“Life Gives to the Giver” is a conversation with Joe Polish, who created one of the most elite business networking groups in the world for industry transformers. His foundation, Genius Recovery, helps people with addiction recovery. His two groups, Genius Network and 100k, are the most sought after connection networks in the world that are tailored to building a better entrepreneur.
Joe’s mission around recovery is to help change the global conversation around addiction to be viewed with compassion instead of judgment. Check out the trailer for Joe’s award winning documentary at https://www.connectedthemovie.com.
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Life Gives To The Giver With Joe Polish
I am here with Joe Polish. The reason why I have him on my show is because I want to find out more about how he went from being a 100-pound crack cocaine addict to being one of the world’s leading connectors, owner, and founder of Genius Network and Genius Recovery. I also want to find out more about his sabbatical that he’s going to be taking. He’s taken a one-year-long sabbatical. What is he going to do to take care of himself during that sabbatical? What does recovery look like?
Joe Polish created one of the most elite business networking groups in the world for industry transformers. His foundation, Genius Recovery, helps people with addiction recovery. There are two groups, Genius Network and 100K. They are the most sought-after connection networks in the world that are tailored to people being a better entrepreneur. Joe’s mission around recovery is to help change the global conversation around addiction to be viewed with compassion instead of judgment. Check out the trailer for Joe’s award-winning documentary at www.ConnectedTheMovie.com.
Joe, it’s so awesome to have you here. Welcome to the show.
It’s good to be here, Tim. I love the name, I Love Being Sober.
Let’s talk about whatever you want. You can ask me anything. We can talk about sobriety, throes of addiction, craziness, entrepreneurship, whatever will be helpful. It’s about connection. The opposite of addiction is connection and I find that to be quite true and accurate.
Where are you from?
I was born in El Paso, Texas. In my entire childhood, we moved to different parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. My mother died when I was four years old while we were living in a small town called Kerrville, Texas. My father was very heartbroken and distraught. He never recovered from my mother’s death. We would go to a new town. He was a locksmith so he had to establish himself as a new business and clientele. When things started working a little bit, he would uproot and go somewhere else. He was always a guy that was running away from something. He died in 2002 and I was his primary caretaker in the last year of his life, along with help from my brother and a couple of other people. I was with my father quite a bit. We never had a great relationship. My father was a very disconnected guy but he did the best he could with a lot of challenges and pain.
I lived in Arizona, in Phoenix area. I lived here most of my adult life. The only time I moved away as an adult was when I was a drug addict right out of high school. I went to New Mexico and lived in a trailer with my father to get sober. I moved there in the first six months. I didn’t go to rehab. I just removed myself from the environment. I didn’t have access to the people until the drugs. That was very difficult. I had not dealt with the underlying trauma that causes addiction in the first place. That came later in life. My worst stage of being a drug addict was when I was in high school and right out of high school.The opposite of addiction is connection. Click To Tweet
How did you start experimenting with drugs?
My brother was smoking pot. It’s weird because as I sit and think about it, my childhood is a blur. There’s so much of it that I don’t remember. The entire periods and years that I have no real memory of. I was introduced to pornography, smoking pot, doing drugs and snorting speed, then in high school, that’s were cocaine, crystal, and LSD. I never shot heroin or anything but I smoked it before. My drug of choice, it’s hard to say, but it was cocaine. It’s because of the dopamine hit that cocaine can give you. It started with pot though, I was getting high almost daily.
Back in those days, I went to Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona. I kept the bond in my locker. I don’t know if you can get away with that now. When I went back in that high school, they had metal detectors and all kinds of stuff that never existed when I went there. I graduated in 1986 but I didn’t graduate by walking with my class. I was watching the graduation ceremony from the backyard of a friend who had his backyard bordered the football field in high school. I was smoking cocaine with him out of glass pipes, watching my high school graduation during the night of it. I was getting high and I was in a dark place. I was an anti-authority rebellious guy, doing drugs, and dealing drugs to support my habit. It was a bad time. Looking back now, I’m lucky I’m alive.
I weighed 105 pounds, which was my worst state in terms of weight because I had not eaten for about a week other than Chicken McNuggets and horrible food. On average, I weighed about 120 pounds. When you’re a male and you’re 5’10”, in terms of height, you can imagine how skinny and scrawny that is. I looked like a skeleton. I’m going into all kinds of crazy stories that you can make movies off of it, but I’ll leave it up to you how you want to guide and direct it.
You were introduced to drugs or your brother was the reason why you started experimenting with drugs, why did you keep on going?
It made me feel different because reality sucked. I didn’t like and I didn’t feel good about my reality. I think that addiction is a solution to the pain. I never thought about it that way, but getting high, escaping reality when your reality is painful is like a rest stop from angst, anxiety, depression, and nervousness. I was a very shy, introverted, weak kid. I didn’t know how to make friends. I never felt comfortable meeting people. I desperately and badly wanted connection. I wanted to be liked and accepted. I felt rejected and that I didn’t fit in. Growing up, whenever we would establish relationships and friendships, they would get uprooted.
When my mother died, I was abandoned. It’s not her intention. From what I know of her, she was an incredibly amazing woman. She was a former nun and she left the convent because she had gotten ill, and a lot of bad things happened in the church. It’s the story I was told. I had all of these caretakers that abused me, lie to me, and betrayed me. I was thinking about this. My father was a locksmith and he had his little locksmith shop in Kerrville, Texas. We lived in this weird house that had aluminum around the whole building.
My father wanted his ashes buried next to my mother’s grave in Kerrville, Texas. I remember after he had died, I waited for a little over a year, then I took his ashes to Kerrville and personally placed them in the ground right above my mother’s grave. That was in his will and his wishes, so I abided by what he wanted. I remember driving by the place where we used to live. I didn’t quite know where to go but I found it. The building was still there. He had his locksmith shop in the front, then we had our house in the back. It was a weird place to live. I had this reputation as a kid that I would sit on the counter at his locksmith place. People would come in to get their keys made and I would smile, and people would give me money.
It was the weirdest thing because I hadn’t thought about that for years. I learned how to smile even though as a kid, I was in constant terror. I felt so much fear. All I can remember vividly as a child is that I was very scared. The only memories I have with my mother was when I was jumping up and down on a bed. Someone snagged me off the bed because my mother had ovarian cancer. That’s what I believe it was. I’m not 100% sure. It’s hard to read the death certificate. I’m trying to verify that years later. She died in 1972. Someone pulled me off the bed. My mother wanted me to be there but it was hurting her because they cut her from her neck down to the groin area. They open her up across and removed organs. It was terrible. I remember she had stitches and big cuts from the surgery. She was dying.
That was one memory. Another memory I have with her was the tubes up her nose in a hospital. I don’t know if that was the day she died or a few days before she died. I have no memory of that. I was just there with my brother who is four years older than me and my father. After my mother had died, I remember a blurry memory of my father outside of the hospital, leaning against a tree, and bawling his eyes out crying. He lost the love of his life and here he was with these two kids. I was smiling all the time because that’s the only way I learned how to cope with the pain. In my life, I’ve done a lot of that where I put on my game face.
I would go out and try to act like everything is okay when it wasn’t, and it never felt okay. The introduction to drugs in any form of escapism was a way to feel an artificial form of connection. It’s like what Bill W said, the Founder of AA. He said that his alcoholics were trying to drink God out of a bottle. You’re trying to drink, snort, smoke, fuck, gamble or eat the pain away. You do something to deal with the pain. I had a lot of pain and when I was getting high, I thought it was entertaining and it was. You can party and have fun.
I’m not one of those people that will say all of it was miserable. Getting high at times felt exhilarating when feeling not okay in the world that doesn’t. However, there are these things called consequences and they can destroy you. I now believe that the worst day sober is better than the best day not sober because of where it can lead you to. It’s a complicated thing but I’m glad I went through it. What I do now with my focus on Genius Recovery, which is a passion project. It’s one of the most important things to me. It’s to help change the global conversation about how people view and treat addicts with compassion instead of judgment, find the best forms of treatment that have efficacy, and share those with the world. There are many ways to treat addiction. I do believe addiction is a solution. It’s a bad solution. It’s a solution that could kill you, hurts other people, and cause addicts to lead a double life. I was a very functional addict.
When did you realize that you had a problem with drugs?
I was in deep denial. People were pointing out to me that, “You should not get high so much.” There are probably 100 times from close friends. I started to isolate the deeper I got. I remember in Psychology class, I got high to do a talk because I was afraid of public speaking. I got stoned because it helped ease the tension. I ended up giving a talk in Psychology class about the dangers of THC and marijuana. I remember I was in an acting class and we have a little skit where we’re not supposed to talk. It’s supposed to be a silent thing. I had a friend who we hung out and get high together. We go to parties and stuff. She was pretending to be a drug dealer and I was a drug buyer. I gave her a little vial filled with speed in front of the whole class.
I feel terrible that I did these sorts of things. Back in the ‘80s, cocaine and speed had just come onto the scene. The way people do and consume drugs and the way jokes are made about them, there are different stages of life where we respond to things differently. She had given me this little vial, I poured it out in front of this acting class. I had a rolled-up dollar bill, and I snorted speed. That’s a shit that I did in high school. The teacher came up after and I was like, “It was baking soda and some aspirin,” but it was speed. I have snorted it in front of the whole class as part of an acting skit. It was bold, stupid, dangerous, and it shows you where my life was. I was like, “What’s the point of all this?” I felt rejected. I didn’t feel accepted in school.
I was young and wanting to be anti-authority. I was a nice guy though. I wasn’t mean to people. I’ve always been a compassionate person. I wasn’t hurting people. I was just hurting myself and I was taking dangerous risks and stuff like that. I was abused as a kid. I was raped and molested as a kid and I was paid money not to say anything about it. That wired into my head that sex is not an intimate act of love and oneness. It’s something you do to get off. I never saw a model of a healthy relationship. My father never remarried. I never heard I love you until around the age of eighteen.
We moved all the time. Every time I would establish a relationship, it would be uprooted and we go somewhere else. I became very used to losing my relationships and abandonment. I remember going to a summer camp that my father sent me to in Texas. It was a Catholic boys camp and the camp counselors were more like young adults that take care of the kids. They were abusing us. They were making us do sexual stuff to each other. It was terrible and bad. That stuff embeds dark things into you. You feel like a piece of meat. You feel used and abused, and it was dark. The drugs helped those memories that will never go away. It would numb them for a bit. It became a way to do it.
Looking back though, I love this definition of intimacy. I had my first Twelve Steps program in 2003 at SAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous. He had introduced me to a guy who spends his life sponsoring sex addicts. I never met him in person. He was never a sponsor of mine but he said to me a definition of intimacy, which is a mutual exploration of a shared safe place. Abuse is anything that takes away the safe place, and addictions are what we do to make ourselves feel good when we don’t have a safe place. I never felt safe. When I’ve talked to a lot of addicts, you don’t feel safe in the world. You’re going to try to connect with something that either makes you feel safe, it gives a false sense of security, or you’re numbed out, you don’t even know the difference.
It makes sense why if you’re depressed, anxious, lonely, sad, and feeling enormous fear. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to feel those feelings. It’s how you go about scratching the itch. I was using ways to scratch the itch that worked temporarily, but they left me more wounded. You become physically and mentally addicted. You become spiritually distraught if you can feel any connection whatsoever, and then you’re coupled with people that were raised under either strict religion or were gaslighted using God as a way to manipulate them. It’s hard for them to find a spiritual connection.
My friend Don Woods who’s a doctor that helps people with trauma, the way he refers to it is if you understand the atmosphere and conditions of somebody’s life, it would make sense the way that they are. For anyone who’s reading this who are in active addiction, in recovery, an addict or who knows someone that’s an addict, in pain and depressed, look at their lives. My friend Gabor Maté has this great line. He says, “The question is not why the addiction, but why is the pain there.” If there’s enough pain there, you’re going to find coping mechanisms. You’re going to find addiction as a way to deal with the pain. To this day, when I see someone smoking, drinking, or any obsessive out-of-control behavior, instead of saying, “That person is making bad decisions, they are more of degenerate,” it’s like, “Where are they hurt? What pain are they trying to escape from?” That allows me to have more compassion for them and myself.The worst day sober is better than the best day not sober. Click To Tweet
When you feel resentment, anger, rage, and betrayal, sometimes, you’re angry that you take it out on yourself. If it gets bad, then all of a sudden, your reactions start affecting other people. When people get to the point where they’re doing criminal behavior or they’re hurting other people physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, you’re usually dealing with people that have out-of-whack biochemistry. Dr. Daniel Amen who’s a brain doctor, he scanned my brain six different times. I was doing an interview with him on my podcast. He said, “If you saw the brains of serial killers, you would rethink the death penalty because these are not normal brains. These are sick brains. If you take a look at what trauma can do to somebody, it alters the way you think, the way you react to life, and the biochemistry.”
Addiction is a form of isolation. It’s a shame. Addiction feeds off of shame, guilt, anger, and resentment. You know all of this. You have been in recovery and what you do with sober living homes and whatnot. I had to learn all this stuff. That’s a challenge. Trying to think your way out of something that’s deeply embedded in a cellular level is a difficult thing. I applaud the heroic journey of people that go through recovery because not only is it incredibly difficult, but society still doesn’t accept and embrace addicts. The symptoms of addiction can hurt people. Addicts in their worst state lie, cheat, steal, cause trouble, and can commit crimes. They can be the most difficult people.
To help someone that you love that is suffering from addiction, not only is it suck for the addict but it sucks for the people around the addict. To go through that journey to find that hope and that healing, which is there. That’s where the magic of life is. Addicts that have come out on the other side and they’ve gone through Twelve Steps where they’ve gone through the journey of powerlessness and connection, they are some of the most incredible giving, caring, loving people because they’ve been through hell.
You’ll hear sometimes in Twelve Steps, “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people that have already been there.” I have a lot of friends that are in recovery that do Twelve Steps that are atheists. They don’t even believe in God. You don’t have to have a “strong” belief in religion. You can still connect with the source. You can still find ways to connect. I often say that because a lot of people like myself spent thousands of hours praying to God they can never feel and were betrayed in church. They had God and had religion used to manipulate them to make excuses for doing terrible things to people when they’re children. It’s very complicated. One of my favorite recovery sayings is, “We’re not going to open up the gates of heaven to let me in, but it opened up the gates of hell to let me out.”
One of the things that I hear people say at Twelve Steps meetings is, “I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic or drug addict.” I feel that way too. I’m grateful that I went through the journey that I went through because I wouldn’t be who I am now without all of the wreckage, journey, drinking, drugs, pain, selfishness, and self-centeredness. It was awful. However, I am who I am now because of everything I went through. To your point, alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery are some of the most amazing people. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back that you finally decide to get clean and sober?
I was first clean and sober from drugs because then the real core addiction was my sexual addiction because of the abuse. It became one of my primary coping mechanisms. When I got sober from drugs, I was living in Mesa. I lived with a couple of roommates and one of them was a bad cocaine addict. He was a dealer. Almost everybody that’s a drug addict is dealing at some point. It may not be their primary occupation. It’s like this funny Chris Rock line from a skit years ago. He’s like, “A crackhead is with another crackhead. They are not married to someone that wakes up in a three-piece suit at 5:00 in the morning and goes to work. They’re hanging out with other crackheads.” I had a belief at that time that everyone got high. I got high to go to bed and I woke up to get high. My whole life revolved around doing drugs and inebriating myself.
This guy was an addict and he had got busted for possession. I came home one night and he was over the sink, smoking freebasing cocaine which is like pure cocaine. I said to this dude, “You need to go to bed.” I knew he had a trial in the morning for cocaine possession. I went to bed and I woke up in the morning and he’s in a three-piece suit smoking, still over the sink while his lawyer is waiting outside to drive him to court for charges of cocaine possession. I’ve thought about that situation a lot since I got going. That is not someone that has control over their life. A lot of people would be like, “What an idiot.” This has even nothing to do with intelligence. No one wants to do that. When people are like, “They want their life to be that way.” No, they don’t. There’s not a single addict that wants to be an addict.
There’s nothing useful about having no control over your life and having a drug or a behavior dominate your every waking moment. It’s terrible. This guy went to this court case. It was probably a week later or a few days later. I’m there at this apartment with a friend of mine watching TV and he comes in the apartment. As soon as he walks in, he’s got a can of lighter fluid and starts squirting the lighter fluid all over the living room, all over me and my friend. I have long hair back then. The lighter fluid is dripping off of my head. This guy got this giant can of lighter fluid. He’s screaming and he holds up a match. “I’m going to fucking touch this place.” I’m sitting there like I’m going to die. I’m like, “Put the lighter down.” He finally puts the lighter down. It was like some shit out of a movie.
At that moment, I was like, “If I don’t get out of this place, I’m going to die.” I packed up all my shit in this piece of a crap pickup truck that I had, the Chevy LUV, and I drove to New Mexico with my possessions, skinny and screwed up. I moved into a trailer that my father was living in and have no friends. I have no access to drugs and cut myself off from it completely in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I spent a few months getting sober. I ended up getting a job, delivering newspapers in the truck. I started going to New Mexico State University. I would never get a degree in anything but I was trying to do something. Along the way, I ended up getting a job selling gym memberships.
That’s when I first started working out because through high school, I was never in sports. Around that same time, I was getting molested as a kid. I had a sadistic little league coach that would force me to hold the baseball bat in a way that I could not hit the ball. It ended up ruining my liking for sports. I ended up quitting the team because I couldn’t play the game the way that this coach forced me to try to hold this baseball bat. I was the only one on the team that he was doing this to that I can remember. Back then I was a shy and scared kid. I didn’t grow up to be this opinionated adult that I am now. I would like to think that I’m a nice person but I have strong views on things. I don’t say stuff if I don’t feel that I can at least back it up and have some knowledge of itself.
To fast forward, I moved to New Mexico, I got sober, and I ended up getting a job in a gym. That led me up to meeting someone at this gym that I was selling gym memberships at. I became very good at selling. I had never worked out. I started to exercise and lift weights. To try to do recovery without exercises or some physical engagement, a good gym or an exercise routine can be as valuable as an amazing therapist. In many cases, I would argue even better in some cases. You want to have both. It’s not one over the other. That became one of the forms of self-care and one of the ways because I believe the issues are in the tissues. Part of the trauma is in your body.
The exercise helped. I felt better physically. Before going to New Mexico a few months earlier, I would wake up every morning and blow my nose and blood would come out and sometimes small chunks of flesh. I remember riding my bike around the block when I was in my worst stages of addiction and I nearly passed out. That’s how damaged my body was from all the drugs that I was doing. When I started working at this gym and getting in better physical shape, it totally transformed me physically. I put on muscle, not a ton, I’ve always been a skinny guy but I transformed myself. I went from weighing about 120 pounds to about 150 pounds in a matter of a few months which is a huge difference when your body is out-of-whack.
You’d quit cold turkey then.
I had to take aspirin or Tylenol every day to deal with the headaches. It was cold turkey and I didn’t go to a rehab center. I ended up getting a job at a mental hospital because of someone I met at the gym. I would drive the addicts at this mental hospital to AA meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, NA meetings, Narcotics Anonymous, and CA meetings, Cocaine Anonymous. I would sit in on these Twelve Steps meetings as the driver who drove these patients to this meeting, never realizing how valuable that would be to me later in life. I never even voluntarily went to Twelve Steps groups. I went because it was part of my job but I would sit in there and listen to these stories. I realized I’m an addict and I’m sober.
That seems almost impossible to decide to pick up and drive to a different part of the country. You completely isolated yourself. I’ve seen this happen before. Geographic is a good temporary solution. You cut yourself off but then you’re working at a gym. What was the withdrawal like? How were you able to stay sober? You’re thinking about drinking, drugs, alcohol, and other things to stay sober. What did you do?
I worked out and stayed busy working. I got a job. I hated life and I was depressed. It was miserable but being high all the time and messed up physically was also miserable. Here I was in the prime of my youth, I think I had sex one time in two years during that period of my life. That’s how messed up I got my body into that state of being. It was a form of sexual anorexia which is another form of addiction because all the addiction is binging or purging. It’s either excess or deprivation. On one level, I quit doing drugs but I was deprived of human touch.
That’s always been something that is part of my recovery. It’s excess or deprivation. There are a lot of similarities with process addictions, behavior addictions, with people that are over-eaters, food addict, bingers, purgers, anorexics. It’s the same thing. It’s a form of the inability to do anything in moderation. Addiction is doing something you want to do or that you don’t want to do, and not being able to stop that has negative consequences attached to it. I ended up coming back to Arizona. I was in better physical shape. The sexual addiction, which I didn’t even know what that meant or what that was, is an intimacy disorder.
It’s not fair to all people with sexual addictions to say sex addict because people immediately conjure up, “They want to sleep with everybody. They’re perverts.” There are a lot of sex addicts that aren’t able to have any form of healthy sex and are not able to be sexual at all that is very lonely and deprived. There are others that are exhibitionists or porn addicts. You name it. There’s a whole gamut of forms and behavior. That stem from every human has an arousal template. When they’re first introduced to sexuality, if it’s done in a dysfunctional way, they’re probably not going to have a healthy sex life. My introduction to sex and intimacy was toxic and abusive. One thing I’m thankful for is I never became an abuser. I just abused myself and it was hard. This sounds crazy. Anyone that’s not in that place yet won’t take this in the best of ways. It’s a gift if you can get out of it. If you can’t, it’s a nightmare.
When did you first realize that you had an intimacy disorder or sex addiction? The drugs are gone. You’re able to stay clean and sober, but now you’ve got this other thing that crops up, which I see a lot quite often. People are recovering from alcohol. They’ve got this other thing that crops up, and they don’t realize it. Tell me about that.
Years ago, I did an interview with my friend, Pat Carnes. He’s known to be the top sex addiction doctor in the world. He’s the first one that wrote books on it, Out of the Shadows, which was his first book. I did an interview with him, which everyone can watch on YouTube. Type in my name and Pat Carnes. We talked for about 1 hour and 45 minutes on sex addiction. The first time it occurred to me was the craving was always there. This is one of the hardest things even to this day to talk about. For years, I’d never publicly talked about sex addiction. I’m like, “What is anyone going to think about me in the business world?” In the small space that I’m in, I’m well-known. You can talk about being an alcoholic and drug addict but talk about being molested, sleeping with escorts, hookers, and that sort of shit. There’s a lot of shame attached to that.Addiction is looking for love in all the wrong places. Click To Tweet
I didn’t know even how to think about it. I knew that I have a craving that is not normal here. There’s sex addiction and love addiction. You’ll see a lot of women in love addiction. I know many that are sex addicts but love sounds like a softer thing. It doesn’t sound aggressive or shameful sex. There’s a lot of shame attached to all forms of addiction. Sex addiction has a lot of judgment compared to other ones because you’re a sex addict. When you’re young, a lot of men and women, their hormones are out of balance. If you find a way to satiate an angst and it works, you start building these neuropathways that you keep going towards that behavior.
I quit doing cocaine but I got drunk with a friend and he wanted to pick up prostitutes. I have never done that before. I never would do it sober. I’m drunk and he’s like, “Let’s drive.” I get into this guy’s car, we drive, we go to an area of town, and we picked up a prostitute. It was the weirdest thing. It was tons of shame, fear and stuff but it was exhilarating. At the same time, it was dangerous and then I did it again. It was always when there was alcohol involved, then it was driving in this area and having this insane craving to do this. I had this insane pain in my body. After being sexual with this woman, it went away.
I had a great interview with Gabor Maté. I consider him one of the top addiction minds in the world. He’s a friend and he talks about a heroin addict. When they’re talking about their first shot of heroin into their veins, it felt like a warm, soft blanket engulfing them. That’s what the seductiveness of addiction is. You can have those moments where it makes the world feel okay. It makes you feel safe and good. The crazy thing is you can get those feelings in the middle of the most dangerous places with the worst of people that you can be hanging out with where it’s illegal and you can die. That feeling of you will risk your life, safety, and health to not feel that angst, and it’s the craving brain. That’s when I knew like, “There’s something not right here.”
I don’t want to take this whole time going through all the horror stories of it but that lasted on and off for many years. Once I made money and I became a millionaire, I was a functional addict. I created a business that helped other people and it truly helped other people. Here I was, going on stage and doing seminars. I do these events and it would change people’s lives. People would come up to the mic. I didn’t do self-help personal development stuff. I was teaching people marketing. I taught them how to run and grow their businesses, and then I leave these events with a massive adrenaline rush, I’d go back to a hotel room alone, and I’d want to hire an escort. It felt good. What I didn’t realize is I was trying to connect.
It wasn’t like I’m trying to use women. Every woman that I can think of, I was cordial and nice, no matter what the situation was. Maybe there is some woman that would be like, “You’re a total asshole.” I’m certain there have been times in relationships that I’ve been a jerk and I’ve been an asshole. I’m not trying to pretend I’m some angel here. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I wanted to connect and it didn’t feel safe because I didn’t have a relationship. I was a trusted servant at a Twelve Steps meeting. I was doing very active in the Twelve Steps. I was doing well in my recovery. I had a new child with a girlfriend that I was going to leave, but I found out she was pregnant so I stayed with her.
This was in my late twenties when I was with her. I ended up staying with her because she had gotten pregnant. The baby was born and I love this child twenty times more than any woman I’d ever been with before since. She wanted to move out of state. I joined a Father’s Rights group and pursuing sole custody to try to keep her from leaving the state because I wanted us to raise a child together. I found out five days before the child’s first birthday while pursuing sole custody that I was not the biological father. It was the most painful thing I’ve experienced up to that point in my life. I didn’t know what to do and who to trust.
I tried to adopt the child. I offered her a lot of money to let me adopt the child because I didn’t even care about that anymore. I wanted to raise this child that I loved and I didn’t have the mental abilities. I didn’t know what to do. Here I was running a successful company but my personal life became a Jerry Springer Show. I went off the deep end. I lived a double life. I continue to run my company. I had a relationship that was a massive form of betrayal. In the middle of doing a good recovery program, I had this massive life event in betrayal and it caused me to act out and relapse. That took about fifteen years of my life, on and off. I’d get sober for six months or a year and relapsed. I was sober with sex, not with drugs.
It’s like drugs and alcohol, you’re seeking fulfillment. You’re empty. The human connection in your life is lacking. When you pick up an escort, you were feeling the human connection even for a brief period of time.
I have this little sign on my wall that says, “Addiction is looking for love in all the wrong places.” That’s what all addicts are trying to do. They’re trying to find love, they’re just finding it in the wrong places. You’re not going to find true love on a porn site, at the bottom of the paddle, or smoking a cigarette. You may feel like it. You’re gambling in Las Vegas, and you’ve got the adrenaline that feels like woo. What humans want is more woo and less ahh.
If you feel like sleeping with a hooker, snorting cocaine, drinking alcohol, eating a hot fudge sundae, all of those things are going to give you some pleasure. You’re pleasure-seeking and you’re trying to reduce pain. Here’s the weirdest thing, Tim. In some addicts, in the same way that a recovering person can walk into a Twelve Steps group and they don’t have rapport or respect from anyone in their family because in many cases, they burned all their bridges. They can walk into a meeting and they can find acceptance because they’ve been in the trenches. It’s the same way with how prisoners of war during Vietnam would sometimes go to therapists and they wouldn’t get better. You stick them in a group with other veterans that had been in the trenches and been in war, they have an instant rapport because they’ve been in the same circumstances.
Addicts can bond in the same way but we also find people whose dense match our depth. How the drug addicts find each other. They’re on this frequency. They are magnetically attracting themselves to other people like that. If you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, you’re either massively co-dependent which is attached to all forms of addiction or you’re in a place where your level of consciousness is meeting someone with another level of consciousness. My goal is to hopefully keep increasing my level of consciousness. Years from now, if I was to look back at this conversation, I hope I’ve evolved quite a bit. I’m not thinking a lot of the same stupid things that I think now. I’m much better now than I was years ago.
You talk about drinking, drug use, hot fudge sundae, and excessively looking at Facebook. They’re all the alcoholic behaviors. I was talking with Tommy Rosen and it’s not just about drinking and doing drugs. There’s way more to it. I’ve gone to lots of AA meetings and I know lots of people in recovery that they have all these other behaviors. It’s a setup for disaster and relapse. It’s doing the work. For you, what did it mean to do the work? How were you able to get to a place where you felt good without having to seek fulfillment in alcoholic ways?
I’ve spent probably $500,000 in my recovery. Here’s what worked and here’s what didn’t work. It’s not that it works or doesn’t work, it’s the person doing the work. Everyone is going to experience life in a different way. To get sober and stay sober requires four different things. Tommy Rosen who’s a dear friend has been very helpful in the formulation of this thinking. My first interview I did with Tommy was years ago. I wrote a book with Anna David and Hal Elrod called The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery. I’ve been writing about it. There are four areas. There’s community. I don’t know a single addict that’s a true addict that recovers in isolation.
You have to find other people. The most successful way to do that is Twelve Steps. I’ve done a lot of Twelve Steps. Could I’ve got sober without Twelve Steps? Absolutely not. It was incredibly beneficial. What didn’t work is when I was attending the meetings. What works is getting a sponsor doing the steps. Twelve Steps is not about attendance. It’s about steps. You attend to learn about the step but you’re ultimately doing the twelve steps. That’s the magic of it. You don’t go to Twelve Steps because of where you’ve met. Everyone that’s an addict has been through shit. There’s shame, guilt, and all sorts of crap. It’s just different levels and how you interpret it. You go to Twelve Steps because of where you want to go. Recovery is not about where you’ve been, it’s about where you want to go.
The second is it’s biochemical. It’s food, nutrition, serotonin, dopamine, it’s eating well. If you have a damaged gut, 70% of serotonin is made in the stomach. If you have digestive issues and you’re eating foods that aren’t good for you that’s causing inflammation, you’re not going to feel good. The number one killer in America or the world from a substance is sugar first, tobacco second, alcohol third, and opiates fourth.
There are a lot of consumables that we consume that are very damaging. Look at how many caffeine addicts there are. Me acting out sexually in someone’s thing is I’m going to watch porn, I’m going to sleep with an escort, I’m going to gamble my kids’ college fund away, I’m going to gorge myself with food. I’m going to eat, purge and cause myself to throw up, I’m going to be a cutter, or I’m going to shoot heroin or snort cocaine. Take morality out of it, the same driver is the same thing.
If you’re looking at your phone, you can’t put your phone away at night, and you’re addicted to Facebook, you’re an addict if you can’t stop. There are different depths. Some people are completely out of control, some are functional addicts, and some don’t even know it. It’s very sneaky. There are different layers of it. A lot of that has to do with the trauma and the biochemistry. That’s why you’ll see a lot of people will get sober from drugs and alcohol. They’ll go to AA meetings and guzzle coffee, eat donuts, and drink sodas. They’ve still got these obsessive behaviors. I would argue I’d rather see someone eat a donut than shoot heroin. Nonetheless, they’re still in that pain state.
Being in recovery versus being recovered, different people have different views on it. It’s when the pain stops. It’s when the white-knuckling subsides. That feels better. I never thought the white-knuckling would ever stop. Workaholism is a sneaky one. I have workaholic challenges. I’m taking a one-year sabbatical so I can immerse myself in recovery, music, art, and more health stuff because I want to have my form of identity debt. How much of my life is built around this persona that I’ve created in my business world? I want to be able to look at that thing.
I do want to talk about your sabbatical.
The biggest thing is the trauma work. That’s where the issues are in the tissues. That’s where the yoga, breathing and meditation. You know the book Breath by James Nestor. It’s an incredible book. I’d recommend it to everybody. He becomes a friend of mine. The proper use of plant medicines. This is where it gets tricky when you’re dealing with people that are drug addicts and they’ve gotten high, and they consume chemicals. There are a lot of people that go to Burning Man and go to different places. They call it their spiritual journeys, getting high in a camper when they’re just like, “Let’s get high in a conscious state.”Recovery is not about where you've been. It's about where you want to go. Click To Tweet
We can do a whole episode on that and I’ve had conversations with Dr. Andrew Weil and the different people I know. There are organizations like Maps.org that have some of the best information on plant medicines and psychedelics that are out there. There are smart people like Gabor Maté. Ayahuasca and ibogaine are effective for opiate addictions with the right set and setting which is an old Timothy Leary line where, “It’s the mindset you’re in, your intentions in the setting.” There are a lot of incredible people that are working with these new ways to treat trauma. I believe addiction is a response to trauma. I used to believe it was a brain disease. I don’t believe that. EMDR and books like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk or Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine, Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
Tommy Rosen has a lot of great stuff. I know you’ve interviewed people that are real experts on trauma. The fourth is the environment. Based on the studies by Bruce Alexander with Rat Park, if you put a rat in a cage and all they have is drugs, they’re going to take drugs over food, over sex, over sleep until they die. You put them in a more conducive like rat paradise and give them the choice of drug water and regular water. They won’t do the drug water. The ones that do are the ones that are severely traumatized. If you’re in a new environment that’s triggering, you’re going to have to. You look at those four areas which are community, biochemical, trauma work, and environment.
As an addict, you want to deal with all four of those areas. That will give you the highest possibility with recovery. That’s what I’ve done. It wasn’t until I started incorporating all of those things where I finally had long periods of time. At the time that we’re doing this interview, it’s been a little over four years since I did any bottom line, what I would consider acting out behavior sexually and/or otherwise. I’ve been at this for many years. If I could have gone back, I would have taken Twelve Steps more seriously. I wouldn’t have tried to buy my way to the best experts in the world because I had money. I thought, “If I just hire the right therapist.” It was my weird way of avoiding doing the work. Go to a Twelve Step meeting and do the steps. I have found the smarter the addict is, sometimes the more difficult it is for them to get recovery because they think they can intellectualize their way out of it.
It’s like, “My best thinking got me where I am now.” That’s the old saying. It’s the people that are not willing to take suggestions. That’s the thing. Twelve Steps were written a long time ago where people take suggestions and listen to what other people have to say. It’s like, “My best thinking got me where I am, so let me listen to somebody else even if I don’t agree with it.” It’s not going to kill me, regardless. It’s like, “Let me give this a shot.”
One of the best ways to do recovery is based on Life Gives to the Giver. It’s when you start helping other people, you give up yourself, and you become a contributor. When I started helping other addicts at a much deeper level, my recovery got better. When I set up my foundation and I started putting energy and resources, trying to help reduce human suffering and expose people to great minds and methodologies, it all gets better. I started feeling such a much deeper connection. If you’re disconnected from yourself, you’re not going to be able to connect with other people. The more connected you are with yourself, the better you’re going to be connected. Going to my sabbatical, I want to have as much deep of a connection I can make with earth and my life, and what matters.
2019 was a real pain in the ass for me. It was difficult. I got Valley Fever, which people may not know what that is but it’s something that people in Arizona, New Mexico, and California get, mostly in Arizona. I never got it before but I got it. I had a breakup of a relationship that was painful. My best friend, Sean Stephenson, died when I was with him in the hospital because he had an accident. I had a big business betrayal. Thank God for recovery though because through one of the worst years in my entire adult life, I still managed to stay sober. I immersed myself in work which you can argue well that it’s a fine line.
I feel love and I feel proud of myself for sticking with it. If there’s any message I want to convey, no matter where you’re at, if you’re falling down and you may feel hopeless, there are people that believe in you more than you believe in yourself. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if we didn’t want some pain, lonely, scared, desperate voice to hear it that feels like giving up and they’re never going to be able to make it. I cannot tell you how many times I thought to myself, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?” One thing that I will say is that I never gave up though.
I kept showing up even when I didn’t want to. There were periods of time where I didn’t show up for a few weeks or a few months. I’d go to meetings and I’d quit. I quit calling people and I wouldn’t use the tools. The sun is always there during daylight. The moon is always there during nighttime when the moon is out. It’s the clouds that’s get in the way. Whenever you feel like, “Where’s the sunlight?” It’s there. Sometimes, it’s stormy and there are clouds and it will pass. That’s why it says, “This too shall pass,” in the same way that a storm will pass. If you’re having a storm or having a shit show with this pandemic and the loss of whatever, it will pass. Don’t destroy yourself in the process.
How did you decide to take the sabbatical?
I had a friend who was worth about $300 million that I’ve known for many years that originally gave me the term that I used in the business part of my world, which is Easy, Lucrative and Fun. I teach people how to develop an ELF business. 2019 was not very ELF for me. It’s the other acronym which is hard, annoying, lame, and frustrating. I had this friend who had given me the term ELF many years ago and his son, who was a musician, ended up reaching out to me. I had talked to this guy. We were talking every other week. His son reached out to me on Instagram, of all things, and asked if I was on WhatsApp and if he could call me. I’m going to get rid of my social media during my sabbatical. If people try to find me, I don’t know if I’ll be there.
He let me know that his father who’s 59 years old, they found him in bed that morning dead. This guy was worth about $300 million, smart guy, cool guy, talented, and skilled. It wasn’t an addiction, it was a health thing. Something popped into my mind saying there are many people in pain, angst, and depressed. You’ll get different stats but depression has increased by four times since the pandemic, anxiety disorders have tripled. Depending on the stat you get, addiction has increased 40% to 60% or in some cases, I’ve heard some stats of 500%.
Suicide rates have increased by 600%. It’s crazy.
Depending on what studies you look at, they are ten times increased in alcohol consumption. During painful times of humanity, people’s addiction goes through the roof. I want to take the time to think, ponder, and remove myself from so much of the opportunities because I’m at a stage in my life where I have opportunity poisoning. I have more opportunities thrown at me than I could ever do in a thousand years that are thrown at me on a monthly basis. Entrepreneurs that are too tightly scheduled cannot transform themselves.
I have something on the wall in my office that says, “Be willing to destroy anything in your life that’s not excellent.” I want to change my phone number. I’m only going to talk to a handful of people and I’m going to think. I’m going to think about what the game is. In some games in life, the only way you win is if you don’t play. I want to play a game that I enjoy playing and I’m winning. Most of my clients are rich. They’re millionaires. They run multimillion-dollar businesses. A lot of them, with all the money and all the resources are still in pain.
My clients do better than most people. I run one of the most narcissistic groups of givers that are successful entrepreneurs that I know. It’s an incredible group of people so much so that I’m going to trust my clients to run my company for me. My members are going to run my group. My other friend, Dave Kekich, and he’s paralyzed from the chest down, has been in a wheelchair half his life. He says, “Things are seldom as great as they seem when they’re going well or seldom as bleak as they seem when they’re going wrong. Lighten up and you’ll live longer.”
I want to get rid of any parts of my ego that don’t serve me well. Not that I’m going to be able to fully do that because I’m human. I’m dysfunctional, weird, eccentric and all that shit. What I want to do is have an ego death and I want to come up with new perspectives. I will never do that in the way that I want to unless I completely shift my activities and the responsibilities that I have. I want to figure out how I can make a far greater impact on addiction recovery. Fortunately, unless I lose my money, I don’t need to work for money. I’ve built a relatively successful company. If I had all the money in the world, I would put it into addiction recovery. I want to figure out how I can do the most.
I think addiction is the greatest global problem in the world even the pandemic or pain. I could make a case of how that is a culture that is addicted to the adrenaline of fighting and raging. If someone wants a better perspective on that, read the book called War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. That’ll explain how some of what we’re witnessing with all the political bullshit in all of the fighting that’s happening in the world right now is a response to a heightened state of fear and angst. It’s addictive.
How are you going to take care of yourself for the next year?
I’m not going to plan the sabbatical until I take it which does two things. One, it gives me a lot of time to not have to think about exactly what I’m going to do. It’s an easy way to avoid when someone asks me what I’m going to do during the sabbatical. I don’t have to tell him anything. I’m going to do a lot of art. I’ll go back and start throwing pottery because when I was in high school, the only thing that allowed my brain to escape, without doing drugs, was throwing pots on a pottery wheel. There was something about it that allowed me to feel connected. I’ll immerse myself in music. I may learn how to play an instrument. It’s a couple of that I’m thinking about but I’ll decide on that.
I’ll do my Twelve Steps again. I’m going to go through another round of doing step work which would be very helpful. I’ll do a lot of addiction-related recovery stuff and I’ll try different things that I’ve not yet done for trauma. I’m going to learn more about that. I’m going to do physical activities and immerse myself in exercise. I do a lot of yoga. I have a friend who I do a lot of yoga with. I may have her take me through 200 hours of teacher training and not that I’ll ever teach yoga. If I don’t do the teacher training, I’m still going to do a boatload of yoga with her. As far as travel, it depends on the ability to travel. With travel bans and everything, I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to travel.Seek help. There are people who believe in you more than you believe in yourself. Click To Tweet
A video I watched about breathing, the speaker was great. He said at the very end, “Some doors, the only way you can open them is from the inside.” There’s not a lot of external stuff that I need to do. It’s more internal stuff. I want to open up doors. I want to eliminate a lot of possessions. I want to be more of a minimalist. I want to look at the relationships in my life and see who matters. What’s the difference between important and most important, and the people that are most important?
My friend, Ken Glickman said, “If you’re on the Titanic, you have only three life jackets, and you have 100 of your friends that are in the water. If they don’t get a life jacket within 60 seconds, they’ll freeze to death, they’ll drown. You’ll immediately learn the difference between important and most important.” Hopefully, I’ll never be put in that situation because that would seem horrendous. However, I’m going to try to force that upon myself to say, “Out of all the shit that I could do and all the people in my life who cares about me, who do I care about?”
I care about a lot of people. I have a hard time saying no and I want to build my spidey senses to attract the best people and to be the best person that I can. I have a lot of growth I need to do in myself. I’m happy with myself. The goal is not happiness. The goal is connected. I want to look a lot at death. How do you come to grips with death? Look at how many people are terrified of extinction and live their lives in ways that they’re dying every day. In a lot of ways, addiction and death are very similar. You’re killing yourself versus life taking its course if that makes sense. I don’t know if it does.
One of your favorite view is to connect people. You’re a connector. How is that going to be? Are you still going to connect people? Are you going to be in Phoenix or are you going to pull a Dave Chappelle and go to Africa or somewhere else?
I don’t know yet. When it starts, I’m going to have deeper connections and less shallow connections. I’m going to write a lot. When I say write, I mean handwriting on paper with a pen. I’ll type some things up on a computer and whatnot but it’s mostly going to be writing. It’s easy to look at screens and have your whole reality altered because marketing now is around algorithms. I need to have long periods of pondering without obligations. I want obligation elimination. I want to have fewer but better relationships. On my phone, I have over 6,000 contacts of people that I know personally.
There’s this thing called the Dunbar Law where you can only have 150 relationships at a certain level. There’s probably some validity to that. I am the exception because I manage hundreds of relationships and connect people. I have a connection network. That’s what Genius Network is. I have people that will continue to connect the people that I have put together. I started the process, I’ve been a catalyst for that. Some things will fall apart, of course. There’s going to be mess. My staff at times want to reach out and want Joe to fix it. We have to figure out the parameters on that because a lot of it, I’m going to let shit fall apart, and they’ll have to figure it out on their own.
That’s how you know if your team has it together. If they don’t, how do they handle upsets if you’re not there? If you never give them a chance to do that, how do you know how well they can do? I think everyone is going to step up and I’m going to have to step back. In the stepping back, I will go deep versus shallow because we live in a world of shallow. Think about likes and followers. People you don’t even know are calling them friends on Facebook and you’ve never even had a conversation with them. It’s not a friend. That’s an artificial friend, that’s a manufactured, technological thing to make you have the illusion that you’re somehow connected. We’re more connected electronically than we’ve ever been in human history, but we’re more disconnected as humans. I want to dance. I want to do tribal shit like crazy stuff that even as I say that I’m like, “Let’s see if Joe does that.”
You’ve got to go about a ten-day silent meditation, that Vipassana way.
I’ve had probably 100 people tell me that. I have friends that run it in Hawaii. They’ve been inviting me for years to come to Hawaii and stay there. The beauty is I’ll be able to do whatever I want.
We’re sitting here, what needs to have happened for you to feel satisfied with your sabbatical?
I don’t know if any of these will happen and I can only say this for interview purposes, for entertainment purposes because the things that I’m going to get out of this, I’m leaving myself open to all the things. No matter how much goal setting or what I think I want, I want it to happen to me, not to me try to say, “This is what I have to have happened.” What I hope in my current state of consciousness, which I hope in 2022 of January, I’m in a completely different frame of reference and have a different worldview. I have a great partner in my life that is an intimate, loving, and caring relationship that I’m aligned with. Better physical health and feeling much better physically. I learned through James Nestor that I never breathed effectively in my entire adult life.
I want to be more effective at breathing. I’ve got a deviated septum and I want to retrain my body without surgery as much as possible to eliminate inflammation within sinuses and stuff. I want to be able to sleep. I’m not a terrible sleeper, but I’m not a good sleeper. I want to be able to have a good night rest. I want to have a lot of an abundance of energy. I have a book that will be finished before I go on sabbatical. It’s the goal and when I come out, I want my book to go out into the world, put it out to the wild and I’ve already written three books, but I want this particular one to be incredibly beneficial. I want to come back to a whole new business model, and a team that feels empowered and has stepped up.
My team that has been running my company has evolved. My clients are still getting tremendous value out of Genius Network and they’re better. Those are some of the things. Having said all of that, I’m trying to go into it without any expectations because I might have to crawl up like a little baby crying and deal with traumas that I didn’t even address yet. It’s the Joseph Campbell thing, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” I’m going to have to go into some places that are scary as fuck that I’ve never done before and I’m going to do my best to walk through it.
You’re not going to have anything to keep you occupied. Work, people, and all of the things that are thrown at you constantly every single day, that’s not going to be there.
Recovery work builds you for this shit, doesn’t it? Learning powerlessness is a good setup. If I can get sober from addiction and have periods where I’ve gone through some of the stuff I’ve gone through, I think I can make it through a sabbatical. I may go to bad places where they need volunteers and they need people to help. When I say, “Do no work,” it’s not like I won’t help other people. I’m just not going to do business activities that are trying to make me money and stuff. I’ll think about it, of course. It’s a silly notion. We’ve been talking about genius waffles. I’m going to figure out how to create the healthiest waffle. It’s for shits and giggles because it’s going to be ridiculous and funny.
Thank you for being here. Is there anything else that you want to share with anybody about getting sober, any suggestions, or how people can find you?
Go to JoesFreeBook.com and get Life Gives to the Giver. We have two different covers of it. You can get that book for free. I talk about my philosophies on life, recovery and business. People tend to love that book. If anyone is struggling with addiction, I Love Being Sober, The Miracle Morning For Addiction Recovery. I did it with Hal Elrod and Anna David. You can go to GeniusRecovery.org. I’d love for people to read and share the letter that I wrote if it resonates with them. You click on the Open letter. I wrote a letter about my views on addiction and people tend to resonate with that letter. There are all kinds of free resources there that help people with addiction recovery.
I wish everyone the best. No matter where you’re at with recovery, there will be days that are very difficult and hell and you feel like giving up, don’t. Reach out the tools of recovery. The sun is always there. If I had $1 for every time I felt like giving up, I’d be very wealthy without ever running a company. Whenever you feel like your life sucks, help somebody who is in pain and you will immediately feel better. Go volunteer to an animal shelter, burn unit, recovery clinic, or a homeless shelter. Show up to meetings and be diligent. It will come. The gifts of recovery are there. You just have to stick with it.
- Genius Network
- Genius Recovery
- Joe Polish
- I Love Marketing
- Twelve Steps
- Gabor Maté
- Dr. Daniel Amen – interview on Joe’s podcast
- Out of the Shadows
- YouTube – Pat Carnes interview by Joe Polish
- Tommy Rosen – previous episode
- The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery
- The Body Keeps the Score
- Waking the Tiger
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
- War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
- Open letter
About Joe Polish