Episode 36: Child Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment with John Giordano
John J. Giordano
Doctor Of Human Letters, CCJS, MAC, CAP
In this episode, Lori Poland hears from child abuse survivor John Giordano as he shares his story of experiencing child abuse and its impacts on him throughout his life. John discusses his journey through addiction, the recovery process, and his work as an author, speaker, and therapist.
John Giordano’s website: https://johnjgiordano.com/
The Louder than Silence podcast is brought to you by The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect (EndCAN).
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast Episode #36 – Child Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment with John Giordano
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Hello everybody my name is Lori Poland and I am the Executive Director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect and I am here with a pretty cool guy. I’m already really liking especially your accent. Our listeners can’t see you but you look pretty legit there in your nice chair and office. Anyways this is John and I’m just delighted that you’re with us so thanks for being here today.
>> John: It’s a pleasure!
>> Lori: So John you know we reached out to you to see if you’d be interested in being on our podcast and for some people they say no, other people say absolutely. I’m curious where your yes came from and what caused your willingness
>> John: Well let’s put it this way, people helped me when I couldn’t help myself number one. My life’s work is helping God’s kids and that’s where I’m at. There’s no shame in my game, I got past all that. Like I told you off air, I wrote a book called A Kid from the South Bronx Who Never Gave Up and my whole life story is in there. A lot of people asked “how could you do that?” and I say it’s simple. This is what happened. Everybody has their issues, everybody has their skeletons in their closet, everybody’s hiding things. Basically most people are really a lot alike and people don’t realize that. You know being a therapist and being a recovering addict and recovering sexual abuse survivor, you find out that people are all the same basically. Little different moves here and there but they’re the same.
>> Lori: Yeah the stories are different, the detail of the story is different but everybody has a story
>> John: Right everybody has a story. So I guess I can start my story from the beginning.
>> Lori: That would be wonderful, John.
>> John: When I was 8 years old my Dad was a heroin dealer, he got arrested and went to jail. I didn’t know what was going on, my mother said he was on a sales trip. Later on I found out that was a lie so I never trusted my mother or women anymore in my early age. So when I was 8 and a half, some boys in the neighborhood molested me and had anal sex with me. The weird part about it was part of me enjoyed it and even though I knew it was terribly wrong but there was that moment in time where it felt good. When I do therapy with people that have sex addictions and have been abused, they never look at that and think “oh my god I felt there was something wrong with me” and you know I felt that way also. What I realized that if you’re touching a place that’s sensitive, for that moment, that quick, you can have that feeling then it goes away into shame and guilt, thinking there’s something wrong with me. From then on in the kids in the neighborhood, what happened was I was a heavyset kid and they didn’t want me to play on their teams and they would tease me and one day they came up to me and asked if I wanted to be the captain of the team. I think it was about 8 and a half, 9. I said I’d love to do that. So they said “Let us touch you and you can touch us and if you do that we’ll make you the captain of the team.” So I said okay and they all laughed at me and ran away. So that was another damaging thing in my psyche that I didn’t realize that through the ages how that would affect me. The kids in the neighborhoods were greaseballs, Italians that came off the boat and they were hypersexual and so was I after being molested. We used to get together and have sex under the staircase in the apartments where we lived. That went on for 2-3 months and I felt something was wrong with me and I went to a priest and asked him to get the evil out of me. He smiled at me and he said to do 10 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers and you’ll be fine. That didn’t work very well. As time went on I wasn’t sure if I was gay or not, I didn’t know where I belonged. It was a really terrible time. I had to take care of my Mom, I had to go visit my Dad in prison. It was a really rough time in my life. What ended up happening was I wanted to prove to myself I liked women but let me back up a little bit. I also got molested by my babysitter, that was another thing when I was 9 and a half and she was 14. She wanted to play doctor and she took off my clothes, I took off her clothes and it was exciting but also scary that somebody might find out. So that dynamic was going back and forth and that affected me as well. As I got older, I joined a gang when I was 10, I was in all kinds of different gangs and around 12 years old, I used to go over to 42nd street where a lot of the gay guys were and I used to let them pick me up and I used to go to the bathroom with them and I used to beat them up. You could see the dynamic in my mind going back and forth. As I got older I realized, after I became a therapist I realized what was going on. Then what would happen is sometimes I would let them do whatever they wanted and then beat them up. So that phase passed out. Then I was always with women, any chance I got. Then I got older, 14 and a half, I got out of the gangs and end up going to karate school and wind up doing karate and that took me out of the gangs and helped me focus my anger. That’s where I wound up, became a karate champion and when I was about 17 I wanted to go to Florida and live there. I met a girl when we were on vacation and I was chasing after her. So at 17 I decided to go to Florida, my father was at home then and my mother was crying and everybody was getting crazy and I left with the girl. Long story short, I was never honest with anybody in my life because I couldn’t emotionally get connected to them because of the abuse. I didn’t trust women either. As soon as my mother lied to me about where my father was I lost all trust in women. She was trying to do it so she wouldn’t hurt my feelings but I learned what happened to my Dad in the streets from the kids who said my father was a con. So that history, it changed my life as I was going along. I started doing drugs when I was 18, 19, around that time. I was a karate champion so I never did drugs or drank or anything and I used to teach karate in Collins Avenue and my students would come stoned, so I used to work them out and make them throw up figuring that would discourage them. Well it didn’t. What ended up happening was they kept coming back stoned and they told me I should try it. I said I didn’t need anything to make me feel different. They said “Sensei you don’t know what it’s like.” So I had this friend of mine that showed me this little vial with liquid in it and I asked what it was and he said LSD so I said let me try it and I drank the whole bottle. That was 5 hits in that bottle so I went on a journey for like 3 days and that kind of started my drug habit. Eventually I got married to the girl, after my wedding – my uncle threw the wedding for me – on one side they were Italian and Jewish, they wanted her to marry a Jewish man but they liked my family. What did they know? My family was great on one side of the fence and on the other side, well, you know. Anyways my uncle threw the wedding and on one side of the reception there were lawyers and doctors, professionals in suits and on the other side were racketeers with guns in their holsters. It was a pretty wild wedding. Anyways the caterer insulted my uncle in front of the family and the next day we found that the caterer got killed.
>> Lori: Let me interrupt real quick, I’m not sure that our listeners heard the part about your uncle, can you tell them who he is?
>> John: Well family member, I’ll put it that way. Well he got arrested for it but that’s a whole different story. My family were like a mafia family, my uncles were hitmen, things like that. The caterer wound up getting killed. We were at my grandmother’s house and she got a phone and afterwards she said everybody had to leave. She pulled us aside and she’s throwing guns down the laundry shoot into the basement. It was wild. My uncle lived in the house with her and they said the detectives were coming over so we had to make an excuse to get out of town. So that’s what happened, I got out of town. So we just left before the detectives got into the house. And as time goes on I wound up doing a lot of drugs with my wife and it got worse and worse, I eventually got divorced. I’ll run through this story real quick because we don’t have much time. It was a journey of always being with a lot of women, always I guess trying to prove my manhood which I don’t even understand why I was trying to do that, big tough karate guy and I always cheated with everybody. So what ended up happening was that first wife, she cheated on me and I was cheating on her the whole time. That’s really when I found out when you get sexually abused, it does all kinds of crazy things to your mindset. You lose trust, you lose all kinds of stuff and it’s really debilitating. People are very afraid to go talk about it because there’s a lot of shame and a lot of guilt involved. For the listeners out there, get over it. Get to therapy and get some help; I did. Long story short I wind up doing a lot of drugs and I get married the 2nd time and 3rd time. The 3rd time I was in recovery but the 2nd time I wasn’t so my family ended up doing an intervention on me. Now I told you who my family was. I was wondering who was doing the intervention on them. But they wanted to do one on me.
>> Lori: So the scale tipped. At one point you became worse than them [laughs]
>> John: Right, what’s going on here you know? [laughs] Alright so my mother said she’d never talk to me again and my Mom wasn’t like that so I said, okay it must be bad enough. What ended up happening is I went into treatment. It felt like I was in another planet. So I walked out, I had my sunglasses on because I didn’t want anybody to see me because I taught a lot of karate to doctors and nurses, I didn’t want them to know there was a drug addict teaching their kids. I kind of led two lives, you know, on one side I was using drugs and on the other I was teaching police departments so it was kind of strange. I went into rehab and I was sitting in group and they asked if I wanted to share and I told them I wouldn’t even get high with people like you. I was very angry and disjointed. I was doing a lot of drugs at the time. What ended up happening was I had a therapist, it was Christmas Eve. Right now I’m going on 37 years of recovery. No drinking, no drugs, no sexual behaviors. My therapist asked me, John do you pray? I’m a Catholic, I have callouses on my knees from praying. So she told me to get on my knees and pray. I said gimme a break, God doesn’t listen to me if I’m not on my knees? How about if I’m in a closet? Will he listen then? So they said I couldn’t go home with my family on Christmas Eve, I really didn’t want to be with my family, I wanted to go get high so I got really angry. I punched the door and when I got angry I didn’t just get angry, I got enraged. I wouldn’t just leave right away, it sometimes took a day to leave. So I go in my room and slam the door, I remember what that counselor said to me because I felt my whole life was changing and falling apart. I went to get down on my knees and as I tell this story I still remember it like it happened yesterday. I couldn’t get down on my knee, I had to push my knee to get down then I had to push the other one which was really strange. Then I started to pray to God of my understanding and just His will, not my will, and my rage left like it was never there. Now, I’m a pretty sick kid so I try to get angry but I couldn’t, I wasn’t enraged anymore. That was my turning point in treatment. I had a spiritual awakening. Things changed from there on in. There were a lot of things that happened in treatment which I don’t want to get into because I don’t have the time but anyways I got out of treatment and I wanted to hold my relationship together with my wife at the time but she was still doing coke and as I got out of treatment she handled me a vial of coke and said to just do one line. I told her I just spent six weeks in treatment, now you’re asking me to do coke? What’s wrong with you? Well there was a lot of things wrong with both of us. I also did relationship therapy and for years I felt like I was a fraud because I couldn’t hold a relationship until I learned through therapy that if you want to have a good relationship, stop looking at the other person and start looking at yourself. When you start correcting you, you’ll realize what’s going on with the other person. Just to segue, I’m with my wife today 25 years and we’re as happy as if we just met. She’s in recovery, we’ve been to therapy, we’ve done all the things we need to do to take care of and help ourselves. So I ended up getting divorced from that wife when I came out of treatment and they told me not to make any changes for a year and I didn’t. I used to go to group once a week, I had an after-care and they wanted to throw me out of the group because I kept talking about my wife, she’s doing this and she’s doing that. They would ask if I used that day and I said no of course I didn’t so that’s a good day. So you know I got divorced and I was homeless. I had no house and no car, she took everything. A friend of mine owned a hotel, I wound up staying there. So I used to deal drugs and do collection work for smugglers. So I used to make about $15,000 a week. And I said I wouldn’t end up like my family and of course I did. Anyways, here I am. I’m homeless in a hotel room with a little burner, I had a little job I used to put my quarters in when I had them, and a bicycle somebody loaned me. So I said if this is recovery, this sucks. It was like a nightmare but I decided one day I got tired of feeling sorry for myself. My kids used to come, we all used to cry together. They asked me what I was doing there. It was a nightmare that wouldn’t end. The trouble was I was awake. Eventually, going to therapy and taking care of myself I decided that I was tired of feeling sorry for myself and I started to enjoy where I was believe it or not. I was riding my bike on the boardwalk in Miami Beach. At night I listened to to the ocean and realized how fortunate I am that I’m not locked up and my life turned around and I really wanted to help addicts and alcoholics but I only made it through 9th grade so back then I I had to get at least a GED before you can go to school to learn about being a addictionologist. Long story short I got my GED, went back to school. Fast forward, I got my certifications and different accolades. I hooked up with different scientists. Now I’m in 76 medical and scientific peer-reviewed journals. I lecture all over the world. If anybody would’ve told me this in the beginning I would’ve punched them in the face thinking they were making fun of me [laughs]
So I lecture for scientists, I lecture for researchers because addiction is 60 years behind the times. We’re not looking at people comprehensively, we’re only looking at them psychologically. People don’t realize that this is a system, it’s not just a head walking around. So what I lecture about is how there are contributing factors to addiction and mental health issues. Like leaky gut syndrome, is a gut issue where dopamine is produced and is called the second brain, it goes up what is known as the Vegas nerve into the brain and deposits dopamine and serotonin, these are feel-good drugs. People don’t realize that they have to take care of their gut. Also people that have thyroid issues, especially women, can cause depression and anxiety and if you are predisposed to that, you’re going to look to medicate with a behavior or substance. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Dr. Wong, he’s the geneticist that found the addiction gene. We call it RDS : Reward Deficiency Syndrome. So all the addictions – working, eating disorders, sexual addiction, we call RDS. It’s a lack of dopamine. I could go on and on, I don’t know how much time we have.
>> Lori: I mean I just feel like, I do say this often but man do I meet some incredible people on our podcast interviews. I am also a therapist and I also have an obsession of understanding humans and I also live a life of recovery and I love your 7th step work and how it introduces you into your spiritual experience. You had a legitimate burning bush experience and you’ve lived life on life’s terms. Sometimes it didn’t seem so nice until it did and it started working out. I just feel like I could sit with you for days and just learn from you.
>> John: Let me just top this story off. What I wind up doing, I do all this stuff. I write books, I lecture all over the world, I do all that kind of stuff. Here I am, a kid from the south Bronx doing all this stuff and I opened up this treatment center, my third actually. The first two didn’t work out, I didn’t have the right partners. It’s all in the book, I don’t want to get into it but I started it with $300 and everybody told me it wouldn’t work because I didn’t take insurance and in 2012 I sold it for $45 million.
>> Lori: Oh my gosh.
>> John: I know. My wife and I, we still don’t believe it. We became known all over the world for our treatment program because we did alternative medicine that was evidence-based, not stuff that just somebody said works. We did hyperbarics, colonics, acupuncture. We checked heavy metals for toxicity in the brain which can mimic bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. People don’t know about this kind of stuff which is why we lecture about it.
>> Lori: John, I have to interrupt you because one of my struggles as a therapist personally and in the world of understanding trauma and abuse is why are we waiting until people become addicts in order to provide these treatments and intervention? That research that you just described, the testing and understanding dopamine and serotonin, those things are only oftentimes accessible when somebody goes into rehab.
>> John: Actually it’s not, that’s wrong
>> Lori: Okay say more, help me, teach me.
>> John: So here’s the problem, you know who runs the treatment centers? The insurance companies.
>> Lori: Totally.
>> John: You know, the insurance companies run the centers so what you’re getting is a tertiary effect in treatment. First of all treatment should be anywhere from 60 to 90 days depending on the severity of the illness.
>> Lori: I totally agree.
>> John: I’m also a traumatologist, I’m an EMDR specialist also and I’ve redeveloped that too.
>> Lori: See I work with Rapid Resolution Therapy and I do work with that and with John Connelly out of Florida. I’m getting all excited, this is so good for me.
>> John: So I redid EMDR, and I call it TRT, Trauma Related Therapy, and it works better than EMDR. My own therapists, I sent them to get EMD training and I taught them the way I do it and they all told me mine works so much better. I’m also an NRD trainer, I’m a hypnotherapist and a grandmaster in martial arts so we do all that, I put that all together with an EMDR technique and I’m telling you, 20 minutes, the trauma is gone. I don’t have to go back and forth with them.
>> Lori: Which is my biggest struggle with EMDR, it’s also re-traumatizing at times because you have to keep going back and forth.
>> John: You see you don’t go through the trauma. I don’t go to the trauma. You know what I go to? The feeling that was elicited from the trauma. That’s what you’ve got to go to.
>> Lori: Exactly
>> John: But if you do the technique the way I do it, it pulls up all the trauma that’s associated with it.
>> Lori: Man I like you [laughs]
>> John: I’m a chatterbox, I could talk for days.
>> Lori: Me too John I think we should be friends. So for intents and purposes, will you come back?
>> John: Absolutely!
>> Lori: Well could we do another podcast?
>> John: Anytime you want.
>> Lori: Great, second of all where in Florida are you because I want to meet you?
>> John: I’m in Davie, Broward County. You can go to my website also and learn some other stuff about me. Johnjgiordano.com. It’s got some of my podcasts on there, I’m doing another YouTube channel talking about all this stuff.
>> Lori: Excellent. Could you tell us again the title of the book you were talking about earlier?
>> John: I’ve got a few of them but I’ll tell you the two that are prevalent right now. The Kid from the South Bronx Who Never Gave Up, that’s one. The other is How to Beat Your Addictions and Live a Quality Life.
>> Lori: Okay, yep, I’m an official fan. Super salesman just from your humility and authenticity.
>> John: You know what people who are listening need to understand is there’s hope. I thought, you know I was a kid that only went to the 9th grade. So here’s a kid that the family was a mess and getting divorced and traumatized. We always look at traumas as acute. What about sub-acute? Your dog died, you got divorced
>> Lori: Trauma is trauma, your body reads it the same.
>> John: That’s right and that’s what we teach. There is help. And I’ve helped thousands of people. They did the work, all I did was share information.
>> Lori: John you sound like such an amazing person and so inspirational, just your willingness to be honest and humble. Thank you for modelling what is possible for people who’ve experienced layers and layers of abuse. I mean it wasn’t just physical or sexual abuse, it sounds like there was neglect and inappropriate exposure to unsafe environments, I mean you name it.
>> John: My father took me on a drug deal with him when I was a kid. That’s in the book, we wrote all that stuff.
>> Lori: It just sounds like there were so many layers and the fact that you’re sitting here with us today talking with listeners that it is absolutely possible to move through and beyond, it’s just profound. I can’t thank you enough and our focus at EndCAN is truly building a community of people that have a willingness to talk about the hard stuff because we know that perpetrators count on our silence. They count on us being hidden, keeping the secrets, hiding behind all the shame and blame and guilt and we need to change that. If we can do that, we can truly, truly save God’s children as you describe.
>> John: Once you free yourself from the shame and the guilt and you start to realize if nothing’s going on in your life, bad or good, that means you’re dead. So to be alive, stuff is going to happen. But if you’ve got good support and you’re reaching out and you’re not internalizing everything and feeling sorry for yourself like I did. As soon as I got out, things changed. Everybody that’s listening to this, get off your butt, stop feeling sorry for yourself and start getting the help that’s available.
>> Lori: Absolutely. Oh John thank you. You know earlier about 30 -45 minutes ago, Lyndsay and I had been chatting on the side and I just would love to stay connected, I’d love to loop you into some of the work we’re doing at EndCAN so I’ll be reaching out to you but I just want to thank you so much for talking with me today. I’m excited for our next conversation, I’m excited to get to know you more and really excited to read your book. I’m going to wrap it up here and just say thank you for taking the time to meet with us today.
>> John: Thank you for inviting me.
>> Lori: It’s been such a pleasure John, lovely talking with you. So anyhow thank you so much for listening. I’m Lori Poland, the Executive Director of the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. We are here with an incredible man, John Giordano.
>> John: Right, Giordano Italiano [laughs]
>> Lori: [laughs] I feel like there’s an extra letter in there, an extra vowel I’m going to screw it up but I love the way you say it better than I do but John Giordano thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure, I hope you have a beautiful day and we’ll be in touch for sure.
LOUDER THAN SILENCE
Thank you for your support!
The Louder than Silence podcast is brought to you by EndCAN – The National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. All episodes are made possible by your support.