Sober Living House Operator Mark Fredrickson

SOA 08 | Sober Living HomeWhen a recovering addict keeps thinking that he will always be a victim of drug abuse, then the change that everyone is expecting to happen will not happen. Sober living home operator, Mark Fredrickson, knows all the struggles of getting away from drug addiction. He has been through the bumpiest of roads at the age of 10, but thanks to support groups, Mark was able to recover. Now he owns 8 sober living homes he calls Second Chance Sobriety where he helps addicts turn their lives away from drug abuse and become individuals who can serve their community.

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Sober Living Home Operator Mark Fredrickson

I’m very pleased and honored to have Mark Fredrickson as my guest on Stories of Addiction. Mark, thank you very much for being here.

Thank you, Paul.

I first met Mark about three years ago when Mark was considering renting a property that I own in order to run the property as a sober living environment. Mark runs eight houses under the Second Chance Sobriety label mostly in the San Jose, California area. For his own reasons, Mark did not rent this property and I operate it now as a sober living property in Sta. Cruz, California called Gault House. Mark and I have met several times over the last three years. Mark has been very helpful to me in running my sober living property. I want to start this episode with Mark’s biography, which he prepared. In his biography, which was written in the first person, Mark quickly gives you an insight into his background. Then I will ask Mark several questions that I feel our listeners will find interesting. Here’s is Mark’s biography.

“I was born in San Jose in 1982. When I was around 10 years old, my parents divorced, which I would believe, had an adverse effect on me. It was around this time that I started getting in trouble in school regularly and being a poor student. About two years later, we moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains and my mom’s boyfriend moved in with us. He was very physically abusive. This is also about the time that I started using drugs; pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I started with marijuana and alcohol and branched out from there. By the time I started high school, I was addicted to methamphetamines. By the time I was a junior, I was addicted to heroin. I dropped out of school in my senior year. I bounced around from job to job a little bit after high school, and ultimately settled on a career in methamphetamine sales. I was pretty good at this but I decided to diversify a little bit and went into committing other crimes as well. My favorite was robbing drug dealers at gun point. This ultimately culminated in me robbing one person who got a little dinged up in the exchange. His trip to the hospital and the interview with the police caused something of a scandal, and the next day I was in the newspaper. Soon, I was on TV and listed as one of the most wanted fugitives in the county. Eventually, my luck ran out and I was apprehended and taken to jail to await trial. I received three and a half years to be served in state prison.

My prison career went similarly to my sales career, in that I embraced the lifestyle rather than seeking change. This caused me to bounce around a little bit from prison to prison as my points went up as a result of my various misdeeds. Due to this, I landed in a prison that manifested extremely high levels of violence. Shortly after landing there, I was in a riot in which I witnessed and took part in things that will probably haunt me for the rest of my days. After this I went to SHU for several months where the solitary caused me to lose my mind a little. At this point, I was nearing my release date and I decided it was finally time to change. I was released from prison in 2009 and went into a sober living home. I had trouble finding a job so I went to school and eventually became a house manager at the sober living home. In 2011, I left to start my own sober living home and was very successful at this, expanding to a second house within a relatively short amount of time. I finished up at community college and applied to universities. I was surprised and excited to find that I’d been accepted to Berkeley. I graduated from Berkeley with honors in 2015 and came back to San Jose. I immediately expanded into a third sober house. Shortly after moving back, my partner got pregnant and we got engaged. My daughter was born shortly there afterwards and my sober living business began to grow at a rapid pace.”

Mark now operates eight houses in the San Jose area under the name Second Chance Sobriety. I’m very honored and pleased to have Mark here as my guest. Welcome again, Mark.

Thank you.

I’m going to jump in and ask some questions that I hope you can give me your direct answer to. Here’s my first question. If a parent realizes that their child is using drugs like you were using drugs in high school, what should that parent do?

My honest opinion is I don’t know what you can do. Adolescents are, by a wide margin, the most difficult population to deal with. I think the problem there is that people don’t stop using until they’ve had enough consequences and they’re ready to stop. For a teenager, they’re just usually not there yet. I know a lot of people that their parents put them in wilderness camp, they put them in this or that program with varying levels of success. I have a friend who is a marketer for a rehab for teenagers. She says that oftentimes she won’t even place kids unless they have a really, really serious problem. If they’re manifesting normal teenage alcohol and marijuana use and she puts them in a treatment center, they’re going to be exposed to kids that are doing meth, kids that are doing heroin, kids that are runaways, all of these things that they might not otherwise be exposed to. I’m realizing now this is probably not the best answer for a parent to hear, but I don’t really know the answer to that question.

That being said, I do have friends that I went to high school with that got sober when they were seventeen and are sober today. It’s not as though it can’t happen. It’s just when you’re talking about adolescents, you’re talking about the most difficult population to deal with by a very wide margin. I even see that in the clients that I get that are in the 18 to 25 range. Women generally are more adult at 25 than men are because they say with men, the prefrontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until they’re 25. Literally, they have the mind of a teenager. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making. For men generally at 25, you still have the same impulse control that you did when you were sixteen. I don’t know how your impulse control was at sixteen, but mine was not great.

Let me ask a couple of specific questions on this subject area. Do you think it would be a good idea for a father to take a son out into the woods and give him a damn good beating for using marijuana or other drugs?

Unequivocally, no.

Do you think it would be a good idea for parents to take their drug or alcohol-using teenager to a psychologist or family marriage therapist in order to assess the problem and have a discussion?

Absolutely, yes. I think that if you’re dealing with a teen that is using, probably seeing a marriage family therapist or a psychologist is a better idea for that age group than an adolescent treatment center. Although I’m not necessarily an expert, but I think for the problem that I mentioned before in terms of exposing your child to more other problematic teenagers, I think in certain cases it will be more helpful to work with a therapist or psychologist one-on-one.

Because of the nature of your answer, I’m assuming that you would think that sending your child to some sort of wilderness camp environment, which is full of other problem children might not be a good idea because you’re effectively taking, let’s say, a petty criminal and housing him with a bunch of hardened criminals and he’s just learning from them and getting the wrong kind of role models. Am I correct on that?

Yeah. If you’re talking about you have an adolescent child that is experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I think it’s natural for all parents to panic at that point. I think that if your child was using meth, heroin, something where they’re looking at something beyond experimentation and something that potentially is a lifetime sentence of substance abuse, then I think wilderness camp adolescent treatment is absolutely appropriate in those kinds of cases. If you’re dealing with experimentation alcohol, marijuana, these kinds of things, I think that’s relatively normal for teenagers.

What do you think of the idea of sending a child away for six months or a year to a boarding school or to a relative in another country? In other words, radically changing the environment.

There are a couple of schools that taught on that. The twelve-step way of thinking is, like they say, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have generally found that to be true in the sense that the problem with substance abuse is not your surroundings, it’s yourself. When you add to that the fact that drug users are generally the most accepting of new people into their social groups, the only criteria is, “Do you use drugs as well?” and you’re it. Moving a loved one to another area especially if you’re moving them to a new high school, it seems likely that they could very easily fall into a group that’s maybe troubled teens, drug users, that kind of thing.

In that new environment, the parents would probably have less control because, the way that I posed the question would be that you’re sending them away somewhere. In a home environment, the parent would have more control. I would like to ask you, do you think that alcohol and marijuana are gateway drugs?

Yeah, not for everybody.  I don’t think that marijuana and alcohol use causes people to use other drugs. Everybody uses marijuana and alcohol at some point. Of course, if you have a population where 90% of people have tried either marijuana and alcohol, then 5% of those go on to have substance abuse issues, of course you’re going to be like, “Will they use these substances in the beginning?” It’s like, “Yeah, your whole control group uses these substances in the beginning.” It’s not like you can just not use marijuana and alcohol and you won’t have these problems. I think when it really comes down to it, substance abuse is a mental health issue in regards to impulse control. I have a friend whose mom was a big woman his whole life and she got the lap band surgery. Once she did that, she couldn’t eat anymore as a means of finding comfort and immediately became an alcoholic. She never had a drinking problem, she never had a drug problem. Basically overnight, she became an alcoholic. She lost where she found comfort before in food and immediately had to turn to something else. I think that issues of substance abuse are within the addict, the alcoholic, and it’s going to manifest somehow. For me, I’ve been sober a long time and I still have issues with anything else that makes you feel good, issues with food and whatever it is. As soon as I put, let’s say, sugar in my body, I don’t react the same way to it that other people do where they’re like, “Let’s have a piece of pie after dinner.” For me, once I have that one piece, it’s smash cut to me eating pie straight out of the tin in my underwear in the middle of the night. Once it’s in me, I have the same reaction to it that I would with alcohol, meth, heroin, whatever.

Towards the end of your prison sentence, you decided to seek change. Why was there a change in direction? What were your thought processes around seeking change at the time that you were in prison?

Prison is always a messed up place to be. It’s awful. It’s depressing to be in. The first place I was at, I figured out I assimilated well. I had ways of making money. I had ways of getting drugs. I had ways of doing all these things that made it more comfortable for me. Once I was transferred to a level three prison, it was bit of a rude awakening. As soon as you get sent to prison you are, by definition, part of the group and you have no choice in that matter. If that group decides that they’re going to do something, you don’t have a choice, you have to take part in it. Like you mentioned in my bio, I was in a riot there and it was legitimately a very terrifying experience. I got injured in that. I was one of the lucky ones in that I was injured fairly badly but not as bad as some that I saw. I was engaging in violence over something so stupid and this politics that I didn’t really believe in. I was forced to because that’s how prison works. Subsequent to that, I went into the SHU, solitary confinement. The solitude weighed on me very heavily. It gave me time to think, reflect. About this time, I was 25 or 26.

SOA 08 | Sober Living Home

Sober Living Home: Sometimes we get stuck in our own processes and can’t see that there’s a really easy way out.

Because I kept getting in trouble, I was in prison a year longer than I was supposed to. Going to the SHU added a lot more time to my sentence. I was supposed to be out in two years and I ended up doing three. I never really looked at that and what I was doing. I was so miserable there but I kept doing things to add more and more time to it, which is the same thing that we see drug addicts do all the time. I am trying to get a client into one of my houses right now and he’s like, “I need one more day and one more day. I relapsed. I need three days to have a clean drug test.” Then it’s like one more and one more, and it’s like you are clearly living in just complete misery and you’re telling me that this is awful for you but you keep going one more day and one more day and one more day in perpetuity. Sometimes we get stuck in our own processes and can’t see that there’s a really easy way out.

My time in the SHU, I did some reflecting. I went back onto the main part of the prison but I was on lockdown and a lot of groups were on lockdown, so I was still just stuck in the cell but there was more to do. My mom sent me a thing that said, “I want you to go into sober living and I’ll pay for it for a month.” I just thought like, “I think I’m going to do this. I’ll give it a shot.” I had gotten sober once before when I was eighteen. I was sober for six months. I didn’t obviously stay that way. I guess a little bit of time to reflect helped me. I think that realizing that I was putting myself into just worse and worse situations, that I was in a place with people that were not afraid to kill other people over very dumb things, it just all converged on me at once and I realized that I had had enough. Once I actually gave sobriety a shot, it was incredible. I think the other thing too is the circumstances of me going from the SHU to lockdown, it gave me some time where I was forced to be sober. Before that, I was high in prison not everyday but a lot, most of the week. I never really had an opportunity to step away from that even in prison, which I feel is a metaphor for the war on drugs in this country which is you’ll never stop it, not with criminalization. If people are able to use in literally the most controlled environment in probably the world, I would say that United States prisons are probably the most controlled environment available and people are still able to use all day everyday, you can’t stop it.

You used methamphetamines in a pretty big way. Do you think that this drug is having an influence on the personality of American society?

I have noticed methamphetamine is not as in vogue as it was before. When I was using it, everybody was using it. Now we’re in opioid epidemic and there’s a very clear shift there where before, methamphetamine was one of the major drugs that was being abused at least with the young people. Now I see methamphetamine use is relatively rare from what I see, in terms of the clients that I get in now, most of them seem to be opiates.

Methamphetamine is a speed or an upper and heroin is a downer that makes people sleepy. How would you describe the buzz that you got from these chemicals?

They’re actually pretty similar to me. I’m thinking back on when I used to abuse opiates at work. Before I started selling meth big time, I had a job at Safeway. When I would take opiates at work, I would be this unbelievably productive worker that day. I was on the spot with everything, which I was like at that time just an awful worker otherwise, super low motivation and a twenty-year-old jerk. On those days where I would take some opiates, I would be engaging with the customers and trying to help them and just doing all these things, which is not what people generally think of when they think about heroin. They think of the person nodding off. You definitely get there. I would say the initial effect is stunningly similar. It’s the after-effects that are different. With meth, once you have forgone sleep for a while, the mind starts to go to some strange places. Now that I work in treatment and I have these sober living homes, I see it a little bit now from the outside. I’d forgotten how crazy it is. The initial feeling is the same. It’s what comes after that’s different.

Meth makes people go a little crazy. It did for me certainly. When I was at the height of my use, I had just this crazy system. I would rent rooms in apartments in four or five different locations and switch them at random if I got too paranoid, which is silly. In my main location, I would have cameras all over the place. I would have in my room multiple TV sets monitoring between four to six cameras all over the exterior of the house. I seriously thought that if I looked away from those cameras for a second, that was going to be the second that the cops are going to burst in the door and I was going to miss my opportunity to do whatever. Meth has a very peculiar effect on the mind. I see it in clients quite a bit in the paranoia. The particular manifestation of paranoia that’s always the hallmark of a meth user where there’s a particular individual, group or entity that is after them. Whereas with heroin, you don’t see that. In my experience with heroin, most heroin users are not trying to get high, they’re just trying to not get sick. People don’t realize this but there are a lot of high-functioning heroin users out there where they’re like, “I’ve been addicted to heroin for twenty years. Every morning I get high and I go to work at the recycling plant,” or at wherever they work, “It can even be the law office that I work in.” It’s just something that they do like taking a pill every morning but with much more detrimental effects obviously. I think in that regard, in my experience heroin stops working for people in terms of giving them the euphoric effects and just becomes a habit that you have to do every day, which is sad.

People are simply using the heroin in order to not be sick, just to feel somewhat normal. When you started high school, you were addicted to methamphetamines. By your junior year, you were addicted to heroin. Why do you feel there was a switch?

Basically, it was just what was available. Early on, meth was just there and in my group of friends it was just something that we did. I don’t remember exactly how it happened but at a certain point one of my friends came across a significant amount of heroin and we tried it. Me and all my friends we’re like, “This is better.” From that point, I vacillated between three different substances: alcohol, meth and heroin. I never used the three together. I would have periods of my life where I drank every day. I would have periods of my life where I did meth every day. I would have periods of my life where I did heroin every day. I don’t know what would cause the switch between them but it seemed once I would get started with one, it would go on for a long time and alcohol always being my fallback. I could maintain my life a little bit while drinking in ways that I couldn’t with meth or heroin. Basically, it just has to do with what substance was available to me at the time. Through high school, I did whatever I could and whatever became available. There was a period where me and my friends were doing PCP a lot. There was a period where LSD was around a lot and we did that. Whatever was available, I was wanting to do it.

Do you ever think about drug use now and have to tell yourself, “No, I shouldn’t be doing this,” or does the thought process of using drugs basically never come up in your mind?

It comes up quite consistently. Not consistently like every day or not even consistently like once a week, but consistently in the sense that I will get a feeling of wanting to use for one reason or another. Sometimes it will be totally random what can set it off and impossible to predict what would set it off. It seems like once it gets in there, it’s not coming out. It’s like a mind virus once it’s there. Usually that’s when I pick up the phone and I call another sober friend and talk to them about it. Usually they give me some advice that has varying degrees of success depending on the situation. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk about it. Sometimes it makes the feeling stronger. I’ve never relapsed since I got out of prison but it’s never gone away. I’ve been sober coming up on nine years, and it’s still there. They say in the twelve-step community this is a lifelong thing. That’s been my experience. In the past when I’ve had continuous feelings where it won’t go away over the period of days, I’ve worked with a professional doing relapse prevention. I have one person in particular that I like to work with. She doesn’t really tell me anything new or anything that I don’t know but she helps you play the tape out in my head a little bit. I know how I am in the sense that I will never do anything half ass. I’m always whole ass. I see these people in the program where they’re like, “I used and I came back. It was a mistake.” I see those people a lot. They’re in and out, in and out, in and out. They use for a week, they come back, they’re sober for a month. They go out and they use for a month, they come back, they’re sober for three months. Not that I’m knocking that, it seems a difficult way to live but I just know that for me if I used today, it would last years. It probably would not stop until was back in prison or something severe enough happened, which probably would be prison.

I can look back on my experience and realize that’s how I operate. Whenever I make a decision to do something, that’s what I do. That’s what I’ve done with my sobriety and that’s what I would do with my drug use. If I made a decision to use, it would be a long-term decision. It would be a real decision to use until something drastic happen. I get those feelings. I find it helpful to talk to someone, a support person, a sponsor, a friend that’s in the twelve-step program or some other recovery program. Usually if I talk to somebody that’s in the twelve-step program, they want me to go to a meeting with them which I usually do. If that doesn’t work, I usually turn to some professional, a therapist, counselor, do some one-on-one work around relapse prevention and around the feelings. They usually help me play the tape out in my head. Sorry for people that thinks that it’s going to go away. I will say that when I first got sober, it was a consistent thing. It happened all the time. The first year, it was in my thoughts a lot. I think that’s why it’s so important in your first year to be involved in some support group that you engage with, which is why sober living is so important.

The biggest mistake that people make in the beginning is they don’t engage with their support group. That’s why every treatment center suggest that people go into sober living. If you go into 30 days of treatment, you come out and that’s it. You go right back into the conditions that you were in with your family, with whatever. It’s really easy to either never engage with the support group or engage in a very surface manner for a short amount of time and then discontinue that engagement. It’s the biggest misstep that people see. If you go into sober living, by definition, you have to engage with your support group daily because you live with them. I’m not a twelve-step pusher guy. Twelve-step was super helpful for me early on. I think it is super important to engage with some support group.  Refuge Recovery is big out here or Smart Recovery or twelve-step or whatever it is. You’re going to need those people for the rest of your life. People don’t stay in sober living forever. They stay three months, six months, a year, and then usually they move on. It’s that point after you’ve moved on, you need those numbers in your phone and people that you can genuinely call when things are getting a little bumpy. That’s been my experience. I know that’s a really common experience for people in recovery. It’s been true for me.

You’ve had an exciting life. You’ve done a lot of things. For sure, you’ve used a lot of drugs and there were feelings of high and euphoria during those periods. Then you were robbing other drug dealers at gunpoint, which must have put butterflies in your stomach at least the first few times you did it. Then you were in prison and you went to different prisons. That’s a pretty high adrenaline and exciting life. It’s a dangerous life too. What do you do for fun now? 

I know I wrote the bio that I sent to you but even still, when I chair meetings or like right now I just listen to you read my bio, it sounds so crazy. I feel so far removed from that person. The truth is that I do have a thrill-seeker gene, I always have and I probably always will. I’m noticing a little bit that my daughter has the same thrill-seeker gene, which is a little bit troubling. Now, a big hobby of mine is kickboxing and MMA. I fought for a little while but mostly now, my attention is focused on training fighters. That’s what I do for fun. It’s therapeutic for me. Every weekend I go into the gym, I put in my mouth guard, my gloves and my shin guards, and I spar. It’s not like butterflies in the stomach thing but it’s an important release for me. It satisfies that thrill-seeker part that is in my head where every weekend I go volunteer to get punched in the face and the liver for an hour.

SOA 08 | Sober Living Home

Sober Living Home: Most normal people get hobbies. Recovering addicts, recovering alcoholic get obsessions, especially long-term recovery people.

This is another thing I’ve noticed about recovery. I find that most normal people get hobbies and recovering addicts, recovering alcoholic get obsessions especially long-term recovery people. I know a guy who spends $600 a month on cigars. That’s the kind of thing that I notice you get into with long-term sobriety. I’ve gone through a few of them where you just get obsessed with this one thing and getting more indifferent. It’s important I think to find something constructive or something that you enjoy to pour all that energy into. Addicts and alcoholics have an abundance of energy that they pour into getting high, using, drinking. You think about what you have to go through to use heroin everyday and it takes a lot. It takes way more than it takes to go to work every day and come home and watch TV. It takes a whole different kind of energy. When you get sober, that energy’s got to go somewhere. I found that if you can pour it into something constructive, you will always find some measure of success or some measure of satisfaction in that thing. For me, I had this crazy obsession with aquariums and fish for a long time early on in sobriety. I still have a couple of aquariums at my houses. I just have to roll with it as I got more and more aquariums and I was putting them all over. At one point, I had three in my room at the SLE and then one in the living room and one in the garage. It was really getting out of control. You’ve got to roll with it a little bit and follow your bliss. If you really find something that you love, embrace it.

You clearly do have a lot of energy and you’re putting it into the right places. One of the places you’re putting a lot of energy is building your sober living network. What drives you?

I’ve always had a motor and it’s always pushed me to keep working on something. I think wherever it is that I have pointed that motor, I’ve always just kept building and building and going and going. I’ve always been that way. When I was in high school, I had a backyard wrestling thing. That was my thing that I put together. I just kept putting more and more into it until it became this big thing. I have always been that way. One thing that I had to reconcile early on in recovery is you’ll never get the same instant gratification that you get from drugs and alcohol. When you use substances, you get accustomed to this, “I take this, I feel good immediately.” In recovery, it’s more like you’re moving forward millimeter by millimeter, a tiny bit each day. If you stay sober for a year you’ll have some amazing things but it’s never like this thing of where, “I got sober, I turned around the next day, all these great things had happened to me.” It takes time and energy.

A lot of people get frustrated with that because the needle, the bottle, it gives you the feeling that you need immediately right away. Ultimately, it comes with some pretty awful consequences whereas being sober is a million times more rewarding but you’ve got to inch by inch get there. It takes time and it takes moments of frustration. It takes working through feelings that you’re not used to dealing with. A constant problem that I see with people, and I was very, very stricken by this which is just wanting it now and not being able to get it now. My business grew organically. When I went away to school, it was put on the back burner for a little while. I think I’m done with growing for now but I keep saying that. I’ve said that the last three times that I opened a new house. I’ve been like, “That’s it, done.” Then some opportunity will fall into my lap and I’ll be like, “I should jump on this.”

You’ve had hundreds of clients in your sober living homes. Do you see any recurring characteristics within the clients, and if so, what are they?

Not only do I see recurring characteristics, I see recurring clients where I have them every once a year for seven years now. I see characteristics in people that are likely to succeed. I see characteristics in people that are likely to fail. I see family systems that make people more likely to succeed. I see family systems that make people more likely to fail. Then I see crossover in every different possible direction. People that have the characteristics I see that make them more likely to not succeed and from family systems that make them less likely to succeed and will still do really well and stay sober. That makes it hard to predict. I would say that one of the biggest detriments to people in their sobriety, and I would argue in life as well, is a victim mentality where, “All these bad things are happening to me.” If you see yourself as a victim, then you can’t see your part in anything and you can’t change it. You’ll be a victim forever. It’s unfortunately a bit of a trap for various reasons, the big one being, “It’s hard to change.” Another one being that once you see yourself in that way, it’s easy to continue to see yourself in that way. I think that people I’ve seen that succeed are obviously more likely to engage, more likely to be a part of some program of recovery.

In my experience, the people that have the most difficult time staying sober by a wide margin are people that have extremely co-dependent parents with a great deal of wealth. I’ve seen a lot of clients like that. The problem there is that if there’s always one more shot to go to rehab, to go to treatment, to go into sober living, to go here, to try this. If that safety net is always underneath you and your parents can shell out $60,000 for you to go to treatment for 30 days four times a year forever, the consequences aren’t there for you so of course you’re going to be willing to take more chances in using. There’s always a soft landing. By the same token, I’ve seen people come from family systems that are not co-dependent that have a hard time as well. This is what’s sad when it comes to wealth; it’s landing in the middle that seems to make you most likely to succeed. If you come from poverty, it seems you’re going to struggle. There are not a lot of resources out there. I’ve field a lot of calls from people looking for treatment that have no resources. There’s extremely limited resources for people that don’t have any money, don’t have insurance. I try to help them all as much as I can, but they all get stuck in this bottleneck for this really small amount of treatment centers that are run by the county. It’s a weird thing where the sweet spot is having family that will send you to treatment once or twice but not over and over again.

In terms of characteristics of people coming in, I found that rarely do you see things clearly at the beginning. No matter what substance you’re using, it seems to cloud your judgment quite a bit. I think that I see people consistently turn to other ways to make themselves feel good whether that’s sex, relationships, food, exercise, whatever it is. I see that pretty consistently. When new people come in, you don’t really see the real them for at least 30 days in my experience. Each person is totally individual and different but at the same time everybody shares very, very similar characteristics. That’s been pretty universal. It’s interesting now because I’ve been doing this for so long and I’ve seen so many people. We all repeat the same patterns. We all do the same things over and over again. When it comes to clients, I could almost predict the future with 100% accuracy based on what they’re saying, what they’re doing, what they want to do next. I have a client right now. She’s been with us 30 days and she’s talking about moving out with her friend who’s also sober 30 days and they drank together before. I could predict with 100% accuracy what’s going to happen in that situation.

That brings me to another question on the same subject. I was going to ask you that in your position as an SLE operator with hundreds of clients, you are often able to see clients who are wobbling, and by using the word wobbling, I’m talking about a client whose sobriety does not seem secure. I think of it as a person on a skateboard going down a steep hill and the board starts going too fast. They might control that skateboard but they might just ditch it too. If you could have super powers in these situations where you see a client wobbling in their sobriety, what would those super powers be?

Mind control would be the ideal. Maybe just place a thought in their brain that nothing will be made better by drug use, substance use. At the same time, sometimes I think it might be nice to have invisibility just to be left alone every once in a while. It’s going to be like, “It’s crisis mode. Where’s Mark?” They would look for me in the room and they’ll be like, “I guess he’s not in here.” To save a client, I’d say probably some telepathic connection would work to calm that overactive mind.

I think that’s a great answer, mind control. I would never have come up with invisibility. I can understand what you mean. I’d like to put out a few adjectives to describe people and have you talk around these adjectives and see where you take things. One of the things I’ve noticed with also having multiple SLE clients, not as many as you but I’ve had at least a couple of hundred now, delusion and being delusional seems to be a trait that I have seen in people. Have you seen the same thing? Could you talk to me about delusion within people recovering from drug addiction?

We tend to see it even less in sober living than in treatment. I had forgotten that because my rule of thumb is I don’t really like to take anyone into my sober houses without them providing a clean test at the beginning. In those conditions, three days removed from last use. Since I started working in treatment, I didn’t mention that before but I do business development for a treatment center. I talk to people on the phone and I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to come get you tomorrow. I’m going to pick you up and I’m going to take you into treatment.” In those conditions, I’m seeing people where they are deep in it in a way that I had forgotten what that looks like. I talk to people where someone’s after them and they can’t put their finger on who it is. Usually it’s some group. I went to pick up one guy for a treatment. He’s actually in one of my houses now. When I went to go get him, he had barricaded his room and done all these crazy things because people were after him. I think that there is a period of straightening out in your brain.

For some people, I’ve actually seen this, they can be sober a long time and still believe their delusions from when they were using. Even when they’re telling you that they saw there was a place in their trailer where ghosts came through the floor or spirits came through the floor and you’re like, “You were doing meth, right?” They’re like, “Yeah, but those spirits were real.” There are a couple of kinds of delusional. There’s the kind that I’m talking about right now where it’s literally suffering from delusions. There’s the kind where you maybe haven’t figured out quite how best to deal with certain social situations. That’s common throughout the length of people’s stay and I think that’s common in life too.

I notice in your answer that mostly you’re talking about delusion of being pursued or being chased or delusion of attack. I’ve noticed repeatedly in my clients a delusion of grandeur. For example, I have a client here in the sober living house, which is basically fairly low-cost shared living environment where the person has very little money and almost nothing to their name, but in their mind they think to themselves that they’re some sort of king, some sort of prince. Not like an English prince but they don’t recognize that they’re on the bones on their ass and they need to get a job and it’s probably going to be a $10 an hour job. They are prancing around thinking they’re going to get some fancy job as an executive. Meanwhile, nobody wants to hire them. I feel like they would be doing themselves a favor by recognizing the situation that they’re in. Could you respond on this? I guess it’s my statement more than a question, but perhaps I could get your input.

I think that there are a couple of issues here. One, with the current generation of young people, they’re taught or were taught, I guess I’m part of this generation too, that the world revolves around you from an early age. Kids raised in ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s are the participation trophy generation, where you’re special. Early on, I think statisticians confused causation with correlation in terms of self-confidence in being like, “These successful people are all confident. We need to instill confidence in kids,” without realizing maybe successful people are confident because they’re successful. One caused the other, not the other way around. I see that quite a bit. I was on the phone with a woman who was looking for a place for her son who was in his mid to late twenties. She was asking me, “Do you find them jobs?” The answer to that is, “No. I don’t go out and find them jobs. I have some connections that I can utilize that can usually find them employment.” I listed a couple of these things but it’s basically working at Home Depot, working at a car wash, pouring concrete, things like that. This woman was, “Okay, but he has this really fancy degree.” I was like, ” What’s his degree?” I’m thinking she’s going to say engineering or something. She’s like, “It’s in communications.” I had to roll my eyes a little bit, “You want me to do what with that?” If he wants a job doing something more, he needs to pound the concrete like anybody else. The fact that you think that I’m going to be able to find him a job at Google or Apple or something is, as previously stated, delusional. I have a degree from Berkeley. You know what it’s good for? Nothing. It’s good for my mom to brag to her friends that I went to Cal and that’s about it.

It’s a couple of problems I think that is a generational thing where this generation is taught that they are special and they don’t have to work in the same way that everyone else has to work. I don’t mean like work employment but just in general. I have noticed a pattern there. I think that substance abuse creates delusions of grandeur in its own way. I think even the fact that people who think that they’re being pursued or watched, even that is a delusion of grandeur because they think that everywhere they go that people are watching them and following them and all these things. Why would this shadowy organization, whether it’s a street or prison gang or the police or whatever you think it is, pour these resources into caring about you at all? I think there are a couple of reasons for that. I think substance abuse naturally lends itself to delusions of grandeur. I think that a lot of people’s family systems make them feel more special than they are. Not in the sense that they’re not special, everybody is special in their own way. I think that people think that they’re special from other people in that they don’t have to do the same things that everyone else does.

In drug addicts, it’s particularly prevalent in the same reason why every time I do a tour of a treatment center and I bring people to show them my SLEs, approximately two-thirds are like, “I got this.” They’re like, “I don’t need no SLE. I don’t need twelve-step. I just need a second to clear my head and now I’m good.” I’m like, “I hear that quite a bit. 100% of people who say that relapse and are back in treatment within a couple of months.” They’re like, “No, I’m different.” That’s the thing that I think is super common in people who abuse drugs and alcohol, “I’m different. I don’t need this.” Another thing I hear is, “I don’t like the twelve-step model because I don’t like the idea of God.” Me, personally, I don’t like the idea of God. I’m an atheist. When I did my steps in early recovery, I had to reconcile that for myself. We all have to do things in this world that we don’t like, that disagrees with us. Sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and do things that you might not like. If you think meetings are boring, if you think living in a sober house is going to cramp your style, it might. Meetings might be boring. The sober house might cramp your style a little bit in the structure. Going to treatment, you might have to face some things that you don’t want to. The bottom line is we all have to do things that we don’t like to move forward, to move past these things.

There are examples of sober living homes where there is a high amount of drug use. What do you think about that?

I think it’s super unfortunate because it gives the entire industry a bad name. I think CCAPP is taking some cool steps to register and certify homes.

CCAPP being the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals.

You’re a member. I’m a member. That is strictly voluntary. I hesitate to say that there should be oversight into sober living because I know that anytime government or bureaucracy gets involved in an industry, they muck it up quite a bit. At the same time, the bottom line is the only requirement to opening a sober house is having a house and calling it a sober house. I think that it’s important to do your research. I think there are a lot of places out there that are masquerading as “sober houses” but are anything but. I personally know of several examples of places like that. I think there’s a wide range of sober houses within that. There are ones that are all right, ones that are really well managed. I think it’s super unfortunate that people can just open a sober living house and have no oversight and not manage it well and not ensure the safety of the clients that are there. One of my current managers left to San Diego to go chase a girl. He’s back now. When he moved down there, he moved into a “sober house.” He basically found it before he went and moved in. We’re talking about one of my very close friends, probably my best friend. We talked regularly while he was down there. Everyday everyone in the house is using or drinking and there’s no oversight at all.

There was no house manager?

No house manager. He was the house manager for me before he left, so I was like, “Why don’t you tell the guy you’ll step up?” He’s like, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to stick my hand in this hornet’s nest. I just want to do my thing and move on.” There are a lot of places like that. I hear a lot, I don’t know if you hear this but from clients, and it’s weird because it’s always the highest risk clients that talk about this, the ones that are going downhill on the skateboard, that are like, “I’m going to open an SLE.” I hear it so much. I give people the same advice that I would give them if they were like, “I want to open a restaurant or a CrossFit gym or an antique shop,” or whatever it is. It’s like, “Go get a job working in that field and do that for a year at least and then talk to me about it.” One, you think it’s going to be so easy, which is not easy. Two, I think people look at it from the outside and they see like, “They’re charging this much for each bed. Look at all this money they’re making.” The reality is you don’t make hardly any money from sober living. I think that people see those two things and they want in.

I’ve seen people that they’re like, “Me and this friend and this friend, we’re going to go start our own sober house. We’re going to rent a house and turn it into a sober house.” I was like, “You’re all three months sober. This is going to be a crack house within a short amount of time.” I have parents and clients ask me about it and I always tell them, “I’m happy to help you in any way that I can but if you think this is going to be a good money-making venture, it’s not. The amount of work that comes with it for the small amount of money that you make is not worth it.” It’s similar to most businesses in that way in that when you look at something from the outside, it looks easy. You don’t see all the minutia of what you need. That lends itself to people starting sober houses that are not managed well. People that don’t know what they’re doing. People that don’t care what they’re doing.

Some may even start with good intentions and they just lose their way over time. They just end up giving up and letting people use drugs because to kick them out means you’re kicking out your paying customer. 

SOA 08 | Sober Living Home

Sober Living Home: Anytime you’re dealing with sober living, there’s always going to be a certain amount of relapse. No way around that.

I worked for a very, very large company before I started my own. In the time that I left, they switched things to where you have a midnight curfew from day one, which to me is insane. Why would you allow someone between 1 to 30 days sober to have a midnight curfew every night of the week? What good could possibly come from people being out until midnight when they’re early in recovery? For us, we have a house meeting every day for people to check in with each other, with the manager, all of that, which is also a good opportunity for the manager to see, “Everyone’s here, everyone appears to be sober.” I think when you start to lose that structure, it’s easy for things to slip between the cracks. Anytime you’re dealing with sober living, there’s always going to be a certain amount of relapse. No way around that. You try to deal with it, get people the help that they need. For me, I take one of two tracks. I never really like to completely give up on a person unless they do something really bad somehow. I can’t think of a good example.

How about threaten you physically?

That didn’t really happen to me too much but I would say something along those lines.

Shoot heroin in your bathroom.

That would be a good one. I had a guy recently, he was at one of my houses and then he went out. He started sending me these crazy text messages. One was, “You are a rapist.” I texted him back and I was like, “What? You better explain that.” I talked to the house manager and I was like, “What’s up with him?” She’s like, “I don’t know. He’s been sending me nonsense all day.” I didn’t really take that personal because he was just having a meth-induced psychosis where he’s just saying nonsense to me, to his house manager and stuff. I was thinking about that and I was like, “I feel like if that happened to any other owner/operator, they wouldn’t just let it roll off their back.” They’d be like, “You’re done here.” Usually if I see somebody relapsing, I try a couple of things. One, “Can I find you a therapist, a counselor, some kind of professional to work with?” That’s what I do when I am feeling that way. If that doesn’t work, “Can I find you an IOP to where you’re going somewhere every day and working in groups and doing all these things?” If that doesn’t work, “It’s probably best if you went back to treatment before I allow you back.”

I don’t really like to give up on people for relapsing because I’ve seen people try and try and try and try and struggle the whole way, and then one day something just clicks and they are just successful from that point on. I try to work with people as much as I can. I don’t like to just boot people out on their ass. People will boot themselves out on their ass if they’re like, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to do this thing that you lined up for me.” Usually, I’m trying to somehow work with them to have them be more successful. If somebody relapses in one of my houses, I try not to have it ever be like, “We’ll just come back and we’ll just keep doing the same thing.” Something has to change. Something has to be different for them. They have to be doing more of whatever.

I want to talk a little bit about the legal structure around sober living environments. Sober living homes are governed by the Federal Fair Housing Act as a group of people with a disability of substance abuse who choose to live together under self-governing rules. Do you think that there should be a legislative overhaul of the SLE business classification? For example, specific legislation recognizing the status of sober living as being different from any other residential accommodation.

I’m not some libertarian guy. My sensibilities run generally much more liberal, but in many things I find myself thinking very libertarian. Let’s say there’s a specific system in place that governs how you have to run sober living. Chances are it’s going to be written by people that don’t understand addiction, don’t understand the industry, don’t understand how it works, but just things that seem right to them. Across the board, the private sector does everything more effectively. It seems like there’s an upside and a downside to that. The downside is what we previously talked about, which is people just opening sober houses. There being bureaucracy behind it is probably worse than that because everyone will be forced to work in a really specific way that probably is not going to take into account a lot of things. I think in terms of there being special legislation, I don’t know how necessary it is. Right now, there is a Supreme Court decision that people can live in communities in any way that they see fit. It’s hard for me to give a definitive answer to that. I think if anything, I would say having the CCAPP licensure being mandatory would be a good idea. I don’t know that getting legislature involved is going to be the best thing.

What you said about the CCAPP certification was going to be my next question. It seems that certification by some professional governing body might be a good halfway step towards limiting the number of bogus sober living environments, where in fact they seem to be a magnet for drug users, and bring some credibility to an industry where those of us who are running sober living properties in a professional manner could do with a little help. I guess my personal opinion is favorable towards a requirement for a sober living house to be registered with a professional sobriety organization with the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals being a good example, the Sober Living Network in Southern California being another good example.

Here’s the problem for me though about that. Whenever things like this are done, and this is probably my rhetoric degree from Berkeley talking, I always am like, “Where does that line start and end? What makes something a sober house?” I did the same thing when the California State Athletic Commission decided that they were going to start regulating smokers, which is basically matches between gyms for kickboxing, for MMA, that kind of thing. Smokers are basically set up to be like practice fights. At a certain point the Athletic Commission stepped in and said, “No, you can’t do this anymore. You need to have these be overseen by us.” I couldn’t help but think, “Where does that dividing line ends then?” If I bring all my fighters to another gym and have them spar with the guys there, does that constitute a smoker? I’m thinking the same kind of thing with sober living. What constitutes it being a sober living home? If six people live together and they’re all sober, they all have a pact to stay sober, at what point does it become a sober living home as opposed to like sober roommates. Where do you think that dividing line should be, Paul?

Personally, I’m in favor of a requirement for certification from a professional body. I think that there should be some legislative overhaul. I don’t think that the current legislation gives the professional sober living home operator enough tools to deal with the difficult clientele set that they’re dealing with. That’s my personal answer to the question. I recognize that the caveats that you’ve pointed out, the oversight, there’s a concept that the government official is simply empire-building for themselves and that their whole gig is getting a bigger salary and controlling more staff. That’s not the intent of government or not what the people intended when they set up the government, but effectively what happens throughout most governments and that’s a problem. There are so many problems, you can’t tackle them all at the same time. We are getting off subject so I’m going to pull us back on to subject here. I’m also going to change the direction a little bit. We’re coming down to our last area of questions and there’s a slight change in direction on this next question. Do you think that it is human nature to want to get outside of your own consciousness? In other words, to get outside of your brain or to put it in more crude terms, to get shot faced?

SOA 08 | Sober Living Home

Sober Living Home: We, as people, from an evolutionary standpoint are not true to our nature in many, many, many different ways.

In the way that you framed that, no. I don’t think it’s human nature to want to get outside of your brain necessarily. I think that’s a particular compulsion of a particular subset of people. I think that the pleasure response is a natural human reaction in the sense that, “If I do this specific thing, it makes me feel good in this specific way so I’m going to keep doing this thing.” I think that is very natural and that has a function for us from an evolutionary standpoint. It feels good to have sex so that we will continue to propagate the species. It feels good to eat so that we will continually seek out food. All of these things are there but we, as people, from an evolutionary standpoint are not true to our nature in many, many, many, many, many different ways. In this case, we’re driven towards thinking in terms of feast or famine because humans were meant to be hunter, gatherers, scavengers. When food is there, you feast because you don’t know when you’re going to have food again. It might be three days. We are now living in a world where everything that we want is right at hand but our brains still think in terms of feast or famine and probably will, I don’t want to say forever but probably close to that.

I think that for certain people, going overboard will just always be a thing. I think that this is one of many ways that humans currently live counter to how, from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re meant to live. I think that this idea of feast or famine governs a lot of the ways that we do things. It’s funny because, not to overuse the food analogy, but we’re trying to feast at every meal because we don’t know when the next one is going to be coming, except for we do. It’s coming at 6:30. It’s just one of many ways that our brains are set up not correctly for the system that we currently live in. Asking if it’s human nature to try to escape may be a little bit. I think everybody seeks some escape. It’s why when you go to bed at night, right before you go to sleep, you think about fantasies about how cool it would be to be this or that. I think of myself as a kickboxing champion usually, but you know what I mean. There’s always some kind of escapism. I think for most people that comes in the way of some form of entertainment. I think in primitive people that come in the way of imagination. Not to get too Ted Kaczynski on you but I think that seeking that through substance use, is it human nature? I don’t know that that specifically is. I think there’s a certain amount of escapism that’s human nature. I think there’s a little bit of pleasure response that’s human nature. I think these things converge in certain ways with certain people to make them more susceptible to addiction.

How do you feel about the controlled distribution of drugs? For example, the distribution of marijuana is now legal in many states. In your opinion, is this the right forward for other drugs?

Yes. It sounds insane but I think that the war on drugs is a massive failure. The fact that we keep trying to do put more and more resources into treating drug addicts like criminals is insane to me. I think that if the FDA controlled dosage for things like amphetamines, methamphetamines, heroin, opiates, it would be safer. I don’t know if you know this or not, but the Mexican drug cartels that cut off children’s heads and things of that nature, kill reporters if they report on cartel violence, they make decisions in the same way that any corporation would. After the generalized criminalization and then legalization of marijuana in these Western States, the Mexican drug cartel decided to get out of marijuana completely. They’re no longer involved. They’re focused completely on trafficking cocaine, trafficking heroine and manufacturing and trafficking methamphetamine. It’s a pretty simple math to do. If these other drugs were legal and controlled, then these people that are causing horrific, horrific violence would not have the millions and billions of dollars that they currently have. They say the Mexican cartels have more money than the Mexican government by orders of magnitude.

I think that overdoses would be significantly reduced. I think that overdoses, in a large part, are caused by a couple of things. One is taking a long absence from a drug and then going back to it. Another one is not being really sure how strong or weak the drugs they’re taking in are. There have been a couple of things that tried to control that. There’s a website where users could submit reviews of people’s drugs. It was called Silk Road, basically say this is strong or weak or whatever, and actually made it quite a bit safer because you didn’t have to engage in face to face exchanges with drug dealers if you use a review system. I’ll give you an example. When I sold drugs, if somebody refused to pay me or they stole from me or whatever, I had one way to stop that from happening, violence or the threat of violence and that was it. There’s no, “You can’t go to the police. You can’t try to talk.” The only thing that keeps people from stealing, from ripping off people that are in the drug business is violence and the fear of it. In this case, this website had set up a rating system where if you ripped somebody off, you didn’t pay them, you sold them bad stuff, they gave you a bad rating. Nobody bought drugs from you anymore. It created basically a safe space for people, violence free, if you will. Maybe not violence free but reduced.

What’s crazy is we tried this already, making substances illegal with prohibition of alcohol. It didn’t work then. It’s not working now. The fact that we make any kind of distinction between alcohol and other drugs is insane to me. I think that alcohol is one of the most insidious substances that there is. I think that making it illegal, putting people in prison, the by-product of that is creating systems where people have to steal, commit crimes to fund their substance abuse, it’s not working. It’s damaging families. It’s costing us an insane amount of money in taxes to run the prisons, to hire the guards, to have the cops busting people that are selling nickel bags on the street. All of that is costing money that could be going into schools, libraries, roads, shovel-ready jobs, all of these things that are good uses of our money is all being wasted. I think that the fact that we can’t turn it around after decades of just complete and abject failure is just so crazy to me. The part that I really don’t understand the most is every politician wants to be tough on crime. It’s a concept, a premise that people can understand clearly, “Crime is bad. If we’re tough on crime that’s good.” Nobody would necessarily argue with that.

Also, the people in prison are not allowed to vote.

Correct. You can’t vote in prison.

They’re talking the language that the voter, the person allowed to vote, can understand. In fact, what you’re describing now, this war on drugs, this misguided concept of putting people in prison for chemical usage could be argued that it’s the tip of the iceberg, that the country is structured in a way where it’s just dysfunctional. It could be argued that the military’s engagement in Afghanistan is in part to control the opioid traffic of heroin to the Western world. It seems that there’s a lot of dysfunction in our society’s structure and that the war on drugs is the tip of the iceberg, which is becoming ever more difficult to ignore as opioid deaths now exceed row deaths in the United States. I don’t think two guys sitting on a podcast are going to be able to solve this problem, but I do think that talking about it is part of the solution. Mark, you’ve been an excellent guest on this podcast. It has been a delight to talk to you. I hope you’ll come back again. Thank you very much for being here.

For those of you that don’t know, I am the Head of Business Development for a treatment center in San Jose called Serenity Gardens. It’s a really amazing and unique treatment center in a sense that it’s only four beds so they’re able to provide truly individualized client care. It’s something that I feel really strongly about and that’s why I really love working there. It’s really a unique and one of a kind program. If you or anyone you know is struggling with substance abuse and needs detox or treatment, please contact Serenity Gardens at 1-888-598-9876 or on the web at


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