Conversation with Paul Silva
Paul is awesome. He’s the first person I reached out to in the blogging community, which is why I was so chuffed when he said yes to my interview request. I love Paul’s style, his immense humility and his written word — they resonate with me deeply.
Paul lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with his wife and two young boys. He has been sober since May 4, 2011 and is a great example of what recovery can do to change someone and their outlook on life. Paul is active in recovery and has written a blog called Message In A Bottle, and now hosts Buzzkill Podcast, a website; where he seeks to share life through the lens of recovery. It hosts a blog and other resources for those in recovery to tap into – videos, books, websites, other pods, etc.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Hi Paul, thanks so much for talking to Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. You were one of my first followers outside of the UK and have been such an inspiration and a great support. Thank you. I am so excited to bring your talents to my page.
Liv: Lets kick off talking about your journey. You’ve described your rock bottom in your story, where you were ‘broken emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually’. You said that your ‘ego cracked just enough to let the light in.’ – What do you mean by that experience?
Paul: Hi Liv, I am very honoured and flattered to be asked to answer your well thought out questions. I hope I do them justice.
As an alcoholic, I was very much in denial about many things, the most crippling was my denial in how bad my drinking was. I couldn’t see that I was an ego-maniac—everything was about me, and that I needed to control everything and everyone around me. I had this grandiose picture of myself and my place in the world (i.e. the center) and I didn’t understand why people didn’t see things my way. I was both self-inflated and yet felt like a stain on the world. So when things came crashing down, I was standing at the precipice of oblivion, wondering what happened. I had lost hope in everything, namely myself. But I remember being in my parent’s basement, lying on the bed, my mother begging me to go to treatment. And for a moment, I was about to rebuff it the way I usually did. But this time I felt a wee voice in me piercing through the darkness, telling me that I needed to go. I needed help. And for the first time in a very long time, my ego cracked open just a bit, to let the light of grace come through. It was time.
Liv: You talk of the external validation we seek, as alcoholics/addicts; what forms did that take?
Paul: For this alcoholic, I was crushed under the weight of self-loathing and low self-esteem. I couldn’t harness what was already in me, as I felt it was worthless. So with that perspective, I sought validation from the external world, consciously and unconsciously. The easiest way for me to find that validation was through others. I thought that people pleasing would endear me to others, to make me feel loved and accepted. I sought attention from women, in inappropriate ways. I twisted myself to have people accept me, so I became a chameleon, but in doing so I lost my true self. I played the martyr a lot, so people would fawn over me over my “selflessness.” I worked crazy hours so people would see me as a hard worker and a valuable employee and person. I sought companionship in the bottle, of course, which was something that took me away from me for a while until it turned on me. The problem with seeking external validation is that the good feelings I got, the buzz from my “fixes”, were temporary. I could never have enough. No matter how much attention I got, or how much I drank, there was a point where I was stuck with myself again. And that was the worst place to be.
Frankly, I still find myself seeking external validation. The difference is that I am more aware of it, and I try to check in with myself vis-a-vis intentions and motives. It’s a lifelong thing for me, but I hope to whittle that need down as I learn to accept that I alone am enough.
Liv: I love your description of active alcoholism as ‘a desolate cyclone of addictive drinking and thinking’; in what way was your drinking and thinking desolate?
Paul: My thinking was my greatest problem. Still can be. My thoughts were a barrage of put downs and assaults. I kept telling myself I was never good enough, that I was never going to amount to much, that I was worthless. I felt that I was a fraud of sorts, that if people got to know me that they would abandon me and leave me for dead. I was wrapping myself in my own filth, which was narrowing my vision and my views of the world, which lead to more self-centered thinking and behaviours. It was an endless cycle.
Drinking soothed me, and yet added more fuel to the fire. It partially numbed me, but at times just ratcheted up the rage and isolation. Drinking was the solution to my so-called problems, until it became a problem itself. Both my thinking and my drinking took me away from my authentic self, God and those who loved me. They crushed the true spirit within me.
Liv: You’ve written of the realisation that what you were seeking to fulfill with that external validation, was within you all along, you said ‘Life in recovery is exactly what I sought out when I was drinking for those twenty-five years.’ What does that look like to you?
Paul: Self-realization. Shaking hands with the Authentic Self. Connecting with the Creator. When I was drinking, I was seeking something, but didn’t know what it was. I felt a hole in my soul and tried to fill it with booze and external validation. I tried to patch it up rather than explore it and understand it and have it healed. I was never comfortable in my own skin, and I constantly sought to get as far away from myself as possible. What I am learning in recovery is to come to myself, to see myself as I am, and to practice acceptance in that space. I can be uncomfortable or fearful or angry, but realize that it’s part of being human. I need not have to flee. I can reconcile my heart, mind and spirit and do it in a healthy way.
I seek. I continue to seek in ways that bring me closer to the Creator, to others, and to my Authentic Self. I am learning to just be and not worry about what others think. That’s a very difficult thing for me to do, Liv. I struggle with this heavily at times, but I am doing it with the help of others, sober, and with some strategies…and faith in the process. It’s a life-long process, but as I learn, I get to give back to others.
Liv: In active recovery, we are able to reconcile broken relationships and dreams; what does life look like to you today?
Paul: One of the hallmarks of an active alcoholic or addict is the turmoil of personal relationships. We just suck at them. We aren’t able to have a kind, loving relationship with ourselves, so how are we expected to have the same with others? I knew I loved my wife and my family, but didn’t know how to express it properly. I didn’t know or understand what unconditional love looked like or felt like. I knew in my mind what it was, but I couldn’t feel it at a level deep enough to experience relationships in their full glory.
Early in my recovery, I made many amends. Many of them were to those I was closest to. I found healing in those amends, as I did to those with ex-employers and friends. Things are much different these days – I come to relationships with a hell of a lot more honesty, transparency and effort. It has taken time to rebuild trust in others. My wife and I have never had a better relationship since I have been in recovery. We never argue and we are respectful, honest and supportive of one another. I have been able to rectify a lot of things with my parents and feel that nothing has been left unspoken about. There is a lot of love and respect there. I feel a lot closer to those in my inner circle. I don’t have many friends, but when I connect with others, I connect in an honest and positive way. I am not out to manipulate any one, nor do I feel like people are “out to get me” any more.
Liv: Moving on to your website; you explain that the purpose of the site is to look at life through a lens of recovery. I love that. I’d imagine life is not so distorted, nowadays! How do you think the recovery lens magnifies our reality today?
Paul: It sharpens and focuses it. We aren’t looking at things in dark and fuzzy ways. I find that I question myself more—my intentions, my motives, my reasons for doing things. It keeps me more honest and real. It keeps me on the beam. I find that I am more grateful for things. I try not to take things for granted like I used to. Of course I get in my own head, and I get bunched up and my old ways of thinking come spinning around me at times, but those are temporary. I don’t let them rule me like they used to.
They may hold me down for a spell, but I get back up! I know this sounds corny, but sometimes it just takes my kids’ laughter to snap me out things. I realize that things are never as bad as I make them out to be, and for someone who lived in a ball of crippling fear and worthlessness, it’s a massive transformation. We get to experience our lives with eyes wide open. How groovy is that?
Liv: I totally identify with your openness that, whilst rooted in a 12-step programme, you welcome the broad spectrum of recovery methodologies with ‘recovery showing its light in many forms’. You elaborate by saying that you believe in the mind-body-spirit connection and look at life in a more holistic way; what do you mean by that?
Paul: I have always been upfront about being in 12-step. It is my method of recovery and it saved my life. I will always be indebted to those who have traversed the path before me, and I do my best to return that back to newcomers and to the universe in general.
Having said that, it’s not for everyone. I have seen too many folks find freedom and happiness walking on other paths. Some are organized recovery methods, and many are self-realized. There is no one way up the mountain. Some find it in religion, talk therapy, spirituality, exercise, yoga, meditation, etc. Often it is a combination of things that work for that person.
For me, I find that while I am rooted in 12-step, I see the value in other spiritual paths. I am not religious but I find many of the tenets of most religion are in line with the spiritual values that I find attractive. If you were to compare what the spiritual gurus of today and yesterday extol, you will find a commonality between them. What you will also find is that many texts and teachers talk about the mind-body-spirit connection, which I very much agree with.
The mind-body-spirit is about nourishing all three aspects to lead a healthier life. Training the mind is a very Buddhist approach to life—learning to seek detachment from that which causes pain, letting go of ego, etc. and that is something I am always trying to practice. Learning to see things with a different perspective, to avoid the traps of “stinking thinking” which leads us to old thought and behaviours. The spirit is fed with prayer, meditation and service to others. The body is served with healthy eating (which I am terrible at, by the way!) and exercise. When I am practicing all these—running, working my spiritual practices and working on keeping my mind fit—I find that I am much more at peace. Running helps my mind relax and makes me feel better overall. Meditation brings me peace as well and reduces the stress on my mind and body. So all these things feed into one another. It’s almost impossible to separate one from the other. It’s all about balance.
Liv: You talk of spiritual principles which underpin your day, such as humility, hope, love and forgiveness, just how important is humility in one’s recovery?
Paul: Humility is key! It’s the linchpin. Mother Teresa said that humility is the mother of all virtues. It is the virtue in which all other virtues are born from. Humility comes in so many guises and forms. Humility allows me to have an open mind, which allows me to learn more and experience more. Humility allows me to not get overconfident when it comes to my alcoholism and other dangerous hubris. Humility gives me the ability to embrace compassion for others and myself. Humility allows me self-examine myself without harsh judgment. Humility allows me to be a better listener. Humility gives me self-esteem that I am comfortable with. Humility allows me to take responsibility for my actions and not take on things that aren’t mine. Humility, in the end, allows us to be teachable, and without that we are not able to learn how to live without our drug of choice (or drug of no choice, as I like to say!) If I am not teachable,
I am still in self, still justifying, still rationalizing, and I will not change. It’s critical to change in recovery.
Liv: You retired the blog ‘Message in a Bottle’ about a year ago. What led you to podcasting?
Paul: I never thought about podcasting until I heard the Since Right Now podcast. I really enjoyed the fact that it was real, irreverent and most importantly to me, was done by some dudes. I had heard a few other podcasts, and it was females. I liked what they said, but found it hard to connect with at times. It was refreshing to have a male voice, literally and figuratively. I could relate a bit more.
With that inspiration, at one point I thought maybe I could do it, but figured why would anyone want to listen to me? I parked that thought, but it gnawed at me from behind the shadows. Then one day, Chris from Since Right Now, asked me about starting my own podcast for his network. By that time I had already been a guest on his pod twice, and I guess I felt comfortable enough. So I considered it for about 1.35 seconds and said sure. And from there, it’s been a journey. I learned a lot of things since that first podcast, and continue to play around with it. I started to get guests on there and it’s been a lot of fun.
It’s become a part of my own recovery. I have since moved from the SRN network, but I certainly owe them a big shout out for helping me get on my feet. And I get a lot of feedback saying that I am quite good at it, so I am pleased and grateful that I am able to offer something to some people.
Liv: Tell me about question of the week?
Paul: I have no clue where that came from! I just thought it would be fun to try something like that. At that time I still hadn’t had a guest, and I think I thought people were going to tire hearing what I had to say, so I wanted to open things up a bit. I have toyed with cutting it entirely, but I seem to come back to it. I recently added a toll-free number for people to call and leave comments and thoughts by voice. I was surprised one day to see that Buzzkill made a list on a podcasting blog as one example in how to engage listeners, and that was with the Question of the Week.
Liv: What are some of the joys you experience in talking to others on a podcast?
Paul: I love that I get a break from all the yapping! In all seriousness, I love what each guest brings to the podcast. Everyone’s experience and outlook is unique, as is their approach to sharing it. The guests I have had have all helped to open my own eyes to things, and have helped to shape my own ideas and thoughts. My mandate is to bring in people who others can relate to easily. I am not sure if I am casting a wide a net as some other podcasters do, but I am hoping to get a slightly more diverse and different roster on. I am interested in addictions other than alcohol and drugs. I have spoken to someone with sex addiction already, and am open to talking to others with food, gambling, debting or other addictions as well. I think they are just as important to talk about and don’t get as much of a stage to share as those related to drugs and alcohol do.
Liv: Leading on from the previous question, what do you think it brings to your recovery?
Paul: I gain additional insight and wisdom from all my guests. I catch sparks of light from their own experiences and struggles and victories. I also see that I am never alone in how I feel and think. So many times someone on the podcast will say something and I will think “that’s me too!” I also love learning from others. There is always something that each of them has said that sticks with me. It’s been eye opening having guests on the podcast.
Liv: You reignited your passion for blogging, in February. In your blog ‘So It Begins Again’ you talk of the brilliance of creativity and the importance of it featuring in our lives. You say ‘Creation…that’s a big part of our lives…Being creative can be more about the spirit than the product.’; just how does creativity engage the spirit?
Paul: I was listening to the wonderful and amazing T.D Jakes the other day, and he said that we were made from the Creator and therefore we are Creative. Creativity isn’t about painting a mural or writing a song per se. They can be, for sure. But creativity to me means turning ideas into reality. It’s to perceive the world and our reality in new and different ways. It’s about making connections to things we may not initially see connection with. We are all creative in our own ways. We are creative in our play, in our work, in our home lives. We are creative in small and large ways. And no matter how we go about it, it engages our spirit, our souls. It touches at something deeper. It feeds the spirit. When I do something creative, whether it’s a new way of doing something at work, or even something simple like taking a new route on a run, I feel I am gaining something. I am breaking out of my comfort zone, and that’s where growth happens.
Liv: And what does blogging bring to your life?
Paul: I am not as active in my blogging as I was when I was doing Message in a Bottle, as I am busy with the podcast and other things, but it allows me to connect and to share in a way I couldn’t talking to someone face-to-face or at a meeting. I get to gather my thoughts in a cohesive way. It allows me to explore through writing. I often don’t know where my blog post will end up, so the journey is part of the process. The ending is just the ending. I find it helps me make sense of what is going on. It’s like talking my way through something, except I get to share it. So even if only a few people read it, that’s OK. It’s more about the act than the results.
Top Recovery Tools
Liv: Last, I love to ask this of all people I speak to, what are your top 5 recovery tools?
1) Prayer – this is the first thing I do when I get up and the last thing I do before going to bed. I haven’t missed a prayer since I got sober, almost 5 years ago. I pray often throughout the day. It keeps me connected to the Creator. It feeds the soul.
2) Meditation – they say that if prayer is talking, meditation is listening. And that is very true for me. I can’t tell you how much insight I have gained through quiet meditation and mindfulness.
3) Running – I started running in my second year of recovery and it’s an important thing for me, as it helps me mentally and emotionally. It helps to keep me centered and balanced. Moving my body is an important aspect in my recovery health.
4) Talking to others – as much as I am an introvert and isolating is second nature to me (an old habit), I know I need others. To my dismay! But I can’t tell you how much I have learned from others, and how important they are in keeping me on the beam and calling out my BS when needed. Sponsors, family, people online…these folks keep me sane and talk me off the ledge countless times.
5) Service – this just means be available to others. Service has many aspects, but for me it’s just about doing things for others without any expectation of reward or recognition. And it doesn’t have to be grandiose things. It can be as simple as opening doors for others, or asking if someone wants a cup of coffee, or letting someone go in ahead of you in line. Working with others is a big thing for me, considering how selfish and self-centered I was and can be still.
Thank you for taking part in Kitchen Table Conversations
Thank YOU Liv for the wonderful and thoughtful questions. I appreciate the time you took to customize these and to make me dig deep!