Do you know Seth Jaffe? I didn’t, but now I kind of do, which makes me lucky. Seth is a sober coach for drug addicts who appears on the A&E docu-reality show Relapse. A few weeks ago, I wrote a Blisstree post called 6 Reasons to Watch A&E’s Relapse Even If You’ve Never Met a Junkie, and in it I said some positive things about Seth regarding his sober coaching techniques and the very affecting presence he projects on the show. Seth saw my post and liked it. He found my email and contacted me. I was both surprised and thrilled: I knew I had a million questions for him about drug addiction and being a sober coach that I’d want to get answered for Blisstree readers. Also, I respect Seth, and it’s always fun to interview someone you hold in high regard. Being the good sport that he is, Seth agreed to answer my questions. (Okay, there are seven, not a million.) So prepare for some sober coach schooling, and then watch Relapse, because it’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and terrifying.
How does a person come to be a sober coach?
Not on purpose. The way I see it is the only person really suitable to be a sober coach is a recovering addict who understands the pain, heartache, hopelessness, and slavery of addiction. No matter how much education a person has, it will never teach them those things. I have many years in the drug and alcohol rehab business. I was a director of a TC (therapeutic community). I’ve been a project coordinator on a federal grant studying the effectivness of TCs. I’ve been an Assistant Director of a community outreach center in Queens, New York, a DUI class instructor, a Daytop Village Graduate, and a suffering addict who caused pain and havoc in this world, and to all those I loved and who loved me. Besides all of the above, in order to be a sober coach you need to have a certain personality — you need to have a sense of calm and hope when there’s none left. Most importantly, you must be the same person behind the curtain that you project in front of the curtain. The only way to really influence others is by setting a good example.
Are sober coaches certified, regulated, or licensed in any way?
No. Unlike doctors and lawyers, the only way to be a successful sober coach is to be good and produce results. In other professions all you need is a degree, a couple of letters after your name, or certification from a class where you passed the test. And all of that means nothing if you don’t possess the qualities I described in answer to your first question. Oh, and I can’t tell you how many doctors I’ve coached who were considered “successful” — and were treating patients while under the influence.
How did you get clean?
The hardest way I could have. It’s way too long to explain, but I’ll say this: I’ve broken both arms and legs (my right arm still can’t bend or straighten all the way). I’ve been shot. I’ve required 300 stitches. I’ve had thousands of sleepless nights. And I still got high. But the simplest answer is that I truly surrendered and pleaded for help.
Does spending time with drug-addicted clients ever make you want to use drugs again?
No. Spending time with using addicts makes me get down on my knees and say: Thank you for freeing me from my slavery to addiction. I don’t do this in a religious way, but in a spiritual way. Every time I experience the pain that a using addict lives with every day of their using life, I become more grateful for my own life.
Is it more difficult to get through to the drug addict, or the family that’s addicted to helping the drug addict?
It’s more difficult to deal with the family because as each day passes, the addict I’m working with is getting ways to find recovery and to understand where this slavery comes from. They get a chance at redemption and they understand that it’s their problem. But unfortunately, the family thinks that the only problem is that their loved one uses drugs.
How did you come to be featured as a sober coach on A&E’s “Relapse?”
A sober coach (Doug Caine, who’s also on Relapse) told me about the show and that they were interviewing sober coaches. Doug and I had worked together a few times, and he knew I was an actor and also knew of my rehab and recovery background. He asked if I’d mind if he gave my name to the show and I said, “no problem.” The rest is small history.
How do you know when it’s time to give up on a client who clearly doesn’t want to get clean?
I go by my gut. I always know when someone really wants to stay clean, and if they’re willing, I say: “Stay clean,” not: “Get clean.” There’s a major difference.
Seth Jaffe is a nationally recognized sober coach who has been involved in all areas of both rehab and recovery. He is one of the featured sober coaches on the TV show “Relapse” on A&E. Seth is a recovering addict who regularly attends meetings.
photo of Seth Jaffe courtesy of A&E’s Relapse