July 19, 2023
Laura Van Antwerp
We’re excited to announce the $10,000 June Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Laura Van Antwerp, Founder of Your Sober Pal. They are the seventh qualifier for the 2023 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Jama Hernandez sat down with Laura for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Hi everyone. We’re so happy and excited to be here today. We are interviewing Laura Van Antwerp, founder and CEO of Your Sober Pal and winner of our June Amber Grant.
We are so excited to be with you today to be able to connect and talk to you about the awesome things that you’re already doing and that you’re going to continue doing. So welcome.
Laura: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to sit down and chat with you virtually here. And I just want to extend my most sincere gratitude to the whole WomensNet team. Because this is like a life-changing opportunity and I just love what you’re doing for women business owners and women entrepreneurs… it’s really making a huge impact. So I appreciate this.
WomensNet: Awesome. To begin, maybe can you tell us a little bit about your business.
Laura: Yes, I would love to tell you more about Your Sober Pal. So your Sober Pal is something that I started to bring joy, humor, and support to the recovery community. And I applied for this grant because I want to start offering wilderness treks, backpacking courses and retreats for women in recovery to empower women to live a substance-free lifestyle… and just feel really excited about living a substance-free lifestyle.
WomensNet: Wonderful. Tell us a little bit about how you began this business. What was your motivation?
Laura: Absolutely. I just wanna start by saying on August 1st, which is about two and a half weeks away from right now, I’m gonna be celebrating six years of sobriety.
Getting sober wasn’t easy for me. It took a lot of tries, and when I was really struggling, it was hard. I felt like I couldn’t really access a lot of resources. I also felt very isolated. I knew alcohol was holding me back, but I also was so scared to let it go because I thought, ‘how will I ever connect with people? How will I have fun? Who am I?’
I just felt so lost without alcohol. It just became such a big part of my life.
I took my last drink on August 1st, 2017, and after that I got really involved in the recovery community. So I worked one-on-one with women. I hosted meetings and all kinds of stuff like that. And then in 2020 I started a sobriety account on Instagram and TikTok under the Your Sober Pal handle.
My goal was to create funny and uplifting memes and videos and just write content from the heart to encourage and support people on their recovery journey. Also part of that account I share a lot of my hiking and backpacking adventures. That’s because backpacking, and hiking and climbing has become a huge part of my life, especially since I got sober. One of the things that I really love about backpacking and hiking is how it makes me feel. I mean, when I was drinking all the time, I just felt so lost and hopeless and disempowered.
When I was hiking and backpacking… the fact that I could even survive overnight in the wilderness… made me feel so empowered and excited about life. It’s just such an amazing experience. And so I’ve been sharing these hikes and trips on my sobriety social media accounts, and I’ve had so many women and people reach out and say, ‘how do you get into that? Like, I wanna learn that. Would you ever offer anything where like you can teach people?’
I kind of was self-taught, so I never thought about what obstacles might exist to get people to start doing it. But I also realized, when you’re in early sobriety, one of the big things is you kind of don’t really know what your hobbies are. We’re still kind of relearning who we are without alcohol.
I felt excited to potentially show women this exciting new hobby, this new passion to help them connect with themselves. But also connect with other women and connect with nature.
It’s funny because I actually was on a backpacking trip like three weeks ago on the Lost Coast Trail. And I’ve been going through a really hard time like these last, like 11 months. I don’t wanna cry, but I got laid off from my job in last year, August of 2022. And I’ve really been struggling with my self-worth…so anyways, I went on a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail like three weeks ago and it was so healing. It was so beautiful. And I just remember feeling so empowered again and just feeling so connected and whole.
I just felt whole. And I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could bottle this up and pass it to everybody in like in the world.’ And I had this little voice inside me say like, ‘you totally can, like you should do this backpacking idea that you’ve been wanting to do.’ And you know, I don’t have any money. I don’t have the resources, but I figured I might as well just start somewhere. So anyways, I came back from the Lost Coast Trail and I was like, ‘I’m just gonna try to start.’
So I took a wilderness first aid class, and I started sharing that I was gonna try to do this out loud. And then I applied for this grant. So when I got the call from Cindy, I just started crying because I just felt like there was no way I would ever be able to move this forward.
It’s a dream of mine, but also I just know it would make such a huge impact. So that’s where we’re at. It’s still kind of in its baby stage. I have done retreats in the past, where we meet in Idaho or we meet in a cool area… and I’ve had women fly from across the country. We have the most amazing time and the retreats have been so successful. But I knew that the backpacking portion was really where my heart lied because that’s what brings me the most joy. And also to teach women wilderness survival skills so that they can feel empowered to go back home and go on their own adventures… and to share that with their friends and loved ones.
It’s a whole domino effect. I wanted to teach.. not give the fish… but teach women to fish, if that makes any sense…with finding their passion in sobriety and recovery. So that’s kind of a long backstory. So that’s where I’m at. And I’m just so, so grateful to you and the whole team at WomensNet for making this possible.
WomensNet: We’re glad you hung in there. We can see your passion, and it definitely came through in your application as well. You have such a unique business idea.
So many of us connect to nature and love it. And if you can help women understand how to be safe around a bear or other wildlife, there’s so many practical applications in life too…so they’re gonna come back stronger either way.
Laura: A hundred percent. It’s hard to explain how empowering it is to feel safe and trust yourself in the wilderness. Because when you’re struggling with addiction, you feel so helpless, you feel powerless. And this is just like the complete opposite. You feel like this Amazonian queen and it’s the most empowering thing in the world. And so I’m just so excited to be able to teach these. And it’s just basic skills, but once you learn them, they’re with you for your whole life. And I just am so excited to pass that forward.
WomensNet: Wonderful. If there’s one thing our fans should know about your business, what would that be?
Laura: Your Sober Pal… these adventures are really aimed at creating a safe space for sober and sober curious women to connect with other people, other women to connect with nature. But ultimately to connect with themselves and realize that they can feel empowered and have fun and truly live their best life in sobriety. One thing I wanna add: accessibility is super important for me with this whole business. And so I do wanna also implement a scholarship portion where a woman who might not be able to afford it otherwise will be able to come on the backpacking trip.
When I was in early sobriety, I didn’t have a lot of resources. So that’s an important component for me as well. I just want it to be an amazing empowering experience for women in recovery.
WomensNet: And can women all over the country apply?
Laura: People can apply from all across the country. My hope is to eventually start being able to host horses and treks across the country. But starting out we are gonna be located in the southwest.
I live near Lake Tahoe, so my hope is to maybe start in Lake Tahoe area, depending on what kind of permits I can get, and then expand from there.
WomensNet: How will the grant funds support your business?
Laura: So the grant funds will support my business by giving me the ability to, number one, take a wilderness first responder course. They’re around a thousand dollars. That’s a big one for me to get things going.
Also to apply for commercial guiding permits. And then last but not least, getting all of the tools and equipment that we need to be safe in the wilderness and to be able to successfully complete these treks. I wanna be able to provide the gear to women so that they can learn how to use it and get a taste of backpacking before they make their own investments. And so that’s a really important component for me too.
WomensNet: I love that. And you bring up such a great point because you can’t just show up, not have the gear… but then the investment in the gear, if you’re not sure if this is something you wanna keep doing for the rest of your life is huge. And so that’s awesome.
Laura: I want it to be an opportunity for people to explore before they even feel like they have to commit. It’s not cheap to invest in backpacking gear in the beginning, so it’d be awesome to have them try it out, get a taste, and then if they love it they can start saving up or just go and invest. But really, I always tell people it’s one initial investment for a lifetime of adventure and empowerment, so it’s super worth it.
WomensNet: So Laura, we’re all really curious, what is an upcoming milestone for your business?
Laura: So a huge upcoming milestone I have is to host my first backpacking 101 course, preferably in September or October, and we’ll see how that goes. After that, stay tuned. Follow me on social media to keep up with my upcoming milestones.
WomensNet: That sounds awesome. We could all use some backpacking 101 advice.
Laura: Yes, 100%. It’ll be like the most fun college class you ever took.
WomensNet: Love it. That sounds wonderful. And then maybe can you share a little bit about how we, the WomensNet Network, can support your business. Maybe share your website and your social media?
Laura: If people want to support, they can visit my website www.yoursoberpal.com. You can learn more about some of the products I’ve made, little products to support other people on their recovery journey. So they can visit the website and then they can also find me on social media. I’m on Instagram and TikTok at YourSoberPal. If they ever wanna connect, feel free to message me. I’d love to connect.
WomensNet: Awesome. We are so excited that you took the time today to talk with us, and we are so excited to see the treks that you have coming up in the future. We know it’s gonna be amazing, and we know anyone that decides to do one is gonna come back happy and joyful.
Laura: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it. And again, it means so, so much to me. And I really appreciate what you’re doing for women across the country.