How Sparkle Lindsay built her life-coaching business — and came back from drug addictionView transcript
We’ve probably all heard stories of people who suffered grievous illnesses or injuries, were told by doctors that they’d never walk again, and ultimately overcame those prognoses to get back on their feet—both figuratively and literally. Even so, you’ve probably never heard a story quite like that of Sparkle Lindsay, founder and CEO of Sparkle LLC: The Light at the End of the Tunnel.
Sparkle, 36, comes from a high-achieving family; indeed, she’s the sister of NFL pro football player Phillip Lindsay. After working in retail for 11 years and then studying communications and business management in university, Sparkle landed a high-powered job in corporate America. Along with those achievements, however, came challenges like lupus, vitiligo, and a couple of other autoimmune diseases, along with struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, partly in response to the stresses of her work.
Nonetheless, she ultimately persevered through all of these tribulations, resolving to change her life for the better—and eventually created her own professional and life coaching business to help others do likewise. Now, after only a couple of years of sobriety and one year after launching her startup, business is good, and Lindsay has become an influential speaker and author. We sat down with her to discuss her experiences and what they’ve taught her about things like overcoming adversity, work-life balance in the business world, and the link between spirituality and success.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Battling myasthenia gravis and addiction00:00:00
Q: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at The Business of Business. So welcome! And if you could start by just giving us maybe sort of a brief overview of what you do and, in a nutshell, how you came to do it, then we can go into some more specifics.
A: Of course! So I am a motivational keynote speaker, author, and a nationally certified recovery coach and trainer for alcohol and addiction. So that is what I do. My company is Sparkle LLC: The Light at the End of the Tunnel. What I do is walk alongside people who are ready to take their life back through any addiction, anything that they may be battling. I walk with them as they figure it out. It's definitely never a dull moment for me.
I have about 18 or 19 clients as we speak now, and each of them [is] taking their life back. For me, I am a recovering alcoholic addict. I'm two years and five months sober. And I am extremely excited for what's to come with my company, but also just excited to know that there are people out there who are starting or beginning to believe in themselves and figure out where they fit in their puzzle.
That's what I do on a regular basis; I train people to do what I do as well, which I love; and a lot of what I talk about as a motivational speaker is self-reflectiveness: Reflecting on yourself and asking yourself the questions, being curious about yourself every day of your life, and falling in love with yourself more and more every day.
Q: Give us a bit of background about how you grew up. I mean, you mentioned some of the obstacles you had to overcome like substance abuse. How did those challenges arise, and how were you able to overcome them?
A: Well, you know, I grew up in a family that is very supportive. They're still very supportive. I have three brothers and a sister; all of us got full-ride scholarships to play some sort of sport. We all graduated with [GPAs of 3.6] or higher, and I am the oldest of five. So I came from a very solid background.
I now know that alcohol and addiction is a symptom. There was a lot of a root cause to my life and my journey now. And the root causes were things in stigmas and trauma that I hadn't worked through or [gone] through. And so for me, being able to actually take that ego down just a little bit and ask for help was a major portion and has been a major portion [of] my successes now and [of] me falling in love with myself.
When I was younger—say, about 19, 20, when I started college—I got really, really sick, and I was right in the middle of my college basketball season. I went from 140 pounds to 107 pounds in a week and a half. They didn't know what was wrong with me, and I was in a wheelchair for about 6 to 8 months, and I was told I would never walk again. So at that time, I was scared. I was really scared. A big portion of that was, I didn't know what was going on with me. I was only 21 at the time. All I know is that I loved basketball. I loved going to school, but I love basketball; I love vocal music; and that was going to be taken away. I was told, you know, “Just get ready to start living your life in the wheelchair. Start getting yourself used to it.”
The doctors kind of talked around me. Typically, in people with myasthenia gravis—that is the condition I have, a muscular inflammatory condition—they would say typically, in clients with myasthenia gravis, they feel like they can do stuff, but they really can't. It really set with me, you know, pretty intensely. I told my doctor I would be walking again and I’d play again. I said, “I'll be sure to send you the schedule.” And so I did; I taught myself to walk again.
I played two years of college ball, and then I tried out for the WNBA. I almost signed to the Sparks, and I turned it down just because the last tryout day was very intense for me. Although I was doing really well, I asked myself, “Can I upkeep this? Can I keep doing this?” My body was extremely exhausted. So I went on ahead and I turned it down, and got my my degree, a double major and a minor...
Life as a retail executive and struggles with stress00:04:16
Q: Sorry to interrupt. So am I understanding you correctly? You went from being told you would never walk again to qualifying for the WNBA?
Q: Wow. Well done, well done! That is truly impressive, I must say. But I'm sorry; please go on!
A: [Laughs] The crazy thing about that is, every time someone like you says that, I'm like, “Yeah, I did do all of that.” [Laughs] That was what the underlying trauma was for me. I never cried! That whole entire time, Akil, I never cried. I literally was on a frickin’ mission: Fight or flight. I did not care; I was walking again, okay?
I'm 36 years old now. A big portion of dealing with trauma...that was never really brought up. In Black families and Hispanic families, we’re taught to put the H on your chest and handle it. If you're going to walk again, walk again. Right? But I never visited it. I never realized how much it took a toll on me. It made it [so that] everything I did, I did fight-or-flight. I did everything hard. So after I graduated [and] got my degree—I was the first woman in my family to get the degree, with my brothers and sisters following behind, because all of us now have our degrees—I jumped into corporate America.
I was an executive for three big box companies at the age of 24. And for 13 years, I remodeled stores. The three big box companies were Coles, JCPenney, and King Soopers, which is Kroger. During that time, [I was] single, [with] no kids—same thing now: single, no kids, not married—and I came out making almost $75,000 a year. And now it's time for me to party.
I had barely drunk at all when I was in college. You know, I was trying to walk again, right? And I was playing sports. But finally, I'm out on my own; I've got my own money; I've got my own place; I'm doing my own thing; I'm remodeling stores and traveling all over the place; and then here comes the party time. And so partying really got me. I was having a lot of fun drinking; cocaine was introduced to me; and from there, it was like we were inseparable. At the same time, I also could focus on a regular basis with it. The using started creeping up on me more, and I started chasing this high. But I also was working, and I also was the fixer for companies—“Go to Sparkle, she’ll fix it.” You know? So all of these different traumas were still happening; all of this festered anxiety was still going on. It almost started being—and it did end up being—a way for me to release. I started using way more, and I started using that as an excuse to use. “It's just been such a busy day; I need a drink.”
The biggest part where my drinking just...where I spiraled was when I had a client, excuse me, an associate at the time who was going to be a manager-in-training. But he had nowhere to live, and he was going through a really hard time. And for me, I was HR. So we found a place for him to get housing, and he had been missing for three or four days. So the day he showed up, I actually went to him. I was excited. I told him I had some good news for him, and he kind of shrugged me off. And he's like, “I gotta go to the bathroom.” So he went to the bathroom, and I went back to the office and I said, “Okay, I'm going to go ahead.” I [was] going to show him the paperwork that [said] we got him the housing, because then he could start the manager-in-training program.
So I grab the paperwork and I head back, and God, I get this feeling in my stomach, in the pit of my stomach. So I get to the bathroom and I'm waiting, and it's been about three minutes. And I'm like, “Ahhhh, something just doesn't feel right.” So I wait about two more minutes. I say, “Naw, forget this.” I opened the door, and he shot himself in the head. And I fainted.
Q: I'm sorry. Wow. So you witnessed a suicide, up close and personal?
A: Yeah. The thing is, there were more bullets in [the gun]. So I'm not sure if, because he [saw] me; he changed his way of thinking and just went to the bathroom and said, “I'm gonna end it.” I don't know. But I do know that that moment in time, trauma-wise, it spiraled me. I was having nightmares. I wasn't feeling well. I was drinking to stay up, using cocaine to stay up. I was still working and getting accolades and all these great accomplishments...and I was a freakin’ mess.
What does it mean to be a high-functioning addict00:08:25
Q: You were sort of what they call a high-functioning addict? Would that be accurate?
A: You could say that. There's no such thing as that; [if] you're an addict, you're an addict. But at the same time, there are people like myself who have done what I've done for so long. Autopilot was what I did. I could do this stuff right now. You could take me out of my career right now and throw me right back in there, and I would jump right into it like I'd never missed a beat. I'm a human sponge, and I have a photographic memory. So I'm able to put things together—and the fact that as a trainer, as a leader, I am able to lean—[to] work through my people, with my people, anywhere I go, to help get to the end results in a positive manner. I had been doing it, and this was a stepping stone, so it was like, that was nothing; but what was going on with me was everything.
And I have been fixing and working on everyone else but me—and now, here I am, having these nightmares. I'm still having to go to work. This dude's dying. My health is not doing well. I went to the doctor six months later, right after this. I also ended up getting diagnosed with lupus. So when you have one autoimmune condition, you can get four or five of [them]. Well, I have four; I have fibromyalgia, myasthenia gravis, lupus, and I have vitiligo—and so it's easy to obtain more. So I also battle in [terms of] battling that at the same time.
I knew something had to change. I knew it. I knew either I was going to die...because once I found out that I had lupus—and I had to take a form of chemo, methotrexate—I had to give myself a shot weekly, so I was taking shots and giving myself shots on a regular basis, to reward myself for taking the shot. And [I was] trying to stay away, because I was having nightmares. So at this point, I'm losing it—but to everyone else, it's like being in a room and you're screaming as loud as you can and everybody else is like, “Oh, she’s Sparkle; she should be alright. She's good.”
I was losing it. I lost it. And I knew I needed help. I got called into the office, so I was like, “Oh, they're probably gonna fire me”—because...I just looked sleepy. I get in there, and they [say], “Sparkle, we just want to let you know we are very excited about these results. And we want to promote you.”
A: I didn't cry in 13 years. So I have not cried since the wheelchair, since any of this—no crying, okay? I'm just in awe right now. Because I'm like, “I have an opportunity right now to make $125,000 a year and take this promotion, or I can turn it down.” And I turned it down. I turned it down and said, “I'm going to treatment,” and they said they would hold my spot. I said “There's no reason for you to do so; I will never be back.” I decided to leave. I was intoxicated in that meeting.
So when I decided to leave, I couldn't get out of the office. I finally found a way to get out of the office, got to the car, called my mother and I said, “I quit.” I quit, and I decided to walk out. I was supposed to go to treatment. I decided to go up to Blackhawk to gamble. I ended up in jail for four days and blew a 0.4; [I] was rushed to the emergency room, but I was completely functional, completely fine. So that's why they were worried about it; it’s that I was having a conversation like I'm having with you right now, and helping them figure out how to get me into jail quicker, helping them organize their system better from there after I got out of jail.
I just remember being...just extremely intoxicated, and I called my grandparents. I got to them and they drove me to treatment, and it changed my life forever. For the first time in 13 years, when I finally got to treatment, I was able to sit with [my] family. I...cried for the first time in 13 years. I literally cried so hard. It [was] probably about 72 hours straight. I got a TBI [traumatic brain injury], a TIA [transient ischemic attack]; it threw me into that.
I mean, I went through so much extensive work through treatment that it was very helpful, but I had to give up. I had to give up the ego. I had to put it aside and I had to say you know what? Sparkle. You got to do this for you. And I realized going through all this treatment and going through trauma work. I didn't know who I was. I was doing all these wonderful things for all these wonderful people, but nothing for myself. And so when I got out of treatment, I promised myself I would learn something about myself every day, fall in love with myself every day, and continue to move forward in my journey in my life and go on from there.
And so that is why I am where I am now. And I just needed somebody to say, “You got this. Let's go.”
Recovering and bouncing back00:16:32
Q: How did that lead you to your entry into the business world? How were you able to transition to that?
A: So the transition went more like, I got out of treatment; I was in a relationship that was codependent as could be. I was supposed to get married; I gave him the ring back. I tried to stay there, and he was still using. So I couldn't; I couldn't. I left everything behind. I moved back to where treatment was—still in Colorado, but an hour away from Denver—and I left everything, so I had to restart. I had nothing but just clothes and that was it.
I stayed in a sober living [center]. I decided to volunteer at a place called Springs Recovery Connection. When I went to volunteer, I found out that I could call and talk to people who are in addiction, [do] telephone recovery support, and then I found out that I could be a recovery coach and help people fight to take their life back. So I got into Springs Recovery Connection; I did all of their things, and learned how to do everything within their realm. And Cathy Plush—the owner of Springs Recovery Connection—she left it wide open for me to just invent, create, and just love life again. And so when I got a chance to do that, we set up the first pilot to be emergency interventionists in the hospital. One of my first clients—he's doing great right now, he's almost two years sober—he was my first person to deal with in the jails and getting him transitioned into, you know, living life again.
And then I decided to go and take the tests, be[come] nationally certified. And then, out of nowhere, they said, “Sparkle, we think you'd be a great trainer,” because I've been training all my life. “Why don’t you train recovery coaches to be amazing as well?”
Everything that had happened in my journey transpired into what people call a stepping stone, and now has transpired into my “beautiful disaster”—which is this journey of, “Now you’ve started a business.” Because I left Springs Recovery Connection, and I went out on my own to be a motivational speaker. And then I wrote my book, Being a Better Me for Me, with the workbook—which is a workshop as well now. Because all of my clients kept asking me the same questions, and finally I said, “Okay, I'm just going to type up a little something for them, so they have it.” [I] started writing up the tips and tricks, and I said, “This is a mini-pocket guide. This is a book.” So I wrote the book Being a Better Me for Me with the workbook, and [I] made sure each of my clients have it...so they have a little bit of sunshine in their back pocket each day.
So I've had Sparkle LLC for almost a year now in November, and it's taken off by storm. And I'm just kind of allowing things to happen as they may, jumping in God's lap and letting them take me where I’ve got to go. It's been a very, very great journey—36 years of a lot—but the lived experience has just been something I'll never, ever, ever look down on. I think it's something that has transpired into who I will be and who I'm going to be, and who I intend to be.
Q: I can imagine how that kind of journey would just have been absolutely life-changing—life-redefining in many ways. So I guess I wonder, when it comes to the actual business itself: Is this sort of a one-woman show, or do you have staff? What's the structure of it like, and what's the business model like overall?
A: It was, for me, at one point, a one-person thing, because I didn't realize that so many [developments] would transpire so quickly. I know now that with the year coming up, I need help. [Laughs] I need help, because now it's infectious. People are talking about Sparkle LLC; people are talking about me; but I can't recovery-coach 100 million people. I just can't! So I asked myself, “What do I want to be? What do I want to be known for?” Sparkle LLC...could be a recovery coaching agency, but that's not who I am. I am a motivational keynote speaker and I am a trainer, and I want to be known nationally. Sparkle LLC is one of the best training organizations for recovery coaches in the nation. That's what I feel like is going to be my niche, and also helping leaders out of the depths of addiction.
[M]ost leaders who find out that they have to work on themselves and be self-reflective at the same time become some of the greatest coaches in the world. I am a leader, and there were times when I needed to have time to self-reflect—but I never even knew that existed. A lot of leaders have reached out to me and they're like, “I'd love to learn the training, and I'd love to possibly become a recovery coach.” They don't want to tell somebody they have an addiction issue. No one wants to say that, right? But as soon as you start to realize and become vulnerable with yourself, the sky's the limit [in terms of] the [number of] people you can help, because now they know what you're going through.
On top of that, the training is self-reflective training. So it's literally four courses of sitting with yourself through alcohol addiction—or if you're a parent of someone who's dealing with alcohol addiction, or if you're a brother or sister of someone who's dealing [with it]. How are you playing a part in people's lives, and in your life? [...] Are you paying attention to who you are?
I love the training, and I love the fact there's some people who take my training and they [say], “I don't think I'm ready to coach yet, Sparkle. There's a lot of stuff I didn't realize I need to work on.” It's all self-reflective, you know. So that's why I feel like being one of the best trainers and motivational speakers is where I want to go with it. I do feel like I will be more of...almost a temp agency for those [who] go through my training. And then I’ll place them in different recovery coaching organizations where they can be recovery coaches and learn the right way and then go from there.
So this is not just a business; this will be a legacy. I have three brothers and a sister, and I believe that by the end, Sparkle [LLC] will have so many different entities to it that my siblings will be able to be a part of this as well. I am looking to create that legacy—because I don't have children, and my dad asked me when I was using, “What is your legacy? And what do you want to be known for?” And for me—you can see on my logo there [points behind her]—it's a Phoenix holding up “Sparkle.” I'm rising from the ashes, and I'm a force to be reckoned with.
I just got a great assistant; she's doing wonderfully; so I'm able to start adding nice, detailed entities to it. I am looking for a lot of donations, corporate sponsors; I have my own apparel now. So everything's starting to transpire. And now it's time for me to do exactly what I wouldn't have done when I was using: Back off and allow people to help, and ask for that help. Closed mouths don't get fed. So it's time for me to take that down and realize that I've [put] everything in place; now [I] allow others to help, too.
Q: I see [on] your website that it says you have a specialization in executive coaching as well. So is that part of the business? Do you provide that service as well, or is that separate?
A: So [with] recovery coaching and executive coaching, what people don't realize is that I'm an executive, because I've been an executive for 13 years. An executive may have a different type of coaching they need. And that coaching comes from having a mind- body-and-spirit, well-organized, congruent type of mentality to them. If I [had] known the things I know now in corporate America, the alcohol and drugs would not have taken me down.
My work-life balance was a mess. I had no boundaries. I had no clue who I was. I started out at a young age in corporate America. They embedded in me that this is what I do; this is how I fix it, and this is how it works. Like I said, I had millions of accolades, and I was doing wonderfully; but I did not know me. And so as an executive, if you know who you are, you’ll know how to set healthy boundaries. [You’ll] learn your internal and external boundaries—learn how to set yourself a schedule and leave when you're supposed to; learn what the concept of self-care truly is. Your schedule should not be written for your work schedule; your schedule should be written for your living schedule, and then work is just added in.
A lot of us allow work to control what we do on a regular basis—and then we wonder why we’re upset, because we had no boundaries. And we keep saying, “I'll come in even on days off.” So we are on [the road to] demise, but we don't realize it. So if you're able to actually step back and look at it, reinvent your routine as an executive and say, “Uh-uh—my therapy, my [whatever] goes in here.” Your stuff comes first—because if it's not, then that means you're going into work. You're going into these things half-empty already. You have given away all your water before you[’ve] even woke[n] up. It's supposed to be your day off; you're supposed to be getting yourself a massage during a self-care day—and then work calls you in, and you [say], “Okay, I'm on my way.” But then when you get off work, you're resentful and upset. You're doing it to yourself—not creating those boundaries that say, “I'm sorry, I'm not available.” There should never be any reason that we should be [placing] these expectations on ourselves [so] that it stresses us out, it gets us sick, or we end up using [as] a symptom or we use something to mask it. And that's exactly what we're doing.
So as an executive coach, it's important to know that if I were in corporate America now, work-life balance would be one of the hugest things, and learning and practicing the gift of boundaries. That is why [I do what I do]. So I'm an executive coach for that. As a recovery coach—I can do both, just because I also am a life coach. Together, these things go hand in hand. Just because I stopped using alcohol and drugs, that's only a symptom. The root cause of what I have going on takes more work. And that is a living thing, not a using thing. So if I can't work on the living portion of my life, but I've just stopped drinking, now I'm just a dry drunk, and I'm resentful. I haven't found...a way to live again.
So my entire program consists of me walking alongside you for at least a year. And the reason why is [that] you're going to have cravings; you're going to have triggers. And then on top of that, you're going to start being like, “Well, God, I want to go watch the football game—but if I go to the bar, then it makes me want to use.” So not only do I help people, you know, one-on-one, but they also get to schedule events on my calendar. You know, “I'm going to a wedding; will you come with me? Can we set up a safety plan so that when I go, I know how to leave, so I don't, you know, have a re-occurrence?”
So I do all of these different things so that when people go out on their own, they finally know that they can start living their li[ves] sober, and they don't need to drink [and] they don't need to overeat [and] they don't need, you know, any addiction you're battling—you don't need to do that, because you're learning, and making it a practice that you want to be sober again. Most of [the] executives I work with end up having that symptom. Either they overeat, [or] they undereat...or they have a drinking issue or a sex issue or a codependent issue or a fixer issue, a want-to-be-needed issue. Those are root-cause addictions. Those are the ones that we truly have to sit with ourselves with and actually truly work on in order to get rid of the symptoms. A lot of times we mask those, and those come back and hit us later—and that's usually when [relapse] happens.
Finding success as a life coach00:22:01
Q: What's the main way you would say you acquire new customers? Do folks tend to come to you through word of mouth, after hearing of you through word of mouth? Do you know through what means you tend to sort of generate the most interest in new potential clients?
A: Word of mouth is a huge one, because you have a lot of people who don't like to talk about what's going on with their issues. I have a wonderful content team. So my stuff is up there nonstop for the most part. A lot of my motivational speaking and videos resonate with people right now, especially during the pandemic. So I think I probably get about six to seven people who may want to work with my services [each] day right now. At the same time, my motivational speaking is starting to [expand] as well. Like I said, I was in Michigan, and it was a great success. That's the part where...we need more recovery coaches, we need more coaches, right? And then on top of that, in order for me to be able to hit a good amount of people...because one-on-one is a lot of energy in order for me to hit a lot of people—motivational speaking, communicating with people and getting the word out there so people can ask for help and know it's okay. [That’s] exactly, you know, where I want to be.
So when I [speak motivationally], I can probably get 10 to 15 people who are asking for me to be their coach on a waitlist, and that's not what I want to happen. I want to be able to, you know, get these new people going, so that they can start giving a little bit of their sunshine as well.
Q: Just to wrap up: If you wanted to leave all of our viewers with one final message based on your story, your struggles and your achievements, what would it be, in a nutshell?
A: I would say nothing is ever what it seems. Don't ever put yourself in this box. Look at everything. Expand your mind and open your mind. Open up your heart chakra to learn new things about people, places, whatever you can.
And allow things to transpire. I always say: Pulling and pushing with the universe is not what it's there for. The universe is in our hands for a reason. So allow things to transpire. And last but not least, if you have something you believe in, throw it into existence and manifest it. The worst part about what we do is we're so afraid and in fear of the things we're thinking of and second-guessing ourselves. Sometimes, a lot of our ideas and a lot of our creativity never get any sunshine. If we allow ourselves that, by saying that it can happen and it will happen and believing in it, it is inevitable [that] it will happen.
So, please: If you have thoughts or creativity or vision throw it out there into existence. It will happen! And I know for me, I can say that, because I did not think in a million years I'd be sitting here talking to you, Akil—with a logo, apparel, a book, all in just a year, and being two years and five months sober, by allowing the universe to take its course and allowing my heart chakra to open up and just allowing my heart to expand and be mindful and aware of the things around me.
So at this point, everything that I have that I feel is a vision, I throw it into existence—because I believe in me and I believe in it. So believe in yourself; it's all you need. It’s all you really need.
Q: All right, well, thank you so much, Sparkle! I really, really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. And on a personal note, I have to say this is probably the most inspirational interview that I've ever participated in so far.
A: [Laughs] Awwww, thank you!
Q: Thank you so much again, and I look forward to seeing everything in your future and everything that you're able to go on to accomplish.
A: We'll see where it goes, Akil, and I appreciate that! That made my day.
Q: Absolutely. It's a pleasure and an honor. Take care.
A: You, too!