Healing Sex Addiction: Understanding Intimacy And Sexual Issues With Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction


Addiction is a problem faced by many people, and sex addiction is a common one. In this episode, we talk about sex addiction and how to heal and recover from it. Tim Westbrook interviews Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW. He is the Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity, a unified group of online and real-world communities helping people to heal from intimacy disorders like compulsive sexual behavior and related drug abuse. Dr. Weiss discusses healing sex addiction and other sexual issues and differentiates it to love addiction. He then talks about the path to recovery and why intimacy is important in healing.

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Healing Sex Addiction: Understanding Intimacy And Sexual Issues With Robert Weiss PhD, LCSW

Welcome back to another episode. My team and I over the course of many years have helped thousands of people on their path to recovery. We started this show because there’s so much misinformation about addiction, treatment, mental illness, and recovery in general. There’s so much more to recovery than going to inpatient treatment, seeing a therapist and going to twelve-step meetings. All of those things are important and AA saved my life. However, define long-term recovery and live happy, joyous, and free, there’s a lot more to it than stopping the drinking, the drugs, the sex addiction, or any addictive behavior for that matter. To live a new life, a person needs new healthy lifestyle habits amongst other things.

Typically, this includes new eating, exercise, sleeping habits, hobbies, interests, friends, self-care becomes a priority, and the list goes on. Those are some of the types of things that we talk about here on this show. Now I’m here with Dr. Robert Weiss, PhD, LCSW. He is the Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity, a unified group of online and real-world communities helping people to heal from intimacy disorders like compulsive sexual behavior and related drug abuse.

He’s the author of ten books on sexuality, technology, and intimate relationships, including Sex Addiction 101, Out of the Doghouse and Prodependence. His Sex, Love, and Addiction podcast is in the top ten US addiction health podcasts. He also hosts a no-cost weekly sex and intimacy Q and A on Seeking Integrity self-help website, The Sex and Relationship Healing website provides free information for addicts, partners of addicts, and therapists dealing with sex and porn addiction, and substance abuse issues. Dr. Weiss and I will talk about sex and love addiction. Dr. Weiss, welcome to the show. I’m so glad to have you here.

Thank you, sir. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for reading that whole list of stuff that I’ve been doing. It makes me feel important.

You’ve got lots of stuff going on. I’ve done research on you. You and I met in person back in 2017 briefly. I’m excited to have you here. We’ll start by diving into it. What is an LCSW?

I’m a Clinical Social Worker. I was licensed. There are various forms of therapy licenses and social worker is one of them. I was licensed back in ‘94 or something. I’ve been licensed many years, but it is a licensure to practice psychotherapy.

You are an expert on sex and intimacy disorders. You’ve been in it for many years. What specific incident inspired you to be so passionate about sex addiction and intimacy disorders?

Tim, anybody who knows me knows I’m passionate about anything that I get involved with. Maybe part of being an addict is I’m driven and focused. I used to be on the bad stuff. Now it’s on good stuff. I went through my recovery from sex addiction. I am still a recovering sex addict. I entered the program on 1985, December 10th. Related to that, I went and got my license in early ’96 when I got started.

The pain of addiction is worse than the pain of recovery. Click To Tweet

What made me enter their field, to be honest with you, was HIV AIDS because, in my addiction, I had sex with enough people to populate China. I didn’t get HIV AIDS during the period when everyone else was. I thought, “We have a bit of a spiritual awakening. Maybe I’m here for some reason.” I knew there were people who were getting caught up in sexual behavior because of addiction that was ending up with them dying of HIV AIDS. I wanted to help them because I had been able to stop my behavior. I wanted to help other people stop theirs. That’s how I got here.

Why do you think you were able to stop?

Any person who wants to stop an addiction doesn’t stop because they want to not do what they’re doing. I wanted to stop because there was something I wanted more. On one side we say, “The pain of addiction is worse than the pain of recovery you recover.” For me also, it was like when I can see people getting things that I would like to have that are healthy in life and I can’t get them because of my addiction, then that may be address it. What I wanted was a loving, healthy, committed home and relationship. I wasn’t going to have that as an act of sex addict.

That brings up a good point, which is in my experience, is people that are focused on stopping. If you’re focused on stopping the drinking, the drugs, and the sexual compulsivity, it doesn’t work. If you’re focused on the new life and what you want, that’s when it works.

It’s the same for recovery. In the early stages, I don’t tell people, “Recovery is not about what you don’t do.” It’s good to not drink, use, and gamble depending on your addiction, but recovery is much more about what you do. Where do you take yourself? What do you do to get your support? How do you engage with other people? This is recovery and how do you enjoy your life? That is what recovery is about. I don’t want to recover to sit at home and bake bread.

It’s living the life of your dreams. I was one of them. I couldn’t imagine living life and having fun not drinking, doing drugs, and not acting out. I’ve learned and I know that you’ve learned it as well. Life is amazing on the other side of it once you get past it.

In a different way, life is amazing and a drip of good things and bad things. Not having everything all at once when I was an addict. I wanted it all to be amazing. What a friend of mine said is that, “A life well lived in recovery is one notch above boring.” That’s right. That’s how life should be. A few highs, lows, but generally stable and consistent, and that’s not how I lived as an addict at all.

What is the definition of sex addiction?

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction: Any person who wants to stop an addiction doesn’t stop because they want to not do what they’re doing.


The definition applies to any addiction, which is a behavior that I’m engaging in, with or without a substance that is significantly affecting the functioning of my life. Despite the fact that it is hurting my family, work, whatever it is that it’s destroying my health, I continue to do it. I continue to obsess about it. Most people make a mistake and they learn and don’t do something again. Addicts make mistakes. We think, “That felt good. I won’t look at the bad part. I’ll do the good part over and over again.” Unfortunately, their families and marriages fail. That’s addiction. Your life fails as a result of it, in my mind.

In sex addiction, what I see is people are losing their relationships, especially marriages in particular, I see a lot of marriages get destroyed. I see people looking at porn in the workplace, they get fired. I see people caught up in prostitution stings. When sexual behavior or relationship with porn is causing significantly negative problems in life and if the behavior doesn’t change, it’s an addiction like any other addiction.

There are a lot of people out there that they look at porn. It’s like, “What’s the problem with looking at porn?”

I don’t think it’s a problem. Lots of people look at porn. I don’t have a problem with people drinking. Having a glass of wine or even getting drunk, and either is fine. If you have certain emotional vulnerabilities, then you’re not going to be able to do casual, pleasurable things in the same way as healthy people. Addicts grab onto intensely arousing, distracting, stimulating behaviors for different reasons than healthy people do. I turned to compulsive sexual behavior, not to have a good time having sex, but to escape a difficult emotional life. Addiction often has a secondary gain, which is other people drink to be social and alcoholic drinks to feel okay. That’s a big difference.

It’s the solution. You have the sex addiction and the love addiction. What’s the difference between sex and love addiction?

Love addiction is a graduate school for sex addicts. Sex addicts, we objectify body parts. When we can have access to those body parts, it empowers us. We feel important and so if I can get that great butt or those amazing arms or that beautiful face to be with me and have sex with me, then I’m important and special and worthwhile. Somehow, we validate ourselves in a way that’s empty through that kind of behavior.

Love addiction is more using people. The whole person is an object to fill the emptiness and loneliness inside of you. You fit that person into you to make yourself feel better, but for love addicts, it isn’t as important who they are. It’s more important that they fill the emptiness in them. When you are with that person a few months and then you realize, “That’s not who I thought they were. They’re not filling this emptiness inside of me.”

You tend to rage at them or leave with them or move on to someone else because you’re not interested in that person. You’re interested in what they do for you. That’s love addiction. I’ve heard some people talk about sex and love addiction. They only have one person that they’ve had an affair with. It’s not like they’re having multiple affairs with multiple people. They’re having one affair with one person.

A life well lived in recovery is just one notch above boring. Click To Tweet

It seems like a problem to me. It seems obvious to me, but can you answer that?

First of all, the question is, is that an addiction? I can’t tell you. Lots of people have affairs. What I call an affair is immature. What I called people in committed relationships, who go out and have sex and hang out with other people romantically is immature because they don’t keep their partner in mind when they go out in the world. They’re all on their own, like some little kid in a candy store and they’re not thinking, “I shouldn’t be eating all this.”

Specifically, I’m thinking of one person and that person was married. They had one pertinent person that they had a relationship with for three years.

The question is, are they sex addicts? The person had an affair. My clients don’t have an affair. They have five affairs. They’re seeing sex workers at the same time. They’re playing with porn every night. For example, I’ve had a lot of men that I work with say, “My big problem is I don’t know which one to pick. Is it the lover? Is it the spouse? I can’t decide.” I’m like, “How about being alone for a while?” That might be the best solution of all, but repetitively using body parts, situations with people as a means to fill yourself and make yourself feel better, that may not happen with someone who has an affair. For example, I might have a wonderful relationship and being completely monogamous.

My spouse has a child and we have a child. All the attention goes to that child. I find this person who’s not heavy and didn’t have a child. I don’t mean heavy, but you gain weight when you’re pregnant. Someone who does want to have sex with me, who’s looking great, who isn’t focused, all of a sudden, I’m getting all this stuff for myself from this other person that I feel I’m not getting in a relationship. Maybe when I’ve got a kid who’s 3 or 4, I returned back to my relationship.

My spouse finds out about the affair and I stop and I don’t enter one again. That’s someone who, for whatever reasons, was vulnerable to leaving their relationship because they’re needy. They weren’t getting what they wanted when they had a baby. They turn to something else to get some needs met. That’s different than someone who’s a sex addict. That’s someone who had an affair.

Would you say that’s more along the lines of codependency?

I don’t believe in codependency. I don’t think it exists. It’s an incredibly pejorative, negative form of, I don’t know, whatever it is. It’s not real therapy that needs to be eliminated. I wrote a book called Prodependence because people who love addicts should not be picked apart when they walk into treatment. They shouldn’t be asked what’s wrong with them and what their childhood is. People who finally get that love, love an addict, and get them into treatment, we should celebrate them and say, “What a great job you did hanging out with that person. How amazing was you stuck by them? How difficult they were and how great love is.” Partners, spouses, and family members need to be validated for having done everything to hang out with that addict.

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction: If you have certain emotional vulnerabilities, then you’re not going to be able to do casual, pleasurable things in the same way as healthy people. Addicts grab onto intensely arousing, distracting, stimulating behaviors for different reasons than how others do.


The idea of evaluating the mental health or psychological health of a partner, a spouse of an addict, because they’re with a partner or spouse of an addict is cruel at best. At worst, it follows what addicts have always done, which blame their spouses. Everyone blames their spouses, “If she wasn’t this and he wasn’t that, then I wouldn’t drink, I wouldn’t this.” No, you’re going to drink if you wanted to drink. Codependency gave a lot of excuse to say, “If my partner wasn’t so codependent, I wouldn’t keep running.” You drink because you want to. We’ve always blamed spouses in a whole variety of ways over the years. I’ve opened up a completely different avenue or 180-degree turn on codependency and there isn’t going to be any going back, I don’t think.

I’ve seen many alcoholics and drug addicts. I’ve seen them move from substances over to sex addiction, porn addiction, I’m in an AA meeting and I see these men. It seems like their addiction has moved. Do you see that often?

I can’t judge what any individual is doing, but I do know addiction is a game of whack-a-mole. You hit the food thing and then someone starts gambling and you hit the gambling thing and then they’re getting high every day. Addiction as we know it is the part that shows over the water. It’s the tip of the iceberg. What’s underneath, the unhappiness, the trauma, and the issues that are there, they can drive any addiction. It doesn’t, to me, matter as much about the addiction is what’s going on underneath, even though we need to stop the addiction.

How can a person address it?

There’s no question in my mind. I stand behind that, unless you deal with substances, you can’t deal with anything else because drugs and alcohol are disinhibiting. I say, “I won’t eat. I won’t whatever.” I have a couple drinks and all the bets are off. You have to deal with substances first unless the behaviors are so problematic that you need to deal with both. I run a treatment center called Seeking Integrity. One of the things I wanted to do there was treat people with dual addictions, drugs and sex.

I see a lot of people go to drug and alcohol treatment but they have a lot of sexual issues with sexual acting out. No one mentioned sex. They’re so focused on the drug piece. The person didn’t bring it up. You don’t bring up sex in a group of alcoholics when you’re in treatment. It never gets dealt with, and their abuse or their incest or whatever happened to them, never gets talked about. They end up using again over unresolved issues. My particular interest is in these combined issues of meth-sex, alcohol-sex, opioid-sex because I know they’re not going to stop the drugs until they do with the sex at the same time. That’s how I look at it.

How often is it that you see someone that is in treatment for substance addiction also has sex addiction?

It’s 20% of the time, something like that. Maybe a different question would be how many people go in for one thing and then find out they have other things? How many people go in for alcohol and then find out they also have a spending problem? How many people go into drugs and alcohol, and then realize they’re working 80 hours a week and they’re workaholic. I don’t think it’s unusual at all to have people go into treatment and then to discover other dysfunctional parts of their lives.

Love addiction is graduate school for sex addicts. Click To Tweet

When people go into treatment, and you know this, they go in for the problem like, “My drinking is the problem.” They don’t necessarily think. This is why treatment centers need to broaden their view. They’re in there for alcohol. Nobody’s thinking about gambling and spending. They don’t get those in it. Anyway, it needs a specific focus unless these things are shared.

I’ve heard you say that before where it needs to be part of the intake process or there needs to be something that happens in a treatment center for substances. Part of the process needs to be, “Let’s talk about your other issues,” or some sort of a questionnaire. How does that happen?

If you’re not a sex addiction program, why can’t there be a men’s group twice a week or a women’s group twice a week in the evening where they talk about those kinds of intimacy issues? I could work in a drug and alcohol center and say, “Monday night, we’re going to talk about miscarriages and abortion,” and the women, that’s their topic. With the men, we can talk about having sex when you felt insecure and using a woman when you thought it was consensual, but it wasn’t.

We can set those topics. We can have those conversations. When we do, the person with the issue stands out like, “They sound a little different than the other people when we’re talking about sex or those things.” I believe you have to give people space. We are built to heal. If you and I create a space for people to heal, they will.

If a person gets clean and sober from drugs and alcohol but they have this other addiction, say sex addiction, that has not been addressed, are they more or less likely to relapse back on their drug of choice eventually?

If they are tied together, for example, the person who has a cocaine problem. They’ve worked on it and stopped using the cocaine. When they did cocaine, they were seeing sex workers. They were hiring people to have sex with and that’s where they got the drugs. When they go out in the world and they’ve gotten sober on coke, when they go back to have sex with those sex workers, guess where the drugs are? They’re going to end up relapsing over behavior that had nothing to do with their drug and alcohol treatment, but there it is in front of them. Sex and dating apps are rife with people who are looking to do drugs and have sex.

Many years ago, in order for a person to find a sex worker or porn or anything like that, it was a much bigger ordeal whereas now, it’s open up your iPhone.

We have these three A’s of things that lead people to addiction on the internet. They are, to say them, Accessibility, which we didn’t have in the past. If I wanted an adult magazine, I had to get in my car and go to a bookstore, whatever it was. Anonymity because I’m there on my phone and you don’t know what I’m looking at. Affordability, because porn and all that used to be expensive. Now, even sex workers, to be honest, you can go online and find them for $1.99 a minute.

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction: Addiction is just the part that shows over the water. It’s the tip of the iceberg. What’s underneath is the unhappiness, the trauma, the issues that are there.


It’s a whole different ball game in terms of accessibility, affordability, anonymity, and that seems to be what drives online addiction. To put in a little plug, Intervention, the television show on A&E is going to be doing a brand new series called Digital Intervention. They’re going to look at gaming, gambling, spending, porn and all of that and see the addictive relationships that people have with those behaviors.

When does that come out?

The first episode that they invited me to do is the porn and sex piece, which I’m excited about. I’m excited because I want people to be educated. If I can help people see that someone with an addictive sexual problem has a problem and they’re broken rather than they’re sick perverts, then I’ve done my job. Digital Intervention either air in the fall or in early winter, like January or February 2021. I’m in Hollywood.

Which is where you’re located, or somewhere in LA?

I’m in Santa Monica.

Where is Seeking Integrity located?

Seeking Integrity is here in Los Angeles. We started a few years ago. It’s a very small program, not particularly expensive. I am treating men with intimacy disorders, but in a therapeutic way, what we are talking about is attachment disorders. These men that I work with never felt safe enough to trust intimacy, but they sure trust having affairs, picking people up, looking at porn, all of that controllable behavior is what they do.

You mentioned the other piece, which I do want to mention. It’s not a plug for anything. I’ve worked hard to create venues where people get help for free. We don’t talk about this a lot, but a lot of people are never going to get to a treatment center. They have the money. A lot of people are never going to see therapists. In fact, more people in trouble never get to treatment and therapy because they can’t afford it, time, money, whatever that is.

Partners, spouses, and family members need to be validated for having done everything to hang out with that addict. Click To Tweet

What I’m interested in, especially with the internet, is how can we build communities of supportive people where, for example, in our world, women who’ve been betrayed by male and female sex addicts can meet, couples that have been dealing with betrayal. Not specifically twelve-step, but I’m very interested in communities being developed. I’ve developed one for sex and porn. I would love to see some expert develop an eating disorder site and a drug and alcohol site where experts can answer questions and you can get engaged and support a little bit more sophisticated than twelve-step.

In other words, we have a lot of ways of reaching people. Maybe you don’t have the resources. I had a podcast. We have almost a million downloads, about 850,000 called Sex, Love, and Addiction. It’s free. I’m interested in people getting free resources. That excites me. This is a free resource. Thank you for doing it.

Thank you for being a guest. I’ve seen many men in recovery from sex addiction because they got caught having an affair. They don’t believe they have a problem. Do you see this where people are in treatment because they got caught having an affair, doing something, don’t want to get divorced, and that’s the only reason they’re in treatment?

I have been treating male and female sex addicts for many years. I have probably seen 800 to 1,000 people with this problem. Let’s say I’ve seen 800, 100 females and 700 men. If it was 800, 780 of them came because they were in trouble and over 25 years came because they wanted to be better people. People go to treatment because they’re in trouble. It’s funny when the media says, like, “They just went as an excuse.” They went to get out trouble. I feel sorry for them, but who cares?

My interest is in what happens when they’re in treatment, not what motivates them to go. Generally, what motivates heterosexual men to go is there going to be a wife has had it and she’s not going to take any more. It’s not one thing. It’s affairs, porn, and finding things out over years. By the way, this speaks to the financial issue. If you’re a woman who doesn’t have the resources to leave that man, if you need the money and him around to pay the rent, you’re going to have to put up with it.

Not all sex addicts are male, but nonetheless majority, if a woman doesn’t have the resources to say, “I’m divorcing you or I’m leaving you,” then she’s going to be stuck with it, which is painful and difficult. I wanted to go back to a question you answered that I remembered. You are asking about addicts going into an AA meeting. You were saying how some of them will start flirting with people and are they turning to another addiction is what you were talking about.

Do you see addicts, alcoholics, substance abuse addicts move from the substance over to sex addiction?

First of all, most sex addicts who are substance abusers will say that they had problems with intimacy and sex long before they ever had a drinking or alcohol problem. They realized that when they stopped drinking and using that those issues preexisted before the drinking and the drugs. In other words, I knew I had issues with sexual stuff and compulsivity related to porn when I was fourteen, but I didn’t start drinking until I was nineteen.

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction: The internet is a whole different ball game in terms of accessibility, affordability, and anonymity for addicts.


The other thing is people who stopped drinking and using is hungry to escape and find an emotionally intense, distracting experience. Do you know how many addicts in their treatment not smoking and leave treatment smoking? Not treatment but certainly go to meetings, all of a sudden, they’re smoking, eating donuts, drinking Coke and hitting on people.

It’s like, “Whatever I can put in me to escape in the way that I used to escape emotionally with drugs and alcohol, I’m going to find.” You and I know also that sometimes people will do a lot of that picking up thirteen-step or whatever you want to call it in their first year. Once they’ve calmed down and more focused, they will stop all that other crazy behavior. Some people have found they have another addiction.

You were talking about intimacy. I have a question on that. A lot of people think that intimacy and sex is the same thing. Before I got clean and sober, I didn’t have intimate relationships. The first real intimate relationship I ever had was with my sponsor. That was when I learned intimacy and it’s not sex. Let me hear you.

It happened. Intimacy has to do with a connection to other people that may or may not involve sex. Sexual intimacy is one form of intimacy, but it’s not the only one. There are a lot more that are just as meaningful. Intimacy is the experience of making yourself vulnerable and being known. Do you mind if I tell a little teeny story? I went to the doctor. I had an elbow problem. I’ve never met the doctor before. He knows I’m a sexologist and a therapist.

He said, “Do you mind if I ask you a question,” while he was working on my elbow. I was like, “Go ahead.” He said, “I’m 60 and my wife’s 45. I’m worried about performance. Do you have any thoughts?” He knew what I did for a living. He wasn’t trying to use me or take advantage of me, get all the information. He was asking question. I thought, “I like this guy. I want to go back and see him again.”

The reason was he had made himself vulnerable to me. He had talked about something that was intimate, sexuality with his wife. He turned to me in a very innocent way, asking for support. I felt closer to him because he had made himself vulnerable. This is the opposite of what most people think. In group therapy like, “What if I say this? They’re all going to hate me.” The reality is, if you say something that’s very meaningful about yourself and even something is hard to say, most people will move towards you. That means you’re building intimacy.

Friends create an intimacy by talking about their shared issues and the person I’m intimate with, don’t abandon me and leave me. They support me and learning more about me even if they don’t like what they’re hearing. Sexual intimacy is one form of intimacy. Intimacy is about being known and the willingness to make yourself vulnerable to risk that another person will support you, let you in, and not judge you. You have to take that risk of opening up to that person. That’s where the intimacy starts.

By the way, this is how you learn if someone’s a friend or someone’s a date, because if they respond with, “Let me tell you about me. I don’t agree with those,” if someone doesn’t bring you in when you’re being all intimate, they’re probably not the right person that you’d be friends with. You want that person to respond to you, “Tell me more about that. I’m sorry that happened to me, too.” They are engaged and that’s how intimacy is built.

Unless you deal with substances, you can't deal with anything else because drugs and alcohol are disinhibiting. Click To Tweet

How can a person learn intimacy?

It’s practice. How do you learn anything? I went to twelve-step meetings because that was a no-cost away for you to walk into a room and practice getting along with people. I mean that because part of what happens in twelve-step meetings is you go out for coffee after, you talk with people. You’re a sponsor. You can become responsible to someone else or someone who sponsors you. You learn how to have a dependent relationship with someone who has authority.

You bring a coffee every week, which means you learn accountability and structure. People think twelve-step programs are about following those steps and going to those meetings. To me, it’s a much more sophisticated social and relationship learning experience. What I love about twelve-step meetings is I can walk up to you and say, “I’d like to be your friend. Screw you. I don’t like you.” I can go onto the next person. In other words, there’s endless numbers of people to practice getting close to and getting to know. Those kinds of environments for addicts who tend to isolate is a good place to practice.

My experience was the same. I learned intimacy in twelve-step meetings. I learned real human connection. I talk about how I moved to Arizona in 2006. From 2006 to 2011, I was in my addiction and I had a bunch of surface level relationships. Once I got clean and sober from 2011 until now, my world has completely opened up because I’ve learned to truly connect with people. That’s at meetings with a sponsor, with sponsees, that’s even with people at the coffee shop. It’s people in passing. Before getting clean and sober, it’s all about Tim.

I wasn’t interested in you because it was about me.

It’s learning to pay attention, be aware, listen, be of service, and be vulnerable.

Some people say, “Do I need to spend my life in meetings?” You might be going for a long period of time on a regular basis, but your life shouldn’t be about that after the first year or so. You should be having those social intimate experiences in recreation, hobbies, or with friends. The goal of recovery is not to go to meetings every day. It’s to get out in the world and practice the lessons that you learn. If I learned to make more friends, be more at peace and be less reactive in a twelve-step meeting, I need to then go out in the world and join a hiking group and start playing tennis with people, getting engaged with people and using those skills in the real world.

That’s been my experience as well. There was a study done and I don’t know where this study was done. The study showed that people that had multiple communities were happier.

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction: Intimacy has to do with a connection to other people that may or may not involve sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy is one form of intimacy, but it’s not the only one.


They live longer, healthier, all of it.

To your point, it’s like yoga, CrossFit, a hiking club, reading club, or a baking club.

I hate to tell you this, but human beings were never meant to live in an apartment on the 38th floor by themselves and not know their neighbors. For all of humanity, we’ve grown up in communities. It’s auntie across the street and grandma who’s upstairs. We thrive in community, but our lifestyle and way of living forces us more into being separate, isolated, and individual, especially in car driving cities.

I feel like in New York, you engage more people than you might in Atlanta, where you’re more driving around. The environments we live in also set us up for that, but addicts actively avoid connection. I’d rather use by myself at home. We also devalue healthy engaged, like, “Who would want to go play softball at my age? I’d rather get high.” We devalue the fun if we even know what fun is.

It’s Dr. Gabor Maté that said, “Addiction is the opposite of human connection.” Do you agree with that?

Yes. I remember I said and you said that we’re dealing with intimacy and attachment disorders. I believe that addicts are desperately seeking either to shut up their loneliness, longing for connection, drink it away or they’re using it as a form of trying to make a connection. Either way, it doesn’t work. Drugs and alcohol, these are substitutes. Sex, for example, I can feel known and important. I’m in bed with this person. We’re all over each other, but they’re a stranger to me. I’ve never met them before. I’ve only known them a short time. I cannot be intimate with that person. I can have sex with them, but they don’t know me. They don’t know who I am. I’m only doing a physical act. I’m not doing an emotionally engaged physical act.

One of the challenges, by the way, for sex addicts is when they put down all of that behavior, the porn, the acting out, the affairs, whatever and they try to be intimate with a real person. The challenge is they know how to do things. They don’t drink, use, or have sex with strangers, but being with real people and being close and intimate, we avoid that. We don’t move toward it. We move away. We don’t get fed by the very thing that we need, which is emotional support, connection.

Relationships are about giving as opposed to taking. That’s what I think about. When someone’s with a sex worker or looking at porn or whatever, they’re taking.

It's not unusual at all to have people go into treatment and then discover other dysfunctional parts of their lives. Click To Tweet

It’s more like putting yourself in a bubble. You’re in this little world of your creation. It’s controllable. If I see sex workers, rather than being deeply intimate with my spouse, no sex worker is going to let me down. No prostitute is going to abandon me or hurt me. I have complete control over that relationship. I’m paying for it. With a partner, someone I’m close to, they can hurt me. Turning to these more casual, I don’t think I know, porn, sex workers, affairs, intensity, stripper, all that stuff, it’s much easier for us to do that, sex addicts, than be close and vulnerable with someone that we care about. We often set up two lives. We have home, love, and connection over here. We have this crazy sexual behavior here, and it’s all compartmentalized. It’s not connected. We live multiple lives.

It’s believed that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Is that the same thing that’s true of a sex addict?

All the addictions are the same. They all come from the same place. Addictions are longing for connection without the ability to do it or the fear of doing it. By the way, when you go to twelve-step programs, you are forced to connect. Think about it. What do we do with the most mentally ill or addicted when they are home going crazy? We take them out of there. We bring them into community where we put them in a hospital. We take them to meetings and we put them in a group. We bring them to connect with people. We’re literally saying, “This will replace that if you work it, if you engage here, you’ll have less of a need for that.”

What is the meeting do that the alcohol doesn’t do? It connects you. It makes you feel a part of something. We are human. We long for that. Addiction tells us to stay separate and to do it on our own. All the addictions have the common thread of, “I’m fearful of intimacy. I’d rather take care of everything by myself because I don’t trust that other people will help. I’m isolated in my own little box. When my deeper needs come up for connection or support, I don’t turn to the people who’ve been supporting me. I turn into the situations where I feel a sense of control and no one can let me down.”

I want to mention something more about your last question. All addicts have an intimacy and an attachment disorder, which is my belief system. We talked about Gabor Maté talking about that. A lot of people talking about the opposite of addiction is connection. I assume that I have a brain problem. Addicts, many of us who should have grown up with a lot of focus on us, support for us, consistency, and nurturing, we didn’t get that for whatever reason.

I had crazy parents. They were not available to me. Some people have alcoholic parents or parents would fight all the time, whatever their caregivers do, that person does not learn to trust. They do not learn to rely on their caregivers. They learn maybe to reach out for help means, “I’m going to get abandoned.” Later in life, they don’t turn to people for intimate love and support. They turn to something they can control. They can control alcohol, drugs, and gambling. They can completely control in situations, by the way, where you and I would fall out a control. Trolling the street for sex workers would not make me feel safe, but a sex addict feels powerful and great when they’re out there doing that. They’re feeling a sense of control and excitement.

They say that an alcoholic can never go back to drinking like a gentleman. Can a sex addict ever go back to having sex like a regular person?

This is one of the challenges of having an addiction in an area that is a naturally occurring issue. Eating’s a naturally occurring thing and we need to do it. Sex is a naturally occurring experience. I don’t want people to stop having sex. I want them to have healthy sex. When you come to eating food, abstinence is not stopping altogether. You wouldn’t say to someone with an eating disorder, “Stop eating and you’ll be fine the rest of your life.”

ILBS 29 | Sex Addiction

Sex Addiction: The idea of evaluating the mental health or psychological health of a partner of an addict just because they’re with them is cruel at best and, at worst, follows what addicts have always done—blame their spouses.


These are what we call process addictions. They have to deal with behaviors, not drinking and using. You can stop gambling and have a happy life without any fantasy football, casinos, and any stock market. You can stop spending, but sex you want to keep having. Eating you want to keep doing. We create a plan for sobriety, which is we write out what are the unhealthy behaviors that you need to stop, like seeing sex workers, calling exes, patrolling out at night and not having a plan.

Whatever the behaviors, we’re going to set it down. We’re going to establish sobriety, almost always sexual behaviors. I might look at someone a little too long. That’s a warning sign. If I go over to them, start talking to them and get them in bed, bottom line, I might eat a lovely meal, but if I go back for seconds or take a huge dessert, then it’s not. With naturally occurring things, we set boundaries around the problem behavior. We encourage the healthy ones.

I can have sex with my partner, we have a little saying, which I love that sex or sex addicts has to come from willingness, not from horniness with an intimate partner. What that means is as a sex addict, I went out looking for the hottest, most exciting, and then it was intense and I want to do, and you wanted me and heart-pounding. There’s a new bod and there’s a new one. It’s all exciting. When you live with someone for fifteen years, that’s not what sex is.

You’ve seen that butt before, so how do you make intimate sexuality exciting and connected? You don’t do it by saying, “You’re so hot. I can’t wait to get in bed with you.” You have to find other ways. Be willing to find your way into sexual intimacy in ways that you haven’t as a sex addict. That takes working on your fear of intimacy, which most addicts I know have. You can have sex, but not all sex.

It’s learning intimacy and connection, and it’s not the high. That could be a rule of thumb. If you’re chasing the high, you’re going into territory that could be a slippery slope.

It’s more like we’re looking at the behaviors have already caused problems. When I work with someone, I ask them what they want in life. Do they want a family? Do they want their marriage to work? What sexual behaviors are not supporting that? “I’m looking at porn three hours a day. It’s hard to get through school. I’m having sex with strangers, but I want to have sex with a partner.” How do we get you from here to there and not have you go back to the old behaviors?

Is sex addiction genetic?

The capacity and vulnerability for addiction are genetic. What I mean by that is some people come out of the womb and they’re calm. They don’t make a lot of noise when they’re babies. Their parents love them and fairly common patient people. That’s how they came out of the womb. That’s their genetic piece. Other people come out anxious, more fearful, and less connected. People are all different and we’re all different at the moment of birth all the way through. The person who had a depressed mother might have genetic issues, issues going through their family, like uncle was an alcoholic. When you’re going to see those genetic predispositions, you’re going to see a predisposed predisposition toward either psychological disorders or addiction or both.

Is there a question that you’ve always wanted to be asked, but the interviewer never got around to it?

People who just stopped drinking and using are hungry to escape. They are hungry to find an emotionally intense, distracting experience. Click To Tweet

One of them is, can women be sex addicts? We often talk about men, but we don’t talk about women.

Can women be sex addicts?

Yes. I opened one of the first treatment centers just for women with these issues. Interestingly, by the way, women will often bounce back and forth between food and sex. They’ll gain a whole bunch of weight when they’re in a relationship, literally push a person away. When they’re single, they’ll lose all the weight and run out there, and pick whatever they can find, and back and forth. I see everything from very compulsive behavior repetitively with strangers in women, which we see in men more often all the way to affair after affair, but I’m also sleeping with sex workers. You don’t see as many. We don’t see as many women getting in trouble for sexual problems as we do in men. There is a good reason for that.

What’s the reason?

I knew you were going to ask that, testosterone. We are much more highly sexual, aggressive, competitive, and physical in those ways because we have testosterone and women don’t. Why are 90% of the people with sexual problems rape offending in prison who are male? Women don’t have testosterone. They’re not driven in the same ways as men are around sexuality. Why don’t we have a huge #MeToo Movement for men?

We have a small one because men are aggressive and we are more of the aggressors. We are programmed that way and then the chemicals. Do you ever noticed how a 65-year-old man, most of them, are a little bit less apt to go, “It’s you baby going down the street?” That’s not just aging. That’s the hormonal situation has changed and I’m not so driven to look, touch, and talk to that. It’s not that important to me in the same way it did when I was 23.

My experience is that women are more likely to have eating disorders and men are more likely to have sex addiction. Why do you think men are less likely to have an eating disorder?

This is not research-based, it’s just how I would put it, men tend to act out. Men act out with sexual behavior, violence, stealing, and outside of what’s healthy for them out there in the world. Women tend to more act in, so they get depressed. They stopped being functional. They eat and do things that make their life more insular, not so much habit. Women more tend to have problems here. Men tend to have problems out there.

Intimacy is the experience of making yourself vulnerable and being known. Click To Tweet

Not that it can’t be different, but women are soothing themselves and regulating their mood with food. They’re not rushing out there for intensity with sex for the most part. That simply has to do with how we’re built as men and women. Women are out there struggling. Especially with porn, I don’t know if you know this, I have been running a support group for many years. I do it as service online, volunteer.

For years, I have seen 50% of the people in that group, women. Now I go to a twelve-step meeting for sex addicts, it’s 90% men. When you go online, you find that women feel safer in community online. Women don’t necessarily want to go to a church basement on a rainy night and sit with nine guys who have sex problems, but they go online and I find a lot of women. We are going to see all kinds of addicts showing up for help because they don’t have to walk into a church basement at 9:00 at night. The internet has offered women a lot more opportunities to heal than they have before, in my opinion.

There’s a treatment center in Tucson. They have a program called Intimacy Disorders. It’s used to be Sex Addiction, but now it’s Intimacy Disorders. My understanding is that women felt safer once it was called an Intimacy Disorder.

Think about this, if I’m a guy and I’m having a lot of sex, and I don’t tell people about the bad parts, I tell people about sex I’m having, I’m going to be called a stud. People are like, “That guy’s cool. He gets laid all the time.” If I’m a woman and I’m out there had a lot of sex, I’m going to be called a slut or a whore. Women already intuitively know what people think about them if they’re out there having a lot of sex. It’s much harder for a woman to come out and talk about it because she’s not going to be the player, she’s going to be the bad girl. Our culture already knows that and acknowledges that and accepts. There is an important reason why we look at women and men differently or have these issues, for sure.

I know you already mentioned this. How can people find support if they are struggling or if a loved one is struggling with sex addiction?

There are endless support groups online. Sex and Relationship Healing is one of them, but every twelve-step program is online, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. There are programs for people with porn problems or Sex and Porn Addicts Anonymous and Porn Addicts Anonymous. There’s all of that. I wanted to say something else about porn. Let’s go back to your question.

Educate yourself. It’s true that there’s a lot of fake news online, but if you look for experts, and this is where you need to look, look for the person who has the PhD, who has the educational customers, the drug and alcohol counselor, and the people who know what they’re doing and read and learn. Also, YouTube is a great place to have professionals talk to you and learn from you and all that stuff. We offer online courses where people can learn how to work on this stuff. The internet now, there are so many opportunities. There are whole communities for men with porn problems, with thousands of people going every week trying to change their behaviors.

The gift of the internet, in part, is that there are so many places you can go and learn. It’s funny. I want to say this silly little thing, and it’s so silly, but you and I often recommend a book for someone to read. This would be helpful if you read this book, Addicts and Partners. I was talking to someone and I realized, “I can tell them to get it right this minute.” By the time we’re done with this conversation, they’ll have the book in their hand. Little things like that have changed my world in ways that help people. I’m a huge fan of accessing things online. Education is the best way to start.

Addictions are longing for connection without the ability to do it, or the fear of doing it. Click To Tweet

Where can people find you? How can they find you?

I’m not hard to find. If you type in Dr. Rob Weiss and sex, you don’t need to go much further than that. If you want to write me a note, I’m The podcast is The treatment center is Seeking Integrity and our free website for support is There are lots of ways to find me. You will find me on Digital Intervention. I’m excited about that. For parents out there who have kids who are struggling with social media and the internet, Digital Intervention is going to be very helpful.

Dr. Rob, thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate you. I learned a lot. I hope our readers learned a lot as well.

I love being sober. Thank you for naming it that. Thank you for inviting me in.

Important Links:

About Robert Weiss Ph.D., LCSW

ILBS 29 | Sex AddictionRobert Weiss Ph.D., LCSW is Chief Clinical Officer of Seeking Integrity LLC, a unified group of online and real-world communities helping people to heal from intimacy disorders like compulsive sexual behavior and related drug abuse. As Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Rob led the development and implementation of Seeking Integrity’s residential treatment programming and serves as an integral part of the treatment team.

He is the author of ten books on sexuality,  technology, and intimate relationships, including Sex Addiction 101Out of the Doghouse, and Prodependence. His Sex, Love, and Addiction Podcast is currently in the Top 10 of US Addiction-Health Podcasts. Dr. Rob hosts a no-cost weekly Sex and Intimacy Q&A on Seeking Integrity’s self-help website, (@SexandHealing). The Sex and Relationship Healing website provides free information for addicts, partners of addicts, and therapists dealing with sex addiction, porn addiction, and substance abuse issues.

Dr. Rob can be contacted via Seeking and All his writing is available on Amazon, while he can also be found on Twitter (@RobWeissMSW), on LinkedIn (Robert Weiss LCSW), and on Facebook (Rob Weiss MSW).

A Lifelong Journey Of Healing: Ways to Process, Release, And Heal From Trauma With Shalev Amar

ILBS 28 | Healing From Trauma


Trauma does not appear out of thin air. It comes from deep-seated issues and experiences that start from our childhood. Likewise, healing from trauma does not happen overnight. In this episode, Tim Westbrook is joined by Shalev Amar, also known as Freedom From Trauma on YouTube. Shalev works as a lawyer in his own Amar Law Group but has dedicated most of his life to learning about trauma and finding ways to overcome it. As someone who’s undergone trauma his whole life, he gives personal advice on how he is working to overcome them through various methods. Healing is a lifelong journey, and how you cope matters. Shalev has made it his mission to educate and inform people on healthy methods to do so. Tune in to learn all about them and see what might work for you.

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

A Lifelong Journey Of Healing: Ways to Process, Release, And Heal From Trauma With Shalev Amar

I’m here with Shalev Amar. Shalev has been an Attorney for over seventeen years and has spent thousands of hours over the years studying trauma, psychology, and healing methods. He’s passionate about this topic because his family has suffered through generational cycles of trauma and he is committed to breaking that cycle. It is his mission to teach people how to overcome their trauma so that they don’t suffer and pass it on. Shalev and I are going to talk about ways to process release and heal trauma.

Shalev, welcome to the show.

Trauma is a lifelong process to heal. Click To Tweet

Thank you, Tim. Thanks for having me on.

I’m grateful to have you here. Shalev, you’re an attorney and you’ve been an attorney for over many years. You own a successful law firm here in Scottsdale. What gives you the right to claim you are an expert on ways to process release and heal from trauma?

Life is the best teacher. I am a licensed attorney. I’ve been an attorney for many years. I’ve spent more time studying trauma, psychology, neurology, anything to do with processing and releasing trauma. I have spent more time on that than I have studying the law for whatever that’s worth.

Why is that?

The reason is that I was gripped in the hell of despair of severe generalized anxiety and massive amounts of unresolved childhood trauma that caused me all kinds of problems in my life, failed relationships, lost opportunities, and suffering. Trauma is the root of most addictions.

Many people believe that trauma is the root of all addictions. You’ve been an attorney for many years and you’ve been studying trauma, psychology, and how to get through your trauma. How long have you been dealing with this trauma and this anxiety? How has it affected you?

Basically, my whole life. The more I realized about trauma, I’m like, “Wow.” I’ve been traumatized at every step of the process starting in utero. My mother had a stressful pregnancy. Gabor Maté talks about that trauma symptoms can start in utero. What happens is the mom’s stress hormones and neurochemicals go into the baby. My mom was in a difficult relationship with my father. She was unhappy. She had to drop out of med school. She was stressed immensely and depressed during her pregnancy. Also, a traumatic birth. My mom was in labor for 48 hours. She had no pain medication. While I was stuck in the birth canal, there were all kinds of stress chemicals and hormones that I was flooded with that made me have an overactive nervous system.

In early childhood, I was taken away from my parents at a year old and put in these children’s houses in the kibbutz where I grew up. That’s like a communal farming town in Israel. They don’t do this anymore because they realized how damaging it was to children but I was part of this weird social experiment. My earliest memory is running around in the middle of the night trying to get home feeling terrified and abandoned that I was left alone to die. As an adult, I know that wasn’t the case. The problem is that caused deep subconscious wiring.

On top of that, my father had severe BPD, which is Borderline Personality Disorder. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, a raging alcoholic, and badly traumatized my father. My father unknowingly passed that trauma to me through his behavior. He was a dry drunk, all of the symptoms of an alcoholic without drinking. He was a rageaholic. He would fly into rages all the time. He had little or no provocation. He hurt people. He was traumatized as well. That’s the long and short of it. Lots of ways that I was traumatized.

Nutrition is critical. You can’t be eating a bunch of garbage and think that you’re going to feel okay emotionally. Click To Tweet

This might back up a little bit. What specific incident inspired you to be passionate about teaching people how to heal from trauma? Where were you? What happened? Who were you with?

I’ve been suffering most of my life, especially most of my adult life. What brought things to head is I went through a painful breakup with the mother of my child. I took them really hard. The reason is that the breakups would trigger my abandonment issues from childhood. This breakup was bad. I wouldn’t say my ex had BPD but she had aspects of it.

BPD is a Borderline Personality Disorder on a spectrum.

It’s a matter of degree. There were times when she’s having road rages. She would be nasty to me and that triggered my childhood wounding. At the end of that relationship, I gave everything that I could and I felt depleted and drained because nothing that I did worked and nothing was good enough. The breakup was very painful. It was the worst of all the breakups that I’ve gone through, especially because I thought I would spend my life with her. We had a child together. I was having constant panic attacks and also lots of rumination about what I went through in the relationship.

I reached an enough is enough point and said, “I’ve had it. I’m going to do whatever it takes to heal myself. I’m not going to keep suffering through my life, keep having failed relationships, keep having panic attacks, and severe anxiety mixed in with depression.” Frankly, I was sick and tired of suffering. Out of necessity, I decided to use my skills as an attorney to study trauma, psychology, and healing methods the same way that I studied in law school to become a lawyer, and I became obsessed with it.

In learning about it for yourself, you also decided that you wanted to teach others. How did that come about?

The more I learned about trauma, the more I started to see it everywhere. Many people are suffering. Again, it’s on a spectrum. I would apply the 80/20 rule. I haven’t done any double-blind studies. It’s anecdotal, but from what I see, 80% of the public is at least somewhat traumatized and a large portion of that 80% is severely traumatized. The 20% had that ideal-like childhood to leave it to Beaver Home. It’s great because they’re happy and they had a lot of love and support growing up. At least in my mind, that’s not 80% of people.

ILBS 28 | Healing From Trauma

Healing From Trauma: There are many ways that people self-medicate just to get some relief from the pain, escape the pain, or have a distraction from the pain.


Especially in early childhood, we are much more prone to be traumatized because our brains are not fully developed. We’re like sponges and there can be some deep neural wiring in our early childhood. Not just that, we don’t understand. If a parent is abusing us, we don’t understand that our parent is hurt and traumatized themselves. We feel like, “I’m unworthy. I’m bad. I’m unlovable. Otherwise, why would I be getting abused like this?” You blame yourself and then it causes deep wounds and loss of self-esteem.

It makes me think about The Four Agreements. The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. The second agreement is to not take things personally. In The Four Agreements, they talked about how we’re domesticated. We’re domesticated by our parents and they are doing things that traumatize us. That’s part of the domestication process, which we carry with us moving forward.

Those early years, 0 to 7, are where we’re the most domesticated, most socially programmed, and most affected by abuse. That’s why a lot of people, even in adulthood, don’t even have necessarily specific memories, especially if they’re kinesthetic. Meaning that they feel more rather than see or hear as their primary mode of operating in the world. They don’t feel good. They feel anxious and depressed. A lot of people self-medicate to escape the pain. Self-medicating, oftentimes, is with drugs or alcohol. It can be with lots of things. It can be with sex, gambling, love addiction, or being in unhealthy codependent relationships. There are lots of ways that people self-medicate to get some relief from the pain, escape the pain, or have a distraction from the pain and some temporary pleasure mixed with more pain, unfortunately, by engaging in those behaviors.

You said that you see trauma everywhere. You started studying it and studying the psychology of it. What does that look like for you? I don’t look for it, so I’m wondering. When you say you see it everywhere, what does that mean?

If somebody is badly traumatized, you can even see it in their face and their demeanor. Their body language can be hunched over or it can be tight like ready for a fight, flight, or freeze. If you walk around a shopping center, take a look at people’s faces. You’re not seeing a lot of smiles and happiness. You’re seeing a lot of downtrodden looks. I believe this because people are walking around with all kinds of unresolved trauma. Not just that, look how people get worked up over politics and flying the rages about it. That is largely due to people being traumatized and feeling that their values and beliefs are under attack by the other side. That can trigger trauma, fight, flight, or freeze.

If you look at how people even deal with consumer situations like if they have a complaint about a product and they fly off the handle, that’s because their trauma is triggered. If you look at the divorce rate, do you think people would be fighting as much as they are and be getting divorced at the level that they are? That’s not even talking about relationships where people don’t get divorced but they’re unhappy. Do you think that people would be yelling at each other and being nasty to each other if there wasn’t trauma being triggered?

It’s going back to Don Miguel Ruiz. He had another book called The Mastery of Love, which is a great book and a great companion to The Four Agreements. He talks about how we’re all walking around with emotional wounds covering our entire body, so to speak. The metaphor he uses is to imagine your bodies covered in open gaping wounds. We want love but the problem is anytime somebody touches that wound, it causes excruciating pain. That’s what is constantly happening with people emotionally.

Happy, well-adjusted, non-traumatized people are not going to be flying off the handle if somebody cuts them off in traffic. The more I’ve studied trauma, the more I see it everywhere. Much of unhappiness is because people are traumatized. People wouldn’t be getting worked up with the internet trolls, they wouldn’t be getting into road rage incidents, and they wouldn’t be yelling at customer service reps if they weren’t filled with unresolved trauma.

If you don’t prioritize your healing, everything else falls apart. Click To Tweet

I’ve heard you talk about the different types of trauma in the past. Tell me about it.

There are two main types of trauma. One is the big T trauma and then the small t trauma. The big T trauma does seem to be a lot of awareness of, for example, PTSD, after being involved in a war, seeing your buddies blown up, the death of someone you’re close to, having a friend who is murdered in front of you or commit suicide and you walk in on the dead body, being raped or molested. Also, being physically assaulted. Those are all big T trauma.

What’s less commonly understood is the small t trauma. Those are more like small cuts, emotional wounds, but they can accumulate over time. Things like neglect, being yelled at by a parent or a caregiver, being told that you’re worthless, and being emotionally abused. Not just that, let’s say feeling excluded like racism in any event. What people don’t realize is that small t trauma can accumulate over time. If it’s repeated day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year, that small t trauma can become as severe as the big T trauma as far as symptoms that are experienced.

There is a lack of awareness about that, unfortunately. That’s why way more people are traumatized than they even realize themselves because they think like, “Nobody’s ever beaten me up. I was never molested. Why do I feel this way?” What was your childhood like? Were you bullied? Were your parents nasty to you? Were you yelled at all the time? Where you made the black sheep of your family? All those things can be severely traumatizing over time.

What happens when the little t trauma accumulates?

What happens is it’s as severe as the big T trauma and it can cause PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD from major trauma, that’s normal PTSD. PTSD from smaller types of repeated trauma is called complex PTSD. The symptoms are the same. It’s just the genesis is different. As far as symptoms, it’s being trapped in a fight, flight, or freeze, which is an emotional hell. Feeling emotionally reactive, being easily triggered, having insomnia, difficulty breathing, panic attacks, severe anxiety, and depression, all of those things can be caused by accumulated small t trauma.

Tell me about the recommended process to heal from big T trauma or small t trauma.

The process is exactly the same. Unfortunately, the way people deal with any kind of trauma, whether it be small t or big T trauma, is they self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, you name it. That’s numbing symptoms. It never resolves the underlying trauma. To process heal and release the trauma, there are various methods and the key is to be open-minded and be willing to try things. What works amazing for one person may work for another person but not as well. If you have severe trauma, it’s highly unlikely that one method will work. You need to stack methods and attack the problem from every angle that you can.

Over the years, I’ve tried many methods. I’ve had to beat my head against the wall trying things that didn’t work for me. Over the years, I have found things that worked well. Even though some things work better than others, the methods that I’ve found would work for anybody at varying degrees, of course. That’s why I recommend to your readers that if they want to try some of these methods, go through some trial and error, see how it makes you feel, see how it works for you. The methods that work best for you, double down and be consistent over time with those methods. Over time, it will heal you more and more.

What are some of these methods? Trauma Release Exercises or TRE. Those are exercises that fatigue your psoas muscles. What that does is it causes involuntary shaking. If you see somebody after a car accident, usually they’re on the side of the road, they might be hugging themselves and shaking. That’s a good thing. That’s your body’s natural way of releasing trauma. If an animal is attacked, you’ll see the same thing. Afterward, they’ll shake it out. That’s a way of releasing trauma from your body and your nervous system.

Another method is something called Network Chiropractic Treatments. The name is deceptive because they don’t do adjustments, maybe some minor ones. It’s more pressure point therapy and that helps balance your bio-energetic field and your nervous system. It also helps you process and release trauma. The way I would describe it is if you go through a network chiro session at a good practitioner, you feel like you’ve meditated for an hour combined with an hour of massage. Your body, mind, and spirit all feel relaxed.

Plant medicines can be effective, but they’re not for everyone. For people with certain medical conditions, bipolar for example or certain other medical conditions, it might not be a good idea because the plant medicines can cause psychosis in some people and make the issues worse. I never recommend that anybody do that without conferring with a doctor first. Also, the fact that plant medicines are still illegal in many places. I’m not telling anybody to break the law. If you are interested in plant medicines, I recommend conferring with a doctor and also going somewhere where it’s legal or becoming part of a government-authorized study that allows you to use these substances and not get in trouble. Plant medicines can be effective in both raising awareness, helping to process, and release trauma.

ILBS 28 | Healing From Trauma

Healing From Trauma: Your emotions are like magnets that attract things into your life. If inside you’re an emotional wreck and dealing with all kinds of pain, it’s going to attract more pain into your life.


The most effective method that I’ve ever found is something called Kambo. It’s an animal medicine from the Amazon. It is legal as far as I know. Hopefully, it stays that way. What happens is you go to a shaman or a healer and they will burn small little holes into your skin. They’re called gates. They’ll rub the Kambo on your skin and you drink a couple of liters of water. Pretty quickly, you start feeling flushed, hot, you get a rapid heartbeat, you feel nauseous, and you start to purge or vomit violently. It’s very extreme. It’s also the most physically demanding trauma release method that I’ve ever done. You purge anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. I’m talking about projectile vomit. Sometimes you can purge too.

After doing Kambo for a couple of days, you’re out of it. The third day, you wake up and whatever your trauma level is, let’s say it’s an 8 or 9, all of a sudden, it’s cut in half. It’s incredible. It’s the closest thing that I found to a magic pill. Unlike a magic pill, you’re going to have to pay the price to go through an arduous physical experience. In Kambo, you need to be healthy enough to do it if you’re considering it. You must confer with a doctor to see if it’s even something feasible for you. It’s something difficult to go through. It’s not the first thing I would recommend to someone. To anyone who’s been doing the work for a while, tried various methods, and feel that they’re in a good place, Kambo can get you to the next level. It doesn’t replace other methods and daily practices. You still have to do the work. There is no magic pill. It’s a lifelong process to heal.

When you say do the work, what does that mean?

It means lots of things. It means those other trauma-release methods. I’ll add a couple more. Journaling is a good way to process trauma because writing is a psychoneural activity and it helps you get everything out on paper. What I recommend to your audience is don’t censor yourself. If you want to cuss and be as emotional as you are, don’t worry about your handwriting, you can write in a rage. It is a good way to process trauma. Also, the Wim Hof breathing method with cold exposure can be helpful. What that does is spikes adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol levels. Those levels have lowered the rest of the day and it helps balance you out.

Another practice is deep diaphragmatic breathing. It’s free and anybody can do that. Breathe in deeply through your nose for at least four seconds, hold it for four seconds, breathe out through your nose for four seconds, and hold another four seconds. That’s called box breathing. You could also do it in seven-second increments. There are other breathing methods as well. They’re all useful. Getting regular massages can help calm your nervous system.

Avoid the news. If you’ve been traumatized and you’ve been through a bunch of negative stuff, why in the hell would you expose yourself to more negativity? The news is out of your control anyway. There’s nothing you can do about it. Why be hearing about murders, rapes, larcenies, and how awful society is? I’m not saying stick your head in the sand but, for a lot of people, it almost becomes disaster porn. They’re watching one news show after the other.

I’ve done this before. I used to be a news junkie. I’m watching one show after another and getting all riled up. We can be addicted to being angry and upset because those emotions are familiar to us. You’re making your trauma worse by exposing yourself to the news. I’m not saying stick your head in the sand but you can go online for 10 to 15 minutes and you know what’s going on. You don’t need hours of that stuff, especially the ranters on political shows. All they’re trying to do is trigger your emotions.

A lot of people are addicted to suffering, which is interesting. That’s what that is, being addicted to suffering, watching the news, watching negativity, watching and talking about the things that are negative going on in the world. It’s not my experience and not helpful. To your point, I don’t want to stick my head in the sand. However, I want to listen to uplifting things. I want to talk to uplifting people. I want to do things that make me feel good. I’ve heard a couple of things from you, which is there are lots of different kinds of traumas. A lot of times, when people think about trauma, they think about divorce, murder, bankruptcy, major car accidents, or these big major events but it’s not just the big major events, it’s also the little things.

Somebody cuts me off, somebody yells at me, my dog bites me, somebody else’s dog bites me. There are all of these little things, maybe it’s not a divorce but it’s a breakup. Even if it’s a breakup from somebody that you have dated for only a couple of months, that’s still traumatic, too. It’s the little T. It’s all of those little things. If we don’t process and release, we’re never going to heal. That’s what I’m hearing you say.

As you’re talking about all these different things, the breathwork, the prayer, the meditation, the yoga, the exercise, the journaling, all of those things, that’s all self-care. It’s part of being in recovery. Those are the types of things that we do. The service work, getting out of myself and realizing that my problems aren’t that big of a deal. Having a morning routine, a daily routine, and taking the time to process all of these little things, it’s a daily process that needs to happen. Is that your experience as well?

Yes. I would also add that nutrition is critical. You can’t be eating a bunch of garbage and think that you’re going to feel okay emotionally. Studies are starting to show this. There’s too much sugar in the Standard American Diet, SAD, a good acronym. Preservatives and processed foods can cause all kinds of health issues. If you don’t feel physically well, do you think you’re going to feel emotionally well? You got to have a clean diet but I’m not going to get into the diet wars about vegan, paleo, carnivore, and all that. It’s not about that.

Something that all diets can agree about is to eat real food. Don’t eat processed junk. Don’t consume a bunch of high-fructose corn syrup. That stuff is poison. Do you know what the high- fructose corn syrup causes? It causes these massive insulin spikes and then it crashes. It’s like what you get from doing drugs. You get these massive emotional spikes and then it crashes. Why would you eat something that mimics what drugs do? Don’t do it. You got to eat clean. Besides making you look better, you’ll feel better and it will help you heal. It will make everything easier.

If you’re stuffing your face with unhealthy food, that’s another addiction that people use to cope with trauma. That was my dad’s addiction. He ate himself to death. He became morbidly obese. He ultimately died of pneumonia but he was experiencing kidney failure. He’d had a triple bypass. Food can be a way of dealing with trauma because you get a temporary feeling of comfort from eating food. As I said, you get the insulin spikes and things of that nature. They call it comfort food for a reason. It does make you feel comfortable at the moment but the problem is long-term. It makes you feel bad, it wrecks your health and it makes it much harder to heal. It can be a crutch like drugs, alcohol, or sex. Diet and nutrition are critical.

What you have to do is you have to put your healing first above everything else in your life. That’s why a morning routine is amazing. You start the day with self-care and doing things that will help you feel better and help you heal. You have to prioritize that above everything else because if you don’t prioritize your healing first, everything else falls apart. Let’s say you’re making a lot of money. Why does all the money in the world matter if, inside, you’re tied up in knots and you feel awful? No amount of money will fill that hole inside you. Money can give you comfort and fewer stress bills and things like that but it doesn’t heal you. It can give you the means to try healing methods and that’s a good thing.

Money in and of itself could backfire on you if you don’t deal with your trauma because then guess what? You can afford whatever drug you want. Guess what? You can blow out in the strip club, get a bunch of prostitutes, or engage in other destructive behaviors because money gives you the ability to do that. Money is neutral and it will magnify whatever else that you’re doing in your life. If you have addictions, the money will make those addictions worse. It’s not going to help you unless you use that money to help you heal.

Money can give you comfort and less stress and bills and things like that, but it doesn't heal. Click To Tweet

What if a person is not proactive when it comes to healing? Will they heal?

No. You have no choice. You don’t stay in the same place. You either move forward or you move backward. That’s how it works. If I stopped doing the work and daily routines combined with various trauma processing healing and release methods that I do, I go backward. I start to not feel well. It’s like being an alcoholic or a drug addict. It’s a condition that you have. If you’ve been severely traumatized, unfortunately, you are prone to be re-traumatized and that’s because you have that overactive nervous system and deep subconscious neural wiring. You have no choice. If you don’t do the work, you’re going to go backward and you’re going to start suffering again.

I used to be resentful when I would think about it because I felt like, “This is unfair. I have to do so much to get to baseline, to get to normal. It’s not fair.” That 20% that I’m talking about, they walk around and they’re happy. They don’t have to do anything. It’s not fair. Life is not fair. Everybody has challenges. The way I see it, it’s like a diabetic who has to take an insulin shot. We can get into a conversation about whether diet would make them not need the insulin shot but that’s another form of self-care. In any event, it’s like that. You have this condition, the same applies to addiction, and you have to do the work. You have no choice. Your other choice is a living hell.

Your choice is to have some discipline and do the work and sometimes do things when you don’t feel like doing them or to have enormous suffering and have your life fall apart. To me, it’s not even a close call. I do what I have to do. I know I have no choice. Also, once you see behind the curtain, it’s possible to heal, it’s possible not to suffer, and it’s possible to feel good, you have no choice. Your mind will torment you if you don’t do the work because you’ll know deep down that you don’t have to suffer, you’re choosing to suffer.

I’m thinking about my morning routine and self-care. I give myself an hour in the morning. Before I do anything else, I have an hour of time to pray, meditate, do breathwork, journal, read, and do red light therapy, eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. I do all these things and I choose to do those things. Occasionally, someone will say, “You’re the most disciplined person that I know.” I don’t think it’s because I’m disciplined. I do the things that I do because it makes me feel good because I want to be happy, joyous, and free. I know that those are the things I need to do in order to have the freedom, love myself, and live the life that I want to live.

It’s like a buffet in Vegas or something like that. You don’t get to eat before you pay. If you suffer from trauma or addiction, that’s just the price of admission not to suffer. You have to do the work. You can’t skip it.

Is there a question that you’ve always wanted to be asked but the interviewer never got around to it? If so, what would that question be?

We tapped around it a little bit but that question would be, why do people keep repeating patterns? They should know better. They go from one unhealthy relationship to another. It just seems to be a different person but the same problems or they just stay with a person who’s not good to them. First, we need to have some self-compassion. What it comes down to is that there is unresolved trauma. A big component of the Law of Attraction is your emotional state. They’re like a magnet that attracts things into your life.

You can think as positive as you want and have the best attitude in the world. If inside you’re an emotional wreck and you’re dealing with all kinds of pain, it’s going to attract more of that pain into your life. That’s another reason why trauma processing, release, and healing is important. We have to increase awareness and realize that we’re basically replaying childhood patterns that we were modeled growing up, the dysfunctional relationship between parents.

You don’t want it consciously, but subconsciously, you keep tolerating things from certain partners because that’s what you saw your parents do. It’s a combination of increasing your awareness of patterns that you’re repeating like a robot. Number two, understanding that you’re going to keep attracting people and situations into your life that will cause you pain if you don’t heal your pain. You’re inside is reflected in your outside reality as well. They’re interconnected. It’s like a self-repeating cycle or a flywheel.

We’re coming up on the end of the episode. Is there anything else that you would like to share about trauma, how to heal, and how to process, or anything for that matter?

I would urge your audience to make a commitment to themselves to heal. I know it’s hard and when you’re in the depths of despair and trauma, it feels impossible and there’s no hope. The pain is so severe. I don’t wish it on my worst enemy, but just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The time is going to pass anyway, so why not use that time to slowly crawl out of that hole?

There’s a story about my grandfather that’s a perfect description of this. Not the alcoholic grandfather. The other grandfather on my mother’s side. He was a radiologist and a successful doctor. He was riding a bike, and he got run over by a big rig truck. He almost died. The doctors said he would never walk again. It was a miracle even survived. When he went home, he was in a wheelchair. His legs were crushed and his wife brought out the wheelchair but he refused to take the wheelchair.

He crawled to the front door and my oldest dad was in the front door. She had tears streaming down her face and she said, “Let me help you.” He said, “No, I can help myself.” He dragged himself around like that for four months. He would drag himself into the pool and swim laps in the pool. Slowly, he was able to walk and jog. He then started training for a marathon.

When he ran his first marathon, some of his friends were following him in a car. They were so inspired that they got out of the car and they started jogging with him. One of his friends, who was a neurologist, said to one of my aunts, “He shouldn’t physically be able to do this. The reason that he is able to do it is because of his mind. He refused to give up.”

It’s a great story for everyone. Don’t give up. Crawl as long as you have to crawl. Eventually, you’ll be able to walk, jog, run, and you’ll win that race of life as long as you keep going. You’ll have setbacks but don’t give up. If you have a setback, recommit the next day and keep going. Don’t beat yourself up. Be self-compassionate. You are overcoming the most difficult thing in the world to overcome. Be compassionate with yourself and stick with it.

ILBS 28 | Healing From Trauma

Healing From Trauma: Don’t give up. Crawl as long as you have to crawl. Eventually, you’ll be able to walk, jog, and run and win that race of life.


How can people find you or where can they find you?

I’m a full-time attorney, eventually, once I exit, I would like to do this kind of work full-time and spend the rest of my life helping people figure this out and heal. I do have a YouTube channel. It’s @FreedomFromTrauma. Please follow, like, and share my videos. I’m trying to build a following. I put up free content to help people. I want to increase awareness and show people ways to heal, process, and release trauma.

Your inside is reflected in your outside reality as well. Click To Tweet

Shalev, thank you for your time. Thanks, everybody, for reading. Our next episode is going to be with Dr. Nicole Srednicki with Ultra Healthy Human. We’re going to talk about high-performance health. Thanks, everyone.

Thank you, Tim.

Important Links:

About Shalev Amar

Shalev Amar is the Founder and Manager of Amar Law Group. Prior to founding Amar Law Group, Mr. Amar was a Managing Partner for twelve years of a consumer law firm that exclusively handled motor vehicle claims on behalf of consumers. Since 2004, Mr. Amar has successfully litigated and/or settled over 1,533 Lemon Law and breach of warranty claims with motor vehicle and RV manufacturers. Additionally, his current and predecessor law firms have handled over 4,267 Lemon Law cases. 

This extensive experience is the basis for the 4 Free Consumer Awareness Guides Mr. Amar has authored to help educate consumers about Lemon Law questions to ask and pitfalls to avoid. The guides are called: How to Avoid Four Lemon Law Rip-Offs, Six Costly Misconceptions About Lemon Law Claims, Eight Mistakes to Avoid When Pursuing a Lemon Law Claim, and Seven Questions to Ask a Lemon Law Firm About Potential Representation. 

Dr. Ramani Durvasula On Narcissism And Its Influence On Addiction

ILBS 27 | Narcissism


Substance use and addiction are not just born out of external and environment factors. There is often a deep-seated cause that we don’t treat—our personality. In this episode, Dr. Ramani Durvasula joins host Tim Westbrook to discuss how narcissism manifests itself and influences substance-related issues. Ramani is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, author, consultant, speaker, and expert on narcissism. Her practice has focused greatly on highly antagonistic personality styles and their impact on mental health and relationships. She dives deeper into the many subtypes of narcissism and how each subtype should be addressed when treating patients recovering from substance use. Ramani explains the parallels between addiction and narcissism and further explains how narcissistic behavior can affect addiction and narcissism as a risk factor for the same.

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Dr. Ramani Durvasula On Narcissism And Its Influence On Addiction

I’m here with Dr. Ramani Durvasula. She is a licensed clinical psychologist, bestselling author, professor of Psychology, distinguished speaker, workplace consultant, and expert on narcissism. She has been sought out in various media outlets for her expertise on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse including Red Table Talk, Bravo, the Lifetime Movie Network, National Geographic, Discovery and the History Channel. Her work has been featured at TEDx and on the TODAY show and Good Morning America. She also has a popular YouTube channel with over 700,000 followers and over five million views per month that focuses on narcissism and difficult relationships. Dr. Ramani and I are going to talk about substance use disorders and narcissism. Dr. Ramani, welcome to the show. It’s so good to see you again.

Thank you, Tim. It’s almost a narcissistic introduction.

I wrote the introduction. Take it. There’s a lot more to it than what I read. I’m so grateful and honored to have you here on the show. I’m looking forward to chatting with you. This is the second time I’ve had you here on the show. The first time, we talked about understanding narcissism in general. Now, we’re going to talk about substance use disorders and addiction. I got lots of good questions for you. Let’s dig into it. What gives you the right to claim you’re an expert on narcissism?

I don’t know if I have the right. I even hate calling myself an expert in anything. I always view that somebody who is in mental health. Ideally, you triangulate anything from three paths. I’ve done research on this. I’ve been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to examine personality disorders as they link to HIV and substance use. I have clinically been practicing in this area, focusing on survivors of narcissistic relationships. In other words, those who have been harmed by people with these personality styles. I wrote my book on that in 2012 and had been doing the work for almost ten years before that. I’ve written two books about it. I’m very immersed in it and I teach about it all over the world. I teach to clinicians, laypeople and coaches. The combination of the three things qualifies me, but who knows? Anyone else is welcome to debate that. I would probably accept that I wasn’t. I’m fine with that.

You’re good with it regardless. I appreciate that you’re here. What specific incident inspired you to be so passionate about narcissism?

It’s interesting because I was writing something about the history of social media and narcissism. As I was writing that, it dawned on me that narcissism was almost like this backwater in the mental health field. Anybody who talked about it viewed it as an intractable problem, “We can’t do anything about it.” From a clinical perspective, no one cared. What was fascinating was if you might have had a difficult person in your own individual life, but it wasn’t at this population level, which things like reality television and social media have proliferated, those industries count on narcissism. They need and foster it. If you need something, you’re going to build more of it.

I do think we created platforms that cause a proliferation. What I was seeing, honestly, was in a clinical setting. How much havoc people who had difficult personalities were causing for frontline staff, nurses, reception staff, nurse practitioners, even for the nursing assistants who would have to take vitals. You have this busy clinic and one client would come in and ruin everyone’s day. Whereas most other clients were behaving well.

This patient population is not only causing undue stress for these hardworking healthcare employees, but nobody likes them. These people aren’t getting good healthcare. People would look on the schedule and say, “This person is coming in now.” I know it happens for us as mental health practitioners. We look at our schedule and we’re like, “I have to get through my 1:00 or 5:00 and I’m fine.” I thought, “This isn’t just happening in healthcare. This has got to be happening everywhere,” and so an idea was born.

Nobody would take on these difficult people in research. That’s how my research path got started here because I thought, “If they’re causing this much trouble in the clinic, these patients are causing this much trouble everywhere.” At the same time, in my clinical practice, more people were coming in with identical complaints about their marriage, invalidation, gaslighting, manipulation, not being heard and not being seen. Nothing they did, no matter how much couples therapy, how much they talk or how much they fix their communication, the other person wasn’t improving. It was seeing those two trends.

Remember, Facebook came around in 2004. This work started getting ahead of steam for me as I went into the mid-2000s. I started seeing the effects of social media and the social influences, watching clinical populations and then thinking about how it affects other settings like the workplace or healthcare was what I thought.

We’ve got a problem. The fact is we’ve been cutting difficult people in the past for a long time, often because difficult people had power, but also because we enable them, “They didn’t mean that. Let’s give them a chance. Everybody has an off day.” Every day is an off day? When we realized that they don’t change, I thought, “If we tell everyone this difficult person is never going to change, how will people proceed from there?”

Did you have any experiences with narcissism prior to being in a clinical setting like growing up?

It was a key part of my childhood. Every type of narcissistic abuse you could have experienced. I’ve had it in family relationships, intimate relationships, workplace relationships and friendships. It’s all four of what I consider the relationships you can have. Interestingly, I only have one sister and I adore her. I never had it in a sibling relationship, but in every other relationship, you could have had it.

What was interesting is I didn’t have a name for it. I look back on that experience, especially as a child. No seven-year-old is walking around and saying that a grandparent, a parent, an aunt, or an uncle is narcissistic. That’s not what a child says. A child blames themselves, “This has got to be me,” or you start sensing on, “My house is weird. There’s a lot of shame. I come from this shameful place.”

Narcissism is a story developmentally that you can tell backward, but you can’t tell forward. Click To Tweet

It has been a part of my entire life which sucks for me. It’s interesting to see people who say they had a perfectly fine early life and a lovely extended family, then they get into adulthood. They fall in love or work with somebody, and they have no roadmap for what it is they’re encountering. Their cheerful family is saying, “Come on now. Anybody can get through anything. Everyone has got good in them.” I get to be the angel of death and say, “Not everybody does.” It has always been something that has plagued me, but I didn’t identify it as such until I was into my research and clinical work.

Since we’re talking about substance use disorders, addiction and narcissism, what are the similarities between a substance use disorder, addiction and narcissism?

There are a lot of similarities that can make it complicated. The similar use of defenses. Narcissists tend to use denial, rationalization and projection, so do substance users. People with substance use disorders will use denial and lots of projection and rationalization. You have very similar defensive portrayals.

When a person is deep in it with an addiction or substance use disorder, their empathy levels drop. At some level, it’s the drug above all else, above people and anything. The other people in their sphere will experience that as a lack of empathy. It’s not to say that all substance users or addicts don’t have empathy, but when they’re in it, they’re not aware of other people. People experience that as a lack of empathy and in some ways, even an entitlement.

In the throes of drug-seeking or resource-seeking behavior to acquire drugs, people will often say, “I need to get the money.” There’s an entitlement like, “Give me the money. Let me stay here. Let me have this and that.” It’s not the same entitlement we see in narcissism but it looks the same on the outside because the person just sees, “This person thinks they can have anything they want.” There’s that piece of it. There’s a manipulativeness we see in both patterns. In the narcissist, manipulation is a form of communication standard. People who have substance use disorders are being manipulative as a means to an end to acquire that end goal of using. That’s often a part of the clinical picture that we see, and then we can see those are manifest behaviors.

Many people would argue narcissism is a risk factor for addiction and substance use disorder, largely because narcissistic people can’t self-regulate. When they have a strong emotion, frustrated, disappointed and under stress, they can’t manage those negative emotions. At one level, they’ll do a lot of lashing out, screaming and yelling at people, but especially when the negative emotions are around disappointment because disappointment takes away a narcissistic person’s grandiosity. If everything is not going their way, then they’re not Superman or Superwoman. What do they do? They use substances to take away that feeling.

This is why we’ll see narcissistic people often have a penchant for stimulant drugs because those foster grandiosity, but I’ve seen every form of addiction you can find. You can even see a lot of narcissistic people will turn to marijuana use because it’s a very numbing substance and there’s like, “I don’t have to think about anything.” It’s that idea of regulation that is so devoid of a narcissistic person. Substance use then becomes a coping tool and then can escalate into a substance use disorder. There’s a ton of overlap.

In fact, anecdotally, what I’ve seen in many families is they will have an incredibly difficult, entitled, mean, cruel and arrogant addict in the family. They’ll find that person will finally go to rehab and the family is like, “We’re going to get our sweet person back.” The person who comes back is mean, arrogant, manipulative, cruel and sober. That is a sad moment for those families because the personality is the personality. They went to rehab and got cleaned. They’re going to twelve-step. They’re good and maintaining but they’re just as nasty to the people in their family as they always were. That’s when we know that narcissism was always the foundation and the substance use was the house. We managed to dismantle the house but the foundation remains.

There are different types of narcissistic personality disorders, correct?

There are different styles of narcissism. There is only one narcissistic personality disorder.

There’s covert narcissism and grandiose narcissism. What else would there be?

Let’s start with the term covert. There is a guy named Pincus who I read his piece on this. He is a heavy hardcore researcher in narcissism. He is like, “These words are being misused. Let’s call them grandiose and vulnerable narcissism.” Vulnerable narcissism is the form of narcissism that has only been talked about in the last 25 years. It was always a backwater issue. There were always people saying, “There’s a whole different kind of narcissism here,” but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM, never recognized the vulnerable form, yet it’s the vulnerable form that’s showing up in all the therapist’s office and rehab centers.

ILBS 27 | Narcissism

Narcissism: We’ve been cutting difficult people a pass for a long time, often because they have power but also because we enable them.


Grandiose narcissism is easier to explain because it’s what we consider as being garden-variety narcissism. If it’s pervasive and problematic enough, it’s what we traditionally think of as potentially even narcissistic personality disorder. Grandiose narcissism is your arrogant, entitled and grandiose, “I’m the ruler of the world. I’m so great,” deeply entitled, controlling, rageful, superficial, validation-seeking, callous narcissist, and very textbook.

The vulnerable narcissist on the other side is entitled but it’s a victimized entitlement, “Nothing ever goes my way because everybody gets a better start than me. I deserve to be the head of this place, but they’re not even able to see what intelligence is because they’re so stupid.” It’s this begrudging victimized like, “I should be the head but no one is smart enough to see how great I am.” It’s a victimized grandiosity like, “I could be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. I’m not a good programmer but all these people just don’t know how to identify real talent and they had a leg up.” It’s a lot of that.

People who have vulnerable narcissism present with a lot more anxiety and depression. A lot of clinicians identify them as such out the gate. They tend to become a lot more self-effacing. If there’s disappointment or stress, they’re more socially anxious. They’re less socially skilled and less naturally extroverted like we see in the grandiose types. It’s a victimized, resentful and sullen narcissism. That’s the vulnerable narcissist. They’re very afraid of abandonment. They don’t do well in relationships and/or they get let go from a job. They get rageful at those times but they also get very passive-aggressive.

The grandiose narcissists tend to be more overtly aggressive in your face. The vulnerable narcissists tend to be more passive-aggressive. The idea of covert and overt narcissism is more of how it’s displayed. Overt narcissism is more of a behavioral display, “I’m so great. Look at my sports car, my watch and my fancy girlfriend.” Whereas covert narcissism is a bit more of the thoughts like, “Everyone is out to get me. Nobody likes me. Nobody sees how great I am.” That’s the covert part.

With the covert, is there some delusional thinking associated with that?

It’s always like that fine line between delusion and reality. I would call it illusional thinking because it’s not frankly psychotic. It’s very distorted. It’s very black and white. It almost feels like a borderline defense in that way. It’s all-or-nothing, “Nobody likes me. Everybody is out to get me.” What they mean by out to get them isn’t like a tin foil hat out to get them. It’s not like the FBI is monitoring their television but it’s more of, “Everyone else has it better than me. Everyone was born with a trust fund. I wasn’t born with a trust fund.” I don’t know that we call that delusional. They feel persecuted.

Is there a type of narcissist who will be addicted to substances or process addictions?

Let’s go back to your original question, “Are there other forms of narcissism?” We talked about grandiose and vulnerable. There are all these other kinds of subtypes. There is malignant narcissism. Malignant narcissism is characterized more by not only the grandiose stuff but also exploitativeness, much more manipulativeness and callous, much more likely to harm other people, be abusive and maybe even be violent.

There are communal narcissists. Communal narcissists are pseudo-humanitarians. They do what looks like lots of charitable endeavors but the only reason they do them is so people think that, “What a savior you are.” The only reason they’re doing those charitable things is so they get lots of attention and validation. It’s not for the love of the game. They need the attention and won’t do something charitable unless they get lots of credit for it.

There are neglectful narcissists. To some people, they can almost feel like they’re on the spectrum but they’re not. They literally view everyone through an instrumental lens like, “I wouldn’t even notice you unless I needed something from you. If I was in a room with you, you wouldn’t even talk to me until the moment you needed something from me.” They’ll do that in their relationships. They completely neglect everyone. If you’re in a relationship with them, it’s like being in a relationship with a ghost. There’s nothing you can do that can get you to notice them. They don’t notice their kids and anyone.

There are the self-righteous narcissists who think they’re somehow morally superior to everybody else. They’re almost strange and can seem loyal. They play by the rules to a fault but they play by these heavily rigid moral rules to lord that over everyone. They can be rigid with money and rules. There’s no openness, flexibility and empathy in the face of that. There are all these different corners you can go into that explain the different subtypes of narcissism.

Your next question is, “Are there certain forms of narcissism that are more associated with a risk of a substance use disorder?” Probably what I consider more of the big three disorders are the grandiose, vulnerable, and then potentially the malignant narcissist. I would say that because vulnerable narcissists are so not able to cope with all of the negative mood states they’re experiencing. They’re always feeling let down, disappointed, and the world is against them. They’ll want to self-medicate against all that persecutory negativity.

The grandiose narcissistic person always has to seem like a superhero. When that grandiosity is getting chipped away, they don’t like it. They will use to always be able to keep up that false facade. A malignant narcissist is hit-or-miss. A lot of malignantly narcissistic people can be fringed. They’ll sometimes be shady with even how they run their businesses. That shadiness may translate into almost keeping company with people who are more likely to engage in behaviors that are more off-the-grid, even as younger people because we know in the majority of cases, substance use behaviors initiate in adolescents. The malignant narcissistic people as adolescents are already hanging out with the kids. They want to fit in and be the alpha kids. With the other types, it may be a yes or no, but these are the types where we’re more likely to see it.

If narcissism doesn’t at least get somewhat addressed, you’re all but guaranteed that there’s going to be a relapse. Click To Tweet

I would classify drugs as stimulants, “I want to go faster. I want more.” You have the downers, opioids and heroin. I would think that grandiose narcissism would be more associated with stimulants.

Absolutely, however, with the vulnerable narcissistic people, not so much. With vulnerable narcissistic people, they’re trying to squelch those negative emotions. They may be just as likely to use central nervous system depressants, whether that’s alcohol, opioids or even marijuana as a systemic bring it down and be in another world than would people who are grandiose narcissists who want the up, “I’m the king. I’m so great.” I’m seeing this left and right with a vulnerable narcissist using marijuana. It’s a real thing. The vulnerable narcissist is all angry at the world, sullen and feeling victimized, “How come nothing is going my way? How come I’m not an influencer? How come my startup is not working?” They go home and smoke a ton of weed.

They say that alcoholism and drug addiction is a progressive disease. Would you say that narcissism is also progressive?

Narcissism is developmental which intercede into a progressive realm. No child, adolescent or even an emerging adult can fully use that label. We might see narcissistic adjacent patterns in those people. I always say to people, “Narcissism is a story. Developmentally, you can tell backward but you can’t tell forward.” What I mean by that is if you have a 19 or 20-year-old who is entitled, arrogant and all of the things that adolescents are, a lot of parents out there say, “I’m going to have a narcissistic adult on my hands.” I’ll say, “Maybe, but maybe not.”

If that same adult parent tells me the child at 30 or 35 is behaving in this way, they’re in trouble. That 35-year-old was like that when they were twenty, but not all twenty-year-olds are going to be like that when they’re 35. Something happened in those mid-twenties that demands how a person steps up to the demands of real life. The kinds of adult relationships people create oftentimes is how they find their own identity, professional identity and social identity.

Those things in the mid-twenties can correct out because, let’s face it, adolescents’ brains, especially their frontal lobes, are still very much under construction. A lot of that impulsive disinhibited, “I’m only about me and my friends. I don’t care about anybody else,” that’s developmentally on point. As some of that falls away, we’re left with a normal functioning adult, but it doesn’t fall away for everyone. The ones that don’t fall away go into adulthood narcissism.

Once we hit adulthood narcissism, what you’ve got to remember about the vulnerable and grandiose narcissistic types, people like Kernberg and Ronningstam, these big-name narcissism researchers, would argue, “It’s two faces of the same coin but it’s like a weird, distorted coin.” Some people are majorly grandiose narcissists. I’ve worked with these people clinically. When life doesn’t go their way, their partner leaves them, the lawsuit comes or they’re publicly humiliated. The coin flips and they look very vulnerable, victimy, sullenly, resentful and angry, “Everyone is out to get me.” They start looking vulnerable. There are vulnerable narcissists who every so often, the world goes their way, and then they look like grandiose narcissists.

It’s circumstantially how life is treating them that would show what phase they’re going to lead with. Again, two faces of the same coin of narcissism. What we do see is that narcissism probably stays pretty flat throughout adulthood. It manifests in a variety of situations in interpersonal relationships, self-concept and self-regulation. In the professional world, as the narcissistic person gets older, we start seeing different sets of problems. Number one, as people in our society get older, they have less societal power. Unless you’re that rarest of people who have so much money that you can still dangle it and puppeteer people in your 80s or even 90s, by and large, normal people lose. They have to retire. They’re not considered as attractive. They can’t get a young and attractive partner unless they purchase them.

If an older narcissist has the purchasing power, they’ll still be able to engage in all the transactional relationships. As a normal person gets older, they don’t have that power anymore. What you can see is a real ramp-up in irritability at the loss of societal power that they no longer hold. When you add dementia into the mix, then it starts getting messy because it tends to take those narcissistic traits and now they’re mean. You often have a very difficult and almost impossible to manage older adults, where the kids have already been so hurt by this parent as it is, and now they’re going into the dementing process. A lot of times, the kids will say, “Welcome to your assisted living. We can’t do this anymore.” They’ll often get kicked out of multiple assisted living facilities because they’re so cantankerous.

When does narcissism typically become evident? With alcoholism and drug addiction, a lot of times, it starts early at 12, 13, 14 or 15 years old and sometimes it starts later. I heard you say that potentially, a person has narcissistic traits at 19 or 20, but you don’t know yet.

With narcissism, me personally, knowing what we know about the human brain, all bets are off for me until a person is 25. I’m not using 25 as your 25th birthday but if you show me a 28-year-old, we’ll talk. If you show me a 22-year-old, I’m still hedging my bets. I’ll tell someone, “You may have a problem.” For example, in your role, you might see a person who has got a thirteen-year-old who is not just experimenting on the weekends but now it’s every day. While they’re not going to school intoxicated, you might say to that parent, “The everyday part is concerning me.” That might escalate into something that’s diagnostic by the time they’re getting into mid or later adolescents.

With narcissism, we could already see in a 22 or 23-year-old that these patterns are concerning, but for every single parent out there who has a 22-year-old, arrogant, entitled, lack of empathy, the whole list and they’re like, “They got a job. They had to wake up in the morning. They fell in love.” That 22-year-old is unrecognizable. It’s like, “I’ve got the best and most responsible 30-year-old on my hands.” There’s also a bunch where they’re like, “They’ve been a jerk since they were twenty.”

My biggest concern has always been not to panic parents if they have a real jerk of a twenty-year-old to not say, “All bets are off. I have a terrible kid.” You might have a real problem on your hands but you also might not. You’ve got to let the frontal lobes do what the frontal lobes do, and give it a chance to see if they’re able to get that impulsivity and lack of self-awareness in check.

ILBS 27 | Narcissism

Narcissism: For narcissistic people, shame is a massive trigger. If that shame gets tripped, they’re going to relapse inevitably.


It’s like you’re going up into emerging adulthood. We get into adulthood and then we see as their peers are settling into careers, normal relationships, independent life, being able to pay some of their bills if not all of their bills. This is a 28-year-old that says, “You still owe me and have to pay for my stuff.” That’s a problem.

Is it more likely for a narcissist to be male or female?


Do you have a percentage-wise?

The data has been mixed on this. I’ve seen everything from 80/20 to 75/25. That’s usually where it sits, 3/4 and 1/4 thing. A lot of this has to do with socialization. We socialize boys for aggression and unemotionality. We shame boys and men for showing emotion. Not being in command of one’s emotions, not being able to process that, be self-reflective and be valued for empathy. Those are core pillars of things that are not present in narcissism.

If we’re socializing and developing them out of boys, it’s no wonder that this is happening to the degree we get to similar socialization processes on the basis of gender, then we’re going to see more of an equivocation. We’re also entering an interesting time in conversations about what gender is, going away from a gender binary, and how gender identity development is not just by society but it’s also what’s happening as an internal process.

That’s very new work that we had to let evolve, but I’m going with a traditional binary format, which is how most of the research has been done. Here’s what’s interesting. I read a study. In this research group, what they found was that when it was grandiose narcissism, it was 80/20. It was the guys all day, all night. When it was vulnerable narcissism, it was equal. For men and women with vulnerable narcissism, the rates are similar.

If a person grows up in an alcoholic home, they’re more likely to have the alcoholic gene or they’re just in that environment. Is the same true with narcissism?

The work on this is evolving. I wish I had read it before. The article just got pulled up and I haven’t read it yet. I did encounter one article suggesting potentially a genetic element to narcissism. I’m loath to say that we found a narcissism gene as it were. What is more likely to be happening is that there are more likely genetic influences around things like impulsivity, disinhibition, executive functioning, and certain sorts of emotional expression. There might be a genetic piece there since all of those things are parts of narcissism.

Think about it. This is the case without any substance use disorder. In one family, you can have a child who is an addict and a child who is not despite having a biological parent who has a history of addiction. None of these things is a slam dunk, but what we do see is that most of the research points to the evolution of narcissism being a largely developmental process. There are temperamental elements that are believed to be present. Temperament is almost like the genetic part of personality. It’s why people will have a temperament.

Even in childhood, they’ll say, “The way you respond to that is just how your uncle would respond.” Everything from how they get angry to how they cope, it’s similar to a biological relative. Temperament is our biological personality. My hypothesis is that there are kids who are coming to the world temperamentally difficult. They tend to be harder to soothe and are behaviorally dysregulated. Honestly, they’re not likable children. They’re more work for the parents, caregivers and teachers. The child is frequently getting a message of, “Stop. Don’t do that.”

The child wants to be liked like all children and may find it to be more of a challenge. It almost becomes bigger in trying to get this attention to attempt to soothe themselves. There’s likely a temperamental piece. Whereas kids who often come into the world a bit softer, more gentle, play by themselves more, easier to soothe, if you pick them up, they’re often happy sitting there, those kids are probably a little less vulnerable to this narcissistic turn.

When we look at narcissism, we see issues around all kinds of developmental issues like attachment issues. They often tend to have anxious or avoidant attachments. There can be trauma histories. They’re often brought up in homes that are characterized by chaos, inconsistency and instability. They are often shamed for showing emotion. There are a lot of elements or interestingly, they’re spoiled. They were never told no, “You’re my prince. My prince gets anything he wants.” You have the grandiose dad who then turns the child into the crown prince. The child never learns regulation and then they go into adulthood like that. A range of things can set up this narcissistic arc.

We’re all working with systems we didn’t design, and yet we have to get remunerated within. Click To Tweet

The grandiose narcissist, if you have a father-son relationship, that’s more likely to happen in a father-son situation as opposed to a father-daughter or mother-daughter situation.

I’m not so sure about that. I’m going to be frank with you and I’ll tell you why. It’s the consistency of messaging. There’s no reason if a father is like, “This is my girl. Everything is about my girl. I’ve got the girl who is the best, whatever the heck she is the best at.” Especially if her own interests are aligned with the dad. Dad loves soccer. The girl is a great soccer player. He coaches a team. He goes with her everywhere. They go to soccer matches together.

It can start having an interesting vibe because it’s almost as if it’s a hetero relationship. It’s almost like they’re hanging out together more than he is hanging out with mom. He might even become quite disparaging towards mom and daughter may follow suit like, “Mom, you don’t know a darn thing about soccer.” Now, they’re best buds.

I don’t mean it in an inappropriate way at all. It’s almost like you triangulate it against the mom. I’ve seen that happen in father-daughter. Think of mother-son. The cuddled son with the mom was like, “This is my prince. Everyone has to love my prince. He is the best son who ever lived,” and then the mom who is obsessed with the daughter. I’ve seen it in every dyadic combination.

If there are two kids and let’s say one is male and one is female, is the father more likely to have that type of a relationship with his son or daughter? I would imagine with the son. If there’s not a male kid, then it’s less likely that type of relationship would exist.

That’s where it gets settled. This is where narcissism is an interesting game. It’s almost like the gender of the kids wouldn’t matter as much as which kid is delivering the best narcissistic supply. By narcissistic supply, which kid is more attractive, resembles the parent more or has the skillset that that parent wants? Probabilistically, because most narcissistic people do tend to be a little bit simple on this and it’s all very gendered and societally supported, you might be more likely to see that. I have to be honest with you. If he feels his son is a dud because his son can’t catch a ball or hit the straight line but the girl is quick with this stuff or the girl looks like dad and the mom doesn’t, who is the better supply?

Who is the better athlete, better looking, more popular, funnier and smarter?

That’s who the narcissistic parent is going to gravitate towards. It’s where are they’re going to get the best public show from this kid.

Let’s talk about treatment. Can narcissism and alcoholism be treated simultaneously?

They have to be treated simultaneously. One place that substance use treatment comes up short is in the incapacity to manage both of those agendas. This is what I’m saying. The family who has their family member returned to them sober and mean. The problem is that if the narcissism doesn’t at least get somewhat addressed, you’re all but guaranteed that there’s going to be a relapse. The next time there’s frustration, disappointment or stress, that person is going to start using again because they can’t cope.

Remember, for a lot of narcissistic people, there’s also this other problem. Going to rehab is window dressing, especially for people who work in industries where you slept and showed up high to work. “In good faith, I’m going to go do my 28 days.” They do their 28 days to great fanfare, “Look how heroic I am,” but they get the 28 sober days which is easier to do if there are people watching you around the clock. I’ve had clients who have managed to still sleep in rehab. By and large, the facilities do a good job of stopping that. Now, they’re back in the real world with all the real-world problems or feeling ashamed. For narcissistic people, shame is a massive trigger. If that shame trigger gets tripped, they’re going to relapse inevitably. They have to be addressed simultaneously.

The challenge though is this. The majority of clinicians are not trained in how to deal with these patterns because the treatment literature on narcissism, which is sparse and as much as people are out there saying, “We figured out how to treat narcissism,” but you go and read this literature. You’re saying, “You met with this person twice a week for eighteen months. They always showed up and you had a team of clinicians.” I don’t know many people in the United States who can afford that for eighteen months. You might only have them for 4 to 6 weeks. You’re not going to move the needle on narcissism in 4 to 6 weeks.

ILBS 27 | Narcissism

Narcissism: All of these attempts to internally regulate will be outsourced to substances.


In some ways, we’re setting up an impossible bar for a rehab center, but in treatment planning, in team meetings, and how any center does their coordinated care, this personality piece has to be considered and recognized as a high-risk relapse factor and not just like, “He is spirited. This person has gotten irritable because they’re using.” It’s very hard to split out the two.

In some cases, you would have to get releases to talk to the clinicians who have talked to this person. I know when I have it over the many years. I’ve had clients go to rehab and they have the good sense to get the release to talk to me. I could say that to the center and the center was like, “Thank you.” One center was so sweet. They were like, “There should be a stained-glass window with your face on it for having been willing to work with this person for so long.” I was like, “Thanks. I don’t want a stained-glass window, but I’m glad that this is your problem for a month.”

A lot of times, even the staff of the rehab centers do not blame themselves like, “Why are we getting nowhere?” You’re getting nowhere because this is hard. To have much more realistic expectations and different kinds of goals around the maintenance of sobriety, think about how the family is involved in treatment. It has to be they’re informing it for no other reason than relapse prevention. That’s it.

Working in the field, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody in our intake process like, “What are the disorders?” They’ve got mental illnesses, anxiety, depression, alcoholism and drug addiction. They’re addicted to crack cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. All of those things are listed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say, “By the way, this person is also a narcissist.” It’s never talked about. What I’m hearing you say is that it’s imperative for the treatment team to know that narcissism exists.

It’s what I call the workaround model. This is what I see people saying about these people who are narcissistic. They’ll say they have ADHD, oppositional or impulsive. They’ll use every word but the word. What you and anyone who works, runs, and has an affiliation with substance use treatment centers say is, “When we’re getting these referrals that have this laundry list of ADHD, oppositional defiance, intermittent explosive stuff, anger management issues, and dysregulation, they’re all trying to say in this coated way, narcissism, because it’s the consistency of all of that.”

In some ways, the word has taken on such a bad brand. It’s fascinating to me. I read this article. There’s this article that came out on this idea of D which stands for the dark factor of personality. It takes in some interesting territory like callousness, entitlement and lack of empathy. It’s a trait that takes in all of this dark and icky stuff. D is seen in psychopaths, sociopathy and narcissism. Even if they’re not handing you the client saying, “This is a narcissistic client,” let them at least say, “This client has an antagonistic personality.”

Talk about the client’s personality. We’ve all got one, “I’m a neurotic and agreeable person.” I know that about me. Someone should know that about me because it’s easy to play me. I’ll often agree to do things I don’t want to do. If I was a clinician, I would say, “Ramani is going to often agree to take on more than she can handle.” That’s mine. To know somebody who has this heavy D, dark factor or antagonism, simply means that you’re better prepared to treat this client.

Part of this has to do with the insurance industry. People don’t want these personality terms on the paperwork because to the insurance companies, it becomes a big glaring, “There’s nothing that can be done with this client.” I understand that we’re all working with systems we didn’t design and yet we have to get remunerated within. You’ll see that the personality stuff is often left off transfer paperwork for no other reason than the insurers are against it.

Not having that piece is a big problem because what happens is it’s like you’re buying a house and the inspector leaves out the part about the leaky roof. There’s a storm and you spent $1 million on something and there’s water everywhere like, “Whoops, I left that one out.” That’s a big whoops. That doesn’t work. These are the unacceptable whoops.

Is a narcissist more or less likely than the average person to be an addict?

More. The dysregulation and impulsivity, for those two reasons. The incapacity to regulate uncomfortable internal states, whatever they may be, sadness, abandonment, disappointment, frustration or stress. Anytime the world is not perfect in the way they wanted to be, they become dysregulated. They need that not to be the case. Anytime somebody brings up feelings of inadequacy for them, they get criticized, they get the feedback they don’t like, or something doesn’t go their way, when that inadequacy gets triggered, then they’ll have a shame reaction and they won’t like that. All of these attempts to internally regulate, they don’t have a self-soothing mechanism that will be outsourced to substances.

The substance is the solution.

The substance is much easier than sitting with the pain. The hardest element of working with narcissistic clients is that they don’t want to be uncomfortable. The hard work with them is getting them comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Why would you want to feel uncomfortable when you know there’s something you could do immediately and make it stop? That would also help you feel grandiose. The other piece is impulsivity, and this has to do more with substance use initiation. They’re very impulsive people.

That’s why behaviorally, in a relationship, they’ll often say whatever they want. They’ll say things that are mean and harsh because they’re disinhibited and impulsive. The lack of empathy means you don’t take a moment to say, “If I say this, will I hurt him?” You just say it. Later on, when somebody says that was terrible or the reason they’re quitting is because you hurt them, then they’ll come up with some half-cocked apology like, “Sorry about that,” but it’s really, “I can’t afford to lose you as an employee.” It’s not even an empathic recognition that they hurt you.

Substance is much easier than sitting with the pain. Click To Tweet

Apologies for them are very instrumental. It’s a way to keep people where they need them, but that impulsivity can also be related to substance use of like, “Let’s party and do this. It sounds like fun. I deserve to have fun.” There will be the impulsive initiation, and then maintenance in terms of soothing negative emotion.

There’s impulsivity which is also associated with a lack of awareness. The apology is a band-aid for the other person, as opposed to amends where a true amend is much different. Amends is for the person making amends, and apology is the band-aid. It’s an excuse for the behavior.

It’s what I call instrumental. It’s to get to what they need like, “I don’t want this person to quit. I need this person to still work for me.” To me, it’s an apology from the sense of, “There’s no awareness that I’ve hurt this person, nor do I care that I hurt this person. I just need this employee in this seat.”

You just want them to feel better.

I don’t even think they want them to feel better or care about them feeling better. They just don’t want them to leave. It’s even worse than you think.

It’s believed that once an addict, always an addict. Is there a same like, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic?” It’s like, “Once you cut off your legs, you’ll never grow new ones.” Is that the same thing with the narcissist, “Once a narcissist, always a narcissist?”

I think so. I’ll tell you why. It’s a personality. I’m going to give a personal example. I’m very agreeable. It’s a strong part of my personality. I like to get along with people. I want to get along but as more bad things have been happening to me, it’s not that I’m less agreeable. I’m still agreeable but I’m finding it harder to trust. I know people can harm me. I’ve become more withdrawn because I can’t be my agreeable self.

My agreeableness has always been there but now, I’m like, “This is getting me into trouble.” My personality hasn’t changed. I might have just pulled back from people. It’s similar to narcissism. It’s their personality. You got to remember personality is like a psychological fingerprint. It ain’t going anywhere. I don’t think there should be a narcissistic personality disorder. I think they should scrub it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they do scrub it. It shouldn’t exist. It serves no purpose and does more harm than good. Nobody gets the diagnosis. The epidemiology rates are somewhere between 1% and 6%. It’s a pointless and harmful diagnosis. Let’s not make it a disorder. Disorder implies, “I can treat you.” If I tell you someone has a personality style high in neuroticism, agreeableness or openness, I know this person is always going to be like this. If you tell me someone has a personality style high in antagonism, antagonism is the opposite of agreeableness.

That’s what narcissism is. I’m like, “This person is always going to be antagonistic. Now, I know this.” Instead of, “I can treat them.” You can’t. This is why I don’t think lumping narcissism with alcoholism makes sense because alcoholism is a behavior that somebody acquired. There’s a lot more to it. I understand addiction has a lot more nuanced than that, but the fact of the matter is that you know it. You work in this field. People can be successfully treated for this. It’s a pretty significant proportion and achieves lifelong behavioral sobriety but perhaps always have the mindset of the addict.

Some people are making the argument. I would be curious to see where this work goes in the next 10 or 20 years, that narcissism and addiction, they think it’s the same. They view narcissists as being addicted to validation. That’s their model and how they think about it. They’ll always be addicted to validation. Much like an alcoholic, that will never go away, but that you can smooth out the behavioral top parts, figure out the workarounds, and teach them.

For example, an alcoholic person could be around alcohol, still order a soda and be able to function in that space. A narcissistic person could be in a space where they’re not the one getting the validation and still be able to function in that space without raging at people. You can have that behavioral shift. The data doesn’t support the idea of an addiction model because addiction to validation-seeking is only one very small band of what narcissism is.

Addiction and narcissism are also a lack of regulation. The people making these arguments, they’re not crazy arguments. The arguments have some potentiality to them. If in that way, then the narcissist is always a narcissist. You’ve just addressed the behaviors. I have worked with some clients on this for over ten years. I have known people for decades. Their personalities haven’t changed. Your personality is pretty darn similar to the way it was when you were in your mid-twenties. Your behaviors are different because you’re older, but your personality is the same.

The recovery rate from any type of addiction is very low. When a person is a narcissist, are they more or less likely to recover from their addiction?

ILBS 27 | Narcissism

Narcissism: Addiction to validation seeking is only one very small band of what narcissism is.


Almost completely, so much less likely. I remember once working with a person who was narcissistic and had been sober for 33 years. This was a person who I would almost argue, at some level, had an almost obsessive relationship with twelve-step. It governed this person’s days and nights and their every day. Everything in their life was organized around twelve-step to a point where other things were not possible in their life. Human relationships weren’t possible. Everything was affected. This person could only work with people in twelve-step.

Is that recurring? They put years on their life by no longer using, but it still went into an obsessive space. That’s the one when I’m thinking about a narcissistic person off the top of my head. When the person has both of these things, the likelihood of long-term sobriety and recovery is so low because you’ve taken away their main tool of regulation.

Is there a question that you’ve always wanted to be asked, but the interviewer never got around to it?

The question I would want to be asked is, “Is this problem getting worse?”

Let’s know your answer. Is this problem getting worse?

I’m not kidding you. Eight clients have said it to me. It stuck with me. Not all of them work. Some of them work. Some of them don’t like unemployment out of the house kind of thing. They’re all saying, “The difficult people in my life are taking up about 80% of my psychological resources. It’s not 80% of my job. They’re not even people I like, but they’re taking up the bulk of my psychological resources. It has never been like this in my life.”

People are encountering more of these people in their lives, at work, as they date, in their family relationships, and they’re saying, “Is it because I’ve been watching your videos and I noticed this or is it becoming more proliferated?” Two things are happening. People are getting educated and saying,

“This is not okay. I’m not going to make an excuse for your bad behavior.” Over the years, it’s like what I call playground rules like, “Let’s give everyone a chance.”

People think this is ridiculous but our society is starting to normalize this behavior that the more outlandish, rude and abusive behavior is, we’re tilting to a point where incivility is normal. The problem is that people are having to devote more resources because narcissistic people are very expensive. They suck up legal resources. They can result in lawsuits in the workplace. God forbid, you hire one, you are going to be in employment litigation for months, if not years. That’s the big question. Yes, it does seem to be getting worse. It’s because we’re enabling it. Whether it’s billionaires, world leaders, celebrities or athletes, everyone is behaving badly. We often look to them to be our behavioral kinds of norms. Our behavioral norms are distorted.

How can people find support if they have someone in their life that has co-occurring narcissistic personality disorder and substance use disorder?

To me, as a clinician, the primary treatment focus has to be the substance use disorder because of the potential of physiological health issues, overdose, health issues secondary to substance use, and public health dangers. The addiction from a priority and acuity standpoint and triage has to be the substance use disorder. The focus has to be detox and stabilization and then relapse prevention. Anyone in the field would be clear on that.

The challenge then becomes that it’s not just about behavioral sobriety. It’s about long-term wraparound care. I would say a couple of things. Anybody who has a narcissistic personality style should always be worked up for their trauma history. Not all have trauma histories. Some are just spoiled kids. That’s all the spoiled, dysregulated, impulsive, never heard the word no kids. They’re not going to be helped. For some, they can be.

This is why all substance use and rehab centers should have a great trauma team in place because trauma assessment, trauma treatment, and bringing that into as part of substance use treatment is essential. It also could be useful in getting this person set on their care post-rehab in terms of their therapeutic care. They need one hell of a good outpatient therapist. I can count on one hand the number of therapists out there that can handle narcissists. I’m barely one of them. I’m done. I’m not taking any more narcissistic clients. My practice is loaded at this point.

We’re tilting to a point where incivility is normal. Click To Tweet

I could not and most people won’t take them. They’ll say, “No, thanks.” If you tell a referral source, “I’m sending over a narcissistic client,” they’re like, “I’m not doing it. There’s no amount of money you can pay me to take this client.” Nobody wants to take these clients on. Nobody specializes in this. There are maybe people who work at Cornell Medical Center in New York. You’ve got a handful there. That’s the only place I can think of that has got a team focused on working on this. That’s where Kornberg was through all those years.

You are talking about those people. It’s often the work of psychoanalytically trained people. That’s often long-term therapy with people who are very articulate and want to do this kind of work. It’s finding that needle in the haystack of somebody who could be a long-term therapist with a client like this to build rapport. My work with narcissistic clients involves me putting months if not years into the rapport-building stage. We have enough trust that they don’t want to lose me, so then I can call them out and literally say to them, “You just did such a shitty thing. What you did was so shitty,” which I know invoke shame in them, but they don’t want to lose me. They’re like, “How dare you.” I said, “Raise your voice to me one more time, session is done. Raise your voice to me in more than one session, we’re done.” They don’t want to lose me.

That’s not okay because if I did that the first time out the gate, I never would have seen them again. Part of the trick with these people is maintaining consistency to understand there’s accountability in this relationship, but that requires massive trust-building which takes a long time. Frankly, a lot of people don’t have the money to be in therapy that long with somebody and paying for that out of pocket.

I’ve worked with people who work in jail and prison settings and taught them about narcissism. Sometimes they get this person maybe twice like, “What do you do there except to establish a little rapport, but you’re not going to change this.” The kind of treatment we’re talking about here is a lot, but if you could find that good outpatient person, then you are off to the races.

Dr. Ramani, thank you so much. I appreciate you so much and your time. I got a lot out of it and our readers did as well. Where can people find you?

Please go to my YouTube channel. It’s DoctorRamani. We have probably 600 videos. There’s nothing about narcissism you can’t learn about there. We put out new videos every day and it’s very crowdsourced. If people want a topic and they send it in, we will research it and see if it will work. You can go to my website, which is That’s not just a way you can access my videos but also, it’s a library of things I’ve written and other things we think to be timely. I have Instagram you can follow. That’s also @DoctorRamani, where we’ll put on interesting information, articles and whatever we find. I’m everywhere and easy to find out. I have two books and you can find those on my website.

Thanks again so much. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Thank you too, Tim.

Important Links: 

About Dr. Ramani Durvasula

ILBS 27 | NarcissismDr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, CA and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. She is also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg. Additionally, she is the founder of LUNA Education, Training & Consulting, LLC, a company focused on providing content and education about high conflict and antagonistic personality styles such as narcissism and their impact on mental health, relationships, families, and the workplace.

Dr. Durvasula is also the co-founder of the Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Alliance, a collaborative professional group of therapists and coaches working with clients experiencing these relationships. She takes on entitlement and incivility in “Don’t You Know Who I Am”: How to Stay Sane in the Era of Narcissism, Entitlement and Incivility . She is the author of the modern relationship survival manual Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and of You Are WHY You Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life.

She also has a popular YouTube channel that focuses on narcissism and difficult relationships. The focus of Dr. Durvasula’s clinical, academic and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and highconflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations (and vice versa!).

Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine. Dr. Durvasula is an honest, authentic, and brutally honest voice on the struggles raised by narcissism in the US and globally.

Get Comfortably Uncomfortable: Coming Back From Addiction To A Season Record Holder With Darren Waller

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder


They say all addiction stems from trauma. For Darren Waller, it’s the mindset he carried of having to constantly prove himself to those around him, even if it meant going down the wrong path. At 16, he started smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. In this episode, he joins Tim Westbrook to share with us his comeback story, his journey to recovery, and how he found peace and purpose in his life. Darren takes us through the highs and lows in his life—how he went from being arrested, getting suspended in college and NFL (including a yearlong ban in 2017), going to rehab, and working at Sprouts to going back to the practice squad to back to back 1,000-yard seasons, the Pro Bowl, and becoming the all-time single-season record holder for receptions in a season in Raiders history. Follow along this conversation to learn how Darren pulled himself back from the dark place he found himself in, got comfortable with the uncomfortable road to sobriety, and took off the mask that has been keeping him from truly living life as it should be.  

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Get Comfortably Uncomfortable: Coming Back From Addiction To A Season Record Holder With Darren Waller 

We started this show because there’s so much misinformation about addiction treatment, mental illness and recovery in general. There’s so much more to recovery than going to inpatient treatment, seeing a therapist and going to twelvestep meetings. Those things are important and AA saved my life. However, to find long-term recovery and live happy, joyous and free, there’s a lot more to it than just stopping the drinking, stopping the drugs or stopping any addictive behavior for that matter. To live a new life, a person needs to learn new healthy lifestyle habits. Those are the types of things that we talk about here on this show. We talk about addiction treatment, recovery, twelve steps and we bring guests on the show that have gone through recovery and have made it out the other side.  

I’m here with Las Vegas Raiders, Darren Waller, to talk about his struggles with addiction along with his comeback story. Darren Waller was born in Landover, Maryland and raised in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. He was involved in a lot as a kid including football, basketball, baseball and tennis. He graduated from North Cobb High School in 2011 and earned a Business Degree from Georgia Tech in 2014. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens as a wide receiver in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL draft. He went from being arrested three times, suspended multiple times in college and the NFL, which included a one-year long ban in 2017.  

Once you get used to drugs, you build up tolerance and stamina. Click To Tweet

He got cut. He went to rehab and after that got a job working at Sprouts, the grocery store. He was back on the practice field and that led to back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, the Pro Bowl and an all-time single season record holder for receptions in a season in Raiders history. I’m so grateful and excited to have Darren here with me on the show to learn his comeback story. We’re going to talk about his journey to find recovery, how he found peace, his purpose in life and how his messy life became his message. Darren, welcome to the show. I’m grateful to have you here.  

Thank you for having me. I love what you’re doing. 

Shout out to Donny Starkins. Donny Starkins is a good friend of mine and Donny introduced us. He thought we might be a good fit. We’re here, I’m super excited and I know a lot of people out there are excited to know your story. What happened? First, tell me what it was like for you growing up as a kid in Maryland. You grew up in Maryland. You grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. 

I was born in Maryland but when I was a baby, we moved to Colorado for a couple of years but all I remember is growing up in GeorgiaWe got there when I was five years old. Growing up there for me was great on paperI had both my parents, they’re still together to this day, a great neighborhood. I had an older sister. I never experienced any kind of violence, trauma or negativity from my parents. They were always encouraging and challenging us to be great without being overbearingThey let us try new things and experiment. I went to good schools. The thing that was tough for me was I started going out, hanging out with the kids in my neighborhood because they were doing the things I like to do. They all happened to be white but they were my friends because they were cool and I liked hanging out with them.   

You didn’t grow up in a broken household, homeless or halfway on the street. You grew up in a normal house. Your parents are still married and you had one sibling?   

Yes. I had an older sister. 

Tell me what happened from there.   

These are great kids in my neighborhood that I was hanging out with. The thing that came from it was all the kids that looked like meother black kids like me, I started getting made fun of for it. They were telling me I wasn’t black enough and that I was white. Those things hurt me from elementary school. It made me think that something was wrong with me by the way that I acted or the people that I associated with. From then on, it became tough for me to view myself without thinking something was wrong with me. That carried on up into middle school. You see the guys that were popular with the girls and everyone wanted to hang around and be around them. They were the complete opposite of me. They were loud and bravado type, try to be cool and impose their will, whereas me I was quietsensitive, I cared a lot about what people thought. I felt I had to be like those guys and be the complete opposite of me in order to be accepted.  

When did you first realize that you were being treated differently by other people? You grow up and you have other kids that “look like you.” They were making fun of you and telling you that you weren’t black enough and that you were too white. That’s traumatic.   

That was the end of elementary school, at the beginning of middle school, it was that early 9, 10, 11 years old when I was already feeling hurt by it.   

They say all addiction stems from traumaI can only imagine how you must have felt as a 9yearold kid, 10yearold kid and being made fun of that.   

I carry that mindset all the way through college and even into the NFL, I still felt myself having to do these outlandish things to impress other people or to be accepted by other people. After doing the work, I traced it all the way back to when I was little and the pain that I felt from that, I still was trying to overcompensate for several years down the road.   

You clearly played sports from a young age. Were you always one of the top players on any of the teams that you ever played?   

I was good out of the gate. I started when I was four and I was naturally good at it, all the sports I played. That continued all the way through middle school. Once we hit high school, people started growing a lot faster than I did. I wasn’t always bigger than everyone else. There was 9th grade and 10th grade yearI was the smallest person on every team that I played on. These guys are getting bigger and hitting the weights. I was riding the bench on the football my freshman year. When I did get out there, I would get hurt because I was frail physically so I had a lot of injuries. People will make fun of me, I always had a cast on or I wasn’t built for this.  

I had a coach who told me I should play a non-contact sport because I couldn’t stay healthy and I was small. That was 9th and 10th-grade year. At that timeI was already feeling down about myself. Being in the South that if I played football and was good at football, that would be my way to impress people. They would accept me. The fact that football wasn’t going well or other sports for that matter, it was like, I don’t feel like I have anything else to offer. I don’t have anything else to get these people to like me or approve of me.   

Around that time when I was fifteen, my sophomore year, I remember I had friends, I was over at their house and they pulled some pills out of their parents’ medicine cabinet. They were like, Try this, it’ll make you feel good.” At that time, I remember I was like, “I’m not going to drink or do drugs.” At that time, I was like, “I don’t feel good. I would like to feel good.” I tried it and from that time I knew that was what I wanted to do or that was how I wanted to feel. It started from there. I probably started smoking and drinking when I was sixteen.  

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder

Season Record Holder: At the time, drugs were my friend. Anxiety was subsiding long enough for me to go out there, perform, and not care about what people thought.


To your point, it’s a solution to the pain. You just wanted to feel better.  

It started every now and then with the pills and then it was every weekend then it was during the week, a couple of days because I was good at school and I had a high GPA so I could do these things and get away with it without it hurting my performance. As I continue to do that, it became almost every other day. At that time, it was weird because once I started doing drugs, my life got better in a weird way. I started growing. With growing, there became a spot on the football team and the basketball team. With being a main player on those teams, people want to be my friend and girls like to hang around me. I was thinking, “All this started because I started doing drugs.” Doing the drugs, it eased my anxiety and made me feel calmer but it also could be in friend groups that I wanted to be with cool people. I was like, “It’s making my life so much better ever since I started doing drugs. I’m never going to give this up. This is how I’m going to live life.   

You said that you had a bunch of injuries. Were you not playing sports for a couple of years? Did you take a break around 15, 16 years old?   

When I was fifteen, my second year, I had a lingering elbow injury from baseball. I played 1 or 2 games of football and it made my elbow that much worse. I had to have surgery on it. I was out for around nine monthsI was out for a good amount of time from that injury. I didn’t have much to do. That’s what led me around that crowd and got me into experimenting with drugsI was outI had a cast on for a long time, a sling, this thing on my elbow. I felt down about myself at that time.   

You started experimenting with drugs. When were you cleared to get back on the field and start playing again?   

The spring of summer right before going into my junior season. In that time, I had a crazy growth where I went from 5’9 to 6’2 over the summer. I came back. That’s what made things different. It gave me opportunities. They saw me and my new stature and the coaches wanted to put me inI started lifting. By the time I got healthy again, I was so fed with people saying I was weak and frailI went to one of the strength coaches that were there. He helped me with all my form and was pushing me. I was getting stronger and was able to handle the beating of playing football and multiple sports on top of that. By that time, I was ready. At the time, drugs were my friend. The anxiety was subsiding long enough for me to go out there and perform and not care about what people thought or so I thought at the time. I thought that I had the recipe for success at that point. No one was going to stop me or anything. 

I also remember my junior year, I got kicked off the basketball team. That was one of the first consequences from using that stuff because there was a situation where I was high at the time but there are these guys on my football team that wanted to throw rocks and bust people’s windows out. I was like, “I’ll drive for you all because I wanted to be a part of that. They looked at me like, “He’s cool. He was the getaway driver.” It was in the neighborhood next to my parent’s neighborhood, which is a great plan of action. While they were doing it, I was in the street, waiting. Somebody got my license plate and gave it to the police.  

I remember coming home one day from basketball practice and my parents were like, “The police came by today looking for you. You need to turn yourself in.” I remember I was like, “Dang, at first but after that, it was like, “People are going to think I’m cool for getting arrested.” I already was not even considering that drugs or alcohol was the problem. It was like, “No, there was some credibility that I was going to get from it. I didn’t know at that time I was already starting to rationalize my actions and my habits so early and that could have risked going to college. It eventually got swept under the rug but it cost my parents a lot of money and disappointment. Now, it’s the beginning of all that kind of stuff.   

I can relate. As a high school kid, even younger than that, I got in lots of trouble as well. It goes with the territory. It’s like the alcoholic behavior. The lying, cheating, stealing starts even before the crazy addiction progresses and gets to its worst point. What I’m hearing is that you were a chameleon. You were an athlete, you got good grades, you were in the band.  

I was in the middle school band but I quit because I was laying when I got to high school.   

You were an athlete, you’re in the band, you were smart in school, you were getting good gradesgetting in fights, and getting in trouble. You had probably many different groups of friends and you could change on a dime. You could fit in wherever you wanted to.   

Putting on a different mask, depending upon who you're spending time with, can become your main coping mechanism. Click To Tweet

It was like I had different masks for every time I was around all of those groups. I was trying to be tougher when I was around athletes or guys that were getting in trouble a lot with everyone else around. There were certain classesAP classes and advanced classes where I was the only person that looked like me in there. I had to get my stuff together while I’m in there. I can’t slip at all. I had to have my perfectionist mask on in thereI can’t do any wrong there. Everywhere I went, it got exhaustinearly on but I felt like it was something that I had to do.   

Once you get used to it, just like anything, you build up a tolerance and stamina so switching, putting on a different mask depending upon who you’re spending time with becomes something that you do.   

It became my main mechanism of coping and navigating life for probably the next ten years.   

Do you think that as you were growing up, were you ever authentic or did you always have a mask on?   

If I was authentic, it was rare. It came out at times. There are people that I still know from that time that saw flashes of the real me because they could still see some of it in me now. It was few and far in between because I’m so caught up in being the stage character everywhere I went. I didn’t feel at some point who I was. I was going to get exposed, laughed at, talked about. I couldn’t deal with that. Anything people would say about me or the potential of what they could say about me crushed me to the point where I was, “No, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and keep blending in.”   

That’s tough, you’re 9 or 10 years old because it sounds like you grew up and you’re a sensitive kida goodquiet kid and then you got crushed.  

From that, the definitions of what a man should be I know internallyI felt like my qualities were feminine in a way. I felt like I wasn’t what man should be. It was like, “I have to do everything differently. I can’t be me. I have to be somebody else.” Those were seeds that I was planting that I thought I could get out of in a quick amount of time but it’s still taking work to get out of those mindsets.   

You graduate from high school and you end up at Georgia Tech. When did you realize that you wanted to focus on sports and a professional athlete?   

I don’t even know if I truly wanted to play sports after high school. I got so entrenched in trying to upkeep the image of being an athleteI finally got that. I thought that was what I wanted but it caused so much war and anxiety because I feel like I had to please many people and represent where I was from. I didn’t love football like that. I loved the results of football and that gave me and the status that gave me around people because I was seeking that from when I was younger. I didn’t have dreams of being a professional athlete. I was enamored by the NFL and classic films of those guys but I never thought that I could get there.   

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder

Season Record Holder: We’re not just meant to learn things and then keep them to ourselves. We’re meant to give it away. We only keep what we have by giving it away.


I didn’t have a lot of scholarship offers, I had a few and even Georgia Tech, in a way, forced my hand. I remember at the camp, the coaches are like, “If you don’t commit now, we’ll take your scholarship and give it to somebody else. I was like, “I need to commit now.” I was also one of the lowestrated recruits in the recruiting class. I didn’t have those big dreams. I just felt like I had to continue on that path because at some point I’ll be happy with it. It was the success formula. It was likeI’m an athlete. Women are going to be after me or I could make money and then I’ll be happy.” I was prescribing to somebody else’s definition of happiness and not mine. I was expecting these external results to make me feel good on the inside but I was going about it the opposite way.   

You were seeking fulfillment and it wasn’t happening. You ended up at Georgia Tech. What was it like being in college?  

From the moment that I stepped on campus, it was like, “I have to prove myself here.” At that time, I was already well into my addiction as far as how much I was drinking, how much I was using. As soon as I stepped on campus, I remember within 30 minutes of my parents leaving the dorm room when I first moved in, there were older players out in the dorm and they kicked our door in and had liquor bottles. They were like, “Freshmen, you’ve all got to represent, show that youre tough.” I was like, “This is the perfect entry point for me right here. I’ll go out there. I put myself out there. From there on, I go wherever they go. Always people are in frat parties. Wherever we go, if you go out to bars, everywhere I go, it’s a proving ground. I’m going to outdrink people. I’m going to out pop, out snort, out anything people because I know they’ll accept me for that. I know people love football player at parties and the football player that’s out there and chasing women. It was like that 5, 6 days out the week from Jump Street as soon as I got on campus 

Football took a back seat because I felt like that young freshmen sophomore again. When I was back in high school, I was like, “I was the lowestrated recruit. I’m not going to play. I’m just here to get an education so I’m hereI’m going to have fun and I’m going to go crazy.” Football wasn’t a priority. I was going through the motions there and started going through motions with school. School wasn’t a priority because my using became such a priority. Every single moment of the day that I had the opportunity to use, I was using. Everything else suffered.  

What was your drug of choice? 

It was Oxys, Percocets first, alcohol, weed, Xanax and cocaine.   

Were you a blackout drinker?   

Yes, I’m blacking out every weekend almost. If not every weekend, every other weekend.   

How did that affect your performance on the field?   

You really have to take care of your body and mind in order to take yourself to that next level. Click To Tweet

At the time I could still run fastlifting weights and getting stronger but looking back, I didn’t feel like I was more injury prone back then. I couldn’t go for long periods of time. I could make it through a day but it was the wear and tear of a season, I would be exhausted from this. My performance suffered and mentally the most because I wasn’t doing the preparation that it took to handle that load mentally. Also, the Xs and Os of things, I wasn’t on top of any of that because that takes extra time outside of the building to hone those details. I was spending that time getting lit as possible.   

When did you realize you had a problem with drugs and alcohol?   

Probably my sophomore year because I got to a point where I was trying to hide everything from everyone. I didn’t want to be around people that weren’t like me. I was getting so lit. I was throwing up places, passing out, messing my body like scars on my face from falling. I grew farther and farther away from my family and friends that I had grown up with. I was completely isolated and sad all the time, depressed. At that point I knew something isn’t right but I always justify it with like, “I was doing something wrong. At some point I’m going to be happy if I don’t mess this up. I have to stay the course on what I’m doing and then I’ll be happy and my life would be fulfilling.   

When did you decide that you wanted to do something about it? Did you ever try to get clean and sober while you were in college?   

I stopped for six months once but that was only because I failed a drug test and they sent me to an outpatient program where I’ll go to for three nights a week for two hours. I wanted to get the school and the administration off my back. I stopped for a little while but then I proved to myselfI was like, “I can stop at any time.” My willpower. I went right back to it after those six months because I felt like I could get over on everyone and fool everybody.  

You whiteknuckled it for six months?   


How did you feel during that period of time? That’s clean and sober, not working a program. There’s a big difference between working a program and digging into the trauma. Life is amazing and we’re going to get to that because life is a lot different now than it was when you whiteknuckled it.   

It’s funnyI don’t want to look too far ahead but the first six months that I was clean like my clean date now. My first six months I was clean and sober but I was envious, irritable, my defects were flamingI was clean and everything but it was like, “I still feel bad. I still don’t feel great. I don’t feel anewI don’t feel these promises but I wasn’t doing any work. I was just clean.” The drugs and alcohol are just symptom, which is what I learned after that. That’s not the real problem because I take that away, that’s great. I’m improving a little bit but the real problems are still there.   

Let’s fast forward. You ended up getting drafted in 2015. At what point did you realize, I got a shot at making it to the NFL?”   

My junior yearI kept getting better and better on the field as time went along in college. People would say that, “You could go to the league.” I didn’t believe it because I didn’t have confidence in myself. My junior year, I was making plays in big gamespeople were saying like, “You can go to the league. There would be NFL scouts at our practices watching me go through drillsI didn’t believe it was possible because I didn’t have that confidence. I’m a human being out on that field. When I’m off the field, I’m lying about everything and stealing stuffnot being a great person or the person that I can be that’s going to carry over my performance on the field. I can’t just flip a switch and my mentality is positive now. I ended up getting drafted despite suspensions and probably should have been getting kicked out of school because it was the test that I failed and getting arrested again while I was there. I still ended up getting drafted because of my skillsetif it developed into something, it was a skillset that not a lot of people had.   

Were you a hard worker on the field?   

I didn’t become a hard worker on the field until I started working in recovery. Before that, at the bare minimum, I would go a little extra sometimes but it was only to give off the impression that I was going the extra mile.   

You ended up getting drafted and you’re playing for the Baltimore Ravens. What was your first year like?   

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder

Season Record Holder: You can’t rest on what you did yesterday or carry what you did today into tomorrow. You just have to be in the moment, be consistent, and continue to maintain a positive attitude about the experience.


I remember I got there in the spring and do the OTA practices and all that and how exhausted I was out of the gate. The weight of playing football to impress people and to continue to put off this image increased exponentially by getting to the NFL from where it was in high school and college. It wore me out. I remember I couldn’t catch a cold in Alaska butt naked in those practices, I was psyching myself out. I was lining up and I was like, “Don’t drop this off. You’re going to drop this.” When on the route with the ball with your side, I couldn’t catch anything. I was over it and wanting to quit after two months of being drafted. Those are things that you don’t hear. I want it to be done that quick but eventually, I made the team because they saw improvement in me. I got hurt seven games into my rookie season and I was on injured reserve. When you go on into injured reserve, you’re not in the building like that. I was in the building until noon and then the rest of the day I was by myself because I’m not a part of the team. I do my work and go home. I’m not in the locker room or in the huddles or around veterans that can pour into meI’m just at home. Me in a room by myself with a mental state that I was in was not a good thing. I was going out into the streets and started to find what I could find and making relationships out there and they were not the good company.   

NFL versus high school versus college, how much more pressure or how much better were the players? How much faster was the ball thrown? How much harder was it? Were you blown away or was it a little step up? How big was the step from college football up to the NFL even on the practice field?   

There was a little bit of both. As far as physicality, it was a big step. As far as the mental load of the playbook and the schemes, it was a big step but I feel like the actual playing of the game wasn’t that big of a step. It was still football at the end of the day. The players were more talented in the college level and they hit harder, but I feel like more of the big step was in you having to take care of your body and mind in order to take yourself to that next level. Everybody’s good, everybody’s talented at that point but those that are driven intrinsicallyhave purpose, and are caring for themselves mentally and spiritually, those are the ones that rise above.  

Tell me about the problems in the NFL. 

Towards the end of my second season, I was debating quitting. I went to the coaching staff and was like, I don’t like feel me being here is for my health.” I was finally starting to get a little bit of clarity and being marginally honest with the coaching staff about what was going on. I still remember all this time that I wanted that approval. I went to them when I was quitting with hopes of them saying like, “No, stay. They were like, “That’s okay, just let us know your decision. That crushed me. I wanted them to want me after all the stints that I had done 

After that, I was like, “Forget this. I also tore my labrum. I’m like, “The next game I could tell them that.” finished playing through a season through that. I was like, “That’s it. I’m going to put it into this myself. I remember the mindset of I’m going to fail every drug test on purpose just to legally put me out of my misery and I won’t look like a quitter. There would be some coolness to me, crashing and burning off of drugs and knowing I had potential, I could have been something instead of saying I quit because I feared what people thought, I feared what they would have said if I were to step away from the game. I didn’t want to have to go through what people might say about me. I’d rather put my body in harm’s way and almost kill myself so I didn’t have to face what the potential of what people could say about me, so I did that.  

Was that subconscious at the time? 

Growth and comfort are opposites. Click To Tweet

Yes. I’m rehabbing my shoulder with the team. Once my shoulders rehabbed, that should be around the time where they would suspend me for a year. That’s what happenedI remember I had to practice for a month before I got suspended. I was like, I’m sure to go out there and play and not care about what anybody thinks. I’m going to go out there and try to have fun because this is going to be the last football I ever playI’m not going to play football again. It was like practicing, I was hot and there was nobody there, no cameras, no lights. At that moment, that was the most fun I had playing football since I was a kid because I was not trying to impress people. I was like, “I’m going to go out on a good note.”  

I was playing with a sense of urgency because I knew football wasn’t promised to me after that. By the time the suspension got handed out, I was likeI was just getting to like football. I could play free of expectations and people’s opinionsI could enjoy the game but that suspension hit. I was out and I was depressed from that. Instead of getting help and turning my life around like I said I would, I kept using and my using increased over the first two months of me being suspended, which led up to the main event that made me want to change.  

Tell me about the main event and the crash and burn.   

I was going back to Baltimore. This was August 11th, 2017. I was going to move out of my apartment because I was suspended the whole year and didn’t want to spend money on renting somewhere else, I’m moving back with my parents. I got there the day before my dad got there. I was like, “I’m going to get high here one last time.” I went and picked up some pills and thinking that they were what I usually got. They were like fentanylI had taken them and was pulling up to this grocery store and I was right up the street from my apartment and right near the practice facility for the Ravens. We’re pulling in the parking lot. I was about to hop out like normal. I couldn’t get out because if I got out, I would have thrown up everywhere and it would’ve caused a scene. I would have fainted probably. I was like, “I’m going to sit in the car until I feel a little better in maybe in a few minutes.” Maybe 30 minutes passed by. I remember it was like somebody pulled a power plug and I woke up and it was nighttime. I was sweating, cold and out of it 

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder

Season Record Holder: The recovery process is where you learn and grow the most and gain the things that really make your life what it is and make it feel like it has a purpose.


At the time I thought I took a nap. I was high but it was how tired and defeated I felt but the next day I thought I could be something more. It was like an overdose. That could’ve been over for me and that was scary enough as I processed it over the next few hours and into the next day. I was like, “It’s been a ride and I’ve been trusted it but now these drugs are not my friends anymore. It was my friend. It was the key to peace, making friends and having a good time but now it’s none of that anymore. It scared me enough to be like, “I’m not in control anymore.” I thought I had control over it but I have no control whatsoever. Since that day, I haven’t used it from there. After that, I was honest with my parents for the first time and honest with the league. My parents shared my family history with me and was saying like, “Your family has been doing the same thing generation after generation. Are you going to continue to look at that and act like it’s not the truth and continue to do what you’re doing? Are you going to be the person that changes that?” The overdose and my family talking to me like that was enough for me to change and willingly go to rehab.   

Sounds like you have a caring, loving family. That approach sounds like it was effective and helpful. That was the moment that was the turning point for you?   

There was a little bit of push back on my behalf for the rehab at first. Eventually I was like, “I need to learn new skills and new habits and put myself in an uncomfortable situation for once. My comfort zone isn’t doing a lot for me right now. I went to a detox place for four days and then I went to a rehab in Maine at this place called McLean Hospital Borden Cottage. I’d never been to Maine before but it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been first off. Second off, the rehab experience was incredible. I remember when we first got there, we went to a meeting the first day and I was terrified. I looked at the way people were speaking and talking about the steps and all the literature they were reading, I was like, “What is this place? How’s this even possible? I was sitting in the back, quiet, listening and taking it all in. I was like, “It’s going to probably take me a while before I’m in here sharing and laughing and smiling.” I was there I’m sweating. I’m looking around. I don’t know what’s going on but I kept going back. The sharing one-on-one with the counselors there and the other patients like me, the people like me that were there and sharing amongst them, that was the first time I’d ever been honest in my life. First time I’ve ever been open and talking about these things. It’s like you feel an instant relief 

There’s still work to be done so I went into a new foundation but like the first couple of times I shared, I was like, “This is what’s cool to me. This is something I want to be a part ofI could feel the unity inside of me, my body, my mind and my spirit. Yes, keep doing this.” I stuck with that and learned how to meditate there. I got a lot of tools to the point when it came to an end, I was like, “I don’t even know if I want to go home. I feel safe here. I feel here is a place where I can continue to grow and be safe. I remember someone shared there, they were like, “We don’t learn these things to stay here. We learn these things so we can go back into the world and impact the world in a positive way because we’re not meant to learn all this stuff and then keep to ourselves. We’re meant to give it away. We only keep what we have by giving it away. That was the first time I heard that. First off, that makes no sense but then it clicked and I was like, “It’s more about giving than what I can get. 

God would provide His will. He would put you in a situation where you could improve your life and of the others around you.   Click To Tweet

As they say, it’s like sober living, “You should stay until you’re afraid to leave. Being in treatment, you’re there, you’re comfortable. At first you probably were uncomfortable. You didn’t want to be there or a lot of people, they don’t want to be there and then you get comfortable there, you’re afraid to leave and that’s when it’s time to go.   

I thought growth and comfort are opposites because when there’s comfort, there’s a tendency to kick your feet up and coast a little bit. Whereas when you’re uncomfortable, that’s where you’re straining like there’s pressure being put on you but good pressure is hard work that requires everything in you to muster up the courage, strength, and the energy to accomplish these tasks. When you do accomplish those tasks, light bulbs go off and you feel an authentic confidence and resiliency in yourself.  

When I left there, I was afraid but my family helped me out and stepped in, they were like, “We have an idea.” One of the people that they went to church with was a store manager at Sprouts Farmers Market. They’re like, “We feel like you could benefit from having structure. When you have structureyou can be on top of things.” With continuing to want meetings and working out every now and thenMy ego inside of me was deflating. I remember I was like, “I could be an assistant store manager. They were like, “We need a grocery clerk.” I went with itI already had humility from the experience up to that point and going to rehab.  

I was like, “I’ll do it. I have enough humility to come in here and work. It ended up being a great experience from teaching me to work and not expect a round of applause or crowds of 80,000 people clapping for me when I did my jobIt felt good and a sense of respect for myself for doing my job and went home. That lesson was valuable, which is serving people even if they weren’t necessarily nice to me or they made jokes about why I was being and how I wasn’t on the field. I saw girls in there I used to talk to and they would see me in there and I’ll try to hide. I learned many lessons in that time. I’m grateful for that experience.   

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder

Season Record Holder: You can have a comeback story of your own, no matter how low your low is. You have the power, the tools, and the skills inside to rise above.


I can only imagine. It’s one of the things that we always say to newcomers is, “Just take suggestions. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you’ve seen it too where people think they’re better than, they have a big, high powered job, they make a ton of money, they’re executives, professional athletes and working at grocery store is beneath them. I drove for Uber for a while. It was the best thing I did. You’re not having people clapping for you when you’re driving around someone in an UberI can’t imagine how valuable that experience was for you and being able to put your ego aside and do your job.   

That was incredible for me. When I got reinstated into the league, I got back to the Ravens. I thought I’ve got a good perspective going in but part of my mind was like, “I’m going to give an opportunity to bounce back.” I thought my opportunity was going to come immediately but I got cut in training camp because they’d drafted two young Titans who were good players. They cut me and put me on practice squad. That was another body blow to the ego right there but that was necessary. I was back on the practice squad and I was like, “I could take from the Sprouts experience likeI’m here to serve. There’s this theme of service that God is trying to teach me.   

The Tennessee Titans at the time were the number one defense in the league. I was like, “If I can make plays against them, there’s no one in this league that I can’t make plays against.” It got to a point where it was routinely making plays, routinely going up top. People were like, “Scout team players shouldn’t be doing this.” I felt good about it but it’s about consistency at this point. I can’t rest on what I did yesterday or carry what I did today into tomorrow. I have to be in the moment and be consistent and continue to maintain a positive attitude about this experience.   

It went almost 2/3 of the season. I remember seeing Titans were getting hurt around the league but no one hit up my agent to try to get me. I was like, “I’ve got to stick with it. There was one week where I was down and it was the week the Raiders were playing the Raiders. I was like, “I don’t know if it’s going to happen. It’s Thanksgiving now. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving.” Right before the game, we always have this extra workout routine I would do on the field when everybody else went to the locker room to get their pads on because I wasn’t suiting up.  

For meconsistently doing that hours where some of the Raiders coaches saw me working out and were like, “Who is that guy? They signed me randomly. If I wasn’t doing the work and doing the reps that I needed to be doing to even be seen in that moment, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am now. I learned that from recovery and doing the work there and planting the seeds that wouldn’t grow immediately but at some point, God would provide. His will would put me in a situation to where I could improve my life and improve lives around me.   

Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations requires you to trust what God is doing in your life and believe in the plan He has for you. Click To Tweet

I was at a meeting talking with some friends and one of the things we talked about was the long game. Prior to being in recovery, we want things now. I want things now and I’m inpatient. However, what I’ve realized is that I do things now and the results may or may not come later but it’s putting in the work now, it’s doing the hard work now. As they say, “Life is easy if you live it the hard way and hard if you live ithe easy way. You do the hard things now. You have the hard conversations now. You put in the work now. The result that may come tomorrow, next week, next month or in six months but it’s not being attached to the result. You weren’t attached to any result. Therefore, you weren’t getting beat down and disappointed, you were just doing your work.   

I feel like we want results but if somebody worked to give us the result right when we wanted it, we would even appreciate it like that. Through the process is where you learn and grow the most and gain the things that make your life what it is, make it feel like it has purpose because then when the results come, you reflect. I felt like my greatest gift now is the ability to reflect on where I was and what it took to get to where I am now, not the things that I have now. I’m grateful for recovery teaching me that. It’s still in my brain because I was hard wired to, I want things now. I want things to fall into my lap with me doing the least work possible.” I know for me to enjoy my life, that’s not a mindset that I can go forward with.   

How has your recovery journey enhanced your life?   

It’s allowed me to have more intimate relationships with people like my family. I could be more honest with them. I don’t have to necessarily hide anything from them or lie anymore. I can tell the truth and live with the results and experience the love that I have with them. It’s allowed me to be a more reliable employee. I was never reliable before I came into recovery. I was very erratic. I would do some good things sometimes but I wouldn’t put in the work or lay a true foundation to be consistent or to be someone that people can look at it and be like, “I trust that guy. He is going to be there giving it an honest effort day in and day out.”  

It’s helped me on my music journey. I enjoy making music and it’s allowed me to create without fear but also to create something with substance and realize that everything that I do or that comes out of my mouth, it can be wholesome and beneficial or help someone in their situation. It’s helped me become a lot less self-centered, a lot more honest and open-minded to the idea that me serving myself and getting what I can get is not what’s going to make life work. It’s not what’s going to make it meaningful to me. If I make it about other people and how I can make the world around me betterthat’s where that best feeling comes from. I feel like that’s where recovery has taught me the most.   

That’s how you find fulfillment is being of service, being meaningful, helping another person. Prior to getting on this journey of recovery, what we think is that we need to lie, cheat and steal and we need people to clap for us in order to feel good. That’s not even fulfillment. It’s so surface level and it doesn’t last for longer than a second. If we want true fulfillment, we have to be of service. We have to give it away to receiveWhen did you realize that life was better, clean and sober and being on this journey? You can probably relate to this, it’s like, “I’m never going to be able to drink again. I’m never going to be able to do drugs again. What am I going to do when I’m at a concert? What am I going to do when I’m watching a football gameWhat am I going to do because drinking and drugs were involved in all of the other activities?”  

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record Holder

Season Record Holder: Surrender the outcomes and the results of things. Be okay with putting one foot in front of the other and just immerse yourself in the process, making it less about what you can gain but more about what you can give to those around you.


I was jealous and envious of people that could still do all those things my first six months of recovery. I wasn’t working any steps. I was just going to meetingsI got a sponsor around the six-month mark and I started working the steps. Once I started working the steps and putting pen to paper, things start to open up. From thereI remember times where I was at Sprouts like, “I had dropped this gallon of apple cider that was in a glass jar on the floor on the busiest day, on a Saturday in the store. Complete goofball move.  

I was mopping it up and picking the glass up. People were looking at me crazy and laughing but I remember at that time I was like, “I feel better about myself here at Sprouts. I’m making $11.62 an hour and I’m going to meetings. I feel better here than I did when I was in the NFL making six figures a year and people were in and of this with me in my position, I feel way better here.” In that moment where I look like a fool but I was there and I was like, “I’m honestly here trying to do the best that I can with what I have in the situation that I’m in.” It was a weird moment but a light bulb went off. I was like, “I feel way better here. It’s the complete opposite of what most people would think but it wasn’t about what other people thought anymore. Right around the six-month mark in recovery is where it started to change. Before that, the thinking and the behavior was stagnant but from there, it was up from there.   

Were you taking suggestions in your first six months?   

No. I go into the meetingI’ll listen and be like, “That was good. They say“That was real. I felt that before.” I wouldn’t do the extra after that like go talk to them about that and how I felt about that and get a phone number. It goes to meet and sit there and I was like, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. Let me check this box off. Instead of, “What can I get out of this?” It’s, How can I pick these people’s brain or get around them and feel that fellowship and have that nourish me?” I was still in that isolation mindset because I was still that guy that I wanted to hide everything from everyone. I didn’t want them to think about me what I thought about myself. It took me six months to realize in those meeting rooms that people weren’t there to look at me that way or to judge me in that capacity. They were there because they knew how I felt. I was like, “Nobody knows what I’m feeling or nobody understands me.” I was in a room with people that understood me for six months and wasn’t seeking to build anything with them. God was trying to help me realize more, in that timehow my willpower wasn’t enough, how my idea of living and controlling things wasn’t going to sustain me for where he was trying to take me.   

You say growth and comfort can’t go together. Explain that to me. What does that mean to you?   

I feel like growth and comfort are opposites because when you’re in a comfortable place, in a comfortable zone, you want to stay there. You don’t care about how much higher you can go because you want that good feeling, that safe space of security. As people, we want security and to have clarity. Whereas, if you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, you may not have that clarity but it also requires you to trust what God is doing in your life and believe in the plan that he has from you. If you trust those uncomfortable situations, those are what’s going to challenge you to work your mind and your spirit and challenge it daily because when you challenge it daily, that builds strength 

If you’re lifting weights and you get stronger by lifting heavier, that’s not a comfortable feeling but if you’re lifting light, you can maintain but you’re always capable of more when you’re comfortable. When you’re uncomfortable and you continue to seek uncomfortable situations, that’s where the magic is. I remember my friend James said, “The real service is the one that’s inconvenient, not the one that everything lines up with what you can do and it fits your schedule. It’s something that you want to do but true services are the one where it’s like, “I’ve got to do that.” Feel comfortable doing it. I feel like the more that you put yourself in situations like that, you’re increasing your opportunities to grow and impact the world in a better way.   

I like that, “True service is inconvenient. What’s on the other side? We’re sitting here talking about being comfortable and I’m thinking about Wim HofWim Hof, The Iceman, he talks about being uncomfortable and he talks about how we wear sweaters, we turn the heater on. We’re also used to being comfortable that we don’t stress our immune systems out. We don’t stress our bodies out. We were so used to being comfortable. When you go in and you do an ice bath, you’re uncomfortable and you have to surrender and go with it and as a result, you feel better, you have more mental clarity, more mental awareness, decreases inflammation and your body functions better. Stress is good. Too much stress is not good. However, we all need to be stressed out. Stress is what creates growth. When did you realize that you didn’t respect yourself?   

I don’t think I had that self-awareness until probably when I got to rehab and started sharing for the first time. That was September of 2017. I started sharing honestly and I was getting responses like, “That’s okay. Thank you for sharing that.” I was like, “I wasn’t supposed to be hiding this all the time. All the time, all opportunities that I could have had to speak up or to change or to view myself, “How can I take care of myself? I never gave myself those opportunities. By that point I was like, “I haven’t been respecting myself. I haven’t been loving myself. I haven’t been caring for myself because I haven’t allowed my true self to breathe or come to light in any form of fashion. Anytime he wants to speak up, I stuff it back down and don’t give him an opportunity to speak.” Around that time, once I let a little bit of honesty and it was like, “There’s no way I can say I love myself.   

Stress is what creates growth. Click To Tweet

How are you looking for uncomfortable situations now going back to the comfort zone? 

I’m trying to get better. I still have a fear of confrontation like tough conversations. That is still a hurdle for me when it comes to relationships especially creating boundaries when it comes to those relationships. It’s something that I will beat around the bush a little bitI’ll talk to people that I respect and close with in recovery about it but it’s taking that step towardsI don’t willingly go to that uncomfortable situation. The results from that may come quickly and slowly but I’m trying to work at it. Whenever that breakthrough comes is when it comes. That’s something that I’m trying to improve at. 

It’s thinking about what’s on the other side, that’s what we always have to look at. You have the hard conversation now, things are going to be easier on the other side. You connected with Donny Starkins, tell me about Comeback Stories. You have created the showI want to hear what’s that all about?   

Donny and I connected via Instagram. Donnhas done a lot of work with some great athletes on the mental side and the yoga side. He saw Hard Knocks which was the first time that I was vulnerable about the things I went through. He connected to my story and reached out and wanted to work together. We started working togetherHe’s been a great resource for me and also has become a good friend for me. I was in Arizona, staying in his house for four days but in that time, we were having these conversations and they were great conversations, he was like, “What do you think about doing a podcast? I was likeI have no idea how to do a podcast. I have zero idea.” He was like, “Do it, try it. It’s not about you. It’s about who we could affect and who it could impact.” I was like, “Let’s do it.  

We’ve been picking people’s brains about how to go about doing it and creating a format. Now we’re cranking out episodes. The first episode came out, which was my comeback story. We’re trying to reach out to guests in all walks of life. I have a friend of mine from high school that’s on there and there’s also some household names on there. We don’t want to make it athlete-specific. We love having people in recovery on there but comeback stories can look and present themselves in many different types of ways. We want to have that represented in our show. We’re all about the comeback story and what happened to people’s lives and how that plays a role in who they’re becoming. They have to accept their reality but they don’t have to stay there. They can do what’s necessary to grow, change and walk into a life that they love and respect. That’s all we’re trying to do.   

What would you say is the main purpose of the show?   

The purpose of the show is to inspire the listener to realize that they have a comeback story of their own no matter how low their low is. They have the power, the tools and the skills inside of them to rise above that and to keep rising in anything that they want to rise in. Inspiring them to see people that they love and respect seeing their story but teaching them that you have your own story and that you can respond to adversity in a strong way.   

How is producing this show going to help you?   

It allows me to see other people’s perspective, see how they approach life. I don’t think I know very much in the grand scheme of things and I am okay with that because that allows me to learn from peopleI’m learning, sitting with you right hereit’s allowing other people’s experience to come into my world and realize that I’m so much more like these people than I ever would have imagined. Feeling that connection and realizing that one common thing that we share is adversity and we have to overcome that. If we can lean on somebody else or pick up something from somebody else to help us in our journey or vice versa, that’s all it is about.   

How do you take care of yourself now?  

The big things for me are prayer and meditation first thing when I wake up and the last thing I do in my day. Journaling has been a key for me. I didn’t realize how profound writing things on papers for me, let everything out. I have some daily devotional recovery readings that I like to read those and write how I’m feeling on that for the day. Those were my things I love to read. Creating music does something for me in my soul. Making beats, writing lyrics, these are things that fill me up because the profession that I’m in and the things that are being asked of me and demanded from me, it takes a lot for me physically, energetically, emotionally. These things, recovery day to day and my creative habits are what fill me up and allow me to continue to be consistent.  

What kind of music do you create? 

Rap is my thing but I sing a little bit. My beats are inspired by a million different genres because I listen to pretty much everything. I don’t try to limit myself to just rap music. I feel there’s so much good music out there.   

Now we’re in the off season, what are you going to do before you start practicing and gearing up for next season?   

I took three weeks off from training. Those three weeks sadly come to an end very fastI’m back to working out and going to progress into working out, running, and doing football drills. It’s also a time for me to read a lot, to meditate a lot, to be still, to go to meetings as much as I want to. This time is a great time for me to continue to progress spiritually, mentally in my recovery first and foremost because the minute I start thinking that these opportunities I have in my life are more important than the foundation which is recovery, that’s where I start to slip. This is always a good time for me to keep the main things, the main things and to slowly get myself back into shape and not feel like it’s a competition or anything. It’s what the path in which I get back into my shape. The mindset to get ready to play again, I let that play itself out. I handle and trying to control things I can control.   

Looking back, what message do you think you want people to take away from our conversation? 

The best thing that you can do is surrender the outcomes and the results of things. We have visions and goals that we want to work towards. Be okay with putting one foot in front of the other and immersing yourself in the process, and making it less about what you can gain but more about what you can give to those around you. Your journey is not always going to be perfect. It’s not always going to look like somebody else’s recovery or somebody else’s career but find the simple joys in the gratitude in your journey, how far you’ve come, how much better you are than a day ago, a month ago, a year ago and keep moving forward because God isn’t trying to keep you where you are or have you feeling what you’re feeling forever. There’s better for you on the other side. Trust that, don’t be caught up in the future because worrying won’t fix anything or make anything easier that you have to do. Accept your past. Don’t allow it to dictate who you’re going to be going forward.   

You have your own story, and you can respond to adversity in a strong way.   Click To Tweet

Be present, focus on the journey and don’t be attached to the results. The journey is perfect. As long as we’re not attached to the result and we just focus on the journey, life is good.   

I’ve had results and been miserable. Take it from me.   

How can people find out more about you? How can they follow you? How can they find out more about Comeback Stories?   

If you want to follow me, I’m on Instagram @RackkWallTwitter is @RackWall83. The Darren Waller Foundation website is DarrenWaller.orgFrom there, you can find out how to donate and see our vision for what we’re trying to do. The Comeback Stories Show you can follow on Instagram @ComebackStoriesShow and that’ll take you to wherever you need to do. You can go to subscribe to to find our first episode. It’ll take you right to Apple Podcasts page as well. We’re also on Spotify and going to be on all platforms soon.   

Darren, it was so awesome getting to talk to you. I learned a lot about youA lot of what you said resonates with me and I can relate. I enjoyed it. Thank you so much, Darren. Thanks, everybody. I will see you next time.   

Thank you, Tim. I appreciate it. 

Important links: 

About Darren Waller

ILBS 20 Darren Waller | Season Record HolderDarren Waller was born in Landover, MD and raised in suburban Atlanta, GA. He was involved in a lot as a kid including football, basketball, baseball, tennis, band. Graduated from North Cobb High School in 2011 and earned a business degree from Georgia Tech in 2014. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens as a wide receiver in the 6th round of 2015 NFL draft (pick #204).

Went from being arrested 3 times, suspended multiple times in college and NFL (including year long ban in 2017), he got cut, went to rehab, worked at sprouts, then he was back on the practice squad which led to back to back 1,000 yard seasons, the Pro Bowl, and all-time single season record holder for receptions in a season in Raiders history.

Sex, Drugs, And Rock N’ Roll: The Healing Powers Of Music From Addiction With Tim Ringgold


How do you deal with or reduce stress and be sober? Most of the time, everyone looks for something when stressed, and for Tim Ringgold, he found recovery in music. In this episode, Tim Westbrook interviews Tim—a certified music therapist, author, and host of Reduce Your Stress—about his journey of recovery from his addictions to a sober life through music. He discovered how music affects the brain and how to get back into the rhythm by listening and playing music or even making music. Join them today as they discuss Tim’s journey through sex addiction to recovery and the healing powers of music. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are in that order for a reason!

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Sex, Drugs, And Rock N’ Roll: The Healing Powers Of Music From Addiction With Tim Ringgold

For many years my team and I have helped thousands of people find their path to long-term recovery. We started the show because there’s so much inaccurate information out there and bad content about the world of recovery and addiction treatment. This is a platform for us to share the truth. There is so much more to getting clean and sober than going to treatment for 30 days then working a twelve-step program. There’s so much more. Those are integral parts of the process. The twelve-step program saved my life and it saved lots of lives out there but there’s a lot more to it, things like food and nutrition, self-care, exercise, fitness, music, developing new healthy lifestyle habits to replace the old lifestyle habits that got us in trouble. These are some of the things that I talked about on this show.

It’s an honor to have my friend Tim Ringgold here. Tim is a board-certified music therapist, columnist, author, and host of the podcast Reduce Your Stress. He’s provided music therapy to thousands of teens and adults to help them lower anxiety and reduce pain. Tim is also an award-winning international speaker having shared the stage with some of the top minds on music, the brain, and personal development, including Tony Robbins. Tim was the first person to give a TEDx Talk on music therapy back in 2012. He is also a former regional president of the American Music Therapy Association. Tim, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you.

Tim, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

We’ve been working on this for a while. It’s good to have you here. I have your book, Sonic Recovery: Harness The Power Of Music To Stay Sober. Tim, give me a little backstory about you, music, and addiction.

It’s great to be here. It’s always great to hear other people’s stories because you hear yourself in it. I’m happy to share mine a little bit. I’m a kid who grew up on the East Coast who found himself on stage when he was four. I remember, it was like, “This is why I’m here on the planet. It’s music, it always has been.” I was a lucky kid. I had a great upbringing. What didn’t appear like any acute trauma, later on in life, I went back and realize there was a specific relational, spiritual trauma that I would love to touch on because it would be enlightening to the readers. I had a good life until I was 22. On April 18th, 1995 while I was at a live show listening to some music, my five best friends were murdered. I ended up going to five funerals in four days. I’d get up, bury a friend, get as hammered as possible, pass out, and then wake up the next day and do the whole thing over again.

Five of your friends were murdered?


How did that happen?

It was an escalating tenant-landlord dispute that went way beyond. For those of you who remember, it was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building. They were murdered the night before. When I turned on the news, there’s the Federal Building, blown in half on the national channels. On the local channel, it was my best friend’s house burned to the ground and they’re pulling body bags out of the ashes. I thought it was the end of the world. It was the end of my world because my band rehearsed in that house every Wednesday night and this was Tuesday night. If it had been the next day, I would have been one of those five because only three friends lived there and two are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kryptonite is the thing that affects us that doesn't affect others. Click To Tweet

Burying five friends in four days is not something I recommend for anybody’s journey. I played music at all of their funerals and their memorials. It was my way of saying goodbye. I was the musician in the group. My community embraced me even though it tore me up. The night of the last funeral, I went back and went to some live music. For the first two hours since I had gotten the news, I found peace. No amount of drugs, alcohol, porn, food, or cable TV, and I used them all that whole week, had numb that pain but the music did. It was a pivotal moment in my life. From that moment, I was like, “That’s it. I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be the instrument pun intended that provides peace for others in their toughest times.” That’s what my journey has been like ever since.

That was when you were 22 years old.


You were still drinking.

I was drinking, smoking, drugging, sexing, and porning.

You’re doing everything and anything to numb the pain. When did you realize that you had a problem with drugs and alcohol? What was your drug of choice?

It turns out sex was my kryptonite. I was a guy who was in the music business and they say sex, drugs, and rock and roll in that order for a reason. I loved that lifestyle. When I left the music industry, I was able to walk away from drugs and alcohol. It didn’t bother me at all. Women and porn were kryptonite for me. I was powerless around it. That’s why I use the word kryptonite. For those of us who are walking a recovery journey, there are things that affect others that don’t affect us. There are things that affect us that don’t affect others. Kryptonite is my term. I didn’t put two and two together. It took a long time to realize that I had this problem. It was probably not until 2003 that I fully understood that I was powerless over women and that my life had become unmanageable. I walked my ass into a twelve-step meeting on February 17th, 2003. I was scared out of my mind. I’m like, “A freak show.” The meeting was in a circle in a church.

SAA meeting or SLAA?

It was SAA. By the time they got to me, I was like, “I’m Tim. Apparently, I’m a sex addict because you told my story and you talked about thoughts and feelings that I’ve never shared with anybody but I have that exact thing going on inside of me.” It was such an eye-opening experience because what I found in my recovery journey and my clinical journey is that there are a lot of characteristics of thinking in the addictive mind where the person thinks they’re the only one that’s either victimized, suffering, or thinking about whatever it is.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Sonic Recovery: Harness The Power Of Music To Stay Sober

When you go to a meeting, suddenly you realize you’re not the only one but it’s a symptom. It’s like a cough. Your thoughts can be a symptom and you thought you were the only one and you thought you were special. That was wonderfully eye-opening for me because I realized I’m not alone and other people have gotten sober. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I don’t have to try anything new. I can follow in other people’s footsteps and take the next right step.

When I called the 800 number for that meeting, a guy named Klaus answered the phone and he said, “I got good news for you. I called the same 800 number ten years ago when my wife served me divorce papers and we’ve been together ever since.” I thought, “If you’ve gotten that darn down the road with divorce papers and then walked it back from that edge, there’s hope.” Klaus gave me hope. The first gift of recovery was hope. The second gift was this feeling of I’m not alone.

When did you realize you were a sex addict? At what point?

I didn’t know I was a sex addict. I didn’t know until I was sitting in the room. I knew I might have a problem.

When did you start thinking you might have a problem?

I didn’t even think I had a problem until I filled out on There’s a questionnaire. It’s like, “You might need to go to a meeting if.” It’s ten questions. They’re very specific. I took the questionnaire. I answered yes to eight of them. The criteria were if you answer yes to two of these, you might want to go to a meeting. When I scored 8 out of 10, I was like, “Fuck, there’s something is going on.” I was in a total delusion when I finally went to write out an inventory of all the people I had been unfaithful with my girlfriend with. If you had asked me how many were on the list, I would have told you four and I would have believed it.

My brain had compartmentalized my behavior so well I wasn’t consciously aware of the wreckage until I did an inventory. Do you know those old school lined paper, there are 26 lines? I filled every line and I was mortified, shocked, and surprised because the names kept coming. I had to turn the piece of paper over and I was like, “What?” I went to bed and then I woke up the next day and more names came back to me. My subconscious had buried all that behavior because of all the shame and the cognitive dissonance. I didn’t want to know myself as a player, as someone who was sleeping around, as someone unfaithful. I would have passed a lie detector test that I didn’t have a problem.

How old were you when you went to your first SA meeting?

I’m 31.

The first gift of recovery is hope. The second gift is the feeling that you’re not alone. Click To Tweet

Nine years after the major incident where five of your friends were murdered.

That story is the origin story of when I realized the power that music has over my suffering, my pain, and my experience of the world. I didn’t connect the two dots along that journey. I was still going along, wrecking ball, out of control, and not thinking I have a problem. When I got into recovery, I went back to school a year later for music therapy. At the time, I wanted to go work in hospice. As I was in my music therapy career in school, I remember doing my first rotation in an inpatient mental health facility. I was working with guys who are struggling with a number of different things, one of them being addiction.

When I went to do my internship, I worked in a 28-day residential program and I saw myself sitting in all my groups and I was like, “Wait a minute.” I’m in this position where this one leg of me, a brother in recovery, is here. This other leg of me is this clinician who knows something about music that others don’t. I can help people in recovery lean on music the right way to support them in their recovery and prevent them from relapsing due to their own music. I was happy because my two worlds came together.

That’s awesome. When you were at the treatment center, where was that in your journey?

I was about five years into my recovery journey at that point.

When you got into recovery for your sex addiction, were you drinking? Were you doing drugs at the time as well?

Weed was my drug of choice if you want to use a substance that isn’t alcohol. I was a recreational stoner and drinker. I wasn’t drinking regularly or smoking regularly. I also wasn’t abstinent. It wasn’t on my radar. I might have a beer or two when I go out on the weekends but I might not. I might go months without smoking and then I might see some friends, stoner buddies, and we might get stoned once every six months or a year. It wasn’t part of the constellation of what was hitting for me.

What is your sobriety date?

In sex addiction, sobriety is a little bit different around using the three circles. My circles have changed throughout the years. There are things that at one point where in my middle circle went to my inner circle and now they’re back.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Healing Powers Of Music: Not everybody is as coordinated as the others, but everybody has rhythm. If you can tap, snap, clap, hum, rap, sing, strum, or scratch, you can be musical.


Give us a quick breakdown of the three circles.

In sex addiction and SAA, we define behavior in three different circles, your inner circle, middle circle, and your outer circle. Your inner circle behaviors would be behaviors that lead to what we call the pitiful demoralization, the bottom-line behaviors, the ones for you that wreck you that leave you feeling more disconnected afterward, that heaped the shame on. They’re behaviors, they’re subjective. Working with your sponsor, you’re the only person who determines what’s in your inner circle. You work with your sponsor to either, over time, add things to that and take things out. It’s a process.

Your middle circle is behaviors. You could look at them in two ways. One, they might be a slippery slope towards your inner circle. Two, they might be a safety net where they’re the least worst option. If you’re feeling squirrely and out of control and you engage in a middle circle, it’s not great. It’s better than your inner circle. That’s like a yellow light if you will, that’s your middle circle. Your outer circle is all the behaviors that lead to you feeling more connected and what we might use the term healthy behaviors, recovery behaviors. The idea is that you could put everything you do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep in one of those three circles. “My sponsor,” his definition of sobriety is that it’s a process of working with another person to determine what’s good and bad for you. It’s a little bit of a different way of looking at sobriety. It’s dynamic.

It’s not, “I had a beer or I didn’t have a beer. I did a lot of coke or I didn’t do a lot of coke. I smoked some crack or I didn’t smoke some crack.” That’s black and white. You either did or you didn’t. You have these red, yellow, green behaviors, that’s what they also call them. The red behaviors are your bottom-line behaviors, those are the things that lead to guilt, shame, demoralization, and you feeling horrible about yourself. You’ve got the yellow behaviors, which are somewhere in between. You’ve got the green behaviors, which lead to a healthy lifestyle. Those are healthy lifestyle habits. Those are for you playing the guitar. Those are for you running, exercising, eating healthy, having good healthy conversations with people, and with women that don’t lead to objectifying them, whatever would lead to you not feeling good about yourself.

In my journey, sleeping with other women, middle-inner circle behavior. It has always been an inner circle behavior since my first day of recovery. I’ve been abstinent from sleeping with women since the first day of my recovery. I’m grateful for that. Pornography, a whole different candle wax for me. For some people in recovery, it’s a middle circle behavior. For some people, it’s an inner circle behavior. For a long time, it was in my inner circle and I struggled with getting any time more than two years. I could get a year. I could get two years and then I’d have a slip. I’d look at it and then the clock might start over if you will but the frequency went from daily to monthly. It went from monthly to semi-annually. It went from semi-annually to annually. It went to bi-annually and then it might slip back to maybe quarterly.

There’s an important thing when it comes to behavior, which is frequency, intensity, and duration. If you’re changing any behavior, there’s on-off with drinking or with smoking where it’s like, “I never did it again.” Someone who’s working on a recovery journey, the challenge of the sobriety date idea forever thing is I find a lot of people get sober incrementally. What I mean by that is they put down until they don’t and that’s a short period of time. As they practice their recovery, those periods of time get longer and longer and they’re progressing. In certain circles, they feel a lot of shame around the story because it’s a chronic relapse. They’re putting together longer and longer periods of sobriety each and every time. They’re getting better at the game. It’s almost like they’re taking ten steps before they fall over as a kid and then they’re taking twenty steps before they trip. Now they’re taking 100 steps.

For me, my journey has been this incremental way out here. I would love to come on here and be honest and go, “I haven’t looked at porn in twenty years.” I wouldn’t be honest. I couldn’t tell you that. That was the one that’s been the hardest for me to quit. It’s been probably months since I viewed any. I’m feeling rather safe. I still have a sponsor I work with. We talk on the phone probably five days a week, that’s the strongest part of my twelve-step journey. At first, I kept looking at it through this shame lens and then I looked back and I was like, “Your relationship with it is different than it was when you were out of control.” Let’s try to stop beating ourselves up so much. Let’s be a little gentle and yet not take our hands off the wheel and be like, “I’m fine. I got no problems at all,” but to ride that fader between the two.

One of the problems with AA is that if someone slips, if they relapse, it’s like, “I started over. I’ve got less than 30 days.” It’s like, “You have less than 30 days.” However, your recovery journey doesn’t start over. You’re not starting from the ground. You had a slip. You’ve already done some things. You’re already on the journey to recovery. It’s part of the journey for some people. It’s not for everybody. For most people, relapse is part of the journey.

Any behavior change in your life is going to probably require more than one go. My first sponsor walked into his first meeting and never struggled again. His nickname was Gandalf the Wizard because he was this aged guy, white beard, and he never fucked up afterward. I was like, “I can’t be like you. I must be broken because this program works for you. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t put it together any time.” I used to think that the whole thing about less than 30 days, it’s less than 30 days continuous in this run. As if you’re the same person as a newbie who walked in. Let’s all agree it’s an imperfect program and most of us who have been in it are grateful and know that we’d either be dead or in jail without it. We hold both in our hands.

Sobriety is a process of working with another person to determine what's good and bad for you. Click To Tweet

You were still smoking weed and drinking. Are you still smoking weed and drinking a little bit? Are you completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol as well?

I gave up drinking in January 2019. I noticed that every time I had gotten close to sleeping with someone, alcohol was involved. For me, it was like the kerosene that was lighting the fire. I’m also a speaker. Prior to COVID, I’d be on the road 2, 3, 4 times a month speaking at conferences or retreats. I would get into trouble on the road. I would drink on the road, two beers, and then suddenly I’m flirting. I was waiting on someone else’s integrity to keep me safe. Sometimes, I’d meet people who didn’t have that problem. I got close to the edge several times and I realized alcohol was involved every time.

First, I quit drinking on the road. My wife wanted to quit. I saw the ads for One Year No Beer on Facebook. It was December and I remembered I cringed. I was like, “What’s that about? Why did I pull back when I considered One Year No Beer?” Instantly, I was like, “I better sign up.” I signed up with my wife, not on Facebook but in my head. I’m like, “I’m going to do a year with no alcohol.” 2020 came around and I was like, “I don’t feel like going back to alcohol.” I’m glad I didn’t because there would have been lots of opportunities to drink in 2020.

Tim, once I made the decision that I don’t drink, I don’t have to make any decisions anymore. I don’t have to decide whether or not I’m going to drink today or whether or not I’m going to drink tonight or whether I’m going to drink tomorrow or whether or not I’m going to drink because of blank. There are no more decisions involved. It’s off the table. That has been freeing. People ask me, they’re like, “Do you miss it?” I was like, “About 5% of the time.” That’s about it.

Alcohol leads to other behaviors. When I hear you say you’re clean from your bottom line behaviors, instead of resorting to your bottom line behaviors, you resort to something else. You resort to alcohol, drugs, smoking weed, video games, work. If you resort to alcohol because you still drink, next thing you know, your judgment is not great. Alcohol leads to the behaviors. You hear people that say, “I’m a heroin addict. I’m a crack cocaine addict. I’m a meth addict. I don’t have a problem with alcohol. I can still drink.” I’ve seen this happen many times. They have a few drinks and they might be able to do it a few times. The next thing you know, they’re back to meth, heroin, cocaine.

They don’t even know how they got there.

You decided that this was going to be in your life, music, therapy, and you were going to help people. Tell me what transpired next.

The reason I was a musician and wanting to inspire people was because of my friends’ journey. I wanted to give people that peace. In the music business, that culture is unhealthy. I found myself being easily socially influenced than environmentally influenced by all kinds of bad behavior in that world. I discovered there was this career called music therapy. It’s like being a physical therapist working in the same places that a physical therapist works except using music instead of exercise to treat people.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Healing Powers Of Music: Music is the most complex stimulus in nature for the human brain to process. It requires every sub-region of the brain to activate, to take in, take apart music, and put it back together.


I am one part athlete, one part musician. At one point, I wanted to become a physical therapist but it only felt it was skin deep, it was tissue, it didn’t touch the soul and it didn’t touch the mind. I got bored with it. When I discovered that there was a career called music therapy, it was like putting the two in a blender. At the moment I discovered the field, I filled out my college application to go back to school and my financial aid in that same computer Google search. I never looked back. I realized I can help others through the toughest times of their life and I can do it during the day from home, in a clinic, in a school, in a hospital, or in a professional setting.

That social-environmental cue and influence will be healthy for me compared to being in clubs, in venues, on the road, at festivals, where I might be wanting to use music to help others but that social and environmental cue was sex, drugs. A much safer way for me to express this desire to help people is as a music therapist than as a musician. Plus, I don’t have to be on the road. I don’t have to miss my kids’ childhood and that was important to me.

I went back to school, five years, full-time, in my 30s, and became board certified as a music therapist in 2008. My joke is I haven’t worked since because my experience is that I get paid to play and pray. You don’t work music. You play music. People are like, “You’re lucky.” I’m like, “I have a student loan and five years of my 30s that I don’t get back.” Aside from that, I knew that for the next 30 to 40 years, I would be doing what I love in a safe environment, helping people and not missing my kids’ childhood.

What instruments do you play?

My main instrument is my voice, that’s what I’m trained in since childhood. My second instrument and my accompanying instrument is the guitar. Additionally, I play the Native American flute. I play tons of percussion. I can pick my way around a keyboard. I know the theory.

You’re going to be playing music for the rest of your life.

It’s how I express myself. For me, going into the quick spiritual, I’m this one tiny fraction of the whole that came into form to experience itself. What do I want to be doing while I’m in form? I want to express myself athletically and artistically. When I say artistically, it’s musically specifically. The ultimate joy for me in life is when I experience myself playing. That’s the verb playing because I play sports and I play music. I’m here to play. How do I do that in a way that shines light everywhere around me and increases and improves those around me, those little fractions of me? How can I hook me up, the other me? Which one do I want to do? I want to do that through this medium of music. This is thrilling because I experience the same joy you do differently when you’re the listener and I’m the creator like I experience the joy of music when I’m the listener and you’re the creator. It’s a win-win.

What are some of the myths that we have around making music in our culture?

The main ones are that it requires talent. There’s this thing, the music gene, and there’s no such thing. There’s no music gene. Genes are far more complex than the gene. It doesn’t work that way. We like to try to make simple answers out of complex things. Every human body runs in rhythm. It’s the organizing principle of your body. Everything we do, we do in rhythm. Our cells, organs and body runs on rhythm, which is the foundation of music. Everybody has the ability to be musical. We don’t think that way in our culture. We think some people have it and most don’t.

There is a rhythm to the breathing in and breathing out of the entire universe. Click To Tweet

I’ve never thought about it like that. You’re right, everybody has rhythm.

Not everybody is as coordinated as the others, but everybody has rhythm. If you can tap, snap, clap, hum, rap, sing, strum, or scratch, you can be musical. Tim, everybody scratch is an itch in perfect rhythm. What we do is we take an egg shaker and we pretend we’re scratching. We’re perfectly rhythmic people. Some of us have been handy around the house. If I can hammer and nail, I play a frame drum. If I can bounce a ball, I can play a hand drum. It’s much simpler than we make it out to in our culture. The big myth is that most of us don’t have it and some of us do. We all got it.

How did music originate?

That’s a whole course. There are two lenses to think through, one is evolutionary. Music is what’s called a proto-language. It’s a pre-language. We sang before we spoke as a species to communicate. In addition to evolutionarily, developmentally.

We sang before we spoke.

Yes. We had sound before we had language. We would use sound to communicate and connect. We developed language later on. There’s a mirror of this, which is developmentally with kids. Kids sing before they speak. They vocalize and they sing before they have language. In all cultures, all moms sing to their babies. All moms sing in the same stepwise motion across the globe, regardless of language, because the kids don’t have language yet. They’re not paying attention to the words. They’re paying attention to the melody and the sound of mom’s voice and the tempo, meaning the speed of it. Developmentally and evolutionarily, music comes before language. It’s our stepping stone.

I’m thinking about a dog barking. Dogs barking in rhythm too. Birds chirp in rhythm. Crickets chirp in rhythm. Everything is in rhythm. Nothing is out of whack. It’s always in perfect rhythm, the same sequence, the same frequency, the same sound.

It is the fundamental organizing principle of the universe. There is a rhythm to the breathing in and breathing out of the entire universe.

How was music discovered? Where was this discovered that music was the first thing that was developed before talking and communicating through language?

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

This Is Your Brain on Music

My honest answer is that when I’m spouting out these brainiac little quotes about evolutionary, they are from a guy named Dr. Ani Patel who’s a neuroscientist who studies music in the brain, and this guy named Dr. David Wolfe from the Ohio State University who is also a researcher on music in the brain. I got to attend a real high-level conference and I was a speaker with these guys at this one particular conference. They started to talk about the origin of music and where it started in our journey as a species. Both of those men, their lectures were the ones who taught me that piece of it.

There’s a great book called This Is Your Brain on Music by Dr. Daniel Levitin. He’s also a neuroscientist. He was a recording engineer with the Alan Parsons Project. He went back to school to become a neuroscientist. In his book, This Is Your Brain on Music, he gives you a great journey through music without losing you along the way. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it to anybody. You’ll come away with such a deeper appreciation for the power of music in your life.

What happens in the brain? How does music interact with the brain? How is it relevant to addiction treatment?

What’s the point? Music is the most complex stimulus in nature for the human brain to process. It requires every sub-region of the brain to activate, to take in, take apart music, and put it back together. When we do that and we have the experience that we’re either making the music ourselves or we’re listening to music we enjoy, our reward system gets activated. The reward system is what gets hijacked during drug addiction. That same reward system gets activated when we either make music or we listen to the music we enjoy. It is pleasure-inducing.

That’s relevant to people in recovery who are going through this journey of anhedonia where they’re not feeling anything in early recovery or early treatment because their reward system is been shot to hell and their brain is recalibrating. They don’t feel anything. Introducing pleasure causing behaviors back into their life is important so that they don’t feel they’re dead inside or that there’s no fun left. Whenever we make music or listen to the music we enjoy, dopamine is released in the brain and that’s that feel-good chemical.

When we make music together or we listen to music together, oxytocin gets produced which is the social glue, the hug drug if you will, in our brain. That feeling that we’re connected to someone else is released when we’re making music in a group or we’re listening to it. If we listen to relaxing music, our brain releases prolactin. Prolactin is a chemical that allows us to feel the afterglow, this chill, “That’s nice.” That feeling that we have when we’re satisfied is prolactin and slow tempo music will trigger the release of that.

Everybody knows music is good for their mood and their spirit. When I learned what music did specifically to the brain and the body, I got curious. The last piece that’s important for a person in recovery is that it turns off the stress response. Our nervous system runs in these three speeds or three gears. Rest and digest, which is your normal default nervous system. You’re in connection mode and creativity mode. We have the fight-flight response. People are familiar with that. That’s the sympathetic nervous system activation. That’s when we go into protection mode and reaction mode. That’s when we don’t consider the behaviors we’re doing at the moment. We may not be fully aware of what that’s going to do in the future. We’re right at the moment dealing with whatever’s going on.

Music resets that nervous system faster than any oral medication. Most people have experienced this for themselves when they were in an emotional state and a song came on. I hear this story all the time. I was here. The song came on. Before the song was even over, I was in a different state. It shifted me. It pulled me out. When I listen to recovery specific songs on YouTube, in the comments, I will read over and over, “This song saved my life. This song is the thing that got me into recovery. This song is the one that helped me through my toughest time.” As a musician, I’ve heard that personally as well.

We know that music turns off that stress response. When we have the stress response, that’s when the brain triggers cravings because it’s the brains’ way of trying to self soothe. What we want is we want tools that work fast to turn that stress response over before our brain can issue a whopper-sized craving. The brain is not designed to withstand cravings. It’s designed to do the behavior. That’s the system’s design, it’s trying to self soothe. We can use music in those moments to reset.

Music resets that nervous system faster than any oral medication. Click To Tweet

The brain is designed to do the behavior and not to resist, which is why willpower doesn’t work.

That’s why people feel terrible about themselves because they don’t understand that craving isn’t designed to be withstood. It’s designed to be listened to and followed. Gabor Mat at Wanderlust in 2016, I will never forget the moment he said, “A craving is your brain’s way of trying to love itself.” It’s trying to self soothe.

It was looking for the solution, the behavior that’s going to soothe.

Whatever is going to soothe. That part of the brain doesn’t care if it’s healthy, legal, socially acceptable. It doesn’t care if it caused a bunch of problems. The last 27 times he did, it doesn’t care about the future ramifications. It’s the number one answer. It knows, at the moment, that will scratch the itch.

Gabor Mat also says, “Addiction is a solution to the pain.” The question is not why the addiction. The question is why the pain. That’s why in addiction treatment, we have to look at the root of the trauma because the pain is the cause of the addiction and the bad behaviors. Is there a type of music that’s better to turn off the stress response than another type of music? There are lots of kinds of music. Is any music therapy? Can I turn on Eazy-E? Is my stress response going to be turned off?

Here’s what the research shows, it depends on whether or not you like Eazy-E and it depends whether or not you already have any neuro associations to using while listening to Eazy-E.

What happens is we have party playlists. We all got hammered to music. There’s a neuro association between the music we’re listening to, the emotions we’re feeling, and the behaviors we were doing. I remember early in my recovery, at the time, if I put on EDM dance music, within four beats I was thinking about women. It was coursing through my veins. I was like, “I can’t even come near this.” I could listen to any other music but that music triggered me because that was always the soundtrack. 

The good news is that neuro association tapers, prunes, and atrophies over time. In long-term recovery, you can go back and you can check-in and listen to music from that time and you’ll observe the music. You might even have a memory but you won’t have that emotional charge to it. It’s similar to the grief journey. Early in grief, there is an emotional charge with the memory. Over time, you’re left with the memory and the emotional charge fades. Music operates very similarly. It’s important for people in recovery to understand to avoid your party playlists for as long as until you check in with them. Notice that they don’t start to trigger that emotional charge.

The second thing people ask is, “What’s the right type to listen to?” The right type of music to listen to is the music that you enjoy, that you associate with safety, connection, inspiration, and comfort. If you love Celine Dion, all the power to you. Go at it. Listen to Celine. If somebody likes Michael Bolton, good for you. That’s why God invented headphones so that I don’t have to hear Michael Bolton. It’s like a flavor. It’s subjective. You don’t have to try anything new. You don’t have to buy anything new. Stick with the genres you already are comfortable with that already have that inspirational neuro association. Beware of the party playlist.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Healing Powers Of Music: People feel terrible about themselves because they don’t understand that craving isn’t designed to be withstood. It’s designed to be listened to and followed.


There is dark music. You have Death Metal. You have Punk rock. What would your response be to that? Let’s say I love death metal. If I love Death Metal and I’m trying to get clean and sober, it’s not triggering, is that going to lift me up?

It depends on your relationship with Death Metal. It may very much so. What we noticed in the research is that music doesn’t cause emotion. Emotion causes the choice of music. It’s like the chicken or the egg. A lot of parents are concerned about the music their kids listen to that it’s going to cause them to be depressed or suicidal. They reach for that music because they’re already vibrating at that point and the music resonates with something inside of them. That’s why when you’re sad, you listen to sad music because it’s matching the experience you’re already having.

Here’s what they noticed, particularly with adolescence and this can be extended to adults. 1 of 3 things happens when you’re in that negative mood and you turn on what some people would call dark music. One, the music acts as this resonant catharsis where you feel heard and understood and you express and get out that emotion and you feel better afterwards. Two, it doesn’t do anything. You’re listening to the music but your mood preceded the music and your mood is still there after the music. Sometimes, the music will exacerbate those feelings. You’ll get in a spiral. It could be an anger spiral, particularly with metal, with fast tempo music. It could be a downward spiral. What they find is that sometimes, even the same music, kids will use it to experience all three depending on where they are in the moment.

It’s interesting that it’s not like, “Stay up. This is okay. This isn’t okay.” It’s subjective. What’s important is to have a connection with someone else to be able to talk about those experiences without any judgment. The problem parents have is they can’t talk with their kids about their music without judgment. They suck at it. They have total amnesia. They forget that when they were a teen their music drove their parent’s crazy. That’s why kids will spend more time in their bedroom listening to music and feel more connected alone in their room than down in the living room because the music doesn’t judge them, it doesn’t lecture them and it doesn’t scold them.

What about the lyrics? I’m a person that doesn’t listen to the lyrics. I’m more into the beat. I’m more into the way that it makes me feel. I might know all the words to a song. However, I have no clue what is being said. I can remember, I would get in trouble because I would listen to things and my mom is like, “Do you know what that is saying?” It’s like, “Not really. I’m not into it. I like the beat.” What do you have to say about the lyrics?

The jury is out on lyrics. When I pull kids to ask them why they listen to the music they listen to, l what you said, I get, “I don’t know. I like the beat. It’s bumping.” I’ve also had guys in groups say, “I used because Lil Wayne sang about it.” I have to be honest. There are three types of influence, personal influence, my own thoughts and beliefs, social influence, which is the influence of others on me, and then environmental influence, the influence of the environment on me. Social influence is real. We have to say that. What’s important is having a connection so we feel connected. We can check-in if you’re listening to something that’s got crazy lyrics. You start thinking, “That’ll be a good idea.” It’s more complex than I wish it was.

Music is therapy and music turns off the stress response. Listening to music versus playing music, which is going to do a better job?

The gold standard is making music. Making music doesn’t mean learning an instrument. It means involving your body in music. You could be listening to the music you enjoy and then try to stay with the beat whatever the beat is. Try to drum the beat. Try to sing along with the beat or hum it or rap along. If you engage your body with the music, it pulls you into the present moment because music is time-based. You have to be present to make music. It allows you to stay present whereas music listening, you can go all over the place. Music making is the gold standard and you don’t have to learn an instrument to make music.

Dancing is number two and listening is number three.

Making music doesn't mean learning an instrument. It means involving your body in music. Click To Tweet

Any way you engage your body, that’s aces.

Tim, how can people reach you?

I have a gift for anybody who’s reading. One of the gifts I give away to everybody is the gift of relaxation. We all need tools to help us reset our stress. If you go to, I’ll give you a fifteen-minute relaxation vacation and that’s the place that’ll put you on my list. I’m also at My podcast is Reduce Your Stress with Tim Ringgold, find that where you find podcasts. I release relaxation music and interviews on that every week. Upcoming is the Stress Elimination Summit Recovery Edition where we have 28 speakers talking specifically about how to reduce your stress in the context of a recovery journey and why that’s important. You can go to to register for free.

Is there anything else you want to share?

Stick with it. Find the good and focus on it.

Tim, thank you so much.

Thanks, Tim.

Important Links:

About Tim Ringgold

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of MusicTim Ringgold is a board-certified music therapist, columnist, author, and host of the podcast, Reduce Your Stress. He has provided music therapy to thousands of teens and adults to help them lower anxiety and reduce pain.

Tim is also an award-winning international speaker, having shared the stage with some of the top minds on music, the brain, and personal development, including Tony Robbins.

Tim was the first person to give a TEDx talk on music therapy in 2012. Tim is also a former Regional President of the American Music Therapy Association.

Overcoming Shame and Recovering From Sexual Addictions

Many of those seeking to recover from addictions of all kinds struggle in dealing with shame. Sometimes, you experience shame due to feeling weak, admitting that you need help, or having guilt over past actions. For those with sexual addictions, shame is a common barrier to treatment and many people may never find a way to recover. Sexual behavior is a private and personal matter for most people. When sexual behavior is used to cope with other stressors in life, a person might become addicted to the feelings of excitement and release, much like an addiction to drugs or alcohol. While anyone in recovery from sexual addiction or any other addiction has likely hurt others in their past, the key to recovery is separating your addictive behavior from your true self. During recovery, you have to accept responsibility for your actions and make amends. However, you do not need to burden yourself with holding onto shame for your past. Hope is possible and you can change for the better. 

Similarities Between Substance and Sexual Addiction

One way to overcome the shame of sexual addiction is realizing that the motivations for sexual addiction are similar to those of substance or alcohol addictions. When experiencing shame, you may feel that others in society will judge you harshly. You may feel like a criminal or that your actions are beyond redemption. Society has come to terms with viewing addictions to drugs or alcohol as a problem that people can recover from. While in the past, many of those addicted might have denied their issues or hidden them from others, brave individuals have come forward to pave the path for others to heal from their addictions. While sexual addiction might be a somewhat taboo topic today, those who come forward now to face their addiction head-on will help to clear the pathway for others in the future.

Sexual behavior can have similar effects as other substances, which is why some people are vulnerable to addiction. Sexual behavior, like drugs or alcohol, can make a person feel a “high” that they continue to chase. Some people might use sexual behavior to cope with stress or anxiety, just like others may use alcohol or other substances to achieve the same ends. A sign of addiction is when chasing this “high” comes ahead of all other things. When prioritizing sexual behavior above everything else in life, the person might have an addiction. You might also be addicted if sexual behavior is the only way that you cope with any stressors in your life. Many people are susceptible to addictive behaviors and are not alone in recovery. Although sexual addiction may be different from others, the motivations and emotions involved are similar and often the same.

Shame: A Barrier to Healing

Shame can get in the way of healing from all forms of addictive behaviors. For those addicted to sexual behaviors, feelings of shame may be the result of having victimized others or treating a romantic partner poorly. While you need to accept responsibility for your past and your behaviors, the cycle of shame only serves to prevent you from real change. Shame can be a negative coping skill for you; shame enables you to avoid dealing with your addiction. When experiencing shame, you may feel like punishing yourself or feel like your guilt justifies any pain you may have inflicted on others. Shame becomes a layer that separates you from dealing with your emotional pain. Feelings of guilt and shame only block you from dealing with the underlying causes of your addictive behaviors. Being vulnerable to share your experiences with others in recovery can help you begin the process of healing and growth. You will find that you are not alone in your experiences.

Your addictive behaviors are different than who you truly are. Many people with sexual addictions think that they are flawed on the inside and are incapable of change. They may be unable to recognize that their behaviors were the result of poorly coping with stress or other underlying issues. To recover from sexual addiction, you must realize that your past behaviors do not define who you are today. You have other qualities and values that define you. While you cannot change your past or things that you might have done, you can change for the better. Recovery from sexual addictions—like all other addictive behaviors—is possible and there is hope for all those who are struggling. Let go of your shame and guilt; allow yourself to enjoy the gift of recovery. 


You are not alone in your addiction, whether you are addicted to substances—like drugs or alcohol—or addicted to behaviors, like sex or gambling. Other people are in recovery from their addictions and are learning new ways to cope with life. They have separated themselves from their addictive behaviors and have broken down the barrier of shame, which impedes many from true growth and change. You may feel guilt for your past behaviors, or you may feel that all hope is lost. However, you can recover from sexual addictions as others have in the past. At Camelback Recovery, we open our doors to those suffering from all kinds of addictive behaviors. Our home environment is a safe place for everyone to share their stories and experiences. 

Call us at (602) 466-9880 to begin your recovery today.

What Is Meant by “Revolving Doors” in Addiction Treatment?

Treatment centers can vary in the expectation of stay for those in recovery. We may have heard phrases like “revolving doors” or “frequent fliers” in addiction treatment. What does this mean, and how can you prevent these potential pitfalls for successful treatment from addiction? 

“Revolving doors” refers to treatment centers where people seem to come in-and-out frequently. Generally, facilities that are considered to have revolving doors have short stays or no means of keeping people engaged in long-term recovery. Short-term stays may work for some people. However, many people benefit from long-term stays in sober living from three months to a full year. The habits that we have formed during addiction need to be given an appropriate amount of time to change. Shorter stays of only a few weeks often do not provide a person enough time to form new habits. As people go in and out of short term treatment centers in a rapid cycle of treatment-relapse-treatment-relapse, they may be referred to as “frequent fliers” in recovery. 

Forming New Habits Takes Time

What is a habit? Generally speaking, a habit is a behavior that a person engages in automatically or with very little thought. Patterns can help us minimize how much conscious time we spend on making decisions. When a behavior is completed consistently and over a long period, we can usually engage in conduct somewhat effortlessly or with little mental resistance. When forming healthy habits or making any change, our bodies and minds initially resist. Our minds are wired to get us through our day by spending the least amount of calories possible. Thinking and other brain functions expend calories. When learning new things, we burn calories in our brains to understand the task. Forming new habits requires our minds to burn more calories than usual. We may resist the activity to keep our bodies operating at a consistent caloric rate. Holding ourselves accountable to a consistent schedule will help us override our brain’s resistance to forming healthy habits and change for the better. 

Most people have heard something to the effect of “it takes 21 days to form a new habit.” If this were true, then recovery programs of about three weeks should be sufficient. However, the duration needed to form a new habit is much longer. Most people’s actual time to create a new routine is anywhere from two months to eight months on average! Several factors can influence the time required to form new habits. Some habits may be more comfortable for one person to learn due to their experience. For example, let’s say two people want to learn to play the ukulele. If one person can play the guitar and the other person has never played an instrument in their life, which one will be more likely to learn to play the ukulele faster? Other factors influencing habit formation can be the relative difficulty of the task and the learning environment.

The Importance of Supportive Environments

Information about recovery is everywhere. There are self-help books available, and a plethora of information about addiction recovery is all over the internet. However, if we try to master these skills or learn these new, healthy habits in non-supportive environments, we will be less likely to succeed. Sometimes, our home environments are disruptive or triggering and can make recovery difficult. When we enter a supportive and structured environment for long periods, we improve our recovery chances. Imagine trying to stay sober in a home where people drink daily? A supportive environment with others who are clean and sober can lead to better outcomes for those in recovery. 

Treatment facilities can vary in the length of stay and the structure of support within. When looking for a treatment center or a sober living home, we might increase our chances of success by finding programs with minimum stays of at least three to six months. When we are in environments with others committed to long-term recovery, we can also increase our chances of success. When our peers and companions in sober living are also committed to long-term treatment, we increase our chances of forming bonds and support networks with our recovery peers. To avoid “revolving door” treatment and “frequent fliers,” we may want to look into a long-term sober living home to give ourselves time and support to learn better ways of living.


Long-term treatment facilities can help us avoid going in-and-out of treatment. Sober living homes that offer long-term stays allow us an appropriate amount of time to form new habits and make lifelong changes in our lives. Everyone learns at a different pace depending on the knowledge and skills that they already possess. When we are new to recovery concepts, we may need more extended periods to learn the skills and break our habits. Change, even for the better, will be met with some resistance by our minds. We can make this easier on ourselves by seeking the high quality, long-term treatment that we deserve! Camelback Recovery believes that individuals in recovery need time to make changes and form better habits. Call us today at (602) 466-9880 to get started on your recovery journey! We hope to reduce the number of people engaged in “revolving door” treatment. Our sober living homes can help you or a loved one live their best life!

How Does My Physical Health Impact my Emotional Wellbeing?

We are all working towards progress and bettering ourselves throughout early recovery. It is always our goal to keep working towards being the best people that we can be. Our recovery process gives us the tools we need to keep our mental health in the best spot. Throughout the entire treatment process, you will be taught specific tools that you can use to keep your head up, even through trials and low places.

We all know that mental illness doesn’t stop for recovery. Instead, it will continue to affect us in many ways and hound the steps we take in recovery. A good part of our lives will be spent focusing on learning what we can about ourselves, and how we can continue to adapt to what life throws at us. Still, recovery isn’t just about keeping our mental health in good shape through brain exercises.

We must also understand that physical fitness is vital to our mental health. Many people lose sight of the importance of physical health and how it works in conjunction with our mental health. But realizing its importance is powerful in helping our lives stay positive as we journey through recovery.

The Wondrous Inter-Connectivity of the Human Body

Our body and its many processes are complex and connected. Our mental state is closely linked to our physical health. Through physical exercise and activity, we can release feel-good chemicals and endorphins through our bodies, helping our moods and emotions improve.

A lot of times, just a quick 10-minute walk can make you feel way better than before. Sometimes all it takes is getting out of the house and into the outdoors. Getting fresh air and feeling the sunshine, in conjunction with the physical exertion, are a great recipe to help yourself feel the best that you can.

Even tending to your garden can be enough to boost your mood and increase feelings of positivity. Combine that with a proper diet, full of nutritious and healthy food, and you can increase that even more. There are a ton of different kinds of food that we need to take in to help our bodies work as efficiently as they can.

Essential fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and water are integral parts of living a healthy life. Each of these things keeps your body oiled like a well-tuned machine, and encourages clear, positive thinking.

The Physical & Mental Impact of Addiction

This also means that a physical condition can cause you to suffer, mentally. If you are a smoker, it can really cause damage to your health. Obviously, we all know about the physical issues that it can cause. Still, those issues will then spill over into our mental health as well.

The nicotine in cigarettes can cause an imbalance with the chemicals in your brain. In the short-term, nicotine can boost dopamine production in your brain, and dopamine is a chemical that influences positive feelings. But, in the long-run, nicotine will shut down the natural dopamine factories in our brains.

Over a more extended period, we won’t produce the amount of dopamine that we need, resulting in lower positivity levels and a higher feeling of sadness or depression. Additionally, the ways that nicotine shuts down dopamine in the brain means that a person will become addicted to smoking to get that little hit of nicotine and experience a bump in dopamine.

Obviously, addiction is a massive problem for anyone, and avoiding it is paramount in leading a good life. Avoiding any sort of substance use in life after recovery is an essential tactic for everyone. Don’t let the short bursts of positivity you may feel convince you that you need to indulge, but steer clear of anything that can cause these kinds of imbalances.

Remember, recovering addicts are still extremely vulnerable to other addictive behaviors and substances. Remember that everything is connected in our bodies. Keeping our physical health up to par is just as important as practicing our breathing exercises or meditation.

We must also seek balance with all things in life. Make sure to keep your physical health in peak condition so that your brain doesn’t have to suffer. Always keep every avenue of improvement open and help make sure that your body and mind are working together to be successful. You deserve that kind of happiness, and you deserve to know how to reach that happiness. You will find that sense of peace, and you can do anything you put your mind to.

The body is an incredible piece of machinery, but it requires ongoing maintenance to operate at peak performance. Most people in early recovery have fallen into unhealthy habits, leaving both body and mind malnourished. At Camelback Recovery, you’ll find a sober living community ready to provide you with the tools you’ll need to fulfill all the necessary elements of wellness. If you’re ready to get sober, it’s time to lean on the experience and strength of others who have come before you. Sobriety is not as uncharted as it may seem. Through a holistic recovery program, you can heal spiritually, mentally, and physically – you just need the time to do so. At Camelback Recovery, you’ll find the community you’re looking for and the experienced guidance you need. Give us a call at (602) 466-9880. Getting sober isn’t easy, but it can be an exciting period of your life, filled with transformational experiences and incredible growth.

Have I Really Been Insane? – A Look At Step Two

The second step of the 12-steps says that we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It is difficult to get behind the idea that we were insane when new to recovery. We may have an idea that comes to mind when we think of what an insane person looks like. How could we be insane? It’s essential to take a look at what we really mean by this.

The dictionary definition of insane is “the state of mind which prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.” It may seem like a harsh word at first, yet looking at the definition, it is clear that we had experienced this our whole lives.

What Is Insane Thinking?

Insane thinking is a common problem we, as substance users, all have. There is a good description of what that looks like in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The book says that we are similar to having a passion for jaywalking. The jaywalker gets a rush out of running through traffic or crossing the street when there are many fast-moving vehicles.

The jaywalker is injured a few times and is then hospitalized because of his passion for danger. His loved ones explain how his behavior is dangerous and try to get the jaywalking obsession out of his head. However, the jaywalker continues his behavior immediately after getting out of the hospital, and he is met with more consequences.

He tries to get away from the idea entirely and isolate himself to avoid this obsession. Still, the day comes that he finds himself doing it again. This time, he is met with severe consequences, and his loved ones plead for him to stop, yet he cannot.

It then goes on to say anyone would see this idea as insane. We suggest you take a look at your history and replace the word “jaywalking” with “using” or “drinking”. When we do this, we see that we relate to this story exactly. We kept drinking and using, hoping for different results. Time and again, however, we found that we could never achieve the first drunk or high.

We experience escalating consequences, yet are unable to change our behaviors. That is what we call plain insane thinking. We came to terms with the fact that our bodies were sick, but our minds are, too. Every attempt we made to relieve the obsession and stay sober on our own would end in relapse. We needed something that was beyond human aid to help us.

A Higher Power

Once we are at this step, we are faced with a dilemma. We have already admitted we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. We have already stated we were willing to go to any lengths for victory over substance use. When we are told that a power greater than ourselves is what will restore our sanity, some of us become combative.

Some of us have a history of faith, while others have rejected spiritual concepts entirely. Either way, we must become willing to believe that something bigger than us exists. We must agree to at least this proposition. Once we agree to this, we can realize that we have been closed-minded about spiritual matters.

We come to this belief that something bigger than us is in control. We believe at once that with the help of that power, we can be returned to sanity. Our perception can change, and, over time, our behaviors follow suit. The key to having rational thoughts and thinking soundly is experiencing enough humility to admit that we don’t know.

For the first time, maybe ever, we are unsure how to stay sober and accept that someone else knows better. From there, we are open-minded enough to become willing and trust that recovery is possible for us. Even a small amount of willingness and trust is enough to make the first approach to recovery.

Ask Questions

If you have gotten to this point, yet are still unsure about it, asking questions will result in success. Many people in 12-step fellowships can share their experiences, obstacles they have met, and how they got through them. If you don’t ask questions, nobody can help you through the challenges of early recovery. Remember that you are not the only one feeling the way you’re feeling.

At the beginning of their recovery journey, every person has been uncomfortable, afraid, and unsure of what the recovery program is or what it can do for them. There are plenty of people that come into sobriety with ideas about what a higher power is or is not. We have all felt this way and were unsure of how this could even work for us. Reach out to people with more time sober and those who have taken the 12 steps.

Your perception and behaviors will change as a result of the action you take in regards to your substance use disorder. As long as you remain willing, open-minded, and humble to the experience, you’ll be able to follow in the footsteps of other sober people.

It’s a staggering blow to the ego to admit that we have been insane. For many of us, it takes time to understand our own behavior, but the first step is always to ask for help. If you’re ready to get sober, it’s time to lean on the experience and strength of others who have come before you. Sobriety is not as uncharted as it may seem. Through a holistic recovery program, you can heal spiritually, mentally, and physically – you just need the time to do so. At Camelback Recovery, you’ll find the community you’re looking for and the experienced guidance you need. Give us a call at (602) 466-9880. Step Two is just one of the steps you’ll take in recovery, but you never have to do it alone. If you’re struggling to find a recovery program that works for you, Camelback Recovery can help.