How Can Sharing Our Story Connect Us and Lessen Shame? Addiction Touches Everyone

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In our final conversation with Barb and Tom, parents of a son with the disease of addiction. They share more about how Tom surrendered to this being a no-fault disease rather than an intellectual exercise.

Tom and Barb’s recovery journey speaks to how we are exposed to recovery as a family because of the person we love with the disease of addiction. Yet, the benefits of working the recovery program as a family member trickle into all aspects of one’s life.

If you have missed any of the episodes with Barb and Tom, their story starts

Find 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 to the conversation with Barb and Tom. In this episode Tom who is a successful businessman in the corporate world shares more about how he surrendered to this being a no-fault disease rather than intellectual exercises. The recovery journey for Tom and Barb really speaks to how we are exposed to recovery as a family for a specific illness and yet the benefits of working the recovery program as family members trickle into all aspects of one’s life. Let’s get back to Tom and Barb.

The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast.  

Margaret:  I wonder Tom, not to be assumptive, but you’re a very successful person, who works really hard and acknowledges that this was an intellectual process for you until you learned. It takes some level of humility, in my opinion, to go from a type A, get it done person who believes its intellectual, to be humble enough to realize that it is an illness that it will not be the 30 day car wash, and fixed. And to embrace these concepts. Do you think that that was a challenge, or you were just so willing because of your love for your family to learn that it came quite easily for you? 

Tom:  One, I’m not sure it was easy. And yes, my love for my family, my wife and my kids and all that, were big motivator. But there was a guy you can maybe help me with this story but there was a guy one of the teachers in the program who had cut off his arm.

  It was the most incredible story I’ve ever heard in my life and yet horrible story that and there was another story about a pastor, or priest, or a minister or whatever it was, who didn’t intellectually, didn’t understand this whole idea of meth. And this guy took the meth to try it, to be a better counselor I guess, he thought or mentor and immediately got hooked and lost everything in his life. You know. 

These two stories, I still remember them ten years later, and it’s this whole idea of you can’t cause, and you can’t cure. The dad was an addict and then the son became an addict or was an addict, but the dad didn’t ’cause it and, you think wow, OK. And you just start to believe that, that’s the deal you know so for some reason that story with me, it just really, really hit home and it made me believe that you can cause. And so that I think was the turning for me that says you can’t ’cause this. It’s an innate issue like cancer or you getting a cold, or you know, I mean you get in illness and now you’ve got it go seek treatment for the illness. Any more than you know Barb had emergency surgery in December for Gallbladder. Can’t cause that either. It is what it is, and you just fix it. That was an easy fix this is a different fix. 

Margaret:  I think what you speak to was, the power of the Family Program designed so many years ago at Hazelden Betty Ford by some incredible people, who had the foresight to know one of the most impactful aspects of it would be putting people who are family members in a room with people who have the disease, who are not related to you. So, you can learn from one another without that angst that would be there if it was your person.

Barb: Right I’m just gonna say what you said. You changed your whole persona business wise after Eric went to treatment.

Tom:  Not 100% but a lot.

Barb:  A lot, your whole approach, your whole approach, it was great.

Tom:  It was a big turning point, yeah.

Barb:  It was for you and 

Margaret:  Who would have thought that would be an outcome, right. When you’re facing this and the secrecy and the shame, and then you internalize the truth of it which sets you free from some of that. To then continuing to do your career with a whole different added approach. 

Tom:  Yeah, and by being open about it, you know we realize this issue is everywhere and if it’s not drugs or alcohol or some other form of addiction. It’s everywhere and every family is affected by it. Someone in every single family is, everybody we know, also I mean I’m sure there’s everybody we know we don’t go around asking that question.  It’s everywhere and I think the best thing about it is being open and being really open about it because you get help from people or you get given direction and where to get help, you know.

 Margaret:  So, Barb you spoke to the people out there who identify as enablers. Tom, I want you to speak to the dads because I think that sometimes the dads are harder to reach. The moms will get into the program sometimes a lot faster than the dads, especially dads who are really struggling with either shame or intellectualizing the process.

Tom:  Yeah, it’s failure right. I failed to be the proper parent of you know my child and now they think about these. I guess Eric was a little older right and two kids but wasn’t like he was 18 or 19 or 20 when we were going through this. Using then but not to the extent where he was at this point in 2000 you know 9/10/11, and I’m sure it’s even more difficult as a 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 year old’s dad about failure. You know failure to teach your kids right and wrong. It goes back to the cause and cure issue and if you don’t recognize it as an illness, you’ll never relieve yourself of that burden of guilt or responsibility. It’s an illness so it’s no different than cancer. I mean it’s let’s put it that way, and in my opinion, and based on what I have learned. So, once you get that and grasp it then you can start figuring out how to move forward and get the help to fix it so. But I get it that it’s a failure, you feel like it’s a failure. 

Barb:  We have all these grandchildren and all of them have one has cerebral palsy, one has PCD, one has autism, one has dyslexia OK 

Tom:  It is what it is, everybody’s special.

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Margaret:  I love the word special right. Like that’s a whole different context rather than damaged or dysfunctional or like. That drives me nuts ’cause as human beings we are complex, and we are unique, and we have all sorts of flavors to us. And so, to see them as special, and to see them as unique, and just as capable of having a wonderful life as everyone else. How can we support them? 

Tom:  The one who’s got dyslexia, I said you know many, many, many CEOs of large companies have dyslexia and they’ve overcome it through all this hard work was which is why they’re successful leaders of the businesses right. 

My dad used to say the perfect man died yesterday, and the next one won’t be born until tomorrow, so you know and today there’s nobody perfect. 

Margaret:  I like that saying. 

Barb:  Right, right.

Tom:  That’s a pretty good saying. I haven’t thought of that.

Tom:  I haven’t thought of that saying and my dad’s been dead 46 years and thought about that since then. And then Barb’s Uncle Jerry used to say save like you’re going to live forever and, pray like you’re going to die tomorrow. That was his saying.

Margaret:  Little nuggets along the way.

Tom:  Old time sayings. Yeah.

Margaret:  Any last glimmer of thought? Anything you wanna share that you think you didn’t get a chance to?

Barb:   Nope. Good luck to you honey you got a big job ahead here. (laughter) 

Tom:  Thanks for, just thank you!  You know you were unbelievably important ten years ago February. 

Barb: In our journey for sure.

Tom:  You know we stayed connected you. You made a huge impression. And I retired and wrote my book in ‘17 and I reached out to you. Hadn’t talked to you for several years and, we connected again and, and so, thank you for helping me on that journey, as well. And we wish you the best, and we’re thrilled to be the first couple interviewed.  

Margaret:  Yeah, You’re paving the way. I wanted to also just say I think one of the things that I remember clearly about your family was the willingness for everybody to get on board.

You know for people to come through, for your generosity, to offer that to your children. And I know that many family members come in, in that place of thinking this is just gonna be that car wash, and then they’re going to smooth sail. And I, I’m grateful that you shared that is not the case and you still can get through it. Because we need that message out there. This is not a on off switch.

Barb:   No, no. It is a life journey and you. There is no fairy godmother waving a wand and making everything all better after 30 days in a program. It’s, it would be wonderful if someone could do that, but it doesn’t exist. And as we all admit it affects all kinds of people not just the addict, it affects all kinds of people so everybody’s on the journey together.

Margaret:   Which brings us full circle to where we started with your son who I am so sorry for the loss of your grandson and the tragedy that he and you have as a family gone through. Speaking to you and you ask him point blank about where he’s at and he says I’ve got people around me. My recovery community stepping up. Like that is the fairy godmother, if there is such a thing. Right

Barb: You bet. 

Margaret:  The same for the both of you. The people you’ve reached out and let in who are your mentors your support your they’re there for you. 

Barb:  So, he has this this amazing group of people, that are so tight, they’re so tight together, and they really all look out for each other. Yeah, and right now they’re all just there for him and it’s a beautiful thing.

Tom:  Yeah. It really is. 

Margaret:  And that gives you both permission, to continue to detach with love.

Barb:  Yeah 

Margaret:  Self Care. Recognize he does have people. ’cause I think that’s one of the things that people struggle with in the early days of how do I let go ’cause who then will pick up. who then will be there who then will support, and that’s the magic of if we can internalize that the recovery community steps in for the addict works with them helps them if they’re willing to do the work we do the same in our al Anon program and it can change dramatically the whole family system.

Barb:   for sure and it’s, as I said I used the word freeing before it is very freeing. Here’s what I will tell you, the first time he went to treatment was the first night I had a good night’s sleep in so many years. And now if I can’t sleep it’s because I’m getting old (laughter)

Margaret:  So, well there’s a note to leave it on.  Thanks Barb. (laughter)

Tom:  There we go!

Margaret:  Well, I appreciate your time so much and I wish you well and hopefully we can get together for another lunch or breakfast in the near future when you get back up.

Tom:  Love It

Barb: Yup.

Margaret:  Thank you

Tom & Barb:  Thank you Margaret.  Goodbye Margaret. Take care

Outro:  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed recording this podcast with Barb and Tom. I have been blessed with meeting thousands of amazing families and very often in my past work at Hazelden Betty Ford, I would meet them, we’d spend some time together in the program and then I would never know how their family story unfolded. I appreciate so much Tom and Barb’s generosity in sharing how the 10 year journey has unfolded for their family and the reality that life is bumpy, whether we have this disease or not, and what keeps us on stable ground through it all is the work of 12 step recovery. 

Next week I look forward to introducing you to Dianne a friend, a powerhouse in the field of addiction, and a warrior of a woman who knows this family disease intimately from many perspectives and she always maintains a willing heart of a teacher.

Please find resources on my website

This is Margaret Swift Thompson.

Until next time please take care of you!