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Advisorist Podcast – Episode 13: Seeing Addiction Through the Eyes of a Sober Man

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Notes

Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Food. Money. Addiction is all around us. Sometimes it’s in our family. Sometimes it lies within us. And yet it can take years to seek help, and in some cases never. Why?

In this episode, Michael takes us inside the addict’s challenging journey—from hitting bottom to recovery:

  • Understanding the impact and effect of addiction on loved ones.
  • The ONE question that only addicts and alcoholics ever ask.
  • The hardest challenge in breaking through the addition and opening oneself up to recovery.
  • Is F.I.N.E a call for help?
  • Exposing the powerful relationship that alcoholics and addicts have with their addiction.
  • Discover the powerful technique for making better decisions and previewing consequences.

“I burned my life to the ground before I got there,” admits Michael Graubart (not his real name). In this gripping interview, Michael helps us understand addiction through the story of his 27-year journey of sobriety—from Al Anon to clarity to AA. Using his talents as author and songwriter, Michael brings to life the cold reality, the raw, personal consequences of addition.

He is the New York Times bestselling author of Sober Dad: The Manual for Perfectly Imperfect Parenting, and his fourth book, Morning Coffee, was just published.

Transcript

Note:  This Advisorist Podcast transcript was created in part by computers – Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors…or sentences that just downright don’t seem to make sense!  Please compare to corresponding audio if clarity is needed.

Jeremiah: Hi and welcome Advisorist nation to a very special episode of the Advisorist podcast. I’ve been joined today by a good friend of mine, Michael Graubart. Michael is a New York Times bestselling author who has penned three books: Sober Dad, The Manual for Perfectly Imperfect Parenting, Step Up: Unpacking Steps One, Two, and Three with Someone Who’s Been There. And his latest book, Three Simple Rules: Uncomplicating Life in Recovery, which was released in August of 2018 and now available. The other thing that is very interesting about Michael is that he also sings and you can check out his awesome songs at www.smichaelgraubart.hearnow.com. Michael is a dear friend of mine. And although as you know, on this podcast, we usually talk about marketing, we talk about sales, especially as it relates to insurance and financial advisors. But as you know, if you listened into the first episode, one of our core values that we have as a team, but also in my life personally, a strong mind strong body. And as a result of that, in the volunteer work that I’ve do, I’ve had the privilege of working and helping many people overcome various forms of addiction. And with the opioid crisis that we’re facing today, the conversation about addiction and the problems that it brings is ever more relevant today. So Michael, I am so grateful that you decided to join us today and to share your story so we can inspire and make a difference for others. Welcome, my friend.

Michael: Jeremiah, thank you for having me, it’s a privilege.

Jeremiah: One of the things we do on Advisorist is we always start off with a moment of gratitude. So I’d love to start with this. What are you most grateful for today, Michael?

Michael: I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I’ll say the latest thing I’m grateful for, as opposed to the thing I’m most grateful for, is that my daughter who is turning 11, my youngest, is turning 11 this month, told me last night that every day she prays for me to cope with the grief attendance to the loss of my mother five weeks ago.

Jeremiah: Wow. Well, you certainly have our condolences for you and your family and what an incredible daughter you have, what a blessing.

Michael: You know, it’s pretty amazing.

Jeremiah: Now, to come through addiction, and to be successful with it requires many elements. I’d love to just ask you to get started, what’s a mind or a body hack that you’re using these days to be the best version of yourself?

Michael: Well, the short of it is Alcoholics Anonymous. I just want to assure any members who are listening to this that I am not using my real name which allows me to speak in keeping with Alcoholics Anonymous tradition about anonymity. So having said that, the most important thing I did to unburden myself of my addiction to alcohol and then to other things as well, money, food, sex, people, I like to say that if it stands still, I’m addicted to it and if it moves, I’m obsessed with it. But getting into the 12 steps was far and away the best thing I could have done. I just turned 27 in this past week and my life, I burned my life to the ground before I got there. Being a silver member Alcoholics Anonymous, actually the smartest thing I could have done.

Jeremiah: Wow. We’ll listen on behalf of the whole Advisorist nation and myself, my friend, congratulations, that is an epic, epic milestone. It’s funny because preparing for this interview, I looked at my phone. I have a reminder for one of the people that I helped who was working to get off cocaine, many other types of addictions, but he has his 12th year coming up on Sunday. So all my friends that are celebrating anniversaries with AA, I have them on my phone. When they do, I always love to reach out to them. And so here now you get to talk on your anniversary week. So congratulations, what a milestone.

Michael: Thank you, they say don’t drink and don’t die. That’s how you attain long term sobriety.

Jeremiah: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get started on this road? Can you kind of take us through it at this time?

Michael: Yeah, the short of it is that my sisters got sober before I did. And they recognize that I’ve most likely had a problem as well. I had a family member who was also flat out alcoholic. And I told my sisters, this is just before my 29th birthday, so this is a lifetime ago, I just turned 60. It’s literally half my life, more than half my life that I was going to get this individual in our family to come with me to a Mets game, we’re going to go to a baseball game together. And we have a great time. And that would be that. And my sisters who were wise about these things said if you really intend to spend your birthday with that particular member of the family, you will spend it in a bar. And they named the bar. And they ended up being correct. Where there was no baseball game all there was a night at the bar. And I was devastated and sort of shocked by their presence and their ability to recognize where things were going. So they got me into the Al Anon Fellowship, which is for people who have been affected by the drinking or sobriety of family members, loved ones, anyone alive or dead. And I was in Al Anon, for almost five years, about four and a half years before I was certain to my own alcoholism. And at that point, I joined AA so that’s really how it started.

Jeremiah: So that’s interesting. So and I want to make this very practical for our listeners today. Because I know that some of those who are listening right now either have a family member that is suffering with addiction of some kind or perhaps they themselves are suffering with addiction and maybe they had a hard time getting to the first step. Did you start with Al Anon or did you start with AA.

Michael: Started on Al Anon and by the time I got to Al Anon, I really wasn’t doing the kind of drinking that I had been doing earlier on. I know I was depressed. I didn’t know how depressed I was until I started going to meetings. I would go to a meeting and I would enjoy the meeting so much, the comradeship, that conviviality, the honesty, the shocking stories and then I step out of the meeting and I realized that by comparison, I was pretty down. And I think I had a lot to be depressed about. I burned through most of my family relationships. I had an absolutely outstanding education, which one of the top private colleges in the United States, one of the top three or four law schools, how are you measure that? And I was totally unemployable. I was broke. I had really little to offer anyone and I just disappointed anyone I got involved with. I alienated or brought out the worst in every girl I dated. I couldn’t hold a job. So there wasn’t really much left. But what was the question? I kind of lost in there.

Jeremiah: No, that’s fine. The question was, if you guys started with Al Anon and you mentioned that because let me ask you this: if let’s say I have somebody in my family who is going through addiction, we’ll come back to your story in a second. How should I get involved? What is something that I can do to make a difference? If my brother, if my father, if my uncle, if my cousin is involved with addiction? I know, it’s always a very touchy, delicate, emotional topic, and what would you recommend to take the first steps to start making a difference?

Michael: To recognize the effect of that person’s drinking or using on your life and to start going to meetings and work the steps and my reaction was. And this is the reaction of practically anyone in this situation: “Wait a minute, that person is drinking or using and I have to go to meetings? Are you kidding me?” But the thing is that the effect of alcoholism or addiction on loved ones is pervasive, corrosive, and progressive. It’s bad and it only gets worse. It cripples the self esteem and the ability to create cope with life that the individual has. We tend to believe that we are not lovable because the addict in our midst is incapable of loving us. So we just take that on ourselves and say, “Oh, well, I must not be lovable because otherwise that person would love me. It’s clearly the fault is in me.” And then also, there’s the frustration of trying to get the other person to stop and constantly failing. And then there’s sort of the sick control aspect of it which is that I’m trying to control the alcoholic’s behavior. And I actually get off on the fighting and relapses and the anger and the drama. So I have to separate myself from all that in a healthy way. And it doesn’t necessarily mean stopping having contact with the person. It does mean getting into Al Anon Family Groups Recovery. And they’re coming to understand this is what my story was coming to understand what disease of alcoholism is and what it’s not coming to understand the nature of the alcoholic personality and then coming to understand the relationship between a problem drinker and oneself. And recognizing, No, it’s not that I’m unlovable, I’m perfectly lovable. It’s that I have come to believe that I’m unlovable. It’s not that I’m necessarily a controlling person by nature but because your life is so out of control even just stepping into the car with a problem drinker that you develop the need to compulsively over control everything and everyone in your midst. And this is part of the warping process by which one’s personality, one’s character, one’s actions, one’s beliefs get transformed negatively. And we like to say in the program that the denial is bigger than the disease, meaning that cutting through an alcoholics or addicts denial about addiction is the hardest part. If you can break through the denial, you can treat the addiction. But the thing is that it’s 10 times harder for a loved one to say, “Let me get this straight. He or she has the problem. I have to go to meetings. I have a problem. Excuse me, that person has the problem. I’m fine.” Well, we know that fine in the program stands for f* up insecure, neurotic and emotional. So if you’re fine run to a meeting.

Jeremiah: You mentioned something really interesting about the denial is that the disease. How did you come to the point where you realized you had a problem? I’m assuming there was a lot of work done on the denial mountain.

Michael: My last drink to date was January 31, 1992, I was heading out of Los Angeles, and I was going back to Boston the next morning. I called an old girlfriend and I said, “You want to get together?” She wanted to get together because she was still in love with me. She was still very upset that I had ended the relationship, which is what I did back then especially when things were good. So I had a plan. My plan was that go over to her home. And she made me a beautiful dinner because she wanted me to not go to Boston and to stay put and get back in relationship. And my plan was that I would drink as much as necessary to get her to drink as much as she needed to release her inhibitions and have sex with me one more time. I would get up in the morning and drive to Phoenix or whatever the first stop was on the road to Boston. I got there and I drank all I could and she did not drink as much as she needed to and she sort of saw right through me. Neither of us got what we wanted. I did not get back in the relationship with her. And she did not get back into bed with me. I sat outside her apartment, in my car, that evening. And scary thing is that I was about to start driving. But in that moment, I had my first real moment of clarity with my drinking career. And I realized, I’ve turned into an animal. This is someone who loves me. She cares for me, she respects me, she wants to get back together with me, and she’d love to marry me. All I want to do is just use her and toss her aside like a Kleenex. I sat in the car and I was just, I just sat there for a long time realizing what I had turned into. And that was the first moment of clarity. And that was the last time to this date. And it’s now 27 years and the week since that night and I’ve since apologized to her and we become friends again. And we talked on the phone every so often and catch up but at the time. And then over the next few months I didn’t drink I occasionally went to meetings. And then a little while later, over the course of those months, I realized first I’m not an alcoholic. And then one day I just said, you know something, I am one. And let’s stop fooling around. I put my hand up in a meeting. And in a meeting as a newcomer, I had about five months then. But I put my hand up for the first time sort of show of surrender and said, “Okay, let’s get on with this” and got a sponsor got into the steps. I have stayed on that path ever since.

Jeremiah: You tell that like you were just reading something but I just want to acknowledge the incredible humanity and courage that it takes to share that story. And I just want to acknowledge you for that and let you know that I appreciate you and I recognize you for your ability to tell that story and also to be honest about yourself. I hope that people listening to this will realize the amount of courage it takes to come and share that. So you came to the realization through this experience. And you mentioned that you were sitting in that meeting for five months before you kind of succumbed and said, “Okay, let’s get on with this.” What was going on in that time period from the time you first walked into the five months like was that like a next level of denial like, Okay, I’m here, but I’m not ready to do this, like telling me a little bit about what was going on there. I think this is helpful, too, by the way, for those of us helping people struggling with addiction because it’s going to give us the mindset. If you understand we’re in a better position to serve and support and help.

Michael: Sure. Some people have a white light experience and they just know, this is what I am and I have to do something about it, they trot off to AA and they put their hand up and go up and get a newcomer chip and accept the higher power into their lives and they’re good to go. I was not one of those people. Prior to that night in the car, I had eight first days. Essentially, I’ve been going to meetings on and off as part of my Al Anon program. My sponsor told me to go to AA. They understand that it’s life and death. Go get their attitude that sit in the back of the room and think, “Man, I think I might be one of these people.” But, I just never kind of could go all the way with that. Jeremiah, here’s the thing. Most alcoholics do not want to be alcoholics, we want to be able to drink when we want to drink and how we want to drink, and we don’t want to give it up because when you give up alcohol or drugs, you’re giving up your best friend, you’re giving up the only thing that you can count on. Sexual partners can say no to you. Alcohol and drugs never say no. Bosses can fire you. You never get fired by alcohol and drugs. So a rational person would say, “Well, clearly, you shouldn’t be taking those things. So you should stop.” Well, the thing is that from a rational perspective, if you’re an addict or alcoholic, continuing to drink and use is the rational choice because it’s the only thing that you can count on to take you out of your emotional pain, to take you out of the moment. So why would you want to give up a sure thing for an uncertain future sitting in church basements, listening to strangers, rambling on about God knows what. That appears to be the choice. Also, in our society, what is an alcoholic, an alcoholic is commonly understood to be a skid row bum, the guy who’s trying to get a buck from you for squeezing your window, the hope to die East Village drug addict you have to step over in order to get into your multi million dollar condo. That’s our concept. We don’t really recognize the fact that pilots can be alcoholics. There was a joke when there was a Northwest pilot who showed up drunk for work and they said, “How many Northwest pilots does it take to fly a 747?” The answer was three and a fifth. There are doctors who have been thrown off the jive sponsored doctors in AA. There are, especially anesthesiologists. Why do you think they went into anesthesiology? So they could be closer to the drugs. Your attorney, your school teacher, you’re upholster, anyone? So the short answer is that alcohol and drugs are your best friend, they will do what you need them to do. They’ll blow your mind for you. They’ll get you out of the pain and misery on demand. Why would you give up something that works quickly and pretty much every time for something that may not work or if it does work will take a long time and you’re gonna have to shake, rattle and roll until you do get they say AA few slowly with drugs and alcohol do few quickly. Well, why would you want to give up quickly for slowly? Does that make sense?

Jeremiah: Absolutely. You know about this point about who is an alcoholic? How does one know if they’re drinking is turning into alcoholism versus the belief that hey, I’ve got this under control. I’m okay. Are there certain questions that one can ask to get real with themselves?

Michael: Yeah, I mean, there’s the Johns Hopkins test, which is 20 questions there. The Big Book of A. The basic text has a two question thing. But I’ve got it down to one question, which is, are you now? Or have you ever been in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous? Because if you’ve ever gone to a meeting, you’re almost certainly an alcoholic? Because not alcoholics don’t wonder if they’re alcoholic. So the short form of the question is, “Have you ever wondered whether you might be an alcoholic?” Because if you’ve ever had that thought then of course you are because people are not alcoholic? Don’t think they are. Doesn’t occur to them to ask questions. Whereas people who do drink and use, we get into all kinds of discussions in right well, I don’t drink as much as that guy, or I don’t use every day, or that time I didn’t get arrested, we start telling ourselves all these lies. And the big book, the basic text of AA says we get to a point where we can no longer distinguish the true from the false. So that’s why I say that what I had was a moment of clarity or a moment of grace, if you will, where I recognized what I was doing and the consequences, the moral consequences of my behavior. And that’s just not a place where most alcoholics and addicts wanted to go. But if you’re asking yourself, “Am I one?” then, yeah, you are.

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Jeremiah: You said something interesting that I used not with alcoholics and addicts in my counseling and volunteer work that I do but I use a technique called fast forward. And what that is, is when we’re sitting down with somebody who’s about to make an important decision or we need to get them to get real with the reality of where there are, we do an exercise called fast forward which is I want you to imagine that what you’re doing now continues. Now fast forward to 30 days from now, how does that make you feel? Are you more alive? Are you less alive? What’s the quality of your relationships? How do you feel about yourself? How are you standing? How are you breathing? Okay, now take all of that and push it six months forward? How do you feel now? And we then we continue that conversation a year, three and five, in ten years? And then we say okay, and then we literally make them stand up and kind of shake, shake their body a little bit because it gets pretty depressing, actually. And then we say, Okay, now imagine, you know, that hasn’t even happened. Now project now that you make this change in this moment and take yourself out 30 days from now, how do you feel? How are people looking at you? How do you feel about yourself? We just keep fast forwarding and it allows people to kind of bring the future consequences of the results down to the present. That’s all I really want to appreciate you talking about that at this time. You know, as we wrap up here, you’ve spent a good portion of your recent years writing books. Why have you done that? And who did you write those books for? Specifically, the ones around addiction?

Michael: I appreciate the question. I’m a writer by nature, I’m a teacher by nature. One day I was sitting in in a meeting and they mentioned something about the doctor’s opinion, the simple rules, which are the trust God, clean house help others. I thought to myself, even though I’d heard it a thousand times, that’s a book. Just you could do a book on an essay on each of those three things, and boom. So I went home and I wrote it and I sent it to my agent, and she liked it and she sent it to an editor in Hazleton, who’s looking for a guy as opposed to a professional to write about sobriety. She ended up giving me a three book deal to write that book to write what about the steps and then to write initially, what about sober parenting. So I did all that. And Hazel didn’t publish those books. For me, it’s a chance to put down on paper what I learned from the old timers back when I got sober in the early 90’s. And back then there were still people who had gotten sober in the 40’s, who knew Bill who knew Dr. Bob, and who understood how the program worked when the success rate with newcomers was radically higher than it is today. So I thought, I’ve got all this insight. Since then, I’ve got another book coming out. It’s called ‘Morning coffee’, it’s my own one day at a time book is for people with all addictions. Morning Coffee is going to be published in the next couple of weeks. It’s from a California publisher called Redwood. Then, I’m a singer songwriter, in addition to the books, and I started thinking, “What if I were to take some of the things I’ve learned in meetings and turn them into songs because sometimes songs can touch people in ways that mere words cannot.” So, you know, if people went online and searched Michael Graubart sober songs, they can listen to the songs for free. And these are songs about the experience of the newcomer in meetings, trying to get sober, the guy who goes in and out of the rooms, the newcomers trying to understand prayer, the guy gets pulled over by a cop, and he’s racing to his meeting to get his 30 day chip. And it turns out that the cop is a member of AA as well. This is kind of where I am now, for me, the most important thing that I do with my life is to be of loving service, whether it’s to my family, in a personal sense, or the people I meet in AA or anywhere else, but especially in the 12 Step Lab. The books and the songs are a way of sharing long form, what I only get to speak about for, say three or four minutes in any given meeting so that’s why I do the books and the songs.

Jeremiah: Beautiful, I did get a chance to listen to a few of them. I thought they were really catchy actually. Step 13 felt like they’re really swinging jazzy number and then you go down to If Nothing Changes is a little slower. So you got a nice variety that I really want to commend your artistic release there to do something to show and serve our values or just so beautifully aligned here. Michael, I want to give you this opportunity to say something personal to anyone who’s listening right now as part of Advisorist nation, who might be needing some encouragement to take the next step, whatever that is whether they needed to take a step to talk to somebody who needs to come to terms of their addiction or they themselves are struggling with alcoholism or any kind of addiction, what words of encouragement to close out would you give them.

Michael: I would say that things happen for a reason. The fact that this individual, I’ll speak directly to him or her the fact that you’re listening to this conversation right now is happening for a reason that you don’t have to be lonely ever again. You’re not to be alone ever again. You don’t have to drink or use ever again and no matter how bad things may be, you can turn things around, but probably not through your own efforts. If you’re willing to give 12 Step Recovery a serious try. Maybe you’ve wandered into a few meetings and thought I don’t like these people. But if you could kind of put that aside and try it again or try a meeting, just go online and search for AA and the name of your city or town and drop into a meeting go to a few, you’re going to find that it is possible to have a measurably better life without booze and drugs. And that as a result, you’ll be able to repair relationships that seem forever destroyed, whether they are with your kids, with a spouse, with family members, with your community, with your concept of God. The short of it is that there’s hope and there’s help and you don’t have to go on hurting anymore. And the thing is that no one can pick you up and throw you in the car and make you go to the meeting. You’ve got to want it. And if you want it, it’s all waiting for you and life is going to flow to you as never before. So don’t wait take this opportunity and run with it. That’s my thought for the day.

Jeremiah: Michael, thank you so much for your humanity, your courage, and just the incredible support that you’ve decided to offer and give back to people not just being a sponsor through AA but also writing about it, singing about it performing about it, to be able to help people. If you want to learn more or grab one of Michael’s books, Michael, where should we go?

Michael: They should go to www.michaelgraubart.com. They can read about the books and they can hear the songs and it’s all right there.

Jeremiah: Beautiful. Thank you so much for being here wishing you continued success and many many more years of sobriety, my brother. Keep up the great work. We appreciate you

Michael: Jeremiah it’s a privilege. Thank you for having me on.

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