How Do Business Executives Get Sober? Ask Dr. Cali Estes

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Some of the high-powered individuals that Dr. Cali Estes works with at The Addictions Coach, a prominent recovery coaching and private addiction treatment services firm that she launched, don’t like hearing the word “no.” It’s an issue that she’s all too familiar with.

Dr. Estes ignored her doctor’s advice to stop abusing fen-phen and get help for her eating disorder, which led to her being told at age 23 that she was on her way to death. After trying several different avenues to get well, her life changed when she discovered yoga. She’s now committed to helping others find what will work for them to stay sober, offering concierge and professional services in the areas of behavioral health, addiction and coaching.

In her exclusive interview with, Dr. Estes explains why it took so long for her to receive help for her eating disorder, why meetings weren’t for her and the challenges that wealthy people face in getting sober. 

You’re helping others overcome their own addictions these days, but talk about the addiction you had to overcome first.

Cali:  I had an eating disorder, but when I was growing up, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) said that my eating disorder wasn’t a problem because I wasn’t binging or purging and didn’t have anorexia. Every therapist I went to had acknowledged that I was overeating to the point that my stomach hurt, but said I just needed to go to Weight Watchers. It was a problem growing up and got worse as I went into college.

I eventually met a personal trainer who turned me onto fen-phen and I got a prescription for it. It seemed like the best thing ever because I could still eat whatever I wanted, I didn’t have to work out and I was losing weight. I started getting heart palpitations and the shakes and my mom thought I was taking crack.

What made you decide that you needed help?

Cali:  Another doctor eventually told me that I was having issues with my heart and needed to stop, but you think you’re invincible when you’re 23 and I continued. Eventually, I was 5’2” and 90 pounds. I looked horrendous, but of course, I thought I look fantastic. I ended up in the ER and the doctor told me I would die if I didn’t stop because these pills were eating away the lining of my heart. That was my wake-up call. I’m 23 and I’m going to die because of some stupid pill.

What are some of the things that helped you recover?

Cali:  I started doing yoga and personal training instead of these drugs. I had gone to a lot of NA and AA meetings. I had a problem with NA because they gave you doughnuts and coffee and cigarettes. Then I’d go to Overeaters Anonymous meetings and they’d tell me not to have any of that, so I was conflicted.

I got sober on a yoga mat and figured out to do sun salutations every time I felt stress, anxiety or wanting to binge. It would take me about 20 minutes, which is exactly how long the brain takes to change its mind about something.  Every time I had a craving to overeat and numb out, I would do yoga. Eventually, it became more about the yoga than the food.  I tell my clients that they can get sober anywhere. You don’t have to go to a meeting.

Do you see this at all as replacing one obsession or addiction with another?

Cali:  Once an addict, always an addict. If you’re an addict, you’re going to obsess about something, whether it’s clothes or sex or drugs or whatever else. But if you’re going to obsess about something, find something that’s better than what you’re obsessing over now. Yoga isn’t going to harm you, cause you to lose your job or cost you money. I’m not telling people to do hard yoga sessions three times a day, but a 45-minute session each day is what worked for me. I say meet the client where they are.

You’ve gone on to launch The Addictions Coach, which primarily works with highly successful and wealthy people. What are some of the specific challenges they face to getting well that the general population may not?

Cali:  The problem is that they have access to a lot of money, so they’re playing in a different realm. A lot of people detox because they run out of money and have to, not necessarily because they want to. When you’re dealing with people who have unlimited funds, there’s always a crowd of people who “yes” them. The reason Prince and Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson died isn’t because they’re addicts. It’s because they paid someone to follow them around and do whatever they asked of them. If they had someone who told them no, they would be alive today.

When someone hires me, the first thing I say to them is, “I’m going to tell you ‘no’ a lot and you’re not going to like it.” I had one Wall Street client executive whose issues were sex and cocaine. He was having nosebleeds in the hallway and I told him he needed to stop because he was going to lose his job.  We couldn’t work together because he didn’t like that. He fired me and ended up hiring a sober companion who told him it was okay to do cocaine. It’s about money and them hearing what they want to hear.

There are some business executives who say they can’t attend inpatient rehab because many facilities limit Internet and e-mail access. Do you agree with that approach?

Cali:  I understand they do it so you’re not calling your drug dealer or your family to pick you up, but I don’t subscribe to the mainstream belief that addiction is a disease and you have to get sober alone. I think drug addiction is a coping mechanism that has been learned to deal with whatever you don’t want to deal with. I think you should have access to e-mail and the Internet if it’s warranted. If you work on Wall Street, you have to check e-mails and can’t just disappear for 30 days unnoticed. We want to minimize the guilt and shame when they come back to work so people aren’t gossiping at the office. It’s important for them to understand that there’s no stigma behind this.

What are some other things that people should know about The Addictions Coach?

Cali:  We are totally confidential because we are cash pay and don’t take insurance. Once you get insurance involved, then your name starts being attached to things. We only ask for a first name or a nickname.

We have mobile rehab, which brings the rehab to the client. We’ll do detox services if necessary and coaching or sober companion work if they need it. We have a 7-10 day protocol for detox and therapy and can stay up to six months or more if they need the help.

We do highly individualized services that a regular rehab may not be able to because even if you fly halfway around the world for treatment, you still have to come back home. If you go to work and Exit 32 was where you used to score, we’ll get in the car and go with you and give you the coping mechanisms so that you can deal with it on your own going forward.


Image Courtesy of Cali Estes

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