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Welcome back to Season 4 of the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast! 
I am excited to introduce you to Kelley Kiltey, wife, mother, woman in long term recovery, best selling author of ‘Myself’, movie producer of ‘Gray Area,’ Social Worker, and NBC, Regular Contributor and Ryan Kiltey, husband, father, professional actor in television, film, voice work, and theater. Ryan also coaches and teaches.
This dynamic duo combined their story with their talents and produced ‘Gray Area‘ a movie of their recovery story.
On todays  episode Kelley and Ryan generously share their story through recovery within the realms of their relationship.

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See full transcript below.


00:01

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 it is season four of the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast and what a season we have for you! A few of you have asked for more stories from partners and we’re kicking off this season with exactly that.

In this episode of the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast, we engage in a heartfelt conversation with Kelley and Ryan Kitley, who generously unfold their story through recovery within the realms of their relationship. Kelley the author of ‘Myself’ recounts the pivotal moment when the decision to stop her drinking became clear, while Ryan her husband shares his initial responses to the implications for them as a couple and their life together.

Our conversation touches on their courageous film ‘Gray Area’ which is the portrayal of their path to recovery, and spoiler alert Ryan plays himself. Please welcome Kelley and Ryan Kitley.

01:43

The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast

Margaret  02:02

So, I am thrilled to have Kelley and Ryan with me today. And I always ask this at the beginning of the podcast who your qualifier is? So, it’s going to be interesting as I’ve not had a husband and wife who are the identified client for lack of a better way of saying it and they’re a partner. So, I don’t know how you’ll answer this, but I’m gonna throw the floor to you. So if you want to introduce yourself as to how you qualify. Ryan, I probably would start with you. Who’s your qualifier for what made you start this journey of recovery for yourself?

Ryan  02:38

Kelley would be my qualifier.

Margaret  02:41

Can I ask if anywhere in your life history Ryan, did you have this disease as a part of your family? Or is Kelley the first person that you were exposed to?

Ryan  02:50

Kelley is the first person that I’ve experienced this disease with. 

Margaret:  Okay. 

Ryan:  Yeah,

Margaret  02:56

That would have been a shock. As it was for me, my first person was my partner. And I don’t think I’ve truly understood what was going on when I was living in it. 

Ryan:  Yeah. 

Margaret:  Did you feel that too?

Ryan  03:10

I did. I didn’t know how to react to it. 

Margaret:  Yeah, 

Ryan:  I guess there’s no right way to react to it. But my initial thought was, this is like a diet that maybe Kelley will go on for a couple of weeks. And then we’ll go back to the way it was. And I’m thankful that it was not just a two-week thing, and that Kelley has been so dedicated to her sobriety, and her mental health and it over time, I look back and I realized, wow, yeah, this is a wonderful thing that Kelley is doing, not only for herself, but for us and for our family. 

But yeah, at first, it was very sudden, and I did not know how to react to it. And there was a lot of selfishness involved. Like, wait, why are you changing on me? This is a totally different lifestyle. And over time, as I said, it feels totally normal now. And I’m very proud and inspired by Kelley’s commitment to this and the way she’s living her life these days. And I’m sure it’s not easy. But I think the benefits outweigh the struggle for sure.

Margaret  04:32

So, I really appreciate your candor in saying that. At first, it’s like, whoa, I mean, my husband navigated this journey of recovery in my own addiction, and my kids had to adjust to the new lifestyle. Kelley, so let’s bring you into this because I don’t want to talk about you like you’re not here because that’s kind of the cool part of this. This is a new experience for me. 

So, I had the pleasure of meeting you and actually seeing your movie and we’re gonna go into that a little later because that is just a whole nother part of the discussion that is important to touch on. But, Kelley, you know, Ryan says clearly that at first there was a little resistance of like, you know, is this just going to be a phase, this is changing our lifestyle. It’s a very normal reaction. I think for family members, there’s a piece of them that wants the chaos to be calm, but also misses the person and isn’t sure how to navigate life going forward with the person in recovery. So how long have you been working your recovery, in recovery for substance use disorder?

Kelley  05:33

Well, I will celebrate 10 years on March 10. 

Margaret: Awesome.

Kelley:  Yeah, you know, I think to speak to what Ryan was saying a little bit, I have an extreme personality. And I bring a lot of ideas to Ryan. So, I remember having this conversation when I realized I didn’t know if I was going to stop drinking forever. But I said, I think I have a problem. And he was like wait a second. And so, you know, I get teary eyed listening to him. Because we did. I mean, we met at my parents’ bar, a huge part of our relationship was around alcohol. And in my own family, my mom got sober, and my parents got divorced. So, I was extremely concerned about how this was going to impact us and our relationship.

Margaret  06:27

So unlike Ryan, you had a history within your family?

Kelley  06:32

Oh, yeah, I was trying to dodge the bullet of alcoholism my whole life.

Margaret  06:39

So, here’s a question because a lot of people go, well, then if you grew up with that, why would you end up in this way? I’m assuming at some point in your life, you said, I will not be like, blank.

Kelley  06:52

Yeah, I mean, so much so that I studied it. In grad school, my internship was doing intensive outpatient treatment for people with substance use disorder. And what I came to realize was that it didn’t matter how much information I had, my body can’t process alcohol the way other people can’t. 

And, you know, we have four children. And I noticed that my drinking went from binge drinking and going out, to more daily kind of maintenance, drinking, to get through the chaos of the evening, and just every day said, I’m not going to drink tonight and found myself at five o’clock, pouring another glass of wine. And so, my drinking changed over the course of my life. I mean, I had my first drink that resulted in a blackout at the age of 12. And Ryan knew me as you know, I kind of had this label of like Kelley drinking or not Kelley drinking, I would give it up for 40 days of lent, I would give it up for marathon training. And I felt great, but I always knew I was going back to drinking.

Margaret  08:00

So, my words in this whole experience, you know, it’s really challenging to chat with you. And keep it about learning about you now, when I’ve seen the movie, because I keep referencing things in the movie as you’re sharing. But that’s okay. That’s my job. 

What I would say though, is you’re sharing really good information, to hopefully help people out there realize this is a no-fault freaking disease. If we could stop it from happening by God, we would, especially if we’ve lived in it and seen the pain and damage it caused. And I appreciate you saying, you know, I learned everything I could about, it wasn’t enough to stop it. 

Kelley:  Right. 

Margaret:  Once that trains left the station, it’s going on its course and unless you find a way out, you’re going along behind it. 

So, you knew each other as people who partook and socially drank when you met that was part of your dating, your courtship?

Kelley  08:54

Yeah, I mean, I was the bartender at the bar that Ryan came too. 

Margaret 8:58

Sure. So as part of the culture, part of your social life part of, “normal life” experience. 

Kelley:  Yeah. 

Margaret:  And as you shared, you have four children. And hats off to you both. That’s a challenge in of itself. I’m sure they’re wonderful, but for children’s a lot. And so, they come along, and you notice your drinking changing? Ryan, were you aware? Did you notice it changing at that point, or did she hide it from you?

Ryan  09:25

No, I never felt like Kelley hid it from me. But I guess once we started having kids life was so chaotic. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. 

Margaret:  Right. 

Ryan:  In terms of raising kids and Kelley’s drinking and it just felt like it was all okay, well, this is how it is. It’s supposed to be chaotic. And not that I’m innocent in this at all. Because when we were new parents, I mean, I think there was a lot of drinking. And it was excused because it was like, oh, we need a drink. 

Margaret:  Yeah.

Ryan:  Our second daughter had colic. and she cried for about six months, nonstop. And so, it was like, okay, well, let’s just drink through this. There was a lot of that. And I’m not really proud of that. But I didn’t realize too much about Kelley’s drinking. Because we were in the thick of this chaotic lifestyle. It was fun and challenging. And, you know, we were young parents living, we’re out in LA for about six years. And so, life was very fun. But looking back on it now is it was pretty chaotic.

Margaret  10:33

And that doesn’t even include your careers. 

Ryan  10:38

No, it does not.

Margaret  10:39

Right. The challenge is of that alongside a young family on alongside a new marriage. You know, that’s a lot. 

Ryan:  Yeah. 

Margaret:  And I would take the word innocent or guilty, right? Like, I only say that, because I think we are so hard on ourselves when we live in this disease, whether we’re the partner or the person. 

And I think your words “I didn’t know, what I didn’t know” are very valuable for people to hear, right? Everybody has a judgment about this illness, when they look from the outside of how they’d handle it, what they do what they tolerate, what they wouldn’t. Nobody knows unless they’re walking in it, how you’re going to navigate it. It’s a hell of a process to go through for any human being. And we do the best we can with what we know at the time.

Ryan  11:16

Yeah. 

Kelley  11:18

Well, and to be fair, Margaret, most people wouldn’t say, I had a problem. I didn’t look like I had a problem. I mean, I wasn’t drinking during the day. I wasn’t hiding. I didn’t get a DUI. I mean, all the qualifiers, right, which is kind of what kept me drinking for so long. I was very high functioning. 

But it was what it did to me inside or the next day that everybody around me was like, well, if you’re an alcoholic than I am, you drink just like I do. 

Margaret:  Right? 

Kelley:  And so, I think people were very surprised. And even still, today, people are like, you don’t really have a problem you just stopped drinking, right? So, I think nobody really knows. Not all the time, you know, that the other person is struggling as much as they are. Because they might look different on the outside.

Margaret  12:08

Well, for sure how many of us don’t wear a mask? How many of us don’t try really hard to over function, even if we’re dying inside from the self-loathing and the regret and the remorse and the ugliness that comes along with the disease. So, when did it change for you, Kelley, that you’re like, okay, this, this is hurting me more than it’s benefiting me, or this is hurting me to the point that I need to do something like what was that moment for you?

Kelley  12:35

Well, our kids at the time were 10 months, two, four, and six. And it literally was like just trying to keep our heads above water. And my best friend had stopped drinking two months before I had, and she didn’t have any kids. And she was single. And I just saw her whole life shift. And we had shared our own drinking stories, and regrets, and behaviors of being out of control together in our 20s, and bartending together and, and we were at a workout class. And we were walking out to my car. And she was telling me about her journey in sobriety. And then she said, oh, how’s your drinking been? And I just started crying and said, it’s been really hard, and I don’t know what to do. And she said, well, you could go to a meeting with me. And I was like, but I have all these open bottles of wine at home, I’ve got to drink them first. And she’s like, all you could pour them out. And I didn’t know what I was going to do. And I just drove home that day, you know, crying and it was raining, and I walked in it was probably like 10 o’clock in the morning. And I said to Ryan, I think I need to stop drinking. I think I have a problem. And that’s when he was like what? Or you could try to cut back or maybe you just drink on special occasions or, you know. And I didn’t know how to explain that to him. I was just like, you know what, I’m gonna go to this meeting with Bridget on Wednesday night. It was a Sunday, you know, and then that first year was really tough because it was like I needed to leave to go to meetings and I was trying to educate him what was going on with me.

14:23

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15:48

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Margaret  15:59

What was that like for you, Ryan? Do you remember? Can you go back to that? I mean, 10 years ago, I’m sure you can. But can you remember the before and the after-challenge differences? Because I’m assuming as a partner with, you know, Kelley, you shared, you were high functioning. But I’m sure there were stressors in the use as well. So, can you bridge that balance between before and after what it was like, for you?

Ryan  16:20

I felt like I didn’t recognize Kelley. I felt like she was not necessarily betraying me. But it was a different relationship.

Margaret:  Sure. 

Ryan:  I felt awkward in social situations, especially with my family. Our family visits, my family on the East Coast, at least twice a year. And my family are big drinkers. And they didn’t know how to react to Kelley’s sobriety. And they thought, well, like you said, What, you’re not really that bad, you’re not an alcoholic. And that kind of created a shift between my relationship with my parents and my sisters to a point. Initially. I mean, now everything has smoothed out. But so yeah, so making those adjustments and trying to see Kelley in this different light. And like you said, earlier, I felt okay, well, if you’re an alcoholic, then I’m an alcohol. And I’m a bad person for not quitting or not pursuing sobriety. It was like murky waters; I wasn’t really clear on where we were headed.

Margaret  17:33

When I would think where does this actually end? Like? How far will this go? What change will this have on the whole family? 

Ryan:  Yeah.

Margaret:  So, I’m curious, was it implied or said that you needed to look at your drinking? Or was it just because you knew your partner was addressing hers, so it made you reflect on yours?

Ryan  17:51

Kelley has never said, you should stop drinking, you have a problem. But there have been times where Kelley has mentioned, you know, you’ve been drinking a lot this week, and you’re in a bad mood, and you’re getting a little, little too agitated.

But she has never pushed sobriety on me, I think we have a pretty healthy relationship, and that we have a lot of respect for each other. And each other’s choices. We support each other in the choices that we make, whether they’re good or bad choices, I think we try to support each other.

Margaret  18:24

And to that vein, Kelley, you know, speak to the people out there who are, and both of you can speak to this, there’s people listening, whose loved one is just getting sober. Right? And they’re like, how do we do this around them with the alcohol. Which is exactly what Ryan’s speaking to with the extended family? How do they do it? How do they not? And then also from the standpoint of what’s our relationship going to look like. And then on your side, how do you navigate the fact that you’re sober, newly sober, and your partner is still using? So that’s a lot to unpack. But that would be really helpful for both of you to talk about?

Kelley  18:57

Well, I think, right, like, I didn’t know how to navigate. I mean, I had all this information from my schooling, and my training.

Margaret  19:05

It’s different, right? Different than when it’s you, yeah. 

Kelley  19:09

And then I’m showing up for meetings and AA meetings, because that’s what helped me get sober immensely, was having a community of people who were going through something similar as I was, and who had more sober time than I did, and we’re going through all these things, and kind of teaching me the way and.

You know, it was like, you hear you have to get all the alcohol out of the house and your partner can’t drink in front of you or in the home with you. And I didn’t feel threatened by alcohol in our home. But there were certain rules around like, don’t bring a beer into the bedroom at the end of the night or just the smell of it. If there was intimacy. 

Margaret:  Oh, yeah. 

Kelley:  You know, sort of some boundaries around that. Or if we were at a party and I was started to feel uncomfortable, I would kind of look at Ryan and be like, can we leave or I’m going to leave. So, I never really wanted him to feel like he had to do it with me. It was more of me being able to communicate to him, what was comfortable and how he could support me like, my first sober wedding his sisters, you know, and I was like, I gotta get out of here. And he was like, okay, whatever you need to do, like, tell me how I can be supportive. 

Margaret:  Nice. 

Kelley:  So, I think it was about me communicating to him and us kind of learning along the way.

Margaret  20:30

Which speaks to the fact that early recovery to your language, Ryan, it’s murky, it freaking is murky. It’s murky on both sides. And we have one person who’s taken their coping mechanism out of the equation. So, they’re hyper reactive, potentially. And you’ve got another person who’s watching this transformation going, okay, great. And how’s this going to look? And holy crap, this really changes everything. What am I’m willing to do? The key sounds like is communication, finding a way despite those murky waters to find a way to talk through the process? Would that be accurate on your site to Ryan? That’s helped.

Ryan  21:03

Oh, yeah, absolutely, I think. And Kelley is very direct. And she’ll tell me exactly what she needs or what she doesn’t need. And that’s extremely helpful. 

Margaret:  Yeah. 

Ryan:  And the other thing that I’m thinking of is that it time is such an important factor in this I look back, I’m like, wow, it’s just over time, it has gotten smoother, and smoother in terms of our relationship and in terms of how now it’s a normal aspects of our social life, and that Kelley doesn’t drink. And I still do. And I think we do a good job of balancing in terms of what each other needs, but yeah, communication and time.

Margaret  21:48

And I think it also must go back to what you shared earlier, the mutual respect you have for one another’s lives, and choices, decisions. That’s a beautiful thing, because I think that it would be very easy in early recovery, to be very reactive, and defensive, and those types of emotions.

Ryan  22:08

I think we’ve always said this, but I think we’re both lucky that we have chosen to pursue what we love to do. And that has always been a common denominator. In other words, if I was, you know, at a job that I didn’t like, and Kelley was home, taking care of the kids or whatever, or vice versa, and we weren’t happy in our careers, I think this would not have gone as well, because I think there would be a lot more resentment. We really thrive on you’re doing what you love to do, or at least you’re pursuing what you love to do. And that’s always been an important factor.

Margaret  22:46

Makes a lot of sense. In the disease of addiction. My experience, witnessing it in many people, is we have our place of competency when things are getting really scary. So, family members will possibly spend more time at work, family members will possibly spend more time doing the things where they still feel competent when at home, things feel less so because of the chaos of using. Now, I hear in your story, a very different take on that. And that is you both have your places of passion outside of the relationship and enhance the relationship. You support each other in your passions, which is tremendous. Recovery become a passion, or is it just a necessity?

Kelley  23:29

Oh my gosh, it is a passion. And I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was 16 years old, working on something recovering from something whether it was an eating disorder or sexual assault. So, when this hit, I was like, are you f’ing kidding me? Like I have worked on all these other things. And now I have to address this. Yeah, so not that I was necessarily angry. But I was like, tired of having to work on something. And I was in individual therapy, Ryan and I went to couple’s therapy. It was a lot of work in that first year. And it’s still a lot of work for me. But I love the work of maintaining sobriety, and sharing my message, and connecting with other people who are either sober or sober, curious and are on this journey. And so, it just enhances on a daily basis was something I always like praying for, like wished I could stop drinking. And I never imagined it would look like this.

Margaret  24:36

Well, that’s what they say in the book. Right? Life beyond our wildest dreams. 

Kelley:  Yeah. 

Margaret:  So that leads us I think quite beautifully into your work in the film. And I don’t want to miss the book. So, we should touch on that too. But when you look at the film talk about both your passions coming together in one thing. Ryan how in the heck did you do that? I mean, it speaks your acting chops. But how did you act through that movie that was so deeply your story and your wife story? I mean, I was emotional watching, which I’m sure is part of the hope that it touches us all. But I’m just gonna leave it there. How did you do that? How did you have the capacity to play that part when it was you who lived that?

Ryan  25:24

I mean, the technical acting aspects of it were not difficult because I was playing myself. The difficulty came in the discussions that Kelley and our friend Meghan, who played Kelley in the movie, and I would have.

The three of us would talk, okay, what was this like? And so, bringing everything up again? 

Margaret:  Yeah.

Ryan:  I remember at the end of the night, I mean, it was really fun to work on this film. And it was a great environment, and it was creative and all that. But at the end of the day, I was like, wow, that was, I didn’t realize how emotionally draining it was. And again, it was mostly the stuff behind the scenes, like, Meghan and I would talk, and she’d be like, well, what happened here? And what was Kelley doing here? And it was almost like therapy. It was like, we were talking about all these things that happened. And clearly, it’s not a comedy. So well, we tried to have fun as we could on set. But I mean, I don’t know if I’d want to do it again. 

Margaret:  Yeah. 

Ryan:  But it was an exciting week. It was raw, and it was pretty emotional. But yeah, it was cool to have both of our passions come together. And I felt like I was more of okay, I’m supporting. I’m kind of in the background here. It’s Kelley story. And a lot of it was about Meghan, our lead actor who did an amazing job. 

Margaret:  And you did and so did you.

Ryan:  Oh, well, I appreciate that. Thank you. 

Margaret  26:54

Well, it is incomprehensible for me to imagine, because I was in your shoes with my ex-fiancé. If we were to make a movie playing that part that I would re-live it, in that way, like incomprehensible. So, I give you huge credit. So, what we’re talking about I should probably bring people up to speed is your movie called ‘Gray Area.’ And why we say the two passions collided is Ryan, you’re an actor. And you’re not only an actor, I looked you up. You’re an improviser, and a director in both film, TV, theater and voiceovers does that cover most things? Did I miss anything?

Ryan  27:28

No, that’s true. I started in improv. I don’t do too much improv anymore. I would love to but yes, nothing else is accurate.

Margaret  27:36

Impressive. I can’t even begin to list all of the things. There was a list a long, long list. And so, you brought that together and then your passion was sharing your story putting out there, a voice of someone in recovery in a very vulnerable, raw to use Ryan’s word, way. Would that be accurate how the two worlds collided in that movie?

Kelley  27:59

Yeah.

Outro: Come back next week when we continue the conversation. Kelley and Ryan share more about the release of Kelley’s book ‘Myself’ and the film they’ve produced ‘Gray Area’ which tells their deeply personal story we discuss the possible implications of publishing our stories and how it can impact our families Kelley and Ryan also share their different viewpoints on their recovery journey really exciting news if you’d like to watch ‘Gray Area’ which is a powerful portrayal of this family disease. You can view it on YouTube, the link can be found in the show notes.

Margaret  28:33

I want to thank my guests for their courage and vulnerability in sharing parts of their story. 

Please find resources on my website. embracefamilyrecovery.com

This is Margaret Swift Thompson. 

Until next time, please take care of you.