Always KNOW that there is a way out for you — you just have to find the right combination of tools that offer the appropriate response to YOUR specific set of struggles.
As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Adi Jaffe.
Adi Jaffe, Ph.D. is a best-selling author and world-renowned expert on mental health, addiction, relationships and shame. He was a UCLA lecturer in the Psychology department at UCLA for the better part of a decade and was the Executive-Director and Co-Founder of one of the most progressive addiction treatment facilities in the country — until he started IGNTD, a Smart Personalized Adaptive Recovery System. Dr. Jaffe’s work and research focus on changing the way people think about, and deal with mental health issues. He is passionate about the role of shame in destroying lives and aims to greatly reduce the stigma of mental health in this country. In this context, Dr. Jaffe has used his personal experience as an incredibly effective inspirational and motivational tool.
For more information on Adi Jaffe please click here.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
I grew up in Israel to two parents who loved me, worked hard, and did their absolute best. I was a latchkey kid since both parents weren’t home and by 6 or 7 years of age I would walk from school and let myself in (by 8 I would pick my younger sister up from her school as well). I became very self-sufficient early on. We grew up in a beautiful neighborhood and enjoyed much of what most upper-middle-class kids enjoy — travel, playing outside and going to school with my friends. Still, from as young an age as 8, I remember feeling uneasy and as if I simply was “not enough.” I’m not sure where it all came from, but I do remember parents fighting a lot and me generally trying to make peace or distract. It didn’t go well. At the age of 14, we moved from Israel to the U.S. and I lost my core group of friends. I didn’t realize what impact that would have on me, but I now felt even more isolated, alone and unworthy.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
I tried alcohol for the first time when I was a freshman in high school on a sleepaway trip. I wouldn’t call it an introduction to addiction but, instead, it was the first time I realized I could take something that would quiet that shameful voice in my head. After a bunch of kids passed around a bottle of warm vodka and I took 2–3 large gulps (I was NOT going to make myself look less cool than I felt), I began feeling this warm, comfortable feeling inside that I didn’t recognize but loved immediately. I could talk to others and not be scared that I’m saying the wrong thing, I could participate with everyone without second-guessing myself. I believed I was a part of the group. I was like everyone else. I felt better than I had for as long as I could remember.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
For me, it was clear — my anxiety and feelings of simply not being “enough.” Cool enough, smart enough, good looking enough, fun enough… fill in the adjective and I was lacking… But when intoxicated, that simply wasn’t the case.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
There were many lowest points — arrested on Halloween at 3 am with my “girlfriend” and being hauled off to jail. Being robbed at gunpoint and hogtied in my studio. Sleeping with people I shouldn’t have and lying to everyone I loved — parents, sister, friends — about what was really going on in my life. But the lowest point everyone would clearly recognize as such came when the Beverly Hills SWAT team came to arrest me on a Saturday morning in my apartment. Twelve cops dressed in all black swarming into your bedroom when your meth pipe sits by your bed and your broken leg means you have to literally be carried out of the place by officers is a pretty low point… The call to my parents (they didn’t know I was selling drugs) and the time I got kicked out of rehab two months later were also close ones…
Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?
I went to rehab because my attorney told me I needed to clean up or I’d end up in prison for more than a decade. So I tried to “clean up” but ended up relapsing in residential treatment and using there for two months before being expelled. Not really wanting to spend a decade in prison, I then became serious about showing up properly to my court case so that I’d at least have some semblance of a chance at a normal life. I stayed sober until my trial, then sober in jail for a year and once I got out had to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It was that singular focus on putting one foot in front of the other to achieve a particular goal — get my life back on track no matter what — that saved me. I was ready to do pretty much anything, which ended up meaning going back to school (which I hated) since I couldn’t get hired anywhere with nine felonies.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
I did most of my reconciliation by showing up as a different person for myself and everyone else. I figured making everyone proud of me (including myself) was better than sitting around and talking about the times when I wasn’t. I became a good son, a good brother and a good (or at least better) friend to everyone around me. I still try to do this on an ongoing basis to this day — becoming a continuously better version of myself so that I can be better to everyone else around me.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
My life was full after — graduate school (2 Master’s degrees and a Ph.D.) kept me very busy for at least 5 years. I was very committed to doing well in school and to achieving the sort of success there that would open doors later — research, writing, speaking and teaching kept me incredibly busy. I then met my future wife, we dated, got married and then had children (we now have 3). And while all this was going on I became very dedicated to the goal of helping other people who have struggled with addiction find their path as well. I did that by writing for numerous outlets, starting a treatment center and eventually starting IGNTD, the company I now run and that I am building so we can help millions of people beat their addiction as well!
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
I have so many it would be difficult to count them all, but I’ll start with the basics — I use standard morning rituals that help me ground and reset before every day starts. I wake up at 5 am and fill out my gratitude journal, planning for my day, writing some future-looking statements about myself and my work and family, and meditating for 3–5 minutes. I then exercise (a regular part of my life for the past 20 years) and make breakfast for my kids to connect and get them ready for their day. This way, by the time my actual workday starts, I am as close to my best as I could get that day. Another habit of mine is to CONSTANTLY find opportunities for growth — new books, new perspectives and new approaches are key to my ongoing development — I KNOW that I still have a lot to learn.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
I was a post-doctoral researcher at UCLA when I found a HUGE gap in my industry — that 95% of the people who need help with alcohol and drugs do not get it. It seemed absurd to me but also something I needed to help solve. It didn’t matter what treatments we were giving people if none of them were willing to participate. SO I decided to conduct some research on the “why” behind this and, once I got that answer, left academia to pursue ways to fix these issues through new products and offerings in the addiction world.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
The most obvious transferred trait is my obsessive need to get this right. I was very dedicated to my drug use and used it all day every day. I am the same with IGNTD — thinking about ways to improve and new approaches and solutions all the time. One of the traits I’ve had to keep at bay or control is my perfectionism. I used to always struggle with anything I tried to produce unless it was perfect, which is hardly ever was. That ended up resulting in deep procrastination (which seemed to others as laziness) and terrible grades and rates of completion of any serious task. Now, I have to work hard to simply do my best and allow that to be good enough, knowing I always have a chance to make it better later.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
I think that those who struggle with addictions, or “Addicts,” are still seen as damaged, broken and hopeless. This perception and stigma make people underestimate what we can do. It also makes those of us who have created magic from the disaster that was our life hide in plain sight lest someone identifies us as a past “addict” and destroy our “cover.” I’ve been fighting hard against that shame at IGNTD and my TEDx talks and believe the phrase “Once an addict always an addict” is a terrible one we have to rid ourselves of immediately as it causes hopelessness and disempowers people to change. I’ve seen thousands change and I know that it is possible for nearly everyone who struggles.
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?
1. Always KNOW that there is a way out for you — you just have to find the right combination of tools that offer the appropriate response to YOUR specific set of struggles.
2. Find a person, or group (like our community at IGNTD) with whom you can be comfortable being imperfect and vulnerable. This alone will allow you to discover countless opportunities for growth that typical social interactions make us avoid in an attempt to look perfect.
3. Begin practicing gratitude even for the small things in life. In our reach for greatness, we often forget to celebrate the meaningful small victories we experience near daily.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!