Search & Replace S02E10: Max Nijst

Max Nijst’s journey through alcoholism and addiction began for him in high school. Hitting some of the lowest points in his life brought him to rehab. While there, Max’s path led him to the realization that he wanted to help other people overcome their own addictions. He also wants to bring compassion and overcome the stigmas associated with alcohol and drug abuse and recovery. Listen to his sobriety story and his mission to change how we view addiction on Search and Replace. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode.

[00:00:11] Joe Taylor Jr.: What if some of the lowest points in your life helped lead you to the perfect job? I’m Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace.

Max Nijst understands what it’s like to lose everything, then rebuild a life from scratch. Max tells us his journey through alcoholism and addiction began before he was even an adult.

[00:00:34] Max Nijst: You know, it started in high school. I wanna say around my sophomore year, junior year. Right. For me, it was alcohol and marijuana. After I had graduated, I got this bright idea and I said, you know what, I’m gonna join the military. Cuz something did inside me, I knew I needed some discipline. And I said, you know what better way to go than joining the military.

So I ended up going to a recruiting station and signing up for the Navy. So the day of graduation, we get our orders and low and behold, I get stationed in Long Beach, California, which was literally 20 minutes from my house. I even like I had that talk with myself; I go, this is not gonna go well. And little did I know the alcoholism was taken off. It was getting bad. So I was partying on the weekends with my friends who were either all in college or still doing what we were doing when we were in high school.

[00:01:19] Joe Taylor Jr.: Despite experiencing that moment of clarity and recognizing that sticking around his hometown wasn’t the best idea. Max fell deeper and deeper into addiction.

[00:01:29] Max Nijst: I was on a mission, as they say, I was committing suicide on the installment plan. Cuz every time I put a drink in drug, I would have that talk with myself. Please don’t wake up. I didn’t see my kids for nine years because the drinking and drugging was so bad and the guilt and shame became so overwhelming.

And then I finally get a felony. So here’s the turning point. If I’ve been in and outta jail, I get busted again the last time. I’m on probation, but I’m actually, as they call it absconding, or on the run. Right. And I remember the sheriff pulled,

you know, coming, walking up and I said, look, I have a warrant. You need to take me in.

So now I’m doing six months. But back then, if you had good time, you would get out in four months. But here’s the thing, I’ve had the same judge. He sees me again. He goes, you really haven’t done anything I’ve said, so you’re not leaving my jail. I will now let you walk the street. There’s two ways you get outta here, and I either find you a facility to go to, or you’re going to prison for three years.

[00:02:26] Joe Taylor Jr.: At one of the most crucial decision points in his life, Max chose going to rehab instead of resuming a life behind bars. However, as most people in recovery will tell you the path to restoring your place in the world is rarely a straight. Max’s path led him to the realization that he wanted to help other people overcome their own addictions.

[00:02:49] Max Nijst: I relapsed four times while I was in that facility.

I was about 30 days sober and a friend of mine who had just graduated from the program, who I’m still friends with today, was finishing up his classes to become a certified counselor. And he made it look really cool, you know? So I asked him what he is doing and he told me, so I told my sponsor, I said, look, I’m gonna become a counselor. And he goes, no, you’re not. I’ll tell you when I just want you to concentrate on being sober. I want you to work your steps. I want you to go to meetings and I just want you to work on you. And I said, okay.

And so, you know, I did get a job. I was going to meetings every day, sometimes twice a day. And so at two years sober, he reminded me. We were sitting, talking together. He goes, Hey, you still wanna be a counselor? And I said, absolutely. And so I went back to school and at two years sober, just shy of three years sober, I got certified as a counselor. So I ended up working in adult mental health for three years. And then I worked with transitional age youth, and I did that for my first five years as a counselor. And then I worked with teens for a little bit. Ever since then – so the last, almost eight years – has been adults in adult in treatment facilities.

[00:03:56] Joe Taylor Jr.: Max says he shares his story and the belief that it can inspire other people, especially folks who haven’t yet hit all the bumps in the road that he has over the years.

[00:04:06] Max Nijst: Getting sober for me was one of the best things that I’ve ever done for myself. And, and now I get to help others do the same. I wrote a

book called ‘Fearless Happyness: My Addiction, My Battles, My Recovery’ – which I wrote is basically my story from active addiction into recovery and how I can help other people do the same thing.

People in recovery want to know that you’ve been through what they’ve been through. And that’s where I think I have the benefit, cuz I’ve been, like I said, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been to jail. I know what it feels like to lose my family members.

Here’s the thing, the opposite of addiction is connection. Right?

And when I can connect with the alcoholic or the addict on that level, where they go, wow, this guy has been where I’ve been, they’ll tend to open up more. So what’s really bothering ’em. They, they may talk about some childhood trauma that’s went on and then I can direct them, obviously, to a therapist or someone who’s licensed that, you know, cuz I don’t wanna open Pandora’s Box and go, oh shoot I can’t close it. But I get ’em on that path going okay, if he can do it, I can do it. Because he’s been there.

[00:05:15] Joe Taylor Jr.: We now know more than ever about how addiction works, how it’s a chemical process, connected to a disease. And yet, so much about how we approach addiction and recovery is still grounded in superstition, or religion, or social anxiety.

Max wants to use his story to overcome the fear that keeps so many of us from truly understanding addiction and recovery.

[00:05:41] Max Nijst: One of my missions is to break the stigma. Because if people think about alcoholics, they think of the guy that’s sitting behind a liquor store with a brown paper bag. Or, you know, the junkie as they would call him living on skid row with a needle in his arm. Addiction and alcoholism affects everybody. Right? There is no typical alcoholic. I’ve worked with gentlemen you would never think we’re an alcoholic because they’re successful. Right? Or we’re popping pills or whatever they were doing.

So what I wanna get out is, be kind and be compassionate. And one thing that I’ve learned from mentors and stuff like that, people that have addiction or alcoholism, there’s usually some type of trauma that has happened in their life and they just haven’t addressed it yet. So be kind, be compassionate and know that they’re just humans and they’re not bad people. They’re just sick people trying to get well.

[00:06:37] Joe Taylor Jr.: That’s author and recovery coach Max Nijst. In our show notes we’ve got links to excerpts from Max’s book, ‘Fearless Happyness.’ We’ve also gathered some resources on how to provide support for family and friends who are just starting their recovery journey. All that and more in our show notes and on our website at

Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team.

I’m Joe Taylor, Jr.
[00:07:04] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production.

Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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