The Healing Journey with Mike Wagner

Episode 054
Duration 56 min
Mike Wagner - Family Man, Entrepreneur and Coach
Mike Wagner

Mike Wagner is an inspiring soul. He’s a family man, entrepreneur, coach, mentor, and many other things in the world. He’s also become one of my closest friends in recent years.

This episode is a powerful and vulnerable conversation around healing. Mike shares insights and experiences around understanding trauma, giving up alcohol, the pursuit of personal growth, plant based medicine, and much more.   We discuss Mike’s journey into healing and the amazing path it’s led him down.

Mike also shares some very real perspective around emotional intelligence and it’s relationship to our nervous system. His story is a masterclass on how to recognize trauma, become more in tune with our emotions, and then heal holistically. This is the real stuff from a man who’s walked the path.

I appreciate Mike for his many things, but above all, it’s courage.  He’s chosen to do the harder inner work over the last few years and I’ve witnessed it first hand. Now he’s sharing what he’s learned in service of others.

I’m grateful and honored to do life with Mike Wagner.

Transcript

[00:00:00] Ali: Welcome back, folks. Today, I have a great friend, Mr. Mike Wagner, been in my life for about five years, almost five years now. You're also the second repeat guest on The Power Space. Eric Turnnessen was the other one, and the three of us have had some magical convos recently that will reveal themselves in due time.

But today, dude, I'm excited to have you here for another conversation. What I would share about you, Mike, is that you are definitely one of my favorite humans to muse and explore thoughts with amongst other things. And the reason I described that is because you've also inspired me to muse more. I'm musing now for myself a lot.

I'm publishing these things called musings because I just love getting lost in deep meaningful thought. And we do that a lot. In fact, I think it's almost inevitable when we hang out, like we don't talk about sports. We don't talk about the things that are easy to fall into, we get right into it. And that's just the thought.

I love being around you. I dig your energy. So again, you've become a great friend in my life. I will digress though. Who is Mike Wagner today?

[00:01:23] Mike: Well, first, let me say, Ali, thank you for having me, man. I got to tell you very quickly before I tell you who I am today, that I thought of you just this morning, even before I remembered we had this call this afternoon. I was listening to a podcast and the speaker mentioned the word synchrony.

And how there are just some people in our life when you get together and start talking with one another or being with one another , there's not only a synergy between the individuals, but also a synchrony that forms between their respiration, their heart rates, their vibration, et cetera. And you are the first person I thought of when they said the word synchrony. So I wanted to share that with you.

To directly answer your question. Who am I?

Well, most recently I'm a father again. We just welcomed our fourth child Jack into the world as we're recording this two and a half weeks ago. So we are adjusting to all that it means to welcome a new family member into an already full house of five. So now we're we're capped out at six. At least that's what my wife tells me.

And dude, I'm just embracing every minute of it. It is awesome. Hmm.

[00:02:31] Ali: I love that. Yeah. So two and a half weeks. Congratulations. I also want to honor that I happen to know that it's been a journey to get to this one. And so it's amazing that you use the word synchrony, dude.

First off, thank you. That was a gift I receive. And I know that without getting into a lot of details that you guys had some challenges with this fourth child and Gabrielle and I a couple years ago also had challenges. What's interesting is that, and no one knows this, I'm speaking this for the first time. We had a pretty intimate convo the other day where I showed her a picture of Jack and she later shared with me that, "Oh, maybe I am open to going for the third." Maybe not necessarily the whole birthing process, but even adoption.

And so it's an inspiration. The persistence, the love you all had to continue that journey. So I love that. And I see the courage behind it.

[00:03:29] Mike: Yeah, well, thank you for sharing that, man. I look forward to sharing that with Melanie because that's one of the things that's very important to her is kind of shining a light on this battle that so many people fight behind closed doors, right?

For whatever reason, pregnancy lost and those kinds of challenges are, like many things that are hard to talk about end up not getting talked about in our society. And so, she will love to hear that our story is affecting other people, especially people that both she and I care about, you guys.

So, thank you for sharing that, man.

[00:03:59] Ali: A hundred percent. Yeah, man.

So, we could spend the whole time talking about fatherhood. Maybe we will do that one day. But one of the things that's presented itself recently has been part of your journey and also something that the world is waking up to is healing.

You and I had a transformational experience a year ago at an event called FRD Live. And I'm going to let you talk about when the healing started, how you approached it, all the good stuff that I'm very curious about some things I probably don't even know yet. But what I do know is that part of what was, was so transformational during that experience for me and being with you was watching you and observing you and seeing how courageous you were to embrace the path.

And I'm emphasizing this because, like I said, I think whether it's trauma or patterns or whatever it is that's holding you back in life, the world is really coming around to understanding that, yo, a lot of us have major healing to do.

Would you agree with that?

[00:05:14] Mike: Yeah, 100%. I think the world is coming around to the idea, and I would suggest far too late and still far too slowly.

And I say that not from a place of judgment, but from a place of compassion and sadness for how long I personally suffered beneath trauma. Because I didn't have a safe place to heal from it. And without being hyperbolic, I will assert humbly that I believe trauma, in many ways, is the root of just about all of the problems that we experience in this world.

And that the solutions to these problems that we experience not a quick fix. There's no magic bullet. I don't have some, you know, I'm not, not pretending that I have some, some magic fix. But I, I have gained an understanding at least personally. And I think some of that will have value for others. At least that's my hope. And like I said, I think it's, it's coming too slowly still to this day.

I am very much optimistic and energized by the trend and the momentum toward what seems to be a healthier relationship with trauma and healing and those sorts of things. So yeah, I'm excited. And at the same time, I don't think I could get to a place where I was like, well, we're moving too fast now. Right?

This can't come fast enough if you ask me.

[00:06:42] Ali: Yeah, I feel that. So let's go back then. When do you think you realized that there was healing that needed to happen.

[00:06:49] Mike: Yeah. So that's, that's a really interesting question. Because every time I think I have a handle on it, I recognize that there's more healing that needs to happen that I wasn't aware of just 24 hours ago. Right.

So it's definitely this, this layers of an onion kind of thing. But for simplicity and I think it's helpful to chunk our lives into chapters or seasons or, you know, view it through the lens of inflection points, these big moments that change. And so, for me, one of those big inflection points where the healing really started to happen was a little over five years ago when I decided to stop drinking.

Obviously that decision was a decision that emerged out of love for myself and a desire for healing. Now it wasn't conscious because at the time I would be like, I don't have anything to heal from. The alcohol is just not doing me any good anymore. And I want to make sure I paint the picture accurately.

Like when I told my wife I was going to stop drinking, she's like, "But why? You don't have a problem." And that was critically important because it was the first time in my life where I admitted to a problem that other people didn't know about.

And I said, I don't have a problem that you can see. Outwardly, I don't have a drinking problem. I'm high achieving and to most, you know, just handle a drink or two a couple times a week. Not a big deal. But whether I woke up in the morning, having had a couple of drinks or abstaining one half of my brain hated the other half.

It was like each got a vote on if I was going to drink at night and no matter which way I went, half my brain was pissed off at the other half. It's like, that's a shitty way to wake up every day. Like you're always losing.

And so there was a very big energetic cost to maintaining that relationship with alcohol. And so I just decided to stop. And that for me was probably the start of the conscious healing journey that I've been on.

I could argue that we're always surviving. And surviving is a form of healing. It's just the lowest form of healing. It's self preservation rather than self realization. But they're on the same spectrum of wellness. So yeah, I guess I'll leave it there and let you follow up with whatever you'd like.

[00:09:05] Ali: Yeah. I like that entry point and I'm just going to reflect back to. I think my question, "when did you know you needed to start healing?" I don't think we know. Or at least what I've seen in you, what I've seen myself, what I see in people is that there's a realization later, like, Oh, okay.

Either this is healing. Or like you said, peeling back the onion metaphor. It's just this endless game of being like, well, there's always something. And, you know, that's an interesting thing in itself, Mike.

Because what I've given some thought to is that, I haven't met anyone where I'm like, you're perfect. Or like, you've got everything you need. And I just use that term because a lot of like, emotional stability, happiness, even content, peace, is like, "do I need anything right now?"

And as you use the alcohol example, yes, it's one of those things that can mess with your messes with me. You know, sometimes like, "Oh, do I have a beer today or not?"

And relieving yourself of that is a part of kind of letting go of the grip, the control, whatever the game. And like you said, I like you said, energetic cost.

So that's, that's a very interesting place to be if you're even trying to answer that initial question, I had like, do I need to heal? It's like, well, what is your day like? Do you wake up with that energetic cost? And are you slower? Is it harder to get into the day? Or do you have peace? Do you have clarity? Do you have focus?

So to take this further, as you became aware , what were some of the insights that presented themselves as you stopped drinking? And did you have more clarity? Did you have more focus and then have an evolution of the healing?

[00:10:56] Mike: Yeah. So I'm really glad for that redirection because, yes, a hundred percent. When I stopped drinking, I didn't know I needed to heal. I wasn't trying to heal from anything. I was trying to stop drinking.

And so I was in many ways rejecting the Mike Wagner that drank and initially white knuckling my way. And it was easier then I might've guessed after, you know, 20 years of essentially self medicating. But what I needed to do was stop drinking for long enough to recognize that, Oh, I actually never had a drinking problem. I had other issues and alcohol was my best attempt at solving them.

And so it was after deciding to stop drinking, and then pursuing with intentionality, what I would describe as personal growth, right? You know, I always used to say, if you're not growing, you're dying. I'm not sure I fully agree with that statement I believe that it's got some truth embedded in it. I also believe there's a little bit of trauma rooted in a statement like that.

And so, kind of fast forward a couple of years, I found Front Row Dads four or five years ago. That's where I met you and I'm forever grateful for the resources and relationships that I've been introduced to through that organization.

And one of them, as you alluded to was Front Row Dads LIVE last year. And I would point to that event as the confirmation that I needed to heal from something. And it was the weeks and months after that event and I'm happy to share the details of the very profound experience that I had during a breathwork session at that event. Truly psychedelic experience without ingesting an ounce of psychedelic anything other than my own breath. And it was quite literally life changing.

But what happened in the weeks after that is for the first time in my life I came to recognize how affected I was by anxiety and depression. Which I now, a year later, understand those just to be symptoms of unfelt emotions from traumatic experiences of my youth.

So there's a tendency in our culture to want to fix the problem. And so If you have a drinking problem, stop drinking. Well, no, the drinking was a symptom to a problem.

The problem was some anxiety and depression that I was using alcohol to numb or medicate around. And it worked. It worked well enough for long enough that it took me 20 years to figure out that the costs eventually eclipsed the benefits, right?

And the reason is because, again, I was addressing anxiety and depression, these moods, as opposed to the root cause, the traumatic experiences and the trapped emotions. The emotional, baggage, if you will, that needed to be unpacked and released in order for me to truly heal. Right?

I've never viewed it as trying to solve for anxiety or solve for depression. Because those are just the sequelae of the internal experience, my nervous system, my body, etc. And those are actually gifts. The depression and anxiety are actually the gifts that point me toward the healing journey that I've been on and that I'll be on for the rest of my life.

And I think that all of us, if we choose to, have as an opportunity to pursue.

[00:14:27] Ali: Yes, that's so profound because what you're pointing out is that it's really easy to have these symptoms or this way of feeling in your life. I'm anxious. I'm depressed. I'm tired. And to your point, we go off to the doctor and ask them to fix that.

Solve this. I don't want to be depressed anymore. I don't want to be. And what do they normally do? They give us pills. Which I'm very anti, and I'm not going to go all up in that world. What I want to point out is what your presenting here. Those are just an effect of a much deeper root cause, right?

Whether that's some variation of trauma or it's a past memory, like you said, suppressed and trapped emotions, which are real. And this is hard to talk about because it's not the easiest thing to prove with science. Like We have an understanding of emotions, at least a consensus reality, right? As we talked about with our buddy Eric. Like most humans agree that we've got these emotions and these are the things we can learn from them.

But I can't tell you with certainty what my trauma looks like, feels like. That's mine. And so is yours. And so what I think is really, really important for people to hear in your message is that when you're feeling off, when you're feeling depressed, anxious, some of these common things, it's usually not that that you have to solve for. It's usually something much deeper that is cultivating those things, right?

[00:16:01] Mike: Yeah, absolutely. And what I've come to learn and I'm not even an expert of one, right? I'm making it up as I go as I try to heal myself, but I have learned a good bit that has been helpful for me. And so my hope is that in sharing my story, it's helpful to others.

One of the things I recognize, a huge aspect of my healing, as it relates to these emotions, is, you know, as a young boy, my father passed away, and I became, quote unquote, "the man of the house." That was told to me by good hearted people who were just saying what they thought needed to be said or would be helpful or whatever.

But in retrospect, despite their good intentions, what that told me was, well, men don't cry, men don't get afraid, and men don't ask for help. It left anger open to me. So that's been part of my journey. And that's actually one of the symptoms that I sought out to heal from or to resolve expression of anger that was out of alignment with who I knew my true self to be.

And so these emotions were kind of made off limits to me for lack of a better way to describe it. And then I lived the next 30 plus years suppressing those emotions and resisting them.

And the thing that I've learned is I resisted them because back then I couldn't handle them for as big as they were, and I was told I shouldn't have them, and so I pushed them down and buried them. And after doing that for long enough, you start to almost be afraid of fear the pain associated with sadness or fear or whatnot. And so you deny and suppress and repress.

Well, what I ultimately realized was that the suffering that I ultimately experienced was a result of the resistance to the emotions, and the effort and energetic costs of keeping them at bay rather than the emotion itself.

So if there was sadness, the suffering that came with sadness that I might experience, you know, a year or two or three ago was in trying to hold that sadness deep inside of me, as opposed to letting it roll through me. And I'm sure many of our listeners have experienced like the relief that comes when sadness does break through. When we get to the point where we're willing to have that ugly cry, whether it's alone or with somebody we love.

And it's like, If we pay attention, there's a hugely valuable lesson. Where it's like, holy shit, if I had known it'd feel so good to cry, I would have done it a long time ago. Right? And that's the sandbox that I've been playing in for the last couple of years is getting back in touch with my various emotions and learning about them and how I relate to them in a way that's healthier.

Because ultimately what happened is all of what I experienced happened so slowly. I like to equate it to like kind of sliding down a slope. It was only a 1 percent grade going in the wrong direction. But after 30 years, 1 percent down creates a really big hole.

And to circle back to your original question, like when did you know you had some healing to do?

It was in that moment after Front Row Dads LIVE when I turned around, stopped resisting the fear and grief and anger because of some things that happened to me when I was a kid, and I instead started to accept and approach them. That gave me the clarity to look around and go, holy shit. I have been anxious and depressed and unwilling to admit it.

[00:19:47] Mike: Not to anybody else, but even to myself for 30 plus years. And the net result is now I feel like I'm 10 feet underground. And I got to figure out a way to get out. Right.

[00:20:00] Ali: Hmm. That is big, dude. Yes. You mentioned a word that I want to explore further, accept. I heard you say when I was willing to accept and then embrace. I think this is a the part that again, gets blurry or fuzzy for people. Like, okay great, maybe we have an understanding of emotions and what they mean, but it's a whole different thing to be with them, allow them, accept them.

Use these strong words. Integrate them, which is a part of the healing process, right? And this is my journey until I got deep into emotional intelligence and really got curious and started practicing in my home and started crying a lot more, dude.

It's that they're scary. It's that simple, is that being open is scary because emotions come and they can be powerful, dude. And you know what's so fascinating? I love going back to young children, probably because they're in my life, I see them every day, and they just continue to teach me things over and over again.

So, I've already talked about tantrums, they're such a beautiful example of how emotion just moves through a child and then they're done. The funny thing is it scares adults. It's one thing if you're the parent, who has to be and witness your child throwing a tantrum in public, that scares the shit out of people.

It even scares other people. Like if you notice you're at a grocery store, like you'll see a kid, and then other people are like, uneasy. And so bringing this back to embracing the emotion, even crying, I believe it's literally the body's way of being like, "Yo, something needs to come out." It's not good or bad, it's not right or wrong, it just needs to come through me.

And if you block it, if you suppress it, you repress it, guess what? It's going to stay there, and it's going to keep nagging you, and fucking with you, and doing things that ultimately affect your day.

I want to come back to the three things you said, to kind of tie this thought together. Men don't cry. Men don't get afraid. Men don't ask for help.

These are three of the things I have tried to focus on more than ever in the last several years. And not to a place where like I'm trying to cry. I just cry more naturally because I'm trying to allow emotions and accept them.

I didn't used to get afraid. I definitely didn't, uh, Admit it. I get scared a lot now. And I recognize it, I name it, it's one of my most common tools with my children. They do something that like misaligns with some of our core values or literally just like is a threat. I'm like, Ooh, that scares me. Instead of, I don't like that. Don't do that. You shouldn't do that. Say, Hey, that really scares me.

And the last one is so big, men don't ask for help. Dude, life is lonely if you don't ask for help. That's the word. It's just lonely.

Is that part of kind of how you, you've experienced it?

[00:23:02] Mike: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, loneliness is a whole nother chapter we could spend a full episode on. But I think even above that layer of loneliness before I could even tap into that aspect, I had to play with the worthiness aspect that's almost I don't want to say above it, but like intermixed into it. And that is men don't ask for help because Well, asking for help means you're not good enough to do it on your own.

And a lot of this is cultural, right? Especially, you know, big boys don't cry. The truth is a lot of us do that to our daughters too. Oh, you're okay. Just get up. Right. And I'm not faulting any of the adults who might have contributed to these belief systems that I lived with for so long. All they were doing was the best that they could do.

And if they didn't have emotional intelligence, or an emotional awareness, or if they weren't comfortable with their emotions, of course they're not going to be able to be comfortable with mine as a little boy. And if I'm not comfortable with mine, of course, I can't be comfortable with my own children's.

And that's what you were describing. Everybody is scared of toddlers having tantrums in the grocery store. It's like, that's true for the vast majority of us. And for those of us that decide they want to explore why that might be. We can allow ourselves to feel the fear instead of the protective aspect, which would be, and this relates to what you talked about with acceptance, the judgment.

I see Ali's kids freaking out in the grocery store and he's just standing there allowing them to have their tantrum. My old self would look at you and go, dude, that guy's got to get his kids in line. What the hell's wrong with him? That's me projecting onto you a judgment. Every judgment in my estimation is protective in nature.

And so all I'm doing when I say, "wow, Ali's a bad parent cause he's letting his kids tantrum" is protecting myself from having to do the work to get comfortable enough to not be scared of your kid tantruming, right?

And I don't want to discount or make it sound cheap, because this isn't a flipping comment, but it is how I approach it. And it's the only way I can approach such serious work and not get overwhelmed by it. It's like, it's just a fascinating game. And sometimes I forget that it's a game, and I get caught in the spiral going the wrong direction, but when I can remember, okay, this feeling, this sensation, this emotion, is here to teach me something. And I can pause, take a deep breath, accept the emotion and then seek the gift in it.

I think that's where we access the healing that you talked about. Right. Because I know you mentioned earlier, it's hard to find scientific evidence for some of this stuff because scientists don't even agree on what emotions exactly are. That said, there is a lot of really strong evidence, and I geek out on some of this stuff, around trauma and the effects of it.

So if we're going to look at maybe going all the way back to the beginning, where do these, what I'll describe as faulty responses to stimulus, something happens and we have a response that, for whatever reason, we're not able to process and release and let go of. We're not able to accept it. We start to get protective and we judge or we suppress and deny.

Where does that come from?

And my belief is that it comes from a traumatic experience from our past. That traumatic experience, whether big or little, like a lot of times people hear trauma and they cringe and they're like, Ooh, yeah, don't talk about that in public because you know, it's kind of for you and your therapist to talk about and nobody else.

But the truth is they're big trauma, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, emotional distance from parents. Like all of these things are very real and create changes in one's nervous system. Now, they don't always, just in some circumstances, they do.

Other very small things. Accidental trauma, I describe it as. One example I use is, you know, If I'm a little kid, four years old, and I want to change my shirt for the fourth time before we go to the photo shoot that we're late for. And I'm pestering my mom to change my shirt one more time, and eventually she says, "fine, I'll do it," and she goes to pull my shirt over my head and accidentally pops me in the chin, and this is a made up example, by the way.

What she didn't mean to do that. It was totally an accident. She was just frustrated because I was being a little pain in the neck changing my shirt the fourth time. But from my three or four year old perspective, I just got punched in the face, for all I know, by the woman who I rely on to keep me alive.

Now if that's not going to alter your nervous system, I don't know what is. And so what happens is the nervous system gets altered, parts of the brain get turned on, and then left on, until we do the intentional healing work that you and I are talking about to turn those parts of our nervous system back off.

Now I don't know that my amygdala, the fight or flight portion of my brain, is fired up necessarily. I didn't know that it was basically on high alert for 30 years. Alcohol allowed me to slow it down a little bit. It's a depressant. It allowed me to find a little bit of soothing until, you know, we got to the point we were discussing earlier.

I got to the point where it's like, "Whoa, I've been living in fear for 35 years." Even though, I will tell you, if you're in a car accident Ali, you want me in the car behind you. Because, up until a year ago, I actually said this to my therapist, fear is pointless. I don't get it. It doesn't serve anybody.

You want me there in the crisis because I am not going to freeze in the face of fear. I'm going to pull you out of that car before the wheels stop spinning. And that's happened on multiple occasions where I've stepped into that kind of heroic avatar and saved.

Well, the irony being, the only reason I could do that is not cause I'm, don't feel fear, but I'm really, really good at repressing and suppressing it, which is a benefit. This isn't a judgment against myself for doing those things. That's a survival strategy that actually works really well. If I need to save us in, in a crisis situation.

It stops working well when you can't ever turn that mode off. And then there's that energetic and metabolic cost that just depletes your system to the point where you end up anxious and depressed because it's your body's way of saying, "yo, dude, we got to change something."

We got to figure out how to turn this fear circuit off or else. And the or else can be a very scary and permanent or else for a lot of people.

[00:29:43] Ali: Man, that's big. So thank you for sharing some of the stuff around the nervous system, because that really broke it down in a way, like you said, where there is enough science to be like, Hey, this is just how our systems work.

And dude, as you're sharing that, I love it because there's holding space on both sides. Which is why I like to reiterate, not labeling emotions. When I ask people about, "Oh, does that feel like fear? Or does that feel like anger?"

There's usually an initial resistance, because they're like, wait a minute, what are you saying, I get angry? I'm like, yeah, it's an emotion, we all do. It's part of being human. And fear is really special for the reason you described. We actually need a certain amount of fear to snap into action, to protect ourselves, our loved ones. To have the built in nature based animal instincts on what to do when we are under serious threat.

To your point, though, if you never turn that off, your nervous system constantly needs something, needs something, needs something. Because that's one of the things that has become very clear to me recently, is that emotions activate us. They're literally just a need for something and different ones mean different things.

When we don't need anything, we're at peace. And our systems need peace. Like, that's the whole thing.

You look at animals like sometimes they're grazing, sometimes they're hunting, sometimes they're resting. They're not thinking about trauma. Because they shake it out of their system and then they get back to peace. Whereas humans, we're really good at storing trauma and not getting it out.

Right. We're really good at holding on to like, no, it's my trauma. I'm going to keep it and I'm going to let this shit just consume me. So thank you dude. That's such a great way to just share that like, yo, do you want to give your nervous system a break or do you want to constantly tax it right, that it needs needs needs.

Thanks.

[00:31:40] Mike: Yeah, and you know, it's crazy. I can go in two directions here. One of them is, and I'll just very briefly touch on this idea. This is something that's become very real for me over the last year, is the connection between our nervous system and our immune system. And so it's become very apparent to me that my overactive nervous system, the fight or flight mode that I was in, brought with it an overactive immune system.

And I don't know if that's true. Maybe the immune system is a component of bringing forward the overactive nervous system, but they're interrelated I think it's safe to say.

This is anecdotal, but it is the most impressive anecdote that I've ever experienced myself. For my entire childhood, up until a couple of years ago, I was disabled by allergies twice a year, spring and fall. Seasonal allergies. Hay fever, you know, lots of people suffer from it. But to the point where like, if I went outside after the lawn was mowed, I would sneeze 30 times in a row.

And then I'd get settled enough. And then when I went back inside, same thing would happen again. And for weeks at a time, every fall and every spring.

Since I've partaken on this healing journey over the course of the last year, quite literally, one of my favorite smells on the planet has become the smell of fresh cut grass, to the point where I'll go do yoga in my backyard and literally put my face in the grass and smell it.

And I haven't sneezed in a year, man. It doesn't make any sense other than all I can tell you is what I've experienced. Which is as I've healed from the trauma, I have also experienced the physical healing of my body and how I walk through the world.

I don't sneeze 30 times every time I go outside. My back pain and hip pain that used to flare up during my most stressful parts of the year or coming up to big events are no longer an issue. And it's to me, a fascinating example of how as much as we as humans like to say, "well, yeah, I've got my brain and I've got my body and I've got my emotions and here's the three different parts of me." Like it's all one. We're just one being, and these parts affect the other parts of us.

And so if we can do the integrative work to use your word to restore balance between the three and use each part in support of the healing of the other parts, it becomes that much more efficient of a journey, if that makes sense.

[00:34:01] Ali: It totally makes sense. I believe that they are very interrelated.

Your nervous system, your immune system, heart, mind, gut, like, I feel like you have to take a total perspective. You have to look at all the moving parts. Because if we tie this to holistic health, we've had a lot of clarity as a family going to a holistic provider. Or even Sachin Patel, who I record an episode with, opened my eyes to this, opened the FRD community to this, like, yo, you gotta look at everything.

You don't just go in and say this hurts or, Oh, I can't sleep. Like, what does your life look like? And so to your point, dude, the nervous system, the immune system, they have to work together. Otherwise one's going to be pulling from the other or dependent, like, yo, I need some resources. You know, things aren't looking good over here.

So I think that's a huge awareness. The other thing I want to have you share as part of your healing journey is that, the more recent phase you decided to embrace MDMA. Guided sessions, which I'll let you speak to.

But as I look at the different tools and resources available, our mutual friend Tucker Max, shared a book with me. I know he gave you some insight into this world. But this is becoming a more proven reliable tool, and the dogma, the stigma of, "oh, it's a drug, it's dangerous." I feel needs to be rethought.

Because how do I say this? I don't think most humans, even including myself, I don't think we're strong enough to get into some of these really deep trauma and heal them naturally by ourselves. Going back to asking for help, right? I think our minds, especially good, deep thinkers, they're too strong. The ego kicks in. It's like, no fucking thanks. I'm not going back there.

Whereas sometimes breath work, which we both experienced, or MDMA or whatever other plant based medicines. I know they're trendy, but I do think they have purpose if they're used intentionally. So how would you share that part of your healing journey?

[00:36:08] Mike: Yeah, absolutely. So first, I want to be very careful here in how we talk about this, because part of me agrees with you when you say some of us just aren't strong enough to do it without the medicine. Part of me wants to say that's true. And the other part wants to say it's not true.

And the bigger part of me wants to say it's not necessarily true. I don't think. And I think it actually becomes very dangerous, and sadly is happening a lot as these things trend, the way you described them. Where the medicine itself becomes the thing responsible for the healing.

The medicine is just a tool and it's a tool that we use in support of our healing journey. And the bottom line is if one does decide, yes, I want to experience the support that this medicine offers in my healing journey. In that decision, that choice, the individual is demonstrating the strength required to heal.

It is a courageous act, right?

And I'll speak specifically to MDMA because that's the route I went, but psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, all of these others fall into the same general category. Although there are nuances that, that need to be understood if somebody does decide to pursue them.

But what I think is most important for people to understand is that the medicine is not healing you. The medicine is restoring your system temporarily. During the effects, whether it's in your system for three, four, five, six hours, it is turning off those overactive parts of your brain. It is allowing you to feel the safety and security that maybe you haven't felt in a very long time.

And essentially reminding you, Hey, your body was designed with this infinite wisdom that it can heal itself. You just haven't participated in that process in a really long time because of the disconnection from your body or your emotions. And when I say you in all of these comments, I mean, me, right?

That's what I'm saying. I was so disconnected from my body and from my emotions. The emotions are the words, right? Anger, sadness that we use to describe feelings, which are sensations in or on our body. Well, for somebody who's undergone trauma, what I did was I disconnected from my body and I lived in my brain. I hid from my emotions in my intellect.

The beautiful part about that was I created a pretty strong intellect. I also created a gigantic ego, and not an ego in the I'm better than you realm, although that was part of it, especially in adolescence, and that is a protective response, which is completely human. But an ego is just the protective aspect of me.

So it's the me who tries to convince myself that emotions are for sissies. That's just an egoic protection because I'm not sure that I can really handle whatever that trauma and the emotions that it's going to bring up might have. So what the medicine did for me, and just to give quick context, I have done three guided MDMA sessions with psychotherapy as an integrative process along with yoga, meditation, breath work, et cetera.

Because, again, the medicine itself is, you know, a critical component for those that choose to partake in it for re learning what your body's capable of. But I have a saying and it's, I think you align with this Ali, you said you're anti medicine in some ways before. If the medicine's not temporary, it's not the right medicine.

Right? The reason alcohol became a problem for me, because it was the wrong medicine. It became a need. Every time I drank some, I needed to drink a little more the next time. MDMA works differently in that, it shows you what you're capable of, what your body's capable of.

The way it's been described to me, and I would echo this statement because it was what I experienced. It's like being wrapped in a warm blanket of God's love. Like, you feel so safe that you can then choose to approach the emotions that you'd been scared to approach in the past.

And you do that in the session itself. But then afterwards, it's almost like a cascade starts and then afterwards you start to experience those even outside the direct effects, the direct psychopharmacological effects. Like the medicine itself is no longer in your system, yet you're still benefiting from the experience that you had.

And so, what I think I'll also share is that, like I said, I did three sessions, one in January, March, and then June, and I haven't done one since. Everyone said, hey, Mike, it's going to get worse before it gets better.

And after those first two, I just thought to myself, maybe a little egoically, well, y'all must be doing it wrong because this is just awesome. I'm crying. I'm laughing. I'm reconnected to my body in a way that I didn't know was possible. And it was pure bliss. Like for months afterward.

And then I did my third session. And I think the first two sessions prepared me for the third session, which produced quite frankly, weeks of ongoing panic and fear.

So all of that fear I alluded to earlier in the episode where I said it didn't affect me. Well, I found the courage, with the support of the medicine, to stop suppressing it and feeling it. And so, for weeks and even more than that, months on end, most dramatically for a couple days, I literally had a 48 hour panic attack.

Only internally, no one on the outside knew, except I told my wife. I was still living life in a Quasi normal way. I was surviving, getting by, but I was a physiologic mess on the inside. My heart was beating too fast. I was sweating for days, two days. And then a couple weeks at like eight out of 10 scale, and then a couple months at a five out of 10 scale.

And, you know, now I'm to the point where it kind of comes and goes. But the important part is, most importantly, I'm to the point now where I don't resist whatever comes and goes. Whether it's anger, whether it's fear, whether it's sadness, whether it's joy and bliss. Because you can't selectively numb, as has been said, I think Brene Brown was the one who said you can't selectively numb.

So when you do something to numb the anxiety, you also lower the ceiling of joy that you can experience. So what I found to be true in this healing journey, as hard as it is to access these very suppressed and therefore scary emotions because the longer they've been suppressed, they got suppressed because they were painful in the moment.

And the longer they've been suppressed in many instances, the more painful they'll be when we finally decide to mobilize them and release them out of our system. And there is truly an energetic release. Like you mentioned before, you see a dog after it gets in a fight, it does this weird shake thing and the hair on the back of it next stands up. And then it goes and lies down and takes a nap. Like that's what regulation is supposed to be like.

And if you're regulating something that got put inside of you 30 years ago, as opposed to 30 seconds ago, there's going to be some pain that comes with that.

But I'm not sure I fully answered your question. I want to end with one last note here. And hopefully this is well received.

Ultimately, the highest praise I can give to the medicine that I've partaken in so far is its ability to show me that I can't think my way through feeling problems. And specifically, a lot of my journey has been one of self worth.

And I don't mean like an insecurity from like, "Oh, they might not like me" kind of thing. I've dealt with a lot of that insecurity over the last several decades. Most of us have, especially as in adolescence, right, where we're very attuned to fitting in. I got through that part. But it wasn't until recently I recognized that, I started to embrace my God given intrinsic self worth.

I knew that as much as I love Ali, my worth as an individual isn't dependent on whether or not he likes me. I got to that point, fully understood it. No doubt in my mind. And I say that very intentionally, no doubt in my mind. Because where there was doubt that I wasn't aware of was everywhere, but my mind. Consciously, I knew it, but my conscious understanding wasn't enough to overcome the subconscious nervous system level belief that I'm not good enough.

And what I now understand is that, that subconscious belief that I'm only good enough if X, Y, Z, that was a survival mechanism in response to trauma in my youth that served me very well for a very long time. When I couldn't process the emotions, there was no other choice but to develop that survival strategy.

Now that I've matured enough and healed to the point where I'm capable of processing these emotions, though it's not easy and it's very scary at times, the cost benefit equation no longer makes sense, right?

Back then it was either don't survive or come up with this subconscious strategy where you think you're not good enough. And that will allow you to survive. Well, listen, survival is enough benefit to endure almost any cost.

Hmm. Fast forward 40 years, that subconscious belief that I'm not good enough wasn't bringing me any benefit because there's no threat anymore. The threat, the trauma was 30 years ago, was 40 years ago, whatever it was. And so I was expending the cost, the subconscious belief, with no actual benefit because there was no actual threat. My nervous system just didn't understand it.

So what the medicine allowed me to do again, in conjunction with the therapy, was start to know subconsciously in the depths of my being, that I am lovable, that I am worthy, and that I don't have to fear the things that I feared up until now, if that makes sense.

[00:46:10] Ali: Dude, as you were saying that, I couldn't help but come back to self love.

There's self worth, there's self love, they're tightly coupled. And I appreciate that story, that example, and even the reframe, thank you, of thinking like, yeah, we are strong enough. It's not about not being strong enough. It's just, what's our intention? What's our approach? Do we use the medicine as a tool so that we know we can embody and heal the way that we need to?

But dude, it all comes back to self love. Like, so many well, this is going to sound like a prescription. But when I look at the pain in the world, I can almost always make an argument that the creator of the pain doesn't have self love.

Because imagine a world where we all walked around loving ourselves, which is incredibly hard, as sad as that is to say. Like, we're born that way, right? We're born into this world with nothing but self love, we undo it or, you know, we have our different journeys and experiences, we have trauma, we have all these things we've discussed. But it all comes back to that, dude.

And again, I'm not trying to say that that's the answer for everything, but it kind of is. If you don't have self love, then shit's just gonna happen, and you're gonna deal with it.

[00:47:34] Mike: Yeah. And that's where it gets so tricky because it's very easy, like I've been guilty of trying to judge or criticize the critic out of me, right? Mike, why can't you just love yourself? You're so stupid.

Like, just love yourself, you idiot. Right? It's like, well, it should be easy. You can't judge judgment out of yourself. You can't criticize yourself. Critic to go away. And so it is tricky, but I think your point is spot on dude. And it's probably could have summed up what I was trying to say in a very long winded way with just that.

And that is the trauma that we experience is contagious. And it is up to each of us to decide what impact we want to have on the people that we love the most and the people that we just happen to interact with living in this world, even if it's a stranger walking down the street.

One of two things is going to happen. Whether we're conscious of it or not, we are going to infect them with either our trauma or our healing. Yeah. And prior to this journey, I mentioned earlier the thing that caused me to seek out very intentionally a resolution was anger.

If we don't feel our feelings, you mentioned this before, they get bigger until they find their way out. So my sadness found its way out as anger. And I didn't know it as anything other than anger that didn't feel like it was quite right because I'm not an angry guy, right.

And I'm very happy and proud to say that over the last year, I've I am so much more in line with who I want to be and how I want to feel, both in relationship to myself and in relationship to other people.

By no means am I perfect. I still, inadvertently, despite my best attempts, create trauma for other people. But instead of creating trauma most of the time and healing every once in a while, I believe truly now that I am spreading healing most of the time and slipping up every once in a while.

[00:49:40] Ali: I would agree with that, brother.

You are a different Mike today than when I met you. You were fun back then. You're cool. You're awesome. But the Mike I see today shows up, faces more fear, and shares things like this that are impactful. So thank you.

Thank you for all of this. It's been a gift. I knew it would be, we covered a lot.

I'm going to respect the time, but I do want to see if we do a few funfire questions before we rest. Let's do it.

The first one, brother, what is your favorite movie?

[00:50:10] Mike: Oh, favorite movie. There's a couple, but I'm going to go with stand by me. Oh, okay, cool. Coming of age story, adolescent boys walking down the train tracks, there's a lot of good in that.

[00:50:23] Ali: I like it, I like it, dude. Yeah, I feel like that blends with the convo today. So, great answer.

Number two, what animal would you be if not human?

[00:50:35] Mike: Hawk.

[00:50:36] Ali: That was fast.

[00:50:37] Mike: That was very fast. And, you know, I don't know why I've always been drawn to them. I think they're super cool. I think there's something about I don't know if there's something about them. And I did have a recent experience that I shared with you where, I had a close encounter with a wild hawk where I literally was allowed to approach within five feet and spend time being with it.

And there were some very profound life lessons that came in that moment. So, Hawk and I are now one forever.

[00:51:04] Ali: That's cool, dude. I can see you as a hawk. And yeah, yeah, your experience seemed pretty awesome.

Last one, brother. What's one of your favorite childhood memories?

[00:51:14] Mike: Hmm. I know it's supposed to be a rapid fire answer.

If you had asked me this two years ago, I would have said I don't remember my childhood. I could have literally, um, counted five to ten memories from my childhood. I now recognize that because of this journey that we just explored so deeply, all of those memories were just hidden behind a curtain of shame.

They were back there. I just couldn't go because there were emotions tied to them.

But one of my best memories.

Wow, man, I'm gonna leave this because I don't want to make up a memory. I'm gonna leave you with the true answer, which is I'm not in a place where any jump out to me right now.

[00:51:59] Ali: So in that case, let's shift because the intention of this question is to evoke a quick memory of joy. So let's move it to today.

What's one of your favorite fatherhood memories?

[00:52:13] Mike: Now there's too many to choose from brother. It's the opposite problem. But two and a half weeks ago, my son Jack was born, and I think it's pertinent to say, I love all of my children equally and always have, and always will. And my son who was born two and a half weeks ago, because of the healing journey that I've been on, it is the first child that I'm not asking to fill a void that they were never going to be capable of filling to begin with.

And that to me brings the highest levels of peace and bliss into my heart.

[00:52:49] Ali: 100 percent man. He has a gift of a father and the awareness there, dude, just to answer it that way is massive. You know, it brings some nostalgia, but even some sadness that just honoring the emotion that if I had a child today, there'd be a part of me, that would be very excited and perhaps a little bit more proud than the type of father I was when Everest was born, even Sepia was born.

So I appreciate that answer because it's so real.

[00:53:25] Mike: And I think it's only appropriate to end by saying, I'm also at a place right now where I forgive and love the version of me who did ask his other three kids and his wife and friends and all sorts of other people to fill a void that they were never capable of filling.

And that is again, because of all this healing work. And when we find the place where our mind, body, and heart come into balance with one another, I believe that's where we draw closest to God and can get in touch with our spirituality, whatever that is for each of us.

And to me, that's what it's all about is finding that place. And doing the dance that brings us into and out of alignment with that place. So, that's what it's all about, brother.

[00:54:11] Ali: Indeed, it is man. Beautiful words to end on. Mike, I appreciate you. You already know that, but I just have to keep saying it. So thank you for being here, creating space for this.

I hope to see you soon. Until the next time.

[00:54:24] Mike: Thank you, brother. Appreciate it, man.


Ali Jafarian

Ali is a creator and coach who's passionate about guiding people to their truth. That's a fancy way of saying he wants to help people realize their most authentic life. He's a family man, entrepreneur, conscious technologist, explorer, podcast host and many other things that inspire him to stay curious and learn. He's also a huge advocate for nature, hiking, adventure, testing physical limits and experiencing the natural world.