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Episode 5: Kevin

I was one of those cases you could have put me in front of God himself if you could have put me in front of the best psychologist in the world until I was ready to change and to take responsibility for my own life. Nobody was really going to be able to help me

Andrea: Welcome to Getting Thru - I’m Andrea Sonnenberg. Today I am speaking with Kevin. 

He is a life coach and public speaker. I often ask people what advice they have for others towards the end of the conversation, but Kevin naturally turns his personal experience into lessons for others. 

And it might be easy to write him off because of this. He is so positive and so interested in motivating others. It feels like I spoke with peak Kevin. But the thing is, he wasn’t always this way - his outlook is hard won. He spends a lot of time trying to live according to his values, drawing inspiration from his Jewish roots, Jewish teachings and texts. But although Kevin did have a Bar Mitzvah, his upbringing was not religious. 


Kevin: we were what I what is commonly referred to as as twice a year Jews, you know, we we went twice a year, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur.


Andrea: As a young child Kevin was bullied because of his weight. 

Kevin: I was never a skinny kid. all the other kids could run like a six, seven, eight minute mile. And I was running a 14 minute mile, stuff like that. So they bullied me a lot. And, you know, I wasn't that age where I could process that emotionally. 

Now, actually, in high school, I got into good shape and I was a very successful football player 

You know, I was I was cool. I had fun. I was really happy. I played sports and I was very excited to start my freshman year at USC. When I turned 19, I turned 19. The summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. And in my first month at USC, I became very, very ill

Andrea: Kevin was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which is similar to Crons disease - The condition made digesting food difficult - and triggered an eating disorder. 

Kevin: And I went from being a bright eyed college freshman who went to a great private school, grew up in a great house, being happy, healthy, having everything I need to, being hospitalized month after month. I'm in a new place. I can't make friends. Girls don't want to talk to me. I'm dropping weight. I look like a ghost. And by the end of my first semester of college, I was weighing about one hundred and thirty pounds. By the end of my freshman year of college, I was weighing 110 and I'm usually about one eighty five. 

Andrea: Oh my goodness. Can you tell us what it was like to struggle with an eating disorder or give me an example of a situation that was really difficult? 

Kevin: Yeah, 

Ok. So I would eat twice a day once in the morning, and my breakfast was five to six chunks of pineapple, depending on the size of the chunk. And I was so controlling and so deep in my disorder that I would. Measure the diameter of the pineapple, because if it was more than a few centimeters larger than an inch or whatever, then that's extra sugar and extra calories. 

So I calculated that if I eat five or six chunks of pineapple, it'll be enough sugar and enough carbohydrates to get me to six p.m., which is when I would eat 12 almonds and one green apple. Once a week. I ate chicken kebab from a Persian restaurant, which is like one of my favorite things, but that was it. It was chicken, no rice, no vegetables, no oil, no butter, no nothing. And that was like my treat. And the waiters always looked at me like a freak, you know, like, what's this? What's this kid doing? And he looks like any any minute now, if I flick him, he's going to break. 

And and I mean, when I when I talk about this, Andrea, and I think about this, I just. It's it's hard for me. And I get emotional talking about this not because I'm like, oh, I'm such a victim and woe is me and whatever, but because how could I put myself through that? Why I didn't I didn't deserve to do that to myself. 

Andrea: Kevin was also suffering from depression and anxiety in addition to his eating disorder

Kevin: and yeah, now you've got a physical ailment and an emotional disease combined. And it took me a really long time to come out of that for for two or three years that was sort of the way my life was going and I was rufusing to admit there was a problem, wasn’t talking my medications, wasnt seeking help and yeah that’s really where the journey began. 

Andrea: What makes yes, that makes sense. And I think that people that have experienced the kind of things that you've experienced can definitely use their experiences to help others. And in that regard, let's talk about what it was like. To feel the depression that you felt and, 


Kevin: oh, you want to go there, OK, this is the time when everybody turns off their everyone's like, I don't feel like listening to this anymore.


Andrea: No, I want to I want to hear about that. What did it feel like in your body and how did it affect you and how did it affect others around you? 


Kevin: How does it feel in your body. I’m sure its also different for everyone. For me, the way that it felt. Then I get emotional thinking about this, so excuse me, but the way that it felt for me was that everything I was doing, whether that was going to class or going to a doctor's appointment or listening to music or whatever. Was. Just an escape. It was like I was constantly being chased by the worst possible thing and the only reason I would listen to music or sit at a coffee with a friend or go to a class was it was like. It was like I was running through a snow storm from a bear that I knew was going to catch me know, and I'm trudging my legs through the snow. It it it feels it felt like you wake up on a Saturday morning and you remember that the night before every single member of your family was killed in a tragic car accident, God forbid. That's how I felt. And with that information. I'm putting on my shoes and I'm going downstairs to walk to class. And I'm dying trying to get myself to class because I'm thinking if I can just distract myself from this pain for an hour, then maybe it will be easier.

 And it feels like that every day. [00:34:30][113.6]


Andrea: That's a very, very illustrative description. [00:34:36][4.4]

Kevin: That's how it feels. It's just like the heaviest weight you can you can ever imagine.

Andrea:  Kevin continued like this for months -- alone.

Kevin: One time in May of 2012, I went to Palm Springs with my sister. She had been trying for. Nine months, 10 months to help me, to make me realize there was a problem and I just brushed off and I just denied it and I just wasn't ready. We went on this brother sister trip to Palm Springs and we went to Ruth's Chris Steak house and I ate a steak by itself. And I hadn't eaten the whole day, I hadn't eaten the whole weekend so that I could just eat this one steak with nothing on it, you know. And we were sitting on the grass outside of Ruth's Chris when we finished dinner. She just asked me, so what's up? How are you doing? And I just broke down. I [00:49:22][50.9]

Kevin: So that day I broke down and I confided in my sister and she was strong and she said, well, it's OK, we'll get you help, whatever you need. 

Andrea: But afterwards, Kevin fell back into old habits. 

The following year, which was my sophomore year of college, I went to the beach with my friend Harrison and he actually just started talking about himself. He didn't ask me, what do you need? And I didn't have to tell him, Hey, Harrison, I need help. He just started telling me about the struggle that he went through and then said, if you ever feel like you're dealing with something similar, you might want to see this lady. 

Harrison gave Kevin the phone number of a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Once he began working with her, Kevin was able to gradually change his relationship with food.  


Andrea: Do you think that you have a healthy relationship with food now? [00:51:43][2.5]

Kevin: Yes, thank God. 

There is a theory in the addiction community that you're an alcoholic forever or you're an anorexic forever. And look. However, a person is going to thriveif that helps them, then more power to them. But that paradigm did not work for me. I needed to get over this and get past it. 

Andrea: Kevin now follows a model called Intuitive Eating, which means you pay close attention to what your body is telling you it wants. It’s a modality that emphasises feeling good and being healthy over rigidity. 

Kevin:  But yeah, I mean, I'm really happy with what I eat and really happy with my body. And I don't I don't worry about that anymore and took me a long time. But I just want people to know that it is possible, it is possible to get over disordered eating. It's possible not to be depressed. It's possible to overcome anxiety. You know, there are certain pains that will never go away, certain experiences that will traumatize us to some degree forever. But, you know, other things are totally within our control to turn around. [00:54:09]

Andrea: So how do you advise your clients and your life coach? We'll talk about that a little bit in a moment. How do you advise your clients? To find that deep within them, that desire to want to change, you know, that's the hardest thing and to know how to get to that point that you're ready for help.

Kevin: How do you cultivate in someone the desire to change? The answer is you don’t. I was one of those cases you could have put me in front of God himself if you could have put me in front of the best psychologist in the world until I was ready to change and to take responsibility for my own life. Nobody was really going to be able to help me. Its not possible

If you are looking for a feeling, if you are hoping that after you've been partying on the weekend, getting drunk, sleeping around, being hungover, you're going to wake up Monday morning feeling motivated to turn things around, you will be waiting so long that you might die of old age. Because. Action precedes feeling. So that feeling, this nebulous, ephemeral. I'm looking for motivation. I'm looking for the desire. I'm looking for somebody to inculcate in me an inspiration to change. Look, if it comes in you somehow then then great Godspeed. But in my experience, you develop that feeling when you take action, when you're afraid to change your life and you do it anyway. Right. When you pick up the phone call and you say, look, I really don't want to be here, but I'm showing up, I don't even know what the first step is. And I really don't even feel like doing this because I'm at the what I like to call the fucking point. Excuse my language. The exit point is the point where you say, I've tried so many things and nothing's changing. So what's the point? Right. I'm at the exit point, so I really don't want to do this, but I'm doing it anyway. I'm making some positive change anyway. The more you do that, the more you just take the action, whatever that action is,

 the more you start to develop that feeling of desire. Because ultimately, what makes us happy is progress is seeing that we are progressing towards something and that we're taking little steps every day. Right. But especially for a person who's depressed or anxious or a failure to launch or just having a difficult time in their life, that, you know, that that feeling of motivation is very, very hard to come by. [00:16:49][118.3]

Andrea: Sometimes it's just sometimes you're in such a bad place that it's really hard to get to that spot or you can even say yes [00:17:12][9.3]

Kevin: Of course and I was in that place. Until you have the willingness to at least take the action, there is no way to externally motivate a person to do that.

Andrea: Kevin is in line with the latest research. If someone takes action, even before they really want to, change will often follow, particularly when they are in a bad place. Something like going to your favorite park for a walk even if you feel like staying in bed. This can ultimately help a person feel better. 

The most hopeful part of this approach is that you don’t have to wait for your feelings to change to actually make a change. 

 Maybe they have to hit a rock bottom. Maybe they have to be inspired by someone else's story. Maybe they finally find someone who believes in them. And that is something I try to do. I try to believe in my clients when they feel that they don't have anyone else or no one else gets it. And i think’s incredibly important.  that you need to find that somewhere.. Be it through a family member or a therapist of a psychiatrist. You need to feel like someone believes in you. You cannot do this alone.


Kevin: I’m so glad you said that. I mean, if if you were drowning in the ocean and I threw you a life jacket, would you throw it behind your head and say, I'm going to do this one on my own? Right. When when when you get chickenpox or the flu or covid or whatever, you go to the doctor you can’t get through these things alone. I mean, especially when it comes to our emotions and our relationships in our families, you know, we're not super we're not super people. I mean, we are we all have individual superpowers, but we're not superhuman. [00:20:04][13.0]

Andrea: And realizing that he could not help himself on his own was powerful for Kevin. In addition to working on his diet, he sought treatment for his depression and anxiety. He was prescribed medication. 

Kevin: I was on them then I was off them, then I was on them. So just sort of depended on what I needed at the time and spoke with my psychiatrist. And those medications. They do not make the problems go away. And let me say this louder for the people in the back, OK? Like the only thing that is going to make your problems go away is you changing your lifestyle, changing the way you are living, changing your decisions, changing the people you date, changing what you put into your body, changing your internal dialog, etc. That's the only thing. working through your trauma. 

Andrea: Of course, for some people medication is critical. For others it’s just a piece of the puzzle.

Kevin:  [01:00:46] And look, I'll tell you, Andrea, it's not easy for me as a twenty nine year old Persian Jewish man from L.A. to come on here and talk about the antidepressants that I've been on for. You know, not that I deserve a medal or whatever, but it's not easy to to be vulnerable like that about something that's so taboo. You know, I want people to look at people who are medicated and say that's someone who's trying to make something better of their lives rather than that some someone who's there's something wrong with them. [01:01:52][12.8]

Andrea: So after college, Kevin changed his lifestyle. But it still took him years to figure out that he wanted to be a life coach.


Kevin: I worked in restaurants. I worked for the government. I was a personal trainer. I got a nutritionist certification. I was a professional drummer. All of these things because I was afraid of doing what I really wanted to do which was this.[00:30:09][15.8]


Andrea: Kevin had been posting short videos of himself online, giving advice. Once he realized that helping others didn’t mean that he himself had to be perfect, he decided to follow his true passion. And this decision provided him with personal motivation

 Kevin: I made the commitment. I said I'm going to get my stuff together. And I'm really going to work on the areas of my life where I've had the most pain so that then I can be an example for other people in my small way, [00:31:09][17.3]


Andrea: So you’re a life coach and we've heard a lot about life coaches lately. What's the difference between a life coach and a therapist? And tell me what that means. Like, what do you do in your line of work as a life coach? [00:20:32][14.8]

Kevin: That's a great question. First of all, I want to say that the term life coach, I don't know who invented it, but it's sort of pretentious. You know, I'm no authority on all of life. I work on four specific areas. There are four areas that are very important in our lives. But, you know, I'm nobody's guru. And my job is not to tell you what to do with your life.

 However, my job is first and foremost to help a person figure out in their own heart what they think is right and then actively push them and encourage them to achieve that. Now therapists are trained not to do that. They're trained not to give you advice. Right. For the most part, they're trained to listen, help you become self aware, help you figure out what you want in your own heart. Right. But usually that's sort of the extent of it. And you have very limited communication with your therapist, which is not a knock on therapists. By the way, my sister's a therapist and I work with a therapist sometimes myself. But what I do is, is I come in at the next step, which is, OK, we have a good understanding of your problems now. How do we fix them? How do we find solutions? Right. How do we actually take these issues and turn them around? [00:22:13][41.5]

Andrea: Kevin works with people, checking in with them, holding them accountable. He helps them break habits, and set goals all with the hope that they will eventually not have to rely on him. He even accepts payment on a sliding scale to ensure access. 

Narration: Kevin was searching for people he had something in common with, and he came to the realization that it is important to participate in organizations that connect people. 



Kevin: It wasn't until I was twenty five or twenty six that I, of my own volition, decided to invest myself in Judaism and begin learning. [00:08:43]

So I reached out to my aunt who works on a board of the Jewish Federation, and she introduced me to someone who does the young professional programing. And that person started to invite me to events. It was also sort of a snowball. It was wow, there's this great community. 

But then it was, wow, I really want to learn about this religion. And these teachings are like the ultimate guide to living a good life and being a good person. So I kind of felt like I was passing up on. A gold mine of information that could help me have a successful life. [01:39:33][41.3]

[00:09:14] And, you know, when I when I look back on my story. I realize that at the time I was going through. These horrible things, it's no accident that I was practically an atheist and I had no Judaism and I had no spiritual connection and I had no sense of a higher power. And so becoming more involved in the Jewish community and cultivating my conscious connection with God or with a higher power 

is one of the things that gave me the strength and the clarity of mind to transform my situation. [00:10:04]


Andrea: Well, it's interesting because a lot of recovery programs do deal with a higher power, so I think that it's not uncommon. So would you really say that that was sort of the thing that saved you was fighting religion? [00:10:30]

Kevin: No, no, no, not at all. The thing that saved me was taking personal responsibility. [00:10:41]

[music cue]

Kevin: [00:13:17] I wouldn't consider myself religious. Now, I'm not super observant, but I meet with my rabbi every Thursday to learn different lessons and to improve myself and live by my values. But religion didn't save me. It was only one component of making my life happier, stronger and more cohesive. 

Andrea: Through Kevin's personal connection to his Rabbi and his new found spirituality, he is able to find gratitude for all that he went through - giving his life purpose. He also now incorporates meditation into his daily routine.


Kevin: Along with my morning meditation, which is 20 minutes, I do five to 10 minutes of prayer and. I used to pray in the wrong way, and it was not effective for me, the way that I would pray was, God, give me a girlfriend or God take away my problems. I begin every single prayer with thank you, thank you, God, for everything you have given me all of the blessings and all of the difficult things. And that helps me feel grateful and it helps me focus on the ninety nine things in my life that are going well rather than the one thing in my life that may not be going perfectly.

I say, just give me the strength. To get through whatever challenges are in my way [01:05:41] Just knowing that there's a higher power in my life that I can speak to, that I can connect with, that I can rely on and that I'm not alone in this crazy world and that everything is not random is very comforting to me. [01:07:52][17.8]

Andrea: He finds practical applications for the things he learns from jewish philosophy. 

Kevin: You know, we live in a very woke modern progressive society that tells you that freedom is doing whatever you want to be, whoever you want and living however you want. Right. If you want to smoke weed, smoke weed, if you want to sleep around, sleep around. 

But one thing that I learned from Judaism is that. If you don't have discipline and you don't have certain parameters in which you operate, then you are actually a slave, you're not free. So that model I described before is slavery because you're a slave to your desires 


Andrea: Kevin works hard to be disciplined, and  to not compare himself to others - or even to his past or future self 

Kevin: The only thing you should ever compare yourself against is your values. Am I living by my values, am I living according to what I believe is important? Am I living by the goals I have set for myself? That is what you should compare yourself against, because if you live by your values and you fulfill your small obligations every day, then you do not have to worry about the future and you do not have to feel shame about the past.

Andrea: [01:13:43] Well, I was going to ask you how you define success for yourself, it sort of seems like you just told me. That that's really, really sort of how how how one is successful, as you've described it, not comparing yourself. But tell me, do you feel successful as a person now? But tell me, do you feel successful as a person now? [01:14:08][3.8]

Kevin: Yes extremely and I’m no millionaire. But look. In especially in my generation, we conflate. We can we think that success is about achievement. And we conflate success and achievement, we think if I accomplish and if I achieve all of these things, then I will be defined as a success. Success is not about achievement. Success is about fulfillment, personal fulfillment. And so then the question is, well, what is fulfillment? Fulfillment comes from two things. Fulfillment comes from a living by our values and doing the thing we said we would do right, setting small goals, proving to ourselves that we can be who we want to be meeting our goals and fulfillment comes from be contributing positively to other people's lives. There's no fulfilled person on Earth who isn't doing something for other people emotionally fulfilled, they might seem like a success, but that's because you define success as how much they've achieved, not how fulfilled they are


Andrea: I think you really hit on like the most important thing for me, which is living a meaningful life. And after the loss of my son. A lot of things became meaningless, like everything sort of felt meaningless and why did even, why should I even be alive? Like. Child my is gone and I was able to sort of dig down deep. And realize that I had to learn something from that loss. And that maybe there was a purpose, not that he was supposed to die because he wasn't supposed to die, but that I could make a purpose out of it. And that purpose was to create a legacy in his memory and to help other people in an area that he really suffered in that the world is suffering from. I call it now the pandemic without a vaccine. 

I've made it my mission now to help people deal with this intense crisis. And that's what really gives my life meaning. 

Kevin:  Thank you for telling me all that. I really liked what you said about how it's not that your son had to die or that there was a reason he died, but that, you are able to create meaning out of a senseless tragedy and and find a purpose for your life, given that this is what happened 

There's a lot of philosophy that says that every single thing happens for a reason and every decision is a calculated decision because of God. 

But why suffering exists and why terrible things happen to good people. The Torah has no explanation for that. So it's not accurate to say that that's what God wanted. Instead, God is my power to choose how to make a good life when those terrible things happen. God is my power to choose to live my life in a meaningful way with honesty, kindness and integrity. Even though suffering exists, 

it's not about blame. It's about accepting responsibility for what you do, given that situation and how you move forward from it. [01:28:57][12.4]



Andrea:  Yeah, well, I mean, the bottom line is we don't have control over many things in life, but what we do have control over is our reaction to them.

Kevin: Yes And that’s the only thing that we can do. 

Kevin: Look, the difficulty of challenges in our lives as measured by our ability to deal with the challenge. Which means that that every challenge doesn't have an objective level of how difficult it is. Every challenge, its level of difficulty is determined by how we respond to it and how we deal with it. So now that you've been through these challenges in your life, if you've got a flat tire tomorrow, what do you care? I mean,

Andrea:  [01:30:06] Right, my husband and I say to each other all the time, nothing matters. Nothing matters when exactly. Don't sweat the small stuff. And so we've certainly learned we don't sweat the small stuff. 


Andrea: I think it's good advice for everyone, for everybody. [01:30:32][2.9]

Kevin: Absolutely. You know, it's the ultimate stage of healing when when you can take your own tragedy and turn it into something of a triumph, a triumph just in the sense of coming together with other people and commiserating with them, supporting them, teaching them what you've learned throughout your journey, 00:26:53]

[00:27:52] And I can't cannot fathom what you've gone through. However, If a person's path is harder, it's because their calling is higher, I really believe that. You know, I really believe that sometimes when we are forced to suffer in this world, we have a higher calling to fulfill.


Kevin: and, you know, I had a lot of years where I lived in regret and woe is me and why me and all that stuff. Now, I don't think about it that way at all. Now, I'm very grateful for everything that I went through because it gave me a life purpose. It gave me a gift to be able to give to other people and help other people. And I believe that the ultimate stage of healing is when you can use your own experiences in your own pain in order to help other people, [00:26:23][32.5] 


Andrea: Anyway, well, I- Kevin, this has been really insightful and interesting, and I’m so interested in the work that your doing [01:30:41][5.1]

Kevin: Thank you so much. Andrea, it was an amazing  conversation and thank you for the opportunity 


Getting Thru is made possible with the support of USC Hillel through the Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative. It is produced by Hannah Beal, Micah Smith and me, Andrea Sonnenberg. Original music by Micah Smith. 


Thank you for listening.

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