It’s a week before Christmas, and financial guru Jeff Sekinger marvels at how much has changed over the past three years.
Now: He awakens in his Miami condo overlooking the water, spends a few minutes meditating outside on his balcony, checks the financial reports and gets to work on his two businesses — Zero Percent, a financial consulting company with 29 employees that does a half-million dollars a month in business, and Orca Capital, an eight-figure crypto-currency hedge fun with clients all around the world.
Then: He was fast approaching the end of the road, as they say in recovery parlance, struggling to hold together the fraying cords of a life that would culminate in early 2018 with a stay at Cornerstone of Recovery, the drug and alcohol treatment center where he reinvented himself and changed his life, setting the stage for the success he enjoys today.
“A few weeks before I went into rehab, I had a $1,200-a-day fentanyl addiction. I woke up to smoke fentanyl, smoked it on the way to work at a corporate job at J.P. Morgan, and every two hours, I would find a way to go to a private bathroom or out to my car to use drugs,” Sekinger recalls. “It was very, very apparent I was ill, because I was completely white as a ghost, I didn’t take care of myself, and I had lost 20-something pounds. I was driving around in a beat-up Honda Civic, because I had fallen asleep twice on the highway and crashed my car.
“I was living in my dad’s basement, and that’s all I would do: use fentanyl all day, go to work, buy some more on the way home, use and go to sleep. That was all I did. I was $80,000 in debt. I had no money, I took out loans to fuel the problem, and I hated myself and the direction I was going.”
Jeff Sekinger: What It Was Like
At the worst of it, he tried to use Suboxone, an opioid-replacement medication containing naloxone. The drug binds to starving opioid receptors in the brain, conceivably satiating the craving for narcotics, while at the same time blocking those receptors from binding to those same narcotics. Desperate to get better, however, he took it too early, and it launched him into precipitated withdrawal. The same night he was doubled over, beset by waves of nausea that produced nothing but stomach acid, his father’s basement flooded.
It was, he says, a low point he never wants to forget, because he never wants to go back. After building an audience as a financial influencer on various social media platforms over the past several years, Sekinger peeled back the layers to his core about four months ago, telling his story in an August video that’s resonated throughout his particular industry. It’s not an easy tale to tell, and even today, remembering the broken man he once was still makes him emotional.
But the payoff is this: His honesty and openness have allowed him to break free — not just from the chains of addiction, but from the shackles of expectation. Drugs allowed him to escape the drudgery his life had become, but they quickly became a substitute for any kind of a life at all. At Cornerstone of Recovery, he rebuilt himself into someone whose thrives in the light of freedom — from addiction, but also from old ways of doing things that never gave him the serenity or satisfaction he has today.
“I’m very stubborn, and I really love doing stuff my way,” he says. “That’s kind of why I hated the corporate (world), and why I enjoyed using — plus, I was shy, and using suppressed my shyness. But it also was my ambition to do what I knew I could do, because I was just being average. Going to treatment gave myself the freedom to create a new identity at Cornerstone.
“Today, I don’t even think about using anymore. I don’t think about it at all, because I let it all go. At the time, I had so much self-awareness, I had to find the ability to let my ego go, because I didn’t know how to get over this problem. By letting the professionals tell me how to do it, and taking it seriously, I had a shot to change my life and to help others change their lives.”
Sekinger started investing when he was just 16, and while attending the University of Kentucky, where he majored in finance, he worked for two different investment banks. The more he pushed back against the rigidity of the 9-to-5 grind, however, the more he pivoted toward using. The more he used, the more unhappy he became, until opioids, in particular, became his obsession.
“I was addicted for six years, and for the last four years, I was using every single day,” he says. “I was actively seeking help for the last three years, and I tried everything I could do personally. Toward the end, I considered a lot of things: methadone, ultra-rapid detox, and finally my mom found Cornerstone on Google and asked me to go get an assessment done.”
'Turning Problems Into Purpose'
He was living in the Columbus, Ohio, area at the time, where Cornerstone had an intensive outpatient program. He prevaricated at first, but then realized that he had lost almost a half-dozen friends to overdose in the previous 12 months, and that he was headed down a similar path. So he made an appointment at Cornerstone of Ohio, and when he walked in, the staff there quickly realized his problem was beyond what an outpatient program could treat.
“I was pale as a ghost, and super sick, and they said, ‘First of all, you look terrible. You have to go to inpatient treatment,’” he says. “I walked outside, and I got in my car to just go use again, because I gave up, but right when I got in my car, my phone rings, and it was my dad. And he said, ‘Did you take $5,000 from my safe?’
“I had lied to him about everything to that point, but I was honest and told him yes. He was quiet for a moment and asked what they said in the assessment. I told him they wanted me to go to rehab, and he said, ‘OK, what do you want to do?’ I told him that I wanted to go, and he said, ‘OK. We’re going to buy you a ticket, and you’re going to go. Tomorrow.’”
That was in March of 2018. Once he arrived in East Tennessee, after the medical detox phase that helped wean him off of opioids, he was consumed by guilt and shame. The staff members, particularly Young Adult Program residential counselor Christopher Russell, took him under their wings and helped nurture him back to mental, emotional and physical health.
“I knew, right when I met Christopher, that I was in the right place. I had chills in my body, and not just from coming off of drugs, because I knew Cornerstone was the pivot into the new Jeff that I wanted to become,” he says. “I took it very seriously, and I learned a lot of things. One thing that I still use a lot has to do with communication, and how you can be passive-aggressive, or you can be aggressive, or you can be assertive.
“The great thing about it, is that it helps you develop as a person. What you need is that foundation of personal development before you do anything else in your life, and Cornerstone helped me solidify that foundation for me, in order to do what I’m able to do now.”
What they taught him is the same thing they teach every other struggling addict and alcoholic: That he wasn’t a “bad” person who needed to be good, but a sick person who needed to get better. And part of getting better, he came to understand, was to stop the obsession of self — self-pity, self-loathing and the denial of self-care.
“I told them at Cornerstone that I felt like a puppy dog, because my self-esteem was so low,” he says. “Christopher made me write a story about being a superhero, and I had to read it in front of eight other people. I was sweating and shaking, and I couldn’t finish my sentences because I was so terrified — but I was able to see my story from a third-person point of voice.
“I think the biggest thing for me is realizing people that use are trying to escape something. You’ve got to figure out what you’re escaping and get over that somehow, and that usually means finding a purpose. I was obsessed with using, and I decided to change to obsession with using into business and reaching my potential. Now, I’m 100 percent obsessed with business and the team I’m building.”
Jeff Sekinger: What It's Like Now
Part of the recovery process involved direct work — like recognizing his tendency for people-pleasing at the expense of his own needs — and other parts of it involved recognizing that some of the passion and determination and ingenuity he demonstrated in addiction could be harnessed and redirected. Case in point: One Easter Sunday, Sekinger recalls, he was scheduled to go to brunch with his family, but he was on the cusp of opiate withdrawal.
Before brunch, he ran to his dealer’s house, and when she didn’t answer the door, he found a way inside that involved climbing up to the second story and letting himself in the window, and still managing to talk her into giving him what he needed so he could carry on with his Easter plans.
“They helped me realize, wow — I’m really creative and powerful, and if I can just transition this from something really, really unhealthy to something healthy, I’m going to do really well,” he says.
And he did. When he left Cornerstone, he took a cue from motivational speaker, real estate investor, author and inspirational coach Grant Cardone. His debt amounted to $80,000, and his credit score was 524. His first day back, he got a ticket for speeding while on his way to the gym, but at that particular crossroads, he stared at his phone, and rather than call up an old number and succumbing to the siren song of addiction, he deleted and blocked all of his old contacts. And he got to work.
“When you want to change, you have to change the people, places and things around you,” he says. “I changed every single person I was hanging around. I have no old friends. And I changed my environment — I moved out of my dad’s basement as quick as I could, even though it took a few months. And then I changed my things: I was able to get new clothes, and I even got a different bed, because the old one was so stained.
“That was the biggest thing: switching my obsessions, and changing the people, places and things around me until not one thing, except my family, was the same.”
He worked every day for several months straight, paying down his debt and laying the foundation for the life he has today. His success got him noticed, and today he’s considered one of the Young Turks of the financial world. At the same time, his life isn’t about just the money, which is why he found himself walking up a hillside in Mexico back in August, telling his story in a video that gave the world a glimpse at the real Jeff Sekinger.
“I’ve always had a belief in myself that I was meant for more,” he says. “I always felt like I was going to do something much more than average, and drugs really deteriorated my character. I felt like the black sheep of the family, because I was. I was absolutely the worst.
“But now, I’m a new person. I got the opportunity to let professionals help me, to follow the process, to take the work very seriously, and that allowed myself to create a new identity.”
And part of that identity, he added, is letting others know that with hard work, determination and a desire to find a new way to live on the other side of addiction’s devastation, anything is possible. Absolutely anything.
“At first, I didn’t feel like I had the level of success to where I should share something, and even then, some of my family pointed out that if I talked about it, it would always be out there,” he says. “But then I realized: I want to be that guy to help remove the stigma. I saw Grant Cardone do it, and I realized if he can do it, I can definitely do it.
“That’s when I wanted to start sharing that stuff, and a lot of people have messaged me since I did, and it’s been overwhelming. For me, I found out I was trying to escape my life because I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live. Now, I almost feel guilty because of how lucky I feel I am. I’m super grateful for what I have, and I’m very happy where I am.”