Part Two – F.A.T.E. – From Addict To Entrepreneur with Phillip Cohen from Cohen Architectural Woodworking
This is Part Two of the 3-part excellent inspirational and business article on Phillip Cohen with Cohen Architectural Woodworking written by Michael Dash for his series From Addict To Entrepreneur now appearing on Thrive Global https://thriveglobal.com
The inspirational story of being born into chaos, overcoming addiction and manic depression and building a successful supportive $12 million woodworking company.
By Michael Dash
Business Success with a Broken Soul
In the mid 1990’s, Phil’s woodworking business had become very successful and Phil was living the American dream. Despite this success however, it didn’t change the thoughts in his head – the feelings of inferiority, the self-hatred which also affected how he raised his children. He describes his constant agony, “I still had all that self-hatred. Nine children, no debt, living in the country, living the dream, making 150K a year and I had all that self-hatred. I raised my children and I was there but I kept my distance from them because I was afraid I’d hurt them and so they basically grew up without a dad. Later, apologized for the damage I did to them. I was a tyrant. I wounded them. I inflicted in them the same wounds I had received from my father and life, only I hid behind religion.” He continues, “We all go through those feelings during our addictions. The self-loathing, the self-hatred, the shame. Unable to share feelings with others, to seek out therapy or help. We isolate and self-punish. This leaves us in a very dark place.”
Confused and filled with all of this rage, anger and self-hatred Phil was looking for answers wherever he could find them. He had joined a strict religious community church that put a lot of emphasis on a lifestyle of hard work. They were instructed to isolate themselves from their families and friends who weren’t exactly like them. It was a very close cult-like community. They were taught that your emotions were sinful, so when Phil’s father committed suicide he was taught not to grieve for his death. All this was building up inside which led him to write a book which ended up becoming a bestseller in their denomination. People were coming to Phil for help and he realized he couldn’t help them. He still had so many demons inside and was behaving out of control, fantasizing about other women, medicating with large portions of food, and on the edge of suicide.
The church community was toxic for Phil and his family. They preached that the church had more authority than the family and if you ever left the church you had to leave on your own and you couldn’t take your family with you. In 2000, Phil and his family left the church. The church leaders did everything they could to break his family apart. They spoke strongly against Phil to his family. Fortunately, a couple of men guided Phil through that storm. They told him to be careful not to say anything against the church leaders, regardless of what they said against him.
During this time Phil was also dealing with manic-depression. The church leaders knew it, so they preyed on him. They knew what buttons to push to put him in a full tailspin and tried to pit his children against him by telling them how crazy he was. But this was a time that Phil started being transparent, which allowed him to start healing. The contrast between his transparency and the church leaders’ dishonesty revealed itself to his family. “They saw calm dishonesty in them and chaotic transparency coming from me. They could see through the church leaders’ dishonesty. Although it was very confusing for our children, they trusted me. I started embracing the value of transparency. Like they say in recovery you’re only as sick as your secrets”.
Despite leaving the church and experiencing some positive breakthroughs, Phil attributes his biggest turning point to a weeklong leadership retreat he attended in California in 2009. The retreat consisted of group meetings with eight or nine other leaders with therapists facilitating. Their job was to help people open what was inside, even if it caused conflict. While partaking in these group sessions, the group had a major meltdown and Phil believes he was the catalyst. The other leaders in the group were angry with him and whatever he said made it worse. At the end of the week he talked to the main psychologist who told him he had major emotional detachment issues. Once again, Phil felt hopeless and broken beyond repair. The psychologist gave him two pieces of advice that Phil believes changed his life.
“He said I need to take responsibility for my own growth and to get myself into some small groups where people confide in each other.
“I thought the first one was doable although I didn’t know that it would help because I saw myself broken beyond repair. The small group thing looked impossible, because who would want to be in a group with screwed up me?
“By a string of small miracles, I was able to form some small groups, and join a couple others. the groups helped me move toward the roots of my pain and I slowly learned to connect emotionally with others.”
Searching for answers and finding what worked
As with most addicts, Phil shifted one addiction to another. Eating was an outlet for him and he ate and ate and ate. He consolidated all of his addictions into eating until he was up to 300 pounds.
“I was close to 300 pounds and I could do about five minutes on a treadmill. I went to overeaters anonymous and the ones I was in just didn’t work. I worked the program and I saw people who never lost weight, they never got well. I’m just like I have to swallow a lot of pride and to turn to God. The advice from what I learned is to swallow your pride and do whatever you’ve got to do.”
Everyone has their own path and there is not one way to do recovery. For Phil however, it was turning to God. Phil recalls, “I did promise God that if he healed me I’d give my life to healing others and so in 2002 I was able to get off Lithium (for manic-depression) through the help of prayer, a counselor, the Bible and journaling. I journal heavily, it helps putting my thoughts and feelings on paper and I look at them. I currently journal about 60 to 80 pages every month. I spend about one to two hours journaling in solitude every morning. I’m in a small group of men who do the same thing. We’ve made that commitment and we share our journals with each other. That’s where much of my health comes from.”
These practices started with creating a simple formula of stopping what is not healthy and adopting practices that are healthy which sounds easy, but addict’s emotions are always in a state of turmoil which makes practices like these challenging. When coming out of our addictions we become completely obsessive about new things. For me it was work and entrepreneurship and Phil experienced the same thing with his work. When Phil started building cabinets for Wal-Mart he put a ton of pressure on himself and pushed himself really hard. He drove himself so hard that he would work 20 hours straight without sleep and work himself into insanity. A healthy outlet quickly turned unhealthy which is not surprising in the addict’s world.
Turning the corner
In 2004 things started shifting for Phil, when he and his family moved with the business from rural southern Missouri to Saint James, Missouri. He wasn’t one of those addicts who all of the sudden saw huge fixes, rather he gradually saw small turnarounds that he never had before. He was on a path of growth, and immersed himself in learning about entrepreneurship and leadership two things he had very limited knowledge of. He consumed himself with reading leadership books from Jim Collins, John Maxwell and others. He would read 30+ books a year and be a sponge learning as much as he could.
Throughout his devotion to learning about leadership, personal growth and through his experiences Phil shares some of his perspective, “I’ve learned that we’re batteries, we’re not power sources. As batteries we need to be recharged and we need to find healthy sources to recharge us so things like carbs and alcohol will not recharge us but things like sunlight and exercise and doing life with balance, healthy tension, and proper rest will recharge us. So, from there I developed a written “growth and recovery” plan that I revise every year in January. I assign time and money to it. I spend about 50% to 60% of my waking hours in growth and recovery.”
“See those of us who have been wounded, we live in a state of hyper-vigilance and you can’t sustain that. You’re going to fry yourself and turn to medication to keep driving yourself. Many people believe we’re created to stay fully engaged and then rest when we’re exhausted. I don’t believe that anymore. I believe we’re created to live from a state of rest and engage when we need to engage. So, the more we can live from that place of inner rest, the less craving we have to medicate. We don’t need addictions pushing us into overdrive, so we look for healthy ways to find rest and restoration. Then we’ll have reserves of healthy energy when we need to engage.
“So, I think if you follow me around you would find me tranquil a lot of the time. Like just before I get up to speak to an audience. I’ll be quiet for several hours before, or maybe several days. I put myself into power saver mode, so I can get a slow, deep charge and be ready. Also, if I know I’m going to face an intense season, I’ll intentionally pre-schedule a recovery time for afterwards.”
Michael Dash’s series From Addict To Entrepreneur is now appearing on Thrive Global