In this episode, Zach is joined by Dr. Amy Serin, an internationally recognized neuropsychologist, founder of the Serin Center, and author of The Stress Switch: The Truth About Stress and How to Short Circuit It. Dr. Serin begins by explaining why she entered the field of psychology, and defines what it means to be a neuropsychologist. They explore the different ways neuropsychology can benefit someone suffering from addiction, and Dr. Serin offers tips for how to avoid relapsing during stressful times such as during the current pandemic. Following Dr. Serin, Zach is joined by Dr. Lawrence Jedlicka, a neurologist who is board certified in addiction medicine. Dr. Jedlicka shares his own transition from active addiction to becoming a neurologist and working in addiction recovery. He and Zach also discuss the human fight-or-flight response and how it plays out in a person suffering from addiction.
Zach: You’re listening to Landmark Recovery Radio, your source for addiction and recovery news and knowledge. You can find us online wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe to get the most up-to-date information from leading experts.
We have guest Lawrence Jedlicka joining us on the show today. Lawrence was born in Chicago and grew up on a family of ten which had a culture of drinking and many family members experiencing alcoholism. After years of active addiction himself, Lawrence made the change to get sober and then went to complete medical school. He became a neurologist. He completed a fellowship in addiction medicine in Georgia in 2013 and then became board-certified in addiction medicine.
Dr. Jedlicka, I’ve met you in person and I look forward to the conversation today even more. Thank you.
Dr. Jedlicka: Thanks, Zach.
Zach: Tell us a bit about your story and how you made that transition from active addiction to becoming a neurologist and working in addiction recovery.
Dr. Jedlicka: All right. If you don’t mind, I’d like to start out with a little reading.
Dr. Jedlicka: “Are you not thirsty,” said the lion. “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the lion. “Would you mind going away while I do,” said Jill. The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. As Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to do anything to me if I come,” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the lion. Jill was so thirsty now. Without noticing it, she had come a step closer. “Do you eat girls,” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting nor as if it were sorry nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the lion. “Oh, dear,” said Jill coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the lion.
Zach: Wow. Wow. What does that story tell us?
Dr. Jedlicka: It tells that there’s only one way to find peace in your life. There’s only one way. There’s no other way. There are no shortcuts and there’s no easy ways out. You have to just go through it. Each one of us has to do that. Nobody’s going to fix us. No chemical’s going to fix us. No person’s going to fix us. No self-help plan’s going to fix us. Each person has to find that way to peace. There are guidelines. There’s guidance out there, but no easy ways. I love the way it states that. “There is no other stream.”
Zach: I think that’s absolutely very right on.
Dr. Jedlicka: Yes.
Zach: My question to you would be, and this is very general but why is recovery such hard work?
Dr. Jedlicka: Being human is hard work. Recovery…I think the difference between…everybody deals with addiction. It’s a human condition. Some humans are very fortunate and they have wonderful parents and they’re loved. They’re growing up with a sense of ‘I’m okay and I can handle whatever the world throws at me.’ That’s a very human being. Most of us are traumatized and get scared of life and get lost in trying to prevent that from happening.
All of us deal with addiction. Those of us that are in recovery from chemical addiction or admitted addiction have flipped up on everybody else because we know we have addiction and we’re dealing with it. A lot of people don’t know. Addictions that humans have are mostly processed addictions where their behaviors that they have are dealing with trying to find some peace in their life but they’re manipulating their environment and their brain chemistry and it’s an internal chemical addiction.
When you get angry, you get a shot of adrenaline and other neurotransmitters that’s very powerful. It’s very sudden, abrupt change in your system. That’s what chemicals do for us chemical addicts because the brain doesn’t like being uncomfortable. It wants change. It isn’t necessarily going to be good change that it needs. Depression can do the same thing. Complaining is an addiction. Worrying about life is an addiction. These are addictions that people aren’t aware of.
People in recovery are very fortunate because they’re facing the fact that they have addiction and they have to deal with it because they want to find peace. A lot of people don’t understand that. A lot of people are blaming what’s going on in the world and what other people are doing to them for their discomfort and their lack of peace in their lives.
Zach: That was one thing I was going to ask you about. That brings up for me an interesting point because do you think if people were able to experience for themselves this freedom that the big book talks about, the basic text, this freedom that often gets spoken about, do you think that people would change their minds? If they were able to just experience that freedom and I’m not saying I have, I’m just saying that they promised that.
It’s in the promises of AA that there’s a freedom that comes about through working this program that they would change their minds about their current circumstances, their behavior, everything that they do and then dive fully into the process.
Dr. Jedlicka: Anybody would, anybody would. Those promises promised a sense of peace. When you know that, when you find that sense of peace even if you get it for a short time and you know it so we will know peace is one thing, getting it to be there and be present all the time is a different thing.
Zach: It takes work.
Dr. Jedlicka: Once you believe you can achieve that, anybody would give up anything else they had in life to do that and would dedicate themselves completely. Even for people in recovery it’s hard for people to believe that when some guidance is misleading and leads people away from that. You have to find the right path so that you get on it. You’re like, “I can get better.”
I found the path for myself and I’m honored. That’s what my days are about as yet. The rest of it is fluff — what my job’s doing, how much money I have, what people are saying about me. It’s all just part of the flow of life, but I’m on that path to peace and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
Zach: I need to qualify. I think I need to qualify my previous statement because I think it deserves another question the piece around freedom. I believe that people have to develop a vocabulary first of what freedom looks like for themselves. A lot of the times that means, in my belief and many of my peers I think in the program would say that you have to walk through some of these things or all of these things. A lot of it’s brief trauma that you haven’t walked through, those kinds of things. Would you say that that’s pretty accurate, too?
Dr. Jedlicka: I think that you have to develop a belief system that supports the fact that you’re okay and you can handle the world. Our belief system can take also all sorts of forms. The belief system we have if we already have that belief system, we’re a happy person. We don’t pick on other people. We don’t complain about the world. We’re happy. I can handle anything. That’s the rare situation. If you’re not, it’s because your belief system is false and you have to change that.
You have to find your belief system and then you have to change that. There are lots of different ways. There are some people that find it with God or a higher power and that’s a belief system. I’ll tell you what. That’s not an easy path that one. I know maybe two people who really do that successfully. The secret is carrying it with you all the time because it’s easy to talk about it in a meeting or when you’re in trouble and you start praying.
Zach: Can you talk about what you mean by that? You said that it’s difficult for who to follow God you said? I must have missed it. Is that what you said?
Dr. Jedlicka: It’s difficult for anybody to follow a belief system. It’s difficult to carry it with you 24 hours a day. It’s easy to talk about these things. It’s easy to talk about what you should do to improve yourself and find peace, but to carry it with you every day and have it with you is a different thing and having a system of belief.
Like I said, I know two people that they talk about God and they believe in God. These people are incredible, happy, just there but they have it all the time. They don’t have it some of the time.
Dr. Jedlicka: It’s an amazing thing to watch that incredible diligence.
Zach: I know as you mentioned in the beginning and it’s already in your intro, too. It’s no secret here at least the chaotic things that you probably saw in your own family growing up and my family, too. We as people in the recovery process grow up in, a lot of us do in chaotic situations and that just sort of puts us in a place from the beginning, so to speak where we have a reaction to people, to circumstances, to events.
In medical terminology, this would be called the fight or flight response, the sort of piece that’s embedded in our brains that’s been there forever. Tell us a bit about that and how it plays out with addiction.
Dr. Jedlicka: That’s the core because we evolved in an environment where we were prey. We were eaten by animals and we had to survive tigers and the human system developed. We have a limbic system that creates that fear and then the response to it. That fear that the tigers are gone and it’s only recently, not for everyone but for most of us there are people in the world that have tigers around them but not many and the tigers are gone.
The human beings haven’t evolved to deal with that sense of fear that is a survival mechanism and it’s very powerful and it overrides the cortex in most our lives. We have to find a way to be aware of that system and see it interact with the world and see it fire up in us and see what it does. The way out of that is to be able to end up recognizing that and stopping it immediately, stopping that emotional system so we can engage the intellectual system to deal with the world.
We haven’t evolved to do that. The world’s full of fear. People are afraid and we can see a lot of good examples of that recently of people being afraid. Yes, that fight or flight system. We haven’t evolved around it. I believe that the core of that is first of all individuals can rise above it and that’s what I’m talking about to find individual peace. We rise above that, but the human race hasn’t quite sorted that out yet.
We don’t believe in it. We don’t preach that. We don’t know how to raise our children to grow up with that system in place. We don’t teach our children how to deal with the fight or flight system. It’s out of control for most of the human race. There’s a way we could do that. We could raise our children. We could teach people. Before someone has a baby we teach them how to raise a child so that they grow up going, “I’m okay.”
Dr. Jedlicka: “I can deal with anything that happens,” and be comfortable with life in themselves. They can recognize their emotions, their intellect and clearly see the world and see the choices they have. I think that’s where it could end up because if we’re teaching our children how to do that to bring will evolve to eventually not be able to do that on his own.
We’ll evolve as beings to be able to do that, but we’re not at that place yet that even though the tigers are gone and the world’s okay. The world’s okay. The fact is that everything does work out. Anybody who looks back on their life at anything that’s happened, it’s over and it’s worked out. You’re still there. Everything does work out and you do handle anything in life. If you don’t believe that, you don’t know it in your heart. You worry about stuff and you hurt, you suffer because you’re afraid.
Zach: Briefly tell us about your story. What happened with you went from active addiction to becoming a very well-respected medical doctor specializing in neurology? That’s a leap. That’s overcoming stuff right there.
Dr. Jedlicka: I grew up in Chicago and a troubled childhood. There were ten kids in the family and that’s troubling in itself. With all the discomfort around us, we all up and left. I decided to leave the state when I was 18 and could because that was going to fix it. I left the state but I found drugs at age 15. My scoutmaster turned me on to marijuana, a nice Vietnam vet and gave me my first beer and my first taste of marijuana.
For me, chemicals fixed my pain. They fixed my fear. They solve the problem. I did that every day until I was 56 years old. I went to medical school. I smoked pot every day in medical school. I did drugs until I was about 30. Marijuana after a while there was some discomfort with the high it gave me and it stopped working. It was just alcohol that worked. I just continued to drink alcohol on a daily basis every day until I was arrested by the Kentucky State Police when I was 56 years old.
I was practicing as a neurologist. I was being a father and a friend but not very well. I got divorced three times mostly because of my alcoholism. I wasn’t going to stop because it works. It quiets that fear of the tiger. It works. Some people say they drink so much and get to the end and it stops working for them. That wasn’t me. It worked every day.
Every day at five o’clock my life was great even though everything around me fell apart. I lost my children. After getting arrested, I lost my job and I lost every dime I had. I ended up in treatment. I ended up not using for that time and I had a window of…
Zach: What year was this? What year would this have been?
Dr. Jedlicka: 2009.
Dr. Jedlicka: 2009. I got a window of four months where I wasn’t using. Over that time, I met people in treatment and in AA that showed me the terrible destruction that my solution had caused. I stayed in sober living environment for a year after that. It was hard to get a job as a neurologist and a specialist. People do not want to hire you when you have a history of addiction.
Eventually I went and did a fellowship in addiction medicine where you’re much more accepted in addiction medicine because it’s the field. I got board-certified and worked in a treatment center for two years. Some of the direction addiction medicine was going in was using chemicals to treat addiction were not…it just didn’t sit well with me. I ended up going back into neurology.
What I do is hospital neurology. I work in the hospital. I don’t do clinic work and I love it. It’s the greatest job in the world. I love what I do. In the meantime as all of us know in recovery, once you get into recovery there are so many people affected by it. You get to help people all the time. No matter where you are and where you go and what you do, you just help people because you’ve been through it. You can say, “I’ve been through that. There’s a way out.” You give hope to people.
Anyway, that was my story. I ended up after being in the treatment center for two years I had some children in Alaska and I miss my children and I’d lost my family and I wanted to give back. I moved to Alaska and worked there for four or five years. It was all clinic work. I couldn’t get into the hospital system partly because of my addiction and if you wanted to do hospital work. I kept filling in for a hospital in Kentucky that couldn’t find someone to fill in forms. I worked at St. Joe’s in Lexington since 2016 on and off.
I couldn’t find the work up in Alaska and they couldn’t find somebody to fill in their blanks. I just took the job here last October. I’m working full-time here. I say Alaska there are a lot of places you can find peace up there. I say I live in Alaska but I work in Kentucky. I’ll be back there and that’s where I plan to end up.
Zach: I love it.
Dr. Jedlicka: That’s my story.
Zach: You had prepared a passage that you’d like to read. I think it would be a good time for that.
Dr. Jedlicka: Yes. Which One You Feed. There once was an old Indian. His little grandson often came in the evenings to sit at his knee and asked him many questions that children ask. One day the grandson came to his grandfather with a look of anger on his face. Grandfather said, “Come sit. Tell me what has happened today.” The child sat and leaned his chin on his grandfather’s knee looking up into the wrinkled nut brown face and the kind, dark eyes.
The child’s anger turned into cry of tears. The boy said, “I went to town today with my father to trade the furs he has collected over the past several months. I was happy to go because father said that since I helped him with the scrapping I could get something for me, something that I wanted. I was so excited to be at the trading post. I’ve not been there before. I looked at many things and finally found a metal knife. It was small but good-sized for me so father got it for me.”
Here the boy laid his head against his grandfather’s knee and became silent. Grandfather softly placed his hand on the boy’s raven hair and said, “And then what happened?” Without lifting his head the boy said, “I went outside to wait for father and to admire my new knife in sunlight. Some town boys came by and saw me. They got all around me and started saying bad things. They called me ‘dirty’ and ‘stupid’ and said I should not have such a fine knife. The largest of these boys pushed me back and I fell over one of the other boys. I dropped my knife and one of them snatched it up and they all ran away laughing.”
Here the boy’s anger returned. “I hate them. I hate them all.” The grandfather whose eyes had seen too much lifted his grandson’s face so his eyes looked into the boy’s. Grandfather said, “Let me tell you a story. I, too at times have felt a great hate for those who had taken so much a small sorrow for what they do. The hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I’ve struggled with these feelings many times.”
“It is as if there two wolves inside me. One is white and one is black. The white wolf is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him. He does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when he has the right to do so and in the right way. The black wolf was full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone all the time for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger for his anger will change nothing.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to live with these two wolves inside me for both of them seek to dominate my spirit.” The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes. “Which one wins, grandfather?” The grandfather smiled. He said, “The one I feed.”
Zach: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Dr. Jedlicka: Yes.
Zach: Listen, I want to end here. I want to also thank Dr. Jedlicka for coming on the show today. This has been just a very good conversation. Please continue to help the people that you see each and every day at the hospital and the people that you don’t see.
Dr. Jedlicka: As we all should.
Zach: Listen, also if you know someone struggling with an addiction and you’re searching for answers, visit us at landmarkrecovery.com to learn more about substance abuse programs that are both saving lives and empowering families.
Until next week, I’m Zach Crouch with Landmark Recovery Radio wishing you well.
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