June 15, 2015

Annie McCullough

Annie McCullough is the National Marketing Director for Edgewood Health Network. Annie is living in her purpose. Check out the interview for the surprising, yet simple advice she gives for finding yours.

Q. Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

My name’s Annie McCullough and I’m a person in long-term recovery. For me, that means that I used a couple of drugs for over six years. I say it that way because I like people to understand what it means for me when I say that I’m in recovery. I talk about that first because recovery practically has become the primary soul purpose in my life. It’s what I do with my job, it’s what I do with my spare time, and it’s kind of what I live and breathe.

My day job is I work as the National Marketing Director for Edgewood Health Network. That’s a network of treatment centres and outpatient offices across Canada. In my spare time, I’m the Executive Director for Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada which is a non-profit dedicated to erasing the stigma and raising awareness around the fact that recovery works and celebrating more by arranging events throughout the month of September, different rallies for recovery and Recovery Day events throughout Canada as well.

Those are my main things. When I’m not doing that, I’m doing yoga and running around with my puppy.

Q.  You touched on it a little bit, but I’m wondering if you could elaborate and define what “soul purpose” means to you when you hear that? 

To me, it means why I am here, why did I decide—it’s my personal view that I made a contract or something before I came here and I had purpose to my life.

For me, it means helping people wake up from the disease of addiction and come back to life through the process of recovery. I think all the years that I was living with my own addiction, I had no idea what my purpose was. I was like a pinball bouncing around through my life without any idea where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be doing. It took for me actually waking up and getting more conscious and awake to even know but I didn’t know.

I remember I was about 37 and I thought, “Oh wow, I’m 37. I have no idea who I am. Oh wait, I’m 37. I get to discover who I am. That’s kind of cool.” Almost seven years have been about discovering why I chose to be here at this time and in this place. As it turns out, it’s to be in recovering myself and to help other people find their way to recovery.

Q. Would you say that is your purpose then?

Absolutely I think I do it in different ways, I think there are different aspects to it but I think that helping people find their way to recovery is my soul purpose.

Q. Do you think that everybody has a soul purpose?

Absolutely, they do. I really do. Well again, I think belief systems, a side, religion, and all that stuff—I think if everybody works here for a purpose, it would just be like, “What is this?”

To me, it would be like that pinball game that I was talking about. To me, it’s got to be one or the other. It’s either that we all have a soul purpose or none of us do. I don’t think that any one person is unique. I think we’re all connected and I think we’re all part of a greater whole. So it wouldn’t really make sense, in my view, unless we all had one.

Q. That brings me then back to you talking about that pinball thing. Just how did you get clear on your purpose and what was your process around that?

Well, like I said, I think having the moment of clarity to even understand that I wasn’t a conscious person would be the beginning. Although I’m sure if I looked back now, there were probably other little moments in my life that I was trying to be awakened but I just wasn’t listening.

Since I got into recovery, I think the few things that reminded me and helped me get clear of that, to help keep things clear, to sort of hone that in—yoga would be a huge piece of that, just certain events that led to me working in the field of recovery. I don’t know that I could pinpoint to the one thing but I think it’s been a journey to getting much and much clearer because lately, even the work that I do for the treatment centre for Edgewood Health Network, I feel is certainly part of my purpose but it’s not the true soul purpose.

I think lately it’s getting to more and more of a point where I feel that the non-profit in Faces and Voices—that piece of my life seems like it’s starting to really accelerate. I think standing up and having a voice for those who still don’t have one is actually the more defining light forwards. It’s not just working with people who are already in the treatment but it’s more of advocating for the person who may still be suffering. That feels a bit more in line with why I’m here.

I don’t know if I answered that really well except to say that I know that getting sober myself was the first thing and then giving into recovery. The second part would be getting some awareness around and getting centred to meditation and yoga. Then a lot of honing myself to actually feel old, my feelings to get in touch with myself, to know that when something felt right—which is this piece around recovery advocacy—and helping those to actually go, “Oh wow!” and to be able to feel what it feels like to be in alignment with my soul purpose. I think that’s it.

Q. That leads me right into my next question – how do you know that you’re living in your purpose every day? What are the clues or the indicators?

For me, it’s been very crystal clear at this point. If I’m living with any type of anxiety—and usually for me, that’s in my guts—I know that I’m not living in alignment with my purpose. So if something is difficult or I’m not feeling well physically, emotionally, and mentally, then I know that I need to figure out what’s going on. When things are moving easily—it doesn’t mean that I’m happy and everything’s perfect. That’s not what I mean. But when I’m just sort of at peace, then that’s really become the number one sign that I’m living in alignment with why I’m supposed to be here.

Actually it’s when I’m not thinking. That’s a really good one too. It’s when I’m not thinking, when I’m actually present and living in the now, and not caught up in what I should’ve done yesterday or what I might have to do tomorrow. I’m at peace. That’s when I can actually hear my intuition. ?

But I think the intuition piece is the biggest one, getting to know yourself enough to know what it feels like when things are right and when they’re not and actually trusting yourself enough to know that if it doesn’t feel right, I shouldn’t be doing this. Whether that’s a job, relationship, or my soul purpose, whatever it is, it has to feel good inside.

Q. How has your impact on the world changed since you stepped into your purpose and you have been living it? 

Being in recovery, it’s a bit interesting because recovery is a lot about humility. The one thing I guess I would have found challenging is that the more of an impact that I make, the more some people think that it’s about ego where it’s really not. Again, because I’m in alignment with my higher purpose and my higher power, I believe to be a guidance that I trust. I know what my intention is. I know that my intention is pure and true and all I want to do is help others and there is absolutely no ego involved.

But I do things like the thing that [inaudible 0:08:47] around recovery is sometimes frowned upon by certain elements of the recovery community. It’s funny; to me, helping save one person’s life is enough. It really wouldn’t matter to me if my face was attached to it or my name was attached to it. It really doesn’t matter. It’s not about that. But I think that the way to have the biggest impact is to find your soul purpose.

The things that I was doing before—I was a DJ. I guess I had impact on some people’s lives. They danced and had fun. I worked for years as a project manager. I’m sure I helped people get their art piece on [inaudible 0:09:29] or whatever. It’s not like I had no positive impact. But living in recovery, helping other people find their way to recovery, it’s a pretty rewarding thing. I feel like every step that I take towards my soul purpose, the universe responds in kind with more help, more resources, and more opportunities to keep taking that step further.

This past month, we were just in Ottawa, the first ever national summit on addiction recovery with the government and all sorts of experts from across the country. To me, when I think about my life seven years ago and what I might have been doing to be there at a national level with all these people, it’s a pretty cool indication that where I’m supposed to be.

Q. Can you explain your opinion on the close relationship between money and purpose? Do we have to choose?

That’s a challenging one for sure. I can see why people would say that. Just yesterday, [inaudible, 0:10:37] came out of my mouth and I do believe this. Do what you love and the money will follow. For me, what’s always been true is—when I was a DJ, I always had a day job. I was in a job that paid the bills. My passion was my music and getting paid for it was kind of a bonus. Now, I can actually get paid for what I do and I don’t feel guilty about it. I’ve learned slowly sort of that things come with—it’s coming. It’s a work in progress for sure.

I got asked—I’m speaking at a conference coming up in May and the woman said to me, “What’s your fee?” and I froze because speaking at a conference is not something I’ve ever charged for before so I had to think about what would be appropriate and all that stuff. There was still a moment of like, “Oh, someone wants to pay me to talk about this thing I’m so passionate about. How awesome is that?”

I don’t think anyone should feel guilty. I think artists and many people who do some things, who aren’t necessarily doctors, people who have a standard job, would always I think feel a little bit funny about charging for what they do. But I don’t think it’s like that anymore. I think the world is reaching a bit of a tipping point where we’re starting to understand that it’s not all about money. So I don’t really care, that’s the other thing, if I didn’t get paid. I’ve been doing this non-profit work for two years without getting paid a cent. Just from my heart.

I think that’s the key too. As long as it’s from your heart, no one should feel guilty about getting paid to do what they love and I don’t think anyone should have to choose between the two. I think it’s all about what your intention is and that’s the thing. If you’re doing it for money, it’s not going to work. It’s the same thing if you’re doing it for ego; it’s not going to work. That’s the thing. I think intention always strikes through. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the person who’s begging for money on the street corner or the superstar. ? Where they’re coming from is what will determine whether or not that person is going to actually get what they’re looking for.

Q. In terms of community, did you feel encouraged or discouraged in terms of going and seeking out your purpose? i guess what I’m looking for is more around the idea that helping others get into recovery is what you’re here to do. What was your community’s response to that?

Again, I think that depends on whether or not we’re talking about the broader recovery community or just a particular section of it because I think there’s certainly, within the mutual help groups, a bit of a judgment around people who get paid to do what [inaudible 0:13:38] would seemingly be service work that would never be paid for.

I’ve been very careful to wear my hat appropriately, my hat that I’m wearing when I’m doing the non-profit work versus the hat that I’m wearing when I’m doing work for the treatment centre and the hat that I’m wearing when I’m in my 12-step fellowship. So nobody’s really giving me too hard of a time about—no one’s really been too difficult. There’s one person that comes to mind that I think in general probably just doesn’t understand. I think generally what happens is when there’s a lack of understanding about something, then there’s judgment. But I think within the general broader recovery community and then just sort of the general population—

Lots of what we’ve been doing with Faces and Voices of Recovery has been amazing. I get e-mails and phone calls and just people contacting me all the time saying, “How can I get involved? How can I help?” No one I don’t think has really said “No, this is not something that’s needed and you should stop doing it.” It’s been a great positive response.

Q. What’s been hard?

What’s been hard is I still have to have a full-time job. Trying to put as much energy into my passion as I do to my job when my job is still what’s paying the bills, that’s been hard and that’s kind of always been the case. I feel like I’ve always had two jobs. Going back, like I said, in my 20s and early [inaudible 0:15:19], I always had an office job to now having a full-time role with a non-profit that’s on top of a full-time job as a marketing director. It’s finding the time. The passion is easy. The energy kind of comes easily. I’d love to clone myself or eventually have an assistant or someone else who can help and just do those things that require the time that I just don’t have.

I think the other thing that’s been hard has been just in that previous question you asked me about what the reaction was like. What’s been hard is a couple of people who’ve been negative for whatever reasons. Some were personal, some were professionals, some may have something to do with ego. I don’t really know. It doesn’t really matter to me but that’s been hard, to have someone say or think or externalize in any way that they think that my intention isn’t how I know it to be.

Having my character questioned has been—I found very difficult because, to be honest, I think the part of my recovery that’s still the most challenging just for me personally is—what do other people think? Why do I care? Why do I care what they think? But that part of my recovery is on-going and, as I said, a lifelong process, this recovery journey.

I feel like whether it’s the non-profit or my work at the treatment centre or just helping other people one-on-one, there are always opportunities for me to see where my work still lies ahead. It’s pretty amazing to have my soul purpose be something that I can work at in so many ways. I can work at it and get paid, I can work at it and grow myself, and I can work at it and help others. It just feels like a very unique complete circle when it comes to the growth piece.

Q. How do you deal with tough times on an emotional level? You answered some of the things that were hard. What coping mechanisms do you deploy to cope?

Mostly, it’s talking to other people. I think one of the worst things that I ever did for myself when I was in my active addiction was isolating and not talking about what’s really going on for me. I think talking for me is hugely healing. I still find music really healing. I have no hesitation of seeking outside help when there are things going on too. I saw an energy worker last night who did some matrix re-patterning. I’m open to any and all modalities. I do yoga, I do meditation, and I have people in my life who really know me and know what I need.

Tough times like this last year was hugely tough. I changed jobs, I moved across the country, I left a serious relationship. It was a big year of tough times but I find that actually having a soul purpose makes it easier. It gives me something to come back to focus on. It really just requires re-igniting my passion and turning the challenges into opportunities.

If I look at everything that happened just last year as a challenge—no, it was an opportunity to me. I was presented with a whole bunch of new opportunities because I was willing to walk through and not try and go around under or sidestep the obstacles. They were there. They were presented to me for a reason. I think it’s really about attitude, what I do with challenges.

Q. What’s different about you now that you’re living in your purpose versus when you weren’t?

I think I shine brighter, honestly, and I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. I really don’t. I think that I feel stronger, I feel more me. I don’t know if that’s apparent to anyone else. It would be interesting to do a little survey of my friends and family. I’ve never really asked anyone, “Hey, what was I like before versus now?” I don’t really know. I hear nice things that people say when I celebrate my recovery anniversary. A lot of those people didn’t really know me before.

That’s a good question. I think it’s an inside job though. I think on the outside it looks like—obviously, I’m working in a different field. I was working for a computer company before I got into recovery. There are definitely some external changes. I think the other one that just occurred to me is—

Remember when I first told you what I do, you were like, “Oh, that’s so busy!” I actually live a simple life these days. I think the changes are around what I value, what’s important to me today. What’s important to me today is my friends and family, my animals, taking care of myself. I spend a lot of time alone. I am not out there as sort of being that social butterfly that I used to be when I was young yet where I needed to get filled up from the outside. Now, it’s really about nurturing and just being really quiet and having—it sounds boring but it’s not. It’s a smaller, more fulfilling life.

Q. What would you say are the ingredients for success that you would give to anybody watching this video that’s seeking their soul purpose, like nuggets of wisdom from your journey that you would dispense at this time?

I don’t know if they’re all about exactly finding your soul purpose because I have this funny feeling that your soul purpose comes to you when it’s meant to and it’s really not something that—you can be looking. You can be actively seeking and I think that’s the important thing. It’s to have awareness. I don’t think that everyone has to be sober to have awareness. I’m not the prohibitionist over here. It’s just that for me, the clarity, the first thing that needed to happen was that I needed to lose that barrier of alcohol so that I could get in touch with myself. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

I think it’s about awareness and I think it’s about slowing down long enough to be able to hear your intuition and to learn how to trust yourself. I don’t really know that anybody could say, “Well, if you do ABCD, you will find your soul purpose.” I think we’re all here on an individual journey that will unfold as it’s meant to.

As far as pearls of wisdom and things that I think are the—I think gratitude is the most important ingredient in your life. It’s to be grateful for everything, absolutely everything including the challenges. In my little—I don’t even know if I call it ‘prayer’ but whatever—my sort of morning meditation, I always say thank you for the gifts and blessings in my life and I say thank you for the challenges. I just do.

Patience is that other sort of magic ingredient that I’m not always that good at. It’s just trying to be in the moment. I’m always like, “Next! What’s next? I’ve got to do this, got to do that.” It’s trying to step into the moment. It is, “Be here now.” I have it tattooed on my wrist, just a “be” because I struggle with wanting to be somewhere and get somewhere else. I think being here now is really key and just learning how to listen to yourself and learning how to trust yourself. I think that’s the number one thing—gratitude and intuition.

I think my journey and what’s going on for me is that I’ve figured out that during my addiction and much of my early life, I was not connected to myself, to other people, and definitely not to the universe or whatever is out there. My journey has all been about connection, reconnection with all of those things. I think whatever your soul purpose is, whatever anyone else’s soul purpose is, I think it involves having a connection to those three things first to be able to know what your soul purpose is. That’s the key.