What gives you the strength to pull out of a desperate situation? Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D welcomes Robert Imbeault, a successful entrepreneur and critically acclaimed author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller, Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing. Robert explains how desperation often comes from living two full-time lives. When you get tired of the opposing identities, you end up having no choice but to look inside yourself. If you want to be happy, choose your true, authentic self, and build on it! Listen to this episode for more practical tips for daily healing.
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Before I Leave You: Choosing Your True Self With Robert Imbeault
Robert Imbeault is a successful entrepreneur and critically acclaimed author of the number one Amazon bestseller Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing. He is the Chief Operating Officer of a wellness company and lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his wife and daughters. Robert shares his real and raw account of how he clawed his way back from the brink, forgave himself, and wrote a new ending to his story. After a series of small steps forward and a few steps back, Robert found his way to sobriety. He regained his health and began to treat himself and everyone around him with love and kindness. Now, Robert enjoys a life filled with gratitude and joy he thought he would never live to see.
It is a delight to meet you. Thanks, Rob, for talking to us. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure to meet you.
I have an opening question that I throw out at people, and I am going to forego it this time because we are here to talk about your book. I wonder if you could share with us whatever it is you want to tell us before you leave, and hopefully, you stick around. How did you come to write the book? What do you want us to take from it?
The book is called Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing. In the infancy of building a company, I am an entrepreneur in tech. A repressed memory came back, and I did not know what to do. The book is about working through that memory and that trauma. In the beginning, it is not working through it. I am deciding not to be alive anymore. I had decided to commit suicide and tried to do that in Las Vegas fashion. I am trying to spend whatever I had left and consume whatever I could in trying to die.
What started as a secret goodbye later became a book. I wrote down an explanation as to why I decided to die. I am like, “This is in a linear fashion and very logical. It is too much pain. I do not want to deal with it. I do not want to let this pain trigger anyone else’s. I have to die, and this is why.” I created a list of things that I have to do, my own checklist of things before I commit suicide. In writing that, it turned into a large apology letter. I had to apologize to the people I love for doing this to them and kept on writing. I was incredibly self-indulgent and incredibly raw and honest because I was not planning on publishing or sharing this with anyone other than after I was gone.
In the eyes of love, we’re all one.
The writing itself turned into a form of therapy. After a couple of botched attempts, I decided to seek therapy and decided that I did not want to die. Part of therapy was more writing to that eight-year-old boy who experienced that violent trauma. Along the way, there were a lot of stumbles, foibles, and more attempts. I eventually clawed my way back. It is funny I got into the drug scene and some of those drugs I feel helped heal even though I was abusing them with MDMA, and there was psilocybin to the magic mushroom part, which I hated. It was a terrible trip, but it turned into something a lot more.
I shared my writings with my then-girlfriend, who was a part of that downward journey. She encouraged me to share it. She was like, “I think people can benefit from the story.” That is when it turned into something more. It turned into something that I can help people share the story and share a lot of stuff that I do not think people are comfortable sharing.
It turned into a healing journey. We have talked before that said there is a smaller portion at the end of the book about how I clawed my way back and what helped me heal or integrate. I like to use the word integrate because it is still there, the memories are there, but it is enveloped. I can face, talk, and write about it. That is the story from a 30,000-foot view.
I was impressed a lot of times by your strength and perseverance. I have dealt with a lot of people over the years who have debilitating anxiety or depression. They come to view themselves as weak. I, as a therapist, who is watched this, I know they are some of the strongest people I ever encountered because if I am dealing with somebody who is functioning, getting up, going to work, have crushing anxiety, terrified, dripping sweat every time they have to interact with somebody, yet they keep doing it, I know I am dealing with one of the strongest people I am ever going to meet.
That was one of the things that came through to me in reading your book. I can’t imagine going through that much trauma. A lot of it was self-induced with the drugs and the partying, but then you kept going. Something gave you the strength to pull out of it. What do you suppose that is? What was it in you that was the root of the strength that helped you pull out of the nosedive?
With a lot of those clients, they are living two full-time lives. That gets exhausting. When you are that tired, you have no choice but to look inward and say, “I can’t keep this up. It is got to go one way or the other.” It gets down to fight or flight. We generally want to live, be happy and shed that other life off so we can live our true, authentic self and whatever that means. You can build that.
At first, I did not know what drove me. In a lot of those moments, even high. MDMA is one of that serotonin-induced happiness. You are like, “I would love to be this happy for real for it not to be fake.” It was reaching for something that you know is possible. I do not know how I knew it was possible to be whole, be happy and have this memory and this past, but still be positive, happy, and grateful for it because it turned me into who I am as a father, husband, and friend. It takes a lot to get there. Maybe I am an ambitious guy. I wanted to be happy.
That is one of the things that I did get from this. It is your ambition. One of the things that struck me was that despite all of the trauma, you ended up choosing another choice you indicated to me, which is the deep strength you had as a person when you decided to walk away from the business so you could be present for your family because, at the level you were functioning, you weren’t there.
You talked about getting up early in the morning, a little extra early at 4:30 so you have a few minutes with your daughter and wife, and a little bit at night before you go to bed, and that is it. If you stay working at that level as so many people do, that is their whole experience of being a parent or family member, and something you chose differently. What do you suppose allowed you that strength?
There is momentum in writing the book where I had that epiphany that the work was as much of addiction has as anything else. The work is the distraction from looking inward. The work is another drug. Now, we have social media and our phones. They are another way of looking outward and not in yourself. For me, in my journey, it was timing. I was healing but stumbling and healing a little more. I described it as I will take one step forward and maybe five steps back at first and achieve some momentum and eventually, one step and another step, then five steps forward, one step back.
It is timing. Once my wife was pregnant, that was no tolerance. I am like, “There are no more steps back now because it is more than about me.” That said, I am still working, and at the same time, I am trying to redeem myself with my business partners. We are building a company now worth over $1 billion. Those guys were incredibly attuned, brilliant, hyper performers. I was building a team of that, but at the same time, I was all messed up. I felt I had to atone for that. I got re-obsessed with work, not focused on myself, and now focused on my daughter and wife. It was a realization. I am writing this book too. I am there thinking, “Holy crap. I am doing it again.”
We couldn’t afford our lifestyle, so we sold all our belongings before traveling, but I was able to step back and realize some flexibility there and traveled. We are nomadic. It was the best decision of my life. The Monday after the Friday that I left, my daughter learned to crawl in front of me. That was a big deal for me.
Live your true, authentic self, and build on that.
I am trying to find this one spot in the book where you talk about how we are going to make mistakes. I am cleaning up the language a little bit. If we want to move forward, we must avoid getting stuck in the depths of self-hatred. We get back up, and we try again. It sucks, and it is painful, but this is life. Life is suffering. It can be inconvenient, and it presents challenges. It is how we choose to deal with it that defines our character, our happiness, and our life.
That is such powerful stuff for anybody who is dealing with addiction or trying to overcome a destructive pattern. It is rare. It does happen occasionally. You find somebody. They were drinking for 30 years, they decided to stop, and they drank again. It is the same with smoking. Those are the wild exception. Most of us try over and over again. I like what you said there. If we avoid the trap of self-hatred, it makes climbing back up a lot easier.
We are going to fail. I have given speeches to two graduating classes where I lead with, “You are all going to fail.” I look at some of the teachers, and they are all looking at each other. What a wonderful gift that is. Failure is such a bad word, but for me, in my space, for entrepreneurs, failure is a building block to success. You end up being grateful for the failures because it builds your character. Not demonizing it and thinking you are human because of it. It could be very powerful to forgive yourself, love, laugh at yourself and be like, “That was a major screw up.”
When healing from a trauma or addiction, they are connected, knowing that there is no panacea. You are not going to take a drug, and it is going to be better. You are not going to discover meditation, and everything’s going to be better. It is going to be an arduous journey. There are going to be hiccups, but it is momentum. It is progress, not perfection. I am a big believer in that.
I loved one motivational, spiritual teacher I was talking to. I was listening to one of her talks. She said that she was talking to these high-ranking business leaders about how they are going to need to fail and face that. One of them came up to her after the talk and said, “I am ready to risk failing.” She said, “You do not get it. It is not risking failing. It is failing. It is going out way outside your comfort zone.” The guy blanched white and was nervous. We have built this mindset around it. It is so horrible, yet we do not learn anywhere near as much from our successes as we do from our failures and missteps.
You do not appreciate your success that much if you fall into success. I do not think it is what we are built for. We all start at different places. To enjoy achievement, you have to struggle.
Another thing that struck me was that you were talking about the loving-kindness meditation and how difficult that was for you in the beginning. There was a powerful laying in bed, and your partner said, “Let’s listen to this.” How did that go for you?
I was not a frou-frou guy. Back then, I was very logical and atheistic. I did not appreciate spirituality. It is funny how much I have changed, but I struggled with that, Catholicism, and my journeys in that. My wife was so encouraging. She says, “Let’s listen to a meditation in the morning.” That first one wasn’t loving kindness.
It is okay to have a good day.
You will have a good day, and it was over and over again. The first one, I am like, “I will have a good day.” It was this beautiful and gentle voice saying, “You will have a good day today.” Every time she said it, it turned into so much discomfort. I am like, “I do not deserve to have a good day. I am not deserving of that, and stop saying it.” It is me freaking out and hiding it. I described in the book, which you are probably alluding to or run to the washroom and fake it.
It was a five-minute meditation. It has awakened something much deeper in me. It is getting into real meditation and that loving-kindness meditation, which whenever I signed my book, I opened it up to page 310. I put a heart there and underline that loving-kindness meditation. That changes so much. You are wishing yourself, the people you love, people who have wronged you, and people you do not know so much love.
It changes your neurochemistry for sure, especially doing it over and over again even now. I am in a new company. We are looking at competitors and stuff, like an advisory role. These young founders are like, “Let’s look at these guys as competitors.” I am like, “Wish them well.” It is not about taking the piece of the pie. It is about making a bigger pie. It changed my outlook as a human and forgiving the people and the person that caused my trauma. That is a whole passage that is crazy triggering still now, but I did it. It goes back to the quote we were speaking about. If we can lead with love and realize we are all one, it changes our perspective and approach to people.
Healing requires a little bit of suffering because you have to look into the deepest, darkest corners of yourself.
Do you know of Pierre Pradervand’s book, The Gentle Art of Blessing?
You would thoroughly enjoy that book. I had the honor of interviewing him a few years ago. A number of years before that, when I was leading a book group, we did over 50 books. That book was by far the most well-received. We had seventeen people on the call. No less than nine stopped the call to say, “I got to tell you my experience with it.” They only had the book for 3 or 4 weeks, but they were using the practice, and it was changing their life. It is The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Pradervand.
Is that the same idea?
It is pretty much the same. That is what brought it to mind. Here is this loving-kindness meditation that you hear a lot about from the Buddhist tradition. His idea is that you go into your heart center. You see this person in their highest and best, and you send that loving heart energy from your heart center to them. You see them if they are being impatient, rude, or angry. You see them being patient, loving, or gentle. It is very much the same thing. You are wishing them well. May you be well.
Everything I got from that perspective with Sharon Salzberg’s books about real love and real kindness. I read them often. They changed my perspective. I delve deeply into practicing Buddhist. That is why we chose Southeast Asia to travel with our daughter. We watched a lot of Buddhist countries and a lot of temples and spoke to nuns and monks along the way.
We are reaching close to the end. What is an aspect of your life where this book or where you are going in building your happier life that we have not even touched on yet that you want to talk about?
With respect to healing, there is no one thing. For me, it was all of them. It was not only meditation, but meditation was a huge part, especially at the beginning to help me sleep and focus, and that turned into something more spiritual. Something that changed my approach to other humans and fell in love with. Gratitude journaling, I do that every morning. I have 10 or 20 things that are the same. I try to be grateful for other people in my life, and that changes every day.
Journaling, in general, helped me a lot. We know that we are purpose-driven. That is our psyche. My purpose changed, but once my kids were born, that decided my purpose for me. I wanted to be good. I wanted permission to be a good human, a good male, a good father, husband, friend, son, and brother. I want it to be good, and I wanted to give myself permission to be that good person. That is not just a decision going out and figuring out how I do that. It requires effort. What makes a good man? I dug into masculinity and what it means. That is a whole topic. That could take up another show.
Also, therapy and once I decided to meet with someone I could trust and be real with. With therapists, it is very much a connection. I speak about it in the book. You interview the therapist to see if there is a connection and comfort and if that comfort is there and you are not willing to share or both. I went in, and once I met someone that called me on my crap, I decided to be 100%. I am going to say like, “Yes, I am still taking drugs. I am still lying and doing these things that I do not think are making me a good person,” which is embarrassing to admit, especially to a stranger, but that worked.
Therapy was an enormous part of that. Although I took a cocktail of drugs while partying, I was too afraid to do any of the other drugs. Anything psychological. I was afraid of it but I know they can be very helpful with the proper guidance of the proper therapist. There are so many things. Gratitude and meditation were my morning rituals. If you do it every morning, you are reminded more. It is top of mind every morning and throughout the day. You have to meditate. If you will have to meditate twice a day, that is great as well to give yourself that space.
Take 5 minutes to 10 minutes and relax. Put away your phone and breathe. That gets us forward. Talk about day-to-day. It could be minute-to-minute. Sometimes life happens. Life will happen. Sometimes week-by-week but you come back to the practice. That is why they call it a practice. It grounds you. I say it in the book. There is no one-stop-shop to healing. It is very integrative. It gives you a new perspective on the same memories and feelings so I can use what I have been through to help people and inform who I am as a father. That is paramount for me.
Once you reconcile your thoughts and actions, you become whole.
That is a learning process, too, especially when you did not have the ideal role model as parents. It is like we have learned to lie, hide, run, and cover up what we need to learn to stand, be honest, uncover, and face what comes up. That is why that is another part of that practice. It is that if I went my first 20 or 30 years of my life learning all of these unproductive patterns, now I have got to learn some more productive patterns and practice them until they become a habit, and eventually strengthen that habit until it becomes the default, but the old tapes are in there. If I let my guard down, which is why making it a daily practice is the key to success.
Your clients know there is something more. That is why they are there. They know that they can be where they want to be, but it does require effort. It does require a little bit of suffering because you have to look into the deepest, darkest corners of yourself, which is scary as hell. When I had my first psilocybin experience, I was high in ecstasy and did a bunch of mushrooms. It was terrifying, disgusting, and brutal. It was a mirror to who I was at that time, and it sucks. It sucked because I hated it so much for so long.
Months went by, I was like, “I do not like that drug. It is a bad trip.” It was only a mirror. It was standing in the back of my mind. I am like, “What did I see?” I am like, “I saw this off person,” and I know it was me. I knew I had to change. For me, that helped me tremendously. It opened me up to pushing through therapy and working that out with those tools. There are so many other tools we did not talk about.
The key to that is you have made the decision to turn and face it. You have decided, and that is one of the things that comes out in the book. You are being raw in your honesty and fundamentally honest. The books that have spoken to me in the last few years have that as a theme. We Are The Luckiest by Laura McKowen. It talks so deeply about the need for that fundamental, raw honesty, and your book does the same. What I have experienced in working with people and being able to go through the journey of therapy with so many people over many years is the only thing that works. Every time I lie to myself or somebody else, I create more problems.
We are all looking for permission to. It is letting go of that ego and the person who is going to be embarrassed about what comes out who tells us, “That did not happen. That could not have happened.” I can’t be like that, but meanwhile, our actions and thoughts show that we are that. Once you reconcile the two, you are now whole, and you can start working on the rest of yourself. What was that last book?
We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life by Laura McKowen.
I got some homework to do. Usually, I am the one that gives the homework.
This has been delightful. I thank you so much. There is a whole other topic we can go into. I will reach back to you in about a year and see if you are ready to do another and give us another take on or slice of how you are building that happy life.
That would be great. It is super fun.
I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.
- Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing
- The Gentle Art of Blessing
- Pierre Pradervand – Past Episode
- We Are The Luckiest
About Robert Imbeault
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