Ep 17 - What? Treatment Isn't a Carwash, 28 Days Then Life Goes on Clean and Sober?

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Tom and Barb continue to share their own learning about the family disease of addiction. They have phenomenal shifts in their strategies with their son, his addiction, and his recovery.

Can’t believe addiction is not an intellectual exercise?
As a mother, I need to orchestrate all relationships around Eric, right?

Their recovery expands in this episode as they embrace these tools of healing for all life’s ups and downs, not just with this family disease.

Tom so respected the psychological learning of family recovery; he took it into his business model and added tools to his extensive business experience.

If you find yourself wondering, how can I get there? What are these tools? I want more help.

Go to my Work With Margaret Page on my website, and learn more about how I can come alongside you in developing strategies and embracing the tools of recovery to offer you as family members a different quality of life.

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! As you heard in episode 16, Tom and Barb have had quite the journey in recovery with their son Eric’s disease.  A recovery that has not been a straight-line trajectory or as Tom will described in this episode, the car wash of 30 days and then you get on with life. Today we continue with Tom and Barb.

Barb sharing how she learned not to be the puppet master of the family and their relationships with Eric. Tom will share more about his learning of treatment being more than a carwash – this shift in Tom’s thinking offers insight into the humility required to accept family powerlessness over their son’s addiction and recovery. 

Let’s get back to Barb and Tom

The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast

Barb:  It is a journey, and everybody goes through it in their own way. And I am no longer the orchestra leader of everybody’s relationship with their brother.

Margaret:   How did you change that?

Barb:  Well, I think just through this whole separation. First of all, in the Family Program, these are your words ‘actions words plus actions matching.

We live by that, and we have suggested to all of our children when they went to the Family Program see how this, fits into your world. See how this might work for you. And it was my feeling not to push Eric on to anybody. He’s got his own 9th Step he’s gotta deal with on these people and it’s not me. And I’m not telling him what to do, and I’m not telling them what to do. 

But we did say to them is, this is how it’s working for us. 

Margaret:  You shared your experience

Barb:  This is how we feel about who Eric has become. I know you knew him back here but the person you know now is not the same person.  Looks like the same person, just doesn’t act like the same person. 

He had a grave illness and that brought his younger sister to the hospital by my side. 

Tom:  3 years ago. April

Barb:  Yup

Tom:  3 or 2?

Barb:  3

Tom:  3 years ago. April.  2% chance of survival, survived

Margaret:  It’s been quite a ride hasn’t it. There’s not been a smooth trajectory since treatment. (laughter)

Tom:  But life isn’t smooth, forget about addiction. You know if you if you think, we have we have all these grandkids. All of them are a little different and have special things. You know and what you realize is that everybody’s special and then everybody has uniqueness and we’re not, believe me, we’re not alone in this game. When we went through this with our son, I was really open about it at work and everybody almost everybody I talked to at work, had been affected by addiction somewhere in their families. Everybody by some form of addiction. 

No, it’s everywhere so you know there’s no embarrassment, thinking that you’re on an island all by yourself and I, we took it as the more we shared, the more we understood about what other people were going through and it was actually very helpful for us by being open, and vulnerable and sharing it with other people and then they share it with us. You know, so that was pretty cool.

Margaret:   Did that happen before you went through the family program where you open about it, or did that help you get more open?

Tom:  Well, I can answer that for me. I looked at addiction as weakness. It’s you know, life is pretty simple if you’re doing something that’s stupid just stop doing. That’s how my brain works right.

Margaret:   I get it.

Tom:   If you, if you’re doing some exercise and it’s painful, you’ll stop. You know it’s almost that simple and I remember asking the question, how come? Why can’t you just stop? Because you know you’re destroying your life, family … and through this whole process we found out that it’s, you can’t. It’s an illness and you can’t stop.  I thought it was an intellectual exercise.

 So, I didn’t think of it as, I wasn’t open to it at all. In fact, I didn’t even recognize it until our granddaughter called and then we called around to the other kids. Do you guys know that Eric’s doing this? And they all knew, and I mean we were like two dummies you know

Barb:  Right. (laughter)

Tom:  At least I was a dumb. 

Barb:  Dumb and dumber

Margaret:  What I would say in kindness to you, ’cause I think it’s important to everyone out there sitting there feeling like I was in the same position, or I am in the same position. There’s two things going on. The person with the disease doesn’t want the people who will intervene to know because, they believe the only way to survive is to use. You who love them don’t want to see anything wrong because, you love them and want to believe the best in them. So, there’s the two parts going on. And the family secrets are a very real part of this illness. The family doesn’t know who to turn to, what to say, even though they may have a very open relationship with you.

Tom:   And the interesting thing for me is that we talked about this, is that this is not a simple thing you don’t just put somebody in a treatment program in 30 days later they come out, and life is perfect right? This, we’re 10 years into it. He’s sober, the whole time no relapses but the 10 years haven’t necessarily been easy, and they’re getting easier and, we’re in we’re all in a much better place today. But it’s not an easy fix this is, this is something that takes time, and then there’s a lot of hurt that happened prior, prior to getting into that, everybody differently all, in our group there were six of us everybody had a different, and then 2 grandkids and ex-wife for him. And you know everybody has a different, and it just takes time and, there’s not an easy fix. It’s not like you break your arm, you get it set, six weeks later you’re back. Don’t work that way.

Margaret:   So, you had a major shift Tom it sounds like maybe Barb you had a sense of the disease even though needed more education.

Barb:  I’m a nurse. 

Margaret: OK

Barb:  So, I have studied alcoholism, so I did have that. Even though I and doesn’t that, that sounds a little crazy to me when I say that I was a nurse but yet I was just a masterful enabler and it’s a whole different kind of connection. You have this connection with your child that you’re just trying to make everything better and yet I could look at someone else who had an addiction and say, here’s a thing you really need help. 

Margaret:  So, you went into the profession of helping people. So, it’s not that big of a leap that you would try to stay in that role.

Barb:  Yeah. 

Margaret:  So, for you to come to a place of detachment with love is quite impressive. You’ve done some serious work there.

Barb:  Oh yeah, here’s the thing I know, that and I’ve said to Eric. I said you know I enabled you but everything I did came from a place of love. OK, it wasn’t like I got up every day and thought, how can I mess up your life. It was how can I make your life better. I was just doing it the wrong way, that’s all. And it was it was not you know it’s not a nefarious thing. It’s so yeah, I, you know Tom was much better at looking at this clearly than I was.

Tom:  Well once I understood

Barb:  Yeah, no once I understood I, it’s once I just was willing to face my part in it.

Margaret:  That is so significant that you just said. And so vital for people to hear. We don’t want to face that we have a part in it. Most people coming into this think, if we could just get them fixed, we’re gonna be good. They’re the ones that need the help.

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Margaret:  Don’t you agree having gone through this, that it is absolutely imperative everybody get that help. 

Barb:  Absolutely. 100% necessity. To have full recovery for, in our case our family unit. Our family unit would never be what it is I if we hadn’t gotten our own, got in our own recovery, really. And we felt so strong about the Family Program that we sent our children. I mean we said, you  guys, this gives you so much to think about, this gives you so much to take into your own life. We’ll pay if you want to go, we’ll pay, and they did. 

Margaret:  Willingly or was there a little bit of a resistance by any of them?

Barb:  Kevin did not go he refused, he and his wife. We actually offered to pay for both of them, and he’s probably had the hardest time of anybody. 

Tom:  For sure, they are the last two to begin the connection but it’s beginning. 

Barb:  Yes

Tom:  It’s beginning through a tragedy, but it’s beginning. and I think it’s probably because he didn’t go, didn’t understand it. He’s just you know. Kevin is probably a little bit like me, where it’s an intellectual issue and then it was an anger issue on some hurt that occurred. And you know, I think that’s his deal.

Margaret:  I do think that that speaks also to a very common process for siblings. The different relationships one might be more caregiver, one might be more, angry. One might be just like I’m out, I’m not in this. So, it makes a lot of sense that the struggle might have been harder for your son who didn’t get that education. Even just the base education of understanding. It may not have changed dramatically the anger or the resistance to connect, but it would have been given him information that maybe he didn’t understand from a source that wasn’t mom or dad.

Barb:  Yeah, I mean, and we’ve recommended it too 

Tom:  Anybody, anybody. The psychology of can’t ’cause, can’t cure, can’t control. Forget addiction for just a minute is really outstanding. You can’t cause anybody to do anything. That psychology that we learned in that program I think was extremely effective for dealing with addiction. But it’s extremely effective in dealing with life. And that’s when Barb talked about the words plus sections matching overtime that was you who taught that session and we wrote that down and it became a mantra. I used it in my business career then from then on and we use it we use it personally use it with our family, our son, ourselves, my business career. Wrote about it in my book as a key mantra of success. And you helped me, we actually interviewed you when we wrote the book in ’17, 2017. 

Margaret:  That was a privilege, honor.

So, what I believe has been said and I agree, that isn’t it a shame it takes the tragedy and pain of the illness progressing that people have to find this solution.

Tom:  Yeah

Margaret:  Because I’ve heard from more than a handful as an understatement of people that this is such a great way to live. Recovery. And I was just saying to another friend who I interviewed, in the beginning of Covid I heard on mainstream media, a psychologist I think it was being interviewed about how we are going to get through this. Covid. And you know what he said he said the way we’re going to get through Covid is by embracing the principles of 12 step recovery ’cause they know how to do this beautifully. We need a community of support, we need to live one day at a time, we need to surrender control because we have none.

Tom:  Right.

Margaret:  WooWoo!! I was like you know, that’s happening out there! You know.

Tom:  Pretty good, yeah!

Margaret:  And I think it’s true you can definitely take what you learn in recovery and branch it out to every relationship, every aspect of your life.

Barb:  Yes. After we left the family program as we were telling our young adult children. I said you know what this is a course that should be taught senior year in high school, OK the whole 12 step program. Not it, it’s geared to addiction I get that, but this is just a way of life which would make everything so much simpler if you just could accept all of these steps along the way.

Margaret:  I’m biased but I agree. 

Barb:  You will, yeah no.

Margaret:  For families who may not be in the place you are, which is 10 years out. And I hear you loud and clear, challenges along the way. If they’re in the place of living in this and they’re feeling like they just can’t stop enabling, and they don’t know what to do and they’re exhausted what would you give them for support.

Barb:  Oh boy. You have to get help. You can’t carry that load on your own shoulders. You have to look at yourself and say I was the enabler. I was part of this problem and wow I pointed the finger at other people who I said, oh there look at that, that’s an enabler. Never wanted to look at in that mirror and see that I was that same person. Guess what it’s really freeing. I mean. Once you really get to that point it’s really freeing because ah yes, I yeah

Margaret:  So, a big part for you sounds like Barb that it was also just the freedom to believe that you did not ’cause it, that it was not your fault nothing you did made him an addict.

Barb:   It was, it was. It takes a long time to try to not be a fixer of the problem. 

Tom:  We would have never stopped unless we had gotten help. So, I think to answer for my view and your question is, if you are not seeking help through a Family Program, through Al-Anon, through counseling. You’re gonna, you’re not gonna get there. And it’s no different than anything you do in life. If you want to be good at your profession, you practice it. If you want to be good, you know if you want to get to be a better golfer then you gotta practice golf, right. In business, if you know, a lot of CEO’s and executives of major companies have personal life coaches. Where there helping them not with addiction, but through life and understand themselves into better the better know their natural tendencies and how to be a better mentor leader and executive and you’ve got to work on your life and that’s the same with addictions.

Barb:  It’s tough enough when you have support around you. 

And if you don’t have that. I mean it’s one of the greatest gifts of our lives. We I mean we really believe that the Family Program that the 12 step lifestyle is one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever dealt with because we really try to live it. You know we’re not perfect, but we try real hard.

Margaret:  Did you think when this journey started, and you were brought to the awareness of Eric’s addiction that you’d ever get to a place of gratitude that through him you got this?

Barb:   Actually, when we took Eric to Hazelden I was the person who thought oh thank God as soon as he gets out my life will be normal. OK. So, I never ever, ever 

Tom:  We flew, we were living in New Jersey and the time when we flew into Minneapolis, did the intervention, and as I said to me this was an intellectual issue, not a sickness and illness. And I thought OK, let’s fix this. We gotta get back on the plane and get back to Jersey. I gotta go to work in the morning. We got to fix this you know.

Margaret:   Right

Tom:  And this should be really fixable. So let’s stick him in this place and 30 days later he comes out and boom. Its like going through a car wash car’s dirty, you go through, you come out, you gotta clean car, should be that simple, and unfortunately, it’s not.

 Barb:  I mean it’s not.

Tom:  It’s a 10 year car wash!

Barb:  I stayed but still it was, I mean really the family program was just the very beginning, that’s the very, very beginning. 

Tom:  It gives you the tools to begin the healing.

Outro:  The old recovery toolbox.  If we as family members want serenity and peace in our lives, we need to keep that toolbox close at hand and actually use the tools. As Barb and Tom have shared there is no cure for the disease of addiction however there is a powerful solution, for everyone in the family, if we are all willing to work a recovery program. If you find yourself wondering how can I get there? What are these tools? I want more help.

 Go to my website embracefamilyrecovery.com and learn more about how I can come alongside you in developing strategies, and embracing the tools of recovery to offer you as family members a different quality of life. 

And please come back next week. We will continue our conversation with Barb and Tom.

 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!