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Dustin and Kerry Brockberg, psychologists and co-authors of ‘End Your Covert Mission,’: A Veteran’s Guide to Fighting Pain & Addiction’ return. 
Today we continue our conversation with Dustin and Kerry as they discuss vulnerability and reciprocity in building trust between veterans and their loved ones. We continue to unravel the seemingly parallel journeys of addiction recovery, family recovery, and veterans returning home as we discuss changing relationships, needs, and wants. 

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See full transcript below.


You’re listening to the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast, a place for real conversations with people who love someone with the disease of addiction. Now here is your host, Margaret Swift Thompson.

Intro:  Welcome back. Today we rejoin Dustin and Kerry as they continue to discuss the seemingly parallel journeys of military veterans returning home with those who have the disease of addiction choosing their recovery. 

In this episode we discuss trust and the reciprocity that does not always exist between loved ones. Trust requires the ability for both the veteran or person with the disease to be vulnerable with their loved ones and an amount of faith in their loved one that they can handle what is being said and shared. 

Both of these components of trust may be hard to build especially when that vulnerability has been equated with weakness tune in to listen to how Kerry illuminates the lack of reciprocity many veterans have with their family members let’s rejoin Kerry and Dustin Brockberg the authors of ‘End Your Covert Mission: a veteran’s guide to fighting pain and addiction.’


The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast

Margaret  01:09

When writing the book, the focus was on the veteran experience, but incorporating in that experience if they’re part of a family, which everyone is, that had to be part of the book.

Dustin  01:22

I appreciate you saying that, I would say we were writing to the veteran experience and family members of veterans that know a veteran, that have heard of a veteran are just as much impacted by this book as the veteran is. And our hope in this book was to not only validate the veterans experience and what might be happening for them, but to also provide a sense of validation for the family that’s tried to understand their member of their family. 

And one of the biggest disconnects for a lot of people in this world is feeling misunderstood. And then not knowing how on earth to describe or identify what they’re feeling, and then taking a step further and trying to express that to somebody else. And so, this book is trying to give some words to that. It’s trying to give a little bit of a new gear, so to speak. 

And so, we have had just as much feedback from veterans, we have non veterans, we have had family members, people that are just working through their recovery, just working through chronic pain, or just working through mental health, we’re getting all angles at this kind of being hit. That this is applicable across the bow. This is not just a one size fits all book. And so yes, I would say the family who is also one resilience group out there is just as much a part of this book, as the veterans.

Kerry  02:42

Yeah, Margaret, you had mentioned some excerpts or parts of the book that might be beneficial or to hear, understand. And I actually grabbed our book to bring that up at the opportune moment. We have a whole section in here on social pain. And there’s a lot of little nuggets that I probably could share in here. And we really do try to talk more about yes, the family that maybe a veteran has, but also their military family. And so, it’s really interesting, right? Like this transition back, you’re coming back to your immediate family. But in some ways, you’re leaving the military family. So, it’s this like, system reintegration, but also this loss at the same time. It’s very interesting piece and time for veterans when they’re in this in between stage. So, there’s a lot of different things in here about different points and military family and different things. But there is one section here. 

Margaret  03:44

Before you read Kerry, you just brought something up that tweak something with me Dustin and I in full disclosure overlapped in our work at Hazelden Betty Ford. So, I always have this frame of reference because I know my audience, a lot of people are dealing with the disease of addiction. What do you think of the fact that to Kerry’s words just then of someone leaving their military family reintegrating into their family of origin or family of choice, their home? Sounds like in my head, people who’ve been using leaving that fellowship, for lack of a better word, to finding recovery fellowships, parallels seem pretty clear.

Dustin  04:25

I agree. It’s a parallel process in a lot of ways, whether it be from working through addiction into recovery in the world of recovery. It could even be a parallel process of going into treatment and then leaving treatment, right. I mean, you could put that stamp on a lot of things. So, I think you’re 100% right. That’s there’s a familiarity across that.

Margaret  04:44

Which leads into what Kerry is probably going to read pretty beautifully, because I think the family feels so on the outside of that experience, and don’t know where they belong. How does one communicate what’s okay to communicate, mixed with their own set of emotions from being on the other side of it, so it’s fascinating really, I’ve never thought of it that way.


Dustin:  Take that even a step further. When somebody is going to treatment, they might get a call from a counselor or somebody that usually is just giving like an update or something’s happened and they gotta go home or whatever. Very similar when somebody is working through addiction, usually the calls aren’t good, right? It’s usually a bad call, I’m in the hospital, and someone happened to me blah, blah. Calls in the military are bad, you don’t want someone to call members, your family in the middle of the deployment. That’s a scary call. Right? So, there’s a lot of parallel processes here.

Margaret  05:31

That’s really interesting. Like, again, without having a lived it, I would never have even gone there other than the odd movie I’ve seen it in. But of course, it makes total sense.


Dustin:  Yeah, I always told my mom, if you never get a call, I’m okay.

Margaret  05:43

We go different places, couldn’t we Okay, Kerry, let’s hear the excerpt I’m dying to hear what you’re going to read.


Kerry:  Well, so now I feel like it could have flipped to something else. They there’s so many little things that could go with what we’re talking about. But let me go ahead. This is in ‘A Social Pain Section’ under the trusting a significant other. 

Kerry  06:19

So, ‘as a veteran, you may have difficulty trusting yourself, other people in the world in general, it can be hard to expect good things when you’ve experienced really hard ones. Whether those hard times happen before, during or after your time in the military, these difficulties with trust may be affecting your ability and willingness to share your feelings, stories, or the full extent of your pain with others, especially with your significant other.’                                                                                                   And then we go on to talk about trusting your spouse and significant other and how sharing that and having this expectation of are they going to be able to handle this weight. Are they going to be able to take in what I’m saying right now, going back to what Dustin was talking about, like even those phone calls of wanting to protect your family. And there’s a lot of really big values that come with that of like, what it means to protect, right? If I’m protecting, I’m keeping people safe, keeping my family safe, my significant other. And we really explore this a little bit about like, you have to give people a chance, you have to recognize that people want to help you. 

And I don’t know where this is in our book. But there’s this interesting feeling for a lot of veterans. And I talk about this with that’s all the time. The idea of you want to help all these people, but where is the reciprocity there. Sounds like there’s a rule up that people are not allowed to help you. And a lot of times my vets be like, oh, damn Kerry, like, I can’t believe you said that. Right, that makes a lot of sense. But I think that comes with trust. And it goes both ways. It goes with veterans trying to be open and flexible with trusting, significant other, family members. But also, the other way to that family members and significant others need to understand and trust the process of their veteran.

Margaret  08:15

That’s amazing. I keep paralleling it to the work I do with families. And one of the things that we know, and I don’t want to parallel it too much, because I don’t want to label being a veteran as a disorder, right? Like, that’s not what I’m trying to do. So, clarify this for me, if it sounds like that. 

When a person has been in their addiction, the family tends to take on the load. When a person has been serving and been out of the home, whoever’s left takes on the load.

The reintegration, very different because as someone’s serving, it’s not a trust issue per se, you know, because they haven’t changed, but yet, they would have changed from the experiences serving. How do you reintegrate so that you become parallels again, is co-parents or find your roles?

Dustin  09:02

Right, right. I mean, a good example of that is, let’s say, one parent leaves the home. And this parent used to have the role of being the person who punished, or you know, held kids accountable in the family system, let’s just put it that way. And they leave. They lost that role. And they come back and try to reestablish that existing role, but that other parent has taken on that role. Now, the kids have learned to take on or learn who to go to parenting styles often change, 


Margaret:  Right? 

Dustin  09:32

When you reintegrate back into a system. which can create a whole different crisis, because then the role of what you used to have is now been taken from you whether or not you wanted that or not, but you need to do that for the family system to survive without you being there. 

And so yes, there’s a lot of parallels that can happen with that. Sometimes people when they come back, they simply don’t know what to share, how to share or when to share and who to share it with. And so, it might not necessarily be about the word Trust. but it might be out of fear, too. Right? There’s still some level of trust for sure, hopefully. But that doesn’t mean that trust is an all-encompassing umbrella of I trust all things, right? I trust you with 95%. But this 5% of what happened on that one fateful day. I might not be ready to talk about that yet. Right? And then members of family can be really confused, why aren’t you talking to me? Why don’t you tell me what’s going on with you. And it’s almost a feeling of I can’t, I won’t, I don’t feel able to, I feel vulnerable if I do it, and just not even kind of realizing that they might be there to help. But they can’t see that in that moment. And then that’s totally normal. It’s totally okay to do that. 

Very similar to somebody coming back and trying to, they come to treatment, they leave. They’re in a state of recovery. They’re proud of the recovery. And they go back and folks, either, you can’t. Is it our responsibility to explain that process? Right? Is it the responsibility the veteran to explain their experience? I don’t know that it is, right.

Margaret:  Right. 

Dustin:  All the while it might be some level of compromise. To find middle ground again, to find a way to actually connect again,


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Margaret  12:41

It’s really truly about curiosity, patience, and grace of the time it takes assimilating and keeping communication or finding a new communication style. Those must be very important. Especially if you come from a place where you’re keeping those secrets and keeping the content because a. you have to because of the position you’re in or b. because you’re scared that it would be too much for them to hear. And you don’t want to traumatize them.

Kerry  13:10

Absolutely the hidden aspect, right. We’ve chose our title very carefully, because the idea of a covert mission, right, keeping something within pain is something that is very difficult to share with folks, especially veterans, because it’s vulnerable, and it appears weak. And that’s not something that was an option when they were serving, right, you can’t appear vulnerable or weak. That’s not allowed in that setting. Survival is what has to happen. So Covert Mission is talking about that the idea of it doesn’t have to be something that’s hidden anymore. And this is a huge parallel back again, to substance use, right, that hidden process that a lot of folks don’t share their substance use for a very long time. And it can feel shameful, scary, vulnerable. And some of those things line up for veterans too.

Dustin  14:07

You’re also making me think about the famous phrase secrets keep you sick, right? It’s so, that’s a perfect way of saying that.

Margaret  14:15

Do you feel that’s true, Dustin, when it comes to the military experience? Do you feel that people who have served need for lack of a better word, the opportunity to have a safe place to let out secrets, because they do impact their well-being?

Dustin  14:29

I think veterans need to know that they have a space. Whether they choose to express the secrets in that moment, I think takes time. That’s not something to just pour out and just let it all out in one fell swoop. Right. I tell a lot of my folks don’t, don’t just dump this. It’s kind of like if you remember Fran Williams. So, I’m guessing you know, Fran. Fran taught me a valuable lesson of this idea of, if you have a patient in your room and they’re crying and you give them a tissue, don’t throw away that tissue. That’s part of their story you’re throwing away their feelings there, right. And I was thinking about that of, you know, it might be more about having a person know they have a spot that’s safe enough to when you’re ready to let that secret out, we’re ready to kind of hold it. And that actually leads me to something you were saying earlier around the assumption that a person who hears your story is not going to be able to handle it. How do you know that? 


Margaret:  Right, 


Dustin:  We’re making an assumption that they’re going to unwind, untangle. And that could be a mentality from the military, that could be a mentality from previous, you know, childhood life, whatever it is, but it’s you learned that mentality somewhere. 

And this is kind of my newer phrase, what if you’re wrong? What if that person can handle it? What if that person is ready to handle it, and they’ve already been preparing themselves to hear the worst?


Kerry:  Right, so they develop resiliencies right, Dustin. So, the fact your family is also developing resiliencies and strengths and experiences. They’re going through completely different things than the veteran at the time the service member. But they’re developing those resiliencies too, so the veteran understanding wait a second, this also might be a narrative I have from my previous experiences, but they’re going through stuff, too. They have a developed sense, maybe I don’t even know how they’re going to receive this because they’re in a different spot as well. So, recognizing the lens has maybe changed for them as well, just as much it’s changed for the veteran.

Margaret  16:29

There is a process of change that has to happen on both sides of that experience. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t. And it’s again, similar when you live in the disease of addiction. The family has an experience and the person with the disease has an experience. 

As a naive person, having not lived with military had any, my grandfather served as a bomber pilot in World War Two. And the only experience I saw of him, first of all, very proud, very shut down emotionally, never put that burden on any of us. In that’s the term I would use. I don’t know if he would have. But when he was really ill, at the end of his life, he had Parkinson’s, and he would have problems and he’d end up in the hospital. And he’d pull me in, and he’d say, be quiet. And I’d be like, what’s up, grandpa, he’d say, the intercom system. That’s the Germans. They’re listening. 

I never heard from him my whole growing up years much about that experience. I heard little stories here along the way. But he was very careful of what he shared other than when he was incapacitated to the point that he couldn’t contain it. And that was very heartbreaking to witness of thinking of caring that for all those years without having an outlet or feeling you could have an outlet.


Dustin:  Right? I forget what chapter it says there’s a story we tell around this older veteran that kind of breaks down at the end of their life. And our challenge in that process is how can we get to a place where we don’t have to wait until we’re 80 or 90 to share that story to get those emotions out. And there’s a level of pride, and proud, and stoicism, and all those things that need to be kind of deconstructed in a way that still allows the person to know that they’re still the same person. They’re just sharing their story before they get to that point where they can’t contain it any longer. And oftentimes, we if we were to challenge a person and say, when you look at let’s say your grandfather, hypothetically, your grandfather is on their deathbed. And they’re crying, would you see them as being weak. You would probably outstandingly say no. Right? But that same rule doesn’t apply to you. Right? So why is that rule not applying to you? What makes this different somehow and folks rarely have an answer. That’s the opportunity, right? That’s the work of okay, so now we’ve kind of called you out here. What is it that we’re holding on to that’s saying I can’t versus I won’t?

Outro:  Dustin and Kerry do such a great job continuing the conversation about the role vulnerability and reciprocity play in building trust between veterans and their loved ones.

The parallels are so striking between addiction recovery, family recovery and veterans returning home. Changing relationships, needs, wants, communication, reintegration and so many similarities. I’m incredibly grateful that Dustin and Kerry Brockberg chose to write their powerful, valuable, helpful book ‘End Your Covert Mission.’ 

Come back next week for Kerry and Dustin’s final episode where we talk more about the messiness of life, and the benefit of recovery and community.

Margaret  19:36

I want to thank my guest for their courage and vulnerability and sharing parts of their story. Please find resources on my website, 

This is Margaret Swift Thompson. 

Until next time, please take care of you!