We all have demons, whether yours are alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling or something else entirely, it doesn’t matter. My next guest shows us in his new book, how he built an exceptional life for himself despite struggling with poverty and addiction.
Welcomed back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and I’m joined today by author Kelly Siegel, who is here to talk about his new book, Harder Than Life: Overcoming Poverty, Addiction and Violence. Let’s flip through it.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Hello my friends, welcome back to the Author Hour show. I’m here with my good friend, Kelly Siegel and we just got done chatting a little bit pre-recording and I’m honestly, Kelly, man, I’m just excited to have you on the show and really dive into not only your story but your new remarkable book that’s going to be doing some extra good. But thanks for coming on the show today, Kelly.
Kelly Siegel: Thanks for having me, I bet you say that to all the authors.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I mean, hey look, man, I do my best around here, okay? I do my best.
Kelly Siegel: That’s good enough, my friend.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely, the book is called, Harder Than Life, but I really want to go into the depth of this thing but before we do that without getting too far into the weeds, can you just give our audience a general sort of personal background of where you grew up? Maybe perhaps a person or two that inspired you to get on the path that you’re on now and then we’ll get into the weeds of things.
Kelly Siegel: Yeah, I grew up in Eight Mile in Vandyke in Warren, Michigan. The eight mile is that eight mile from you know, the movie with Eminem, very similar upbringing. I went to high school for a year with Eminem, I lived two streets away from his daughter’s mother my entire upbringing and you know, it was a… for a lack of a better word, kill or be killed. It was fight or flight, you know, where’s your next meal going to come from? Parents, alcoholic parents, basically raising yourself.
So it was all you ever knew and that was normal. I was… I hired a guy at my new company at my IT company, National Technology Management, several years ago and he wrote a real small little pamphlet book about his life and I said, “Man, this guy works for me and he took the time out of his day to write a book”. It was interesting, he’d actually been shot twice and I was like, “This is a computer geek and he’s got this interesting story.”
I said, “Man, my story is much more compelling than this and I should write a book” and he’s like, “You should write a book.” Then the pandemic came and I was like, “You know what? I might do it right now,” so that motivated me to do it. I had no clue it would be so cathartic and so… it brought so many emotions and really, I just… I learned so much.
The healing process through writing the book was amazing. There were times that I would be writing and I would just break out in tears and it just… sometimes, I’d have to call my sister and say, “Did that really happen?” and she would tell me more things. She’s like, “Oh, is that all you remember?” My sister was eight years older than me, so she remembers things more clearer than I did.
And it’s just… I want to create an awareness that no matter what life gives you, you can turn into something good and that’s what I did. I want to remind people, a portion of every dollar is going to be donated to charity. This is just more for giving back. “Hey man, I made it, I’m here, I’m alive, against all odds.”
I could have been a victim, I could have sat back and cried and said, “Whoa was me” but I didn’t. I use it as a chip on my shoulder and made something of my life and now, we’re going to write a big check to charity on the back of writing the book, the podcast and speaking engagements.
Facing The Uncomfortability
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Hey man, that’s so powerful. Again, before we got on the recording, I was chatting with you and I told you there’s so much of your story that really resonates with me and it was so deep, especially how you’ve taken this story and decided to bring an awareness to some charitable work but of course, helping others. That’s really the big thing and I love that you decided to take the time to write your story, to inspire others because every story has something unique, right?
We could have gotten — again, Eminem grew up down the street from you, different story. You grew up on the other side of those tracks, different story. We all have stories but we all have something to contribute in how we can share those stories and how we can inspire other people.
So I love that, I’m grateful that you took the time because I can’t agree with you more on how cathartic it is to write a memoir type of story where you’re really just pouring your heart into it. So you take us into the book right away and you take us — you drop me into this event that really sort of shaped your life.
How did your experiences at the Full Moon party in Thailand and the events that followed shape your perspective on addiction and excess? Because I know these are things that you grew up with, with your mother and father ebbing addicted to multiple kinds of things. Can you talk to us a little bit about that experience and how reflecting back made you realize what you wanted to do in the future?
Kelly Siegel: Well, I was 30 years old at the time and it was super expensive to go to Thailand. So that was… and it was a 22-hour planed ride, you had to catch three different planes to get there and a group of guys went and I’m like, “I’ll go” and it was the time of my life but it was very eye-opening. I wish I would have used that opportunity to get clean and sober then.
I knew something was wrong, something was off because the amount of drinking. I mean, we did the hangover, the movie Hangover, before the Hangover ever came out. Ever single place that they showed, I visited. From that rooftop bar where they arrested — what’s the guy’s name? It was where the rooftop where they arrested the gentleman that’s the main character of the show to all of the clubs and everything, I was there.
It was amazing but I spent three weeks there and I barely remember any of it because I wasn’t coherent. I was drinking or doing drugs and I missed out on the whole darn thing and luckily, there was bombs exploding, there was a revolution going on, they shut the city down and luckily, we escaped unharmed but I was so drunk, I didn’t even care.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, so talk to me a little bit about where that excess started, you know? Because I know that was heavily influenced by the people you grew up around. Can you share a little bit about that?
Kelly Siegel: Yeah, my stepfather, man, he used to say to me — I remember this. I love doing this because you remember things that you forgot in the book but my stepfather was saying to me, “I do my best work when I’m hung over.” So that was his ritual. Every single day, drink, leave work, go drink until he got hammered, come home and you know, you got happy drunk and he had me playing records and that was the weird way of feeling loved.
Or you got mean angry drunk and he came home beat on you or worse yet, start off happy drunk and then turn into angry drunk because whatever clicks in his head and then my mom would come home later than him. So you had a double whammy because they didn’t drink together because they would get in fights.
So that behavior was taught, man. This is what you do, this is normal and they would rinse and repeat every single day. So naturally, my sister and me went right in the footsteps. Luckily, several years later, I had an “enough is enough”. I drank all the fun out of alcohol and now, I’m here to write a book about how — really just creating awareness that if you’re drinking to excess. And I’m not talking, you know, one or two glasses of wine here and there.
If you’re drinking to excess to where you’re getting drunk on a regular basis, then you need to look inside your life and figure out what’s going on and why you’re doing it. It’s much cheaper, it’s much simpler, it’s better for the freaking universe if you just address those demons. We will do anything as humans to avoid discomfort including pollute ourselves to excess instead of just sitting in our feelings.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. So talk to me about that man because you described it so well throughout your book, you know, so when you were 30, you had this epiphany, you sort of woke up and not only just missed out on what you feel like is a trip of a lifetime but you were just kind of drunk through it but then you kind of woke up during that moment as well. So from waking up and then moving on, what are the changes that you started applying to yourself to really get healthy again?
Kelly Siegel: Oh, well, if you read the book, I didn’t have an epiphany there. I went 13 more years of rocking it out until I decided to give it up. So I had moments of clarity saying, “This isn’t normal, nobody should be able to drink this much, nobody should want to drink this much, this is unhealthy.” I was getting back to my hotel room, don’t remember how I got there. It was just dangerous, flat-out dangerous.
I’m on a third-world country, just making stupid decisions. So I proceeded to rocking out for 13 more years and then just eventually, I just said, “Okay, enough is enough.” I’m in and I wrote about it, I was in another party atmosphere for New Year’s Eve. It was end of 2018, beginning 2019. I’m in Key West, Florida, just having the time of my life again and I said, “I’m done, I’ve had enough, I’m tired, I’m going to take 90 days off” and I cheers a bunch of people in Duval Street, drank my drink and walked out and took 90 days off.
I said, “This is great, I feel good, I’m going to do another 90 days” and after that, was July 4th and I said, “I’m just done, I feel too good to go back.” And then, the real work started where I started feeling all these emotions. Everything that I was trying to mask, I learned the reason why I was drinking and it was not easy and that was sitting in the feelings, the uncomfortability and getting through it and I did it through a litany of different methods.
By therapy, hypnotherapy, meditating, journaling, working out and you got to remember, this was during the pandemic. So it made it extra hard because you couldn’t leave your house. So hey, you know what? Everything happens for you, not to you. So it made it a little bit easier because everybody was home. I was curled up in a ball crying because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, 43 years of coping with my not good enough-ness, my “I don’t deserve love” with alcohol, that’s how I coped. Every single weekend, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and every other Sunday, that’s what I did.
Reaching the Person You Want To Be
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s so powerful man but the direction that you started to take was really, the transformation, right? That moment of, “I think I’ve tapped out and I’m going to try this 90 days.” Then you decided to do it again but with that time, this is what’s crazy, right?
When we start to really indulge in just practicing the avoidance of or just the obstinance of whatever we’ve tied to our emotions, then now, you can really feel these emotions. You got to understand them in a way that you probably never have or at least, just sit with them like you just said and of course, try to get the help that you need to kind of get through it.
And so you know, I love this because this is a very important message and I want to talk about not just what inspired you to write this book, because obviously, that’s pretty straight forward but who are you specifically trying to reach with your message? Because this is a very powerful one. There’s a lot of people out there that struggle with all kinds of addictions.
But tell me, is there any specific group of people that — is it entrepreneurs with addiction? Can you be a little specific about who you’re trying to reach?
Kelly Siegel: I love this question Hussein, thank you for asking it. It is so… I’m seeing two groups of people gravitate towards the podcast and to our daily post of positivity and it’s… the first group makes me excited. It’s the young people, the traditional TikTokers, you know, the 13 to 30-year-olds but really, it’s like the 13 to 25-year-olds, who are just coming into the adolescence and figuring out the world and trying to figure out what’s cool, what’s not and they’re hearing the message and they’re watching me build my body and if you see the picture on the front of the book, I’m a muscular man.
I have a six pack at 47, I’m disciplined as all can be. So say, “Wait a minute, here’s someone who is excelling in life that chooses not to drink or do drugs and sits in their feelings” and also I don’t care what anybody thinks or says about me, both positive or negative. I get all of my validation internally, not externally. It makes me very excited to see young people gravitate towards my message because in today’s world, they all want to get their likes on TikTok and Facebook and Instagram and they’re looking to impress everybody externally, internally.
So I’m seeing a big portion of the young people that I want to catch them early before it’s too late and then, you fast-forward to the next group of people, which is the 30 pluses to 30 to let’s say 50, where they look in the mirror and they’re just not happy with the person they see in the mirror. That could be a housewife or it could be an entrepreneur but specifically, it will resonate with an entrepreneur because you’re taught that every day drinking is normal around work.
I get that question all the time, “How do you own a business and do networking functions and not drink?” very easily, you just don’t. I think I just because I would leave those functions and all I would worry about was where might my next drink come in and I wasn’t even there present. That’s the big point about being clear and sober as you’re present and you’re actually paying attention to the person that is in front of you and curious and as you saw before we hit record, I want to know all about you, Hussein.
I want to know all about the person in front of me, I am curious about people. In the past when I was drinking, I just cared about the next drink, the next party, what’s going on next and how can we take it to excess. So I know that wasn’t specific but really, when they say people aren’t happy with themselves, it’s when the version of who they want to be and who they are, are far away from each other.
So if the person you want to be and the person you are very far away, this is the person that needs to read the book because that’s how I was. I hated the person in the mirror and believe me, the second I stopped drinking and drugging, that person that I wanted to be and the person I was got closer and closer and closer and now, I’m proud to say that through all of these, if I died tomorrow, I am comfortable with who I am, I love who I am and I’m a good person.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Beautiful man, I love that. Well said, Kelly. In your book, you mentioned that your love for your daughter was the ultimate sort of motivation for you to quit using. Can you tell us a little bit about that, fatherhood and how family plays a role in your journey today to continue overcoming — continue keeping that in your past and really moving such a beautiful way forward?
Kelly Siegel: Writing a book came to light and I had some very interesting conversations with my sister, who is older than me. I read a book while I was writing called, Toxic Parents, and I unpacked a lot of feelings that I’d forgotten I had buried way deep in my sub-conscience and by writing the book, it all came out and I realized that’s not what I was going to do to provide for my daughter.
It just wasn’t an option any longer and I had my heart broken. That was part of it too and I just said, “You know what? All of the bad things in my life, alcohol has it’s correlated to. It wasn’t a 100% causation but every time something bad is going on, alcohol was right there hanging out. So by seeing a young woman — and that was a big thing too, my daughter, knowing if it was a son, I probably wouldn’t have been as influenced.
But I don’t want her to experience validation externally and I want to make sure she knows what it looks like to be treated like a woman with chivalry, with respect and it all starts with boundaries that she lays out. It’s something that we talk about and I tease her all the time like, “I’m so sorry that I’m your dad” because it’s a lot like – and my dad and his daughter, they talk about, “Let me tell you about you” and I do a lot of those same things.
Where I tell her how amazing she was, I tell her how I can’t love her any less no matter what, so it is truly unconditional love. Now, she gets a little spoiled because we are privileged. I have reached some level of a success financially so that she gets to ask for some expensive things and gets them and I get to spoil her but she has to work for it and she has chores and she’s just a wonderful young lady.
As I wrote in the book, we built a house in Florida from proceeds of my – of not drinking. The alcohol money went towards our new house in Florida and we get to leave the cold of Detroit and go to Florida. We spend every Christmas and New Year’s there and she’s like, “Dad—“ because I quit on New Year’s, every year she wishes me like a happy sober day and then gives me a hug and a kiss and at 12:01 goes to bed and says, “Another year down, I’m really proud of you and I love you” and that’s all I need to stay sober.
The Freedom and Impact of Forgiving for Yourself
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow man, that’s so powerful and so direct and focused. I love that she feeds your energy in that way and rightfully so. I feel like the people we are most connected to should feed our energy in that way and unfortunately, I mean of course, you’ve experienced this, when they don’t feed that energy in a corrective way, you know? Of course, you know that is also tied to who they are, their past traumas, all those kinds of things, right?
So as we get older we learn to forgive. Sometimes, people that we really love mistreat us but that was sadly based on how they were mistreated and so on and so forth, right? So you become an opportunity where you can break that cycle and that’s where I see sort of what’s happening and unfolding currently in your family, right? That you are sort of breaking this cycle, you are not holding it to its ground and so that it doesn’t impact your kids and her kids and so on.
That’s, I think, the most powerful thing you can do is turn yourself into that armor so that no one else can be impacted by the things that you grew up with.
Kelly Siegel: So you said something that’s very powerful, you have to forgive your parents and realize that they did the best they could and you know, I remember now looking back at my grandparents and how much worse they were to my stepfather and my mother and just realizing they didn’t have a fighting chance either. So the moment you forgive, you’re almost giving yourself a get out of jail free card and you can – the weight of the world is lifted off your shoulders.
You don’t forgive for them, you forgive for yourself because it allows you to move on. Now, I haven’t talked to them in over 20 years and I don’t plan on it. I will go to their funeral, I will see when they ultimately get called but I lived such a good life that there’s no reason to have them in my life now.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah and I mean again, like you just said, right? The freedom really comes from forgiving yourself and forgiving that person so then that you are able to move without that weight, right, that weight, whatever it may have caused you. I think that is so powerful because that is something I have learned in the last, you know, four to five years and I have really come to terms with even throughout writing my book.
I couldn’t agree with you more in this as that is so cathartic, right? To just share these stories and go back into those deep dark memories and shed light on them but also have the awareness to perceive them from the perspectives that you’re at now and you’re able to forgive yourself and not feel the shame and the abuse that took place in those times. So I commend you for that because that’s really powerful.
But with that, what was your favorite part of putting this book together and what did you learn from that journey in it of itself?
Kelly Siegel: Well, I learned I want to do another book. I have left so many things out of the book because it was – you know, it’s like anything. The first time you do it, I have the thickest head. I have to watch something one time and then I get it. The second book, whatever it’s got, I’ve actually started notes. I would call it a second book but I think that it’s going to be one and a half because it’s a little bit of a play on this, Harder Than Life.
Then the second full book will pick up and be more positive towards business and really living your best life. This was a lot of get the chip off my shoulder, so to speak and I talk a lot about how all the bad things growing up were actually positive things. I mean, the standards of work and the work ethic that my stepfather put into me like is second to none. It’s what allowed me to build a company.
So yeah, I would have liked a lot more love. I mean, I’m 47 years old and I still crave love every single day but I also live a life of freedom and luxury. So yeah, a lot of bad things happen to me but a lot of good — not good but a lot of lessons were taken that made me the man I am today and made me the father that I am today and the business man I am today, the community leader I am today and the charitable person that I am today.
So I would truly would take nothing back, I have no regrets because if I change one piece, it could have changed all these other things. When you think of the movie Back to the Future, if I said, “Oh, they give me just a little bit of love, would I still be the savage that I am today and so aggressively working to be the best IT person, IT company that National Technology Management is?”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah and it’s so much of how we exercise throughout the day, how we practice the day right, whatever, it’s work or being with our loved ones and all of those good things, they are tied to those experiences from the past but today feels like a decision to use that discipline or whatever you learned in a positive new way. It’s an added layer, re-masking it, reframing that story, that’s really profound.
Kelly Siegel: You know, make no mistake about it, I’m a big guy because I was scared every day of my childhood. Every single day, so I lifted weights to protect my exterior because nobody was ever going to weigh on me again and nobody ever will but that also opens up so many doors because I’m as wide as I am tall. I look like a little tree trunk, so a lot of people come up and talk to me, which I love. So thanks stepdad for making me a big boy, you know? Because that’s literally what I wanted to do, is he was six foot two, 260 pounds and I wanted to beat him up.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right. Yeah man, it brings something else out of you, right? So what was one thing you hope that like when a reader finishes up your book and closes it down, what do you hope they feel after putting it down?
Kelly Siegel: Inspired, motivated, educated. If somebody is drinking too much or not giving their A-game, I hope that they reach out to me. I put my email address in there and just say, “Hey, you know what do you recommend for this? What did you do here? You’re not alone.” They’re not alone and they matter and they’re important and they’re here for a reason. There were times in my life that I didn’t care if I lived or die and now, I got something to live for and I want to live and make a difference.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Super powerful, man. Can you tell me a little bit about your harderthanlife.com website? Because I know there is a lot of really charitable [work] but also there’s great work in this idea of giving back. I know that is a big part of sort of who you are and how you embed this kind of work with what you’re trying to do now through your speaking and engaging.
But I’d love to share with our audience a little bit about those trainable contributions. You know, why is that so important to you and when did you decide that this is kind of the path that you want to take?
Kelly Siegel: First of all, National Technology Management donates a lot of IT services to nonprofit organizations. It’s just something that I always felt passionate to. My daughter and I, we adopt several families during the holidays. It’s just — I’m here for a reason. I like to joke and say I’m the chosen one and I have been shot at, I have been stabbed, I have been beaten and I am still here.
So I am playing with house money and got to be here for a reason, so I’m going to try to lessen the burden in someone else going through what I went through. So two of the three charities that I’m actively involved in have to do with children, the third one has to do with drug addiction and so they’re very near and dear to my heart. My father passed away from drugs and alcohol at 46, 26 years ago and I just wasn’t the same.
I wish that I could talk to him every day. So if you go to www.harderthanlife.com, there’s three main points of what we’re trying to do. We have a keynote inspirational motivational speaking for businesses or anybody so to speak that we can – we’re available for hire and then we have a podcast that’s launching, that will be launched by the time this gets out on the same day that the book is released, January 31st.
That is also called Harder than Life, so we want to get some viewership. We are interviewing a lot of people that are influential all throughout the country that exude, that are harder than life in different aspects of their life. There is advertising and sponsorship dollars available there and then obviously, book sales. You can get all three of those on harderthanlife.com. We’re not interested in launching any kind of memberships or one-on-one mentorship.
But I do have access to people that are very similar to me that we can forward people to if they’re looking for that kind of stuff but that’s not what I am here to do. I just want to create awareness and help people.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Beautiful. Well Kelly, I am so grateful that we have met today. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and your experiences especially with me and our audience as well. The book is called, Harder Than Life: Overcoming Poverty, Addiction and Violence. Go get the book, don’t play yourself. Kelly, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
I am genuinely – I got through about 70% of your book and I can’t wait for the weekend to spend more time with it, man. It’s very powerful, so thanks again for putting it together and sharing your wisdom with the world.
Kelly Siegel: Thanks for having me on and I appreciate you very much.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely.
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