C-Suite Profile - Jaime Blaustein
CEO of The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center
What physical or emotional traumas, genetic predispositions, or life events have you experienced that you feel had an impact on your ability to feel the healthiest you can feel from a mental health standpoint?
My struggles in active addiction starting at age 17 kicked off seven years of physical, emotional, and spiritual sickness. I attribute this mostly to a genetic component – my father was an opiate addict as well – more so than environmental circumstances. The nature of addiction is a physical allergy, mental obsession, and spiritual malady – the latter of which is synonymous with a ‘skewed outlook on the world.’ It’s possible that outlook was at least partially driven by environmental factors. At some point, I gave up trying to determine the answer to the question of “why”. I had all of the empirical evidence I needed to see that my reaction to putting substances in my body is simply different than others’ reactions, and it was at this point that I started to recover.
How did those events impact your state of mind and overall psyche in terms of symptoms? You can describe the feelings and/or share a diagnosis if you would like.
I have a long list of war stories but to put it more simply – addiction is a state of incomprehensible demoralization. I was a shell of my former self – and that self was a very “good” kid growing up. Great group of friends, high achieving academically, etc. Addiction takes all of that away and puts you in a dark state of loneliness and despair. It’s a miracle to say that I’m honestly extremely grateful for those struggles today. Those struggles are responsible for getting me to a place of desperation where I took counterintuitive actions that ultimately got me to the state I’m in today. One of contentment and serenity, and that leads to an incredibly rich and fulfilling life.
How did that experience that you’ve gone through change the way you view mental health?
Over time, I’ve realized that a spiritual solution solved 95% of my problems. By that I mean that the bulk of my mental health issues were driven by a view on the world, a narrative I told myself, that simply wasn’t true. However, I’ve realized that there’s a chemical component as well, and that contributed to a much smaller, but still relevant, driver of mental sickness. What I’ve learned is that honing in on the ‘source’ – be it spiritual, chemical, etc – is crucial and that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Once that source is determined, the appropriate set of ‘wellness’ measures can be applied to address the root of the problem and therefore alleviate the symptoms. I also firmly believe that external successes are something that should be celebrated and that they don’t run counter to the spirit of mental health. When we get better internally, the world around us begins to cooperate and the external blessings begin to fall in our lap.
Why did you decide to share your story (whether previously or on this site for the first time)? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
The longer I’ve been sober, the more I’ve opened up about my story. Family and friends have generally always been kept in the loop about where I’m at. As I progressed through life, I decided to be selectively open about the fact that I don’t drink or use drugs. Once I get closer to someone, I’m comfortable sharing some of the finer details of my story. It’s not about being ashamed, but simply being aware of the fact that people are inclined to make judgments based on stigmas that don’t necessarily apply. More recently, when I decided to leave the investment banking world for the behavioral health world, I’ve become open to an even greater degree. I’m now in this space, and that involves being transparent about the great miracle that has occurred in my life. I am careful not to portray this with any sort of pride or ego because I don’t feel I’m responsible for what has happened in my life. I’m simply lucky to have been placed in this position. Nonetheless, I have to talk about it because there are countless miracles out there waiting to happen and by attracting them with my story, I’m now placed in a position where I can be helpful.
Why do you value mental health? What is your motivation to help others?
Mental health forms the lens through which we view the world. The state of my internal condition is directly related to how connected I feel to others, how productive I am, and, most importantly, how useful I am to others. My motivation is driven by the fact that at one point in time I was in a hopeless place and unable to climb out of that hole on my own power. 7 rehabs, 5 arrests, countless overdoses, and ER visits – I was a dead man walking. And what happened was a recovery of miraculous proportions. I now view it as my duty to give others what was given to me – mentorship towards a solution on how to live life differently. Not only is it my duty, but it’s critical for me to maintain what I have.
When & why did you decide to ask for help to get relief from those feelings or symptoms?
After my 4th rehab, I knew I was an addict. I attempted to go through the motions of recovery and try to stay sober. But the truth is that it was still an intellectual exercise, not a gut-level one. It needed to move from my head to my heart. Once it finally did on Christmas Day of 2013, I recognized I was out of answers and the only option was to set aside everything I thought I knew and take direction from others. Maintaining that mentality over the last 7 and a half years has been a game-changer. There were many other “bottoms” on paper before I reached this point of surrender, but this was different. For the first time, I picked up the phone and called a treatment center because I knew I was going to die, not because I was strong-armed by family or the law. I knew it was over and that, if I did the next right thing, my life would be transformed – and that’s exactly what happened.
What methods or practices helped you get/feel better?
The 12 steps, prayer, meditation, working with other people through sponsorship, building a relationship with a higher power. I have an overall wellness package that also consists of the gym, hard work, a full social life, sticking to a routine, and other measures that keep me comfortable in my own skin.
If you have told your story before, how did people react when you went public? If you have not previously shared your story, how do you think people will react?
It’s funny, in early sobriety, I was terrified of telling people I was sober. I felt ashamed. I would go on dates and arrive early so that I could order a mocktail before my date arrived. Eventually, I got comfortable and began to own it. Sobriety is a good look on me. The more comfortable I got, the more my story started to resonate with others positively. People said to themselves, “Oh, he’s not a ‘square,’ he has a pretty cool story and it clearly gives him a set of interesting perspectives and intangible qualities he otherwise wouldn’t have.” When I was at Duke getting my MBA, I gave a type of TED talk, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. This was my first time speaking to non-addicts in a large forum, so it was a great indicator that people have empathy and can relate to many of the same patterns of thinking that characterized my years of addictive addiction.