My story starts in Northern California in the small town of Windsor, where I grew up on a small two-and-a-half-acre farm, learned how to work hard at a young age, and on paper had a pretty bright future ahead of meas I graduated high school and got ready to head off to college. Mother asuccessful teacher and author, father a well-known owner of a construction company within our community and founder of a now award-winning nonprofit that serves thousands of families in need I’m fortunate to have had the role models I did growing up. And it showed…prior to heading off to San Diego State University to pursue a degree in marketing I had earned back-to-back scholar athlete of the year awards my Junior and Senior year in High school for being atri-sport athlete and getting good grades in the AP classes I was enrolled in. I sense that part of my subconscious drive to achieve stemmed from feelings of inadequacy and abandonment issues tied to my parents divorce when I was about 6. This drive to achieve seemed to serve me well…at least in the beginning.
Leadership came naturally to me, my gift of gab modeled after a father who could work a room like Jimmy Carter and my love and enjoyment of teaching I inherited from a mother whose students still to this day leave her raving reviews, she’s a fan favorite just about everywhere she goes. Stepping into leadership roles in high school, by my senior year I was captain of my football team, captain of my wrestling team, and even prom king. To top it all off, at my first summer sales job at 17 years old the Summer after I graduated from Windsor High School, I was the number 1 new rep in my office and perfectly teed up to have a management position waiting for me in a national championship office after completing my Fall and Spring semesters at SDSU. Again, on paper…Iwas a considerably successful person, “winning” in life and headed off to a“great” school to continue my education and soon become a successful businessowner, maybe even an author, following in the footsteps of mom and dad.
What nobody realized (not even me) is that underneath the surface was massive insecurity, self-loathing, and feelings of unworthiness that I was using external validation to temporarily soothe. I realize now, I was working from “If other people love me then I can love myself.” Deriving my sense of self-worth from the praise and recognition of others drove me down some pretty constructive paths in High School, but when the rules system shifted in college, the wheels started coming off the wagon.
Getting good grades and achieving accolades in sports was the metric for approval and love growing up as an adolescent. At SDSU, after joining a fraternity at one of the top party schools in the nation, the metric became “how quickly can you bring me a sigma pie crunch wrap from Trujillos at 3am (food runs as a pledge were interesting) and how quickly could you finish that 5th of grey goose yourself?”. As you can imagine, my over achieving mentality and poor choice of environment quickly had me down a destructive path.
Now up until this point I’d gotten my hands on some beer, hard liquor, the classic post football game house party, I can remember throwing aparty of my own a my mother’s vacant house I still had a key to after we’d moved out, but nothing what most would consider “super serious” as far as drugs and alcohol go. Just typical high school jock, pube scent, guy stuff. In College, there was what some would consider “college partying” and then there were these critical moments when signs of addict behavior began. I can remember on a wine Wednesday towards the end of my first or second semester of college, slapping the bag and chugging box wine out of the plastic bag it came in while someone else held it in the air for me and them asking me “Bro don’t you have your Com 103 final tmrw?” and me replying, “Yup! But fuck it, C’s get degrees baby!”. I can vividly remember on what’s called our “big bro reveal night”, the end of my first semester of my freshman year, I was 18 at the time, where as a pledge we were assigned a big brother in the fraternity and being in the bloodline I was in part of the ceremony of receiving our big brother was after the reveal all 30 or so of us pledges were given one or two 30 racks of rolling rockbeer to finish in less than 30 minutes (timed consumption of alcohol was athing), and then surprised as we grabbed the cans that they were all scolding hot after coming out of an oven, so after we finished drinking scolding hot beer and puking our guts out into a 50 gallon trash can, I ventured to the 4th floor where I proceeded to gather around another 50 gallon bucket with 7 or soother pledge brothers and each of us were tasked to finish a 40 in under a minute which I was given massive kudos and praise for finishing fastest, over achieving for love from the tribe once again (picture 15 others active members around us watching and screaming, cheering us on like football players) and then I was given my own personal 5th of grey goose vodka to finish, followed by a handle of grey goose split between the 7 or so of us, all finished in less than an hour. “Drink pussy” and “You got any Addy (Adderall)?” became slogans from the age of about 18-23. I literally stole sand in fucking trash cans and trucks, broke into hotels to steal sheets that we could paint on, staying up sometimes till 5 or 6 am on Adderall if that’s what it took…all in the name of partying. Those became the new metrics for validation, for love and approval.
Then like flipping a switch, I’d be back into the personal growth and development that came along with the Summer Sales lifestyle, leading Wednesday night team meetings, giving motivational messages to groups of 15,20, 30 sales reps, “The Ox” is what my people called me, a yes man work horse. I would do whatever it took to earn the love and approval of others, its just how I was wired. Summer of 2012 we had one of our best summers as an office, then back to school in the Fall, back to party Justin.
Eventually the lines between Summer Sales Justin and SDSU Party Justin started to get blurry. I can remember Summer of 2013 as a Sales Manager prepping to run my own office, about to run my first 3 day training seminar to launch a group of sales reps, I was 20 years old scared shitless not having studied or prepped like I was supposed to, heart pounding and full of anxiety, I did exactly what I always did to take the edge off before going out incollege, I drank. chugging Dewars Scotch straight out of the bottle standing behind the back passenger door of my F-150, the warm alcohol filled me with the courage I needed to run a lights out Day 1 training and it felt like it worked.
Gradually alcohol became more and more a consistent part of my life. Drinking most days of the week while in school except when I was cramming for midterms and finals on Adderall. I’d leave my dealers house with 20 20mg instants and spend two, sometimes three days straight in the library then crash hard, feeling like my neck was going to break while driving home on the freeway,looking forward to my celebratory 6 pack of victory at sea Vanilla Porters I’dpick up from Zam at the liquor (Was on a first name basis with the owner) bythe apartment I lived in off Kamloop in Clairemont. Uppers and downers, uppers and downers. “Just get through college Justin” I kept telling myself, I hated school, classrooms put me to sleep, but if bad grades meant disapproval, I’d dowhat it took to get good ones.
Throughout this time period in college from 2011-2016, I had a toxic 3 or so year relationship, sex and drugs, drugs and sex. After this ended, the porn got really bad, taking Adderall to study, and then self-stimulating while watching porn for 4, 5, 6 hours became a semi frequent thing, then it was ecstasy in hotel rooms with flesh lights and DVD’s every month or so for a while, and finally at age 23 or so I hit what felt like rock bottom, after bartending at another San Diego Gulls hockey game, I left the stadium and while walking back to my Nissan Versa threw in a lipper of wintergreen long cut to get some extra millage out of the 4o mg’s of extended release Adderall I’d stolen from my roommate’s medicine cabinet (one of my best friends). I then proceeded to drive the long way home, down mission Blvd. ,passing that UFC gym on the right, then I stopped at the liquor store, got abottle of wine, usually white, easier to drink out of crystal geyser rectangular water bottle than red wine, no lip stains, I parked my car by the 7/11 at the end of Garnet or Grand, somewhere around there, and sat on the beach drinking wine by myself, crying. I was ashamed and embarrassed…of who I’d become, what I’d become. I fucking hated myself, there were times I just wanted to die.
Not too long after I met a couple homeless guys, one younger guitarist, the other older a father of an Olympian athlete daughter he was estranged from, we struck up a conversation, it felt nice, almost like I was reminding myself I could actually make friends outside of my normal monotonous day to day shell like existence. I offered them wine, they offered me Meth, excitedly accepted.
At 23 years old, the scholar athlete, prom king with a 4.1 GPA from Windsor High School was smoking Meth on a beach in San Diego with two homeless people…then the cops showed up. We almost went to jail, fortunately wehad stopped smoking by the time they showed up, the two younger cops, they made us pour the wine out, then left. I offered to buy us a hotel so we could smoke more, knowing in the back of my chemically addicted brain at the time, that eventually that would mean I could watch porn in the bathroom of our hotel room, this time on Meth. The next day I finally came home, my roommates slightly concerned, me highly avoidant, the tape playing in my head over and over and over again…”How did we get here Justin, what the fuck happened to you, you were going to do big things, what the fuck is wrong with me”
As soon as I finished college I knew I had to get the fuck out of San Diego thinking at the time that all I needed was a fresh start and not realizing that severing connections with party friends and plugs in Southern California just led to me finding them in the form of customers and clients while doing door to door sales. Wherever you go, there you are.
After a change in companies, I was eventually prepping inFebruary of 2019 to run a 40-50 man summer sales team selling door to door In Texas. 25 at this point, my go to for taking the edge off before going door to door was either sour apple four lokos or white wine drank while driving to area out of a Powerade or Gatorade bottle that had been emptied. It was SOP, automatic for the most part at this point. Then my second rock bottom, almost getting a DUI in a brand new reps car that I was borrowing. (I was getting wreck-less at this point, the addict in me would seemingly do whatever it tookto get its fix) This happened around February of 2019, then that Summer, I drunkenly fumbled my way through running an office. It was messy. I eventually left that company unable to manage myself I finally got help.
It came in many forms, coaching, celebrate recovery, AA, accountability partners. nothing seemed to create lasting change. Finally in 2020 in the height of covid while living in a house in Arizona, I had my first and last, what felt like, real health scare from withdrawal after a 10 day bender. Feeling like I was going to have a seizure and die in my sleep I can vividly remember a few things. The voice in the back of my head that used to say “Hey its fine, you’re young” got really quiet, then Brendan Novak’s Youtube video “tomorrow will be better brought me to tears,” I bought and read through Alan Cars Easy way to quit drinking and I started working out like a fucking mad man, I found the studio I now teach at, Physio Yoga, found unconditional love in a community there and learned to heal myself through amyriad of methods I’m looking forward to sharing with you on the podcast now coming up on 2 years of sobriety, porn free, 60 pounds lighter, having been inand out of a loving sober relationship with the woman who helped inspire the birth of this podcast and in a happy loving relationship now as I write this with the one person I neglected for so fucking long, me. Self-love continues tobe the foundation of my healing journey and I hope to inspire hope in thosethat struggle like I did with my story. I love you; I accept you, You are enough, You are worthy.