Gail: Today we have with us a dear friend Devon, Devon Pratt. And she is bearing her soul with us for the first time. Live, though this won’t be live when you watch it, but it is the first time she’s going to be open and honest with those outside her immediate circle about what it’s like to be an addict.
And so, we’re talking about the shame of addiction. And there is shame in anything that we do that we think isn’t. You know, OK with society. But there is a life of missing something in order for someone to become addicted.
For anyone to be extreme in anything that they do it is because they’re trying to fill that whole. And in Devon’s case, what she was trying to feel was that need to have a home, that need to find a place that is right. And so, Devon, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and you know.
Gail: Tell us about that 11-year-old girl who started off and found home right away.
Devon: Well, as you mentioned I was eleven. I was left alone and had access to alcohol which is where things kind of started as it often does, and I had two bottles of wine the very first time I drank. And I remember as it started to take effect, one of my very first thoughts was, “Yup! Yup, this is what I was looking for. This is what I’ve been searching for that feeling of being home. “
And it was interesting to me; it’s interesting looking back on that now as an adult, thinking about being 11 years old and realizing that that was an impactful moment. You know realizing I’m in trouble and I knew, I knew from the moment I first started drinking, that I had an issue that this was going to be a problem and I dove headfirst trying to escape, you know, some of the things that I had experienced in my life that felt too intense for me to process.
And so, you know, having an option that allowed me to kind of step out of that mindset, you know, gave me that mental break, and for me a very physical break as well because I do tend to manifest emotion in my body physically, and so, having that momentary short term vacation from reality.
Gail: I was going to say yes, it’s different.
Devon: It was exactly what I needed at the moment.
Gail: So you were drinking at 11 and you continued to figure out how you were going to get your hands on alcohol. Yep, and at what point did you did it not work quite so well and you progress to another level.
Devon: I started blacking out very quickly. I was probably around 12 when I had my first blackout and during the blackouts, you know there were circumstances that took place, behaviors on my part that I wasn’t proud of, behaviors on other, you know, parts that let me know that it was unsafe, that it wasn’t. It wasn’t supporting my life.
But at that point the benefits outweigh the risks still. So, although I started immediately, kind of experiencing symptoms that sometimes can take a little while to manifest in some people, you know I came from a long line of alcoholics and addicts and I this wasn’t new to me. This wasn’t a lifestyle that I was uneducated about right and dumb. So, it was almost a very…
You know, sometimes I think children, teenagers, young adults as they start out addiction. Sometimes they kind of fall into it. Whereas I feel like I sort of consciously walked headfirst into it and then dove into it; and so there wasn’t necessarily as much of a tipping point where I felt the control leave my life. It was. more a matter of choosing to lose control, and obviously at that age I was not aware of the, you know the negatives that would come down the road that were much more serious.
I certainly was having experiences throughout high school that should not be part of a high school experience and say that right now.
Gail: You and I’ve had the conversation before, or I’ve had a one-way conversation with you about my experience with befriending. I have a lot of friends who are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, it’s crazy when I think about it, but we are all in this enlightenment type of business as well; and in conversations with some of those folks, I hear a theme about that feeling that of being home. It is even more than that because you enter, you do enter another realm. You do enter another dimension, you do, reminds me of touching the gods if you will, which is an experience we certainly can get in a more healthy way. But to be able to shoot up and get there is ecstasy, right? It’s ecstasy, right? And? And you want more of that experience? And I know that you went from alcohol to other drugs, so let’s talk about that progression as well.
Devon: I did. So, there were the natural kind of experimental moments in high school. A little bit of cannabis here and there. You know? Maybe some LSD. None of that really felt the same as the alcohol, for me it was very it was very momentary. It felt like it was just for fun. The alcohol always, throughout my experience, was kind of the IT; was the baseline. It was. It was the thread that was constant. Running through my experience of addiction.
Other things throughout my younger years tended to take a little bit of a backseat and then I ended up being in a relationship with an older gentleman who was into pills. And so I started experimenting with pills and as I experimented the ability to very specifically choose how I wanted to feel based on what pills I took and how many pills I took, it tended to be, you know a direction that I chose moving forward because I appreciated the specificness of that experience where you could kind of design your experience and so you know that ended up being the direction that I went in.
Veering in different side roads will say into different drugs for short periods of time. The alcohol and the opiates mostly were my drugs of choice. And those were the two. The two methods that I really found. The most relief. The most relief. Uhm, and you know the experiences that I had with them were also the most impactful in the negative as well, because they are the most dangerous of the drugs.
Gail: Do you want to talk about one of those negatives?
Devon: Yes, yeah, so you know, I’ll share my low point actually, and it does, it does still, after all these years, it does still make me a little bit emotional. But at a point, and I have an extensive history of spinal surgeries, and so I’ve had, you know, many years where I was prescribed opiates and there. Products and you know rightfully so. I was in extreme pain. I’ve had a degenerative spinal condition for many years, and you know I’ve had multiple surgeries. It’s been a rough road and so you know, the opiates really have been, you know, for many years, they were a huge part of my everyday life. And what happens with that is that you are numb. And not only to the effects of the opiates, you build up a tolerance, but you also build up a tolerance to the numbness that it creates in your in your entire life.
You’re basically separate from reality, even when you’re not using them. It keeps you very disconnected from your authentic self. Which is what I was going for at that time, and all at one point specifically an evening where I was in extreme pain, extreme pain, and I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted just for a minute. I just wanted it to stop.
And so I would take a couple more and at that point I was still drinking, I would take a couple more and then I would wait a little while and the pain wouldn’t go away and so I would take a couple more and the alcohol really kind of numbed my clarity and my judgment as well. So, between the pain, the physical pain that I was feeling combined with the emotional pain that I had carried throughout my life, combined with being numbed in all of my senses from the alcohol and the opiates, I ended up taking too many and I overdosed.
And it wasn’t my first overdose. It was my most severe. My then seven-year-old Found me. I was numb, I was dead. The next morning and numb, obviously I was revived, there was some experiences that I had with that really changed how I felt about life.
Overall, just to simplify that experience and when they revived me with those paddles, they brought back to life more than just a heartbeat.
It was a true awareness of where I was and how close I was to the edge, and For the first time in my life, I realized that I didn’t want to be that close to the edge anymore. And that realization, started the process, the long process of finding my way back, you know.
Gail: Well, finding I don’t think you even could say finding your way back. Devon finding who you are, I don’t think you ever knew who you were, right, right? That was the search.
Devon: The experience is, I think, that you have growing up that allow you to discover who you are. You know what you like and what you don’t like and you know who you really want to, who you want to be.
There were circumstances growing up that didn’t allow for those moments. You know when things are going from one catastrophe to another, and me, as the child who kind of settled into the role of being the mediator, being the one who made things better. I took that role very seriously. And so, by constantly focusing on how others were feeling, how others were doing, what they needed, how to keep them happy, how to keep them calm constantly focusing all of my attention outward, there wasn’t enough time for me to sit with myself. You know, to sit with my thoughts, to sit with my feelings, or to have experiences that would have really allowed me at that time. To really, you know, figure out what I was working with.
And I think that’s the biggest thing and you kind of nailed it. II was looking for home and what I realized was after all these years, hoe is inside of me.
I am home.
And having that clarity, having that perspective now, it’s something that no one can ever take from you, and it’s something that you never need anything outside of yourself to reach. It’s there. It’s waiting for me all the time. It’s there constantly.
Gail: Constantly and I would say first of all, tell us how many years you have been clean if you will, but also. This is not something you solve. Even your realizations…we were talking before the recording, you don’t solve, “ I’ve dealt with that and so that issue is gone,” right?
As I have found out through my life, right? New ones which are very similar come to light as you peel the onion. So, talk a little bit about the years that you’ve been working on this and what it’s like for Devon to stay “home” every morning when she gets up.
Devon: So, I will have 11 years on May 10th, so coming up in a few days. Thank you and throughout those 11 years, it’s been a very, you know, if you had asked me 11 years ago, I would have had a different response as to how my everyday feels. If you would have asked me five years ago, one year ago, even right, as you said, it’s peeling an onion. There are things here that took a long time to cover up and so unpacking that and exposing and bringing to light and allowing things to be in the air. That’s what my everyday looks like.
Now you know connecting with that authentic Devon, peeling back the layers and discovering what I like and what I don’t like. That’s an everyday process. You know that that’s a daily thing and it’s constantly evolving, which is fun. It’s so fun to be me now.
I’m an intense person, very. I’m a very, very intense person. I feel everything very, very strongly and so, allowing myself to really trust. Then I can feel these really strong emotions and I’ll be OK and not just OK, but that I can grow from those and then I can come, you know, I don’t have to numb those two to feel OK. You know it’s alright to feel things strongly and it’s fun to discover who you are if you let it be fun. It can be really fun.
Gail: And we’ve been on this journey actually together for about a year, right? You and I connected a little bit more than a year ago. We collaborate together and I adore watching the pain that you go through and that you handle it. Whether it’s physical, emotional, psychological you will listen to those who say that’s not cool and then go and unpack and pack. You know I love that word because that’s exactly what’s going on. It’s like lifting the cover of this, lifting the cover of that, and examining you know why. Why is this coming up for me and why is it so important? And realizing that, hey, maybe it’s not so important anymore.
And that’s the difference is doing that process even a few years ago. You know 5,6,7,8 years ago. That I’m tracking process, although necessary, felt a little scary. You know it was. It caused some anxiety to do that. I did it anyway, but it wasn’t a fun process necessarily all the time.
And that’s the difference. Now is that when things come up and I feel trauma resurfacing or coping mechanisms resurfacing it makes me curious. I want to lean into it instead of instead of, you know, pulling back away from it. There’s not the fear there anymore which allows that process to really be a really great process. It doesn’t have to be horrible.
Which is amazing.
Gail: Because you know who Devin is at your core, right? And I think, at least for me and I can only talk from my experience. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know there were times in my life where I actually have said, well, they don’t know me, they don’t know who I am.
Well, of course they don’t, because I never showed them. Right?
I had the biggest, I think, 3-foot-thick brick walls around me and I continued to build them for many many years. I would take a brick or two down, but then you know kind of put a few more up.
It really wasn’t until later in life that I allowed myself to remove them all and allowed myself to be vulnerable. Now does that mean [stuff] doesn’t come up? We just talked about, yes it does.
Even more so, right? Because it’s the deeper stuff, it’s the hidden stuff, it’s the. things that., most recently for me was this situation and I was like, “I don’t even remember that” and look at how much it has affected my life. If you had asked me, I would have been like what are you talking about, and that’s how deep rooted is as a child, from the moment you come into this world until about eight or nine, you are constantly receiving programming and without any edits. And so your belief systems and these deep rooted issues get stored really, really in there and it’s not until around nine that you start asking questions as you start becoming aware that there’s other things other than your family wrangling out there, and you start to question what’s going on. You try to develop your own perspective and it’s very hard. At 9 years old to do that right, and so it’s not until you’re, emancipate, really. When you’re out in your own that you’re able to if you so choose, go through this kind of journey.
So now you re a. Holistic Wellness expert, right? And you totally believe that food heals, and you totally understand that your body, how you eat and how you feel has everything to do with what’s going on in your subconscious, and so let’s talk a little bit about how you evolved from where you were into this type of lifestyle.
Devon: I’m glad that you brought that up, because that connection for me has to do with so much more than food and so much more to do than just nutrition, right?
Caring for yourself takes lots of different forms and anyone who’s ever lived in addiction can tell you that caring for yourself is not something that is part of your life. Finding ways to harm yourself, generally speaking, is your motive.
For me, taking control of and making very conscious decisions about my food, obviously there’s the math and science of it, which I love, but on a much, much, much deeper level, how you do anything is how you do anything. How you do anything is how you do everything.
So, yes, when I make healthful, nutritious choices about my food, when I get to bed at a decent hour, when I get the right amount of water, when I sit when I’m tired or hurting when I make myself a tea because I’m having a hard time, it’s an expression of love, right?
And so, it’s a message that I’m sending to myself every single day, multiple times a day, that says “I love you and I got you. I’m going to take care of you.”
And as a person that hasn’t always done that for myself, it’s such a clear, clear message that I’m sending and that repeated action that you know those things that we do every single day multiple times a day. Those get so ingrained in who you are,
And so., those neuropathways get deeper, those ruts in your brain get deeper. And before you know it, you start to believe that you’re worth caring for. That your body is worth taking care of. You know that your mental health is worth exploring and healing, and you know, so this whole process of Wellness for me although I can nerd out with the best of them on the math and science part of it. It’s so secondary that part of it is so secondary to me, and so when I can connect with my clients what’s important to me for them is that they are learning to love themselves.
The food part is great vehicle. That’s a vessel that’s a modality, a way of reaching, that moment. And this is just the way that I’ve discovered and connected with, you know, reaching that level of self-care.
Gail: Right space.
Devon: Sure. It could be in a lot of different ways. You know it can look different for everyone, but for me this is a way that I’ve tapped into something that I do every single day, multiple times a day. You’re eating multiple times a day. You know these things are coming up multiple times a day and so having that tool that modality as a way of connecting with that part of myself, that hurt scared, child that felt out of control, that child that wanted to numb, that child that felt like escape was the only place that she could find home has discovered that by connecting with myself on an almost parental level, you know, and I I often bring this up, , taking care of yourself the way you would take care of a small child.
That is the way to heal.
And you can do that with food verry easily.
Gail: There are a couple of things that you said that I want to get back to, to kind of have you elaborate on. And it really is this focus on caring for the food.
What I heard and I’d love for you to share is, for me, most of the time, making a meal is a pain in the *** I have to eat, right. That is not a healthy way to prepare or to have a meal.
And yet there are times when I prepare a meal and it’s fun, and it’s enjoyable and it’s delicious when I’m done. So talk a little bit about what you mean with that caring and letting your body know that you got it. I got you.
Devon: So, the connections that we have with food as I mentioned before, it’s a very innate connection that we have. We’re born with this and food can actually be a vessel to add to the addictive natures that we’re already experiencing or we can use it to transform that addictive behavior into something more healthy, And so, the way that I’ve done that is in therapy and CBT, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one of those tools in addiction therapy that’s pretty widely used.
They talk a lot about using and connecting to your five senses as a way of grounding you in the moments of anxiety or fear, or any of those feelings that might lead us into addictive behaviors. And so, one of the things that really excites me about this connection is that it is inspired almost naturally by the traditional method of therapy that’s currently being used for addiction behaviors, so one of the ways that you do that is by being very present.
Being very present with your food, you know with the process of cooking that food and it starts at the grocery store We’re to work, to creating that energy well before we’re actually consuming that food. You’re creating your connection with that meal and with your body well before you’re actually consuming it. And so. at the grocery store, as you’re choosing those foods as I’m choosing those foods, I’m feeling gratitude.
I’m appreciating the farmer that grew that food. I’m appreciating the soil that it grew in. I’m imagining all the people that package that food. If it’s packaged, I’m imagining the people that handled that food. I’m wishing them well. You know, I’m sending them a thanks for the nutrition that I’m about to see.
And for me, that connection continues into the kitchen and like you mentioned, sometimes there’s a lot going on in life. You know you’re busy or you don’t feel good or you’re tired or you know the last thing on your mind sometimes is making that meal and especially taking the time and effort to really make it something that’s going to serve you, support you physically .
Really, almost in the beginning, almost forcing you know to kind of redirecting. Bringing myself back into the moment, bringing myself back, bringing myself back that redirecting into the present moment is really a tool that has served me so well.
Because when you’re connected to your food and you have that relationship with the food that you’re going to be eating, it does make it exciting. It does make it fun, and that’s what I tell my clients all the time. This excuse my language, but this shouldn’t **** This whole process should be fun. The default experience that you should be having with this is fun is creative is, you know, soothing and comforting and all those things food should make you feel good.
And if it doesn’t, then you know, maybe unpacking as we mentioned before, unpacking some of those reasons why you might be choosing foods that harm you, because when you look at addiction it can easily transform. Into a million other things, and food is one of those things. And so, when I come across clients that struggle with addictive eating and that sort of thing, to me, is just one of the modalities. It’s just one of the things that we can choose to use to numb, and sometimes to even harm. You know, do some self-harm behaviors as well.
And so, really being present really being grateful, allowing yourself to smell what you’re cooking, and to feel what you’re cooking and to just stay in that moment. There’s a million other things that are going on in the world, and I’m aware of that. I’m not totally checked out when I’m cooking dinner, but I’m really, really present. I’m really present and smiling. Oddly enough, while you’re cooking is one of the tips that I teach my clients initially, because it does send those messages to your brain and then your brain releases the hormones, those happy oxytocin hormones, that can really create that immediate flood of good feelings.
And so, you’re creating new neural pathways in that way.
Gail: So, let people know how they can get in touch with you, Devin.
Devon: I have a page on Facebook that is my business page, which is Devon’s Holistic Wellness. It’s a page that offers tips and tricks, you know, recipes and all sorts of things and, and that’s a wonderful resource.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And you know my telephone number is 603-998-9951.
Gail: Thank you Devin and I will have that listed for sure when we put this podcast up and again there will be there. Will be other episodes that will be combining conversations together and we’ll have a little series all in one for you guys to listen to and pop from person to person if you want.
Everyone, you’re listening to The Empowering Process Podcast and thank you very much.
Gail: Hey everybody.
Max: I can be an open as I want, correct?
Gail: You can be as open as you want. Yes, are going to be as open as you want, so we’re talking about the shame of addiction, right? And I’ve got here with me Max and Max Nijist is going to tell his story for us and share his experiences. And at the end of all this I am going to give you guys some contacts, some information as to who you can reach out where you can go to for help when you have your defining moment, or you know someone who maybe needs an intervention and we’ll talk a little bit about that as well.
Thank you so much for joining us Max.
Max: Thank you for having me.
Gail: This is a tough subject. Yeah, I mean this is a bigger problem than people think.
Max: Oh yeah, they think COVID-19 is bad you don’t even know…The increase of overdoses that happened because of COVID-19, so not even close to the people that addiction is killed. If you know what I mean.
Gail: Right, right, right, you know. And there are so many other things that were going on that you know people didn’t have access to their resources.
Max: Absolutely, which made the problem worse, you know.
Gail: Right, right, right? So, we’re going to talk about your life with addiction and you’ve been clean almost 18 years now, congratulations!
Max: September I’ll have 18 years September 27th of this year. I will have 18 years clean and sober.
Gail: Yep, clean and sober and it’s a daily ritual to stay clean and sober. We’ll talk a little bit about that too. Any of these struggles any of the issues. In fact, anything, I will tell you for me, even with my addiction to smoking and it’s nothing like this. Every morning I have to wake up and say what’s my intention today and how am I going to achieve it?
I don’t let life happen to me because if I do I lose.
Max: Yep, right, absolutely we let life we let life happen for us, not to us.
Gail: Everybody! So, Max, you had a long history of addiction too, so share with us that very first experience that you had and what was it. How old were you and what did it feel like.
Max: Well, if I think back to it, I tried back in junior high around 12… 11 or 12. Sixth grade, right? But I didn’t, it was just one of those things, like I had a drink of hard alcohol, and I didn’t like it at the time right? But little did I know that that taste of alcohol would set in motion things to come.
So, I had about 13 years old you know I don’t know how do I explain it? You probably heard it from other addicts, right? Even though I came from a big family, had lots of friends, there was a time I felt like I didn’t fit in with anybody. Not my own family because five of my older siblings were out of the house and then it was just me and my little brother and my mother. You know, most of my friends had both parents in the house and so it made it tough, like one of my best friends who lived directly behind me, right him and his dad would always invite me to the father and son picnic that they would go to. And I wasn’t using at the time, but you know, when you’re young, you know I used to just sit there and that’s when I knew I had a problem, because when I felt out of place and to this resentment this anger at my own father kept just like getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
So about 13 when I was introduced to marijuana and drinking again, You know, beer was more my style. I’m not loving the hard stuff. If I wanted to go get drunk quick hard alcohol, of course .But it was always a beer chaser to fall ’cause I didn’t like to taste then. But it was beer and marijuana and then the crowd, I finally started to feel like I fit in right. Like, they were all doing it and then I yeah, I found the crowd that was doing it. They welcomed me with open arms. You know there was like no judgment. We were all doing it and it.
Gail: Oh, you found the crowd that was doing it.
Max: Like I said to you before we started recording, I said that first drink and that first hit of marijuana was like ah, I just arrived.
You know what I mean? I got that sense of ease and comfort like that comes with the first drink that the big book talks about. It’s like, “but see now that it’s changed.” But like I remember that feeling and looking around and everybody was like, felt like I fit in right? It’s like I had arrived. Cool; I am. Max is here. Let’s go you know, and little did I know that it would get worse and worse and worse.
Gail: It felt comfortable. It felt familiar.
Max: Exactly, you know, and you know as we get into this, talking about the shame. Like I’ll preface this like I’m not ashamed to say I’m a recovering addict, right? But we’ll talk about where that shame comes from and what keeps people out there when they’re drinking or using drugs, right? Because when they start coming down, it’s so overwhelming the guilt and the shame that you feel that you’re like, “I gotta do something about this. ’cause I don’t want to feel it” right. And unless you have someone that has showed you different, that’s what US addicts know. And the best way to what killed that that feeling of shame is to drink or do more drugs.
Gail: Right, we all go to what we know, right, right? Because what we don’t know is unknown and scary. So, you started off, you know, with a with a little bit of weed and a lot of booze, right? And at some point, it started getting out of control. So, tell us a little bit about some of your out of control.
Right, so yeah, I yeah I was gonna pick a couple here that you know that like were turning points for me. So, through junior high it was just experimentation and fitting in. So, it wasn’t a problem back then, but you know, I didn’t heed the warning signs. Like I said, the first one going. I feel like this feels good. You know, like that should have been my first red flag, but now I chose to ignore it.
And in high school is when I started, My sophomore/junior years when I start experimenting with the harder stuff. You know like hard liquor, not just marijuana but cocaine, doing acid and just anything I could get my hands on.
So, this would all build up to, after I graduated high school, another warning sign. I got in trouble for drug use in the Navy. I mean, I still, got out on an honorable discharge, but most of my stories come after that. You know, after my marriage.
And when the divorce happened, you know that was…, for instance, I remember I started. I think I shared with you one time I was living at my mom’s house. And I didn’t technically want to say I live with her. So, she had this huge garage, so I turned it half of it into a room so I could say to you I got my own place.
Yeah, this is this stuff we rationalize, right?
So well into that process I found, ’cause my brother had just got out of his first prison term, right? So I found this spoon. And of course, Grinch
Gail: Yeah, of course.
Max: And you know, I’m hanging around people again that are partying, that are doing harder stuff, and I get it. I think he’s either doing meth or he’s doing heroin, right? So well, I steal that and I take it and what led to one of my you know, after going through the divorce and that pain and not wanting to deal with it and really not having any tools to do so, you know not having anybody that really could help me out because like, I said, I had no father. My mother was older, and you know she did the best she could.
So, one time what happened is, as I got deeper into my methods right, I did it.
I snorted it and smoked it, and then I found that needle, and that was it! That was over right. I didn’t have to feel any pain because now, not only did I have my alcohol, I had my meth.
So anytime I felt that guilt or that shame, especially shame, guess what I did, I’d stick a needle in my arm, and it would make everything OK, you know? And I didn’t have to feel.
And so it started progressively getting worse, and I’m out, I’m out of the service, I’m divorced, my wife ex-wife, you know is taking the kids to Oklahoma or Nebraska without my knowledge, you know, and which crushed me because the only thing really at that time that was holding me together were my children.
You know that like on weekends, the only time I had any sense of Still having something to hold onto was them right? ’cause I would tell my friends “no one’s coming over. I have my kids,” it’s just me and my kids and I’d spend the weekend with him.
So, one night I think it was a year or so after our divorce, right? it’s my birthday and a friend takes me out. We go to the bar. I’m drinking up a storm, right? He hands me about 1/2 gram of this stuff that you know you hear this lingo, it’s called glass, right? And it’s like 1/2 gram and that’s a lot, right? So, I think I’m drunk, this is just going to even me out, you know, and I can be mellow and well, I ended up doing the whole thing in the in the needle and shooting it up.
And I remember the only thing I remember was this warm feeling and then waking up the next morning on the floor of my bedroom with the needle sticking out of my arm. I had overdosed on meth and see. This is where the progress, you know It progressed so quick.
Most people would have took that as a sign that I’m done right like I got, there’s something seriously wrong with you. Max. I gotta quit. I called my friend who had that. I told him what happened, and he goes you overdosed alright, and I go. ”Yeah you got anymore. You need to bring me some,” and he just, I remember him getting silent on the other side of the phone, just “like you just overdosed and almost died. And you want more?” And I yeah, I did. ’cause what you’re talking about. That shame we felt right.
Here’s what happened. So, when I wake up, that’s the first thing that hits me in the morning, right? The shame of like now I’m using a needle to get through the day. I’m using a needle to make me not feel the shame and the guilt. And you know it got so bad Gail that like when I would take showers and stuff I would brush my teeth in the shower. I would shave in the shower; not like I have a lot to shave. But you know what I mean. ’cause I didn’t like the guy that I was seeing in the mirror, ’cause if I did all that shame would kick in and you know I was basically killing myself on the installment plan every time I took a drink and a drug and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I had no idea.
And then the arrest started happening. You know. First it was minor ’cause I wasn’t taking care of my stuff. You know, like driving on a suspended, no registration and then towards the end I finally get a felony, right? And I’m looking at three years in prison and dumb.
You know it’s just, I mean, we all go through it. All of us who are in recovery can try to use those stories now so that we don’t feel that guilt and that shame anymore, right? We learn the tools that we need, but when you’re in active addiction, it’s the shame that’s so powerful. Like I said, you don’t even want to see yourself in the mirror because you don’t like what you see. And that’s just one of the stories.
I can tell you we’d be here for the next few days if I told you every story that I went through and stuff that happened, but that was one of them..
Gail Right, right, and even while you were in prison, you fought getting clean.
Max: Oh, the last time I was in jail. Yeah, I remember I, you know, they were, snorting their psych meds and stuff. And you know, I didn’t want to be sober, so I remember doing that one time with a bunch of the guys right? Hey, you want it, so I didn’t even ask what it was. I just said sure, and I remember doing it and I don’t know if you Remember the original Poltergeist? You know when she goes to go after her daughter and that hallway stretches out like it does?
Gail: Oh, right.
Max: Well, that’s what happened to me. My bunk was probably two or three bunks away, and I just remember seeing my bunk go like all the way to the back of their room. And I just remember looking at the guys and I woke up the next morning, sprawled out on my bunk dripping in sweat. So I couldn’t claim any of my jail time as clean time because I didn’t stay clean., right? We found a way you know where there’s a will there’s a way they say.
Gail: So right, I often say when I was younger, You know the universe would tap me on the shoulder and say hey, and I would brush it off and then it would whisper in my ear. “Hello,” and I would ignore it and then it would hit me with the brick, and I would even pretend that didn’t happen. I would get literally hit with the brick wall before I would go, “Oh oh, you’ve been talking? Right, I shouldn’t do this. Oh, I hear you now, right?” It took me years to listen to that inner voice and actually not question and make whatever pivot or change I needed to make in order to go in that direction. So, what was your brick wall?
Max: My brick wall. You know, every time I went to jail, I would always say it was bad luck like I was in the wrong way, as they say the wrong time, right? Which was that trap? ’cause one of my mentors a couple of them actually used to have my sponsor have me write letters right? ’cause I’d always complained to him, “well, God love me so much, then why would he put me in jail?” and he goes, “ he didn’t put you in jail. You put yourself there.”
He goes, “Matter of fact, I want you to write letters. I want you to write what would have happened on the times you didn’t get caught.” Like, “find the most serious one, where you were doing some really stuff you weren’t supposed to be doing.” and he was right. Like every time I got in trouble, right?
We were on our way to do something really bad, and I would get in trouble, and I’d get put in jail and he goes, “ I think I was saving your life.” and I came to that point where I said you’re right, right? So it had changed my thinking.
You know there’s so many, I think I told you the story of my mom coming to jail the first time, this last time before I got sober in the first time.
She said, “I love you son, but you’re no longer welcome in my home if you come near my home and I’m home I’ll call the police and if my neighbors see you come, you know, then, uhm, they’re going to call the police.”
And then there was another wall that I hit where it was like, yeah, I got ya.
You know that one where God got my attention was? I was in jail, I’m doing my last stint in jail and my bunkmate, I was totally into self-pity telling him how much I loved my children right? And I was telling him about this picture I had of my three kids that was taken during Christmas, and a friend of mine that you know I would wander into his house when I needed a place to stay, would always watch that picture. It was framed right and I’d say, “Oh yeah, she’s babysitting the kids poor me. I love my kids so much.” and it was bad bad bad blah blah.
And all of a sudden it got silent.
And I’m going to be very open.
This is where he got silent like OK, what’s going on? And he says, “if you love your kids so much what the **** are you doing here?”
And I was like, whoa, right? I jumped down like this guy, just disrespecting me. We were about to fight. He got up, jumped up, stared me in the eye and something came over me, where it was like, that was the most respectful thing he could have ever done.
I’d go, “you’re right,” and he gave me a hug. I gave him a hug and the rest is history.
You know, I got out and here I AM. 17 years later. But that was one of those that was a big slap in the face from God for me, was, you know I’m telling this guy, I love my kids but yet I’m sitting in jail.
I’m not even with my kids. I hadn’t even seen my kids for nine years at that point because drugs and alcohol were much more important. Killing that pain, killing that shame and that was more important than me.
Asking for help and going, “You know what I gotta get back to being a dad again.” It took me 9 years to pull my head out as they say and figure that one out.
Gail: Right, and even then, how many years after the nine years before you were clean enough, shall we say, to see your children.
Max: So yeah, so here’s what happened, right? So instead of sending me to prison, this judge gave me a third chance, right? Which later I would find out he hardly gave second chances, especially if you didn’t do his program the way he wanted you to do it.
“You know you sent me to a place which was like sober living slash treatment and sentenced me there for a year” and he told me if I slipped up that I would go to prison for three years. And you know I ended up relapsing in that place, right? But here’s what happened.
So, when I first got there, there I was all about it, right? Like cool, I’m out of jail. I better do the best I can and so, start going to meetings right, which was a requirement of the program. I’m going to two meetings a day. You know, I’m sharing. I’m letting people know who I am, and you know, I hadn’t seen my kids in like 9 years right? So, when I got out of jail, I started writing my ex-wife.
It’s sending a letter every week, like “hey, I’m sober. I’m out of jail. I’d love to see the kids “right? Six months goes by no answer. So, I’m getting to the point of acceptance and going well, I can’t blame her right for all that I’ve done. I haven’t even been there. And I was at my first real job in sobriety. I had my first cell phone and I remember I went to the truck to get some tools and my phone rings. I answer it and it’s this lady and I didn’t recognize her. But it was my ex-wife. I go, “hello” and she goes, “is Max there?” and now. “Who’s this?” And she said, “Hey, this is Susan,” and I almost fainted. You know what I mean?
And I go, “yeah, this is this is him,” and she said, “you know, the kids want to see you. I got your letters. I had moved. So, I just got your letters like there was a bunch of letters.” So, they were living in El Cajon, you know, down in San Diego by San Diego at the time.
And I was six months sober at the time and I started seeing my kids every weekend actually with my brother, who I thought, you know I told you about every weekend you know, and I was seeing the kids going down to El Cajon taking them out for lunch, you know, and hanging out with them.
And then with about a week shy of 10 months sober, I hit my first relapse and then I disappear on them again. You know, so four relapses total.
Five months have gone by and I remember I got high in the house, you know, and it’s supposed to be drug free, and I’m on this side where it’s all parolees and I’m putting everybody in jeopardy. So, the house manager. I’ll never forget this day, it was September, actually 24th of 200. He came knocking on the door. He saw my face ’cause I had just got high; he knew, and I remember him saying, “Max in the office now,” and I was going to have to test right? And of course, he was going to have to report me to my PO and here’s how see. Here’s how you, the universe and God has worked in my life. I’m getting ready to walk out the door, right? I hear a knock. And it’s the director of the facility who never shows up on a weekend, let alone a Sunday, right ever. But I had become friends with her. I’d gone to meetings with her. She’s invited me to her house to have barbecues with her family. And, you know, I just got to know her, you know, she kind of took me under her wing and remember, opening the door and she’s like smiling. “Hey, Max. How you doing?” And before I could lie, I told her, you know I did it again.
Then, and I’ll never forget, you know, she gave me this big her bear hug and she said grab your bag get in your car and get out of here for three days, I’ll handle Steve, you get out of here. Come back and test clean it will start over and that was on September 24th, and I remember packing a bag and splitting came back tested clean and that was September 27th, you know, three days later.
But see in the meantime, I still hadn’t talked to those kids, right? And I hadn’t talked to my ex. I had blown them off again. And you know my sponsor had told me, “Don’t call her ’cause. I need to tell you how to do this. ’cause if you just call her out of the blue and tell her you know, I relapsed. She’s not gonna like it.”
But I was 30 days sober right five months ago and I gotta be honest, I gotta tell her the truth.
And I remember telling her that what happened that I had relapsed, and she just laid into it was like 5:00 o’clock in the evening. Everybody was home making dinner, right? So, the house was full and I could remember her just screaming, making up cuss words I’ve never heard before, you know, and then the thing I remember the most was like you’ll never see these kids again as long as I live and her slamming the phone down.
And for the next year I would just dive into the program. I would, uh, do what my sponsor told me. I was called her every week. Every time I got the same answer, right? My assignment was to call her to let her know I’m sober. I’m working and if she said anything I was supposed to go, “you’re right,” and hang up. I did that every week for 14 months and then.
It was two days before Thanksgiving. She had called me. I had finished working my steps and so I’m back in Orange County at my parents be here for Thanksgiving and the rest is history.
I’ve been in their lives for almost 18 years now. You know, I haven’t missed Thanksgiving. I haven’t missed a birthday. I haven’t missed a Christmas, you know, and they haven’t had to worry about where Dad is for the last almost 18 years. ’cause they know and if they call, you know, they call. And I don’t answer. They know I’m gonna call them right back.
It’s been definitely quite a ride, you know. Has this shame totally gone away? Absolutely not. I’m human right. Sometimes I get stuck on thinking about what I did in the past, and I have to pull myself out of it. But,I have to focus on the here and now and what I’m doing today and what I’ve done. So, it’s been a crazy ride.
Gail: Yeah, definitely a crazy ride. So, two things for our listeners. Let’s say that I suspect that someone I love or even just know, but care about is going down this path. What would you recommend that I do to kind of, Put a brick in their way?
Max: Wow. See that stuff, right? Like if they’re in the beginning stages, you know you confronting them and like having… here’s what I say is don’t be accusatory, have just to sit down and have a conversation with them and ask them like hey, what’s going on? You know, try to gather as much information and then you know in a loving way. Obviously, you want to say this is what I see, right?
How can I help you? Like how can we like stop this from getting worse right? ’cause if you’re an addict like I am like as soon as you point your finger at me and you tell me to stop I’m gonna go,”Yeah, watch this?” you know what I mean? “I’m going to go in the opposite direction,” and you know that’s just kind of how I’ve rolled. You know when I was in my active addiction.
The more you told me I couldn’t and I still do it even in recovery, but it all depends, right? If there’s something you tell me I can’t do, I’m gonna go, “OK go. Well now I’m gonna figure it out now I’m gonna show you I can’t write a positive word.”
Gail: Right, so Max you can’t succeed.
Max: Right, and I’m gonna say, “Gail, watch me.
Gail: Watch me right.
Max: And you know the resources we have together. So, I’m gonna go. You know, I might not know what to do but I’m gonna go find out so I can come back and go see. Get like that “I showed you I could do it,” but that’s how I would approach someone, right? Depending on the severity of how you know how deep are they into their addiction or their alcoholism?
Right on one of my first interventions, you know we had it all planned out. We were gonna have some family members come over. We’re going to do it. The typical intervention where I have the family write letters they give her, you know the gift if she didn’t take it, then she’s on her own. But, well, I happen to be coming home from work and my wife called and says well, that is scrapped. You need to come to the yard now and I’m like OK like are you OK? She’s like that it’s not me just come to the ER.
So, you know, so my first intervention was done at an ER, right and the doctor basically told her, like you drink you keep drinking, you’re not gonna make it out of this month.
And you know, I had that tough talk with her. It was funny ’cause it was my wife and my friend’s daughter, they’re like, “we’re going to go talk to the doctor.” My wife like winking at me like, can’t hit ’cause I’m kind of slow sometimes. Like, OK, I got it. So, I had that tough conversation with her, and I told her look, here’s your options. This is what your family is willing to do, and this is what they’re willing not to do. And I laid it out. You keep drinking, you’re not going to make it past this weekend you know.
But here’s the thing, I got you a bed. You know your family will support you blah blah blah, you know, went through the whole intervention and now she’s over a year sober and she’s a totally different person like this was a 30 year drinker.
You know every day and she did what I did. You know she drank to kill the shame she drank to kill the guilt she drank because she did not want to think about her past.
But now she’s doing well. She’s over a year sober and she took it. She took the gift and ran with it.
And, you know, and I have a second intervention. Same way, you know, his family. He’s not in a like a biker club like gang but he’s in a biker club, right? And even his brothers there. I brought them in on it and said like if you don’t do this you know you’re not going to have your brothers here. You’re not going to have your family. And now he’s coming up on six or seven months sober and, you know, it’s been great to watch the changes; and like people said, how do you get him sober? I said I don’t.
I guide them in their path to recovery, whatever that looks like you know, whatever. If they want to do the 12 steps. If they want to do a SMART Recovery. If they want to do the Buddhist 12 steps. Whatever I said I just I’m a guide, you know, and I’m their accountability partner. I make sure I kick him in the **** when they need it, but yeah, give him a hug when they need it, but I don’t get him sober. That’s between them and God, you know God and him or her get themselves over.
Gail: You know, and it was interesting about addiction. I want to talk a little bit about addiction because I’ll be quite honest, I have an allergy to alcohol. I can have a drink, the second drink I throw up If I didn’t, I probably would have become an alcoholic. OK, because I was around Alcoholics, and I hung around when I was a gang kid with the pushers.
They don’t use, right, so if it weren’t for my choice of who I hung around with right, I wouldn’t. I would have gone that route, right?
But my addictive behavior, I was a smoker, and I couldn’t quit, and I was a closet smoker. Because I didn’t want my family to know that I was smoking, I didn’t want my kids to know that I was smoking right? But I was packing away, you know, an easy pack a day sneaking it.
It was easy for me to quit. I couldn’t stay quit, but it was easy for me to quit. When I finally did you know over that hurdle, I didn’t do it alone.
I admitted that, I mean, I admitted that I had a problem. If I was sneaking cigarettes, right, and that I needed guidance on how to lick it. Did I follow their direction? No, they wanted, you know, to start with the Patch and then it’s like, no, that’s just more nicotine.
But I had a group to go to and to talk through what I was and I did. Oh dear, you know I did go cold Turkey. But I practiced.
And this is… here’s my triggers. What would I do instead? You know, with the triggers and you know did a whole bunch of other things, so addiction, you know we’re talking about the socially non accepted addiction here.
Drugs and alcohol socially not accepted, but there’s many more addictions.
Max Oh yeah, we know that exactly.
Gail: Many more addictions, right?
Addiction. It means that something else has control over you. If you need it right. I needed it in between. At work. I needed it in order to be on the top of my game. I needed it if the **** hit the fan, I needed to work through the **** hitting the fan right? So right?
So, you know, and yeah, there’s shame there was hiding it. Of course, it was shameful. Right, right, right, you know so.
Max: Absolutely right. Absolutely.
Gail: So yeah, it’s just a struggle. There are resources that you can go to. Don’t ever try and do any of this stuff alone because it’s tough. Yeah.
And you need someone like Max who’s going to kick your **** when you need your **** kicked and who’s going to give you a hug when you need a hug who’s going to listen to you and go. That’s ********
Max: Yeah, exactly right.
Gail: Right or write or listen to you and say, “That is remarkable. What a great day today,” and absolutely…
So thank you so much Max and this is Gail Kraft, The Empowering Process. And thank you for listening to our stories today.
Thank you for having me Gail.