I reached out to Erica Spiegelman to discuss "Rewired" and her simple, common sense approach to recovery.
In the book you talk about rewiring the brain with behaviors and habits, can you talk a little bit about how we can rewire our brain?
We have pathways. I give this analogy to my clients and to people who ask, it's like we're in a forest and you're living in a house and your old house where you're using or drinking or unhealthy habits are unfolding and that's your house and you've been living there many years and you have a pathway that basically you get to and from your house. You see it because your footprints are there and it's clear and you know how to get there. One day you decide to change your life and you really are invested in health and wellness and recovery and you want to build a new house because the old house isn't serving you and it's nothing but negativity and toxicity. You build a new house in the same forest. You see the house, it's completed and you leave the old house and you start walking towards your new house everyday and there's bushes and plants and you see your footsteps the first day, second day, third day, fourth day, month after month after month. All of a sudden before you know it there's this clear beautiful path that your footprints have completely demolished all the plants that were in the way. Your house is as clear as day if you keep going there day after day. One day you may look back and try to see where the old house is and all of a sudden you realize that all the plants have grown over the old path, all the trees, you can't even find your way any longer. If we continue on a new path again and again and day after day, minute after minute, hour after hour, we really do not have to see the old path. We don't even notice it anymore. That does ring true because just like many of us, I walk in a grocery store aisle and I don't even realize the wine, I don't even know where the wine is, I don't even know where liquor stores are but 9 years ago I would have.
Congratulations on your recovery. Can you discuss your own addiction?
After years and years of just betraying myself and knowing that there was a better life for me but not really knowing how to get out of that cycle and how to part ways with drinking. Which was the primary relationship of my life towards the end. My mom saw that I was changing and isolating. It was like everyone that loved me knew that that was an issue and I kept on, like the good alcoholic, trying to pretend like it wasn't. Finally one day, sitting on a stoop in San Francisco where I was living, I was like "Please God help me get out of this" because I was shaking and every day I was drinking. I think the timing of it was my mom coming to me crying and saying "I cannot watch you live like this" and me wanting to get out of it. That miracle day that I said yes to go to treatment was the day everything shifted. I went to treatment myself and ever since then I went back to school at UCLA, stayed sober and just have kept on this path. I now know it was my purpose. I got sober basically by myself after treatment, I didn't really utilize AA. I've been to a couple of meetings and it was helpful as an education but I kind of created this plan that was exercise and meditation and reading and mindfulness and eating right, sleeping and keeping myself safe for the first year on my own.
I love the format of the book because it gives the reader tools to apply right away.
I'm so happy that resonated because I want everyone to have tools to apply to life today. We don't need to worry about the past or the future just what can we do today to move forward. Rewiring is not only the brain but of your core values and that's what's all the chapters are about, like authenticity and honesty and time management.
Why is authenticity so important in recovery?
You're the author of your own life, that's the definition of authenticity. You're the author of your own life and I think that's empowering because we get to choose what we want to do with ourselves. At first you have to know your core values, what makes you you. I think some of us in addiction get so fragmented and disconnected from who we are because we put on a mask. You might put one mask in front of family pretending to be okay, put another mask on in front of friends at work, so we get really disconnected from who we are and that becomes very dangerous. I think authenticity is the first thing in terms of creating healthy paths to set out in front of yourself. You have to really understand who you are, what makes your world go round. What your truth is. For some people it's love and connection, for some people it's power and money, some people it's helping others and healing, it doesn't matter, there's no wrong and right. This is not about value judgement, it's just about understanding what resonates true to you. For me the word authenticity is my north star. Everything in my life I do I compare it to that word, I'll say "Erica does this relationship feel authentic to you? Can you be authentic with this person? Does it feel authentic? Are you working for someone that your values match their values?" It's a really good word to use as a contrast to the things in your life.
In the book you discuss the importance of setting small attainable goals, achieving them and celebrating your success. Why is this important?
Celebrating our success is just being proud of yourself. I think that one of the most important things is to forge a new relationship with yourself. A loving one. You're your own best friend, you have to be a champion for yourself. With that being said, we have to celebrate our challenges and our achievements and our successes and reward ourselves in healthy ways. It starts to create this cycle of positive action. If I am proud of myself, even when I was getting sober at the end of the day when I would put my head on the pillow I'd be like, "You did your laundry good job. You took a run." It's about being compassionate to yourself first and foremost.
In my own addiction I took so much for granted and have really benefited from a gratitude practice. In the book you say "nothing is as effective as the healing emotion of gratitude." Can you explain?
I think it's the first and foremost thing that we should think about everyday. I think that we should wake up and create a habit of gratitude. Some people like to start out with a gratitude list. Realize that there's people out there that would want your worst day and that are really struggling and to remember that. I think most people do feel that in recovery and cannot forget where we've come from. I always tell my clients this too, be grateful for the bad day that left you feeling so hopeless because that's what got you here today. That day I was describing me on the stairs I actually asked God for help, I never did that before. I will always remember that day in my mind. Holding on to something like the bad memories is also something you could be grateful for. Gratitude could come in many ways.
What is the most important first step that someone newly sober should take?
Right away I think it's important to have a safe environment. What that means is going to treatment, halfway house or therapy. Community to keep you safe and that you could reach out to. I think that's really important. Get on a healthy routine. Eat adequately, sleep adequately, drink water adequately. I tell my clients that are straight out of rehab, "I want you in the next 2 weeks to stay safe, you stay with a community of 3 people that you feel comfortable with, you eat whole foods, you sleep, you shower, you take a bath, you put yourself in bed every night at 10, you wake up at 7. Get that gratitude list out, eat breakfast, you do the same thing over again. You do that for a couple of months and I promise you, you'll feel like your whole life is changing."
Erica Spiegelman is an addiction and wellness specialist, motivational speaker, and author who works with individuals, couples, and families on personal growth and overall wellness. Erica provides a holistic approach to helping people overcome their struggles with addictions and dependency and gives them the tools they need to create healthy lives for themselves.
In April 2015, Erica published Rewired: A Bold New Approach to Addiction & Recovery, which offers a completely new treatment modality focused on how individuals can rewire their brains, change their behavior, and bring about positive change in their lives. Praised by experts in the field, Rewired debuted as Amazon's number one new release among drug and alcohol addiction books.
In addition to her work as an author and counselor, Erica works with several treatment centers in California, including Rebos Treatment Center, Klean Treatment Center and Passages Malibu. She is a regular contributor to online health outlets, TV news shows, often co-hosts a weekly radio show Klean Radio on Sirius XM, writes for Maria Shriver, and hosts her own show, "Rewired Radio" every Friday on RadioMD.
Erica holds a bachelor's degree in literature from the University of Arizona and is a California State Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor (CADAC)-II from UCLA.
Through her work, writing, and media appearances, Erica is dedicated to touching and changing as many lives as possible.
Buy Rewired: http://amzn.to/1xKI94d
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.