Celebrities hire Joe Schrank to keep them from using. We interviewed him to get a glimpse inside the world of a sobriety coach.
What does it mean to be a sobriety coach? Do you follow people around and make sure they don’t use?
Addiction is a very difficult thing to unravel and stabilize. The truth is that we still don’t really know all that much about it. What we do know is that there are many ineffective things out there. I like to think of being a sobriety coach as foundational scaffolding around people who cannot, or will not, do things any other way.
How do you know if you’ve failed as a recovery coach? If your client relapses, do they get their money back?
No. The great thing about failure in the recovery world is if they fail we can dismiss them as “unwilling.” We fail a lot. What other area of health care can have such a dismal rate of recovery? On an individual level, I would not consider a relapse of the client while on the job an inherent failure. Alcoholics drink. The miracle is when they aren’t drinking.
Tell us some crazy stories involving some of your celebrity clients.
Well, one time I was with a huge celebrity, and we had coffee at Starbucks! I guess that’s not all that interesting. I feel like part of my job is risk management, so if things are going well, it’s not all that interesting. I will say, as a blue-collar kid, I have found myself in some amazing places. Certainly I have some gritty crack and hooker stories, but I’ll let Us Weekly have those.
Screw Us Weekly. You can tell us.
Aren’t you supposed to be good men who are above that kind of thing?
OK, you’re right. Jeez. Save the lecture for your clients. So, how long should someone have a sobriety coach?
For the most part, you can’t keep one forever, nor should you. We all have to self-regulate and own our recovery at some point. For some clients I will just fill in when needed. For example, I have a very wealthy Wall Street guy who is stable but continues to trip up when flying for long periods. Trips to Tokyo can present trouble, as can hotel rooms. So what was once a 24/7 thing is now a few days a month when he is still vulnerable. I have a band I work with, and they’ve always had trouble on tour. So I go with them on tour.
What are you addicted to?
All kinds of things. I’m stable in my addiction to alcohol (I’ve been sober for nearly 14 years), but I’m still addicted to controversy, television, food, and work as a way to avoid feelings from a failed personal life. The good thing about being addicted to controversy is that it won’t kill you—although it will make you an asshole.
In your opinion, what’s the most difficult addiction to recover from?
Surely, the grandiosity of addicts makes us all think our individual addiction is the hardest. What I’ve learned about addictions is that they are as individual as a thumbprint, so the most difficult is the one you’re trying to overcome. My sense is, though, that some of the process addictions (food, sex) are very difficult, because you’re dealing with things that you can’t just avoid completely. You have to learn how to have a sane relationship with them, and if you’re addicted to one of those things, that’s not easy.
Who do you wish would hire you?
I’d love to work for a major league baseball team. They can give me a uniform, and I’ll keep the chaos outside the lines to a minimum. That’s my dream job, especially if they would let me have a few swings at batting practice.
Are celebrities more prone to addiction?
I think that people who seek fame have personality traits that make them vulnerable to addiction. They have a need for attention, and they seem to look outside of themselves for satisfaction. One of the things I think is common among addicts is an inability to self-soothe. Celebrities also have other things that increase their vulnerability: money, inconsistent schedules, and people who tolerate inappropriate behavior in a way they wouldn’t for anyone else.
How many sobriety coaches are there? Who is your biggest competition?
I have no idea how many sobriety coaches there are. There are no professional organizations, no liscensure, no standards of care or code of ethics. There are many people out there saying they are recovery coaches, but many are people who want to be close to celebrities and feel all fabulous about being a savior. That’s not the same thing as providing stewardship for someone’s recovery, which can be frustrating, tedious, heartbreaking, and certainly consuming. I used to say I wanted to be a sports agent, but really what I wanted was to stand on the 50-yard sideline and go to parties. That’s not really the same thing as being a sports agent.
What makes a good sobriety coach?
Having good boundaries is critical. And you have to be the right fit for the client. I do really well with young men in their 20s. Many of them want to be led, and they have an immediate big brother transference—which is becoming a father transference as I get older and fatter. I would not be a good fit for a histrionic housewife. I would have little empathy and would want to leave.
You were an offensive lineman at USC. You’re still a big guy. Does it help to be able to threaten your clients with physical violence if they use?
My physical presence has its benefits, for sure. Threats of violence is not a way I like to use it, although it has come to that when extracting clients from dangerous situations.
What frustrates you most about how this country understands, and seeks to treat, addiction?
At the moment, I’m pretty pissed of at the fact that more people are killed 30 miles south of Phoenix in our drug war than are killed in Iraq, and nobody seems to give a shit. I’m upset that we keep incarceration people (mostly black people) for what is a health issue. I’m upset that the Obama administration, while claiming to end the war on drugs, approved a $600 million increase to fight the violence on the border. (Give me half that and we can build treatment centers that will do a much better job of violence reduction.) I’m upset that when I worked at a government-run detox center, the coffee maker sucked and the copier never worked, and I bet the DEA has a rock-star copier and coffee maker. I’m upset at the lack of discourse about this problem. I’m upset at the lack of funding for research. And I’m really pissed that when I speak to New York City officials about a recovery high school, they look at me like I’m some kind of asshole, which might be true, but not because I think NYC should support kids who are in recovery.