Chef & TV Host Andrew Zimmern on Dignity, Respect and Addiction Recovery

    In addition to being a chef and TV host, Andrew Zimmern is also in long-term recovery. In this episode of our Heart of the Matter podcast, he discusses how the support from family and friends changed his life, the joys of being in recovery for more than 29 years and “writing his own syllabus for life.”

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    If you’re unable to listen, check out the transcript of Andrew’s conversation with host Elizabeth Vargas below.

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    Episode transcript

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Hi everyone, welcome to Heart of the Matter. I am your host Elizabeth Vargas, and almost Happy New Year. We are almost to 2021 and in honor of almost New Year’s we have a great conversation today with Andrew Zimmern. You probably know him, he’s a television personality, a very famous chef, he’s a writer, a teacher, a social justice advocate. He’s got a great show on the Travel Channel called Bizarre Foods. There’s actually, if you look him up on the website, there’s something called Gross Foods Andrew Zimmern Actually Ate on Bizarre Foods, my kids love that. They can’t believe what he eats. But what you might not know about Andrew, is that he has been in recovery for 28 years. Andrew was actually addicted to drugs and alcohol.

    As he will tell you in just a few minutes, he really fell far down, had a real struggle getting sober. He was homeless for a year until friends found him and got him help. He actually says he lost 15 years of his life to this disease of addiction. I love talking to Andrew. He is one of the most interesting people that I’ve had the chance to get to know while doing this podcast and I think you’re going to enjoy this as much as I did.

    It’s so great to talk to you and congratulations on how many days of sobriety now? 10,000…

    Andrew Zimmern

    10,515 as of this morning when I woke up.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    That’s amazing.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It really is inspiring [crosstalk 00:01:57].

    Andrew Zimmern

    It’s a… Sometimes you get sort of distance telescope reversal syndrome or whatever we choose to dub it where you see something up close and personal of your own that you’ve not been able to see before, and I really… There was a point in my sobriety early on where I was like, “I’ve got three years.” And you just kind of strut around the room like you know everything. It’s an awful character defect of mine, that I share with a lot of other recovering people. And then you go through a phase, and you hit 20 years, and you’re like wow, that’s a big number. You never imagine that. My next anniversary I will have been sober for half the time I’ve been alive.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Wow.

    Andrew Zimmern

    A year from now when I turn 60, I’ll be in my 30… That same year I’ll have my 30th year anniversary. And that’s crazy, but I have this little… I always used to tell, I still do tell guys that I mentor in a 12 step program, and my mentor in one of my 12 step programs told me a long time ago to put some of my literature underneath my bed because it would help me get on my knees in the morning. Something that as a Jew from New York was completely antithetical from everything that I had learned growing up, but now for myself I try to make it really handy. So I have my texts, and my daily routine, even though after 10,515 days I’ve practically memorized it. When I get to a passage in my One Day at a Time book or some of those other things, or the little spiritual practices that I do, I’ve got them memorized.

    Andrew Zimmern

    I got this new book and it has a day counter in it, so every morning I sort of… And I kind of ignore it, I don’t pay attention, but two weeks ago when I hit 10,500 days I was just like, oh my gosh, that is a… That’s just a huge number. That’s a lot of one day at a times.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Did you ever dream that you would acquire 29 years of sobriety?

    Andrew Zimmern

    No, I wanted to die [crosstalk 00:04:13].

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah.

    Andrew Zimmern

    I wanted to die. I didn’t want to be of this place and be with you people. I was ashamed. I was a loser. I was unaware of the trauma I had endured and trauma not transformed is transmitted, so I was shoving my trauma off. I mean, I was shedding trauma virus… I was going to make a bad COVID-19 joke there, but really I was just… I was toxic in every sense of the word. People couldn’t be around me. My parents thought I was dead, had given up on me. My friends didn’t want to be around me or help me. They’d been burned too many times. It was exhausting and abusive to know me or talk to me.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You started drinking and using drugs when you were 14 years old.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yep.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And you used-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Technically, 13 and change, but yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    13 and change. And you didn’t get sober until you were 30?

    Andrew Zimmern

    Correct.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You once said, “I lost 15 years of my life to this disease.”

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And yet, you also say during a large part of that time you were so highly functional that you deluded yourself into thinking this was manageable.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Even what so many people I know in recovery, I myself in recovery, I normalized things that I now look back and think, oh my God, how could I possibly think that this was an okay way to live?

    Andrew Zimmern

    As a fellow traveler, you understand that several things can be true at the same time even though to other people it would appear that they are mutually exclusive. I did lose those years. I don’t remember the 80s. It’s a lost decade to me. I mean, truly there are parts of those years that I just don’t have a lot of recollection of. I was almost in perpetual blackout for a very large portion of those years. Yet at the same time, I had the talent and the ability to go in and work in an industry that is patriarchal, sexist, abusive, and… The restaurant industry during the 80s is what I’m describing and also all my relationships.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    All right.

    Andrew Zimmern

    I mean, I was no good at them then. But the fact of the matter was, is that I could put out 200 egg orders at brunch. I could handle 150 orders of risotto in an ADC Italian restaurant, two star Michelin. So when you have that skill set, chefs, owners, et cetera, and by the way then when I became a chef and a restaurant owner I had to remind myself you can’t overlook it, you can’t overlook it, you can’t overlook it. But when I was the worker, I knew that I had a skill set that was at such a high level, and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back it’s just the reality [crosstalk 00:07:22].

    Elizabeth Vargas

    [crosstalk 00:07:22] yourself. You’re very good at what you do.

    Andrew Zimmern

    The reality is that I knew they wouldn’t fire me. They couldn’t, literally couldn’t do it without me and eventually, when I started to partner in restaurants with other people in New York, and started to rise up in the game, I created deals for myself that kind of insulated me from a contractual standpoint from a lot of my problems. And I became the one who was in charge of balancing out all the registers and things. No one wanted them, or the partners in some of the restaurants that I was involved in towards the end of my career, before I became unemployable, un-partnerable, non-functional, I volunteered to do the stuff late at night that no one else wanted to do because I knew with the old NCR2160 cash machines, and my manager’s code, and my little key that I could play games with the register and be pocketing $100.00, $150.00 cash from each one and making a tidy little sum to support my drug habit.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    So you made yourself indispensable and your raw, natural talent made you unfireable because they needed you.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Well, yeah, which by the way is fairly common when you talk to a lot of people in our… who are long time sober. And you really get a chance to dig into the nuts and bolts of some of this, the contrast is… It’s almost Shakespearean, in a way. And I really don’t mean to overdramatize the sort of really tawdry elements of my life, at it’s very core I was a user of people and a taker of things. I was not a good person. You did not want to be around me. Like I said, I was toxic, but at the same time the Shakespearean aspect of the storytelling it’s unbelievable. I’d work eight, nine days in a row, fleece the cash register, go to an after hours club, and literally, my lips to God’s ears, wake up three days later in the Bahamas. And then I’d have to call work and say I’m going to get a plane, and off I would…

    Andrew Zimmern

    And then I’d return and in the addiction episode of What’s Eating America, my old boss and then partner Steve Hanson who owned the B.R. Guest company before he sold it, the business that we sort of started together, said to me, or said to our camera in their producer interview, “I thought about firing,” I’m paraphrasing here, “I thought about firing him all the time, but how was I going to replace him?” And that’s the quandary you put people in. As an addict and alcoholic, you learn to push those levers. Your survival skills are so honed, which is why I love to describe myself as a user of people and a taker of things.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I was struck by, you not so long ago posted a picture of yourself on Instagram, and said quote, “Throwback Thursday, 1982 or so, deranged, drunk, and drugged. I was a dangerous mess and still took almost a decade to sober up. The smile on the outside is a mask. The pain on the inside was unimaginable.” I can relate to that. I think a lot of people who suffer from the disease of addiction can relate to that. It looks so great, so bright and shiny on the outside and what’s going on in the inside is so terrible.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yeah. Sorry. It’s really hard. I’m glad I wrote that, but it’s also… I’ve had that thrown back at me more than once since I posted it and it’s impossible to be reminded of those words and not think of all the people that just shoot up an extra bag knowing they’re never going to wake up, the people who just the pain of whatever there ism is was so unbearable that they make the decision to exit our living world. And over the years, staying here in Minnesota where I sobered up, it’s still a weekly reminder from somebody, “Hey, you remember Tom T from Thursday Nights?” “Yeah.” “He relapsed and killed himself,” or “Got drunk and drove down an up ramp on the highway,” or some very public faces who were close friends of mine who’ve we lost over the last couple of years.

    Andrew Zimmern

    It’s brutal because you said you could relate to them as well, and I think that everyone, as you intimated, who has been there can relate to it and I think the secret to sobriety, if it didn’t get me choked up I’d want someone to take me to at meeting, or check me back into rehab, or to get something there because if you don’t keep it green for yourself, if you don’t keep those thoughts and feelings fresh enough… I think the longer you stay sober the less of a chance you have of staying sober and being an effective member of society. I think keeping it green is a way of maintaining our humility, it’s a way of maintaining our sense of urgency around our spiritual condition. I think it is a constant source of the desire and need for spiritual growth.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You mentioned a moment ago that you were struck after we talked about that post of yours by how many people don’t get it, who do suffer the worst consequences, and I can’t help but think about your good friend Anthony Bourdain.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Uh-huh (affirmative).

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Who I profiled and interviewed several times and looked again, like a person from the outside looking in-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Sure.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … who had it all and was clearly struggling. And it’s just another example of you never know looking at somebody’s outsides what might be going on inside.

    Andrew Zimmern

    With something as severe as the amount of pain that for those people where the only way out is to permanently erase the chance of any of that pain happening, that is, I believe, at such an extreme level. And I’m not a doctor, plenty of books have been written about this, I read a couple of clinical books on suicide after I lost one of my good friends, actually one of the guys who got me sober, overdosed 20 something years ago, 18 years ago, and I needed to understand what was going on because I knew, as did all his other friends, he was too much of a good drug addict. He didn’t just buy some good stuff and put it… He knew what he was doing. So I’ve read a lot about this, the pain has to be so unimaginable that I also believe that those people in some cases are really good at masking it.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Robin Williams felt a desperate need to tell everyone that he was so depressed all the time that he often thought of taking his own life. He said it interviews and stuff, and then there are… We lose people like Heath Ledger and afterwards everyone is like, “Oh yeah, he was doing a lot of drugs. We were all worried about him.”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Philip Seymour Hoffman.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, same thing. The people around him all say, “We knew.” With all the people around Tony there was a much different feeling. He was exquisitely talented at masking those things. I think the people closest to him knew that there were one or two areas of his life that just were causing him too much angst. And did I think that, that would be something that would create that sort of vibe for him? Absolutely not. Otherwise, I would have thrown myself in front of that train. I mean, it sort of defies description. It is a piece of our humanity that is, as often as doctors and people try to explain it, is inexplicable.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You were working, you had a lot of success professionally in your 20s. Did you lose it all? I mean, I know that year when you-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … talk about sleeping on a pile of dirty clothes with-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … in a ring of Comet, which I did not know apparently keeps away, as you put it, roaches and rats. You weren’t working in a restaurant at that point?

    Andrew Zimmern

    No, I was fully unfunctional.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Right.

    Andrew Zimmern

    And beyond humiliated and just waiting to die.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    I was struck by something you actually had written once or that you had said that, “I couldn’t even count how many times somebody threw a life preserver too me and I threw it back up on the boat.” Like you were just-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Because I didn’t like the color orange.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … Yeah, because you didn’t want help.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yeah. But it is… You enter that place that we talked about the beginning of the I don’t care, you know? You get a case of the fuck its and I mean, that includes your own life. You don’t care.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    So what changed? What happened?

    Andrew Zimmern

    A miracle. I had stolen a bunch of stuff, hocked it, found myself a flop house hotel, got two cases of Popov vodka that had just come out in plastic bottles, which I will never forget because one day I was buying the booze and it was in glass bottles and then the next day when I went to drink myself to death, I went and got two cases and I kind of crouched down low to use my legs… I mean, the irony of this. I’m going to drink myself to death and I remember this moment, and I remember like oh, don’t hurt your back, so lift with your legs, and I went to grab the cases and they were super light and I was like, oh my God. I looked at the guy like are you cheating me? Is there only half the bottles in there? And he looks at me, he goes, “Brand new. Plastic bottles.” And I’m like, “Cool.”

    Andrew Zimmern

    I go upstairs to the hotel room, I’ve yanked the phone cord out of the wall, I mean, there were no services in this type of hotel it’s 10 bucks a night, and I locked my door, and I just drank around the clock. I was there, I know for sure I was there for four days. I know I wasn’t there more than six. So day four or five I wake up, well, come to, because I certainly wasn’t sleeping I was only passing out, and literally for the first time in my life that ACE bandage that just got wrapped so tight around my chest when I was a kid, for the first time in my life, literally the first time in my life was not there. It was the first time since I was 15, first time in 15 years that I didn’t reach for a joint, a drink, a line, a bump, or a pill.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    What was gone? Anxiety? [crosstalk 00:19:30] Depression? What?

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yeah, that ACE bandage of worry, that cloud that followed me wherever I went, that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t handle a situation, that I couldn’t be me, all of that negative message making that I had fed myself for years fostered by the trauma of my childhood. It wasn’t there. It was not there. And I was… To this day, I now call it a spiritual experience because I know that’s what it was and I’m happy to defend that with all comers. It was… I remember being eight and having that feeling before going to school and I know it predated that, and I had always felt that way. And I believe it dated back to my parents divorce when I was five and it sort of never stopped and because those issues were never addressed in my family, my dad was a decorated Navy vet, we’re recording this on Veteran’s Day so I always think of him, served-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    My dad’s a vet too. I’m an Army brat. [crosstalk 00:20:44].

    Andrew Zimmern

    … served in the Pacific for three years in World War II and he was that generation where it’s like tragedy happens, we don’t talk… Well, we’ll talk about it this once, we’ll acknowledge it together maybe one more time, and then we’re never going to speak about it. We’re going to stuff that son of a bitch so far down, and put our chin up, and our shoulders back, and we are going to storm that beach. That’s the way my dad approached all of life. He was my hero, but I also didn’t realize how defective that was, how traumatic that was to a 13 year old.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Or that his desire to run his life his way because he was a his life his way guy maybe wasn’t in my best interest when tragedy struck my mother, and he let me live for several years as the ultimate latchkey kids in my mother’s old apartment. Supervised by strangers but not by my parents. And so I was… I had that tension, I had those things in my life before I picked up the drink or the drug. The drink or the drug was my solution to not feeling those things anymore, eventually it stopped working for me. Tragic things happen for 10, 12, 14 years, I kept going down, down, down, down, down, eventually wanted to kill myself. So the fact that I woke up one morning and actually not only didn’t feel that ACE bandage of tension in my chest, it was the first morning ever, other than waking up in a jail or institution, by the way able to get high later on because you can get high inside anywhere, but you can’t just reach for it. It’s not necessarily right there. Other than that, I would always reach for it, always.

    Andrew Zimmern

    It was right by my bed. It was my [wubby 00:22:36], it was my blankie. And instead of reaching for it because there were bottles there, I plugged the phone in, and called my friend, and told him where I was, and asked him if he would come get me. Now, what’s unusual about that is that I think it was like… The last time I had asked someone for help, and by the way I was 29 years old when I called my friend Clark, I think it was eighth or ninth grade was the last time I asked anybody for help like with my homework or something. I mean, I think that was it. I mean, I literally was the biggest know it all. I was so… I wish you could have seen what a crappy human being I was when I was young and using, just unredeemable, ridiculous version of the person I am now.

    Andrew Zimmern

    And so the fact that I did this, to me, crazy thing to connect to another human being and ask for help was the other half of that miracle that happened that day. It set a string of events in motion that three days later I wound up on the medical unit, Ignatia, at what is now Hazelden Betty Ford and began my journey in recovery, and that was January 28, 1992.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You said in one interview that, “The most caring and compassionate thing that you can do for another human being is sprinkle them with dignity and respect and show them that you love them. That’s what human beings need to get well.” At a time when so many people right now often shame people with addiction issues, punish them, judge them, denigrate them, in that one moment in your life somebody showed you love, and dignity, and respect. And it’s so counterintuitive and yet, so absolutely true that the one thing that helps people get sober and clean the most is treating them with love and respect and not shame.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes. I will say, the first and most important example of it, I can look back at my story and see where other people did it and I know that several of the people at what was my last intervention, wasn’t my first, but it was the last, I know that some of those people were in a program. I know that some of them were in 12 step programs. I know that they were aware of the service component to the recovery model. But I remember getting out of treatment and the night that I was sleeping on someone’s couch and about to get into the halfway house the next day, I had that one free night. My friends from New York, who went to Dalton with me, who also were living in the Twin Cities, I think we calculated once that 10% of the three classes, my class and the one above and below it, 10% of the students had all gone through Hazelden within a couple years of each other. I mean, it’s kind of a staggering-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Wow.

    Andrew Zimmern

    … testament to what 1970s high school drug use was like. The friends of mine took me to a meeting. It was my first meeting in the Twin Cities because I had been up in Center City at treatment, and then I was about to check into the halfway house. And it had snowed, it was late February or early March, must have been actually early March because I was in treatment for five weeks, so it’s the first week in March, there’s snow on the ground. And I go to this meeting, and it’s in a house on this avenue, and there’s like a 50 foot walkway to the steps going up to the house, and their snow plows had plowed this path all winter long, so there was like five feet of snow on either side, and there’s this lady in the middle of the path.

    Andrew Zimmern

    And she just looked stunning, she was in her late 50s, she had a tweed skirt suit on, stockings, and sensible shoes, and a little sort of fox throw around her shoulders, and a matching hat, and she smelled good, and she looked good, and she just screamed stability, and love, and she just… So six weeks from being homeless I like tried to walk through the snow around her to get back on the path because I didn’t know why she was standing there, and I was too embarrassed to ask her what she was doing there. And it occurred to me as I’m kind of walking around her, oh my God, she’s the greeter. I wasn’t totally unaware of how meetings worked and I was like oh shit, she’s the greeter. And she put an arm out and kind of pulled me over, I hadn’t said anything, and just gave me a hug and said, “Nice to have you here, ” and then went to the next person and I kept walking and I just burst into tears.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Wow.

    Andrew Zimmern

    No one had said… No one had greeted me and told me that they wanted me there for, I mean, I couldn’t remember the last time.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    A long time.

    Andrew Zimmern

    I didn’t want to be around myself and so to have someone say that was the thing that kind of got me into this. It was the component to what you were talking about that convinced me that this service model, this care for other people, this idea of dignity and respect sprinkled on a human being, that was the first time that I became aware of it in real time. And many years later, well, not many, six years later I went to my mentor in my 12 step group and I told him that my insides weren’t matching my outsides anymore. And he said, “What do you mean by that?” And I said, “I go to work, it’s all about the money, it’s all about the job. I’m in a windowless room with 14 other people. I’m screaming and yelling at them. I’m not treating them like the newcomer at the meeting. I’m treating them like a commodity. I don’t like the person I am at work. I like the person I am when I’m not at work.”

    Andrew Zimmern

    And my sponsor had been working with me for a long time on trying to treat people at work like I do the newcomer at a meeting and it just wasn’t working for me. And I said, “I realized what’s not working is I need to leave restaurant,” and I had done nothing but work in restaurants since I was 14. It was all around being in a place where I could learn. It wasn’t about those people, I just didn’t have the skillset to treat other people with dignity and respect. I returned to the restaurant business and to other businesses once I learned how, but when I left restaurants and I started getting into media and stuff like that, and I slowed my life down, and I was able to be… As a chef in a restaurant, I was the one who knew the most in the building, when I took the internship at the TV station to try to get on air and get some practice, I didn’t know how to edit tape.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah.

    Andrew Zimmern

    I didn’t know what tape was. I didn’t know how to do any of it. I was the beginner. And it turned out, I didn’t intend it that way, but it turned out that the best beneficial part of writing my own syllabus for life, and training, and moving forward in the things that I wanted to do was that I got to be a newcomer at something again.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You were lucky enough to go to Betty Ford Hazelden.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And to live in a halfway house where you got a job washing dishes in a restaurant, and once again starting from scratch, from zero, built your empire right back up.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You’ve talked a lot about the importance of treatment begin affordable and available to everybody, because it isn’t in this country even with the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Well, it’s-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … consistently and almost chronically refuse to pay.

    Andrew Zimmern

    … And it’s worse because we actually take people whose primary issue is addiction and alcoholism and we throw them in jails for petty crimes, and so they’re not going to get their problems solved there. If they were a real criminal, the issue of course would be they needed whatever reformative measures were taken within walls, that’s a whole different issue because actually we don’t do anything within those walls to help those people. It is vital that we have diversion programs to help our criminal justice reform. We would take 25%, 30% of the people out of that system and get them the help they actually needed. That would lighten up the load on anyone working in criminal justice. Right?

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Andrew Zimmern

    If they didn’t have as much stuff to prosecute, people to bust, put into prisons, taking up cots, all the rest of that. And then of course, for those that need it and need to be separated from their chemical, some people can just get dry and then move on to whatever treatment modality they want, other people need to be systematically put into a place where they can get the therapy they desperately need and get sprinkled with that dignity, and love, and respect that we’re talking about, and that is a very crucial thing. I think when I went to Hazelden, it was 30 grand, 28 grand, something like that. Insurance paid for half of it, my friends paid for the other half. I ended up paying that back the first year I was sober by working. There is public treatment that is available in many states, some better than others. I’ve seen really good programs, public programs in Minnesota, in North Dakota, and a bunch of other states. It’s just very hard to access and in a lot of states that system is overwhelmed.

    Andrew Zimmern

    So yeah, we have a big problem in this country and it’s part of the mental health parity laws that the late congressman Jim Ramstad, who just passed away last week, and Paul Wellstone, they’re the ones that politicized me. They knew someone who was civically engaged and could be persuaded to door knock and talk to people about the importance of mental health parity laws, but if you get a broken bone you go to the hospital, they set it, no doctor says, “Well, I don’t know how you’re going to pay for it, so you can’t get treatment for your leg.” So why is it that people who can’t afford treatment can’t get money if their problem is alcoholism-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Or even with something more analogous, look at diabetes.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Another chronic disease.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    We don’t… Doctors don’t say-

    Andrew Zimmern

    It costs us a trillion dollars a year, by the way.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … Exactly. And yet, insurance companies don’t say, “No, I don’t know. We’re only paying for two weeks of treatment, not four weeks. And we think that an outpatient program might be just as good as an inpatient program.” I mean, it’s insane how much-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yeah, it’s criminal.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … how many people when they do finally get that moment that you had when you woke up that morning without the ACE bandage of anxiety gripping you, and you reached out for help, and got it. There are many people who get to that point and reach out for help and still can’t get it.

    Andrew Zimmern

    And there are many people, by the way, who do get into treatment and halfway house because I knew them, they carried the message to me, who went out and got drunk and died. So just because you get into treatment isn’t a… I mean, that’s the best we got for sure, it’s still not perfect, but it is the best we got. And I mention that because so many people use those numbers against us instead of for us. Nobody would say that we shouldn’t treat somebody with cancer just because the odds are they’re not going to make it, so what do we do just put them in the leprosy colony where you just-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Or if your cancer comes back, [crosstalk 00:34:50] “Oh, it came back? Now, we’re done. We’re not going to treat you.”

    Andrew Zimmern

    It’s ridiculous.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    But why do you think, and sticking just with the issue of addiction, why do you think that we as a society are so willing to not treat, to not help, to-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Selfishness.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … But it costs us.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It costs us hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Actually, trillions. We’ve done the math. I’ve had a team of researchers on this for episodes of What’s Eating America that we didn’t get to make and hopefully we’ll be making soon, but we do it because we don’t always act in our best interest and we have a selfishness that’s been bred into our convenience, me first society that is very, very dangerous. I don’t want to turn the clock back to the days of the horse and buggy. People were worse off back then. I mean, we romanticize the good old days. The good old days were not so great. We’ve made progress as a society and moved forward in leaps and bounds. We’ve even done, despite all of our mistakes, have elevated the poverty line globally, right? So we know that to a certain degree things are getting better, but the problem that you’re talking about is that we’re not… It’s like dribbling all the way down the court and then blowing the layup. It’s the easy part now, to your point, we know the solution, we know what it costs, we know that if we spend that money we’ll save way more-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    We’re going to save.

    Andrew Zimmern

    … way more. So why won’t we do it? And the issue is selfishness and an amount of risk taking that we do not see on the political landscape. It’s why different groups that I’m involved in now, I really only care to be involved with them if they’re actually… if the goal is to change policy and law, because without policy… It’s what’s attracted me to the mental health parity law issues in the 90s. If we don’t actually give the laws teeth, it’s why… I mean, I like to think of myself as civically engaged, people who don’t like what I say call me another one of those celebrities that talks politics. I don’t like that label. I still think of myself as civically engaged. But to me, it is an obvious solution and the obvious reason that we don’t is selfishness and self-centeredness. You can trace it back to that every single time.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Do you think part of the problem might also be what you refer to in your own story as that period of time when people did throw you life preservers and you were throwing them back on the boat?

    Andrew Zimmern

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    There is a component of… It’s what leads to all the stigmatizing of addicts, I think. What leads to a lot of the shaming of the addict or the alcoholic, I think, because there are times in our lives, I include myself in that as an alcoholic, when our behavior… when we push people away.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Of course.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And so then should we be-

    Andrew Zimmern

    Well, we’re criminals. We deserved to be shunned at that point. I’m stealing purses, that’s not right, but I will say that I think a lot of it comes from other people’s unresolved trauma. We do a really crafty… Every time somebody uses the word shame I hear the word trauma because I know from a lot of work in this area, and a lot of things that… just a lot of stuff I’m involved in, trauma not transformed is transmitted. Right? So we have years, generational trauma that’s been handed down to people that causes them to act in a certain way. It’s why when I say we need to treat everyone with patience, love, and understanding, I do mean everyone, even the person who’s on the exact opposite side of the issues of me. We have to figure out a way to connect with those people because they have been suffering from generational trauma too so therefore, they reach out and stigmatize, and practice selfishness, and practice their own ism, whatever that may be. You know?

    Andrew Zimmern

    Look, I’m not popular in my industry. I don’t get a lot of commercial endorsements because I’m very vocal. That stuff goes to the people that are neutral, and sit on the sidelines, and don’t pick a side. I want to fucking pick a side. I’m on the side of picking sides and then I want to fight like hell for there to be no sides.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Andrew Zimmern, thank you so much for talking about your fight, and your passion about the disease of addiction, and so many other things in our country. It’s been wonderful talking to you today.

    Andrew Zimmern

    Likewise.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Thank you so much for listening to our talk today with Andrew Zimmern. You can find this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and on our website at drugfree.org/podcasts. And as a reminder, if you need help with a loved one who’s struggling with substance use you can text 55-753 or visit drugfree.org. We’ll talk to you soon.

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    Published

    May 2021