Alex was so excited to have Dr. David Lee on the show! Dr David Lee is a clinical psychologist, certified recovery coach/mentor, addictions specialist and executive coach.
He has worked across many specialisms, but now specialises predominantly in coaching male entrepreneurs and high performing business professionals who are struggling with alcohol usage abd related addictions.
You can connect with David on Instagram @thesoberwaycoach .
He has worked in mental health since 2001, and has lived in the UK and UAE (Dubai).
Dr David has himself recovered from alcoholism and addiction. His passion and integrated method for helping others is based on lived experience as a recoveree, as the adult child of an alcoholic parent, as well as extensive experience in the fields of psychology and coaching.
Hi, friend. This is Alex McRobbs, founder of The Mindful Life Practice, and you're listening to the Sober Yoga Girl podcast. I'm a Canadian who moved across the world to the Middle East at age 23, and I never went back. I got sober in 2019, and I now live full-time in Bali, Indonesia. I've made it my mission to help other women around the world stop drinking, start yoga, and change their lives through my online Sober Girls Yoga community. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.
Hello. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Sober Yoga Girl Podcast. I am recording this episode today from Toronto. I just arrived in Toronto after a week in Dubai in the UAE, and unfortunately, I missed meeting this guest in real life during my time in Dubai, but it's cool. Technology is amazing and we're able to catch up and connect over the which is awesome. And I'm sitting with Dr. David Lee today. And David is originally from the UK, but has been living in the UAE since 2016. And he's a trained clinical psychologist and he's worked with people of all backgrounds and adolescents to adults. And now he is a certified recovery coach. And so he is stepping into a role as a sober coach and has a knowledge and background in this area. And I'm just really excited and interested to learn about the work that he's doing in recovery in the UAE. Welcome, David. How are you?
Thank you, Alex. Bless you. Thanks for having me. I'm good. Thank you. It's great to be here.
Good to have you. I love that you say, Bless you. The only other person that I know that says, Bless you, is David Golden, who introduced us.
I think that's where I inherited it.
I love that.
I love it. We spend too much time together. I think that's maybe what it is. Yeah, that's awesome. Common phrase. Yeah.
So you have been sober now for four years, right? You got sober in 2019.
That's right, yeah.
What's your sober date?
It's the 29th of July 2019, so coming up to four years. Yeah, one day at a time, by the grace of God. But 29th of July, I will be four years sober.
That's amazing. Thank you very much.
All three of us have around the same sober date because I'm also in 2019. Yeah, in April.
Wow. Okay. So close to-together, right? Three months on me. I think David always reminds me I'm 50 days ahead of him. That's why he's calculated that one. He's a numbers guy. Awesome.
So tell me a bit about your journey and your life before sobriety.
Yeah. If I start early on, I'm a child of the '80s, really. Born in the late '70s, grew up throughout the '80s in my mid-40s now. I grew up in Manchester, England, and alcohol was everywhere. So much a part of my childhood in the sense that everybody drank alcohol. It was literally friends, family, family, friends. My dad was alcoholic. So right from a very young age, I was exposed to the drinking culture in the UK, we were very much part of this northern industrial working class culture that I grew up in. But as I said, my dad was alcoholic, really struggled. I don't think he would ever have admitted that he was alcoholic, but clearly he was. He would drink every day. And so I was exposed to, I guess, the perils of alcohol dependence, alcohol usage at a very young age. And it seemed to be the done thing to get to teenage years and then experiment. And once I figured that I could get my hands on alcohol and drink it when I wanted because I had friends who looked much older than I did and they could purchase it, I was away.
I was gone. For me, that was the coming together the culture, the cultural influence and having a dad who was an alcoholic. And also it was just my drug of choice to help me to just numb a lot of the loneliness because I think I was actually a very lonely child. I say this now, I think a lot of childhood, emotional neglect. I felt a lot of loneliness, shyness, or low self-esteem. Probably some social anxiety problems there early on. Yeah, that was it. If I fast forward, so I jumped pretty consistently, I did my studies. I went into psychology and into the student culture of drinking and all of that. But for me, it wasn't just the student culture of going out partying and drinking alcohol. For me, there was pretty much almost daily dependency. I studied, I qualified as a clinical psychologist. I did a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and then a doctorate, and I managed to keep my professional life going and become pretty accomplished and skilled at what I did. I probably went into psychology in a way to understand a little bit about what I've been through, but also to understand some of the people around me, my family, my dad, and things like that.
Anyway, alcohol came the thing that I just hid in the background. There was professional, Dr. David, if you like, and then there was David who was struggling really to try to condense a long story. Number of relationships didn't really work out. Then I got together with my now ex-wife. I had a son when I was 29, so I have a teenage son now. I moved to Dubai over seven years ago now, and the drinking just got worse. Lots of life pressures and failing relationships. And looking back in hindsight, a lot of things that I was doing wrong, like sick and suffering at the time. So very much this gulf between my professional side and the clinical side and the academic side, if you like, part of me that could switch on for work, what was actually going on in the background in my personal life. And eventually it caught up with me. It felt like my life blew up pretty much. My marriage broke down. I didn't have a good relationship with my son, mainly because I wasn't really there in any present way with him. I was there in terms of providing for him, but looking back in hindsight, emotionally, I don't think I was connected to him in a way that I could have been.
The drinking got worse. The alcohol dependence just got worse until I realized that I was really struggling. I needed help. I found myself here alone. The marriage broke down. My ex-wife moved back to the UK. My son went back to the UK, ended up in just really difficult financial situation and just really struggling. And it was at that point where I was struggling to... I wouldn't say I was not able to work, but it was certainly affecting me and it was certainly affecting my ability to work. I knew at that point that despite having all the tricks of the trade, if you like, as a clinical psychologist and being quite a skilled therapist, I think I couldn't fix myself. I couldn't just apply techniques and strategies to myself. I recognized now in hindsight of what I needed is to go through a process which I now believe to be a spiritual experience, if you like. And so yeah, I found myself just lonely, isolated, having to look myself in the mirror and say, I am alcoholic. I know I'm alcoholic. I know I'm an addict, and I need to do something about it. So while I went into 12-step recovery, I also had long term therapy, which I'd not have previously myself.
I've done bouts of therapy for anxiety and periods of depression and things like that. But I've not actually done any intense work around all of that stuff that was feeding into my alcohol problem, lots of childhood trauma and all that stuff. So for me, it was a combination of a 12-step fellowship, therapy and lots of practices myself, mindfulness and things like that, and getting some coaching myself as well. Wow.
Thank you so much for sharing that. I find it interesting because I really haven't spoken to that many people who also started having issues with alcohol in Dubai and then got sober in the UAE and are now speaking publicly about it. It's just not so commonly spoken about. And there's a lot of my journey being in the UAE and being lonely and getting into that financial situation that I can so relate to.
Relate to it. Yeah, absolutely. I think for me as well, there's one thing there that's preventing me from coming out and speaking about what? First of all, because I was in denial. And then when I started to get sober and realized that I was on this journey and this path and having gone through such a transformation, which is ongoing, of course, one day at a time. I felt the need to open up and be able to share my story. And I think because I'd worked as a clinical psychologist for so long and hidden behind that clinic, clinicians bail, if you like. I felt for me, what I wanted to do was come out and share my story in a way that felt much more authentic. So I'm able to not just take over and hijack the client's story and people that I work with, but be able to say, I've been through this. This is my story and share it with you if it's going to be helpful in a way that feels more authentic to me rather than me hiding behind this professional persona of, Hey, I just give you techniques and skills and strategies and you don't know anything about me.
Because yeah, I'm human as well. That's about the common humanity for me, which is really important, I'm human. I've struggled. I'm not perfect. I'm a seriously flawed human being who is just trying to do my very best each day now, having got into recovery and going through this process one day at a time. I would never have done that beyond four years ago.
Wow. That's so powerful. Like when you're able to be that role model for people as like, Hey, I've been there and I've come through this really challenging time. I think just what it does is it gives people hope, like if they can see a version of themselves in you.
Well, I was given that hope by others, you see. So that's where I feel that if I'm able to do that, the people that really helped me, and actually what helped me was having a therapist myself who shared with me, I'm also a member of a 12-step fellowship, and she was the one who first said to me, I think you're alcoholic and I think you actually need to look at this, and blended this psychotherapy with the spiritual. She said she's like a psychospiritual therapist and using a combination of approaches. So that got me thinking of, for the first time, of myself as an alcoholic and as an addict as well, because I believe lots of us with alcohol problems also have cross addictions as well. I had lots of other behavioral addictions and process addictions and addictive tendencies. But I think alcohol or the alcoholism was the gateway to all of those.
When you moved to Dubai, I'm just curious, did you get swept up into the brunch social life? Was that part of your story?
A little bit. I did go to brunches and that was appealing to me. So yeah, it was part of it. It was certainly one of the things I was... I still lived in this delusion before I came to Dubai that actually I would get a handle on the drinking, moving to a Muslim country and everything. Not, of course, recognizing such an expat drinking culture here. But yeah, it didn't take long before I landed, so I finally got swept into what was then the Friday brunches, right? One Friday and Saturday with the UAE weekend. And yeah, that was it. And beyond that, drinking at home, drinking. We would take my son to golf lessons as well, and that would just be an excuse to say we'll go watch him do his golf practice, but then we'll start drinking. And that just became a big part of it. There wasn't always like brunches and parties. I mean, it was some of that, but it was also a lot of getting caught up in quite a stressful lifestyle, which I don't think I was quite prepared for. I came from a city in the UK from Manchester, but coming to Dubai, it was like, wow.
It's the first time I'd lived out of the UK. You see that I'd moved to a different... It's like, wow, I'm in this whirlwind of a metropolis all of a sudden, which is wonderful. Dubai is an incredibly innovative place and everything. Lots to get excited about here. But I think I also, as an addict and alcoholic, I think I also found that incredibly overwhelming as well. So what do you do then? You'll go to chemical addiction.
Totally. Yeah. So what was the for you, was there a pivotal moment when you decided to quit drinking or was there a series of events? What was that like?
Yeah, it was really a rock bottom moment. So what actually happened was the drinking was getting worse. There was lots of stress. There's lots of financial stress. And life was just tough. I was working six days a week and my ex-wife and I were just not getting along. I think we've grown further and further apart and it was just caught up with me, really. I started to drink more and then become incredibly consumed with my work, but also at the same time, very preoccupied with some of the financial stresses that we were having, lots of things I did that I'm now not proud of in the madness, as we say, and really caught up in that. And my character defects, if you like, really taken over. The marriage broke down basically, and I just found myself in a situation where for a time, for the first time in many years, I wasn't working. I was out of work. The marriage had broken down. Effectively, we broke up. I left and I was away from my son for a while. My ex-wife then moved back to the UK. There was a realization. I always describe it.
There was a moment. So obviously the day before my sobriety date, if you like, I took my last drinks in a bar pretty close to here. I had a I think it was my first spiritual experience actually just ahead of sobriety or you could say I was in sobriety at that point where I just stumbled home from this bar and I looked up at the sky and I looked up at the moon, which was moving across the sky because I was so intoxicated and I knew I was done. I can't really describe it any more than that, but to say I just had enough. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. And I knew there and then that the next day I was going to get help. And looking back on it now, I don't know what it was, but something came over me that I knew I'd taken my last alcoholic drink. I didn't really need to be told that you can't have another drink because I was like, I'm done with it. I thought there are only two ways to go from here and one way is down, down, descend further into the madness and who knows where that would have took me to.
I can hazard a guess or I can go on this recovery journey and try to find some light in my life. It didn't feel like that was possible at that time because I thought I'm away from my son, struggling now I'm out of work, and how have I got to this? But as we know, recovery can be a wonderful thing, and especially when we tap into some of the spiritual aspects of recovery. It didn't improve all at once, but I suddenly found a new peace of mind because before too long I thought I knew things were going to be okay. I knew I was dealing with a problem that had been there for so long. And not only that had been there for me, but I was also breaking a generational pattern, if you like. I thought, I don't want this. I don't want for my son what I had in my childhood. I didn't want to be... I saw myself going down that path and not being the dad that I could have been and maybe reenacting some of those patterns from my dad, although it was very different, but I thought I don't even want a hint of that in my parenting of my son.
I want to get right away from that and be the dad that I'm capable of being and have a bond with him, have an actual healthy attachment with my son, even at a distance, which not by choice have been away from my son for the last four years.
Wow! What a powerful decision to make and powerful to break that generational cycle. Yeah.
I didn't realize that that was happening at the time. It's only in hindsight that I've been able to say to myself, Yeah, this is powerful that I'm actually stopping something here. I mean, my hope is that he doesn't go on to have problems with alcohol or addiction. We can never say never, but I can at least hopefully model a way forward that is not about dependence. Because like I said, for me, it was just I didn't really know any different. It was a bit of a moment of revelation when I was in recovery and then looking back, because you do when you start to look back at your life history and things and say, Actually, the culture that I grew up in, not everybody grows up with that. Not everybody grows up with alcohol everywhere, and almost everybody seemingly been so dependent on alcohol. So I'd like to think if I can model that and break that or tackle that pattern for my son and future generations, then hey, ho, that's got to be a good thing.
Absolutely. So you told me that you use the 12 steps as a primary recovery tool. So did you join 12 steps right away and what other resources did you pull in along the way?
So yeah, 12 steps was all new to me. I'll be honest with you, from the outside in, I just all looked like it didn't make any sense to me because I wasn't a very spiritual person. I probably to some degree told myself, Yeah, I'm quite spiritual. I believe in the law of attraction or stuff like that. But I was actually pretty scientific in my approach because I was like a therapist who prided himself on evidence-based therapy and all that stuff. So yeah, I went into 12-step recovery because I thought whatever got to lose, I knew lots of techniques. I've worked with people with addiction problems for many years, but actually looking back now, I don't think I was very successful at actually helping anybody to break their addictive patterns. Yeah, I could work with people with trauma and help them to get over PTSD and help people to get out of depression and build their self-esteem and get over panic attacks and stuff. I don't think I ever successfully helped somebody to stop drinking alcohol or to put down the other chemical addictions or whatever. One of the things I've come to realize is that I don't think therapy as such and therapy per se has a good track record when it comes to addiction.
I don't think any one therapeutic approach has a monopoly over addiction recovery. So I thought I need something different. And that was where Twelve Step came in. I thought, okay, what's all this about? This admitting we are powerless over alcohol and coming to believe in a power greater than ourselves, making a decision and all of this stuff. When I gave myself to it completely and I realized that higher power stuff, it's all about a higher power of your own understanding, if you like, I thought, yeah, there is something. I do not control the world or this universe. I tried that. I tried to convince myself before that I could take on the world, Dave versus the world, and bombard everything with myself will. And then when I was introduced to the 12 steps, I thought this is really about surrender and letting go, isn't it? Hey, I haven't tried that. Maybe I should try that one. It's not going to be easy, mind you, but that was it. And the work, the constant work for me has been about developing the habit of consistently letting go and reminding myself I don't control the show, not bombarding myself well.
So that equally meant not just finding the next novel strategy or technique I could do on myself that's going to give me that fix and take this problem away because it was a process and a journey. I think I was ready to hear that because I was at my rock bottom. I think I was ready to hear that you really need to do something different. It's not about fixing yourself, man.
Yeah. There's this quote that I've come across. I think it's Kevin Griffin. He says, Addiction is a misguided spiritual search. And I just feel like it's so true. I know myself. I was just like searching for something beyond, searching for something deeper and more meaning to my life. And that's why spirituality in the 12th step or spirituality in the work I do just plays such a massive role.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, that makes total sense. It's a symptom, if you like, of a deeper problem, because for me, that was always there throughout childhood. Probably why I went into psychology is to understand some of myself and the people around me, but I always felt that hole in my soul, that well of emptiness that you can't really describe it, but you can feel it that something's not in Twelve Step. They often talk about restlessness, irritability, and discontentment. I definitely had that. And at the same time, I think I felt just really uneasy with myself and who I was. I think I try to overcompensate. So I tried to become the... I had quite an academic brain as well. My dad was very bright, although he was alcoholic. I think I overcompensated by trying to become the intellectual know-it-all. And also I tried things like sport. I did competitive martial arts, taekwondo, to a high level when I was young. So I tried all these things of trying to throw myself into things and achieve things and get awards and medals and trophies and get on the podium and things like that. And all of it was really transient.
All of it was really like, Okay, so you've got that, you've achieved that, but you still feel that hole in your soul. You still feel so empty. And of course, now looking back, I realized, well, I didn't have any faith. When I was a child growing up, I didn't have any faith in a loving presence, if you like, a loving energy, intelligence, whatever you want to say, that's there.
So tell me more about you've joined the 12th step, you've become sober. How did you transition your career to become a sober coach? When did that come in?
It's been a recent thing in terms of such a dramatic pivot away from the clinical work. But if I'm completely honest, for quite a long time, I was struggling a little bit with being a clinical psychologist, mainly because I've done it for a long time. But I also wanted to be able to be able to be more open with my clients and share something of my story as well. I think because I struggle to work in a confined way within a boxed system, if you like. So if I'm told you can only work in this way and that's what you should do, I'm probably going to rebel in some way. I've always liked the idea of working creatively and flexibly and innovatively. So for me, going into recovery, it's a natural progression into, Oh, yeah, this is what I could really specialize in now because it became my life, right? And then to say, Actually, if I work in the coaching space as opposed to therapy, I can start to open up a bit and share my story and become perhaps a face and a voice for recovery as well and share with my clients my story in a way that can hopefully be helpful.
So it's not been that I completely ditch the clinical work, but I moved away from it gradually, and then I'd already trained in executive and performance coaching. So I wasn't like coaching, the difference in therapy and coaching were not... That wasn't alien to me. So to then start to think about recovery coaching and actually apply my skills to that. I thought, yeah, this is what I really want to do. So then I went in pretty recently, certified training to be a recovery coach. And then I thought, actually, if I can work creatively, I can take my background, my skills, but mesh it with this coaching program. I can take the best of what I've learned from mindfulness and CBT and approaches like that, acceptance and commitment therapy. But usually within a coaching framework, in what feels like a more, I guess, a bit more of an authentic way. Because what was helping me with some of the bonds that I developed in recovery, the men and ladies who were telling me their stories of recovery, I thought if I can do a little bit of that and use some of my background skills as well, I think that's where I'm probably best placed these days.
And so how can people work with you? What work do you do? Do you do online coaching or in-person?
Yeah, I do both, actually. I'm set out to do both, so online. I have an online program and now working very closely with my business associate and collaborative, David Golden, who we spoke about earlier. I've been from a clinical background bringing my psychological expertise, if you like, into the mix. But it's very spiritual. It's very or 12-step based, but it's not just a 12-step program if you like at all. It takes the essence of the 12 steps, applies a whole lot of psychology, a lot of elements around human potential, positive psychology, habit formation, neuroscience and biology and all of that stuff. We bring a lot of stuff into the mix and we work in quite a systematic way. We have a program that we've developed together and I have a program as well that's a little bit more psychologically-orientated. So it's really coming together of spiritual and psychological approaches.
So cool. And you guys are thinking about launching this day have concept as well, which David and I were talking about on an episode that I did with him. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that concept.
Absolutely. First of all, this is David's bright idea. He's full of... I have my moments. He's just such a natural entrepreneur in a sense. I mean, in a very genuine, authentic way that he can spot opportunities that are there that genuinely will help people. Really excited by this day have is a concept whereby effectively people can go into recovery, people who might need rehab but can't get to rehab for whatever reason because the life circumstances all their work. If you're a business owner or something and you can't just take yourself out of life for 30 days or something. You've got to find a way of doing consistent recovery. So the day have idea comes from doing consistent daily work at a center where you can do that work. But as with a rehab program, so that's where our very structured program, which is 12-step based, but with a whole lot of psychology in there, comes into the mix as well. So that's one of our projects right now that we're working on here in Dubai, is getting that facility, getting up and running and moving forward with that.
Amazing. And I was saying to him, I really feel that in the UAE, there's just not enough education and awareness about alcohol and sobriety, and there's a reason for that because it was such a taboo subject to talk about. And even me, I was a school teacher there and I felt like I was constantly on edge about I'm living this weird double life. I'm a Grade 1 teacher. I'm also a sober influencer. I know that if the wrong parent comes across my content, this could be bad, which I just had this faith of if it's bad and that's the direction I'm supposed to take it, it's going to go full and to the ground.
Absolutely. Yeah, totally. I'm so proud of you. Totally. I'm so proud of you. Totally. I'm so proud of you. Totally. I'm so proud of you. Totally. I'm so proud of you. Yeah.
And I think that's why. It's such an untouched subject because a lot of people feel the way I did. And they're like, I can't talk about this. I can't share about this because of the culture.
Yeah. And I think that's a lot to do with the shame and the stigma surrounding that if we move towards much more of a pro recovery movement, and that's it for me, that even to be an addict or an alcoholic in recovery, if you like, and to have all that stigma because you've been there and there must be something wrong. Well, actually, for me, it's all about if we can flip that into a positive and that can become the adversity, if you like, that has the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit. So you've walked that path and you've been on that recovery journey, so you're much more informed to help other people. I think that's what I would love to do, is change the culture of how we think about addiction recovery and people who've walked through that path. It's not that they're pathological or that they have this clinical condition. It's like, no, we recover, right? We continue to recover. We do recover. We recover from the obsession of the addiction or the alcoholism. But we are then well placed, if you like, to help others. I would love to see that. I'd love to see a move in society generally towards more of a pro recovery stance that's not about putting people in a box and saying, well, you're an addict or an alcoholic, or you're even a recovered addict or alcoholic.
To me, it becomes much more of a strength and an asset, I think, to other people.
Yeah, absolutely. So I have a couple more questions for you. The first one is, if people want to find you online or on the internet, how can people connect with you and learn more about your work?
Yeah. So I'm on social media, Instagram. My brand is The Soberway. So it's Dr. David Lee, The Soberway. So Instagram handle is @thesobawaycoach. You'll also find me on Facebook as well. I have a Facebook page at the Soaway and also on there is Dr. David Lee. And I'm on LinkedIn as well. Dr. David A. Lee on LinkedIn. Amazing.
And I like to ask everyone the same question to wrap up, which is if you had any wisdom to someone listening who wants to start their sober journey they haven't started yet, what would you say to them? What would you share?
It almost feels like you go on such a journey that it's hard to almost synthesize, but if I could get down to it, I would say first of all, there is, okay, putting the drink down and just wanting to live your life without drink, I would say genuinely ask yourself that question. Is it a problem for you? No problem if it isn't, but you just want to give up drinking because you want a healthier lifestyle or whatever, that's absolutely fine. But if actually what you're admitting to yourself that you are alcohol dependent or alcoholic, we have a problem for it, then I would say to entertain this notion of sobriety, and sobriety goes way beyond just putting the drink down. And it's such a far reaching positive effect on all areas of your life because we come to live in an emotionally sober way. It takes work. It takes effort. The benefits that we get from that by doing the daily work are worth it. So I would say it's more about asking that question and saying, Am I ready for this? Am I ready to entertain this such a profound change, if you like, and change of lifestyle that ultimately is going to benefit everybody if it's a problem?
Oh, amazing. Well, I'm so glad that we had a chance to sit down today and to hear your story because it's just so inspiring the work you do. And I know you're going to have a huge impact on anyone who listens to this show.
I hope so.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. It's a privilege. Absolute pleasure, Alex. Thanks for having me.
And I'm sure we will meet in Dubai one day, I think.
Absolutely. Yes, you will. I look forward to actually getting together in person. That'll be great. Yeah.
Amazing. Take care.
Take good care.
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