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Today You will meet Tom and Barb.

This couple surprised themselves in finding their recovery through attending a Family Program. They thought they were attending to help heir son.

Barb, a self-described “Queen of Enabling” and Tom a Type A corporate man, master problem solver come together to share their journey of loving a son with the disease of chemical dependency.

This family disease creeps up on everyone in the family over time and the journey of healing takes different timelines for everyone.

“acceptance is the answer to all my problems today” – Big Book of AA p.417
Within the family, our job is our individual recovery while offering love and grace to the ones we love to find their path.

See full transcript of episode below.


This is 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! So, I’m really excited today to introduce to you my first couple. The people I chose were a no brainer, and I’m excited to introduce them to you. A couple, they are parents, who found their own recovery through the Family Program at Hazelden Betty Ford many years ago when their son went through treatment. They also strongly encouraged their family, as a whole, to get educated about this disease. Let’s start our conversation.

The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast

Margaret:  So, one of the things I start every session with is wetting our whistle, you know making it easier to talk. So, I don’t know if you have anything around?

Tom:  Water (laughter)

Margaret:  Water. Perfect! So, I am really excited have you both with you are my first couple show that’s a big deal. I want to introduce my listeners to you. Tom and Barb with me today and you are a couple that I have known now, you’re going to help me with the math. How many years ago did we meet?

Barb:  2011 

Tom:  10, 10, February.

Margaret:  10 years ago, in February! How did you find your way into your own recovery?

Tom:  Well, I think it was through the family program at Hazelden and the most influential person for us in the whole program was you and which is which is why we’ve stayed connected for 10 years, you know. But I would say that’s not just for us but for our families too, for our other kids.

Barb:  Yes, because we sent all of our kids to the Family Program after we attended because it was so helpful, insightful for us. We went there really blind. I mean we were really two blind people not knowing.

Tom:  We went there as really good enablers.

Barb:  And professional enablers actually. Whenever I see anybody, I say oh yeah, I’ve been you, yeah. 

Margaret:  So, I find it really interesting and wonderful that you chose to send your whole family ’cause we know the dynamics within the family for each player in the family can be very different around this illness. The person who had the illness that led you to treatment to begin with was your son, Barb, correct?

Barb: Correct.

Margaret:  And you’re a blended family. So how many children are there?

Barb: Tom and I have three children, and I had Eric, I came with Eric to our marriage.

Tom:  We’ve raised Eric since he was 4, so we have four kids.

Barb:   Yes. I mean we don’t look at ourselves as a blended family even though technically we are. Eric’s biological father was never in his life. 

Tom:  So, we never dealt with that it was always just us. 

Barb:  I mean he was just…

Margaret:  You were the unit.

Barb:  Yeah 

Tom:  and when we got married Eric was four, and three months after we got married, we got pregnant, and then they just kept coming until we stopped at 4. (laughter) We said that’s enough!

Margaret:  So, your first born is the one who has the illness. Was anyone else in either of your families historically affected by addiction or was this the 1st exposure to it for you?

Barb:  Oh, no my dad was an alcoholic. I had uncles who were alcoholics no I had been around alcoholism and in my life. 

Tom:  In my family, my mother’s side of the family, no. My father side of the family, my father didn’t drink on purpose. Why on purpose I’m not sure he died when I was 16. But I, my belief has been that it was because my grandfather had a problem and there was probably some issue with abuse and my father ended up being the policeman there and so he just chose not to, to drink at all. My brother was, is 23 years sober but he was a very serious, serious addict. 

Margaret:  At what age were you when he got sober or into recovery?

Tom:   My brother,

 Margaret:  Yeah 

Tom:  Which time right? The final time I guess, the final time so do the math I was like 41 when he when he finally got sober. 

Margaret:  So even though you came to the Family Program for your son, ended up coming for yourself. Your journey inward, you shared feeling blind which I hear a lot from family members coming in and even though it’s out there in the family some in secret, some in very open, some very much affecting you. Possibly your dad and your brother’s ’cause they are close. What makes it different do you think when you come in with your child?

Barb:  Oh, that’s so, that’s very personal for me, I mean it was what could I have done better. What did I do wrong? How can I fix this? Why does it take so long to fix this?

Tom:   Can’t cause, can’t cure, right.

Barb:  Those were the three most beautiful words that were ever spoken to me because I, I felt amazingly responsible for everything that was going wrong.

Margaret: Right. And do you think Barb that that came from the interactions with your son and some of the disease’s ugliness that it creates in a relationship or was that just innate in you?

Barb:   It might have been a little bit of both of those things. He and I worked together, so we were together a lot. He had two children. He was going through a nasty divorce. Tom and I were essentially living apart because he was traveling all the time. And so, I think I was trying to fix every problem that Eric had. So, is that motherly? Maybe I don’t (laughter) I don’t you know, yes and no. But I also know there were people around me who said, “can’t you see what’s happening here?” And I just got mad at them so.

Margaret:  Right and thank you for sharing that Barb because I think that is a very common response when people do try to point it out to us and we’re living in it. That, that instinct to protect comes out.

Barb:  Yeah, 

Tom:  We were in New Jersey. So, you were gone away from him for three years. We were in New Jersey for half of 08 though all of 09,10 and the beginning months of 11 and so we were really away. 

Barb: Which is probably the healthiest thing that happened because I was so much more open to it when, I mean his daughter is the one who facilitated. She was nine years old. She called me up and she said grandma my dad uses drugs he uses pot I think she said, every day, and he’s always crabby, and I need help. 

Margaret: That’s amazing!

Barb:  It was amazing.

Tom:  It was on a Thursday we had a meeting on Saturday with the family, intervention on Sunday. We hired a person to help us with the intervention and that person took Eric right to Hazelden right from our kitchen.

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Margaret:  So, I wanna just go back to what you said about your granddaughter. Her reaching out to you. I have often told grandparents and extended family members the vitality of your relationship with the children can make a huge difference. Meaning to be consistent and safe for them to find and reach out to. To have an open relationship to know that grandma and grandpa are gonna be there for me if I need them. They will reach out when they need help. That’s important.

Barb:  Yeah, and at, the time it was probably the life-saving gesture of Eric’s world and I think it really was his, even though his children were too young to be part of the intervention they wrote things that we, I mean they said things that we wrote, and they were also the catalyst that shoved him over the edge.

Tom:   Yeah, otherwise he was gonna lose them, he was going to lose everything including them. 

Barb:  Yeah

Tom:  He’d already lost most things. but he was going to lose them too, so you know that that was the I think the piece that pushed him over. But now 10 years later when you ask him you know as we talked about before we got on the call here is you know, Barb asks him and point blank you know have you thought about using, this is after his oldest son died. Have you thought about using you know drugs or alcohol and he said no. He said I was in a horrible place. I’m in a great place, I don’t want to go back and you know he calls himself, I don’t know if this is an official term or not, but he calls himself one of the lucky ones. That his sobriety is it’s not a fight for him it’s a pleasure for him, I guess. Is that fair?

Barb:  Yeah, I mean he has got some extremely close partners in his AA group. This is a tough thing you’re going through, call me first. They stuck by him like glue every day, every day.

Tom:  And his work they all know he is sober. I mean he says look I’m sober, that’s the way he calls it, he doesn’t say I’m addict he says I’m sober. And so, everybody knows it and so they were worried and they said take whatever time you need.

Barb:  Right 

Tom:  You know, when you asked him that question, he said I’ve been asked like 16 or 17 people and he said I don’t I don’t take offense to it at all, he said. And then he tells his side of the story, which is really cool.

Margaret:   So, was it always that way that you could be that direct Barb, or was that difficult at first?

Barb:   0h here’s the thing I was the Queen of enabling. I, everything he said, which was such a bucket of lies. I defended it. So direct? I was directly defending lies. 

Margaret:  So, you were defending the disease unknowingly.

Barb:   Yes, yes ma’am, yes ma’am. And then you know we, we had a departure in our relationship over this this same little girl who came to me she got her world turned upside down. 

Tom: That was early on in his sobriety it took when you talk to him now, you realize that it took almost two or three years for some reason, I don’t understand this, but it took two or three years for him to really clear his brain, so that he was maybe thinking straighter, I think. And so, in the beginning you used, when we were in the family program one of the things we did, is wrote a contract it looked like we were three weeks into sobriety or almost towards the end of his time in Hazelden.

Barb:  Oh, I think it was right at the end.

Tom:  And we wrote a contract that with him and it was very specific on what we were going to do and what he was doing. And in the contract within two or three weeks got busted. And so, we did, we did the tough love piece, you know that we were taught in the Family Program and believe. And to this day, we have never veered from what we were taught.

So even though he was sober in the beginning it wasn’t like you know um like it is today 10 years later I’m happy I’m sober. So, then we got estranged, and then we got estranged not only the two of us with him, but then two of the other three kids were estranged from him for various reasons. But one was, one of our kids was out of town for all of it, lived in a different place, joined the intervention by video, but it really is never interacted you know with him. So, she was, it was a little different. 

So, we were estranged for a period of time and so the grandkids became a weapon in the beginning and as they got older, then they could do what they want, you know and reach out to us, and call us, and talk to us.

 But over time all that has passed but lots of things that have happened that have allowed us to you know come back together. The one sibling is kind of like the last holdout of the estrangement. And then when our grandson you know died and, you know really puts into perspective that life is short, and we should forgive and forget and move forward.  And our oldest Eric is not the person that our other son thought he was ten years ago, you know I can understand why he thought that 10 years ago but today he’s a totally different guy.

Barb:  Right. 

Tom:  And so, we were all together at Easter and will be together for the first time this summer at the Lake and so it’s been it’s been a journey. 

Outro:  I hope you enjoyed meeting Tom and Barb. We will continue our conversation on the next episode. An observation, of this episode, is the recovery journey. Family healing does not happen instantaneously. Recovery is not an on off switch. The disease of addiction progresses overtime, and recovery takes time and work. This family continues to do their recovery work.

I want to thank my guests for their courage and vulnerability in sharing parts of their story please find resource is on my website embracefamilyrecovery.com 

This is Margaret Swift Thompson.

Until next time please, take care of you!