(Disclaimer: This transcript is using AI technology. Please excuse any errors.)
Welcome to the Atheists in Recovery podcast where we talk about finding hope in recovery.
And now your host, Dr. Adina Silvestri
Hello guys and welcome to Episode 34 of the Atheists in Recovery podcast. And I'm excited for you to listen to my next guest. This episode is interesting in that we do not waste a minute we go deep and we go deep quickly. in midlife after listening to a church sermon, my guest Peter realized who he was and who he was pretending to be. We're two different people and he calls this an existential crisis. And this would start him on his journey towards recovery. And then we also talk about smart recovery and what led Peter away from AA and towards this alternative form of recovery and we get into some of the tools that Peter uses as a smart recovery leader. Okay, before I introduce my guest, I want to let you guys know that the audio was challenging. We had some internet issues from the very beginning, so hopefully it won't be too distracting, but I do think you're going to enjoy the show. My guest Peter Finger. Peter is a recovery coach based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He's been facilitating smart recovery meetings for nearly five years. And he is the smart Regional Coordinator for South Dakota. Peter reaches out to groups and individuals and gives presentations to drug courts, probation officers, treatment centers, public defenders, judges and civil groups. Before becoming involved in the recovery field. Peter worked in the business world for nearly 30 years before he was intervention at work, which he feels was a wake up call for him. In addition to his work in recovery, coaching and smart recovery, Peter is also a graduate of the Virginia Satir Coaching and Mentoring Program. He is certified in the Myers Briggs disc and emotional intelligence and is a licensed unity teacher. And to get in touch with Peter, I will leave his contact info at the show notes. But you could also email him at smart, South email@example.com and check them out at smart recovery South dakota.org or on the Facebook page by searching for smart recovery. South Dakota. Okay, guys, let's get started. Peter finger. Welcome to the show.
Peter Finger 2:35
Adina Silvestri 2:36
So I thought we'd start our conversation out by talking about your spiritual background from childhood.
Peter Finger 2:43
Sure. I was raised in a pretty religious household. We went to the United Church of Christ, which is a liberal Protestant congregation and there was actually a very positive thing for me. After that, I kind of got away from church for many years, and I had Kind of a, I guess you call it an existential crisis where I had epstein barr virus and I was sleeping all the time. And then I went to which church down the road from me. And I had this kind of spontaneous healing. And it kind of started me on a new spiritual path, which I call much more universal and much more deep than in church, I guess. And so since that time, I am kind of a member of something called unity. And it is much more universal and accepts the beliefs of all faiths and but in the way that it is universal. I kind of also belong to no church in the same thing. So I guess I'm kind of a humanist and kind of a Universalist at the same time.
Adina Silvestri 3:47
Can you talk a little bit more about the existential crisis? How old were you?
Peter Finger 3:53
I was about 30 years old at the time, okay. And that's when I was just coming out as again Man and, or as before I came out as a gay man. And I believe that what was happening was kind of like who I really was, and who I pretended to be were so different. And that's when I just started sleeping all the time. And this went on for about four months. And then when I went to this church, I woke up like two days later, the sermon in the church was the only way you can goof your life up, is to pretend to be something you're not and the only way you can be successful is to be the you that you were created to be. And of course, I cried and went home. And a couple days later, I woke up, I had all my energy back and I knew that I was gay. And yeah, and so that I knew that there was something deeper than what I was seeing, because there was something in me that healed me and I didn't, I still don't know what that is. So but it's okay. It's just like with the mystery of life, whatever that is. So that was the existential crisis that I kind of went through.
Adina Silvestri 5:00
Wonder now if you could talk a little bit about your recovery journey.
Peter Finger 5:06
Sure, I was raised in a household where there was always plenty of alcohol. It was kind of that, oh, I call it the kind of Dean Martin and, you know, Sammy Davis Jr, where the cocktails and you know, cigarettes and parties and things like that. That was kind of the house I grew up in. And it was just part of our lifestyle. So I was raised in that kind of household, and it was always kind of, you know, and my mom and dad had a hard day it was always coming home and using alcohol as a way to soothe or forget troubles and things like that. So that was kind of my training. And then I went away to college and it escalated, and then in business the same way because alcohol was always available, and it just kept escalating more and more. And then when I got it, I got into international business. And so I was overseas about half the time by myself and I would, you know, go to these bar in the hotel, and that would kind of be my companion. And so it got to the point where I was intervention that work. And I had already gone through a about maybe 10 years before that night. I just didn't really care for it, either.
Adina Silvestri 6:20
Yes. How old? Were you at this time?
Peter Finger 6:22
When I was intervention? Yeah. At that point, I think I would have been about 52.
Adina Silvestri 6:29
Okay. And you had been drinking, for how long at that point?
Peter Finger 6:32
Well, I was about 14.
Adina Silvestri 6:34
Okay. Got it. Thank you.
Peter Finger 6:36
Yeah. Well, I was sexually abused by a teacher when I was in high school. And I realized, you know, much later that my drinking started, not too long after that. So, I mean, now I can put some of those pieces together. But at the time, I really I had no idea what was really going on. But yeah, so what I was about 52 I was intervention. That's when I decided to go up to a place that was not a based. And so I went to practical recovery, which is a smart recovery treatment center out in San Diego. And it was really wonderful. We had a lot of smart meetings, and I really resonated with the CBT. The motivational interviewing causes psychology, mindfulness, better parts of the program.
Adina Silvestri 7:26
And so take me through your decision to seek out something other than aa. Because at that point, it was all you knew, correct?
Peter Finger 7:36
Yeah, I didn't know there's really anything else but I did pick up this book. I think it's called inside rehab by n Fletcher. And she talked about some different rehab places. And I also found this website called the fix and at least back then you could go on and you could sort like by non a, or what different things that you want to do on a bigger place. smaller place, what part of the country? So I looked into a few places, but that's how I ended up wanting to go to San Diego.
Adina Silvestri 8:09
Okay. All right. So you decided to go to practical recovery in San Diego and what was your experience? Like? It sounds like it was mostly positive.
Peter Finger 8:18
Very, very positive. They only take I think about six clients at the same time, where do they have six rooms or something like that? It's pretty small. It may have grown since that time. But so there's a lot of individual attention, four hours of therapy a day, whereas like a lot of rehabs you go and you get like one hour a week or something like that. And so meet with a lot of different counselors. They all have their own way, you know, of how they work. So you get a lot of different modalities. And they also do like acupuncture, they do mindfulness walks, they have you meet with a recovery coach to kind of help you on your journey. There. A lot of different things that they did. And a lot of its most of its based on smart recovery because they're owned by the same person or they're founded by the same person.
Adina Silvestri 9:09
Yeah. And that's tem Horvath, correct,
Peter Finger 9:13
right? Yeah. And so what he wanted to do is he wanted to find out, not only how, you know, can a person make money in recovery, but he wanted to find out what really works. So he did research to find out what does really work. And that's how smart recovery and his treatment center how they were founded. And that's the basis for how people can get better in his eyes.
Adina Silvestri 9:37
What do you think helped you the most with smart recovery? Maybe it would be a good time to even talk about what smart recovery is? Yeah,
Peter Finger 9:47
sure. Well, there are basic principles of smart recovery and I just looking at my paper, they're not very complicated, but sometimes I forget them. So the four principles are building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors and living a balanced life. So it's pretty simple, but my recovery, I mean, I can talk about how it's different from a and I can talk about maybe a little bit about my journey because I actually became a minister about about five years ago. And part of my spiritual belief is that if the more you say something, the more true it becomes. So saying these things as affirmations of I'm an alcoholic, I'm an alcoholic didn't work for me because it made it become truer and truer and more a part of me. Whereas in smart recovery, they see alcohol simply as a coping mechanism. And as soon as you find a one of my friends, TJ Woodard, he says that alcohol is a brilliant strategy. You know, it was a brilliant strategy to get through what you're getting through at the time, and now We need a new brilliant strategy. And I really believe I really like what he says because it served a purpose. But now we find something new. And so I don't see it as a disease, I see it more as something that we do to kind of cope. And so in smart recovery, what we do, I guess I could take you through one of the tools that we use, it's called the ABC. And so a stands for an activating event. And so that would be something like if someone pulled in front of you in traffic, and you had to slam your brakes on and you got really upset and you know, next thing you know, you're upset the whole day. And so B is your belief system. And so your belief system about that would be, well, this person's, you know, really rude. They don't care about other people. They don't know how to drive and things like that and sees the consequences. That's about us getting really upset. Well in recovery, what we do is we start to look at our belief systems and realize that this between the time in activating event happens and our reaction, that there are thoughts and feelings in there. And that's where the mindfulness comes in, to kind of slow all that down, and to say, you know what, I have a choice of whether I get upset or not. And there may and we look at evidence of what our belief system is that this person is a bad person or they're irresponsible. But there may be other justifications of why that person did what they did. And so we could say, well, maybe there's an emergency, maybe they had a bleeding child in the car, maybe they just their husband just died. Maybe they just didn't see us. And so what we do is we bring in compassion, empathy, not only for other people, but for ourselves. And so what that does, it kind of gives us some more space. So we're not just like charging down this tunnel to a really bad day, but saying, Oh, can I just pause here? Oh, what is that thought that I have? Can I just challenge that thought, what is the feeling that's coming up for me? Oh, let me just sit with that a minute, okay, if I'm upset, can I just pull the car over and just walk around the parking lot or, you know, go get a coffee or something. And so it's about kind of slowing down the whole process, like these automatic things that we've been doing our whole life. And the other part of I'm the South Dakota, Regional Coordinator for smart recovery. And one of the things that I teach a lot is the three levels of the brain, you know, the cortex, that's the higher brain and the middle brain, the limbic and then the lower brain than the reptilian brain. And I think so many of us in recovery are operating, at least I was out of that lower brain, the reptilian brain, or we're just reacting, reacting, reacting, but we do our best thinking and planning and goal setting at the higher brain. And so we often ask ourselves, you know, which part of the brain Am I operating from Right now, and just the awareness itself can kind of change that. And just say, Wow, I'm doing that. What can I do to get myself out of that reptilian brain? Can I take a break? Can I go clean the house? Can I take a walk? Can I do some other things like that. And then another part that I also teach is kind of looking at you see, like a target YouTube, like with a bow and arrow. And you know, we've all seen the thing where the things I can control inside the bullseye, and then everything else outside that I can't control. Well, how much of my time am I spending on things I can't control, like someone pulling in front of me or my wife or my boss, and how much of my time am I spending on things that I can control? my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, you know how I do life. And so I try to get people to start spending more time in the things they can control because I think that's where successful people spend No time.
Yeah, I would agree, there were some really great tools that you just mentioned. So I just want to recap because I think that, you know, for people that want to follow along and take notes like I am, so ABC would be the activating event, correct the behavior, and then the consequence, the belief, please. Okay, so the beliefs that sort of govern our experiences are the stories that we tell ourselves, and then the consequences that come from the actions that are taken due to the beliefs that we tell ourselves. Okay,
Peter Finger 15:35
right. So I think another part of this that you kind of talked about it, it's like our story, what's my story, when someone will say, you know, such and such and you know, the person, the first thing that says, what my name is Mary, and I have this and this, and these are my issues, you know, and so for me, it's kind of like, what do I need to do to release that story? Because that story has not really worked for me very well. It's Not really a very empowering story. And it's a story of abuse or and you know, we have to tell our story. But at some point, we have to say, you know what, I'm more than that. I'm more than that story. And can I change that story? So it's more supportive of me and my goals and my life and the things that I want to do. So yeah, one of the things I was wondering if you want me to do is kind of go through smart and the 12 steps and kind of do a comparison of how we're different but I mean, I didn't want to get, you know, into too much of the weeds with you, but it does give some contrast.
Yeah, I think I would like to touch on that. So Tom, Horvath, the co founder of smart is coming on the show. Okay. So I think he's gonna do a lot of that discussion as well. So I was wondering it because you have such an amazing story. I was wondering if, you know, maybe you could talk a little bit more about smart and spirituality. Since spirituality is such a big part of your life. I mean, you're a minister and so how do you incorporate That spirituality into your smart recovery plan?
Peter Finger 17:04
Oh, well, I don't actually I don't really use because I kind of treat them as separate. I mean, of course, they're never going to be totally separate. But I have to be really careful when I'm leading groups that I don't bring my own stuff in there about my belief about God. And so one of the things I really liked about smart, okay, so when we're under the influence of alcohol, or drugs or whatever, we're kind of giving our power away to that drug. What I liked about smart is that in smart, our tagline is discovered the power of choice. So this is about I have the power in myself to make these decisions. I have the power to change my thoughts, my feelings, my actions. I have the power to change my life to change my story. And of course, like I said before, we use cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, motivational interviewing, positive psychology, and We use a lot of those things. And a lot of those things are very spiritual kind of in their own way. And when I say spiritual, I mean, I don't mean religious, I just mean that they're kind of like, that's kind of how life works. It's kind of like unfolding of a life. You know, it's kind of like when you input in input out, so you put something in. And then if I do this enough times, I realized if I do this, this is going to be the result I get, like, if I work really hard at my job, I may get promoted or get a raise or something like that. Not always, but we kind of learn, I guess it's kind of like the rules of life. And so I guess I use those more than I use the actual spirituality or religion. But I think my spirituality what it's helped me to do is to have a really positive outlook, on the potentials of life and the potentials of people that there's always space for healing, no matter how bad things are that we can turning things around. I've gone through some really tremendous difficulties in my life. One of those I talked about was, you know, being sexually abused. I was raised in a pretty violent household. It was not always supportive because my parents were working most of the time. And so I felt pretty abandoned and growing again, a town of 2000 people is not the thing in the middle of South Dakota, where you don't like sports. And so then I went through about a year of panic attacks and enormous anxiety, where find a safe space. And that was right after I became sober. And a lot of these things hit me and I had no idea what to do but wake up just panting for breath. Five o'clock in the morning, walking around. Most people in recovery know what anxiety is, and it was pretty much off the scale. And I did work with a therapist to help me to reconnect with what was really going on and that was related to that sexual abuse. And so it took about a year to go through that. And then last year, my mom died and she was kind of like my rock. And so through this past year, it's been really, really difficult. But I've also learned a lot of things. And I don't know if you've ever heard of David Kessler, but he's kind of the new Elizabeth Kubler Ross agreed, and went to one of his workshops. And he talked about releasing that story that we've been telling ourselves because it's sold. Some of these things, even though I've been through a lot of difficulty, I realized that for myself, I've kind of come through and I'm in a pretty good place right now. And if I've done it, other people can do it too, even if it seems really bleak. So I think that's how, for me the spirituality relates to me, and it always gives me hope that no matter how difficult things are, there's always possibility for healing.
I love that. So as we get close to wrapping up, Peter, and I'm going to ask you a final question. If you could maybe write a phrase on a billboard, for all to see, what would it say?
Peter Finger 21:05
Oh, you mean about smart or about myself or anything? Well, I think one of the things that for me, I realized a big part of my life that I was missing was recovering from get really heavy. And so I think there's a tremendous amount of joy that we need to embrace in recovery, and that it can be a distraction, but it can also really help us on our journey. So one of my favorite phrases is by Oscar Wilde, and he says, life is much too important to be taken seriously. And I just think that I had a friend that died not too long ago. And she always said, you know, use a light touch, don't take things too heavily. You know, you'll get through this. And that really helped me to get through a lot of the heavy spaces.
Adina Silvestri 21:52
Right. Thank you so much for that. So Peter, how can people find you The Smart recovery community,
Peter Finger 22:03
they can go to smart recovery.org. That's our national office or they can go to our website and South Dakota, which is smart dot South dakota.org. We also have a Facebook page when I think we have about 600 followers now from all around the world. And if you go to Facebook and do a search for smart recovery, South Dakota, you're welcome to join our Facebook page. And I put a lot of really fun things in there things about recovery, and also some lighter things and some sayings that kind of for some people, I think it's the only thing that they see positive every day, so, but those are great ways to connect with us.
Adina Silvestri 22:42
Okay, great. Well, thank you again.
Peter Finger 22:44
You're welcome. Thank you.
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