Life Gives To The Giver With Joe Polish



“Life Gives to the Giver” is a conversation with Joe Polish, who created one of the most elite business networking groups in the world for industry transformers. His foundation, Genius Recovery, helps people with addiction recovery. His two groups, Genius Network and 100k, are the most sought after connection networks in the world that are tailored to building a better entrepreneur.

Joe’s mission around recovery is to help change the global conversation around addiction to be viewed with compassion instead of judgment. Check out the trailer for Joe’s award winning documentary at

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Life Gives To The Giver With Joe Polish

I am here with Joe Polish. The reason why I have him on my show is because I want to find out more about how he went from being a 100-pound crack cocaine addict to being one of the world’s leading connectors, owner, and founder of Genius Network and Genius Recovery. I also want to find out more about his sabbatical that he’s going to be taking. He’s taken a one-year-long sabbatical. What is he going to do to take care of himself during that sabbatical? What does recovery look like?

Joe Polish created one of the most elite business networking groups in the world for industry transformers. His foundation, Genius Recovery, helps people with addiction recovery. There are two groups, Genius Network and 100K. They are the most sought-after connection networks in the world that are tailored to people being a better entrepreneur. Joe’s mission around recovery is to help change the global conversation around addiction to be viewed with compassion instead of judgment. Check out the trailer for Joe’s award-winning documentary at

Joe, it’s so awesome to have you here. Welcome to the show.  

It’s good to be here, Tim. I love the name, I Love Being Sober.

Joe has the I Love Marketing podcast so I Love Being Sober came after Joe. He is a good friend of mine. Life Gives to the Giver is the name of his book.

Let’s talk about whatever you want. You can ask me anything. We can talk about sobriety, throes of addiction, craziness, entrepreneurship, whatever will be helpful. It’s about connection. The opposite of addiction is connection and I find that to be quite true and accurate.

Where are you from?

I was born in El Paso, Texas. In my entire childhood, we moved to different parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. My mother died when I was four years old while we were living in a small town called Kerrville, Texas. My father was very heartbroken and distraught. He never recovered from my mother’s death. We would go to a new town. He was a locksmith so he had to establish himself as a new business and clientele. When things started working a little bit, he would uproot and go somewhere else. He was always a guy that was running away from something. He died in 2002 and I was his primary caretaker in the last year of his life, along with help from my brother and a couple of other people. I was with my father quite a bit. We never had a great relationship. My father was a very disconnected guy but he did the best he could with a lot of challenges and pain.

I lived in Arizona, in Phoenix area. I lived here most of my adult life. The only time I moved away as an adult was when I was a drug addict right out of high school. I went to New Mexico and lived in a trailer with my father to get sober. I moved there in the first six months. I didn’t go to rehab. I just removed myself from the environment. I didn’t have access to the people until the drugs. That was very difficult. I had not dealt with the underlying trauma that causes addiction in the first place. That came later in life. My worst stage of being a drug addict was when I was in high school and right out of high school.

The opposite of addiction is connection. Click To Tweet

How did you start experimenting with drugs?

My brother was smoking pot. It’s weird because as I sit and think about it, my childhood is a blur. There’s so much of it that I don’t remember. The entire periods and years that I have no real memory of. I was introduced to pornography, smoking pot, doing drugs and snorting speed, then in high school, that’s were cocaine, crystal, and LSD. I never shot heroin or anything but I smoked it before. My drug of choice, it’s hard to say, but it was cocaine. It’s because of the dopamine hit that cocaine can give you. It started with pot though, I was getting high almost daily.

Back in those days, I went to Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona. I kept the bond in my locker. I don’t know if you can get away with that now. When I went back in that high school, they had metal detectors and all kinds of stuff that never existed when I went there. I graduated in 1986 but I didn’t graduate by walking with my class. I was watching the graduation ceremony from the backyard of a friend who had his backyard bordered the football field in high school. I was smoking cocaine with him out of glass pipes, watching my high school graduation during the night of it. I was getting high and I was in a dark place. I was an anti-authority rebellious guy, doing drugs, and dealing drugs to support my habit. It was a bad time. Looking back now, I’m lucky I’m alive.

I weighed 105 pounds, which was my worst state in terms of weight because I had not eaten for about a week other than Chicken McNuggets and horrible food. On average, I weighed about 120 pounds. When you’re a male and you’re 5’10”, in terms of height, you can imagine how skinny and scrawny that is. I looked like a skeleton. I’m going into all kinds of crazy stories that you can make movies off of it, but I’ll leave it up to you how you want to guide and direct it.

You were introduced to drugs or your brother was the reason why you started experimenting with drugs, why did you keep on going?

It made me feel different because reality sucked. I didn’t like and I didn’t feel good about my reality. I think that addiction is a solution to the pain. I never thought about it that way, but getting high, escaping reality when your reality is painful is like a rest stop from angst, anxiety, depression, and nervousness. I was a very shy, introverted, weak kid. I didn’t know how to make friends. I never felt comfortable meeting people. I desperately and badly wanted connection. I wanted to be liked and accepted. I felt rejected and that I didn’t fit in. Growing up, whenever we would establish relationships and friendships, they would get uprooted.

When my mother died, I was abandoned. It’s not her intention. From what I know of her, she was an incredibly amazing woman. She was a former nun and she left the convent because she had gotten ill, and a lot of bad things happened in the church. It’s the story I was told. I had all of these caretakers that abused me, lie to me, and betrayed me. I was thinking about this. My father was a locksmith and he had his little locksmith shop in Kerrville, Texas. We lived in this weird house that had aluminum around the whole building.

My father wanted his ashes buried next to my mother’s grave in Kerrville, Texas. I remember after he had died, I waited for a little over a year, then I took his ashes to Kerrville and personally placed them in the ground right above my mother’s grave. That was in his will and his wishes, so I abided by what he wanted. I remember driving by the place where we used to live. I didn’t quite know where to go but I found it. The building was still there. He had his locksmith shop in the front, then we had our house in the back. It was a weird place to live. I had this reputation as a kid that I would sit on the counter at his locksmith place. People would come in to get their keys made and I would smile, and people would give me money.

It was the weirdest thing because I hadn’t thought about that for years. I learned how to smile even though as a kid, I was in constant terror. I felt so much fear. All I can remember vividly as a child is that I was very scared. The only memories I have with my mother was when I was jumping up and down on a bed. Someone snagged me off the bed because my mother had ovarian cancer. That’s what I believe it was. I’m not 100% sure. It’s hard to read the death certificate. I’m trying to verify that years later. She died in 1972. Someone pulled me off the bed. My mother wanted me to be there but it was hurting her because they cut her from her neck down to the groin area. They open her up across and removed organs. It was terrible. I remember she had stitches and big cuts from the surgery. She was dying.

That was one memory. Another memory I have with her was the tubes up her nose in a hospital. I don’t know if that was the day she died or a few days before she died. I have no memory of that. I was just there with my brother who is four years older than me and my father. After my mother had died, I remember a blurry memory of my father outside of the hospital, leaning against a tree, and bawling his eyes out crying. He lost the love of his life and here he was with these two kids. I was smiling all the time because that’s the only way I learned how to cope with the pain. In my life, I’ve done a lot of that where I put on my game face.

ILBS 14 | Genius Recovery

Genius Recovery: Any form of escapism is a way to feel an artificial form of connection. Addiction is a solution to pain, but it is a solution that could kill you.


I would go out and try to act like everything is okay when it wasn’t, and it never felt okay. The introduction to drugs in any form of escapism was a way to feel an artificial form of connection. It’s like what Bill W said, the Founder of AA. He said that his alcoholics were trying to drink God out of a bottle. You’re trying to drink, snort, smoke, fuck, gamble or eat the pain away. You do something to deal with the pain. I had a lot of pain and when I was getting high, I thought it was entertaining and it was. You can party and have fun.

I’m not one of those people that will say all of it was miserable. Getting high at times felt exhilarating when feeling not okay in the world that doesn’t. However, there are these things called consequences and they can destroy you. I now believe that the worst day sober is better than the best day not sober because of where it can lead you to. It’s a complicated thing but I’m glad I went through it. What I do now with my focus on Genius Recovery, which is a passion project. It’s one of the most important things to me. It’s to help change the global conversation about how people view and treat addicts with compassion instead of judgment, find the best forms of treatment that have efficacy, and share those with the world. There are many ways to treat addiction. I do believe addiction is a solution. It’s a bad solution. It’s a solution that could kill you, hurts other people, and cause addicts to lead a double life. I was a very functional addict.

When did you realize that you had a problem with drugs?  

I was in deep denial. People were pointing out to me that, “You should not get high so much.” There are probably 100 times from close friends. I started to isolate the deeper I got. I remember in Psychology class, I got high to do a talk because I was afraid of public speaking. I got stoned because it helped ease the tension. I ended up giving a talk in Psychology class about the dangers of THC and marijuana. I remember I was in an acting class and we have a little skit where we’re not supposed to talk. It’s supposed to be a silent thing. I had a friend who we hung out and get high together. We go to parties and stuff. She was pretending to be a drug dealer and I was a drug buyer. I gave her a little vial filled with speed in front of the whole class.

I feel terrible that I did these sorts of things. Back in the ‘80s, cocaine and speed had just come onto the scene. The way people do and consume drugs and the way jokes are made about them, there are different stages of life where we respond to things differently. She had given me this little vial, I poured it out in front of this acting class. I had a rolled-up dollar bill, and I snorted speed. That’s a shit that I did in high school. The teacher came up after and I was like, “It was baking soda and some aspirin,” but it was speed. I have snorted it in front of the whole class as part of an acting skit. It was bold, stupid, dangerous, and it shows you where my life was. I was like, “What’s the point of all this?” I felt rejected. I didn’t feel accepted in school.

I was young and wanting to be anti-authority. I was a nice guy though. I wasn’t mean to people. I’ve always been a compassionate person. I wasn’t hurting people. I was just hurting myself and I was taking dangerous risks and stuff like that. I was abused as a kid. I was raped and molested as a kid and I was paid money not to say anything about it. That wired into my head that sex is not an intimate act of love and oneness. It’s something you do to get off. I never saw a model of a healthy relationship. My father never remarried. I never heard I love you until around the age of eighteen.

We moved all the time. Every time I would establish a relationship, it would be uprooted and we go somewhere else. I became very used to losing my relationships and abandonment. I remember going to a summer camp that my father sent me to in Texas. It was a Catholic boys camp and the camp counselors were more like young adults that take care of the kids. They were abusing us. They were making us do sexual stuff to each other. It was terrible and bad. That stuff embeds dark things into you. You feel like a piece of meat. You feel used and abused, and it was dark. The drugs helped those memories that will never go away. It would numb them for a bit. It became a way to do it.

Looking back though, I love this definition of intimacy. I had my first Twelve Steps program in 2003 at SAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous. He had introduced me to a guy who spends his life sponsoring sex addicts. I never met him in person. He was never a sponsor of mine but he said to me a definition of intimacy, which is a mutual exploration of a shared safe place. Abuse is anything that takes away the safe place, and addictions are what we do to make ourselves feel good when we don’t have a safe place. I never felt safe. When I’ve talked to a lot of addicts, you don’t feel safe in the world. You’re going to try to connect with something that either makes you feel safe, it gives a false sense of security, or you’re numbed out, you don’t even know the difference.

It makes sense why if you’re depressed, anxious, lonely, sad, and feeling enormous fear. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to feel those feelings. It’s how you go about scratching the itch. I was using ways to scratch the itch that worked temporarily, but they left me more wounded. You become physically and mentally addicted. You become spiritually distraught if you can feel any connection whatsoever, and then you’re coupled with people that were raised under either strict religion or were gaslighted using God as a way to manipulate them. It’s hard for them to find a spiritual connection.

My friend Don Woods who’s a doctor that helps people with trauma, the way he refers to it is if you understand the atmosphere and conditions of somebody’s life, it would make sense the way that they are. For anyone who’s reading this who are in active addiction, in recovery, an addict or who knows someone that’s an addict, in pain and depressed, look at their lives. My friend Gabor Maté has this great line. He says, “The question is not why the addiction, but why is the pain there.” If there’s enough pain there, you’re going to find coping mechanisms. You’re going to find addiction as a way to deal with the pain. To this day, when I see someone smoking, drinking, or any obsessive out-of-control behavior, instead of saying, “That person is making bad decisions, they are more of degenerate,” it’s like, “Where are they hurt? What pain are they trying to escape from?” That allows me to have more compassion for them and myself.

The worst day sober is better than the best day not sober. Click To Tweet

When you feel resentment, anger, rage, and betrayal, sometimes, you’re angry that you take it out on yourself. If it gets bad, then all of a sudden, your reactions start affecting other people. When people get to the point where they’re doing criminal behavior or they’re hurting other people physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, you’re usually dealing with people that have out-of-whack biochemistry. Dr. Daniel Amen who’s a brain doctor, he scanned my brain six different times. I was doing an interview with him on my podcast. He said, “If you saw the brains of serial killers, you would rethink the death penalty because these are not normal brains. These are sick brains. If you take a look at what trauma can do to somebody, it alters the way you think, the way you react to life, and the biochemistry.”

Addiction is a form of isolation. It’s a shame. Addiction feeds off of shame, guilt, anger, and resentment. You know all of this. You have been in recovery and what you do with sober living homes and whatnot. I had to learn all this stuff. That’s a challenge. Trying to think your way out of something that’s deeply embedded in a cellular level is a difficult thing. I applaud the heroic journey of people that go through recovery because not only is it incredibly difficult, but society still doesn’t accept and embrace addicts. The symptoms of addiction can hurt people. Addicts in their worst state lie, cheat, steal, cause trouble, and can commit crimes. They can be the most difficult people.

To help someone that you love that is suffering from addiction, not only is it suck for the addict but it sucks for the people around the addict. To go through that journey to find that hope and that healing, which is there. That’s where the magic of life is. Addicts that have come out on the other side and they’ve gone through Twelve Steps where they’ve gone through the journey of powerlessness and connection, they are some of the most incredible giving, caring, loving people because they’ve been through hell.

You’ll hear sometimes in Twelve Steps, “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people that have already been there.” I have a lot of friends that are in recovery that do Twelve Steps that are atheists. They don’t even believe in God. You don’t have to have a “strong” belief in religion. You can still connect with the source. You can still find ways to connect. I often say that because a lot of people like myself spent thousands of hours praying to God they can never feel and were betrayed in church. They had God and had religion used to manipulate them to make excuses for doing terrible things to people when they’re children. It’s very complicated. One of my favorite recovery sayings is, “We’re not going to open up the gates of heaven to let me in, but it opened up the gates of hell to let me out.”

One of the things that I hear people say at Twelve Steps meetings is, “I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic or drug addict.” I feel that way too. I’m grateful that I went through the journey that I went through because I wouldn’t be who I am now without all of the wreckage, journey, drinking, drugs, pain, selfishness, and self-centeredness. It was awful. However, I am who I am now because of everything I went through. To your point, alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery are some of the most amazing people. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back that you finally decide to get clean and sober?  

I was first clean and sober from drugs because then the real core addiction was my sexual addiction because of the abuse. It became one of my primary coping mechanisms. When I got sober from drugs, I was living in Mesa. I lived with a couple of roommates and one of them was a bad cocaine addict. He was a dealer. Almost everybody that’s a drug addict is dealing at some point. It may not be their primary occupation. It’s like this funny Chris Rock line from a skit years ago. He’s like, “A crackhead is with another crackhead. They are not married to someone that wakes up in a three-piece suit at 5:00 in the morning and goes to work. They’re hanging out with other crackheads.” I had a belief at that time that everyone got high. I got high to go to bed and I woke up to get high. My whole life revolved around doing drugs and inebriating myself.

This guy was an addict and he had got busted for possession. I came home one night and he was over the sink, smoking freebasing cocaine which is like pure cocaine. I said to this dude, “You need to go to bed.” I knew he had a trial in the morning for cocaine possession. I went to bed and I woke up in the morning and he’s in a three-piece suit smoking, still over the sink while his lawyer is waiting outside to drive him to court for charges of cocaine possession. I’ve thought about that situation a lot since I got going. That is not someone that has control over their life. A lot of people would be like, “What an idiot.” This has even nothing to do with intelligence. No one wants to do that. When people are like, “They want their life to be that way.” No, they don’t. There’s not a single addict that wants to be an addict.

There’s nothing useful about having no control over your life and having a drug or a behavior dominate your every waking moment. It’s terrible. This guy went to this court case. It was probably a week later or a few days later. I’m there at this apartment with a friend of mine watching TV and he comes in the apartment. As soon as he walks in, he’s got a can of lighter fluid and starts squirting the lighter fluid all over the living room, all over me and my friend. I have long hair back then. The lighter fluid is dripping off of my head. This guy got this giant can of lighter fluid. He’s screaming and he holds up a match. “I’m going to fucking touch this place.” I’m sitting there like I’m going to die. I’m like, “Put the lighter down.” He finally puts the lighter down. It was like some shit out of a movie.

At that moment, I was like, “If I don’t get out of this place, I’m going to die.” I packed up all my shit in this piece of a crap pickup truck that I had, the Chevy LUV, and I drove to New Mexico with my possessions, skinny and screwed up. I moved into a trailer that my father was living in and have no friends. I have no access to drugs and cut myself off from it completely in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I spent a few months getting sober. I ended up getting a job, delivering newspapers in the truck. I started going to New Mexico State University. I would never get a degree in anything but I was trying to do something. Along the way, I ended up getting a job selling gym memberships.

That’s when I first started working out because through high school, I was never in sports. Around that same time, I was getting molested as a kid. I had a sadistic little league coach that would force me to hold the baseball bat in a way that I could not hit the ball. It ended up ruining my liking for sports. I ended up quitting the team because I couldn’t play the game the way that this coach forced me to try to hold this baseball bat. I was the only one on the team that he was doing this to that I can remember. Back then I was a shy and scared kid. I didn’t grow up to be this opinionated adult that I am now. I would like to think that I’m a nice person but I have strong views on things. I don’t say stuff if I don’t feel that I can at least back it up and have some knowledge of itself.

ILBS 14 | Genius Recovery

Genius Recovery: Addiction feeds off of shame, guilt, anger, and resentment.


To fast forward, I moved to New Mexico, I got sober, and I ended up getting a job in a gym. That led me up to meeting someone at this gym that I was selling gym memberships at. I became very good at selling. I had never worked out. I started to exercise and lift weights. To try to do recovery without exercises or some physical engagement, a good gym or an exercise routine can be as valuable as an amazing therapist. In many cases, I would argue even better in some cases. You want to have both. It’s not one over the other. That became one of the forms of self-care and one of the ways because I believe the issues are in the tissues. Part of the trauma is in your body.

The exercise helped. I felt better physically. Before going to New Mexico a few months earlier, I would wake up every morning and blow my nose and blood would come out and sometimes small chunks of flesh. I remember riding my bike around the block when I was in my worst stages of addiction and I nearly passed out. That’s how damaged my body was from all the drugs that I was doing. When I started working at this gym and getting in better physical shape, it totally transformed me physically. I put on muscle, not a ton, I’ve always been a skinny guy but I transformed myself. I went from weighing about 120 pounds to about 150 pounds in a matter of a few months which is a huge difference when your body is out-of-whack.

You’d quit cold turkey then.

I had to take aspirin or Tylenol every day to deal with the headaches. It was cold turkey and I didn’t go to a rehab center. I ended up getting a job at a mental hospital because of someone I met at the gym. I would drive the addicts at this mental hospital to AA meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, NA meetings, Narcotics Anonymous, and CA meetings, Cocaine Anonymous. I would sit in on these Twelve Steps meetings as the driver who drove these patients to this meeting, never realizing how valuable that would be to me later in life. I never even voluntarily went to Twelve Steps groups. I went because it was part of my job but I would sit in there and listen to these stories. I realized I’m an addict and I’m sober.

That seems almost impossible to decide to pick up and drive to a different part of the country. You completely isolated yourself. I’ve seen this happen before. Geographic is a good temporary solution. You cut yourself off but then you’re working at a gym. What was the withdrawal like? How were you able to stay sober? You’re thinking about drinking, drugs, alcohol, and other things to stay sober. What did you do?  

I worked out and stayed busy working. I got a job. I hated life and I was depressed. It was miserable but being high all the time and messed up physically was also miserable. Here I was in the prime of my youth, I think I had sex one time in two years during that period of my life. That’s how messed up I got my body into that state of being. It was a form of sexual anorexia which is another form of addiction because all the addiction is binging or purging. It’s either excess or deprivation. On one level, I quit doing drugs but I was deprived of human touch.

That’s always been something that is part of my recovery. It’s excess or deprivation. There are a lot of similarities with process addictions, behavior addictions, with people that are over-eaters, food addict, bingers, purgers, anorexics. It’s the same thing. It’s a form of the inability to do anything in moderation. Addiction is doing something you want to do or that you don’t want to do, and not being able to stop that has negative consequences attached to it. I ended up coming back to Arizona. I was in better physical shape. The sexual addiction, which I didn’t even know what that meant or what that was, is an intimacy disorder.

It’s not fair to all people with sexual addictions to say sex addict because people immediately conjure up, “They want to sleep with everybody. They’re perverts.” There are a lot of sex addicts that aren’t able to have any form of healthy sex and are not able to be sexual at all that is very lonely and deprived. There are others that are exhibitionists or porn addicts. You name it. There’s a whole gamut of forms and behavior. That stem from every human has an arousal template. When they’re first introduced to sexuality, if it’s done in a dysfunctional way, they’re probably not going to have a healthy sex life. My introduction to sex and intimacy was toxic and abusive. One thing I’m thankful for is I never became an abuser. I just abused myself and it was hard. This sounds crazy. Anyone that’s not in that place yet won’t take this in the best of ways. It’s a gift if you can get out of it. If you can’t, it’s a nightmare.

When did you first realize that you had an intimacy disorder or sex addiction? The drugs are gone. You’re able to stay clean and sober, but now you’ve got this other thing that crops up, which I see a lot quite often. People are recovering from alcohol. They’ve got this other thing that crops up, and they don’t realize it. Tell me about that.

Years ago, I did an interview with my friend, Pat Carnes. He’s known to be the top sex addiction doctor in the world. He’s the first one that wrote books on it, Out of the Shadows, which was his first book. I did an interview with him, which everyone can watch on YouTube. Type in my name and Pat Carnes. We talked for about 1 hour and 45 minutes on sex addiction. The first time it occurred to me was the craving was always there. This is one of the hardest things even to this day to talk about. For years, I’d never publicly talked about sex addiction. I’m like, “What is anyone going to think about me in the business world?” In the small space that I’m in, I’m well-known. You can talk about being an alcoholic and drug addict but talk about being molested, sleeping with escorts, hookers, and that sort of shit. There’s a lot of shame attached to that.

Addiction is looking for love in all the wrong places. Click To Tweet

I didn’t know even how to think about it. I knew that I have a craving that is not normal here. There’s sex addiction and love addiction. You’ll see a lot of women in love addiction. I know many that are sex addicts but love sounds like a softer thing. It doesn’t sound aggressive or shameful sex. There’s a lot of shame attached to all forms of addiction. Sex addiction has a lot of judgment compared to other ones because you’re a sex addict. When you’re young, a lot of men and women, their hormones are out of balance. If you find a way to satiate an angst and it works, you start building these neuropathways that you keep going towards that behavior.

I quit doing cocaine but I got drunk with a friend and he wanted to pick up prostitutes. I have never done that before. I never would do it sober. I’m drunk and he’s like, “Let’s drive.” I get into this guy’s car, we drive, we go to an area of town, and we picked up a prostitute. It was the weirdest thing. It was tons of shame, fear and stuff but it was exhilarating. At the same time, it was dangerous and then I did it again. It was always when there was alcohol involved, then it was driving in this area and having this insane craving to do this. I had this insane pain in my body. After being sexual with this woman, it went away.

I had a great interview with Gabor Maté. I consider him one of the top addiction minds in the world. He’s a friend and he talks about a heroin addict. When they’re talking about their first shot of heroin into their veins, it felt like a warm, soft blanket engulfing them. That’s what the seductiveness of addiction is. You can have those moments where it makes the world feel okay. It makes you feel safe and good. The crazy thing is you can get those feelings in the middle of the most dangerous places with the worst of people that you can be hanging out with where it’s illegal and you can die. That feeling of you will risk your life, safety, and health to not feel that angst, and it’s the craving brain. That’s when I knew like, “There’s something not right here.”

I don’t want to take this whole time going through all the horror stories of it but that lasted on and off for many years. Once I made money and I became a millionaire, I was a functional addict. I created a business that helped other people and it truly helped other people. Here I was, going on stage and doing seminars. I do these events and it would change people’s lives. People would come up to the mic. I didn’t do self-help personal development stuff. I was teaching people marketing. I taught them how to run and grow their businesses, and then I leave these events with a massive adrenaline rush, I’d go back to a hotel room alone, and I’d want to hire an escort. It felt good. What I didn’t realize is I was trying to connect.

It wasn’t like I’m trying to use women. Every woman that I can think of, I was cordial and nice, no matter what the situation was. Maybe there is some woman that would be like, “You’re a total asshole.” I’m certain there have been times in relationships that I’ve been a jerk and I’ve been an asshole. I’m not trying to pretend I’m some angel here. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I wanted to connect and it didn’t feel safe because I didn’t have a relationship. I was a trusted servant at a Twelve Steps meeting. I was doing very active in the Twelve Steps. I was doing well in my recovery. I had a new child with a girlfriend that I was going to leave, but I found out she was pregnant so I stayed with her.

This was in my late twenties when I was with her. I ended up staying with her because she had gotten pregnant. The baby was born and I love this child twenty times more than any woman I’d ever been with before since. She wanted to move out of state. I joined a Father’s Rights group and pursuing sole custody to try to keep her from leaving the state because I wanted us to raise a child together. I found out five days before the child’s first birthday while pursuing sole custody that I was not the biological father. It was the most painful thing I’ve experienced up to that point in my life. I didn’t know what to do and who to trust.

I tried to adopt the child. I offered her a lot of money to let me adopt the child because I didn’t even care about that anymore. I wanted to raise this child that I loved and I didn’t have the mental abilities. I didn’t know what to do. Here I was running a successful company but my personal life became a Jerry Springer Show. I went off the deep end. I lived a double life. I continue to run my company. I had a relationship that was a massive form of betrayal. In the middle of doing a good recovery program, I had this massive life event in betrayal and it caused me to act out and relapse. That took about fifteen years of my life, on and off. I’d get sober for six months or a year and relapsed. I was sober with sex, not with drugs.

It’s like drugs and alcohol, you’re seeking fulfillment. You’re empty. The human connection in your life is lacking. When you pick up an escort, you were feeling the human connection even for a brief period of time.

I have this little sign on my wall that says, “Addiction is looking for love in all the wrong places.” That’s what all addicts are trying to do. They’re trying to find love, they’re just finding it in the wrong places. You’re not going to find true love on a porn site, at the bottom of the paddle, or smoking a cigarette. You may feel like it. You’re gambling in Las Vegas, and you’ve got the adrenaline that feels like woo. What humans want is more woo and less ahh.

If you feel like sleeping with a hooker, snorting cocaine, drinking alcohol, eating a hot fudge sundae, all of those things are going to give you some pleasure. You’re pleasure-seeking and you’re trying to reduce pain. Here’s the weirdest thing, Tim. In some addicts, in the same way that a recovering person can walk into a Twelve Steps group and they don’t have rapport or respect from anyone in their family because in many cases, they burned all their bridges. They can walk into a meeting and they can find acceptance because they’ve been in the trenches. It’s the same way with how prisoners of war during Vietnam would sometimes go to therapists and they wouldn’t get better. You stick them in a group with other veterans that had been in the trenches and been in war, they have an instant rapport because they’ve been in the same circumstances.

ILBS 14 | Genius Recovery

Genius Recovery: There’s a lot of shame attached to all forms of addiction, but sex addiction has a lot more compared to other ones.


Addicts can bond in the same way but we also find people whose dense match our depth. How the drug addicts find each other. They’re on this frequency. They are magnetically attracting themselves to other people like that. If you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, you’re either massively co-dependent which is attached to all forms of addiction or you’re in a place where your level of consciousness is meeting someone with another level of consciousness. My goal is to hopefully keep increasing my level of consciousness. Years from now, if I was to look back at this conversation, I hope I’ve evolved quite a bit. I’m not thinking a lot of the same stupid things that I think now. I’m much better now than I was years ago.

You talk about drinking, drug use, hot fudge sundae, and excessively looking at Facebook. They’re all the alcoholic behaviors. I was talking with Tommy Rosen and it’s not just about drinking and doing drugs. There’s way more to it. I’ve gone to lots of AA meetings and I know lots of people in recovery that they have all these other behaviors. It’s a setup for disaster and relapse. It’s doing the work. For you, what did it mean to do the work? How were you able to get to a place where you felt good without having to seek fulfillment in alcoholic ways?

I’ve spent probably $500,000 in my recovery. Here’s what worked and here’s what didn’t work. It’s not that it works or doesn’t work, it’s the person doing the work. Everyone is going to experience life in a different way. To get sober and stay sober requires four different things. Tommy Rosen who’s a dear friend has been very helpful in the formulation of this thinking. My first interview I did with Tommy was years ago. I wrote a book with Anna David and Hal Elrod called The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery. I’ve been writing about it. There are four areas. There’s community. I don’t know a single addict that’s a true addict that recovers in isolation.

You have to find other people. The most successful way to do that is Twelve Steps. I’ve done a lot of Twelve Steps. Could I’ve got sober without Twelve Steps? Absolutely not. It was incredibly beneficial. What didn’t work is when I was attending the meetings. What works is getting a sponsor doing the steps. Twelve Steps is not about attendance. It’s about steps. You attend to learn about the step but you’re ultimately doing the twelve steps. That’s the magic of it. You don’t go to Twelve Steps because of where you’ve met. Everyone that’s an addict has been through shit. There’s shame, guilt, and all sorts of crap. It’s just different levels and how you interpret it. You go to Twelve Steps because of where you want to go. Recovery is not about where you’ve been, it’s about where you want to go.

The second is it’s biochemical. It’s food, nutrition, serotonin, dopamine, it’s eating well. If you have a damaged gut, 70% of serotonin is made in the stomach. If you have digestive issues and you’re eating foods that aren’t good for you that’s causing inflammation, you’re not going to feel good. The number one killer in America or the world from a substance is sugar first, tobacco second, alcohol third, and opiates fourth.

There are a lot of consumables that we consume that are very damaging. Look at how many caffeine addicts there are. Me acting out sexually in someone’s thing is I’m going to watch porn, I’m going to sleep with an escort, I’m going to gamble my kids’ college fund away, I’m going to gorge myself with food. I’m going to eat, purge and cause myself to throw up, I’m going to be a cutter, or I’m going to shoot heroin or snort cocaine. Take morality out of it, the same driver is the same thing.

If you’re looking at your phone, you can’t put your phone away at night, and you’re addicted to Facebook, you’re an addict if you can’t stop. There are different depths. Some people are completely out of control, some are functional addicts, and some don’t even know it. It’s very sneaky. There are different layers of it. A lot of that has to do with the trauma and the biochemistry. That’s why you’ll see a lot of people will get sober from drugs and alcohol. They’ll go to AA meetings and guzzle coffee, eat donuts, and drink sodas. They’ve still got these obsessive behaviors. I would argue I’d rather see someone eat a donut than shoot heroin. Nonetheless, they’re still in that pain state.

Being in recovery versus being recovered, different people have different views on it. It’s when the pain stops. It’s when the white-knuckling subsides. That feels better. I never thought the white-knuckling would ever stop. Workaholism is a sneaky one. I have workaholic challenges. I’m taking a one-year sabbatical so I can immerse myself in recovery, music, art, and more health stuff because I want to have my form of identity debt. How much of my life is built around this persona that I’ve created in my business world? I want to be able to look at that thing.

I do want to talk about your sabbatical.

The biggest thing is the trauma work. That’s where the issues are in the tissues. That’s where the yoga, breathing and meditation. You know the book Breath by James Nestor. It’s an incredible book. I’d recommend it to everybody. He becomes a friend of mine. The proper use of plant medicines. This is where it gets tricky when you’re dealing with people that are drug addicts and they’ve gotten high, and they consume chemicals. There are a lot of people that go to Burning Man and go to different places. They call it their spiritual journeys, getting high in a camper when they’re just like, “Let’s get high in a conscious state.”

Recovery is not about where you've been. It's about where you want to go. Click To Tweet

We can do a whole episode on that and I’ve had conversations with Dr. Andrew Weil and the different people I know. There are organizations like that have some of the best information on plant medicines and psychedelics that are out there. There are smart people like Gabor Maté. Ayahuasca and ibogaine are effective for opiate addictions with the right set and setting which is an old Timothy Leary line where, “It’s the mindset you’re in, your intentions in the setting.” There are a lot of incredible people that are working with these new ways to treat trauma. I believe addiction is a response to trauma. I used to believe it was a brain disease. I don’t believe that. EMDR and books like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk or Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine, Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.  

Tommy Rosen has a lot of great stuff. I know you’ve interviewed people that are real experts on trauma. The fourth is the environment. Based on the studies by Bruce Alexander with Rat Park, if you put a rat in a cage and all they have is drugs, they’re going to take drugs over food, over sex, over sleep until they die. You put them in a more conducive like rat paradise and give them the choice of drug water and regular water. They won’t do the drug water. The ones that do are the ones that are severely traumatized. If you’re in a new environment that’s triggering, you’re going to have to. You look at those four areas which are community, biochemical, trauma work, and environment.

As an addict, you want to deal with all four of those areas. That will give you the highest possibility with recovery. That’s what I’ve done. It wasn’t until I started incorporating all of those things where I finally had long periods of time. At the time that we’re doing this interview, it’s been a little over four years since I did any bottom line, what I would consider acting out behavior sexually and/or otherwise. I’ve been at this for many years. If I could have gone back, I would have taken Twelve Steps more seriously. I wouldn’t have tried to buy my way to the best experts in the world because I had money. I thought, “If I just hire the right therapist.” It was my weird way of avoiding doing the work. Go to a Twelve Step meeting and do the steps. I have found the smarter the addict is, sometimes the more difficult it is for them to get recovery because they think they can intellectualize their way out of it.

It’s like, “My best thinking got me where I am now.” That’s the old saying. It’s the people that are not willing to take suggestions. That’s the thing. Twelve Steps were written a long time ago where people take suggestions and listen to what other people have to say. It’s like, “My best thinking got me where I am, so let me listen to somebody else even if I don’t agree with it.” It’s not going to kill me, regardless. It’s like, “Let me give this a shot.”  

One of the best ways to do recovery is based on Life Gives to the Giver. It’s when you start helping other people, you give up yourself, and you become a contributor. When I started helping other addicts at a much deeper level, my recovery got better. When I set up my foundation and I started putting energy and resources, trying to help reduce human suffering and expose people to great minds and methodologies, it all gets better. I started feeling such a much deeper connection. If you’re disconnected from yourself, you’re not going to be able to connect with other people. The more connected you are with yourself, the better you’re going to be connected. Going to my sabbatical, I want to have as much deep of a connection I can make with earth and my life, and what matters.

2019 was a real pain in the ass for me. It was difficult. I got Valley Fever, which people may not know what that is but it’s something that people in Arizona, New Mexico, and California get, mostly in Arizona. I never got it before but I got it. I had a breakup of a relationship that was painful. My best friend, Sean Stephenson, died when I was with him in the hospital because he had an accident. I had a big business betrayal. Thank God for recovery though because through one of the worst years in my entire adult life, I still managed to stay sober. I immersed myself in work which you can argue well that it’s a fine line.

I feel love and I feel proud of myself for sticking with it. If there’s any message I want to convey, no matter where you’re at, if you’re falling down and you may feel hopeless, there are people that believe in you more than you believe in yourself. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if we didn’t want some pain, lonely, scared, desperate voice to hear it that feels like giving up and they’re never going to be able to make it. I cannot tell you how many times I thought to myself, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?” One thing that I will say is that I never gave up though.

I kept showing up even when I didn’t want to. There were periods of time where I didn’t show up for a few weeks or a few months. I’d go to meetings and I’d quit. I quit calling people and I wouldn’t use the tools. The sun is always there during daylight. The moon is always there during nighttime when the moon is out. It’s the clouds that’s get in the way. Whenever you feel like, “Where’s the sunlight?” It’s there. Sometimes, it’s stormy and there are clouds and it will pass. That’s why it says, “This too shall pass,” in the same way that a storm will pass. If you’re having a storm or having a shit show with this pandemic and the loss of whatever, it will pass. Don’t destroy yourself in the process.

How did you decide to take the sabbatical?

I had a friend who was worth about $300 million that I’ve known for many years that originally gave me the term that I used in the business part of my world, which is Easy, Lucrative and Fun. I teach people how to develop an ELF business. 2019 was not very ELF for me. It’s the other acronym which is hard, annoying, lame, and frustrating. I had this friend who had given me the term ELF many years ago and his son, who was a musician, ended up reaching out to me. I had talked to this guy. We were talking every other week. His son reached out to me on Instagram, of all things, and asked if I was on WhatsApp and if he could call me. I’m going to get rid of my social media during my sabbatical. If people try to find me, I don’t know if I’ll be there.

ILBS 14 | Genius Recovery

Genius Recovery: The goal is not happiness; it’s to be connected.


He let me know that his father who’s 59 years old, they found him in bed that morning dead. This guy was worth about $300 million, smart guy, cool guy, talented, and skilled. It wasn’t an addiction, it was a health thing. Something popped into my mind saying there are many people in pain, angst, and depressed. You’ll get different stats but depression has increased by four times since the pandemic, anxiety disorders have tripled. Depending on the stat you get, addiction has increased 40% to 60% or in some cases, I’ve heard some stats of 500%.

Suicide rates have increased by 600%. It’s crazy.

Depending on what studies you look at, they are ten times increased in alcohol consumption. During painful times of humanity, people’s addiction goes through the roof. I want to take the time to think, ponder, and remove myself from so much of the opportunities because I’m at a stage in my life where I have opportunity poisoning. I have more opportunities thrown at me than I could ever do in a thousand years that are thrown at me on a monthly basis. Entrepreneurs that are too tightly scheduled cannot transform themselves.

I have something on the wall in my office that says, “Be willing to destroy anything in your life that’s not excellent.” I want to change my phone number. I’m only going to talk to a handful of people and I’m going to think. I’m going to think about what the game is. In some games in life, the only way you win is if you don’t play. I want to play a game that I enjoy playing and I’m winning. Most of my clients are rich. They’re millionaires. They run multimillion-dollar businesses. A lot of them, with all the money and all the resources are still in pain.

My clients do better than most people. I run one of the most narcissistic groups of givers that are successful entrepreneurs that I know. It’s an incredible group of people so much so that I’m going to trust my clients to run my company for me. My members are going to run my group. My other friend, Dave Kekich, and he’s paralyzed from the chest down, has been in a wheelchair half his life. He says, “Things are seldom as great as they seem when they’re going well or seldom as bleak as they seem when they’re going wrong. Lighten up and you’ll live longer.”

I want to get rid of any parts of my ego that don’t serve me well. Not that I’m going to be able to fully do that because I’m human. I’m dysfunctional, weird, eccentric and all that shit. What I want to do is have an ego death and I want to come up with new perspectives. I will never do that in the way that I want to unless I completely shift my activities and the responsibilities that I have. I want to figure out how I can make a far greater impact on addiction recovery. Fortunately, unless I lose my money, I don’t need to work for money. I’ve built a relatively successful company. If I had all the money in the world, I would put it into addiction recovery. I want to figure out how I can do the most.

I think addiction is the greatest global problem in the world even the pandemic or pain. I could make a case of how that is a culture that is addicted to the adrenaline of fighting and raging. If someone wants a better perspective on that, read the book called War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. That’ll explain how some of what we’re witnessing with all the political bullshit in all of the fighting that’s happening in the world right now is a response to a heightened state of fear and angst. It’s addictive.

How are you going to take care of yourself for the next year?  

I’m not going to plan the sabbatical until I take it which does two things. One, it gives me a lot of time to not have to think about exactly what I’m going to do. It’s an easy way to avoid when someone asks me what I’m going to do during the sabbatical. I don’t have to tell him anything. I’m going to do a lot of art. I’ll go back and start throwing pottery because when I was in high school, the only thing that allowed my brain to escape, without doing drugs, was throwing pots on a pottery wheel. There was something about it that allowed me to feel connected. I’ll immerse myself in music. I may learn how to play an instrument. It’s a couple of that I’m thinking about but I’ll decide on that.

I’ll do my Twelve Steps again. I’m going to go through another round of doing step work which would be very helpful. I’ll do a lot of addiction-related recovery stuff and I’ll try different things that I’ve not yet done for trauma. I’m going to learn more about that. I’m going to do physical activities and immerse myself in exercise. I do a lot of yoga. I have a friend who I do a lot of yoga with. I may have her take me through 200 hours of teacher training and not that I’ll ever teach yoga. If I don’t do the teacher training, I’m still going to do a boatload of yoga with her. As far as travel, it depends on the ability to travel. With travel bans and everything, I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to travel.

Seek help. There are people who believe in you more than you believe in yourself. Click To Tweet

A video I watched about breathing, the speaker was great. He said at the very end, “Some doors, the only way you can open them is from the inside.” There’s not a lot of external stuff that I need to do. It’s more internal stuff. I want to open up doors. I want to eliminate a lot of possessions. I want to be more of a minimalist. I want to look at the relationships in my life and see who matters. What’s the difference between important and most important, and the people that are most important?

My friend, Ken Glickman said, “If you’re on the Titanic, you have only three life jackets, and you have 100 of your friends that are in the water. If they don’t get a life jacket within 60 seconds, they’ll freeze to death, they’ll drown. You’ll immediately learn the difference between important and most important.” Hopefully, I’ll never be put in that situation because that would seem horrendous. However, I’m going to try to force that upon myself to say, “Out of all the shit that I could do and all the people in my life who cares about me, who do I care about?”

I care about a lot of people. I have a hard time saying no and I want to build my spidey senses to attract the best people and to be the best person that I can. I have a lot of growth I need to do in myself. I’m happy with myself. The goal is not happiness. The goal is connected. I want to look a lot at death. How do you come to grips with death? Look at how many people are terrified of extinction and live their lives in ways that they’re dying every day. In a lot of ways, addiction and death are very similar. You’re killing yourself versus life taking its course if that makes sense. I don’t know if it does.

One of your favorite view is to connect people. You’re a connector. How is that going to be? Are you still going to connect people? Are you going to be in Phoenix or are you going to pull a Dave Chappelle and go to Africa or somewhere else?  

I don’t know yet. When it starts, I’m going to have deeper connections and less shallow connections. I’m going to write a lot. When I say write, I mean handwriting on paper with a pen. I’ll type some things up on a computer and whatnot but it’s mostly going to be writing. It’s easy to look at screens and have your whole reality altered because marketing now is around algorithms. I need to have long periods of pondering without obligations. I want obligation elimination. I want to have fewer but better relationships. On my phone, I have over 6,000 contacts of people that I know personally.

There’s this thing called the Dunbar Law where you can only have 150 relationships at a certain level. There’s probably some validity to that. I am the exception because I manage hundreds of relationships and connect people. I have a connection network. That’s what Genius Network is. I have people that will continue to connect the people that I have put together. I started the process, I’ve been a catalyst for that. Some things will fall apart, of course. There’s going to be mess. My staff at times want to reach out and want Joe to fix it. We have to figure out the parameters on that because a lot of it, I’m going to let shit fall apart, and they’ll have to figure it out on their own.

That’s how you know if your team has it together. If they don’t, how do they handle upsets if you’re not there? If you never give them a chance to do that, how do you know how well they can do? I think everyone is going to step up and I’m going to have to step back. In the stepping back, I will go deep versus shallow because we live in a world of shallow. Think about likes and followers. People you don’t even know are calling them friends on Facebook and you’ve never even had a conversation with them. It’s not a friend. That’s an artificial friend, that’s a manufactured, technological thing to make you have the illusion that you’re somehow connected. We’re more connected electronically than we’ve ever been in human history, but we’re more disconnected as humans. I want to dance. I want to do tribal shit like crazy stuff that even as I say that I’m like, “Let’s see if Joe does that.”

You’ve got to go about a ten-day silent meditation, that Vipassana way.  

I’ve had probably 100 people tell me that. I have friends that run it in Hawaii. They’ve been inviting me for years to come to Hawaii and stay there. The beauty is I’ll be able to do whatever I want.

We’re sitting here, what needs to have happened for you to feel satisfied with your sabbatical?  

ILBS 14 | Genius Recovery

Life Gives to the Giver: Musings on Wellness, Success, Marketing and Being an Entrepreneur

I don’t know if any of these will happen and I can only say this for interview purposes, for entertainment purposes because the things that I’m going to get out of this, I’m leaving myself open to all the things. No matter how much goal setting or what I think I want, I want it to happen to me, not to me try to say, “This is what I have to have happened.” What I hope in my current state of consciousness, which I hope in 2022 of January, I’m in a completely different frame of reference and have a different worldview. I have a great partner in my life that is an intimate, loving, and caring relationship that I’m aligned with. Better physical health and feeling much better physically. I learned through James Nestor that I never breathed effectively in my entire adult life.

I want to be more effective at breathing. I’ve got a deviated septum and I want to retrain my body without surgery as much as possible to eliminate inflammation within sinuses and stuff. I want to be able to sleep. I’m not a terrible sleeper, but I’m not a good sleeper. I want to be able to have a good night rest. I want to have a lot of an abundance of energy. I have a book that will be finished before I go on sabbatical. It’s the goal and when I come out, I want my book to go out into the world, put it out to the wild and I’ve already written three books, but I want this particular one to be incredibly beneficial. I want to come back to a whole new business model, and a team that feels empowered and has stepped up.

My team that has been running my company has evolved. My clients are still getting tremendous value out of Genius Network and they’re better. Those are some of the things. Having said all of that, I’m trying to go into it without any expectations because I might have to crawl up like a little baby crying and deal with traumas that I didn’t even address yet. It’s the Joseph Campbell thing, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” I’m going to have to go into some places that are scary as fuck that I’ve never done before and I’m going to do my best to walk through it.

You’re not going to have anything to keep you occupied. Work, people, and all of the things that are thrown at you constantly every single day, that’s not going to be there.  

Recovery work builds you for this shit, doesn’t it? Learning powerlessness is a good setup. If I can get sober from addiction and have periods where I’ve gone through some of the stuff I’ve gone through, I think I can make it through a sabbatical. I may go to bad places where they need volunteers and they need people to help. When I say, “Do no work,” it’s not like I won’t help other people. I’m just not going to do business activities that are trying to make me money and stuff. I’ll think about it, of course. It’s a silly notion. We’ve been talking about genius waffles. I’m going to figure out how to create the healthiest waffle. It’s for shits and giggles because it’s going to be ridiculous and funny.

Thank you for being here. Is there anything else that you want to share with anybody about getting sober, any suggestions, or how people can find you?

Go to and get Life Gives to the Giver. We have two different covers of it. You can get that book for free. I talk about my philosophies on life, recovery and business. People tend to love that book. If anyone is struggling with addiction, I Love Being Sober, The Miracle Morning For Addiction Recovery. I did it with Hal Elrod and Anna David. You can go to I’d love for people to read and share the letter that I wrote if it resonates with them. You click on the Open letter. I wrote a letter about my views on addiction and people tend to resonate with that letter. There are all kinds of free resources there that help people with addiction recovery.

I wish everyone the best. No matter where you’re at with recovery, there will be days that are very difficult and hell and you feel like giving up, don’t. Reach out the tools of recovery. The sun is always there. If I had $1 for every time I felt like giving up, I’d be very wealthy without ever running a company. Whenever you feel like your life sucks, help somebody who is in pain and you will immediately feel better. Go volunteer to an animal shelter, burn unit, recovery clinic, or a homeless shelter. Show up to meetings and be diligent. It will come. The gifts of recovery are there. You just have to stick with it.

Thanks again.

Important Links:

About Joe Polish

ILBS 14 | Genius Recovery


Sazha Ramos And Rogan O’Donnell: How Recovery Houses Are Hit By The Pandemic

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses


Without a doubt, recovery houses have been helping a lot of addicts go through a successful metamorphosis to become sober once more, allowing them to serve society once more. However, in this time of COVID-19, such communities are put to a serious test. Tim Westbrook analyzes the problem currently faced by recovery houses with Sazha Ramos, Founder of Recovery Organization Resources, together with Rogan O’Donnell. They talk about how some people use the fear of pandemic to leave recovery houses, only to become worse and relapse. The three aim to address this through proper self-care, staying healthy, and keeping a critical mind when consuming information from the media.

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Sazha Ramos And Rogan O’Donnell: How Recovery Houses Are Hit By The Pandemic

There are a lot of places to get information and in order to do that, it takes time to figure out what you want to do, how you want to take care of yourself. In order to do that, we need to take responsibility for our own wellness, is what I’m saying. Maybe watching the news, isn’t the best idea for you, but figure out what works for you? I know for me, I’m usually at 6 or 7 hours sleep. I’ve been sleeping like 8 to 10 now because that’s how I deal with stress.

The question of the day is COVID 19 and recovery housing. What’s better? What’s safer? Is it safer to go to sober living or is it safer to stay home? Is it safer to get sober, to get clean, to get the support of the community, the accountability and everything you need to help you stay clean and sober, to help you get on that path to recovery? Is that a better route or is it better to continue drinking and using? We’ve had this happen since March 2020. This pandemic has gone on for such a long time. Now, I’m here with Sazha Ramos and Rogan O’Donnell. They’re both huge advocates for recovery housing. I own Camelback Recovery and we’ve had COVID outbreaks at our homes. Rogan has had COVID outbreaks in his home. Rogan, yours was at the beginning of the pandemic. We’re going to talk about that. Rogan and Sazha, welcome to the show. I’m glad to have you.

Thanks, Tim, for having us. We’ve been following your work for a little bit now and you’ve had some amazing people on the show. It’s an honor to be a guest and to work with you on the C4 panels. We know you’re doing the deal out in Arizona and we love Camelback Recovery.

Sazha is a navy veteran in recovery and Founder of the Recovery Organization Resources. She brings a unique perspective to recovery housing after living in one, operating two and now working nationally as an advocate for recovery houses. In 2021, she will complete her Master’s in Social Work at Rutgers University and continue to bring new thought leadership into the recovery housing space. Rogan, it’s good to see you as well.

It’s nice to see you too, Tim. Thank you.

Before we get started, let’s talk about Sazha. Why are you an advocate for recovery housing and passionate about it?

When I grew up, I didn’t think I was going to become the recovery housing girl, but it found me and you accept your destiny as you do in recovery. A lot of it is because I love the sense of home and community. I got sober in Prescott, Arizona. I went through TreeHouse Learning Community, which is a Collegiate Recovery Community. It was co-ed. It was apartment style. I wasn’t in an apartment with any men, but they did live next door to me. After being in treatment for four months with women, I liked the change. I was young enough, where I wanted to be around young people. When you’re in recovery, as I’m sure you all know, it’s like, “I found people that are doing what I’m doing and I can have fun.” I was 25 years old and I enjoyed it. I liked it.

We can look at all the yucky stuff in life, and there's plenty of it, but all it takes a little spin to become positive. Click To Tweet

It was different from me being in the military and living in barracks. I was following the rules there. I know how to follow the rules. I was in the military. Going into recovery, it’s the opposite polarity of that. I have always been an entrepreneur. My family comes from the nursing business. They’ve owned a home health care, going into elderly people’s homes. I’ve been around home healthcare for a long time. I’ve had that background. I lived in one for ten months and then I worked for one in Arizona. Later on, I decided to open one in Louisiana. That was truly a calling, which was cool because I know Rogan’s was a calling as well.

It’s that thing around like creating a home, family, community and connection. Now working at the national level, it’s been interesting to see how each state is different. I know we’ll dive into why we talk about the Wild Wild West as recovery housing, but I believe that recovery houses are even more important than treatment because that’s where you’re integrating back into society. Detox and 30-day treatment are important to remove the shock factor, but in order for you to live your life, integrating back into the community at a recovery house is important.

How long ago were you at TreeHouse?

I was at TreeHouse in 2014.

Was Molly McGinn there?

Yes. I owe so much to that community. They have helped me so much. They continue to help me. I’m still connected with them. Molly keeps trying to get me to come, where we take all the students for spring break or winter break. It’s nice to be around like-minded people. We were all in college. We all were working on the recovery program. We’re young and wanted to be alive. It’s going from not wanting to be alive to learning how to be alive.

How long were you at TreeHouse?

I was at TreeHouse for ten months, which is two semesters.

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses

Recovery Houses: If you stay sober for a year, you have a higher probability of staying sober for five years. And if you stay sober for five years, you have a higher probability of staying sober for the rest of your life.


Do you think you stayed long enough?

Yes, because I moved maybe less than five minutes away. I could go down the street and see them. The Collegiate Recovery House was like a revolving door of people. Even if you didn’t live in the community, they hired me to work for the community where I did overnights. I was still friends with the people there. Either I tried to stay longer or they kicked me out or it was the other way around. I was there and I was connecting and that’s something important in the quality of recovery house, those connections that exist after you can leave.

What do you think is the biggest thing that you took away from being in that recovery community for ten months?

For me, I came in like I knew everything. I was hot shit because I went from working on Capitol Hill, owning my own apartment and living on my own since I was sixteen years old. I go into this recovery house at 25 and I’m like, “I got this. I know what to do.” It was where I started to begin to trust other people. Truly understand what trust meant. When they were like, “Maybe you should only take one class now and then go get a job at Whole Foods washing dishes.” I was like, “I was working on Capitol Hill. There’s no way I’m going to wash dishes,” but I did and liked it. It’s another reason why I’m super into wellness now because of what I learned at Whole Foods. I learned this simplicity of life and how beautiful it can be if I don’t engage in my distractions.

You went and worked at Whole Foods and you’re working on Capitol Hill. I hear and see that often. I’m sure you guys see it as well. If you have someone who had some career, prior to getting clean and sober, then they go to treatment and they live in sober. We had someone who had here. He was making big money and he interviewed to become a house manager for us. I was happy because I thought he was going to go for it and I was like, “Yes, this is what you need to do. You don’t need to go out and get yourself another career. Not right now.” He declined. He said, “I’m too good for this house manager position. I am better than this.”

He was drunk within a few days. It was sad because he was with us for quite some time. He was a leader in the house. Being the house manager is like that next step in recovery. It’s a job. “Let’s continue focusing on your foundation. Let’s continue focusing on recovery so that we can get ourselves ready for the stressors of everyday life.” I drove for Uber for a while. I’m a college graduate. I went to Davis. I’ve owned businesses. I’ve made lots of money. I’ve done lots of things. Driving for Uber is humbling. It was so much fun. I was able to put my ego aside and I had fun. All I did was I drove people around. I talked with people. Some people were super wasted and I was like, “I’m glad that’s not me. I’m grateful.”

Like you with the Uber, I learned how to have fun with the little that I had and I was okay with that. I needed to learn those foundational steps in order to enjoy the life that I have. I didn’t enjoy the life that I had when I was 22, 16, 17 or 18 or the success that I had. It wasn’t even real in my opinion because I’d never stopped to smell the roses.

We’re going to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on recovery housing and the questions are, is it better to get clean and sober? Is it better to go to sober living or is it better to go to a hotel or an Airbnb or go back home to your old environment? First I want to switch over to you Rogan and tell me a little bit about you, and how you ended up to where you are now?

If we aren't using the brain and the nervous system together, as they should be, our body will not become better. Click To Tweet

To stem off to what you said is, pride and ego are killers. In early recovery, I can’t go ahead and be a house manager or drive for Uber or work at Whole Foods. The ego takes over. We know the analogy. The next thing you know, I’m drunk in a couple of weeks or a month or something of that nature. It’s the nature of our business. So much of that knowledge comes from having the experience of living in a recovery house and being part of that recovery community because here we’re all talking about our education and all these great things that we’ve done, but the fundamentals that we get in recovery is new education. We learn about our bodies, our minds, our spirits, how to grow and that in itself, I’m sure we all know the statistics. If you stay sober for a year, then you have a higher probability of staying sober for five years. If you stay sober for five years, you have a higher probability of staying sober for the rest of your life.

More about me is that two big numbers happened. I celebrated 30 years of recovery. I got sober at the age of nineteen, about a month and a half until I turned twenty, my freshman year of college. The whole part of it was that there were other people living in a sober house on campus who showed up to my doorstep at my bottom. I had had a whopper of 3.5 weeks and knock on the door. The funny part is that spiritual connection. I had said to the power of my understanding God, “If you’re not there, I’m F-ed and we’re going to go crazy and go live in Haight-Ashbury. Walk around and sell flowers or put me in a mental hospital with my paper slippers. I’ll shuffle and draw because this whole living thing is done with and I’m too much of a chicken to take my own life.” I’m stone sober. I went to sleep. A knock on the door, there are two upperclassmen that said, “Do you want to go to a meeting tonight?” I’m like, “Okay.” They have a sober house called Serenity Hill about a quarter-mile off of campus at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, New Hampshire.

For the next 3.5 years, I graduated from college. I got my life together. I repaired relationships with the family and with other people in my life. I found out that I was smart. I could do these things, be this person and be helpful and useful. As you were saying, taking a job, not a career. One of the blessings of getting sober early on was I didn’t have any choices. I was in college. This is what I was to do, make it happen and put one right foot in front of the left, but I had other people who were older, who were already trudging the path, and were able to say like, “This is what’s going to happen. Watch out for this.” Collective knowledge comes into play in a sober house where, “I tried that it didn’t work for me. Try this. This worked for me.” That’s where things blossomed.

I too have owned a plethora of my own businesses and knock on wood, I’ve been successful. Sazha and I have met up and created a together Recovery Organization Resources where we’re on this national platform and trying to make a difference in what recovery housing looks like. As you were saying, about COVID, unfortunately, New Foundation Recovery House in Freehold, New Jersey, as my sober house has started over many years ago. The simple part is we, in Freehold, New Jersey, are on the national scene as far as the first deaths occurred because they had family from Italy come over here to have a family reunion and all of a sudden, the outbreak started to go on.

When that happened, we all know, but to go back in time, you had shut down. You had closures like you wouldn’t believe. Essential businesses were the only businesses that remained open and you had to qualify to be an essential business. For the record and for your show, I don’t know about you, but I never got a letter saying I was an essential business and yet life and death occurs at sober houses. A dumptruck here in New Jersey was an essential business to haul that dirt, to go put in a hole somewhere, but your family members, my family member’s life in a recovery house is not an essential business. That’s also more of what’s inspired Sazha and I to get on the national platform to be able to make some impact to get like-minded people to come together to say, “We got to rethink this. Recovery houses are life and death. Recovery houses are the continuum of health care. They build recovery communities.”

As you said about that person who didn’t want to take the job and was drinking in the next handful of weeks, that person for them to drink, it is Russian roulette, spinning the gun. It was for me. For the men that I’ve seen in my sober house, it is. The unfortunates are in owning a recovery house for a long time, thank you for the blessings that we haven’t had anybody pass in our sober house, but there are people who have come through my sober house who have left and moved on. I hear from the Grapevine that they relapsed and passed on no longer to be with us and no COVID.

Continuum of care and going back to what I was saying is an essential business. If you take away like what’s happened to us, our twelve-step meetings have become Zoom. There are lots of controversy of going on Zoom and staring at the screen and being able to have that personal connection and being able to make those relationships and bonds and stuff. I get it. Everybody is different and everybody has their own pathway to recovery, but I’m an old school, 30-year AA guy. For me, having that connection early on was essential for our non-essential business. It was essential to recovery. In a nutshell, my recovery house, unfortunately, our house manager for about five years, his whole family got COVID bad.

He was in the ICU for about 3.5 weeks, along with his mom and his siblings. His mom, unfortunately, is no longer here with us because of the COVID virus. He didn’t want to come back to the sober house because of everything that took place, which is completely understandable. We’re a small sober house. We were only eight guys and because of him testing positive and being hospitalized, we had three guys who turned around and said, “I don’t have a job. I’ve got a stimulus check. I’m making $600 a week, way more than I’ve been making in a long time.” They called, “I’m out of here. I’ll come back when the pandemic is over.” Three people left and it’s all cordial too. The guys were straight-up honest and polite like, “This is what I’m doing. I don’t care what you have to say. Thank you. Goodbye.”

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses

Recovery Houses: Even though recovery houses are all about life and death, recovery houses are still not considered essential establishments amid the pandemic.


One of the other gentlemen, because he lost his job and he was worried for his wife and kids, I don’t want to say he had a nervous breakdown, but he had some breakdown and was hospitalized. He wasn’t coming back. There are four guys. Two of the guys had already planned on leaving. We were all happy and excited because at the beginning at the end of April 2021, they were gone, which was planned. They escalated it because it was already there. It was no big deal. We were left with one gentleman. To be able to keep the sober house up and going under those conditions when you’re shut down and everything is turned upside down, we had talked to him. He had made plans to move back with his family. We ended up closing our sober house down after eleven years of doing some good quality work. We’re not closed forever, but temporarily until the Coronavirus has come and gone, we’re not going to open back up again.

It’s unfortunate because your business is there to help people get on the path to recovery. That’s not happening. You’re not able to help anybody because you’re closed. I have my experiences because I’ve had COVID outbreaks at a couple of my homes. With the people that you had in your home, because your home stayed full all the time for eleven years.

We were known from coast to coast and North to South. We had people from California stay with us, from Maine, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. It did a lot of good.

You’ve helped a lot of people on their path to recovery, get clean and sober, stay clean and sober. This COVID thing hits. Without your guys even getting COVID, they end up saying, “I’m going to drink. I’m out.”

The three of them that came into my office. I don’t want to say they all came in together. It was one after another. Within a couple of days, put forth. They were being told they were receiving stimulus checks for $1,200. They were told that they were going to get an extra $600 on the unemployment plus their unemployment. They had come in within 30 to 60 days of recovery. All three of them had significant others or relationships that were lingering, “We’re human, it’s human nature. I got a pocket full of gold and she wants me.” How good is that? The truth too is like, “I went to rehab. I lived in a sober house for a couple of months. I’m doing good. I can go home.”

We don’t have any twelve-step meetings to go to anymore. It’s all going to be on Zoom. I don’t have work to go to anymore. To your point, is it better to stay in the community in a sober house versus go back home or wherever those guys were going? I would have said to stay in the recovery house for the simple part of that. You’ve got a like-minded community because what I’m talking about underneath the undertone is fear. They’re afraid she’s going to leave because of the pandemic. The job is already gone because of a pandemic. There are no meetings to go to because of a pandemic. The world is isolating and shutting down because of a pandemic.

I go on and listen to the news and it’s fear, dead and scary because of a pandemic. To stay in with like-minded people who could talk about that, and as we’re told in our communities, peer-to-peer and be able to support one another, in my opinion, would have been the perfect fitting. With the perfect storm with our house manager who was a rock and a pillar, having the unfortunates to be hospitalized for 3.5 weeks and the passing of his family member and scary stuff like that, it put more fear in our isolated incident at New Foundations, where it was a lot to expect to be able to keep it going without being able to turn it around. In all fairness too, I’m involved with the sober house and was there on a regular basis, but I have small children. We have this pandemic happening and people are getting scared and schools are shut down. I’ve got kids at home, and then I have men in recovery at a recovery house and my house manager is in the ICU, it became completely different than I could have ever imagined.

Do you know what has happened to the three men that were at your house that left you, including your house manager? What’s going on with him?

Self-care is such an essential part of recovering, staying healthy, and having a healthy mind. Click To Tweet

My house manager is living with his brother and sister-in-law. She was hospitalized with the Coronavirus for about a month. Everybody, there is doing fine. I spoke to him and he’s doing well. The other three gentlemen, I’ve put calls out to everybody to keep in touch once a month. Those three guys, I have not gotten a phone call back from them ever since April 2020. That’s the way it goes. The two guys that were scheduled to leave, they’re doing great. They’re with their families. They’re riding it out and doing the best they can. The cool part is we send links to different meetings all around and do the encouraging of like, “Do you want to go to a meeting in Australia, Scotland or Ireland, check this out.”

Some cool stuff has happened with being able to go to twelve-step meetings, you can go to twelve-step meetings all around the world now, literally. This is the coolest thing, I think. Any minute of the day, you can Zoom into a meeting somewhere on the planet. I can go to California, if I got up late or got up early. You are in Arizona. Here we are in New Jersey, as a simple example of this, but now we will be able to do that forever. Out of the bad, there are also some real positives. This Coronavirus has put a spotlight again on the continuum of care of what recovery housing does, but also what recovery does.

We’ve got people who are elderly, who are now on Zoom meetings, where they may not have been able to leave their homes or may have had health conditions and couldn’t go to regular meetings. Now they have that opportunity to be able to get and stay involved in their recovery and in a community in a different way, but yet in a way that works for them. A little gratitude for something that’s come out of this because we can look at all the yucky stuff and there’s plenty of it, but I do want to spin a little bit to a little positive.

It’s staying connected. We have to be flexible. To your point, a lot of good has come from this. Being in recovery, one of the things we learned to look at is, “What am I grateful for? I know I have to be grateful for everything. Until I get to a place of gratitude, then I’m going to be resentful. I’m going to be a victim. Until I’m grateful, I’m a victim.” None of us are victims. I’ve learned more about this. I went and saw Dr. Rebecca Miller over at the Holistic Urgent Care Center. There are lots of strains of coronavirus. We all have had Coronavirus at some point or another. It’s not that big of a deal. There have been casualties as a result.

I’m not a doctor. However, my understanding is that there’s a 99.6% recovery rate or something like that. The recovery rate is massive and it’s more important for us to take care of ourselves, get enough sleep and human connection. Being around people, which one of the things with Zoom meetings. It’s like, “Make sure your camera is on, you have your own camera, you show up early, you stay late.” You try to talk to a few people, you try to connect to a few people and everything’s going to work out okay. I know lots of people who have had the Coronavirus. It hasn’t been that big of a deal. It’s like any other strain of Coronavirus has caused deaths as well. It’s like any flu.

I’m not trying to say insensitive or nonsympathetic or anything like that, but as humans, we have immune systems. Our immune systems need to be exposed to call it the triggers of everyday life, call it viruses, call it dirt, call it mold. That’s how we get stronger by being exposed. Taking care of ourselves, eating the right food and getting enough sleep. Sazha, I had Corona outbreaks at a couple of my homes and there are two completely different ways that the homes responded to them. I think I need to talk about that, but Sazha first I want to turn it over to you and tell me about your experience or do you have any specific experiences with Coronavirus in any of this that you have been closely attached or related to?

No. I’ve been connected with some that I’ve been talking with, but personally in recovery. I moved back home from Washington DC to New Jersey, to my people’s house. My mom was treating patients with COVID. Every day, the whole family had to change because my mom was being exposed to COVID every day. My father would go and pick her up. She’d bring her new clothes. She’d come in, she’d shower and on the daily, we were cleaning. I imagine at a recovery house, they had to do something similar if you’re working with healthcare or patients of that sort. I was reading the notes from the National Association of Recovery Residences open call. Do you go on those, Tim?

Occasionally, yes.

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses

Recovery Houses: The immune system needs to be exposed to the triggers of everyday life, be it viruses or dirt, to become stronger.


It’s a good way to stay on the pulse. As the recovery housing woman, I like to be in the know. From the call, these are some notes that I got from there is that people are still dealing with isolation and what is going on in terms of the vaccine? One of these issues is that the information isn’t coming to us in a way that’s accurate and truthful. What we’re talking about with the vaccine and the virus, we’re seeing on the news that it’s serious. Some people know people that have died and have recovered as well. There’s all this information that trying to dissect through, but who do we trust enough to get this information from?

Because some people don’t trust the government, some people don’t trust that meme that has the COVID information on there. Where do we get this information from? On our call, there was saying there needs to be someone stewarding this information and going through it and being a leader in that space to digest it for people in recovery, in a layman’s term. Not everyone wants to listen to Dr. Fauci and not everybody watches the news, honestly. For younger generations, it’s not the only way that people are getting media. It is affected by people differently. A lot of the complications can come from being previously sick and then being more susceptible to a flu-like virus. At the bottom or top or center of it, some people aren’t well, to begin with, especially people in recovery if you have been hurting your immune system from substance use.

I and Rogan went to Dr. Amen’s clinic to get our brain scanned. It said, “six years of opioids. There’ are holes all over your brain.” I was using opioids for a lot longer than that. I’m interested to see what the brain looks like, but the brain is connected to our nervous system. If we aren’t using the brain and the nervous system in a way that’s like a feedback loop, we’re not getting well and not going to get better. This whole thing of trying to dissect that information is complicated because there are people and things out there that want us to be confused and want us not to have the information. We’re not empowered around our wellness and that we’re not sovereign beings around our recovery.

You guys see I posted, “Is this a fake pandemic?” I’ve heard lots of people say it’s a fake pandemic and it’s not to say that the Coronavirus is not real. To clarify, it is real, however, is it a pandemic? There are lots of people that are saying, “It’s not a pandemic.” To your point, it’s like taking care of ourselves, eating the right foods, getting enough sleep and not being stressed out. I had COVID-19 and I can tell you looking back and it was interesting because the day that it hit me was when I was feeling under the weather.

What I mean is that I got less than five hours of sleep. I work a lot, stressed out and I had a lot going on. In the evening was when I started to feel a little bit of a scratchy throat and I didn’t think anything of it. On the next day, I had a headache, my body was aching a little, my voice was a little cracky. The COVID test was positive. I went and saw Dr. Rebecca Miller. I had therapy. I had 50,000 milligrams of vitamin C in an IV bag of things. It’s like, “I make it through. It’s like any other sickness.” Now, I’ve already hit. I question whether or not it’s a pandemic though, and that’s what lots of people are saying. It’s like, “It’s just Coronavirus.”

I had COVID outbreaks at two of my homes. It’s interesting the way that they were handled at both homes. The first home was a female home. It was Serenity Ranch. A couple of the women ended up hanging out with a past resident who tested positive for COVID. We let everybody in the house know. Everybody knows that we have residents with COVID-19. We make it very clear. By the way, we take lots of precautions in our homes. We clean and sanitize. We don’t let outsiders into our home. Anybody that’s an outsider, be at a repair person or anybody that doesn’t live in the home, myself being an employee of Camelback Recovery or any other staff members, we all are wearing masks when we go into the home.

We are very safe and we follow CDC protocols. We take the temperatures of all of our residents on a daily basis. We’re constantly checking and doing everything that we possibly can. It means that a couple of the women were exposed to COVID. They quarantined in their rooms. We provide all the food and because we provide all the food, that means that everybody is not out grocery shopping and going out to eat. It limits the exposure. All of our food is delivered by cart or by Amazon Foods. We do the best we can to limit the exposure. Food was delivered to them in their rooms.

Anytime they left their room, they had to mask up and wear gloves. That home Serenity Ranch all decided, “We’re going to stick together.” We gave everybody the option to leave like, “You can leave if you want to leave. We’re not going to make you stay here.” They all decided to stay. They decided to quarantine together and stay together, stick together as a community. The transmission rate or how contagious viruses, it’s 20% of people in the same household will catch the Coronavirus, which is lower than the normal flu. For the normal flu, the rate of transmission is like 35%.

We need to take responsibility for our own wellness. Click To Tweet

I’m not a doctor. This is the information that I have been given. In Serenity Ranch, they all decided to stick together as a community. They did a prayer, meditation, gratitude. They stuck together. They quarantined together as a community. At the end of two weeks, only four of them total got ended up positive with the Coronavirus and they all made it through. They’re all still clean and sober, and doing well. There you have it. We have another case of another one of our homes, one of our male homes, Papago Springs and a couple of the guys tested positive at that home. We’re already through it.

The house managers decided to stay. For the most part that the guys stay, and then there were a couple of guys that decided to leave. We gave them the option like, “You can leave if you want to.” A couple of the guys ended up leaving. What we found was them leaving, the Coronavirus was an excuse for them to go because they both relapsed that same day. That’s been my experience. Rogan, it sounds like you have the same experience. It’s not that the Coronavirus is not real. It’s not a pandemic though in my experience. In my non-professional opinion, that’s what I’ve seen is that people are much better off in the community getting clean and sober and taking suggestions.

If someone goes out, they say, “This is the day for me to stay at this home.” All it is is an excuse for them to drink. It’s an excuse for them to go get high. It’s an excuse for them to relapse. That’s what we have seen is that people use it as an excuse, which we’re all in long-term recovery. We see people go in and out. Addicts early in recovery will look for any reason to go out. Any time they’re out a week, everybody wants to get clean and sober at one point until they’re triggered, until they’re having a bad day or until there’s an excuse or a reason to leave. That’s what ends up happening.

You don’t even have to be in early recovery. For me, it’s facing like, I believed everything was going on. I’m like, “I’m going to die. What do I want to do in my last dying months?” If you’re not mitigating your fear in recovery, your life could look totally different now because of what’s going on.

It’s fake evidence appearing real. It’s like, “I might have the Coronavirus because I was around somebody that had it.”

When we think about this, take everything that we have on the table, and we put together our collective minds, the idea of this pandemic is that it can be as simple as us being this close and all of a sudden, it spreads. The fear factor of it spreading is real because we have seen it spread from all over the world. I’m not saying that it did, but if it originated in China, it certainly has made an impact here in the United States, along with Germany, Italy and all the other countries. Is this a fake pandemic? The fact that it’s globalized does change the tune. There’s something real here. We can’t say that in my opinion, it’s fake just because of the impact that’s had worldly.

I don’t know though, as if the fear that’s been generated has to be generated so much when it comes down to common sense. I’ve heard it. I’m sure you guys have too, the common flu in America kills, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of people. Now Coronavirus is doing a number, but they’re similar numbers. That’s the other part is we don’t know. I get what it is that you’re saying. Tim, you did an excellent job with your house to say it straight up. You gave them education, awareness, the tools to be able to handle it, choice, and the cleaning utensils.

You present it now. Why didn’t the professionals who are in the government do that for us as citizens? Why didn’t they turn around and say, “Take a multivitamin, make sure you get plenty of rest, everybody go on and get a therapist and talk about the stresses of life and how life has changed? School students, we’re not going to yo-yo you up and down. You’re going today. You’re not going tomorrow. We’re going to cancel school for the year or you’re going to be online and it’s going to be from 9:00 to 2:00, instead of 7:00 in the morning.”

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses

Recovery Houses: Everybody wants to get clean and sober until they’re triggered by one bad day and find an excuse to leave.


We could have as a society done a lot better of a job as to how you handled it at Camelback Recovery, which isn’t it funny that we’re talking about recovery and recovery housing, and we go ahead and have the empathy, compassion, and understanding to be able to give a choice that the awareness, education, ability, tools, structure for your ladies house to do well, where we could have had that same attributes going on here in America if we would have done a similar protocol instead of fear and scare. Do you remember the paper towel and toilet paper pandemic? That was a pandemic. The funny stories were like doing drug deals with like, “Do you want to buy the toilet paper? Give me the money.”

That’s embarrassing though to be a country that’s concerned about toilet paper instead of getting vitamin C or better water or quality water or ozone to clean your air. There are many things that should have gone off the stock before toilet paper. That’s how backward our society is in regards to healthcare and wellness.

According to Ken and Mary Richardson, the founders of CoDA, fear is on a spectrum. You’ve got concerned, worry, anxiety, panic and terror. What the media is promoting is toxic fear. That’s what that’s what’s happening. It’s not that the Coronavirus is not real, but whether or not, it’s the magnitude or how bad it is. That’s been blown out of proportion and it’s causing fear, anxiety and it’s toxic. I don’t agree with it is, the level of toxic fear that’s out there. It’s not helping people stay clean and sober, nor helping people stay safe.

To finish off what I was driving at is like, is this a fake pandemic? I believe it’s become a real pandemic because of what the the media has done, because of the fear, because of the isolation, because of the worries, because of that it’s knocked us out. To go back to the beginning of a conversation where a recovery house isn’t even considered an essential business, and I have nothing against dump trucks and doing your work and what it is, but we’re talking about picking up dirt and bringing it to another site and dumping the dirt down versus life and death. I can always buy a dump truckload of dirt. I can’t buy another human being. Yet the world didn’t even see which before this pandemic, we were having the opioid pandemic or the opioid crisis.

The world doesn’t even see that recovery is going to be jeopardized by not being an essential business. That’s a real factor here in New Jersey because we were one of the first States to get blown up off the map. We had to travel around with a piece of paper that said we printed off of the government listing that said you were an essential business. If you got pulled over by the police and you didn’t have that piece of paper, you were going to get a ticket. You’re going to get in trouble. You’re not in essential business. You’re not allowed to be out there. That changes, to go back to what you were saying, that fear, we’re getting it from the media, but we also were getting it in real life stuff on the clutch of what’s happened in the social justice world with everything else that was happening in America. It’s like a ticking time bomb. I say that the pandemic is real. Is it necessarily a COVID pandemic? I don’t know specifically a COVID pandemic, but there’s been a pandemic created around it all.

What’s the main message that you guys would like people to take away from this talk?

There are a lot of places to get information. In order to do that, it takes time to figure out what you want to do, how you want to take care of yourself. We need to take responsibility for our own wellness, is what I’m saying. Maybe watching the news, isn’t the best idea for you, but figure out what works for you? I know for me, I’m usually at 6 or 7 hours sleep. I’ve been sleeping like 8 to 10 now because that’s how I deal with stress. For someone like super high-performing, I’m like, “I’m sleeping for several hours,” but that’s what I need now. That’s how my body regulates what’s going on in this overload of information. I do think that people can start, taking real responsibility around their wellness and it looks like many different things. You can find us on our website, where we share easy tips and tricks.

I teach meditations weekly and it’s a lot about a breath because the message is, “We can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” A lot of breath meditations increases your chi. That means you have more energy to do things. You have more energy to deal with your addiction, your neuroses, or whatever’s going on. We need more energy right now because what the pandemic is doing, it’s taking away our energy. Fear takes up 60% to 80% of the brain when you’re worried about fear. That’s a lot of energy, you can’t deal with anything else. I highly suggest meditations for sure, but any other way to take responsibility for your wellness now would be my message for everyone.

[bctt tweet=”As the media continue to spread toxic fear, anxiety will be everywhere.” via=”no”

What about you Rogan? What message do you want people to take away from this?

I hope that people take away that if we go back into the basics of recovery, how’s it work? Honest, open, and willing. With everything that’s going on, I was afraid when I first came into recovery about life itself. I’m not saying I’m not, still, but I was afraid when I first started getting sober. Good people said, “Honest, open and willing.” If I’m honest about I’m feeding into this crazy media show, I’m feeding into all the fear that’s being produced, I’m not being open about my own concerns and my worries and I’m not willing to take an active role in my wellness, then I need to be able to point the finger at myself. I would like to leave everybody with, if you’re in recovery, you’ve already done a terrific, amazing job, getting yourself and having the help of others to get you there. Let’s keep up with the positives. Let’s utilize our recovery community. Let’s utilize all the tools in the toolbox and let’s keep on doing that one foot at a time.

I’ve got one more question for each of you. Sazha, tell me about your morning routine.

I love my morning routine. I love the structure. I’ve been sleeping for 9 to10 hours these days. I get up at 8:00. I have a yoga set that I do every day. My personal pathway to recovery is Kundalini yoga. I know you had Tommy Rosen. I’ll also be teaching on You can check me out there. For people in recovery, I may be able to get you free memberships, please feel free to reach out. They also offer free memberships to veterans. I have a yoga set. It ranges from 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much time. I usually do 30 minutes and then I’ll leave some for the nighttime. First, I make my bed. That’s important. I make my bed first thing in the morning. It drives me crazy if I don’t. A lot of it comes from me being in the Navy, but that’s my first accomplishment of the day. I made my bed, it looks good. I have something to look forward to. I do my yoga. I come downstairs. I usually drink some tea, and drive right into work. Depending on how flexible I am in the morning, I schedule my morning around that routine.

How much time do you take to yourself in the morning would you say?

I don’t want to say that I’m selfish, but I prioritize self-care. Sometimes it’s for two hours.

What about you Rogan?

I’ve had a ritual for a real long time. I always spend 30 minutes just pulling it together. Pulling it together could be sitting in silence, drinking ice tea and practicing meditation and prayers. It could be reading an inspirational or 24-hour affirmation book. Sazha has been kind enough where she made me my own personal video of meditation. That’s about 24 minutes. I have to do that before I take a shower because I do get a sweat on. If I take a shower and then do it, I’m a little sweaty. It’s changed, but I’m religious with 30 minutes. I am spoiled in the summertime. It’s a lot longer and when the weather’s right, I go for long walks with the dog. That easily could be an hour. I do a prayer throughout the whole day. I’ll like to stop at certain times and check-in with gratitude, even when I’m feeling great and even when I’m feeling bad, I check in to say, “Can you imagine all these leaves fell off the tree at this time?”

We’re all three in alignment that self-care is such an important part of being in recovery, staying healthy and having a healthy mind. It’s all about the mind, body and spirit. The main message I want people to take away from this is, is this a fake pandemic? That’s not the main message. The main message is that Coronavirus is real. Self-care is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Staying connected, getting enough sleep, yoga, meditation, breathwork and staying connected to positive people in your life.

Journaling, turning on Facebook, waking up and looking at the news, and watching the news, that’s going to spiral you out of control. The best thing that everyone can do in my experience, and this is what you guys are seeing as well, is like, “We got to take care of ourselves. Let’s start with the morning routine.” It doesn’t matter what the morning routine is, but let’s start the day off on the right foot and get things going. We all want to be happy, joyous and free. That’s the path. Thanks again, Rogan and Sazha. It was fun to have you here and everybody else. I hope you have an awesome day.

Thank you, Tim. Have a great day.

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About Sazha Ramos

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses

Sazha Alexandra Ramos is a navy veteran in recovery and founder of Recovery Organization Resources. Sazha brings a unique perspective to recovery housing after living in one, operating two, and now working nationally to advocate for recovery houses. Next year she will complete her Masters in Social Work at Rutgers University and continue to bring new thought leadership into the recovery housing space.

About Rogan O’Donnell

ILBS 13 | Recovery Houses10-17-1990 Recovery date
Owner of New Foundation Recovery House 2009.
Co founder Recovery Organization Resources