Synopsis: Chris Scott interviews Vira Salzburn, a yoga teacher and program director for safety and resilience programs for Chatham County, about the link between shame and addiction, self-compassion as an antidote to shame, shame resilience theory, trauma, addiction, recovery, and a case study on Charlie Sheen’s sobriety using what he calls the ‘Shame Shiver’ for relapse prevention
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Vira Salzburn: The idea is to shift from the perspective, traditional perspective something is wrong with you, to a trauma-informed perspective, what happened to you, to a resiliency perspective, what are some of your strengths or how can you grow. The way I educate people and teach them some of the resiliency skills actually starts with understanding your own bodily sensations and understanding how external and internal cues can trigger and evoke some of those sensations, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning into the Elevation Recovery Podcast, your hub for addiction recovery strategies. Hosted by Chris Scott and Matt Finch.
Chris Scott: Welcome, everyone, to the Elevation Recovery Podcast. For anyone who's watching the YouTube version, we have the Fit Recovery Studio evolving a bit. This is the first time I've had a guest on camera in my living room, which is technically my, what I call it, alcohol-free gentleman's war lounge, or something like that. We have the pool table, I have the alcohol-free bar up there, and of course, the dogs somewhere, probably hiding under the pool table. Anyway, it's very exciting.
Chris Scott: Today, my guest is Vira Salzburn, who has been with us in a different episode several months ago. Vira is the, I believe, Program Director for Safety and Resilience Programs for Chatham County if I recall correctly.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: Correct me.
Vira Salzburn: That's right.
Chris Scott: Okay. We had talked about mindfulness, about healing trauma, and resilience before. We're just going to have a natural flowing conversation. As it turns out, Vira and I met at yoga and it's often been the case for me that I meet interesting people at yoga studios who, for one reason or another, are involved in the mental health space. Obviously, that's not everyone, but it seems that a lot of people have incorporated yoga into their routines and people who tend to be holistically minded, tend to do yoga.
Chris Scott: I find that it's an interesting place to go and make new friends if you are trying to get over a substance addiction, a yoga studio is a great place. Obviously, it's hard right now with COVID. There are varying degrees of lockdowns, depending on where you are, but if that's not the case or if things are opening up or people are getting vaccinated, whatever it may be, you'll meet interesting people. I think the fact that we know each other, and we've had a really good time getting to know each other, and we're good friends is a testament to that. Anyway, Vira, thanks for being with us.
Vira Salzburn: Yes, thank you so much, Chris, for having me and I just want to compliment on your gentleman's lounge living room and your dogs are here and they so lovely.
Chris Scott: They sure are and they're barreling in as we speak.
Vira Salzburn: You did a really good job decorating your home and also making it very comfortable for guests and yourself.
Chris Scott: Thank you. Yeah, we don't have, as I said, the in-your-face lighting today. I don't think we need it. We have a new camera now, but we'll see what happens. I might have to drag it out if people complain. I think we're good. What have you been up to lately? I know you've been doing a lot of different programs and further continuing education stuff.
Vira Salzburn: Yes. It's real exciting and, as Chris mentioned, I'm the Program Director for Safety and Resilience Programs in Chatham County, which is the county where the City of Savannah is and we've been real exploring different avenues about building resilience in our community for obvious COVID reasons, but also just in general people want to have the tools and the skills that help them not just survive but thrive. As you can imagine, a lot of people are struggling with a lot of things. Some people may struggle with addiction to alcohol, addiction to food. Other people may experience depression, anxiety, so I was talking to some colleagues at the state level and, specifically, Department of Juvenile Justice, and they shared this information about the program called Community Resilience Model, which I thought would be very interesting to dive in, so I took a teacher training in that to further develop the subject of resilience and the trauma-informed care. Also, I developed a training called Trauma Sensitive Interactions. Both of those trainings I think complement each other as they talk about our human nervous system and how sometimes we may get triggered and how can we really regulate our own nervous system and build our own resilience.
Chris Scott: That's great. I want to jump in for a second because what I really like about your approach is that I would say most of what you do centers on what I would call the psychological pillar, but you don't ignore the biochemistry, and you have an understanding of the nervous system and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. You were telling me earlier about the polyvagal nerve, and that's something that's new to me, so we can touch on that today if we want, but I'm always impressed when someone takes something situational or psychological or even psychiatric, and then adds a level of understanding of brain chemistry or nervous system health. Is this something that's becoming better known among experts who are helping people, everyday people in the population, or how unique are these approaches I guess is the question?
Vira Salzburn: Yes. It's a really good question and I think I'm among a lot of people who seek deep understanding about my own body and my own bodily reactions to situations, emotional reactions and cognitive reactions. It does boil down to understanding the science and understanding the physiological aspects of our being. I think it does seem to grow, both the need and demand for this knowledge just in general population. I work in the community with diverse community members, including teachers, behavioral health providers, law enforcement, just a regular grandma, community grandma, or people who just work and live in Savannah. It's interesting to them to learn about these things, to learn about themselves and recognize that, wow, it's not that something is wrong with me, it's just that I have history and also, I have biology and also all of these things combined contribute to how I handle life and stress. Also, recognizing they're willing to grow and recognizing that our brain is like plastic, there's this concept of neuroplasticity, meaning that we can learn new ways of doing things and we can learn new behaviors, and this is good news for everyone who struggles with addiction behaviors or behaviors they want to change.
Chris Scott: You find that telling people about the biochemistry helps them to heal?
Vira Salzburn: Yes. It does. What I noticed in my work and just based on other people's work, when something makes sense to a person about their physical or mental health, when they start cognitively processing and understanding where their emotions come from or where their reactions come from, suddenly a person starts to realize that, first of all, it's not just me, and I'm not a flawed person. Also, it helps the brain to begin to track their nervous system better, so the better we'll learn about let's say our own bodies and how our bodies store stress or hold stress or emotions, recognizing our bodily sensations.
Vira Salzburn: Insula is the part of the brain responsible for helping us recognize our bodily sensations. That's why when we feel cold or sweaty or hot, we recognize that, and we decide-
Chris Scott: What was the part of the brain called?
Vira Salzburn: Insula.
Chris Scott: Insula.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: Okay.
Vira Salzburn: It helps us read literally our bodily sensations and therefore, we can have a choice of how we're going to proceed with comforting ourselves or making ourselves feel safer or protecting ourselves from something cold or hot. A lot of times, people who've experienced trauma, for example, that part of the brain doesn't work quite well for them and that's why a lot of times you may see people who may experience psychosis. A lot of times they are unable to read their own bodily sensations, so it's really becoming a key of recognizing who you are as far as who you are in your body, what your body can or cannot do, and recognizing where your emotions show up in your body. Yes, it does seem to... the understanding does seem to help people have opportunities for choice and have that freedom to choose how they're going to heal themselves.
Vira Salzburn: Even when they're making those little micro decisions on a daily basis, am I really hungry or am I anxiety driven in the moment and am I going to stuff myself with donuts, or do I actually need to talk to someone because what I'm really experiencing are some emotions that need to be processed. We, in fact, need engagement with other people to process those emotions. Yeah. The short answer is yes to your question.
Chris Scott: Yeah. That's a great answer. People might still be a little confused about what exactly you do.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: I know that you help to educate practitioners, doctors, teachers, other people who directly interface with the public.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: You also, you're involved in suicide prevention as well and you have yourself been directly involved with certain groups. What does your job look like?
Vira Salzburn: Yeah. On a daily basis, my job looks like creating workshops and delivering the workshops to, again, just diverse groups of people. Typically, in our organization and as we provide workshops and training to people, we intentionally try to create diverse groups, people from different backgrounds, different age, different race, so they can learn from each other, but also, realize that we all share pains and joys in life, so also identified an element of common humanity and also, part of my job involves working with kids and adolescents in a crisis stabilization unit. Actually, something that I teach at that facility includes health and wellness class but it's the way I teach it is a trauma sensitive way, so I am very aware of how I talk about the subject without trying to evoke any sort of shame in people.
Vira Salzburn: Anytime you talk about any sort of therapy or health or wellness or even recovery, a lot of times shame can arise. It's a very strong emotion. A lot of times people may feel like I'm not good enough or I can't do this. How can we deliver the knowledge and the practice in small bites so people realize this is doable and I'm not a broken machine and, actually, I can advance in my practice, whatever that is? That's another area that I work in. Also, a lot of times organizations, such as behavioral health providers, for example, invite me to teach lectures and classes to, for example, a psychiatry residency program currently, law enforcement agencies invite me, so I, let's say, taught classes specifically on suicide prevention and also post-traumatic stress disorder. Just a lot of community work and, since I work at a non-profit organization, everything we do is at no cost to Chatham County organizations, which is very unique and the programs that we deliver, a lot of times in other places, they are quite costly. I just feel so thankful to be able to do my job, get my salary, and do the work in the community that I enjoy so much, and people benefit from it tremendously.
Chris Scott: Yeah. I didn't know that people did this kind of work. I had no idea.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: It was illuminating for me to realize that people are out there trying to make a difference and working with, as you said, cops, doctors, teachers, and community grandmas, I'm sure we have some of those in this... where I live in a golf course community, but yeah, no, that's really cool. I want to zoom in on something you said. Let's talk about something specific because we've been birds eye view. As far as like the emotion of shame, I don't want to get too philosophical, but some people might wonder is shame always a bad thing, is it normal to feel shame, and if you do feel shame, does that mean that you should do something about it?
Vira Salzburn: Yeah. This is a really good question. Sometimes even talking about shame can arise unpleasant sensations, can evoke unpleasant sensations in our bodies. I encourage you, if you're listening right now to the podcast, also start tracking as we talk about different things. For example, I can feel my stomach getting into a knot just thinking or talking about shame, so actively how can we soothe our self and sometimes you can put a hand on the part of the body where the unpleasant sensations arises, to support yourself.
Vira Salzburn: The question about shame, is it bad? Well, there are two types of shame, adaptive and maladaptive shame, so adaptive shame is where you recognize perhaps, I've been wrong or this is the area of my life where I can improve and you actually do something about the situation, so you can learn from it and you can grow. There is a maladaptive shame where you really start blaming and shaming yourself in a very heavy and unpleasant way to actually where it increases the stress levels in your body, and it can be quite detrimental for your health.
Vira Salzburn: A lot of times, I would say nine out of 10 times in suicide prevention work, I see that people also struggle with shame. When I talk to individuals let's say who have thoughts of suicide, they also have shame about having the thoughts. Shame prevents us from accepting the parts of ourselves or ourselves just as we are. This is what to me is very interesting about shame. Shame is actually an innocent emotion. What I mean by that, not that it doesn't, it can impact our lives in such a horrific way, however, shame comes from a deep desire to be loved, and ultimately it comes down to survival, so I will explain that.
Vira Salzburn: For example, when a person is ashamed of something about themselves, it's usually because they perceive that part of themselves as being not worthy of love. They perceive themselves as unlovable. Well, when you are unloved, if a baby is unloved, the baby's less likely to survive, so if you think that you may be unloved for whatever you did or whoever you are, then it creates this idea of I'm going to be abandoned by my tribe. I'm going to be pushed out and I will not survive. A lot of times shame is about those parts of ourselves that we see is immovable and a lot of times, especially when working with addiction, individuals experience shame about having the addiction and not even for a long time sharing with someone that they have the addiction or talking about it. That is a very important component to remember what sustains shame is actually silence, so the moment you talk to someone about the things you're ashamed of, it's the moment of breaking the ice. That's where you start your healing process.
Vira Salzburn: We do need supportive and trustworthy individuals who can help us to work through our shame, so we need coaches, we need therapists, because a lot of times, well, not a lot of times, but it can happen when you share let's say with someone something about the things you've been ashamed of and that person doesn't support you in the way you need to be supported or maybe they will apply more judgment, that can really affect a person in such negative ways and create even more isolation, more shame. Just remembering that shame comes from the need to be loved, for me, it was very important when I had to work through my all-in addictive behaviors and realizing that other people struggle with those behaviors as well. Things that I used to be ashamed of before are now the things that I see as I'm just a human. Right? I'm just a human being who has flaws and I make mistakes. You know what, I like to say to my clients, sometimes do your best, forget the rest. It's not an overnight change for a lot of people and it's... I love this idea. It's okay I'm talking a lot.
Chris Scott: Yeah. No, I like it.
Vira Salzburn: Yeah.
Chris Scott: I have something to jump in with in a minute, but-
Vira Salzburn: Okay, well [crosstalk 00:21:05] go ahead.
Chris Scott: ... finish your thought.
Vira Salzburn: Well, just this idea, sometimes we have to if not live the way we want to live, at least set an intention to live how we want to live. There's the story, the student comes to a Rabbi and says, "Rabbi, why does Torah tell us to put the words up on our heart rather than into our heart." The Rabbi says, "Well, because as we are, our hearts are closed, but it is when our hearts break, the words fall in." This is the point about the practice and intention and offering yourself kindness and when you recognize you have shameful thoughts, how can you normalize... not to say normalize your behavior that is destructive, but just to normalize, tell that you are human and that you make mistakes. Offering yourself those bits and pieces of kindness and compassion, so then your heart, when it breaks, those words can fall in even if in, right now, you even don't believe yourself when you say, well, can I be kind to myself or how can I be more compassionate to myself. If, at this point, your brain can't connect to those words, you can still offer yourself those mantras and words. Eventually, hopefully, they will make their way into your heart.
Chris Scott: Right. I like that. Yeah, I like that we're covering the topic of shame because that's... I think anyone who's ever been addicted to alcohol or anyone else understands the deep shame that comes with addiction. In retrospect now, it's amazing how little broader society understands about addiction. We have more compassion than we used to, which is good. The stigma is beginning to disappear, not everywhere, but in a number of places. There's not a lot of understanding of what's going on in your body or in your brain, so I had a... actually, it was in my online course, a member the other day had shared that she felt so ashamed of her behavior or for her drinking. Yet, all of sudden, here she was with a tribe of people, an online digital tribe, but still a tribe, and everyone seemed to be on the same page about the fact that this is not something that you needed to be ashamed of. Your brain was doing, by compulsively drinking alcohol, doing the only thing it knew to maintain biochemical balance. It's not the case then that you're a bad person doing horrible things because you're bad.
Chris Scott: I feel like, there's... I'm not an expert in shame, unlike you, but I know that when people begin to perceive their brains and bodies as not mechanical but having a certain momentum of their own and that they are not their brains, they are not their bodies, they are the ones observing their brains and their bodies, then they start to get... you can feel liberated, especially in the context of a tribe of people. I use the word tribe deliberately because this is, as you said, shame is an involved emotion that corresponds with feeling unloved and feeling like you're being kicked out of the tribe or at risk of that. Therefore, your survival is less likely. I thought that came back to me.
Chris Scott: I was reading that comment the other day and I was touched by that because I was like, yes, that's the point of the course. It's like, it's not to beat people down and say, "Hey, you're defective and we're going to turn you into someone else," or "You're defective, but that's all right. You're always going to be defective. Now, make the best of it." I don't like any of those approaches. I like the approach of here's why what has gone on has gone on. Let's try to use that understanding to dissolve the shame and separate yourself from your brain.
Chris Scott: There's a really good book I like called You Are Not Your Brain, which I won't... and you're familiar with it. I won't get into that, but I recommend it to everyone who takes my course and it's mostly strategies to help with OCD. Addiction is mentioned, but more in passing. There's a reframing and relabeling of whatever the behavior is that's compulsive and ultimately, leads to shame or social ostracism.
Vira Salzburn: Yes. Thank you for sharing that and I hope your client will continue to grow. The shift happens from maladaptive shame. How can we shift to adaptive shame? We're not trying to go from zero to 100 and how can we go from adaptive shame into more functionality and self-compassion, and maybe eventually even setting that intention from self-compassion to self-acceptance. That's the process. Dr. Chris Germer, he's a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. He's done some great work specifically on self-compassion and his next book he's writing is that self-compassion is a direct antidote to shame. I'm taking some classes and lectures from him and it's amazing to recognize that the things we blame ourselves for, or shames ourselves for, are also the things we can offer our self compassion for.
Vira Salzburn: When you are shaming yourself, that's a moment of suffering. You are suffering. You are in emotional pain. Shame causes emotional pain and suffering is an opportunity for compassion. That's something that I've been exploring. Very interesting.
Chris Scott: I like that. I was going to say my co-host, Matt Finch, who I usually... or not usually, but many of the podcast episodes are me and Matt just hanging out, but we do our best work when we're just hanging out. He wrote a guest article for Fit Recovery and it's about Charlie Sheen and who he was... he's been a lifelong fan of Charlie Sheen. Apparently, Charlie Sheen has been sober for a while now and he was asked what keeps you sober. He said, "The shame shivers." He says whenever he gets an inclination to drink or use drugs, he recalls some event that makes him really ashamed, and he shivers away the craving. He does something and it sounds comical. Charlie Sheen, the tiger blood guy, telling us about a strategy to combat cravings, but maybe there's something to it. I would think that that would be a source of adaption shame then and not maladaptive.
Vira Salzburn: I love that example you've provided about Charlie Sheen because it's the example of tracking your nervous system. Just to circle back about some of the training and work that I've been doing is focused on resilience, so the idea is to shift from the perspective, traditional perspective, something is wrong with you, to a trauma-informed perspective, what happened to you, to a resiliency perspective, what are some of your strengths, how can you grow. The way I educate people and teach them some of the resiliency skills actually starts with understanding your own bodily sensations and understanding how external and internal cues can trigger and evoke some of those sensations, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.
Vira Salzburn: With Charlie Sheen, I thought of an event that was... he was ashamed of, sounds like it triggered his nervous system in a way that he had felt sense of shame in his body. He had shivers, right? He identified that that is actually unpleasant, so you start tracking that and recognize the thought of shame connected to certain event and the way it impacts my body is unpleasant. In fact, it literally makes my body shiver. I just want to get rid of it. That's when the magic happens, I think. When we start recognizing how a thought, an image, a sound, a taste, an internal sensation, even sometimes painful sensation, how it impacts our nervous system. Recognizing was it pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Those are just three categories usually we don't have to go into much deeper, that can be very helpful to knowing how you want to regulate your attention in the moment.
Vira Salzburn: There's this saying, what you pay attention to grows, so when you pay attention to shame or negative self-talk or self-criticism, you give power to that, that thing grows. Being able to recognize this isn't pleasant, how can I shift my attention to what is neutral or pleasant or what is helpful and helps me build resilience. That [crosstalk 00:30:54] interesting.
Chris Scott: I like that, yeah. I was thinking about my own early recovery experience of trying to reframe alcohol as a negative substance and I did that by trying my best, I didn't always succeed, but trying to... the moment I would see a wine glass being poured at a restaurant or someone chugging a beer outside a bar or a billboard with Corona's on it, or whiskey ads, those was a very sophisticated and seductive, I would always try to think of my worst experience with whatever that particular alcohol was. Now, it wasn't always a shame worthy thing. Sometimes it was and I have... I mean, probably not as many stories as Charlie Sheen that would make me ashamed, but I mean, some. I would think of that, but I didn't view it... perhaps this is important, I didn't think of it as like let's engage in a self-loathing thought. For me, it was a means to an end.
Chris Scott: It was like, I'm going to think of something for the sake of me being able to reframe alcohol as the toxin that it is, that makes me uncomfortable, so that my, hopefully through repetition, my first instinct upon seeing these things will be really an aversion. It actually worked. I purposefully didn't tie it to things like... I had people write out reframes in my course, I've had clients do it. I say don't make it so sad or shameful that you're going to cry. At least in my experience it's not helpful because then you just end up precipitating a breakdown. They've already had a breakdown. They don't need to have another one. They're trying to change their life. For me, it was more like I see the alcohol and I remember the time that someone got drunk and ate a hairball off the floor. Now, for me, alcohol is like, you want to be eating hairballs off floors?
Chris Scott: Maybe it's because I'm a man and I want to maintain a certain distance with some of those emotions at times. I think I'm way more in tune with my emotions than before I quit drinking. There's a certain amount of like, it's more of disgust than deep, heartfelt crying shame, but there is an element of shame and you can definitely call it shame shivers. I can remember at times I was not the kind of drinker to be falling down drunk most of the time, but there were a few times when I did that. Usually, it was martinis, so vodka became that do you really want to be falling down drunk because you had six martinis. Now, seven years later, I never think about it, but in early recovery, a martini, even in a movie, it would make me salivate. I'd have to connect it to something, but it wouldn't be like do you want to let down your family and have them all hate you or I wouldn't picture my own funeral or whatever. That was too heavy for me. There's a certain amount that I could handle of shame and a certain amount that I didn't want to deal with.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: Or not that I didn't want to deal with it. I didn't want to voluntarily bring it into my focus, so that I would dwell on it.
Vira Salzburn: I'm so glad you didn't do that because a lot of times, it may not be helpful to go into deeper, darker place and for you, perhaps it's just a touch of that sensation of disgust was enough to feel it in your body. A lot of times when disgust arises, it's a felling in your throat, like clenching in your throat, even what you just did with your body with some movements like, just stay away. For some people, it could be maybe a thought that makes you sad or something or a feeling of disappointment, maybe even a painful memory, but I would suggest also finding ways... and I suggest it's important to know your strength and weaknesses and what works and doesn't work for you, but what we are teaching now in the Community Resilience Training, for example, is that actually also focusing on your strength.
Vira Salzburn: You may see a drink and remember a moment when you associated a drink with something disgusting and also, how can you quickly shift to a moment remembering when you were sober and what that felt like or a memory that was actually pleasant.
Chris Scott: Where you went to the gym instead and got great workout-
Vira Salzburn: Yes, exactly.
Chris Scott: ... and you felt even better. Yeah.
Vira Salzburn: Shifting to the resiliency side, remembering the pain and also focusing on the beauty or the joy or the sense of hope. Thinking of situations, and this practice by the way is called resourcing, so what it means is bringing to mind a place or a memory or a person or a being that gives you a sense of peace or confidence or joy or just pleasant sensations, and just noticing how that feels in your body. What that helps, also it actually helps your body relax and when your body's relaxed, your brain is relaxed, and then you're more likely to make decisions not based on instinct to go get a drink because that's going to be a quick self-soothing gesture. Then, instead, noticing, well, now I'm a little bit more relaxed and how can I move forward with my day or my moment or my hour, whatever the timeline is for you, in a more gentle way.
Vira Salzburn: Something else I really wanted to mention as we talk about resilience, social engagement is so important. That's why it is so important to have your tribe, to have your coach, to have your leader, to have your mentor, to have your peer support. I cannot say enough about that. I mean, tell me, what was it like for you, Chris, when you were in recovery, going sober, having peer support or who were the people in your life and [crosstalk 00:37:19]
Chris Scott: Well, for me, I was lucky. It was my family. My parents have always been very supportive and my friends from college and high school, probably six or eight of them. I had a, I mean, a pretty tight knit crew and they're all like brothers to me. I'm adopted as it is, so I feel like that kind of designation, like brother, is kind of earned. I don't know anyone who I'm genetically related to. My parents have earned their parents forever, obviously, so if my two best friends from high school and my at least three or four best friends from college, and then a few others, who you realize after you quit drinking who your real friends are, and who your fake friends were. The fake friends, I was just done with immediately, they were just obvious. If I wasn't going to go to bars anymore, that was it, so thankfully, my tribe was, it felt intact because I never really cared much for people who didn't matter.
Chris Scott: That's not always the case. Some people have to do a lot of soul searching and digging to figure out who is actually their friend or who is actually their family member who they really want to still be close with. I've had a lot of private clients who have struggled trying to get support from their spouse. Oftentimes, the spouse continues to drink or wants to drink and says, "Hey, why are you introducing this chaos," essentially. "Why don't you just moderate it so that I don't have to acknowledge that I have a problem," or maybe they don't have a problem, but they are more the party type person. Maybe they haven't matured or whatever, and maybe it's just not a good match, and then that's a painful situation.
Chris Scott: Especially in the current situation with the pandemic and there's reduction in social gatherings, there are fewer opportunities to build tribe, but at least we do have the digital recovery revolution, as I call it. It's not just this podcast or my course or Fit Recovery. It's... I mean, there are great podcasts out there, Recovery Happy Hour, Tricia Lewis is awesome, Recovery Elevator, Odette is the host there, and I'm not as good at Instagram as some people are, but I know on Instagram, every time they post, there's this community of people. It's kind of a blend of people who are committed to traditional or alternative methods of recovery, but everyone has the same goal, which is to not be a slave to a substance. I think that's really cool. That's something that everyone has potentially while you're trying to sort out who your real friends are, who your tribe is.
Chris Scott: Something else for me was that I've continued to expand my tribe as I've... I live in a different city now than when I quit drinking. I was in Atlanta then, I'm in Savannah now. In this very condo, I had a really good roommate who became one of my best friends in the span of like, I don't know, two years that we lived together, and he was a personal trainer. I was a part-time personal trainer, working on typing out articles for Fit Recovery at the time, trying to reach people there. Now, he's actually doing a digital venture, but he was... maybe unbeknownst to him, he was a source of support, even though he was what we would call a social drinker. He maybe drank once a month and had three beers.
Chris Scott: I gathered evidence for the absurdity of my past drinking pattern from watching someone like that, where if you'd ask him, "Are you a drinker?" He'd say, "Yeah, I guess." Three beers a month, I mean, maybe it was a little more than that, but I never saw him hammered and it wasn't like he was hiding it from me, but I was like, "Wow, alcohol really is just a non-issue for most people." He's not racing home from work, so he can drink, and I was already, to some degree, probably mostly recovered by the time he and I became friends, but you just start meeting people who upend your former assumptions which you realize were false about things, and you learn from everyone you meet. That's a long way of saying that I was lucky I had a tribe of people who I had always been close to or I had been for a long time, who are extremely supportive.
Chris Scott: It kind of felt like we all went on this adventure to figure out what the hell is this thing, alcohol addiction, because we all... or at least, I figured there's some holes in the mainstream narrative about what alcohol addiction is. There's something missing. Maybe it's not all wrong, but something's missing. Then, as soon as I realized that there was all of this research that's so underrated and widely ignored about the biochemistry of alcohol addiction and nutritional therapy or biochemical repair, and that's just the start, that there's this whole universe of really hopeful solutions and different ways of framing it, so that you're not looking at some mystical baffling, permanent curse of a disease. That led all of us together, my whole tribe, on this deep dive into biochemistry, and not just alcohol recovery, but lifestyle optimization.
Chris Scott: I often talk about how my dad, who's 74 now, he still does 500 pushups a day, he cut out alcohol and sugar when I quit drinking. Sugar maybe a little bit later, but he lost like 30 pounds and he feels amazing. It's very funny because every time I go to a restaurant with him and my mom, he's always asking if they have alcohol-free cocktails, and if they don't, he's the first one to chastise them and tell them to get with the program here because not everyone wants to drink. He never had a problem with alcohol. He went straight to the other side without any rock bottom or even addiction or remote addiction at all, and just said, "Life's better. I feel better. My energy is better. I'm sleeping better. I'm doing things I want to do."
Chris Scott: Yeah, it's nice to have a tribe of people, whether you've had it all along and it starts to become even better, which is the case for me, or whether you slowly build it over time during the course of recovery, who goes on a sort of adventure with you and grows with you.
Vira Salzburn: That's beautiful and thank you. Your dad sounds like a very resilient man.
Chris Scott: He's great. He's very resilient. Yeah, both my parents are.
Vira Salzburn: It's nice to hear that you have that relationship with your parents and, yeah, and having that container of safety that is being created by the people who support us. There's something to say about being supported by people when you are at your best and when you are at your worst, and they're still there for you. That's what really helps to work through shame or work through criticism or recognize your strength and weaknesses and your common humanity. Yeah, social engagement is something that has been challenging during COVID and not impossible in the same time.
Vira Salzburn: I just have this story I have to share. It actually happened on Monday, which was yesterday. Time doesn't make sense anymore.
Chris Scott: I never know what day it is [crosstalk 00:44:54]
Vira Salzburn: As I mentioned earlier, I work at a Crisis Stabilization Center for youth and adolescents who have some serious behavioral and mental health disorders, so they're there literally to be stabilized. Usually, they stay there between a week or two, and it's amazing for me to go there and see all these kids, they come from different schools, different ages, different backgrounds. Some of them are low wealth, some of them are middle class, and realizing this compassion a lot of times they have for each other. They are the tribe. They are there for maybe various reasons when it comes down to specifics, and yet they are there and you're just noticing how they create this cliques and groups, and they can relate to each other.
Vira Salzburn: Monday, yesterday, I went to teach yet another class and I left the classroom. The weather's so nice, so usually, when the weather is nice, I'm like, "Hey, guys. Do you want to go outside?" They said, "Yes. Let's do it." I notice they stand up and this one boy in particular, he was a taller, bigger boy. He had his hat lowered and his eyes closed, so I could recognize that he probably had vision problems. I directly asked him, I said, "Are you legally blind?" He said, "No, I'm fully blind." As he stood up, this little boy, little, tiny boy, came up to him and said, "Hey, I'm here." The big boy put their hand on the little boy's shoulder and the little boy was his guide. He walked him outside.
Vira Salzburn: I had a little bit more conversation with the blind boy. He was kind of a sarcastic, that's his strategy when talking about his disability. I asked him what happened, and I said, "Were you born blind?" He said, "No, I just shot myself." I said, "Okay, so did you damage the part of the brain responsible for vision?" He said, "I damaged the nerves." I was like, "Okay, when was that?" He said, "Two years ago." Then we went outside, and he was... It takes time for me to get... and I don't have usually that much time with the kids, about an hour and a half, so we sat down on the bench outside, and I was like, "Hey, guys, do you know why sunshine is good for you?" I mean, this comes to the basic. I'm like, "Oh, because it creates vitamin D and that's good for your mood and your happiness."
Vira Salzburn: We talked about the nutrition part of the class and then we started talking about exercise. The blind boy was quite uncomfortable with it at first. I was like, "You can just sit down. Don't worry. I will show you exactly what to do." I asked him permission. That's just a safe way to approach someone. I said, "Here, I'm going to hold your legs." I actually showed him how to do some seated crunches and then I told him, "Hey, you're don't even have to stand up. You can just do some crunches sitting down." Then, we stretched, so he did hand rolls. It was so cool to see how his peers supported him and then, while he had a disability, but yeah, because his peers were doing some things and they were willing to do the things that he was able to do as well. Some of them are seated, some of them stood up and did some things, exercises, but there was this group of people supporting each other, these kids, and this word comes to mind, co-regulating, which really means breathing together, moving together, creating this energy together. It just was so beautiful.
Vira Salzburn: At the end, we were leaving, so the blind boy stood up and I held him by his shoulder. We were walking back inside, and his little guide boy, at first, he ran all the way to the front of the line. Then, a minute later, he comes back, and he talks to his friend. He's like, "I'm sorry I left you. I don't know what I was thinking." He took his hand, put it back on his shoulder. This one story, just to be told as example of really human kindness, but engagement and all of these kids in this facility, they all have some kind of problem, some of them are very serious, some of these kids are suicidal, actively suicidal, homicidal. Some of them have serious psychiatric issues. Yet, they are there for each other to support and guide each other. I felt like I was with them as their guide and leader, and in the same time, I was there being guided and healed by this energy, and by these kids.
Chris Scott: That's a beautiful story.
Vira Salzburn: I just wanted to share that.
Chris Scott: Thank you for sharing. If kids can do it, then adults can do.
Vira Salzburn: Yes, absolutely.
Chris Scott: That's why on average kids are... I feel like kids have the capacity for more meanness, or at the very least, they on average deal less effectively with meanness than adults. Adults, we can just say, "Oh, F you. You're not in my tribe. I'm going to find someone who is supportive." I often talk about how when I started doing what I do and I started Fit Recovery, and the course and the podcast and everything, I was expecting people to be way meaner than they were. I was expecting that I was going to go to war with a bunch of hardcore AA zealots who'd be like sending dead animals to my house or whatever. Luckily, that's never happened. Hopefully, no one gets any ideas, but I have two dogs that will take care of it. I'm just always shocked by, and in a good way, I'm surprised about how compassionate people tend to be and how positive the energy is and the emails I get.
Chris Scott: Anyone who runs an online venture is going to get some pointed emails. God knows where they come from. It could be some troll from god knows where. 99% of the emails are just heartfelt emails, either seeking support or thanking me for a podcast episode. We could get an email for this one. You never know what people are looking for, but I found that this is one of my favorite Tony Robbins quotes, "You tend to find what you're looking for." I think that pertains to getting support. If you need someone to help serve as a guide of some sort, if you're looking for that and you're earnestly desiring that, you're more likely to find it. Now, you have to take action. You can't stay in your living room, or depending on where you are, maybe you can stay in your living room. Maybe you just have to find the right online forum or the right digital recovery revolution segment for you.
Vira Salzburn: Hmm. I wonder where you can find that?
Chris Scott: I wonder where. Well, I mean, I'll be the first to say I'm probably not for everyone. I'm a bit intense. Some people I might not resonate with, and that's fine. I do this for the people that I do resonate with and I know Matt feels the same way. Luckily, apparently, there are a good number of people who this kind of thing resonates with. We try to not be narrow minded. We have an open ended approach, so we talk about the biopsychosocial spiritual hierarchy of addiction recovery. Some people may need more work on say the spiritual pillar than others. It seems to me that the vast majority of people need to start work with the biochemical pillar. I've yet to see someone who is in perfect... whoop, my phone dropped. I've yet to see someone who is in perfect physical health who's been dependent on alcohol for a long time. Usually, there's some work to be done there.
Vira Salzburn: Yeah.
Chris Scott: Then, what happens is once you've gained some mental clarity and you start to find your tribe, you start to realize things about yourself that you didn't know before and you start realizing that there are areas of improvement that you might not have known before, but at least now, your physical health is returning if not having returned, and you have the energy and the optimism that you need to work on those things.
Chris Scott: I also say, I forgot to mention that in my story, my MMA trainer, Stephen Bass, who's a former professional fighter in the UFC, he's now an awesome part of my tribe and he runs a really awesome gym, but it's in a seedy part of town in Savannah. He has I'd say a lot of people who have come in, kids, even adults, who maybe have been through some trauma, but you can see them genuinely working towards improvement in this gym. He said to me at one point, he said, "You know, we really do the same thing." He's like, "You work online and you're trying to motivate people with alcohol issues, but," he's like, "I have people from all walks of life," and he's like, "for me, it's boxing. That's the medium that I speak to people through." For me, it's the supplementation. At least that's the kind of steppingstone to other things. That was our... a long digression, but [crosstalk 00:54:49]
Vira Salzburn: Yes. It's beautiful. I was just thinking how it takes... we're all different and the same thing doesn't work for everybody. I'm the same way. I go to teach a class somewhere and I don't expect that everybody's going to like what I say or even like me. I'm okay with that.
Chris Scott: You're a pretty likable person.
Vira Salzburn: Oh, thank you. Yet, still for some people, they may not... let's say if I go to law enforcement situation and here, I'm trying to teach mindfulness or something like that. They can hear me, they can understand me, but can they really relate to me sometimes? Maybe not. I'm a Ukrainian girl, not in the same line of work, trying to talk about yoga, mindfulness or something like that. It may require a peer or someone from their area of expertise to really, for them to start to trust the source. Right?
Vira Salzburn: I love that quote that you mentioned, and I believe that quote comes from Rumi's quote, to which drives my life a lot of times, "What you seek is seeking you. What you seek is seeking you," and sometimes, we don't even know that there is something out there that is even seekable. What I mean by that, we need to educate people on opportunities for healing and on diversity of those opportunities. While, if I didn't know anything about supplements, how would I even be seeking that? How can we share messages that encourage people to be lifelong students as well and being curious and inquisitive and... Okay, maybe I've heard all I could about this specific area of therapy or, I don't know, healing. You exhausted it and it didn't work for you. You feel like that's it, I'm not going to try anything else, nothing works for me. Yet, there may be all this other strategies and things you can try that you haven't even considered because you didn't even know they exist.
Vira Salzburn: To me, that's usually what I'm wondering, what is that I don't know. What are some things that I don't know and how can I learn them? It's kind of challenging sometimes because we get into these echo chambers and even for me, let's say once I'm interested in the subject, currently the Polyvagal Theory, by Dr. Steven Porges, just talks about the vagus nerve and how our autonomic nervous system responds to the demands of life and the bio-sensations associated with that. Anyway, so I feel like I would listen to all the podcasts, watch all the YouTube videos, read all the articles I can, and then, once I get into the echo chamber situation where, okay, I've heard this argument many times in many places or it starts sounding the same, that's when I'm like, "Okay, how can I break out of this? What am I missing here?"
Chris Scott: Maybe next time we'll have to talk about the polyvagal nerve.
Vira Salzburn: Yes.
Chris Scott: We'll reserve that for the next episode.
Vira Salzburn: Let's do that. I would love that. I'm in the process of internalizing the information. You know sometimes you read, and you study, and you get it, you know it, but once somebody is like, "Hey, can you just give me an elevator speech on that," to me, that's my measurement of my mastering of a subject. I'm like, "Well, I don't know if I can give you an elevator speech without going to the weeds and getting just tongue tied." Once I get my elevator speech down and once I internalize the subject, I'll be more than happy to talk about it.
Chris Scott: Then we'll have you back on.
Vira Salzburn: Sure.
Chris Scott: Vira, thank you for being on the show.
Vira Salzburn: Yes. Thank you for having me.
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