Ep.20 - Healing, Transparency, & TooMuchness | Niles Comer — Candice sits down with grad-school friend, nonprofit director, and addictions specialist, Niles Comer. Niles shares his personal story of trauma and loss, and opens up about his lifelong journey of addiction recovery. He describes how he has learned to 'live from his scars rather than his wounds’ and shares why transparency is so critical to sobriety. Niles shares the statistical realities of addiction rates in a post-pandemic world; then together, they discuss the essential, and often complex, interplay between inner authority and community, agreeing that they are equally essential to the path of healing. Candice unpacks how her early years of personal empowerment crossed over into spiritual bypassing, and how she learned (often the hard way) the fundamental difference between positive psychology and toxic positivity. Niles chimes in as they discuss how the industries of self-help and wellness very often leave people feeling less equipped and more isolated than ever. This episode contains some intimate shares [trigger warning for abuse survivors] and also lots and lots of shared laughter. It's a full-spectrum experience & a must-hear for anyone who is striving to embrace the fullness (and messiness) of their humanity.

Niles Comer has spent his life working for and alongside those at the margins of society – the addicted, the homeless, the disenfranchised. His professional experiences include CEO, nonprofit director, addictions counselor, HIV/AIDS case manager, recovery center manager, trainer/educator, community development specialist, and social entrepreneur. Niles has over 30 years of personal and professional experience with addiction and recovery, mental health, trauma, homelessness, spiritual development, community renewal, and the impacts of poverty. He is currently the Director of Roanoke Valley Collective Response, a regional collaborative of 200 agencies responding to the ongoing rise of addiction rates in Southwestern Virginia whose mission is “to build, sustain, and support communities by responding to addiction and promoting recovery and wellness.”

Ep.20 - Healing, Transparency, & TooMuchness | Niles Comer

Candice Schutter: 0:05

Welcome back to The Deeper Pulse. This is Candice Schutter. Every time I show up here, it's truly a marvel to me, the fact that I am able to cast my voice into the ethers and speak from the heart in an effort to connect with yours.

First things first, I want to thank you all so much for the glorious feedback that I've been getting on the season rollout and this recent shift to dialogue. Now of course there've only been the two episodes, but many of you reached out to share with me how the conversation that Sylvia and I had touched you in some way. I just knew that you'd fall in love with her. I have to say that I'm pretty darn excited about the year ahead, and I cannot tell you how humbling and remarkable it is to me that you show up to listen to this labor of love. I do not take the privilege of your attention lightly.

Many of you are excited about hearing from everyday humans who are living their lives more bravely and wholeheartedly. And also I get that you are here for you because witnessing others in honest self-expression can often be a way back home to our own heart and to one another. As God-willing, we are slow fading out of this season of pandemic isolation, we need to hear from other people who are struggling and rising in the same ways that we are. A handful of you also very kindly requested that I not completely do away with the earlier format, and that I continue to share my written words with you. Following episode 18, people had questions about how I now hold those earlier episodes. So I want to be clear, I treasure them. When I spoke with Sylvia, I didn't adequately articulate how potent and powerful the process of writing and sharing with you has been. Over the course of many months, I did feel as though I tapped into a more authentic place, a deeper truth, a more grounded voice. And receiving your feedback has helped to remind me, that sometimes it is the carefully curated pieces of wisdom that speak to us most.

So all of that to say that this podcast is, and will always be a both-and endeavor. Whether I am speaking off the cuff with a treasured guest or sharing with you a deeper truth that I could only find through a careful selection of words and sentiments. I bring everything I have and all of me to this project. That is the power of sharing our stories. When we tell the truth about our lived experience, even when we dress it up in eloquent prose, the story itself reveals us. It keeps us honest, vulnerable, and available for connection. So those first 17 full episodes of The Deeper Pulse, they're filled with my heart and soul. And I'm proud of what I made. I'm proud of the tender parts of me that found their way to you, even as I sought to protect them. So I will likely pepper in a few more solo episodes here and there just to keep that thread alive.

Whether you join me for those, or just want to pop in for conversations like the one I'm about to have today, I'm just so grateful that you're here. And I thank you for your kindness as I continue to fumble my way through this.

Today's episode speaks directly to the potency of showing up with our full humanity. It's rarely easy... living and sharing transparently, but it is the fastest way to connection. And this week's guest is an embodiment of this practice. I can't wait for you to meet him. Niles Comer is a specialist in addiction and recovery. He has spent over three decades working for and alongside marginalized individuals battling addiction and homelessness. I met Niles while pursuing a master's degree in Social Impact, and I was immediately touched by his passionate commitment to his work, his wholehearted transparency, and his embodied understanding that to inspire vulnerability and trust in others, to truly be in service to them, we must be willing to show up in our full integrity... which means being generous, imperfect, flawed, and fully human. I'm so excited for you to join me as Niles shares his personal story with us.

And as together we explore the topics of vulnerability, mental health, and the power of transparency when it comes to creating community and connection.

Let's dig in.

Thank you so much for doing this with me.

Niles Comer: 4:50
Yeah, you know what's funny is every time when I'm about ready to do something that I'm so... I believe in, and there's a spiritual connection, like right before or right after I do something like... I, I slam the door on my finger and my finger's bleeding and it's like down here under the desk with tissue. It's just like, oh yeah, right. You know, I will never rise above being human. Ever. No matter how, no matter how spiritual I feel I am or how connected.

Candice Schutter: 5:16
Yes. Those reminders are everywhere, aren't they?

Niles Comer: 5:20
And I'm such a clutz anyway, right? So, I mean I'm the guy you keep your camera phone. You keep that on when you're around me, because you're going to get an America's Funniest Home Video clip sooner or later.

Candice Schutter: 5:31
I'll keep that in mind. I'm glad I have the record button on.

Niles Comer: 5:34
Like I may lean back and slam my head into the wall.

Candice Schutter: 5:37
Anything can happen. I'm so excited that you're here. Where I'd love to start is really sharing with our listeners, like how we know each other, which really, you know, we haven't known each other very long. Niles and I were in a master's program together. It was during the pandemic, it's a distance learning platform. Like we're not seeing each other in person ever. There's very few in-person meetings and a lot of dialogue on these digital platforms.

Niles Comer: 6:09

Candice Schutter: 6:10
And so... my very first term at the university, I was taking two classes. And one of the classes I was taking was a storytelling class, which you were taking at the same time, but a different professor was teaching your course. Your professor was chair of the whole department, and she decided to do this group meetup thing where both classes were invited. And so we came into this Zoom meeting and I was still very new to the whole online school thing. It was early in the pandemic. Like now I'm used to being on Zoom and the cameras and everything, but I was just sort of still a little bit of a deer in headlights with the whole experience. And I was feeling a little vulnerable and a little bit nervous about being in this new program. And I just remember so vividly the first time that you spoke, Niles. And you shared... I don't remember the content specifically, I think it had something to do with you sharing a story about your experience in life. And I just felt myself leaning in, and I just immediately felt a kinship with you.

Niles Comer: 7:18
I can tell you. Because when I'm in those formats, I don't remember exactly what story I told, but I know I jumped in and said, I'm an addict in long-term recovery. And, I just know that's how I lead because most of the healing I've ever experienced in my life has come through storytelling. So this class... this is, this is my medium for healing. I always say bad choices make for great stories.

Candice Schutter: 7:39
Yeah, absolutely. And I just remember how earnest you were, and as we moved through term after term, we kept ending up in some of the similar classes and our dialogues on the discussion board were my favorite. It just was so fun to, to read and learn from you because you have a lot of experience that I don't have. And so I was just learning so much from your posts and also having this sense of, wow, this... this human really gets what it is that I feel passionate about. There's a lot of overlap there. So I want to talk about some of those things as we move into this conversation.

Niles Comer: 8:18
So I'm going to be really vulnerable with you right now. I am really uncomfortable with your positive affirmations and my tendency is to want to get up and move. And I'm like, oh no, I actually have to sit there. And so this is really hard, but really good for me because, you know, there's the ego going... 'yes, of course!' But there's this deeper part of me that's like this little kid going really? Like, that's all I ever wanted to hear. I grew up feeling very invisible as the youngest of four boys. So I just wanted to acknowledge if I squirm a little bit, it's very uncomfortable with that positive feedback and I, and it's what I want to hear, but I just wanted to acknowledge that I'm physically responding to you and it's really hard to sit still.

Candice Schutter: 8:59
Sure. So if y'all hear him shuffling around, you know. And I think, some, I know I can relate I'm sure so many of the listeners out there can relate like that, that feeling of, of being able to receive a compliment or even just a reflection. Like, to me, it doesn't seem like a compliment because it's just how I experience you. It's just reflecting that back to you and receiving those positive reflections in the how, how do we absorb them? And sometimes we do need to move our bodies in order to allow that emotional energy to shift and let it land. Right? So if you start doing jumping jacks, it's fine. Exactly. So you mentioned, you kind of alluded to your growing up and I'm curious, would you be willing to share with us your story? Like, what led you to the place that you are now in life and the work that you're doing?

Niles Comer: 9:49
Sure, I absolutely have no problem sharing my story because part of my job... So I don't have a job. I have a work and it's with a capital W and then what I mean by that is I get paid to do what I'm spiritually called to do right now. I'm the director of an organization called the Roanoke Valley Collective Response, which is a regional collaborative of 200 agencies responding to what addiction is doing to Southwestern Virginia, which is essentially the area we cover is about 13 counties, five towns, and four cities. And... and I am one of two paid staff people. So I'm a director who's overseeing 200 volunteer agencies that stem the tide from needle exchange programs, to law enforcement, to federal judges, to people in recovery from addiction, to families who have lost children to overdoses. And so that's my job. And my story is that I'm the youngest of four boys. So my mother was a strong, strong woman. And what's crazy is, you know, I love all sorts of spiritual disciplines and astrology is one of them. And I don't mean that stuff you read in the newspaper. Because astrology is not predictive, it's, it's descriptive. And I had the good fortune of, of having a girlfriend for about five or six years who was a professional astrologer from India, and so I have a whole take on it. But my mother was a Leo. So she's a fire sign, right? Yeah. And then all her four sons were each of the four elements with me being the last Scorpio, which is a water sign. And my dad was a Pisces and they're prone to addiction, and my dad died at 49, a homeless alcoholic. So when I was born, alcoholism was destroying our family and it was evident and work was haphazard. Our living situations would go from what seemed like solid middle-class to seven of us, with my grandmother being the seventh, living in a one bedroom apartment. My dad and I sleep on cots in the corner, my mom's sleeping on the couch in the living room, my grandma having the bedroom, my brother's having sort of the side nook where they had their two cots. And then we'd have a four bedroom house. I never understood all this and what had come to pass is my, my mother's father would financially help us out for a few years and then just stop. Although I wasn't born in Roanoke, Virginia, my father and his parents and my great-grandparents were all born here, and so there's... I always joke and say, my whole family's here. I go to the cemetery and I've got brothers, aunts, grandparents. Um, I held my father's hand when he died. He died literally in my arms, I was holding him, at a hospital. And my brother, Kenny died in that hospital and they both died on the same floor. My brother, Kevin died in 2019, the day before his 54th birthday. And, when I turned 54, it was really overwhelming because I realized I had just outlived three of the most important men in my life. My dad at 49, my other brother, Kenny at 50, and my brother Kevin at 53. Um, I remember this one comment my brother, Kevin said, you know, we, we had a big family, but Niles was a functional orphan. He used to say that all the time. Because everybody else would disappear because there was so much violence in the home, and they just went and stayed other places. And I was there, stuck, because I was 8, 9, 10. I was molested by my mentally ill brother who was also a heroin addict. He suffered from a violent psychosis base of a paranoid schizophrenia. And sometimes their psychosis is passive and docile and sometimes it's very sociopathic and violent and his was sociopathic. Like he would hear voices that told him I was trying to hurt him and he'd like kick in my bedroom door and take a tennis racket and smash it over my face. And so my childhood, like a lot of folks who grew up around addiction. I've also been homeless, um, I've eaten out of dumpsters. I've watched my mother go hungry so I could eat with my brothers eating somewhere else at their jobs or something. So I don't want to say that I'm unique in that capacity, but I've had this opportunity to both look in the mirror and say, I am so privileged. I am a straight white male with two college degrees and working on a third, you know, so I am part of the oppressive power structure. I am the entitled American by, by my biology and my situation. And I've also blessed, in the way that I define being blessed, which is acknowledging a spiritual reality that's sort of holding me together and holding everything else together. I say I'm blessed, meaning that I was aware that people would show up out of nowhere to feed me or to feed us. I was aware that I could have experienced a lot more violence than I did. I was aware that some of the traumatic events that happened could have gone on for longer. I don't share certain things for people to feel sorry for me, because pity is disempowering. Stigma and stereotypes are deadly. I know people that die because they are stereotyped and sent away or misdiagnosed or ignored or judged. And I know that stigma is literally just the Latin word for wound. I've struggled with not just addiction to substances, but addiction to pain. Like I, I was so comfortable feeling uncomfortable, I didn't want to change. And I think a lot of people can relate to that in some capacity. I share these things to let people know that they're not alone.

Candice Schutter: 15:06
Yeah. Which is, you know, just to interject for a moment, like that's really the purpose of this format in this context, which is the podcast focusing on courageous self-expression. The two aspects of that are courage implies vulnerability. So vulnerability is built in, and there's this sense that if we honor that vulnerability and share our stories and are transparent about what's going on inside of us, what has gone on inside of us, the bridges that we've built from then till now... that that is, in my mind at least, the most spiritual act that we have available to us... is to be as transparent as we can. If we have... whatever our spiritual framework is, if the belief that the nature of life is moving in, as, and through us, then if we inhibit that expression in any way, the dark or the light of it, then we're doing a disservice to not only ourselves, but to the world around us. Something I hear people struggling with a lot is like, it's the ego is the ego. I'm talking about myself as the ego. And actually, having studied psychology for 20 years, the ego is actually an alliance. And that we actually need a very strong ego in order to live a spiritual life. Ironically.

Niles Comer: 16:29
And I realize I used the term ego in the sort of the pedantic way.

Candice Schutter: 16:33
And you know that, but that the way that you used it is the way that most people use it. And I think it's really important... the ego is only a problem when it's no longer in service to the soul. So it's like the ego can be this false self narcissistic persona that's getting in the way of our most authentic expression. And it can also be a vehicle for our most authentic expression. And these wounds that we have, that we carry... these experiences that we've had, whether people share your personal experiences or they're bringing their own, and there's this sense of alignment in terms of... oh, wait, part of my full power is in owning my wounds and owning those vulnerabilities and speaking openly about them so that I can create connection with other people who can relate to that experience... and also to free myself and the inner children that live inside of me that didn't have room to express those things. They get to show up here. They're invited. Like Candice, Niles, and Little Candice, Little Niles get to all be in the same room.

Niles Comer: 17:29
We call little Niles 'Puck' because he is the personification of Shakespeare's Puck, cause I was such a little trickster when I was a kid. And it was a nickname for a long time, was Puck from other people.

Candice Schutter: 17:44
Well, I was called Candi, which I'm still working on embracing as the name for my little one. I didn't love that nickname as a child, but I feel like part of the dissonance around hearing the name is, is letting me know there's more healing to do.

Niles Comer: 17:58
Candy gets a bad rap, both as a name and as a substance that we like to ingest. It's like, oh, you shouldn't binge on sugar candy. And I'm like, so there's all this baggage around that that word.

Candice Schutter: 18:08
Well, very much like me. It's great in small doses.

Niles Comer: 18:12
That's funny. So I don't know if you're old enough to remember this or anybody in your audience, but there used to be this product, I think it's still out there called Brylcream and it was a, it was a gel for men. It was more almost like Vaseline, but the tagline was... a little dab goes a long way. And my mom used to say, Niles is like Brylcream a little bit goes a long way.

Candice Schutter: 18:32
There you go.

Niles Comer: 18:33
So that's funny that you say that.

Candice Schutter: 18:36
Yeah, too muchness is something that I've had to do some work on. And being in being present, especially when... I think you and I have this in common, when there's a passion around something, I don't want to speak for you, but for me, it's like, when I feel passionate about something, it's like, the energy just comes rushing. And sometimes, sometimes I have to learn to make room. And that's where it sets that dance we were just talking about, that's where the ego can become overbearing if it's not in service to something larger, which is the cohesive connection that you're, you're attempting to create. Right. Right. Yeah. So, I get it.

Niles Comer: 19:11
You know, the good news is my mentor always says, if I'm the smartest person in the room, I need to be in another room. So I'm good. I'm glad to know. I'm not the smartest person between you and my dog. I, I am among intellectual and spiritual giants.

Candice Schutter: 19:24
Well, if we get stumped, we're going to consult with Shadow.

Niles Comer: 19:26
Right? But you were talking about... you mentioned a few things that just triggered two thoughts in it. I always talk about obedience to my vocation, which means I listen and that what I'm listening to is where my pain and your pain connect, and then that's where I can act. But you said something that triggered this, this sort of thought process in the end that is healing, the healing work I do... it's a desire to connect, but it's also a need for space. And you said that, right. You talked about space for the inner children, space for the ego. I try to live from my scars rather than my wounds. In order to take a wound to a place of scarring, you know, it needs to be connected to something healing like a salve or a balm. And then also it needs air. So it needs space. And so I always sort of take that metaphor and you summed it up really richly that, talking about creating space for all your personality disorders... I mean, for all your person... sorry. I don't want to be comedian, but But I really think that, I can't offer you or myself or anyone who listens to this anything better than simply being transparent. When I talk to people who are saying, how do you live drug and alcohol free for a decade when you were high for a decade? You know, like 3650 plus days. Right. And how did I do it? I'm like just come alongside and watch, and I'll just be transparent. I'll show you how I live life today. Right? You know, I'm dealing with something at work where I'm officially two months into this job, but I've been in a leadership role for years, voluntarily. And the person who was my biggest supporter is now undermining a strategic plan that is pretty well thought out and not about Niles shining, but about these other organizations shining. And the emails I got from him today on my trip back from Tennessee, I was obsessed. Like I couldn't, I couldn't shut my brain off. And I'm like, how am I going to come into this thing tonight? I'm just, I'm in that obsessive phase. When I think somebody slights me, I obsess about what I'll say to them, how to pay them back where they're wrong, where I'm right. Justification. And then I realize I have to go through that process and step back and create space. So I can sit back and be like, you know, it just hurts my feelings and it doesn't support me, and I feel like I've worked really hard in my career to be taken seriously. And I don't feel like he's taking me seriously. So I feel invisible and I feel irrelevant. And those two things are really big. They create a lot of, they create a lot of anger, if I feel irrelevant or invisible, because those are directly related to both the beginning of my life and the end of my life. At the beginning of my life, I was invisible and I felt irrelevant. And as I get older, I'm going to become irrelevant.

Candice Schutter: 22:01
And eventually invisible.

Niles Comer: 22:05
And eventually invisible right? And so I'm in a place where I'm both acknowledging that and trying to embrace it as okay. You know, as I age, I'm not that old, but I do feel my mortality every day in some capacity. And I do feel my irrelevance. And then I obsess about this guy and I have to create space. And I also have to connect with somebody I care about. So I get to connect with you tonight. Um, I connected with my dog who, you know, she is not a pet. She is sentient four-legged being who understands me when I'm sad. She comes up to me and puts her head in my lap. Um, you know, and so but I also had to create space so I could get to a place where I could acknowledge how I felt so that I don't send this guy this email that's filled with eff you's and you suck.

Candice Schutter: 22:47

Niles Comer: 22:48
And rather say, I don't understand your response. Could we meet to talk about this? And then I can connect with you and realize I feel so vulnerable right now. I'm like, are you sure you don't just want to pause this and find somebody else? You know, that's where I am right now. Right?

Candice Schutter: 23:03
It's that, that sense of like, I heard this quote from Anne Lamott, who says I am all the ages I've ever been." And I feel that so much. Like the embracing of that truth, like I am all the ages I've ever been... It sort of makes it a little bit easier... I don't know if you have this experience, but it makes it a little bit easier to show up with the fear and with the vulnerability, because there's the sense of... the expectation that it shouldn't be there... is utter bullshit. Like it's the human condition. Like, fear and anxiety is built into this experience on this floating rock in space for unknown reasons. It's part of the deal. It's, it's part of the gig. And so the fact that we have experiences throughout the day that activate that more so and bring those parts of us forefront... like you've had this experience today that brings that part of you forefront and says, hey, the part of me that feels invisible and irrelevant is online. And I'm glad that he's here because there's a part of me that can relate to him. And I'm sure many of the listeners out there can relate. And also, and this is kind of one of the places I want to go in terms of the role that taking authority over our own mental health plays into this path of healing and this understanding that you've had to do a certain amount of inner work to have the self-awareness to say, these are all the things I'm feeling. And there's a part of me that wants to write a biting email response. Or there's a part of me that wants to lash out in anger, and I have the self-awareness and the mindfulness not to do that. And I also know that if I give myself space and if I create connective space where someone else is helping me hold that space, as my friend Britt likes to say, we hold each other while we're holding ourselves up... like if I have that kind of support, then I can actually mine those feelings for the truths that need to be expressed. Which is I'm pissed off because there's a lot of really important things and people and organizations that are being overlooked here. And I want to be able to advocate for those things without lashing out in anger. I want to be able to show up with my soul in full possession.

Niles Comer: 25:24

Candice Schutter: 25:24
And you're still expressing the same truths. It's just, you're doing it with integrity and when I say integrity I mean with a sense of connection to the whole that is being impacted by however you express yourself. And I think that's really beautiful and important.

Niles Comer: 25:39
I think we're we're brother and sister in a previous life. Uh, you know, I, I was, uh, I held licensure as an addictions counselor for years in the nineties, but I no longer do that because I think that in the clinical world, we're often taught to put a desk between us to other people, essentially, even though we talk about empowerment. But I want to sit next to you and be like, here's my story. Can it help you? What's your story? Let's mine the gold in your story. And it's one, the reasons why I'm getting a master's a second master's degree in positive psychology. There's only three programs in this country and a master's degree and one PhD, but in Europe there's like 20 or 30, because it's such a popular paradigm because you start from a place of, of not Pollyanna... Yeah, it's not anything like toxic positivity. You start from a place of strength. Where that sense of like... as a person in recovery, I enjoy and participate quite frequently in alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous. And I don't speak for those two groups, but the, the sense of fellowship of connection, where you tell stories and rather than people going, oh my... people are laughing going, oh my God, I did that do... is powerful. But one of the things I hate is one of the prayers people pray is for God to remove their defects of character. And I'm like, you know what? I pray, turn my defects into spiritual assets cause they're bad ass and I want them helping people. Right? Because the thing, the things that helped me survive as a kid, those are strong. They just need to be honed from survival to thriving, because there is a difference, right? It's a perspective. So I don't want to run from them. And there are three paths of healing. You can rent your healing. You can lease your healing. Or you can own your healing. And I will tell you from experience, I have done all three and it is only until I took ownership of both my wounds, my pain, the trauma... only when I took ownership of that, could I take ownership of the healing process. If I don't take ownership of my mental health, it will own me. And after COVID, addiction is the second greatest public health threat to America. We've had more overdose deaths than in the history of our country ever recorded. And the CDC usually says that about 8-10% of the population is struggling with addiction. In two years that number has jumped to 14%. Anybody who knows anything about statistics knows that a 4-6% jump in a 330 million country, that's millions of people are now in a phase of... regardless of what language you use, now they're in that cycle where they started to use it to numb out or for pleasure or from boredom, and now they're stuck in the loop because of this thing called tolerance and withdrawal.

Candice Schutter: 28:22

Niles Comer: 28:23
We've learned from COVID that mental health care is a, is an essential business.

Candice Schutter: 28:29
And unfortunately it's a business.

Niles Comer: 28:32
Well, it is right. It's an industry. What our country does is it takes something so beautiful and so amazing, and it turns it into an industrial complex. The wellness industry being a multi-billion dollar, almost globally trillion dollar industry. And then when you say wellness, does that mean Goop? Does that mean AA? Trauma informed care? I mean, what does it mean?

Candice Schutter: 28:53
And you know, you, and I've talked about this before, and it's something that I feel really strongly about, and part of why I even went to grad school in the first place, is feeling incredibly disenchanted with the commercialization of personal growth and the industry of what we call self-help, which to me is just such a convenient misnomer. If we lump everything that deals with the emotion, with mental health, with spiritual well-being, things that you and I know are absolutely essential to not only our sanity, but to keeping us sober in life and enabling us to be transparent and heal from wounds. If we lump it all into this category of self-help, then the systems don't have to take any responsibility for them whatsoever. It's... it's on the person and there's this gaslighting, this collective gaslighting on individuals, and so it's no wonder that so many of us... and it's being just so exacerbated with the pandemic and the isolation... sit and wonder at ourselves, like why can't I pull myself out of this hole that I'm in. When in fact it never was our sole, singular job to do that.

Niles Comer: 30:10

Candice Schutter: 30:11
And yet, you know, what capitalism does is it tells us that if we just buy the right thing, if we just join the right group, if we just read the right book, that we'll be able to take care of it on our own, when in fact it's a social crisis and it's a failure of systems to support us and things that that should be, um... it's a basic need that is being overlooked. It's, it's very much as if, you know... well, sadly, I was going to draw a parallel, but it's true in all the basic need categories, right? It's like, it's just to say like, you have to create your own place to live and work really hard... wait a second. Like so many people don't have a place to live and food and water and shelter, like the most basic things...

Niles Comer: 30:59

Candice Schutter: 31:00
We're taught that it's... the onus is on us to earn it. And if we don't have it, we're somehow undeserving, which just perpetuates the shame spiral and feeds the toxicity and the disconnection. It's so tragic. And I feel that it very much connects with cycles of addiction and the rise in these numbers.

Niles Comer: 31:22
Even the phrase self-help annoys me. I'm like people, if I could help myself, then I would have gotten clean and sober and I would have stopped using all substances and medicating these wounds on my own. I didn't. I did some things on my own. Like I had to show up and I had to say, 'hey, help.' And then I had to follow some instructions and my brother used to joke and be like, still doing them self-help things? And I'm like, no. Am I still going and meeting with people who are like me to grow? Yes. Because it's mutual, it's mutual aid or mutual assistance really. It's not self-help. And, and even that, you know, this, this euphemism of our country is this... bootstrap... nobody does anything by themselves. This lone ranger mentality is so it is... it is just so obviously wrong to me. And then I look at our country and I'm like, Ooh, our country is like an addict like that end stage where they're not even getting high anymore, they're just doing drugs to prevent withdrawal. And they're alone now. There's no friends. They've burned every bridge, you know? So even on a macro level, I think you're, you're right about, you know, I don't think everybody's addicted, but that process of addiction has to do with continuing to use and do certain things in spite of the evidence and the consequences for suffering.

Candice Schutter: 32:36

Niles Comer: 32:36
So that's how we, we could define it broadly from a sociological level. We, we break ourselves into two camps and then we have to have somebody to blame. And that's also part of the addiction process.

Candice Schutter: 32:47

Niles Comer: 32:48
When you talk to somebody who's in full blown addiction to a particular chemical, they blame everybody but themselves. And then if they blame themselves, they usually will get to a place of suicide unfortunately, because it's so overwhelming with shame, but.

Candice Schutter: 32:59

Niles Comer: 33:00
Addiction is a disease of isolation that leads to ultimate isolation, but at the same time, it is a family and community disease because for every person in active addiction, at least five people are dramatically consequentially impacted. But what I want to say, that's paradoxical is this. I am responsible for my own healing and happiness... And I need community. If you look at all healing movements, right? Cancer, PTSD, victims of sex crimes, trafficking, domestic violence, the people that have experienced those violent situations or those traumatic events, medically or physically, or emotionally, the way they find healing is to connect with others who have gone through that same thing. Right? So there's community. We find healing in community, but in order for that community to work, I have to take ownership both of my process and my responsibility to show up and be present.

Candice Schutter: 33:53

Niles Comer: 33:53

Candice Schutter: 33:54
And I feel that, like all capital T truth... you know, we have the small T truths that we argue over, but the big truths tend to be paradoxical. And you know, it's interesting, you said that about community because when I did my graduate dissertation... it centered around human agency. And I did the survey and found all kinds of interesting findings, the most significant statistic, that sort of blew my mind... in the best possible way... was that of the folks who scored high on agency, meaning they feel that they have control and volition over their lives, 93% of them said that they were a part of a community where they felt they belonged. 93%. And the low agency scorers, folks who were... and I want to be clear when I say high agency folks and low agency folks, it's purely immediate and situational, these numbers can change.

Niles Comer: 34:54
And nor is it a judgment, it's an fluctuating observation.

Candice Schutter: 35:00
Thank you, yes, exactly. And so the folks that were in a season of reporting low agency, the number was like 25%. And those folks also scored very high agreement to this statement, which was, I prefer to deal with problems on my own rather than seek support." So this piece around isolation is so impactful, and I think it can be yet another paradox. The moment when we feel the most shame and the desire to contract and isolate and pull away and separate from... that's the moment that we most benefit from connection. Like, I'm a live wire right now, and you want me to go what? You want me to, you want me to go to a meeting? You want me to do a podcast? You want me to, what? If we learn to show up in those moments, that's where the healing just happens. And that's the thing that's so fascinating to me... the first few years I was coaching. I had no idea what I was doing. And I just kept showing up to these conversations and being as candid and present to people as I could possibly be. And this thing kept happening where people walk away and they feel a sense of relief. And now I understand it's the simple act of feeling safe enough to be transparent and connected to another human is medicinal in ways that don't make logical sense. It's not a rational thing. Like, well, why does it make me feel better to admit that I feel like shit? Like, why does it work the way? I don't know, that's none of my business. As far as I'm concerned. When it comes to the mysteries of spirit, like none of my business. I just want to pay attention and come along for the ride as much as I can. Right? I mean that... reading those statistics to make it a little bit more personal was so huge for me because my tendency having grown up as an only child in a dysfunctional home... you know, my mom said that you were never happier than when you were underneath the tablecloth playing on your own. Like, that was my survival strategy was just isolate, isolate, isolate. Create an invisible world and live in it. And I carried that with me. I still carry that with me into my adulthood. And for the longest time, I was the flaky friend who was canceling plans all the time, who, because I was on the verge of a panic attack so often, wouldn't go to the social event, just all the things. And I did myself a disservice, cause I just didn't know. I didn't understand. And I didn't always have the kinds of relationships where I could be safe enough to show up how I really was.

Niles Comer: 37:38

Candice Schutter: 37:39
Creating opportunities for people to feel that connection and even listening to a podcast can give us some of that. Like, oh, I'm not alone. There are other people struggling with the same things I'm struggling with. And maybe that gives us just a little more courage to actually reach out to our friend or a loved one or our neighbor, and create that connection.

Niles Comer: 37:58
I mean, we've learned that connection can happen many ways, you know, and, and it, what COVID taught me was that we went from a three dimensional world to a two dimensional world that there's this huge gap. And I need to make sure if I'm going to fill it, I fill it with things that are healthy. Or I sit with that space. There's aloneness, there's loneliness, and there is solitude. One is an emotion. One is a circumstance. And one is a practice. And they can all be the same thing. Right. Um, my ex fiance, who I was engaged to for part of my time at our graduate program. And then as COVID hit, she decided she didn't want to get married. And I had moved from Virginia to Kentucky. And so in COVID shut down, I was in the process of moving back to from Lexington, Kentucky to Roanoke, Virginia. And she... her Facebook feed popped up on my phone and it was her wedding picture. She got married. She got married over the weekend. And I know the guy, and he is a wonderful soul. And, and I got a couple texts saying, are you okay? And I'm like, I am. I said, here's what's happening. It just felt weird. Um, cause we were happy together. Right? And now she's happy with somebody else and that's just the process. And then I had somebody say, oh, you're in denial. You know, you're angry and jealous. I'm like, nah, that's your world. Don't, don't put your shit on me. My world is, I'm actually really happy for her because she's a very classy quality woman. Um, it just didn't work out. But the same thing I said about my ex wife, we were two beautiful people who were too wounded to appreciate each other. Anyway. So that point about that whole, the continued discussion of this paradox of both I need community, but I have to take ownership and, and the message we're given is bootstrap psychology, or what did you call it? Toxic positivity. And that's awesome.

Candice Schutter: 39:46
When I was in undergrad, my mentor was a pioneer in positive psychology. I studied it and I did research in that vein. And then I became very disenchanted by the limitations of the research that we were doing, and there was just certain blind spots that we had that have since been filled in by many psychologists and scientists about the brain and how it develops. The analysis of the data was really leaving out what happens in the nervous system when we are exposed to stress and how brain development impacts how we deal with stress.

Niles Comer: 40:19
And it may be that your brain secretes more cortisol than mine does when it's in a stressful situation, which is why you may have a heart problem and I don't. It also, you know, it's funny, you're talking about this as I've progressed in my own personal journey of recovery and healing, I have become obsessed with learning about the brain. And what it's done is it's actually increased my sense of connection spiritually to the world. Most people think that you delve into the science of all this and it, it makes you more pragmatic. And I'm like, no, I get like, what's happening in my brain when I'm feeling spiritually connected and alive. Whether it's watching my dog who was born in Georgia before I got her. She had never experienced snow before, and we got eight inches a couple of weeks ago. Oh my God. I thought I'd never felt so giddy. Like the chemicals rushing through my body were... I've never had that volume. And it's because my brain is now as healed as it's ever been. And so I'm, I'm watching her, and I'm thinking of the chemistry of that, but then I'm also having the moment of a spiritual experience. And so it's, it's not this either or it's the sort of both and.

Candice Schutter: 41:31
Absolutely, which I think is what when we talk about toxic positivity, you know... I call myself a recovering new age fundamentalist.

Niles Comer: 41:41
I get that.

Candice Schutter: 41:43
It was a really important stepping stone for me because I needed to learn to become accountable for my emotions and my experiences. It was a part of my taking ownership, but then it crossed over into spiritual bypassing where I wasn't actually doing the healing work. I mean, I have journals that are just filled with pages and pages of affirmations. And I was really interested in the law of attraction. I even taught workshops on it. I was really into it, and it didn't make the pain go away. It just covered it up. And when I really began to learn about spiritual bypassing and understand what toxic positivity is like... you know, as humans, we love the pendulum ride. It's like our favorite thing. We go from one extreme to the other. It's just what we do. And so it's I'm not going to take any responsibility. And then I'm going to become the center of the universe. And every vibe that I have is creating everything around me. And, and there's this denial of our humanity when we go to that place. And I was sort of in that place and it didn't feel good to deny my humanity. And coming back to this place of center has meant that I've had to undo and unravel the practices and the helpful tools that I then weaponized against myself. I had developed toxic positivity as a habit, and I was gaslighting myself every day. Shaming myself for having human emotions, human needs, human experiences. And I think it's so important that we understand that the field of positive psychology is really about that center point. And that I think a lot of people, people who have experienced what I experienced and became disenchanted by toxic positivity are just like anti positivity. They're like positive psychology. Don't even talk to me about it. They don't even understand...

Niles Comer: 43:31
They're negative about positive psychology.

Candice Schutter: 43:33
Exactly. And the bias comes from lived experience where they've been burned. It's it's very much like somebody who doesn't want to walk into a church because the church they belonged to was detrimental to their development and their experience.

Niles Comer: 43:48
It's so wonderful at this age that my epiphanies now tend to be aha moments, but in my twenties and thirties, all my epiphanies were, "oh God. Oh shit. Oops." And the aha I'm having, when you're talking is this sense of like in my brain, I'm a visual thinker. I'm seeing, an African-American woman who's she's, she's oppressed by race, gender, and sexuality cause she's coming out as, as queer. And then I'm looking at this sort of suburban, white, 30 year old woman who's, you know, going to this evangelical church. And they're both having to do the same thing. They're having to step outside of a comfort zone with forced identity. It was sugary. It was toxic. It did the work for us. It made us lazy. We're all spiritual bypassing. And now we're alone. And then what we do is we go through this process of separation and stripping everything down. We separated from that. And then we strip everything down. And then if we keep doing this work, cause it's scary, you know, because we do feel alone and there is that sense of like, it's a death, right? They're having to strip everything down, like an onion until you get to the center and there's, and then maybe there's nothing there. And then you have to rebuild who you are. And that may be again, separation from like, as a friend of mine said she had to separate from all her white friends and only hanging around with people of color because she was rebuilding her identity as a Black woman. And she loved me, you know, we were neighbors and friends. But I was, I was a barrier to that fullness. She's like, don't take it personal. I'm like, I'm not. Like I get it. I go to AA meetings. I walk into and I'll say... I come in here, you know, so I can fall apart, because I know you guys will let me fall apart. And if I need help, you'll put me back together. If not, you'll help watch me do it. I still have to do the work, but I need the space to do the work. But I have to take ownership of the process. I keep talking about that. In my world spiritually, there are no more victims and there are no more villains. Spiritually. Because I've taken ownership of that process. Before there were victims and villains. The victim was me. The villain was the pastor. The victim was you. The villian was me.

Candice Schutter: 45:58

Niles Comer: 45:58
The only way I can embrace my humanity is if I remove judgment from this picture, right? Judgment is comparison. And when there's comparison there's always a winner and a loser cause comparison to my mind is a zero sum game. I was actually asked this question last night by the Dean of the School of Public Health at East Tennessee State University. Do you remember the moment you realized you were addicted? And I said, I remember clearly. I had that experience many times, but I was walking to get alcohol to prevent dt's. I was in Vermont, walking on a road in the middle of February, icy covered dangerous road. And all of a sudden I heard this voice that was not mine. It was a voice I've never heard before with the inner conversations. And it simply said... until you embrace that you are an addict and embrace all of you, you will never find healing. And that's not really profound, but in that moment, it just, I got it. And I turned around and I went home and I prayed to God that I wouldn't die of seizures. And it took a few more fits and starts before I actually stopped. But just that moment of until you embrace all of you, you'll never become human. Right. Isn't that really what we're saying? And all this conversation we've just had until we embrace, all of us our selves... that is what humanity is.

Candice Schutter: 47:22
And that's the beauty of having conversations like this and being in active self-expression is that it's actually not... it's a misnomer. It's a, it's a paradox in and of itself because it's not actually about the self. It's about the shared humanity. The closer you get to the centermost truth, the deeper pulse as I call it, the more universal it is.

Niles Comer: 47:44

Candice Schutter: 47:44
Right? It's very much a shared experience.

Niles Comer: 47:48
I mean, I just, I'm just so humbled to... in a world where attention is currency. You create space for me to come in and talk about myself, but that's not the end, right? The end isn't for me to talk about me, the end is for me to connect with people I may never meet.

Candice Schutter: 48:05

Niles Comer: 48:05
Even if it's one person. I guess what I want to say is, is just that, that sense of like, we can come here and sit for however much time we do and tell stories that... they may not seem relevant. But then at the end, we both arrive at this sort of same place, kind of like TS Elliott's, you know, we arrive again at the beginning and know the place for the first time. I think he says in the four quartets. And so we've arrived at this place where we began, which was, tell me your story. Tell me what makes you human. Tell me what you've been through that has led you to be 54 years old sitting in this chair. And at the end of it, it's the same thing that started it, which was until I embrace all of me... the integrity of wholeness and healing isn't about perfection. We've confused healing with perfection. And wholeness is, is not about perfection. It's becoming more human. That's it.

Candice Schutter: 48:56
Right. And I feel that spaciousness happen when a human shows up the way that you do and says, hey, like I'm going to... bones out. Bones out. Here I am.

Niles Comer: 49:07
Almost literally with that door slamming on my finger.

Candice Schutter: 49:11
And you really didn't have to take the assignment quite so literally.

Niles Comer: 49:14
Half measures are half-assed.

Candice Schutter: 49:18
Well, I'm just so grateful that you agreed to do this. And I just love how you bring all of you to every conversation.

Niles Comer: 49:25
Yeah. And thank you for doing it. It's um, yeah, this, um, I'm sighing because, you know, sometimes in the presence of that which is holy and ineffable, I can't say anything. And that's kind of what this is.

Candice Schutter: 49:38
Well, because when we land at the ultimate truth that connects us. That's what we both are.

Niles Comer: 49:45

Candice Schutter: 49:46
I mean, I think that's another confusion is people think like ascension is about hierarchy and it's like... no, no, not at all. It's about depths to the place of the connection where we're all the same.

Niles Comer: 49:59
Right, right.

Candice Schutter: 50:00
Right? And that's where we, that's where we've landed. And so we feel that. You know, and maybe even felt that in just small thread exchanges in school, where we're talking about academic things, but each of us peppering in this other stuff that we have in common and there's this sense of connection even in that world.

Niles Comer: 50:19
So, so to your listeners know that all of this connection between us is all taking place mostly through email and one or two video calls, but mostly writing, right? And following each other on Facebook too.

Candice Schutter: 50:33
That's the power of doing the work and bringing your humanity forefront it's that you can have experiences where you feel connected to someone you have really very little in common with, on the surface, and yet...

Niles Comer: 50:47
Until you go deeper, right.

Candice Schutter: 50:48
Until you go deeper. Exactly. And then it's like overlap. Look at that.

Niles Comer: 50:53
I've never met you. I have open invitations to come to Arizona, which I definitely want to take you up on because I want to drive across country with Shadow. And I think she deserves to see it.

Candice Schutter: 51:03
She would love running through the red rocks.

Niles Comer: 51:05
Sedona holds a really, it's a really sacred place. Not even for the new age reasons, but just because of my, my only child... my son only lived for a short time, just a few hours, is in Arizona. I took my son's remains out to Sedona and then we did a tribal ceremony because my son's mother was part Abenaki. And so my son was part, um, Abenaki and even though the Abenaki tribes are prevalent in Quebec, in Northeastern United States and most of the east coast and Canada, still both his mother and I had dreams on separate occasions that we were supposed to go to Sedona. So, His name's Quinn Roise, which means beautiful wisdom in Gaelic.

Candice Schutter: 51:43
So next time I'm walking through the red rocks, say hi to Quinn. I look forward to when you are able to make it out and commune in that way as well. So...

Niles Comer: 51:52
Thank you for doing this with me... is very healing. Um, but thank you for creating a space for others, because I can tell you if they feel like I do. I feel so serene right now and I don't usually feel that way when I share part of my story. I usually feel really vulnerable and fragile. I feel really strong right now. And we'll just say, you know. But I do just the gift of your presence to create space for others to find their own gifted presence is a powerful thing. So keep doing what you do. Thank you. And you keep doing what you do. I know you because you can't help it. Thank you for the work that you're doing for so many and thanks for always showing up so wholeheartedly. I appreciate you. It's mutual. I appreciate you. Have a great night and give Shadow a big wet kiss from me. I will do that. Okay.

Candice Schutter: 52:50
Thank you for joining Niles and I today. I hope some piece of our shared conversation speaks to you and helps you to feel connected and inspired in some way. And just a final reminder, given the power of transparency. It's medicinal when we find a way that feels more like freedom and less like exposure. May you choose wisely and continue to move toward what moves you. I'll see you next time. Ciao.

© The Deeper Pulse, Candice Schutter