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Brandon Novak shouldn’t be alive.
The professional skateboarder, New York Times bestseller author and member of the Jackass crew has hit all the pit stops on the way to the bottom: homelessness, multiple trips to rehab, incarceration and the like. But somehow, some way, the 38-year-old from Baltimore had a moment of clarity on May 25, 2015 and nothing’s been the same since. The guy who once passed a UA in jail by using his cellmate’s urine has transitioned into a recovery evangelist, flying all over the country to help those struggling with addiction and get them into treatment. Just how serious is he about it? Well, he gives out his personal cell phone number (610-635-9092) and encourages anyone who thinks they need help to call it.
When I interviewed Novak, the Baltimore native was visiting LA where he was making a series of appearances advocating for recovery. And how’s this for irony? The hotel room where we did the interview ended up a little bit thrashed but I was the one who thrashed it. To understand how that happened, you’ve got to listen to the whole episode. But allow me to give you the best snippets below.
Anna: It seems like everyone calls you Novak. Can I?
Brandon: Sure. Call me anything you want, I’ve been called much worse. You’re talking to a guy that at one point in time was homeless on the streets of Baltimore city doing whatever it took to get $10.
Anna: Were there any major moments that helped you get sober?
Brandon: One time when I was in rehab, I was supposed to go straight to a sober living. I knew the only window of opportunity I had to score a few Xanax was between the rehab and the sober living so I told the rehab my mother was coming to get me to take me to get a few things. I was about to walk out of the door but I sat down for a second and saw this 18-year-old young black woman sitting there who was ill as a research monkey. She was saying, “What’s wrong with me? Do I have the flu?” She was 18, she had no idea that she’d embarked on this devil called addiction. And I thought, “That is gonna be me again.” And I remembered hearing someone say in a meeting, “Feelings aren’t facts and feelings pass.” I was scared. I didn’t want to be in her position. So I went to the sober living and when I got there I didn’t want to use anymore. I realized, “Wow. When I want to shoot dope, I don’t have to shoot dope.”
Anna: How long did you stay sober after that?
Brandon: I think I put together 60-70 days.
Anna: What happened after that?
Brandon: Well, here’s the deal with me: I had known I was an alcoholic for years. I knew that my life was unmanageable. But the moment everything changed is when I accepted the fact that I was an alcoholic. Because that allowed me to get out of my way.
Anna: What would you tell somebody who wanted to take steps towards acceptance?
Brandon: I can only tell you about my process. I didn’t do this. I’m not in control of this. I’m not the one to take credit for this. A power greater than myself lifted this obsession. I’m not responsible for the date I got sober. I’m not responsible for this year, today, what we’re doing. I do a few simple things along the way each day to maintain my sobriety. But I’m not running this ship.
Anna: Were you ever kind of an asshole or were you always kind of sweet?
Brandon: If I was drinking, I would be very confrontational. And the beautiful thing is now, when I start to get off track, I’m aware of it. For example: I stay in hotel rooms and am really big on a view and a balcony. The other day I walked into hotel room and there was no view and no balcony and I started to lose my mind. Then I was like, “Wait, I used to sleep in abandoned houses eating out of trash cans!”
Anna: Did you ever expect to end up having the life you have now?
Brandon: If I had made a list of where I wanted to be when coming up on two years of sobriety, I would have undersold myself dramatically. And it comes back to, “If I want to make my God laugh, I tell him how my day is going to go.” I’m not running anything. I simply put one foot in front of the other and I make the next right decision. I don’t lie and I help other people because that’s what keeps me sober.