Struggles with addiction drug abuse – Mike Lazar on The Mindful Space
Hi, everyone. This is your host, Michelle, and you’re listening to The Mindful Podcast, the show that aims to break the stigma associated with mental health. Today we’ll be talking about drug and alcohol addiction, the struggles of staying sober, and the full road to recovery with Mike Lassar, who is an alumni coordinator at a detox center in Florida. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Mindful Podcast. Today we have Mike. How are you today? Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you for having me. Thank you for coming. So your Monday going so far? Great. So far it’s a Monday. Regular Monday. Regular Monday. Now I’m here, so this is really exciting. Great. I’m happy to be here. Thank you. For those who don’t know you, do you mind telling our audience a little bit about your background professionally and personally? Sure. So I’m a pretty regular guy. I am born and raised on the East Coast. I’m from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Grew up, so I was born in 92. So I’m a 90s baby, come from a good family, dysfunctional, which I’m sure we’ll get into, but I excelled at sports at the same time. I was kind of supposed to go off to college and continue education. I got into drugs, so I didn’t end up going to college. I went to rehab and got sober. And that’s a big part of my life. And who I am is recovery and what I do to this day. Professionally, I do outreach for treatment centers. I’ve worked in all different levels in rehab. So I’ve been like your support staff. I’ve been an operations manager. Kind of done it all. Yeah. That’s great. Well, let’s take it back. Can you tell me a little bit more about your life and how your family system was and all of those things, the juicy stuff? Yes. Okay. So my family system, the dysfunction comes from my father was sick pretty much my entire life. So when I was three years old, my dad got diagnosed with cancer for the first time. Non hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was in his brain. So it was very know, to make a long story kind of short with it, it came back every two years, his cancer would come out of remission. So growing up like that, I grew up in a neighborhood where family was really big. The idea of having a family, you have Italian and Irish and this and that, and I always remembered that I was the only child with a sick father. And my parents were also from the Midwest. So growing up on the East Coast, you’re used to generations and generations and generations of so. So I was kind of like the black sheep in a sense. When I looked around it, I didn’t necessarily fit in. So that became like, the mission. My father, he worked human resources in a steel mill in a local steel mill in Bucks County. My mom was a stay at home mom. They both come from very dysfunctional. One thing to note is I never knew any of this while I was going through it. Nowadays, since I’ve gotten sober, I’ve gotten into recovery. This is all stuff I learned. When you’re going through it, you don’t have any vocabulary. Basically, for me, I just knew at some instinctual level, things weren’t okay in my family. And then as I grew up and I hit my teenage years, it got a lot more intense. You kind of realize, like, I realized my dad was not getting better, he was getting worse. The toll that took on my mom, the toll it took on me, it was a lot. It was a lot. That’s like a broad. Yeah. How old were you when he passed away? I was 21. Yeah. And he passed away when he passed away, it was actually his 59th birthday, so it was tough. Luckily I was about two and a half years sober. For the first it was, I was in my first real stint of sobriety. So when he passed, he passed. Seeing me sober, I was no longer a criminal, et cetera, et cetera. That’s great. Yeah. At what age did you start drinking alcohol and taking drugs? I’ve had to think about this a few times. The first time I drank, I was like eight and I stole the beer out of the fridge. Actually, I think one of my dad’s friends gave me it was like a Miller Light or something like that. And I drank it, thought it was disgusting. And I was like, I don’t know why these people would do this. When it really started to take on was I was like twelve. So I grew up with all of my best friends in the neighborhood, had older brothers and older sisters. So when I was twelve, they were 1416. Some were even in their twenty s. And so very quickly you’re exposed to the stuff you shouldn’t be exposed to. So started drinking, started smoking weed, you know, shortly after I think I was, I think I was like 14 when I, when I picked up colonopin for the first time, I was like smoking weed with the kids you don’t bring to your house, you don’t bring them around your parents. Yeah. Because you know why? And it was like, hey, eat these, and it’s going to really put the effects of the weed. And then you want me to keep going into all the whatever you feel like sharing, want all of it right now. So you started drinking very young and taking drugs, you said 12, 13, 14. Yeah, I started to drink and smoke weed to fit in. It’s a pretty classic, typical teenage. Yeah. I think the difference for me is that it never stopped. Not only did it not stop, it accelerated into hard drugs. And towards the end of my teenage years, right before I got sober, it got really bad. It got as bad as it gets. Why do you feel for you, it just got worse compared to your friends? Maybe that got over the teenage phase of trying things. What do you think for you? What was your trigger right. In science backs this. But I do think I absolutely believe that there’s a fundamental, like, genetic predisposition. I definitely believe that. I think the best way to explain it is if I didn’t have the sick father and just not a great I wasn’t comfortable in my home. My home did not feel like one. If I didn’t have that stuff, I probably would have taken sports to college, went to college, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I guarantee if I had the genetic predisposition, I would have ended up doing cocaine at a bar or whatever, and it would have stuck then. So either way, I think that’s the real difference between what I call, like, a normie. Yeah. I think it’s a genetic thing, and there’s not much more to it. How I found out for myself was, I think everybody listening who’s sober in recovery, whether it’s mental health or substance alcohol, you hit a point where you just kind of know. For me, I went through a ton of arrests, a ton of stealing from people that I did not want to steal from. I always share that wherever I went, I left it worse than the way I found it. So you live like that long enough. And I’ve always been not to toot my own horn, but I’m not an idiot. I’m very conscious of my behavior and what I do and don’t do. So after it was, like, four actual arrests from the time I was, like, 14 to 18, and just I can’t even count how many probation violations I had as a kid. I just woke up, and I was just kind of like I wanted to stop, and I could not. I absolutely couldn’t. You know, I had done all the excuses, you know, hey, I’m not going to, you know, through throughout my teenage years, OxyContin was my thing. You know, I had dabbled with heroin, but I did not use a needle as a teenager. For me and a lot of the people around my age group, if they’re either in recovery or, God forbid, you’re like, not yet, whatever. If you were doing opiates in around, like, 2005 to 2010, you know that Oxy 80s were discontinued. And when that happened, that’s when everyone switched to heroin. That was a wake up call, for sure. Is that your rock bottom, do you think? I wouldn’t say that’s my rock bottom. I think my rock bottom came a little bit later, so I got sober for a little bit. Like, after I first dabbled with heroin, I got sober. I had the two and a half years my dad passed away, and I white knuckled it to the three year mark, and then I got high. That run that I had. After throwing away the three years of sobriety, that was like, hell on earth. I mean, I took it 30 days of just like, balls to the wall, getting high, robbing, stealing, fighting, et cetera, et cetera. That was probably the lowest point. But as far as for me, knowing I had a problem just came from, like I woke up and I was just like, I didn’t have any more lies left. I can’t remember what I was watching, but the character said, I finally told my lifetime limit of lies and that was it. And that was kind of how I felt. So I hit that point and I still got high for years. When did you really stop? When I really stopped was it was my final arrest. That’s what stopped me. Nowadays, I’m actually grateful for that. If you ask me, this was like, what? Twelve? It was about 1112 years ago. So if you asked me back then, I still been like, yeah, sobriety is great, but I still hate the cops and all that. But no, nowadays I’m really grateful for it. So I got arrested right after I turned 18. What happened was, like I said, I was on juvenile probation, and when you turn 18, they have to let you off. As long as you’re not in a facility, you’re not locked down, you get off. And I knew that, so I was like, ready. My probation officer came to the house, I signed the paperwork, and I just started going crazy. I was selling a lot of drugs at the time to support my habit. And it was three days after my 18th birthday. The cops raided my parents house, so I was dead asleep. I woke up to my mom banging on my bedroom door. The house is surrounded, there’s police all over. And my mom is like, a very sweet lady, God bless her, and she was just like, freaking out for whatever reason. I leave it up to God. All the drugs that I basically had, I left at a friend’s house the night before. I only had a little bit on myself that I was going to use to not be sick. Yeah, cops came into the house, turned my parents house upside down. I thought I was Scarface. I’m, like, screaming at them, not going to find anything. So they didn’t find anything. I didn’t get arrested right then. Two weeks later, I asked it was one of my best friends at the time, his girlfriend, for a ride to the store. Turns out that she had gotten caught with drugs. I guess that I had given her a couple of weeks before, and she was working with the police. Sounds like a set up. Yeah, God bless her. So I was riding in the car, we get pulled over, and I was on the way to the store to get cigarettes. We had no cigarettes. We get pulled over. Cop says, I’m pulling you over because you flicked a cigarette butt out the window. I’m like, the hell is going on? Didn’t make sense. And this is the lead detective of the narcotics unit in my town, who I know on a first name basis. And it was kind of like that moment where I was like my stomach dropped and I knew something was going to happen. And all of a sudden, he pulls this girl out of the car that she was driving. She pulls out from her waistline of her pants some drugs that I had given her and hands it to the police officer, points at the car. I’m watching this through the rear view mirror, and really just once that happened. I got pulled out, I got arrested. A magic pen tube with residue came from under the seat that I was sitting in. That was not mine. So I ended up with possession of drug paraphernalia. It was like delivering medicines, not prescribed, just kind of some bullshit charges, but that was it. I fundamentally, very deep down inside of myself, knew that if I didn’t stop, I was going to go to jail forever. The next time it was going to be was just that was it. So my my parents gave me the know, either get the F out of our house or go to treatment. And so they came to me with it was a brochure. It was like one of those paper brochures of like it was California. It was Los Angeles. It’s like pamphlet. Oh, yeah. Pretty life. Yeah. And I’m like, I was 18. Yeah, I was 18, and my birthday was coming up to turn 19, and I was like I put it off for a couple of weeks and use some more drugs, whatever. And then I went. And so that’s the beginning of recovery. Truthfully for me. I had been put in juvenile facilities and juvenile boot camp programs. And if anybody listening has ever been in those, you know that they’re not rehabs. They just abuse teenagers. That’s like all it is. It’s awful, but yeah. I show up to this treatment center, and it is the same model as the types that I work with now. And you’re viewed as not a criminal, not this person who just doesn’t have enough willpower. You’re viewed as like a hurt human being. Okay. Right. For me, that was huge. That was huge. I was so used to handcuffs. You’re not good enough. What the fuck happened to you? You used to be this great kid, and now you’re this. And so you start to believe that stuff. You start to believe that stuff. And for me, I got treated very well. Like, Mike, do you need anything? Are you hungry? The basic needs. Yeah, man. Oh my God. The difference it made, right? I sat there and I had my 19th birthday in that treatment center. And to be honest, I didn’t plan on staying sober. I was like, I just wanted the heat off my back. Sobriety to me was like, oh God, it’s not possible. But yeah, I just had such a good experience and I was too. What happened with the charges was I got put on program, and I don’t know if they still do it, but it was called ard. And so you’re on two years of supervised probation, which honestly, probably saved my life because I’d be lying if I said during the first two years of that sobriety, I didn’t want to relapse or engage in criminal activity. The guys that it’s funny because they saw me get married earlier this year. They still remember me when I was like a little wannabe thug from the East Coast. Rebellious teen. Yeah, I’m sure they were happy for you. Yeah. It’s pretty full circle. Yeah. Nice. We’ll get to that. How long have you been sober? Today? Today? I just celebrated seven years on September 9. Congratulations. Yeah. And kind of like I said, that comes after having three years before. So like out of the last, whatever, eleven years I’ve been sober, like ten, something like that. Yeah. That’s still a lot. Yeah, I know you guys have to start over the count, but it’s still count. Some people don’t. I’m one who does and I start over the count. I’m honest with you. I thought that was like, the rule. Yeah, I think it should be. Some people view it as optional. A little hurdle there. I think we could do a whole other episode on that. What would you say is the hardest part of staying sober? Make you think a little. Yeah, if it’s nowadays, if I’m being honest, I never thought that I would live this long. And I figured if I did, I would be in Vegas or, you know, just living a fast life. For me, it’s really kind of continuing learning how to be kind of like, mundane, like enjoying being a husband, working a full time job, being salaried, paying taxes. There’s no hustles, there’s no shortcuts. It’s really part of my recovery. This doesn’t have to be for everybody, but for me, I rely on integrity. Like rigorous honesty is what we say in the twelve step programs. The hardest part is just being content with all of that. Like, if I tell a white lie, I go and clean it up. If I did something wrong, there’s no, like, hey, tough, deal with it. What are you going to do? For my own stability, I have to be very accountable. Um, I can imagine how that can be very hard. Yeah. For a person. Look, if I’m speaking at like a twelve step meeting or I’m speaking to whether it’s a family or potential person who wants to come into treatment, I’m very candid about who I am. I would love to tell the audience that I’m just this wonderful person, naturally, but I’m not. And I’m at a point in my recovery where I can admit that to my core, I’m very selfish. I’m very self centered. I don’t see the world necessarily. Let me be clear too. If I’m not mindful of my recovery, I become that person, sober or not sober. And if I allow that to happen very shortly after, I will relapse. That’s kind of the way it works. If you engage in old behaviors, all that stuff, eventually it’s going to catch up to you. So what would you say is the easiest part of staying sober? I would say probably the rewards. As much as I used to again, I believe in honesty. As much as I used to enjoy kind of living a fast life because you can really kind of control things and get what you need when you want it. As much as I enjoyed that, you are never ever satisfied. Ever. Even when things were, quote unquote, working out, when I was making a lot of money, when I had the girls and the friends and everything that comes along with that life, you still go to sleep empty. Nowadays I sleep like a baby. I enjoy the little things. Like I’m very excited when I wake up the next day. It’s the little things. It’s the little things. Very grateful. Yeah, exactly. Normal, mundane. Yeah. All the little stuff, humility and gratitude are like the best things for me. They make it easy because I can enjoy just having a car to drive home in. And now it’s like I don’t have a flashy car anymore. I just downgraded to an old Camry and I’m actually more comfortable in it. I’m sure you’re saving a lot in gas too. A lot. It’s super expensive, so it’s probably a good decision. Good choice. Yeah. The easiest things about staying sober is the friends you make and what you get from it, the work to I should be clear too for anybody listening. This is me at seven years. This is not me at 30, 60, 90 days, six months a year. There was not many rewards then. Okay. Yeah, I want to be clear about that. There’s like a saying in twelve step meetings when you’re speaking and you want to speak to the person in their 1st 30 days and the person in their last 30 days, meaning the one who’s been sober a long time but maybe is about to relapse, or the person who’s brand new. When I was brand new, if I heard some of what I’m saying now, it would be like a foreign language. That’s bullshit. It wouldn’t make sense. It’s not real. But yeah, if you were asking me these questions when I was early in sobriety, I would have completely different answers. But nowadays the hard part is I’m now married, I have a mortgage, I have high levels of accountability. You’re responsible. Yeah. And if you had asked me that in my 1st 30 days, it’s like hard not to steal something when you go in a store, it’s hard not to. You were just driven out of impulse. Yeah. Very animalistic. You weren’t thinking of the consequences. You were just kind of doing it for the rolling, immediate reward, which was the adrenaline. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. I’m sure a lot of aspects in your life have changed since you’ve been sober. Did your relationships with family, friends, all of that changed? Oh, my God, you have no idea. Family. I was never really too close with my extended family, but they know I’m sober. They love me. When we do get together, it’s great. I’m no longer nobody worries about me now at the family functions. When I was a kid, it was kind of like, is Mike going to raid the liquor cabinet and ruin Thanksgiving? That kind of stuff. My relationship with my mom is that’s the most important one to me, her and my wife, I guess, obviously. But my relationship with my mom is very special because for a long time, I thought I was never going to have one with her. I put my family through hell, and although dysfunctional, they were extremely loving people. My dad, my mom loved me a ton. Did they always do it in the right ways? No, but that was a relationship that I thought I had you. I was always the apple of her eye, but I remember at a certain point, she told me she wished I was never born. And I could tell she meant it in that moment. And that was right before I moved to Los Angeles. So it took me years to really establish that first layer of relationship, which is like saying, I love you again and meaning it and being allowed back to the house without that constant concern. And are you okay? Is he okay? Yeah. How’s he behaving? Now I can talk to my mom about literally anything, whether it’s love, my relationship with my wife, money, work, friends, her life. Right now it’s also about her life. That’s the best to kind of sum all of that up. Being a person that now all of my friends, family, et cetera, call on for help is like a drug. It’s like a great rewarding. Yeah, it is. And I never thought that I would be here. What can someone do if they suspect a loved one might be using drugs or be an alcoholic? What would be your recommendation? I know everybody one of those answers, right? It depends. Yes, I know. It depends. Or maybe talk from your experience. No, I got you. So what I would say is it really depends on how they respond to you. If I’m speaking to the moms and dads and the brothers and the sisters, look, you got to kind of allow your loved one to realize it for themselves. The only time that becomes dangerous is when there’s, like, drugs that they could overdose being used. I think there needs to be a sense of urgency in that case. But if I had general advice, just like, seek professional help. Seek professional help. And also, yeah, I think this is a huge part is own your own shit. Yeah, okay, pardon my French, but like, own your own shit. Lead by example. Chances are, whether it’s your kid or your spouse or whoever a family member is using drugs to a degree that you’re like, listening to a podcast, looking for help, just own your own stuff and lead by example. That encourages that person. I’ll tell you this, when I used to be in the system as a teenager, it was always interrogation and your drug test results state this and blah, blah. You’re like, I know. You’re like, yeah, are you perfect, man? That’s the way someone who’s using looks at life is like, okay, yeah. Chances are they’re not that bad of a person, so they’re using to cope with pain. So I would just say view them as a person who is in a lot of pain and own your own crap. And you will be amazed at what they do if you can admit, hey, you know what? I wasn’t there for you as a kid. I worked all the time, regardless of the circumstances, I wasn’t there for you or God, it must have been hard going to that school or moving, whatever it might be, you’ll know, your loved ones issues that really encourages a person to get vulnerable, to get open and honest and want help. I agree 100%. That could be key with anyone and especially with parents. It’s really hard sometimes to own it because you have to be this authoritative person. But we’re all human beings. Yeah. And they’ve hurt for the listeners, like you’ve been hurt by the addict or the alcoholic, that is very valid. I’m not saying disregard all of that, but understand, the solution doesn’t lie in, like, look at all you’ve done and all you listen. Just stay solution based. And too, if you don’t know how to talk to them, don’t continue to try. Just seek professional help. There is people like me and like thousands of others. They’re now all over social media. It’s 2022. We have a broad array of help available and good help. A lot more people are talking about it, too. Yeah. Do you think the stigma surrounding the label has a lot to do? Why people don’t seek for treatment or seek professional help? I know it’s changed a lot in the past five to ten years, so I know before it was really bad. I feel like now more people are talking about it and being open about it, just like you and willing to share their story. Yeah. Reason I smile is there’s going to be people that don’t agree with me, don’t care? That’s fine. Yeah. I really don’t care. So I believe that people don’t stop because they’re still in immense amount of pain. I don’t think stigma necessarily causes as much, like hush hush as people think it does. I’m going to be a person that says, like, listen, as a teenager, I robbed, beat up. I was not a good person when I was using. I deserved a stigma. I also deserved an understanding that there was reasons behind that, that I’m not just like, sociopath criminal. You weren’t born like that. Yeah, and there’s reasons why, but I don’t want the world. I’m not the person who’s like, baby the addict. I believe that that really keeps someone sick. Yeah. You don’t want to enable an addict, but you want to hold them accountable, yet be a little empathetic about the situation or try to get to know them. Yeah. There’s a very sweet middle, very fine line. And I think, too, that’s where professional help comes in is like, I have been on both sides of this fence. I’ve helped honestly, I’m probably in the thousands by now of families and people, guys, girls who I’ve helped get sober. I developed my understanding through experience. The families who listen to this or the loved ones, whatever, you’re not going to be an expert, so don’t try to be. One thing I’ll talk about, I’ll try and be quick, is no rush. Everybody wants to be like a mindful guru nowadays, right? I’m not trying to be. No, for the record, you’re great. But look, if you are a true mindful guru, you will have humility. Humility says, go get help from professional. Like, if I’m I always kind of say to people, the last person was like, he was a finance guy, right. And I said to him, I was like, if I was refinancing my mortgage, I would go straight to you for help. I wouldn’t tell you how I’m going to refinance my mortgage. Right, so with your loved one, listen to what I’m trying to give you. Exactly. I believe that people just seek professional help to help your loved ones. It’s not a bad thing to allow us in. No, it makes complete sense to close our conversation. What one piece of advice would you offer to addicts who might be listening to this podcast right now? So we talked about the loved ones on that side. If you’re a family member, a friend, what about if you’re an addict and you are considering seeking help? Or maybe they don’t trust themselves enough? Or like you said in the beginning, you didn’t believe you could go through with it, but you did. Right? What saved my life was staff inside of treatment centers. And too, when I was a kid, inside of the juvenile programs that I got sent to, it was always like a certain staff member. So just get vulnerable. Look, I always say to someone who’s still using and still you’re talking to somebody who, down to my core, knows the suffering of it, like the worst of the worst. It sucks. And there really is a way out. There really is. Is it hard? Yes. But lean on people. Good, functional people, right? Yeah. That’s key. But yeah, lean on people and reach out. I think we’ll drop contact information, whatever. This was pretty brief. I didn’t get into a lot of my story, but if you hear anything you like, reach out to me. I’m not going to come handcuff you and bring you to treatment. I’ll be a friend. Yeah, just get vulnerable. That’s what I would say. And you’re still active? You keep going to this twelve step program. Absolutely. Is that something you ever stop? No. I have a firm belief that if I stop, if I don’t maintain my recovery, if I don’t bathe right, it’s going to come. The day is going to come. I’m going to think I can drink like a normal person or whatever it’s going to be. Yeah. The day will come. So, yes, I will always work on myself. Sometimes I’m better at that than other times. Sometimes my physical health is better, sometimes my mental health is better. But at the end of the day, I’m learning how to navigate ourself with that. Yeah. And just live in the middle, man. Just live in the middle. I don’t got to be special anymore. I don’t have to be hot shit like I thought I used to think I needed to be. Well, you were also 18, so you were very young. Yeah. Well, thank you for coming and sharing your story. It was amazing. And I hope for anybody that is listening that you were inspired and it gave you a little hope. And again, we’re going to put his info on the description, so feel free to reach out. Mike’s got you. Thank you for coming. Thank you, everybody, for listening, and we’ll see you next week. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe.