What is addiction? How do you get to recover from addictive behaviors? These are both very important, yet challenging questions. What do they have in common with our work as L&Ds? The process of getting from one behavior you have today to another one that serves you in a more positive way. Or even more important, the process of supporting that transition. In this episode, we spoke to best-selling author, Erica Spiegelman, about her journey of getting rid of an alcohol addiction, using communities, but also quiet time for self-reflection as tools to get rid of addiction, and how L&D can embrace role modeling & repetition to support behavior change.
Here's the main things we got out of this episode, and something you should keep in mind as well.
Lavinia: Hi, I'm Lavinia
Mili: And I'm Milli
Lavinia: And this is offbeat On Air. We are on a mission to break our bubble and go beyond L&D borders. We want to connect to the outer world and seek inspiration from different people. People trying to achieve similar goals as ours, but in other circumstances with different skills, tools, and mindsets.
Mili: Offbeat On Air is here to inspire you. We will learn how scientists solve problems, how professional athletes think of performance, and how surgeons approach the learning process. In a nutshell, in each episode, we will connect to great minds in order to infuse new perspectives into our lives as learning professionals.
Mili: Today we will be exploring behavioral change. A topic we often encounter now day-to-day work, but from an angle, that's less discussed: addiction and even more important recovery.
Mili: We were curious to learn what addiction is and what's the behavior change process people go through to gain healthier behaviors and habits.
Mili: As we saw certain parallels to our work, we became intrigued by how the addiction recovery process could inspire our practice.
Mili: For this episode, we are talking to someone who both faced addiction and it's constantly working with individuals struggling with addiction: Erica Spiegelman.
Mili: As a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and a recovered alcoholic herself, Erica provides a holistic approach to helping people overcome their struggles with addiction and dependency, and gives them the tools they need to create healthy lives for themselves.
Mili: Her key work is covered in the book that was published in 2015, called 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. The book gains so much attention that even debuted as Amazon's number one, new release among drug and alcohol addiction books.
Mili: So without further ado, Erica, welcome to the first episode of Offbeat On Air.
Erica: I'm honored, I'm honored to be on the first one. It's special.
Lavinia: Awesome. And, uh, to be honest, like we're, we're really excited because before meeting you and reading your book and listening to all your podcasts, we didn't know much about addiction and the process of recovery, and I would love to understand first your journey maybe, and if there, if there's even a definition of addiction these days that you can give to us.
Erica: So, addiction is when you have a behavior that is causing negative consequences in your life, okay? And the consequences could be emotional issues coming up, physical issues, mental health issues, spiritual, uh, health not intact, no balance, so I mean, I think if anybody's questioning a behavior that they have going on in their lives to ask them, like, is, is there negative consequences? Is, is my partner upset with me when I drink, or, am I late to work? Am I dropping the ball on assignments? Am I not, uh, am my best peak physical health? Is my sleeping off, is my mood swinging here and there. Like, there’s a lot of signs when people are starting to fall into a dependency we call it. Like where it becomes the behavior becomes something that was more sporadic and then it becomes more and more routine.
Erica: And so again, it's like how often is, are these behaviors going on? And addiction can, it's a spectrum. It can fall in a spectrum of 1 to 10. And 10 is obviously very interdependent on some kind of substance or some kind of behavior. And then 1, 2, 3 is like, Oh, my, this, this substance or this relationship I have with something in my life, is starting to be more constant and then, it's manageable and then it becomes less and less manageable. And that's kind of where the spectrum is. My own life, I, in my twenties, when I went to college, I was 18 years old, I went to a college that was like a very big party school and I think drinking was very normalized, and for a lot of our societies and our, our groups, wherever we, live in this world, it doesn't have to be a college, but, you have to look at kind of your environment and is drinking or using drugs or, even eating disorders within groups of friends. Is it something that is normalized? Like does it feel like it's okay to drink at three o'clock in the afternoon? Is it your group of friends fine with having a drink at lunch, and looking at your environment and who you choosing in your life?
Erica: And so for me, I could see clearly that, it was the age and most 20-year-olds do drink, right? But for me, I could feel like a physical addiction, starting even really young. Like I, I always looked forward to it. Even as my twenties, I stopped drinking at 27 or almost 28, but I, I even knew at the very end I was shaking in the morning, my hands were shaking, I was anxious until I had a drink, so for me, I know genetically there's a genetic component. We all metabolize alcohol differently, and so, I think for me, I and I, and historically and generationally, I, I see in my family there were drinkers along the way as well, so that makes sense.
Erica: I also grew up watching people drinking. So parents, my father actually, my mom's not really a drink, big drinker. But, we can also look at our family of origin and say, when we're, we're kids, as, we, we mirror exactly what we see. So if we see people yelling, we yell if we see people drinking, it's okay to drink, right? So again, it's like what was normalized to, so I think I had all four components that I just talked about, genetics, environment, family, and, and what was normalized like, and just in general I remember even being a teenager. Had a glass of wine, I think in France. We traveled a lot to Europe and, and I remember saying, Oh, this feels so great, like this is the best feeling ever. And I remember mm-hmm even at a young age. So for me, it was very clear that I was creating a relationship with alcohol that wasn't healthy and thank God for my mom. She stepped in cuz she started to see like I was becoming a shell of myself. My personality was changing, I was more depressed. I'm a very upbeat person usually. Uh, I was just isolating more and, and, hiding myself cause I didn't want people to question me or ask me what was going on. I had no balance in my life, all the signs that we, I was just mentioning before everything was, big red flag.
Erica: And so, I got help and went to a treatment center and then, started therapy, and then I started kind of putting myself on. Health plan, I, I call it like a treatment plan on my own. And I just, and I, it was like spirit or universe or God or whatever you wanna call it. It was like direction almost, or my own intuition probably.
Erica: I, it was myself, but it was, I knew I had to have routine and boundaries and I started reading books on mindfulness and learning how to meditate. I got a meditation teacher. And I just started like consuming health information, and I was loving it and I was very happy. To stop drinking actually. And I started running every day in the morning and, and going to bed early and, so I put myself on a routine, which I think routine is one of the most important things anybody could do if they wanna change their lives in any way, even if you're not an addict.
Erica: Routine is really helpful. And so that's how my own journey started. And then I went back to school at UCLA and I got my degree in addiction counseling, and then I started working at big treatment centers in Los Angeles. Creating groups for, I worked at a big center in Malibu and they had 30 people in each group there was a big, big center, and so those 30 people, were for three months. Some were there for six months. So I had to come up with new materials. So I started writing groups out and handing out worksheets. And I would say to people like, today we're doing a class on boundaries and have a work, a three-page worksheet. Then we would do, uh, authenticity, and then we would, I would do a group on, family, family values and uh, family roles. And so I started to create, I had. I had a notebook or was more like a binder of like 75 groups and I said to myself, this has all helped me. And now I'm getting feedback from my clients. It's, it's helping them.
Erica: And, I was doing one-on-one therapy at the time too, and I said, I'm gonna write a book about how to rewire your brain using, and I had the almost like an outline of the book already, cause it was all these chapters of all these topics that really helped people, and so that's how Rewired my first book came to be, based on what was very much helpful in my own personal journey and then what I also found very helpful for others, and yeah, so that's how all this started really.
Lavinia: So, so interesting. I wanna go back to something that you were saying, how you were observing your behaviors, like shaking or eager to, to have your first drink or anxious before having your first drink.
Lavinia: Yeah. And these are all like, Patterns that you observe for your specific addiction. But I was wondering, because there are so many types of addiction and I feel like technology is also, uh, added a whole other layer to, to this field. And I was wondering if, if there's a way people can again observe or reflect on their behavior and notice if they have any sort of addiction.
Erica: Yeah, I, I mean I think that's such a great point. Yeah. I mean, technology habits and., again, it's a dopamine rush. Our brain has certain chemicals that are released, so they found studies like, when you hear your phone being, or like, whatever sound you have on that, that it, it's a dopamine hit. Oh, someone wants to talk to me, Oh, there's something important. Oh, someone likes something I posted, whatever it is. And so that in and of itself is creating this, uh, this, our brain chemistry to change and creating like this, we want more, we always want more when something changes our brain chemistry and the dopamine is, is released.
Erica: So, I think it's great to talk about that. But yes, I think people can, , I was just talking to someone today about eating issues and not an eating disorder. But I think a lot of people have restrictive eating also, like there's always, and, and in our society too, you get a flooding of information, of eat a keto diet, no gluten, potatoes aren't good, potatoes are great. There is a potato diet. There's, I've heard everything under the sun and it's, it's, it really makes people obsessed and focused on the wrong thing instead of just being present. Seeing food as nourishment, seeing, following your intuition, intuitively eating, not listening to what other people are saying all the time, not comparing yourself to people.
Erica: I mean, there's a lot of comparisons to, so I think eating, technology, shopping a lot of people like, I think tune out from just like online buying. I mean, especially during the pandemic. It was really, there was a lot of that. And, but, but I think in general, like what you're saying is some signs to look for no matter what the behavior is, is again, the negative consequences, but also intuitively, if you feel like the, your hobbies or the things that you love have fallen by the wayside, if you've been someone that loves music or painted and had like a hobby or, or, was active in, into cycling or, and you see that you're not engaging or you're not reading anymore, not doing the things that really lit, like lit you up or made you happy, brought you joy if those start going away, if your sleep is disturbed, if you're not physically moving at like you used to, you're gaining weight. If you're losing weight too fast, these are signs too. I mean, it's an imbalance of some kind, like if you feel like you're off balance, I would make a like a list of what's going on in your health, your physical health, your mental health, your emotional health, and your spiritual health.
Erica: I always tell people to kind of journal and write down the four cornerstones of your self-care and those are the four cornerstones. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When I say spiritual, I mean gratitude really like do and your values. And that's why I write about values in my books is that it's like, do I feel like what I'm saying and doing doesn't really match what's in my heart? If I value, being honest, but I'm lying to people or I'm lying to myself, even the bigger lie, if there's self-betrayal, like, do I feel like I'm betraying my, my true purpose here on this earth? If I'm waking up every morning like, Oh my God, there's shame, there's guilt, there's, that self-betrayal is a killer and that will, that will keep you in a pattern of negative behaviors if you don't address it.
Milica: Yeah, I think, it, it's really interesting to hear, the nature and how, how, what kind of role we can have within that. And I think it's maybe now a good time to introduce like, the whole concept of rewired, right? So what you talk about, we can, rewire our brain for the recovery or like to just change this detrimental behavioral that we have.
Milica: So for me, I would like to ni go a little bit into your approach and a little bit, what do you understand under this rewired and, what is the brain behind the scene that happens, according to what you have experienced and learned from also working with your patients.
Erica: Yeah, well, I think, I'm not a neuroscientist, but I do know that, we can create new pathways in our brain. And so for, for everybody out there that's like, I don't wanna listen to a scientist to, because it's a lot of crazy big terms. I learned them in school. But to make it really simple. Think of your brain as like a bustling highway, and there's lots of, there's lots of lanes and, and paths and curves, right?
Erica: And for so long, let's say we're, we're going from point A to point B, and like, so if your brain is this highway and you have a path, To your home, let's say, or a street to your home. And that home is in this beautiful forest and you're, every day you're going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and that home is consisting of fear and addiction and unhappiness and depression, and anxiety and stress. And every day you're going there and one day you decide to change your life and build a new home and a healthier part of the forest. And that home is full of love and hope and faith and health and beauty, power and strength and you keep walking to that path instead, the old path, all the trees grow over, right?
Erica: And you can't even see it anymore. And the new path is so clear because you keep going towards that path, right? And so that's kinda like the brain. It's just a simple, like if we, we need to exercise repetition in our lives if we wanna create new pathways. So, that I think is number one and, and to understand what rewiring is, but, but also I think one of, like the top words that inspired me was authenticity, and that's why it's the first chapter in my book, Rewired, I think being authentic it's something we have to look at because I know there's no way that people in active addiction are being authentic, they're putting on a mask at work. And ask yourself, what masks am I wearing now when I see my best friend? Do I have to put on a mask when I see my partner or lover? My husband, my wife, my girlfriend, my boyfriend. Am I pretending to be okay all the time? If I see my parents, am I lying? Am I pretending? Am I acting in ways that aren't congruent to who I am? And that is really important.
Erica: If we start to pretend to be someone else, it's gonna lead to depression. No matter who you are, I don't care how old you are, what, where you come from, how much money you have, it doesn't matter. If you start to really disconnect from who you are, it's not gonna wind up good.
Erica: So I think that's really important to kind of understand and, and asking yourselves like, where in my life can I be more authentic or even basic stuff like in a relationship too. It's like, am I, am I speaking up and asking for what I need? Am I, feeling fulfilled and loved in life? Do I feel supported in my relationships at my work? Do I like what I do for a living? Does it fill my heart? I know people have to make money and, and make ends meet, but at the same time, you could find something that also fills your heart.
Erica: But I think a lot of people are fearful of change or fear, fear of this or that. So we have to kind of look at those narratives as well.
Milica: Yeah, yeah, I'm just like nodding. You can see that, but I'm nodding and I think, it feels like it starts also with cutting the noise around yourself. You mentioned in one of your, uh, principles that you introduce is also the solitude and this reflection time, which we also work quite a lot in our work, creating this reflection time to just process what is happening, because if we don't allow for that, we're just like running. So also, we work in a space of learning, but we need to set the foundation so when it comes, you introduce a couple of principles and I was looking at different treatments and even AA, so anonymous alcoholics said they work a lot with principles. Is there something behind this kind of set of, or like guidance that actually helps people change the behavior, and what is your experience with that?
Erica: Well, I mean, I think principles mean, I think what they mean by that is like, I would think like values or things, something of that nature. I don't really, I mean, I, I've been to AA meetings, I took take clients for years and I, I, I know I know about it and it helps a lot of my clients.
Erica: It wasn't my path. I never got into that. But, I think, I think having what I call non-negotiables is kind of like what they're talking about, principles, its boundaries too. It's kind of like for me, I have to know my triggers in life and, and like if somebody yells and raises their voice, it reminds me of like, it triggers me from my childhood, from things that I had witnessed or my parents divorced and fought a lot around me, so it's like if I hear like screaming or yelling it, it makes me like freeze or it makes, so I, in my own personal life now and relationships, non-negotiable. I mean, I'll like, like I, I picked, my husband, is a very like low key guy, doesn't really raise his voice. I probably picked him because of that, but with family members and people, I can't choose. I have a conversation with like, if you'd like to speak to me and you're upset, That's fine, but please don't raise your voice. I don't, I don't appreciate yelling, try and communicate calmly. So I think kind of knowing, writing out your non-negotiables, and it could be like if a friend gossips all the time and you don't wanna be put in the middle or you, it's just knowing, like, I don't want that in my life, That doesn't feel good. I don't want alcohol around me anymore. I wanna be around people that eat healthy or I wanna, be around people that value exercise. And even if they drink, that's not their whole life. They, they have other hobbies and they have other interests. I mean, it's, I think just kind of recognizing what's gonna be helpful for you in terms of non-negotiables and principles and values is good.
Milica: And you mentioned a couple of times this, uh, the, the peer pressure and who do we surround us, uh, ourselves with? Like it can go well for us, but also not so well for us. So, like the power of community and, and connection to, to others. So, you were working a lot with groups, so did you see, like you work individually and with the group, so maybe in this path of, uh, towards the recovery, what differences have you seen, individual versus group and any kind of, uh, knowledge that you gained there?
Erica: Yeah, I mean, I think, when I worked at centers, there's individual therapy and then there's group therapy. I think both are very important, like you said, community, super important, but community doesn't have to be like, you don't have to become a social, busy bee. You don't have to have like new friends and have dates and, coffee dates and this. But just even, for me, I didn't, I didn't really have. I have a, like a couple of really good friends, but I think my family was also my community in a sense. I, I joined, like a gym. I started doing like spinning classes and I met people there, but they weren't, like, I didn't see them out of the gym, but it was nice every morning to stay the same people. Hi, how are you? Going to the same coffee shop I knew. The people that work there, I'd see the same people drinking coffee. It was nice to have those conversations. So, you don't have to have this idea that community has to be something where you have to be super social. Cause like for me, I'm, I, I work, I have a family, I have, things going. I don't have time to just be, but I feel very supported always cuz I feel like I have, if you don't have family that supports you, then find friends or find people at the coffee shop that you see it just having a sense of belonging.
Erica: Somewhere is important, but like you mentioned, solitude, healthy solitude is for me, essential. Non-negotiable. Non-negotiable. Even with two toddlers right now and crazy work schedule and this and that and run, and trying to be present for everything. I still find time to, pretty much every day, like I carve it out non-negotiable. I don't start my sessions until a certain time. And if someone says to me, do you have any extra time? Do you have any time? No. This is my time. I have work time, I have my time. Like that's, that's for me is a non-negotiable. So I think it's, it's, it's important to kind of try that. If you aren't familiar with that and just. Sit and read. Go take a walk, listen to music, take a bath, like, go sit outside, journal, go sit outside and close your eyes for five minutes. Just start slowly.
Milica: Yeah. And, and, and I love your, your holistic approach, like in, in everything that you have written and how YOUpresent your work is like you, Of course you have couple of, in your chapter you introduce, uh, certain values. So do you believe, or how do you see it? Do we need to kind of cover them all to get to the point where we wanna be? Or where would you, you start with a authenticity and you talk about going back to yourself, but how much do we have to encompass to see this change happening? What, what is your opinion?
Erica: Yeah, I mean, it's like. You're right. You don't have, like, if you really loathe being by yourself and you really like being around people more, it's just, I think trying to push yourself to do things that don't make you comfortable sometimes, I think it's like, I think there's some beauty and healing in that as well.
Erica: Like for me, going to an AA meeting, I didn't like that. I don't like big groups of people. It wasn't, but I went because people told me I should try, just, just to try. And so again, I think looking at things with curiosity instead of resistance, change the word in your mind. Any situation you go into, be like, I'm gonna look at this with curiosity. What can I learn? Mm. Like, I'm gonna see what, maybe I'll be inspired, maybe I'll learn something instead of like, I don't, I'm not gonna learn anything. The resistance, I'm not gonna go, I don't like being around people. That's not me. I'm not like that. Like all of that. Talk. Self-talk is not gonna help be helpful, but self-talk around curiosity is helpful.
Erica: Who knows? Maybe I'll enjoy it. Maybe I'll meet someone there who knows, maybe I'll like this. I'll try it. So it's just changing the self-talk too is helpful.
Lavinia: And, and the brain pathways on the way, uh, as I see it. So we've talked so much about, uh, how you can deal with behavior changes an individual, but I'm really curious to, uh, just to wrap it up, uh, with some lessons learned for us as well, because in learning and development we do deal with behavior change. We want to create the environment where, where people can adopt new habits, new behaviors. Is it something that you learned, as a counselor actually, that you would recommend to us as well when you're dealing with behavior change for other people?
Erica: Yeah, so I mean, I did, which I've shared with YouTube before, I've done corporate wellness workshops. I did them for a big company called Salesforce. Well, they're, they're international, so they're a big, big tech company and I've done them for big companies all over the US during, during the pandemic on Zoom, people like in HR or learning or development or, whatever department is, have contacted me and, and, and say like, we'd like for you to do a workshop for our employees, because it's important for them to understand that they have to focus on their mental and emotional health as well as their work? And I think creating this culture within your company, whoever's listening that in, normalizing that your mental health and emotional health have to come first if you're gonna be productive at work.
Erica: I mean, that's it. Like if you're burnout from working, how can you possibly be present with your work. So anybody that's managing or running a company or the CEOs or whatever positions are in, if they can really mirror this, like I'm talking about mirroring. If they say, as executives, like I had, I did a workshop for the executives first, and they told their employees, their teams after that at Salesforce. We did the workshop first. It was great. We want you to do it too, because we want you to implement self-care routines in your life and, for them to, to do it first is very helpful because then because even employees will say, well, they tell me to do that, but if I do that they're gonna look at me like I'm weak.
Erica: They, they still don't, they still don't wanna take the time, even if you're granted an hour to go for lunch if your manager is sitting there and he's not going for lunch mm-hmm. and he's not taking care of himself, you're not gonna do it either. So they, I think people that are, the higher-ups have to, they, they have to implement the behavior first, and they have to be somebody that sets the tone for that.
Erica: but in, in terms like what you asked me of, of looking at other behaviors, changing, I think mood swings, people that are snappy, that can't communicate well. I mean, like when I do my corporate workshops, it's all about communication. I mean, that's kind of like the foundation of that is like how we can feel comfortable communicating.
Erica: Our needs are, wants how we feel, as you guys know, resiliency is really big. And, and, and relationship building. I mean, if you're working in teams, a team, or a company in general, there's relationships, interpersonal relationships. You can't get around that. And I know I've heard from many people, the bigger companies that I work with that say, well, I just don't get along with this person. I, there's nothing I can do. Or this person has something out for me. But you can begin to set boundaries for yourself. You can learn new ways of communicating. You can begin to like, focus, focus kind of on what you can control and not make assumptions. And, there's all these like little tricks I do with, with the corporate people because I think there's just this theme that, they, they get into where there's just, again, I say resistance, but fears and resistance around communication.
Lavinia: It's so interesting because I, I do have one last question. , I'm really curious. You, you come in and you, you do your workshops about mental health and wellbeing. I'm really curious, what can we, again, as learning and development professional professionals do after you come in? Is there any other way we can support people in actually implementing what they're learning from you?
Erica: Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, so like every month I would do a check-in, like even if it's a half an hour zoom or an in-person meeting, zoom of just, okay, this is the topic today. We're gonna talk about boundaries in your life, but again, it's like building, building trust between the team.
Erica: Like if you talk about boundaries and it's something to do their personal life, it's creating, having the facilitator that could create a safe space saying whatever we share today here. He's not gonna be talked about out of here. Anybody have an issue here? I mean, I worked for a company and they brought in a therapist once a month and he had nothing to do with the company. He didn't work for the company, he wasn't part of the company, but he was the same guy and he came in every month for us to process cuz we were all therapists ourselves working in this field. If we were burned out, how our health was suffering, where we felt out of balance, what kind of interpersonal issues were going on, anything we wanted to share with our management or the, our bosses, it was really a safe space and it was awesome.
Erica: Like everybody brought lunch. We all, this was back before any this pandemic, but we brought lunch, it was very, it was I think the last Friday of every month. So having a routine like that, that they can look forward to and saying to them, write down things. If this month something comes up, write it down. Bring it there. This is the place for you to bring it, bring it. This is, this is our safe space.
Lavinia: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. I'm, I'm hearing, and I've been hearing in the last couple of minutes a lot about, about repetition, uh, how important it is, repetition and habit formation and behavior change.
Lavinia: Also about the role of reflection in any way, because you, you mentioned journaling or going to these meetings with other people, it is a form of reflection, asking each other's questions. And also role modeling. That was a big, a big thing for me. The, the senior managers role modeling, uh, the behaviors they wanna see in, in their employees, behaviors that are healthy, habits that are healthy.
Lavinia: So, a a lot to, to be learned from, from this episode, just ourselves. We, we could just recap and, and go through all that and I'm, I'm sure there are things that we can even implement after this, this couple of minutes. Thank you so, so much for, for being with us. We, we think there's so much we can, we can explore together and, already were going through your book and again, through all the podcast episodes you're doing. So who knows, maybe we can spot our other topics, we can, we can chat about.
Erica: Thank you so much. Oh, absolutely. Of course. There's always so much to chat about with you, you, you both, and I'm so happy. Congratulations to both of you and I know this is gonna help so many people and I'm proud of you, and yeah, and, and we'll keep in touch and I'll come back for sure.
Lavinia: Thank you so much for listening to today's podcast, which was all about addiction and what we need to embrace when facing it in order to change our mindset, behaviors, and habits.
Milica: We hope you learned as much as we did, and that you took this as a gentle nudge to reflect on which Erica's practices you can actually adopt in your work as learning and development professionals. All our lessons learned are captured in the episode podsheet you will find in the description of this episode.
Lavinia: If you're looking for more resources, go ahead and subscribe to our newsletter or join us in the Offbeat Fellowship where we facilitate social and practical learning among others to help you grow in your career. Create a happy day and never stop learning.
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