Episode 29 – The One Where We Talk About Alcoholism featuring Amber LaRock, LVT

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Click here for the full transcript, but please excuse any errors. It was transcribed automatically using Otter.ai

Stacey Cordivano 0:07
Hey there, it’s Dr. Stacey Cordivano. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the life that we’ve created. On this podcast I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day life. Welcome to The Whole Veterinarian.

Amber LaRock is a licensed vet tech that has made a life of traveling within the vet med field. In search of a new way to travel full time, Amber created a veterinary writing business and now gets to create informative pet health content as her career all while volunteering at rescues around the world. She not only advocates for stepping outside of your comfort zone in your career, but doing so while advocating for mental health and wellness. Sobriety and mental health work saved her life and she now offers hope to others who are struggling as well. I really hope you enjoy my conversation with Amber. I know that it made a big impact on my outlook and I am so thankful to her for sharing her story and example of sobriety. First up a quick word from a new and exciting sponsor, and then you’ll hear my conversation with Amber LaRock.

Are you an equine veterinarian seeking to learn more about personal and professional development? Are you eager to shape the future of our industry? If so, you may be excited to learn about a new in-person seminar being held in October. The Whole Veterinarian Seminar and Retreat will take place in Seattle, Washington and it is going to be awesome. The meeting will be a small intimate gathering of veterinary professionals who are looking to improve themselves and their industry. Collaboration and discussion are the goals of this meeting. We will have speakers covering topics that you probably won’t find at any other equine CE. We see this as an opportunity to hear new ideas from speakers and participants alike. The mission of the whole veterinarian seminar and retreat is to influence the trajectory of equine practice by disrupting equine veterinary lifestyle norms. If you’re interested in learning more, please check out thewholeveterinarian.com/seminar or click the link in the show notes. And now please enjoy the episode.

I’m joined today by Amber LaRock and I’m really excited to sit down and chat with you. Thank you so much for joining me.

Amber LaRock 2:37
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited.

Stacey Cordivano 2:40
This is gonna be super interesting and helpful for our community, I think. But can you first introduce yourself to people and tell them a little bit about what you do currently?

Amber LaRock 2:52
Yes, of course. So my name is Amber. I am a licensed vet tech in Texas, I actually started off my vet tech journey as an emergency tech. I did that for about five years, I still do relief when I’m back home. But a couple years into my vet tech career, I just found out about traveling in vet med and I learned about volunteer opportunities. And I started doing that. And right when I took my first volunteer trip, I knew that I was hooked. This is something that I had to do for the rest of my life. And after just working, working, working and saving for one big trip a year, I decided that I needed to find out a way that I could do this forever and how I could do this long term. Because no matter how hard you work, you can’t stay abroad forever. You’re gonna run out of money at some point. So I ended up looking into ways to work remotely as a vet tech. And in doing so I started out as a virtual assistant online, which is kind of like basically doing anything that you could even imagine. You can be a virtual assistant creating graphics, you can do email management, you can do blogging, and that’s how I started I started blogging. And once I did that, I realized that I really enjoyed it, and I seemed to be good at it. So fast forward six months, and I have a writing business. Now. I’m a veterinary writer, and I contribute to multiple different pet health blogs. Some of them are medical blogs. Some of them are just like fun pet blogs, and I do that full time and that allows me to live wherever I want. And right now I’m actually in Bangkok, doing my seven day quarantine getting ready to go out there into the world.

Stacey Cordivano 4:29
That’s amazing. I love how that shows the adaptability of the vet med career. I think that’s very cool. Where was the first trip you went on that got you hooked?

Amber LaRock 4:39
Oh, Thailand actually. Yeah, that was my very first night abroad. Yeah, I did a it was like a two week volunteer trip with loop abroad and their veterinary volunteer program and I got to work with elephants at the Elephant Nature Park. So that trip was just a dream. And it just told me like I need to do this because there’s so many opportunities out there that I didn’t even know existed. That’s what spurred it all.

Stacey Cordivano 5:04
That’s really cool. And I definitely want people to connect with you more if they want to learn about traveling abroad. I know that that’s a lot of what your Instagram account is based on. And you and a co host have a podcast.

Amber LaRock 5:14

Stacey Cordivano 5:15
Talking about traveling, vet med style, which is great. But today, you very generously are going to talk to us about some other struggles that you’ve had in your life.

Amber LaRock 5:30
Yes, yes.

Stacey Cordivano 5:31
I saw that you posted on your Instagram talking about your struggles with addiction. And I thought that that was very brave, and also really needed. I think it’s probably not talked about as much in this profession as it should be. Yeah. So I basically just want to let you tell your story, if you’re open to that.

Amber LaRock 5:51
Definitely. Thank you. Yeah, I was really excited to do this. Because I know that it’s starting to be talked about a bit more. But there’s not a lot of like transparency. And I understand that because it was really just the last couple years that I felt comfortable even talking to my colleagues about it. Because there’s a big stigma, a lot of people have either been hurt by an addict or an alcoholic outside of their career. So a lot of people have a wall up when it comes to talking about it. And I get that. But I think kind of my mission now that I’m more comfortable with it is just kind of, like humanizing it in a way to know that. It’s not just maybe your previous experience that you’ve had with the person, there’s a long line of struggles leading up to alcoholism or addiction. And, you know, I experienced that firsthand. So I guess my individual story, it might bounce all over, because I’ve never really done this on a podcast, but

Stacey Cordivano 6:43
no worries.

Amber LaRock 6:44
So I am five years sober. I am a recovering alcoholic. I also struggle with mental health. And I learned that in getting sober that I actually have borderline personality disorder. And I think that’s kind of an underlying thing. Not that specifically but mental illness as a whole. You hardly ever become an alcoholic or an addict for fun. A lot of people who struggle are self medicating whether it’s mental illness, trauma, whatever it may be. This is usually what leads you to making those deadly decisions. Really. Yeah, so I’m a recovering alcoholic, I come from a line of alcoholics and addicts in my family, that’s a big thing to consider as well. And I just grew up with really intense mental health struggles. And I never really understood what was wrong with me, essentially, my mental health was always in shambles. It was always really just chaotic, and I could never find peace. But when I did find peace, that was when I was not sober. So I just basically spent from the time that I was 15, to the time that I was 22 going into 23 just constantly inebriated on something. And I I somehow managed to become a vet tech, I truly don’t even know how I made it through college, to be honest with you. I don’t know how I became licensed in the middle of all of it. But that was the one thing that got me through is my love of animals. And just the drive to push through and try to make something of myself in this career because I knew that I wanted to have a bright future. I wanted to work with animals, but it was hard. I was still drinking when I became a vet tech when I first got licensed I think I was in the field for about two years before I got sober. And that’s when it really all hit me that I needed to do something because it was destroying my career. It was destroying my friendships, my relationships, everything. I wish I could say there was like a particular turning point. But it was really just like, random Tuesday that I just realized, like I’m exhausted, I hate what I’ve done to myself. And I’m just miserable. I’m very lucky that I have a very supportive family. That made a big difference in my life. I know so many people aren’t lucky enough to have that. But my family was always very supportive always there for me, no matter how many times I screwed it up, because I did a lot. I went to rehab. And after getting out of rehab, I’m lucky that I’ve stayed sober for five years. And I’ve just really gotten to know myself. Because I didn’t know who I was at all. When I was not sober. I had no clue who I was. My self image was just totally skewed. I didn’t know what I wanted in life. And in these last five years, I feel like I finally created like a life that I love and getting to know myself every day. So in getting sober. I’ve met a lot of other veterinary professionals that either have been sober for a long time, or are struggling to get sober. And I also, you know, met a lot of people that were really close minded about it. And I’ve gotten some judgment from colleagues over the years. And it all comes back to just not really understanding the disease. And yeah, I think this is why it’s really exciting to have a podcast episode about it because I’ve met so many people who aren’t willing to listen are interested in listening.

Stacey Cordivano 10:02
What is that judgment that you get from people? What does that look like? Like specifically.

Amber LaRock 10:06
Me in particular, I was lucky that I worked at an ER where most of my colleagues were very supportive of what I was going through. But it was only after I got sober, that they were supportive, I had to be very secretive about it, because I had heard them talking about previous colleagues that were struggling with their mental health or addiction. I heard them talking about hiding the meds from people talking about how people who you know, get in trouble with the law, or like, you know, low lives, I’m not hiring this person, because somebody told me at this clinic, they had a DWI, like, just a lot of things, subtle comments like that, where it kept me from telling anybody for a while that I was sober. You always hear everybody loves a comeback story. But nobody really wants to support people while they’re on the journey to getting better. So my colleagues supported me after once I got sober, and they had no idea I was struggling. But I also heard a lot from people, which upsets me as they be like, well, you’re different. We’re not talking about you, you’re different. And I’m like, No, I’m not different from anybody else that struggling in addiction or alcoholism, I’m not different. Everybody just has a different story. I’m lucky that I didn’t really have to face the judgment in the middle of it. It wasn’t ever really directed towards me. But I felt at all because I heard the words that were said and the things that were thrown around in casual conversation, and it was still hurtful.

Stacey Cordivano 11:24
I want to go back a little bit to when you’re 15, Is that when you first started drinking, or is that when you first started drinking a lot?

Amber LaRock 11:31
So drinking actually wasn’t the issue when I was 15. It was trying a lot of different types of drugs. When I was early teens, drinking is what really ruined my life that that didn’t start until I was about 20. But when I was a teenager, I was basically just abusing any substance I could get my hands on pretty much.

Stacey Cordivano 11:48
And do you think, I mean, I’m no angel, right? Like, do you think that that started as like, the usual kind of high school experimentation? Or do you think for you, it was immediately a way to get away from your feelings?

Amber LaRock 12:01
I think a combination of both. It started off with just a harmless like smoking weed, you know, something harmless like that. But in that moment, I realized that, you know, some people just can’t dabble around with things like that. And I was one of those people. I mentioned how I come from a long line of addicts, my dad’s side of the family, a lot of very questionable things. So I think I’m just one of those people that I can’t play around, I can’t experiment. So it was a combination of that. I had struggled with my mental health for so long. And it was like just a moment of peace when I was not sober. So from the moment I started experimenting, I was on this path, and it wasn’t going to get better. So that’s kind of what started at all for me.

Stacey Cordivano 12:46
And did you have any mental health care as a, as a child or like adolescent?

Amber LaRock 12:52
I did, but not to the extent of what I’ve had as an adult. So I went to like family therapy and stuff, because you know, everybody comes from their own family trauma growing up. But it was never focused on my individual struggles. It was always kind of like what we need to talk about as a family. You know, I’m a kid, and I don’t know how to express what I’m going through. And then even as a young teen, I went to counseling, but it was always based around specific trauma. It was never me discussing what I was feeling what I was thinking what I was experiencing day to day. So it wasn’t until I was an adult that I actually sat down and realized, this isn’t normal, you know, my mental turmoil is not normal. And I need to be open about what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking, and really analyzing these patterns of the situations I would get myself into. And it wasn’t until, you know, I was an adult, and I was sober. And I was finally able to make sense of what I was feeling and what I was thinking every day. So I had some therapy growing up, but it was nothing to the extent of the therapy I had as an adult.

Stacey Cordivano 13:55
Got it, or any like diagnosis?

Amber LaRock 13:57
Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Everything before was kind of a band aid. And now it was actually finally trying to understand why I felt the way that I fit I felt.

Stacey Cordivano 14:07
Got it. And then so as you’re older and you’re drinking becomes more apparent in alcoholism problem, what does that look like for you like on a typical day at work or not at work or whatever.

Amber LaRock 14:20
So I guess for example, when I was working, I was never impaired while I was working. Thankfully, I never struggled so much that I felt like I had to do that. But I was constantly hung over calling into shifts, just straight up not showing up for shifts. This is where I say I’m really lucky that I worked in a hospital that the boss was kind of understanding what I was going through and was being was accepting of that. I could have lost my job a lot of times but I didn’t. So when I was working as a vet tech, it looked a lot like that. I just was not a reliable employee. I may have looked like I had it all together, but I was miserable every day I was just always so miserable. I felt terrible. And yeah, I just I was not the technician that I want it to be by any means. And you stayed at the same clinic that whole kind of time while you were I did and everything. Yeah, I mean, I still do relief for them still have a good relationship with the boss and I do really enjoy working there. So yeah, I’ve been there really on and off for the last six years.

Stacey Cordivano 15:19
And you said it was just a random day that you had had enough?

Amber LaRock 15:22
Yeah, it really was because I had a lot of really serious things happened to me in the last six months of me drinking and those weren’t enough to stop me. It was enough for me to stop for short periods. Like for example, I think I shared on my Instagram that moment that I chose to relapse. It was one of the times that I was sober for about one month. And it was the last time before I got sober for good. But I was sober for about a month. And I just guess I wasn’t ready. My mindset wasn’t there. I don’t know if I needed one last thing to really, like, sear it in that I’m a mess. But I made the decision. And I was like, Hey, you know, I’ve been sober for a month. I totally deserve to go out and drink. Like it wasn’t my drinking that was the issue. It was just like, my state of mind. So I was like, you know, I can find this perfect balance of when it’s dangerous. And I’ll stop right then. But obviously it’s not how it works. I remember the last night that I drank it was just terrible. It was a mess. And I woke up the next morning and I remember I had busted blood vessels in my eyes because I fell, I got injured and then I was vomiting so hard that like my whole face was like bruised and awful just because I was vomiting so violently. And I woke up that next day and I was just like, I can’t do this anymore. I’m exhausted. I I just I hated myself, honestly, like, I felt like I couldn’t trust myself to make a single smart decision. I went and screwed up my one month of sobriety. And that was just the day that I realized like I can’t do this anymore. So there wasn’t really any specific event. I just was exhausted. And my poor family was so exhausted, too. They were just so tired of it.

Stacey Cordivano 17:04
Did you ever have pushed from them to get sober? Or was it mostly you?

Amber LaRock 17:09
I did. I did. Yeah, I’m very close with my mom. And it was I think back and I feel so terrible for everything I put her through. And she begged me so many times to stop what I was doing. And she had told me several times, like please, like, just get into therapy. And she I remember her begging me if it’s a money thing, I’ll pay for it, you know, and like her just trying everything to get me the help that I wanted. But I just wasn’t ready. But yeah, she was always pushing me to stop what I was doing. Because I mean, really, every time I got myself into trouble, whether it was financially or whatever, my mom had to bail me out because I was just in such a hole in my life in multiple ways. And yeah, she was always there for me, always trying to push me to do better. But it just really was when I finally made the decision.

Stacey Cordivano 17:56
And did you went like those first couple times you got sober that didn’t work out? Did you go to rehab for those are those were your own? How many times have you tried to rehab?

Amber LaRock 18:05
And so that was my only time that I actually went to rehab. And I’m very, very, very thankful that it was my only time because when I was in rehab, I met so many people that have been there for you know, the third, fourth or fifth time. But no, thankfully that was the only time I went the times before that I tried to get sober. It was just me telling myself I could do it. And I also at that point hadn’t really accepted the fact that I actually was an alcoholic. I just was telling myself, I needed to chill out like I needed to take a break, just relax. I wasn’t really understanding that I had a problem. And I really didn’t understand the full extent of my problems until I was actually in rehab. And talking to the therapist and hearing people speak and like kind of comparing my stories to them and being like, Well, that sounds bad. But I do the same thing. So obviously I have a serious problem. And yeah, it it really didn’t sink in until I was in rehab that I am actually an alcoholic and I have to get sober.

Stacey Cordivano 19:01
Do you have any insight on the spectrums of alcoholism? Like if someone’s listening to this and is like, you know, I I’m not hung over five days a week, but I’m also not sure if I have a problem like , I have to imagine there’s a spectrum to any addiction,

Amber LaRock 19:21
Certainly. And I think it varies from person to person because part of what stopped me from getting help for so long as I wasn’t, you know, the stereotypical alcoholic you know, I thought that the only way you can be an alcoholic or an addict is if you’re you can’t keep a job you’re homeless, you know, like you’re just your life is a mess and it’s in shambles in every way and that’s not the truth. So I always tell people that if alcohol or whatever you’re abusing, currently is affecting your life negatively. Whether it’s your relationships, financially, your your job, whatever it may be. If it is impacting you in a negative way, then it’s probably best to consider stepping away from it, because everybody’s different. And I also say to if you ever get to the point that you’re using something to cope, it’s not healthy. You know, I know it’s a really fine line, because there’s a lot of people who can just come home after a bad day and have a glass of wine. And it’s fine, and it’s healthy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But once you realize that you’re using it to cope for your every problem, then I think it’s really something that you should take a step back and look at what’s going on.

Stacey Cordivano 20:28
And then did you feel like it was difficult or were there? I know you weren’t open with your like work colleagues, but with other people was difficult socially or with other relationships while getting sober, like, initially, was there like a lot of pushback from people like, no, you’re fine, or things like that.

Amber LaRock 20:49
Thankfully, No, nobody in my close circle really was pushing back on that fact. Because everybody that was in my close circle was being impacted by all of my really bad decisions. So everybody was like, please, please do them like, Oh, my God. So not in that sense now. And even just even as I move forward in my sobriety, making new friends and having new relationships, it was never an issue. It was actually the complete opposite. People were impressed at the fact that I was sober. So that’s also something I tell people because I remember when I first got sober, I was like, nobody’s gonna want to be my friend, I’m so boring, you know, who’s gonna want to hang out or be in a relationship with somebody that doesn’t drink? Like, Oh, my gosh, but it’s the complete opposite. And of course, if you meet somebody that has an issue with it, then you you know, like, come on. So I understand how people struggle with letting go of old friends. I was I was very lucky in the sense that all my friends were very supportive of my decision and never pressured me. But of course, I had some party friends that didn’t want to hang out with me after but it was never a major loss, you know, to my life in that way.

Stacey Cordivano 21:55
Yeah, I’ve heard Brene Brown call her sobriety a superpower. And I thought that was really interesting, because, you know, I think sometimes people worry about the judgment, like you said, of being the sober one. Yes. When I heard her say that, that that was really cool.

Amber LaRock 22:10
Yeah, I love that. And it’s Yeah, it’s so true. I, there’s so many things in my life that I couldn’t have achieved without sobriety. And most people, anybody that I’ve talked to about it, respects it. And if they don’t, they don’t tell me. So I think otherwise, you know, so yeah.

Stacey Cordivano 22:29
Don’t need those people anyway.

Amber LaRock 22:30

Stacey Cordivano 22:31
Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your story. And I think the more we can talk about it, I think the more people can be helped in Yeah, especially in our profession, but everywhere.

Amber LaRock 22:43

Stacey Cordivano 22:43
Can people reach out to you?

Amber LaRock 22:45
Yes, of course, I actually I get quite a few messages from people who are struggling their sobriety, and I love to have like minded people to talk to you and just to help you through it, because I know it’s really challenging. But yes, you can reach out to me on my Instagram. My handle is @vettechandtravel. I try to I’ve been trying to be more open and more obvious about my sobriety recently, because whenever I was first getting sober, I never saw any veterinary professionals who were also getting sober. You know, I tell people, whatever your story is how embarrassed you are. I’ve done it in 10 full, so don’t ever be embarrassed to reach out to me for anything about mental health or sobriety.

Stacey Cordivano 23:21
Awesome. I’ll definitely put your Instagram handle in the show notes and a link to your podcasting. Oh, yeah. You want to check out more about travel? Yeah, I think you have created such a cool life in veterinary medicine. And I think it’s awesome. And I’m so glad we connected. I have to shout out to the snout school because in that club. I’m not sure I would have come across you on Instagram. Thanks to Danielle and Cheyenne for that, right. Yeah, thank you so much for spending time with me. I appreciate it.

Amber LaRock 23:55
Thank you for having me. And thank you for you know, being willing to have this conversation I think it’s really important.

Stacey Cordivano 24:03
Once again, thank you to Amber for sharing her story of sobriety and mental health struggles. I cannot thank her enough for her honesty and vulnerability. I think the more we talk about this, the less of a stigma it will be and the more people can receive help. I will list a few resources for substance abuse and addiction in the shownotes. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but I will try to link a few things. I will also share the virtual assistant course that Amber took to become certified and a few of her favorite animal organizations. So please reach out to her if you have more questions. She is @vettechandtravel on Instagram. And also make sure to follow me @thewholeveterinarian where I will be sharing more of her content. Finally, thank you so much for your time. I always appreciate you spending some of your precious time with me. If you want to make sure you don’t miss any content, make sure to sign up for the newsletter at thewhole veterinarian.com/subscribe and make sure to follow or like on your favorite podcast player. And as a reminder, don’t forget to check out the new exciting adventure from The Whole Veterinarian Seminar and Retreat. This focus is on equine veterinarians hoping to make a change in equine practice. Check out more information at thewholeveterinarian.com/seminar. As always, please let me know if you have any feedback and I will talk to you again soon.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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I’m Stacey

I want veterinarians to become happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for this life that we’ve created.

I understand the struggles of a stretched-too-thin veterinarian. I have also learned that with some individual work, there is a brighter side to veterinary medicine. Personal and financial development strategies have helped me find a happier place in my life and in my work. I hope to share resources that will resonate with my fellow veterinarian to allow you to become a more whole person.

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