Addicts are not safe.  Whether it is drug related violence or simply the health consequences of addiction, substance abuse is decidedly risky.  But what if using made you feel emotionally safe?  Join our hosts Juliet Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard, as they welcome Josh Ordway, a Peer Recovery Support Specialist who has been in recovery for the last sixteen years.     

Josh explains how childhood trauma contributed to his addiction and describes how being high made him feel “untouchable.”  But he wasn’t really safe, and addiction hurts.  Josh shares how his life experiences affected his demeanor and approach to others.  Once getting sober, learn how Josh struggled to change his interactions with people and fashioned a new life for himself.

Highlights of PEER Voices Episode Seven

4:54– “I thought [recovery] was like a cult and I was really, really scared to death of people being close to me in that manner.  (Becoming sober can feel like giving up the familiar to enter a new society.)

7:39 – “I needed to change everything. Everything but my name. If I could change my name, I probably would have.”  (Recovery can mean completely re-inventing yourself.)

9:38 – “So using drugs and alcohol was like my safe place. I could get high and nobody could touch me.”    (Using can provide a false sense of security.)

11:01 – “But then as I became more involved into the disease of alcoholism and addiction, I got traumatized in that area too. Because there were things that happened…”  (If your judgement is compromised by drugs or alcohol, you cannot protect yourself from risky situations.)

11:59 – “I became very defensive. Took up gold gloves boxing. Karate, Judo, whatever I could do to keep you away from me.”  (An aggressive exterior might mask emotional turmoil.)

18:07 – “The drugs and alcohol told me . . . . to act a certain kind of way. You know, you don’t want to be a mark or anything. So act this way. We got you. And I felt like I could rest assured that OK I can do this. But the drugs and alcohol really inhibited who I really was.”  (Drugs and alcohol aren’t improving your personality, they are masking it.)

Transcript of  “Substance Use As a Defense Mechanism: Can addiction make you feel safe?”

Editor’s Note:  This transcript is computer generated and therefore may not be an exact match to the recording.

Announcer: [00:00:07] You’re listening to The PEER Voices Podcast. This show is for peers, by peers. And focuses on information that’s important to our community. Here’s your hosts Juliet Dorris-Williams and Gabe Howard.

Gabe: [00:00:29] Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of PEER Voices. My name is Gabe Howard. And with me as always is 

Juliet: [00:00:34] Juliet Dorris-Williams. Welcome. Hello.

Gabe: [00:00:38] Yes. And we are here with Josh Ordway. Josh, welcome.

Josh: [00:00:42] Hello. How’s everybody doing?

Gabe: [00:00:44] They’re not going to answer because, you know, it’s recorded. But everybody is doing fantastic because they’re listening to our show.

Josh: [00:00:53] Very good.  I like that.

Gabe: [00:00:54] Let’s grab a couple of questions right out of the gate. First, tell the audience a little bit about who you are. How old you are, what you like to do. You know, not the “peer stuff” but that the Josh stuff.

Josh: [00:01:06] My name is Josh Ordway and I am a recovering addict and alcoholic recovering from drugs, mental health, and as well as trauma and alcohol. I like to do things like play pool and go to movies and go to plays. You know, just a well-rounded gentleman I suppose. I also like to interact with people. I think that’s part of a skill set. I just like to enjoy life. So pool is my favorite, though, because I get bragging rights.

[00:01:42] You get bragging rights. What’s your favorite movie that you’ve seen recently?

Josh: [00:01:45] Black Panther.

Gabe: [00:01:47] That’s a great one. Are you a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Josh: [00:01:50] Yes. I was a Marvel person before it was even cool. I read comic books in the 60s.

Gabe: [00:01:57] Oh, I wasn’t alive in the 60s. But I read comic books in the 80s.

Josh: [00:02:02] Yeah. Oh, and also I’m 62 years old.

Gabe: [00:02:05] Sixty-two years old?

Josh: [00:02:06] Yeah. I’m actually getting better as I age.

Gabe: [00:02:11] Well that’s very awesome. Well, thank you so much, and welcome to the show.

Josh: [00:02:14] Thank you.

Juliet: [00:02:15] Growing bolder.

Josh: [00:02:17] Yeah, that one too.

Juliet: [00:02:19] Rather than older.

Josh: [00:02:20] Yeah, that one too.

Juliet: [00:02:22] The young ones, or the younger ones, they’re calling it “leveling up.” So if you think of you are at level 62, dude! Represent.

Josh: [00:02:34] Somebody told me that 60 is the new 40.

Juliet: [00:02:38] Mm hmm.

Josh: [00:02:38] And, I’m like, I don’t know if I can really concur with that.

Juliet: [00:02:43] No.

Josh: [00:02:43] But I mean, you’re only as old as you feel.

Gabe: [00:02:46] I mean, I feel one hundred and six. Josh, thank you. When we started, you said that you were recovering from alcohol, mental illness, and trauma. Can you speak to that a little bit? With as much specifics as you are comfortable sharing?

Josh: [00:03:04] Sure. As a kid I always felt like I was kind of lost. So, I gravitated to things that was kind of out of my control. My parents used to party hardy every weekend where there was always a party. And, as a kid, I was attracted to that style of life and I couldn’t wait to be grown. So I decided at 13 that I wanted to be as grown as possible. So I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol and anything that came down the pike. Because instead of a figurative person, I’m a literal person. Anything I do I had to do literally. So the first one was alcohol. Then the gateway drug, which was marijuana. And then after marijuana was everything or anything. Every summer there was something different, you know? And now I’ve been to treatment a couple of times. So I’ve only missed one, I think. It just didn’t make sense to me to do what I was doing and try ecstasy. It just didn’t. It just didn’t, it wasn’t part of my skill set.

Gabe: [00:04:18] How long have you been in recovery? How long you have been clean and sober?

Josh: [00:04:21] This time around, I’ve been in recovery almost 16 years.

Gabe: [00:04:25] Very nice, very nice. One of the things that you said there was “this time around.” Can you speak on that a little bit? Because so many people think that recovery has to be perfect. You have to decide that you want to get better and then you get better and you know there’s a phrase, “relapse is part of recovery.” You know, sometimes you take two steps backward. You take one step back to move two steps forward, you know? Stuff like that, and that speaks to a person like me. Because I had a really hard time getting better, and I wouldn’t have got better if I would’ve thought that, “Oh, I’m the only one failing.”

Josh: [00:04:54] Well, I guess for me, I didn’t know anything about recovery when I first got here. I thought it was like a cult and I was really, really scared to death of people being close to me in that manner. So of course, I just kept – they say “relapse,” but I just figure it was just really “keep using.” And then when I decided I wanted to be in recovery, I had fully decided that I wanted to be in recovery. Because, you know, there was some slip ups and it was hard. Because, you know, I kept looking at other people and I was saying, “they can do it but I can’t.” So it was one of those journeys that the more I tried and the more I failed the more I kept going to do it. And eventually I looked up one day and I wasn’t using anymore and that was amazing to me because I got high every day, all day. I was the person that didn’t think that I could live life without getting high. So I guess the paradox for me was when I actually gave myself permission to try something different. I allowed myself the opportunity to learn all about recovery, as much as I could. And then I planted my flag so to speak. I got.

Juliet: [00:06:16] You made a decision.

Josh: [00:06:17] Yeah, I made it. I made a concrete decision about getting in recovery and staying in recovery. Because there’s a lot of people who straddled the fence. They go, “I’m halfway here.” But they’re not, they’re not here at all. And the results that I saw for those people was that they kept getting high. They kept getting drunk. They kept starting from square one and then square one, as interesting as it was when I first got there, it doesn’t appeal to me now because I’ve been in recovery for a little while. But we all go back to step one. We all go at square one because that’s where we started. That was where I started. I shouldn’t use the word “weak,” but recovery was different because I got the opportunity to kind of grow up. A lot of people don’t want to grow up from drugs and alcohol. It has a certain mystique if you will.

Juliet: [00:07:17] You’re cool.

Josh: [00:07:18] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:07:18] In the crowd that you were with anyway.

Josh: [00:07:21] Yeah. And you are under the illusion that everybody lives the way you live. And the truth is, very few people live that way.

Juliet: [00:07:30] Until you meet new people. Which is I guess is why they say you have to change your people, your places, and your things.

Josh: [00:07:39] Well, they also told me I needed to change everything. Everything but my name. If I could change my name, I probably would have. Of course, I didn’t particularly care for Josh when I first got in recovery.

Gabe: [00:07:52] You look like a Josh.

Josh: [00:07:53] But I didn’t know who Josh was. I was like, this dude, is like, he’s kind of strange.

Juliet: [00:08:00] Maybe you got introduced to Josh?

Josh: [00:08:03] Yeah. Yeah. I think I found him. I mean I’m pretty comfortable.

Juliet: [00:08:07] You are meeting yourself.  We could do a whole show on meeting yourself.

Josh: [00:08:10] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I thought that recovery was going to be boring. It’s real. It’s really anything but boring. And I’ve learned some different skill sets. Part of what I do as far as my job, is based on my life experiences. And I like that. I like the fact that I’m more than just an alcoholic, and an addict, or a recovering person from trauma, or whatever. I’m actually a person who is kind of looked upon to do things, you know?

Juliet: [00:08:45] You’re Josh.

Josh: [00:08:46] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:08:46] It’s nice to meet you.

Josh: [00:08:47] Thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Gabe: [00:08:50] I thought it was interesting when you said that when you were using, you looked at recovery and you thought it was a cult. And I can kind of understand that. Because it wasn’t what you were used to. People are doing things that are unusual, they want you to change everything about you. I mean recovery is not a cult. I don’t think that at all, but I can understand why,from the outside looking in, you’d think, “Wow, they want me to be a completely different person and this is who I’ve been my whole life.” So, you know, we’re kind of protective of who we feel that we are. But now that you’ve been in recovery for 16 years, are you happy with your decision? Are you happier now than than then?

Josh: [00:09:25] It was the hardest thing I ever had to do but it was also the best thing that I ever did. Because now I can stand on my own two feet. Before I needed something. I needed something to take the edge off of life.

Gabe: [00:09:38] All right.

Josh: [00:09:38] So using drugs and alcohol was like my safe place. I could get high and nobody could touch me. But then I could touch me in ways that I didn’t want anybody else to touch me. Because the disease of addiction is self incriminating. It makes you do things that you go later on like, “Why did I do that?” You know? And you question yourself a lot because the one thing that drugs and alcohol does is it feeds into this negative hole. And you always feel like you’re engulfed in it. So I just felt like the drugs and alcohol wasn’t working anymore, you know.

Juliet: [00:10:25] So you mentioned trauma earlier as part of your recovery story, your recovery journey. Can you share more about that?

Josh: [00:10:37] Well, as a kid, I was traumatized by my parents. Mostly my dad. My dad was – I’m not going to tell his story but I believe he was an alcoholic. My dad would come in sometimes and you didn’t know if you were going to get hugged or hit. He traumatized me by his behavior.

Juliet: [00:11:00] Sure.

Josh: [00:11:01] And I was a little kid, and I thought I did something wrong. But then as I became more involved into the disease of alcoholism and addiction, I got traumatized in that area too. Because there were things that happened to me where I put myself in bad places with bad people. But I also got taken advantage of by family members, and I was traumatized by them as well. I won’t get into it, but there’s a lot of things that happen in the family dynamic that shouldn’t ever happen. You know? People prey on other people. And I didn’t know anything about that. I was kind of naive. And then when it happened, I was like man I’m going to make sure that never happens again. So it changed my whole outlook on life.

Juliet: [00:11:59] Of course.

Josh: [00:11:59] So I became very defensive. Took up gold gloves boxing. Karate, Judo, whatever I could do to keep you away from me. That’s what I would do. I always had this scowl on my face. It was odd because I didn’t like looking mean but it was my protection.

Juliet: [00:12:25] Sure.

Josh: [00:12:25] You know, it was it was the way I looked at life. I needed to basically make you scared of me so you wouldn’t hurt me. I don’t know if you can relate to that.

Juliet: [00:12:39] Completely.

Gabe: [00:12:39] Yeah, it’s a defense mechanism.

Juliet: [00:12:42] I really relate.

Josh: [00:12:45] I think I became like this bully and I didn’t like being a bully. But that’s kind of like who I was because the way I interacted with people was, I had my skill set and I was gonna get you before you get a chance to get me.

[00:13:04] Of course.

Josh: [00:13:05] So there was a lot of, I called it, “payback.” I would do things that I knew that was injurious to you but at least you didn’t get to be injurious toward me.

Juliet: [00:13:20] So, given this story here, your experience, your life experience, do you believe that it has helped with respect to how you view our associates that come through the door?

Josh: [00:13:37] Oh, yeah. I have a lot of empathy for people that come to the door. I just was talking to a gentleman downstairs and he has sleep apnea and so do I. And I kept trying to wake him up and he said, “Well, I have sleep apnea.”  And I said, “Sir, I have sleep apnea just like you.” He says, “Well, you must not have it as bad as me.” And I said, “I may not have it as bad as you, but I have it.” You know what I’m saying?  And so I try to relate to him, and I tried to meet him on his level, but I think he became defensive because I was questioning the fact that he was asleep.

Juliet: [00:14:11] Right.

Josh: [00:14:11] And here one of the things is that you can’t sleep here.

Juliet: [00:14:16] Correct. Some of our associates come in and they’re angry and agitated and defensive. A lot of times defensive. Well, you said something about empathy? That you can see under that stuff that they’re displaying?

Josh: [00:14:36] Well, at first when I first started working here I wanted my voice to be heard.

Juliet: [00:14:41] You have a booming voice!

Josh: [00:14:41] Because when I was a kid, I was always that guy that felt intimidated.  And I would let people know through my own intimidation that I wasn’t going for it. But a lot of times, I had to meet people in a different way, because my way wasn’t working. You know?

Juliet: [00:15:02] Sure.

Josh: [00:15:02] You have to, I mean it was a lesson in how to develop your own people skills.

Juliet: [00:15:10] Right.

Josh: [00:15:10] Because a lot of people, they kind of buck up when you get loud and aggressive, and you know we have been taught certain techniques of trying to diffuse certain situations, or “bombs” as they call them. And I try to use all those skill sets, because there’s a lot of people who are hurting.

Juliet: [00:15:33] Absolutely.

Josh: [00:15:35] And I just want to be able to reach them, but sometimes I can’t.

Juliet: [00:15:39] And the only way they know how to keep themselves safe is to do what you were doing before,. It is to keep people at arm’s length to make sure that they’re not going to hurt you. You can’t hurt me, or I’ll hurt them first, or whatever. So yeah it’s a defense mechanism.

Josh: [00:16:01] And I can really relate to people who are scared to death, because a lot of people will voice how they feel but they’ll try to be boisterous about it. Some people are just so reserved and calm about their own personal plight that they don’t talk, and it’s hard to get people to actually say stuff. I mean, there’s people that come here and you have to pry words out of them.

Juliet: [00:16:34] Sure.

Gabe: [00:16:36] I mea,n I think that it’s interesting that you’re talking about I didn’t have people skills. You know that’s something that a lot of people just don’t say. Even if they don’t have them, they won’t acknowledge it. And some people think that the whole phrase “people skills” is just some sort of a joke or something that people say and it’s just kind of stupid. But people skills are a thing. You know, not escalating situations, deescalating situations, and helping people.

Juliet: [00:17:01] They can be taught.

Gabe: [00:17:01] Yeah. Making people feel happy or sad or good or bad or mean or making people laugh. You’ve got to figure out where you fit in on that, and I just think it’s very interesting. Because I’m doing quick math in my head. You were 45 years old and said, “You know, I need to learn people skills.” That’s not something that a lot of forty five year olds are out there saying. So I think that’s a very very neat part of your story.

Josh: [00:17:22] Well, when I first got here, I’ve been in recovery more than once. When I first got in recovery, I couldn’t really do this. And then I happened to get six years, and then I went back out for like 24 hour period. So this time, has been over 16 years. So collectively, I’ve been in recovery twenty two plus years. I’ve learned a lot of things about Josh. Like how to approach people and what not to say. I mean, just because I can think anything, but I shouldn’t say it.  There are certain things that you shouldn’t say to people. Because people have a tendency to be like, “What? What are you trying to do to us?”

Juliet & Gabe: [00:18:03] [Laughter]

Josh: [00:18:07] So I had to really learn what to say what not to say. How to behave around people, because I didn’t know anything about people. So that was my premise. I thought everybody acted a certain kind of way. And that is because my knowledge was inhibited by the drugs and the alcohol. So now, I look at people in a totally different light. But I’m still learning, you know? I’m still learning. For example, there are people who, because I have a booming voice, they think, “Man, this dude is kind of scary.” But when they sit down and talk to me they’re like, “OK, I had you all wrong.” Which is kind of cool, because a lot of people I had all wrong too. The drugs and alcohol told me how to behave, you know? It told me to act a certain kind of way. You know, you don’t want to be a mark or anything. So act this way. We got you. And I felt like I could rest assured that OK I can do this. But the drugs and alcohol really inhibited who I really was. You know?

Gabe: [00:19:25] We are very very glad that you’re here, and we’re glad that you have reached recovery. We’re glad that you’re working on all these issues. We’re glad you’re working with us.

Juliet: [00:19:32] Yes. Yes. How long have you been a peer recovery supporter?

Josh: [00:19:38] I’ve worked here at The PEER Center for almost four years. But I was a volunteer. That’s how I got exposed to peer support in the first place. I used to volunteer at the V.A. and the veterans are kind of my passion. I even facilitate a veterans’ support group. And being in the veterans’ support group is kind of neat, because we have people who come, who are actually veterans, but they don’t want anything to do with veterans’ issues.

Juliet: [00:20:06] So we’ve heard. We’ve heard that before. Yeah. So thank you for doing that support group. You know, thank you for that.

Josh: [00:20:12] Yeah. But I mean, being a peer supporter it’s kind of like in my wheelhouse, you know? I mean I like that every day is a different challenge, because nothing is ever, ever, ever the same. So being a peer supporter means I have to kind of readjust some of my thinking sometimes.

Juliet: [00:20:32] And you’re up for it.

Josh: [00:20:34] Yeah.

Juliet: [00:20:35] That’s excellent.

Gabe: [00:20:35] Very cool. Well, Josh, thank you for being here. We appreciate this.

Juliet: [00:20:41] Thanks, Josh!

Gabe: [00:20:41] All right, everybody, you can find us at every other Wednesday. Please share widely. Share on Facebook. We still can’t afford that Super Bowl commercial. But hey, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Thanks, everybody, and we’ll see you next time on PEER Voices.

Juliet: [00:20:55] Take care.

Josh: [00:20:56] Thank you.

Juliet, Gabe, & Josh: [00:20:57] Bye.

Announcer: [00:21:00] You’ve been listening to the PEER Voices podcast, sponsored by The PEER Center with a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. To learn more about this podcast, please visit To learn more about The PEER Center, please visit We encourage you to share this podcast with other peers in our community. Thank you for listening and see you next time on PEER Voices.

Josh Ordway – Guest

is a Marine Corp veteran and Ohio Certified Peer Recovery Supporter who has worked at The PEER Center for the past four years.  After 30+ years of active addiction, Josh decided to explore recovery and has now been sober for over 16 years.  He has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders and enjoys playing pool, watching movies, and engaging with the community in ways that he could not while using.  Josh says his real passion is advocating on behalf of his fellow veterans and he is an active member of the Columbus veterans’ community.