Curating Sober Lifestyle Content
This Q&A, facilitated by Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, was published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.
Ashley Sunderland of Minneapolis is a licensed substance use counselor, fitness and nutrition enthusiast, and certified substance use prevention professional. She’s also a person in long-term recovery, an avid music fan, a recovery advocate, and a volunteer contributor to The Sober Curator, a website and social media platform that aims to enrich the lives of people in recovery by providing “the ultimate resource for all things related to recovery and zero-proof living.” By sharing sober travel, events, merch, podcasts, books, fashion, music and more, The Sober Curator strives to provide “access to a world of possibilities for a vibrant and fulfilling life without the influence of alcohol.” We checked in with the Portland transplant to learn more …
You are originally from Portland. How did you make it to Minnesota, into recovery and ultimately to Minneapolis College for your bachelor’s degree?
My mother grew up in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and my parents actually met in Minneapolis before relocating to the West Coast where my sister and I were born. Since I was a little girl, I visited my grandparents in Minnesota every summer to attend the State Fair. We returned to Minnesota in 2007 to care for aging grandparents.
In December of 2018, my parents put me in treatment for my alcoholism, which was killing me. I completed eight months of intensive outpatient treatment programming, lived in sober housing, and have been blessed with a new and purposeful life in recovery. I learned about collegiate recovery programs while in treatment and decided to go back to school at Minneapolis College because they had one on campus.
What has recovery meant to you and what does it mean to be able to share your recovery with others?
My struggle with alcohol was a matter of life and death. Recovery, quite literally, means a second chance of living a new and purposeful life. Sharing my recovery with others is THE way that I have been able to maintain my own recovery, and these are some of the components that are essential: inspiration and hope, reducing stigma, support and connection, self-reflection, accountability, empowerment, education, building bridges, and sense of purpose.
You were involved with the collegiate recovery program at Minneapolis College. What was that experience like, and what did it mean to you?
I chose to enroll at Minneapolis College because it had a collegiate recovery program (CRP). It is the first CRP at a two-year institution in Minnesota and was recognized by the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) as the 100th collegiate program related to recovery in higher education. I got plugged into the CRP immediately and, because of the support it provided to me, was able to achieve exceptional academic and personal success. The student life experience that I had at Minneapolis College and in the CRP helped me develop skills and make connections that are significant in my life today. Second to getting sober, it is one of the most incredible and life-changing experiences I have had. To this day, I remain involved with the CRP at Minneapolis College and will be attending its upcoming Coin-In Ceremony once the date has been decided!
As I understand it, you attend kickboxing and strength training classes. What has exercise and nutrition meant to you and your recovery journey?
It is my belief that regular exercise and nourishing the body with good food and nutrition are critical components of a healthy (recovery) lifestyle. In August 2021, I joined Farrell’s Extreme Body Shaping (FXB), where I attend kickboxing and strength training classes and receive comprehensive nutrition education. Joining Farrell’s sparked my passion for fitness and nutrition and is one of the best decisions I have made. FXB staff and members have become a huge part of my recovery support network as well. At 38 years old, I’m in the best physical shape of my life, and I feel proud of that. Fitness and nutrition are so important that they can help bridge the gap from early recovery to long-term sobriety. No matter where you are in your recovery journey, fitness and nutrition are essential to overall well-being!
You recently attended a workshop called Sober Scene, organized by Hazelden Betty Ford and Mobilize Recovery. It aimed to kick off grassroots collaboration around creating more recovery friendly social spaces. What was that experience like and what about that opportunity speaks to you as a person in recovery and someone who also helps others navigate life in recovery?
In my early sobriety, while watching the documentary The Anonymous People, I experienced an overwhelming and tremendous feeling of being a part of something for the first time in my life. This changed the trajectory of my recovery journey. I was struck with that same feeling while attending the Sober Scene Workshop. The workshop also renewed my passion to promote recovery through advocacy, education, and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.
How do you have fun in recovery?
There is so much fun to be had in recovery!
I follow local recovery organizations and groups on social media such as Sober Fun Events Page (Twin Cities Area) and Sober FIT Club Minneapolis, that share recovery-supportive events that I can participate in. I continue to explore the many different pathways to recovery where new friendships and opportunities await. Taking up new hobbies and rediscovering old ones gives me tremendous joy and fulfillment and continues to connect me with like-minded people, as well.