On Tuesday, October 23rd, Todd “Z-Man” Zalkins recorded his podcast live from Roots Through Recovery’s outpatient treatment center in Long Beach, CA. Todd Zalkins is a Public Speaker, Interventionist, Author, and Documentary Filmmaker. He is the subject of the Award-Winning Documentary film “The Long Way Back” and the Author of the acclaimed book “Dying For Triplicate.” On the podcast, Todd discusses everything from music to addiction and recovery, including heartfelt and hilarious interviews with friends and peers who have inspired him along the way. He began his podcast in mid-2017 to raise awareness and provide a platform for addiction specialists, recovery professionals and those personally touched by addiction, to have real discussions about the disease.
(From Left to Right) Alum Zach R., Nicole Koontz, Alum Johnny A., Todd “Z-Man” Zalkins, Noah Warren, Lauren Emmel
Roots Through Recovery was the subject of his latest episode, where he sat down with primary therapist, Lauren Emmel, and two alumni of Roots Through Recovery, Johnny and Zach. They talked about trauma, addiction and mental health issues, relapse, recovery tools and resources, and how the Roots program addresses these issues through its mind, body and spirit centered approach. Two young men who have gone through the program share their own, inspirational journeys through addiction and recovery, what worked for them–and what hasn’t–and what the future holds in their new life of sobriety. Check out the transcript from the show to read this inspirational interview.
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Transcript of Audio:
Todd Zalkins: Welcome to the Todd Z Z-Cast everybody. My name is Todd Zalkins. Recorded live here in Long Beach, California, where we talk about a little bit of everything. A little bit of recovery, a little bit of this, that and the other. Some things relevant and highly irrelevant. We’re here to share with you what’s really going on.
Todd Zalkins: Well, good morning everybody. Welcome to the Z-Man podcast. I’m your host Todd Zalkins and I am here in North Long Beach, California at Roots Through Recovery, a wonderful treatment center that I’ve done a lot of work with. We’re going to talk about that stuff in just a few minutes.
Todd Zalkins: I’ve got a couple of guests, and I’m holding a cigarette. It’s not lit, but I’m thinking about lighting it midway. My friend Zach here is trying to encourage me to start smoking. Right, Zack?
Zach Rusk: Yeah, I am.
Todd Zalkins: Yes. And I appreciate that. I’m a little bit nervous today. We have three guests today. Our first guest is going to be Lauren Emmel who is the primary therapist here at Roots Through Recovery. Before we get to our guest, and by the way we have a couple after that. We have some really, really cool stories about recovery and some awesome guests.
Todd Zalkins: I wanted to share with you guys, if you’re not doing anything this Sunday, the 28th, the REEL Recovery Film Festival, which we had the good fortune of winning that last year for The Long Way Back. It was awesome being up in Hollywood to do that. But the premier for the Cadillac Tramps Life on the Edge, they’re actually in the film festival as a I don’t know if they’re a contestant, but it’s screening on Sunday, the 28th, at the Laemmle Theater in West L.A. And if you guys haven’t seen this flick, my God, see it. It’s a fabulous story for those … Anyone who knows the Cadillac Tramps probably dug them and saw them back in the day and I highly encourage you guys to go check it out at the Laemmle Theater. If not, the film is available on Amazon and Google Play and I think iTunes. So thank you, Rynda Laurel, for reaching out to me to share with me that the film is going to be at the REEL Recovery Film Festival this Sunday, the 28th, 8:00 p.m. at the Laemmle Theater.
Roots Through Recovery Primary Therapist and EMDR Specialist, Lauren Emmel with Todd “Z-Man” Zalkins
Todd Zalkins: Okay. I’m not going to light this. I’m going to welcome our guest. Today, just to kick things off, we have Lauren Emmel, who’s a primary therapist here at Roots Through Recovery. She specializes in EMDR treatment therapy, right?
Lauren Emmel: Yep. It’s good. Yep.
Todd Zalkins: Good morning, Lauren.
Lauren Emmel: Hello. Hi.
Todd Zalkins: How are you?
Lauren Emmel: I’m good. How are you?
Todd Zalkins: I’m doing fine. Are you comfortable?
Lauren Emmel: If you light that cigarette, I’ll be even more comfortable. Just kidding.
Todd Zalkins: You know I’ve never smoked a cigarette … Hold on. I smoked … I think I was about nine and I took one of my dad’s Parliaments out of the pack and I sparked it up and I took a couple of drags and it didn’t do anything for me. My mom got pretty upset. I really wasn’t old enough to start smoking. I was nine. So I just didn’t smoke after that.
Lauren Emmel: Good for you.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah, I did a lot of other things, though. But we’re not going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about the things that you do.
Lauren Emmel: Okay. Let’s do it.
Todd Zalkins: Talk to us about what EMDR therapy … And, actually before you talk about EMDR, tell me what you love about the work you do.
Lauren Emmel: Okay. I love that question, first off, so thank you for asking that.
Todd Zalkins: You bet.
Lauren Emmel: And I’m grateful to be here today because one of my missions is to break the stigma on mental health and recovery and addiction. The thing that I’m passionate about is being able to help clients find their truth and look at the underlining causes of addiction or mental health disorders.
Todd Zalkins: I want to bounce something off of you.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: You deal a lot with trauma, too.
Lauren Emmel: Yes.
Todd Zalkins: And more and more in treatment today, we’re finding that trauma lends to so much acceleration for people’s addictions. When you’re dealing with someone who’s had substantial trauma versus someone who really doesn’t have any but they’re an alcoholic, they are a drug addict. Are we talking about two entirely different persons? Or, when we talk about the diseases of addiction and alcoholism, tell me how you look at those to types of people because, let’s face it, those are two different probably types of therapies going on, right?
Lauren Emmel: I think it’s individual to the client. One would argue that, yes, there are two different types of therapy. And then one would argue that actually active addiction is trauma in and of itself. So going from having post acute withdrawal symptoms to relapsing to going to treatment to the negative consequences of using is traumatic in and of itself.
Todd Zalkins: You just brought up something. When you talk about the post acute withdrawal and someone who had gone through detox, at what stage when someone is in treatment, at what point do you think you’re able to really start being effective with someone with this deep underlying stuff? Because I can tell you that, at day 26 in my recovery, nothing was making sense and I sure wasn’t ready to address some pretty serious stuff that I had going on.
Lauren Emmel: That’s a really good point. I think it’s important to look at the different phases of trauma therapy. We kind of have this beginning, middle and end phase. In the beginning phase of trauma therapy, if you’re working with recovery, is stabilizing, is creating a safe space, resourcing, going to meetings, finding a support group. Because the mind is all over the place. There’s just racing thoughts, there’s the anxiety, there’s depression. So if you start going into the trauma work, it’s going to disregulate the system. So first and foremost, it’s stabilizing. It’s finding a safe space that you feel that you can express yourself. And then the middle part is the actual trauma work.
Todd Zalkins: No doubt. My own experience is, through my subconscious, some stuff was coming up at about eight or nine months sober. But I could tell you, I wasn’t truly ready to address it. I was staying physically sober. I was working very, very hard on my program of recovery, which God given and a whole heck of a lot of men who helped save my life. But it wasn’t until about year four or five that I broke down and I was contemplating not being around anymore because the pain was so great. Have you experienced people who, at various lengths of sobriety, do they either come back to you guys for help or do they contact you for this type of treatment because certain things … The steps did a great job with me, personally, I’m a proud member of a 12 step recovery program. I won’t say which one. But I had to get outside help. And that’s where people like you come in.
Lauren Emmel: Absolutely. And you asked me earlier what I love about this work, and that’s it. It’s breaking this stigma of getting help because the trauma can surface at any point. It can surface after eight months, four years, ten years. It’s in a part of the brain that’s time stamped, that doesn’t know any time. So something that impacted us when we were eight, ten, 12, can impact us when we’re 20, 30, 40 if left unprocessed.
Todd Zalkins: That’s an interesting point. And, again, I’m only reflecting on my own experience but about eight or nine months, I somehow was able to … I’m not going to say I stuffed it back into my subconscious, but I was able to somehow avoid having that. The pain just wasn’t surfacing. I don’t know if it wasn’t about prayer or anything, but I was able to just not recognize it as strongly. But it sure as hell came on like a bad storm later and, left unaddressed, I’m certain that I was either going to get loaded or … I don’t know.
Lauren Emmel: Absolutely. And the fact that you had your resources, so you had the first phase, you were going to your meetings, you had your support group, you were able to go into the next phase in a healthier, adaptive way. You didn’t go out and get loaded. You’re like, “I have to tend to this,” because you did the first part of the trauma work.
Todd Zalkins: But I did almost start smoking.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah. It’s messy. We’re humans. It’s going to be imperfect.
Todd Zalkins: I just never had a cigarette live on the show before, and this is our way of … We’re able to have fun and talk about serious stuff, too.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah, absolutely.
Todd Zalkins: Have you found that the EMDR has been highly effective in helping others?
Lauren Emmel: It’s really interesting. I started doing my own healing journey with EMDR about six years ago. I did, probably within about a year and a half, I did 20 of my own EMDR sessions in my own therapy. So when I went to go work at another facility, they were like, “You’re going to learn EMDR.” I was like, “Oh boy,” because this stuff is powerful. And I know it’s powerful because I’ve experienced it in my own recovery journey. But it’s a way of dealing with trauma in all aspects of the system or the body. So it deals with the mental component, the spiritual component and the body components. It’s a holistic approach to dealing with trauma.
Todd Zalkins: I love that. Have you ever heard of this phrase? My therapist in San Juan Capistrano, Deanna Jordan, if she’s watching I love you Deanna, you saved my life tremendously. And I mean that with the utmost respect. I take my hat off to people like you.
Lauren Emmel: Thank you.
Todd Zalkins: To people who are doing this hard core, very, very deep work. This stuff is life or death to me. I think that you’d probably, I think, agree.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Have you ever heard of this? You grow or you go.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: When I was told that, she said, “It’s common for people at eight, nine or ten years sober, that there’s stuff that if it’s left unaddressed, if you don’t address it, you’re probably going to go. Or you can certainly grow from it.” What’s your take on that little phrase, because I dig it.
Lauren Emmel: I’m in a wordless space because it almost makes me want to cry. I think it’s so beautiful. I think that when you want to go, it’s this yearning for some sort of rebirth. It’s like you want to end your life. Your body’s like, “I need something different.” And you have that choice. You can go into substances, you can end your life which I hope you don’t do, you find some sort of help, or you take that pain and you allow it to push you into growing into looking at your truth, of taking the inward path and then being there for other people.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah. I never really understood the, “Oh, we’re peeling back layers,” stuff. Sometimes it’s with a chisel. And I can tell you that through about eight or ten boxes of Costco Kleenex, it’s amazing the freedom that one can experience when it’s like … See, I was tired of this bullshit of going, “I’m a man. Shit, I’m six foot three, 250 pounds. I got this, man. I’m a tough guy.” And the truth is, I’m like a little kid.
Lauren Emmel: Yep.
Todd Zalkins: Right? With unaddressed stuff that would have me act out in behaviors, even sober, that was unacceptable. Like I said, I’m thankful for people like you and the work that you do. In fact, to further that, you mentioned the word safe. And that is something that, for anyone who is going into treatment, it’s critical to be in a place that they feel safe. That they feel comfortable. And a little bit of love. And I think that you guys do that quite well here at Roots Through Recovery. Can you just share a little bit in a nutshell about what you guys here at Roots Through Recovery do? Because, by the way, this place is located in my back yard in Long Beach, California. And I dig having a good treatment place that’s located close to home. Give us a little nutshell snapshot of Roots.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah, for sure. We take a “wholistic” approach to recovery, addiction or co-occurring disorders: anxiety, depression, bi-polar, OCD. And the reason why we take a wholistic approach is because mental disorders or addiction affects the entire system. It affects the entire nerve, the systems, I kind of talked about it a couple moments ago. It impacts the body. It impacts the way we think. It impacts our spiritual connection or a lack of. I think Roots is so unique because we allow space for all of those areas. And we do that cognitively with the mind with cognitive behavioral therapy, exercises, DBT. We do it with the body through EMDR therapy, through somatic experiencing, through wellness and health. And then we do it spiritually. We do it through meditation and Buddhist psychology. We’re creating a safe space for all of those thing to recover because there would be an imbalance if we were just focusing on one of them.
Todd Zalkins: I kind of want to come and check in. Can I do that? I’ve been sober for … Noah’s like, “Yeah, man.”
Lauren Emmel: Maybe that’s why you’re starting to smoke because you’re like, “I need to get some help.”
Todd Zalkins: Please do not chastise me about my bad habits. I’m on day one.
Lauren Emmel: It’s okay.
Todd Zalkins: I appreciate that explanation about what you guys do here. I’m very familiar with the staff here and all of you guys are super loving and compassionate. Here’s the thing, you guys care about what you do and it shows.
Lauren Emmel: Thank you.
Todd Zalkins: Don’t you think that’s pretty important to have that’s, on a certain sense of congruency, that everyone is here for the same purpose?
Lauren Emmel: Yeah, and I think it’s looking at the clients that come in and saying, “We see your truth. We see what’s underneath the addiction or the suffering or the pain and we’re going to hold your truth until you can hold it.” And I just find that … That’s why I do what I do. I’m here to just facilitate that and bring that out by the questions I ask or the modalities we use, but your truth is there and we’re here to support that and bring it out.
Todd Zalkins: I really appreciate what you just said. I often refer to when someone is troubled, I kind of refer to it as what’s going on under the hood? What either continues to bubble up? What are these things that can make you emotionally twisted or imbalanced? I just did not know that these types of things were lying ahead for me in order to, I think, recover emotionally. I really thought that I could just be okay when I stopped drinking and using, do this thing called step work and help some people. But more stuff kept happening, which is why people like yourself and the work that you do there is … For people who need outside help, people like you are absolutely necessary.
Lauren Emmel: Thank you.
Todd Zalkins: And I’m thankful for the work that you do.
Lauren Emmel: And I’m grateful that you’re creating a platform for us to discuss this and even have a conversation about it.
Todd Zalkins: Absolutely. And by the way, you guys make really strong coffee. In fact, you know what? I think that’s why I started … I can’t have any more coffee. Lauren, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lauren Emmel: You’re so welcome.
Todd Zalkins: We’re going to have a talk with Johnny Angelo here in a second.
Lauren Emmel: Great.
Todd Zalkins: Thank you so much for your time.
Lauren Emmel: Thank you for having me.
Todd Zalkins: Have a great rest of your day.
Lauren Emmel: Thank you so much.
Todd Zalkins: All right.
Lauren Emmel: Bye.
Todd Zalkins: Johnny. You can’t just sit there. You got to come over here, brother.
Lauren Emmel: All right, woohoo.
Todd Zalkins: Thanks, again, Lauren.
Lauren Emmel: Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you … Johnny?
Johnny Angelo: [inaudible 00:15:24].
Todd Zalkins: Well. Bringing up our guest number two.
Lauren Emmel: All right. Okay. There you go.
Roots Through Recovery alum, Johnny A., interviewed on Todd Z Podcast
Todd Zalkins: Our second guest is a fine, young, sober gentleman named Johnny Angelo. He flew all the way from Pittsburgh, PA just to be here. And I’m very upset that he did not bring any Philly cheesesteak sandwiches for me because I’m really big on that lately. I was just there back in Philly and I love the cheesesteaks. Have you ever had a cheesesteak?
Johnny Angelo: Absolutely.
Todd Zalkins: Am I right? Is this the correct way to order it? Whiz it.
Johnny Angelo: Whiz. Whiz is the Cheez Whiz. So you get cheese without or Cheez Whiz.
Todd Zalkins: Cheez Whiz used to scare me.
Johnny Angelo: It’s really good, actually.
Todd Zalkins: It is really good. I could have had five of those.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah. Where did you go?
Todd Zalkins: I went to Steve’s.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, Steve’s is the best [inaudible 00:16:15].
Todd Zalkins: Steve’s House of Steaks.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah. It was pretty hot back there. And by the way, this is what’s interesting about being there. I got a couple of cheesesteaks with my buddy Andrew that cost us about 18 bucks. The parking was $40.
Johnny Angelo: Finding city parking-
Todd Zalkins: What is wrong with you guys?
Johnny Angelo: It’s impossible to find city parking.
Todd Zalkins: That’s not the town of brotherly love.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, well, that’s why I’m from Pittsburgh. We’re not too fond of Philly.
Todd Zalkins: Okay.
Johnny Angelo: I tolerate the Sixers, but anybody else, wouldn’t go for it.
Todd Zalkins: Johnny Angelo, welcome to the program.
Johnny Angelo: Thank you.
Todd Zalkins: It really is super cool that you journeyed out here to talk a little bit about your story. We’re going to jump right into that. You’re 21 years old.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Year and a half sober?
Johnny Angelo: Just about. Coming up on a year and a half.
Todd Zalkins: Give me some. Congratulations.
Johnny Angelo: Appreciate that.
Todd Zalkins: Talk a little bit about how it started for you as far as what was going on back in Pittsburgh and what led you into the Roots Through Recovery.
Johnny Angelo: I was 18 and I was really struggling with life. I was senior year in high school and I was smoking weed every day. And my dad, being a teacher …
Todd Zalkins: Up a little bit more to the mic. Thank you, brother.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah. No problem. My dad, being a teacher, was a little bit more strict than most people, I’d say. He decided, “Hey, this isn’t for you. This isn’t the life that you want for yourself.” And I said, “All right. I’ll go try out rehab.” And I did. It was incredible.
Todd Zalkins: And that’s it? And here we are?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah. Here we are. No, I’m kidding.
Todd Zalkins: Here’s the thing, Johnny. Okay. Let’s step back a second.
Johnny Angelo: Okay.
Todd Zalkins: First off, I wish it was that easy.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: But we both know that it’s not.
Johnny Angelo: No. That was my first treatment of 11.
Todd Zalkins: Say that again?
Johnny Angelo: That was my first treatment center of 11. So that wasn’t … It was just a start.
Todd Zalkins: You see how he skipped all that stuff? That’s amazing. So eleventh time was the charm.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Tell me what brought you out to Long Beach-
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:18:04]
Todd Zalkins: Tell me what brought you out to Long Beach. Did you hear that these guys at Roots do good work, I just want to give something else a try outside of state? What was it that made you want to come here?
Johnny Angelo: I actually found this place through two other places I was before in Cali. I was at another place where I was very uncomfortable. People were selling heroin to each other while I was there. I just really wasn’t a big fan of that model and that system.
Todd Zalkins: No, the heroin model is not good.
Johnny Angelo: No, I wouldn’t agree that using heroin and selling it in recovery is going to get you sober too well.
Todd Zalkins: Will you talk a little bit about that for a second?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Let’s face it, we all know that there’s some treatment places out there that aren’t regulated very well and people aren’t maybe watched as well as they can be. It’s pretty scary to think that you’re in a treatment setting where the very thing that’s killing you is actually in this environment that should be a safe place.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, it was. There were so many people there it was like a mill. You felt like more of a number than an actual person. With that many people you can’t control everything that happens there.
Todd Zalkins: Probably not real conducive to one’s recovery if the ratio, this mass amount of people versus maybe only having a couple of therapists, how intimate, how real can you get with someone on a professional level trying to help someone who’s struggling, right.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, absolutely.
Todd Zalkins: You came out here and something changed, that’s what to me recovery is about. It’s about change and growth and it’s at least that’s what I’ve come to believe and how is the change working in your life today?
Johnny Angelo: Well I’ve been able to implement everything that I learned at Roots into my life now, staying at the sober living I committed to, I was here for about five or six months. I would get up everyday and at first I was not 100% into it but I just realized I really wanted to change. I got to the groups and I just felt home right away, right at home and having so many, not as many people here and the ratio being smaller, I really felt like I was being heard and I could share, I probably shared more in my first group session here than I did the entirety of the two places I was before.
Todd Zalkins: Let’s talk about that for a second. Was the being comfortable enough to expose yourself and be kind of almost vulnerable, raw, naked emotionally that must’ve felt really good to be able to have that trust in a place that was working.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, it was incredible, really incredible, there’s so much strength in vulnerability and I was able to just be vulnerable here, open up and show people who I truly was, my genuine self and there’s no better feeling than that.
Todd Zalkins: Were you scared when you first came into recovery?
Johnny Angelo: When I first came into it yes but I’ve been around the block a few times with treatment centers. At one point I just kind of learned what to say and how to get through them rather than how to really, truly be there for myself.
Todd Zalkins: Do you know that you’re like 30 times more cool than I’ll ever be, do you want to know why?
Johnny Angelo: Why is that?
Todd Zalkins: There’s a couple reasons, first off your name is Johnny Angelo, it sounds like you should be playing guitar with Slash. That’s like that’s the most sick name ever. I dig the name.
Johnny Angelo: Thank you.
Todd Zalkins: On a serious note, dude you’re clean and sober at the age of 21. I think that’s just a, it’s a huge deal. I’m proud of you. I know a lot of young people are getting clean and sober today. Let’s face it the odds are against all of us. I’m assuming that you’ve lost some friends to this disease.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, I remember I was hanging out, we were watching the national championship game while I was here. I was hanging out with my girlfriend and watching the game and I got a text from one of my buddy’s wives that I met a few months before. She said that Josh isn’t with us anymore. I called her right away and it just kind of hit me. It was crazy because I had just been talking to him, I made a promise I was like I’ll get on the phone, we’ll talk on Friday. I never heard from him, I wasn’t able to get on the phone with him and next thing I know he passed on. That was really tough. There was a guy here, his name was Christian. We’d hang out every day. We’d go to the beach. He had a pit bull named Frank. We’d hang out all the time together, just do stupid stuff but have fun. He really showed me how to enjoy life, he was doing really well, he had about nine months sober and he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away a couple months ago.
Todd Zalkins: I’m sorry, man. This was a guy that you were kind of doing sober life stuff with?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, it was awesome. We would take his dog to the beach and we’d stay up til one, two, three in the morning just hanging out, talking, just being boys, having a good time. Your life really flashes in front of you like that when you find out about someone.
Todd Zalkins: Do you agree that this is a fatal disease with consequences that sometimes can’t be overturned, right?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Do you have a healthy respect for it in that I can share with you my perspective is that if I choose to drink or use again that this isn’t happening ever again and I won’t be able to come back and give it another shot. That’s, I just feel like it’s going to lead to killing me, what is your take or perspective on the idea if you were to go and get loaded again, what’s your result? Are you ever coming back? What does your head tell you?
Johnny Angelo: That’s the scary part of it, it’s unknown. There’s a lot of fear in that. Just seeing so many friends go back and they start using the same amount that they were before and don’t realize they have no tolerance now, it’s unreal. It can take you like that. I had a friend that was 42 and I went out to go celebrate recovery with him. He was two years sober and leading a bunch of groups, he was doing something similar to yourself. He had a beautiful family and he passed away that night while I was there. It’s unreal, it can take you like that.
Todd Zalkins: Would you agree that being sober is better than the way it was?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, absolutely.
Todd Zalkins: He’s got a good smile, he’s stoked.
Johnny Angelo: It’s been amazing, yeah.
Todd Zalkins: What are some of the things that you’re doing today to maintain your sobriety, what kind of things are you doing in your community back east?
Johnny Angelo: I use a lot of the coping mechanisms that I learned while I was here. That has been pretty much all the maintenance I need. I’ve been able to really connect with my family and my girlfriend, she just moved out with me and that’s been an incredible change. Having more responsibility in my life is really showing me why I have to get up and be myself every day and get up to go do the things I need to be productive.
Todd Zalkins: Has there been any instances in your almost 18 months of sobriety or recovery, has there been any instances that you’ve been like you know what, today is a good day to get loaded?
Johnny Angelo: Not really, I’ll have a lot dreams …
Todd Zalkins: That’s awesome.
Johnny Angelo: I don’t have too much temptation around me. I’ve kind of removed that from my environment. I just see what it will do to me. I see what happened with my friends, I see what happened to people and their relationships in their life. I’ve broken a lot of trust in my life and it’s taken a long time to start building that back up and having that feels amazing to me.
Todd Zalkins: Isn’t that cool to get the love back and to have relationships come back that were either no longer trusting, the love just didn’t seem to be there anymore and whether it’s full of family, whether it was with friends, that’s been one of the biggest parts of my journey for sure is to have that love back with people that I care about and I guess they care about me a little bit now too.
Johnny Angelo: It is really, it’s a blessing to have that back.
Todd Zalkins: You’re getting it. I’m stoked for you. Did I ask you if you’ve brought me a cheese steak?
Johnny Angelo: No, you didn’t.
Todd Zalkins: Can you FedEx me a couple when you get home?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, Philly is a good five hour drive from Pittsburgh but you can have some pierogies.
Todd Zalkins: I’ll kick down seven bucks for gas. You can just make that drive really quick. How long are you here in town for?
Johnny Angelo: I’m staying til Friday.
Todd Zalkins: Til Friday.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, Friday night.
Todd Zalkins: When you come back again which I hope you do, I’d like to, let’s hook up and go out and get in the water and go for a surf in God’s big bathtub, what do you think about that?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, I’d love that.
Todd Zalkins: Are you down?
Johnny Angelo: I’d love that.
Todd Zalkins: We don’t have nearly as good of sandwiches here but we have some good grub too.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, you absolutely do.
Todd Zalkins: We got Mexican food wired by the way.
Johnny Angelo: You got it down.
Todd Zalkins: We got that part totally covered, man. It will be a joy to spend some time with you and hang out a bit outside of the, well what is it about 53 degrees in here right now.
Johnny Angelo: Probably something like that.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah, it’s like 78 outside but we’ll go hang a bit man.
Johnny Angelo: It’d be awesome.
Todd Zalkins: Before I let you go, for anyone who’s watching and will be listening on Spotify and iTunes to the program, if someone is struggling out there with whether it’s alcoholism, drug, whatever it might be, can you share with somebody that they can do it, man.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, absolutely. If I’ve been through to 11 different treatment centers and it wasn’t, I don’t believe that the drugs are the problem. Yeah, they show a huge issue in our life but that’s not why we pick up, I don’t think there’s an addict out there with some form of trauma, you really need to look at the deeper side of the issues and just be honest with yourself, allow yourself to be vulnerable, that’s the greatest gift you could give to yourself and someone else.
Todd Zalkins: That wasn’t even scripted. See, I think that I lost my job just now. Do you want to trade seats?
Johnny Angelo: Go for it.
Todd Zalkins: It’s a pleasure to have you on today. How are we doing on time, Mike?
Speaker 1: Good.
Todd Zalkins: We’re good. Tell me about who your favorite sports teams are back there.
Johnny Angelo: Got to have the Penguins, the Steelers, we don’t have much of an NBA team and the Pirates are known to be the greatest baseball team in the world.
Todd Zalkins: Is that right?
Johnny Angelo: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Well you’re not old enough to remember this, in fact I don’t think that you were born but I actually remember when the big, when the Pirates in the 70s with …
Johnny Angelo: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, all those guys.
Todd Zalkins: With Willie and the crew it was a big deal when they won the World Series. Do you know what year that was?
Johnny Angelo: I think they won in 71 and maybe 72.
Todd Zalkins: Okay, I’m not talking about when I was four, was it 82?
Johnny Angelo: I’m not 100% sure.
Todd Zalkins: Okay, I want you to check on this and get back to me. That was pretty cool for Pittsburgh to win the title. Who’s going to win the Red Sox Dodgers series?
Johnny Angelo: I’m hoping the Dodgers, can’t stand the Sox.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah, me too man. Now it’s going to start getting colder in your town, in fact I want to talk about your environment really quick, is the drug culture, is it rampant where you are?
Johnny Angelo: It is.
Todd Zalkins: Is it pretty bad?
Johnny Angelo: It is, it’s huge. Medical marijuana has just become a thing out there. I think things are getting better on that side of things but heroin is still an epidemic. Cocaine is a big deal, that was my issue. It’s hard to see people go through that and not realize that there’s more out there for them.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah, you know one of the things that I love our talk, I love your attitude. You got a great attitude, man. Attitude is so much about keeping us here and away from the stuff that was killing us. I got a boat load of respect for you, man. I’m stoked that you’re clean and sober and it sounds like you have a lovely lady in your life and life is pretty good.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, it’s been really good to me since I got clean.
Todd Zalkins: Well let’s hang out again.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, it would be awesome. Thanks for having me.
Todd Zalkins: Just don’t get me another one of those cups of coffee, I won’t sleep until Friday.
Johnny Angelo: Yeah, we’ll just go for two cigarettes next time.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah, I’m still hanging onto those. I might light it. Thanks for joining us, man appreciate the time.
Johnny Angelo: No problem.
Todd Zalkins: We still have one more guest, thank you Johnny Angelo.
Johnny Angelo: Thank you.
Roots Through Recovery alum Zach being interviewed on Todd Zalkins podcast
Todd Zalkins: That was outstanding. Zach?
Zach Rusk: Yes sir.
Todd Zalkins: Our next guest is Zach Rusk.
Zach Rusk: Still got my cigarette I see.
Todd Zalkins: Zachary, how are you doing, man? Pull that mic up, hang out for a second, you’re tall too.
Zach Rusk: A little bit taller, yeah. I’m doing all right, man. Good to be here, talk to you.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah, likewise man, I think you had mentioned our paths had crossed a couple times outside of maybe our recovery community a little bit.
Zach Rusk: A few times.
Todd Zalkins: Well it’s nice to finally meet you in person.
Zach Rusk: Yeah, it’s interesting you don’t remember a couple times at least once we were in a meeting and I shared and you came up to me and you were like, I forget exactly what you said but you were like man, some of the stuff you just shared, being so young you were like that’s really, really crazy. You were like please stay around. I was like okay.
Todd Zalkins: If I said that I meant it. That particular meeting is vital to young dudes like you. I dig seeing people like you and people like Johnny getting sober because I sure as hell could never have done such a thing at the age of 21, you could’ve brought a SWAT team, you could’ve put guns to my head and there’s just no way I was going to do anything about my problem. Let me ask this right off the bat, is it mainly the drugs that’s getting young dudes like you, young men, young women in the treatment center?
Zach Rusk: I would say yeah, I think there’s also something with the culture now that rehab is more readily accessible and also talked about more now, it’s in movies. It’s in shows. Me and Johnny, we probably know a good amount of people that have gone to rehab. Our circle of friends has experienced a couple people that have gone, hopefully those people haven’t passed away or if they had and they came back and we got to see them or we know some people our age that are doing really well, it’s hard to be doing heroin or doing whatever you’re doing and see someone that walked your same path that’s your age that’s suddenly doing well and you’re like, I started to believe like I don’t think it’s possible for me but at least I want to try.
Todd Zalkins: I like that. You know there are no guarantees. I just wanted that little sense of maybe I too, maybe me too, can do this and get in a better space, maybe, just try, right. I was looking for guarantees, I don’t know what that looked like but you know that recovery works, right.
Zach Rusk: I do, yeah. I know a bunch of people that have the lives I want. There’s still some days I’m not sold on it for myself as far as my capability to achieve it but I know it’s possible which keeps me trying.
Todd Zalkins: Let’s talk a little bit about that for a sec, what’s your journey look like? Have you been into treatment a couple of times?
Zach Rusk: Yeah, I’ve been to three treatment centers and seven or eight detoxes and a psych ward.
Todd Zalkins: What was your drug of choice?
Zach Rusk: Heroin.
Todd Zalkins: Are you from the Pacific Northwest?
Zach Rusk: Yeah, I’m from Seattle.
Todd Zalkins: It’s an awesome town. There’s a lot of that stuff going on there and there has been for a long time, right.
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: You’re down here in southern California and you’re sober today, right. What’s going on with you today? What’s been going on in your life?
Zach Rusk: Right now I just had a relapse that lasted about two months. I have 22 days right now. Unlike all the rest of the times this time I did it without going to detox, without going to treatment, doing any of that. It just got to a point where I kept sitting in bed every single night looking at myself doing dope and I was like, it was that same thing we’d talk about. I couldn’t get high and I couldn’t be sober. There was this succession of events that happened. I was just like I’m done and I was like I’m either going to kill myself, I’m going to overdose or I’m going to try to get sober.
Todd Zalkins: I appreciate that. The honesty and by the way, I want to thank you for having the courage to take a seat and be here amongst all of us, there’s a few other people behind the camera, it takes a lot of courage at 22 days to sit here and talk about your story. I appreciate you, I respect that. You had racked up some sober time before.
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: By the way, whenever someone says I had a year and a half or I had ten years, whatever, however much sober time they had and I lost it, you didn’t lose it. You still had that sober time. It’s just a new date. You know what I mean?
Zach Rusk: What’s interesting, every time I’ve come back I’ve talked about this. I didn’t lose the lessons I’ve learned, I didn’t lose some of the friendships, you of course some people become stand offish because they’re like this guy keeps going in and out and they want to see you do well. What always happens to me is that anxiety and that uncomfortability and the ability to sit with myself disappears. I go from being able to sit alone at night and hit my pillow and go to bed to getting back to like racing thoughts and uncomfortability. That’s one of the weirdest things because I always wonder where did that go just because I used.
Todd Zalkins: When you’re having these thoughts of going to the dark side and stuff like that, are you doing the things like reaching out to someone like Johnny or someone, even a fool like myself no man, this is what’s going on because I found that to be my primary lifesaving device early on and by the way it still to this day not so much about getting loaded but that I’m crazy, I feel crazy, I’m completely off center and is that kind of part of your arsenal, are you reaching out to people when you’re …
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:36:04]
Todd Zalkins: Is that kind of part of your arsenal? Are you reaching out to people when you’re feeling low and feeling kind of awkward?
Zach Rusk: Yeah. I call probably five to ten alcoholics a day, check in with them, see how they’re doing. I go to a meeting every single day, generally try to talk to just men before and after. Right now, especially being so new, I talk to my sponsor two or three times a day just checking in with him, letting him know how I’m doing, asking how he’s doing, just because what you said. I think that contact, especially with other men, is really important for me to have some sort of contact with someone else and at least try to care about them. Generally, those relationships turn into … I become open and honest with them and I can tell them how I’m feeling. When I speak about it, it loses a lot of its power.
Todd Zalkins: That’s huge, man. It’s also being accountable. I never wanted to be accountable to any other human being on this planet.
Zach Rusk: No.
Todd Zalkins: What, I gotta call you every day, dude? My sponsor would be like, “Call me at 12:35 PM tomorrow.” “All right. I’ll do it.” “Call me tomorrow, let’s say this, 11:42 AM. Look at your phone. 11:42 AM call me.” “All right. I’ll do it. Geez. All right.” I guess I was willing to do whatever it took to smile again like this dude was. It sounds like you’re doing those things and that’s really the recipe right there is to stop … the problem with me is the broken head that I’ve got.
Zach Rusk: Yep.
Todd Zalkins: What do you think about that?
Zach Rusk: Yeah. My thinking is skewed. It’s incredibly skewed. It’s dark. I’ve been stuck in this cycle for more than half my life as far as addiction.
Todd Zalkins: Wow.
Zach Rusk: The way I think and the way I perceive situations and the way I handle situations is not generally what that situation dictates. Especially with relationships, my head tells me all sorts of things. I think about myself more than anyone else in the world. When I first came out I told myself, “If I’m thinking about other people a couple minutes a day, that’s good,” because I’m fully consumed with myself.
Todd Zalkins: When you’re thinking about yourself, is it good stuff or bad stuff? I could tell you that I don’t … I could think myself into a way of, “My life is actually not all that good.” My perception is way off, man.
Zach Rusk: That’s exactly it. It’s seldom positive. That’s what talking to other men in this program gives me that reality check. I’m 25. I’m a high school dropout. I work at a job that is not necessarily a career. It’s paying my bills and helping me out. I’m just getting back into school. I turn that into, “I’m a failure. I’m going nowhere. I’m not building anything.” When I talk to other people they’re like, “Okay, but you’re back in school. You got your GED and you’re working toward your college career. You have a job and you’re supporting yourself right now.”
Todd Zalkins: Dude. The win column for you is massive. So much of our thinking is ill perception based. From where I’m sitting here, I came into recovery at the age of 39. Dude, you’re 25, man. It’s like Johnny’s 21. The life ahead of you is so full. Yeah, life will be life, but it’s gonna be good for you man-
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: If you stay sober. That’s 110%. That’s a lock. Sometimes your head can be like, “Well are they … what are these guys talking about?”
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: “Bullshit.”
Zach Rusk: It’s interesting. This ties into Lauren, right? Yeah. What she talked about when you guys talked about in the beginning, the EMDR. A lot of what I would say brought me into the program is trauma from my past and stuff I could not escape mentally which turned into physically, which just turned into an all out escape from reality. Starting to do that, I found some release from the stress and pain caused from it so it wasn’t tied into my everyday life, so I could start building things outside of just being stuck in my trauma.
Todd Zalkins: Let me ask you this, the trauma-based stuff, ’cause I can relate to you big time, big time. Did you carry a lot of shame?
Zach Rusk: Oh yeah, completely.
Todd Zalkins: Have you been taught this one? None of the same belongs to me. It’s not mine. I was blown away that I simply learned that it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to other people. I went through a pretty rigorous course of treatment at a place called The Bridge in Kentucky, which was life changing for me. Does that make sense if I say that to you? Dude, you don’t own it.
Zach Rusk: Yeah. It took me a long time to realize that. A lot of it, it comes back to perception. I was scared if I was to ever open up about my past how people would perceive me, if they would see me as less than a man, if they would see me as a piece of shit, if they would see me any sort of other way than how I would want them to see me. What was weird is because I focused so strongly on how I didn’t want people to perceive, I started perceiving myself that way and would judge myself to those characteristics.
Todd Zalkins: I tell you what I can tell is it’s a real man. It takes a real man to be able to say, “This is who I am. This is what’s going on with me. This is what has happened to me and self-management hasn’t done so well for me.” It’s that ability to be transparent and to be like, “What do I do?” Whether it’s with a therapist coincided with a fellowship of people, ’cause there’s a lot of people I’m sure that you know that have had stuff happen.
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Do you find that there’s strength and strength not only with the love that comes with it, but something that strengthens you and allows you to kind of move forward in that, “God, man, that guy Todd. Shit. He’s been through some stuff, man.” Rewrap a little bit about it and it’s okay. Does that make any sense at all?
Zach Rusk: Yeah. That’s what this 12 step program has given me. It’s given me other men in my life who I’ve heard share about almost an exact situation I’ve been to, that I’ve told myself, “That is going to determine who I am the rest of my life. That’s going to determine my relationships with my family, my friends, with any romantic relationship.” I hear them share about that and I hear them share about the results in relationships and jobs and all that. I almost always go up to them and I talk to them about it. I ask them and it gives me a model for my brain to be like, “It’s possible not to have the outcome I believe is only possible,” if that makes sense.
Todd Zalkins: It does. In fact, you’re a lot further along than I was at where you’re at in your recovery. I, first off, admire you for coming back ’cause I think it’s tough to come back.
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Here you are and you’re not only doing the deal, but you’re doing all the right things that go along with it, the accountability, the transparency, the hanging out with other men. That’s your regimen it sounds like.
Zach Rusk: Pretty much.
Todd Zalkins: Now, as a result of doing that type of regimen, do you find yourself reasonably happy?
Zach Rusk: Yes and no. It comes back to in the moment I am. When I know I’m safe, when I know I’m doing something productive, but I still have those moments when I’m alone with myself where my head starts to tell me I could be doing more or I should be doing something different, or it’s almost a wasted effort because I’ve done this cycle so many times that I’m not in the place, at least right now, with 22 days where I’m more hopeful than not. It gets to that point later on down the road. It generally always does for me, but right now I’m still really skeptical whether or not I’m gonna get there. That’s all fear based.
Todd Zalkins: It’s also we’re masters at future tripping.
Zach Rusk: Oh, yeah.
Todd Zalkins: I am … I’ve been owned by worry so many times in my sobriety and missing out on days. I can kill a perfect day by just manifesting fears that can literally come out of nowhere, like some bad piece of fruit just hits me in the head. It’s like, “I’m screwed. The next six months are gonna suck because this or that’s gonna happen.” More often than not, what I predict in my mind never occurs. Where the hell does that come from? I don’t know.
Zach Rusk: One of the … That’s one of the things I’ve been stuck in. That’s what EDMs … EDMR has … EMDR has helped me with is I think I lived in such negativity and in such strong fear for so many years of my life, that I programmed myself to just stay there because expecting something better and expecting something to be good, then even more so when it didn’t happen it just confirmed the life that I knew I was gonna have.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah.
Zach Rusk: Then when things were good it was like I would enjoy it, but then I’d go right back to that mindset of fear, just because that’s where … I became comfortable staying there.
Todd Zalkins: Like when’s the other shoe gonna fall?
Zach Rusk: Yeah.
Todd Zalkins: Something starts getting to be decent. It’s like, “Oh, God. It’s gonna fall apart anyway so what’s the point?”
Zach Rusk: Yep.
Todd Zalkins: Well, that’s also kind of life. Life is gonna dish stuff up. As uncomfortable as I’ve been at times in my sobriety, I’ll tell you what I’ve never done and I hope I never do is to back off at the … if you wanna call it the prescription for what keeps me certainly physically sober. Without physical sobriety, I don’t have any shot at this happiness that we’re talking about. To come back to where you’re at, everything is absolutely perfect right now. From my point of view, from where I’m sitting here, you’ve got not only some sober experience behind you … today is Monday. It’s a pretty bitching day out. We’re hanging out with some friends. I’m having a good morning with you guys. I think that you’re having a good day, too. I’d like for you to have a good day.
Zach Rusk: Yeah. No. Today’s a real good day I would say.
Todd Zalkins: That make sense? Huh?
Johnny Angelo: It’s Tuesday.
Lauren Emmel: It’s Tuesday.
Todd Zalkins: You guys, I’m still sober. Did I say it was …
Zach Rusk: You did.
Todd Zalkins: Hang on a second. I-
Zach Rusk: You might need that cigarette I gave you after this.
Todd Zalkins: I probably need to be more accountable. I actually talked with my sponsor yesterday. Yeah, it is Tuesday. Thanks for telling me that, guys. See, I’m too comfortable right now. I apologize for the mistake. Do you believe me?
Zach Rusk: I do.
Todd Zalkins: How we doing? Are we doing okay over there, Mike?
Todd Zalkins: Okay. Tell me what the rest of your day looks like today. What are you gonna do today to maintain your sobriety? I want people who are hearing to be like, “You know what? This dude’s doing something. He’s taking some actions.”
Zach Rusk: Right after this I’m going straight to work. I called my … They called me a couple days ago and asked me if I would do this. I called him and I was like, “Hey, I really wanna do this podcast. It’s about recovery and a couple other things.” I told him I would come straight into work after that. I’ll probably be working til 8:00 or 9:00 PM at night tonight. Luckily, I drive for a living essentially. I just make calls throughout the day, text a bunch of people. I call my family. I call people in the program. I call my sponsor. I try to do my best when I make the phone calls to make it about them. I’m still really selfish and I definitely like to talk about myself as well, so that comes up.
Zach Rusk: What’s interesting is that the close group of people I call mainly I’m extremely transparent with. Right now, being 22 days sober, I’m usually dealing with a lot as far as what my mind tells me or what’s going on in my life, trying to help certain relationships. It’s really amazing to get other people’s perspectives because I’m skewed in a lot of senses. They’re like, “Maybe that’s not the best thing for you to do,” or, “Maybe you shouldn’t hang out with those people.” They’re like, “You need to focus on this,” and whether or not I agree, it’s good for me to think about it.
Todd Zalkins: You can try as well. I’m glad that you mentioned that, that you are reaching out and you’re just … you’re talking to other sober people. One of the things that’s been a life saving thing for me is to put on speaker tapes. Go on to YouTube. There’s tons of them, fabulous speakers that you can just … it’s a meeting in the car. You’re driving around. You could probably log in three, four speaker meetings and I’m telling man, you get to crawl into these people’s stories. It’s like, “Damn. I just went to a couple meetings in my car.”
Zach Rusk: Yep.
Todd Zalkins: I’ll share a couple of them with you after the podcast. I’ll send them to you if you want.
Zach Rusk: That’d be awesome ’cause I spend a lot of time … what’s interesting, so since I drive for a living, a lot of times when I’m having a bad day I’ll realize I’ve been driving and I haven’t had music on. I haven’t had a podcast on. I haven’t had … I listen to speech tapes sometimes. I realized I’ve just listened to my own thinking for an hour and a half and I wonder why I’m in a weird mood and why my thinking is … I’ll be like, “I’ve literally just been thinking to myself for an hour and a half. No wonder I’m starting to go off the deep end a little bit.”
Todd Zalkins: Oh man. Yeah. That would get anybody to start smoking.
Zach Rusk: Oh, yeah.
Todd Zalkins: You said that you drive for a living. Will you give me a lift sometime?
Zach Rusk: Well, I deliver ice. If you need to go around Southern California?
Todd Zalkins: Wait a minute. No, no, no. Ice truck? I’m in, especially during the summer months. I’ll come to sit back by the dolly.
Zach Rusk: It’s not as nice as you might think. You walk inside it’s … You walk outside, it’s 110. Then you walk into a 22 degree truck.
Todd Zalkins: So you’re wearing like a parka and shorts?
Zach Rusk: No. I’m wearing a polo and shorts.
Todd Zalkins: Oh. Okay. I was just thinking the cold, the hot. I thought that … that’s what I would do.
Zach Rusk: I probably should. I probably should.
Todd Zalkins: Yeah. I’d do a parka, like maybe a cap.
Zach Rusk: Yeah. It’s not … Not to get into it too much, but this time getting sober was a lot different because I decided I wasn’t gonna go to treatment. I wasn’t gonna go to detox. Basically I couldn’t. My family’s probably gonna listen to this, but I didn’t wanna tell them I had relapsed and they would … who I would need to be to contact to do all of those things. The thing was, I didn’t see it as an option. I needed to continue school. I needed to continue my job. I needed to do all of these things. I continued to go to school and go to work and detox at my own place, not a sober living, none of that. I think it’s the first … It is the first time I’ve ever done that and kept up all of the things I needed to do. Right now, I use that as a source of strength. But I’m gonna tell you, going in and out of an ice truck while detoxing is not fun.
Todd Zalkins: Well, I actually would’ve like it ’cause I was hot all the time and I sweat for months. Can I call you the ice man?
Zach Rusk: Yeah, sure.
Todd Zalkins: See. I’m gonna walk away here with some good nicknames. Listen, I’m stoked that you’re back on track and sharing some of your story with us. Everyone here at Roots has been awesome today. I wanna thank again you. I wanna thank you again for being here and having the courage. Thank you. Johnny Angelo and Lauren Emmel for being on the program today. Before we wrap up, I want to mention to you guys thenowellfamilyfoundation.org, please check it out. Order a couple of Bradley’s House tshirts. It’s going to be the first nonprofit treatment center of it’s kind where we treat opiate addicted musicians from all over the world. It’s gonna be a small place, six beds, but we plan on opening this in 2019 in loving memory of Bradley James Nowell, the singer of Sublime. Bradley’s House, we hope to open up at some point over the next 14 months. Check us out at thenowellfamilyfoundation.org. If anyone out there’s struggling and needs some help, please contact Roots at 562-473-0827. Thank you guys again for being on the program today. I’m just stoked that we’re all together. Thank you guys.
Todd Zalkins: You can shake my hand. It’s all right.
Zach Rusk: A cigarette. There you go.
PART 3 OF 3 ENDS [00:52:30]
Roots Through Recovery alumni with Todd “Z-Man” Zalkins in Long Beach, CA