‘Addiction is a complex psychological physiological process which manifests in any behaviour that a person enjoys and finds relief in and therefor craves in the short term but suffers negative consequences in the long term and does not give up despite the negative conseuences. So craving pleasure in the short term and has negative consequences in the long term and an inability to give it up.’
As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Patti Clark.
Author Patti Clark has been described as a cross between Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron. Patti is an award winning, international best-selling author, accomplished speaker and workshop leader dedicated to helping people through various life transitions on their journey to an extraordinary life. For more than 30 years, and over several continents, Patti has been sharing her knowledge and wisdom with others. As author of This Way Up: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life, Patti has been featured on TVNZ’s Breakfast Show, and her work has been featured in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Mindful Word, and Thrive Global.
This Way Up is the Winner of International Excellence Self-Help Book of the Year.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
I was raised in a chaotic home in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’60s and ’70s. My mother was an alcoholic who died of alcoholism when I was 16. It was a horrifying thing to watch as a child, that collapse of the person most important in your life. My dad left us when I was 12, his last words to my mother, in front of my sister and I, as he was leaving on the day before Christmas Eve, was ‘Think about Jim Beam while I’m gone.’ It felt shameful and bad. My mother made us promise that we would tell no one that he left, so we lied to everyone about why our father was never home. My dad was a workaholic and ‘functioning’ alcoholic… for whatever that is worth. My childhood felt shameful and painful. Being in San Francisco during this period, drugs were readily available, and since I was in a lot of pain growing up, drugs and alcohol were my solution to help numb the pain. By the time I was in the eighth grade, about 13 years old, I was drinking almost every weekend and doing a lot of speed. By the time I was in high school, I was taking acid, doing a lot of mushrooms, just taking whatever was around at the time, and there was always a lot of stuff around at that time.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
As mentioned above, I was growing up near San Francisco in the sixties and seventies, drugs were everywhere. And both my mother and father drank heavily, so there was always copuous amounts of alcohol in the house. And my friend group all drank and used in high school, so there was never a shortage. And to answer the question about what drew me to using — to numb me out, to kill the pain, to fill the hole.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
Again, see above. Gabor Maté beautifully articulates how trauma leads to addiction. My childhood was traumatic in so many ways, addiction was predictable.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
My lowest point would have been when I was in my early twenties, living in Alaska and working as a bartender, I was a kid in a candy shop. And there was so much cocaine there, and so much money being made then, with the oil pipeline and the fishing. And so many men, wanting to share their drugs with the fewer women in town. It was a recipe for disaster. I was working at a school during the day (often doing coke to rev up) and then bartending at night, drinking til the wee hours) and I remember waking up one morning after a multi-day binge of coke and alcohol, and thinking if I continue this, I will die. I knew it in my bones. I was on such a scary loop, it was terrifying.
Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?
The story of me stopping was two-fold. The first part was leaving Alaska. At that point I talked about above, I got a letter from my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) who was in Australia and wanted to meet up in Bali to travel.
The same week I got the letter from him inviting me to go travel (there was no internet there, our communication was by mail), I was also looking at buying a condo and getting offered a full-time job teaching. I knew at that moment that I was at a very significant crossroads. I could buy a place, get a job teaching and stay, or pack it all up and leave. I knew if I stayed in Alaska and in that lifestyle that I had created there, I would die for sure. So I packed up and left.
But I didn’t stop drinking, I just drank a lot less and I quit using drugs. It was several years later, in Oregon where we were living at the time, that I went to see an astrologist to get my chart done… and she looked over my chart and kept pointing out tribes and squares and whatever… and asking me all these leading questions, and finally she looked me in the eye and asked directly: “Patti are you an alcoholic?” I burst into tears and left. And I went to my first AA meeting a few days later.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
Twelve Step programs are really great in helping with the deep shame that comes with addiction. Steps eight and nine address that process:
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
What I learned in recovery is that shame lives in dark unexposed places. When we shed light and own all of our behaviors and make amends fully for all of the old behavior, shame dwindles and fades. Mind you, it took a lot of therapy as well. I needed more than the twelve steps to heal the wreckage of my past.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
I got sober in 1988 the first time, and I was working full time; I was also busy in recovery — met some amazing women in meetings that I started spending time with, and was turned on to so many great books about trauma and addiction and recovery, and I started some intense therapy, so my time was very full. Then in 1992, my husband and I moved to New Zealand and started a family, so I did not have any ‘new found’ time.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
So many! I guess the main ones would be meditation and journalling. A book that was instrumental in my growth early on in recovery was: The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, who also happens to be in recovery. Cameron quit drinking in 1978 and has been a massive inspiration to so many people in recovery. I was introduced through this book to ‘Morning Pages’ which are incredibly important to my personal growth. Another book and practice that have led to a positive habit is the book, published in 1978 by Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization; it is easy to read and so compelling. Gawain’s simple yet powerful techniques were so easy to use and worked almost miraculously the first time I used it, and made me an avid follower ever since.
So journaling and meditating for sure, but also owning my own shit and cleaning it up… Keeping my own side of the road clean as they say in 12 step groups.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
My husband and I moved to New Zealand, where we live now, in 1992 and we raised our children here. I started running workshops about self-esteem and well-being for teens in the mid 90’s, and eventually began a charitable trust here called Teen-Esteem Workshops. Eventually some women in the area wanted to experience a similar workshop to these, so my friend and I started running workshops for women around creativity and empowerment. And eventually, I started writing my first book, This Way Up: Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your life, which was published by She Writes Press in 2016.
I love this story about getting my book written. In 2006, when my son, Lukas, was 12, we used to go from our small town in Thames up to Auckland for him to go to the Orthodontist. We went once a month and it was a day out for us; he’d miss school, we’d go to the orthodontist, then go out to lunch and then go to the big Borders Book Store and hang out and a peruse books. We’d each take a couple into the café to look at while I had a coffee and he had a hot chocolate. I’d usually be looking at self-help books, taking notes to add pieces to my workshops. At one point, I read something out loud to Lukas, and he looked up, put his hand over the book and said: “Mum you’ve been saying this stuff to me since I was little; when are you going to quit using other people’s stuff and write your own book?”
I stopped, frozen and realized that I had to do it, I had to write a book. I had been telling my sons that they could do anything, that they needed to believe in themselves … and if I didn’t follow this advise and do it myself, then I was afraid my sons would see me as a fraud and not believe my own words. So I started writing my book that very day when I got home. It took ten years! But I finished it, and it got published, and I am incredibly grateful to my son for reflecting my mirror back at me.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
Hmmmm interesting question. Let’s see … Enthusiasm comes to mind. I drank and used with incredible enthusiasm… and now with writing and running workshops, people often tell me that my positivity and enthusiasm are contagious. (… the drinking and using with enthusiasm did not lead to the same positive comments…) Another trait would be my resilience… as I said in the story above, I drank and used and still was able to keep working and some how be a somewhat contributing member of society. And now that resilience and tenacity, keeps me writing and running workshops. And somehow through it all, even in my darkest using days, I was an optimist. I know that seems like a contradiction, but I remained optimistic and kept thinking things would get better. I know for a fact that that optimism, that faith that there was a better way, got me out and got me sober. And I still rely on it every day.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
Shame. Pure and simple. There is such shame attached to addiction.
I think everyone should read or listen to Gabor Maté speak on addiction. Trauma leads to addiction. Addicts don’t need to be punished and shamed, we need help, support and connection. I love Johann Hari’s quote:
“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.”
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
Talk to someone, anyone. Addiction is so entrenched with shame, and shame lives in dark unexposed places. Once we share and bring light to our secrets, the shame is lifted and there is room for healing and recovery.
According to Gabor Maté, everyone is an addict, just find out what they do when they are uncomfortable in their skin, what do they turn to? Maté define’s addiction as:
‘Addiction is a complex psychological physiological process which manifests in any behavior that a person enjoys and finds relief in and therefor craves in the short term but suffers negative consequences in the long term and does not give up despite the negative consequences. So craving pleasure in the short term and has negative consequences in the long term and an inability to give it up.’ Most people can identify one behavior that fits that description. So when we realize that most people have some addiction, some are just more ‘respectable’ than others, it lessens the stigma associated with addiction.
Be You — you have so much to contribute to this world. Let yourself shine.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!