“Addiction is a brain disorder, not a character defect.” with Paula Norris Mestayer and Chaya Weiner

That addiction is a brain disorder, not a character defect. When the brain is treated, it can heal. For people struggling with addiction that means that “You are not your disease. You have a disease.” I would also like them to feel empowered to take the next step — of redefining themselves: “You are not a victim […]

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That addiction is a brain disorder, not a character defect. When the brain is treated, it can heal. For people struggling with addiction that means that “You are not your disease. You have a disease.” I would also like them to feel empowered to take the next step — of redefining themselves: “You are not a victim but a warrior, who faces his or her disease with compassion and perseverance. This can mean traveling through one or more dark nights of the soul, so feed your faith. There is light at the end of even the darkest night.”

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paula Norris Mestayer. Paula is the pioneering psychotherapist who developed the American protocols for intravenous infusions of NAD+ to treat addiction, depression, PTSD, and other neurodegenerative brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and CTE, the “concussion disease.” The founder of Springfield Wellness Center, she is also the author of Addiction: Dark Night of the Soul/NAD+: the Light of Hope(Balboa Press, 2019) which shares her clinical evidence that addiction is a brain disease — and that when the brain is treated it can heal. She and her colleague, Dr. Richard Mestayer, III, have successfully treated some 1,500 patients and also trained scores of other physicians in the protocols for utilizing NAD+ to effectively treat addiction — with minimal cravings or withdrawal symptoms and without substituting another narcotic.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

When I was in my early 20s, I entered my first “dark night of the soul,” triggered by my husband leaving me for another woman — my best friend at the time — and the death of my father a few months later. The loss of both of my “heroes” sent me into an emotional tailspin of grief and anguish.I began to come out of this dark night by returning to school for a second graduate degree, this time in psychotherapy. I had neatly identified this as the perfect way to find the answers I was searching for, without having to expose my vulnerabilities to a therapist. I’d study the psyche in general, rather than having to reveal my own, or so I thought.

My journey to bring intravenous NAD+ treatment to the United States was sparked by my teenage daughter’s foray into drug use. I accompanied her to an NAD treatment facility in Mexico, which was so effective at treating my own daughter, I began sending my own patients with addiction issues to the clinic for detox. The doctor who ran the clinic in Mexico began referring his American patients to me for follow-up therapy. Eventually I gained the doctor’s trust for him to train me and my partner, Dr. Richard Mestayer III, to begin offering his therapy here in the States. That was in 1998. Since then, we have treated more than 1,500 patients with intravenous infusions of NAD+, refined our protocols, and expanded our offerings to treat people with depression, post-traumatic stress, and neurodegenerative brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and CTE, the concussion disease.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had as a therapist was with a man I called “GI Joe.” He came to me for depression following surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. The surgery had also decimated his math skills, which were essential to his career as a geophysicist.

In the course of our time together, I learned that Joe had lived in a Carmelite monastery from the ages of 14 to 21, when he fell in love with a nun and left the community. He was then drafted and sent to Vietnam.

Because he spoke four languages, he was assigned to military intelligence and dropped behind enemy lines in Cambodia so that he and his team could relay information about enemy positions. I asked him whether he’d had any treatment for trauma or depression upon his return to the States and he said no; the VA had prescribed Valium, but that he’d locked “those memories in a black box and thrown away the key.”

I told him that I was a therapist who was not afraid of strong emotions, and that if he ever wanted to open the black box, I would be there to help him handle the memories that emerged.

I didn’t hear from “Joe” for several years, but then one day I got a call. He was not doing well and said that “the black box” was open. When he came to see me the next day, he was white as a sheet and couldn’t stop pacing. He insisted that he was crazy and, as proof, asked whether I could see the blood that was dripping from his hands, running down his arms and off his elbows. “I’ve been trying to wash it off for two weeks,” he said, “but it just keeps coming.”

I asked him when was the very first time he’d seen the blood, and he started crying and said, “It was my first kill.” He’d crept up behind a man in Cambodia and cut his throat with a wire. Now he was having nightmares every night and sleeping in a separate bedroom because he was afraid of hurting his wife. This was before I began working with NAD, and Joe was so beside himself that I seriously considered sending him to the ER.

At any rate, we started meeting twice a week. He’d tell me his dreams and I’d explain that, though they were terrifying, our dreams are the symbolic way our subconscious communicates with us, to get us to address issues that we’ve buried. I asked him to re-integrate every spiritual practice he’d used in the monastery: prayer, meditation, chanting, journaling, everything.

After several months of work, we finally got to the place where he was willing to engage in guided imagery. We sat across from each other and he entered a hypnotic state. I asked him where in the world he felt the safest, and he said, “Here. In this office.” So I told him that, in a few minutes, in this safe and sacred place, the door to the office would open and First Kill would come in. First Kill would not be able to hurt anyone; moreover, he wouldn’t even be able to speak unless Joe spoke to him directly first, from his heart. I asked him to tell me when First Kill arrived.

He said, “He’s coming in now.” Joe described him — a boy of about 19 — what he was wearing, and where Joe wanted him to sit — next to me. Then Joe started pouring out his heart to First Kill, telling him how very sorry he was and how much he regretted taking his life. Tears were flowing down both our faces.

When he finished, I asked Joe to get very, very still. As still as in the monastery when he would, “Be still and KNOW that I am God.” Joe did become incredibly still…and then, a small smile began to play across his face. I asked him what was going on, and he said,

“First Kill just asked me, ‘What took you so long to say what was in your heart? I’ve been waiting!’”

That was the last time Joe had a nightmare. I saw him about six more times and there were a couple more chapters to the story — but that is the heart of it. He made peace with his past and the people he’d killed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While I was in graduate school I made a dinner date for the night of a final exam. I was so fixated on this date, however, that I completely forgot about the exam. When I realized that I was “double-booked,” I rushed to the exam room in my evening wear, carrying a small, dressy handbag, but no pen or blue book. A friend let me borrow a pen and paper, and after taking the exam, I went on to the restaurant for dinner. The lessons I learned were not to get overly excited about a new beau; be sure to check my calendar each day; and to prioritize the important commitments for each day.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

There are so many exciting developments in the field of NAD+ research right now and our research partners are pursuing several of them. We are thrilled that the science is rapidly explaining the mechanisms for the results we have found in our clinical work. I’m also excited about an aftercare program for veterans we are developing using equine-assisted therapy and BR+NAD treatment. We’re calling it Heroes with Horses and will have more details about it shortly on our website.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I believe that faith has been a big factor. I’ve always listened to my “still, small voice,” and this voice has whispered for years that people were waiting for me to share the wonderful stories of my work as a psychotherapist. But because caring for my patients has always been my first commitment, it’s been difficult to carve out time for the writing. Plus, I’ve got pretty severe ADD — Attention Deficit Disorder — so sitting down to write at a computer for hours at a time is excruciating. That’s why perseverance has also been important. It took me far longer than I thought to get my book written and published, but I just kept chipping away at it. Finally, I *do* let myself play. Without it, even the most meaningful work can become drudgery. I make regular dates with my “four-legged therapist,” and take long rides in the woods to clear my head and renew my creative spark.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In the chapter called, “Southern Dumb Belle,” I share the story of being accepted into a graduate program at Tulane University, which included summer courses at Connecticut College in New England. I describe arriving in a strange town, alone, about to face a summer of learning in an Ivy League environment. Suddenly, all of my fear of being discovered as a fraud and an imposter came crashing down on me. I had always felt insecure academically, but I hid it very well — or so I thought. Even though the “smart kids” always wanted to play or hang out with me and my teachers gave me good grades, I thought I had merely fooled them all into thinking I was smart.

So there I was, standing at the front desk of the dorm, receiving my key and room number, while thoughts of running home and getting my money back swirled in my head. I walked timidly down the long hall, scanning each door for my number, and taking deep breaths as I inserted the key into the door that was mine. I opened the door, walked in, dropped my luggage, and leaned back against the door as it closed. I was terrified. How was I going to be able to get through this semester? I started crying. I was on my own; utterly alone.

I told myself to straighten up, get a grip, and then I prayed something like, “Please, God, oh please, please let me know I am doing the right thing. Please, I know it is silly, but give me a sign that I am where I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to do.” I paused for a moment, not really expecting a response, and then deciding that I would open the beautiful draperies covering the large window and check out the view. I crossed the room, drew back the drapes, and saw a magnificent blue spruce perfectly framed by the window. My thought was a question: Is this my sign? It didn’t feel like a sign, so I shrugged it off and, just as I began to walk away, looked down and saw a single word carved into the window frame. “PAULA,” my name, in all capital letters.

Yes, I was meant to be here.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

That addiction is a brain disorder, not a character defect. When the brain is treated, it can heal. For people struggling with addiction that means that “You are not your disease. You have a disease.” I would also like them to feel empowered to take the next step — of redefining themselves: “You are not a victim but a warrior, who faces his or her disease with compassion and perseverance. This can mean traveling through one or more dark nights of the soul, so feed your faith. There is light at the end of even the darkest night.”

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Self-doubt! As I shared in my “Southern Dumb Belle” story, I’ve always doubted my own abilities. With the book, however, I felt that I had a purpose and a responsibility to inform and encourage others. That motivated me to persevere despite my personal misgivings — because my purpose was larger than me.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I love nonfiction — real-life stories of personal triumph over serious challenges. Stories about the tiny human voice that helps people to never give up, to persevere. Ben Carson’s Healing Hands is one. Seabiscuit: An American Legend and Secretariat are two more. Unbroken is another one.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

I write to offer people hope; real, tangible hope for brain restoration, which is what an addict needs. People struggling with addiction are some of the most despairing people in the world. Many of them have lost everything — their families, their finances, and most debilitating of all, their self-respect. Most of them don’t believe there is any true hope of recovering their lives; when they first come to our clinic, they think I’m just someone trying to make a sale. After all, they’ve tried to beat their addictions before and failed — repeatedly.

That’s why our work is so heartbreaking — and why it is so miraculous. In 10 short days, people get their lives back! They can’t believe it themselves! By the fifth or sixth day of treatment, our clinic is full of rosy-cheeked, sparkly-eyed people who are hooked up to IVs together, talking and laughing. Do you know how remarkable it is for people going through drug-detox to be laughing?

But most people don’t know about our treatment. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t going to tell them; they can’t make money off it. They’re perfectly content to keep opioid addicts on replacement narcotics — for life. That’s why I write: to spread the word. There is a way out of the addiction nightmare. It’s natural; it’s something a healthy body makes anyway; and it works for other brain disorders, too, like depression, post-traumatic stress, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even CTE. Now that’s hope.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Write about what you know, what you have experienced and feel passionate about — particularly stories of personal triumph in the face of adversity. Every good story needs conflict — and people take courage from others who have overcome challenges that perhaps even exceed their own.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Changing the names of characters is not enough to satisfy publishers’ liability concerns; signed releases are necessary.
  2. Completing a manuscript usually takes longer than you think. I gave myself a year to complete my book; it took two.
  3. Inspiration has its own timing; be patient. If you force it, it’s not inspiration.
  4. Meeting publishers’ requirements can be surprising. I often felt as if I was on a conveyor belt, being carried from one person to another without an advance understanding of the overall process. As a result, I was often caught 0ff-guard.
  5. Working IN instead of ON your business, while trying to write makes it more difficult. In my own case, I couldn’t defer the needs of patients or staff just because I’d set aside a certain block of time to write. I had to put their needs before my deadline and get back to the book when I could.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Brain health first! Know what you need to have and keep a healthy brain. This includes counteracting the effects of stress through exercise, play, meditation or other spiritual practice, time with loved ones and in nature, a healthy diet, and plenty of sleep. Without a healthy brain, even the simplest decisions become difficult. Mental health is paramount for living, loving, family and faith.

How can our readers follow you on social media?;;

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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