An interview with Asher Gottesman.
Asher Gottesman is a spiritual entrepreneur, human connection coach and Rabbi in Southern California. His story began at home as a young child where all seemed well from the outside. As the youngest by nine years, he felt a horrible sense of abandonment. His loneliness was compounded by his father’s prominence as a rabbi and community leader where the pressure to appear as role models was insufferable. This resulted in a childhood eating disorder and drug use by age 14. Asher was 33 when he lost his multi-million-dollar business, with the resulting bankruptcy destroying what little self-worth he had as a provider to his family – he had hit rock-bottom. Asher found his road to recovery through the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, where despite the circle of anonymous faces, it was truly the first time in his life he felt the power of shared human connection through service to self and others.
The experience marked the debut of an odyssey of self-discovery, trading ego for vulnerability, and leaving the pursuit of pleasure for the pursuit of meaning. Asher decidedly dedicated the rest of his career to helping others help themselves “restore wholeness” in their lives. Armed with a renewed sense of self, profound life experience, and entrepreneurial passion, Asher founded Transcend in 2008, building an internationally recognized recovery community. Now sober twelve years and counting, Asher has counseled hundreds of men and women and built a renowned reputation where he is recognized by his three hallmark pillars of recovery; Accountability, Community, Unconditional Love.
Tell us about Showing up with Asher G and why you launched the podcast.
Showing Up with Asher G is a podcast about everybody’s moment in recovery. So, all of us that are in recovery from drugs and alcohol understand when we look at it in a deeper fashion, that it is a short-term solution to a longer-term problem, that it really was primarily our medicine. It’s been stigmatized and people in general, in both mental health and addiction issues, see themselves, or the world sees them, as something’s wrong with them. And therefore, I started Showing Up to show that there are two types of people in the world, those that are in recovery and those that can be—that every human being has maladaptive behaviors and everybody goes through struggle, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be identified as addiction to be in recovery; somebody who has grief, somebody who has divorced, somebody who has death, somebody who has financial ruin, somebody who spends too much, somebody who works too much and doesn’t spend time with their families. We all misalign our needs based on our own personal anxiety and story. And therefore, we all have stories where we’ve shown up. We all have stories where we’ve gone the wrong way, and then learned the hard way and had to go back. And some of us never learn. So, the idea behind Showing Up is to show that there are human beings from all facets of life, from all different directions, that continue to show up. Even when, for many years they didn’t, and they continue to make the difference in their own life. I’d like other people to know that they can change in their life.
Who have been some of your guests?
I’ve had the privilege of having many, many guests—from Instagram influencers to survivors of cancer, to survivors of family members with suicide, to a more recent guest, Skinny Vinny, who’s now on the Jackass films. He lived in a Porta Potty for two years while he was a heroin addict. I literally have had guests from all walks of life. I’ve had sports stars like Metta World Peace, among others. And I’ve had “regular people” as we call them. Just run-of-the-mill, regular people. And I’ve had people that are making huge impacts in the world, Instagram sensations models, UFC models that have shown that they’ve overcome every aspect of their lives. I’d love to be on Joe Rogan’s podcast and I’d love for him to come on mine.
Do some stories stand out more than others?
I think every story has its own. I don’t want to pick a story. I will tell you one of the greatest things that happened to me is that I’ve had—I guess the story that probably had the most impact on me was that of Adam’s, just because Adam went through our program and he speaks about it openly. And we’ve had such a direct relationship that I was able to see a total transformation; a physical transformation, mental transformation, life transformation and addiction transformation. That’s really been unbelievable. And then I also had a guest named Joshua, somebody who’s overcome addiction and become an incredible therapist. I only pick them out specifically just because they’ve really been personal in my life—yet everybody’s story is really important to me, and I don’t want to pick any other specifics because they’re really awesome. I have Jen, who went from jail to networking with people in jail. She had a baby while she was incarcerated. We think people that are incarcerated are bad people, and she’s just a great woman doing amazing things. I’ve had people from all walks of life. It’s been a really, really amazing experience.
What made you want to open Transcend Recovery Community?
I was studying with a rabbi who ran a treatment center in Los Angeles. That was a non-profit treatment center. What I noticed at both 12-step meetings and in this treatment center, is that people were really making changes in their lives. And to me, it was just phenomenal to watch. And for me, it was also a time where I was not focused on myself and therefore my pain was irrelevant at those moments of time because I was there watching other people change. The rabbi actually guided me and said, “You know what, you’re really good. You’re going to be really good at this. And you’re going to go open sober living facilities. You’re going to open transitional living facilities for men and women in recovery.” And I said, “I have no experience.” I was actually nine months sober at the time. And he said to me, “Go get a fucking house and I’ll send you clients and go do it already.” So that’s how that’s how and why Transcend started, and I needed to do something meaningful with my life to survive my life.
Can you go expand on your own story, and what led you to working in the recovery field?
I was in real estate and private equity investments. Between ’05 and ’08, I went from a very high net worth to a negative net worth. I didn’t think I was an addict. I thought I wanted to die and made some plans. The problem is I wanted to wait. I didn’t want to shame my children. I didn’t want it to be obvious and I wanted them to be financially set. So, I bought life insurance. The blessing was that I went to therapy. I told my therapist I’m a narcissist. And he said to me, “Your hardware is flying, your software severely messed up. You want to do something about it.” I actually told him he had nineteen months and he asked, “What’s in nineteen months?” I said, “I’m out of this world in nineteen months.” And thank God, that was fourteen years ago. He said to me, “You have an addiction problem.” And I did. We worked together and he ended up sending me to 12-step programs. Initially, I wasn’t ready for 12-step programs. I told him he’s a real jerk and, “Not only did I lose my money and dignity, but you’re also going to compare me to a junkie on the street?” Yet on March 18th, 2008, the evening before I got sober (my sober date is March 19th, 2008), I was blessed to identify as somebody and I got a sponsor the next morning. Shortly thereafter, I started working in recovery.
Can you talk about your first Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor?
It’s interesting because we were from totally different walks of life, right? I’m this Jewish boy who grew up in Beverly Hills. He was definitely not a Jewish man, though he also went through a financial reversal where he was a very successful producer and the area that he was producing in changed, and he didn’t know how to change with it. He really helped guide me to see my own personal value. It was the moment where I decided I was going to listen to somebody else and not myself. That’s really the moment that it all shifted for me.
What about your childhood? Did trauma lead to addiction?
Ultimately, I think this part is very important because most of the time, people with obvious trauma, whether that’s abuse—sexual, physical—it’s obvious why they really felt poorly about themselves. In my case, I didn’t have obvious trauma. I dealt with abandonment issues, and I had a self-message that I was unlovable. And the only time I felt truly lovable is when substances were in my system. That’s when the depression lifted, that’s when the negative self-talk lifted. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture. I just know that in my case, the reason I believe I became an addict (many people use substances and don’t become addicts), is it solved a major issue. It solved an underlying issue of pain and lack of self-worth and self-esteem. Once I got into recovery, once I got sober, that’s when the journey began, because I had to do the work of understanding the underlying piece, and I must do the work of being self-sufficient. What I mean by self-sufficient is that I had to learn how to make myself feel better, how to end up being the parent to myself that I so wanted and so needed. It’s very important to remember that there is no direct correlation between pain felt and pain inflicted. I felt a lot of shame and guilt over the fact that nothing terrible happened to me, yet I felt so poorly. It’s super important for anybody reading that they shouldn’t judge their pain. It’s their pain. There is no reason for it. Why is not going to ever help now. What will help is stop asking why and start saying now what. Stop judging yourself and start making the shifts. And as long as you’re judging yourself, you don’t have the time or place to make the shifts that will be helpful in your life.
If people finally get sober, they often develop process addictions. What’s your take on that?
If you get sober and don’t do the work, you’re going to find another way to solve your problems. If you start doing the work and understand what the underlying problems are, that’s when you will begin to truly recover. And the other areas won’t show up.
Transcend has expanded from California to New York and Texas. How many houses do you have now and what is your current involvement?
I’m the chairman. I supervise and work together with people to be helpful. We have programs in Los Angeles, New York and Houston, Texas where we treat over a hundred people on a regular basis.
What are some of the crises’ you’ve had to deal with?
I don’t look at them as crises’ as much as I look at them as opportunities to help people.
What advice do you have for those struggling with addiction and can’t afford treatment?
There are 12-step meetings. There are community centers that take Medicaid, and the truth be told, just create a community. Go to a 12-step meeting and reach your hands out. I know it’s hard. I know that most people in recovery have social anxiety. So, I know what I’m asking is really hard, but try it. There are people that really, really want to be there and are supportive.
What else are you doing besides Showing Up with Asher G?
I call myself a spiritual entrepreneur. So, I’m looking at other methodologies on how we can help people with mental health and addiction issues constantly. I’m investigating the psychedelic space. I don’t know enough about it and what I’m doing mostly is staying agnostic to my personal beliefs and looking at different ways and methods that we can help people as they recover one of their struggles, because so many people are struggling, struggling, and it definitely is not one size fits all.