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Overcoming Addiction And Beginning A New Life with Megan Winberg
I’m with my cohost, Sean Entin.
Taylor Smith, how are you?
I’m excellent. We were discussing if heroin was an opioid or not. I looked it up on the internet. The first thing that pops up is prescription opioid pain medicines such as OxyContin and Vicodin have similar effects to heroin. In fact, heroin is an opioid. That is relevant because the person that we’re having on the podcast, Megan Winberg, had a period in her life where she was addicted to heroin.
Which is terrible at sixteen.
I forget the exact timeline, but she was young.
It’s an addiction to heroin. If you think about it, how many people out there are addicted to Oxy and narcos and Vicodins of the world? It’s ridiculous. Everybody’s like, “Let’s all go pop pills because everybody is in pain.” If you shoot heroin, if you inject heroin in your body, that’s unacceptable.
I’ve never done heroin. I imagine like anything it’s a distraction from what your experience in life and it’s a way to get your shift. It’s a state change. I remember John Livesay on his podcast talked about state change. If you want change in your life, you have to change your state of being. It so happens like the easy button for a lot of people is a substance that can give you a state change because it distracts you.
It causes addiction. I was lucky enough early on in my recovery after my coma that they put me on all this stuff, the Demerols, the morphine and the Oxy. I was healthy enough or smart enough. I don’t know if that’s smart enough to say, “Enough is enough. I’m done with the painkillers.” The more you’re on it, the harder it is to get off of it. I can’t even imagine someone who’s emotionally acceptable to heroin and what it can do to you at sixteen. It could kill you. It could destroy everything next and near you and your surroundings.
On this note of opioids, Sean and I came across an herb called Kratom, which has many proposed benefits. One of the benefits that were brought up on a movie we watched called The Leap of Faith was that Kratom is an herb that can help to wean people off of opioid addiction. I don’t think Megan used that herb but she was able to, in her life, come off of all the substances she had been on as a young girl. She was able to find her way.
Turn herself around. She teaches yoga. I think she teaches breath work.
I don’t know if she does a breath work, but I know she teaches yoga. I know that it’s been a huge part of her healing and recovery process. Yoga is, in essence, in my perspective having taught yoga and having done it for years is at its core it’s about creating a relationship with yourself. There are many layers to the practice.
I can’t even imagine what she went through and how she got herself off this, but we’re going to find out soon on the show.
I’m Elsa Ramon along with Sean Entin. Everybody has a story and we love hearing them, talking about them and telling them. We have Megan Winberg with us, who is a yoga instructor. That’s the end of the story. It’s the beginning of her next chapter. She was led to yoga by some circumstances in her life that many of you who may be listening have also encountered along the way in your lives. First of all, Megan, thank you so much for being on the show with us and being open and vulnerable to talking about the struggles in your life.
I was very excited about this opportunity. I’ve never done anything like this before so it was very exciting.
This is your first time doing a podcast. Also, we’re going to be talking about some things about your personal life and past. That’s also not easy either sometimes to open up for some people. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable in the world. All of us don’t like to talk about some of the things that we wish we hadn’t done in our past. They do make us what we are now.
They’re all very important.
When you were telling me, Megan, that from the age of about fourteen to 26, you are a drug user at fourteen. I’m a parent. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter. The first thing that strikes me at fourteen, how do you get set on that path?
I like to say I was perpetually depressed ever since I was out of the womb. As soon as I was born, I was not happy. It was a constant try to escape. My childhood was very rocky. It wasn’t necessarily a safe place. They say, “Your parents are your first Gods.” My parents were a mess. Drugs were the thing that I used to escape reality anywhere but being present right here, right now. That’s what I wanted.
You couldn’t rely on them for stability and a safe place to be and to go to when you’re encountering something as a child.
No, absolutely not.
You had a very rocky childhood. Your parents were not a source of stability. You get to your teenage years, which already for many of us is a difficult time. We’re trying to figure ourselves out and there’s peer pressure. We have all these kinds of things we’re encountering in school. What was the first experience like at fourteen and what drugs was it?
The first thing I used was pot and alcohol. I remember the first time I drank. I felt this feeling like everything was good. I was like superwoman. I was finally happy and I could socialize with people. People weren’t scary. It was a spectacular experience than I smoked pot and I puked, then I immediately smoke pot again all at the same time. It made me feel for the first time that sense of relief, that sense of like everything is fine. I can relax my shoulders. Everything is fine. I’m calm. Everything is good finally for once in my life.When you drink a lot of alcohol, it gets dark very fast. Click To Tweet
That had to be a powerful feeling because most of your life has been unsettling and not a fulfilling as a child.
I was hooked right away. I was like, “This is it. This is why I was born. This is why I was alive, to experience this feeling and to be in this state of mind.”
You tried. You’re fourteen. Were you with friends?
I was with friends. My brother too was there. I can’t remember specifically. It’s all pretty hazy.
Where were you living at the time?
It’s in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Your family was living in Wisconsin. You have a brother. It’s just you two?
No, I have an older sister as well.
You experienced this and for the first time, you feel like you have this moment of clarity, calmness. What does it lead to from there?
It gets pretty dark fairly quickly. Within a few months, I was a blackout drinker. I was running around naked, throwing 40 bottles at my brother’s walls because I had so much anger and animosity for my life that I wouldn’t let out. I felt like I had to take care of everybody in my family for a long time. I had to be strong. I had to be the one that could handle it all because nobody else could. I remember the point I even wrote in my journal, “I’ve been good for so long. It’s time for me to be bad, let it all out and not care at all what other people think of me.” It got pretty dark very fast where I would drink a lot. I would steal my mom’s medicine out of her purse.
What kind of medicine?
Anything she had. She had Vicodin. It was an array of different medicines. Mostly it was the Vicodin, but I can’t remember the other pills too. I remember anything I could get my hands on I would take. It escalated fairly quickly to there from like hallucinogenic like ecstasy and other pharmaceuticals like Adderall and then eventually meth and heroin.
That seems like a pretty rapid descent into very hard drugs from drinking and marijuana. How did you even get introduced to stuff beyond the prescription pills in your mom’s purse?
It was the people I was hanging out with basically. I had a house where people could hang out and chill out and do whatever they wanted. That’s what people did. People gravitated to my house because we didn’t have parents to watch us. People would bring it in. I was the cool girl that could do anything the guys could do. I was like, “Give it to me.” I would do it.
Your parents were nonexistent.
They’re drug addicts too. My whole family suffers from addiction problems. During my childhood, they weren’t there.
You have the house basically that everybody comes to. You’re young. You’re experimenting with all these drugs. What are some of the things that you encountered while you were drinking and smoking and doing all these drugs? There had to be some scary moments for you during those times.
One of my main rock bottoms, the last time I did methamphetamines, it wasn’t necessarily a scary moment. The moment I finally discovered that it wasn’t normal was when I was laying in my bed upstairs staring at the ceiling and I was high on meth. My brother was laying in his bed downstairs, staring at the ceiling high. My dad was playing slots in the corner in a big chair. He was playing on his phone. There are phone slots, I don’t know if you’ve ever played. He was high on meth. My mom was sitting on the floor organizing her pictures. She was high on meth. We were all sitting in different parts of our house in our own separate delusion. I was staring up at the ceiling. I finally had a thought that like, “This isn’t normal. This isn’t how people live.” I got such profound anxiety about it that it wasn’t right. From that point, I hadn’t done it since.
I’ve talked to people in the past who have dealt with drug addiction. Throughout my career, I’ve talked to people. They wish they came to that conclusion and had that epiphany, that moment. For you to have that moment of clarity, it made all the difference. Sometimes people don’t ever have that.
Sometimes it’s more forced out of them like going to jail or something like that. It’s a very difficult situation where they don’t have any choice but to have that epiphany.Service is very important because most humans are very self-centered human beings. Click To Tweet
That’s pretty profound to know that everyone is doing the same thing in the house. At that point, you’re stricken with this anxiety, this overwhelming feeling that this is all so wrong. What did you do from that point?
From that point, the rest of the night I didn’t sleep. I was like curled in a ball. I was sweaty. I felt disgusting. From there, I made the conscious choice not to do it. From there, I still was doing other things, but I could not take that anxiety again. That was something I couldn’t do. It was so profound and so consuming that I was not possible for me to partake in that again.
What did you do? Did you go back to the marijuana and the drinking?
At this point, I was on some methadone maintenance to help me stay off of heroin because I was not going to withdraw from heroin. There was no way I had to work. I wasn’t going to partake in the withdrawal symptoms. I went on Methadone maintenance for about a year and a half. I was on that. I was still doing like benzos, drinking, cocaine and all of these other things but I wasn’t doing the meth anymore.
The heroin, how did you take it?
I injected it.
How did you find it?
At first, my boyfriend.
We talk about everything. The marijuana I get, the drinking I get but the heroin, do you inject it into your arms, your legs?
A lot of places wherever I can find a vein, anywhere.
The track marks?
All over my arms, all over my hands everywhere. I had scars still on my hands for a long time, all over, up and down my arms, on my feet.
You look beautiful now. Everything is gone. I can’t see anything but amazing. You went from all that to then into teaching. It’s a change. You were going down this path. You’re trying to get off the heroin. You’re doing methadone, but you still have the issue of the other drugs that you’re dealing with. Once you handle the meth and you start dealing with that, how do you start dealing with the other stimulants that you’re using?
It was out of spite and anger that I started dealing with it. My ex-boyfriend ended up getting sober before me. He broke up with me. He found a new girlfriend, which I didn’t understand because I was perfect except I was lying to him. I was still using drugs behind his back. I was cheating on him, but I was still so shocked that he left me. I did it out of anger. I wanted to prove that I could do it too, like, “You can do it, so I’ll do it too.” That’s how I ended up becoming sober. It wasn’t because of like, “I want to be better for myself or anything like that. I want to be happy.” I want to prove to somebody else that I can do it.
Everybody has their reason for making a change. If that was the thing that helped you make the change, then so be it. Maybe he was meant to be in your life for that very reason.
We all have our own past to get to the enlightenment or to that one point where we feel good or whatever you’re searching for. We don’t know how we’re going to get there. I needed to use that spite and anger to get sober because I would’ve never done it for myself because I didn’t care about myself.
That’s what I found.
I do care about what other people think of me, so that was important.
That was the catalyst to get you completely clear. While you’re on that journey trying to do that, along the way, did you discover yoga? Is that when you discovered it?
I did. I discovered it from my brother who was in detox himself. He had sent me a picture of himself in plow pose. I thought it’d be funny to send a picture of me in plow pose back. That’s what I did. I did a 90-day challenge on YouTube. I did a 30-day challenge on YouTube because I was not going to go into classes because I felt so small and so less than that I can’t go into a classroom where people see me. I needed to have that transition by myself. I did that. I went to classes. I liked the classes and that gave me such a profound mental shift in a way to embody all of these things I learned about and read about in books to get it on a physical level where I can feel it inside of myself. I found the studio I work at now in our power yoga. There was this teacher that spoke to me. I needed to get the training from him and so that’s what I did. Here I am.Part of everybody's path is pain and part of everybody's path are ugly parts. Click To Tweet
I’ve got more questions. Did you do this alone or do you have sponsors or did you go to AA meetings?
I do have a sponsor and I do have AA meetings. My brother was the main reason why I got completely sober because that was never my plan. I never equated being sober with being happy. I thought I could be sober, but I will be miserable. When I moved to LA years ago, I saw my brother for the first time. For the first time in fifteen years, there was light in his eyes. He was happy. I hadn’t remembered seeing him like that since maybe we were like nine or eight or ten, if at all. I saw him happy for the first time. I thought, “Maybe I could do this too.” At that point, I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and got a sponsor. I started working it.
I like to tell people the steps you took on the road to recovery because it’s not magic. You put in the work and whatever it was that motivated you, whether it was your brother or the ex-boyfriend or yoga. You are here now and you’re an instructor. Does that blow your mind how far you’ve come? In the big picture, it’s a short amount of time. To you, I’m sure it seems like an eternity.
It’s pretty miraculous. It was my two-year sobriety birthday too. I forget to be grateful for it all of the time. If I look where it was months ago or years ago, it’s such a profound fast change. It’s directly proportional to how much work I put into it. Work with faith that it’s all going to work out because like I can’t do it on my own and I have to do it with some trust that the universe is conspiring for me in some way. It’s with that trust and with the work that I put in with as little expectations as I can have proven to work very well for me.
What do you take now? What do you use? What don’t you use? Do you use any supplements? I know you said marijuana is probably not good for you, but you find the healthiness of the plant. Do you use the CBD part of it or are you totally off of everything?
I use CBD every once in a while, but maybe like once every six months. I’ve only done it probably two times. I use caffeine very seldomly. I can already tell that I use caffeine like I use drugs. I’ll drink a cup of coffee and I’ll get super, super anxious. I’ll know that the next day if I drink coffee, I’ll get anxious, but I’ll still drink the coffee again. I’ll be upset at myself for drinking the coffee. It’s more the addictive mindset. The way my brain works is I get very addicted to things. I want them, even though I know they’re going to hurt me to alter my state a little bit.
Do you ever go back and like a teacher talk to people who use heroin or this other stuff? Do you give back?
I was on an NIH panel. We speak at meetings and other avenues like that.
During your recovery, during this time while you’re sober and continuing to treat yourself with yoga and teaching, you also speak to other people who were where you were years ago.
Service is very important because most humans are very self-centered human beings. To get out of myself a little bit feels so much better to take the attention off of all of my petty problems that I’m creating in my head and put it onto another person that I can help and make a difference with. Every time I do that, I leave feeling better.
Do you see the people that you’re helping and talking to and maybe see yourself like, “I remember that stage five years ago,” or whatever the case may be?
It’s very apparent. You can see their delusion. When you’re in delusion yourself like they can’t see it. I can’t see my delusion a lot of the times because that’s what it is. It’s a delusion. If I could see it, it wouldn’t be a delusion. It’s very easy to see their delusion and understand the way they’re thinking because I’ve thought that way before. I go back to that thinking. I spend a lot of time with the brain. The brain is so fascinating to me. The way it works and all of the problems that create is all very interesting.
You help people along the way in their journey. What about your brother and the rest of your family? Where are they in their journeys?
My dad is great. He’s like a giant Buddha. I like to call him. He was the first person that brought me into spirituality, who showed me the book, The Power of Now. That was a monumental shift in the way. My mom, she still struggles. My brother is often on struggling, so that’s difficult for me because they’re people that are so close to me. When they’re so close to you, they’re people that you want to control. You want to control the situation. You want to fix the situation. You want to take away their pain. You want to be able to fix it all up for them. You want to take away their process, but you can’t take away their process. They have to go through their path, whatever it looks like. Part of everybody’s path is pain and part of everybody’s path is there are ugly parts. We have to allow everybody to have those things as painful as it is for us to watch.
Were you ever homeless?
When you moved to LA or back?
No, in Wisconsin in the winter. Me and my ex-boyfriend used to live together in his car. We would make these elaborate beds in his car where he would put down the seats. We’d put five blankets down underneath us. We had our dogs sleep in the middle of us. It was below zero. The insanity part about that is we could have had a place to live, but we wanted to stay with each other. We could have lived separately at home, but we were like, “No, we want to be together so we’re going to sleep in your car while it’s below zero outside.”
You made that choice to do that. What about his family? The boyfriend’s family at the time, did they not wonder what he was doing why he wasn’t home? Did they have issues too?
We all knew. They all knew. Our families knew we struggled. They all knew what we were doing.Do not trust your brain, especially when you are experiencing a super strong emotion. Click To Tweet
Was that the only time you were homeless?
Yes. It was a stretch about probably two months or two and a half months.
What’s amazing and extraordinary is you’ve come from homelessness and addiction and now you teach and you give back. What’s your journey next for you? What do you want to do when you grow up?
Specifics are very hard for me to know exactly where I want to take it. I know ultimately what I want is to continue to become a better person and to continue to help people in some capacity. There’s not a lot of vanity in my goals.
It’s because in AA, they teach you it’s day by day, moment by moment, and minute by minute. Sometimes when I ask people what are the goals of their life, it’s hard for them to even see that because they’re still living in the moment of staying sober. My question to you, if there was heroin on this table here or a drink, would you take it or would you be inclined to want to use it?
I wouldn’t take it, but there are still going to be thoughts because my brain has experienced thoughts around these millions and millions of times. There’s a pattern in my brain. My brain has a pattern that when I see that, part of me wants it.
It’s already genetically mapped so she’s going to go for this. I didn’t even think about that. I know about being on painkillers and being on them for so long. You become accustomed to it. It becomes harder to get off of it and the presence as well. I have never been through what you’ve been through. It’s extraordinary stuff. Thank you for diving into this conversation with us. It’s no different than somebody who’s trying to quit smoking or somebody who has a problem with food. Addiction is an addiction.
Like somebody who’s trying to get past a certain behavior that every time they go into this situation, they get jealous. It’s another thing where your brain is connecting. It has this connection that every time you enter the room, you get jealous. Every time I see a drug, there’s part of me that wants it because that’s a connection that my brain has made over repeated thoughts.
It becomes a pattern and you have to spend your life. How do you tackle it? Do you recognize that that’s what it is, but you’ve overcome your thoughts that your brain is telling you to go there?
My main thing right now is to not put as much weight on my thoughts because thoughts come as feelings. Everything comes and go. It’s all temporary. To not put as much weight on it and to not define myself by any of this certain thought that I have for this moment of time, that’s how I’m able to go past it.
It’s acceptance of who you are and where you’re at that moment. I’m speechless because we hear so many stories in the veterans out there. What about suicide? Do you ever feel bad or any emotional health or mental health that you’re like, “I can’t do this another day, I’m going to kill myself?”
Before I use drugs, I slit my body open. It’s self-mutilators. I used to cut a lot.
I have a big box on my thigh.
I look at you now, you look fit. You look healthy. It’s so incredible for me to see you transformed from someone who was homeless again on these drugs and you’re giving back. I’m in awe. Do you ever feel like that you’re the luckiest person in the world?
It’s not enough because I still have a negative bias a lot of the times. Now that you say that, I am very lucky. I’m very lucky that I was able to be granted this clarity that I have and to discover this more of a relationship with my brain versus to be consumed by my thoughts and things like that. That’s been my biggest takeaway is how lucky I am that I can recognize the difference between my brain and who I am.
How lucky you are that you have this totally different life. It was you that provided it.
I was even lucky to have all of that because, without all of that, I wouldn’t have been granted all these gifts because there would be no reason for me to strive for them or to go for them because I would have been fine with where I was. Because of all the darkness, all of the pain, I was able to feel the opposite. That’s a gift too. I wouldn’t take back anything that I experienced in my life, my childhood, the drugs, anything like that. I would not take back in a singular heartbeat.
It’s made you who you are, an incredibly strong gifted person, who’s now here to help others. I’m sure along the way in your journey you’ve seen people they’re not going to make it because maybe they don’t want to or for whatever reason find excuses to tell themselves why they can’t. I’m sure you recognize those patterns in people.
I make those excuses all the time. I still make the excuses in my brain, but it’s a matter of are you going to follow those excuses or are you going to take a different direction? Most of the time I choose to take a different direction.
It’s good for you. That takes time, patience, practice, training and help because by no means did you do this by yourself. I don’t want people to have the impression that you came to this clarity on your own, which was still significant in your life that day. You had that moment of dread and anxiety that this is all so wrong. You had to also seek out the help once you got to that point.
I definitely couldn’t have done it by myself. If I did it by myself to my own devices, I would still be using heroin if I did it by myself. With the help of everybody around me and the profound faith in God, I’m a strong believer in God and the universe and things of that nature. Without all of that, I could not have done it.
What’s your advice to people who may be listening and struggling thinking that they’re the only ones dealing with this problem? They try and go to great lengths to hide it from people because I’m sure there were points in your life that you tried to. When you were with your ex-boyfriend, you’re perfect. Other than the fact that you’re cheating on him and doing drugs and all these other things. When you meet people who are struggling with what you used to struggle with, what’s the one thing that you tell them to try to set them on the path?
The first thing I say is do not trust your brain. It’s not as smart as it thinks it is and to ask other people because when you’re trusting yourself, you’re asking a person who’s drowning to help you. You’re drowning and you’re asking yourself to save you. You need somebody who’s next to the river looking at the situation and who’s not drowning and they’re going to be able to help you. They’ll be able to throw you some life vests, some stick for you to grab onto. You’re asking yourself who’s drowning, who’s panicking and you’re asking that person for help. My biggest advice is, do not trust your brain, especially when you are experiencing a super strong emotion because more than likely you’re experiencing some misapprehension where you’re not thinking clearly.
Would it be safe to say that everybody who’s dealing with something like this maybe needs a lifeline, somebody that they could haul at those moments that they’re going to have? It’s inevitable.
To get vulnerable and honest, that’s very important.
To be open and free about it, which you find it so rare. Most people don’t want to talk about any of this stuff. To dive in and to heal yourself is beautiful.
To be vulnerable and to be honest about all of the “bad things” you’ve done to that you’re ashamed of because as soon as you speak about them and you let them out, the person that you’re talking to, you probably get a, “Me too, I felt that way.”
You opened the door for them to feel comfortable enough to say, “I’m struggling. I need some help.”
You get that connection too because they say a lot of the times, alcoholism is a disease of isolation. You feel separate from everybody else. By communicating with another and being vulnerable and open, you create a connection pathway to that person where you’re not alone because someone has felt your pain and they’re not judging for you. They don’t feel sorry for you. They’re like, “That makes sense. Me too. I’ve done that. I’ve felt that way.”
You’re definitely not alone with the number of people we hear about not celebrities but people in our lives. Later we find out that they were dealing or struggling with some addiction. I’ve found that out too throughout my lifetime of people that have come and gone in my life. I found out sometimes the reasons why they disappeared. I find out later it was because of drugs, whatever it was. Everyone is going through something and you never realize it until maybe they hit rock bottom.
You can see it.
You’re two years sober. You’re a yoga instructor. You are living a great life and creating a great life for yourself. You make no apologies about your past. It makes you the person you are. You say you’re strong, healthy. What is your why? What gives you your purpose every single day? What drives you?
That’s a good question and I’m struggling for an answer.
It seems like a lot of things drive you, like the yoga.
It seems so that I’m corny, but to make the planet a little bit better than before, to make myself more comfortable because I spent my whole life running from living into now embrace living in any capacity is important. I’ve developed a strong relationship with pain. A lot of the reason why people start using is to run away from that negative part of life. We all want to be happy. We all want to do these other things, but we don’t want to experience the opposite side of duality, which is the pain, which is the anger, and things of that nature. We try to numb ourselves so we don’t feel that because we don’t want to feel that. I’ve finally been able to cultivate a relationship with those feelings where I don’t have to run from them. I can sit in them and I can feel them and be like, “I’m staying at home and I’m crying tonight because that’s what I need to do.” To not create this thing that I’m wrong for feeling that way in any way.
It’s okay for you to feel the pain and the anger. It’s knowing that at the moment, it’s going to pass.
That’s the hardest thing with depression. People who are unstable have the rage and the anger. It’s that moment where I can’t handle this anymore, “Give me a drink. Give me a shot. Give me a Xanax. Give me a hit of something because I want to get out of my mind and away from my body at the moment.” I get that. That’s deep stuff. We can’t thank you enough for being so vulnerable. I’ll come to take your class.
It’s a good class. I might be biased.
You teach in Woodland Hills, California. Do you have people in your class who are struggling or have overcome addictions that you know of?
I do. I teach another class in Santa Monica that is AA meeting that’s yoga too. It’s directed towards people who are in the program and who need help.
Thank you so much again for being so vulnerable, open with us and willing to talk about this because the more people are willing to talk about the things they are going through, the more willing others will be able to admit to themselves maybe they have a problem or make them feel a little emboldened to come forward to somebody in their lives and say, “Help me. I need to get through this.” Thank you so much.
About Megan Winberg
- Raised in Wisconsin now lives in Venice, CA
- 28 years old
- Comes from a long line of drug addicts and is now 2 years sober herself
- Yoga saved her life and now shares yoga as a teacher
- Constantly learning, constantly changing
- Her brother is her favorite person in the world