When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Certified Psychotherapist and Certified Transformative Coach
It’s not uncommon that people are drawn into a field of work because of their life experiences. We know the topic, we lived it, and we can give something back to help others. Jason Shiers talks about his personal road to recovery and the work he has done to help others undo the labels that they have put on themselves or have been given to them by others. Jason is a certified Psychotherapist and Certified Transformative Coach who has been working with addictions and mental health for over 25 years. He is also the host of the outstanding podcast “Misunderstandings of the Mind.” Jason’s podcast can be found at https://www.misunderstandingsofthemind.com, and he can be reached at https://www.wideworldcoaching.com.
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Guitar Music]
[00:00:12] Mike: Welcome everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. As always, I'm Mike McGowan. You know, it's not uncommon that people are drawn into a field of work because of their life experience. Why? We know the topic. We lived it, and then we feel like we can give something back to others to help them.
My guest today is going to talk about just that. He is Jason Shiers. Jason is a certified psychotherapist, certified transformative coach who's been working with addictions and mental health for over 25 years. He is also the host of the outstanding podcast, Misunderstandings of the Mind. Welcome Jason.
[00:00:54] Jason: Hi, Mike. Thank you. Great introduction.
[00:00:58] Mike: Okay, well we might as well start with this right off the bat, from your accent, I take it you're not from Wisconsin?
[00:01:03] Jason: No, I live near Manchester in the UK. That's where I'm from. I'm from the northwest of the UK. I've lived around, you know.
[00:01:10] Mike: Okay. So if you're Manchester which side do you fall on? City or United?
[00:01:15] Jason: No, I'm always an honorary supporter of the opposite side to my friends. I don't really watch football, but if they're United fans, which I've got many of, I'll be blue. And if they're city fans I'll be red. You know, it's kinda like, just to be annoying, you know?
[00:01:28] Mike: You like to shake the tree. You know, before we get into your work, which we will get into, you have a personal story recovery and I love those. So tell us about that. Because it started young, right?
[00:01:41] Jason: Yeah, it's very long actually, and I try and kind of get the major points, you know. I guess it started when my dad was killed, you know, he went out and he didn't come back. He was killed in an accident when I was just five years old.
[00:01:53] Mike: Oh my.
[00:01:53] Jason: And I guess in some ways I always say that I lost one parent physically, but I lost the other parent emotionally because she was struggling with being left with two children and with her own grief, you know?
So if I had to describe my childhood that it was like, work it out for yourself, that's what it was. So I became very resilient and finding ways to work it out, you know, as you do when you're left to your own devices.
And food was the very first thing that I found that was my comfort. My friend, my reliable partner, you know, as a child. So I ballooned in weight massively until I was slightly older when I started committing crime and started getting into all sorts of chaos at a very young age, you know? And then, my mom, I guess all she knew what to do was to try and look up, well, where do you get help for a child? And she ended up in the psychiatric services with me, trying to get me help where I was diagnosed as depressed and given medication at just nine or ten years old.
And that was kind of like my introduction to the system, I guess. From there, I mean, like, it just got worse and worse for me. You know? It's like, because my internal dis-ease was so much, it's like I just would do anything. I was just off the wall as a child. I stole money from home. And I was very intelligent. As you know, addiction's, nothing to do with intelligence. You know, I was very intelligent.
I'd got a scholarship at a private school. I'd aced the entrance exam, and been given a full scholarship to a school that most people had to pay for. So that's kind of how highly intelligent I was. But like my internal world, my behavioral and my emotional and spiritual sides were just, there was nothing there. I would just do anything to escape myself.
[00:03:29] Mike: How does a preteen, you were nine when you were given meds?.
[00:03:32] Jason: Yeah, and I only found that out recently. I only found that out because I went back and I got them. In the UK we can apply to the medical system and we can get all our records for birth. And I only got the letters back perhaps 10 years ago, maybe 15, and looked at all these reports and saw that I'd been medicated. You know, I didn't actually remember that.
[00:03:51] Mike: Well, did you then end up later self-medicating?
[00:03:55] Jason: Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah, I mean, that was the massive part of my story because as soon as I found drugs, I mean, I found heroin at 13 or 14 years old and it was, I didn't actually take any of the drugs at that point. I didn't even smoke, I don't think. It was just kind of like I was either in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time, depending on how you're looking at life and the universe. And when I found drugs, it was the solution to everything. You know, it was just like, this is it. I've had perhaps nine years of complete dis-ease of feeling lonely, isolated, separate, on my own, trying to work it all out by myself. And I've found this thing that just makes me feel at peace, you know? It's like, and there it is. Heroin. It's kind of like the ultimate answer to everything, you know?
[00:04:38] Mike: Wow. And that led to years and years, right, of trying to get off of it, back on it?
[00:04:45] Jason: 10 years of drug addiction, of jails, institutions, psychiatric wards, crime, homelessness, devastation. You know, family would disown me at that point. I lived in homeless shelters, I lived in cars, in caravans, anywhere.
You know, it's like, the things that I did, you know, to get drugs were just, I would do anything. The amount of times in prison, you know, I couldn't really go out, I mean, if I went out I had like a hat, and a hood, and a scarf, you know, and it was like no one, because otherwise I'd get arrested usually. Because I'd done something, I'd always done something so the police kind of knew me and it was like, wasn't really safe to go out in the hours of daylight, you know? So most of crime was done in the hours of darkness, you know, and stuff like that.
And I still had the food addiction as well. I remember that I used to go out, drugs came first because of the physical side of things. So I would go out, I would commit crime, I would sell whatever I'd stolen, get some money, get drugs, and then I would go out shoplifting chocolate, you know, and I would go home with these drugs and these piles and piles of chocolate that I'd shoplift. And I would, I would take heroin and then I would sit eating all this chocolate. Nothing was ever enough to fill the emptiness inside of me.
[00:05:51] Mike: Hmm. That's a unbelievable line there. How did you end up then finally getting off of it?
[00:06:00] Jason: I went to rehab when I was 23. I went in a 12-step rehab, and it was only because it was close by and I had this little illusion that I was gonna lie in the bed while someone was gonna drop pills into my mouth, you know? And it was like I was gonna have a PlayStation and all this, and I was just gonna lay there because my addiction was just physical, that's all I thought, you know? It was just the physical side of things, and I'll lie there and someone will pop pills into my mouth, you know, and I'll play on a PlayStation for a couple of weeks and then I'll get out on it. It'll all be fine, it's like, and then I'll live happily ever after. So that's the reason I agreed to go, because my brother came actually, and my mom ended up contributing some money towards it because the state wouldn't pay for it and stuff.
So I ended up in a 12-step rehab, and as you probably know, it's very different to that, it was quite gruesome, like seven in the morning doing groups and chores until 11 at night. No phones, no TVs, no books, no magazines, no anything. You know, it's kind of like no connection with the outside world. But yeah, I mean like the 12-step approach belief, you know, was kind of better than the one that I had. Like the attempts that I was making of making my own life work.
The, you can't drink or use ever again, kind of like. I was just like, okay. You know, because I was desperate at that point. I mean, I'd been in jail so many times and I really just wanted something different. And I was tired. I was very tired of the life that I was living, you know? Because when you're on the run and on the streets and in shelters and stuff, it's like, it's a tiring life to live. So yeah, I adopted that new belief. I just took it, I didn't even question it. I was naive, I guess, to understanding belief systems, you know, it's like I just took it on.
Yeah, okay, then I'm an addict. I'll never drink or use, I'll go to these meetings that you said I've gotta go to. And for the next 22 years, you know, I went to meetings, you know, it's like stayed clean. And what happened was, it's like I would go to meetings, and there would always be this, what do I call it? This kind of, something felt off to me. Because as I got to know people really, and you knew what they were doing in their life, then what they were saying in meetings was different, it didn't match.
You know, and it's like there's a beauty in the 12 steps. I mean, we certainly kind of invested a lot, did a lot. We had some great adventures, and a lot of people's lives were saved, including mine. But like my internal dis-ease got worse while I sat in meetings saying life was great, you know? And it's like my relationship with food got scoffed at, you know, it's kind of like, oh yeah, it's only a cake, it's not crack cocaine, it doesn't matter. You know?
But I was driving to the shop every night and spending 20 pounds on chocolate and then throwing it out the car window, then going back and buying it again and eating it, and then sat at home feeling like killing myself because I couldn't stop, couldn't understand why I couldn't stop.
And my in and out of toxic relationships, on and off obsession with the gym and all this stuff. So really, it makes sense that drugs were only ever the solution anyway to my internal dis-ease. So, as I took them away, and I hadn't really fully embraced any deeper understanding of myself, that all I was doing was trying to fix my internal void with all these other things. But it seemed like that's what everyone else was doing too.
So, that's how I ended up getting into psychotherapy and becoming a psychotherapist. People used to say, oh, you've got other issues, other issues than 12-steps. You know, it's like as if the mental health and drug addiction is two completely separate things. You know, it's like, don't look any different to me today.
But back then I kind of thought, okay. So I went and got a therapist and I had a few sessions of this therapy and I thought, oh, this is quite good. You know, I thought maybe this is what I need to do. And then once I can learn this to help others, then I'll be able to help myself. You know, so I spent many years training in all different types of, modalities of therapy, you know, person-centered, psychodynamic, CBT, NLP, I did them all, you know, and at the end of it I was still miserable. I used to describe it as like we could both sit in the dark together, but none of us knew where the light switch were. You know, that was like my therapy practice.
You know, I could sit in the darkest moments of trauma with someone in their pain. I could really connect and be present with somebody, but I'd never experienced joy and happiness myself. You know, so how could I ever point anyone else to that? Because that was all anyone wanted. They wanted to feel some joy and peace of mind, you know? But I was still troubled.
[00:10:17] Mike: Well, okay, so you talk a lot on your podcast and in your work about the mind. So how did you finally bring it all together?
[00:10:26] Jason: I'd done many other things. I never stopped. I always had this feeling of seeking and I went through all of Tony Robbins' stuff, all the programs, traveled all over the world. I did Landmark for him, the Hoffman process. I did everything I could find, any new therapy that came out. I wanted to try it. Rapid, transformational, EMDR, tapping all these things. I tried them all. And it was like nothing gave me that peace of mind.
And I was online after Tony Robinson, I spotted this video called "The Path of Effortless Change." And I just felt like God, nothing in my life has been effortless. I just was in love with the word effortless because my life had been anything but that, using and recovery had been anything but that.
And I didn't plan to watch this video. I planned to download it and share it in a group I was in. But the only way I could record it was to screen-record it and have the sound on because I couldn't find a way to rip it off this video. And this is like a serendipitous moment that like, I found myself mesmerized, even though I didn't plan to watch it by whatever the guy was saying.
And it has resonated deeply inside of me. You know, it was like, this guy is saying something that I really need to understand. And I didn't think too much of it at that time, you know, but a year later I was going to LA to a coaching training thing, and I remembered this guy that he lived in LA, that in the video, and I looked on his website and I can still remember the day, April the 17th. I was in LA and I was leaving on April the 15th and he had a course starting for two days in April, the 17th. And I looked and it was so expensive I couldn't afford it. And I spoke to my friend and she gave me the money to go. And I changed my flight and I ended up at his house. This guy's house in LA and I did a two-day, what he called an intensive that was very un-intense. You know, it was very relaxed and I had like a, you could call it a realization or an awakening or a momentary seeing of the truth of my own mind. Of how I'd created this story every single day, you know, of victim, survivor, trauma, addict, I'd taken on new beliefs.
It's kind of like I saw that life was driven through the filter of our beliefs. And I saw that Jason was a figment of my own imagination that I'd made up in my own mind every single day and suffered as a result of. Like I'd medicated myself to escape from the story that I was creating, not from the circumstances that happened, but more from the story that I held about myself in my own mind.
It was like a huge crack appeared in my reality. It's kinda like I started to question everything in those two days, you know? I started to really sort of see that I wasn't damaged, I wasn't broken, I wasn't a trauma victim or a trauma survivor. Trauma was something that happened, but it wasn't part of my identity. And I kind of saw how I'd adopted all these new labels, addict, all the diagnoses that I'd had over the years. All the years of attempts to fix myself in some way perpetuated the identity that I'd created about who I was that I carried in my own mind.
It wasn't given, that was where it existed. Everything existed inside of me, not outside of me. So it all fell apart, you know, it just kind of just saw through it all in a moment. And it was like, oh, I'm not that, you know, that's not who I am. You know, it's kind of like, I'm okay. In fact, I've always been okay, but I'm having this experience that's not okay.
So I kind of saw separately that it was a part of me that wasn't my experience. It's my experience was happening, but it wasn't who I was. You know, I guess from a more spiritual point of view, I kind of saw that, life was happening on the inside, not on the outside, you know, inside-out versus outside-in.
I was creating everything. Or I could say the mind was a projector and not a camera. You know, I wasn't seeing the outside world and trying to make it right to feel okay. I was kind of projecting it from, from my mind onto the world, the victim's story, and it all fell apart. You know, the whole thing fell apart and the whole story, the whole suffering, 40 years of eating disorders disappeared.
I didn't ever need psychiatric care again after that. I didn't go back to 12-steps. After that, I call my therapist of seven years, or email my therapist of seven years, say I don't need therapy anymore, you know, I'm free. And I knew it as well. It was like a deep resonance, like a knowing that the seeking of all those years, you know, I'd finally sort of come home in a way. It was like a real blissful experience. And that stayed with me for quite a while, you know a couple of years at least, of just being completely free.
[00:14:57] Mike: What happens then? Did your therapist say, why don't you come in, we'll talk about this?
[00:15:01] Jason: She was like, oh, that seems a bit soon. That seems a bit quick to end, we need an ending. And I went back and I explained this kind of spiritual awakening, this realization that I'd had. It's like where nothing had really changed, but everything looked different. You know, the whole world looked different because the eyes that I was looking through had changed. And she just looked at me, and that was it. That was the end, you know? I never went back, man.
[00:15:24] Mike: So now you're there and you're no longer a label, that's what you're saying, right? You're no longer labeled, so then what? Is that what led you to forming your own - no wonder you call yourself a transformative coach, because that would be a transformative experience.
[00:15:38] Jason: Yeah. Someone asks me, what do I do? Sometimes they say, well, we just have conversations and things start to look different.
You know, it's kind of like transformation, the realization that, you know, nothing on the outside has to change for the inside to change. You know, we just get a different perspective by seeing how we're creating everything in our own mind.
That's what led me to my own program. I thought, the difference for me is what I call mine is a model of health, and every other approach is a model of illness.
Here's what's wrong with you and here's how we fix it, you know? And in a way, the system, what I realized in my own life was that the system had perpetuated the idea of brokenness by giving me a new label every time. And it's like, I'd adopted those labels as part of my identity and carried them around with me every single day as the reason, you know?
But you think about this, right, that you exhibit a certain set of behaviors, and you go to a psychiatrist and you don't know any better, you don't understand that the DSM is a creation of opinions, right? And it's kind of like, and these guys sit around and they say, oh, if somebody's been doing this for six months or three months, and if they qualify for six out of the nine list, for this personality disorder, for example, then we give them the diagnosis. I don't know that, cause I'm just an innocent human going to who I think is gonna give me help.
So I go there and I explain, I've been doing this and I've been doing this, and they ask me, how long have you been doing it for? I've been doing it for a while. Oh, I know what it, you've got this, you've ticked six of the nine boxes for this particular diagnosis. But then I go away saying, the reason I do this is because of...diagnosis.
The diagnosis was only ever an explanation. It was never a reason. It was never a cause. But the misunderstanding is like that people have innocently gone into that system explaining their behaviors, and they've been given a diagnosis, which they then think is the cause. It's never been the cause, it's only ever been an explanation of the symptoms. You know? So then we adopt that as part of my label. I go around saying to people, well, I do this because I'm depressed. I do this because I've got depression, I've got general anxiety disorder, I've got bipolar disorder. I've got these things, which were never, there's no medical evidence to any of these things. You know, they're really just someone else's educated opinion, you know?
[00:17:57] Mike: And, and so what is your own program then?
[00:18:01] Jason: It's helping people see what's right with them versus what's wrong with them. You know, it's kind of like it's helping people see their innate health.
Like if you take addiction as a fundamental, like the fundamental understanding of addiction, it's like the behavioral part of it is where most programs kind of work. You know, the behavioral part, changing the behavior, do learning to do something different. When you get urges and symptoms, call somebody up, do this, do that.
What I'm saying is like, the behavioral part of it is really just a innocent attempt to quieten the mind. It's like I'm having an urge, I'm having a mental obsession with a physical compulsion, so I'm having an experience of the body that's uncomfortable. Right? And it looks like by reaching for this substance or doing this behavior, what's gonna happen is my mind and body is gonna go quiet, right? That's really broken down to a very granular level. So all that by the action that I'm reaching for the thing that I'm doing or the substance that I'm taking, is really just an innocent attempt to quiet and the mind [00:19:00] and body. So it's like if the mind and body is not having that experience, I don't need to do anything.
So when someone comes to me, I don't talk about the thing that they're doing, their behavior, their coping mechanism or anything like that. I help them have a different understanding of themselves. And what happens is when their mind quiets down and settles down, they start to see how this function of this thing's working. They start to see who they really are. They start to see the dis-ease that they create in their own thought system and through the filter of their own beliefs that they've been conditioned with. That the coping mechanism is no longer needed.
Because if I wake up joyful and happy, I don't halfway through the day go, I think I'm gonna smoke crack cocaine today, or something like that. It's just never like that. It's always, I have to wake up full of dis-ease and misery and my life has to look gloomy and dark and everything. And it's like, and then I want to medicate that experience, you know, or I'm triggered into some trauma response. I have a contraction of the body, something I don't like, I feel upset, you know? And then I want to go and medicate that. But if I'm having a more balanced, more calmer experience in my life, more joyful, you know, it's like, just doesn't look like a good idea to try and escape that. I don't need to escape that, you know?
[00:20:10] Mike: Well, when people get into it or seek help. And you did for a long time, right?
[00:20:14] Jason: Yeah.
[00:20:14] Mike: What do you find that when you're talking with somebody, what do they find the most surprising thing? Like what do you hear they're most surprised at?
[00:20:22] Jason: I'm usually the first person that ever told them that they're okay. It makes sense. That's the biggest thing that I have. You are the first person that's ever said, that makes perfect sense. Because if I'm creating a shitty internal world, a life, because my life is inside my head, right? It's not outside my head - it's not, well, I say my head, it's not localized in the head, but I say inside of me, that's where my life exists - where I think about it, where I feel about it happens inside of me, not outside of me, but I think and feel about outside circumstances.
So if I'm creating an internal dis-ease about my life, right? And we live in a what I call a self-correcting body/mind system, right? It's kind of like you can validate that it's self-correcting. You cut your finger, it heals itself. If you break your leg, it heals itself. If you put food in your mouth and swallow it, the full digestion process happens without any input from you.
You know, it's kind of like it goes in one end, comes out the other, you know, it's all working perfectly. Everything is working by itself. So if I'm creating an internal shitty world, it's kind of like finding something to soothe my dis-ease makes perfect sense. That's how the system works. It's kinda like if I didn't find a way of soothing my internal dis-ease, then I'm guessing the next possible outcome is psychosis or suicide.
So it makes sense to find a way to soothe my internal dis-ease. Now where I'm pointing people to, is not creating that internal disease. You know, it's like seeing the participation in the story and the creation, nothing to do with external circumstances, you know, it's like cuz external circumstances just start to look naturally different when we look at them through different eyes.
[00:22:03] Mike: You think, Jason, there's something about our society like that? I work with a lot of young people and if I ask them, tell me the good things about yourself, they stare at me. And if I say, tell me your flaws, man, they can tick 'em off in - and that's young people! By the time we get to adults, a lot of that is internalized.
[00:22:22] Jason: Yeah. In all the years of doing Fourth Steps with people, I wrote about this in my book even, you know, it's kind of like the, finding someone that struggles with addiction, asking them to say something nice about themselves is the most difficult thing.
It's kinda like they've internalized experiences of childhood, you know, like parental sort of disconnection, traumatic experiences, adversity depending on. I've worked with so many people now that have been raped, abused, part of violence, lost parents, tragedy, had experiences like mine, non-present parents, parents with addictions, mental health struggles, and things like that. It's almost everyone, you know, it's very rare. Someone tells me that comes to me that said I had a great childhood, I'm kinda like, okay, I'll say, yeah, okay to that at first, it's kinda like that, but when we start digging into it, perhaps they've even shut it down. They've closed it down. They've tucked it away in a box somewhere. You know, it's kind of like some of the things that happened just to make more comfort in their adult life. But I think as we look at that, there's always something that they've embodied, you know, in their younger life that shows up in their adult life. It's always that, you know, that's all just is, is that, you know?
[00:23:28] Mike: Well, is can I ask, is your mom still with us?
[00:23:32] Jason: Yeah, she is.
[00:23:33] Mike: What does she say about all this? She must be proud?
[00:23:38] Jason: No, you know, it's like, I think that she just, she doesn't talk to me too much about it. You know, it's kind of like she's just living her own life out, you know, and kind of doing her own thing. I think she just found a way to cope with the struggle, you know, and at the time, and did the best that she could. And she doesn't talk too much about my addiction anymore or anything like that. You know, we spend time together and we speak, and sometimes little subjects like this come up, and she questions things and like that from time to time. But she's not deeply sort of in the conversation with me, you know?
[00:24:09] Mike: Mm-hmm. So how do then friends, family, society, all have expectations on us, right? There's all these expectations from people around us. So how do we become what we are or want to become? It's a journey.
[00:24:28] Jason: Yeah. And, that's another fundamental difference in my program. You know, it's like, because I call it an undoing rather than a doing, you know? Because everything we are, we already are, you know, we've always have been, it's kind of like, our default, what I say is our default state is peace, joy, and happiness. You know, and we can only take ourselves away from that through the filter of our beliefs. So we only find out what's true by finding out what's not true. It's like, so we start to look at the beliefs that we've created that look solid, and the deficiency stories that we've created.
We all hold a deficiency story. I'm not very good at this, I'm not creative, I'm not artistic, or I'm the peacemaker, or I don't like anger, or something like that. And it's just some sort of repressed emotion from childhood. So it's like, When we start to unpick, all these things, it's layers of us are taken away, and what we are left with is our true self, who we are. The default state for our true nature is peace, love, and happiness. I mean, sometimes for some people there are traumas and there are residue, you know, like in the central, in the autonomic nervous system, bodily responses to stimulus, they get triggered into stuff and they keep reliving experiences. But certainly people can have a much better experience of being alive and look at that from a different perspective when they realize who they are and by who they are, I mean, like we take away, okay, you're not your age, you're not your name, you're not your job title, you're not your parental status, you're not your feelings, you're not any label that anyone's ever given you. It's kind of like, then what? You know, it's like start taking these away. No, not that. No, not that. No, not that, not that either. Then what? You know, and people get to this point where they go you know, there's nothing left, and then, then we start to ask that question, well, who am I? Because we can't be permanently any of these labels.
The labels, they're a good description for where we are at a time, but they're not who we are. You know, they're a description of our level of psychological functioning in the moment. But they're not permanently part of our identity, you know?
[00:26:32] Mike: Well, that's a jumping off place for a second podcast, isn't it? And probably a number of ones that you do. I love this. I love the conversation, Jason. This has been outstanding. I really appreciate it.
[00:26:43] Jason: Thank you.
[00:26:44] Mike: And, for those of you listening, you know how this goes, right? Jason's links to both his website, coaching work, as well as the link to his podcast are linked at the bottom of this podcast.
Love to talk to you again.
[00:26:57] Jason: Absolutely.
[00:26:57] Mike: Jason, thank you so much for joining us today. And for those of you who are listening, please listen in next time. Until then, stay safe and remember your default state is peace, love, and happiness.
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.