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050 - Laura Simon-Sulzer

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

“Breathing is the golden gate for everything.” Laura Simon-Sulzer joins to tell us about her journey from childhood in Paris, through warzones like Bosnia, Chechnya, and Yugoslavia as a war reporter, and a position as a White House Correspondent for Radio France before landing at the Hazeldon Treatment Center in Minnesota. She talks about codependency, becoming an expert in addiction disorders, and constantly revisiting her character defects. She specializes in discreet, custom tailored addiction treatment. Enjoy.

The Illuminate Recovery Podcast is about Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Addiction Recovery. Shining light on ways to cope, manage, and inspire. Beyond the self care we discuss, you may need the help of a licensed professional. Curt Neider and Shelley Mangum are a part of Illuminate Billing Advocates ( They are committed to helping better the industry and adding value to the lives of listeners by sharing tools, insights, and success stories of those who are working on their mental health.

Transcript (no grammar): breathing is the golden gate for everything lara simon solzer joins us to tell us about her journey from childhood in paris through war zones like bosnia chechnya and yugoslavia as a war reporter and a position as a white house correspondent for radio france before landing at the hazelden treatment center in minnesota she talks about codependency becoming an expert in addiction disorders and constantly revisiting her character defects she specializes in discrete custom tailored addiction treatment enjoy welcome to the illuminate recovery podcast we shed light on mental health issues mental illness and addiction recovery ways to cope manage and inspire beyond the self-care we will discuss you may need the help of a licensed professional my name is kurt neider i'm a husband father entrepreneur a handyman and a student of life i avoid a conflict i deflect with humor and i'm fascinated by the human experience and i'm shelley mangum i am a clinical mental health counselor and my favorite role of all times is grandma i am a seeker of truth and i feel like life should be approached with tremendous curiosity i ask the dumb questions i fill in the gaps the illuminate recovery podcast is brought to you by illuminate billing advocates make billing and collections simple with leader in substance abuse and mental health billing services verification and analysis of benefits pre-authorizations utilization management accurate claim submission and management denial and appeal management and industry leading reporting improve your practice's cash flow and your ability to help your clients with eliminate billing advocates laura simon sulzer is with us today kurt and i are so excited to be able to talk with laura she is a an addiction recovery coach definitely recognizes the need for discreet custom tailored addiction reproach um she has she comes from the institute of coaching at harvard medical school and she's a fellow there um and researchers she also has a master's degree in addiction disorder and journalism and also french literature so a wide variety of educational background she's from great falls virginia um and laura thank you so much for visiting with us today and sharing your experiences you're so welcome i'm wondering laura i can tell that you you probably don't originate from the united states can you tell us a little bit about where you come from and how you ended up here well nobody being perfect i'm from france i was born and raised in paris from um very dysfunctional family with a father who isn't was an alcoholic coming to the suicide when he was 83 um because he had no treatment so being a french alcoholic and children of alcoholic and dysfunctional family there was no way for me to survive in that country the cultural country and so on they're zero for the treatment model of addiction and in europe except for the anglo-saxon model they are pretty much zero so i was dying uh i was not saying to myself immediately that that was an alcoholic it would be too easy actually i started with food um you know after the war when i was born big was great because big babies you know that was the country of starvation during the war that was uh big was beautiful so i was a cherry kid i was over eight constantly over over eight and uh my mother being the uh food addict she is was taking that pretext to go to the pastries paris with me and so on and so forth so was the collateral victim of her addiction but i was born with that uh natural tendency you know i cannot eat an ounce of sugar without willing to have more and uh it's like a drink um i saw my family uh getting so happy and so and especially men when they started drinking on thunder reunions or so and as i didn't develop an attachment with my mother i wanted to be like the man and the men were super happy they had drinks and they loved fang and saying big beautiful stupid stories you know with big words i said i yeah i want to be like that and the first my first contact with alcohol was a um house italian and in la grappa no in the italian wine or later you put a cube of sugar and you eat it after after lunch and of course it multiplies the effect of alcohol and you have that when you're a serious kid or when you're seven actually i did it myself long before i had my duck it's called a duck i cannot and um so sugar and alcohol were associated for me with pleasure normal belonging uh having power uh not like my mother and uh i i don't like to stand on 11 but the first thing i i did when i had um some alimony some some money for myself um when i was a kid they gave me my money and um i went to buy a bottle of red the wine we're in friends and friends so at the corner of the street there's a guy who sells alcohol and i'm here i'm 10 11 and he knows me you know so i i buy a bottle for my father except that i didn't have a lot of money so i buy terrible red wine and uh i'm alone in the house for once my my siblings are not there i'm the first of four and i would shield against my father um but i just stand up in front of a giant mirror you know where i can see myself from the top of my head to the bottom of my shoe and i experiment i take a sip i take two sips it's it was like psychology you know applied psychology and i am at the top of the world until it's my ninth sip and then i realize i cannot stop but i'm dancing and and i get sick and i finish the bottle of course and i throw up um you think it would have stopped me not at all i love the first impression and i continued and uh i was a brilliant kid in school for what i loved like latin french literature story blah blah blah blah blah blah but in math for example i was terrible so every time i had to to have a and to pass an exam or i had a little drink you know like my father my father came to i'm an abused kid um emotionally sexually by my father um who didn't realize when he was drunk that i was not his mistress uh he had to deal with my mother my mother didn't deal with his problems so when she didn't want him um he came to my room in the middle of the night or and i already always had from sleeping because i didn't know what to expect next when from that kind of family you are walking leg shells you are always on alert your cortisol level is super high your old brain is always ready to fight so you never in the green zone you're in the red zone what we call in neuroscience the red zone and refer rick hansen or tara brack for that so i was constantly hypervillaging and i remember when my father was coming back from his work and he was very successful i could hear at the sound of the tires in the garage in what moody was going to be and what i had to do so everybody was going flying up in the uppers of the floors and three brothers and sisters my mother uh who showed very little courage and uh and i had to deal with with that and i had to to do what i have to do to calm him down his depression he threatens his threats to commit a suicide and so on and so forth so i don't want to be a victim it's just my situation it happened to many guy guys and girls like me when it started being a problem i i always wanted to survive and live in the solution so what do i do uh the solution first is alcohol more alcohol than heroin um and i find always the worst guy because they abuse me of course i repeat the pattern so surprise surprise i'm i'm making the shots of my first boyfriend who sells me to his uh dealer for having sex my for my first experience and i don't realize because i i do that out of love but um so long story short i become i i wanted to become um to be in the military and uh so i went to see the recruiter and i told him point blank i want to be a soldier yeah super you've got great grades you've got your degree and this and that um do you have an idea yeah my idea is to go to the front lines and shoot my enemy idiot and says i'm sorry without that and no we we can't it was in 78 in the french army forget about it so he's still laughing at this point if uh at me if he uh if he's still alive but i was not laughing at all and i became a war reporter and i went to combat and you know in that little world of war reporters we drink a lot we used to drink a lot we have a lot of sex uh and we're living on constant uh high of if it's not booze or drugs is adrenaline and that's the most addictive powerful thing i have tasted and i still miss it to this day in recovery um i become a famous alcoholic reporter in france in france i'm one of the first women who is doing that job very difficult to um to have a career and being respected so you have to double to to work twice three times the same this like like a man but and uh at one point i was in a very very um abusive uh situation with a man after nine ten years and uh i was miserable and was drinking like a fish and by myself i'm sorry i've got no low bottom story socially i was drinking three or four bottles of champagne every night by myself but everyone has his own button plus wine and plus um and then i realized that i had a problem with alcohol and i called an alcohol gist in paris a very snubby guy who said yes you have a problem with alcohol you called me twice last night you don't remember that we had an appointment made already and i was um put into an institution and i was given so much medication i didn't know where i was who i was i gained weight and after a few weeks of this treatment at the end uh they took me in their office and you say and you know on the top of that you don't drink yeah right so you're in paris you're free to go you take your car you're on the medication the first thing you see at the corner of the street is a bar so it was not a success for me and uh they told me go to aa which i did and uh the first time i pushed the door to a8 was full of old men for me i was in my 20s or 30s and uh you know it was not good enough for me and after and on the top of that they were asking for my phone number who do you think you are guys you want my freaking phone number go to hell you know and they had crazy stories and uh and they were losers for me uh and i didn't know it was the biggest one in the room of course at the time because all my defects of character was where i had no defects of character it was always blame others was my my way out and i was literally dying um i was covering wars like uh somalia chechnya um yugoslavia i couldn't i could barely talk on here and i was drinking so much wine and every night every moment i could find alone i was on my knees asking for help to a higher power and i didn't know who it was i didn't know what it was but i knew there was something that i could rely on because it was in my history i survived i always survived i will survive this time but this time i cannot do it myself so basically i did my step one without knowing it you know and one day came into my life a guy richard roman who used to be the owner of the most trendy like club 54 in paris the bus palladium where i spent my nights for years and a lot of money and he had lost everything he came from jail but he was over and clean and uh he decided that he would make a 12 step with me why me i don't know but god had this in my my my request and for me it took a few months before it brought me to literally from chechnya to hazelden minnesota where i stopped drinking it's a treatment center but he told me no it took two or three years of me telling you about my story and so and so again denial but it came literally with me accompanying me totally drawn from perry charles de gaulle to chicago air and then to hassle then and hustle then in the treatment center and i said i know it's the end of the road for me it may be a new life but there was nobody it was on a thursday night and it was dark and i was burning on the on the uh the doors do you know who i am i'm the famous laura simon you don't expect me who are you and i was going to do their fourth steps you know and suddenly a door cracked up and a nurse showed up and said shh they're all sleeping and it's um thanksgiving thanks what and i didn't use these words but in okay i was in detox richard smith for a few uh a few days as an alumni and i was like to swim in the pool you know even if i but they gave me the the tools and from that day on i wanted to i understood the program i never graduate because we don't graduate you know but i was ready for the quest i found what i was looking for in life as a mission or my passion it was to understand better myself in helping others because before i was comparing out i was better than less than not enough don't be long uh so maybe instead of talking about defects of character i would say defense mechanism to be nicer but they were terrible and they had a terrible impact on me and my and my uh my family my friends my my bosses my colleagues and um at the end of the um the the state it was supposed to be four weeks and i stayed five because i didn't want to surrender they said you have to surrender say wait i'm french we surrendered it enough in our history now okay so i want surrender okay that i don't like that vocabulary of losers okay you you you the door is open finally i surrendered using another word because i discovered that there was the little word of four letters care is related to the care of god and for me god was a punishing man and i i didn't trust anybody especially if not myself in that cruel world so here i am back to paris another world uh very hard first time a first year in recovery but i managed to be assigned as the correspondent at the white house for my company um i was still a journalist and the correspondent for the united states last two three years and at one point i said okay if i want to make progress in my recovery i cannot stay in that ego land um and i cannot make progress so i'm gonna i'm gonna drop i'm gonna drop that and i did take a deep leap of faith and uh and i studied addiction counseling and uh i met my husband he's an american from new york and um we got married and i'm a city girl and he wanted to be in virginia and i was in virginia not drinking not doing anything special you know vanilla life for me and i i gained 80 90 pounds and that's the old thing i was doing all day long complaining about my life and eating and eating corn syrup and junk food from the united states which is the worst and the best for an addict and you know you have very high powerful products for to shoot you know and uh and i'm i'm a certified addiction counselor ready to go to uh for licensure and um i've got a problem with the board because um sometimes boards of mafia so i was ready for uh my licensure i got the mentors the mentor i had the thousands and thousands and thousands years of hours of we certified you on the basis of your um master in california but we don't get it for the licensure my my husband was a lawyer you you you don't go after the the city hall i lost and i was very bitter and what what do i do i eat more and i complain more and i'm the victim and at one point i said to myself okay i'm a fat um suburban wife in a stupid world and i take my 45 with two bullets and i say my family rejected me i'm not well married i'm a failure i'm fat like when i go back to france it's it's just i'm treated like crap i'm gonna commit to suicide you know and then i think yeah but committing a suicide is one thing but i know that it's going to hurt the people that i love most in my life like my brothers and there was a church just across the street i was not the catholic at the time and uh but you know our power is a higher value we find it where we can so i cross the street and it's uh wednesday afternoon 1 30 pm there's nobody in the church except the manson's guy who doesn't speak english i don't speak spanish but he clearly explains to me that there was no priest in that church that could save my life and i was subbing with my 45 in my my purse and and i was uh finally i knocked at the door knocked the door knocked the door knocked the door for long minutes and when you're radio journalist you know minutes it's it's really long and the door opens from the office where the priest um stay and a guy appears and he doesn't tell me how can i help you said what do you want said you're a freaking priest and he said yes so you have to save my freaking life and i spent one hour with him and it saved my life and and from that day on i decided that i could be a victim of my father the past the society whatever whatever but i'm no more a victim at this moment that is enough the victimization in the society for me is the country of the spirit of the program we have something in common and we compare wherever we come from rich poor black white asian whatever lgbt or not we come to the rooms not to act out and criticize the others we have that solution because we have that problem in common and most of them because we have the solution so i decided that that i was not going to be a victim anymore and since then my life is financially much worse than it has been i mean it's just it's another life but i'm happy i'm happy and when i'm not i do it 10 step where have you been dishonest afraid resentful um selfish selfish is the big one so i take my list of character defects and i rate them i do a raid r for recognize the feeling let's say it's frustration a for accept i've got to sit with that mf you know and talk to him on it and have a dialogue and i have to accept that i'm jealous angry resentful everything i don't like about me or others for that matter and then i for interview so i make an interrogation i make an interview with that feeling what you use for me what what what do you mean what is are you a red flag are you something that comes back very often in my life when and when when was the first time i felt you and so on and so forth and d detach and give that to god my my eighth step you know i only ask you to remove my shortcomings that helps a lot so as far as my practice is concerned i'm a recovery coach and i'm specialized in codependence because i think it's the mother of a lot of addictions and if even if people don't use necessarily the the traits of character we develop by being codependent because we were raised and born in a family where dysfunctions were so high that we had to survive and not to strive for life um a common core of traits of character we are very often people pleaser um seeking for proof seeking approval um complainers sometimes um well we have a lot of features like this and when a client approaches me and doesn't really tell me i've got a problem with alcohol i want to stop not everybody is like that not at this stage i use the i use a method that surprised me by its success recently i i tell them okay how are you co-dependent i give them questionnaires um if their attention spam is longer than 20 i can give them more and uh and it's very interesting because they have the power of discovering themselves and discovering what they could change because there is a solution they can be the opposite and that's the beauty the beauty in uh cbt because you know cognitive and you change your behavior and pretty much at the end everybody wants to stop drinking or using because they realize that bottom line yeah it's maybe not the problem but it's it just crystallized the the problem and you want to get rid of that so that's pretty much about my little life uh for now i'm 61 i live in the woods um in northern virginia uh sometimes i'm brought to tears but i've got my clients and uh and sometimes i'm very just happy to be there before i had to do and to be some some someone i'm i'm i'm just i'm just just that um and a publisher asked me to to to write a book about my life in a freaking way not interesting except for our colleagues maybe or addicts for that matter i've been uh addicted to caffeine and denzel's among other treats like that um he wanted to call that from paris to great falls like great falls was the end of the road you know the the rat hall it's not at all i'm i'm more happy than if i were staying with you in france idiot so by the way would be dead incapacitated or in an institution so thank you very much have a nice day let me leave my humble life which i defined by um trying to be not not considering myself above or under anybody um taking responsibility for my actions um setting healthy boundaries because i had problems with that and i helped my clients pretty pretty well with that and because i used to to to to set boundaries but they were very temporary or they were very violently expressed so doesn't work this way and if you have any questions i'm yours so yeah lots of questions one would be i mean now you're in great falls right you're at the end of the road so you know in the last year and a half with covet everything's kind of gone online and to telehealth that kind of thing how how have you kind of run your business in the past and how are you running it now are you do you do everything on zoom do you do everything online with your clients or most your clients there nearby it has been a match um clients i had before continued to come with masks if they were willing sometimes codependents where the narcissist's [Music] wife uh said no you don't come see her so they don't zoom now they're the vaccine everybody's back but i've got clients in california so uh it's a long commute and uh there's a way to uh work through zoom and uh or other outfits for that matter but um and i give them more assignments i like to give my clients assignments because i want them to be responsible for their recovery i can walk talk the talk they have to walk the walk and it's sometimes pretty funny to do sometimes it's hard but i'm also available 24 hour seven so when they have a crisis it can be midnight for me and uh they can call me so the the the first 15 minutes are free and and then we we walk we work on the exercise if there is anything a relapse a bad feeling that we need to rate and and the person cannot do it by ourself or himself because you know it's overwhelming especially in early recovery laura let me ask you a question you've told i mean in this incredible story and it's an incredible story but it's filled with with abuse and and addiction and you know it's compiled it's that complex a really complex history that you shared and and you talked about being hyper vigilant and walking on eggshells and and some of those behaviors that are attached to post-traumatic stress disorder is that something else that you've that you've worked on and deal with well it's a constant progress you know um co-dependence anonymous um the 12-step program have have really saved my life as i was in recovery from good altering substances uh they have a beautiful questionnaire uh actually called the patterns of codependency versus the patterns of uh recovery so i could i could literally go through them and i saw my portrait just getting off to my face like a drawing uh i have another question is um alcoholics um no adult child children of alcoholics helped me a lot um i've got a tendency to be so harsh with myself you know and uh i have to be more gentle i can help others but i have to help myself first and that's what my family doesn't understand in france they want me to be super successful like i used to be i don't care about that i have to be sober first i have to save my own skin and to go to aaa to go to oh i mean meeting every day one meeting a day at least with a podcast or something and i call uh so that's my priority if i don't put my self first my recovery first i cannot help anybody and i cannot survive it's like you know they told you they tell you when you take the plane if the oxygen mask falls down put it first to yourself then help your children it's the same thing so that's what i learned and neuroscience helped me a lot um through studies meditation uh becoming the agitated or hyperactive brain i was talking about eric hansen or tara bragg but there are multiple people um i like the the new movie of gabor mate that canadian doctor about the trauma of childhood however i think that he's right when he's right but he tends to underestimate the uh genetic factor of the disease but it's just my opinion it's a good reference um for love addicts i would advise um i would say go immediately to not melody beatty but pia melody who was one of the pioneers in the 80s at the meadows in arizona of the concept of co-dependency and its solutions i go to susan forwards who was a phd and worked on the characteristic of the abusers because it's important to recognize your enemy otherwise you you know you wear the golden sword but you you you're fighting ghosts you don't know where they are in front of you so and it's not necessarily a struggle or as i always put that in terms of combat violence no it can be much more so i try to go back to the green zone by breathing breathing is the golden gate for everything you know you take long deep breath and exhale twice as long and your your mid your middle brain whether it's the amygdala or it's the hippocampus it's it's about your ans your nervous system i have to go from the over agitation to calm using the breathe the breathing because i know i need my parasympathetic system to calm down and there are many techniques for that it's too it would be too long to explain but absolutely and it sounds like you're very active still in your recovery it's not right it's not over it's a journey to the end of our life right it is yeah that's the only one that was ever interesting to me but so what's next on your journey laura what's what are you doing next to to further your recovery for my recovery um i think i'm gonna dedicate more time for to um adult child of alcoholics because i think it's the last frontier it goes deeper than coda um and my last addiction is nicotine um and um next monday i quit so i've got my plan i've got my gut squad which i call also my bmw squad because i'm gonna be a bitching moaning and whining to them for at least three weeks but they are prepared i love it and there's nicotine anonymous there's some patches and uh and if i have to bite my pillow you know i've been through uh detox from sugar it looks like nothing it's the worst it's worse than heroin believe me it's you want to die you don't know how to exist they exist and you you all yourself like craving for more sugar and more um by the way sweeteners because all these artificial things are even worse than the sugar by the way yeah for sure and so if you had to this is an interesting thing i've never asked anybody this but if you have to rate the hardest substance that you that you came off of what would you say it would be and i know that you've tried you've tried nicotine before so some people i've heard say nicotine is probably the hardest substance to to quit using but i would agree with that okay um i would put the herring but you know i was not an aeronautic like now with fentanyl so i cannot talk for them because it must be terrible to be off of fentanyl but then i i would put sugar and stopping to drink was a piece of cake i just had to be accompanied and and to have the tools of the program it was a piece of cake and don't get me wrong i was super alcoholized i mean i was i was drinking like a fish for my constitution so i mean i tell you in a week or two what i think it does i like that i like that approach right you're just not sure but you're going to do it one way or the other and you got a plan and i love that we're going to have to check back in with you and see how it goes please please be my bmw squad i love it laura you've shared a just an incredible story and i know you've shared it because it was your life and it's all you knew but from my standpoint there's a tremendous amount of trauma and and just wounds the codependency is just one point you know one piece of that right is you were taught how to be codependent and and to learn something different you have to expose yourself to very different thinking very different ideas and it's it really does take a long time and i can tell you've done a tremendous amount of work and you're really passionate about it and helping other people now learn from you know from your experience and so i'm sorry you made me realize something today actually that the courage is not to go after you know uh under the bomb bombing from nato or uh it's not going uh to afghanistan with the mujahideens it's just having the courage of being myself and accepting myself for who i am and not what i pretend or what others want and that requires tremendous courage and it's it's really hard it's really hard but i can help well it is because isn't that at the core what every one of us questions is if we're enough if we're good enough if if we have enough if we're smart enough if we're you know it's always that enough question and at the core most people i think experience that that same struggle that's true i love that you bring that up because you're right it's all the other stuff is just kind of peripheral not your mediation humility yeah humiliation people talking about that to me you made me make a lot of progress today that's fantastic i love that we can do the journey together because uh i think we can't do it alone for sure laura well done guys it was a pleasure yeah this was so cool it was very very very helpful to me as well so thank you and we'll stay in touch yeah and the name of my company is custom addiction recovery anonymous llc so it's www dot carer c-a-r-a-l-l-c dot com and my phone number is three 202-491-8837 or anytime fantastic and i know people will want to talk to you because you're super fun to talk to thanks for sharing your story thank you girl thank you shelly and talk to you soon was a pleasure okay have a good day bye

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