Kate,

    I literally thought I was THE ONLY crazy person that saw my husbands early life/drug preoccupation as a springboard toward success. I’ve had many many people try to convince us that he needs the conventional AA, and we just KNEW it wasn’t a fit. I do think he was reaching out for connection and intimacy throughout this time, and drugs were the outcome (there’s a fantastic TED talk about it), but I also knew he wasn’t pigeon held by society’s very rigid ideas about drug exploration.
    Thank you and thank Mike for validating what I knew I felt inside but obviously needed to hear on the outside.
    These vulnerable conversations are priceless and really do what we all crave; inspire community and connectedness.
    Much love

    • Kate Northrup

      That’s so amazing. Yep – when Mike told me he used to sell drugs I was like, “Well – that’s a totally transferable skillset!” Glad you found the episode validating and thanks for listening in!

  • Karen Wolfe

    I’m the class of 83’ from good O’l Valpo 😑! This episode was crazy good . This brought back so many memories of the family dynamics that I had. Just such wonderful insight. Thank you for sharing. Keep on – keeping ON !

  • Gina

    Thanks for sharing this conversation. I can say the bullet point in the podcast description that prompted me to listen was what your parents told you Kate-I selfishly wanted a little more about how that affected your decision to abstain.
    I have 10 and 7 year old boys and that was the exact thinking I was having, which was avoiding feelings, when explaining things to them.
    If you guys come across any more helpful advice in regards to the conversations we have with our children, I am all ears! Especially when exploring the diversity of experience and giving them the freedom to choose, armed with some skills for dealing with feelings while “living awake”-is that how you phrased it? I do have some challenges discussing feelings and emotions in a house full of boys, but I am steadfast in my belief in its importance. Thanks to you both!

  • Abby

    Thanks for this powerful conversation, Kate! I so resonate with your relationship with alcohol as well as your journey as a couple. Being awake and present (with all our feelings) is an amazing gift to pass down to our children. I so agree with you about alcohol marketing to moms being gross. On a related note, I just read Dopesick by Beth Macy about the opioid epidemic. It’s scary how big corporations are encouraging addiction to increase their profits.

    • Kate Northrup

      Yes – it is so scary how linked into money and big pharma and big alcohol and the prison industrial complex and all of it it all is. That’s why we have to stay awake. Thanks for listening in and I’m glad the episode resonated!

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