Ed Kressy: He Beat Meth Addiction and Psychosis Through Spirituality, Self-Improvement and Service #20

Warwick Fairfax

May 12, 2020

For 11 harrowing years, Ed Kressy descended deeper and deeper into the madness of methamphetamine addiction. From believing the FBI was trying to pin the 9/11 attacks on him, to not bathing or brushing his teeth for months, to considering himself married to the voices in his head that tormented his thoughts, his grip on reality slipped away a little more each day. It was a far cry from the life he had known, he tells Crucible Leadership founder and BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host Warwick Fairfax: a college education, a good job, home ownership in San Francisco. But then the alcohol he turned to in his teens to feel like “there was something I was good at” finally caught up to him, fueling his hellish cycle of helplessness and hopelessness. It was only after actually getting arrested by the FBI that he found his way back through the combined power of spirituality, self-improvement and service. Today, he gives back to his community by volunteering with the police and California jails and prisons — truly significant work that has, ironically, earned him a community service award from the FBI he once so feared. “Being a value to others,” he says, “was ultimately serving my own dreams.”

To learn more about Ed Kressy, including information on his book My Addiction & Recovery: Just Because You’re Done with Drugs, Doesn’t Mean Drugs Are Done with You, visit www.edkressy.com

Highlights

 

  • How drinking alcohol at 14 started him down a destructive path (4:25)
  • Why drinking and drugs aren’t really an alcoholic’s/addict’s problem (6:03)
  • At their root, addictions are an attempt to change the way we feel (8:31)
  • Addictions are unhealthy ways of going after our dreams (11:47)
  • Why comfort and happiness are not the same thing (14:17)
  • The illusion of having it all together in this midst of addiction (16:35)
  • His crucible: when the bottom fell out and the psychosis set in (17:13)
  • Getting sober can often lead to a new set of crucibles (20:19)
  • When the tide turned and his bounce-back began (21:40)
  • The universal emotions of his crucible experience for all — regardless of the details of their setbacks (24:37)
  • How serving his community put him on a path of hope and significance (26:37)
  • Inspiration is key to a life of significance (31:27)
  • The power of spirituality to help him stay the course of recovery (32:20)
  • The boomerang effect of doing for others (35:12)
  • You have to face you fears to pursue your dreams (38:30)
  • How he went from fearing the FBI to serving it (36:53)
  • The freedom that comes from serving his community (43:33)
  • The three questions that guide you to a life of significance (47:15)
  • Key takeaways from the episode (52:03)

Transcript

Gary S:
Welcome everyone to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co-host of the podcast and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership. And you have clicked play, subscribe, listened to a podcast that deals in what can be a difficult subject; in crucible experiences. Those painful moments in life, failures, setbacks, those things that kind of knock us off our feet, derail us, change the trajectory of our lives. But the reason that we talk about them is because it’s extremely important. We interview guests and we talk about these experiences in order to offer hope to folks maybe like you who are listening who are going through those experiences now. So we don’t want to camp out here, we don’t want to wallow in those moments. We want to learn from those moments, we want to leverage those moments so that we can begin the path of bouncing back from those moments and leading a life of significance.

Gary S:
Here with me as always is the founder of Crucible Leadership and the host of the podcast, Warwick Fairfax. Warwick, we’ve got a good one today.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. Great to be here Gary.

Gary S:
So our good one today, our guest today is Ed Kressy. And I’m going to tell all of you a little bit about Ed. I’ve got to say before I read Ed’s bio that we always ask guests to submit biographies to us that I can read on air. Ed’s has the best lead, the best beginning I’ve ever had someone to submit to us. And as a former journalist I like to think I know a little bit about leads. Here’s the Ed Kressy story in a few sentences.

Gary S:
Ed Kressy is probably the only person who was once arrested by the FBI then went on to turn his life around and receive a community service award from the director of the FBI. He transformed his life from drug addiction, mental illness, and criminal activity to follow a path of spirituality, self-improvement, and service to others. Ed volunteers in maximum security prisons and jails, helping incarcerated men and women gain skills for empowerment, entrepreneurism, and self-advocacy. Ed volunteers for law enforcement, helping the San Francisco Police Department and FBI better serve communities affected by incarceration and addiction. He’s achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a writer by publishing work in The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Vox. His book, My Addiction & Recovery: Just Because You’re Done With Drugs Doesn’t Mean Drugs are Done With You is being published in April of 2020. Ed, welcome to Beyond the Crucible.

Ed K:
Thank you Gary, thank you Warwick. It’s great to be here.

Warwick F:
Well Ed, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. You have just some amazing experiences. I’d love to start with just your story and how that led up to your crucible. But just tell us a bit about Ed Kressy and your background and kind of who you are, how you grew up, and how that led to some of the challenging experiences you had.

Ed K:
Sure. I grew up with a lot of opportunities, a lot of privileges. My childhood was idyllic in many ways. I grew up in the beautiful countryside of Massachusetts. When I got into junior high and high school, what had happened was I was just kind of a different kid. I was very uncoordinated, I couldn’t play sports or compete in gym class. I loved to read. I would come home from the library with these big stacks of books because I always liked to escape into the world of fantasy more so than I could feel comfortable in the reality of the world around me.

Ed K:
I was very sensitive, I would cry quite easily. So where I went to high school, reading, crying, being uncoordinated, not exactly a campaign platform upon which one might run for class president.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I get that.

Ed K:
So I’ll tell you Warwick, one of the very first things I felt good at was drinking. When I started to learn how to drink around 14 years old, progressing into very heavy drinking when I was 16, I began to feel like I have a talent. I have a skill. I have some way I can feel like I’m an effective part of the world around me. The only other thing in my life up until then which had made me feel like that was writing. When I would write my stories or assignments in English class back in grade school, sometimes the teachers would call me up to the front of the room to read my assignments. These are some of the first times I felt like I was good at something. The kids who would bully me during recess would sometimes come up to me after I’d read one of my stories aloud and tell me that they liked it, clap me on the shoulder.

Warwick F:
Wow, that is quite the dichotomy. They bully you and then say, “Hey Ed that was a really great story.” And part of you seeks affirmation through drinking because I’m assuming when you drank, I was pretty shy in school and not particularly athletic so I can at least relate at some level. But when you drink it makes you less shy, less inhibited, and probably you felt accepted. Hey boy, Ed’s really quite something when he drinks, right? He’s quite the personality. And so those are two very different things get affirmation, drinking and writing. It’s an amazing dichotomy as you look back.

Ed K:
Absolutely. The one thing that for people to understand about alcoholism and drug addiction as I’ve learned is that drinking and drugs usually are not our problem. They are our attempt at a solution. And as you alluded to, Warwick, my problem of not fitting in, my problem of feeling that I couldn’t find acceptance within my peer group, that was something I solved through drinking and through getting high. My dream of being a writer, that was something I could push to the side because writing, as we know, Gary you especially, writing takes discipline. Writing takes perseverance. Writing takes being able to fail and get back up again. I didn’t have the self-confidence and the belief in myself to do any of that. But drinking and getting high gave me the illusions, the false beliefs in myself. Drinking, getting high, just like you said Warwick, made me feel like I was somebody. Made me feel like I could contribute to the world around me. These are the reasons I pursued a lifestyle of heavy drinking and deep, devastating addiction to drugs for so many years. They solved the problem basically of me being me.

Gary S:
I’m going to jump in at this point and normally listeners you know that Warwick is the chief questioner here and that’s not going to change in this episode. But Ed and I share more than just being writers, people who grew up to be writers. Ed, I also have an alcoholic background. And when I hear you say, “Fitting in, found something you were good at,” I was quote unquote popular, whatever that means in those ages, athletic and those kind of things. But it was a sense of camaraderie that I could build with people when those kinds of things happen. And I say that to you to say hey brother we have affinity there but also for the listener. There are people regardless of what their crucibles may be and what they struggle with and how they deal with that. But your definition of an addiction, it’s the symptom, whatever that might be. Drugs, alcohol, other forms of distraction from what it is you can most productively be putting your time toward, that’s a symptom. The disease, the addiction is what that underlying root is, that problem is. Why you do what you do.

Gary S:
One of the most insightful things I learned at Alcoholics Anonymous was, it’s not how much you drink that makes you an alcoholic, it’s why you drink. And for me, why I drank was to change the way I felt. And I’m certain there are listeners right now, alcoholism might not be your problem, it may be drug addiction. Those kinds of things may not be your problem but there is something in your core perhaps about how you feel about yourself as Ed described, as I’ve described. There’s something in the core about how you feel about yourself that you feel you need to change.

Gary S:
And sometimes in doing that it can be unhealthy. Sometimes in doing that, Warwick you have experienced this in some way by trying to be good enough to take over the family business, even though that wasn’t necessarily your vision. You didn’t necessarily feel like that was where you were supposed to go. So I think all of us who had crucibles have a bit of that in us, that idea that if we behave in this way or if we change our behavior in this way or if we try this thing, that’s going to put us in a better position. And sometimes it can actually, instead of putting water on the fire that is our crucible, it can add gasoline to that fire. Is that fair, Warwick?

Warwick F:
Yeah, I think what you’re saying Gary is profoundly true. We all want to fit in, self-worth. I’ve had my own struggles but they were different. I can relate to what Ed’s saying in the sense that I was very shy, went to a kind of exclusive boys school, but I wasn’t very athletic. Because my family was so wealthy, prominent status, owning a huge media company, I was far different than the other boys and so… I didn’t get bullied a lot, but some, one or two. And some would taunt me saying, “Oh Warwick, you think you’re better than us,” just because my family had a bunch of money and my dad had some cars, one of which was a Aston Martin that was almost identical to the one that James drove in Goldfinger, funnily enough. But that’s another story. That was kind of cool. And I would say, “No, I don’t.” I worked very hard and got good grades and so I don’t know maybe that’s, I don’t know quite how I cope with it all but that sense of not belonging, not feeling accepted, I can absolutely relate.

Warwick F:
So we’re understanding a bit of the why behind some of the really challenging circumstances that happened later. I’m just fascinated by the dichotomy between writing and drinking. Writing you can fail, drinking, I almost wonder can you fail at that? You just drink and will have the desired effect. I don’t know, I guess failing and not failing maybe don’t think about it that way. But maybe did it feel easier than writing, in a sense? I don’t know if that question makes sense Ed.

Ed K:
It makes perfect sense. It did feel easier. Addiction, Warwick and Gary, was beautifully put what you were saying. Addiction usually serves a purpose. The purpose is oftentimes to push us along pathways we otherwise would’ve never undertaken. That’s eventually when we get to living a life of significance and we get beyond our crucible moment, usually we can look back and see our addiction as driving us towards a goal we otherwise never would’ve pushed ourselves towards.

Ed K:
The other part of addiction is, it’s a way of avoiding going after our dreams. I’ve always felt that for the addicts and the alcoholics, certainly the way I was and maybe many others, it’s a matter of adopting goals versus pursuing dreams. For many people goals and dreams are the same thing. A woman’s dream is to be a business owner so her goal is to own a business. A man’s dream is to be a marathoner so his goal is to run a marathon. A goal is something we want to achieve, a dream is someone we want to be. For many people they’re very closely related. For me, and of many other addicts, the dream is to feel normal.

Warwick F:
Right.

Ed K:
The dream is to feel accepted. The dream is to be a writer, the dream is to just feel comfortable in my own skin. No business ownership, no home, no athletic pursuit is ever going to make that dream happen. So instead we pursue these goals. For me I earned a college degree, I owned a home, I had a carer with an organization that went on to be named the number one best company in America to work for by Fortune Magazine. I pursued and I achieved these goals, but they were essentially meaningless because they never were going to get me to my dream of feeling normal, feeling Warwick like you said, like I belong. And they weren’t going to get me to my dream of being a writer.

Warwick F:
And I want to talk a little bit about that next phase of your life, college and working for one of the most admired companies in America. But I almost have this picture of you in a desert and you see an oasis, but it turns out to be a mirage. You get there and it’s not there. So no matter how much you succeed, the nice home, the nice cars, it’s like that in of itself doesn’t necessarily make you feel good about yourself. And so you keep assuming this mirage. When you get there it’s like, “I thought I was there but it just vanished right into thin air.” But you feel like okay it’s over the next sand dune. Do you follow what I’m saying? It feels illusory, that you keep pursuing something you can never attain it by just drinking or success. Do you feel that, that you’re constantly pursuing something but never getting there in a sense?

Ed K:
The oasis, yes, that’s a wonderful image. It’s a condition of comfort versus happiness. As human beings we’re hard wired not to be happy but to be comfortable. Or to put it in another way, to be safe.

Ed K:
Comfort and happiness are not the same thing. For me I could be very comfortable in that world of addiction as I abandon more and more of those goals and sank deeper towards my crucible moment, as I sunk into psychosis and threw away my home, my life savings, my career much more to addiction. I remained comfortable. I knew I could survive as a drug addict from one day to another. I knew I could survive. I’d done it for years, for decades. However, pursuing my dream, becoming a writer, I did not have the belief in myself that I could survive going after my dream. I feared failure but even more so I feared success. Instead of going after that dream which would’ve been very uncomfortable, I stayed in that unhappy yet comfortable world of addiction.

Warwick F:
So last thing before we get to your crucible moment. It’s fascinating you use that phrase fearing success. There’s a woman by the name Marianne Williamson who spent a lot of time in the coaching world and I’m sure it’s on YouTube somewhere. She has this great book, I think it’s Return to Love. And she’s spiritual in that broad sense of the word. She has this wonderful phrase that our deepest fear is success. Our deepest fear that we will be successful beyond measure. I can’t do it justice, but that’s exactly what she talks about.

Warwick F:
So let’s talk about the crucible moment because you graduated college and you’re doing very well. You achieved a lot considering like a lot of us growing up your self-worth wasn’t that high, which is interesting. But talk about the success, the job, the cars. So where were you just before things all went downhill so to speak?

Ed K:
Sure, on the surface I had a lot. I had a lot of help. I came from a relatively privileged background so my college education was paid for and my down payment on my home was paid for. I worked hard and I got to a point where I had that career, I owned that home, I was competing in kickboxing as an amateur. I was never very good at kickboxing but I would get in the gym and I would train a lot. And on the surface I did have a lot of trappings of success. Yet I had been a drug addict all along. I would binge use on weekends. I followed this path for years.

Ed K:
It was like my life became like a seesaw. On one side was the home and the career and the relationships and the beautiful motorcycle I used to ride. On the other side was my addiction, my binge using every weekend. One can maintain a seesaw like that for some time. I maintained it for years, but eventually something’s got to give.

Ed K:
For me, in 2000, the seesaw kind of plunged onto the one side. I began using methamphetamine every day. I graduated from snorting meth to smoking it. That’s when the psychosis began to set in. I started to hear disembodied voices claiming to be from the police department and the FBI threatening to kidnap and torture me to death. I believed they were trying to pin 9/11 on me, that they were hiring cults and motorcycle gangs to come and kill me. I would rip apart my electronics and punch holes in my dry wall looking for hidden surveillance devices. I would see airplanes and helicopters following me, pictures of myself in newspapers and on the internet. This was my life for years and years. I used to carry a .357 pistol everywhere I went because I was afraid of people coming after me. I’d come to in the mornings with a 12 gauge shotgun on my chest. That’s where I’d fallen asleep or passed out the night before waiting for gangsters to kick down my door.

Ed K:
It gets worse and worse. Eventually I got to a point in 2007 after bouncing in and out of jails. I was stripped naked and locked into a padded cell for 24 hour observation by the Sheriff’s Department. I bounced in and out of rehabs, destitution, I had long since thrown away my life savings. I was nowhere near employable. Living in this little flop house hotel. Hadn’t showered or brushed my teeth in months. Given away my beloved dog, the only creature left really that I felt cared about me or I felt that I was able to extend love to. I’d given my dog away. It was just terrible. My physical surroundings were very bad and my mindset was much worse. I was a drain on my communities, I was stealing from welfare. I used to get food stamps and go buy steaks and then trade the steaks to my drug dealer for meth.

Ed K:
Warwick and Gary I could go on and on and on. I think your listeners get a sense of my poor decisions, my poor choices, my mistakes led me to a point where my only three options were basically to get locked up, to get covered up, like six feet of earth covered up, or to get sobered up. I could’ve maybe gone in to long term homelessness and avoided some of that, but basically I was at the end of the road.

Warwick F:
So I’m assuming at that point your self-worth was, I don’t know, rock bottom probably doesn’t do it justice. It’s probably lower than rock bottom, but did you ever think of hurting yourself, suicide, or the best thing for humanity would be for Ed Kressy not to be around? Did you ever get to that kind of point?

Ed K:
Ironically, when I did get to that point and I stayed there for years, the worst of it was after I got clean. Because like we were saying, drugs are usually not our problem, drugs are our attempt at a solution. And so listeners, that’s one reason why it’s often so hard for an addicted person like me to quit drugs. Because when we quit now we have no more solution. After I got clean I had nothing left to tamp down that negativity I felt towards myself and which I projected onto the world around me. So Warwick, the answer to your question is yes, I was suicidally depressed, yet ironically the worst of it came after I got clean off the meth.

Warwick F:
Wow, because that sort of medicated the pain. So it sounds like just sort of on the street, in a flop house, you lose your house, car. I mean, dog, that’s got to be as bad as anything that you lost, because you loved the dog and the dog loved you. That probably felt worse than losing the house. So you’re in this terrible place. How in the world did you begin to make that hard decision to try to move beyond that? And I’m fascinated when you said it got worse as you got sober. How did you even begin to think why change? A lot of people don’t change. I’m assuming you know much more than I do, but to just continue in that addicted lifestyle for the rest of their lives. How did you make a choice to go a different path?

Ed K:
I got to a point, there was one night where… The only clothes I owned basically was this filthy tuxedo because I worked at the strip clubs and got fired. And I would wander around the city of San Francisco at night in this filthy tux. I found myself in a fancy hotel lingering outside a ballroom where a wedding reception was taking place thinking I’m going to go in and blend in wearing my tuxedo. As I stood at the doorway to that wedding reception in that hotel ballroom, I realized that in the past few years five couples had gotten married, 10 of my closest friends. One of them had asked me to be the best man. Warwick, do you know how many of those weddings I had shown up to? Yeah, zero. Not one. 10 of my closest friends married, I didn’t attend a single wedding.

Ed K:
More than that, for years I’d been hearing these disembodied voices, and I considered them my spouses. I had gotten so attached to this life of the disembodied voices and the FBI conspiracies that I believed I was married to these voices. Something inside me clicked. The wheels turned. I realized Warwick, I was certainly never going to become a writer. I was never going to be able to contribute to relationships. I was not going to be an effective part of the world around me. I didn’t know what a life of significance was at the time. I wouldn’t have been able to use those words or explain what they meant, but something inside me realized it was either a life of significance or no life whatsoever.

Ed K:
It was that moment somewhere deep inside me I found the strength to do the very, very hard work that continues to this day of turning my life around, pursuing that path of significance, and bringing something to the world around me rather than taking and taking and taking. Which had been what I was all about for many years.

Gary S:
I want to pause here for just a moment for the listener and rewind sort of the last seven or eight minutes that we’ve heard Ed talking. Ed, your story is fantastic in the sense of not great but it’s a big story. It’s a story with a lot of elements that many of us, even those of us who have addictive pasts, have not experienced. And I want to make sure the listeners hear that story and think there’s no relevance to you and your own crucible experience. Because the point we’re at now, what Ed just said, that he had two choices. He could live in his crucible as out sized as that crucible was, as hard as it maybe some of us to understand it, he could live in that crucible or he could learn lessons from it. He could move beyond it and point himself towards significance. That is what all of us face in the crucible experiences in our life.

Gary S:
So you, listener, as you’re hearing these words, please don’t be lulled into thinking that Ed’s story doesn’t have relevance to you because the experiences of your crucible aren’t the same as his. The emotions of your crucible, not feeling worthy, feeling like there’s no hope at times, feeling like how am I going to get out, feeling like you can’t overcome it, you’ll never be able to bounce back from it. Those emotions that Ed described, those are universal. Those are things that apply to your situation, your failure, your setback, every bit as much as they apply to Ed’s. And as we continue this conversation, as Ed talks now and Warwick and Ed talk about the further bounce back and then the true life of significance that Ed’s found, remember that those emotions are universal to all of us who had crucible experiences.

Warwick F:
Absolutely, very well said. Pretty much every human struggles with self-worth if they’re honest. And how do you overcome that? That’s so true. So, Ed you’re in this low point and I’m sensing that you had a choice, which was to either continue the lifestyle that was so destructive of yourself and relationships. I mean missing weddings of 10 close friends, that’s obviously going to not do your self-esteem any good. It tends to increase the sense of self-loathing and self-hatred, if you will. But I’m sensing this concept of significance, this concept of serving others that something in there was pretty key to begin as baby steps of trying to get beyond just this addictive lifestyle that you were facing. Does that make sense Ed? There’s something about significance that was part of the key to pulling you out of that. Is that true?

Ed K:
If I was going to pursue my dream I was going to need self-confidence. I was going to need to believe in myself. Becoming a writer, that was maybe a little bit too big of a jump for me to take right away, especially with my self-confidence. And Gary, as you put it so well, my sense of hopelessness, my feeling that nobody understood me, my beliefs that the world was just not going to cooperate with my achieving my dreams, all those feelings. In order to overcome them, I took the smaller steps of serving my communities. I became a volunteer, first responder through the fire department. I worked for a political campaign for a guy who became a close friend and was really about improving his neighborhoods and quality of life to the people around him. I would volunteer everywhere I could. I would go to the SCPA and collect donations outside a Macy’s window at Christmas time or around holiday times.

Ed K:
I began to find these ways to serve my communities. They were kind of smaller ways. I could bite off little chunks, I could become a volunteer for a few hours. Even if I couldn’t make that big leap to becoming a writer, this was a little pathway that I could take. I didn’t realize it at the time. Looking back I see that being of value to others, giving my time in order to serve others, that was ultimately serving my own dreams, which hopefully as I continue my writing career will actually serve others more and more. That was the pathway.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I think another really important thing for listeners to hear and just more generally about Ed’s path is it’s often baby steps. It’s really the path to getting beyond just this feeling of self-worth. While my background is very different I can relate on one level that as listeners know, when growing up in this 150 year old large family media business. I was a person of faith founded by a strong person of faith. So when that two billion dollar takeover kind of went bust and bankrupt and I felt responsible for losing 150 year old family legacy and my sense of self-worth was at rock bottom, there weren’t too many jobs for out of work media moguls. Moved back to the US where my wife is from, it was grim. I just felt like anything that I would touch I’m just going to mess up.

Warwick F:
But I remember I guess had done financial analysis years ago after Oxford and before Harvard Business School on Wall Street. So I knew I could do analysis. And I went to some temp agency and took some Excel spreadsheet test and I guess I must’ve been pretty good. So I got some part time job at some local sports company. It was actually Head Sports as in Head racket and skis at the time had a place in Maryland. And so for a few months they needed help doing their budgeting and I could do spreadsheets. Just tell me what you want and I could do something. Well it was a small little baby step as well. I actually accomplished something and didn’t screw it up, wow.

Warwick F:
So for me it wasn’t initially service to others. And from then I got financial analysis, business analysis for a aviation services firm. And little bit by little bit and then the analogy for what Ed’s going through. So part of my what I call almost drops of grace, if you will, gosh there’s something I can do and contribute. From there I got into coaching and on two nonprofit boards, a Christian school board that my kids went to, an Elder at my church, and obviously the volunteer things aren’t paid but it’s like gosh. I have a strategic mindset. I can help with strategic planning and governance. There’s something I can do and contribute, even with coaching, which didn’t pay a whole lot at the time. Somehow I can help others a little bit by little bit.

Warwick F:
Again our backgrounds probably couldn’t be more different, but my self-esteem was pretty low. Little bit by little bit there were things I could do that contribute and serve others that gradually was almost like building a mountain or building a wall. Brick by brick my self-esteem would bounce back a bit. Does that resonate with you, that little bit by little bit your self-esteem might get, I don’t know, one percent better than the day before as you were volunteering and helping all these folks?

Ed K:
Yes, absolutely. The work is very hard to do to live a life of significance. In order to do the hard work we need inspiration. So when we serve others and we can see how others are overcoming their own obstacles. Oftentimes that gives us that inspiration to do that hard work to overcome our obstacles. That’s definitely how it was for me.

Warwick F:
So talk about the next chapter in your story. You mentioned before, okay you made a decision that you were going to try to tackle addiction. You’re doing things to help others, volunteering in your community. But you said it almost got worse when the numbing effect of addiction wasn’t there. How did you keep going and do the hard yards? What was the motivation to get through what almost, I don’t know if it was worse, but I thought really hard. How’d you get through that?

Ed K:
It got very hard when I discovered was just because you’re done with drugs doesn’t mean drugs are done with you. I mentioned the suicidal depression. I continued to experience psychosis, extreme paranoia around the FBI and the police department. What really got me through most of all was spirituality. I came to understand that there is according to how I choose to believe things, there is a spiritual presence, a God, a universe, a great spirit, whatever the proper name is. I don’t completely understand that spiritual presence but I believe in the existence of this spiritual presence and the constant pursuit of spiritual understanding, the constant pursuit of spiritual meaning in life. That was what started as a flimsy little reed that I could cling to to start dragging myself out of that dark psychosis and suicidal depression. The more I pursued a path of spirituality, the more I started to define what it meant for me, the more incredible, amazing people inspired me, persons of faith based background, persons of spiritual background.

Ed K:
The one thing that really resonates, or one of the things that most resonates with me is that the spiritual is the non material. So when we think of what is spirituality? One definition I like to use is that if it’s non material then we might consider it spiritual. So, significance, a life of significance. Absolutely, to me that is something that falls under my definition of the spiritual. This is my path.

Warwick F:
Yeah. So when you think of the spiritual, I know for me and my faith based perspective, I believe that God loves us just because we’re all children of God kind of thing. And we don’t have to achieve things. It’s a love that doesn’t depend on us doing anything. Does your spiritual framework, does it give you a sense that you don’t have to achieve things for the world, for the universe to believe you have value?

Ed K:
Yeah, I believe this life is one stage in a vast journey. And what we do in this life somehow will affect what that next stage of the journey will look like. I’m a part of a faith based community myself. I’m part of a Christian community. It’s a wonderful community. I’ve found that by learning from these members in my community, by learning from the persons with backgrounds in Zen, in Buddhism, persons of Muslim faith, that all the ideas, all the wisdom that’s passed along by so many incredibly people hopefully has planted some small seed of wisdom within me that will continue to grow as-

Warwick F:
And so as you were meeting people in different spiritual communities, did you feel that they accepted you for who you were, warts and all kind of thing?

Ed K:
Absolutely. People believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. People saw value in me that I didn’t see in myself. The more good I put forth the more I served others, the more I tried to give to the world around me, the more the world gave back in the form of these incredible people who just kept coming into my life.

Warwick F:
And that’s something very important for the listeners to know because to get beyond crucible experiences, whether it’s addiction or what have you, yes I think spirituality both Ed and I can agree can be a big help. But also friends that know who we are, that realize the mistakes we’ve made, but they love and care for us anyway. And that unconditional love, that is sort of like rocket fuel. People that really know you and they love you anyway, it’s like really, if they now everything how in the world can they still want to be around me and be my friends? You might not have understood it at the time, but you appreciated it. And so that probably also through spirituality and some friends who love you unconditionally, those probably were a big help I’m guessing in going through those hard early years. Is that fair?

Ed K:
Addiction and mental illness that I found is overcoming the stigma.

Warwick F:
Yeah.

Ed K:
Yeah, the symptoms of the schizophrenia like condition that I had when I was on meth and it persisted in some form or another, even to this day at times. The symptoms themselves, at least after I quit meth, they never bothered me nearly as much as the fact I tried to hide them. I tried to conceal a big part of myself. So Warwick, yeah, the friends I had, the people in my life, the way they accepted me warts and all, that was such a big part of me being able to express myself, to overcome stigmas, and get into the learnings from that crucible experience into the benefits. And I’d just love to add, of all the help I received, people in law enforcement ironically gave me some of the most meaningful help. Of all the people out there I’m so grateful to the FBI, the police department, protectors in general, firefighters, persons in the military. Along with faith based communities and spiritual practitioners and many others. People in law enforcement really had a belief in me, gave me second chances. And as a result, I’m able to give something back to my communities.

Warwick F:
Now talk about that because I know you went from a point being paranoid that the FBI’s out to get you to receiving an award from the director of the FBI. Obviously that’s amazing but there’s some irony in that. So talk about how that happened and what that felt like.

Ed K:
Yeah, well I was terrified of the FBI. Years after I quit meth I still believed the FBI was trying to pin 9/11 on me. I believed I had inadvertently befriended a 9/11 hijacker when I was kickboxing in Bangkok in 2000. I had all these beliefs and basically it was terror. A lot of fear, a lot of terror. I learned through these amazing people I mentioned, I learned that I would need to face my fears. If I was ever going to pursue my dream, if I was ever going to live that true life of significance, it’s like the writer Joseph Campbell says, “In the cave you fear to enter lies the treasure you seek.”

Ed K:
Or Nelson Mandela, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” For me, there was so much fear and I learned I was going to have to face it. Basically I get to meet some people who are FBI agents. I made it known to them that I wanted to serve the FBI as I had served the fire department when I’d been a volunteer first responder. From there I was nominated to this selective FBI Citizens Academy where basically they take people and they put us through a six week one night a week course on how the FBI fulfills its mission of protecting Americans.

Ed K:
Along the way I discovered that the FBI, I didn’t really know this, but they do have a strong interest in serving communities, or what I should say is they have a strong interest in further serving communities who are affected by incarceration and addiction. I’m so grateful to the FBI because they allowed me to not only have a second chance but to contribute my particular unique strengths and insights into their work. And this is how I ultimately wound up in Washington D.C. in May of 2019 shaking hands with the director of the FBI. I was one of 57 Americans to be honored with this community service award. Warwick, 12 years ago the Ed Kressy that would’ve been in an FBI office would’ve been a lot different circumstances. I wouldn’t have been shaking hands with the director, I’ll tell you that.

Ed K:
So just speak so highly to the FBI, to the police department, to the fire department. All these wonderful spiritual practitioners and individuals and faith based communities that when a second chance is extended, yes it benefits the receiver me, but a second chance can also benefit the giver, society just as much if not more so.

Warwick F:
And what’s sort of stunning to me here is that one would hope, a spiritual community’s definitely not perfect, but in their better moments you would hope that they would reach out and accept you. But you found love and acceptance from law enforcement. You think law enforcement are all about convicting people, putting people away. But they kind of gave you a second chance. They knew your record so to speak or the things that you struggle with but yet they accepted you and welcomed you anyway. Talk about how that felt? Because that’s an amazing story that I think most of us don’t really think about, that law enforcement accepting us and almost wanting to give us a second chance. Talk about that and how that felt.

Ed K:
Yeah, absolutely. By no means do I intend a blanket endorsement of law enforcement. I don’t mean to endorse everything that law enforcement does or has ever done.

Warwick F:
Sure.

Ed K:
But what I can say with complete confidence is that there are individuals within places like the FBI and the police department who just like you say Warwick, who are truly dedicated to protecting, to serving individuals such as myself who are committed to giving chances for life’s turnarounds. I found that there are organizations and then there are people within those organizations. And they’re often two different things. When we can form these bridges of trust, when we can focus on what we have in common, what are our common interests, and pretty much those interests are going to relate to making society better and making things safer and better quality of life for everyone.

Ed K:
When we can focus on these things, they tend to expand. In life whatever we focus on tends to expand. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things wrong. It doesn’t mean that we need to fix what’s wrong with our society, because there is a lot wrong. At the same what I’ve learned is let’s also really focus on what’s right. Let’s focus on these FBI police formerly incarcerated and currently incarcerated individuals. Let’s focus on these human beings who are bettering themselves, who are bettering their communities, who are serving others. Because when we focus on the work that these individuals are doing, that work is going to expand. And that goodness and those benefits are going to extend throughout society.

Warwick F:
Right. And as you are extended grace, forgiveness, you want to extend that to others, to people that have been incarcerated and help them get beyond it because you would know better than I, where they call it recidivism, if that’s the right word, if people going back to jail and committing crimes can be higher than we would like. And just trying to help stop that cycle. So talk a bit about your life of significance now. You use that phrase the cave that we fear to go in. I guess two different questions. What’s your life significance now, and for Ed Kressy what is that cave that you fear to go in?

Ed K:
Well, first the significance in addition to serving law enforcement, I volunteer inside maximum security prisons and in jails coaching as Gary was saying earlier, coaching incarcerated men and women on employment, entrepreneurism, and self advocacy. As obvious as it sounds to say, I’ve discovered that if my birth circumstances had been the same as the women and men I work with behind prison and jail bars, I would’ve been on the other side. These women and men have taught me very powerful lessons.

Ed K:
To get to the other point, the fear is really in just being honest and expressing myself. Honesty not so much as opposed to being dishonest, but really overcoming that stigma. Being forthcoming about the mental health challenges that I have faced. Being forthcoming about the fact I don’t consider myself mentally ill as mentally enhanced. You hear about people who viewed reality in different ways yet have served their societies incredibly well. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, the list goes on and on. So the fear is in just being honest, overcoming stigmas, and in doing so bringing more and more value to the world around me in some small way like so many incredible people have brought value to my life.

Warwick F:
I think that’s so true. You mentioned Abraham Lincoln. He suffered from what they called at the time melancholy. That was the word that they used. I don’t know that we know quite what that means, but he did suffer bouts of depression, of just feeling low, in the blues. What does that mean? I don’t know, but it means something. There was something that he struggled with, but yet obviously he was able to, despite that, contribute. It didn’t stop him contributing to the country and the Emancipation Proclamation and so many other things. So that’s important for the listener to know.

Warwick F:
You served so many people in so many communities and just the sense that people accept you for who you are. Because we all have made our mistakes. Some are more public than others. And just saying it’s okay. You try to atone as best you can. You try to avoid making the same mistake. But we’re all human and just that sense of accepting that it’s okay to be broken. Is there any person on the planet who’s not broken in some fashion? I’ve not met them. Some are better at hiding it than others. Some people’s failures are less obvious than others, but we’re all broken in some ways. It’s just part of being a human. Does that make sense? If you realize as you talk to other people and got to know them, how many perfect people have you met that have never struggled, never had divorce, never made mistakes. Have you met too many of these perfect people in your travels?

Ed K:
Well one of the most inspiring books I’ve read, and first of all I should say by no means do I mean to compare myself to Dr. Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln.

Warwick F:
Yeah.

Ed K:
These people are inspiring. But Nelson Mandela, I’ve read his book twice, Long Walk to Freedom. I think he fits well into the mold of a human being who like the rest of us is flawed, or was flawed, yet he perseveres nonetheless and you can look at the wonderful things, the amazing things he’s done for the world and his spirit continues to do.

Gary S:
We have arrived at that point in the show when it’s time to drop the landing gear and begin to land the plane. But as we ease into that Ed, there’s something that you’ve written several times as we’ve corresponded and you included it in the sheet that we had you fill out before we began the interview. This is a statement that you made that I want the listeners to hear because A, it applies to your life as well I believe listener. And Warwick, with all the work that I’ve done for Crucible Leadership, this sounds like something we could’ve written for Crucible Leadership, what I’m about to read that Ed wrote here.

Gary S:
“Examine whatever you’re doing at a given moment. Any action you’re taking, thought your thinking, words you’re uttering. Does it contribute to your spirituality, to your self improvement, or service to others? If not, change what you’re doing.”

Gary S:
What’s your reaction to that Warwick, and Ed maybe you can expand on that.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I think that’s true. When I think about self-worth, it’s tied to significance because if you try to build money and success, I grew up with about as much money and power as you can. And I didn’t see too many people that really felt that good about themselves or certainly had happy lives. But happiness, joy, self-worth, it really is tied to significance, tied to serving others. When you’re about trying to help other people, in Ed’s case trying to help people with addiction and incarceration, just try to get beyond that, live productive lives, that’s where self-worth comes from. Self-worth comes from serving others. When you serve yourself, it doesn’t build self-worth. I don’t think human beings are wired that way. Whoever wired them that way, whether it’s the cosmos, spirituality, or God, we were wired to serve others. And only in that can we receive joy and happiness. Does that resonate with you Ed on your own journey to a life of significance?

Ed K:
Absolutely. The more we help others, the more we help ourselves. The more we give, the more we get. The more we can bring to the world around us, the more the world gives us. And I’ve found that it’s not so much that reality influences our thoughts nearly as much as it is that our thoughts create the reality around us.

Gary S:
Ed, you’ve talked a couple times about your book. Tell listeners a little bit about it. What’s it called? What does it cover? And how can they get it when it is out in April of this year?

Ed K:
Oh, yeah. Gary, thanks so much. My book is called My Addiction and Recovery. The subtitle is Just Because You’re Done With Drugs Doesn’t Mean Drugs are Done With You. It’s available right now on my website, www.edkressy.com. That’s just my name dot com. And the book covers the story that we’ve been talking about. How second chances, yes they benefit the person who receives the second chance, but they also benefit society and the persons who give those second chances.

Warwick F:
I just want to say, I think of that cave you mentioned that we’re all afraid to go into. It sounds like growing up for you that was writing. And there’s a lot of things you’re doing now to contribute to society with law enforcement and people behind bars who suffer addiction. But the fact that you’re writing, that to me is a wonderful thing. Because it was something that you were afraid of probably your whole life. And you’re doing it. When we conquer our deepest fears and pursue our deepest longings, ones that can actually be productive, that’s a beautiful thing. Don’t you think? I think it’s a wonderful thing that you’re writing. Because that can’t have been easy. To get to a point where you could do that, that says a lot, doesn’t it?

Ed K:
Yeah, well think about your life, look back upon your life years and years from now, what do you want to have looked back upon? What do you want to have to show for it? It probably won’t be a bank statement. It probably won’t be a financial statement. It probably won’t be a home or car. What you’re going to want to have to show for your life when you’re ready to go to the next stage of the journey is I believe many of us in some form, or all of us perhaps in some form will, what are we going to want to look back upon? It’ll be just like you were talking about Warwick, that life of significance, that having brought something of value to the world around us. These are probably the things we’re going to want to look back upon at the end of our lives and say that we’ve done.

Gary S:
That is an excellent place, Ed and Warwick, to end our conversation today. Listeners, thank you for spending time with us listening to this truly moving conversation about Ed’s story. And we hope that you see the application for it in your life, even if the circumstances are different. And we’re going to leave you with two practical thoughts as you move on beyond listening to this.

Gary S:
The first of those thoughts is a suggestion. If you’re struggling with moving beyond your crucible, take a page from Ed’s book. Find an opportunity to serve others. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be grand. It doesn’t have to have a business plan attached to it. It just has to be focused on helping others. What you will find is that in addition to helping others you’ll find what Ed’s described, what Warwick’s described and many things that he’s talked about and written about in Crucible Leadership. It helps others, but in the process of helping others and getting your mind off of your crucible, off of your bounce back, off of your trials and struggles, you’ll also help yourself. So, that’s practical tip number one as a suggestion.

Gary S:
Practical thought number two is a favor we’d like to ask you. If you’ve enjoyed, if you’ve felt that you’ve learned something, you’ve been edified by this conversation, we would ask you to subscribe to Beyond the Crucible on the podcast app that you’re listening to it on right now. Doing so will ensure first of all for you that you’ll never miss an episode. And it will help us share this and the messages that come through here. Stories like Ed’s that will help us share the content of Beyond the Crucible to more people to help them recognize that their crucible experiences can be the start of a great new chapter in their lives that lead to a life of significance.

Gary S:
So, until next time when we’re together, thank you for spending time with us and we look forward to the next time.

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