In this podcast, you'll hear from author, attorney, and public speaker Stephen Hill.
He answers questions like:
Stephen Hill—founder of Speak Sobriety, a young person in recovery, bestselling author, recovery coach, and a fierce attorney advocating for change—is a renowned national speaker on substance use prevention & mental health awareness with a truly inspiring comeback story that everyone must hear.
Stephen has presented in front of thousands of people for over 300 schools, drug-free community coalitions, alliances, and organizations across the country, sharing his cautionary tale of addiction to recovery and beyond, leaving people better educated, feeling hopeful, and motivated to make smart choices and positive change.
But before Stephen had these accolades attached to his name, his reputation was filled with negative stigmas—junky, dropout, felon, failure. A once-promising student-athlete barely graduated high school, dropped out of numerous colleges, was arrested several times, misused deadly amounts of opioids for nearly a decade, was in and out of countless treatment programs, lost his friends, and cost his family tremendous emotional and financial hardship. Towards the end, it seemed like there was no hope for Stephen.
On September 30, 2012, when he entered an extended care treatment program, Stephen began his journey to recovery. After 180 days in treatment when Stephen was able to start thinking clearly, he made a choice to give himself a real second chance at life. Through inner strength, patience, and support from others, Stephen turned his mess into a message by using both his positive and negative life experiences to live out a meaningful life with passion.
Today, Stephen teaches people to be resilient by not only maximizing their strengths but also taking what most people perceive as a weakness or negative experience and turning it into a life lesson for personal growth.
This shift in thinking is how Stephen was able to overcome a severe substance use disorder, work in the field of addiction prevention, treatment and recovery, start his own speaking and coaching company, receive his bachelor’s with honors from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, earn his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, pass the New York bar exam, publish his memoir A Journey to Recovery which was a #1 New Release in Drug Dependency on Amazon, and live a happy and healthy lifestyle with his friends and family.
Some of the personal experiences that Stephen shares are difficult for him to talk about, but he knows it’s worth it if his story helps just one person every time he speaks.
All of these good things started coming into my life slowly. But it was because I was living this life in recovery. And it's not about just simply not using drugs and alcohol. I had to change my thinking, the way he acted, the people I hung out with the place I went and the things I did. Welcome to the sandstone care podcast where we help teens, young adults and their families overcome the challenges that come with substance use addiction and mental health conditions. Welcome to the sandstone care podcast with me, Clint Mally. Today you are going to hear an amazing story, a story of triumph, especially when we're thinking about teens or young adults, overcoming substance abuse and you know what life can be like post recovery, and we have an awesome guest for us named Steven Hill. He's the founder of speak sobriety, a young person in recovery, his best selling author recovery coach and a fierce attorney advocating for change. He's also a renowned speaker of substance use prevention and mental health awareness with a truly inspiring comeback story that everyone must hear. Stephen has presented in front of 1000s of people for over 300 schools drug free community coalition's alliances and organizations across the country, sharing the cautionary tale of addiction to recovery. And beyond leaving people better educated, feeling hopeful and motivated to make smart choices and positive change. Steven, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Glenn, thank you very much for inviting me here today. I'm truly grateful to be here. Anytime I get a chance to talk about substance use disorder, prevention, treatment, recovery, just overall wellness, it really is an amazing experience. For me, this is what I do. This is my passion. This is my purpose. So thanks for inviting me on. Absolutely. And I want to I want to set the stage with your story, because I think your story is foundational to all the other stuff that you talk about. And I also think that you can bring a unique perspective as someone who's a young person who was dealing with substance abuse, I'm not going to spoil the story. And then like your life post, or in recovery, right. So Steven, can you set the stage for us? Can you kind of take us back to where this journey began? Yes, so I grew up in Rockland County, New York, about 30 minutes north of New York City, I have a very supportive family. My father's a lawyer, my mother's a computer programmer, both very involved in my life growing up and still are to this day. I also have three brothers, one brother who's a year older than me, we were very close, growing up a lot of the same friend groups. He's a lawyer today as well, married has two kids. I have a brother who's four years younger than me, other lawyer, and also recently married. And I have a brother who works in investment banking, like 25 years old. And I always talk about my family first, because I always say addiction to family disease, recovery to plant a family blessing. But the thing is, I grow up in the same house, same parents, we all have the same type of friends, we've all played sports, we were raised exactly the same. But none of my brothers ever had the struggles that I did. So why me? Right. And all I can say to you is that I was either born or developed the disease of addiction. What does that really mean? Well, when I take the first drink, or the first drug, I can't stop after it. It keeps getting worse, always progress has the harder things and negative consequences follow and unfortunately, doesn't have to happen right away. I have some friends who made it through middle school, high school, even college than it caught up to them later in life. You really can't say who it's going to happen to how serious it's going to be. The risk is really on each individual person. And with a story like mine, it is very easy to focus on the ending of my addiction, considering what's happening today. I mean, I don't know if you saw I think was yesterday or two days ago, the CDC reported that from May of 2020 to April 2021, over 100,000 overdose deaths. Some of those were my friends. And so it's just it's devastating. And it's very easy to just go straight to my opioid addiction, right? It doesn't happen that way. In order for there to be that ending. There had to be a beginning. So really where the start for me? Well, of course at first, when I was in second grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I struggled in school and was prescribed amphetamines like Ritalin, dexedrine Adderall, and I truly believe that that was my primer for substance use disorder later in life, right if amphetamines Can forever change the brain chemistry and adult? What can I do to a seven year old, right? I'm not a doctor, I'm not going to tell you what you should and should not prescribe to your child. I'm just going to share what my experience was with it. And so then I got into eighth grade. And I found my purpose as a child in sports, particularly ice hockey and lacrosse. And I made the junior varsity lacrosse team as an eighth grader, which my parents were so psyched about that they were so excited that their middle school student is playing a high school sport and athletically was great. Unfortunately, socially and emotionally, not so much sports was my positive outlet, it also became the negative one, it became this rite of passage, right? It was the juniors and the seniors would influence the sophomores, the freshmen and in my case, an eighth grader to drink and smoke and party and not in a way where we would just throw our lives away and just, you know, wreck everything, it was more trying to be controlled, you know, do well in school, we'll work really hard in sports, you want to win a state championship, we'll still do well in school will graduate and then go to college do the same thing there, right. And so I didn't use anything when I was in eighth grade. But as soon as I got into high school, that would change because I had all these older friends and people go and they asked me this, this why? Why did you start using? Well, I didn't make it two days in high school without using nicotine and alcohol. I was invited to some party, I went there to the back entrance of this park, I would say half the school was there. And I'm looking around, I'm seeing these people drinking a few people smoking. And I really knew why I was going to this party. But I guess it was a little bit shocking to see the people that I saw doing it. Kids, I grew up with a new K from supportive families did well in school, some of them were athletes. And so from my perspective, as a freshman, I just thought, this is what you do in high school, and a drink and smoke a little bit on the weekends. And then that's basically it, you know, it's not gonna get out of control, I'm not going to be that guy. And it didn't get out of control right away. My freshman year, I went to these parties, you know, I started with nicotine and alcohol, few months later moved on to marijuana, and I just didn't have that confidence or that self esteem, to refuse. Right? I go back to that, why? Why did you start in the first place? Well, I was influenced by older people. And when I was offered it, I just didn't have the self esteem or the confidence to refuse. I get that question all the time from parents, you know, what's the magic words that my kid can say, to refuse drugs and alcohol, and there are no magic words, right. But to me, it's not about what you say. But how you say it. If you have that confidence and that self esteem to refuse, then I feel like you have a much less likely chance of, of going back down that path or starting down that path. And that was just my experience. I didn't have that. And so I started off with nicotine, marijuana and alcohol my freshman year, no negative consequences. But going into my sophomore year, I was offered by one of the seniors to start selling marijuana for him. And once I started selling, and I realized how little bit of money in my hands and I could smoke for free. All of a sudden I got involved in the dealing aspect of it too. And because I was dealing I had all time I started smoking more. And the progress report comes my first semester sophomore year. And I'm all of a sudden in danger of failing all these classes. My behavior started to change. I formed a different group of friends. And our only purpose for hanging out was to use drugs. I started listening to the type of music that glorifies violence, selling drugs, degrading women. I became secretive, dishonest, are lying about everything and you know, one of these alone, okay, but you take all of these together, and all of a sudden you're seeing a pretty big change and someone went into my junior year, tried cocaine, my first time, stole a prescription for Xanax from one of my friend's mom's tried that. And that's when things really started going downhill, ended up getting kicked off of my school hockey team got an argument my coach was given out of school suspension. And after that, I really felt so behind in my classes. I didn't want to go back to school because I wasn't playing sports. And so I ended up getting sent to a wilderness program. I was one of those kids who got dragged out of the house in the middle of the night by to sober escorts and was sent to a wilderness program in Georgia. And I went there for about eight weeks. I came home I was in an alternative school for half a day, my regular school for half the day. And I was doing well at first and it was right before lacrosse season was about to start my junior year. But the administration in my high school decided to extend my suspension From hockey into lacrosse season, and to me that was one of the turning points in my life. I had gone to treatment, I came home, I was doing the right thing. I was on the right path. And I was really excited about playing sports, lacrosse. And I was denied the opportunity to play. And so after school, I was hanging out my other friends who were just getting high, and I eventually relapsed. started this over again. And I went into my senior year of high school. And this is another time where like, I started my senior year, I was drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana. Sometimes I would do Xanax, and my life wasn't getting out of control, I was showing up to school, I was passing all my classes, I wasn't getting in a lot of trouble. And then all of a sudden, I get a call from one of my friends early in the morning. And he says that his sister got her wisdom teeth pulled. And the doctor had prescribed her this drug called oxy Cotto. And so we stole the prescription. And we smoke marijuana before school and took a few of these oxys. And, you know, one of my friends took it. And within like 1520 minutes, he started throwing up the Oxy codeine made him nauseous. He hated the way it made him feel. Another one of my friends took it in liked it but didn't think was anything back great. Me, I took it, I remember walking in the back of math class, I sat down, and seconds later, this feeling came over me, I just thought to myself, This is what I'm looking for. I want this feeling I want all the time. And that's scary, you know, you get three different people, they take the same drug and you get three different reactions. And that's going back to that risk piece of it. You just don't know how you're going to react. I truly believe I can never have an alcohol use disorder. I just don't like the feeling enough. If I had never tried anything past alcohol, maybe I would never become addicted at all. But once I got to marijuana, I like that. And the opioids are like that. So that's what's so difficult about this is that you just don't know who it's going to happen to or which substance your drug of choice is going to be. And I found out very quickly that opioids were going to be my drug of choice. So I barely graduated high school. I went to a community college in upstate New York, I lasted maybe a month and a half. And by the time was October, I failed out all I did there was party. And then I had to move back home. My parents at 18 years old, not in school not working. And this is when oxycontin was exploding near me. And I developed a serious opioid habit. So I got involved in dealing drugs but no longer on a small level. And so naturally, the police came into my life. And from ages 18 to 24, I just got arrested, went into a 28 day treatment program came out relapse and did it all over again, getting progressively worse, right? I mean, it got to the point where I had a 900 milligram a day, opioid habit, Oxycontin and oxycodone. And sometimes when I could not get the opioid painkillers, I would turn to heroin. I was arrested with heroin a few times. And it just, it got to a point where I pretty much lost all of my friends and I lost my family to my parents were the last ones to go, they kicked me out of the house. And the message wasn't just you know, you're you're gonna figure it out on your own. I'm parents said to me, you need to leave. But when you're ready to go to treatment, call us and we'll help you. But do not call us for any other reason. If you're out there and you're homeless, and you need a place to stay because it's freezing. Well, treatment centers have heat. If you are starving treatment centers have food. If you need to shower treatment centers have showers if you need a place to sleep treatment centers have beds and so basically they said every excuse you can come up with we have an answer for so until you get to the point where you want to go to long term treatment because clearly these 28 day programs are not working for someone like me. They basically you know, they cut me off and it's what needed to happen. I went through some pretty hard times after that. I got arrested twice, on some pretty serious felony drug charges. I became a convicted felon in 2012. And it was a really rough time for me. I ended up basically losing all hope of myself. And I was arrested one more time about three weeks before my older brother's wedding. Which is why we say addiction is a family disease because it affects a lot more than just a person who's using supposed to be really happy time for my family and I'm just messing it up for everyone so my parents were able to bail me out of jail on September 28. 1012 with the promise that I will be back in treatment by October 1, otherwise probation was going to remand me to jail. So I went to my brother's wedding on September 28 2012. And on September 29 2012, at around three in the morning, I took my last drink in my last drug. Now, at the time, I didn't really think it was going to be I just, I wasn't really left with many options. my probation officer said, treatment or jail you choose. So I didn't go into treatment with the mindset that I'm, you know, I hit my rock bottom, so to speak, I think that rock bottom term is very, very dangerous and does a lot of harm. And I really only went in there because in my addicted brain, this is the lesser evil as opposed to going to jail. So I went in there, and I went there for 28 days, and I've been to like six or 728 day programs disappoint. And so my parents, you know, I'm getting ready to leave there. And my parents said, You're not coming home, and you're going away to treatment for a full year. So I went to an extended care treatment program with three different phases, which pretty much just means as you progress through these phases, you get more and more freedom. And it actually wasn't until I was around five and a half months sober, that I was going about my day. And I realized I had woke up that morning. And drugs wasn't the first thing on my mind. Every single morning, same thought process. Do I have drugs? Okay? If not, how am I going to get them but I didn't have that thought that day. And I was meeting with my case manager right after lunch. And I met with him, may he rest in peace, someone who ended up passing away and someone who helped me a lot. And I remember I told him, and he smiled at me. And he said, this is when recovery is really going to start working for you. So give it your best shot. And I walked out of his office and on that day, I made a choice. The fog had cleared, you know, I had about 180 days sober. And I just decided to give myself a real second chance of life. And I decided to start eating a little bit healthier. I went back to the gym, I was going to the gym every single day, I was playing in a sober softball league, I was playing you know, roller hockey league, I enrolled in two classes at a community college at this point, I failed out of like seven or eight colleges at one trade school and got A's in both of the classes. Shockingly, because it was the first time I took a college class sober. Then in the final phase, they made me a resident house manager, which just meant was still resident in the program, but trust enough to watch over some of the younger guys. And all of these good things started coming into my life slowly. But it was because I was living this life in recovery. And it's not about just simply not using drugs and alcohol. I had to change my thinking, the way I acted, the people I hung out with the place I went and the things I did. And I started making those changes. And slowly good things started coming into my life. And I was able to avoid prison. Because of this. I have felony cases in both New York and New Jersey. And I was told there was a chance that even after I complete this year long treatment program, I would have to go to prison. And the program director wrote me a letter and told the courts that they were going to offer me a full time job working at their treatment program after I graduated the program. And I remember we met we met and we sat down and he told me and he said you might have one more high left than you but I seriously doubt you have one more recovery. Take this gift we're giving you and go do something extraordinary. Oh used to help a lot of people. And I haven't looked back ever since I've walked out that door and I live my life in a completely different way today. And have a lot of people think for people who have helped me people who spoke up when things need to be said. And so I ended up getting my own apartment in New Haven, Connecticut, which is where I got sober. That area, I went to 12 step meetings, I had close friends in recovery that supported me through and we support each other through our common struggle. And so I developed this bond. And to me that was the most important piece was the camaraderie and that bond that you have with your peers and recovery. And so I was working on this treatment program and part of my job was to drive residents to court dates. And so I was sitting in these courtrooms all over New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and me not being the defendant for once I can actually take in what was going on. And I'm just seeing the same thing over and over again, like so many of the charges were either directly related to drugs and alcohol or indirectly related to drugs and alcohol. And so I thought to myself, maybe the criminal justice system needs A lawyer in recovery, who understands both sides of this. So I had a lengthy criminal history. And I was nervous about making this move to go back to college at 26 years old. And I'd have to finish college I only had like nine credits, I had to finish college first, then go through law school and then pass, you know, all this stuff just to get to be a lawyer and I made the choice to do it. I made the choice to do it. So I decided to leave my job at that treatment program. I went to community college back home for about a year transferred to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. And in my final semester, there, I started applying to law schools, studying for my law school admissions test. But I knew I needed more because of my criminal history. So I decided to start speak sobriety. And I want to share my story of recovery, especially with young people in a way that was never presented to me. When I was younger, really not knowing if one school or coalition ever agreed to bring me in as a speaker. I gave my all I learned a lot about public speaking about storytelling, about presenting about what students do want to hear what they don't want to hear and how to relate to people. And I've been able to present for over 300 schools and coalition's across the country since 2016, is when I officially started doing this. I graduated from Brooklyn Law School in February, I took the bar exam, and I passed I was sworn in as an attorney. Just about a month and a half ago, I got married this summer, to a girl that just would have never looked at me years ago, when I was actively using. We have our first child, a baby girl on the way, I was able to publish a book called A journey to recovery. With the help of actually one of my old LSAT tutors. This was someone who had tutored me. I didn't mean I showed up to every single one of his sessions, hi. But he remembered me because my youngest brother was transferring colleges. And so he needed some help with a college essay. And he met up with him. And he asked how I was doing and so that I just started to speak in company. And so he came to see me speak and just offered to help me write my book. And he handed me his book first. And he had wrote a book about living with epilepsy seizure disorder. And for a long time, he didn't tell anyone because he was a public school teacher. And he thought that there was a chance that people would look at him weaker, or that he could lose his job because he can have an uncontrolled seizures. So he lived with the secret for a long time. And yeah, sure are diseases are very different, but at the same time at the same, you know, it's a struggle. And so I think that's the reason why I trusted him with my story. And so we worked together for about two years, and I published a book called journey to recovery, it was such an amazing experience. And I was able to get my family back in my life, I have some really close friends today that support me and what I do, and I support them what they do. And, you know, through this all I was able to find strength in overcoming my struggle. That's what it was all about finding a way to take my mess, turn into a message. And to me, that's what resilience is really all about is, is taking what most people look at as a weakness or just strictly a negative experience, and finding a way to turn into something positive. And that's what I do in my life today. So thank you for for having me on here. And let me share that part of my story. Yeah, I want to dive in a little bit to this relationship side. So I totally see how there's, it wasn't a, I developed a substance abuse disorder went to treatment, then I was better. It was this. It was this up and down roller coaster, it was this, this journey that had second, third, fifth 10th chances. And it seemed to also involve a ton of people along the way in different capacities. And so I really want to dive into that. Because I think that that's a really interesting point that, that I've been thinking about a lot lately. And that's the idea of relationships as a vehicle for change. Right? So we tend to feel like, you know, in the information age, that everything is at our fingertips that if you want to learn anything, it's just there, you can go on YouTube, you can Google it, you can find some sort of resource for it, videos, whatever. And with that said this this like abundance of information, there is still the deficit, there's still a deficit with the stigma of mental health and of substances. And there are still gaps where people are, are growing up and they're not hearing an alternative narrative, or they're growing up and they're not having the same opportunities. So Though maybe for this first part, can you speak a little bit to how the relationship side how people investing in relationship relationships with you was, you know, a catalyst for you actually being able to be sober when you were able to kind of finally internalize what was happening, I make a change. Yeah, so my family never gave up on me, that's, I would say, the most important piece for me was that my family never gave up on me. You know, it got to a point where yes, my relationship with them was very hostile. And with good reason, when you live with someone who's suffering from opioid use disorder, and all this mayhem is going on in the home. I mean, that's what happens. But they still never gave up on me and gave me the opportunity to recover and to be supported. And then really building a bond with my peers and recovery, those relationships, that, to me, is probably the most important piece of what I got a being an extended care treatment is just, I was in there with so many guys who were my age, you know, early 20s, athletes just like to party and just think that out of control. And we were able to find a different way. You know, unfortunately, some of them have gone back out, some of them have overdosed and died. Some of them are sober today. But that just comes with the territory of being in recovery circles, you know, I know, over 40 people will have died of a drug overdose, and most of them in their late 20s or early 30s. And that's just what, that's just what happens. But having that family support, and that bond of my peers and recovery, those two things together, is really what kept me sober. And then getting involved in 12 step meetings and support groups and stop judging people and trying to distinguish myself from people and trying to relate to people was, was really important. You know, there were some times where I would walk into an a meeting or something like that. And I'd be the youngest guy in the room by like, at least 10 years. And I when I was younger, I would always judge those people and say, I'm not like them. And then you realize that we all have the same problem, we all have the same struggle, and we can all help each other for the solution. And once I was able to switch my thinking to that, things started getting a lot better, more people started coming into my life, more people wanted to help me and I want to help them. And that's really what it's all about, you know, helping someone is the greatest gift in life, it makes you feel better, and you get to make somebody else feel better. That's what this is really all about. That's what we're all about. Let's kind of dive into that a little bit more when we're talking about families and parents, because your family, as you said, had a huge impact. And you know, early on in your story, what you were saying is, hey, when I was presented with all of these, these upperclassmen were saying, Hey, do you want to smoke? Do you want to drink, you didn't have the language, you didn't have this skill set, you didn't have? Like, the the patterns of thinking to be able to recognize it as something that could be messed up for you or to not do it? Or, you know, like, that wasn't that wasn't with you. Right? So for families who either know that their child is really struggling with like a substance abuse or mental health challenge or where they think that it could be an issue, right? What is what is the role that the parents can do? What do you wish? What education do you wish you would have had, through some relationships that would have helped you to save a lot of trouble down the road. So I think at the, at the high school level, especially that leadership is extremely important. Because I see this vicious cycle of negative influence, right, I was influenced when I was an eighth grader and a ninth grader. But when I became the senior, I was a negative influence. And then when those people I influence became the senior, they were the negative influence, and you just see this vicious cycle of negative influence happening over and over again. And to really try and get parents to let their kids know that their actions are not just about themselves, right? Even if their kid is not the one who has the problem. Their kid might be influencing someone who does and you just don't know who it is or what's going on in that person's life. Right. It's the same thing like the social host law about parents who say, Well, I'd rather my kids be drinking and using in my home than out in the streets doing it but when you send that message that it's okay to do this, and you normalize underage drinking and, and drug use. Well, studies show the earlier you start using the more likely you are to become addicted, and they also get the message that their parents were the most influential person in their life. You are okay with this, right. And I'm not saying that it's going to stop everything, you're never going to stop this complete that you just you just can't do it. But setting the message that it's just completely okay. And then parents who go out and just get drunk and wasted all the time and, and their kids see that it gets normalized like this college culture too, you know, many high school kids say to me, like, Isn't college all about just like getting drunk and going to parties, like there are some people who actually believe then, you know, social media definitely has a lot to do with that. And so really trying to send the message that you don't have to be part of that you don't, you can take an interest in your overall health and your wellness and your academics and your athletics and really try and find what your passion is, what your purpose is, and build a life for yourself that's worth staying sober for that's worth not going down that path. And that, to me is how I was able to achieve long term sobriety was building a life that was worth saying. So before, so I would like parents to, you know, send the message that this is not okay. I can't be zero tolerance either, though, you have to understand that. These are high school students who are middle school students and college students like they're going to be faced with pressure and temptation. Sometimes they might use sometimes they might drink and to keep that open line of communication is key. Because your kid can't fear you more than what then the consequences that fall from drug and alcohol use. Right? They have to be able to go to you and say, Listen, like I drank last night, or I tried drugs last night, and to be able to have that conversation with their parents, because they fear you and they fear your consequences so much, they're going to try their best to keep it a secret. And that's to me, like that's what addiction feeds on secrets and isolation. So being able to keep that open line of communication to me is also very key. Yeah, it's such a tough balance to make, though, you know, you on the one hand, as a parent are like, hey, like, this is not something you want to do. And on the other hand, if, if you use I want you to be open and honest with me, right? And if a if a teen or young adult understands the boundaries, or the consequences, not even if they're even if they're not given in anger or frustration, if it's like, well, I know that because I you know, used at this party and got drunk, I'm gonna lose privileges with the car, there's still that risk, reward cost benefit analysis, type of thinking, right? And most people in a situation like that would be like, I could either get in trouble, or I could try to hide it and get no trouble. Right? And so, you know, how do you how do you strike that balance? How do you at the one hand, say, this is this is not okay, this can really mess you up, right. And on the other hand, say, I want you to be honest with me about if you do use. I'll give you an example of what my dad did with me. So he told me and my brothers that if you are ever in a situation where you're drunk, you're under the influence, and you need a safe ride home, you're in a bad situation, you call me anytime, you will not get in trouble, no questions asked, we will have a discussion the next morning when you sober up. But if you are in a bad situation, you feel like you've drank too much, or you views and you're having an adverse reaction. Or let's say you're at a party cops come, everybody runs, and you need to get home somehow, and you get in the car with a drunk driver. Well, he said, You know what, just call me. Anytime I'll come get you, you won't get in trouble. But we will have a discussion afterwards. And there were some kids that would rather get in the car with a drunk driver, because they were so fearful of the consequences that would follow if their parents found out about it. So that zero tolerance, really strict approach doesn't work either. And it is it is a balancing test. There is no, you know, set blueprint or roadmap for being a parent, because of course, every kid is different, too. Right? Like they didn't really have to have rules with my older brother, because if there were any rules, he never broke them. Right? Any rules that there would be, we just didn't break them. He got up early in the morning by himself. He made his own lunch. He was always on time for school. He got straight A's he would go out with his friends. He never used drugs. He drank alcohol every once in a while he never came home pass the time that would be a curfew. And so like he just was naturally a responsible kid and I was the complete opposite. You give me just a little bit and I'm going to take the whole thing. And that was just my personality and the way that I was and so my parents realize that you can't parent every kid the same you can't coach every Student Athlete the same, you know, you just you can't educate every student the same because everybody's different. That's what makes it even more difficult. Yeah. And so it seems like that whole relationship piece is key, right? There's since there's no blueprints, it's there's no step by step checklist. You have to really know the person. Yes. Yeah, there's, there's nothing, there's nothing that's going to, to supplement that you have to know the human being who you're trying to help. And I think also, it's this relationship principle, it's this. In order for me to truly help someone, there has to be a relationship, right? Like we think about charities and donations, we think about all the ways in which you can like, do a good at work. But in order to really change somebody's life, there has to be a significant relationship. We learn and we do new things, and we pick up skills through other people, right? That is, that is a practice that is that is common. And so to anybody who's saying, okay, like I'm with it, I want to be that person, I want to be that person, that's a resource as a relationship that helps this person, you know, even if they're not a parent, what would you say a first step is when you're trying to like help teen or young adult with substance use or mental health challenges? Well, it depends on you know, how serious it is, and where they're really at in their drug use. Right? So I get that quite, it's one of the most common questions I actually get from students. So I'll do an assembly presentation, I actually got asked that yesterday after the assembly, and a student comes up to me, and says, I have a friend who's going on the wrong path, and I want to speak up and how do I help them and I always tell them to give them the benefit of the doubt first, really, to talk to the person one on one, come from a place of care and concern. Don't judge don't attack someone. I just think that if you come from a place of caring concern, you keep it about you You say you know, when you use this is how it makes me feel this is what I'm seeing. And when you are sober. These are all the amazing things about you and and then likely that person will continue to use and young person has a difficult choice to make it's you sit there and watch it happen, or do you go to an adult? Do you go to a parent, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, and come from a place again, of caring concern, don't do it in a way to try and get somebody in trouble. You do it in a way to really try and help that person and to get them the counseling and the mentoring that they really do need. And where it becomes even more difficult is when a kid is trying to help their parent. That to me is the most heartbreaking piece of this is. When I first started speaking in 2016, I had done so much research I had prepared I talked to people I and the one thing I was not ready for was the amount of students that were going to come up to me and say, Mr. Hill, my dad's in prison, and my mom is addicted to heroin, how do I help them? How do I get them to stop? Is it my fault? Right? And so what how do you where do you even start with that? Right? You know, I mean, the way I start is I let them know, first, it's definitely not your fault. You know, and that their parents are not bad people, they're just sick people who have a disease of addiction. And, you know, you just have to, you know, never give up hope. Sometimes it's helpful to write a letter, you know, putting your thoughts and feelings on paper or working with maybe a school counselor or something like that really trying to get your message across. But to also break this cycle to just because you grew up in a home where their substance use misuse and abuse doesn't mean that you have to go down that path either. And try and use your experience for something positive. You know, I have talked with a lot of people who work for drug free community coalition's and things of that nature, and a lot of them were affected by I would say, the overwhelming majority of them were affected by substance use in one way or another. Either they're in recovery themselves, or they lived with parent who had an alcohol use disorder or another substance use disorder. So you know, there's just this it's just so many things that that we can try and you know, cover it and help because it just affects so many people in so many different ways. But you know, really just making sure you keep an open line of communication to never give up hope. I share my story the way I do. I mean when I share my full story and a full presentation. I mean, you hear how bad things really got for me and I share it that way to give people hope to show that look at how bad I really was. I mean, at 24 years old, I had a 900 milligram a day opioid habit, I had been arrested eight times, I have felony case in two different states, I pretty much lost all of my friends. My family wanted nothing to do with me. I had no job, I had no money, I had no college career, I had no credit, I had literally nothing. And I was able to come out of it. You know? So that's why I speak the way I do. Yeah, there's, there's a lot to kind of unpack with that, you know, from the whole parent side, when you were speaking about how if you had parents who were addicted, that's like a whole other challenge, right? impacts the way the both of my parents are addicts. Right. So, you know, that was that was kind of the way it was presented to me was, was this? How do I change them. And what I quickly learned is that I actually couldn't change them. Yes. And the the flip side of that, and that really, really challenging thing is that when you realize that you yourself, do not have the ability to make anybody do anything, right. Like you can speak the truth in love. You can be your authentic self, you can reason with somebody, you can be there for them just in the presence of them, right? Like, you can do all of these things. But you yourself can not change anyone. And that's sometimes like a scary thought. But at the same time, it's this, it's the only way that you also do not become calloused that you do not become this person is like, they'll never change or it's, it's like nobody will get better, right? Because there are people who overcome it, despite how bad technology has made opioids and drugs and accessibility and all of these different things. But despite all of the circumstances that make this a really, really challenging and multifaceted problem. I mean, you talked about the prison system. And both of us are white dude. Right? And like, Should we be a different color? That's a whole different systemic problem, right? That, you know, whether or not you would stay in prison or not, you know, myself included, I got in trouble a lot as a kid for doing illegal shit. And I was not, you know, I wasn't taken to prison. I wasn't killed. Right? And so, it's to me, like, there's just so much to unpack there, but, but I love how you come at it from an aspect of your story first, right? Like, this is a perspective, this is your story. And stories are actually one of the things that does help us change. Right. So I guess I'm just curious is you talking to over 300 schools and you know coalition's, you know, when you're talking to people and you're going through your story, how do you not come at it from a sense of shame, because you're kind of reliving? You know, some of the hardest parts of your life over and over again? And, and how do you why do you choose to tell your story, like, out of all the things that you could talk about research, you could talk about, you know, data like, why, why your story. So, I actually got some guidance from my youngest brother, when I first started speaking. So the way I started speaking, is when I was six months sober in this extended care treatment program. They had a relationship with one of the local high schools, and they asked if one of these younger guys who's doing well to come over to a health class, and just speak to 30 seniors. And so they picked me and I went over there. And I remember I walked in, and I got escorted down by the assistant principal, and the health teacher met me in the hallway. And I said to her, I was like, What do you want me to say? And she said, just just speak from the heart. And so I went in there, and I only spoke for like 15 or 20 minutes. And I certainly didn't have that whole recovery piece to share because I was only six months over, I thought it was going to prison, I didn't really have that much to share in terms of that piece of it. But I was starting to recover, I starting to feel better. I started to go to the gym, and I was starting to take classes and you know, building friends and relationships and that and so I was able to give some of that and they wrote me letters after I left. I just spoke from the heart and they wrote me a letter as a teacher wrote a letter and that really, that really helped me especially at that time, I didn't have nothing going for me. And so to hear that I was in a position to help them One was just, I was so uncomfortable with that, that actually, like I have something to offer to actually help someone. And it was just, I didn't even know how to handle that at first like that, like, I was so used to being stigmatized, junkie dropout felon, and worst of all failure. That's how I identified myself and felt about myself. And now all of a sudden, I'm reading these letters. And people are talking about how this stories is helping them and how they appreciate my honesty and all these things. And so I've spoken a few townhall meetings and the opioid epidemic, nothing crazy. But a Catholic school principal got my information, and asked me to do a full school assembly for about 600 students. And so my youngest brother was a senior in high school at the time. And so I asked him, you know, first what don't you want? And he said, do not give me another day or presentation or scared straight? Or here's an image of your brain on drugs or just say no, or here's a crash car on the front lawn of the high school. And he said, Why don't you tell me something real. And so I picked topics relevant to substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery, and just overall mental health, wellness leadership, and I delivered them in a way as relates my own story. I actually use some of what I learned in law school, in my own presentations, and that's what they say the best litigators are storytellers, you need to do a persuasive storytelling. And it's called show don't tell, right? Don't go up there and just say drugs are bad, don't do drugs, right? Show people through your story. And let them draw conclusions as it relates to their own personal lives. And when you tell a story, not talking at somebody, people can actually feel and then they think they don't just think about your story, they think about their own stories. And so that's the reason why I went with that approach. And I had a lot of success with it. And people get to speak up. And, you know, I'm really trying to knock down the stigma. I'm trying to prevent the onset in the first place. I'm trying to promote overall health and wellness. And really just give people not be give people a real story to see how this can happen. So people can better understand this whole process. Because, sure, you can say, well, um, if there's someone who will never have a problem, why are we even speaking to them? Well, just simply like knocking down the stigma, and helping people understand this better, we'll help those families who are struggling, it will help that person who is actively addicted. This is a family disease. And to be honest, I could say it's bigger than that. It's a community disease, a nationwide disease. And there's so many things that go into this, there's that he talks about before with criminal justice and law enforcement, and socio economic status and race. I mean, there's just, there's so many moving parts to this. And that's really why I do what I do, as not just a speaker, but as a coach and a consultant. And now a lawyer, you know, that's really what I want to do and crazy enough, as a vicious, fierce advocate for treatment over incarceration. The first thing I did as a lawyer was advocate for someone to go to jail. And this just shows you how much the landscape has changed due to fentanyl. And so I was actually hired to advocate for parents for, for their kid to go to jail because he was court mandated to treatment and all court mandated means is that you go to treatment. And if you leave a warrant issued for your arrest, and in between the time he would sign out against medical advice, and would just go out, he would use an overdose and had to be Narcan three times. And so it actually got to the point where jail was the safest place for this person, because he needed some time for his brain and body to heal to the point where he could actually stay in treatment without signing out against medical advice. So it just, it just shows you how complicated this all really gets and how individualize it really does get because as someone who truly believes that jail and prison is not a place for someone who has mental health and substance use, sometimes it is because the person is a danger to themselves and they need to be there for a short period of time to really just at least get that stuff through their system so they could think someone clearly. Yeah, and there's a few things from there. One that you talked about was you found a passion throughout this whole recovery process of something that excited you more than using right like this. Speaking of about sobriety speaking about your story helping other people by focusing on that and allowed you to also not be focusing on using right. And the other part of that, that struck me with what you said is how stories will make us feel things right. When I talked with Dr. Jeff chat can he was the the author of Born to be Wild Latina why teens take risks. You know, he talked about how when we rehearse empathetically the consequences, or the story that could happen with unprotected sex at early age or using or whatever. And we like literally go through this with the with the team are saying, Okay, right. So you're at a party, there's gonna be some like, you know, so we now call, and they'll be like, oh, there's no way now called like, yeah, yeah, there will be. Right, so. So what are you gonna do? And someone offers you that? Right? Are you gonna say no? Are you gonna try it? Like, what? You know, okay, what happens if you try it? Okay, how will you feel? Then how will you get home, right? So going through this thing, and allowing the child or the team of the young adult to feel to think to process to put them in that situation, is a super impactful thing that can allow us to use our imagination, to make sure that when we are in a situation that is filled with peer pressure, or a choice, that could be a high risk behavior, that it's not, at least not the first time that we've thought about this, right. And so I love how your story makes people feel things, right. It allows people to have some narrative transportation to put themselves in your shoes and to see the world through your eyes. And the more we can also help teens and young adults go through that journey themselves, at least playing it out in their mind, the more empathetic they'll be. And the more knowledgeable they'll be in a situation. Does that make sense? Yeah, absolutely. That's exactly what I it's exactly what I believe and feel like you get. It's like why people binge Netflix, right? There's their stories, this is what it is. And this is what humans like to hear. And when you you hear a story, and you feel for this person, and you relate to it, and then you start to think about your own life. That's what it's really all about. And so that's the reason why I stick with that approach. Yeah, it's persuasive. Sure. It's, it's certainly structured in a way where it's, you know, I'm sending clear messages, and it's persuasive. But this is just what happened, you know, I can't change what happened, this is my story. And you can take whatever you can from it, and apply it to your own life, right, you should have the facts, and you should have the statistics. And you should have all that, you know, practical advice as well. But you take the story, and you and you apply all that together. And to me, I think that's just the most effective way of, of getting to someone. And that's the reason I do it that way. Awesome. Well, Steven, thank you so much for your time, where can people go to learn more about you in the work that you do? Yeah, so all my social media is at speak sobriety. and my website is speak sobriety calm, and you can get in touch with me there, all my contact information is there. And, you know, always post off about the different events of speaking and work that I'm doing. So all that information is on there. Awesome. We will link to that in the show notes in the description box below. Final thoughts? What do you want parents to know before before we sign off? Yeah, really don't do not and underestimate the power of drugs and alcohol, right? You can put all these things in place. But if you send the message that drugs and alcohol are okay for your your young child, well, you just don't know how it is they're going to react. Part of prevention is delaying that first use really trying to fill their lives up with a lot of different positive things, putting positive leaders and mentors in their life, and then putting that leadership role on them, you know, making their you know, I don't want to call it recovery. Because if you never use it, you're not in recovery, but making their choice to be sober and healthy and have a lifestyle wellness. It's attractive, and they can use it to prevent other people from going down that path as well. So make it make the choice bigger than just the individual. Steven, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Remember, guys, you can do this that change is possible. Be well and we will see you on the next episode. If you want to learn more about treatment options for you, your teen or young adult men tell us about your situation on a competent to call using the number in the show notes or live chat with us at sans don't care.com will connect you with the treatment that you need. And if we're not the right fit, we'll get you where you need to go. Be well and remember that change is possible