10 Entrepreneurs in Recovery

By Brian Whitney 12/23/16

These entrepreneurs used the skills they learned in active addiction to help them succeed in business. 

10 Entrepreneurs in Recovery
Thrive creatively and professionally in recovery.

There is one thing that most people who struggle with addiction and substance use disorders have in common. They tend not to do all that well in their careers.

Some people have success for the short term and do something that may be rewarding to them personally or financially, but in the long term it pretty much always comes crashing down and often in the most dramatic way one could imagine. Others don’t attempt to reach their goals, or maybe they don’t even have them at all, as using was the way they avoided the stress of attempting to achieve in the first place. This is not just about money, of course—living simply is quite often the best way to go about one’s life—but what it is about is conquering the things that held you back, reaching your goals and being proud of yourself.

Many people, once they are in recovery, begin to thrive creatively and professionally and open their own businesses. Some even use some of the survival skills they learned as an addict to help them as entrepreneurs.

We recently talked to 10 entrepreneurs about how they have become successful while in recovery.

1. Seth Leaf Pruzansky was addicted to heroin. He is now the owner of Tourmaline Spring, a company that distributes “water so naturally pure it exceeds every Federal and State guideline for drinking water straight from the ground.” He says, “Having been through severe drug addiction and the mental and emotional dysfunction that comes along with being an addict, I eventually realized that no one was going to do for me what I needed to do for myself. With this in mind, I not only conquered my addiction to substances, I examined the root of where these addictive tendencies originated. I found that root resided in my inability to be present with life itself in the here and now. I was jailed in a prison of the mind, always identifying with the remembered past or an imagined future, neither of which were reality. Through my commitment to heal the root cause of my addiction, the symptoms of my dependency, meaning my drug usage, disappeared. What emerged after that was a state of mind that I can describe as 'universally objective clarity.' From that point on I was able to form Tourmaline Spring bottled water of Maine. It is the highest quality, most ethically produced bottled water in North America. Had I not faced the root cause of my issues, I would have never been able to have the clarity of mind to get the awe-inspiring results that I've gotten in only six months since launching my business."

2. Julio Briones owns AnswerMan Specialty Services, a prison consulting and personal crisis management service. He says, “My drinking led me to a 10-year prison sentence and a two-year stay at an inpatient rehab. Thankfully I was able to get clean while on bail; it gave me the clarity and focus that has led me to live the life I have today. Even after all these years I struggle, but all I need to do is look around at my beautiful family and remind myself of all I will lose if I go back to old behaviors. Today, I own a business in which I help people manage their own personal crises, many times stemming from addiction. I use my experiences to guide them and their families by giving them the tools they need to get through divorce, rehab or incarceration.“

3. Patrick Henigan is the owner of Jacksonville Fitness Academy. He is six years sober from opiate addiction. "Before moving to Jacksonville with my wife, I was one of the highest in-demand trainers in Philadelphia. I trained CEOs, celebrities and local athletes. The most important factor for me is drive. I have an internal drive to make up for the six years of my life that I wasted with drugs and jail time. Every morning I wake up, I remember what it was like to be broke, alone, and actively ruining my life. That gives me a little kick in the butt to accomplish more than what I need to that day, so I can distance myself as much as I can from that person and that situation.”

4. Dr. Harold Jonas is in recovery for heroin addiction. He is the Founder and CEO of Sober Network Inc., the “premier provider of innovative digital solutions and award-winning mobile apps which address the multiple and varying needs of the addiction and recovery industry." Of his journey he says, “When I first entered recovery, it was strongly suggested that recovery become my number one priority in life. I was told if I adopted and maintained this concept, all would be well. While it sounds like a cliché, it is true. My own passion I have cultivated for my recovery led me to my business success. To achieve the rapid growth my company has experienced since its inception, I have had to literally live at a constant level of highly calculated risk daily for a long period of time. As both a recovering addict and entrepreneur, in order to not just survive but thrive in this high stress atmosphere, I make it a point to consciously negotiate the core principles of recovery—acceptance, surrender, trust, hope and faith—into my life each day. It allows me to meet the ever-changing daily challenges of business. This helps me not just professionally but also keeps me grounded when I often feel, as a visionary entrepreneur, like I am hanging off a cliff waiting for others to ‘come around the curve’ with my newest business concept.”

5. Akshay Nanavati is a Marine Corps veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, and then struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction to the point where he considered taking his own life. He is now sober and his business, existing2living is thriving and has been featured in Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Huffington Post, Military Times, Psychology Today, CNN, USA Today, and Runners World. Here is what he has to say about his time in recovery: "In order to recover from PTSD and alcohol addiction, I had to learn how to find an empowering meaning to suffering. Finding the gift in suffering in one area gave me the strength and ability to find the gift in any kind of suffering, regardless of the context that created it, including the struggle of building a business. Reframing struggle allowed me to embrace the obstacles and challenges of growing my business. Additionally, it also taught me new skills that helped me better serve my clients who each wrestle their demons in their own way."

6. Angela McKinney runs Untangle and Thrive. She says of her experiences building her business, “A recovery mindset cultivates a consistent ability to expand and gather meaningful, new experiences. Building a company requires a similar courageous mindset. Hidden limitations are exposed in spectacular ways when you are growing a company. If I am not building an integrated system that activates consistency, growth and creativity, my business will stagnate and fail. The exact same formula is true for my recovery.”

7. Blake Denman runs Ricketyroo, a digital marketing company. His entire team is in recovery. “Taking the leap and starting a business has been one of the hardest things I've done in my life, second to getting sober. Being in the rooms for more than seven years, I've learned a lot of the cliché sayings like 'It works if you work it,' 'Do the next indicated thing,' and 'Faith without works is dead.' All of these have helped during high and low points in business. Several years ago I lost one of my biggest clients, which accounted for 70 percent of my income. With the tools I've been given, I had faith that everything would work out (it did), and did the next indicated thing. There's no doubt that if recovery wasn't my foundation then my business would not be where it is today.”

8. Jessica Mehta is the owner of MehtaFor, an SEO writing services company that received two national bronze awards for Startup of the Year in 2015. She says, “I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and exercise-induced bulimia. Like many in the eating disorder community, I believe my ED is a mental disorder that can be managed throughout life, though never 'cured.' The study of eating disorders is a young science, but research shows those with anorexia are also very Type-A, overachievers with incredible drive and ambition. Those attributes, while they feed my eating disorder, are also what helped me establish a small but thriving award-winning business. Seeking balance is a constant challenge to work towards, both personally and professionally.”

9. Ken Immer is the head of Culinary Health Solutions, a company which strives to make healthy eating simple. Immer is in recovery because of alcohol abuse. He relates that, “Being in recovery has helped me succeed in business because it has truly helped me overcome the ‘fear of failure,’ which is essential for any entrepreneur. Fear will cloud your ability to face choices and consider your actions with the clarity necessary to choose properly and avoid unrecoverable mistakes.”

10. Steve Abrams of Sober Vacations International, a travel agency that puts together vacation packages for sober people, tells us that, “Getting sober changed my working goal to 'How can I be of service to each customer?' I always tell the truth and use rigorous honesty in all my affairs. Show up, tell the truth and do what you say you will do."

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Brian Whitney has been a prisoner advocate, a landscaper, and a homeless outreach worker. He has written or coauthored numerous books in addition to writing for AlterNetTheFixPacific Standard MagazinePaste Magazine, and many other publications. He has appeared or been featured in Inside Edition, Fox News, People.com, Cracked.com, True Murder, Savage Love and True Crime Garage. He is appearing at CrimeCon in 2019. You can find Brian on Facebook or at Brianwhitneyauthor.com.