Chaos is the Drug

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What happens after your question is answered on the show? One of our listeners decided to follow up to push back on part of Nzinga’s response. He and Nzinga discuss what resonated, what hurt, and end up digging into much more than either of them expected.


Please note, In Recovery contains mature themes and may not be appropriate for all listeners.


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Dr. Nzinga Harrison, Preston, Claire Jones

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  00:04

Hey, everyone, this is IN RECOVERY. And I’m Dr. Nzinga Harrison. So we answer a lot of questions on this show. Each person who writes in gets a couple of minutes to say their piece, or maybe a couple of sentences. And then I respond, usually within a couple of minutes. But in reality when working in therapy, recovery, or any other kind of personal work, that’s not how it actually goes. This week, we’re talking to a listener under the pseudonym Preston, he submitted a question for our first AMA that I answered on air. And then he called in again, with a response to my answer. We invited him back because it’s so important to share what this experience could actually look like, as an ongoing conversation with your mental health team. So let’s get started. All right, Preston, thank you so much for coming on IN RECOVERY.


Thank you for having me.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

Yeah, we first met because you send in a question for one of our Ask Me Anything episodes. And you are wondering how to address multiple addictions that didn’t have to do with drugs and alcohol, but felt like they had to do with everything else in your life.


I have, you know, a pretty important job, I’ve worked for two different presidential campaigns. You know, I’m a fairly successful person. But my question to you is this, I don’t have an addiction to alcohol, I don’t have an addiction to other another hard substance like that. But I have all of these addictions to so many other things. I am severely, according to my BMI, I’m morbidly obese. So I don’t, you know, I know that I have unhealthy eating habits, I have an addiction to sugar, I have an addiction stress, I have an addiction to like Nora said in her episode, I have an addiction to kind of the negative aspects of or reaching out for negative feedback rather than positive. I have an addiction to I don’t know how to put it but you know, finding the negative and others. And you know, the list, the list could go on. And on all of these..

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  02:11

In my initial response in the AMA episode, I pointed out that Preston had opened up with all of the things he was successful at, and then quickly sort of erased all of them. And you called in and said, let me get on the couch for real. This is where you got it right. This is where it’s a little bit off. And so we wanted to take this opportunity to kind of let our listeners hear that happened in real time. So if it’s cool, I’ll jump in?


Please. I heard the episode. I was listening. And the gentleman started talking. And I thought, oh, well, that’s kind of a similar story to me. That’s interesting. And then he kept going, and I thought, oh, God, that is me. And I was struck by many things. They rang true. But I was still kind of struck by the severity of some things. Because when I spoke on the episode, I, you know, I didn’t feel like a negative person. So to hear myself talk about negativity, so much, I wondered what, what was informing that I thought, well, she’s pretty spot on some things. And the rest, you know, just kind of I thought I felt was fine. It just, it would be better informed by a discussion, I thought, well, I’ll call back and see maybe if we can dig a little deeper.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison

Before we jump into digging a little deeper. It’s so interesting. This is part of what we call in psychiatry and psychotherapy, kind of developing insight. It’s this phenomenon where you listen to somebody else, and you can hear it very differently than when you’re saying it yourself. Right? So you’re like, I remember what I said, but we don’t we don’t conceive ourselves the same way that we conceive our friends. So our friends could say something to us. And we will be like, don’t talk to yourself about that. And yet, we’re saying those same kinds of things to ourselves. So I thought it was really interesting that you said, I heard, you know, that color and thought, that’s interesting. Oh, wait, that’s me. Oh, that’s not how I thought I was presenting that. And sometimes, you know, we don’t realize either that we’re struggling or how much we’re being impacted. Until we hear it back in a more objective way or see it back on video. But so jumping into where we are now, let’s start with what did you feel was spot on from the posits I was making in the first episode that we were together.

Preston  04:54

Well, your podcast is one, Dr. Harrison where I immediately respect and appreciate the advice and the information you have to give so frequently that I often listen with a notepad, I usually invariably grab one and write some notes down. So what I thought was really helpful was the kind of tactic of how do I approach dealing with this? And how do I approach kind of prioritizing what might be most important? I think you were right, that with someone like me, and what I, you know, have to deal with, doing something where I could get a win would probably be the better approach than trying to tackle the most important or egregious, you know, problem. So I thought that was great. I do have some, you know, family history stuff that I think informs kind of where I’m at, in this day and age, I think, but I think that’s everyone, it was hard to hear. But I have thought often of myself that I am someone who puts roadblocks in my way to prove that, you know, I can be defeated by various things. You said that I was kind of self-defeating. And, you know, sometimes I either make kind of clarifying statements to show like, well, this is why that didn’t work. Or this is why this won’t be successful, because I have a feeling already of a failure, or that I’m not going to measure up.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  06:23

If it’s okay to lay on the couch in real time. So as a psychiatrist, what we do is like, listen to the two thoughts that you put next to each other, and you put next to each other, if you’re an adult, you’re affected by things that happened in your childhood. And then right next to that you put, and you pointed out that I was self-defeatist that I’ve already decided something was gonna fail. So what do you think it is about your childhood experiences that kind of set you up for that lens on the world?


Oh, boy. In my life, there was a lot of, well, this is a, this is an A, why isn’t an A+? And even if a teacher didn’t give an A+, you know, there was it just I couldn’t ever make the argument of well, this is why I couldn’t get any further than this because it just is doesn’t exist. Well, then that wasn’t that wasn’t acceptable, an acceptable answer, because just ingrained in that person’s memories that, you know, some everyone gives A+, and this should be an A+. You know, if I did something with a performance, it was, why isn’t it? You know, why aren’t you the lead instead of a supporting character or something, I mean, that was very prevalent is we were expected to be bigger, better, badder than everyone else. And, you know, even to now, it gets, you know, there are still moments of that, though, you know, at my older age, I have a better way of dealing with it and kind of stopping it at the source than I did when I didn’t have any autonomy as a child.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  08:02

I think you’re pointing out something so important. So even though you have insight into this dynamic, like you said, it’s not reasonable to expect me to be a one-person band in high school, even though as an older person now, you have insight into it, it still affects you, right? And so part of what happens to us, you have to use true cognitive power to overcome that deeper belief that was programmed into you as you were growing up. And so when you get tired, when you get sad, when you get stressed out when your emotional bandwidth is low, the ability to access that cognitive power to overcome that is harder and that’s when you become very vulnerable to it. And I’m saying you as if I’m talking directly to precedent, but I mean, us like human beings, right?

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

And so we get programmed with these beliefs that even as we grow up, and we can challenge those and say, you know, that doesn’t make sense to hold myself to an impossible standard at all times. Because that’s been programmed into us. When we’re hungry. When we’re angry when we’re lonely when we’re tired in AA and NA, they call it HALT. all of those are dopamine deplete states, then we are prey to even those childhood beliefs that we know not to be serving us now. And that’s when you really want to pay attention to protecting yourself from falling back into this self-defeatist pattern. Okay, so I got childhood exposure to perfectionism was a bit spot on putting roadblocks in your way was a bit spot on anything else that felt spot on from my initial musings?


Not that I recall. No. I mean, I feel like those are the big-ticket items.

Claire Jones  10:02

We’re gonna take a quick break, and we will be right back.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

Okay, what was off, Preston?


You know, I don’t know that I would say anything was oh, no, that that didn’t happen. Because believe me in my, even in my you know short time, you know I’ve dealt with just about anything I think it was to me it was just I was listening to it and I thought I don’t feel like this has completely informed everything about me and I live my life consciously thinking about these things. But, you know, obviously those things have informed where I’m at today. So to me, it was more just well, you know, I don’t feel like this is completely ruling my life at the moment. But I do see reflections of myself and what was being said, so yeah, you know, when I think about in recovery, and I think, you know, if your work in addiction, I didn’t automatically think and I think I may have even been a little trepidatious about listening because I’m not one who feels addicted in my life.


I’ve come to learn after listening to this and, you know, other media around addiction. I am rare in that. I don’t have anyone near me, who is addicted. I’ve tried to think about it, too. And subsequently, I could not if you said Okay, tell me someone who you know, so not you know, oh, my friend, second cousins, mom who you know, whatever. If you said someone you know someone who you’ve met someone who you’ve dealt with, who has an addiction. I don’t know that I could tell you one. I really truly don’t I know that I’m blessed in that. I don’t have any I don’t. So all that’s to say.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  12:00

Let me push on that a little bit, Preston. Because, one, thank you. Because this is exactly what we’re trying to do on in recovery is widen our concept of addiction to be anything we continue to do that negative consequences outweigh the benefits. I wonder, what do you think if I said, but what if the drug was perfectionism? Does that addiction run in your family?


Yes. And I think through having listen now to you and your and the definition that kind of that’s been more broadened about addiction of just being of doing something that is detrimental to you. And you’re continuing to do it, despite knowing it’s detrimental to you or is it being detrimental to you. And by that definition, sure. Lots of things running in my family that I think if it weren’t what you’ve called addiction, it would not be continuing, they would have stopped because it is detrimental to this, you know, to that person or to the family or whatever.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

And you’re helping me here, Preston, you’re helping me add another dimension here to how we talk about this concept on the show, because we’ve mentioned it, right? Like I say in biological, there’s genetic risk, but even beyond that translating generation to generation, psychologically, there’s generational risk. And so when we start talking about perfectionism in your family, and I’m gonna ask you, if you’re comfortable to share, like, don’t let me push you beyond what you’re comfortable. Any of those other things that you just alluded to that you’re like, if it were not addiction, it would have stopped. It’s kind of the psychological generation to generation passing this along. That happens, as well.

Preston  14:01

Yes. And I think, in my family, as a young person, there was some undiagnosed mental illness, I think in one of my parents, borderline personality disorder. And I think that kind of informed some of the I think that kind of caused some of the negative aspects of our upbringing and I say, upbringing, I have a sibling. So that is why I’m kind of cautious of laying it on addiction, where I think I think it may have just been a we don’t know how to handle this in this person. And therefore they just get to run kind of rampant and we don’t really know how to refocus it. And with that level of mental illness or with that particular mental illness and you can speak to this too I’m sure, it’s harder to bring it to the person because the very mental illness makes them irrational and spooked easily and makes him not see things as clearly or as objectively, as maybe someone who doesn’t deal with that does. But I think I was also affected by parents who were, you know, they laid at us a lot of the things they were given, right? And as an older..

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

Generational transfer.


And as an older person, you know, you see it more in their parent, kind of how they ended up this way. I often like if my, if a parent is saying something to me, and we’re, you know, and I said something, and they’re like, Oh, my God, I don’t know, where did you get? How did you get like this? I’ll say like, well, I didn’t get it from nowhere. You know, I didn’t just pick it up somewhere. You know, and because it’s, it’s resonant of them, you know. And you’re one of your actually more recent episodes, I was listening to about ACES. So I have done that a couple of times. I think there are many more that we could add to the ACES test. Because I would if I could, even if we were just keeping the ones that are there. I would want to change some of the language of some of them, because it says specifically, has your mother ever been hurt by your father or something to that effect? And I understand why it’s posed that way. But I also want to say, has your mother ever done X to your father..

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  16:29

Part of why is posed that way is just gender bias honestly, Preston.


And that’s what I, you know, kind of chalked it up to. But so if I did that, and if I just took it the way it’s written and didn’t deviate at all, I think I’m at a five if I took it, and I kind of finagle it a little bit to say, well, I would allow for a little bit broader definition of this, it’d be a six or seven. Which is another kind of just so funny. And I think anyone who’s listening, who thinks, well, you know, I was kind of like me where, well, I don’t have anyone who I don’t have an all alcoholic in the family or I don’t have someone who is addicted to opioids, but there’s a reason you’re here, right? Like there’s a reason you’re listening. And I would say, take the ACES test, see what you end, you might just surprise yourself at the number that you get.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison

More after the break. For real Preston, I’m like, about to put you on the payroll. One I wanted to say thank you for how compassionately you navigated your language around borderline personality disorder. That having a relationship, whether it’s parental relationship, romantic relationship, friendship, teaching relationship with a person who has borderline personality disorder can be very difficult because like you said, as a result of the illness itself, like it is easy to spook that person, and it’s easy to kind of trigger a big emotional response. I often say for my folks that that I’m serving that have borderline personality disorder, the addiction that we’re dealing with there is chaos. And extreme emotion. Like those are the two I see. Y’all can’t see Preston on the zoom, but he has given me the amen ahead. Yes, sister body language that, like feel so consistent with your experience?

Preston  18:32

Oh, God. Yeah, I mean, especially chaos. I hate to kind of lay it all at the feet of that. But I you know, when I think back to some of my older childhood, right? That was rampant, right? It was just chaos. And like I said, it doesn’t, it didn’t relate to poverty, it wasn’t you know, fighting over like, Oh, we can’t pay this bill. So we have to pay that bill. And you know, the lights are gonna get shut down or shut off and or we don’t have you know, food or whatever. It wasn’t even related to that. It’s just when you have someone in the mix, I think, who suffers from specifically that mental illness. It just causes a lot of chaos, because it’s like, it’s like dealing, well. I don’t know, I don’t want to say that. That might be kind of mean.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison

Well, I want you to say it. But since you caught that it might be kind of mean just try to be very intentional about language learning in a compassionate way. Because you’re probably about to share something that other people who have grown up with a pair with borderline personality disorder, need to feel validation around.


So just take the worst kid you’ve seen that, you know, the grocery store, having a tantrum and put that in a 40-year-old body and with a 40-year-old autonomy, right? Someone who’s got money and someone who’s got you know, a sense of independence and that they are you know that they don’t have the lack of being that a younger person does and, you know, put that tantrum in an older person’s body. And that’s kind of what dealing with someone who suffers from that is like, it’s an adult who is capable, having feeling like they’re in a constant state of tantrum.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  20:17

Yes, this is actually what I say, when I’m helping people who come to me because a lot of times people with borderline personality disorder get 10 other diagnoses. And they come to me, and I’m like, you know, this sounds consistent with borderline personality disorder. I’m like, I’m not saying that your personality is a disorder, like hate that naming but here are the criteria. I say, we think about intellectual delay. And I explained to my people that I’m taking care of with borderline personality disorder is like, it’s an emotional delay. Right? And it’s an emotional delay of coping skills, and distress tolerance, and emotional management. And almost always can I find the childhood experiences that helped to create those delays. But to your point, Preston, I love how compassionately you’re navigating that because a lot of times, folks with borderline personality disorder, don’t get that compassion. But also, doesn’t it make sense if you think about chaos, being the drug, that the coping mechanism was perfection? Which is complete orderliness at all times?


Yeah. And I wonder if it was a way to me it felt then and it feels now kind of a way of how do I keep them from making it’s a, it’s kind of goes back to the old the parent adage of how do I keep them from making the same mistakes? That you know, I did. And that was kind of that was a piece of it. And then I think it was also maybe a reaction of, you know, I mean, the person, even the person who’s experiencing borderline personality disorder, I, at least in my experience, they recognize it. I mean, they know it’s chaos too.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  22:06

Oh, because they’re struggling, they’re suffering too.


And I think it’s a way of trying to remedy that a bit, right? And so, you know, if I am the one who has the chaos causing mechanism, how do I create an environment that otherwise is not chaotic? Because, you know, I need that space for me and my stuff. So yeah, I do I feel that especially but you know, some of the other things too, like, I talked about that, you know, didn’t feel like addictions, like alcoholism, or, you know, opioid addiction. But even though I know, so like, specifically, food, food issues, I know that, you know, food addiction is real, and prevalent. Again, I don’t feel like one who is addicted to food, though now at this stage, especially after COVID. I mean, I just recently had a small minor surgery, and, you know, so I got to see all of my stuff, right? All of the things they give you that about, this is you, right? And, you know, my body mass technically is, you know, high, and my weight is the highest it’s ever been in my life. And, you know, so obviously, if we think about the addiction, or the definition that you use. Yeah, I mean, that’s obviously a repeat action that has negative consequences and still being done despite the fact of the negative consequences.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

Yeah, because of the benefits, right? And I love that you mentioned COVID over the last year, because back to this hungry, angry, lonely, tired, like, that’s 2020, right?

Preston  24:03

A constant state of that.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

A constant state of that. And food is nourishing, like they call it comfort food for a reason because it brings us comfort, it neurobiologically brings us a sense of safety and stability, right? The habits that we develop around food and so it doesn’t surprise me and I think probably other listeners are experiencing the same it’s the same Preston you get in the look at that medical picture of yourself as a result of that minor surgery. Is this almost the same dynamic as you listening back to your voice on the podcast, right? It’s like, I have been going through this and now you get that out of body view. And you’re like, wow, this is something different than I recognized it to be.


Yeah, and, you know, in during the pandemic, and I’m sure others can relate to this, you know, I picked up all kinds of fun little habits, you know. And I say that facetiously. You know, there’s all kinds of, you know, fun new things. that I didn’t do that I wouldn’t necessarily. I wouldn’t have done otherwise, right? Some can be detrimental. I’m thinking like, spending? I think, you know, so many people probably spent more than they really wanted to, right?

Dr. Nzinga Harrison 

Oh, man, count me in.


Spending, and not even for, I mean, I bought plenty of things that I enjoy. But, you know, I picked up a new love of collecting and spent way too much money at that right now, in the moment, when I look at it after we’re, you know, after we’re done with COVID, it might look ridiculous, but in the moment, it was, you know, it just is it was comforting.


Yeah. And it, it was a way of almost building community now community with myself. But, you know, trying to bring things in that would be comforting and kind of fill the void of being around people, right? And especially as someone who is a pretty gregarious person, someone who likes people, COVID probably hit a little harder than someone who’s a little bit easier to be alone. So just things like that are what I’m talking about. And that is, that’s another thing. I’ve hit the Lorazepam hard, the Adamant hard, which I have. I have for work just I’m a singer and a performer. So I started taking that as like, okay, I have an audition, or I have a performance and my anxiety gets off the charts. Well, this event, I mean, I have gone through it, you know

Claire Jones  26:54

Hey, everyone, Claire here, just popping in to say that Preston shared a story within Nzinga and I that he wanted to keep private. But I will say it was a pretty traumatic story. So just know that whenever he refers back to the events, like he just did, or it or anything like that, that’s what he’s talking about is the story. So keep that in mind. And let’s get back to the episode.


And I don’t take them like handfuls. I mean, I take them, you know, one at a time or two at a time sometimes. But before where I could take, I could get a prescription filled for that 30. And that, literally, when this happened, I had to call my doctor to get the prescription re-activated, because I’d gone so long without it. That it had expired. And, you know, I mean, I’ve burned through them.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison

These are all warning signs, Preston. You’re struggling. And we always talk about the magic formula. I don’t know, what are the pieces of your formula you’ve mentioned in being an extrovert and needing people, you have to one, listen to the grief episode. Because this is what’s happening. You’ve got to get the pieces of your formula in place, and it can’t be smoking, and it can’t be Ativan. Because that’s setting you up for things getting worse. But like a therapist hanging out with friends, a journal reflecting another podcast, like however you can put together your formula because your heart and soul and brain are just screaming out to you that this has kicked you over the ledge, you are beyond your ability to cope.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison  28:41

To close out the episode, I would love you know, we’re trying to focus this season on getting in recovery from whatever we need to be a recovery from especially the last year kind of this broader mental health lens. And I really have appreciated your approach to just sending in the AMA that I’ve seen you take it today, the knowledge you were dropping on us earlier. And so I would love to just close with you, giving us a reflection, from your perspective for the rest of listeners. And you can either be like, this is what I’m going to try to do in terms of recovery from the past year, or ideas that you have for others, just like some words of wisdom by Preston.


Well, you know, I think what we’ve all gone through collectively over the last year is you know, so beyond what any of us could have ever imagined, right? I don’t know anyone who was tracking on a global pandemic, right? And thought like, you know, oh, this is just something you know, that we might, you know, need to be prepared for right? People far above my paygrade probably were thinking in those terms, but For me, I know that it has spooked me in greater ways than I think shook me maybe a more apt, current word. I know, it’s shook me deeper than I think even I kind of consciously know. I see it manifests itself by if there’s a choice to go out or to stay in, I sometimes want to stay in. When ordinarily, I’d be like, Hell no, let’s go out. Let’s do this. Let’s I don’t mean like, go party. I mean, like, even if someone said, hey, can I come to your office for this meeting? I want to show you, whatever, whatever.

Preston  30:36

I’ll be like, well, how about we, you know, let’s do a virtual thing, you know. And it’s not because I don’t want to be around them. It may be because I don’t want to shower and go be with them. So I know in myself that is not just laziness. And it’s not just in me, that is, I’m still a little spooked to try to kind of step my foot out of the door, right? And I can imagine that a lot of people feel that way. So I would just encourage everyone, and I’ll heed my own advice. I’m going to make a conscious effort to do this better this week to step out that if you’re vaccinated, it’s okay to do more than you might think you’re necessarily ready for because you might surprise yourself. And I know that enough about myself that if I go a little bit further than I might be comfortable with just in the moment that I’ll probably surprise myself at how comfortable I am in it. And then that will just keep me kind of going to the future back to a state where I’m not relying on some of these external factors to make myself feel more relaxed or more normal. Right.

Dr. Nzinga Harrison

That’s beautiful. I want to put bold underscore, italics, capitals, exclamation points, quote, the past year shook me deeper than I consciously knew. So powerful, so powerful. Well, Preston, thank you for your first AMA question. Thank you for your second response. Thank you for coming on the show. Please stay connected.

Preston  32:18

You bet. You bet.

Claire Jones

Okay, that is it for this week’s episode of IN RECOVERY. Thank you to Preston and everyone else who calls and writes in to the show that is what makes this possible. If you want to write in or ask Nzinga a question you can add 833-453-6662 or at We’ll see you next week.


IN RECOVERY is a Lemonada Media Original. This show is produced by Claire Jones and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Jackie Danziger is our supervising producer. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad with additional music by Kuraev. Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer are our executive producers. Rate us, review us, and say nice things. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me on Twitter at @naharrisonmd. If you’ve learned from us, share the show with your others. Let’s help to stigmatize addiction together.


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