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.
Welcome to Recovery Radio by Landmark Recovery with your host, Zach Crouch. In this program we’ll discuss the root causes and treatments of alcohol and substance addiction, speak with experts in related fields, and help navigate the road to recovery.
Now, here’s the host of Recovery Radio, Zach Crouch.
Zach: Hi. I’m Zach Crouch and 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 Dr. Amy Serin joining us on the show today. Dr. Serin, an internationally-recognized neuropsychologist, stress expert, author, and inventor founded the Serin Center to offer neuropsychological treatments for a variety of conditions including anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning disabilities, and addiction. Dr. Serin authored The Stress Switch: The Truth about Stress and How to Short-Circuit It, which dives into the mechanisms of stress and provides insightful tools on how to overcome it.
As an inventor, her neuroscience stress wearables, TouchPoints provides users with stress relief to manage general stress and sleep difficulties. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from ASU where she was valedictorian and holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology with a specialty in Pediatric Neuropsychology from The Fielding Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Dr. Serin completed her formal neuropsychology training at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Serin, it is a pleasure to have you on the show today.
Dr. Serin: Thank you so much for having me, Zach. I’m really looking forward to this conversation.
Zach: Tell us a bit about your background. How’d you end up in neuropsychology?
Dr. Serin: I re-entered my way into it. I always had loved psychology and that was my major at Arizona State, but then I took a detour into business and ended up working my way up into international business development. I was working during the dot com boom and then the subsequent dot com crash and I was very stressed out and burned out and trying to get my MBA and working full-time and travelling internationally.
I just kind of took a pause and said instead of just being in this kind of rat race and doing what I’m supposed to be doing, what would really bring me joy? I left my MBA program and left my job and just went into my PhD program for neuropsychology and I haven’t looked back since.
Zach: That’s interesting to me just from the standpoint of what you described right there was sort of a midlife crisis, right?
Dr. Serin: Yes, in my 20’s.
Zach: In your 20’s?
Dr. Serin: Yes. I hit it early.
Zach: Right and I wish most people could do that, could experience that sort of what’s really going to ultimately bring me joy in life. What do you think it was at that moment; obviously you were very driven it sounds like, but was there anything else that kind of contributed to your decision?
Dr. Serin: I think it took a lot of courage and I think it also took a lot of introspection and growth. I had been running really fast and hard. Even in college, I graduated college when I was 21. I was involved in leadership activities and maintained my high GPA and organizations [Inaudible][03:51], and all these things that I just felt like the pace of my life was always so hard and fast.
When I actually just kind of slowed down a little, I was sort of forced to slow down. My allergies had gotten so bad because of stress and living in Los Angeles. I became allergic to my cat. I became allergic to the air. I could walk into a room and if there was a little rug I would break out into hives. Literally I think the turning point of making me slow down was a health crisis in my 20’s where i was just really depressed and I had eczema all over and I couldn’t exercise which is my normal coping strategy.
I had to go ‘something’s got to give.’ I don’t have to live my life this way. I can’t live my life this way. My body’s basically screaming at me that something needs to happen; although I think if people go through that, they don’t necessarily need to quit their school and their job and do this massive overhaul. You can maintain certain things in your life and come to those and show up with those with more balance.
At that time, I realized that my choices and just moving so hard and fast towards someone else’s goal for me weren’t working and I overhauled it all.
Zach: Can you share a little bit more about that? What do you mean about someone else’s goals?
Dr. Serin: I think I was under the influence of my partner at that time who was an entrepreneur and a CFO and a bio-tech stock analyst and very successful in that particular world. In my MBA program, there’s sort of a collective brainwashing and cultural norm that gets developed of what you should be doing and what you’re trying to really attain. That wasn’t in alignment with what was really important to me, what my values were.
I recognized when I’m going on a sales call in San Francisco and trying to get somebody to buy a $25,000 software program, I’m actually just ending up talking to him about his troubles in his relationship with his wife and helping him get some insights. At the end of it he goes, “We didn’t even talk about your software but I’m just going to buy it and I love you and thank you so much.”
I’m thinking that was really rewarding, but not because I got him to sign on the bottom-line; it was rewarding because I had a real connection with this person and the ability to maybe be a clear mirror for him in those moments when he needed it and thinking wow, that’s where I’m getting meaning here and really connecting with people and healing them and how do I do more of that and less of the other stuff in business that quite honestly really stresses me out.
Zach: You got into neuropsychology. For those of us who don’t know, what is neuropsychology?
Dr. Serin: Neuropsychology is clinical psychology plus. It’s basically the difference between maybe a family practice doctor and a surgeon where you have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology but you get additional training in brain and behavior relationships and the structure and function of the brain. Neuropsychologists provide a higher level of work where the brain’s concerned.
Many of them are forensic expert witnesses though sometimes I testify in capital murder trials and say whether or not somebody would likely re-offend or if they’re mentally ill or what’s going on, why would they do such a thing or does a person have enough ability to take care of themselves or do they need a guardian. There are all kinds of forensic things. Neuropsychologists can do a lot of evaluation and a lot of diagnosing of very intricate things in human condition.
I’m a little bit rogue as a neuropsychologist because I love people. I actually keep an active part of my day being devoted to therapeutic work one-on-one with patients. Neuropsychologists can also do everything a regular psychologist would do. Our clinics also integrate care. At the Serin Center in Arizona, we do cutting edge brain mapping and brain training. We use a lot of non-invasive, non-chemical methods to get people healed and to allow them to live their best life.
Zach: As I read the intro, I see that your service has really helped out a range of people. Since we specifically talk about addiction on Landmark Recovery Radio, what can a neuropsychologist do to help someone with addiction?
Dr. Serin: No psychologist can do a lot to help with addiction. Our field unfortunately suffers from an obsession with chemicals and consciousness. Taking medications and talk therapy are the primary modes of dealing with substance abuse aside from 12-Step programs and other kinds of programs. Really there’s a cutting-edge piece that neuropsychologists who are cutting-edge can help with.
For example, we can do the same brain maps using quantitative electroencephalograms that they do at the EM clinics for example and then we can use non-invasive neuro-feedback to train the brain to be more efficient. We know that there are centers in the brain that create addiction. Addiction is very genetic. The reason why is because the brain’s inefficiencies are very genetic.
We know in certain areas like the right insula, for example if there’s too much of a particular brain wave in the right insula, someone’s going to be prone to addiction. We can take kids and teenagers, make their brains more efficient with neuro-feedback, and prevent addiction.
We can also make brains that tend to be more compulsive or even impulsive to be less addicted or to have a different balance in the brain in those key moments where they’re choice-blanked because when we look at addiction we have to look at the state of the brain when someone’s engaging in behavior. People who relapse will say, “I was doing fine until my father died. I was sober for 20 years and then my father died and then I relapsed.”
When you look at that, it makes sense because there are always networks. There are different networks in control: one is your reward and pleasure network; and the other is your executive function and control network. If there’s an imbalance there in that moment, that behavior’s going to get carried out and then we’ve got a slip and then eventually relapse. Neuropsychologists can really help the brain be more stable so that’s less likely to occur.
We can do therapeutic protocols from EMDR therapy, for example. There’s a feeling state addiction protocol where we can actually get the brain to not crave something or to not go into the neural habit of wanting something in certain situations. Addictions form when you ingest a chemical or you do a behavior that has some kind of a reward for your brain and then that gets locked in to something that you will move towards even when you don’t want to move towards it.
The command in the control center might say, “Yes, I know the consequences,” but then this other part of your brain is like, “Yes, it’s going to feel so good,” and then you’re taking the first drink or you’re standing at the first blackjack table or you’re doing these behaviors.
When we stop trying to just talk it out and have people white-knuckle things with the brain that’s inefficient or stop trying to add chemicals to the mix which have consequences that we don’t like then we get into the fun neuro-science cutting-edge stuff of how do we change someone’s brain in a fundamental way so they don’t have to be constantly not doing their addiction.
Dr. Serin: Part of it also is not just if someone sober right now is using, it’s really how much energy does this person had to spend not using. That’s where we can do a lot and saying, “I know that it’s great but you haven’t done this behavior in two years, but you’re spending 50 percent of your waking time actively trying not to do that. If we can reduce that, that opens your life up for more joy and more freedom and a better life and reaching more potential.”
Zach: I’m curious to hear from you just as a neuropsychologist. Do you think that these practices that you’re talking about and that you’ve really spent a lot of time in your career inventing and then also doing research, do you think that these are making headway in our field like they’re starting to be recognized and implemented because I got to say as a person in the field I think that change even though it might be positive can take a lot of time to implement?
Dr. Serin: Yes. I think that’s what we’re up against now in the field is there’s when you look at the number of people who really like to maintain the status quo and the number of people that are really kind of change agents there’s a difference there. When you disrupt an industry or you disrupt the medical field, it can take 17 years.
When you look at acupuncture or you look at massage or mental health or even a good example, I write about this in my book, The Stress Switch is what happened to these Nobel prize-winning doctors who figured out that ulcers were not caused by stress. They were actually caused by bacteria and a certain antibiotic would cure it 100 percent of the time.
One of them even went so far as to infect himself with the bacteria, show that he didn’t have an ulcer, give himself the bacteria and now he had an ulcer, take the antibiotic and it goes away. They’re documenting this. They got so much backlash from the medical community. They almost lost their medical licenses. They had to fight so hard for this credibility because this whole structure around how we treat ulcers had to disappear because we have this quick fix, this great thing.
I believe they got their Nobel Prizes either taken away or there was a conspiracy to try to take them away and then it later got recanted. There was so much drama around this. When you look back in hindsight you go, “This was so simple. It worked. Why couldn’t people just sort of shift into this new reality?”
Zach: Yes, right.
Dr. Serin: That’s happening now in neuroscience where we go, “I’m sorry it’s not Prozac and cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy, but we have things that work better.” There’s a real problem with that in some people. Even when we have the data they’ll go, “We want more data.” You give them more data. They go, “It wasn’t perfect.” You’re like, “These are yours.”
Dr. Serin: There’s energy around shifting the status quo and it does take a lot of time, but the doctors that are getting it right are really I think performing miracles and now with social media and things like that there’s a kind of this grassroots way of getting information out about this actually works and it’s not placebo effect and it’s kind of the real thing. It’s coming around but it is slower than I’d like.
Zach: Sure. We were talking prior to the episode starting about you’ve done some work on different sorts of conditions including ADHD. I’m curious to hear because we get this a lot. People come in and they’ve been either diagnosed or undiagnosed ADD but that’s maybe before they started using substances or perhaps maybe when they were worse using substances that they got that diagnosis.
I’m curious to hear from you as a neuropsychologist. How much do our daily habits, our routines, I would say even our food that will contribute to changing our brain?
Dr. Serin: There are two pieces to that. The first is kind of this ADHD question of which comes first, chicken or the egg or is it both? We know that individuals with ADHD we have talked about these different networks that are better, more powerful in certain moments. In the ADHD brain, in the real ADHD brain, it’s usually the reward center can overpower the thinking brain.
In other words, you can even think about this as like the angel and the devil. The angel’s like, “I shouldn’t do this.” The devil’s like, “Go ahead. It’s going to feel good.” The devil’s the stronger and wears the angel out.
Dr. Serin: This ratio of how strong this devil is versus the angel is different. We know that even ADHD teenagers cause four times more car accidents than other people unless it’s being actively treated. There’s an impulsivity and a problem with the ratio of the reward center being really powerful versus the thinking brain. That can cause addiction. Once somebody is having substances, have them be more impulsive around it rather than being able to maybe use what we would call self-control and will because in those moments the brain isn’t thinking.
It’s just like it’s pushing the gas instead of the brake and causing the car accident by accident.
Dr. Serin: We can prevent addiction by treating ADHD and there are multiple ways to treat ADHD and medication does help, so does neuro-feedback and those are both top-tier endorsed methods to help ADHD according to the American Pediatric Association. Neuro-feedback is legitimized now even though it’s not a pill so it’s not being marketed as readily. It’s not backed up by a billion-dollar industry.
A lot of people with addiction have created ADHD. Addiction can create a brain that looks ADHD. Over time, you’re altering your brain with substances. We get individuals who may not have had ADHD but through the addictive process and its effects on the brain they look ADHD afterwards. You have to rehabilitate their brain as though they have ADHD. We’re even now getting some people who have had coronavirus and getting their brains scanned and their brains look ADHD because of the effects of the virus on the brain.
Anything can affect the brain in major ways. We want to not ignore any of those things. I had a patient once go through chemotherapy and then at 60 years old, started a lot of addictive behavior and didn’t understand it. Chemotherapy does some brain damage and no one really talks about it. The trauma of having cancer and going through that altered her devil to angel ratio. We can look at those things and really help.
The other piece was diet and daily habits. Diet can make things worse but it’s not necessarily going to alter the brain enough in someone with ADHD to have it not look like ADHD so it’s not the cure, but if we have someone with anything we definitely want them to be maintaining a proper diet. Exercise is by far the cheapest medicine. We have studies dating back to the 1980’s showing that walking four or five times a week, 30 minutes to an hour a day is as effective or more effective than an antidepressant.
Dr. Serin: Those things we want to definitely create a base of healthy habits. Those would go a long way to support health and happiness, but whether or not they’re going to correct the problem that is going to affect addiction it depends but a lot of times they’re not powerful enough to fully do that.
Zach: You mentioned something really interesting, too. I just recently had a family member diagnosed with cancer. She is going to be in some amino therapy for that pretty soon. I don’t know if she’s going to go through chemo or not. You said brain damage. That’s fascinating. How does that happen then? How does the brain get damaged by chemotherapy?
Dr. Serin: I don’t know the exact mechanism of what it’s affecting. I only know the after-effects of when we get individuals after chemotherapy six months or a year later there’s saying, “No. My memory is not that great. I can’t focus.” For a long time, psychologists really are focused a lot on trauma. We go, “It was traumatic. It was traumatic.”
I’m like, “Beyond traumatic, there was a chemical effect on the brain that has some kind of impact,” because when we clear out the trauma, the EEGs don’t go back to completely be normalized. There are some effects that the chemotherapy can have that are not on a lot of people’s radars.
Dr. Serin: What we want to do in that situation and this is really important when we’re looking at addiction; anytime you have a major life stressor like a cancer diagnosis, we cannot let that become PTSD and we cannot let that create a relapse. That’s where your stress switch comes in where we want to say we all have kind of a default stress switch mode normally. Our stress is actually fluctuating. I know this based on sensor stimuli. If I’m just walking around and I hear a loud bang, I’m going to go into fight or flight temporarily and then it lowers.
Dr. Serin: If I have something traumatic happen like a cancer diagnosis, suddenly my default stress switch mode might go from a two up to a six out of ten. In that state, my angel shrinks and my devil gets bigger because your brain is not wired to be in contemplative spot and wilful action when it’s stressed out. Stress is part of the fight or flight continuum. That’s something people also don’t understand.
When we get people with diagnosed cancer, what we do immediately is we get them on bilateral stimulation. It’s on my website. They’re called TouchPoints. You can order. It’s $160. What you do is these vibrations actually through the sensory network reduce stress and in scientific research it’s 62 percent in 30 seconds.
As soon as someone gets the diagnosis and sometimes we even say, “Go to your doctor with these on. They’re going to vibrate. You’ll hear them a little bit but it’s okay. Your stress will spike up but then it will lower more quickly and you’ll be way less likely to get PTSD.” If you’re not sleeping at night, you put them on, you go to sleep. We start them with some neuro-stimulation as well to calm down some of their brain centers that we know will be affected by this traumatic news.
We can prevent PTSD with these methods and we can also then theoretically prevent the relapse that is associated with the high levels of stress. When we look at this neurologically, it all makes sense but again, obsession with chemicals and consciousness makes us go, “Maybe I’m depressed because I have cancer. Let me go on Prozac now. Let me just talk to somebody but I’m talking to someone about this.”
Zach: I got to ask this question. Is it because there’s this sort of maybe belief that when I ingest a chemical, a pill I’m ingesting something and I’m waiting for the effect versus with something like what you’re talking about — EMDR, it might even be in there, too but certainly the neuro-feedback that you’re doing this and you’re participating in it but the sort of measurable sort of outcome is it like “I don’t know when I’m going to feel different? I just feel different. I feel better?” Do you think that that contributes to it, Dr. Serin?
Dr. Serin: Yes. Any time you get an immediate feeling shift then that’s really helpful because you know something’s working. Even with Prozac, you don’t feel better immediately. It takes four to six weeks to [Inaudible][24:53]
Zach: It’s a great point. It’s a great point.
Dr. Serin: With the bilateral stimulation, people will feel better in 30 seconds. If their stress is about a seven-and-a-half, it will go down to less than a three typically in 30 seconds. That’s a sample of over a thousand people in the research. They actually do know the feeling right away and it’s a huge relief. That when you can get that kind of relief in your stress level then you don’t need the donut to do it or the alcohol to do it or the Xanax to do it.
That’s the genius in some of these non-chemical methods. People would tell it’s just kind of what we know. When I mention, “You need a little more dopamine,” they’re like, “What do I take?” I’m like, “You can get dopamine a lot of ways.” If I compliment you on “What a nice shirt you have on, Zach today,” you’re going to get a little trickle of dopamine. I didn’t need to give you a pill for that.
Zach: I am wearing a nice shirt, by the way. Thank you.
Dr. Serin: Oh, great. I can’t see you.
Zach: That’s fine.
Dr. Serin: I figured you would be the kind of guy that has a nice shirt on.
Zach: It’s a nice polo, yes. Thank you.
Dr. Serin: Great.
Zach: Good deal. Here we are then. Here we are at this sort of I don’t know, this place where the research is there. The evidence to support it is certainly there. What are the next steps then to get this stuff implemented more often?
Dr. Serin: If somebody wanted to implement these steps, it could be as easy as just ordering the product and using it appropriately and getting a reduction in stress. If somebody really could ‘look, I’m really fighting sobriety right now’ or ‘I’m sober but I know I’ve done some damage to my brain and I need some more help’ then what we typically do is we don’t do detox and we don’t have an IOP.
In our clinic we would do a brain map and really look at what’s going on and get a thorough history and then we would figure out kind of a comprehensive individualized treatment plan of what we need to do. Do we want to add neuro-stimulation and bio-stimulation as a home program and then do some EMDR therapy and neuro-feedback? Do we not need all those components? What do we have to do to get a person to bridge that gap between where someone is right now and where they want to be?
Most often with addiction what I see is ‘I’m going to meetings. My spirituality is in order. I have a good baseline of daily habits and yet there are still some things that I’m really struggling with. I’m still panicking. I’m still having anxiety. Every once in a while I slip’ or these types of things going on. That’s sort of a brain that’s been maybe unchecked or someone who’s doing all the right things in the traditional sense but hasn’t maybe tried some off the cutting-edge neuroscience that’s available to them.
Zach: Got it. I know that obviously one of the last things we want to talk about today is that we’re in the middle of this pandemic still and it’s just been stressful for a lot of people — families, kids, just you name it. Do you have any tips just on how we, the people listening how we can avoid relapsing during stressful times such as during this current pandemic?
Dr. Serin: Yes. This is a tough one because it really sucks. No one saw this coming. We’re running a marathon. We’ve hit a wall and we don’t know how long we have to stay in this race. It’s really, really stressful. This is a situation if you think about your stress from zero to ten. If you have a low default stress switch in general, your default is going to be higher during the pandemic.
With a higher default, we know people are going to be more irritable, less thoughtful, more restless, more prone to either starting a new bad habit or slipping or relapsing back into an old addictive pattern. We want during these situations to get the brain as flexible as possible. We can be bummed about what’s not open and what’s not available. I can’t take my kid to Great Woods Lodge for his birthday. We had to cancel that. There are concerts that I had but I can’t go to, all these things.
Nature’s open. Exercise is always available. Connecting with people in ways that I didn’t before and these re-establishing connections is available so really re-engaging in extreme self-care. We have time for that now if we’re not commuting. There are some things that are exchanges with this pandemic and not all of them are bad.
Recognizing ‘now that I’m not commuting, I have an extra half an hour. I can work and exercise every morning’ or ‘I can make a phone call to Aunt Sally who usually lifts my spirits’ or get back into meditation, but really how can we shift into more extreme self-care given this as a difficulty and an opportunity and how do we also get patient with the suckiness of this.
In the moment when my kids are fighting because they’ve been sitting next to each other all day. I look at them and say to myself, “This is temporary.” I have the advantage of having bilateral stimulation. A lot of times I just tap that on and I let it kind of take care of my stress for me so I could be reasonable and I don’t start yelling at the kids or I don’t get upset about those.
Dr. Serin: Really just kind of acknowledging and honoring that it’s harder right now and that it’s time to get into extreme self-care with as much patience and grace as possible I think that can go a long way.
Zach: Yes. This has been a great conversation today, Dr. Serin. Thank you for coming on the show to talk about everything. If people are interested in your book and also just any of the tools that we talked about, where would they go to find some of that information?
Dr. Serin: They can go to serin, S-E-R-I-N, center.com/shop and there’s all the information about everything there. They could get my book. They can also get the book…the book is actually number one for preventive medicine in Amazon so they can get the book on Amazon as well but it does help me if you purchase it through my website if you’re interested.
Dr. Serin: My heart goes out to everybody during this time and this pandemic. I just want to thank everybody for spending time listening to our conversation. It’s really, really humbling and wonderful to be able to do this work.
Zach: It is.
Listen guys, 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.
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.
Thank you for tuning in to Recovery Radio. New content for this program is available every Tuesday at 12nn Eastern Time and 9am Pacific Time with all episodes available on demand on the Voice America Health and Wellness Channel and through our content partners: iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Google Play podcast. Please remember to subscribe, rate, and review so we can continue to create quality content to help save one million lives in the next 100 years. You don’t need to struggle through addiction alone. Live the life you’ve dreamed on the road to recovery.
Sep 23, 2020
Posted in: Podcast