Check your motives. What’s the reason you want career and business success? Isn’t it presupposed that it’s because you believe it will lead to happiness and a more fulfilling life? Well, if you’re in active addiction, by definition, you need something else to feel okay. So your original goal has fallen by the wayside, and getting better is a prerequisite to restoring a sense of purpose and fulfillment in your life.
As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Jaime Blaustein.
Mr. Jaime Blaustein is Co-Founder and CEO of SBMHC. Prior to this role, he was an investment banker at Credit Suisse in its Global Industrials coverage group in New York City. Here he was responsible for advising clients in the basic materials sector on strategic matters, including mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, leveraged buyouts, restructurings and various debt and equity financings. Prior to this role, he worked in institutional sales at Lord Abbett, a mutual fund manager overseeing ~150 billion dollars in assets under management. He previously worked in wealth management at Morgan Stanley and later Wells Fargo, advising a wide array of clients on investment strategies.
Jaime received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his M.B.A. from Duke University. He is an unapologetic NY Giants, Duke Blue Devils and Michigan Wolverine fan. His interests include fitness, steakhouses, international travel, meditation retreats, and quality time with friends. Jaime is a newly minted resident of Miami. He is actively involved in sponsoring dozens of men in recovery and is beyond excited to marry his business expertise with his passion for helping others make a comeback from the depths of mental illness and addiction.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
My childhood was quite ‘normal,’ with no major issues to speak of. My parents got divorced when I was 2, so I was young enough to avoid an adjustment period. I simply grew up thinking this is the way the world worked — you live with mom, and you visit dad every other weekend. I was an ambitious kid and did everything to the extreme, but was able to channel this mindset in a constructive way. I received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do at age 12, and was elected Class President every year from 8th grade through senior year. I had multiple groups of loyal friends, and was even selected Prom King. Good grades and admission to top universities, in addition to the aforementioned, helped me establish myself as a kid who had everything going for him.
Can you share with us how you were initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
From the moment I tried alcohol in 8th grade, it was clear that it simply affected me differently than it did other people. After getting that first buzz, I remember thinking to myself — “this is me.” The prospect of getting drunk or high always excited me more than it did my friends. Thereafter, I was always the one pushing the envelope — wanting to try the next drug, wanting to use at abnormal times. Addiction is progressive, so within a few years, I had moved on from marijuana to uppers (Adderall and cocaine) to downers (Xanax) and ultimately opiates.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
This question assumes power of choice. While I most definitely had some underlying anxiety and liked the effect produced by drugs, I believe my genetic predisposition towards the disease (or “condition” as I prefer to call it) of addiction is what drove my use. My father was an opiate addict and I didn’t know that most of my life. My inability to stop once I started, and to stay stopped in the instances where I hit some bottom that prompted me to stop for a short period of time, is something that’s deeply embedded within me. Once I crossed that line into active addiction, drugs compounded this internal condition by creating circumstances that made life more difficult (lost friendships, arrests, severed family relationships) thereby fueling the internal darkness that accompanies drug addiction.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
I’ve had a number of bottoms. The easiest way to answer this is by dividing it into an ‘emotional bottom,’ ‘physical bottom,’ and a ‘spiritual bottom.’ My emotional bottom was in the summer of 2009. I was out of answers and literally in a psychosis. That summer was full of psych ER visits, overdoses, and incomprehensible pain. My physical bottom came about a year before I got clean. I was shooting heroin in a bathroom stall in Penn Station, and a cop busted in and arrested me on the spot. That’s a low on paper that I never could have imagined just a few years prior. And my spiritual bottom came right before I finally waved the white flag. I had a deep sense that it was all over, and that I was going to die if I didn’t have a drastic shift in how I viewed the world. That prompted me to pick up the phone and call my 7th and final treatment center.
Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?
I don’t view it as ‘I overcame this,’ I view it as ‘this happened to me.’ I didn’t surrender; I got surrendered. I had worked up these campaigns of willpower the preceding 3 years where I attempted to will my way to sobriety, being fully convinced that ‘I got it this time,’ and would repeatedly fall flat on my face. Two days before Christmas of 2013 was different. It went from “I can do this — I can get clean” to “I can’t do this — I can’t get clean.” Ironically, or not, that’s when I actually got clean. On the heels of that revelation, I also recognized if I didn’t have a drastic shift in my worldview — a spiritual awakening — what would happen is what always happened: I’d go to treatment, leave feeling a bit better, and over time the mind would speak to me in my own voice and convince me of the lie that I can pick up again. With the help of great mentorship and a great group of young men who were on a similar path to mine, I jumped into a 12-step process that totally transformed everything about my life — first internally, then externally.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
Pain is the touchstone of personal growth. I’m free of all the wreckage today. I’m grateful for it, for if it weren’t for the dark parts of my journey, I would be a far lesser man today. By taking a deep dive into my past conduct and behavior, and subsequently making formal amends with people in my life who I harmed, I was able to free them as well — which in turn made me even freer. I now live my life in a way that attempts to mitigate the impact of the harms I’ve created by suiting up and showing up for the people in my life, by being of maximum service, and by righting the wrongs of the past.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
I remember lamenting to a friend that if I were to get sober, my life would be simply going to work, the gym, eating dinner and going to bed. And they astutely pointed out “Jaime, that’s what most normal people do.” My life early on consisted of focusing on work and my recovery. Over time, my life has expanded to be infinitely full. Once I got good with me, I was able to reconnect with old friends and establish new relationships, go on dates, go to sporting events, travel the world — all things that I missed out on in active addiction. It was made very clear to me that we don’t recover in order to white-knuckle it, to just “hold on” — we recover to be apart of life and do all of the things that non-addicts, or ‘earth people’ as I like to call them, do and then some.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
The number one thing is that I’m heavily invested in the recovery process. I’ve mentored dozens of men and it still, and will forever continue to be, my primary purpose. I take others through the same process that saved my life. Additionally, I’m consistent about meditation, prayer, working out, and maintaining a robust social life. I’m somewhat of a workaholic and, while it can be destructive if overdone, it has given me the internal motor to be successful externally.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
My early career consisted of financial sales jobs at Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo (where I ultimately got clean) and Lord Abbett. I eventually felt that I had underachieved in my career and wanted to do something in the financial industry, but more intellectually rigorous. So, about 2 years into sobriety, I applied to business school and got completely honest in my applications about my journey. I was lucky enough that Duke University recognized the value of my recovery, and so I attended The Fuqua School of Business, where I had an amazing two years of learning business, making life-long friends, and traveling the world. I entered the investment banking world out of business school, where I worked in the Global Industrials Group at Credit Suisse. I focused on M&A, equity and leveraged finance and this sharpened my skillset and understanding of both finance and strategy.
While in investment banking, I had seriously considered launching a Search Fund with a friend from business school. This would’ve checked a number of professional boxes for me, namely becoming a CEO and equity holder of a company. But, I had some reservations as well and, right around that time, I received a call from Ben Brafman. Ben had owned and operated Destination Hope, a drug rehab in South Florida that I attended when I was 21-years-old. He actually kicked me out of that rehab. Ben told me he’d sold Destination Hope and wanted to launch a new center focused on mental health. He needed a partner who had business acumen and who was simultaneously a patient advocate — and who better than me with my experiences in seven treatment centers. I recognized this opportunity checked many of the same boxes as the Search Fund, but also provided me with an expanded platform to help more people. And, it meant that I could live in sunny South Florida. So I got to work building a financial model, creating an investor presentation, and raising capital. At some point in early 2021 I realized — ‘this is a go.’ I quit my job in banking in July and I’ve been CEO of The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center ever since.
(By the way, I’m a happy customer of investment banking despite the grueling nights.)
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
On the positive side: I’m a workaholic — I love grinding, sometimes to a fault. I love helping people and I love business, so this is the perfect fit for me. I can be dynamic and nimble — a trait that helps addicts survive when they’re in the grips. I’m in touch with my emotions and like to think I have a high EQ — this is also characteristic of many addicts.
On the negative side: I can be stubborn and sometimes too narrowly focused. I’m all about the details, and sometimes that makes me overly obsessive about certain things when I’d be better served letting go. I’m sometimes too outcome-focused — wanting to help a patient or earn a specific business result, so I’m constantly reminding myself that I GET to do this work and that my primary purpose is to be of maximum service, not to achieve a result in either a patient or the business.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
The obvious answer is that there’s a stigma. People associate addiction and mental health with weakness. I know full well this isn’t the case. Those who suffer are often some of the most compassionate and able-minded people walking this earth. Our goal is to channel that in a constructive way. I am encouraged by the fact that mental health has officially entered the public dialogue, and I see that stigma diminishing over time.
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?
- When the right you shows up, the business will right its course. I firmly believe that internal wellbeing and external success are directly related
- Do the next right thing at the expense of an extra dollar. Karma is real. The next right thing often means getting help and then, later on, getting right with you and the people around you who you may have harmed.
- Check your motives. What’s the reason you want career and business success? Isn’t it presupposed that it’s because you believe it will lead to happiness and a more fulfilling life? Well, if you’re in active addiction, by definition, you need something else to feel okay. So your original goal has fallen by the wayside, and getting better is a prerequisite to restoring a sense of purpose and fulfillment in your life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center lives on Instagram at @sylviabrafmancenter and is active on LinkedIn and Facebook; my personal Instagram is @jblauu and I welcome any new connections who care about the work we’re doing.
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!