I would encourage them to share that they are struggling with someone they trust. Entrepreneurs often feel as if they need to always be in a leadership role and may have trouble being vulnerable and asking for help.
As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Scott Strode.
Scott Strode is the Founder and National Executive Director of The Phoenix. On the road to recovery from his drug & alcohol addiction, Scott found self-confidence and a new identity in sports. “Every time I stood on top of a mountain or crossed a finish line, I was a little more a climber, and a little less an addict.” Today, Scott is not only a triathlete and mountaineer, he’s the Founder and National Executive Director of The Phoenix: A free sober active community that helps individuals rise, recover and live through the power of fitness and community. The Phoenix is based on Scott’s own discovery that a healthy, active lifestyle has a transformative effect on long-term sobriety. Scott’s inspiring story is featured in a new book, Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World by, Charles Koch and Brian Hooks.
Since 2006, The Phoenix free sober active community has inspired more than 38,000 people across America to believe they have the strength to rise from the ashes of addiction through the support of those who are walking that very same path. From CrossFit and climbing, to hiking, running, cycling, yoga and more, we believe fostering human connections in mental, physical and spiritual fitness is a powerful way to rebuild wounded bodies and spirits and restore hope. The only membership fee is 48 hours of sobriety. The Phoenix team reminds prospective participants that they’re there for them when they’re ready because together, we can rise from the ashes of addiction!
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott and his team began offering live streamed and on demand classes, which have not only permitted current members to remain connected and prospective members to try out classes, but has made it possible for the community supported by The Phoenix to expand globally! The Phoenix offers classes free of charge. To learn more, participate or donate, please go to thephoenix.org.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us? Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had? What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and, from a young age, was exposed to early adverse childhood experiences, on top of the fact that I grew up with a father with untreated mental health issues and was exposed to alcoholism in my family. I believe these things led to my substance use disorder at a young age. I found that drug and alcohol use numbed my emotional pain, but only temporarily. It also helped to coverup the self-esteem wounds that I carried with me at that time. As is true for most people with a substance use disorder, it is an ineffective way to cope and causes more peripheral damage in one’s life.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
I think often substance use disorders strip away the dreams of who you thought you could be in life and the deep and profound shame that accompanies that loss gets you stuck in a cycle of use. To break that cycle, I had to find something that helped me believe in the intrinsic strength inside of me.
Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?
I was able to find that intrinsic strength through getting into the sports of boxing, climbing, and later, triathlons. I found that every time I stood on top of a mountain or crossed a finish line my self-esteem was lifted, and I started to believe I could do anything that I put my mind to, including staying sober.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
One of the challenges of getting into sustained recovery is the physical addiction to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, the shame one feels for how they disappointed and let loved ones down through their use is often a catalyst that drives someone to use again. Overcoming this shame was difficult for me, but I was fortunate to have loved ones within my immediate family who were able to forgive me and give me a second or even third chance. This connection with others within my family and my growing network of friends who supported me in my recovery ultimately helped me stay sober and later became one of the key underpinnings of The Phoenix; the accepting, loving, and nurturing community.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had? What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
I began to fill the time that I used to spend drinking and using with adventures that, at their core, strengthened my self-esteem. I think the power of positive habits can be transformative for someone in recovery, in fact, for any of us who are healing from adverse life experiences. Exercise is a great way to reset our brain chemistry and is even helpful in treating mental health issues. But perhaps the most profound tool is nurturing connection with others. The friendships I built along my recovery journey ended up being the people I could turn to when I was having a tough day instead of drinking or using drugs. Often, I would come together and participate in activities, and by the end of the bike ride or day of climbing, I would forget what I was so stressed about, and I would feel refreshed through a more positive lens.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
Through my own lived experience in recovery and the positive coping mechanisms that I found through activities, I had begun to surround myself with a special group of people. A dear friend at the time was also my climbing partner, and another was a clinical social worker. We all saw the power of connection with others and activities as a way to help people heal from substance use disorders. At the time, there were very few resources outside clinical treatment to support people on their recovery journey. We felt it was important to step into the breach and provide a pathway to support people in dreaming of what was possible in their new sober life. It was important that we kept this program free, so there would not be any financial barriers to access and necessary to focus on maintaining a nurturing environment. We incorporated a code of conduct that all participants had to adhere to, and this was the beginning of The Phoenix.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
I don’t feel that I have transferred characteristics from addiction to my entrepreneurial endeavors. Instead, I feel that experiencing the things I did in my addiction allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for the opportunities in front of me. I often say that those who have walked in the dark have a different appreciation for the light. I desired to share this hope with others — that was the primary driver in my entrepreneurial journey, along with the desire to transform a drug and alcohol recovery industry that seems solely focused on acute care treatment with almost no focus on ongoing recovery support.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
I think this topic is rarely discussed because the many people who have been touched by substance use disorders hold their personal stories in a place of shame, which is perpetuated by the stigma around the issue. The root of substance use disorder is complex and often involves the whole family. It makes it a difficult topic of conversation because all involved, not only the individual with the substance use disorder, must reflect on what they are bringing to their relationships. It can also feel as if it’s a problem that’s impossible to solve. I do not think it is, but the sense that it is insurmountable often has people shy away from allocating innovation and resources towards the issue.
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?
First, I would encourage them to share that they are struggling with someone they trust. Entrepreneurs often feel as if they need to always be in a leadership role and may have trouble being vulnerable and asking for help. Secondly, I would think of the effects of your substance use disorder or unhealthy coping mechanisms as something that is actually holding you back. If you are as driven and motivated as most entrepreneurs I’ve met, you will be far more effective if you’re operating clean and sober. Thirdly, I would look into the root cause of why you are drinking and using or seeking emotional wellbeing externally. To do this, I encourage getting professional help. I believe trauma therapy can be transformative. When I say trauma, I’m not just talking overt trauma; physical or sexual abuse, but also covert trauma; emotional abuse that may seem small. It is possible to be injured by a thousand little cuts, not only the big ones.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
- National Phoenix Facebook page: @thephoenixnational
- National Phoenix Instagram page: @riserecoverlive
- Personal Facebook page: @scott.strode
- Personal Instagram page: @scottstrode
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!