Truth Talks: Brandon
if you need help, you can reach brandon at
one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. He’s an author, motivational speaker, and someone who encourages you to be a better person, whether you spend 5 minutes or 5 hours with him. I met Brandon on a cloudy day in Philadelphia and didn’t really edit our conversation, so be prepared for him to put the “f” in fun and for the quick fix to be presented in short and long form :)
But really, there’s so much you can learn from someone if you choose to sit and listen, and I hope you find this conversation with Brandon as impactful as I did.
Because no one can tell Brandon’s story quite like he can, let’s jump in..
When I was a practicing alcoholic and I drank, my life was fucking hell. It was shit. Then all of a sudden, I actively wanted to get better, which means that I became proactive in getting better. I did the action behind the knowledge of things I’d obtained throughout the many years of many attempts of trying to get sober.
This is my experience. It’s my story. I’m very up-front; I’m very graphic with my story. And I keep my past married to my present because the moment that I forget where I come from, I will return.
My problem was never a lack of knowledge; it was just lack of action. Knowledge without action is like a brand-new car without gas – it looks fucking beautiful but it’s completely pointless.
When I finally put the action behind the knowledge that I had obtained throughout the many years of many attempts to get sober… they say, “How do you get out of self?” You help someone else, which is the whole program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I get a sponsor and my sponsor actively takes me through and/or allows me to experience the twelve steps under his guidance, and then my job is to get sponsees and do the same thing for them. So, when things are going bad, they always suggest you pick up the phone and you call someone and ask them how their day is doing. It’s so weird. Sobriety is such the exact opposite of everything that I stood for or the way that I lived prior to getting sober, right? Because out there, being an active alcoholic and active addict, to fight was to survive. To fight was to win. To fight was to score another bag. To fight was… a necessity. It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t optional. I had to [in order] to make it through another day. But then I come into the program, I go to rehab, I go to AA, and it completely contradicts how I used to live. Because in the twelve-step fellowship that I belong to, to fight is to die. To fight is to lose. To fight is to relapse and drink again, you know? So, it’s such an oxymoron.
Right. Do you find that it becomes a nature versus nurture, where it starts to become second nature to help other people? Do you see habit formation of I want to reach out, or is it a constant mind-over-matter thing that requires a lot of focus?
I think the worst thing I ever could have done as an active alcoholic and addict … I went to a meeting and I sat through it from beginning to end. They always told me, “it’s really hard to drink a glass of wine when it’s cut with AA. It’s really hard to shoot a bag of heroin that’s cut with NA.” Ignorance is bliss. When you don’t know, you’re not held accountable. But when you know, you fucking know.
Pain is the only motivating factor that dictates change in my life. I don’t change when shit is unmanageable. I change when shit is un-fucking-bearable. That’s the motivation behind any form of change in my life. Pain became great enough, transitioned into the motivating factor behind the action which produced change, and then I had that whole psychic change take place.
Now I don’t think like I used to think. I had always come into treatment centers, and I’d always have a plan. I’d always have a plan of where I was going to be in sixty days, who I was going to be with in sixty days, what I was going to be doing, right? And then finally, walking into my thirteenth treatment center, after freshly waking up on life support for seven days… My mother had bought me a plot. People had taken life insurance policies out on me. I was Medevaced to four different hospitals, four different states, four different overdoses. My mother had sold three homes to financially pay for me to go to two different treatment centers. I found myself as a homeless alcoholic that wanted to like kill himself but I didn’t want to hurt myself in the process. I was horrible at suicide because I kept waking up. I walked into this thirteenth in-patient treatment center finally being demoralized in just such a fashion from drugs and alcohol [that] I had been beaten into a state of reasonableness.
Everything that I owned was in my hands; I actually have the bag right here. I walked into the thirteenth treatment center, and everything in this bag was eight scarves, two jackets, three socks, one stick of deodorant. This bag was my pillow. I had a needle, a spoon, a restraining order that my mother had just served me, and four cigarette butts that I had picked up off the ground.
And for the first time in my life, I walked in to a treatment center with no fucking plan. No plan at all. And what happened, is that lack of plan has produced the best of plans. Because I finally, again, started to implement some change in my life, following the suggestions, and I learned that the drinks and the drugs were not my problem, by any fucking means at all. They were not my problem; they were my solution.
Left without my solution for the first time in my life, meaning I cannot shoot a bag of heroin or drink a glass of wine, which always without fail allows me to escape the reality that I, Brandon Novak, had created for myself, therefore, ignorance is bliss. I’m okay with selling my body on the corner for $40. I’m okay with sleeping in abandoned houses in t-shirts. Because I put that drink in me, I put that needle in my arm, and I escaped my reality.
But what happens when the fucking drug stops working? I’m a thirty-five-year-old homeless heroin addict.
Everything I owned is in here; I’m shooting $180 worth of heroin and cocaine every day in my arm. Still have some money, but that delusional effect is no longer being produced. Meaning that I can no longer escape the reality that I have created for myself. So that moment of clarity that they talk about is happening to me when I’m high and sober. So, I walked into that treatment center understanding that the drug is not my problem; it’s my solution, but I don’t have my solution to take. Now, I’m like a stranger in my own skin trying to figure out who the fuck let me in. I’m like that way now when I fucking shoot up and when I drink because it’s no longer working.
I had been to so many different treatment centers and they told me, “A glass of wine is hard to drink when it’s cut with AA. A bag of heroin is hard to shoot when it’s cut with NA.” And I know there’s a better way because I see it working for you and them. I see it; I know that it works for them. So I know it can work for me. Ultimately, the conclusion I come up with is that the drinking and the drugging is not my problem; it’s my solution. My problem is me – my thinking, my attitude, my behavior. Problems don’t come to me; they come from me. So when I walk into that last treatment center with no plan, that lack of plan has produced the best of plans. Why? Because I’ve understood, finally, that I’m the fucking problem. That allows me to get out of my way. Now, all of a sudden I’m willing, because I’m living out of my way. I can’t stay sober and I see that you can. I can’t; you can. Now my hand’s extended, “Can you please help me?” I’ve now stepped out of my way, I’m following your suggestions. I’m willing to do whatever you say. I was broken so fucking bad when I walked into that thirteenth facility that if they told me to get naked and stand on my head in the corner... I would’ve done it. I would’ve done anything.
As a matter of fact, when I went into that facility, a series of events had taken place and I had gotten robbed. All the clothes I had were on me; I didn’t have a change of clothes. I had these nice dress slacks, if you overlook the cigarette burns. I didn’t have underwear on. I had this button-up shirt, and I had these shoes on with one shoestring because I had lost the other one around my arm somewhere along the way. The reason I was dressed like that was because I was due to see my parole officer that morning. It’s a whole fucking long story. I was headed to BWI airport in Baltimore to catch a flight to Ft. Lauderdale. Some woman was buying me a flight. I get dressed because I still think I’m going to see my parole officer the next morning; I believe that I’m going to make that appointment… it’s impossible. I’m never going to make that, but I believe that I will. So, I get dressed accordingly to see my parole officer, but before I go to the airport to catch this red-eye to Ft. Lauderdale, I stop in the hood to buy some more drugs. When I go to cop, the boys see fit to rob me as opposed to serve me, and when they rob me, they rip my front and my back pockets out. Now, I’m completely exposed because I have no underwear on. They rip my shirt open; the only button that stays buttoned is the very top button. I’ve got these shoes on with one shoestring and I look like a gay East-LA cholo gangbanger kind of dude.
What happened was I was divinely inconvenienced. Or convenienced, if you will, depending upon your perception. They don’t let me on the flight; a series of events had taken place and I end up back in Philly. I go to see my parole officer. She gives me one more chance. I go back to the rehab, and I show up and I’ve got the same clothes on because I don’t have underwear to put on. I don’t have clothes to change [into]. I have nothing.
I find myself I’m sitting in the same chair with the same woman and I had been in this chair four previous times and the four previous times, this is what it looked like: she would say, “Okay, Mr. Novak, your insurance covers ninety days.” And I’d say, “In theory, ninety days sounds great, but in reality, I’m more of like a forty-five-day kind of fella. I got this woman to do, this job to go to, this state to see.”
And she’d laugh at me every time and say, “Sweetheart, you have no idea. Anything and everything you put in front of your recovery does not matter because you’ll lose it.”
And I’d say, “Well, I guess you haven’t seen my resume.” Because I had done some things that people would equate to success or happiness, or some even dream of doing. But this time, I was sitting in the same chair with the same woman and she gives me the same option she had given me four previous times, but like I told you, pain being the only motivating factor of any kind of change… again, demoralized in just such a fashion from drugs and alcohol, beaten into a state of reasonableness… when she gives me an offer, I can’t even come back with a counter-offer, because if I say no, it entails an explanation. Like, literally, fucking thank God for the first time in my life I’ve been beaten speechless by my disease of addiction. She says, “Get up to detox. I’ll see you in four days.”
I get to detox and there’s this nineteen-year-old tech kid working, and he said, “Mr. Novak, you’re back.” I said, “Aren’t you a fucking genius? Man, you don’t miss a beat.” He said, “Your clothes are not rehab-oriented. You need some underwear. You need some sweatpants, some socks.” The fact of the matter was I didn’t have such similar articles of clothing. I’m a thirty-five-year-old homeless heroin addict whose life is consumed by the getting and using, and finding ways and means to get more. I said, “I don’t have ‘em.” He says, “Okay, let’s go downstairs to the basement to the donations room to see if we can find you some used underwear.”
Now, prior to this, let me give you a snapshot of what my life looked like. Exterior: my mother’s a nuclear physicist. My brother’s an attorney in the White House. I’m a former professional skateboarder, touring the world with Tony Hawk. First skateboarder endorsed by Gatorade, hanging out with Michael Jordan, end up in these movies that break box office records and a published author who’s written a book on addiction.
Now, I’ve just walked into my thirteenth in-patient treatment center, just woken up from life support for seven days. My mother had bought me a plot; people had taken life insurance policies out on me. She had reverted to going to God and saying, “God, please cure him, or kill him, or kill me, because I can’t take it anymore.”
I’m standing in this basement of this Catholic charity’s rehab that I had been to four previous times; this is now number thirteen. And there’s a nineteen-year-old fucking kid thumbing through these boxes looking for a pair of second, third, fifth hand-used underwear. And I’m praying to fucking God that he finds them.
How did I get there? You know, like that was not my goal or my intention. I had dreams; I had aspirations.
He doesn’t find the used underwear, but what he does find is a pair of size forty women’s sweatpants with no drawstring, a woman’s tank top, and a pair of size thirteen Jesus sandals. Two very imperative things happened in that basement.
Prior to that, see I’m an alcoholic; I’m an addict. It’s very simple what that means: it means that I’m defiant by nature, I hate authority, and I will never fucking conform unless it becomes my idea. Therefore, you tell me what I need to do, I tell you I need to fuck off, because I know. It’s what I believe. And my resume states that I know. I did some shit. So throughout my whole life, I knew. I always knew. I know, I know, I know. Therefore, I’m not teachable. I’m not willing to become teachable. The things I had to become in order to stay sober, I’m not.
In that basement, as that kid hands me the women’s clothing, two very imperative fucking things happen that change the series of events that would take place in the rest of my life. The first one being is that I went from having that job that consisted of knowing everything, to realizing that what I do know… is that I don’t fucking know. And that my very best thinking time after time gets me here. Again, the common denominator in my problems is me. Right? I am the problem. I’m thinking about my behavior. Now it’s starting to have nothing to do with the drinking or the drug. And number two is that I’m not a religious man but I’m as spiritual as all get out. I never had a dog in this fight until I had a spiritual experience. If I could do this thing on my own, I wouldn’t be here talking to you, I wouldn’t be in my twelve-step fellowship, I wouldn’t have a sponsor, I wouldn’t have sponsees. I’ve lived all over the world. I moved to Finland, I moved to Paris, I moved to London. I’ve lived all over the United States. I’ve changed women. I’ve changed homes. I’ve changed careers in hopes to escape my alcoholism, my addiction. And nothing fucking worked. And I gave it my all.
It took a power greater than myself to lift the obsession and rid me of the desire. And in that basement, on May 25th, 2015, I was met by the God of my understanding as a result of that gift of desperation. The pain had become great enough, the willingness I experienced was unlike anything else in this world. Hence, whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do it because I can’t do it on my own. I get that.
And it’s been really simple. Because like, I know that I don’t know. I stay out of my way. Everything to me is my spirituality. I don’t take credit for this. I didn’t do this; I didn’t pick my sobriety date. I didn’t pick for you to be here today. Everything is thanks to my higher power.
Because what happens is when I start believing that I did this thing, all of a sudden, I’m now taking credit for it. All of a sudden, my ego is running rampant and all my ego is easing God out. Now what I’ll revert back to doing is Brandon will only attend Brandon’s Anonymous. Brandon will only sponsor Brandon, and then Brandon becomes Brandon’s God, and now, for the life of me, how the fuck am I standing back on the corner of Eastern Avenue and Patterson Park in Baltimore city praying to God that that lawyer gets off at 5 p.m. as opposed to 5:30 because he pays me good money for my body.
This is my experience. It’s my story. I’m very up-front; I’m very graphic with my story. And I keep my past married to my present because the moment that I forget where I come from, I will return.
Now, I’m coming up on four years of sobriety. I’m more in danger of a drink or a drug now than I was thirty, sixty, ninety days into it. Because now, I’ve retained some knowledge. Now I know some shit, which is really fucking scary and dangerous. Now, I’m a productive, tax-paying member of society. I’m employable; I’m employed. All the things that can and will and have diverted me from my primary purpose, which is money, property, and prestige, I have. And if I don’t remain connected with my spiritual connection, I’ll fall victim to the things, the accessories of life, and I’ll start thinking that I did this. Then, I stop going to those meetings. Then, I start thinking, “All you sober people are fucking full of shit; you didn’t like me anyways. You’re not happy.”
I’ll start believing all that bullshit because I have this disease that I’ve been diagnosed with and as far as I’m aware of, if you’re diagnosed as an addict or alcoholic, it’s a fact that this disease left untreated equals death; you die. But it’s the only fatal disease from which I possess that tells me that I don’t have a disease on a daily basis, furthermore lying to me in my own voice and it makes me believe the unbelievable.
If you diagnose me with HIV, I’d be rushing to the hospital to get medication because I don’t want to die; it’s a fatal disease. If you diagnose me with cancer, I’d be rushing to the hospital to get chemo because I don’t want to die – fatal disease. But diagnose me as an addict or an alcoholic, I need a glass of wine or a bag of heroin to figure out what the fuck’s wrong with you for diagnosing me with said disease. It’s just as fatal as the first two diseases. Again, left to my own devices… Brandon’s Anonymous, Brandon sponsors Brandon, Brandon is Brandon’s God… I’ll believe that I don’t have that disease and I’ll finish with you. I’ll part ways with you, and I’ll go and buy a whole bunch of heroin. And the scary thing is, I can make that make complete sense. You know?
Yeah. That’s so interesting.
I go into all these different rabbit holes when I get talking on the subject, so I hope that you can follow.
That’s okay. I did. So, one question I have for you is, what’s the biggest misconception about you, or addiction?
This might sound like a cop-out, but I don’t really know. Because I don’t pay any mind.
I would attempt to get sober for so many years and I really believed that social acceptability equaled personal recovery.
So as long as the home was big enough, the woman was pretty enough, the account was high enough, and the car was new enough, and I had those things and you told me know beautiful they were, that validated that I had to be doing well. So what would happen was I would go into meetings and treatment centers, and I would save my face, right? Because everything was exterior: how you viewed me, what your opinion of me, how you conceived me… and I would only share things that made me look favorable in your eyes. I would save my face and I would literally lose my ass out on the street corners.
What happened was the pain became great enough, the motivating factor that instilled change, the willingness to change. All of a sudden I came in and I didn’t give a fuck how you perceived me. All I cared about was saving my ass because the pain was great enough and somewhere along the lines, my ass and my face correlated.
Therefore, what I realized is that your opinion of me will not keep me sober. Your thoughts of me will not pay my bills, and what you feel about me will not give my mother a sound night’s sleep.
I don’t really know what people’s conception of me [is] because I don’t ask and I don’t really care, and it doesn’t fucking matter. My business is none of my fucking business. Why? Because it’s all thanks to my spiritual creator. It works when I don't work it. That’s kind of where I’m at with things. Hence me not picking today to be here with you. You think that you picked today to be here with me, but I don’t believe that.
I don’t know if you did. But you know what I mean.
No, I agree. I think things happen beyond what we think. Like, for example, I went to the biggest party school in the country, didn’t drink, didn’t do any drugs. And that wasn’t random.
No. I don’t believe in coincidence. I don’t believe in luck. I believe everything is destiny or fate. There’s nine billion plus people in the world.
You’re from San Diego. You’re a twenty-five-old girl. You could be anywhere, doing anything in the world with anybody in the world. I’m a thirty-nine-year old former pro-skater/ homeless heroin addict from Baltimore city that now resides in Philadelphia that could be anywhere, doing anything in the world with anybody in the world. But for some reason, a power greater than ourselves saw fit for our stars to align, our paths to cross, and us be right here, right now… meaning there’s a bigger picture at play here. I don’t know what the fuck it is, but there is.
We can’t try to figure it out. We have to let it happen.
Okay, so you talked about how it was your thirteenth treatment center. When it comes to rehabs and treatments, there’s stigma on all sides of it. From an outsider’s perspective, from an addict’s, all across the board. Does something need to change systemically, within society? Or is it something where, until someone gets out of their own way, you really cannot make them go?
Today in the nation 179 deaths will occur due to a direct result of just an opioid overdose. That’s just opioids. 179 in the nation today. That’s worse than the Vietnam War. That’s worse than the peak of the AIDs/ HIV outbreak. It’s the number one human casualty right now. And I say all that to say it’s not an epidemic; it’s a pandemic. And those 179 deaths that will occur today as a direct result of an opioid overdose are all fucking preventable.
Every one of them. And that number is increasing, not decreasing. It’s only fucking growing. So I say all that to say that in this advocacy world, if you will, that there is no margin for error yet it is impossible to fucking do perfect.
I’m a big fan of doing something. Just fucking do it. And if something doesn’t work, then we learn from that something and we do something else.
If I had the correct answer to your question, I’d be a billionaire a billion times over. We don’t know, and it’s the number one human casualty. People continue to die. I debated it for a lot of years and I shot a lot of heroin for a lot of years. It’s not a black-and-white, one size fits all issue. If that were the case, I would have got it in my first treatment center at seventeen. I didn’t get it ‘til my thirteenth at thirty-five. Who am I to say that like you do it wrong?
I don’t give a fuck if that plant keeps you sober. I’m a big fan of methadone; I’m a big fan of suboxone. I’m a fan of Subutex. People say, “Really? Why?” Well, I believe in complete abstinence for myself. For me. But if you want to drink methadone and that provides you a life that you believe is worth living and it allows you to wake up every day looking forward to the day, then who the fuck am I to say, “No, that’s not correct?”
And at the very least, if one day you decide you don’t want to be on methadone, you’ll at least be alive to come off the methadone.
I think almost the stigma prevents people from getting involved even though it’s one of those things where, dare I say, addiction touches everybody at this point. Nearly everyone. It’s safe to assume whoever you are, you know someone.
Yeah. One out of five people are affected.
But people don’t do anything.
I travel all over the world and I speak. One of the most common questions presented to me is how do we lift the stigma? Fortunately or unfortunately depending upon one’s perception, the stigma is lifting because the death toll is rising. So, we don’t really need to do any of that lifting the stigma. Why? Because people are dying. Hence, you being here talking to me today about addiction. That’s doing fine on its’ own. Again, no margin for error yet impossible to perfect.
When it comes to prevention and advocacy, I’m a big fan of thinking outside of the box. What I did was I wrote the first ever addiction graphic novel. What my hopes are with this is addiction becomes more of a conversational piece, more of a dinner table topic, with the thirteen, the fourteen, the fifteen-year old’s. Where they’re actually preventable at that age. You know? They’re redeemable; they’re not like fucking thirty-two slamming dope in their neck… which is still salvageable, but a bit tougher.
It’s easier to fight someone not in addiction versus twenty years deep.
Absolutely. I’ve come to the understanding that people’s attention span right now is about as long as an Instagram post. Not many people are reading books. It’s all social media. So, this graphic novel [I wrote] is five short stories. There’s art, which brings the story alive, which makes it a really short T.V. show or movie almost, if you will. The art is all done by the same artist, but depicted differently in each story – some’s color, some’s black-and-white. Some is very fucking graphic, and some not so much, more light-hearted. You know what I mean? Just trying another thing, just to see.
This goes into Comicon’s and now we’re reaching a whole different demographic of people.
Why? Because the disease of addiction does not discriminate. Yale or jail, White House or the outhouse… the results are all the same and one out of five people will be affected.
So, my next book is finished and it’s being proofread as we speak. That will come out next. Then, I have like three more books that will follow that. I have a TV show in the works that we’re going back and forth with. And I have a really cool thing that I just can’t talk about right now but it was my dream… it was almost like my end-game dream that I am completely amazed by.
You better come up with another end-game, then. Can’t peak now.
That just proves that sobriety has given me everything that drugs and alcohol ever promised me. You know? There’s nothing that you can’t do. I had given everything up in the world for that one thing for so many years. And in treatment, my therapist said, “You’ve given everything up for one thing for so many years. Why don’t you make me a deal and give up that one thing for ninety days while you’re with us? Stay with us for ninety days, give up that one thing, and let’s see what you can obtain.” I said, “Deal,” and I stayed in treatment for ninety days and I gave that one thing up and I had gained an abundance of fucking things just from giving it up for ninety days. Like, dude, there’s nothing that I can’t do if I give this up.
Yeah. Circling back to how you said that your mom reached her breaking point… Do you have any advice, now that you’re on the other side, so to speak, for support groups? Because they push and push and do everything they can, but they still reach that breaking point. You know, you did get sober, and your mom saw that. But for parents, do you think they have to have that bottom line, where they say, “This is it?”
I’m a firm believer in repercussions for actions. I believe if you baby an addict, you’ll bury an addict. There’s just not a one-size-fits-all way to go about it. It’s really a case by case. But I’m a firm believer, and this is just with anybody, not even an addict or alcoholic... With anybody in the world, I don’t talk to them. I talk with them. You know? And you just treat people with empathy and sympathy and compassion.
But then there’s a fine line. Because if you’re doing that, and you have a husband or wife, son or daughter who won’t stop getting high, that can be misconstrued as, “Well, you said, ‘empathy sympathy, and compassion,’ so how I can I let them not have a place to sleep tonight?” You know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s a balance. You can’t prescribe one solution. Ever.
No. My mother served me with a restraining order. She always said, “If and when you’re ready for help, call me and we’ll do whatever we can to help you.” Then, repercussions for my actions started to ensue. It wasn’t so fun anymore because I didn’t have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, a refrigerator to open, or a shower to get into. The severity of my situation became a bit clearer. Her putting me out at eighteen was the best thing she ever could’ve done. Ask me at eighteen and I’d say she was the worst fucking thing in the world. Looking back now, you know… yeah.
What does a day in the life look like for you?
Today, I woke up at eight. I went to the gym, came back here by nine. My cleaners came at 9:30, who I have come in and clean once a month, because I’m really OCD and what you see is how it will always be, but they dust and do all that stuff. I had a dentist appointment at 10:30, which I rode my bike to. Then I had a 12 o’clock to get my beard done. Then, I had you at 2. At 5, I have a phone interview from a friend of mine in California. Ever heard of Metal Mulisha?
One of those guys has a podcast who is sober, too. I’ll do that with him. Then, I’ll probably go to a meeting tonight. I’ll go out to dinner.
It’s funny. I didn’t graduate high school. I got my GED in prison. Never went to college. Tomorrow, I speak at Shippensburg University. Colleges pay me to go there to speak… you know, that’s that.
I like that colleges have you speak because at least where I went, which maybe is the most extreme example, it’s almost seen as a rite of passage to go nuts. But then you see people go more nuts than nuts. It’s too nuts. Then again, maybe the things I saw were not necessarily typical of other college experiences. What you see is just… “No, thank you.” I think that’s why I shifted to the complete other extreme and stayed away from it completely.
So, do you drink?
Not at all?
Not at all.
Just by choice?
Yeah. I think I’m an “all or nothing” person, and I wouldn’t want to see the “all,” you know? That’s not cute.
At school, they say, “Well, you’re twenty-one!” But then you’re twenty-two. Then you’re twenty-five, and then you’re thirty, and then what?
Yeah, I mean that’s kind of where I ended up at the end. It was always going to be like, “Tomorrow, I’ll sort it. Tomorrow’s the day.” And I believed it. Wholeheartedly. Then, I would wake up tomorrow, and repeat yesterday’s actions, and I’m stuck in like, Groundhog’s Day for ten fucking years. You just seem sensible enough to understand or grasp that. I didn’t. Which is probably why and what furthermore ensues to me that I’m an alcoholic and you’re not. You know what I mean? Thinking like, “No, this isn’t good. This isn’t going to be productive for my life.” I was like, “It doesn’t fucking matter. This is what I’m going to do.”
I mean, everybody learns some way. You learn your lessons. You wouldn’t trade them.
No. I do a lot of interviews and they say, “What would you do over or take back?” The honest-to-God truth of that is the only things I would take back [are] the sleepless nights and the pain that I caused my loved ones. Besides that, I wouldn’t do one fucking thing different. Not one. Not at all.
Because then where would you be today? You don’t know. I don’t know.
What is something everyone should know how to do?
Be kind to others. It’s like a fucking generic stock answer, but I believe that.
I believe it. It makes sense. Being in New York yesterday…
Doesn’t happen so much.
No. But they should. Thank God you didn’t say cook. The last person said cook and I was like, “I’m screwed!”
I don’t cook.
I don’t cook. It’s overrated. What is something you can’t go a day without?
I mean, I can go a day without a lot of shit. But I would say, honestly, prayer. I’m trying to think of what I have done every single day since I went to treatment this time. Like, what have I done consecutively, and that’s what I’ve done. That. I drink tea.
Earl Grey or English breakfast.
Really? That’s sophisticated.
I don’t think it’s sophisticated.
Earl grey tastes like Cheerios to me.
Well, what do you like?
What? Is that like, typical?
Well, that’s like the same as Earl Grey. I don’t think there’s a big difference.
Earl Grey doesn’t taste like Cheerios to you?
I don’t eat Cheerios.
Neither do I. But it really tasted like a Cheerio- Fruit Loop combo.
No, not at all. I don’t see any of that.
Well, maybe I did it wrong.
Coming from the woman who doesn’t cook.
What is something everyone should read or see?
The twelve steps. Everyone should experience the twelve steps.
I have. I don’t think you have to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. I’ve gone back to it.
You don’t. I’ve had friends that drink and go through the twelve steps. For me, it was completely fucking life-changing and I’ve never been happier in my life. That’s what like, is a must if you ask me. Did you benefit?
Yeah. I’ll still use it – I’m all or nothing. So if I feel like I’m leaning to “all” on a habit, I’ll apply it.
I used it with quitting smoking.
I think it can apply to everything. Because to change, you have to get out of your own way. Even with behavioral changes, if you’ve got an attitude or something. Forgiveness…
Absolutely. Turn it over to your higher power. What’s my part in it? What am I doing to make it the way that it is?
It all comes down to… I have a disease centered in perception. They taught me in treatment [that] if I change my perception, I can change my world. How do I perceive things? Is it, “Why me? Why me?” In reality, it’s like, “Why the fuck not me?” If justice was due, I would be dead years ago.
I hear people in the twelve-step meetings say, “I worked real hard for this seat.” I’m like, “Fuck you. No you didn’t. You know who worked hard? Your wife, your husband, your mother, your father, your employers.” That’s who worked hard for my fucking deal I got.
Side tangent: now that you’re sober and you help people, like you said earlier about doing an intervention on a friend, do you ever have a friend not get sober or reject it? How do you handle it?
Oh, yeah. The third step. I’m not in control of anything. I’m not powerful enough to get anyone sober or keep anyone sober. Again, if I could do that for myself, I wouldn’t fucking be in a twelve-step program. It’s all a spiritual experience. Because expectations are nothing but unfulfilled resentments.
If you do get into the twelve-step program that I’m in and you start doing the work and reading that book, it tells you that resentments are the number one offender that drive people back out to drink and drug. If I put an expectation, the moment that you don’t think as I think you should think, feel as I think you should feel, or do the things I think you should do, I’m immediately fucking furious. And who does that hurt, really?
So, I just know that my higher power which I choose to call God has a plan. I’m not powerful enough to dictate the terms that the plan will play out on, or change it. You know? If for some reason, I’m presented with whatever “it” may be and if I find myself in the crosshairs of it, it’s because that’s when I was supposed to be there.
Like, right now is exactly how right now is supposed to be. Whether the case is good, bad, or indifferent. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be happening.
One of my best friends now, I credit to getting me out of Baltimore. Externally, he has a very good life. If you looked externally, he has everything one could want or dream for. I’ve helped him. I’ve put him in treatment a couple times. Committed to the psych hospital a couple weeks ago, and he just is not willing to do what it takes to get sober or stay sober. And this guy is my best friend. You know, he’s a public figure and he goes on rants and will talk shit about me and I have to accept that, “Okay, he’s a sick man.” Just like I’m sick. He’s caught up in addiction and alcoholism. There’s nothing I can do except pray for him. Empathy, sympathy, compassion. But, repercussions to his actions. I will not speak to him unless he wants help. I will not enable his behaviors; I will not condone his behaviors. I won’t hang out with him. I won’t talk to him on the phone. Because there’s no repercussions to his actions. If you can still drink and drug and still continue to have friends, then why would you stop? I believe that I have to disconnect from him. For his sake and for mine. If and when he’s ready for help and he calls, I will help him immediately. But he has to show the willingness.
You can’t force anyone to do anything.
Yeah. So that’s that with that.
Everyone in their 20s should…
I had someone say to me once, “You live in your own world.” I said, “You know what, you’re absolutely right. I do.” I think that everyone should.
That’s part of the whole “don’t let others’ opinions bug you” thing we were talking about earlier.
One insider thing to do in Philly…
It was kind of prime earlier.
It is. I like to do that anywhere. I like to sit and have a cup of tea and chat and just kind of watch. When I got sober this time, like, I’m very hyper-sensitive to my surroundings. Almost so much so to a fault, where it’s like, too much. I’m so aware and alert and attentive to everything around.
Do you find that you go the other way too where if it’s too mellow of a situation it can put you on edge?
No. I’m totally okay with quietness. Some might call it awkward silence. Because when I got sober, I was not secure. I lacked self-esteem. I didn’t know how to gain self-esteem. If you told me to get self-esteem, I don’t know how to fucking get self-esteem. But what I did from becoming open-minded and willing to follow suggestions, I listened to you when you said, “You show up twenty minutes early for work. You stay twenty minutes late. You take pride. You don’t cheat, you don’t lie, you don’t steal. You pay your bills on the first every month. Completely become self-sufficient.” And I could do that, right? Because I was willing to follow suggestions because I learned my way doesn’t work; yours does because you stay sober. Through doing those esteemable acts, in turn, I gained a self-esteem that I didn’t even know I was doing. So, now when I talk to you, I can look at you in your eyes. Now, when there’s a silence, it’s just a silence. I’m not making it awkward anymore because I’m not awkward about it. I’ve gained that sense of self-esteem, if that makes sense.
What the world needs right now is…
Love. I feel like that’s probably a common answer.
No; you can’t really predict anybody.
One way to spread love is…
I try to do one kind act a day without anyone knowing it. So kind of like, a random, mysterious act of kindness. So, I don’t get the validation for it; I don’t get the credit for it, whatever that may be.
And whatever room I walk into, I make it a point to leave it in better condition than it was when I walked in. So, even if it’s just the book is on the table and not on the shelf, I’ll put it back on the shelf. If there’s a piece of something on the floor, I’ll pick it up. Not like a big change, but just something.
Exactly. Because what I realized is that the world doesn’t owe me; I owe it. What can I do for society, as opposed what society can do for me. It’s why that psychic change has taken place, where is the exact opposite from how I used to live, right? Like, now it’s not, “Me, me, me, me, me.” It’s, “What can I do for you?” Because what I’ve realized is A helps B helps A the most.
Anywhere in the world, in any business, … if I give you something that I have, I am to walk away with less. It’s just fucking the way it goes. But in this world of mine, what is so magical about this twelve-step fellowship of mine, is if I give you something that I have, I walk away with more.
I think that’s something everyone would benefit from – not just directly of obtaining more, but from thinking in that way. So, when I went to school, one really popular topic was balance, like work-life balance, all that. Do you ever find yourself burnt out having your number out there and helping people or does it energize you? Do you feel like it’s your way of giving back and A-B-A?
A-B-A, but it could burn you out, absolutely. But the cool thing is when I don’t answer it, it will go through to the call center of my treatment center. So, it’s like almost a hotline, if you will. Someone will always answer the call.
I’m a worrier, so the idea of missing a call would be… you know. It’s good that it goes to a hotline, because you need that balance, too.
It’s third step. I wasn’t meant to take that call.
That’s my weakness.
You’re not that powerful.
I know. I try to control or change things too often.
I would never change anything. I’m the most easy-going person in the world.
In the world?
Not the most, but I’m easy.
Things aren’t that heavy. Right? Not to sound egocentric, but when you’ve been through or experienced some of the shit that I’ve experienced, it’s fucking just not that heavy now. Like, it’s cool. It’s gonna be okay. It’s just not that heavy.
the quick fix:
I can’t go a day without… prayer.
Everyone should… experience the twelve steps.
Life is better with a little… laughter. Or cats.
Everyone in their 20’s should… live in their own world.
One insider thing to do in Philly… people watch.
What the world needs right now is… love. I feel like that’s probably a common answer.
One way to spread love is… do one kind act a day without anyone knowing it. And leave a place in better condition than it was when you walked in.
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