(Disclaimer: This transcript is using AI technology. Please excuse any errors.)
Welcome to the Atheist recovery Podcast, where we talk about finding hope in recovery. And now your host, Dr. Adina Silvestri
Konichiwa Atheists in Recovery, and welcome to Episode 97 of the Atheists in Recovery podcast where it's my job to address the spiritual and scientific belief systems of people in long term recovery, in order to deconstruct limiting thought patterns and introduce new behaviors and routines, you can use. And today, we are going to be speaking with Chris Blavelt. And I enjoyed this conversation. I enjoy all my conversations, really, but I enjoy this conversation because Chris talks about belonging to a special events, Catholicism, and man, can I relate to this, where him and his family would attend church really only on special occasions like Easter and Christmas, and so there really was not a relationship with God. You know, it was just something that you that you did, because you were told to do, right. And so there was really no personal buy in there. And so we talked about those earlier, formative years. And then Chris talks also about not finding spirituality until he found sobriety and experiencing many spiritual moments. And Chris will go through at least one of those spiritual moments on the show where he talks about his long walks from the IEP program to his home. And I mean, this was like a five mile walk. And I loved you know, what he discovered on those walks. And I think that it's really applicable to recovery. On a daily basis, actually, it's applicable to everyone, really, I mean, it's just one of those, one of those great life lessons. And so Chris, for me, highlighted the need to stay open, and switch from a fixed mindset to more of a growth, mindset and recovery. And I feel like that's one of the main threads of this of this episode. As Chris puts it, and I'm paraphrasing the disease, the you know, the addiction, the disease is doing pushups in the parking lot while you're inside trying to get sober. Okay, on to Chris. Chris is the Director of Admissions and operations at Augustine recovery. He is coming up on 10 years of sobriety this November Chris's wife who's also in recovery. And he has two wonderful children, Cici and Charlie. surfing and spending time outside with his family are two of the greatest gifts of sobriety. He travels as much as he can, quick family friendly destinations to the beach or to the mountains. Alright guys, on to the show.
Adina Silvestri 2:58
Chris Blavelt Welcome to the show.
Chris Blavelt 3:01
Hi, thank you.
Adina Silvestri 3:05
So, Chris, I'm excited for you to be on and I thought that I'd start my conversation with you, like I start most conversations, and just get a little bit of a sense as to your spiritual background, from childhood and maybe you know, what led you to where you are today. Just give the audience just a bit of a sense of of who you are.
Chris Blavelt 3:27
little snapshot. Okay.
Adina Silvestri 3:29
Chris Blavelt 3:29
Thank you so much, again, for having me. I've really been looking forward to this. So, spiritually speaking, my background is in special event Catholicism, I like to call it which means I was raised in the Catholic Church on Easter and Christmas Eve, I guess it's called catechism were Tuesdays for a number of years. I went to Catholic school after public school, I got on the bus. And I went to this called mother sorrows church and private Catholic School in murrysville, Pennsylvania, where I was raised. And I don't have a ton of vivid memories about that, although I don't have any bad memories. I have kinda nostalgic memories of walking through mother's sorrows. Private School is a very old Catholic school and it's been renovated and updated since but that was my introduction into spirituality and God and the idea of a higher power was very much a novelty to me growing up. It's not, I'm not sure if I believed it. I'm not quite sure that I didn't. It was kind of like the Hawaiian, you know, hula dancer on your dashboard. It was just there. And it sounded nice, and it looked good. And I didn't have much beyond just the knowledge that God was there. And it wasn't really that deep for me. And as I got older, growing up in murrysville, Pennsylvania to suburb of Pittsburgh, I really had no relationship with God to speak of. I had, you know, a godmother and a godfather. And our relationship with the church was very was very basic. And it stayed that way, until I entered into sobriety, almost 10 years ago. And my relationship with sobriety began because I was court ordered time and time again into 12 step fellowships, and group therapy and jail and house arrest. And last time, I made an attempt to get sober was on my own. And luckily the courts had given me that seed that seed had been planted, and I knew where to go. And I'll celebrate 10 years in November, and my journey with spirituality has been, I would say, educational, kind of a long stemming, there was no white light burning bush moment moment for me. But there were a lot of significant moments in my sobriety, where I was like, Oh, my gosh, you know, I'm coming. I'm coming alive, you know, my spirits coming alive. And some of those moments were hindsight. In the moment, I didn't realize it. And looking back on it, I was like, that was a spiritual experience. And here, you know, here I am today, celebrate 10 years of sobriety in November, I work at a small Recovery Center in St. Augustine, Florida. I found my way to St. Augustine through grandparents that I visited, that retired not far from here, I visited St. Augustine every summer as a kid growing up and in addiction had a public teaching job in Hawaii and fell in love with surfing and the surf community. And I've just never went back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After that I've been I've been in St. Augustine ever since.
Adina Silvestri 6:53
Right? Well, I don't think there's much surfing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Chris Blavelt 6:57
So unless you're on one of the three rivers, rope behind a boat.
Adina Silvestri 7:03
Yeah, I can relate. I'm from upstate New York, so I can definitely relate. Yeah, so I loved what you said about you know, growing up and having this spiritual event Catholicism, I can relate to that very much. You know, just going to church on events only. And that was that was basically your relationship with God, you're supposed to sustain that somehow. I don't know. But it sounds like you found spirituality later on in life. And so I'm interested to learn maybe now a little bit more about your recovery journey. So yeah, so wherever you want to start with that.
Chris Blavelt 7:39
Okay. So, I remember the very first time the offer was made to me to Part A, I'll just kind of like call drinking and drugging party. Someone was like, Hey, you know, we got we got some, some weed, and we're gonna smoke it after school. And I remember telling the guy and or I think he offered to drink after school. I can't remember. I think he said, Mike and Brian smoked weed on the golf course one day, and they have some and we're going to drink tonight, do you want to come? And I think this was like freshman or sophomore year of high school, maybe. And the first thing I said to him was, dude, my parents would really, really be mad at me if I did that. And he was like, kind of tilted his head sideways. And I was like, Are you serious? And I was like, Okay, I'm in, I like buckled beneath the peer pressure before really any peer pressure was even applied. And the transition into like, full blown addiction, I think was, was pretty fast after that, you know, I went from like, you know, drinking and drugging sporadically on Saturdays and Sundays, maybe to really, you know, drinking every weekend and doing drugs every day. All kinds of drugs every day before, during and after high school I was using before I was using during I was drinking before, sometimes I was drinking during the day, sometimes my locker was like, you know, a small black marketplace. I needed.
Adina Silvestri 9:19
Chris, let me interrupt you just for a second. How old were you at this point?
Chris Blavelt 9:22
Man, I'm always so bad. I guess. It was right before I got my license that I so like 15, probably probably 15 and the, between the age of 15 and 18. things really just kind of took off like those three years. The experiments, you know, experimental stage pretty much gave way to just full blown addiction pretty quickly. And I think it's because I I was a kid who didn't have a lot of confidence and I was really self conscious. I'm a pretty tall guy and I've always been a bit bigger but I haven't always been as tall as I am. And sometimes I was, I guess I was always taller than my peers, but I was always bigger. I'm kind of tall and thinner than you know today. But I was always kind of like tall and bigger and a little overweight. So, you know, I'd have like a flat top because I have a cowlick and the barber who my parents took me to was like, dude, we're just shaving this kid's head into a flat top. He's got these, like crazy colleagues, we can't do anything with it. So I was kind of like, you know, super self conscious growing up. And I was really uncomfortable in my own skin. And you hear that a lot in people's stories in addiction. And so when I got that relief from drugs and alcohol, it was just like, I was immediately drawn to feeling like that all the time.
Yeah. Okay, so you have this black market situation happening in your lacquer in your own 15. And you gave into peer pressure, even before there was really peer pressure to give into your drinking nights and weekends. Tell us what happens next.
Chris Blavelt 11:05
Um, the first time I got arrested, I was 18 years old, and I had a car full of people. And I was using my mom's Oldsmobile bravada, which is kind of like that, I don't even think they make them anymore. But it's, you know, a four wheel drive. It's like, you know, the 1990s, kind of quintessential SUV. And I was like, transferring people up and down this old logging road, and we were having this field party, I'm sure you coming from upstate New York, I'm sure you know, you're no stranger, outside and in the woods. And that's what we did as kids and growing up in Pennsylvania, and I just, I was driving around too much and drinking and I got pulled over. And actually, you know, there were so many people in my car. And one of them just said, Go Chris, and I just punched it. And for you know, a few miles. I was like, you know, engaged in a high, high speed pursuit, you know, through the back country of Pennsylvania. And so they were when they got to the car, and you know, everything in the car was obviously not supposed to be there. And I got arrested. And I got my first DUI and all the possession charges that came with it. And there was some other charge that they gave me for not pulling over immediately. And so that was my first experience with court ordered kind of like state facilitated treatment, and a call it the 12 step fellowship. It really I lost my license for 30 days. I don't remember any of the group therapy that I participated in. I mean, I know it happened, but I was 18 years old. I knew there was a problem. It wasn't me it was everybody else. It was the small town, the police had nothing better to do. Right do and so I just kept on that trajectory. It didn't i didn't even stop for an instant. You know, I don't think I even was on I was on probation. But it was like I had to fill out these forms once a month. There were no drug tests. There were no breathalyzers, it was I was 18 years old. And it was my first defense. So I was really just chordata to a bunch of like group therapy and 12 step meetings. So I continued, like, without a bump in the road, my parents were obviously very, very upset. And, you know, I almost didn't make it to college because of because of their lack of confidence in me. But I was 18 I went to college, you know, by the hair of my chinny chin chin and started partying, drinking and using even more, more frequently more heavily, and managed just to stay in college the whole time. Because I would use amphetamines, like during, you know, finals week, I would I wouldn't go to class, I would take midterms. And I would take finals and I just maintain like a C average, you know, the entire time. And then when I was 21 I guess I was a sophomore junior, because i was uh, I can't remember but I got my second DUI really just two years after I just turned 21 or either I was about to turn 21 and I got my second DUI. And I blew I think a point three nine damage some property. I was completely blacked out. I damaged some property with my car. I was completely blacked out. I was by myself and the combination of like the damage property and you had just gotten a DUI nearly two years ago and the blood alcohol content of the event. They kind of like throw the book at me. So again, court ordered to treatment this time outpatient treatment, no inpatient treatment yet and this point in my life, lots of probation, house arrest, jail, more 12 step meetings and I had to take a semester or longer I think I had to take one or two semesters off of college and that was the first time to the Recovery had a lasting effect on me. Because I fell into a 12 step meeting in a town nearby where I was growing up. And I knew a lot of people and in this meeting, and they were young, and they were getting sober, too. At this point, my friends and I had all graduated high school, we'd all gone kind of our own way to college, some people were sticking around and working. And so I wasn't keeping in touch with everyone who I knew in high school, who I started partying with, and I ran into some people in these meetings that I had been partying with. And I, it was the first time in my mind that I was like, Okay, this could be cool. You know, like, sobriety could be cool. And my friend cam was picking me up, she was taking me to meetings, you know, we're still smoking a ton of cigarettes. But it was a much more innocent type of fun, where I felt like, I could do this, I felt like
it could be it was attractive to me, they talk in recovery about you know, it's a program of attraction, not promotion. And that's what was happening. You know, I was making coffee, and I had a service commitment. And I wasn't bought into the process of sponsorship. And I only met with our my very, very first sponsor ever once. And it was extremely awkward and uncomfortable for me to have a relationship with a man like that.
So Chris, so as you're in this 12 step program, you have your friend picking you up? How What was that like to have your friends in that 12 step meeting? And do you think that it would have been a lot different if you were to walk into a 12 step meeting, and and everyone was, you know, 1020 years older than you,
Chris Blavelt 16:36
it would have, I'm not sure that things would have been different for me down the line. Because I did enough. I did, inevitably, without, you know, engagement in the 12 steps and sponsorship, I did inevitably relapse down the line. But fast forward, years later, I knew where to go. And I knew that it could be fun if I did it, right. And if I surrounded myself with young people, so that night that I walked into the meeting, and I saw these young people outside, you know, popping on cigarettes, and having a good time and laughing and knowing my friend, Kim, and having partied with her and her friends, she was a year ahead of me. I was like, I could do this, you know that this can be cool. sobriety can be cool. And I'm not sure. Kim is married now and has kids, and I believe she's still in recovery. I'm not sure that, you know, she certainly doesn't know the effect that she had, or that friendship. Yeah, the effect that it had on me at that at that moment. And who knows down the line. Like you said, it'd be you know, who knows how that not happened? I don't know that I would have been so willing to go to back to 12 step meetings myself when you know what hit the fan years down the line?
Adina Silvestri 17:47
Yeah. Yeah. So how are things now today? I mean, is there anything else that that you wanted to share before we kind of get to present day or?
Chris Blavelt 17:59
Yeah, you know, I ended up finishing college, I got a teaching job in Hawaii. I had stopped going to meetings for months. By the time I made it to Hawaii, I relapsed I smoked weed and a lot of weed in Hawaii, like most people do, who live in Hawaii, for two years straight. I lost my job, I lost all my savings I stole from people I borrowed money that I couldn't pay back. And it was like I'm, I might as well have been doing hard drugs and drinking again. I convinced my parents that I was simply a poor manager of my finances, and they flew me back to the States. I went back I went to St. Augustine, this is where I made it to St. Augustine, because they had purchased the house to be closer to my grandparents. They weren't moving in yet. And they thought it'd be a great idea for me to, you know, be the safe keeper of their their new retirement home. Well, turns out, that was where the last year of my addiction really unfolded. And, you know, I found myself in the darkest place I ever have in the 10 or so years of my addiction. And after a series of really, you know, unfortunate events, no more legal intervention, just poor mental health and decision making. had my first when I would come home and have clarity, with my spirituality where ask God for help one night, lying on the front, front lawn, smoking a cigarette, and it was not a pleasant request. It was like, you know, laden with curse words. And it was not a prayer that you would want to say out loud in church. And from that day on, I have been sober I picked up the phone, I was compelled to ask for help and to just spill the beans to my family. And I have been sober ever since I did go to treatment for 30 days. And then I went to sober living in St. Paul. I went to the Twin Cities and got sober and that's where I spent my first year of sobriety and it was one of the more magical years of my life that first year of sobriety and you know, lots of really cool spiritual moments with you know, some hard work and fending for myself. And paying for myself and buying my own crappy car and learning how to set boundaries and boundaries with people and communicate and feel uncomfortable. And that was where I laid my foundation for my recovery and 10 years later, it's still something that I incorporate into my into my everyday life as best as I can with a three year old and a 10 month old.
Adina Silvestri 20:24
That's awesome. So, what do you think? made you hit sort of that emotional rock bottom? You know, when you're laying on the ground, swearing expletives at God to help you, you know, what was the sort of like the final straw do you think,
Chris Blavelt 20:42
you know, I had always been somebody that liked covers, you know, amphetamines, cocaine, and I had started smoking them. And it just had a more profound effect on me the next day, as far as like, how crappy I felt, the depressive state that followed, you know, after using drugs, and that way, it was just really had I had kind of a stranglehold on me, and I was drinking and driving again, a lot. And I was blacking out again a lot. And I was spending time with people who were really scaring the crap out of me, who were really, really scaring me and, and we were going to places that were really, you know, I was not comfortable with and, and I was witnessing things that I wasn't comfortable with, and participating things in, that I wasn't comfortable with. And I was I was a stealing. I was a thief of opportunity, you know, a cowardly thief of opportunity. And I just that night, realized that I had gone so far from the vision that God and that my parents had hoped that I would become, I was just overcome with, I can't do this. Like, this is not what life is about. There's no way that this is what life is. And I'm 26 years old, and I can't I can't keep going like this. I you know, had stacks of mail in the house that I hadn't opened and my credit was horrible. And I had a college degree with nothing to show for and a part time job that had nothing to do with it. And I just was tired of being tired as they say in the in the 12 step rooms.
Adina Silvestri 22:26
Yeah. So you asked for help from God. And then is that when you went to St. Paul,
Chris Blavelt 22:35
yeah. The next day, I picked up the phone. I told my family what I had been doing. And of course, at this point they knew and they flew me back to Pennsylvania where I stayed for a few days. And then I flew to Minneapolis, and a nice old man picked me up in a white van. And in the airport, I bought the biggest bag of starbursts that I could find and I munched on Starburst the whole way to Hazelden, which is where I went to treatment in Center City, which is in northern Minnesota, and I got sober there. And I had a really, really good experience. And I had been to IO p, previously at a small rehab in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The second time I got a DUI, the first time I really kind of took a solid shot at getting sober. And when I relapsed, I remember thinking, oh my god, everything those people were saying everything that people that you know, the peers and the employees of this place, were telling me it was true. I relapsed and everything, you know, the whole, like the disease is in the parking lot doing push ups while you're in here getting sober. All that stuff was true. And so when I went to Hazleton, I had this really great attitude that I wasn't, you know, going to let anything get in the way of my sobriety. And I was so desperate to get away from the life that I had created for myself, that I kind of like with clenched teeth, shaking my head, yes to everything anyone was suggesting internally going, I don't think, you know, still my default, you know, addict thinking was like, I don't think that this is a good idea. I don't want to do this sober living. Absolutely not extension. Absolutely. Not meetings. Absolutely not. But outwardly just shaking my head. Yes. Like, okay, yeah, I'll do it. I'll do it. I'll do it. And yeah, I lived in St. Paul for a year and sober living and laid laid down the foundations of my early recovery.
Adina Silvestri 24:30
Chris, you mentioned a couple times now, having like, these spiritual moments, I was wondering if maybe you could share one of those and how it relates to your recovery.
Chris Blavelt 24:41
Yeah, you know, I wrote a little blog for our website a couple years ago called taking the long way home. And that's kind of how I'd like to describe what I feel like is my first real serious spiritual experience. I worked I was a keyholding supervisor at Jamba Juice, which is Like a, you know, movie company franchise movie company, and it was across town and I lived on the other side of town, I was living in St. Paul. And for those who don't know, you know, the Twin Cities are about 10 or 20 miles apart. And St. Paul's on one side of Minneapolis is on the other. And I was living on one side of St. Paul, riding the bus to Jamba Juice. And it really was only like a 15 or 20 minute car, drive by car, but by bus, it was like, well over an hour because of all the stops you make, and the and the kind of weird routes that they take to get there. And I got tired and mini and I was there in November, and it was freezing up there and, and very windy, it was really windy up there and I got tired of waiting for the bus. And oftentimes I'd be getting out of iorp intensive outpatient so late at night because I was doing the night track. So I could do it after work, that the last bus line, I've either miss it or it be too dark, and it'd be like snowing and it would just blow by me and not even see me. And so I started walking home and I started walking everywhere. And I and I started listening to new music and taking pictures was like the first phone I had where I could like, take, you know, decent pictures. And I would put headphones in and I would leave the sober house at like 4am and I would walk across town in the dark. And I used to tell people it was 20 miles 2030 miles and recovery was like, why don't you actually look up how far it is. Because on something tells me that you're exaggerating. It was too funny 5.9 miles. So you know, it's a good walk, you know,
Adina Silvestri 26:42
it's a decent walk.
Chris Blavelt 26:43
Yeah, but I had these moments where, you know, sometimes I would just be crying or I would like be observing people laughing or, you know, feeling the snow hit my face. And you know, oftentimes finding myself with like, tears in the corner of my eyes, and taking pictures and appreciating, you know, the scenery. And it was that those walks where my spirit was becoming alive again. And I was finding you know, love for music again, and for taking pictures and expressing myself creatively. And I started getting in shape too. So I started walking essentially, you know, 12 miles every day. And then I started running. And so I found another kind of spiritual moment in these in these runs that I would take all over St. Paul, which is a very kind of urban the even the greater St. Paul area is very urban. And there's bridges everywhere. And you can really walk and ride a bike or run you know, as far as you want. And I just I fell in love with the city and I fell in love with myself again and taking care of myself and these walks you know taking the long way home. It just kind of was the defining moment in my early sobriety where I have not thought about drinking or drugging since them I had one using dream the first night I was in Hazleton, and from that moment on, I've never thought about drinking or drugging again. And I certainly attribute mine kind of newfound love and respect for the beautiful ness of life, you know, during those walks to to that that relief.
Wow. Yeah, that's, that's beautiful. I look for the taking the long way home, and I'll add it to the show notes for people to read. Oh, yeah. So and these long walks these 2030 mile walks as you put it to your friends, you were finding these spiritual moments and it sounds like you were just really mindful of just like finding beauty everywhere. You know, it sounds like
Chris Blavelt 28:48
no, that's exactly what was happening. That's exactly what was happening. Yeah, I did end up buying a car, a 1906 Toyota four runner with the wheel wells rusted out. So it looked like a big monster truck. But I still walked everywhere. Even with the car. The car was more for meetings. And I did start taking it to work, but I still walked everywhere. Yeah, it was a special year for me.
It's amazing. So Chris says we kind of run out of time here. Getting getting close to the end. I wondering what parts of yourself, maybe are different now than back then and maybe what things have you sort of held on to that have really been really been helpful and your recovery?
Chris Blavelt 29:33
Man? What a great question. You know, I think there's this gift that were given in sobriety that your quote unquote normie or someone who's never had a problem with addiction that isn't offered the gift of recovery and the tools that come with it. This self reflective nature that people have in recovery where we can take pause and backtrack if we're being a jerk, or think about it that night and figure out how we're going to make things right with that person the next day or kind of wipe the slate clean each morning and try to be the better version of ourselves than we were the day before. That's something that I've really tried to hang on to, and recovery. And I still have a sponsor, I go, I am currently going to two meetings a week, a virtual meeting, and an in person meeting, which is kind of all i can muster with a young family. I do have a sponsee, who I learned more from him than he probably learns from me. And I think what's changed in me is, I guess I was probably more teachable in the early years of my recovery. And that's something that, you know, I'm not super proud to say, I do need to really try hard to be, you know, I was really self conscious in my addiction, and I found my voice in recovery. And now the problem I have today is harboring my ego and pride, you know, so I think I've become more confident, and I've become more, almost too confident it you know, I have to kind of restrict my pride and check it as often as I can. And I do that with my sponsor, and luckily, all my co workers in recovery. And, you know, my wife certainly has no problem keeping me in line. But yeah, I guess that I always want to try to remain teachable, however hard that might be. I think as you gain more years of sobriety, you become more confident, and that can be a harder thing for people to hang on to is remaining teachable.
Adina Silvestri 31:41
Yeah. Yeah. That's a great point. I love that. All right, Chris. Well, you Thanks. Thank you so much for being on. I was wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit now about how people can find you. Maybe share it with us some some links to how people can see the awesome work that you're doing and obviously in recovery and stop by and say hi,
Chris Blavelt 32:05
absolutely. I am the Director of Admissions at Augustine recovery. We're a family owned and operated long term residential program for people suffering with addiction and trauma. The website is Augustinerecovery. com You can find us on Facebook. I believe it's facebook.com/Augustinerecovery. And our Instagram handle is also Augustine recovery. And you know, you can email me Chris@Augustinerecovery.com if you'd like to learn more about our our small, funky family owned and operated program.
Adina Silvestri 32:40
Yeah. All right. Well, that sounds great. Okay, Chris, thanks so much for being on.
Chris Blavelt 32:46
Yeah, you bet. Thank you.
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“The disease is doing pushups in the parking lot while you’re inside trying to get sober.”
“I was really self-conscious in addiction and found my voice in recovery.”