#31: Let’s Talk About Addiction with Karl Shallowhorn
Kevin Geary is the CEO of DigitalGravy, and for over 15 year they have been specializing in websites and SEO.
What You Learn
- Sean reveals his own secret
- How to identify if an indulgence has become an addiction
- How to ask for help
- How to avoid getting addicted
- How to develop a support network
- How to talk to someone you believe may be addicted
Shallowhorn Consulting: https://shallowhornconsulting.com
Guest Introduction (0:00)
Welcome back to another episode of the We Live to Build Podcast. When I first started the podcast, I said I would focus on mental health as much as possible. So, while today’s episode is scary for me to share my own story because of potential repercussions, I think it’s extremely important for me to do so. So, in order to create the right environment for you to open your mind and listen carefully about how entrepreneurs who are stressed may end up forming bad habits which could become addictions, and how we could learn to handle these situations for ourselves or people we care about.
It’s very personal for me, which you’ll learn about during the episode. And our guest Karl Shallowhorn is perfect for this episode because of his own experiences on both sides of addiction, first going through it himself and now helping others deal with their addictions.
We talk specifically about why our entrepreneur is prone to use or abuse of alcohol and drugs as a means for stress relief, and what are some things that are much healthier that they can do instead. How to identify if an indulgence has become a habit or addiction. How to ask for help from others to get a handle on the situation. How to avoid getting into the habit, or prevent getting addicted in the first place. How to develop a support network to prevent from relapsing if it does happen. How to talk to someone they care about, who they notice is going down this path. This is a tough episode, but be strong and stick with us the whole way through.
Welcome to We Live to Build. My name is Sean Weisbrot and I’m an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor based in Asia for over twelve years. Join us every week to fast track your personal growth so you can meet the ever-increasing demands of the company or companies you are passionately building. Time waits for no one. So, let’s get started now.
Karl’s History (2:17)
Karl, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it. This is a very important topic. I have known people who had addiction and it’s a very hard thing. So, I’m really excited to talk to you about this topic. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks, Sean, great to be here.
So, before we go any deeper, why don’t you tell everyone why it is that you’re the right person to talk about substance abuse and addiction and support.
Well, Sean, I have my own history of lived experience with bipolar disorder and co-occurring addiction. I had my first bipolar psychotic episode when I was a freshman in college. I was going to General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. It’s now called Catherine University. It’s a very well-regarded engineering school.
And at the time, as a college freshman, I wasn’t prepared for the rigor that was involved. I was away from home for the first time. I got involved, of course, with drugs and alcohol, which certainly was, I think, an accelerant in many ways to my condition. And I think there was some predisposition as well I learned much later in life. In fact, I learned only a few years ago about my birth mother. I’m adopted, and my birth mother lived with a mental health condition, and there was also some drug use in her life. Those things were essentially, I guess they laid the groundwork for me with me understanding addiction and mental health to my own journey.
In fact, it took me a good seven or eight years to understand how my drug use was affecting my mental health. And that enabled me to essentially stop using substances and get on the road to recovery, and I’ve been clean ever since January 17, 1988. I haven’t used any substances since that time. And so, with that process, I’ve discovered some tools that I try to use regularly and also some things that have been able to help others as well. And so right now I’m doing that kind of work. I do a lot of work around mental health, education, advocacy.
But also, as an entrepreneur, I’ve been focusing on the needs of businesspeople and how the stressors of work affect them and some things they can do to manage their own self-care.
Thank you for the fantastic intro, and I appreciate you sharing that story and telling everyone about your bipolar disorder. Before I go any further, I want to ask really quickly. So, in my background with psychology, we have this kind of unspoken understanding that the behavior of your parents will possibly lead to the behavior that you have, or in some conditions or some situations, let’s say, if my parents did drugs, that it may affect my own mental development. Do you believe that anything that your mother did was a potential cause of you having bipolar disorder?
In terms of genetics? Yes, absolutely. I think there’s a genetic component there. Well, we call them risk factors, Sean, so any number of different things could be risk factors for mental health or addiction. In my case, the fact that my birth mother did live with a diagnosis of mental health condition, yes. However, I have four birth siblings who I’ve met since she passed away, none of whom have a mental health condition. So, I drew the lucky straw or the short straw, or however you want to look at it.
But that said, these things are oftentimes it’s hard to predict. I mean, you can look at all the factors that are there. You could look at stress, you could look at drug use. For me, it was a combination of things, but I think the drug use certainly was, as I said, the accelerant. And the thing that really, I guess, if anything, just made me very vulnerable. We know that individuals who use cannabis, for instance, and are prone to psychosis are more likely to develop psychotic disorders. In fact, my bipolar disorder is actually bipolar disorder type one with psychotic features. Now, I haven’t had a psychotic episode since 1995, so I’m going on a pretty good run. But that said, when I was still struggling and using for those seven or eight years of going in and out of hospitals, the drug use was definitely a significant factor in the not being able to stabilize my condition.
Do you think your mother’s use of drugs made it more likely for you to also get into those same drugs as well?
There was a memorial service for her a couple of years ago in Kansas City that I was invited to. It’s a very interesting situation where I had never met these people before in my life, and they invited me as being a birth family member, so that itself was unusual. But I met her husband, Mike, and in that conversation, I had with him, he shared with me that they, after I was out of the picture, but he had three children with her and they were hippies, he described, and a lot of drugs and so forth. So, I don’t know if there was drug use necessarily when I was born. Of course, I was born several years before the next oldest in the family. She had gone on and moved out of the area from where she was at and all that. So, what the fact that there was a drug use that she used either during her pregnancy or afterwards, I really don’t even know. I don’t know if she did or not. So, it’s hard to say.
But what I will say though is that certainly I think the fact that the addiction itself is very much rooted not only though in genetics, but also trauma. So, another thing that I know through research is that trauma is also risk factor for addiction and mental illness. The fact that I was given up for adoption, I guess you could say, well at the age of six months. But I was also in a foster home situation till six months. I basically probably was with my birth mother one or two days; I think maybe even. So, all these factors that are somewhere deep in my subconscious and all our subconscious, we have these things inside us that then contribute to us later in life. And trauma is something we know that is a very significant factor in these things.
Why entrepreneurs are prone to substance abuse (7:56)
Absolutely. So, let’s start to go down this path of talking about entrepreneurship. So, I’m an entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur. We are probably both stressed. Why is it that you think entrepreneurs are prone to using or potentially abusing alcohol and drugs as a means to manage stress?
I guess part of it comes down to is not understanding the nature of addiction, not necessarily understanding some of the traps that a person falls into, also drugs and alcohol or that quick fix. “You use. You feel better.” At least you think you do, or at least in the short term. What happens though is that if it continues long enough there is a possibility for addiction to arise. And so, entrepreneurs, as being those individuals who are in business for themselves for lack of better term, are under special pressure because obviously it’s not like a nine to five where you got a paycheck coming no matter what. You have to literally earn your keep.
And so, I’m discovering that myself as a relatively new entrepreneur. I started this venture certainly shorter than the time, than maybe some of your listeners. But even so, in the time that I have been, I realized the fact that I have to be responsible for producing. And that does put a certain amount of stress on an individual. I think what happens is when that stress rises, the person may be more likely to act out or behave in a way to seek something outside themselves to deal with the feelings they’re going through and that stress is associated with it.
My father has been a heavy weed smoker for most of his life. He was born in the late fifties. I ended up getting involved with it in my early twenties. And as you were speaking earlier about how it’s a quick fix, before I became an entrepreneur, I came to feel like everything was better when you were high. And I only ever got involved with weed. I’ve never drank alcohol or anything else. But what I found was whether it was getting a foot massage or going to watch a movie or being on a date or swimming, whatever it was that I was doing, if I was high, it was going to feel better. And I think that is a real problem because you start to lose touch with reality and sobriety where the things that you did are no longer enjoyable unless you’re high.
And I don’t smoke anymore. It’s been over a year since I quit, and we’ll maybe get into that a little bit later. And I probably shouldn’t even be talking about this because it could affect my business in the future. But I think it’s really important for people to talk about this and I think it lends credibility to the conversation when I’m saying, I’m not just saying I’m anti-drugs or anti, you know, I’m not like this, but like, I’ve lived through it. I understand the experience. So, it’s important for this conversation and I feel stressed just talking about it.
Drinking habits in Asia (10:47)
I think a lot of times with entrepreneurs, especially in Asia, the reason that they get involved with alcohol in particular is because a lot of business is sealed during a drink.
Yeah. What’s something that’s healthier that they could try to do?
Right around 2016, I was working for a small private college here in New York State and I had two occasions to go to China to recruit students. It was probably one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had as far as just seeing the world. And I had the experience where the group of us who were representing these colleges were invited to lunch at a high school. Of course, it was very ceremonial, but the idea was we were all seated around a large table and there was a headmaster at the school who was at the one end, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they come up with pitchers of beer. They just are pouring beer in all of the glasses. Now, mind you, at that time, Sean, I think I might have had 28 years clean, just roughly. This is kind of throwing up, probably about 28 years clean.
But I wasn’t going to give up my sobriety for anybody. I don’t care if it was king of the world, I’m not doing it. And so, I had to stand my ground. In fact, the dean for my college was sitting right next to me. I never even talked about what happened after because he didn’t know I wasn’t even in recovery. But the point I’m making is that with these situations of a person somewhere and they have to, I guess you could say, stick to the values. You have to understand there may be some consequences. However, if you find yourself and you know yourself that that’s going to be something that’s going to put you at risk. What’s more important? And I always have to believe that the individual needs to take care of themselves. Otherwise, you’re not going to have business to begin with if you fall prey to this addiction and you give in. So, the point I want to make is that there may be times when a person is struggling.
Healthy alternatives to deal with stress (13:08)
So, there are alternatives. One of the things I know for me is exercise. And there are lots of ways to exercise. I used to do a lot of running. I was doing long distance running. Then I transitioned to cycling, so I cycle now. There are other people that will either lift weights, or they’ll swim, or yoga, or whatever. But these are all different forms of exercise, which essentially, as you know, from your psychology background, increases the dopamine output in your brain, which makes you feel better. So, whenever I exercise, I get that little bit of a high they talk about, right? Because the dopamine just, you know, flying out there in my brain. So that’s one thing.
Another thing is meditation, and I meditate every day. And meditation for me has been a huge, huge stress reliever for the fact that when I meditate, really, it allows me to take the focus off of maybe some of the things that might be weighing heavily on me. Try to practice mindfulness meditation. And of course, when it comes to mindfulness meditation, it’s about focusing on the breath, focusing on the present, and letting whatever thoughts come to your mind, not judging them, trying to let them pass through and all that.
But it’s challenging. That’s why they say it’s practicing meditation. It’s not do it, you practice it. You’re always practicing. But the goal is to do it enough that it becomes part of your regular routine. So, my thing is, if you could develop tools like exercise, meditation, journaling is actually even a good one, believe it or not. Just journaling, being able to put down your thoughts on the paper about how you’re feeling that no one else has to read, that could be beneficial. And lastly, Sean, and I want to emphasize this, is the idea of therapy. I know in some cultures, therapy isn’t as promoted as in others, but I’ve been in therapy now, well, since I pretty much had that first episode so many years ago as a college freshman after that.
But I know that therapy for me is a place where I can share what’s going on with me. And I just had my appointment therapist last week, and as I said to her, the thing I like about it is it’s all about me. In other words, when I’m in a therapy session, I don’t have to worry about anyone interrupting. I don’t have to worry about anyone giving advice. The therapist is there essentially just to guide you and allow you to have the opportunity to share and open up and talk it through. They don’t give you the answers. They allow you to find the answers. But it’s a very interesting process, and it’s also a process of discovery. And so, for me, therapy for all these years has allowed me to gain we call in the behavioral health world, insight.
So, I know myself, Sean, very well, probably too well. I know my triggers. I know what makes me tick. And that’s the thing. So, I’m aware of who I am and what I do for better, for worse. And you know what? I’m not cured. I personally don’t believe there’s a cure for addiction. I believe that we’re always in the process of recovery. We’re going to always get better.
I had thought about going into being a therapist because I have a bachelor’s in psychology, but I never went for the Masters. And the Masters is really where you get into learning about the practice of therapy and how to be a good therapist and all that. And when I first heard that the whole point of being a therapist was to not give a person the answer, I was like, what’s the point in not telling a person, “This is your problem. This is the solution.” It was more about, while I love working with people, I felt like I would probably be deeply, negatively affected on a long-term basis if I were to sit there and listen to people’s problems all day, because I got my own problems.
So, whoever has the ability to be a therapist. My hats off to you. It’s hard, it is very hard to be able to see inside of a person so deeply and not be able to just give them the answer, but actually to hope that you can guide them to figure out the right way forward in a way that allows them to make the realization and the connection that this is what I need to do.
Signs of addiction and recognizing them (16:47)
How can someone identify that the behaviors that they have are becoming a habit or an addiction?
So, a disorder, and I say the definition, I talk about the umbrella, general definition. So, first of all, does it affect your ability to work? In other words, getting work done, getting assignments done, getting deadlines, working on deadlines. If you find your work being affected because of your using, then that’s something to consider. If your relationship is suffering, in other words, if you are having difficulty with a partner or a friend or even someone who works with you but because of your addiction, then that’s something to explore. And also, lastly, just simply your daily activities. If you find yourself falling behind in things that you typically would do, whether it be simple daily hygiene even or cleaning your home or your apartment or things like that, then certainly that’s another thing to consider.
Now, not to say that if you have a messy apartment that you have an addiction problem. That’s just how some people are. But the reality is that you have to really take a good look at yourself, Sean. It’s almost like you have to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself and that’s what it comes down to. So, as I said before, even myself, I have to look at myself and say, “Hey, this is who I am.” I know some people, if they look themselves and they say my behavior is affecting my work, it’s affecting the relationship I have with my spouse or my partner, then it’s something to take a good look at and then consider what do I need to do here?
And that’s why I said then you might want to consider getting some professional help, or at the very least there are some self-help tools out there that you can use, whether it be books. There’s actually a lot of great content on YouTube. You have to be careful about getting content on YouTube by individuals because, of course, everyone has their own perspective and if it isn’t clinical, then you have to take that with a grain of salt. But there’s also a lot of good clinical information on YouTube and other resources as well online. So, look for good clinical, scientific, evidence-based information as well.
What are some of the tools you were just mentioning? Is there any specific channel or any specific book that they can look at as a means to better understand the situation before they start looking for help from others? Because maybe they understand there may be a problem, but they are ashamed to talk about it. Or they’re afraid they don’t know.
You said shame. And I’m glad you said that, Sean, because remember a little while ago, you even said yourself, I feel funny talking about this. That’s called stigma, right? So, stigma is like a label that people carry, you know, “label shame” based on the behavior or a condition. I mean, even HIV and AIDS, there’s still stigma in that. Back in the 50s, there was stigma even around cancer in the United States especially. Of course, mental health and addiction have always carried stigma with it.
Tools that can help with your problem (19:27)
One thing that people can do is, like I said, to educate themselves. There are some good resources online. Believe it or not, one good resource just to get some factual information is like WebMD. WebMD, it’s a commercial site, but it’s also backed by evidence. The Mayo Clinic has good information as well that is legitimate, it is factual. Mind you, it’s not going to give you necessarily tools, although there are resources, but it will be able to help you to identify signs, symptoms, and then maybe some information on where you can go to get help.
If anyone is in the States, for instance, there is an organization called Mental Health America which has affiliates all over the country which deal with not only mental health but addiction. So those are other resources that people look at too. When it comes down to though, is just knowing more or less that if you have a gut feeling that there’s something going on, there probably is, just to be honest with yourself. I think that’s one of the keys.
I don’t want to downplay WebMD, but I have to say I think people should be careful with WebMD, because WebMD has a really good habit of making you feel worse.
You’re right. I’ll give you another little story. So, when I was in school to study alcohol and counseling, this is back right around 1990, in my class, one of my introductory classes, we were assigned to get a copy of the DSM. And of course, you know, the DSM is a Diagnostic Statistical Manual. We were assigned to get this book which is basically they call it the Bible of Psychiatry, which has basically every mental health and addiction disorder in there listed that’s used by clinicians, psychiatrists, therapists and so forth for the purpose of determining diagnosis.
My class had like, maybe 50 people. First, they were in there with this book, we’re all kind of looking there like, “Okay, what do I have? What do I have, what do I have?” Because you got this book that has all these criteria that you meet for these diagnoses and you think, “Do I have this? Do I have that?” And you kind of self-diagnose.
What you’re saying is even with WebMD or any online source that talks about specific signs and symptoms, you may be prone to self-diagnosing. What I’m saying is use a resource like that as a tool to just gain understanding of ‘these are some things to be aware of.’ So, a lot of times what we’re talking about is just raising awareness. And so, if you raise your awareness about what addiction is, then perhaps you can make a better, more informed decision about the steps to take to deal with something, if you do, or you have a problem. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is to educate yourself and use the resources that are out there.
And there are, like I said, a lot online. The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA.gov, it’s a US Federal website, but has a lot of resources on mental health and addiction that are free. And they’re all backed by evidence. They’re all backed by science. So, as I said, a lot of these tools are out there to give information. And of course, you may self-diagnose, but that’s part of the reason why you’re looking for these places to see if there’s something that you need to explore.
When I took my very first psychology class in high school, my teacher said, in the very first few days, “What I’m about to teach you is going to change your life. But please try really hard not to self-diagnose because it is a very bad thing to do.” So, I totally understand that.
Dealing with the stigma and overcoming it (22:40)
So, I guess let’s come back to that original question of how can someone get over this stigma and be able to and the shame to be able to ask others for help.
That actually takes a lot of courage. And there is oftentimes fear because you never know how people are going to react, for one thing. If you’re talking about a family of origin, it’s almost like coming out, so to speak, right? You hear about the LGBTQ community, individuals who come out to their families. So, for someone to come out, so to speak, and say that someone they know or love, “Hey, I think I have an addiction problem,” can be jarring experience for everyone involved because sometimes these things are hidden. They will be hidden very well to the point where the other doesn’t even know what’s happening to that person’s life.
So, there is an element of risk taking involved, of opening up to someone and understanding though, that it could be a matter of life and death if you’re far enough along that you’re afraid that if you continue down that path, you could be at serious risk of the addiction going forward. Because one thing we know is that addiction often goes hand in hand with mental illness. So, depression can result from that and also suicide can result from addiction. So, there are things that can happen to a person unless there’s some type of either intervention or means of treatment or therapy or that kind of thing, that they would run the risk of things getting worse.
So, the ability to say to someone, “hey, I got a problem,” is a huge step. And then when they do that, if the person’s open and it’s in their corner, in other words, if that person is basically supportive, then that’s 99% of the battle right there. Because then that person will say, “I want to help you.” It doesn’t always go that way, though, we know that, that’s the thing. So, in some situations, a person will make that admission and it’ll blow up. And I’ve seen that happen. So, you have to consider carefully who you’re going to open up to. There’s an element of trust involved. There’s an element of is this person going to share this with someone else? So, there’s a lot of factors, but once again, are you looking to save your face or save your ass? And so, in my book, sometimes you have to save your ass first so that you can save your life.
Part of the shame I feel in talking about my own thing with marijuana is that I’m building a company and I want it to be successful. I don’t want to be judged by my past behavior, but I think it’s important that people understand that it’s a part of who I am. I’m not afraid to say that, but my fear is more for potential future actions. Like, if you look at Elon Musk, right? He smoked a joint on video with Joe Rogan, and he got tons of backlash. It’s a fear, I think, for entrepreneurs to even mention to anyone that they indulge in marijuana at all, even though it’s legal in over half of the United States.
To use you as an example, actually, Sean. You’ve been clean, as I would say, or sober, however I want to describe it, for over a year now. You’re not walking right out of rehab, so to speak. You’re not like out of just out of 28-day program where the jury is still out. You have a track record now. You’ve been around a year. You’ve pretty much made that decision in your own life that’s the path you want to take. And that’s important because obviously if the time does come to have a conversation with a potential investor that might have heard this or whatever, you could pretty much safely say that, “You know what? That was then, this is now and this is how I’m living.”
So even myself, I mean, I remember when I first got clean, even with my own family, it would show me, right? I had to kind of demonstrate. I had to get some time under my belt before I could be trusted. But when it comes to say, someone who is looking to put thousands and millions of dollars behind you, that’s a different story because obviously there’s a financial stake.
I think the whole idea though is what I’m trying to say is that it really depends on where you’re at in the journey. Are you literally at the point of that life or death where it’s that critical? Or have you been able to grasp and understand the things you need to do to take the steps and be on that road to recovery. That makes a big difference to say, “Listen, I got a problem. I don’t know what to do,” as opposed to, “You know what, I might have a problem, but I’m doing this, this and this. I am looking forward into the future with where I’m going and you can have every faith in me that this is where I’m headed.” So, I think if anything, it’s also the idea too of just, once again, trust. A lot is built on trust. And regardless of understanding this whole issue aside, anytime someone invests in you, they’ve got to trust you. So, it’s about building trust as well.
Preventing addiction (27:24)
Is there a way that people can avoid getting into a habit or prevent from getting addicted in the first place? Beyond the meditation and the exercise and all of these things?
One thing we talk about is moderation. And so, in other words, you have to have a really good idea of what your tolerance level is. So, for some people, they’re able to say, “well, I can come home from work and have a glass of wine, have a beer, have a drink. And I know that’s my limit.” That’s fine. I have no qualms with that. On the other hand, some people might say, “well, I think if I come home from work and I can’t stop with that first one, I got to have more than that,” then, okay, then that’s something to consider.
I think the whole idea, though, is that if you don’t want to get involved with having an addiction, in my books, one of the best things to do is to carefully examine your use of whatever it is you’re doing. You really need to know yourself. If you’re in a position where you feel that you may, like I said, be susceptible to addiction. Look at your family, right? Look at others around you that you’ve grown up with. Look at your environment. If those things are in place, that might make you more susceptible to addiction, that’s another consideration. So, there’s a lot of factors involved. But also, we talked about the beginning of the stress that you’re under and the whole thing.
So, I guess when it comes down to preventing addiction, one of the first thing you can do is just to not use for one thing and find an alternative. A lot of times, as you said, though, in many cultures that’s impossible because of the fact that’s how business is done. I know in situations for people who are in recovery, especially in early recovery, when they are in a business situation or in a family situation, some people don’t know, “Here Joey, have a drink.” They freeze, they don’t know what to say because they aren’t willing to open up about it. That’s hard to do. But as I said before, if you don’t want to fall on that trap, at some point you have to have the conviction to stand up and say no thank you, I’m on medication, I can’t drink right now. Not to say you have to lie, but sometimes you have to have an excuse so that you don’t engage in behavior, perhaps that you don’t want to.
And there’s different kinds of ways. Like, I have an upset stomach and I’m not telling people to lie, but I’m just saying to give yourself an out so that you’re not trapped. And I think sometimes when people are trapped, they feel like they’re forced into doing something they don’t want to do.
Yeah, peer pressure is definitely very difficult, especially when you’re younger. But it doesn’t go away for sure. Even into my thirties before I left China, I would go to there are parts of the city where there’s like a bunch of bars, but there’s also cafes and restaurants. So, it’s a mix of these different kinds of places. A lot of social events would be at a bar and it’s quietish, you could kind of sit outside and have a bunch of people sitting around, but everybody would be buying alcohol. I’ve never liked alcohol ever in my life. I’ll have a beer once every six months, I hate alcohol. So, whenever I go out, I will bring a 1.5-liter bottle of water with me. And that’s my thing. I’ll go to the bar, I’ll meet you, I’m happy to hang out. You can drink if you want, but I’m going to have water.
The reality was, I would get high before I go to the bar to be like, “Look, I’d rather be high in that regard.” It never affected my relationships. I felt that smoking weed made me more social, made me less anxious. I don’t want to make light of the use of drugs, but essentially every time I went out to be social, I would be high. And I did this for years in China, and it’s not good.
Well, I’ll put it this way. So, in my estimation and this is just me, this is the professional me coming out because I’m a credentialed addiction counselor as well. I think we really have to be very careful about how we engage in our lives with others and how something like drugs and alcohol can take you down a very dark path pretty quickly if you’re not careful. And that’s the problem. Like with COVID right now, Sean, in the States at least, the incidences of addiction, mental illness, and suicide are all spiking. People are isolated, businesses are crumbling and everything. It’s like a trifecta of horror for some people. So, these things are happening, and as a result of that, these are the results. So, we know that for folks who are really in a position where there are these additional stressors, it’s all that more important to be careful about self-care and to manage your health and wellbeing so that you’re not struggling those ways.
Having a support network (31:57)
So how can someone develop a support network to prevent from relapsing if they do get addicted and try to recover or are on the path to recovery?
I think it comes down to having a conversation with people who you believe would be supportive or in your corner. I believe that no one is able to do this all by themselves. I don’t necessarily believe in willpower, as some people would call it. Some people might argue with me, but I think that most people need some type of support. I’m talking about those that are really struggling. So, I think what we have to do is consider the people that are supportive and the ways that they can help you is to, for instance, be your eyes and ears. Or if you’re in a situation at home with a loved one, hopefully, they won’t be bringing any substance, alcohol or whatever, into the home because you might be more likely to pick it up. That’s a big start right there.
And then as far as, like you said, even in social situations, going out to a party or family gathering, to have someone with you that if you start to feel, for lack of a term, tempted, they’re there to kind of say, “Hey, careful,” or you could say to them, “I think I need to get out of here,” or “I’m feeling like I might pick up a drink and I don’t want to,” that they’re there to support you and say, “It’s okay, let’s deal with this. Let’s get out of here,” or “I’m right here by you, and then you don’t have to.” But as many people as we can have around us, like, that’s even better. So obviously, the idea is to have a real network, and not just one or two people, hopefully. But it’s almost like a bubble. You might have a bubble of people around you to utilize any given time so that you can hopefully stay healthy.
You were talking about someone bringing it into the home. Again, not to make light of addiction, but my mother brought sugar home my whole life, and sugar is, I think, probably one of the most addictive things in the world. Again, sugar is obviously a very different class than alcohol and drugs. But coffee with caffeine and sugar, that can make you all wired and anxious and nervous and that can affect your relationships, it can affect your work. Sugar is definitely a different class of addiction. And I’ve been addicted to sugar for my whole life. And it’s not my fault my parents didn’t know, but my mother, even today, she knows that it’s a problem. She knows that it’s addictive and she’s addicted to it. And she continues to bring sugar home. And it’s hard for me to spend time with them because whenever I go there, there’s just sugar and crap and processed foods.
For someone like myself, who I’m vegetarian, almost vegan, for over a year. And I’ve got off sugar recently because I’m married now, and I want to lose weight. I’m not obese, but I’m definitely not a healthy weight. I have visceral fat. I have all sorts of problems, and my family has a history of heart issues and all this. My mother is a negative entity for me in that regard. She’s a fantastic woman, but she’s not helping me deal with sugar.
In many cases, whether it be drugs, alcohol, sugar, or whatever. But you have one person who’s trying to get healthy, but the other person will sabotage, right? They’ll bring stuff into the house or they’ll say, “Hey, let’s get some ice cream,” or whatever, you know what I mean? And then the other person, “Okay, let’s do that.” So, it’s almost like especially in committed relationships, let me put it that way. It really needs to be a partnership. And I’m going through this right now myself, Sean, actually with my wife. I’ve been married now for 26 years, and my wife lives with type two diabetes, and she is actually undergoing a really intensive program to address her health issues. She has some other associated health issues, but she’s really kind of going through her own sense of awakening about what she needs to do for her own health.
But part of that, Sean, is me, as I said, going with the program to a place where I’m promising not to sabotage her efforts to take care of her health, which means that and you talk about the sugar thing. I’m hearing you right there, 100%. That’s how I grew up, too. So, I have to be careful that I’m not bringing those things in the house. And in the event that I do need to have something sugary, I just at least won’t be at home. It’s the same thing. It’s like, bring a booze home. I can’t do that.
So, the whole idea of support and ensuring that you don’t get hooked and all these things, there’s a lot of factors involved, but really having someone there behind you really makes a big difference because there’s almost your cheerleader. And I’ll tell you something, Sean, this kind of goes idea about being married for so long. My wife has been my number one support over all these years. Whenever it comes to me and want to do something healthy, she never stands in my way. Anytime I say, “Oh, I want to go for a bike ride, I want to go for a walk,” she never says, no, I want to go to a 12-step meeting, she never says no. “Do it,” she says.
The same kind of thing here. You want someone if you do have it. I know not everybody has someone like this in your life, but if you do, hopefully that kind of person who says, “Yes, do that thing for you, that’s healthy. Do that thing that’s going to make you a better version of you.”
How to talk to people with issues (36:52)
How can you talk to someone who you believe is on the path to addiction or has already become addicted. How can you breach that subject?
Be honest. Tell them what you see. You don’t sugarcoat it. In other words, I’ll just say, for instance, Sean, it looks like to me that you’ve been really distant recently. I see that you’ve been using more. I’m concerned that your use is impacting your work. It’s impacting your relationship with your wife, from what I could tell. And it’s even affecting our relationship, Sean. So, what I would like to do is to know that, how I can help you. Please, Sean, don’t be offended. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I’m really concerned to the place where I really feel like if we do this together, maybe we can do something. But I’m seeing something with Sean that doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m concerned about your future.
Yeah, it’s a pretty simple and straightforward example. I know from human psychology that it’s probably a coin toss. I imagine one in two people would probably get offended and they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Well, let me just say something about that. There are things such as a denial, too. We know that. I have a problem. You know, Sean, you talk about family history. My dad drank very heavily for a number of years. Was he an alcoholic? He drank alcoholically. It affected his relationship with my mom. And his thing was, “It’s the evening, it’s the weekend. I can drink.” My father was a bus driver. He’s a bus driver. Never missed a day of work for 38 years. But he drank heavily from the period of time that his mother my grandmother died until my mom developed breast cancer, and that was probably 15 years later.
So, he had a 15-year stretch of progressive alcohol use. Then when my mom developed breast cancer and I was also going through my struggles with my mental health condition, that he stepped up and he realized I’ve got to be the stable one in the house. And he did quit cold turkey. Pretty remarkable. And never picked up a drink ever since. He passed away several years ago. But what I said before, you can’t do it all by yourself. Well, I take that back. Some people do. Some people are able to do it, but it’s pretty rare. But he was one of those people able to do that. But I’ll tell you, though, the fact that he did was a testament to the fact that people can change. People can change.
I smoked, I would say, almost daily for ten or eleven years. I wasn’t one of those people that would roll a joint and smoke a gram or two a day. I met people like that. I would make a gram last a month. Like, I was very economical with how I smoked, but I would be high every day. It never affected my ability to work, and I never smoked while I was working, so I don’t feel like it was an addiction. It was more of a habit. It was just something that was there. It was something that was available, and it was something that I enjoyed. But I came to a point where there was a coin flip as to if I smoked, would I feel paranoia while I was high? The mere concept that I may feel paranoia, and it was horrible, and it would last for hours while I was high, that it wasn’t worth that to happen. And so, I said, screw it, I’m done.
And I’ve actually talked to a lot of people that it happened to them as well. They would smoke for 10-15 years. Sometimes, they started as a teenager. I started at the age of 22, so I was a bit later. But even then, by the age of 30, they burnt out of it. And they’re like, “Look, I’m done. I’ve had my fun.” And so, I think with weed, it’s probably easier. Although my dad’s been smoking daily for 50 years now, I’d say.
Eliminating the stigma (40:11)
What’s? Something I haven’t asked you about all of this that you wish I would ask?
How does this world eliminate the stigma associated with addiction? Because the stigma is why people don’t seek help. In other words, if I’m walking around hiding the fact that I’ve got a drug problem, I’m afraid to talk to people about it. I’m less likely to seek help for it. So, we need to eliminate the stigma of addiction.
Another thing about addiction that we didn’t talk about, though, is that a lot of people see it as being a moral failing. It’s good or bad. You’re bad person if you use drugs, if you’re an addict. Well, first and foremost, addiction is a brain disease that has behavioral consequences and physical consequences and social consequences. But the bottom line is it’s all up here in the brain, and that’s where it begins. So, Sean, if you were to crack my head open right now and look inside, you would see there’s still an addicted brain in there. Now, mind you, it’s not the same addicted brain as there was when I was actively using, but it’s still something in there that is not like, say, my wife’s brain or someone else’s brain who’s not an addict or recovering addict or whatever, doesn’t have that background.
So, I guess the question, if any, is asked, is, how do we address stigma and how do we get people to ask for help? You already said yourself, how do you get someone to ask for help? Well, we need to eliminate the stigma so people are more likely to say, you know what, I need help so that they don’t have to feel bad. Because if we were talking about this openly, then you know what, maybe we would have more people seeking help. Maybe we would have more people being able to not die because of addiction. I mean, if you look at opioid addiction in the States and how it’s risen dramatically over the last ten years, it’s incredible. That’s the other crisis going on right now, Sean. They’re not even talking about that right now because of the pandemic. But opioid use has gone up and deaths have gone up, so all this stuff ties together. But we have to address the fact that people aren’t talking about it.
The simple fact, Sean, that you were able to come out here and talk about your marijuana and cannabis use is huge. You are helping to eliminate stigma, and I have to applaud you for that. Many people wouldn’t be willing to do that for fear of what the repercussions would be. We have to get rid of that and address this so that people know it’s okay to talk about it.
Real quick, one thing I do in my area is I’m the chair of the Erie County Anti Stigma Coalition. Now, it focuses on mental health, but also addresses stigma in our communities, so stigma around mental illness, stigma around addiction. We need to eliminate the stigma so people can reach out and get help. It takes a person an average of ten years to seek help when they have a problem with a mental health condition. So, imagine walking around with a broken leg for ten years, how that must feel. Imagine walk around for ten years with an addiction not telling anyone about it. The pain that causes. That’s why we have depression. That’s why we have suicide. That’s why we have failed businesses. That’s why we have family problems. We have to talk about it.
This has surely been a very fascinating conversation for me and definitely at the heart of what this podcast is about. While it is definitely scary to share this out loud, all of my friends and family know that I smoked weed. It wasn’t a secret to anyone who knew me, but it was a secret to people who didn’t know me, obviously. And a lot of the people that are listening to this podcast, they don’t know who I am. I’m just on the guy behind a microphone. But just like all of them, I’m a person and I have my own experiences, some negative, some positive, and I just don’t want others to fall into bad addictions and habits.
Follow up with Karl (43:46)
So how can people follow up with you?
Sure. My website is shallowhornconsulting.com. You can also follow me on LinkedIn. It’s a good place to find me at Karl Shallowhorn. Just search me that way, and that’s probably the best way right there. So, LinkedIn and my website.
If you like this episode, please leave a review on iTunes. Tell everyone you know that has dealt with addiction or maybe dealing with addiction or could potentially become addicted in the future to listen to this episode. It’s really important that they get information and they deal with, eroding, these ideas of stigma.
So, entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of yourself every day so that you can be healthy and happy and not have things weighing you down that prevents you from having a positive family life and the business that you dream of.
Thank you for your time, Karl.
Thank you, Sean.