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The Nameless Recovery Show
Episode #10 Brandon Lee

Child Abuse, Internet Trolls & Breaking Anonymity.

Estil Wallace:

Good. Excellent. Welcome. We are rolling right into another episode of The Nameless Recovery Show. This’ll be the first one of the new year, 2021. Welcome news anchor, journalist, best selling author-

Brandon Lee:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

Brandon Lee.

Brandon Lee:

It’s good to be here man. It’s good to be here. I always love being on a podcast. As I always say, shooting the shit about recovery.

Estil Wallace:

Right on.

Brandon Lee:

Especially during the holidays, during the new year. 2020 was a mess. Hopefully 2021 will be a lot better.

Estil Wallace:

Holy crap. What a shit show it’s been.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah, it’s been tough.

Estil Wallace:

So first thing’s first, I read your book. I say read. I listened to your book, which is cool that you actually did all of the narrating yourself.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

The voice work.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. I couldn’t imagine … Well first off, I couldn’t imagine writing a book and then have somebody else voice it. I felt like A, my profession, all I do is read for a living and broadcast so I was like, “No no no. Of course I’m going to read my own book. I know the emotion of it. I know the happy moments, the sad moment. If you hire somebody else to do it it’s just monotone.”

Estil Wallace:

Sure. Sure. And I prefer … And I do a lot of Audible so I prefer books read by the author.

Brandon Lee:

That’s easy man. Just like a podcast man. You just hit play when you’re driving and listen.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. You know what, that changed my book reading life because I’ve been a reader for a lot of years. I guess when I got sober I started reading for pleasure. And I probably got through two to four books a year and then with the introduction of Audible into my life it started turning into a couple books a month.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. So here’s the thing. Like for me, I’ve always had really difficult reading comprehension even as a child. Like I would read a paragraph or read a couple pages and my mind would drift and I’d be like what did I just read? And I would find myself having to go back pages just to figure it out. But I’m a visual learner so I can watch a movie a couple of times and have the whole movie memorized. And so-

Estil Wallace:

Movie lines are a big deal in my life.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. And so I can listen to something and retain it almost 100% out of 100%. If I’m listening to something or I’m watching something, I can remember everything. If I read something it takes me a while.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. That’s cool. Yeah I appreciate that you read it yourself. Now, getting through the entire book like you were just saying before we started, yeah, definitely an open book. I love the transparency. I think … How should I say this? In my estimation one of my favorite things about you and the way you present, particularly in the book, it’s authentic. It’s you. You’re not pulling any punches. You’re like hey, this is really where I came from. I’m right in the middle of David Goggins book right now and he’s very similar. It’s very raw. It’s very heavy shit to be honest.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

I just want to say thank you for that. I appreciate the honesty, the transparency. What we’re talking about, the subject matter of your book, the subject matter of addiction, recovery, all things in between, it’s gnarly and we shouldn’t be afraid to use genuine and authentic language to describe it because it’s heartbreaking.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. In all honesty, I couldn’t imagine writing a book without it just being everything. And I think one of the life lessons that I learned with that was that I truly have no skeletons in my closet. Like I have none. Not one. Not a single one. And it is the most freeing feeling knowing that you have no skeletons in your closet because you have no secrets anymore. And so to be able to put that out there and put it onto the public … One of my favorite movies is 8 Mile with Eminem.

Estil Wallace:

I was just thinking the same thing. When he uses in the last battle.

Brandon Lee:

It’s the last battle. And that’s like-

Estil Wallace:

He uses everything that they want to use against him. All of his weak points, all of his failure points, he turns into a rap and he’s like, what are you going to say now?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. And what did the guy have to say? He has nothing to say. Not even a word. I always laugh because some people are always like, “Man, you should run for politics. You’re so just a truth speaker. You’re super authentic. You call a spade a spade.” And I laugh about it but I’m like god, if I ever did run for politics I would sign my book and I would give it to my opponent. I was like now go tell the world something that they don’t already know about me. Go do as many nasty political ads that you can.

Estil Wallace:

Anything. Do your worst.

Brandon Lee:

Bring it at me because … And here’s another life lesson, is that what I would love people to know is that I go into the true nitty gritty of some of the things that I did. Whether it be like at the darkest part of my life, hanging out with people who worship Satan. And myself going and for about six months trying to get HIV just so I can live a free sexual lifestyle that I wanted to live with no regrets, no nothing. And so I put all that out there. The day before my book was supposed to be published I had one last chance to go out and pull and edit anything that I wanted to and immediately went into fear mode. So I started deleting sections of the book. Something happened overnight. I woke up the next morning and said, “What are doing? Put it all back in and let the chips fall where they may.” Will certain doors be closed to me? Absolutely. Have they? Yes they have. But the right doors have opened. And actually that’s what led me back here to Arizona.

Estil Wallace:

Any doors you could say?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I won’t call the network out in particular-

Estil Wallace:

Sure. But there have been networks that were like, “Hey, we don’t really want your kind here.”?

Brandon Lee:

I had a job offer to be one of the main anchors in Los Angeles in my hometown and then they found out I was writing a book and they pulled the offer.

Estil Wallace:

Just on the basis that hey, this guy’s writing a book. He’s going to talk. It’s going to be let it all hang out, talk about addiction and shit.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. And that I was going to go around and speak publicly about it at mental health summits and they were just like, “No, no, no, no. That can’t be one of the faces of our network.” And that being said, fine. I’m glad that they did that because had I taken that job and had they not said that at that time and found that out later, that would have killed my soul. It would have killed me because I don’t want my life just to be a news anchor. I’m not just a journalist. That is a very small facet of my life. It’s an important facet of my life because I love sharing stories and I love getting to know people and sharing their stories for other people to see and be inspired by. So I love that. But it’s not my whole life. And so I’m grateful that that opportunity closed. And the life lesson that I learned … Was I devastated? Yes. Did I cry for a week? Absolutely.

Brandon Lee:

LA’s my hometown and to be able to get to that level in this business is huge. But at the same time I would have been miserable. And so speaking your truth, letting the chips fall where they may will land you where you’re supposed to be and this is where I’m supposed to be right now.

Estil Wallace:

That’s good. I worked in marketing prior to getting into treatment and by the very nature of what I did, I didn’t interface with a lot of people and I didn’t really interface with the public so there wasn’t much of that. Occasionally I would have an employee ask me. Like, “Did I hear you say you don’t drink?” So it would come up occasionally. And now working in the treatment space, I let my tattoos show, I use the fuck word all the time and it’s like whatever. And it’s nice to just be myself all the time. And I say all the time. It’s not like I’ve had to hide particularly and I haven’t lived a very public facing life all things told, not like you have. But in professional arenas I’ve for a long time felt the need to edit and hold back and not being fake me but being less than what I really am. And it’s nice to be able to just be me all the time in a professional setting.

Brandon Lee:

I want people to feel that no matter what professional setting they’re in. Whether they’re a news anchor, whether they’re an attorney, whether they’re the CEO of a company. It doesn’t matter. But I get it. I’m covered with tattoos like, honestly, a character out of Prison Break. I mean I’m body wrapped.

Estil Wallace:

Are you wrapped?

Brandon Lee:

I’m wrapped. No, not on my … I’ve just started on my legs, my knees but like from the waist up you don’t see regular skin. I’m just covered.

Estil Wallace:

Really? Torso?

Brandon Lee:

Everything. Everything.

Estil Wallace:

Part of my stomach is done. God, I can only imagine if the whole thing were done.

Brandon Lee:

It’s a lot. It felt like somebody was taking a lighter to your skin and just holding it close and just a slow burn. Especially when they’re shading. That being said but here’s the thing, when I took this job in Arizona and I was interviewing … And this is going back about eight years. They knew of my tattoos at Arizona’s Family. Listen, I get it. They were just like, “Listen, if we do end up hiring you we can’t be showing your tattoos on TV. We just can’t.” And I agreed to that.

Estil Wallace:

And you’re right to the line. I mean like mine are you’re right to the line where you can wear a collared shirt.

Brandon Lee:

I can. I tell people, don’t go as low as I did. I always tell people, just go to your elbow that way you can roll up a business shirt.

Estil Wallace:

You could, yeah.

Brandon Lee:

You want to be able to-

Estil Wallace:

With mine, I roll them up and you can see them.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. So always tell … People ask me all the time, I’m like, “Don’t be me. Don’t make it that much more challenging.” We haven’t got to the full acceptance of tattoos. There’s a stereotype out there. Granted I’m trying to-

Estil Wallace:

I’m not entirely sure what it is.

Brandon Lee:

I’m slowly breaking it.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. I’m not entirely sure what it even means.

Brandon Lee:

Well, I think it goes back to … To be quite honest with you, I think it just goes back to biker gangs and I think that that’s the affiliation that people have with tattoos still and that generation.

Estil Wallace:

They’re like, you’re a bad person. Something about the-

Brandon Lee:

You see tattoos you’re automatically bad. And we haven’t broken through that stigma yet.

Estil Wallace:

I guess we haven’t and I’m so accustomed … So I get sober. I had tattoos before I got sober and then I got more tattoos in sobriety and my whole life has been inundated with people in recovery, people with an active addiction and then in the digital marketing world I mean, a lot of guys that work on computer-

Brandon Lee:

Well it’s a creative space. So it’s definitely-

Estil Wallace:

I’ve always kind of lived in a place where tattoos were totally fine with everybody in my life.

Brandon Lee:

Well, definitely not my profession.

Estil Wallace:

No.

Brandon Lee:

There’s a lot of squares. I get it. You’re the journalist. It’s very straight and narrow. But what I will this is that over the course of the eight years it is so interesting because my bosses … Like I have the best relationship with my bosses. Like they’re friends. From the general manager or station manager, all the executives, we’re true friends.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Brandon Lee:

And so because they’ve gotten to know me as a person rather than as a person interviewing for a job, they’ve come to me and they’re just like, “Dude, you can show your tattoos, we don’t care. Like we just don’t care.” Because they’ve gotten to know me as a person and so they don’t even see the tattoos when they think of me anymore. And so-

Estil Wallace:

Do you ever roll the sleeves up a little bit on camera?

Brandon Lee:

There are times in the summertime if they do have me out on something like I have to. I can’t be out in 115 degrees heat wearing full long sleeves.

Estil Wallace:

I don’t really watch local news. I guess I’ve seen enough of it to know that you’re a local anchor but I really don’t watch it. I wouldn’t have seen it enough to know if you roll your sleeves up or not.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. A few people catch it. You can kind of sometimes on the desk see them peak out. Honestly though I can’t even recall the last time I got a negative email about it.

Estil Wallace:

Sure. Sure. That’s an interesting thing. Why don’t we talk about that for a minute. You get negative shit?

Brandon Lee:

Oh my god-

Estil Wallace:

Because you’re pretty public facing. And the more visible you are, the more haters emerge. So do you get some haters?

Brandon Lee:

There’s a lot. There’s a lot of haters out there.

Estil Wallace:

First of all let me tell you, if you’re out there and you’re hating on Brandon Lee from me, Estil Wallace, I said go fuck yourself. What do people say?

Brandon Lee:

It’s crazy. It’s really crazy. It does come with the territory. It does.

Estil Wallace:

Sure. You’re public facing.

Brandon Lee:

It’s been tough this year because people in the news industry have been demonized from people at the very top of our government and we are not the enemy of the people. But believe it or not, people think I am. And so when they hear that from somebody that they trust and they believe, that Brandon Lee is the enemy of the people, well eventually people are going to come at me and tell me that I’m the enemy. That everything that I’m doing is against this country and stuff like that. So I do … You do take a lot of beatings on a daily basis. I’ve gotten death threats over the last six months. As somebody who does suffer from mental health I’m not going to be cured from it. It’s something I work on daily. But I’m grateful that I have the resources to have an amazing trauma therapist that every Monday for two hours my therapy sessions run that I’m able to talk through a lot of that. But I can’t sit here and say that getting a death threat or getting a threat to me doesn’t throw me off. I definitely about a month and a half ago went into fight or flight after getting a threat while I was on the news.

Estil Wallace:

It’s hard for me to believe that a news anchor would get a death threat. First of all, that’s bullshit and I’m sorry that happens to you. I suppose … Do other anchors talk about that? Have you heard that from other people in the space? I’m sure-

Brandon Lee:

I’m not unique. It’s not unique to me, I will say that.

Estil Wallace:

I wouldn’t imagine.

Brandon Lee:

It’s not unique to me. But when you get doxxed and they put your home address, they put your cellphone number out on these conspiracy theory websites. That’s the level of where it’s gotten and just somebody speaking as a human, as somebody who is just a regular dude, to get that kind of a threat, it threw me. It definitely threw me and I went into a really dark space. Even thought about using. When your brain gets hijacked … As somebody who does suffer from mental health, when your brain gets hijacked it’s already too late. It definitely did and my brain got hijacked for a good 24 hours, 48 hours and it was definitely a scary time for me. Was starting to get violent shakes at night. If there was a camera watching me sleep, it would probably look like somebody was there performing an exorcism. That’s the kind of violent shakes that I was getting. But that’s PTSD. That’s a lot of trauma.

Estil Wallace:

Well, if you want to I can give you my opinion on journalism as well but I think the thing that separates places like America from other places is that we have freedom of speech. This is a place where you and I should be able to share ideas whether they’re conflicting or whether they have harmony and be able at the end of the day to still respect each other and live in the same place and share the same space and support the same community. I believe that the polarization that’s come … And I don’t really think … I know if you want to hear me rant. And I can be off base and I would love to hear your opinion on this. I believe the polarization in this country has a lot of factors but I’m looking at a timeline of cable news being introduced and really being very ratings driven.

Brandon Lee:

For sure.

Estil Wallace:

Sort of picked two teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Brandon Lee:

For sure.

Estil Wallace:

And with the birth and exploitation of social media in this last 10, 12 years, has really taken what was already very divisive and really just throwing gas on the fire.

Brandon Lee:

I agree.

Estil Wallace:

Look, I’m a comment troll. I’ll read people arguing about the new iPhone release. I don’t give a fuck. I like to read some of that stuff. But the things I’ve read this year … This year in particular. Even on the fucking Nextdoor app. I mean shit gets real man. And it’s like, what kind of world has this become? And I don’t know that people are any different. I think the information flow is just so much more aggressive.

Brandon Lee:

I think there’s a couple of factors that are playing into 2020 that are different and I agree with you with everybody should watch The Social Dilemma. And people should-

Estil Wallace:

It was great right?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. It was great. People need to … First off, the year of 2020 we had an election that nobody in our generation has ever witnessed. We never witnessed something like this. I don’t care what side of the political aisle you’re on. We’ve just never experienced something quite like this in our generation. Sure politics gets ugly and they sling a lot of mud, but it was never to this level that I’ve experienced.

Estil Wallace:

I would agree.

Brandon Lee:

I’ve covered a lot of politics in my 22 years in journalism. So from that experience I’ve never … I should say, I’ve never experienced something quite like this. That being said, we also have a pandemic. So you add that on. So everybody right now in the entire world and especially in America, we are all operating in fear. And so everybody’s in this high vibration. So nobody’s down here. Everybody’s operating up here.

Estil Wallace:

Hypervigilant.

Brandon Lee:

Everything. So everything goes into full blown attack mode. And so until we’re able to bring it back down to here, we’ll never be able to have really good informative and constructive conversations. I think we all long for the day when we can just argue about a tax rate.

Estil Wallace:

Seriously.

Brandon Lee:

Right. Like those kinds of philosophies. But, we still have people in this country who think that being who think that being gay is a sin. That being gay or that gay marriage is going to be the destruction of society.

Estil Wallace:

And I’m trying not to laugh too hard because to me that’s so crazy.

Brandon Lee:

That’s the reason why there was such a diabolical shift with even gay marriage in America within a short amount of time. In eight years I think it went from like 30% approval to like upwards of 70, 75%. Because people finally started to come out and say, “Yeah, this is who I am and I’m gay.” And people were like, “Oh, Brandon’s gay? Well, I love Brandon. He’s a great guy.”

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. I don’t hate that guy.

Brandon Lee:

Right and so it’s the same thing. And I apply that same thing to mental health. Is that the more people like me who come forward and say I suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, I was molested as a child, I got into heavy meth and GHB use and I got into all this stuff, but this is who I am today. The more people like me who come forward and they’re like, “Oh dude, Brandon, he’s a recovered addict?” Well, then hopefully that takes away a little bit of the stigma and the shame that they put on other people who are suffering from mental health.

Estil Wallace:

Which is exactly why I want to do this. Exactly why I want to talk about this stuff. Because it is important and our society is … Particularly here, the one that we live in is more volatile than it’s been at least in my lifetime.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

I’m assuming we’re about the same age. I was a teenager in the ’90s and yeah, being gay was not cool. I’m straight but regardless, the F word was used a lot when I was … And I used it as well when I was 12, 13. And it wasn’t until I actually was maybe in high school and I actually had friends that would let me know, “I’m gay.” And I had the experience. I was like, “Oh, I like you. We’ve been buddies for 10 years.”

Brandon Lee:

For sure. And I think the reason too is that we’re living in this black and white world where it’s either I’m all right and you’re all wrong and that’s just not the way the world works.

Estil Wallace:

100%.

Brandon Lee:

But that’s the way, especially this year, everybody is viewing everything and it’s like-

Estil Wallace:

Everybody’s a fucking guru on Instagram and they’ve all got the answer.

Brandon Lee:

Right. And it’s like if you don’t agree with me, you’re my enemy. Like if you don’t have the same belief system that I do suddenly there’s something wrong with you and that’s just not the way the world works.

Estil Wallace:

No. That type of group think is what’s going to destroy our country.

Brandon Lee:

Right. And the reason why … And I speak about this too is the reason why there’s so much … I will say this, the reason why just congress in and of itself has such a low approval rating is because nobody likes hypocrisy. I wouldn’t put up with a friend of mine in my life who is a total hypocrite. Who would say one thing but yet do another only when it’s expedient to them. And this isn’t calling out one political party over the other because it’s on both sides.

Estil Wallace:

No. It’s politicians.

Brandon Lee:

Right. And so we won’t accept that in our own lives so that’s the reason why it’s like, why are we accepting this from these people? But we have to get out of this space where we demonize other people for just a different-

Estil Wallace:

A different viewpoint.

Brandon Lee:

A viewpoint on an issue.

Estil Wallace:

It’s wild and while I believe there’s always been heated debate … There’s even been violent opposition over the years, over the centuries even in different countries and cultures. I would agree, it’s highly volatile right now and I think social media has a lot to do with it.

Brandon Lee:

For sure it does. And I’m a big believer of freedom of speech, the Fourth Estate, being a journalist and I’m a big believer of that but I also believe that with all of the platforms that are available out there there has to be a level of responsibility. And right now there’s no accountability and there’s no responsibility and when you have that combination where any individual has a platform to reach umpteen amount of people and they don’t have that same standard or level or responsibility placed on them, that creates a really dangerous environment. When people can anonymously go online and cause real pain and harm-

Estil Wallace:

There’s so many trolls out there.

Brandon Lee:

Right. You know what that tells me though? There’s a lot of hurt out there.

Estil Wallace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brandon Lee:

You don’t become a troll without some sort of trauma happening in your life. We’re not born to hate. We’re not born to do that. But I look at this and I’m like my god, look how many people are suffering right now from mental health that they feel the need to go out of their way and create an anonymous account to go after people.

Estil Wallace:

Well, think about this. They have to create anonymous account because they wouldn’t dare say what they’re about to say to the people they’re about to say it to using their own identity.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

And that’s fucked up.

Brandon Lee:

I love social media and I love all of the platforms that are available but with that, again, without any accountability this is that it creates.

Estil Wallace:

It can help and harm in a big way. It’s like fire. It can be used like a weapon against people.

Brandon Lee:

Right. And we hear these platitudes when people are running for congress is that there’s so much more that connects us than truly divides us. There is truth to that. There really is. I hate that it comes from politician’s mouth because people look at them are like, “Well, is that a lie?” But even you and I, I guarantee you that if we got out a bunch of political viewpoints we may not agree on a lot of stuff. We may not agree on government spending. We may not agree on certain things. But if we really start to connect about our own traumatic past and we start to connect to each other as people, that should be the bond that truly forms.

Estil Wallace:

Well and at the end of the … Absolutely. I agree 100%. Look, you’re a living breathing human being living in the same geographical region that I am. We have a shit ton more in common than we have in difference. The things that are dividing our country right now and the things that people are getting so upset about on social media, these things are policy differences. Sure they’re important. I’m not trying to say that what we’re doing in the Supreme Court, what we’re doing in congress, what we’re doing with the presidential candidates isn’t a big deal. It is. But we still need to be neighbors next week and next month and next year. And I don’t want to move and I don’t want … You know what scares me the most I think? This is what I am afraid of and I don’t want to happen. Is for our country to become a war zone where skirmishes are normalized. That scares the crap out of me. It’s one thing for people to take shots at the left or to take shots at the right and memes and jokes and all those things. But if some of the things that people are saying online start to come to fruition, I mean, am I going to have to move my kids to another country?

Brandon Lee:

At some points we can be a really weak people. And we just like to just cry and moan and bitch and complain. When you look and if you go visit some third world countries where they don’t even have shoes and they are walking with buckets on their head to the nearest river for clean water, they don’t complain, they don’t bitch, they don’t demonize.

Estil Wallace:

No. The depression is a lot lower.

Brandon Lee:

We live in such a privileged society that we have gotten blinded by that privilege that we don’t even appreciate what we have.

Estil Wallace:

I agree 100%.

Brandon Lee:

And until we appreciate what we have in our lives, we’re going to continue to see chaos. Apply that same thing to addicts. If you don’t begin to appreciate the things and be grateful for the things that you have in your life, you are doomed to fail.

Estil Wallace:

And isn’t it interesting, if you can take your sponsee or a friend, anybody who’s in recovery struggling and they say … They’re bitching and moaning and today’s just the worst day ever and-

Brandon Lee:

Poor is me.

Estil Wallace:

Text me three things you’re grateful for. And what happens every time? Even just a few things that I-

Brandon Lee:

It’s a mind shift.

Estil Wallace:

It totally shifts. So we started off light, we got super serious. We just talked about some high level shit which is fun about these. I never know where we’re going to go. I want to talk to you a little bit about … If you don’t mind me shifting gears.

Brandon Lee:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Estil Wallace:

I want to talk to you a little bit about your experience now. You’ve got a book out there so if you haven’t read the book read the book Mascara Boy or listen to it. It was quite the journey. Blew me away. Thank you for doing it. So I won’t dig into like hey, how’d you get here and all that. I want to try and get into some stuff that maybe wasn’t in the book that you haven’t talked about a lot on your own podcast recently. So tell me about getting into journalism. What to you was interesting? When did you know you wanted to get into it? What was the draw?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. I’ll never forget. It was in the seventh grade. We were a big news family so we watched NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw was the anchor at the time.

Estil Wallace:

Sure, sure, sure. I remember.

Brandon Lee:

So that was kind of a family ritual every night and I just remember watching the news in the seventh grade and I just pointed at the TV and I looked at my parents and I said, “That’s what I want to do.” That’s how clear it was. So I’m grateful that I was never one of those people that you go to college, you’re not sure what major to pick because you don’t know what you want to do with life. I knew in seventh grade that’s what I wanted to do so I pursued it and I chased after it and chased after it really, really hard. And eventually got into NYU back in New York City. Sadly lived through 9/11 while living in Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

Estil Wallace:

God. And you talked about that a little bit in the book. What a nightmare.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. It was terrible. And that was something that it took me 16 years after that because I started to really heal from that in 2017 because I never really looked at that as a traumatic experience which blows my mind that I didn’t see it through that prism. Because I saw and smelled things that nobody should ever have to experience in their lives. And to not treat that and work through that trauma when it was happening was so detrimental to the road that I eventually went on. I mean, it just was like pouring gasoline on an already lit fire. And that sent me more spiraling into my drug use and my numbing behavior in my 20s. I will say that I used to be a work hard play hard guy so I was able to still maintain working at NBC News as one of the youngest producers.

Estil Wallace:

Double life.

Brandon Lee:

I was the king of double life. Until we all know it all comes crashing down. I was really, really good at living that double life and it tricked my mind into thinking that I could have both. I really did. But eventually it came crashing down. But yeah, that’s how I knew. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist and I still have that passion in me. I still get excited to go up to work. I still get excited to shoot stories and tell stories.

Estil Wallace:

It’s cool.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

So you’ve been a journalist for 22 years and you’ve been sober for 10?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. I definitely have years of recovery. So I’ve not stopped telling people my time.

Estil Wallace:

Okay.

Brandon Lee:

I have. I have a philosophy behind it.

Estil Wallace:

Let’s hear it.

Brandon Lee:

I’m a big believer in that in the traditional 12 step recovery when people go around the rooms and they raise your hands, how much time do you have? Duh duh duh duh duh. Follow me here. I believe that creates a sense of shame within the rooms of AA. It creates this fake hierarchy within the rooms of AA that those with 20 plus years or those with 15 years or those who have more years than you are more wiser and have more wisdom than you and have their lives more together than you. That’s what that sets up.

Estil Wallace:

They’re better people is what they are.

Brandon Lee:

Oh, how much time do you have? Five years? Oh, I have 15. There’s a natural puffing of the chest that I’m more of an authoritative figure, listen to what I have to say.

Estil Wallace:

People are absolutely susceptible to that.

Brandon Lee:

Right. So I was a big AA circuit speaker. Was flown around to all these AA conventions around the country. And after I would speak I would have guys come up to me and say, “Hey man, would you be my sponsor?” And at that time I’d say, “Okay, well tell me about yourself.” And they’d have 30 plus years. Well, at that time I had like eight. And so I was like, “Wait a second, I have eight years, you have 30 years, why are you asking me to be your sponsor? Shouldn’t it be flipped the other way around? If years mean something … If the amount of time means something then shouldn’t it be flipped? Why are you my life’s a mess? So you mean to tell me that that’s what I have to look forward to is counting my days and counting my years and at year 30 my life can be a mess?” So the life lesson that I took away from that was it doesn’t fucking matter. Judge me by the man I am today.

Brandon Lee:

Listen to this podcast, listen to me and see if I have experience, strength and hope. And that’s all that should matter. It shouldn’t matter if I tell you I have 11 years for you to believe me that I have wisdom or wise words to say. You shouldn’t trust me any better. What if I were to tell you I had five years? What if I were to tell you I relapsed? Are you going to look at me any different? You’re going to tell me I got to go back. The other thing why I believe the way I do about no longer counting my time is that because when somebody relapses in traditional 12 step models, what do we do? Go back to day one. Well, I remember what I was like on day one. If you relapse you’re not where you were on day one. You don’t lose all that experience, strength and hope that you had up until the time that you relapsed. For example, if you’re in a master’s program, masters programs can be really difficult. You’re juggling multiple things. You’re juggling family, you’re juggling kids, you’re juggling school and you’re juggling your professional life.

Brandon Lee:

Well, let’s just say you’re in your third year and life gets crazy and you can’t manage the class and you fail. Does the dean of students come to you and say, “You need to start back at class one in your master’s program?”

Estil Wallace:

Kindergarten.

Brandon Lee:

No you don’t. Because you don’t lose that experience and that knowledge that you gained over the time. You take the course over and you continue on your road. If in a marathon, which I have run the New York City Marathon. I cramped up on mile marker number 17. Pulled off to the side, did not think I was going to finish that race. The race official … One of the officials comes over to me and goes, “What can we do? Are you cramping?” And I started crying because I’m like, “I’m not going to make my time. I trained so hard, I’m not going to make my time.” The race official looks at me and he goes, “Are you trying to win it?” And I’m like, “Huh?” They’re like, “Because the person who won the New York City Marathon finished about two hours ago.” And so the race official goes, “We’re going to get some electrolytes in you.” Started massaging my legs. Got up and she goes, “Walk the rest of the way.” Finished the race. They did not tell me, “Dude, you tripped and fell, you need to go back to mile marker number one and rerun your race.” You don’t lose the experience that you have.

Brandon Lee:

The issue that I have with that is when somebody relapses they have so much shame that sometimes they won’t even go back to a 12 step room because they don’t want to raise their hand and start back at day one.

Estil Wallace:

That’s true.

Brandon Lee:

We should look at that person who relapses and say, “Okay, you relapsed. Of course you did. It’s a pandemic. You’re isolating. We went through a shitty political year. Of course you relapsed. Okay. You have a day of dark time. You have a week of dark time. Let’s get you back on the road and let’s continue on.”

Estil Wallace:

I appreciate your answers and your viewpoint. I’m still a big 12 step guy and my view has been whenever there’s things that I don’t agree with within the fellowship, sort of norms that have kind of taken shape and dynamically changed over the years, as I’ve stayed sober I’ve sort of made it my business to be the change I want to see within those rooms as often as I can. So while I still count my … I’m still very attached to my sobriety date, I’m not-

Brandon Lee:

I mean, I know my sobriety date.

Estil Wallace:

Right. I’m not big about hey, I have more time than you or something like that. I would say my conversations with people that relapse are very similar to what you just described. Because it is. There’s a lot of shame around oh … Even sponsees, they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t want to disappoint you.” It’s not about disappointing me. Fish swim and the sky is blue and alcoholics drink. We’re working on getting a big enough shift within you so that you never have to drink again. That’s what we’re working at. It’s not about some number. I had somebody when I was pretty new, when I was caught up on the whole time thing like in my first year. I had somebody ask me. They were like, “What does the person with the most sobriety when they die win?” And I was like, “I don’t know.” He’s like, “Nothing.” It’s not about that. It’s not about how much time. In my view I look at it the same way I look at any type of practice. Whether it’s mediation, yoga, weight training. You had some interesting stuff about weight training too we with talk about.

Estil Wallace:

But in those things it’s not the time in and of itself. Because you’re right. I’ve sponsored men with more time than me and thought the same thing when they asked me and I thought huh, that’s odd. But it’s really about the dynamics of where you’re at now like you said. Where am I at today? If what I have today is attractive then I’m happy to share with you what I’ve been doing. And I may not always be good at it. I may fuck this up at some point.

Brandon Lee:

But why is it in recovery when we meet somebody in recovery, “Hi, what’s your name?” “My name is Brandon.” How much time do you have is the second-

Estil Wallace:

It can be.

Brandon Lee:

It is. Nine out of 10 times it is the second follow up question when you meet another addict. When an addict meets another addict, what’s your name? How much time do you have in sobriety? Because we are immediately judging that person by those two things. By that second thing.

Estil Wallace:

Interesting. So when I meet a newcomer I’m pretty quick to ask somebody who appears to be new to ask them how much time they have so that I can encourage them.

Brandon Lee:

Right. There’s a benefit. Now listen, I get it. I get it. And I will give credence to that there is … I see one plus side to sharing with somebody how much time you have is just to show the newcomer that yes, you can stream together a lot of time in sobriety and it is possible. Of course it’s possible.

Estil Wallace:

And there’s a sweet spot. I think one two three years does that.

Brandon Lee:

Right. So yes, it is possible. But-

Estil Wallace:

10 plus is almost too much.

Brandon Lee:

But we size people up. Whether we do it subconsciously, whether we want to admit it or not, we are sizing you up by that second question of how much time do you have in sobriety? Because we are judging you based on where we were at that time in recovery.

Estil Wallace:

And it’s not the same.

Brandon Lee:

It’s not the same.

Estil Wallace:

They’re not the same.

Brandon Lee:

No. And here’s the other thing. Why? If we believe that this is a disease, if we’re of the belief that alcoholism and addiction is based in disease, why then do we treat addicts-

Estil Wallace:

It’s the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Brandon Lee:

So differently from other diseases? Whereas people who are sick with other diseases we bring them balloons, we bring them flowers, we make sure we check in on them and make sure that they’re doing okay even if they make a mistake. Why is it with mental health and addiction and drug addiction and alcoholism somebody makes a mistake and we demonize them? Why?

Estil Wallace:

I don’t know.

Brandon Lee:

Why?

Estil Wallace:

And I’m hoping that people like you speaking up-

Brandon Lee:

Well that leads me to the next thing which is when my book came out and I was on MSNBC and CNN and talking about mental health, I had old timers-

Estil Wallace:

Which, thank you by the way.

Brandon Lee:

Thank you. Well, I had old timers putting me on blast from AA. You are violating the 11th tradition. How dare you talk about this? How dare you talk about this? First off, this is my story and this is my recovery. If you’ve got an issue with it, looks like you got something to go talk to your sponsor about today first off. Secondly is that what was explained to me was that the reason why they believe in the anonymity part is because if I tell people that I got sober in AA and I relapse, it will look bad on the program. What I say to you is that you are putting more belief into a program than you are in … You’re putting the importance of a program above the needs of an individual. Second is that I believe that if we remove the anonymity part for those who are willing, we will see that CEOs, pharmacists, corporate attorneys, news anchors-

Estil Wallace:

Politicians, doctors.

Brandon Lee:

Are all addicts. What does that do? It helps normalize it and takes away some of the stigma around it. But until we have these successful people in their lives through recovery come out and talk about it, we will continue to have a societal stigma against addicts who are homeless, fuck ups, mess ups, people who don’t have passion about anything in life. Those will be the stigmas that still exist when it comes to mental health.

Estil Wallace:

Can I use that as like the intro to this podcast like every episode?

Brandon Lee:

You know what I’m saying? So I get it. There are some people who choose to be anonymous because it’s usually out of fear. If their bosses were to know that they’re an alcoholic that they would be discriminated against. They might lose their job. Well, fuck man, that is the exact stigma that we are trying to remove.

Estil Wallace:

That’s exactly it. So here’s my take on the whole thing. I don’t claim membership to any particular 12 step fellowship. I never have. At least not publicly. I’m familiar with it. I’ve dropped into lots of meetings over the years and had service commitments and have a sponsor and do sponsor people so I probably belong to some 12 step group out there but I wouldn’t say. It’s kind of like me wearing the mask even if there might not be a need to. It’s me doing my part to say, “You know what, I’m not going to violate the 11th tradition.” Although, people have sweated me already even just for doing this.

Brandon Lee:

Oh, doing a podcast. Trust me. They sweated all over me and I’m like I’m no longer a member of the program but when somebody asks me a question-

Estil Wallace:

That’s an easy one. I’m no longer a member.

Brandon Lee:

I no longer count myself as a member. But here’s the thing … Here is the thing. There are 101 different ways to get sober and stay sober. And the one thing I took away from that program, it’s a design for living. And I’ve designed a living for me that works in my life that is working for me. And so what I tell people too is that there are umpteen ways to get sober but the anonymity part to me is that that’s the thing that I’m trying to break through. If we can break through the anonymity part we can help remove the stigma when it comes to mental health. Oh yeah, what I was going to say is when somebody asks me, how did you get sober? You asked me when I came into your office. Where’d you get sober? How’d you get sober? Where’d you get sober at? I never went to treatment. When somebody asks me that question I’m going to be honest. I went to an AA meeting when I got released from the hospital. I went to an AA meeting.

Estil Wallace:

Which is probably the exact advice somebody gave you.

Brandon Lee:

Somebody said, “Well, you should say you went to a 12 step meeting.” No motherfucker, I went to an AA meeting. You’re going to ask me a question about my life and my sobriety, I’m going to be honest with you about where I did. So I went to an AA meeting that was held at this church in Hollywood on Melrose and Mansfield and I got sober on that day and been sober ever since. So don’t put me on blast for saying that. Where’d you get sober?

Estil Wallace:

People need a reason to be angry.

Brandon Lee:

So here’s the other thing too. Is they don’t like to talk about the efficacy rate. Nobody likes to really talk about the efficacy rate because if we did talk about the real numbers-

Estil Wallace:

It’s changed. The Cochrane Report was just released early in 2020. They’ve changed their whole tune.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

They used to say 6%, now they’re saying it’s 22% to 37% by joining a 12 step program.

Brandon Lee:

Right. But here’s what I say is that, is that number good enough to you? Is that good enough? You tell me. If I took a test and got 36% on my test, that’s a failing rate.

Estil Wallace:

And you and I talked about this briefly when we spoke on the phone. I believe in using everything we’ve got.

Brandon Lee:

For sure. Multi prong approach to recovery.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. And this … Here, let me give you one little one liner here. Or not really quite a one linter but everyone who’s got a one linter like on social media … And I was thinking about the COVID crisis like this pandemic. Everybody’s got … Whatever side, whatever angle they’re coming from, they’re all saying if everybody would just do this, it would be over. And it’s like maybe. This is really complicated. Everyone having an answer to what’s going on in politics in a one liner or to the pandemic to addiction is pretty short sighted. It’s just so fucking complicated. None of us has all the answers. And I think there’s a real beauty and harmony and ability for us to work together when we can all say, listen, this is crazy, this is complex and let’s work at it with everything we’ve got. So prayer’s not off the table. Brain scans aren’t off the table. Good old fashioned [inaudible 00:43:08] therapy is not off the table. Let’s use whatever we can to try and get at What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Brandon Lee:

Correct. And here’s the thing is like, there are so many advances in science. I believe in neuroplasticity. I believe that we can rewire the brain.

Estil Wallace:

We do. That’s what we do.

Brandon Lee:

That’s what we do. And that’s why I always say treatment is so important that I feel like … And I’m an ambassador now. I work now in treatment down at Sabino Recovery. The reason why is I believe in that kind of science because of the multi prong approach. EMDR, equine therapy, neuroplasticity and brain mapping. Regular talk therapy and gut therapy, like diet. If you’re not healthy here, you’re not healthy here. It is a fucking multi prong approach in order to having somebody feel better and really laying the foundation to an amazing life. Which is why I truly believe people should go to at least 35 day treatment just to get some sort of a semblance of a foundation followed up by 12 steps. And I want your viewers to know I’m not anti 12 steps. Holy shit, I apply 12 steps every day in my life. I’m just not going to buy into 100% any particular program and try to match what my needs are to that program. I’m taking bits and pieces from different aspects along the way to create a program that works for me.

Estil Wallace:

100%. And I think a well balanced life is inclusive of a lot of different practices and disciplines. Because I go to the gym and lift weights doesn’t mean I’m going to be a competitive bodybuilder. Because I go to 12 step meetings doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to do all things in the 12 step dogmatic fashion. There are a lot of guys that I have a strong affection for and have a deep respect for who have really built their life within that framework and it hasn’t grown beyond that. And that’s okay. I’m not here to judge them. But when I look at my own life … Here’s an example. I was like a year sober, had a service commitment at the area level. So I’m like an alternate GSR or something.

Brandon Lee:

Oh yeah.

Estil Wallace:

I’m a big deal now. I’ve got a clip board. I’ve got to think. So I’m in this group of people that all are at 10 plus that I have enormous respect for. And what I noticed when I looked around the room was everyone was morbidly obese. And I was on my way. At a year of sobriety I had the sobriety belly going pretty well and I had this little aha moment. I was like, I need something that I’m not getting here. I don’t know how to eat right and I don’t know how to exercise because I had never lifted weights before. I had my first moment where I was like, here’s one thing that I have a question about that I’m not going to find the answer to here. At least not very easily. I’m going to have to step out. And I’m glad I did. It was an eye opening experience. And there are people that I looked up to in the recovery rooms when I was new that over time … When your heroes become people, there’s a disillusionment process that happens. I think surviving that type of disillusionment-

Brandon Lee:

For sure.

Estil Wallace:

Leads to maturity. I get to be like you know what, those are just people and I don’t have to be mad that they aren’t these superhuman patron saints that I thought they were.

Brandon Lee:

For sure. And you know a couple things on that, it’s a great topic, is that first off, I will say that I have two former sponsors who don’t even follow me on social media anymore. Because of the trajectory where I’ve taken my recovery. They don’t agree with my podcast, they don’t agree with my book, they don’t agree with how public I’ve been about recovery. These are my former sponsors in recovery who were disappointed in how I’ve chosen to live my life in recovery. Okay. Okay. There’s a lot of … I felt the same too in that the reason why I think treatment is so important when somebody does decide to make that true diabolical shift in their life to change their life, why treatment is so important, is because I am truly of the belief that nine times out of 10, addiction is rooted in some sort of trauma and traumatic experience.

Estil Wallace:

Very often it is.

Brandon Lee:

Okay. Rarely is it just somebody that has the perfect childhood and life, they grew up in a great family.

Estil Wallace:

To your point we do ACE testing at Cornerstone. We do ACE testing. It’s part of the intake assessments and most people are four and up.

Brandon Lee:

Okay, right.

Estil Wallace:

I’m an eight.

Brandon Lee:

Right. So that being said, so I’m sitting there like seven years into … Just six meetings a week for seven years. So I got experience in 12 steps. Like okay, I did it. But at some point it wasn’t enough for me. I’m like why am I still choosing sex to cope? Why am I still a sex addict? Why am I still doing some of these other things? And so it finally got me into intense trauma therapy.

Estil Wallace:

I’m glad you did.

Brandon Lee:

Right. So now I look at my life with the experience of just 12 stepping for seven years. Like just doing 12 steps for seven years.

Estil Wallace:

It got you sober.

Brandon Lee:

Right. Got me sober.

Estil Wallace:

It got you sober.

Brandon Lee:

It did. And like I always say, it got me a good foundation but it wasn’t enough which is why it’s-

Estil Wallace:

Absolutely.

Brandon Lee:

A plus what? A plus what? What? Efficacy. You want this. You want that. But we are dealing … Okay. We are dealing with so much more than alcohol and a few pain pills. We are dealing with hardcore opiates. We’re dealing with heroin, we’re dealing with meth, we’re dealing into injectables. Something back in the 1920s and ’30s they weren’t really thinking about. So a program that was based for alcoholism … Alcohol has a different attack to the brain than opiates do. That’s based in science. It attaches to our receptors differently. So we have to be able to look at those substances and choose a design for living. Because there’s a reason that when I was in CMA rooms, I never saw anybody raise their hand with more than two years. Go into AA rooms, 25, 30, 50 fucking plus years. It has a different impact on the body and the brain. So I look at CMA rooms. The 12 step model for hardcore drug use is not enough.

Estil Wallace:

I think each person, it’s going to be their own mix of what the plus is.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

But I’m totally a believer in 12 step plus. For me it’s 12 step plus diet plus gym to a healthy degree plus therapy.

Brandon Lee:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

Plus family systems work.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

And to give the founding fathers of the 12 step world credit, they attempted to make mention several places in the original text.

Brandon Lee:

To get help when you need it.

Estil Wallace:

Like we don’t have all the answers here.

Brandon Lee:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

And I think the contention comes where people forget that they were always trying to suggest that they didn’t have a monopoly on this.

Brandon Lee:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

And I think modern fellowships, by and large, have sort of adopted the viewpoint that we do have a monopoly on this. This is the only way.

Brandon Lee:

Right. No, you’re very, very true. You’re absolutely right.

Estil Wallace:

And it’s just like the political things we were just talking about. It’s not one or the other.

Brandon Lee:

No.

Estil Wallace:

God fucking dammit. Can I be cool with gay marriage and low taxes? Can I be cool with 12 steps and not think that I have to make everybody in AA or CA happy? Can I balance that? I think we can. I don’t think there’s any rules to it. There’s only norms. Social norms, right?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

And our own prejudices. And we can be the change that we want to see.

Brandon Lee:

And just like I say, some of the most judgmental people happen inside of a church, some of the most judgmental people in recovery happen inside 12 step rooms.

Estil Wallace:

Sure. Of course.

Brandon Lee:

It just does.

Estil Wallace:

Of course.

Brandon Lee:

In a place where we try to preach judgment free zone there is so much judgment.

Estil Wallace:

We’re still people.

Brandon Lee:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

And the thing in the 12 step … You’re talking refuge. Any recovery rooms. We’re still dealing with people that are internally very dysfunctional and on the mend so to speak.

Brandon Lee:

And you know what’s also interesting that doesn’t get talked about a lot is sponsorship. I’m a huge believer in sponsorship. I think it’s really important to our everyday lives, just to help people. I look at more [inaudible 00:51:47] sponsorship rather than just being there for somebody. Right? Because you don’t have to be necessarily a sponsor in order to help somebody else out. I look at my podcast and I look at different ways when people reach out to me after reading my book or hearing a podcast and I get into a conversation with them and talk to them and try to help them. I look at that as sponsorship. Being there for somebody. That being said, a sponsor is not your fucking therapist. And you should not go to your damn sponsor for anything more than, “How did you do it?”. We need to draw the line right there because I have witnessed some really bad advice being given by sponsors claiming authority because they got 20 plus years in recovery.

Brandon Lee:

So sponsors are not therapists. Go to an expert when we talk about some real serious stuff. Also, what does not get talked about a lot in the gay rooms of recovery. If you go to a regular 12 step meeting-

Estil Wallace:

Which I’m not in a ton. Occasionally I get asked to go down to Lambda and I’ll pitch-

Brandon Lee:

Right. And speak or something.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. I mean, a few times.

Brandon Lee:

But here’s the interesting dichotomy. In regular 12 step rooms you have to have a guy as your sponsor. Right?

Estil Wallace:

Generally, it would be frowned upon to do it any other way.

Brandon Lee:

Correct. You don’t go to a woman asking a woman to be your sponsor.

Estil Wallace:

It’s not common at all.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

It happens but it’s very rare.

Brandon Lee:

It’s rare because they don’t like you doing it. Because of the conflicts of sex.

Estil Wallace:

Sex and romance.

Brandon Lee:

Okay. Sex and romance. Well, what happens in gay rooms? Gay guys sponsor other gay guys. There’s a lot of 13 stepping that happens. It got so uncomfortable for me. For me personally. When I was in the gay rooms in Atlanta, Georgia when I was really first getting sober. I got sober in LA, moved to Atlanta 60 days clean.

Estil Wallace:

How’d you like living in Atlanta?

Brandon Lee:

I loved it. It’s one of my favorite cities.

Estil Wallace:

Cool city?

Brandon Lee:

One of my favorite cities anywhere.

Estil Wallace:

I was only there once for five days, but I enjoyed when I was there.

Brandon Lee:

Fucking love Atlanta. Like freaking love it.

Estil Wallace:

Cool.

Brandon Lee:

When I was in Lambda there, in the gay rooms, I chose a lesbian as my sponsor.

Estil Wallace:

I like it.

Brandon Lee:

Right. Because I was like, “No, no, no, no, no.”

Estil Wallace:

I’m not trying to fuck you, you’re not trying to fuck me.

Brandon Lee:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

Intentions are very clear here.

Brandon Lee:

The intentions are good. What she witnessed … Because she would be going to the gay rooms too and there was just naturally very few lesbians in the rooms. A majority of gay guys. Even population, there’s more gay … You know?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Brandon Lee:

You get it.

Estil Wallace:

It’s like five to one men to women in recovery.

Brandon Lee:

Something like that. Yeah. Right. They’re even that much more of a minority right? But they would come. So I chose her as my sponsor and she was fantastic.

Estil Wallace:

You mentioned her in the book.

Brandon Lee:

Yes. CC in the book. She witnessed guys grabbing me. Grabbing my butt, smacking me on the butt. She’d see guys come in for … You know when you go to hug somebody before COVID?

Estil Wallace:

AA hug.

Brandon Lee:

AA hugs. Right. But then the hugs would turn into a kiss on the lips.

Estil Wallace:

Dude.

Brandon Lee:

She witnessed that. And she goes, “Brandon, for the first time I see why you’re so uncomfortable in these rooms. Go to straight meetings.” So I eventually just went to straight meetings.

Estil Wallace:

How was the shift?

Brandon Lee:

It was really, really good. But you know what bothered me there was I … Now, I was no longer getting touched upon in ways that made me feel uncomfortable. But I witnessed guys do it to women. In the straight rooms I would watch a woman and I could feel her uncomfortableness because I was uncomfortable. I know that look. I know that feel.

Estil Wallace:

People are creepers.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

At 12 step meetings. For sure.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. Nobody really talks about this stuff.

Estil Wallace:

I’m glad we’re talking about it. I’ve been going to men’s meetings my whole recovery. I go to straight men’s meetings and it just doesn’t leave a lot … The meetings I’ve been going to for so long don’t leave a lot of room for that kind of stuff to go down.

Brandon Lee:

Right. And it’s really important to me.

Estil Wallace:

And I’m spoiled. I’m spoiled by it.

Brandon Lee:

Right. You are.

Estil Wallace:

When you tell these stories, that makes perfect sense to me, but I’m like, “Fuck, I’m glad that wasn’t happening to me when I was 30 days sober.”

Brandon Lee:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

Jesus.

Brandon Lee:

This is the reality. This isn’t Brandon hating on groups again. This is just a reality that we all need to reckon with, is that we also have judges sending convicted sex offenders as part of their treatment program to AA meetings. Well, we also have young women who are 30 days, 40 days sober and we’re mixing people in. We just have to be very careful about harming somebody who is newly sober in the setup of these rooms. There was a recovery center … I’m not going to call them out. But I had two sponsees at this recovery center, newly sober, who were having sex with girls in the parking lot during the coed dances that they would have at the recovery center. I went to the damn director and I was like, “Why are you having coed dances? Just why?”

Brandon Lee:

“Oh, it’s for the social engagement.”

Brandon Lee:

“I got two sponsees who are screwing girls out in the parking lot.”

Estil Wallace:

They’re socially engaging right now.

Brandon Lee:

Right. Is that necessary? 30 days, 60 days sober, we expect people to make all the right choices? No, they’re not going to make the right choices for that. So we just have to be conscious about how we’re all doing this to make it a safe space for people.

Estil Wallace:

It’s difficult. There was a story you told in the book about a sex offender, a pedophile that had confided in you and-

Brandon Lee:

I’ve had four.

Estil Wallace:

Wow.

Brandon Lee:

I’ve had four child molesters tell me that they were actively molesting kids.

Estil Wallace:

And this puts you in such a precarious situation because on one hand being somebody in a 12 step scenario, you might be the only person on the planet that they would be willing to divulge that to. And on the other side of that coin, I mean, you got to fucking do something. And I heard you in the book, you talked about do I, don’t I? And obviously you went to take action.

Brandon Lee:

And I did.

Estil Wallace:

And I would too and I would always, 100% of the time, encourage anyone to take that kind of action. There’s-

Brandon Lee:

I got heat for it.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, that’s fine.

Brandon Lee:

By old timers in the rooms.

Estil Wallace:

That’s fine. Hey old timers, I said go fuck yourself.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. I mean, I did. When I called the-

Estil Wallace:

I’ve been sober a long time. You can look me up. I’m in Phoenix.

Brandon Lee:

When I had a sponsee tell me that he was actively raping his girlfriend’s seven year daughter, I absolutely called the police.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. That’s the one that you talked about in the book. I cried when I heard it.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. And I had three other guys in my time in 12 step rooms tell me that they were molesting boys. I’m not a therapist. I’m a rape survivor. I’m a child rape survivor myself. Whether that made somebody feel like I would have empathy for a child molester is beyond me. I don’t. But I absolutely got authorities involved in the case each and every time and will continue to do so if I know that any fucking child is ever, ever being harmed.

Estil Wallace:

I commend you for it 100% and I would do the same thing. There’s a subset of people out there, pedophiles, that are trying to attach their name to the LGBTQ acronym. How do you feel about that?

Brandon Lee:

Okay. That’s the first time I’ve heard about that so explain.

Estil Wallace:

Oh, really? Google it. If you google it there are people out there in fact preaching this from universities. In fact, university professors. Touting that pedophilia is a sexual orientation.

Brandon Lee:

That is the first time I’ve heard about that.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. There’s a TED talk on it.

Brandon Lee:

Okay. I’m going to watch that TED talk. I’m going to refrain from making opinion until I read something.

Estil Wallace:

You can text me what you think after you watch it.

Brandon Lee:

I want to read some things in full context before I give a true opinion. But on surface level-

Estil Wallace:

Doesn’t make any sense to me.

Brandon Lee:

On surface level, no.

Estil Wallace:

Well, children are by definition unable to make choice. They’re children. They’re under the age of 18.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. No. I’m going to have to-

Estil Wallace:

We’re not talking about a 17 year old with an 18 year old boyfriend.

Brandon Lee:

I need to see how this is being written or what is being talked about. No.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. We’re not talking about a 17 year old with an 18 year old boyfriend.

Brandon Lee:

It’s not an orientation.

Estil Wallace:

No. In almost every culture on the planet it’s a crime. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean it’s not a thing. But it’s an abuse thing.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

People scream at each other, people hit each other, and people fuck around with kids. It’s a horrible part of life and it’s a reality of life, but it doesn’t make it okay and it doesn’t need to be normalized.

Brandon Lee:

No. Certainly doesn’t.

Estil Wallace:

Anymore than any other kind of abuse needs to be normalized.

Brandon Lee:

Never.

Estil Wallace:

No. So I commend you when-

Brandon Lee:

Full stop.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. Never. Full stop. Yeah, when I heard that part in the book I thought good for you man. Here’s another thing that’s interesting that maybe some people don’t know. The 12 step world can sometimes be a catchall for a lot of different types of people that come through.

Brandon Lee:

A lot.

Estil Wallace:

And on one side of the coin … I mean, really where that guy needs to go, if you’re coming from a place of love, tolerance is if you don’t know that they’re doing anything actively and they’re saying, “Hey, I’ve had this in my past.” Like, “Hey man, there’s another fellowship out there. There’s SAA. There’s SLA. There’s sex oriented 12 step groups that you could join that are specifically for this version of spiritual sickness that you’re dealing with.” And I would definitely opt for healing where there’s that type of trauma to be healed because this, like most things, is based in trauma. I don’t believe anyone has a healthy childhood and then decides in their 30s that they’re going to start raping kids. I don’t think it happens that way.

Brandon Lee:

It doesn’t happen that way.

Estil Wallace:

No. So there’s a part of me, the compassionate part of me, wants to find a way, if there is one, to help heal those souls before they go on to complete the chain and keep it going.

Brandon Lee:

Right. And always say though, a part of recovery is taking full accountability for your actions and that even goes by the weight of the law.

Estil Wallace:

Yes. 100%.

Brandon Lee:

You don’t get a pass just because you’re in AA or just because you’re in a 12 step-

Estil Wallace:

I fucking didn’t.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. No. I don’t care. No matter what you did. You committed a crime, you will take full responsibility of that fucking crime and recovery will take care of itself.

Estil Wallace:

Yes.

Brandon Lee:

But that is part of recovery.

Estil Wallace:

100%.

Brandon Lee:

You don’t get to just get sober and not take accountability for the crimes you’ve committed. You will be accountable for every one of those crimes you’ve done.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. I agree. And I’ve had plenty of friends, at least three or four, that have gotten sober, did great for a year or two and ended up having to go back and do time. And those guys stayed sober. All of them.

Brandon Lee:

Exactly.

Estil Wallace:

They stayed sober. They came out and they were like, “All right, now prison’s part of my story.”

Brandon Lee:

Right. It is part of your recovery. It’s part of your journey that you have to walk through.

Estil Wallace:

So in my view the unrest that lies at the heart of addiction or these types of compulsive behavior things is a separation between actions and values. I’m not the person I want to be, whatever that means to me. And shoring that up is how recovery comes into play. I become the person that I imagine I could be, would be, should be, would like to be. And until that can happen, are there shades of that? Sure. Do people constantly try to find the minimum amount of change to get the maximum amount of benefit? Absolutely. Lot of people do that. They try to do the minimum amount of work and get the maximum amount of benefit. But ultimately, it’s when people surrender wholly to, “I’m going to take the fucking hard way this time. I’m going to go the hard way. I’m going to tell the truth. I’m going to face up to the things I’ve done wrong. And I’m going to do my best to be better.” Those are the people that stay sober.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. And I think the reason why I’ve been able to manage so much time in recovery and sobriety is because when I first got sober I did a very, very, very thorough first time fourth step. I was very, very thorough. I didn’t skip over anything. And I think that that is a huge … If you really ask people … I always made it a point that after somebody relapsed and they did come back to a 12 step meeting, I would always ask them, “Tell me what it was like. Because I fantasize about it so tell me what it’s like.” I’d be lying to you-

Estil Wallace:

Tell me it’s less awesome than it is in my mind.

Brandon Lee:

Right. But every addict fantasizes about using. To act like you don’t, you’re a fucking liar.

Estil Wallace:

Sure. I still dream about it occasionally.

Brandon Lee:

Right. We do. Okay. It’s part of life. We just don’t put as much weight in it. I used to be like, “Oh my god, I had a using dream. I had a using dream.” And I’ll never forget, my sponsor goes, “Dude, how was it?” I was like, “No. I fucking liked it. I was having a good time in my fucking dream and that’s scaring me.” And he goes, “Dude, you got a freebie man.” And it just took the weight off of it. That being said, I ask people, “What happened? What started?” And most of the time it’s either like they got halfway through a fourth step, they didn’t do a thorough fourth step, or they just didn’t commit fully and honestly from the very beginning. Which is why sometimes you do see a lot of people four or five times in treatment. I’ve interviewed people with 15 times in treatment. I’ll ask them, “What was different about the last time compared to the other 14 times?” And usually it comes back to a level of honesty and surrendering. A full surrender.

Brandon Lee:

And what I tell people is like, “When you really wave the white flag, when you really wave it, your chances of getting and staying sober are so much higher.” I got five emails yesterday from parents of children who were addicts being like, “Brandon, we don’t have money. Blah, blah, blah. Where do we go? How do we get my son into treatment?” This one woman said, “My son’s living with me. He’s in his mid 20s. He’s abusing drugs and I’m so scared, dah, dah, dah.” And I said, “Well, unless he’s ready, you need to go to Al Anon.” And I said, “Just from the brief email description you are contributing to a lot of enabling behavior.” I said, “Any parent who has a child who’s 26, 27 years old and they’re using drugs in your house. Did you know that the majority of child overdose deaths happen in the family home because mom and dad are giving them a safe place to live, they’re paying your rent. And what are they doing? They’re using drugs under your roof.” That’s enabling behavior.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, they have no consequences.

Brandon Lee:

None. So what I tell people-

Estil Wallace:

A couple nights out on the street’s perfect for junior. That’s what he needs. So [crosstalk 01:07:03]-

Brandon Lee:

That’s it. It’s getting you to your rock bottom. And that’s the hardest bond to break is getting a parent to realize by cutting your child off you’re actually saving their lives, you’re not actually sending them to their death. I know that that is so reverse philosophy towards animalistic behavior from a parent to a child.

Estil Wallace:

It’s hard to internalize that but it’s the truth.

Brandon Lee:

But it is the god’s honest truth that if you have a child who is abusing drugs and you’re allowing them to live in your house you are sending them to their grave faster than if you were to cut them off. You are. We’re trying to get them to reach that level of desperation so that they’re waving the white flag on themselves and that mom and dad aren’t waving the white flag for their child.

Estil Wallace:

I’m really glad you brought this up and we’re talking about it and I hope that our listeners can gain value from this. I spoke with a mom a while back. She started blowing me up, “Hey …” It’s a kid that I know. “Hey, he’s living in my house. He’s getting high. What do I do?” I said, “You want direct advice?” And she said, “Yeah.” I said, “Kick him out.” She says, “Well, what if he dies?” And I said, “You’re not going to like this but he’s probably going to die in your house. Here’s the thing. You keeping him under your roof doesn’t change his probability or likelihood of death or survival. In fact, it probably increases the likelihood of his death. If you cut him loose, is it going to be cold out there? Sure. Are you going to be scared? 100%. Do I envy the position you’re in right now? Not at all and I might be there one day.” I hope that I’m not but I might be. I sure as hell put my parents in that position.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. I mean, enabling behavior is real. If you’re a parent paying for your child’s cellphone because you want to be able to connect with them, just realize you’re paying that bill so that he or she can call their drug dealer. And it’s sad. I mean, it’s sad because you never want to see that heartbreak from a parent.

Estil Wallace:

I can only imagine. I have little kids. I can only imagine.

Brandon Lee:

What that’s like to see somebody … Because a parent’s going to sit there and go, “No, I’m going to do everything that I can to save my child’s life.” And I get that. And part of that effort is by letting them go. It is by letting them go. Which is a really difficult thing, but it’s important which is why I tell each one them it’s going to be a very fruitless endeavor unless they wave the white flag themselves.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. My mom used to call the cops on me for sleeping in the backyard.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

And when she died six years ago … God, it’s almost seven years. When I held her hands and I was kissing her face, I was very fortunate. I was fortunate, lucky, whatever you want to say to be there at the moment that she left this life. And in that moment I thanked her and I said, “I’m sorry for putting you into horrible positions and I thank you for making the hard choices and the tough choices and you made all the right ones.” And I told her how much I loved her and I thanked her for doing that. And I feel incredibly fortunate I was able to do that with her. But god, as I think about that, in the moment it was raining. One particular morning that I remember. It happened more than once but the one in my mind it was raining. It was February so it was cold-ish. It’s Arizona cold. And she’s screaming at me through the window with the phone in her hand. And I remember just being annoyed and resentful. I remember thinking, “What the fuck does she care if I sleep on the patio while it’s raining? She doesn’t give me any money. She doesn’t help me in any way. What the fuck does she care that I can’t just sleep here?”

Estil Wallace:

And it wasn’t until I got into recovery until I looked back at that and thought, “Fuck man, how could I do that? How could I put her in that position to feel threatened in her own home? To feel that she had to call the cops to get me to leave?” And how helpless she had to feel that the only thing she could do was call the cops. That’s the only thing she could do to help her son. It’s horrible.

Brandon Lee:

It is horrible but that just goes to show you that when we are active in our disease how selfish we are and how selfish our thinking is.

Estil Wallace:

And I was beyond … Just like anyone who suffers with addiction, beyond power. I was beyond aid. Human aid that is. And I didn’t have the skills necessary and I was very much caught up in the cycle of addiction. And that’s why I think it’s so important to talk about it because addiction is a disease. It’s the third leading cause of death in America. Accidental death by overdose.

Brandon Lee:

100%.

Estil Wallace:

You gave me a little thumbs up on Instagram. A little thing I posted from Vice where we were talking about isolation being detrimental to people with mental health and addiction.

Brandon Lee:

For sure.

Estil Wallace:

What do you think’s going to happen once the coronavirus is put to bed, whether it’s six months from now or two years from now? When we look back on 2020, what do you think the consensus is going to be about isolating people?

Brandon Lee:

The consensus on isolating people. God. Well, we always tell people that isolation … Anybody new into sobriety or shit, just anybody who suffers from mental health. Because I have years of recovery and I definitely hit my wit’s end during isolation as well. I don’t have family. I don’t have kids. I don’t have a spouse. So I’m alone. And I know what it did to me with the experience that I have. So I can only imagine for somebody new into recovery. I knew right away as a news anchor when I was telling isolation stay at home orders that there was going to be a lot of death and relapse and it’s come to fruition. There has been a lot. Which is also the reason why I think we all need to show grace to those who have relapsed during the pandemic.

Estil Wallace:

100%.

Brandon Lee:

And to not make them start over at day one and count their chips all over again. And I will say that to the moon and back. I will say that at an AA meeting when I speak. Because we need to show grace. We need to show a level of compassion. I think one thing I will look back at this time is that we suck at compassion in this country. We suck at empathy. We suck at being able to see life through the lens of somebody else. And I hope that that is one thing that we’re able to do going forward. Because I think if we could … I think that if we didn’t demonize people as much as we do, there wouldn’t be to the level that we have. Listen, that being said, there … Was I happy to see AA meetings close down? No. Because I know what a Zoom meeting is like and I also know what being there in person is like and it’s different. Would I tell everybody to wear a mask at the meeting? Yeah. I would tell everybody to wear a fucking mask at the meeting. But if you need to go to a meeting, I would be all in favor for a group of 20 people to meet in an AA room so that people don’t isolate and that people don’t have to be alone.

Brandon Lee:

But I think that we can do two things at once. I think we can also take-

Estil Wallace:

Walk and chew gum.

Brandon Lee:

Right. Again, it’s going to a black and white mold. I think you can be able to be responsible but I also think that you could be also responsible by wearing a mask and by taking some other safety precautions. Why can’t we do both things?

Estil Wallace:

We can totally do 12 step meetings outside.

Brandon Lee:

Right.

Estil Wallace:

Sit six feet apart. That’s not that complicated.

Brandon Lee:

Right. I think that I would look back at this time, I would never like to see AA meetings shut down. I would never like to see any 12 step meetings shut down ever. I think that there’s always a way around it and I think that we need to get more creative than Zoom meetings to be able to get people to congregate together. Because if that’s the only connection that somebody who suffers from mental health is going to have during stay at home orders and during isolation is going to that one meeting a day where they actually get to see and be with people, we need to be able to do that.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. And without necessarily having all the answers, I think struggling and finding ways to do that is what’s important. Because we got to keep connection somehow.

Brandon Lee:

We have to keep connection because the opposite of addiction is connection. The opposite of addiction is connection. Because when we’re addicts we isolate. When we’re addicts we withdraw. We’re not social. We don’t like to socialize. But connection is what takes us out of that and gives us purpose and gives us meaning into our lives.

Estil Wallace:

It gives us accountability. It gives us fellowship, laughter.

Brandon Lee:

Right. Connection is all that. So the opposite of addiction is connection which is why we always have to be able to still find a way to connect with people in a responsible way.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Brandon Lee:

I really have to go though see my boss.

Estil Wallace:

Then we’re done. Then we’ll wrap it up. We’ll won’t go off the deep end. A real honor and a pleasure to have you here. If you haven’t read Mascara Boy, get Mascara Boy. It’s excellent. Our boy here is on the nightly … Nightly?

Brandon Lee:

Nightly.

Estil Wallace:

Nightly news on AZ Family?

Brandon Lee:

Yeah, AZ Family, 3TV, and CBS 5.

Estil Wallace:

Awesome. Real pleasure to have you here.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah, it’s a pleasure man.

Estil Wallace:

Thank you so much.

Brandon Lee:

Always good to have a conversation.

Estil Wallace:

Yes. Thank you so much for everything today.

Brandon Lee:

Yeah. Absolutely.