Conversation with Shane Watson
This week, Liv speaks to Shane Watson. Shane is a Prevention Specialist for the Scottsdale, Arizona prevention nonprofit notMYkid. He has been with the organization for four years and has performed over 275 speaking engagements at more than 160 venues, including schools, community groups, corporations, and conferences in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts. Shane also performs media duties for notMYkid, with over 75 local and national media appearances and interviews. Shane presents on four topics: substance abuse, bullying, Internet safety, and a combination topic of depression/suicide/self-injury. Shane is a registered ASIST trainer, teaching two-day workshops on suicide intervention. He joined notMYkid in January of 2013 as a student Peer Educator with the goal of sharing his personal story of addiction and recovery in order to prevent students from going down a similar path. Now more than five years clean and sober, he remains driven by the desire to equip students, parents, school faculty, and other community members with the knowledge and courage necessary to prevent negative youth behaviours. Shane is also the proud dad of an amazing little girl, and passionate music fanatic with a collection of over 1,000 records, 2,000 CDs, and 60,000 mp3s.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: As we’re conversing in Liv’s Kitchen, let’s kick off with a food question: What have you had for breakfast today?
I’ve had a whey protein shake made with almond milk, natural chocolate whey protein powder, and a tablespoon of natural peanut butter. I tend to not be very hungry in the morning, so breakfast is usually just a protein shake. Lunch and dinner are a different story. I eat more throughout the day.
Liv: Reading your story, You described addiction as happening one step at a time. Tell me what motivated those steps? Were you conscious of the choices you were making?
My initial motivations were curiosity and peer pressure. However, that peer pressure wasn’t the overt, in-your-face type often portrayed in anti-drug PSAs. It was much more subtle, but no less present. Around the time I started experimenting with alcohol and drugs, I had become far too concerned about what my peers thought of me. I was heavily motivated by trying to impress them in order to gain their acceptance. This was around middle school.
The next steps into substance use were motivated by pleasure seeking, and by trying to use drugs and alcohol to cope with anxiety and the fact that I never quite felt like I fit in. Also, around this same time, drugs and alcohol became something I associated with creativity, so there was that aspect as well. I created a lot of art, music, and writing, and substance use was heavily tied into those things for me. The artists, writers, and musicians I looked up to were pretty blatant about their penchant for altering their consciousness. This period was during my high school and college years.
Before I knew it, it had become a lifestyle. Drugs and alcohol had been there so frequently and for so long that they had become “normal.” I was conscious of the choices I had been making, but I failed to fully understand the gravity of those choices. I didn’t comprehend what kind of a door I had opened and how hard it was going to be to close it someday. I knew that plenty of people became addicts and alcoholics, but I never thought it would happen to me.
Liv: I watched your video about Finding Grace, it was beautiful. In the opening statement you said: “I’ve been told that justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve and grace is getting what you do not deserve.” Tell me what you do not deserve and why?
Thank you. I’m very happy with that video. I was fortunate to get the chance to work with Chris Heck, an extremely talented filmmaker and storyteller. He’s done some really cool things with a number of people’s personal stories. I hope to work with him more in the future.
As far as what I don’t deserve, I don’t deserve my daughter, who has taught me what love really is and what really matters. I don’t deserve the blessings that I encounter on a daily basis. I’ve done nothing to earn them. I didn’t deserve the support which people gave me almost immediately after my arrest back in 2011. I fell fast and hard and wasn’t expecting anyone to help me up. I don’t deserve the loving family and incredible friends around me, who have long since forgiven the many train wrecks I created over the years.
By the way, in mentioning what I don’t deserve, it’s important that I clarify that this isn’t about being down on myself or caught up in self-loathing or guilt. It’s about being honest about the fact that my track record isn’t so stellar as to have earned the blessings that have been given to me. For me, recognizing and appreciating grace is an extension of gratitude.
Liv: I love how you talk about forgiving yourself. Tell me what you forgave?
I had to forgive a lot. I hurt others and hurt myself. I caused pain for people who didn’t deserve it. I was incredibly destructive, selfish, angry, and bitter. It was burning me up. I had to let it all go. The ability to forgive myself is directly linked to my faith. It couldn’t have happened without that. It also couldn’t have happened without a significant change in approach, mindset, and behaviour. I’m not that guy anymore.
Liv: In telling your story over at The Sobriety Collective, you said that you were encouraged to become a substance abuse Peer Educator at a local nonprofit called notMYkid where you began speaking to children in schools of Arizona about your story. Testament to your hard work and commitment to this cause, you were promoted to eventually become a Prevention Specialist. First, wow. Second, tell me what drove the fire within you to tell your story?
I’ve been a communicator since I was a toddler. I used to record myself doing pretend radio shows on a cassette player I had. Later, when my parents got their first video camera, I used to put it on a tripod and do hours of sketch comedy and improv in from of it. In an after-school program I was in as a kid, the staff would even have me get up and do improv shows for the other kids to keep them entertained for an hour or so. It came naturally to me, and I was very at ease doing it. I think a lot of that comes from my dad, whom I am very much like in that aspect.
I took multiple speech courses at my university and was asked to join the speech team. I also have a degree in communications, and even hosted a weekly, two-hour syndicated radio show back in 2001-2002. So there’s a professional history there as well. Pair that experience and ease of public speaking up with my passion for helping others, and the opportunity at notMYkid was the perfect fit.
Additionally, I was exceptionally hungry for a chance. Before notMYkid gave me a chance, I had been doing unskilled warehouse labor. I was jackhammering old tile, tearing out carpet, and painting walls. I had a nearly impossible time getting a job due to the felony charges on my record from the last night I used alcohol. Never mind getting a job related to my degree and skillset, I had trouble getting ANY job. My degree, experience, and ability to interview well became virtually worthless in light of my felony. As soon as employers hear you’re a convicted felon, they want nothing to do with you.
When I interviewed at notMYkid, I said, “If you give me this chance, I will do anything for you. I’ll speak when and where you want. I’ll come in here and do admin work. I’ll do your filing. I’ll vacuum your floors and make your coffee. Name it, I’ll do it. I just want a chance.” They gave me a shot when nearly no one else would. I’ve never forgotten what it felt like to want that so bad. I’ve kept that fire burning, and it’s been full speed ahead ever since they opened the door for me.
Liv: In your article for Cltivate, you said that in speaking engagements, you share your personal story intertwined with teachable keys to behavioral health. What are the teachable keys to behavioral health and what might we learn from them?
Teachable keys to behavioral health include things like healthy coping skills, positive communication skills, resilience, social thinking, acceptance of differences, hope/faith, self-control, and integrity. I think we can all learn a lot and benefit a lot from these. Even those individuals who are not in recovery can benefit from incorporating these concepts into their lives.
Liv: Moving on to your physical recovery, you said that early in your recovery-amongst faith and writing-that nutrition and exercise formed a fundamental part of your recovery program. Tell me about it’s importance and how it has impacted your recovery?
Fitness and nutrition are a huge part of my recovery. They’re definitely within the top five most important pieces of my recovery. I typically work out five to six days a week. The majority of what I do is resistance and strength training. I do a variety of old school, tried and true weightlifting exercises. I also incorporate cardio, including HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) cardio and hiking.
When I get in a really good, intense hour of exercise, my mood is significantly elevated for close to the next 24 hours. For me, there is no antidepressant on this planet as good as intense exercise. Staying consistent with my workouts has tremendous benefits for me in terms of mood, sleep, focus, and memory. Keeping myself healthy and happy benefits recovery in numerous ways, with the biggest one being the fact that I don’t feel the need to self-medicate with destructive substances like I used to.
Liv: You have lost a significant amount of weight in recovery. How has your relationship with your body and food changed in the process of recovery?
Food can be medicine, fuel, an experience, a drug, or poison. I primarily use it as fuel and medicine now, with the occasional “food experience” as a treat. My approach to it and relationship with it has changed.
Back when I was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, I had a really unhealthy relationship with food. When I was abusing stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, it was not uncommon for me to go multiple days in a row without eating and sleeping, followed by close to 24 hours of sleep and then gorging myself on an entire large pizza and a six-pack of soda. When alcohol was my drug of choice, I’d get drunk and then binge eat obscene amounts of fast food.
Now, it’s all about balance. I eat small meals throughout the day. I consume a lot of lean protein (about a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day) in the form of fish, chicken, turkey, shrimp, Greek yogurt, fat free cottage cheese, and a really great steak now and then. I eat a lot of healthy fats like nuts, avocados, and coconut oil. Fortunately, I love fruit, especially mangoes, pineapple, peaches, cherries, all kinds of berries, oranges, etc. I routinely make fruit and vegetable shakes.
I do treat myself on occasion, but make sure that it doesn’t turn into a binge or derail my progress.
I also make a point to drink about a gallon of water a day.
Liv: What advice would you give to anyone who is using food in a similar way to addictively using drugs and/or alcohol?
Speak up and ask for help. You are absolutely not alone and things can get better, but you need to take that first step. Find professional resources in your area and get connected with professional help. Beyond the professional help, find meetings or support groups, and create a support network for yourself. Fill your phone with the numbers of those you connect to along the way. That way, when you may be tempted to engage in your addictive behaviour, you have plenty of people to reach out to for help.
Create a plan for yourself with multiple layers including treatment, counselling, support, local resources, online resources, books that encourage and help you, a spiritual outlet (if you’re a person of faith), and positive outlets such as writing, art, music, fitness, or whatever you love to do. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should be multi-faceted. The more helpful pieces you put in place, the more you’re likely to succeed.
Find out what things lead you toward your addictive behaviour, and avoid those things. Get to know yourself. Know what works for you and what doesn’t.
Liv: Penultimate question: what is your favourite meal/dish?
It’s a tie between nigiri sushi (eel, salmon, tuna, squid, octopus, smelt roe, salmon roe, etc.) and Beef phở (with all the good extra bits like tripe, tendon, oxtail, etc.). Though I do dig plenty of simpler things like carne asada burritos, chicken and waffles, Chicago dogs, fish tacos, and BBQ ribs).
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
Faith, love, purpose, positive outlets (exercise, music, writing, art, etc.), and serving others.
Thank you for taking part in Kitchen Table Conversations.
This was wonderful! Thank you!!!