200: McKenzie Johnson: Executive Director of Soulumination, a non-profit organization that takes photos of terminally ill children for their families for free

April 30, 2021

McKenzie Johnson talks about how she overcame an addiction to alcohol that used to be so strong that she wouldn’t stop drinking until she was black-out drunk on a daily basis.

How bad was the level of alcoholism that today’s guest McKenzie Johnson once experienced? “I’m a really bad alcoholic because I didn’t even remember that it was Saint Pattys Day. I’m an alcoholic. I’m in recovery. I’ve been in recovery for almost nine years now. But the path that took me down… I was a daily black-out drinker for about a third of my life, and then before that for about four years I had a pretty intense eating disorder, which then kind of morphed into pure alcoholism when I got to college.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with McKenzie Johnson, Executive Director of Soulumination, a Seattle-based non-profit organization that facilitates free photographs of terminally ill children for their families. McKenzie Johnson sums up the extent of which her alcoholism once consumed her life and the power of bouncing back from this issue by saying, “I have been sober for almost as long as I drank, which will be a huge milestone in the next year and a half.”

What You Will Learn:

Was there any point while McKenzie Johnson was a black-out drinker that she felt like something was wrong?’ “I definitely knew that I drank differently from the beginning because I could see how other people drank and it wasn’t the same as how I drank. When I take a drink, I can’t stop. I don’t stop until I’m blacked-out. So, I think there were queues there early on, definitely for the last two or three years of my drinking, I would wake up everyday, and be like, ‘I’m not doing that again.’”

What were strategies that McKenzie Johnson tried to use to stop drinking? “I tried to restrict my drinking, or only drinking one type of alcohol, or only drinking on the weekends, or I’m not going to drink hard alcohol, I’m only going to drink beer, and all of this stuff, and really try to figure that out for myself. When you are an alcoholic that doesn’t work at all either. Your brain is like a switch. So, you are either on or you are off.”

Did McKenzie Johnson have family or friends that tried to have an intervention to get her to stop drinking? “A little bit. So, what alcoholics do is they surround themselves with like-minded people, so that people don’t do that to them. So, we want to be surrounded by people that are doing the same behaviors so that we don’t have to stop what we are doing and be held accountable.”

McKenzie Johnson talks about the lengths of which she would go to prolong her drinking without allowing anyone in her family to intervene. “I’m from Seattle. I moved to California when I was 17 and stayed away on purpose so that my family couldn’t really see what I was doing. I created a whole kind of separate life for myself. I lived in Australia. I came back to California and that was all by design. My mom would write me letters, like hand-written letters, and mail them to me. And I threw them all away. But I do remember them, and they said, if you ever need help, her father was an alcoholic, we are here. I would just literally throw them in the garbage because I didn’t want to see that.”

What was the breaking point for McKenzie Johnson to stop drinking and put that pattern in the rear-view mirror of her life? “Towards the end, I was in and out of the hospital a lot. Certain basic functions in my life were really breaking down. I was having a hard time maintaining my job or the roles in my job. My relationships were stressed. Like things really started breaking down and I think that is really common. Because you know the term ‘rock bottom,’ you really do have to hit that. You have to lose a lot.”

Avoiding Temptation

How has McKenzie Johnson been able to prevent herself from getting caught back up in drinking again when she is at social gatherings where alcohol is present? “Honestly, for many years I didn’t go to those functions. With alcohol, it is so acceptable. So if someone had a cocaine addiction and they are recovering from cocaine, they wouldn’t be expected to go to parties where there is cocaine everywhere. So I didn’t think that I should be expected to go to parties where there is alcohol everywhere. To me that is exactly the same thing. One, I avoided them for a long time. Two, I’m really vocal about just saying that I don’t drink.”

Finding Her Summit with Sobriety

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, McKenzie Johnson describes the impact that mountain climbing has had on her sobriety journey. “I know that I wouldn’t be climbing mountains if I wasn’t sober. But I can’t tell you that I would be sober if I wasn’t climbing mountains. Like, I don’t know the answer to that because it has been such a big part. It has been completely intertwined with my sobriety. After I got out of treatment, I was gym climbing and found them. Then I started climbing outside.”

Links to Additional Resources:

Mark Pattison: markpattisonnfl.com
Emilia’s Everest – The Lhotse Challenge: https://www.markpattisonnfl.com/philanthropy/
Soulumination website: soulumination.org

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