March 18, 2022

E242: Suicide, incest, vulnerability, and kindness with Paul Gilmartin | CPTSD and Trauma Healing Podcast

In this episode, I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode, and today's guest is Paul Gilmartin, the host of Mental Illness Happy Hour. If you've ever had thoughts about suicide, this is an episode that you want to listen to.
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In this episode, I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode, and today's guest is Paul Gilmartin, the host of Mental Illness Happy Hour.

If you've ever had thoughts about suicide, this is an episode that you want to listen to. If you've ever had thoughts about whether or not someone in your family has been incestuous, this is an episode that you're going to want to listen to. If you've ever had thoughts that you might be addicted to substances, drugs, sex, video games, this is an episode that you're going to want to listen to.

This conversation is probably the most vulnerable conversation I've had with anyone on the show. It's really powerful and impactful to me not only because I look up to Paul as a mentor and what he does in the podcasting space but also because as I continue to go forward with Think Unbroken in my own personal journey, it's super important to me that I step further and deeper into vulnerability and that's a conversation that we're going to have today.

There's going to be some trigger warnings, you know, normally I don't throw them out here, but I'm going to today, I think it's important, you might get triggered, so make sure you do your self-care, make sure you do, whatever you do take care of yourself. But there is so much value in this episode, so much just grace and compassion and empathy and vulnerability that I think, if you don't listen to this episode, you're going to really miss out, and this is one that I will personally be listening to again.

So I'm very excited!

Just take a moment and listen to this episode, my friends!

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're having an amazing day wherever you are in the world, very excited to be back with you with another episode, with my guest, Paul Gilmartin, who is the host of the Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast and one of my personal favorite people in the mental health space today. Paul my friend, how are you?

Paul: I'm good Michael and it's nice to be on and to reconnect with you if your listeners don't know, Michael was a guest on my podcast recently and crushed it. It was so good.

Michael: I appreciate that. You know, Paul for those are The Unbroken Nation listening, who don't know it's actually it was a seven-year goal in the making for me to come and be a guest on your show. I remember the first time I heard it I was like one day I'm going to be on that show. And you know, I think that there's something to be said about diligence, right? That said, Paul for those who don't know you tell us a little bit about you, your background and how you got to where you are today.

Paul: Well, my background is in performing specifically stand up and TV hosting and I started doing the podcast in 2011 after I went off my meds and my depression fooled me and I got suicidal and I thought man a podcast talking about mental health, would be a good thing because at that time there really weren't any that I was aware of, I'm sure there were some here and there but I just thought having a background in comedy and knowing a lot of people from support groups and comedians who are not a bunch to begin with. I thought, you know, maybe we could have something that would be compelling to listen to and I could be a cheerleader for people getting professional help or opening up their friends. And so I've been doing this full-time since since 2011, I still perform occasionally I do satire here and there but that's pretty much it. I was raised one of two kids and the suburbs of Chicago, was a theater major in college, snapped my junior year of college and I went from pre-med the theater which was a fun phone call home, but my parents were supportive, you know, for all their flaws and mistakes my parents have always been supportive of me, pursuing a creative life.

Michael: That’s so fascinating. I think this might be an interesting place for us to jump off this conversation is you know looking at the fact that yes, our parents are very flawed but there is sometimes a silver lining. When you were growing up I'd love depending on your comfort level for your share, a little bit of your experiences and ultimately looking at the trajectory of your life that have led you to where you are.

Paul: Well, a lot of this stuff that I think kind of left their scars or, you know, issues that I struggle with, I was not really aware of as a kid as you know, for a lot of kids it's their normal they don't know what's appropriate or inappropriate. My dad was a high-functioning alcoholic, I never saw him slurs words until I think I was in my mid-20s and he came home from a business trip and was slightly slurring his words, but that surprised me when my mom told me when I was eighteen, oh, yeah, your father's an alcoholic, he keeps vodka hidden around the house and my father did make a suicide attempt when he bought him down on alcohol, I suppose, I think I was in my late twenties. My mom was a somebody who doesn't have a lot of boundaries and the term covert incest it's kind of a broad term and it's the insisting of a child that doesn't have to do with touching their genitals, but it's sexualizing them spousifying them you know, essentially the parent in a lot of ways putting their needs ahead of the child's, but objectifying the child there's a lot of really inappropriate shit that something in my gut at the time, told me it was wrong. And I remember consciously putting it out of my brain like when I was eight, my mom was still taking my temperature rectally, and I remember thinking, this feels really fucking weird and I asked her, why are we still doing it this way? And she's like, because I'm afraid you're going to bite down on the thermometer, and I remember thinking, no, you're not, you're getting something out of this, but we just push it out of our minds to survive, and there was a bunch of others of that, you know, kind of fits that that pattern and it really wasn't until I got into a support group. I've been sober about six years from drugs and alcohol, but I kind of do a support group for my struggles with intimacy and trust and behold I found out a lot of them were related to being raised in an environment that while it was financially functioning and I knew I was loved. There was also some sick love and some abandonment issues and so that's kind of been the struggle.

Michael: Yeah, and I appreciate your vulnerability because I actually relate to that a ton I've been shared in depth all of my story but a lot of it which I have is around that and looking at the emotional incest in my life from my mother, in the way that she parented in the way that, you know, with between my brothers and I, it was always this like battle for attention and love and affection which then would later on lead down to these support groups from like oh shit, that's why because of the experience that I had when I was seven and she was laying in bed naked to next to me while like I'm watching a movie, I'm like, well, that seems weird, but I guess that's just my house and being in these support groups was such as beautiful experience of really being able to understand like, oh, wait shit, I'm not the only one who had crazy stuff happen as a child, I mean, there's more than just me here, and so I think that this really powerful Paul and that you'd be willing to share that.

One of the things that I'm curious about is so in this journey and as you're going through this, and this is a topic and I'd love to dive into a little bit more with you that really is not discussed that frequently and that is this idea about emotional incest. Remember I read the truth by Neil Strauss, I don’t know you've ever read this book before, it's probably, oh gosh, I want to say eight years ago when I first read it and it was talking about the reality of emotional incest with the impact of his mother and his relationship. And I just picked up so many markers in that and I thought to myself, that's very interesting that this is a conversation that especially men don't have and as two men here in the conversation and yes, of course, The Unbroken Nation as full as amazing women and however, you identify that are listening the show but you talked about the impact of the intimacy, and now I know something personal about you now being in a very healthy, happy relationship, but what's that journey been like, for you going through that discovering learning, intimacy, learning vulnerability?

Paul: A lot of two steps forward one step back. A lot of struggles to be kind of myself, to practice self-care, two of the things that I discovered in my support group that are common artifacts of experiencing incest is to struggle with self care and you know, perfectionism, I would say is the best way to put it feeling like if we don't do something right we're not going to be loved, you know that we have to be everything to everybody kind of an all-or-nothing, you know, either I'm the life of the party or I've shut the door and I don't want anybody, you know, bothering me. And saying with sexuality, either really promiscuous or sometimes in a relationship completely shut down and you know, those are some of the things difficulty with recognizing other people's boundaries, difficulty setting boundaries for myself, difficulty saying no because the environment I was raised in at seven I became my mom's therapist, you know, her breaking down and crying about her marriage and she wanted to leave us because we were selfish bastards and my Dad was selfish and I remember feeling like it was up to me to keep her happy and I'm sure my sense of humor and some way was derived from that survival, need to release tension in the family. You know, and that being said, there were some great things about about my mom. She was easily the most racially sensitive person in our neighborhood, she showed us how other people lived, she would take us to the inner city sometimes and say, you know, at everybody isn't as fortunate as we are to have what we have and it wasn't to shame us, it was just open our eyes to the greater world. She's always supported me doing creative things. So I think like a lot of people, it's a really complicated relationship and it's not all good or all bad, it's just mixed. And that can be one of the hurdles in recovering is because there's a part of you that feels like, well, if I attach any negative feelings to the things I went through, I'm calling my mom a bad person, no, you're not. I had an epiphany one day that giving weight to what happened to me, wasn't to punish my mom, it was to help me, stop punishing myself.

Michael: Powerful. When you stop punishing yourself, I want to go in this little bit deeper because I know that there are people listening right now her like, holy shit I've never fought that before because I think that epiphany, that you only discover through doing the work. Like, I don't know how those moments come in that stop punishing yourself how did that conversation with you intertwine in the way that it played out in all the relationships of your life?

Paul: Before I answer that question. I want to plug a book about covert incest in the term was coined by the author his name is Kenneth Adams and the book is called Silently Seduced,I highly recommend it to anybody who feels like they had a relationship with the parent that you know, kind of crossed boundaries.

Let's start with how did I begin to tolerate myself.

You know, I remember very clearly I was in a workshop for my support group and we were going around the table there's only like six of us and we all happen to be sharing on our self-loathing and if you looked at these people that I was in the room with, you know, they are attractive, successful, seem to have their shit together and I suddenly had this feeling that God had to just tolerated me my entire life or the universe, whatever you want to call it. But maybe there was a path for me that had been predetermined because the universe, God, whatever thought that I could fulfill this role well and that I was special not better than anybody just special in my own way. And I felt love from something out there and the universe come into my heart, and I started crying, like tears of joy that I wasn't a mistake, I wasn't dirty, I wasn't broken, I was given a gift and I could choose, and that gift was difficulty in childhood and scars and struggles and there could be a silver lining to it, I know you're a big believer in silver linings. My job was to just keep plugging forward and to be kind to myself as I made mistakes along the way, you know, my recovery has been so ungraceful, so nonlinear and those are opportunities for me to dust myself off and say I'm going to do better next time, let's not shame ourselves, let's just make a note of where I stumbled to try to not do it again because another epiphany I had was nobody ever shame themselves into being the person they wanted to be. And I used to think that shame was discipline and discipline was good, it's not, it's not it can keep us frozen. I think shame is one of the most toxic emotions that we can feel because it keeps a small or even worse we begin to project and to try to shame other people to feel bigger to not feel small.

I mean, look at social media, it's filled with people trying to shame each other so they can feel better. And I played that game for a while and I just one day went, this is insane me trying to change people's view on Facebook or cut them with some type of joke, because it feels better for me to humiliate them, that's not going to make me feel better but that's how I was dealing with shame. And one of the things that I found that I had to do is I had to surrender the fact that I'm powerless over what other people do say and think, including what they say, or think about me and that's hard.

Michael: Look man, I think like no bullshit. I think that's the fucking secret to life. Like I really truly do because until that moment you're in my experience I won't put words in your mouth but until the moment where I realized that I didn't have to give a shit about people, thought about who I am, is where I found freedom because the only thing I'd ever done as a kid was, I will bend at all angles to make sure that you like me because it's safety, it's a defensive mechanism. A lot of that came from favoritism, my mom showed like she was like, oh, which boy behaves, the best gets to go to dinner tonight or to the movie when we to, like, the dollar movie or two, like Applebee's with the coupon and that played this really devastating role in my life for a long time. And I tell my clients, when I coach them, people listen to this show, the Unbroken Nation they know, like, when you can get to that place in life where you stopped giving a shit about people's opinion of you everything becomes different. And for me, it was like a lightbulb moment and I'm wondering if that's how it felt for you too if this was another Epiphany in this journey.

Paul: Yeah. One of the things that really helped me, let go of what other people thought of me, obviously was me being kinder to myself and viewing myself less negatively because you know, when somebody views us negatively and we haven't done work on ourselves were there, just reconfirming our worst fears and thoughts about ourselves and the anger that ignites is so all-consuming. But once I was able in my support groups to work through my flaws, and it's not like my flaws of disappear, but I'm more aware of them now and I have tools to deal with when feelings come up that I used to, you know, lash out at people or get high to not deal with it when those feelings come up nowadays, I reach for a tool that's more compassionate towards myself.

So when I see people acting in a way that I want to judge, I try to remember, man, I'm just like them, I've made mistakes, I've hurt people, I'm no better than they are, I might just be at a different place on the path than them and me, having compassion for them doesn't mean I'm going to allow them into my life but I don't have to hate them. I kind of view them as an abused dog that bites, it doesn't know any better, it's afraid and there's nothing wrong with not going into the yard of the dog that bites. And my mom is, a dog that bites and I had to cut contact with her, I have loved for her, but I had to salvage my mental health. So, did that answer your question?

Michael: Yeah. Well, you know, I think that when I look at my experience and again, just another incredible parallel that you and I have. You know, I cut contact with my mother at 18, I just for saw the future, I knew that if I did not, I would not, Paul there's no fucking way be talking to you today if my mother would have stayed in my life. And I think that's one of the most empowering and sad experiences of my life, as being willing to do that because my mother had redeeming qualities like my love for music and film and my ability to do a lot of things that I do. Like, she would make me go sing in elementary pageants in front of all the kids is, like the lead guy and like that's played a role in me being on stage, is in front of tens of thousands of people, but that doesn't mean that she didn't do bad things. And into your point, which I would love to parlay for a second, I tell people all the time, I have fucked up, I will fuck up again, it's never ability because we're having this thing called a human experience. But operating through kindness is everything and if you can be the kind of person who is kind to yourself, then when those moments come, instead of destroying yourself, you do exactly what you just said Paul you go, what can I learn from this?

Paul: I need to apologize to, you know, is there somebody I need to make something right with? That's been a big part of me feeling better about myself has been, you know, I need to call that person up and apologized because I thought that joke was funny when I made fun of them in front of that group of people, but I could see that they were hurt when I did that. And that's something that wasn't even on my radar until, you know, maybe 15 years ago, that I used my sense of humor aggressively and to make myself feel better than other people. You know, and it's not like that it's bad to bust balls when you're with your friends, but you know when something's appropriate and when it's not. So being aware of my flaws and my tendencies and my bad coping mechanisms has been huge for me, not only to help me slowly become the person I want to be but half compassion for other people.

Michael: It's beautiful. What I'm curious about is so I look at these experience that I have when you go, yeah, shit, I fucked up, I did the thing I said I wasn't going to do, I made fun of the person, I shouldn't have made fun of in a way that wasn't fun, right? Because, like, I'm all about it like if you can't talk shit, like you're gonna trouble, life is difficult you got to be able to handle a little bit of it, right? But when you're like, you have that moment and you look at the experience of whatever it is that you've done and your like fuck, this is outside of my values, outside of my moral character, outside of who it is that I'm out as a person. Two parts to this one, how do you reconcile that? And then two, what would you tell people who just destroy themselves when they fuck up?

Paul: Ask yourself when you're just savaging yourself. Ask yourself would I say this to my best friend? Then why would you say it to yourself? You are uniquely positioned to be your own best friend throughout your life, why would you be the meanest voice in your life? Because it is not going to discipline you, it's probably going to keep you acting from a place of fear rather than a place of abundance and peace.

For me, I had to let go of all the coping mechanisms that I thought were going to bring me power, prestige, popularity whatever you want to call it they weren't working. And having to get help for my drinking and drugging, I found myself surrounded by like-minded people who wanted the best for me and I felt unconditional love, no strings attached, not with everybody in those groups, but with enough people that I felt a part of something bigger than myself, and it was, then that I began to feel filled up that I began to go well, if these dozen people that I hang with all the time, tell me, they love me, help me when I need help, are there for me? Why can't I do that for myself? And I also had to start being helpful to other people that really, you know, there's a saying I'm sure you've heard and support groups, if you want to improve your self-esteem, do is estimable acts. One of my friends has a saying service begins where convenience ends. But the other part of my brain, never wants to be of service, I want to sit by myself and think about myself, look into my broken crystal ball, and try to predict the future so that I can have enough money to survive.

Michael: The addict part of me likes to sit on the couch, get stoned and play video games nonstop. There's nothing more fun. You know, here's what's really funny is like for a long time and I even kind of like toss the coin on how I feel about this, you know, going, okay, what is addiction really mean? And am I an addict and looking at my life and having the ebb and flows. But like legit being addicted to video games as a kid and in my teens and in my early 20s, I'm going to put this out here, there's a game called Diablo 2, that came out in I think 2003 by the time that I stop playing that it's one of the only video games I played for almost a decade straight, by the time I finish playing it, I had logged over 1400 hours and that's the thing that's so fascinating because when you make the decision and the declaration to create change in your life, inevitably over time, change will come. Now if I sit down and play a video game that I can maybe play for like 20 minutes and I'm bored out of my mind, but it took this act of service, right? Despite the addiction, despite not wanting to do it, me showing up every day, being committed to is like this to being of value to the world that changed who I am today.

One of the things I want to dive in a little bit deeper with you that you said that I actually kind of want to push you on a little bit, just in terms of language to pull something out here. You said that you found yourself with these group of empowering people, what I believe Paul is that you put yourself in those groups.

Paul: Yeah. I did. I think there's a part of me that because it feels like such a perfect fit that there is kind of a miracle predestiny, whatever you want to call it. I just wanted to not kill myself, that's how low my bar was for, you know, going and getting help for my drinking and drugging. I just knew I was going to kill myself either through suicide or ruining my life. One of the keys was to progress and to help myself I had to learn how to get vulnerable, I had to be willing to talk about the ugly parts of me, the things I was going to take to the grave, the womanizing, the cheating on my then wife, things that I felt shame about, and that helped me realize that what people really appreciate and each other is truth, they're not looking for perfection, they're looking for truth and mutual respect. And I found it there, I found truth and laughter and it's like that's my fucking drug and I never OD on truth and laughter.

Michael: And I will say this as someone who's listened to hundreds of episodes of your podcast, like, I know that to be true. I look at my life and my experiences and so many of the people who have reached out to me over the years. So many people have coached, so many people who are like trying to make their life better and there always seems to be this like moment of I want to call it clarity and what I mean by that, it's kind of that moment of that lead up to before the worst case scenario happens where you shift your lifethere, I call it the rock bottom. What happened in your life that caused you to like, let me preface it with this, and if I'm wrong, please I believe that subconsciously, we all know what we're supposed to be doing however, it takes a catalyst or a stimulus for us to actually move towards what that thing was or so what I'd love to know Paul is like, did you have that moment was there a catalyst for massive change in your life and what has been the biggest difference about the understanding of who you believe you are since that moment?

Paul: Well, the original catalyst was not wanting to commit suicide. I could see that my life on paper was great, I was hosting this TV show, I was making good money, I had time to spend it, I have my health, my physical health, my friends, why was I thinking about killing myself 50 times a day? Well, I couldn't look back now and say, it's because my spirit was dead but because all I cared about was myself, I wasn't feeding my spirit the second epiphany or launching point was the fear of living, the rest of my life, without knowing true intimacy and a relationship. I could have intimacy in platonic relationships with people, but when it came to romantic relationships, you can only get so close and, you know, I was able to realize that, oh, you know, it's probably related to my mom overwhelming me with her needs and a fear of being suffocated. And I learned that well that the tool isn't putting up an iron wall to keep you away from everybody, it's getting better at understanding who you open the door for and how much you open the door and it's a lot of trial and error. And so today, I don't allow toxic people in my life and that's been huge for me. So those were the two big catalysts in changing. But I had to be looking into a deep dark hole to be willing to do the work to do that because I don't like doing work and I don't like going back into the icky, icky memories, the icky feelings, the shame of ways that I've acted, but it's been necessary for me to begin to put together a little bit of humility, and to be willing to do the reading and the writing and to read books, a therapist suggest, you know, to share my secrets with somebody in my support group.

Michael: In that I hear massive massive vulnerability and I would argue that, it's probably the most important trait that one develops I will say that I do not believe its inherent to people who come from dramatic background.

Paul: No, but telling people that come from trauma to be vulnerable, is like, saying to a person that's just run out of a burning building. The very thing you need is back in that burning building.

Michael: That's the greatest fucking analogy I've ever heard of my life. Yes. You're spot on. Paul, for the people, who are listening this and they're just like, besides themselves in this moment because I'm one of them in real time having this conversation and they're like, okay, what do I do? Like, what do I really do? Like, I hear these guys are talking, this is gone through my head a million times on fucking suicidal, life feels like a disaster like what do they do Paul? Where do you start?

Paul: Well, if you are actively suicidal and you feel like you're making a plan or on the verge of making a plan, please call the suicide hotline. Do not reach out to a non-professional as your sole source of support because you won't get the full help that you need and it's not fair to them to feel like they've got to keep you alive, that's a lot to put on somebody. That doesn't mean you're a burden it just means that you deserve a larger support network. The very thing that you struggle over and the thing that you want to hide is probably the very thing that is going to connect you to your next group of close friends and there is trial and error in it. What's really important is to just keep going, to just keep trying different things. I have tried so many things and the last 20 years, I've probably tried 25 different meds, you know, my psychiatrist finally, we were able to dial in a combination of meds that works for me this is the first fall in God knows how long that my depression hasn't felt like Elvis entering a stadium. The Hope is so hard when you've been kicked in the teeth, a lot of times when you've had failure after failure after failure, but being around as long as I've been, I'm almost 60, I'm 59 years old, I can tell you the greatest things in my life wouldn't have happened if I hadn't experienced failure, previous to it.

Michael: Yeah, and I'm right there with you. And every time I fell, I just look at my life and go cool, I learned a lesson and I've tried all the modalities you name it I've tried to ask, but all the money, I did all the things and I am going to wholeheartedly agree with you that if you can do that thing, whatever it is that you need to do to give yourself the strength to face your fear of just going one more day, tomorrow might be the day, everything's different.Like Sharon Lechter, who is an entrepreneur, she co-wrote of multiple books, but she has a book called Three Feet From Gold. And the idea of that book is very simple, you might be three feet from that thing that you've always wanted, one more day, one more minute, one more action. And I think that's the reality of life like, you find that reason to keep going, which for me has been being of service, right? You find that thing being a better brother, being a better communicator or a speaker, all those things.

And for you, it may be, you know, being a better mom, being the best entrepreneur business owner or whatever that thing is, but finding that reason to hold on will forever, change everything for you.And as someone who's attempted suicide, myself, I can tell you right now like the greatest moment of my life was like being able to come through the other side of that.And not saying it's not fucking hard because it's hard someday suck, some days I don't want to do this, some days I want to bad and fucking eat chocolate cake and do nothing. But I ask myself, who do I need to be today? And if I were a person whose kind to myself, what would I need to do?

Paul: If one of the reasons why? And thank you for sharing that. And I agree wholeheartedly and one of the things that I would have never imagined, I would get out of support groups, is other people seeing the change in me before I could see it myself and them helping me to see myself through their eyes. My psychiatrist after I cut contact with my mom which is a very long process and not simple and the most painful thing I've probably ever been through, my psychiatrist said to me, I just want to commend you, I'm looking into the jaws of the monster and said, so many people run from that monster; the monster of childhood trauma without ever stopping to heal. You know, your feelings won't kill you but running from them might.

Michael: Yeah, they might. And so I hope that for folks listening, you're willing to step into what's next in your life because anything is fucking possible I promise you as a dude, sitting here, having this conversation, I know it to be true and I don't believe I'm in any way special, I just believe that if I keep going, I will get to where I want to go. Paul this conversations, been absolutely incredible my friend before I ask you, my last question, can you tell everyone where they can find you?

Paul: Yeah, the podcast is called the Mental Illness Happy Hourand the website for it is a and mental pod is also the social media handle you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Michael: Brilliant. And of course, we'll put all those links in the show notes personally, just a little bit of shout out, it is my favorite mental health show, so I am being biased but it is a phenomenal show you have amazing guests with amazing stories. Paul, my last question for you, my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Paul:  To keep seeking. You know, because I used to think of myself as broken and I now think of myself as scarred, you know, wounded and we can heal I believe that we can heal because if I think of things as broken, then what's the point of putting effort in and it's in the process of seeking that I found not only the answers to questions that I had but questions that I didn't even know I had.

Michael: It's very beautiful. And as as Hemingway said; “Life breaks many of us, but for some of us were stronger in the broken places.”

Paul, thank you for being here.

Unbroken Nation, thank you so much for listening.

Please, like, subscribe, comment, share.

Tell a friend.

And Until Next Time.

My friends, Be Unbroken.

I'll see you.

Paul GilmartinProfile Photo

Paul Gilmartin

Host/TV Personality

Comedian Paul Gilmartin hosts a weekly, hour-long audio podcast consisting of interviews with artists, friends and the occasional doctor.

The show is geared towards anyone interested in or affected by depression, addiction and other mental challenges which are so prevalent in the creative arts.

Paul’s hope is that the show and this website will give people a place to connect, smile and feel the return of hope. The biggest myth about mental illness is that you are alone and there is no help.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.