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The Nameless Recovery Show
Episode #9 Chris Leben

Violence, Drugs & Recovery.

Estil Wallace:

All right. Well, we’re rolling right into another episode of The Nameless Recovery Show. Today, we got a super special guest, although I feel like I’m your guest. UFC champion, absolute brawler, bare knuckle fighter. You’re a legend in the fighting world. None other than Chris Leben.

Chris Leben:

Thanks, man. Thank you for having me.

Estil Wallace:

I’m super excited. Super excited. Thank you for having me, man, welcoming me into your home and into your gym. This is really an honor. I appreciate it. I don’t write any questions down, I just want to talk to you about recovery, I want to talk to you about your life. You can feel free to answer or not answer anything.

Chris Leben:

Okay. All right.

Estil Wallace:

You’re from Portland.

Chris Leben:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Estil Wallace:

You mentioned when we were walking on the gorgeous Sunset Cliffs a little while ago, you were talking about living in Hawaii. What brought you out to Hawaii?

Chris Leben:

It’s better to be broke on the beach than rich in the rain.

Estil Wallace:

I like that.

Chris Leben:

No, I like the saying, but honestly, I was kind of in a downward spiral and I was Portland and I was living in Seattle with a girl for a couple years, that went bad. I went back to Portland, life was falling apart and I was trying to train for fights, and then I got a job offer to run a gym in Hawaii.

Estil Wallace:

Which island?

Chris Leben:

O’ahu. O’ahu. And of course, by moving away from your problems, it always will solve them.

Estil Wallace:

I thought that, too.

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

So you showed up there?

Chris Leben:

So I moved to Hawaii and just found a whole new set of hang arounds, you know what I mean?

Estil Wallace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). When was it you went out there? When did you move to Hawaii? What year, you think?

Chris Leben:

2008, 2006, maybe. Yeah. 2007, something like that. I was there for a decade. Decade in Hawaii. I love Hawaii.

Estil Wallace:

Did you surf?

Chris Leben:

The thing about surfing is it sucks when you’re hungover. Worst fucking sport on the planet when you’re hungover. So it’s pretty sad, but I didn’t surf and enjoy the island. That’s one of my regrets. I didn’t surf and enjoy the island as much as I would have liked, because I really enjoyed surfing, but I was just always generally not feeling too good, you know?

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

I would clean up and straighten up enough to get through a training camp because that’s how I made my money to buy the other things that I needed, so of course that was priority. Free time was usually spent doing other things. But no, I absolutely loved Hawaii, really enjoyed it. Tried recovery out there briefly a few times in and out. They actually have a really great group of people out there, but I wasn’t ready at the time.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

Ultimately, seven years ago maybe, probably about seven years ago, maybe eight years ago, I moved out here. My wife at the time was Hawaiian and was going to go to law school out here, so moved to San Diego. It was just going to be a quick three-year stay. Things didn’t work out and then the story gets real long, but ultimately I got stuck here. Wanted to move back to Hawaii, but my probation officer didn’t think it was a good idea.

Estil Wallace:

Because naturally you got a fucking PO.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. So then fast forward, ended up finally really trying to work on the sobriety out here. Almost left again, and then just decided that this was a better place for me to be. Better place.

Estil Wallace:

San Diego’s pretty cool. Like we were talking earlier, I lived homeless actually for a while in San Diego, mostly around Belmont Park area.

Chris Leben:

Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

So I was boardwalking, hustling the boardwalk and then just-

Chris Leben:

You’re not the only one.

Estil Wallace:

… run amuck at night. Yeah. How old were you when you got into fighting professionally? You were pretty young.

Chris Leben:

I mean, I think I first started wrestling in, I don’t know, first grade.

Estil Wallace:

Oh, wow.

Chris Leben:

Third grade.

Estil Wallace:

So when you were a kiddo?

Chris Leben:

My mom had me in any sort of community parks program or anything that … because we were low income, so she got some free babysitting, basically. I didn’t really start taking it serious. I started boxing in seventh grade, and that’s when I took it seriously, and then it wasn’t until high school that I really started wrestling. In high school, I started wrestling year-round, full time, ninth grade.

Estil Wallace:

Rad.

Chris Leben:

Wrestled through high school.

Estil Wallace:

Was that an ambition when you were in high school, thinking you might go into fighting professionally as an adult?

Chris Leben:

No, man. I just wanted to smoke weed and skateboard, but …

Estil Wallace:

Fuck yeah. That’s what I did at that age.

Chris Leben:

I got… The story is, wrestling had already started, and-

Estil Wallace:

You’re pretty good at skateboarding. I’ve seen a little bit of it.

Chris Leben:

… this jock, Micah was his name, and he tried to trip me in the hallway in front of some girls. He was on the wrestling team, so I trained year-round my entire freshman year. Joined the wrestling team late, had to talk the coach into letting me join, and then my sophomore year I beat him for the varsity spot and he quit wrestling his senior year. It was all just to get even.

Estil Wallace:

Well, I take it he’s probably not a professional fighter, so I guess the joke’s on him.

Chris Leben:

No. No, probably not. Probably not.

Estil Wallace:

Well, so … fuck. UFC, I remember when UFC was brand new. I must have been a teenager. I remember seeing Hoyce Gracie just pretzeling motherfuckers, and I was like, “What is going on?” Nobody could beat him. How old were you? Were you watching all that go down and you were like, “Man, I’m going to be a part of this.”?

Chris Leben:

Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. In middle school, I was watching the UFCs, and one of my friends growing up, Dan, likes to remind me … he claims I told him I was going to be a UFC fighter back in seventh grade. I don’t remember that, but I always liked fighting, you know?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

So we were big fans, ultimately, and then Randy Couture was from Portland, Oregon, and he was the world champ back, I think about UFC 8 or so was, when he finally became world champ. Long story short, I went to the Army for 13 months. You can probably guess, that’s not a regular stint in the military.

Estil Wallace:

It’s a little short.

Chris Leben:

It’s a little short. Spent some time in military jail, got out of there, went home and my brother called me one day and he says … this is right after high school and then I went to the military and he says, “Randy Couture and Matt Miller are kicking the shit out of each other in the fucking garage of this used car lot I just got a job at.” And I’m like, “What the fuck? I’m on my way.” So shot down there, and that was the original Team Quest. Met my coach, Robert Follis, signed up that day, and that was it.

Estil Wallace:

Wow.

Chris Leben:

That was it. That’s how my career started.

Estil Wallace:

For you, drugs and alcohol and fighting just went together?

Chris Leben:

Everything in excess, nothing in moderation has always been my mantra. I’m still excessive in a lot of things I do, whether it’s my diet, or my workout, or my not dieting. I’m all-in. Whatever I do, I tend to be all-in. I was always like that. Years later, I realize that I probably had a fair amount of social anxiety going through school and even in my early twenties and stuff. Alcohol for me, solved all that. I look back, like for example the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, I was 23 at the time. I was a fucking asshole, and way too much self-confidence, but a lot of that was the booze talking.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

You know what I mean?

Chris Leben:

Everybody else hated me, but I loved myself when I was drunk. In that way, it helped me fill that void.

Estil Wallace:

So then what about, and this might be kind of a crazy question, but when you were in the depths of it, and I don’t mean from fighting, but when you were in the depths of your illness, did you ever think you were going to die?

Chris Leben:

Everybody thought I was going to die, yeah. Even my mom and my brother, who are drug addicts themselves, were calling me fucking crying going, “You’re going to die.” I can’t tell you how many people said, “I thought I was going to get a call at 2:00 in the morning,” or something. No. At the beginning, I thought I was invincible. I really did.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

I didn’t think I was going to die. It’s the same way that I fought. I just went full force at everything I did, and that was the same with drugs and alcohol. I look back, it’s a miracle I didn’t die. A lot of people around me did, but for some reason I would be like, “I’m a cockroach. They can’t kill me. I’m not going to die.” Anybody can die, though. Anybody can die, and when you’re young and dumb, and especially those early twenties, it’s a miracle, in hindsight, that I made it out.

Estil Wallace:

Right.

Chris Leben:

Made it out without death or prison, for that matter.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, it’s a pretty fast lifestyle.

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

All right, so now, flash forward. You’re sober, you got a couple years, you got a beautiful family. How does one go from that type of train wreck velocity to … the man I see in front of me sitting here is a dad, he’s a present husband and father, super chill, welcomed us into your home this morning. You seem like one of the kindest people I’ve met in months.

Chris Leben:

Thank you. Thanks.

Estil Wallace:

What happened to you?

Chris Leben:

Life is a school, not a playground, I guess. You’re constantly … Even in my addiction, I was always trying to grow, whether I was taking a bunch of fucking Oxycontin and sitting for six hours thinking I was medicating, I thought I was fucking being spiritual, but ultimately, you learn. You look back at situations and you realize how bad you fucked those situations up. In my case, it got to the point where it wasn’t fun for me to go out and drink downtown and try to take some drunk chick home anymore. Then I ended up … got married and I ruined that relationship with drugs and alcohol, ended up in jail several times. Several DUIs, lots of repercussions.

Chris Leben:

The last time I was in jail, I spent six months downtown here in San Diego, and then ultimately I started thinking, “I have to sober up. Every time I drink or anything else, it makes for a disaster. The next day is a waste.” I was going to the 12:00 meeting at the Alano Club initially. I would go to that meeting, sit there, I would come home, sit on my couch, cry, drink a pint of vodka so I could go to work, teach people jujitsu and how to fight. I figured nobody else knew I was really that drunk, but that was just to get me through teaching. Then decided I wanted to try to fight again because my career in the UFC didn’t end in the best, and drugs and alcohol were a big part of that.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

We could talk about that if you want, but ultimately I did my pre-fight medicals and I failed them. It turned out my heart was failing. I had a 14% ejection fraction and they told me I needed a new heart. The doctor literally said, “Probably the alcohol.” Cocaine and alcohol apparently are not that good on your heart.

Estil Wallace:

I heard that before.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. Yeah. I found out and that was heartbreaking. I couldn’t go back to fighting, now. But also, if I continued to drink, I was going to die. So the doctors literally said, “If you continue to drink, you’re going to die.” That didn’t get me sober.

Estil Wallace:

No.

Chris Leben:

No. No. No. It just made me more depressed. I had one sponsor, was kind of in and out, and I had this kid that was one of my fighters, was sleeping on my couch, lived with me for a while. Ultimately, he ended up overdosing on my buddy’s couch and my buddy calls me, “Hey, your dude’s fucking overdosing. What do I do?” And I’m like, “Fuck, take him to the fucking hospital. What do you think?” I went over there and this kid’s … obviously this kid in the hospital, he’s in and out of consciousness. I sat with him for probably a day until his parents finally flew up, and it was at that time that I met my sponsor, or I reached out to my sponsor. I already knew Tommy, who’s actually, he’s just sitting off camera here. Tommy sponsors an MMA event that I was refereeing, and I knew that he had a recovery facility, so I was trying to find this kid a home. Reached out to Tommy to maybe help me out with getting this kid in.

Chris Leben:

Long story short, kid didn’t really want to go, but we ended up forming a relationship and that’s how I met my sponsor. From that point, I was able to put together a little over a year, fucked up, put together nine months, fucked up again. Now I’ve had two and a half years of complete sobriety.

Estil Wallace:

That’s bad ass.

Chris Leben:

That’s kind of the quick gist of it.

Estil Wallace:

So you hook up with Tommy, start working steps, hitting meetings, doing the 12-step thing.

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

What happened inside of you?

Chris Leben:

I don’t think it was a one day thing. It was a slow change, and for me, it took awhile to really start to get comfortable with being sober, with being around people, but the more time, the more meetings we went to, the more times I sat down and read, and having somebody that you call every day and talk to that you don’t want to let down, that’s always been there for you, it definitely helped me through those troubled spots. There’s absolutely no way that I could have done on my own. And then all of the sudden, next thing you know you go, “Fuck. I’ve been sober two and a half years. Life is cooking.” Sometimes I feel like I’ll talk to Tommy or somebody else and I’ll be complaining about my wife not going fast enough and it’s like, “Fuck, buddy. You remember a couple years ago?” It was just a couple years ago I was sharing a bunk bed with a 12-year-old. Me and my chick were sleeping on top at her grandma’s house. I had nothing. And here I am complaining that life’s not happening fast enough.

Chris Leben:

It’s been constantly, steadily those rewards, those promises just continue to unfold in my life, and now I’m at the point now where it’s like, “Fuck. I actually have something to lose,” you know what I mean? I have a life worth staying sober for, like you said, beautiful family, child. I love what I do, and so it’s all paid off for sure. It’s better than sitting in fucking jail, I’ll tell you that.

Estil Wallace:

Well, you wear it well and it’s radiating off you.

Chris Leben:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

I mean, I can tell instantly, because obviously I’m in recovery myself. I’ve been sober quite a few years, and I could tell instantly.

Chris Leben:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

I can see that you’re centered. While there may be ambition and hunger, you seem content with your life. You look like a present husband and father. You seem like a good dude, a good neighbor.

Chris Leben:

Thanks, man.

Estil Wallace:

It’s cool, man.

Chris Leben:

Thank you. Thank you. I’m pretty happy. I got a pretty good setup, that’s for sure.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

I really can’t complain.

Estil Wallace:

You can absolutely see it and feel it. The thing that they talk about in the book, the thing that we talk about in the fellowship, it’s happened to you. That’s cool.

Chris Leben:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

That’s really cool. There’s always more work to do, but let me ask you this. Before you got into recovery, did you have an idea in your head what you thought drug addicts look like?

Chris Leben:

Yeah. At the beginning of my … My drug addiction and my fight career kind of paralleled partially just because of the money.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. Did you consider yourself a drug addict?

Chris Leben:

At a point, I did. At a point, I did. At a point, I knew I was an alcoholic and a junkie. I romanticized it almost.

Estil Wallace:

There you go. Yeah.

Chris Leben:

You know what I mean? I almost romanticized the idea of dying young and living life on the edge.

Estil Wallace:

You’re like the third person that’s come back to me with that answer, because my story is different. I didn’t consider myself an alcoholic or drug addict until literally I was sitting in jail or in a 12-step meeting.

Chris Leben:

No, I knew. I knew for sure. I mean, even if you asked me, I would tell you, “Yes, absolutely.”

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

At the beginning, I had this theory where I would do all my drugs that night, so however much alcohol there was, however much whatever else we’re talking about there was, I made sure we all had to do it all in the same night and don’t leave any in the morning because that’s what drug addicts do.

Estil Wallace:

I see.

Chris Leben:

Drug addicts save a little bit for when they wake up.

Estil Wallace:

You were just partying.

Chris Leben:

Right. I’m just partying. Exactly.

Estil Wallace:

I like it. I like it.

Chris Leben:

Exactly. Partying like a rockstar, you know?

Estil Wallace:

Fuck yeah.

Chris Leben:

Trying to live that rockstar, fight star, whatever life. Ultimately, there got to a point where that was just not functional for me to not save any for the morning. Morning was fucked if I didn’t do that, you know?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

That was probably at, I don’t know, 23, when that plan gave out.

Estil Wallace:

Wow.

Chris Leben:

And since then, I’ve known I was a drug addict. I really didn’t know I was an alcoholic until that first season of The Ultimate Fighter. I grew up in an alcoholic, drug addict family, a lot of methamphetamines and everything else. My mom always had a rule, “You can’t start drinking until noon.” That was her rule and I was allowed to drink as a kid.

Estil Wallace:

Sadly, I understand that logic.

Chris Leben:

Everybody woke up, 9:00, had a couple cups of coffee then switched to beer. That’s what all my uncles did, that’s what my mom did, and then sun went down, the whiskey came out. It wasn’t until I was able to watch myself on a reality show at 22 years old and see, 22, 23, and see the way other people were reacting to me when I was sober.

Estil Wallace:

What was the show?

Chris Leben:

The Ultimate Fighter. The first season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Estil Wallace:

Okay, I’m going to go check it out.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. I was a little out of control.

Estil Wallace:

I won’t hold any of it against you.

Chris Leben:

I pissed on a kid’s bed and I punched through a window, punched through a door, got in some fights, you know what I mean? Just crying and bawling and totally drunk. Just a fucking mess. Everybody’s like, “What the fuck is this guy’s deal?” I was fucking loaded, man.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

But you find a way when you do shit when you’re fucked up to justify it the next morning, but if there’s somebody there with a fucking camera, like in my case, the next morning you go back and you watch it and you go, “Oh shit, that’s pretty ugly.”

Estil Wallace:

I’m so glad none of my shit was recorded, televised, blogged about.

Chris Leben:

Right, can you imagine?

Estil Wallace:

Nobody …

Chris Leben:

Can you imagine having your-

Estil Wallace:

It’s all in the past.

Chris Leben:

… escapades on a fucking national TV?

Estil Wallace:

Oh, God. It hurts my head.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

I got a couple other buddies that have similar, they kind of grew up, did a lot of their alcoholic, crazy shit in the spotlight and …

Chris Leben:

[inaudible 00:23:33] “You did that. I loved that.” I’m like, “Dude, I’m not that guy anymore, man.” You’re talking about 15 years ago, dude. That’s not funny. But I still hear about it pretty regularly. People bring up some of the stuff I did on that show to me.

Estil Wallace:

Wow. Probably be hard tale to shake.

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

Tell me about life today, man. You’re sober a couple years, you got a beautiful family, you’re training people. You’re refereeing?

Chris Leben:

Yep. Refereeing, I’m doing some work for the Bare Knuckle Company. I got a few irons in the fire.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, and obviously you’re doing service work, you’re helping out guys in the 12-step world.

Chris Leben:

I could do more. I could do more, but …

Estil Wallace:

That’s a good, honest answer with the sponsor in the room. That’s good. Good thing you invited Tommy here this morning.

Chris Leben:

Yeah, man. Wouldn’t trade it. Certainly wouldn’t want to go back, man. It was dark at the end. I mean, I’m not going to say that drugs and alcohol ever stopped working for me, because for instant trauma relief, they always worked. They always worked, but they wear out and then it’s twice as bad the next day. It’s twice as bad, and like I was saying earlier, it took a long time for me, the life on life’s terms and learning how to deal with stress and real-world problems, because for so long, fuck it, “Fucking drink this beer and stop thinking about this.” It took me a long time to learn how to live life without being able to shut my brain off.

Estil Wallace:

Right.

Chris Leben:

But ultimately, once you start to figure out that you’re going to have to deal with the shit that you do. Because you’re sober, you go, “Fuck, I don’t want to do it,” and you stop doing all that stupid shit so you don’t ultimately have to deal with the repercussions.

Estil Wallace:

So you have to make amends all the time.

Chris Leben:

Right, right. It gets old. Yeah, exactly.

Estil Wallace:

You say you had a crazy Phoenix story. You woke up in Phoenix or something?

Chris Leben:

Yeah, well I got a couple of them. I know you guys just flew out here.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, we just flew out from Phoenix. Tell me something about Phoenix.

Chris Leben:

I was there this weekend.

Estil Wallace:

Oh, were you?

Chris Leben:

Yeah, man.

Estil Wallace:

We could have done this at the clinic, although this is a lot cooler, doing it here at your gym.

Chris Leben:

I felt bad. I was like, “Fuck,” I was so swamped with work out there. I was like, “I don’t know. They’re going to try to get me in and I’m not going to have time,” you know what I mean? Because we were doing tryouts for the Bare Knuckle thing and they had me working from morning to night.

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

I was in Phoenix this weekend. It’s an interesting place and I got to meet some interesting individuals out there actually, too. Three of the guys that, obviously when you’re talking about bare knuckle boxing, you get people from all walks of life, so definitely fueled my recovery being able to be out there. I had three different guys I interviewed that showed me their bullet holes from Phoenix. A couple overdose stories, suicide attempts. A lot of-

Estil Wallace:

We’ve had like 70,000, maybe 75,000 overdoses since June. It’s crazy.

Chris Leben:

A lot of guys living hard out there.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

At least in the little boxing gym that I was at and the neighborhood … We had some great people. They were all great people, you know?

Estil Wallace:

Sure.

Chris Leben:

One lady was a lawyer, there was somebody … but you definitely see the struggle. I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter where you’re at, right?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

Phoenix included, the struggle is real. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Scottsdale or even Arcadia. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. The struggle is real when it comes to drugs and alcohol. That’s something that I realized kind of later in life, because I always felt like growing up in poverty was part of the reason I was … but then I see now, I see people from every walk of life that have the same struggles that I do.

Estil Wallace:

Yep. Yeah, it’s a trip talking to dudes that have been living high on the hog for a long time and they’re like, “Fuck, man. My wife and kids don’t want me home.”

Chris Leben:

They’re just as bad off as any of us, you know what I mean?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. Oh yeah.

Chris Leben:

They only got more to lose.

Estil Wallace:

Well, next time you’re in Phoenix, man, hope you’ll let me know and love to buy you dinner and introduce you to my wife and kids.

Chris Leben:

Of course. Yeah, yeah.

Estil Wallace:

There was something else I was going to ask you about.

Chris Leben:

My other Phoenix story …

Estil Wallace:

Oh yeah, you say you woke up there?

Chris Leben:

Yeah. I woke up in Phoenix one time.

Estil Wallace:

Was it summer or winter?

Chris Leben:

I don’t remember. I think it was … It couldn’t have been too hot. It couldn’t have been too hot, but yeah, I remember … Actually, I was telling this story and Joe Diesel Riggs was at the last fight was there, and he’s like … because I woke up … The story was I woke up at the Phoenix airport when I was catching a flight home. I never remember going to Phoenix or even … apparently I spent almost a week there. Joe Diesel Riggs at the time was from Arizona and he’s like, “Oh, I’ll tell you what happened. You were with me.” And so he starts telling me the story. “I had to call your old lady because you tried to kill yourself and da, na, na. You were riding on the hood of my car.” I don’t remember any of it. I only remember coming to with a boarding pass out of Phoenix. I had somehow gotten through security and I was sitting at the gate having a drink and I was like, “What the fuck?” But that’s the way that I … that’s not the first time I had that happen.

Chris Leben:

I had one time I woke up and I was in the fucking middle of the fucking desert outside of Las Vegas. You could see the strip, but it was like this big, so I knew I was fucking out there. I had a bottle of Ketel One and a hundred-dollar cigar and no wallet, nothing. I finally ended up, some fucking bus came by, I flagged it down, I talked the bus driver into giving me a ride back, and I have no clue how I ever got out there. Somebody dropped me off, or …

Estil Wallace:

What were you doing in Vegas? Fighting, partying?

Chris Leben:

Yeah, yeah.

Estil Wallace:

All of the above?

Chris Leben:

I think we had fought and then my guy, Josh Burkman, had this billionaire sponsor, so he had a giant penthouse or something, but I remember partying with them and then it kind of fades away.

Estil Wallace:

They were handing out hundred-dollar cigars.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. Did I tell you about the Whistler one? I’ll tell one more of these kind of stories. I wake up and I’m in Whistler.

Estil Wallace:

Canada?

Chris Leben:

British Columbia. Yeah. I’m fucking passed out naked on a massage table and there’s this little Japanese dude yelling at me. And I’m like, “What the fuck?” So I look, I see my pants and as I’m putting my pants on, I realize there was a giant hot tub bathtub that I had stained completely red because my hair was bright red.

Estil Wallace:

That’s right, your hair used to be bright red.

Chris Leben:

And I look at him and I’m like, “Fuck you.” I don’t understand what he’s saying. I’m putting my shirt on, I’m walking out the door. As I walk out the door, there’s cops. So the cops grab me, they handcuff me and they’re walking me over to the cop car. As I’m walking to the cop car, my friends that I went up to Whistler with are walking back by me going to their hotel, like, “Hey, there he is.” And cops got me under each arm or whatever. Long story short, ultimately the fucking … Canada, I don’t know. They let me off. Somehow there were no signs of breaking and entering, so I didn’t get charged with it and they let me off with a fucking written warning, dude. I don’t know if I’m allowed back in Canada, but no clue again, how any of that happened.

Estil Wallace:

If we go snowboarding, we’ll have to go to Colorado or we’ll go to Big Bear or something.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. Well, I’m a long ways away from going to Canada. Canada and Australia don’t want me. Tried. Tried.

Estil Wallace:

So tell me about your hair. When did you start dying your hair bright red? I’ve seen some pictures on the internet.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. So the hair was really just a gimmick. One of my best friends, Ed Herman, after training we’d go over to his house, we’re hanging out and we’re talking, story, I’m like, “We need to get these fucking promoters to remember us so we stick out.” I was like, “Fuck it. I’m going to dye my hair bright red, paint my fingernails black,” and this was maybe my third, fourth fight, fifth fight, something like that, and so that’s what I started doing before every fight, just so the promoters remembered who I was. You got to remember, at that-

Estil Wallace:

It’s memorable.

Chris Leben:

At that time, no fighters were dying their hair crazy colors. It wasn’t the thing. Now, a fighter comes out with purple hair or something, nobody’s going to remember. But then, I stuck out. Everybody remembered me. It worked like a charm. It worked really well. People see me all the time and they go, “Chris, your hair’s not red,” and I go, “Yeah, fuck. It grows brown.”

Estil Wallace:

This is the color it comes in naturally.

Chris Leben:

Right. I’m fucking 40, man. What do you expect now? Walking around with fucking Ronald McDonald hair all the time. But I remember-

Estil Wallace:

Ruining hot tubs and shit.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. The last couple times I did try to dye it, too many people noticed me. Sticks out too much, so it’s easier to just keep it, not dye it bright red.

Estil Wallace:

I see you got a couple tattoos.

Chris Leben:

One or two.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. You get any tattoos in recovery?

Chris Leben:

Yeah. Yeah. It fucking sucked, bro. I had no idea how bad tattoos hurt, yeah. Fuck.

Estil Wallace:

Did you get your stomach done pre-recovery?

Chris Leben:

Yeah, I got … this side was all post-recovery. I don’t know if you can see it.

Estil Wallace:

You got that since you got sober?

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

Fuck.

Chris Leben:

Yeah, I got all that since I got sober and it was fucking horrible.

Estil Wallace:

Oh, God.

Chris Leben:

It was horrible.

Estil Wallace:

In the post-edit, I’ll do a shot from the internet that shows that real clean and everybody can see how sick that looks.

Chris Leben:

Yeah. People, they used to be like, “You sat there for seven hours working on … ” I’m like, “You know, I just have a high pain tolerance.” Turns out you take enough Oxycontin, everybody has a high pain tolerance. But yeah, so since that one I keep wanting to do another one, but I’m a little chicken now. I’m like, “Fuck, I don’t know.” I don’t really want to sit through it. When I was young, I would sit for six, seven hours at a time, and then …

Estil Wallace:

And you’re covered. Your back is blasted out, right?

Chris Leben:

Yeah, yeah.

Estil Wallace:

Both arms. Your stomach, legs.

Chris Leben:

Yeah, I’m pretty covered up, but yeah, this one, I told the guy every time I went in. I was like, “Look, fucking two hours, bro. We’re setting the clock, we’re doing two hours. You take whatever breaks you want, but I’m sitting in this chair for two hours and I’m done for the day. That’s it. I’m not ruining my whole weekend because I’m laid up on the couch.”

Estil Wallace:

Bandaged up like it’s-

Chris Leben:

So that’s my new rule with tattoos, two hours. That’s it.

Estil Wallace:

I like it. I support that rule. I support that rule. I’m good for a couple hours.

Chris Leben:

Couple hours, yeah.

Estil Wallace:

I sat pretty recently for six.

Chris Leben:

Oh really?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, it was not [crosstalk 00:35:47].

Chris Leben:

Where at?

Estil Wallace:

On this arm. I’m working on this arm right now.

Chris Leben:

Oh, the arm? Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

I did seven and a half on my back. It was two sessions.

Estil Wallace:

Fuck.

Chris Leben:

And I was sitting there with my tattooist, and we’re thinking lidocaine, Novocaine, cocaine.

Estil Wallace:

Cocaine. Just knock me out, dude.

Chris Leben:

And I used to always get tattooed right after a fight because then I wasn’t going to train for a while so it was a good time to recover. So I would show up with a bottle of Jameson and a bunch of drugs. And so we put a bunch of cocaine in the tattoo ink thinking that that was a good idea, and I ended up … I was literally fucking jumping before the gun would even touch me. I was like, “Ah.” Ultimately what happened is I passed out. I passed out and fucking hit my head on the floor. Finally, just the pain was just too bad, but yeah, that doesn’t work. Maybe for eye surgery in the 1800s, but not so much for a tattoo on your back.

Estil Wallace:

All right, here’s a serious question.

Chris Leben:

All right.

Estil Wallace:

If there’s somebody watching this, man. Hopefully we’ll get a few more clicks because you’re a legend. If somebody’s watching this, man, and they’re thinking, “Man, I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic, but I sure this fucking bullshit would stop.” If there’s somebody struggling right now, trying to figure out if they need help or not, what would you say to that guy?

Chris Leben:

I’ll tell you what I’ve challenged a few of my friends to do is, on the advice of my sponsor, is I tell them to go out and try some controlled drinking. For example, one of my sponsees I did that with, I said, “You know what? Go out and try some controlled drinking.” And then I’m getting a call from Las Vegas a few days … If you’re an alcoholic of any sort and you go, “You know what? I’m just going to tone it down. I’m just going to have two beers.” you’re never going to just have two beers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people … even now when I go out to the bar and I see somebody leave half a glass of wine, it fucking bothers me. It literally bothers me.

Tommy:

[inaudible 00:38:04] wasting alcohol.

Chris Leben:

Yeah, wasting. We talked a little bit about it earlier, but you have to be ready. You can’t tell anybody, “You need to get in recovery. [inaudible 00:38:20]. You need to do this, you need to do that,” so instead of doing that I say, “Really? Well, why don’t you try some controlled drinking and call me back in a few days and let me know how that went?” So far, since I’ve tried that, I’ve never had anybody call me back with success.

Estil Wallace:

No.

Chris Leben:

It hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened. Now, it is scary because hopefully they survived that, because especially with a lot of the other stuff that’s going on kids are into nowadays, there’s no such thing as controlled fentanyl use.

Estil Wallace:

Nope.

Chris Leben:

Or other things.

Estil Wallace:

No, kids are overdosing and dying right away.

Chris Leben:

It’s a scary, scary thing, but they have to want it and see it and you have to find a way to make them see it without scaring them away from you.

Estil Wallace:

Right.

Chris Leben:

So I think twisting too hard can be just as bad as not twisting at all. I don’t know if that’s the right term, but you know what I’m saying.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Chris Leben:

So everybody is different. How I would relate to every person and their personal issue would be differently, I suppose. Some people you can through with logic. “Well, let’s sit down and let’s talk about this. Let’s see. Okay, so you’ve tried to drink fucking 30 times in the last 30 days, and every time you’ve ended up [inaudible 00:39:48].” Okay, well then … You know what I mean? But other people, “Well, I was just, … ” so you got to do a little more work with those people, I guess.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. I mean, that’s me. You’re talking about me. I have a pitcher of beer and some hot wings, is what I go out for, and I used for three months. I don’t know what happened, but it got away from me.

Chris Leben:

“Oh shoot. I was just going to have a pitcher of beer.”

Estil Wallace:

Yes and hot wings. I was going to go down to Long Wongs.

Chris Leben:

Three months and 40 pounds later …

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, dude. 40 pounds off, yeah.

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, because now all my shit’s in storage and I’m running around tweaking.

Chris Leben:

That’s it. That’s what happens. That’s what happens.

Estil Wallace:

How important to you is human connection?

Chris Leben:

It’s pretty important. It’s pretty important. I’m pretty lucky. I get a decent amount of it. Here, I call my sponsor every day, I see him a couple times a week. I have a group of guys that I train, the majority of which are in recovery.

Estil Wallace:

That’s rad.

Chris Leben:

My couple meetings, I’m pretty religious about making my couple meetings a week.

Estil Wallace:

You going to in-person meetings?

Chris Leben:

Not right now.

Estil Wallace:

Zoom?

Chris Leben:

Not right now. They’re on Zoom, but I’m always there. Even when I’m out of town. Even when I’m out of town. I suppose I haven’t really thought about it, but I’m pretty lucky for that. I’m pretty lucky for that, because I can imagine at this time in history that we’re in right now, if you were a young person trying to get sober, trying to pull up somebody’s phone number off the chat, you don’t know the phone number to the face and you didn’t really get a connection … it can be very difficult. I can’t imagine. I’m lucky that I’m already embedded enough that during this time when there is so little human connection and so much social distancing, I got a group of men around me that I can reach out to at all times. So I’m pretty lucky in that way.

Estil Wallace:

That’s awesome. I feel very fortunate, too, and I feel fortunate and honored that you invited us into your home.

Chris Leben:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

And here we are hanging out-

Chris Leben:

Thanks, man.

Estil Wallace:

… talking about real life, man, and being honest.

Chris Leben:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

It’s cool. It’s really cool. Well, I don’t want to eat up your entire day, man. You’ve been really gracious with us, and I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know if you’re going to hug it out, but I’m a hugger.

Chris Leben:

All right, let’s hug it out.

Estil Wallace:

Thank you, brother. I appreciate you, man.

Tommy:

[inaudible 00:42:17], right there.

Chris Leben:

It’s a-

Estil Wallace:

You fucked me up, bro.

Chris Leben:

It’s funny that you said that. It’s actually kind of a running joke, here. Neither Tommy or I are huggers. We’re both knuckles guys.

Estil Wallace:

Knuckles, all right.

Chris Leben:

Yeah.

Tommy:

[inaudible 00:42:35] I do.

Estil Wallace:

Come on, man. Bring it in. Bring it in, Tommy.

Tommy:

[inaudible 00:42:38].

Chris Leben:

Come on in. Bring it in. Bring it in.

Tommy:

[crosstalk 00:42:39]