Over the years, we have discovered that not everyone’s story of addiction and recovery will look the same. Each of us is unique in our triumphs, and our struggles, with even more unique ways of getting on a path that is best suited for our individual journeys. One individual who brings to light a unique story of addiction is Stephanie Wagner, Trainer and Program Specialist for Healthy Minds Innovations, in addition to executing her own individual practice as a Meditation Coach and Teacher.
Stephanie is a board-certified health and wellness coach, who has a strong passion for mindfulness and meditation, leading others to a life of balance, self-love and self-awareness through the practice of meditation. With her skills, she develops content and provides training to help people cultivate healthy habits for their well-being. Ever since the beginning of her own recovery process, Stephanie has dedicated herself to lifting others up from the inside to the out, showing them how meditation can benefit their lives on all levels on a daily basis.
Soberocity [S]: Where are you from?
Stephanie Wagner [SW]: Grand Forks, ND originally — but I have lived in Minneapolis, MN for over 20 years.
S: Your story with sobriety is unique. Could you tell us a little more about it and how you were able to identify that you had an addiction?
SW: My story of addiction is centered around money — specifically over-spending and compulsive shopping. This is probably something that people don’t typically think of when they think of addiction.
In my early 30s I gained a bunch of weight — close to 80 pounds. This was largely due to a very stressful job that was filled with travel. I was anxious all the time. Food became a source of soothing and coping for me. As I continued to gain weight, I started to feel a lot of shame about my body. I didn’t feel good in my body and I was stuck in this awful cycle of chronic anxiety → eating to soothe → gaining weight.
My job at the time was centered around retail education. During the breaks in my workday, I would shop and found that buying things made me feel so good. It made me feel better about my body and helped to reduce my shame and anxiety.
On the surface, shopping didn’t seem like a problem. But, what was happening underneath the surface is that I started charging things because I didn’t have the money to afford what I was buying. The worst part of it was that I kept all of the spending a secret from my husband and accumulated debt that he didn’t know about. At one point I started to take loans out on my 401K so that I could pay my huge credit card bills. This is when it became clear to me that I had a spending addiction. I continued to engage in a behavior that I knew was not good for me or my marriage.
Everything came crashing down when my husband and I decided to refinance our house and he found out about the $20K + debt that I had accumulated without him knowing. This is when I hit rock bottom. He had found out about all of the secret spending and all of the debt and was beyond angry; rightly so. He insisted that I join a 12-step group to deal with the spending addiction and so I found Debtors Anonymous (D.A.). I spent one year being actively involved in that program.
I realized during this 12-step that it wasn’t for me, but what it did help me realize is that there was a hole in my heart that I was trying to fill with shopping. I knew that things could be different—that they could be better. And so I decided to try meditation. I went to several meditation centers and finally connected with a community. The practice of meditation really resonated with me and I became a very serious meditator at that time.
S: How much has your life changed since you discovered meditation and developed it as your new form of coping?
SW: The good news is that I feel like meditation saved my life. It helped me to find a source of contentment, well-being, and ease that exists within me in spite of my external circumstances. I was able to use meditation to help me develop a different relationship with the craving and am able to navigate the craving mind in a healthy way.
Fast forward to present day and I have paid off all my debt and am completely financially solvent. In fact, I have no debt — and haven’t for years — except for my mortgage. And meditation has become a source of meaning and the focal point of my professional work.
S: We know that COVID-19 has interrupted a lot of people during their recovery processes. Has the pandemic proven challenging for you? And if so, how have you been able to overcome it?
SW: I would say that, personally, the pandemic hasn’t been so challenging in the realm of spending because I have really solid systems in place to make sure I don’t go down the path that I did before. However, I hear many people engaged in the Healthy Minds Program and some of my health coaching clients struggling with unhealthy coping strategies because they are so overwhelmed by the anxiety, uncertainty, and stress that they have encountered during this time.
Part of what meditation can help us do is to help us gain greater self awareness of the impulses and habits that are driving us. We can begin to see the thoughts and emotional triggers that cause us to seek out soothing in unhealthy ways.
As we gain greater self awareness, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat of our own mind and can make more conscious choices of how to react to those tough moments. For some, it might be that they need to seek out a 12-step meeting or call their sponsor. For others, it might be leaning on social relationships as a source of support and comfort.
S: What is one piece of advice you would give someone struggling with an addiction in COVID-19?
SW: Lean on your social support system. Physical distancing can leave many of us feeling alone. But just because we are physically distant, doesn’t mean that we can’t be socially connected. Caring, connected, interpersonal relationships are a really important part of well-being and are a part of the Healthy Minds Scientific Framework of Well-being, which features four different pillars: awareness, connection, insight, and purpose.
By tapping into our social network, we begin to see that we are not alone in this. All of us — every single human being — wants to be happy and free from pain and hardship. How we go about trying to alleviate our suffering looks different from person to person, but that underlying motivation is the same for all. Connecting with others helps us see that we are not alone and can be a source of support and comfort during difficult times.
I also think cultivating a set of supportive well-being practices, like meditation, can be very helpful. Meditation won’t make the difficulties go away, but can help us develop a different relationship with what is going on in our lives.
S: Are there any new techniques you’ve developed within your meditation practices as a result of the pandemic?
SW: Yes! I recently wrote and recorded a guided meditation called “The Mind That Craves” that is featured in our free app, The Healthy Minds Program. The app can be downloaded in any app store: learn more at hminnovations.org. The meditation is also posted on the Soberocity website and is designed to help people develop a different relationship with those craving impulses.
S: What have been some of the most rewarding moments during your time as a meditation teacher and coach?
SW: I really love helping people have insights into what is driving them — those “A-ha” moments when people bring to a conscious level something that they were previously not aware of. These kinds of insights can be cultivated through disciplines and practices like meditation, coaching, and psychotherapy. Without awareness, change and transformation cannot happen. So, I love facilitating conversation and guiding meditations that lead greater self awareness which can often yield insight.
S: Is there anything that you provide to your clients now that you wish you had during your journey to recovery?
SW: I recommend my clients use the Healthy Minds Program app, which is a free resource due to the generosity of our donors. I wish I would have had a tool like that on my journey because it is a step-by-step program that is designed to help people cultivate skills related to resilience and flourishing. Although I found my own path to meditation, many people will not take the initiative to find a meditation center. So, the app is a wonderful resource that is widely available.
S: If you could go back in time and speak with young Stephanie, what would you tell her as the Stephanie you are now?
SW: I would tell her that no matter what, she is fundamentally good. She was born good — with amazing qualities like awareness, kindness, compassion, and wisdom. She doesn’t need to buy a bunch of stuff to feel good. She already is good. She just needs to remain connected to and nurture those seeds of well-being that already exist within her.
Let us all take the time to remember that, each of us, are fundamentally good. Our days may get tough and the nights may be long, but each and every moment we need to remember we are all good. Learn more about the art of meditation and check out Healthy Minds Innovations for tips and tactics to get your mind and spirit on a better path today.