Childhood Trauma Life Mentor & Coach
Episode 28: Surviving Abuse Unbroken
In this episode, Lori has a conversation with Michael Anthony, childhood trauma mentor, coach, and author. Michael’s turbulent childhood was marked by his drug addict and alcoholic mother who cut off his finger, a father that he never met, a hyper-abusive stepfather, and his experience being molested by a member of the Mormon Church. Michael discusses how he encourages other survivors of child abuse to heal from their past trauma.
Visit Michael’s website: Think Unbroken
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #28 – Surviving Abuse Unbroken
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Thank you for joining us. In this podcast, we are real people, talking about real things. Child abuse and neglect: a topic that is all too often left in the shadows of silence, leaving survivors alone, fearful, and oftentimes without a voice. We’re having conversations to become Louder Than Silence. It is here, where we will invite you to join us and be the change needed to end child abuse and neglect.
>> Lori: This podcast is brought to you by our dear friends at The Conference Experience. The folks at The Conference Experience have really helped us out at EndCAN here for the last year and a half. They do incredible work, especially during COVID. They’ve really stepped up to the plate and helped us out so if you’re needing any audiovisual, production, or even support and help with running an event, please give The Conference Experience a call. Their number is 720 323-3273 or you can check them out at theconferenceexperience.com
>> Lori: Alright ladies and gentlemen thanks everybody for listening in today. My name is Lori Poland and I’m the Executive Director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. Today we have a pretty unique gentleman joining us as our guest. I’m super stoked. Yesterday I cyberstalked him for sure and then just got pumped about his podcast. I shared it with about 25 friends and said you need to listen to this guy and you specifically need to hear this one and you specifically need to hear this one. It was just really cool and just somebody that is really empowering and uplifting especially given the triumphs he’s overcome and the stories he’s been through so let me introduce to you Michael Unbroken. Michael thank you so much for being here with us today. It’s so awesome having you with us.
>> Michael: Yeah it’s an honor, thank you so much. I’m stoked that you shared my podcast and what I do with so many people. That’s meaningful and I’m very grateful, thank you.
>> Lori: Yeah and anybody listening, I know you have it on iTunes but I found you on Amazon Music, I just typed in Michael Unbroken and all your podcasts were listed there. I downloaded them and I went for a super long walk and was just like pumped through my walk. I was just stoked about so many things you were saying. You can really tell when you’re hearing and speaking with a fellow survivor. The struggles and the drive behind your passionate words. I love that you’re so authentic in how you curse and I can hear that passion even when you use bad words. I feel it and it’s just empowering because so many of the things you said are things I’ve said and certainly things I’ve felt and maybe haven’t said. It was really, really beautiful and it sounds like you’ve taken this experience and really made a life of it and are truly finding a way to give back which I think has a lot of integrity and has a lot of value in it. There’s not enough of us doing it and I just want to invite everybody to do it. So if we could start Michael, let our listeners hear a little bit about your background and tell us what brought you to this point, this transformation in your life.
>> Michael: Well thank you for those kind words. I think that often in life the universe, god, spirit, whatever you want to call it kind of drives you to a point where you have to make a decision about what you’re going to do in your life. I had this moment in recognizing that I didn’t sign up to be the spokesman for childhood trauma. I don’t want this job, I fucking hate this job but I’m damn good at it. I recognize that I’ve changed my life and the synopsis version of this is, just from the zip code I grew up in I should be dead or in jail, statistically. I grew up, my friends were going to prison, my friends were getting murdered, my friends were involved in all these things, blah blah blah. I grew up in Indianapolis. My mother was a drug addict and alcoholic. She cut off my right index finger when I was four years old. That’s baseline, just right from the jump. By the time I was six she married my stepfather who was just the most abusive person you could ever imagine. By the time I’m ten, we’re constantly homeless, we’re in poverty, we’re the poorest family of the poorest families while also growing up in the Mormon Church so you add that factor to it. By the time I’m 12 I’m getting high every day, I’m drinking all the time. My grandmother adopted me. I’m bi-racial, black and white. My grandma is this old racist white lady from a town in Tennessee you’ve never heard of so insert identify crisis as I’m heading into puberty and being a teen. At this point because of all the abuse, all the neglect, all the homelessness and poverty and the physical, mental emotional scars, by the time I’m 13 I’m running around with drugs and guns and breaking into houses and stealing cars and hurting people and running from the cops and hurting people and failing school. By the time I’m 16 I get expelled then get put into a last chance program which in hindsight looking back on it is really one of the most special things that ever happened to me because I learned how to do things like write a resume and cover letter and dress for an interview and understand things about the world I wasn’t getting in traditional education. I hated school so that was this really important thing for me. I didn’t want to be the person in my family to yet again not graduate high school, right? Or be that person that was such a deadbeat. Lo and behold, fast forward a couple years, I don’t actually graduate on time and I have to go summer school, blah blah blah. Fast forward a couple years, I’m looking for the solution to poverty. If my life is so terrible and these people were so awful to me, it must be because we’re poor. What other reason could it be? And I start chasing money and I get really successful really young and by the time I’m 20 I’m making six figures in corporate America. Nobody does that so this only exacerbated the chaos of my life. More drugs, more women, more alcohol, more shoes, more cars, more excess of everything. Fast forward a few more years beyond that, 25-26 years old. 350 pounds, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, drinking myself to sleep every night, destroying everything that I touch. I had this moment where I woke up one day and I look in the mirror and I’m like ‘this is not the person you told yourself you were going to be. You are living your life in accordance with everything everyone in your life ever said you were going to be. You’re fat, you’re stupid, you’re lazy, you’re a loser, no one’s ever going to love you. You’re not worthy, all these things. It came to a head after yet another one of these suicide attempts that I had, I looked at my life and said ‘what the fuck are you really doing? Why are you here? What is it you’re after? Why do you continue to let yourself down?’ In business I was great, I could do that all day long but everything else was a nightmare. I made a declaration in that moment that whatever it takes, I was going to make a change in my life. Now insert a decade of work. Going to therapy – group therapy, men’s therapy, EMDR, CBT, NPL, going to personal growth conferences. Being the only person in rooms full of PhD doctors who has paid thousands of dollars to be in a symposium. Really learning whatever it took to have an understanding of the brain, body, the neuro systems, every part of us that makes us a human being and more so how we start to reframe the understanding of trauma and the impact it has on us. Then, one night I’m laying in bed. It’s like 3:00 in the morning and I’d been running this blog called These 10 ACEs because I have an ACE score of 10 which I’m sure your listeners know, Adverse Childhood Experiences. That’s the minority of the minority of all people on planet earth who had such an abusive childhood that it’s improbable they could be alive. I had this moment thinking that I’m not broken, right? I remember these words always coming out of people’s mouths – you’re broken, you’re fucked up, you’re never going to amount to anything in relationships, in childhood from my own mother and recognizing in this moment that’s not me. That’s not how I think. Then it just came to me: think unbroken. That’s what this is, that’s what all this shit that I’ve been trying to understand for the last decade is. Now, fast forward a few more years. I’m a coach, I’m an author, I’ve had an international book. I’ve hosted workshops in 12 different countries and all across America. I’ve put myself in this position not because of choice but because of necessity. I’ve become in essence this spokesperson for adult survivors of childhood trauma. My only goal and mission is to put myself out of busines. How do I create change in an impactful way that I’m obsolete? That’s the goal and I recognize that will never happen so effectively I’m never going to stop doing this.
>> Lori: So you say that it will never happen and why do you think that is?
>> Michael: Because humans are terrible. I mean, look at us. People get to this position in life in which they come to a reconciliation with their own shit which is the problem most of the time that people interject their emotions and feelings and their understanding of themselves into the world creating a mirror of who they are. Until we get to a place where people can find an understanding and be okay with who they are, that’s not going to change. Then you have the impact of generational trauma and you have poverty and everything that exists in the world from dictatorships to presidencies to all the things we deal with every single day in recognizing that, is it possible? Yes, but it’s definitely not going to happen in my lifetime so how do we create an exponential snowfall that eventually turns into this thing that 197 years from now people go ‘ guess what, no child got beat today.’
>> Lori: I love that and I’m just curious for you, what percentage of your life would you say your child abuse and your story impacts?
>> Michael: All of it. How could it not? I mean if it’s true that we’re the experiences up to this moment, we are the sum total of all our experiences up to this moment, then everything that ever happened to us in the history of our experience impacts us. The difference is are you wiling to accept that and move forward or are you going to hide from it and let it consume you and you pretend nothing’s wrong even though you’re destroying your life every day.
>> Lori: Which is the ultimate way that most people live right now around the topic of child abuse and neglect, right? So what do you say to those people? What do you say to the people who are still operating under the belief and the philosophy of ‘get over it, that was in your childhood. Move on. Why do you keep talking about this? You’re so selfish, look at how greedy you are. You’re making money off your family’s personal, ugly stories and your private issues. That belongs in your house. Why are you talking about it?’ I’m not saying you; these are the things that I’ve been told.
>> Michael: I don’t care what people think. To me, my super power is I don’t care what anyone thinks about me. That is not to say that I don’t value the opinion of the people who matter in my life but every single day people send me messages like ‘who do you think you are, how dare you talk about this.’ I don’t give a shit. Go live your life, I’m not talking to you. I want to talk about the first part of this first because it’s more important. The reality is that I lived that life. I stuffed it down, I hid it forever. For 26 years, literally in this eight seconds you know more about me than my partner I was with for seven years. So I think about that. I think about the impact of this entire journey and being in these places in my life where I sat hidden from the world because it felt easier. It’s so much easier to hide from it, to stuff it down, to pretend it didn’t happen, to go about your life ambivalent and nonchalant and be like ‘oh I guess this is how it is.’ In reality we all know, we all know it’s in there and the moments and the motives and the way we live and how we show up for ourselves. It’s always fucking there. So you have a choice to make, do you want to own this thing and get through it. I’m not saying get over it. I’m never going to be over it. I’m always going to be pissed off, I’m always going to have a chip on my shoulder. I’m never going to forgive some people. That is my choice and my decision and how I choose to live my life. I always say this, it was in the preface of my book. Though trauma may be our foundation it is not our future. You have a choice to make, you have a decision to make and yes it’s hard and yes it’s ugly and yes it’s gross but guess what, what else are you going to do?
>> Lori: Yeah I appreciated that and when I was listening to your podcast, one of my favorite podcasts that I heard – we were talking about this off air – of yours was how to eliminate toxic family members and you mentioned when you were 18 you stopped talking to your mom. You walked into her room and there were 30 empty gallon sized bottles of alcohol everywhere and you said ‘I don’t want you in my life’ and then you were able – actually were you 16 or 18?
>> Michael: So I put a restraining order on her when I was 16 and when I was 18 that was when I made that declaration because she had come into my room and attacked me again just on this drunken pill binge and I was like ‘I’m done. I’m fucking done with this.’ That’s the first time I ever hit her. I was just done. ‘You’re not going to treat me like this anymore, I’m not going to live this existence. I’m not going to take this with me.’ Until the day she died I had one message from her and I didn’t respond. I don’t have any shame about it, I have no guilt about it. I would not be here without making that decision. The reality is I also understand the impact trauma had on her life. My grandma was a terrible person. Her husband was a terrible person. My mom probably suffered through an incredible amount of abuse and trauma. God knows what happened to her. Now that’s generational. Let’s go back 500 years and that’s the same experience that the DNA that I carry has. Looking at that and understanding I can go ‘okay, I understand that but guess what? You still made a choice.’
>> Lori: It doesn’t excuse, justify, explain. It makes sense but it doesn’t have to be your story. It doesn’t have to be your script. So I think that’s the power of choice and that’s the power of breaking that cycle and I also find for me what’s so valuable is the title of this podcast, Louder Than Silence. It’s the power of breaking the cycle by speaking out and talking about it instead of what you had described earlier, the first 26 years of your life. Instead of looking at it and talking about it and living openly, you hid it and you tried to “manage” your life. You had some success, you had some amazing things but ultimately you were unhealthy physically, emotionally, mentally, in your relationships and the way you were living your life. One day you looked in the mirror and didn’t like what you saw. All of the sudden that was your change for growth. I think that’s the power for so many people. One thing that I find so frequently is we forget so easily when we know that by coming out and talking about our abuse or eliminating toxic people from our lives we know intrinsically that is going to cause harm. We know it’s going to hurt the people we’re eliminating and I think as victims – or as survivors rather – so many people feel bad about that, like why do I have to become the dick because I’m setting a limit and a boundary to eliminate these people from our life. I think that is a huge part of the cycle of why people keep this silent and keep it secret. But I appreciate your spin on it by saying really it’s not about them. They made their choice and I’m making mine and I have to do what’s best for me.
>> Michael: That’s 100% accurate. Look you don’t owe them anything. We live in this odd society that because they’re your mother, father, brother, cousin, eighth uncle, somehow you owe them something in your life. The truth is that’s not true. You don’t owe anyone anything and look the reality is if people are going to be hurt that is because they are seeing for the first time the reflection of their actions and they’re uncomfortable with it. The truth hurts, people say that like honesty is this thing that often puts people in this position that’s incredibly uncomfortable because they’re faced with reality untethered for the first time. Especially in Western and American culture, we are so quick to want to put a blanket over everything and coddle people to the truth when in reality the world doesn’t care about you. That’s not to say I don’t care about people and people don’t care about me, but as a whole everyone has their own shit they’re dealing with. Everyone has their own problems they’re trying to solve. Yes they say that hurt people hurt people, I believe that’s true because I look at my path up until that moment that I was healed and people would always say – go ask all of my girlfriends up until I was about 25 years old – this person is an insane person. They’re mean, they’re callous, they’re cold, they’re not open, they don’t have conversation, they push me away, they don’t cry, they’re unemotional, they might be a sociopath and every time I would have that reflection I would shut down, shut down, shut down because I was afraid to own the truth that it was true. That’s what’s so hard for people. Yes you make mistakes, yes you’re going to screw up. Can you make adjustments? Yes you’re going to be someone who does something bad. Fine. You’re a human but guess what? When I, someone who has experienced an amazing, incredible amount of abuse from you, say this is my reality and then you gaslight me with all this bullshit, I’m taking you out of my life. I don’t have time or patience or the place or the space or capacity to anyone that doesn’t bring value to my life. Now I would say that in a sense I’m lucky because I set personal boundaries really young. Who puts a restraining order on their mother at 16 years old? Nobody does that and the reason I did was because I recognized on a long enough timeline that was going to be so incredibly detrimental to me that I wasn’t going to survive. That was a decision that I made in that moment for me because – and I say this all the time – self-care isn’t selfish – and sometimes that means taking awful people out of your life. You don’t even owe them a reason. You don’t owe them anything. You can leave, you can hit the eject button. The thing you owe yourself is asking yourself why you’re doing it. if you’re doing it because you’re running from something that’s a problem. If you’re doing it because the toxicity level is so high it’s consuming everything in you – I will never understand this place where people still have conversations with their parents who belittle them and berate them every single day. Why are you doing this to yourself? You might as well be smashing your face into a wall because that’s about how much value that has.
>> Lori: That’s great I love it thank you. You know and – we could talk for hours for sure but I want to stay on your work because Michael you’re doing things that a lot of people don’t. You’re doing things a lot of people can’t.
>> Michael: That’s not true, anyone can do what I’m doing.
>> Lori: Right but a lot of people say they can’t and in truth you are like the Rosa Parks of child abuse and neglect. You’re one of the first people that are willing and able and doing the deed to stand up against this and really change your life. I know there have been many people before you but I genuinely believe that the time is now and that the current is shifting around this topic specifically just like we’ve seen in so many other areas around so many other topics in the last 25 years that have completely changed the way of policy and the way we look at so many different things in the world and the LGBTQ community is a perfect example of something 25 years ago everybody looked at fearfully, like people were truly having these secrets and hiding. Now it’s such this open conversation for so many people so help our listeners understand what it is you do, and really ultimately how can they find you?
>> Michael: Well first off that’s an incredible compliment to be compared to one of my favorite human beings of all time, literally maybe my favorite human being of all time. You know here’s the thing. Child abuse is the elephant in the room of mental healthcare right now because people are still terrified to talk about it. I have sold literally thousands of copies of this book. I’ve never seen it online outside of maybe seven times where people are posting it because it is a secret, it is a scary thing to share and the moment somebody reads that title Think Unbroken: Understanding and Overcoming Childhood Trauma, they are terrified of it. Look the reality is I understand that and I knew that coming in. I had people advise me to just call it Think Unbroken, just call it Think Unbroken. I said no because I’m so tired of hiding. I’m so tired of being in this place where every single day I have to pretend that somehow my life’s not impacted by this thing and stepping into this I decided, realistically, Lori, I made the decision of full ownership. I said if I’m going to do this I’m going 100%. I’m going to go hard at it and I’m going to make sure I step into the uncomfortable place of sharing the truth on this because the truth about it is, it’s hard and it sucks and it’s dirty and it’s grimy and the reality is what I’ve stepped into A) with writing the book, how do I give what I needed to myself that the world can also participate in because through all the personal growth, all the seminars, all the childhood trauma books, you name it. I’ve got a bookshelf, I’ve read them all. Everything was missing something and what I recognized it was missing was the intrinsic reflection of the understanding of the concepts you just consumed. So prior to that I created the Think Unbroken workshop which was a live, in-person thing that I just took people through this course that I put together that was hundreds of pages where I could create a new understanding of who we are because the only way of knowing where you’re going is knowing how you got to where you are and I took my exercises from that program and I put them into the book so now as you’re reading, you’re also writing in it. It’s part journal, it’s part healing guide, it’s part science, it’s part mindset, it’s all the things I thought we needed. The other parts of this is about can I give people the tools based on my understanding of their efficacy knowing that I’m going to give you a lot of different things knowing that not everything is going to work for you. What I do as a mentor and coach – and I’m incredibly lucky because I didn’t know I was stepping into this so it just kind of happened and now I’ve had clients literally from all around the world – celebrities, athletes, incredibly people. Moms, dads, teachers, people like me, everyone because here’s the thing – trauma doesn’t give a shit about your background. It’s everywhere.
>> Lori: It’s indiscriminate.
>> Michael: 100% and it was really interesting to me, as I stepped further into the coaching journey how that started to become more apparent. I teach people about the mindset of this and just shifting and reframing and taking life really in effect, into your control. Here’s the lie that you’re told: somehow life isn’t in your hands. You control every outcome that’s going to happen in your life, and I think about fault. Fault means application of ownership and it’s my fault for everything good and everything bad that happens in my life. So I take ownership. There is no space for blame, there’s no space for excuses so what I do – and I get it, people go ‘well this happened to me’ and yeah it did, what are you going to do about it, right? I mean it’s not a game and it’s not a race. I don’t know how many people have had a worse childhood than me and this is – I hate to say it but it’s so true, if I can be sitting here having this conversation with you, anyone can because it’s choice based. I make a decision every single day that I get up that I’m going to live my life to its fullest understanding my long term goals, my values, my wants, needs, interests and personal values. I teach that to people because there’s the therapy side of it -and I won’t even work with someone if they don’t have a therapist because I’m not trying to cross that line but what we’re trying to do is how do we catapult you into the reality you want to create based on the caricature of the person you want to be.
>> Lori: Wow, so cool. So where can people find you?
>> Michael: So I’m everywhere online @MichaelUnbroken then of course the Michael Unbroken podcast. My book is Think Unbroken, it’s on Amazon and also on my website. The audiobook will be coming out next month and everything else is at thinkunbroken.com
>> Lori: Awesome. This has been incredible, I mean you’re empowering and from one awesome person to the next I just want to be candid with our listeners because I know even for me, somebody in one of the podcasts – I listened to so many they’re kind of all blending in– but one of the podcasts somebody said that they had this imposter syndrome and it was like overcoming your own insecurities, the negative self-talk and I was online with my communications director when we were talking about you coming on as our podcast guest and I looked to your page and I just immediately, my first instinct was ‘who am I to be having this badass guy come on here? I have an ACE score of 9 so it’s rare that I meet somebody that’s got a higher score but I don’t ever compare my story to another because to one person watching their dog get hit by a car can be just as traumatic as being raped to another. I’m not at all trying to minimize or exemplify either of them, everybody responds differently to different experiences but I have this same humbled awe of you and gratitude but also like a little bit of an imposter syndrome and that just shows my human abilities. You know, I didn’t sign up for this life and if I had a choice I probably would’ve gone into finance because I’m awesome with numbers and I say that all the time. I’d be making lots and lots of money being a financial advisor or whatever, I don’t even know but I didn’t have a choice in saying no. Even though I tried that and I was really, really good at finance I knew that my mission in life was to do this work and it’s cool to meet other people who can also just embrace that same mission and I just want to thank you for that and thank you for keeping me humble. It was a good reality check for me yesterday and maybe I need to hire Michael as a coach too, take myself to new possibilities. I always want to be growing and learning so I just want to thank you again, I feel like I’m rambling a little bit because I just got super vulnerable but it’s all good. That’s the realness of who we are.
>> Michael: Totally, and everyone faces that right? The difference in life of people who are successful and those that are not are the ones that try. Trust me it’s not easy being vulnerable. It’s often scary, I often have to get myself ramped up. You signed up for this, if you signed up for it, do it. Stop waiting, stop hoping that it’ll be different and go in and see what happens. I fail everyday but I also know that long-term my understanding of the person I want to be involves a lot of mistakes so I accept it and I say ‘let’s go, let’s go figure it out.’
>> Lori: It’s the way we learn.
>> Michael: It’s human nature but you have a choice to make, either you move through it or you don’t and I’m super grateful, you’re amazing, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
>> Lori: Absolutely. Well thanks everybody for listening in today, Michael I’d love to have you back. Please let us know if you have anything coming up or want us to help accelerate your work in any way. We’d love to have you back as a guest, we’d love to share any of the work you’re doing, any of the conferences you’re having or retreats you’re having. Let us know so we can share with our world too. We’ve got to do this together, it takes all of us so ladies and gentlemen thank you all for listening to the Louder Than Silence podcast. I’m Lori Poland, the Executive Director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. You all have a great day and we’ll be back soon. Take care.
>>Lori: I want to thank each of you again for joining us today and listening in. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. To learn more about EndCAN, visit www.endcan.org or find us on all social media platforms. Join us in being Louder than Silence and being a part of the change. Please leave a comment, like our podcast, or share with your friends. The more the word spreads, the more of a collective impact we can have. If you have a question or you know someone who would want to be a guest on our podcast, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, and have a great day.