The losses and fear created by this family disease have not stopped Sheila. She is continuously learning and fighting to break free of the negative impact of this family disease.
It is far too easy to look back with “should haves, would haves”; however, when living in the insanity of active addiction, the Monkey Chatter fuels isolation, shame, and fear.
It is the nature of this cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.
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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 continue our conversation with Sheila Hyer. We ended the last episode with her medically caring for her adult son whose kidneys had been damaged due to meth use, that she had been unaware of. Sheila was in shock and experiencing fear and anger while caring for Kevin around the clock. Today Sheila shares more of her story regarding shame and fear around the disease of addiction in her family.
The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast
The impact of addiction, it changes our DNA, in a way. It changes our way of surviving. But the interesting thing that I would reflect on, and I would love your input on is you had that in you from your childhood, it was revisited with your son. And you had space from it in the years of geographically moving and your mum sadly passed, but you didn’t have it right in front of you. And then here comes your baby, your youngest?
Margaret: And you watch him change into someone you don’t recognize.
And I couldn’t walk away.
Margaret: Would you have?
Sheila: No, I couldn’t. Because of Kevin’s position in the marriage. I had gone into real estate by then. And I’d become a real estate broker. And Kevin was a baby. When I did it. I don’t know why I did it. But I wanted to do it. So, I did. So, he would come to meetings with me. So, we had a very different relationship. It was Kevin and mom, you know, he would go out on showings when they he was two years old. But he could do it. Right. And he would bring his car trucks, because he liked car trucks all the time. So, we’ve always had a close, close relationship. So never would I have thought this would happen with Kevin. So, I never looked for it. Fast forwarding it to when it happened. I could not kick him out. I mean, he had no place to live. He had no job. He lost his job. And so, he came into the house to live, which nearly killed me watching it.
So, can we talk about that. Watching it nearly killed you or how you coped with it nearly killed you?
Well, obviously, it was how I coped with it, or how I didn’t cope with it.
Could you said something very profound earlier that again, I think every family goes through, isolation. Who do I tell? Where do I turn? What’s the help? How did you get past that block? And that reaction? Who did you tell? What source of support did you get? Where did you turn?
Margaret: At all?
Sheila: No, no.
So, he became your focus? It was all how do I help him?
Yes. But the downside of that, of course, is that I only had Ed, the audio man, for support now and was handling it in his own way.
Margaret: As we do.
Sheila: He’s a man. Yeah. And I’m very blessed. I have some very strong friendships from nursing school, But I couldn’t tell them. I think it was sham, Margaret. My shame. It was probably my, what did I do wrong? How did this happen to Kevin Hyer. I also couldn’t say he was in recovery. Because he battled that for a long time. And so, I couldn’t let him go. But he wouldn’t do what we asked him to do. He kept doing outpatient because that was the only way he could continue. I realized that now.
Sheila: I don’t think I did them.
At the time, it would be like, okay, good. He’s going somewhere to get help. Right? It would be better than the alternative.
Oh, yes. Been there huh.Yeah,
Heard it once or twice? So, when you will look at your inability to kick him out by no means do I think that would be the right answer, right. Like, I think that one of the things that people get caught in with this illness is all or nothing thinking. Like, you’re either enabling them, or you’re disowning them. And there’s a lot of middle ground. And what I hear you did was, I was personally not able to have him not be at home. There was no alternative at this point. I’m going to be with him. And I’m thinking from that rational nurse, mind of capability, and mom, and the connection you used to have, I will help him find his path.
Sheila: You got it.
Margaret: But then the disease shows up and diseases like oh, no, you won’t. I have my own path with Kevin. It’s in charge.
Margaret: So, when you look at Kevin, before us, and Kevin, at this stage, can you describe even a few changes you observed that we’re like, where’s my kid?
When he was using?
Yeah, when you had him in your house, and you were trying to help him? And he was still using? What differences? Did you see that you can now say, okay, that was the disease, that was my son.
The kind fellow was gone. He wasn’t rational. A lot of the things he said were irrational. And we did not understand he was still using. I mean, we have to be a textbook case of somebody who’s got blinders on, or who isn’t living in the world. But I didn’t expect it.
I want to say something. When you see your child on dialysis as a result of drug use, right? You then IV medically care for him at home. You remember the decades of that loving son, that connection you shared? And believe that that should be enough, should be enough to get him through this and help him find his path? Because you’ve had a very communicative rational relationship?
Sheila: Oh, yes.
Margaret: The piece that we don’t know is the disease shifts all of that. And changes the values, the morals of the person with it and hijacks the capacity to see them in there. You’ll get glimmers, but it’s not them. But it’s like to think that you would know that even though you have some family history is really hard on yourself, because I don’t think any parent would have been different in that case, they would have been looking for any glimmer of hope. And where’s my kid in there? And maybe it’s this is residual from the damage done from the overdose, right? Like, I mean, every thought we might have to justify the change and think, okay, he’s gonna come back, it’s gonna get better.
Interesting that use those words. Because probably two years after his last use, we would say he’s back. Because we had lost him.
Sheila: We had lost him. And I didn’t ever know if he were coming back.
Right. So, it’s a very different story, but a similar story that I think you will appreciate, and maybe the listeners too, because it’s the only thing I’ve come across that makes sense in a similar way. My father since my mom died, has struggled and had some health issues, and was put on a medication that should only be taken for a short order of time, but not told that
Margaret: So, took it for a long time. He arrived here in my home last summer to visit and it was shocking. The change in him I thought he had Parkinson’s.
Sheila: Oh my
He was not conscious very often, he was not himself. He was not. on every level he had changed. It was shocking. And I had FaceTimed on and off, but you know, your visits on that’s versus living with someone.
Anyway. I’m like, what’s going on? And he’s like, I’m good. I’m like, we’re not good. So, I ended up going home to Bermuda to visit him. And we went to the neurologist with him. And the neurologist looked at his medical chart, and his medications and said, why are you on this? You should have been off of this, It’s short term. And we were like, well, what’s the issue with it? He pulled up Google. The number one long term effect is Parkinson’s symptoms.
Sheila: Oh, my
Margaret: I took my dad off the medication. It’s taken six months for my dad to come back to us. All of the symptoms slowly went away, thankfully. But I thought my dad had Parkinson’s, I would have put a million-dollar bet on it.
Sheila: Oh my.
Margaret: So, what I’m trying to assimilate it to is, when you’re in the throes of it and your person suddenly is gone, you’re looking for a reason and you’re trying to understand it. And in recovery, what is different, but similar is when a person gets sober, if they’re working a program and cleaning up their life, the qualities that were once in them come back, and are enhanced, all the good stuff gets better.
Margaret: For sure.
Sheila: I would agree with that. But I did not understand why. Because Kevin is more of what he used to be.
Sheila: Which was kind and compassionate, and just a good soul. Just a good so he was an old soul at five. He was. And yeah, I would agree with you 100%, that what we have now is even better than and I think, Margaret, I made a huge mistake. In being so fearful of reaching out. I started to say that I went to two of my really, really good friends, the three of us have always been, so many of us have died. We’re all in our early 80s. So those of us that have each other are quite thrilled that we have each other, and I told them, but it was always with fear. Because of the unknown, of what if. I have become a master at what if? And not for the good side.
That’s a survival mechanism that is trained in us by the disease of addiction when we love someone. That is a characteristic that is trained in us by this disease. The ‘what ifs’ are our only way of preventing us from having the destruction of the worst-case scenario because somehow if I’m prepared, I’ll manage it or I’ll be okay. Even though I never want to think it’s gonna happen.
I just said that to myself the other day. I just said I could do it. I could do it. I don’t think I could do it. And interestingly, I have told Kevin that. I have told Kevin that I don’t have it in me to do it again. I don’t know if that was good or bad or destructive. I had to say it, I had to say it, that it wouldn’t be another time.
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I think one of the things we do also learn from this disease’s family members is to walk on eggshells and not say our truth because we’re so afraid of the collateral damage, that they’ll not be able to handle it.
Margaret: It’s destructive to us and to them to not be able to speak our truth. Because as you said, so clearly, I didn’t realize my powerlessness until I was in it. And if I can accept that I’m powerless to recover. I’m also powerless to make them use and if I can get that in my head, then I can get better. I cannot live in fear and the what ifs every single day. But I have to believe that I can still be true to myself and that my person whom I love in this case, Kevin, who has recovery tools, has a support network has all these great things in his life. We’ll be okay. Because if he’s struggling with it, he’ll go to his resources and he’ll manage it. We don’t have to tiptoe around them.
And you just said something that I would think would be really, really important to all of us. And that is they have resources. It’s not our problem. But it becomes our problem. I guess someone would say we let it become our problem. But it’s awfully hard not to. Maybe I’m just rationalizing,
No, it is hard not to. When I have a family member say to me, why don’t they stop using? Just stop.
Margaret: I will say to them, just stop worrying and living in fear, knock it off. It is not that easy. On either side of this coin, it takes work to get well. And I think the fact that you have gotten to the point where you are even doing this podcast and speaking your story, says a great deal about your desire to help others not suffer like you had to.
Oh, that is my only goal, is that if I had it to do over again, that I might have been able to talk to somebody who wouldn’t judge. We had that going on to, we had people judging? And I did think of something one day, and it’s a little bit along the line of what you just said in that is, if I have asked Kevin, and I have, I have blatantly said, do not ever use again. And then my answer to that would be because I cannot do this again. Then I should expect no less of myself by living in today. And not worrying about the judgment that the past brings, and the expectation that the future brings, that if I can ask him to control himself, then I have to get to the point where I control myself. And those are my thoughts.
And I would change the language slightly. And I would say if I’m asking Kevin, to stay in recovery one day at a time.
Sheila: Good word,
Margaret: am I willing to do the same of letting go of the past and the future one day at a time?
Sheila: Love it.
Margaret: Because none of us can control it? Because gosh, darn it, Sheila, if you could control it, my friend, you would have controlled it, you know, that!
Sheila: With a different outcome. But I like the way you said it.
Sheila: Because It is, I think what every parent needs to hear. And that is it gets mundane to keep saying control what I can control. Let go what I can’t control. Because when you’re in the middle of it, when the fear of the what if thinking, when the fear takes over, it just takes over. Fear is, for me, a very real part of my life.
I think I started as a child, as you mentioned. And we had a number of wonderful, good years. And talk about expectations. This is not how I thought,
Sheila: Or, what I thought I would be doing at this point. And that was putting our life on hold, which is a choice, but it’s a choice we made.
Margaret: have you stopped that?
Sheila: Putting our life on hold? Not completely Margaret. Okay. I’m working at it. I’m still working progress. I don’t know when it’s going to finish. But I am trying to say that even if I put my life on hold and don’t do anything, how does that impact Kevin? Well, it doesn’t, you know, if I deny myself going on a trip, because I don’t want to leave him alone. How does that help Kevin? Because if I were here, there might not be anything I could do anyway.
One of the things that Sandy Swenson says and if you have not read her book, my friend, I hope you get it. Sandy Swenson wrote a fantastic meditation book called ‘Tending.
Margaret: Yes, ma’am.
Sheila: I didn’t forget.
She says, Isn’t my child burdened enough by this disease that consumes them that I’m going to set him free from the burden of keeping me happy? By not requiring him to keep me happy
Sheila: to worry about me?
Margaret: Yes. So, what do I say when you say that? And I say what would Kevin do if I left? You know, like, I bet Kevin would be like, my parents are taking a vacation.
Thank goodness and they’re off my back for a while.
No, from the standpoint of my disease. He’s hasn’t troubled them to the point that they can’t live their life freely. Because I want that for my parents just as much as they want me to be healthy, I want them to be healthy.
And that gets lost.
Sheila: that gets lost Margaret.
Shelia: because maybe it’s self-centered, though I would never call myself that. But to think that I can’t do something that would probably thrill him to death, which is what you’re saying. Because that means I have faith, and trust.
And I will tell families, if you can’t have faith and trust in the person yet, which is normal, the destruction of trust is real. Have faith and trust in their Higher Power, whatever you identify that is. Their peer community, their recovery tools, their meetings, whatever they’re engaged in for their recovery, put your faith in that, and take the trip. You know what I mean, like, if you can’t put it on the child yet, put it on the tools around the child that they’re engaged in.
Margaret: or the partner or whoever.
Sheila: As I said earlier, I think with my problem, and yeah, I call it at problem, but I bet, it’s every mother’s problem. It’s hard to let it go. It is hard to stop the fear. And because we’ve lived in fear for whether it’s been somebody one year, five years, 10 years, but I can’t keep living in the fear. I know that. I know that walking three miles in the morning does not take away the damage, of living in fear. I mean, I’m smart enough to know that, not always smart enough to turn off the fear.
Well, I think it’s finding an outlet for the fear.
Margaret: It’s how do I do that? How do I
Margaret: Fear acronym is Face Everything And Recover. And one of the things that you obviously do, and I think family members really struggle to do this is, how do I face everything and not live in fear? How do I do that? That’s confusing to me. You know what I mean? Like, what does that mean? And there is no simple solution. I haven’t been through the devastation of the disease in a child. I haven’t. So far, don’t doubt that it could happen, right? I mean, I’m not naive enough to think this disease couldn’t strike someone in my family because it’s affected me, and affected other people.
What I think is hardest for me to hear and was when I was a family member to a partner was the need to know, the need to control, the need to feel valuable in the journey, the Fixer was about me and not the person that I loved. And I had a hard time with that I got really reactive to that. I was like, how can you say that? And the point that was made to me in my own recovery journey was it’s because I used people to feel okay, when everything felt out of control. Meaning as a counselor, as an educator, as a professional in the field of helping people. I had a very fine line of helping people when I was helping them, but helping people because then it made me feel good enough. Strong enough. Capable enough.
Margaret: I didn’t get that for the longest time. I reacted to that very hard, but I think there’s a lot of truth in it. You know, the saying, I’m only as happy as my most unhappy child.
Sheila: Okay. Yes, yes.
Margaret: I struggle with that. I struggle with that quote, because that burdens my child to be the responsible person for my joy and happiness. And I can’t expect that. So, it’s more about how do I work on my own fears, worries, insecurities, whatever it may be. That needs other people to be in my sphere of let me fix them to then feel okay.
Oh, my. I’ve never heard anybody say something like that.
And where does it resonate? Does it?
All. Well, first off in the caring profession I went into, in the fact that I was desperately and still feel tied to Kevin. But that’s not Kevin’s doing that is my doing.
Sheila: And I probably need to look at that. As to why do I need to feel good when he feels good?
Right. Right. And I think that that’s true of not just this relationship. You said earlier in your vulnerable moment, I would have taken my mom’s headaches make her okay.
Sheila: Oh, yes. Yea.,
Margaret: I’ve had children struggle with things and I would have taken everything off their plate if I could have but the problem is, is if I do that, I don’t let them have the journey they’re supposed to have to be who they are. But boy, were that journey look a lot more pleasant if I could be in control, right?
Because it would be from our eyes, not there.
And it would stop me from feeling the pain I feel when I see them struggle.
Yes, you’ve probably just really nailed it. The pain that I’m in, seeing my child struggle. I think that is probably almost the crux of what every parent or partner or a sibling.
Margaret: or child,
Sheila: the pain. And I guess what you have to realize is you cannot change it, only they can.
But the victory in that is you get to be their cheerleader, and you get to witness their growth and their change. You get to work on getting out of the way of being in the way of their growth and change.
Margaret: It’s not the same as being I mean, oh, my gosh, Sheila, when I was the fixer for my partner, and it went, well, do I feel good, like I am on top of the world, the devastation of the opposite is even more true. When I was in charge. And it didn’t go well. I felt like I was responsible. And I screwed up, which kept me hooked in making it better than next time, which it’s not mine to do.
Is that called enabling?
That’s part of enabling and codependency.
And codependency, that’s what I was trying to say.
Sheila: When I heard you say the word hook.
Sheila: I think I have remembered that from something that that’s how the alcoholic, perhaps about us that can keep people is that you can’t let me be, you know, how would I be a floor in here with me?
So, I think it’s the disease that creates that and all of us, not the person.
So, the way I look at it, and the way I describe it, is, if I’m raised in a home with an alcoholic parent and a non-alcoholic parents say, I have the parents, both of them as teachers, and I have the disease as a teacher. I have three parts raising me to who I am. So. I learned to survive in a certain way because of the disease, and the people.
Margaret: And so, one of the things I say is we as a nation, as a world as a people in recovery, I’ve got to stop letting the disease off scott free, and carrying the burden, put the burden where it belongs. And realize I was trained to be this way. What works well, for me keep it, what is not working? Well, for me. I’m going to work on changing.
Yeah, yeah. Isn’t there that old expression? So, how’s that working for you? And I liked that, because it’s short and sweet, but it’s true. And I will be the first one to say that I want to stop worrying. And I would love to know how to spread that word to anybody else that it’s not going to change a bit. I know that intellectually. It’s my heart doesn’t always get there.
And that’s why it’s so much more challenging when we love someone who faces this disease versus when we have a clinical relationship, or it’s a strange, or it’s right. It’s different because the love of the heart gets in the way of the ability to do the tough things that are required to be healthy for that person.
Yeah, it’s easier when it’s somebody else’s kid. I don’t have an emotional attachment.
Outro: Sheila is an inspiration to me. Her desire to always learn, her willingness to explore herself and her need to be of service all packaged up with my favorite Boston accent!
Join us again next week where Sheila and I have a conversation about service and how she’s come to understand addiction truly is a family disease.
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!