Education & Background: Holds a B.S. in Kinesiology and Wellness from Marywood University and held a minor in Coaching
RJ was a qualifier for the Boston Marathon and has ran in dozens of races ranging from 5K and marathons throughout the years.
His Coaching experience includes, Track and Field for Scranton High School , and was the 4 year Captain for Track & Field at Marywood University as an Academic All American
RJ was a founding member of the Scranton Running Company and founded t"The "Barrier Breaker" running and walking group. He was honored to be a finalist for prestigious multi National running award "Most inspiring coach Awards' by Brooks Running Company.
Today we talk about the cynicism that can be contagious to a mind that grows up around 12 step parents, and overcoming it before it is too late.
Joe Van Wie 0:11
Hello, and thanks for listening to another episode of all better. I'm your host, Joe van wie Today's guest is RJ still cool. RJ is a Scranton native. RJ has had a prolific running career, which has spanned over two decades. RJ is running premier includes he was the cross country coach and cross country and track for Scranton High School, cross country and track for Marywood University and the four year captain. He was an academic all American, was a founding member of this grant Running Company also started the barrier breaker running walking group. By far his favorite achievement was a finalist, the Brooks running company's most inspiring Coach of the Year Award, which is a multinational award between USA and Canada. Boston Marathon qualifier is run numerous races from five K's to marathons. RJ holds a bachelor's in kinesiology and wellness and minored in coaching RJ and I happen to get to work together from the start of the pandemic to its current position. I would mention that probably as the most enjoyable moments of my life in employment, or on a job was working with RJ. Not only was it healing, but it's some of the best memories and it got me through the anxiety that would have taken my mind during a pandemic. If I didn't get to spend it with RJ. Today we get to talk about having parents that were familiar with addiction and its recovery. And what that was like growing up as a teenager, for high school and college having a head full of AAA. At times we get to see the cynical side and the strangeness of 12 Step groups and old characters. And in the end find our way back there. It's community and fellowship and understanding of addiction. Let's meet RJ.
Well, arts thanks for stopping in my attic. It's lovely.
RJ Stiltenpole 2:42
Ever felt so at home? Well,
Joe Van Wie 2:47
I was dying to have you on. We spent quite of a couple months or two years together almost a year and a half this last year and a half. And I worked with RJ every day during the pandemic, starting in fall of 2020. And working with RJ I think saved my mental health completely and improved my marriage and I just became a father. I don't think I've ever gotten to tell you that RJ but that's that's what happened in that year. For me.
RJ Stiltenpole 3:23
Thank you kind words to start the shell. Well, it's
Joe Van Wie 3:27
wild only Scranton guys could go get a job to get out of the house. I folded up my ad agency and then there you are sitting there smiling. Hi, Joe. Yeah, sure work up here. It was awesome. An awesome year, and I got sober.
RJ Stiltenpole 3:45
Now likewise, I mean, I it was huge. It was huge. Having somebody that just it's a friendly face. It's like this guy gets it from Scranton knows the background. He knows the history. He knows me. You know, and we'd have our little check ins and you know, it was just it was it was just good knowing like going into work like art. If I'm having a day job be there. I can grab his ear. Yeah. And check in.
Joe Van Wie 4:09
Yeah, it was wild because we were only kind of the only Scranton people like scrap people of Scranton, the wild Mohawks of Scranton, that were there working at Lake Ariel facility a bit avenues, and I loved it loved every minute. So let's rewind. I'm glad to came on the show. And I wanted to just shoot the breeze with you about some ideas that were going in my head. We could let the discussion go wherever we want. But we're two guys that grew up in the same town couple years apart, but I've known you since grade school and view and we had fathers that were in recovery. We were introduced to 12 Step programs early on in life And we've had multiple periods of sobriety, and not to lose their merits, but all of them counted for something. But they were all different. Absolutely. But I think we've spoke to this before, the landscape of a was different, the cultural, not so much the text of the book, but people are different language changes of meanings sentiment of the fellowship kind of evolved. I thought maybe we could just walk through every decade there. What did that look like? Because it's, it's weird.
RJ Stiltenpole 5:32
It's very odd. I was. I was talking about it last night, I said, at some point, I'll never forget riding up to the Waverly community house with my mother and my father, my mother had a blue allanon book, my father had a black AAA book, and I had a red Alateen book, and I, we were all this one big happy family. And I'm thinking to myself, this is weird life on earth. Like, we're in a cult, you don't know it, like, turn the car around. And it was just so out there. But even then, at a young age, the outpour of love from people that knew my dad and knew my mom that came up to me, it was it was it was odd. It was something I just, you know, as a kid, 1112 years old, I was like, What is this? You know, it made my parents different and made them better. But for me at that age, it was just it seemed odd.
Joe Van Wie 6:26
How old were you? I was probably
RJ Stiltenpole 6:29
11 or 12 years old. They're probably 13.
Joe Van Wie 6:31
Do you remember? The dysfunction prior to sobriety? Your parents the house? Yeah.
RJ Stiltenpole 6:38
Now there was definite dysfunction. My dad got sober. Probably when I was like six or seven years old, you know. But again, it was like he went from being this alcoholic father to AAA, you know, and it's almost like a, not much of a difference. His life became a no, no. So it wasn't like we all sudden had this great relationship. And by default, I had a go to meetings. I had an I resented that I didn't I wasn't a fan of that. You know what I mean? Yeah, I didn't appreciate it. You know, I liked the people there. Just didn't appreciate being drugged there. You know, and it would annoy me and I would get upset. And I felt like I was being cheated a little bit. And then as I got older, I was like, well, now I want a party, you know, and I got, my parents were like, well, timeout. I don't think you understand. You're an alcoholic. It's in your DNA. And I'm like, yeah, no, I'm not. I don't care.
Joe Van Wie 7:31
No. Did you hear people because it me growing up crazy was an adjective for someone who was had merit pay attention to him. He's fun. Yeah, if you said crazy, I think. But when I got to college, that adjective was used for someone who had mental illness. I just thought it was someone Oh, that's someone I want to hang out with. But eight people do that with their stories. Do you? Do you have any romance of the idea of hearing war stories from growing up around a, like, maybe you had a chance and some wiggle room for a rites of passage?
RJ Stiltenpole 8:03
Um, my was like, I swear, my mother was in the CIA, you know, and she was going to stop me. And then I landed my first treatment center at 17. You know? And did I belong there? Yeah, I probably did. You know, when I, when I look back, it was like, when I put a substance in my body, I couldn't control the outcome right from the get. I couldn't. But I just, I was always looking. And this followed me around for years was like, I can't be I'm not as bad as him. I'm not him. Or I'm not that person. You know, and I and I felt because I grew up with an education of AAA that somehow I was immune to alcoholism shielded. Me shielded. Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 8:41
What did what did the alcohol, cocaine and marijuana? What did it take something away that was already humming there. Like an anxiety,
RJ Stiltenpole 8:52
how fresh for me early on was about fitting in. That's really what it was. It was about okay, I fit in. I'm here. I don't excel in school. But you know, I'm at the party with the people of the earth, you know. And but when I did cocaine, having a natural depressive side for me, that's was the the Oh, yeah. Hello. You know, and I hear people speak about alcohol that way. Yeah. I never had that real feeling with alcohol. I never really had that relationship. But that I had that relationship with cocaine. Absolutely.
Joe Van Wie 9:27
Yeah, that makes sense. I've heard that before. That's distinct to even admit to because it's hard. Sometimes the A we grew up in you don't have the wiggle room to speak about the nuance of that. That's real. You feel almost fraudulent. No, I was just a crazy drunk. No, you're you're a cocaine man. Right. So maybe that could start to describe Do you see changes yourself in aid from when I was like, a little late? It was pretty fundamentalist. It was pretty wild.
RJ Stiltenpole 9:58
Yeah, I mean, then it was As Alcoholics Anonymous Yeah, you were at your you better tread lightly. Yeah, using words like cocaine or heroin in AAA. You're running into a buzzsaw Philly George. You start talking that type of stuff there, you know. Yeah. But yeah, but you know what the funny thing is is there's a part of me that misses that a yeah, there's a part of me that identifies with that a and that's probably because that's what I grew up with. You know, it is different today. There's parts of it that I think are great. There's parts that I wish were different. But at the end of the day, I'm a fan of the old way.
Joe Van Wie 10:40
I'm romantic to it. What it means. I don't know, because I'm deranged myself to I miss sitting in a room where 80% are not well,
RJ Stiltenpole 10:50
like, right? Or they don't have to pretend to be well,
Joe Van Wie 10:54
there was no phones in your hands pocket social media. I've seen guns. fistfights I saw a celebration cake gets smashed off a guy's face at the tough love group because he brought up marijuana and the guy goes you don't bring up dope in here. That's out there. There kids out there dying from that ship.
Unknown Speaker 11:17
Smash some fucking the cake right off the guy's face. That was his guy celebration.
Joe Van Wie 11:23
Yeah. How dare you? Yeah, I guess I do miss that. By mine. That was that was what it was and took now go there. And 90% of the room is just, you know, openly speaking about how they practice the steps. If you could guys like me and you growing up in some like pagan biker version of a it's a snore. I'm like, oh my god, everyone's great. Here. We
RJ Stiltenpole 11:48
all really well. Let's get the twist. And people were a little new. Where's the people struggling? Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 11:55
If things have changed in that degree, I think because maybe education. And then I think my sponsor, my original sponsor had a lot to do with that was Bruce Santa Claus, when he took 1000s of people through that block to kind of say, well, I don't know what's going on here in Scranton, but Colorado, New Mexico, New York, we kind of we go off this book. And people were like, what, what is that? Yeah, that's just for the table. That's
RJ Stiltenpole 12:25
it? What book there's a book.
Joe Van Wie 12:31
No, but I think we both it was an overwhelming feeling of love. Regardless of that. I mean, I can make fun of that. But I saw how many friends My father had my my father was a strange and tough guy to be around. And he had real friends
RJ Stiltenpole 12:47
saying what my dad? Yeah. And my dad, I saw my dad do things for people that I didn't think he was capable of doing. You know, I saw him, you know, go up and install a toilet for a sponsor who had MS and just like the the outpouring of love and things that he did for people. And that was just a direct result of a because I can tell you right now, he didn't grow up with that, you know, like, once, once I sat down on my dad one day, he told me how he grew up. It shook me. Like, it shook me like I couldn't I was like, what, what, like, I couldn't make that up. And to see him do that type of turnaround as a human being, you know, and know that, that he only got that because somebody showed him that, you know, so it was important for him to do it. You know? So yeah, there's there's something to be said there.
Joe Van Wie 13:37
Yeah. There's there was a failure me in my 20s and 30s. I got really cynical, and I failed to recognize how powerful the fellowship was, without the literacy of Oh, talk about the steps. These guys were, they were like a biker gang of support for each other. And that's how powerful just supportive with or without the steps guys stayed sober for 20 years just because they made their first friends. Right. And there's a lot to be said about that. I, I guess I don't know. I wanted to deny that. I didn't want it to work for me. I wanted to be something that wasn't from Scranton. Maybe I don't I don't know what the rebellion was, but I rebelled against that. My 20s I felt like my youth was robbed. Yes. of Alcoholics Anonymous. Same
RJ Stiltenpole 14:23
here. 100% Yeah, I felt like I got ripped off. Big time. Yeah, no. Well,
Joe Van Wie 14:30
now when did you when's the first time you went to treatment?
RJ Stiltenpole 14:33
17 I went to clear Brook Lodge. Yeah,
Joe Van Wie 14:35
we're alumna Yeah.
RJ Stiltenpole 14:38
Hello, I am Dan Williams, the program director no people so switchblade
Joe Van Wie 14:43
getting it is like story sounded like West Side Story. Josie. Josie. Yeah, that was a different brand. So that's our first kind of dive into the deep end of the pool of treatment. For anyone who's not Not sure what that is. It was in Shrek shinny. It was an adolescent place. And your usually your first talk at the board was a man named Josie, beloved, beloved character, God, but he was a showman. And he had a really brutal life homeless for multiple years and he would get real quiet and then immediately get in your face. You're going to fucking jail.
RJ Stiltenpole 15:32
He said things to me that I don't even know what to say. I'd cast Yeah, too intense. too intense.
Joe Van Wie 15:40
He would do a few did he do a funeral? He would have you. So yeah, I kind of enjoyed it. I remember pining for my chance to die. It was so self centered. Yeah. What would people be like at my funeral? I'd like to know, he would do this therapeutic exercise where you would lay down on the floor. And then volunteers would play the role of your mom or your dad or your friends. And he would, he would have them come up. And now you say to him, and I'm like, Man, this is this is album woods of six. Ginni, this is what was going on.
Unknown Speaker 16:18
And you're wondering if you're part of a cult was said RJ up to his funeral, so
RJ Stiltenpole 16:22
you better get him some help he needs.
Joe Van Wie 16:28
My roommate was. It was Timmy Hopkins. He was your best friend and my best friend. He was my roommate. And we were gonna get tossed out of there every other week. I can only imagine shampooing, putting stuff in people's shampoos, opening their windows at night in the winter throwing toilet balls. It was it was it was camp for drug addicts. Drug Addict Kids Camp.
RJ Stiltenpole 16:52
Yeah. That's where they sent you up to shikshan.
Joe Van Wie 16:57
It's easy to mock now, but I knew in my heart of hearts in my subconscious from leaving that place and never left me that the solution and one degree or another no matter how much I resented it was me being around alcoholics and addicts. Absolutely. In and out of recovery. Just going to be around my tribe.
RJ Stiltenpole 17:19
Yeah. Now I remember. I remember going down to Leo's aftercare on Mulberry Street. It was Timmy, you know, and in walking in, and I don't know who it was. It might have I don't know, I don't want to say it was Leo. But it was somebody and I remember them saying to me and Timmy, like, while you guys are awfully awfully young to be down here. And yeah, you know, and, and he said, Well, let me give you some suggestions. Go buy a nice suit. Because if you keep playing around with this disease, you're gonna go to a lot of funerals. And, and I can't tell you how many people that I know that were in that room that day. Who are dead? Yeah. But the loyalty that we had, was unbreakable. Yeah, it was like I could call any one of those guys at any point. And tell tell them the truth. And know that they had my back because they got it. They understood. They know what it was like to be a chick. shinny Yeah, they
Joe Van Wie 18:10
did. And there was another sense of loyalty, there'd be some idea if I was on a bender or relapse. And there was a run in with a guy that I liked or it was on a bender to you watch each other's backs? Absolutely. And then when you're alone, you had that sappy conversation of how everyone's gonna venture back to recovery or, or they're beyond recovery, whatever delusion you were gonna share with each other? Yeah, we watch each other's backs. Absolutely. Until someone was safe, right? We have, but a lot of people did dive, it's it didn't crystallize. It crystallized differently a 40. get sober from a relapse, of what the fatality is, it's my inability to be present or confront this forget the drinking and drugging zodion. But my just seemingly inability to recognize anxiety, depression, and the way I think, to the point that it would, it would kill me I would I would get relief from something that's is an illusion, cocaine, alcohol, and it's gonna kill me. And I'm still I'm almost I've done it long enough. And I know you have that you get comfortable with that idea. That's, that's a real cognitive, scary place. It's a disorder, the serious disorder and I never looked at it that way. I just thought I was always lucky. That wasn't going to be me. I was listening to other people's story, even when I was sober. Because I felt like I was always gonna be sober. Yeah. And I didn't do what it what I would have to do to maintain that, like, take care of myself that
RJ Stiltenpole 19:42
I was saying last night that the progression in where it took me, it's just, you know, I mean, it had to, I had to go that low. But same thing I would see other people and other people I knew the past and I would think I just you know, man, I It kind of plays must they've been in it to kill yourself, you know, like what kind of you know, and, and at the end like I didn't I was more afraid to live than die. You know like the thought of going to a grocery store or having some type of normal life or opening my mail was terrifying. I didn't I couldn't couldn't open my mail. And and I wanted to die. Yeah, I really did. I was like I want to die.
Joe Van Wie 20:25
Did you ever see, quote a 90s movie with someone Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin. plane crashes and they're stuck out in the wild. I love that movie isn't there. It's a great movie. It's a classic 90s kind of cut. But he read this sort of, you know, in the plot of the story. He's reading this book on how to survive in the woods. They happen to crash a plane now he has survived in the woods. He says, you know, starvation doesn't kill people. And being lost in the woods. Shame kills people right? To not. There's so shameful they got lost in the woods. Yeah. Well, when you were saying that, I mean, that's what kills me. I wouldn't leave my house shame was killing me. Yeah, this identity of shame associated with an addiction. I can't I can't even like approach being part of reality. Like, I feel like I'm so lost and do not fit in at all.
RJ Stiltenpole 21:20
Absolutely. Absolutely. The worst place to be for me was I don't even want to say one. It felt like one foot in and one foot out. But it was like, you know, I was just abstaining. And I was trying to live a in my head, because I was too embarrassed to go to AAA. And people would be like, Hey, do you want to go out for a drink? And I'd say, no, no, but have one for me. Like, I carried myself like I was a normal person. easygoing, you know, and nobody really knew. Like, is this guy no alcoholic? Is he not an alcoholic? I see him in AAA. Then I see him how like, what's the deal? You know? And it was it was torturous. Yeah, like, well, it was awful.
Joe Van Wie 22:02
Dial him back to you left. That was your first venture into rehab. 17 is shinny. Not too long after? Maybe you got sober for a while. Am I
RJ Stiltenpole 22:12
early? I want to say 2525 25. Yeah, from 17. From 18 till 25. I let it rip. You know, but I felt like I had to hide it. You know, like, my, it was like, I think my parents knew what I was doing. But I kept it out of their face. Yeah, you know, stability.
Joe Van Wie 22:31
I never drank in front of my family never would drink in front of my family. I felt like I owe them more than they would be like, walking into a room with a grenade. Yeah, people do it. We do it.
RJ Stiltenpole 22:40
But they tackle it anyways. You do it?
Joe Van Wie 22:43
Yeah. What did that look like? Get sober at 25. And, and how long did you stay sober? What was that like?
RJ Stiltenpole 22:50
Well, it was like, I stole $10,000 from the government, you might want to go to rehab.
Joe Van Wie 22:57
You could be a hero in some people's books. Yeah.
RJ Stiltenpole 23:00
No, um, I ended up, you know, with all types of legal issues for me. And it was like, you know, maybe there is a problem. We should check into this. And I went tomorrow Earth. And you know, it at that point, it was like one of those moments where I was like, Okay, I don't want to live like this anymore. I'm tired of consequences. You know, I didn't know I really didn't know much about the steps or a book. I knew a lot about AAA fellowship fellowship. I know a lot about fellowship. And I went and I and I and I, and then I went to a boca house. In Florida. There was big. Yeah, I love to Clarence Spady was down there with me. Yeah, my clearance. What year was 99 and let me see, I'm 90,
Joe Van Wie 23:45
Boca house was exploding the 90s That was a big place in Florida. Boca Raton for me was a halfway transitional living in a halfway house or house boat goes wild.
RJ Stiltenpole 23:56
But I did well, and then I came home. And I started to follow the suggestions. And you know, I ended up getting grateful I was my sponsor. Yeah. And, you know, that didn't work out good for me. But, you know, I tried I tried to do it. I did. I did a fourth step. And I thought I was gonna feel some massive relief with it, and I didn't and I got really resentful at AAA. You know, and I felt like you know, I had this sponsor who kind of betrayed me and and hurt me, you know, and then I felt like I just told this guy all my dirty secrets. And now now I'm on the hook he's gonna tell everybody my shit. Yeah. And it just drove me away and and Chris Hayes stepped in you know, and I Chris hadn't stepped in and I should have listened to him because he gave me some of the best advice he said RG said there's just sick people in HR, you know, and in he said, but if you're looking for an A excuse to go out and use he goes to a really good one. He goes, but it won't, it won't get you anywhere, you know, and but I just I felt so discomfort around this one person, I let him push me out, you know, I let him push me on a because he was at every meeting. And I had no coping skills with it. And I just stopped going. And I thought that was the solution. And I stopped going and I thought I was okay. I thought it was better. And I was I had an apartment, I had a job and I was you know, just slowly, slowly, slowly drifted away from a and it was probably like six months of just being dry that I was on the way to watch my brother play football. You know, he was playing for Scranton high and I was driving over there and I'll never forget, I looked over an ash Street and it was like the ash in Washington or Wyoming or one of those in there was a bar that opened and I was like, What is this? What is this open? Like the neon light was like a tractor bring? Yes, sucked me in. And it was like the I pulled right in. I didn't even think to call anybody or I'm an elk. I forgot I was an alcoholic. I'm like, I'm getting a beer. And I got a six pack. And before I even finished that first beer, I was on the phone calling for cocaine. And it was like just tonight. Just tonight. We're just going to do cocaine tonight. Yeah, back on the horse to figure this all out. And it was 10 years before I even attempt. It gets a nightmare. It was
Joe Van Wie 26:35
like going into a coma. It really was because you wake up your moments of clarity in that 10 years. To let reality of what's happening to you fully sink in is torturous.
RJ Stiltenpole 26:47
It wasn't until Timmy died. Yeah. Until that that woke me up a little bit. I was like, this is this is hitting home, because I knew he had alcoholism. Yeah. I know he had an addiction. And I knew he had depression, you know? And that when that happened, I was like, okay, you know, a lot of people are coming up to me going, what happened? He was the happiest guy. He was the funniest kid and I'm like, yeah, he was. He had a whole other bag of shit.
Joe Van Wie 27:11
Who was to me, you're to me? Yeah.
RJ Stiltenpole 27:15
When he, I was like, wow, you know, I might need to take a look at what I'm how I'm living here. You know, this is, for instance, grade school. Yeah, kindergarten, you know, and I just, and then after that, it was like, you know, I was married at this point. And I'm like, I'm trying to, like, go to Datz. And, and that's surrender, though. Like, I was like, I will surrender up until a certain point, you know,
Joe Van Wie 27:40
was it been around the funeral? And, I mean, because my memory of it was, it was at the bog, it was just, it was just drinking for
RJ Stiltenpole 27:50
weeks. I distinctly remember being married and telling my wife at the time, like, don't bust my ass. I have to get like, this is how I have to get through this. I have to drink your thank you get this, you know, and, and I believed it. Yeah. When I said it, I meant it. And
Joe Van Wie 28:08
without any other tools without what would be your right because
RJ Stiltenpole 28:15
the pain you feel is just you know, it's you can't describe it. You've pinned yourself
Joe Van Wie 28:19
in a box. You've been betrayed. That's hard to get over. by someone. Now you can recognize as mentally ill Yeah. That's a perfect storm.
RJ Stiltenpole 28:32
Yeah. Yeah. So I, you know, I went through it, trying through us through it, and then and then all sudden, it's like, you know, this person that I'm married to who, who I know loves me and wants to help me, you know, can't anymore, you know, and, and I, I put it on her, you know, Mike, you need to help me you need to hold my paycheck. Don't give me any money, you know, and it was like, my wife turned into a babysitter, you know, and then it just, it just started to just slowly and it was like, Okay, now you're taking my alcohol away and you've taken my drugs away. And then I became like, Alright, I need what else can I use? I gotta get neurotic, like, I'm going to run out, you know, I'm going to exercise and that's going to be my higher power. And as long as I'm in shape, and I'm a runner, I can't be an alcoholic and a drug addict. That's obvious, you know, and I that's how I had my mind trained, you know? Yeah, imagery, imagery, you know. So UFC,
Joe Van Wie 29:27
did you run in high
RJ Stiltenpole 29:28
school and ran in high school, you ran high school, cross country and track.
Joe Van Wie 29:33
So you started, you really dive back into running? Late 20s. Late 20s. Yep. What does that look like?
RJ Stiltenpole 29:41
Well, like I said, it was like, you took the alcohol and drugs away I needed something wasn't going to be any type of swap steps. No, thank
Joe Van Wie 29:50
you. No, but you know, I mean, that's a permanent solution, but it doesn't discount the power of just fellowship like we were talking right. Running Got a passion
RJ Stiltenpole 30:00
right now running like, you know, is part of me today. But at that point, I wanted it to be all of me because I thought, people, if they look at me and they see RJ the runner, they won't see RJ the drug addict alcoholic. And that felt like a big victory for me, because that's what I saw. Yeah, you know, that's what I saw. You know. So I'm like, wow, you know. And so I, you know, I ran a lot. And I ran a lot of races and even, you know, started a business with my friend, and we started a Running Company, and all these things happen. And I went to college, and I went to Marywood. And I ran college cross country, and like, that's where I got myself and my okayness from was all that, you know, and there was a lot of wins there. But inside, every time I went to bed, I still never felt whole, you know, there was something missing, you know? Yeah. And I would still always think about what that cocaine and alcohol did for me. Yeah, I know what that does. I can't do it. You can't you can't go near that. Because if you go near that, this all goes away. Wow. And I mean, but I obsessed about it, and I thought about it, but I never told anybody about it. It was like just trying to wrestle a monster.
Joe Van Wie 31:09
That's what you described is as serious as the disorder gets. A week ago, it's an area yet but Ariane Scheller as a PHP, she's a Site D she came on, she calls the condition prior to addiction. You know, a lot of people do what she was really articulate in an insecure detachment disorder, I believe I have it, you just describe it. You've done everything that someone would want to not be an alcoholic, you know, in your flourishing. But down in the core of the bottom of that onion is a person that still doesn't feel they're worthy enough. And I think that's what the steps do they confront the first part of addiction that Yep, rather than, Oh, let's get you out of legal trouble. Let's get you out of the Absolutely. The first part is this in that didn't get solved yet. Absolutely. Sure.
RJ Stiltenpole 32:03
So awful. And also that, hey, it was like, every time I would, you know, fall on my face, people would say RJ like you have got to give up the running or barrier breakers or the running store. Like it's, you have to work on you. And I would think like, No, I can't, that's who I am. Like, I had it so confused. You know, like, I'm like, No, if as long as I have this, I'm okay. And it was like, because my okayness was contingent upon a running store or barrier breakers or a relationship. Not Am I okay with RJ? Yeah. Am I okay, with any form of higher power? You know, and it was it would hold me up for a little while, and I would fall? And I would not, I was like, I wasn't willing to just completely surrender. And look at the real what was really going on with me. Yeah, how to be your oath.
Joe Van Wie 32:57
You always say, Yeah, my
RJ Stiltenpole 32:58
authentic self, I had a really hard time being RJ when I
Joe Van Wie 33:01
first heard you say that a year ago. I'm like, that's, that's what I've had trouble with most of my life, or I'm afraid to because I couldn't tell the difference between what my personality may be versus what my ego is, which some people enjoy. So it's hard. It's like this invisible line that I could only find out by trusted one person and a it's non professional help that failed you in the past, sometimes it could for someone who could be a therapist. That's that's just it's it's not easy to tell someone and then you peel those two things apart. Which ones make, Yeah, which one was an illusion protecting me, right? It's, I don't want to get lost in it again. I don't I couldn't bear.
RJ Stiltenpole 33:50
It's I am beyond one of the things I would say is I'm grateful for the awareness. You know, I have the awareness. Because I wasn't aware. Like I was all in on that lie. Yeah. Which was this is you need to be you
Joe Van Wie 34:05
know, I have enough experience being uncomfortable. No, and I know you do, especially getting close last two years. I'm alright with being uncomfortably aware. It's better than setting off a bomb a nuke by ignoring something that could be painfully true. could kill a guy like me or you with addiction. That's what addiction is. It happens when you're sober. An idea that you have to hide in your head. It's a It's dangerous. It's
RJ Stiltenpole 34:34
very dangerous. I you hear me say it all the time I call trading seats on the Titanic. Like so many times I would get off alcohol and I'd be on cocaine and I'd get off cocaine and alcohol and I'd get on women and I would think just because I'm you know, abusing this that you know what, I'm okay. And I'm on Titanic and I'm sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. And I still think I'm okay because I haven't touched drugs and alcohol. And the reality of it is Is All roads lead back to that? Yeah, forgive me, because I'm not really well. But I believe I'm well, because I'm not doing Nash is one of the
Joe Van Wie 35:09
would it be the scariest part of your addiction? Was there a moment where cocaine wasn't being as effective? Well, you could, but the use is hard now like, yeah, what kind of terror does that create? And someone when the only relief you were getting, and you know, you're paying consequences for using cocaine, but at least there's a trade off you get some. When did that fail?
RJ Stiltenpole 35:30
When they released stops? Yeah. At the end, yeah. Now, most people say this isn't even working. Yeah. But ya know, I was I had, I was with my, my fiancee now and AFS. Yeah. And we had an apartment. And I was, you know, she left, you know, and, and it was like, I'll never forget that, like, holding on to her leg, like, don't leave, all the plants will die. Like, mom can't go. Yeah, you know, like, as she's packing the truck, I'm unpacking the truck, you know, and because I'm thinking, I can't be alone in here, you don't understand. And she had to leave like it was, she needed to take care of herself. And so I'm alone in this apartment, just using 24/7. And none of its work. And, and I'm, I'm at that point where bill talks about in the book, should I kill myself? Yeah, you know, and I had this like, overdose slash suicide attempt were ended up in the hospital, you know, and I'll never forget, like, in that apartment, crying my eyes out saying goodbye to my dog, because I knew I was going to I was going to either kill myself or die that day, you know, and like crying because I felt like I failed this dog. Yeah, it was the only mammal that would come near me at the end. I'm really glad you had your dog. Yeah. And, and go into a hotel and like, just and then, you know, coming to the hospital, you know, thinking like, oh, shit, like, I made it. You know? And, and like, this isn't working, you know, but still being so sick that they're like, You need to go to treatment where you go to treatment? And yeah, sure, I'll go to treatment, because I'm seeing it and I go to treatment, and I'm there for 45 minutes. And I'm like, yeah, I gotta leave. Now. I'm the guy leaving treatment. You know, like, I used to be in treatment center. See, and people leave and I'm like, What the hell is wrong with this guy? To how's he thinking? No, I'm that guy. I'm the guy even treatment. I'm the guy that's generic,
Joe Van Wie 37:29
RJ Stiltenpole 37:30
Like, yeah, I can't do this. I can't be so I don't know how to be sober. You know, I don't I can't do it. You know, like, I would hear people say and I would think like, okay, whatever, you know, and now I'm like, You're the he doesn't get it guy that you You're Mr. Desire chip.
Joe Van Wie 37:45
Did it feel like anxiety driving that to to just get away from?
RJ Stiltenpole 37:49
Yeah, it was anxiety. It was and it was also to like, I had myself convinced, like, a doesn't work. You know, what am I going to do? Like, I thought it was about you know, and you've heard me share this. I thought it was about strength. I thought it was about strength. I was like, you already have to grow up my inner dialogue. So I like caught the shed grow up, man. Stop, you're hurting your friends. You're ripping off your friends, man. You're stealing from your friends. People that love you people that have looked Alfre people that care about you? And yeah, need to grow up, you need to stop this shit. And, and then, you know, at the very end, my mother asking me like, do you want help? You know, like, and me saying yes, like, Okay, I will go back to a rehab again. And then sending my dad a text message saying like, Dad, I wish I had your strength because I at this point, like, he's, he's sober, you know? And like, he's, he's not gonna enable me, you know, and him and him responding back saying it's not about strength. It's about surrender. And for the first time I had that, like, oh my god, like, I get the chills talking about it, because it was like, Yeah, I need to I need to surrender. Like, I need to totally give up and that just wasn't who I was, you know, you know, and then having that shift and like, whatever they tell me to do, I have to do and if that looks like going back to AAA, I have to go back to a you know,
Joe Van Wie 39:14
yeah. When you describe surrender, in that store, that scenario, you know what, I could see it as now, the experience I've had it's, it's finally the collapse of an ego. And I don't I might not know what my personality or authentic self is. But I'm willing to borrow a AES idea of it this practice or going back to a or it clicked surrender. Yeah, there's a will operate in my life that's trying to kill me. Yeah, do I want this to be me?
RJ Stiltenpole 39:46
Yeah. Yeah, totally. Yeah, man. It's crazy ego collapse and that like, Okay, I'm just like everybody else. Yeah. And, and, and that, that gift of of desperation. There's a little relief after that there's a massive relief. Like, oh, okay, I don't have to do this by myself. Yeah. And it's okay. And I might be alright. I might be alright. Yeah, yeah. And then I end up in debt. If you want to go full circle. I end up at a place called Huntington Creek is my last treatment center, which used to be the old Clearbrook Lodge. Yeah, guy. So like, as I pull up to this place, I'm like, Ah, yeah, I recognize this place. Does it still look the same? It looks the same as that big open area and suck them back cigs
Joe Van Wie 40:35
and that, like, atrium or whatever that has some room where there'd be like eight kids 13 Sucking back. Rolled golds looks exactly the same. You didn't need cigarettes up there. You just needed a straw in that room. You could just suck them right. A whole pack and went deep. Inhale Wow, hunting the creek. That is freakish. Yeah, that's That's it loop around.
RJ Stiltenpole 41:02
Yeah, that's an interesting lie or something really crazy. When I was in Shrek shinny 1994. I asked the guy there. His name was Jude. You work there? Because back I remember Jude Jude. They didn't have any um, there was no, there was no TV Netflix. You had you had a book and a counselor. And
Joe Van Wie 41:23
they had a TV. It had a canvas crank belt around it on a 600 pound desk that we've watched Bill story.
RJ Stiltenpole 41:31
That was it was built Yeah. But I asked you they said dude, what's what's going on out in the world today? And he said he goes well some crazy asshole out in Texas thinks he's Jesus Christ. And he sold a bunch of people hostage talking about David Koresh and Waco. Yeah, so so every time I heard of Waco, or David Koresh, I thought of jute. I thought a dude in chick shinny full circle. I go to Huntington Creek. I'm there about three weeks and we're playing this game where you had to give a clue and I don't remember the exactly how it went down. But the clue was, the answer was Waco. Really? Yeah, the answer. I forgot what the clue was. The clue was there and the clue was that clue was David Koresh. Branch Davidian something else.
Joe Van Wie 42:21
The answer was wake American patriot who misguided I was like, why
RJ Stiltenpole 42:29
are you kidding me? Like, totally, we were playing this game in Waco comes up and I'm like, Wow, man, you know,
Joe Van Wie 42:34
we secular I was pretty, you know, maybe be carved out as a title of a New Atheists, but in the sense of paying attention to things that make life interesting. And give me an open heart that it's just not nuts and bolts of of logic and math of this experience being alive. I stopped drinking. You know, I was going back and forth. The, you know, the year before I stopped was much worse. So now I'm having these binges and then over sympathetic and taking MDMA to get through the week to feel some sense of joy. Maybe there would be a future. I was drinking in my driveway, coming home, a bottle of some Pennsylvania vodka, it was on sale. And I threw it out. And I was just totally in collapse. And I was confronted the next day that that was Halloween. It's right after Yeah. Ryan, Greg. That we have him passing the next year. The very next year at 2:30am. My daughter was more version. So my David Koresh moment was like, these things are interesting. I would bag I was in my mind was always in such a Christ, self centered crisis of torment, pity, pain, confusion, mania, that I couldn't see things make that make life interesting or more meaningful, regardless of what they mean. Right? Just makes life more meaningful. I'm paying attention here, you're awake. I'm remembering things and being more thoughtful. And you got to think of Jude I mean, I don't think I those things are important to me. No, Yeah,
RJ Stiltenpole 44:22
same here. No doubt. Yeah, the stuff that even just spending time with my mom and dad, you know, those little things like making a point to go see them. You know, it's so important to me, you know, getting engaged those types of things have in the relationships I have with people I wouldn't trade it for the world. I you know, you hear me say that gift of availability. Because at the end of my addiction, I was unavailable. Okay. I was unavailable. Now. I couldn't answer I couldn't answer the phone. No, I
Joe Van Wie 44:51
couldn't give me what I wanted to show. I
RJ Stiltenpole 44:53
couldn't show my face. I was missing missing important events, missing weddings. You know, and And now, that doesn't happen anymore.
Joe Van Wie 45:04
So what happened in that first year that you knew? This is my foots on the pedal? And you had a I know you had a back up problems like anyone at this age get sober. Sure. It's easy to just give up and say this, this is not gonna, I'm gonna make a fool out of myself. I'm gonna make a fool
out of myself getting sober. You know that.
RJ Stiltenpole 45:28
I remember telling my one of my old sponsors, I said, I don't want to go to AAA. It's embarrassing. You know, I don't want to walk down into church basements. That's embarrassing. So no, RJ pissing your pants. That's embarrassing. That's a good point. Yeah, my
Joe Van Wie 45:43
logic is a little skewed here.
RJ Stiltenpole 45:45
Okay, yeah. But um, no, I, the best thing that happened to me was Billy Braddock and my sponsor. Yeah, you know, I mean, that was the best thing to happen to me. And I knew I knew how serious I was. Because when I got out, I was like, Okay, I'm gonna do whatever they tell me to do. And I got a sponsor. And, and I knew this guy a long time. And he had worked at Mar worth, and I still love this guy to death. But I asked him to be my sponsor. And, and, you know, just I wasn't, I knew I was all in and I just wasn't getting what I needed. Joe, and, you know, just wasn't there. And RJ always Mo was like, Well, I'm not gonna hurt this guy's feelings. rather die. I'd rather you'd rather die of addiction, the other day of addiction that hurt this guy's feelings, you know, and I was like, I have to get an ashram out. Like, I have to do this. Like, I have to find somebody that's gonna give me what I need to get through this. And, and so I let them know. And then I just put it out to the universe, like, okay, you know, and our buddy Timmy. Calvin was, was in Huntington Creek with me. Yeah, you know, he was he was there with me. And then, you know, he came to a meeting, and, and that's how I met Billy. You know, I saw Billy, you know, what I saw Billy do that day for Timmy was like, that's, that's it, I want to, you know, this guy is selfless. And it was easy to see it, you know, and it was like, just the way he managed that situation. And at that point, I have like, two months of sobriety, the only thing I can put around, the only thing to do for Tim Kaplan was put my arm around him and tell him I love them. You know, I didn't, I didn't know what to do. But the way Billy quarterback, that whole thing and end jerboa. And, and those guys, like I gotta get on with these guys, you know? And then I called Billy, and he checked in on me. And, you know, it was like asking someone to the prom. I was like, I need a sponsor, you know? And he said, absolutely. You know, and from that day on, you know, I mean, I've just, I've just followed his lead man, you know, like, I don't call him every single day, but when it's important, and unlike when I know it's above my paygrade, ya know, and a lot of times, sometimes I'm above my paygrade. And I don't know it. But most of the time, I have that awareness. Like, I need to, I need to shoot this by him. I need to talk with him about it, you know, or just just the day to day conversations and listen to the way he does it. I'm like, You know what, like, Yeah, this guy. He's crazy. He's funny. He reminds me of myself. To some degree, he's generous. He's going this is kindness and his generosity. You are you want to be a part of it. You want to be a part of it. And I wanted to be around him and so getting around him was changing. And then that sense of fellowship. And that sense of AAA is a good place. Yeah. Oh my god. There's some magnificent people in here. And and feeling like a part like I was always around a, you know, at the end, you know, I was never in it. Yeah, but I was like, I was in it. And I was grateful to be in it. It wasn't like, Oh, great. This is what I get to do. We
Joe Van Wie 48:49
were growing up in a you get so cynical around a 12 step. I mean, to the point where we just sit around prank call weirdos. We did a lot of pranks at school divers. We have taught them just on people, man sick. There's its own derangement that comes with being around the cost of groups your full life but what I've seen in a renaissance, like in the groups we go to recommitted me to the seriousness of having to have a Brotherhood or a fellowship that like it's an old What else could have saved me a 40 I was so cynical, hurt, beat up. And that's why I'm so glad we got to spend so much time together last two years because it's hard to tell to someone that just gets over a year ago. That's 35. Right? Like I have a full head of all the bullshit I've seen in and out of the rooms right. To see a recommitment. Like no, Joe, you're the bullshit. Yeah, like you need to like to not only be sober There's a, you know, you got an A history in your head, the two of us have how fun and bizarre that history is. Yeah, I'm grateful to the degree. I know I miss it, but to see what's going on now, and how quickly people help each other and facilitate it back and forth from professional help, to real help, peer to peer friendships. I don't think my life could function without that commitment. Yeah, it can't. Yeah, same here. Not in the degree, I need it. Because I get lost, I'll look at shiny things.
RJ Stiltenpole 50:34
Well, I was saying to someone the other day who was struggling, and I said, you know, when it when my house is on fire, it's it's easy to be honest. You know, it's easy to be honest, it's easy to be open minded, and it's easy to be willing, you know, because I'm in pain, right. And then when I stopped being in pain, it works in reverse for me stopped getting wheeling. And then my mind starts to shut off. And then I start lying.
Joe Van Wie 51:00
We aren't we both of us have never been in our 40s and FTM. Coming to terms with the fact you can only wake up so much so fast. And I believe that the spiritual awakening, you could call it a spiritual awakening. It's an awareness of stuff that was just too uncomfortable to know. And it gives me guts as you become aware of it. But I know, neither one of us have to relapse to jump back on the saddle, right. Nor is there any room for any of that happening without consequences cannot go away. Physical, legal. When you get old, it gets real sloppy. And it's so nightmarish. There is no relief for fellowship. And what I felt my 20s Being in a bar of that other effect, you just, you know, you can't discount sitting with four drunks. Right? It has nothing to do. Feels pretty good for drug. Sure it does. You feel like you're not alone, right? It's shallow. But I can't be without that even in recovery. I have to be accountable to a group of people that know what alcoholism is an addiction. So what what's the year of bringing this I had this year, you've made a lot of big changes and you've met you've you've made a lot of big amends. And
RJ Stiltenpole 52:25
yeah, I mean, I did my, what I would consider most of my, my Mount Everest of appearance, which were so like, man, that the feeling you get of knowing like, okay, you know what, let's put that down. And, you know, and feeling like, you know, like, you can I can go anywhere, you know, yeah, it says we go or free men go, we can look the world in the art the world and the angle or free men go, you know, and I can do that today. Because I've, I've, I've done the right thing, you know, whether whether it was financially or with with family and stuff like that, you know, I've made the amends. I've done what I can there, and it feels good. You know, I feel good. I feel good about myself. I got engaged. And I made amends with my my fiance's kids, which was huge, you know, I mean, that was a massive hurdle, you know, in early sobriety, and only if they're hurt, you know, and I, of course, like, I want this to be better now, and I can't, for the life of me figure out like, what, what they're so upset about? Yeah, and that's where having a great sponsor comes in, because it keeps waking me up to take argies Like, they gotta God, it's not you, you gotta give them time. You know, and, and just trust in, you know, I mean, you know, my myself and Annette sons, we just had, they were just her one son was home for Christmas. And we had a house full of kids, man, and I've never experienced that, you know, because I was never, I was married. I never had kids, but you know, to have all these kids there. And even though they're in their 20s, man, it it was like, oh, man, like, this is fatality, like good as it gets, you know, like, I'm, you know, like, I have to pinch myself sometimes, you know, like, I I'm not my bank statement, you know what I mean? Like, yeah, it's like, cuz that's what I used to think I was, you know, just like, better, better or some money in my checking account if I want to go to heaven, because God's gonna check, you know, or what kind of car did you drive or any of that stuff? It's like, you know what, like, it's not how I feel about it. You know? It's not our freedom. It's not Oh, no, it's really not so let me my life is when they say it's beyond your wildest dreams. I used to laugh because I'm like, Oh, I got some pretty well dream. Jet skis,
Joe Van Wie 54:41
Jet Ski dreams. There's a jet ski magazine. Yeah, you can get the magazine first. Yeah, I think that's what the ROB report serves everyone who's dreaming of a Maserati? Yeah, let me be prepared for when I'm going to buy it. We read about Mazda Rotties. Yeah. Well, it was good day. have you on? I usually wrap it up around an hour and dad's gonna take a smoke break.
RJ Stiltenpole 55:05
I love it. You'll come back. Absolutely man. Thanks for having me. Yeah, we
Joe Van Wie 55:09
got to sit on its second guest. We got to grill somebody.
RJ Stiltenpole 55:12
Yeah, let's see. Yeah, let's I want to get on the other side. Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 55:16
You're gonna have Tom Comerford as your your that Tebow. All right, man. I'd like to thank everyone for listening again. Thanks for coming on Arch. Thanks again, Jeff.
I'd like to thank you for listening to another episode of all better. Find us on all better.fm or listen to us on Apple podcasts. Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and Alexa. Special thanks to our producer John Edwards, an engineering company 570. Drone. Please like or subscribe to us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And if you're not on social media, you're awesome. Looking forward to seeing you again. And remember, just because you're sober, doesn't mean you're right.
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