Everyone IS a snowflake

I am feeling incredibly fortunate these days. I have amazing friendships, peers and co-conspirators in my life.

Last week I introduced you to one of my longest friends and the OG Sip Sister. Here’s the link in case you missed that blog.

This week, I have had the absolute pleasure to interview another bestie, who shares her time between Puerto Escondido Mexico (where I live) and the Bay Area in California.

Puerto Escondido is a world famous surf destination, and can also be quite a party town.

I met Aleka in my first year here, and she fast became one of my favourite friends to party with. Why? Not only is she smokin’ hot, really outgoing and an incredible dancer, she’s also a long time sober sister!!

As my studies and career evolved into Holistic Health Coaching, our professional connection also grew, because, drum roll please… this fire cracker is also a board certified family PHYSICIAN!! (If you’re interested in learning more, her full bio is at the end of this blog)

I am incredibly grateful that Aleka was willing to be so candid with me (and you!) in this interview about her own struggles with alcohol, and why according to her, every person is a snowflake.

What made you want to change your relationship to alcohol?

I come from a background that has what I guess you could call strong alcohol genes, and broken family dynamics, and strange relationships that I think were greatly affected by alcohol’s role in the family, even by people who weren’t drinking themselves.

So when I started my relationship with alcohol at the age of 8, I initially really liked the feeling, the release, getting out of myself. That was always the basis of my relationship with alcohol. It was something that made me more relaxed, more comfortable, and helped me to escape.

The reason I wanted to change eventually - I am someone that I consider a “low bottom alcoholic” a label I’ve given myself, which means when I drink, I ended up drinking more than I intend, for longer, to a point that ended in really negative consequences. To the extreme of not being able to manage my life, dropping out of school in 8th grade, not being employable, having legal problems, and putting my health at serious risk many many times, if not every day.

The decision to change my relationship to alcohol really became a life or death decision.

What is the best thing about changing your relationship to alcohol?

When I first decided that I needed to stop drinking, I thought that it was going to be about not drinking so that I wouldn’t have the problems that drinking had given me.

The best outcome from completely stopping drinking was that my entire life changed and it opened up a lot of opportunities as well as a spiritual path, which has changed how I view my time on this earth.

How old were you when you decided to make these changes?

I started the journey to get sober about 13 years ago!

What has been the most challenging aspect of changing your relationship to alcohol?

Learning that I have twisted thinking at times, and especially in relation to alcohol. With the wealth of information and different options that are out there, it was hard for me to really settle into myself, who I am, accept my experiences, and come to terms with what was going to be the best option for me, rather than think about what someone else is doing or what might be easier or what might look better.

My father’s European and would make comments about people who don’t drink as being boring. When I stopped drinking it brought up the fear in me that I wouldn’t be a fun person any more or have enjoyment. I had to let go of these “false truths” and redefine for myself what kind of life I wanted to live and not have it be based on other people’s opinions.

What is your most useful tip for someone wanting to change their relationship to alcohol?

The most important piece of starting any new journey is keeping an open mind. Give yourself the chance to try something new, it’s only by trying multiple things and having the experience to see whether or not they work for us, that we find the path that really feels right for us.

We were chatting a while ago and you mentioned the idea of each person as a snowflake can you elaborate a little more on that concept?

I have a couple of different influences - from a personal standpoint from my own experience, I really needed and found relief from an abstinence approach and mutual support. However, after years of both working with people on a personal level as well as a professional level as a physician, I’ve come to realize how important it is to honour each person’s individual journey.

One of my mentors in medicine used to always say that each person is a snowflake, I think that that applies to all aspects of healing, including from addictive behaviours and emotional healing.

The way that I look at alcohol use is somewhat of a continuum (which is still limited because it’s linear) from a physician's standpoint thinking of problematic drinking or someone with dependance (based on DSM 4).These are helpful tools for clinicians, especially if they don’t have a lot of personal experience with addiction, and I do utilize them as well in some of my clinical practice.

On one end there’s someone who drinks alcohol and they have never really had to think about their relationship, they don’t need to because it has never presented a problem. But on the other end there are people who can not stop drinking until it destroys them by gruesome death. From a medical standpoint that’s called very severe alcohol dependence. There are some people in that group who can chose to adopt the label of alcoholic, but alcoholism is a self determined label, it’s not medical diagnosis.

Then we’re left with everyone that falls somewhere in between this spectrum, which is who your clients and readers are.

There are many reasons why people might want to change their relationship to alcohol, it could be spiritual, a yoga practice, a need to cut down on their intake but they find out it’s harder than they thought it would be, if they become pregnant, or if they discover that they stop feeling good about the effects it’s having in their life. For people that fall into those categories, it’s important that we have a variety of resources.

For instance, if someone decides that they consider themselves an alcoholic, whose life is in jeopardy, from a personal and professional standpoint, I would recommend abstinence (liver damage, it’s clear, they cannot continue drinking or they will have cirrhosis).

For all my other patients, I think it’s really important that we have everything from harm reduction (which is the approach of “meeting people where they are at” with no judgement), to different forms of behavioural modification therapy, to positive peer support, to attempts at moderation, basically all ways and means that someone can explore their own relationship to their addictive behaviours. That’s what I love about your offerings, because your program combines all of these elements.

As with anything, it’s important to pay attention to how we use things outside of ourselves to feel better.

Any final words of wisdom?

I guess just the reiteration that each person is a snowflake and has their own personal journey in life. For me, I tried moderation and it didn’t work, but if it would have, I would have chosen that path.


Extremes are hard, and for me to come to the point to make the decision to give up alcohol for the rest of my life, meant that I had to go through a ton of pain and suffering to make that decision. Though I am very happy now in my sobriety, if I had been able to be successful in moderation, I would have been able to stop there.

What would you recommend for someone wanting to try moderation?

If I had a patient who was a good candidate for moderation, I would suggest that they find other people, include other activities in their life that don’t involve alcohol, like new forms of exercise, hobbies, dance, that allow you to have fun, relax, reduce your cortisol production without using alcohol.

And the other thing is to make sure that they have somebody that they are keeping in close touch with and that they are 100% honest with so that they aren’t able to lie to themselves about what dynamics are really playing out, a sounding board to help them see and hold them accountable.

Don’t forget, taking the first step towards honesty and accountability doesn’t have to be scary and isolating. Click here to set up a time to chat, absolutely no strings attached.

Also - I’ve had a few people ask me recently if it’s okay to share this info with a friend. YES PLEASE, OF COURSE!!!

If you know of anyone who might benefit from this info, or need a safe, objective ear to listen, please do not hesitate to forward this to them!!

Have a fabulous weekend, snowflake!!


Aleka Delafield Heinrici is a board certified Family Physician who received her medical degree from Oregon Health and Science University and completed a residency at University of California San Francisco in Family and Community Medicine. She couples her excellent training in primary care medicine with emphasis on the social, cultural, spiritual and political context within which her patients are living. Everything she does in medicine and life is infused with a passion for treating the whole person with multiple modalities, conventional and complementary, to achieve profound, total life transformation and healing. Areas of expertise include Primary and Preventative Care, Urgent Care Medicine, Women's Health and Options Counseling.  Additionally, she has years of personal and professional experience in the field of Detox and Addiction and more importantly, what she calls Recovery Medicine.  Currently she holds a part-time faculty position at UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital, works as a locums physician in both the San Francisco Bay Area and in coastal Oaxaxa, Mexico and sees patients through her private practice, Merkaba Medicine.

The Power of Friends

One of my very best friends flew in to visit me last week. She’s made the trip from Canada to visit me in Mexico more times than anyone outside of my family.

I started counting down the days to her arrival weeks in advance!

I wanted to share this tribute to her because Chanel de Silva is more than a friend.

She is my closest confidant, co-conspirator and co-creator.

Our 13+ year friendship has probably been one of the single biggest building blocks in the foundation of my business and brand.

The other night, we were reflecting on our individual and shared journeys.

We were remembering a shared Google doc we had started to write to each other while I was still living in Cambodia. I decided to look it up and re-read it.

You are amazing Caitlin, and I am so grateful today that you and I are doing this.  I can honestly say, although I have all these amazing people in my life, you are the ONLY one I can share some of my darkest experiences with, and who I can talk about my drinking with, no veil, no judgement - just honesty and love.  Thank-you. Oct 7th, 2010

Wow!! These words were written 4.5 years ago and we still share those exact sentiments.

What’s incredible to me is that we are still there for each other. Through our ups and downs.

What’s validating is that I now know that I offer that same unconditional love and support, without judgment, to my clients.

EVERYONE needs and deserves a champion.

Whether your goal is to:

  • eliminate alcohol completely

  • be able to handle your alcohol so that you don’t black out,

  • take a break or learn moderation,

  • never be drunk again

  • OR to drink one less drink a night

WHATEVER your personal goal is and as many times as it changes, you need that person (or people) who love, support and “get you” without judgement!

Chanel de Silva is that person for me. She’s seen me through some of my craziest phases, through periods of abstinence, through learning moderation, more sobriety, and back again.

Before arriving to visit in Mexico, she sent me a message to check in about my intentions around alcohol. She wanted to make sure that she wasn’t going to trigger me in any way, especially since we spent many, or most even, of our trips together drinking lots of champagne!

I remember 5 years ago when I was going to take a 30 day break from alcohol. I shared this with my sister, and she said, “Why only 30 days? What, can’t you go longer?”

While I know she had my best interest at heart, I immediately felt judged and defensive.

This is in contrast to sharing this intention with Chanel, who immediately said, “That’s GREAT! In fact, let’s do it together and help keep each other accountable.”

It was then that we started a shared Google doc to write our reflections to each other. This continued during our 30 days and beyond, as we set new intentions for moderation.

Part of the success of any ‘program,’ whether recovery, abstinence or 12-step groups lies in the strong community and the role of sponsors to help provide accountability and support.

I have been VERY fortunateto to have some incredible support along my journey. Next week I’ll introduce you to one of my favourite sober sistas to share some of her philosophy.

I asked Chanel what she would want to share with my community… and if I could feature her as part of the inaugural “Unfiltered Five” - a new series of questions I’ll be asking to peers of our community, thought leaders and experts.

1) What made you want to change your relationship to alcohol?

There were a few things actually…

There was a definite shift that happened in my mid thirties. Instead of waking up and calling my girlfriends and laughing about our gaps in memory and meeting up for brunch to try to connect the dots and laugh about it, I started waking up feeling anxious, ashamed and wanting to isolate. It wasn’t as fun anymore.

My drinking was definitely having negative effects on my relationship. My partner, who never really drank much to begin with, didn’t really like when I drank or partied too much, and the longer we were together, the more of a problem it became.

Finally, I have really big goals for myself over the next 20 years and know that I can’t achieve them if I don’t have a healthy relationship to alcohol, and all the other things that make me healthy: food, working out, sleep, and spiritual well-being.

2) What is the best thing about changing your relationship to alcohol?

My anxiety levels. I now very rarely feel anxious and I’m aware that it’s both because I live my life in a way that I don’t have regrets, and also because I know that alcohol can actually be anxiety-inducing. So now I don’t put myself through that.

3)  What has been the most challenging aspect of changing your relationship to alcohol?

Realizing that it’s not something that’s going to go away completely. I can have 8 months or a year, and then it only takes one night of partying and not setting my intentions or being conscious, to kind of put me back into that unhealthy relationship.

4) What is your most useful tip to someone wanting to change their relationship to alcohol?

I’d say my best tip is don’t pre-drink before going out. It never ends well!

I also like the idea of when you first arrive somewhere, ordering something non-alcoholic first. Allow yourself time to assess the situation and see how you feel.

5) Any final words of wisdom?

You don’t have to go at this alone. Make sure that through your process you have that one person you can trust and who can support you.

Do you have anyone who truly “gets you”?

I encourage you to reach out, or try the journal idea.

If you feel isolated or alone, it doesn’t have to be this way.


I’m here for you. We’re here for you. Just click here to set up a time to chat.

Getting clear on intentions... when is it okay to drink?

How do you get clear and follow through on your intentions?

This topic has come up a lot recently during the Discovery sessions with new clients.

I really do believe we have the power to create intentions for ourselves and stick to them...

More power than we sometimes give ourselves credit for! 

I’ll give you a couple of examples:

My intention is to be able to enjoy a glass of wine as an accompaniment to a meal - as an extension of a sensory experience.

To stay fully present, never “checking out” and to find other ways to relieve stress and worry.

To consistently seek healthier alternatives for my body.

To nourish my body, treat it as a temple, and never abuse it.

Therefore, to justify my intentions into my own personal drinking agreement, I must avoid the following:

  • Feeling tipsy or get drunk (which means for me, never drinking more than about 7 oz over the course of an evening... more on this in my next post)

  • Using alcohol as stress relief

  • Using alcohol as a way to “get out of my head”

  • Drinking hard alcohol

This is how it showed up in my life very recently:

A few days ago I’d had a really looooooong day, after a relatively sleepless night. Arriving home after dark, after an impromptu emergency coaching session which had required all of my last reserves... All I wanted was to unwind. I was also incredibly hungry.

My partner and I were doing the switcheroo/quick hand off - he had been home with the baby and 10 minutes after I arrived home, had to leave for a few hours of work in the evening.

During those 10 minutes, we had a silly fight about some of the groceries that had run out without me knowing - and there was hardly any food in the house (according to me, because we were out of everything I wanted in that moment).

After he left, I sat staring at the opened bottle of red wine sitting on the counter. It was already open! It would have been so easy to pour a glass. All I wanted in that moment was to feel better. I was also craving cheese. Bread, cheese and wine. All at my fingertips.

Instead, I took a few deep breaths, and reminded myself of my intentions. I also took a moment to remind myself that a large part of how “spun out” I was feeling was probably due to lack of sleep and the fact I hadn’t eaten properly since the morning.

I started to make myself a smoothie bowl instead. Mango, strawberries, a bit of pineapple, spinach, coconut water, chia, and some hemp protein. I poured it into a bowl and topped it with homemade granola. It wasn’t as pretty as the smoothie bowls on instagram but it did the trick.

I was eating spoonfuls of delicious nutritious goodness in the same amount of time  it would have taken me to cut the bread and cheese and pour the wine. 

The homemade granola was made by my guy and as I savoured the taste, I was reminded of how many great things he does to contribute to our household (even though sometimes he finishes things and forgets to put them on the grocery list ;)

That feeling of gratitude helped remind me that at times like this, it’s extra important to practice gratitudes. So I sat slurping my smoothie bowl, filling my body with plant power and wholesome goodness, and feeling super grateful instead of stressed.

I was also incredibly proud of myself for actively creating a new way of being for myself. A new response to stress.

Yes, it still sometimes takes this level of conscious practice to stick to your intentions! 

Here’s an example from one of my recent conversations.

Mattie (name changed) was having a really tough time at home. She had been feeling very isolated and unfulfilled in her life, and had begun day-drinking in secret to get through the days.

She decided that she was going to take a 60 day break from alcohol to reset her habits. We discussed her intentions for when she would begin drinking again.

  • She would drink socially and with supportive friends who were clear on her new limits

  • She would only drink wine or beer

  • She would only drink when she was in a “good place”

These intentions were to offset her triggers of feeling sad, lonely, isolated and wanting to escape.

We also made a list of all of her “superpowers” - innate qualities she has within herself, and easily accessible, as well as alternate activities that will help her get through the challenging times when she’s feeling triggered and all she wants is a drink.

A couple of days after our session, Mattie emailed me with an interesting question. She wanted to know what I thought about her setting new intentions for her vacation, which landed during her 60 days sober.

She felt that her holiday would remove her from her usually triggers, and therefore wanted to create a new set of “rules” for herself.

I was supportive of her decision for the following reasons:

  • She was putting a lot of forethought into the decision

  • She was committed to creating clear guidelines for herself for her vacations, and communicating those to her partner

  • She had found an accountability buddy to share her intentions with, and she was sharing them with me as well

  • She was committed to still doing the 60 days sober when she returned home, which is where her real “work” was located.

This is why I love this holistic approach to alcohol moderation. There is no “one size fits all” model.

For some, long periods of abstinence is what’s desired. For others, it’s periods of abstinence combined with clear guidelines around moderation.

Either way, clear intentions help remove some of the “noise” of internal debate and the guess-work out of how to respond to triggers. 

The keys are always:

  • Clarity of intentions

  • Understanding your triggers

  • Finding alternatives

  • Reaching for support

How do you create and stick to your intentions? What are your intentions around alcohol? I´d love to hear in the comments!