(Disclaimer: Please excuse any errors. This transcript was made using A.I. technology.)
Welcome to the Atheists in Recovery Podcast, where we talk about finding hope in recovery. And now your host, Dr. Adina Silvestri,
Adina Silvestri 0:11
Hello Atheists in Recovery land, and welcome to Episode 66 of the Atheists in Recovery podcast. And today we are talking to Amazon best selling author, DJ Burr. We learn a little bit about his recovery journey today, we learn how he recovered through a very difficult childhood. And really, in going through that childhood felt that God was not there for him, felt that there was no way that God would be showing up for him, because he had all of these really difficult moments throughout his childhood. And also the fact that, you know, he knew that he was gay. And so we learned a little bit more about that we learned about how a lot of what he had to go through and what he survived through growing up, informed much of what he does today, in his profession as a healer. We learned why he began to cries eyes out, when in a sex and love addiction group thinking. Now I have one more thing to work on. Besides codependency, being a teenage sexual assault survivor, and on and on. And we also talked about the reality that you are not a bad person just because you experienced trauma and you're in engaged in this trauma landscape, but instead you accomplish so much you're a survivor. And we talk more about what that is and how we can find hope. Amidst all of the pain and suffering, okay, on to our guest D.J. D.J. Burr is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in sexual addiction and codependency recovery. He's the best selling author of I just wanted love recovery of a codependent, sex and love addict, the host of journey on survivors healing from sexual abuse and assault. And he's a screenwriter on the verge of breaking into Hollywood DJs, a survivor who is dedicated to thriving as a precious, perfectly imperfect human. He lives in Seattle area with his husband and two kids. All right, guys. On to the show. DJ Burr, welcome to the show.
D.J. Burr 2:34
Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.
Adina Silvestri 2:37
Yeah, I'm very excited that you're here to talk about a topic that needs to be talked about more, which is sexual addiction and love addiction and codependency and all that stuff.
D.J. Burr 2:49
Adina Silvestri 2:52
So I thought we'd start our conversation like I do all in conversations by just inquiring about your deepest roots from childhood.
D.J. Burr 3:04
My deepest roots, they were tangled, burned. diseased. pretty chaotic. Yeah, I was born in the south. I'm from Georgia, originally, I live up in Seattle area now. But my family's very complex and set in their ways. And, you know, it was challenging because even from a very young age, I had the, the notion that what I was experiencing what I was observing was wrong. It didn't seem right. In fact, I wrote in my book that I wondered if I had been adopted, and I was waiting for my adoptive parents, my actual parents, my birth parents to come to find me to take me, you know, because things just were so bad. I was like, it just doesn't seem right. that things are so bad.
Adina Silvestri 4:05
Yeah. What were so what were some of the things that were so bad that you're hoping to be rescued from?
D.J. Burr 4:12
My stepfather was an alcoholic. And before he came along, it was me and my mom. And when she got married to him, there was a lot of abuse. And prior to even getting married to him, there was a lot of abuse. And even at their wedding, I think I was like five I ran out of the wedding. Like I just did, couldn't even stomach it a five year old running statement. Right. And I you know, I was looked at like I was a problem. Well, you know, fast forward all these years later, that is still the case. You know, we can't do a reality check with people who are in denial. So, that is my reality currently in my family system. So there was a lot of abuse there. It continued, continued when My siblings came along, and I end up being like the protector of my my siblings, their caregivers. They're their teacher. My mom worked two or three jobs. My stepdad was often drunk, and he and I would fight. They would fight. Cops recalled often, my grandparents had my great grandparents had one of those police scanners is that whenever I call the cops on him, they would call on the house phone. What's going on? Oh, wow. Yeah. And sometimes, like my grandmother, my mom's mom, I would call her because she was like, a safety net. Like, I mostly grew up with my grandmother, whenever like, shit hit the fan at my house, I just packed a bag, usually like a garbage bag, full of my stuff, and went to my grandmother's house. And on occasion, she would have to bring her gun with her. Grandma had a gun. Grandma had a gun, she had a gun, because really bad things happen to her. And so she she needed protection. And so she felt like the situation was not going to be saved, she was going to be bringing it.
Adina Silvestri 6:10
So she was your protector.
D.J. Burr 6:11
She was she was Mm hmm. Her my grandmother and my great grandparents. They were my primary caregivers outside of my mom. And I think, you know, my mom maybe tried to do the best that she could do. But, you know, she had three kids, she had two or three jobs at a time. She had her own issues. And until To this day, I still don't know all the things that kind of shaped who she is.
I try my best to just let that go. Mm hmm.
Adina Silvestri 6:44
Yeah, well, I think in order to move on, you have to make peace with that. Yeah.
D.J. Burr 6:49
Yeah, you do. I think, some acceptance, right. acceptance is the solution. And I've tried and I continue to kind of turn that over to for me my higher power. You know, for my mom and my dad, my dad, my biological dad was absent completely. He showed back up later, but even now he's absent.
Adina Silvestri 7:14
Okay. Yeah. So you mentioned your higher power. What kind of a role did it play? growing up? Did you have a spiritual background growing up?
D.J. Burr 7:25
I had a fearful experience of spirituality growing up. My family is Southern Baptists. We were, you know, dragged to church. And I didn't hear anything that was welcoming. You know, I also knew at a very young age that was gay. And the things that I heard in the church were frightening. And so I resisted going, and very young, I just refused to go then go. And so for me, I never thought that God would want to have anything to do with me. And that a higher power or God would not show up for me. And I had evidence to support that I my belief that that was true, right? This dysfunctional family system, the abuse of physical, spiritual abuse, the mental abuse, the neglect, the abandonment, I'm like, Where is God is not here.
Adina Silvestri 8:20
Right. Right, right.
D.J. Burr 8:22
And then as I got older, it just got worse, you know, throw in sexual abuse or an addiction. And I was like, God's not here. Right. And so it wasn't until I got into recovery at age 30. So I'm 38. I'll be 38. Next month, I'm going into my eighth year of recovery and sobriety, and one of my programs and so that has been my experience of spirituality. But if I really look back, my higher power was always there. Because I'm not dead. Right. Right. I educated in a dysfunctional system. Right. I got out. I have two degrees. Right. I was able to salvage my life, but I did have to kind of crawl my way through it. Mm hmm. And I recognize that I did not do that by myself. There's no way I could have done that by myself. No way. Mm hmm.
Adina Silvestri 9:23
Right. So even though you didn't trust that there was a higher power looking back, he, you feel like there had been somebody something that was helping you along. You knew that you there were bigger things for you out there.
D.J. Burr 9:37
All the things that I've gone through and form what I do today. And what I do today is I help others. And that's how I know that what I went through, even though it was hard, and it was painful, and it was sad, and sometimes I still even get sad and angry about it. It was necessary.
Adina Silvestri 9:59
Yeah, I definitely writing this down because I want to come back to this. But I wondering, I wondering if we could switch gears just a little bit. And maybe you could talk a little bit about your recovery journey.
D.J. Burr 10:14
Yeah, my recovery journey.
You know, I didn't know a thing about recovery before I left Georgia, and I moved to Washington State. And I was in a really bad space, I was in a bad relationship. And I was broken. And I just kept engaging in dysfunctional behaviors until I was at the point where life just wasn't worth living anymore. You know, I got I was very scared. And I was at the point of giving up. And I was encouraged to check out programs like Al anon, and I go to Al anon I realized, Oh, so my addict husband isn't really the issue, I need to be looking at my own stuff, right. He has his stuff, but I also have stuff. And then I heard about codependents anonymous, and then I went there, and I was like, Oh, this is all my stuff. This is all my stuff, right here. And I remember just sitting there crying my eyes out. And then it was like, I was like, maybe in that for like, three months before I found out about sex and love addiction. And I was like, Oh, that's even more of my stuff. And that's when it started to get clear to me that I had been sexually assaulted and abused as a child as a teenager. And it was in a 12 step meeting where that hit me. It was like a ton of bricks. You know, I remember sitting in my car, and I called my Kota sponsor, and I was like, so I went to an SLA meeting. And I apparently have sex and love addiction, because I answered 38 yeses out of 40 of the questions. Right, right. And I remember crying like, now I got this to deal with, right. But it's really just been a part of the whole package the whole entire time, how could it not write everything had been so distorted for me from the get go. And so to be the target of a serial predator, not that surprising, I was vulnerable. And he knew it. He didn't even know everything about me, but he knew it.
Adina Silvestri 12:46
He could see it. Or sense it.Right
D.J. Burr 12:48
Right, sense it,
you know, I don't know how that works with, you know, but he could sense it. And he, he groomed me. And he took advantage of me. And it wasn't until years later that I realized that, that that's what had happened. And so now, as a person who's been sober from alcohol, eight years, and I'll be sober for my compulsive sexual behaviors, in about two weeks, and I'll be eight years. I've learned a lot about myself along the way. A lot. I'm not bad. I'm not a bad person. I'm actually a good person who's just been to hell and back. Right. And, and survived.
Adina Silvestri 13:35
Yeah, I love that you just said and survived because I feel like, you know, with with with people that have experienced trauma, they have this tendency to think that they're all bad that their core being is bad. But, you know, within that trauma landscape, you realize that there's so much good.
D.J. Burr 13:58
Yeah, you know, it was my fourth step. I was giving my four step away, and my fifth step, and one of the directors I had was to outline all the things that I was able to accomplish prior to getting sober. And the list was long. I wrote my first book prior to getting sober. Well, I was in I was in grad school. Okay. Yeah. So I was in grad school, I wrote my first book for even graduated my program. You know, I had graduated to really difficult programs. I was successful in many different ways. You know, I started at a LGBT Alliance on my college campus, you know, I, yeah, I had, there's the list is long and I was okay. Right. And I didn't realize that until I was reading that and I just cried. That was the moment I cried. After a lot, I think six hours of doing my fifth step. And I got to the end, and I was like, here's the list of all the ways I took care of myself, even though I was sick. And that's what broke me.
Adina Silvestri 15:11
D.J. Burr 15:13
Because I didn't see it.
Adina Silvestri 15:17
I love that.
throughout this journey, when did you think that you knew? You needed to seek help? Like, where? When was that? Was there like one or two experiences where you thought you know what, I can't do this alone? It's time.
D.J. Burr 15:34
Yeah, I it was pre like prep, which is, you know, the pre exposure prophylactics for HIV. So prior to that happening, right, I started engaging in unsafe sex practices. And that was against the rules of that I had agreed to with my then partner. And so I was just taking this really dramatic, you know, leap off an edge, right? There was no safety net at that time. And that went against my entire core of who I am. Right? to put myself in that much risk. Even after I had done crazy shit in my past, like, I'm not doing that. Right. And I did it. And I didn't care. I had given up. And I remember telling that to the therapist, and the therapist was like, you need to go to a meeting. And I was like, I am not going to a fucking meeting. I said it like that. What? I'm not an addict. I grew up with addicts. My stepdad was an addict. You know, my mom's an addict, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? I don't have a problem. I don't have a problem. No, I don't have a problem. But then I went. I went, like, if you don't have a problem, then you shouldn't have a problem going. It was like, Oh, well check it out. Right. And then like I said, little by little I was for Al anon Dakota, you know, all the different programs, and found my home. I found the safe place I found serenity. I that I didn't know I deserved. But it was really my therapist who I still work with today. All these years later, who got me into the rooms, and I resisted every week. Every week I went to me, I went to the session with my therapist, he was like you need to go to a meeting. And then when I started going to meetings, he was like, then you need to get a sponsor. I was like, What? What is that? Why would I get a sponsor? Why would they deal with me, you know? And I remember meeting with my first sponsor, and I was like, Why are you so nice to me as I'm crying.
You shouldn't be nice to me, you know, and I was still acting out sexually because I was in Kota fers and I was still acting out sexually, and I would tell him about it. And he was like, we need to talk about what self care means. And I was like, oh, okay, well, I thought this was self care me acting out. I it's okay, I have permission. It's okay. Is it fits in the rules of my relationship? Frankly, no. He's like, no, that's not self care. I was like, well, you tell me what self care is. Now, mind you. I had already been a therapist for many years. Many years, I was sending people to 12 steps before I got it. Okay.
So there had to been some there. There was a division,
Adina Silvestri 18:54
There was a disconnect.
D.J. Burr 18:56
All of this Connect, show up, be healthy and productive and help people get the help that they need. But you're fine. You don't need help. That was that added part of my brain just absolutely running the show.
Adina Silvestri 19:11
So you find the sponsor who is nice to you, and you start going to all these meetings and you found the serenity. What do you think was so serene about about being in these meetings and finding the sponsor? And yeah,
D.J. Burr 19:30
I didn't have to be perfect.
That was thrown out the window. And I You don't have to be perfect. In fact, I have a tattoo on my arm says progress, not perfection. And my whole life, I had thought that I had to be perfect because I was responsible for everybody and everything. Or at least that's what I thought. Right? I thought it was my job to be perfect because the hippo would occur. If you No, I didn't do everything that I was told, right, I would either get beaten, or I would get something taken away from me, or I would lose love, I will lose affection, I will lose care, I will lose housing, because that happened when I came out and said I was gay. Really? Yeah, I lost housing had to find housing, you know. So it was like, if I didn't do everything by the book, there was going to be a consequence. Well, I show up in the 12 step rooms that are like, one day at a time, you have to take better care of yourself. You have to not ingest chemicals that are going to kill you. Right, you have to set boundaries, you have to engage in loving kindness towards yourself. Really. That's it. That's where I was, you know, I was like, Oh, this is different. This is different. And this feels safe. And I think because environment of the 12 step community feel feels so safe to me, is the reason I haven't relaxed. Hmm. Yeah, if I was still in an environment that was unhealthy, I probably would have relapsed. But as I got further along, in my recovery, I removed myself from all of those unhealthy relationships, my marriage at the time, remove myself from that, remove myself, from friendships, remove myself from family, all of those things. Now, yeah, over time, I had to add back some family but with a lot of with a lot of boundaries.
Adina Silvestri 21:40
Okay. And that's something that is taught to you with within that codependency model. I'm wondering if you could maybe share a little bit about that, like, Why are boundaries so important? If you're suffering with codependency or maybe what your definition is? Maybe you could start with what your definition is?
D.J. Burr 21:59
Yes, yes, my definition of codependency is a set of maladaptive coping strategies that were used at one time, typically in childhood, to protect yourself. And as we become adults, they're no longer functional. Right. So maybe as a kid, I learned to avoid the conflict by hiding. Mm, right. hiding under my pillow under my bed, protecting myself from it, right. But as an adult, if I'm being beaten in my own house, hiding is not going to help me. Right. And there was a time when my ex husband beat me. And I thought that was going to be the last straw and it wasn't. And I had to have a wake up call. Right? And I was like, it is not okay for someone to put their hands on me. And not had to say that. And I had to come in and say, This is what has to happen. Either you go to treatment, or I leave. Right? Yeah. And he went to treatment. And what I didn't know then was that I was in without a job. I had no, I had no job that the caretaker was role was discontinued.
Adina Silvestri 23:18
Your job, his caretaker was discontinued?
D.J. Burr 23:21
Yeah, my job was discontinued. He was in the care of somebody else. And then I completely spiraled out of control. Because I was lost. I didn't know what else to do. And that's when things escalated. For me, the drinking, the reckless sexual behavior, all of those things, right. So I showed up to try to set a boundary. But because I didn't have an internal boundary to help myself, right to guide me in the direction of care, I spiraled out of control. But once I was able to be informed about what healthy boundaries look like, both internal and external, I was able to get on the path of recovery and stay on it. Right, because here's how I take care of myself. Because you know what, he didn't stay sober. He didn't stay in his program. You know, he continued to do other shit. Right? But I stayed sober. And that's how our relationship fell apart. Because I was healthy. And he was still acting out. And I was like, not working for me, buddy.
Adina Silvestri 24:24
That is so interesting. And a lot of my research that I've done with individuals that are struggling with substance abuse, I found because I worked. I did research with women only in outpatient treatment settings, and it was the men that were keeping the women from getting treatment, because then that meant that they would have to go get help. And they were like, no, but it was the women that were forcing the men to go to treatment. It was just, yeah.
D.J. Burr 24:49
Adina Silvestri 24:50
It happens in a lot of different ways, right?
D.J. Burr 24:52
It sure does. Absolutely. And I think in being a gay gay male, a black gay male has some challenges along with it too, right? I was a, I'm a black gay male, I was in a relationship with a white male who had more privilege and power than I did have more money than I did, right? Even though we were married, right. And he threw that around all the time. He controlled everything. If I questioned anything, I might have my card cut off, right? My debit card, like one time, I couldn't get gas. You know, when I was looking for an attorney, he already knew because he had hacked my email. Right, and he had cut access. He had power and authority over me, and I gave it to him, not realizing that this power differential was there. You know, I've never really been taught that I needed to put myself in a position to take care of myself, should the partner try to take control? Right? Even though I saw it happening in my family of origin, I never was taught how to take care of myself. So I didn't end up in that position. So I ended up doing the exact same thing that happened to my mom.
Adina Silvestri 26:15
D.J. Burr 26:16
And I told her that I said, you know, I'm married your ex husband, like, twice already.
And she's like, I'm sorry. You know.
But you know, it is what it is that happened, it needed to happen. And I'm grateful for the experiences because I learned a lot about myself.
Adina Silvestri 26:38
Now your journey is definitely fascinating. One, I feel like I could talk to you for a really long time. But I know we have to start wrapping
I hate when that happens.
D.J. Burr 26:51
Adina Silvestri 26:54
so as you're kind of looking, you know, you're, you're coming up on the eight years of being sober compulsive. Is that what you said?
D.J. Burr 27:03
Sober from sexually compulsive behavior
Adina Silvestri 27:05
sober from sexually compulsive behavior? Can you tell me tell the listeners what parts of yourself are different now? Do you think versus back then?
D.J. Burr 27:17
my creativity is front and center. Right now, you know, as an author of multiple books, one being my memoir, I just want to love recovering codependent, sex and love addict. You know, I wrote that five years ago, and people are still purchasing the book, people are still calling me. People are coming in to work with me because of the book. So that was life changing. It was a game changer for me. You know, I am screenwriting now. I just published a dating workbook an ebook. Yeah, you can get it on my website, DJ bird calm, and kind of using the things that I have gone through to help educate others. Right. And so my creativity is front and center. Whereas in my addiction, I was hidden, it was corrupted, you know, I was prevented from engaging in it. But that is a primary focus for me. Like, I got to be doing something creative, or I'm not in a good place. Hmm. Right. Because as a part of me, that's how I give back my the gift that has been given to me. Right. And so I think that part is significantly different. And I think the other thing that's significantly different now is like, I have a safe, loving, supportive family. I have my husband and I have my son and my daughter, we have friends who are sober. Most of our friends are sober and 12 step programs. And so I have this family of choice. Yeah. Which is different. And I think without them, I'd be loss. So there's, there's a lot of change. And it comes I think, from the sources of good, and health, and you know, and because of that, I'm still sober. Right. And I get to continue to help people.
Adina Silvestri 29:14
Yeah, yeah. I love that. And you have a private practice and you see people there and you I do glean experience.
D.J. Burr 29:24
Yeah. So I, my private practice, primarily focus on sex addiction and codependency recovery, of course, right? Of course, this is what I know like the back of my hand. Right? And so this is what I do five days a week. And so people come in to see me virtually because of COVID. And it works is great. I'm happy.
Adina Silvestri 29:48
TJ any final words for the atheist in recovery community as we as we kind of wrap up, I
D.J. Burr 29:56
think the final words I would say is find your path. You know, find your path where you feel safe, where you feel protected and supported. And walk it. Whatever that looks like.
Adina Silvestri 30:11
Yeah, that sounds great. How can people best find you and say hello on the social?
D.J. Burr 30:17
Yeah, the easiest way to find out more about me is djburr.com You can find me on Twitter. I'm really active on Twitter with all my different communities at djburr1022. And you can also find me on Instagram, thedjburr
Adina Silvestri 30:37
great and I will put links to all of those in the show notes. Okay, DJ, well, thank you again so much for for being on the show.
D.J. Burr 30:47
Thank you for having me.
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