Ep 71 - What Does Gloria Wish She Understood Before Her Son's Heroin Overdose in 2007?

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Here we go, my first guest of the 3rd season of The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast! 
I am thrilled to introduce you to Gloria Englund. Gloria is a mother whose qualifier was Aaron, her oldest son, who sadly passed from an overdose in 2007.
Gloria’s grief journey has led her to be an ally for the recovery community. Her coaching business Recovering U honors all pathways to recovery. Gloria wrote her influential book, ‘Living in The Wake of Addiction. Lessons for Courageous Caregiving©‘ to educate and destigmatize this family disease.
Gloria also facilitates groups for people who have lost someone to the disease of addiction called, A Different Kind of Grief.℠
Find resources on my website and in my show notes.

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.

Margaret  00:25

Welcome back friends. Today I’m honored to introduce you to Gloria Englund. Gloria sadly lost her eldest son Aaron to a heroin overdose in 2007. Part of her grief journey was learning and giving back, helping others. Gloria has done this in many ways. Through her book, ‘Living In The Wake of Addiction’, and founding her coaching business Recovering U. she coaches facilitates groups, and educates through trainings and workshops around grief, addiction, and recovery. 

Meet my new friend, Gloria.


The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast.

Margaret  01:23

So, it is my pleasure to welcome you, Gloria to the podcast. I’m thrilled you’re here with us. I have today a treat in this closet-to-closet experience with Gloria. Gloria Englund is an author of the book ‘Living in the Wake of Addiction’. And before we dive into the book, because I would think that’s probably later in your story. I wonder if you would be willing to introduce to the listeners, who you are and who your qualifier is for the disease of addiction.

Gloria  01:57

Okay. Well, my name is Gloria Englund. I started my business Recovering U. I think about 10 years ago, in 2012. And I, I did that because my oldest son Aaron died of a heroin overdose in 2007. And after his death, and he was ill for almost 20 years. His last drug of choice was opioids, opioids, heroin, that was before a lot of pills and really come into existence or use. And I have a master’s degree in Human Development and Psychology, and I really thought that I knew a lot about addiction. But I found out that I didn’t know anything about it until after he died. As a way I think to deal with my grieving process, I just dove in and started reading everything, that was the newest information that was out there about addiction. I started, continued to go to my Al-Anon meetings because I found that, you know, being around other people that understood addiction was really important to my healing process.

Margaret  03:21

I want to take you back a little if you will, let me and say first of all, how sorry, I am you lost your son? 

Gloria:  Thank you, Margaret. 

Margaret:  The reality of this disease being chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal, is always hard for every family member to consider. I believe the majority of families I’ve worked with, and I’m curious of your experience, because you’ve had a lot of experience working with families as well as your own personal experience. 

Many families have thought about the passing of their person, many times before it ever happens. And I’m wondering if that was your experience? Did you find yourself thinking about that before he passed? Or were you always in the place of potential hope of recovery?

Gloria  04:11

No, I was always in the part of trying to prepare myself for that. You know, I got a lot of phone calls in the middle of the night, Mom, I’m at the police station. Mom, I’m stranded, I need a ride home Mom, I’m in the hospital. You think you kind of prepare yourself for that time when they die because of all that you go through. But there’s just absolutely no way you prepare yourself for anyone’s death, 

Margaret: Right. 

Gloria:  You just don’t even if I would imagine if somebody was chronically ill, and I was seeing them and caring for them for a long time and watching them die slowly in front of my eyes. I still don’t think I’d be prepared for when they take their last breath.

Margaret  04:56

I agree. I’ve heard many family members say though I’ve planned their funeral 1000s of times,

Gloria  05:02

I never got that far. 

Margaret: No.

Gloria:  This might come as a shock to a lot of people, but I worried about Aaron, ‘cause he was dealing drugs. So, I worried about him getting killed in the drug deal more than I did about him overdosing. And I think that has a lot to do with my lack of knowledge of the danger of opioids at the time that he was alive, right. I saw him in withdrawal many times as he tried to get off. And he explained to me, you know, mom, very few people ever die from withdrawal from opioids. But alcohol use disorder is a totally different thing. If you try to quit cold turkey, it can be very life threatening. So, he you know, he explained all that to me. So, I guess that maybe that’s why I never worried about him overdosing, which is really weird.

Margaret  05:53

Well, it’s interesting, Gloria, because you shared candidly that you worked in marketing, you learned on the fly living with this disease in your son. And it sounds like you really deep dove into it as a way of coping with him passing.

Gloria  06:09

Yes, everybody has a different grief journey. And that was part of my grief journey was to, to dive in and learn everything because what was on my heart all the time, and it’s a reason why I wrote the book is that if I can just keep one family, or one family member more informed than I was. So, they know a little bit more about what this journey is like, then it was my hope that that would ease my suffering and ease my loss of Aaron, when in fact it did not. You know, everybody does something different on their grief journey. And that’s one thing I’ve learned from, you know, doing these groups for 10 years, it’s amazing, the different ways that people learn to grow around their grief. And that’s what I’ve seen people do is they don’t get through it; they don’t get over it. They don’t put it aside if they continue to live and function in the world. They learn to grow around, they’re grief. And it’s a different growing period every couple years, every six months. I mean, it was 15 years for me on May 11, and I’m, I’m still growing around that grief and different ways.

Margaret  07:17

When you say you wrote the book, to hope that someone would get something you wish you’d known or help that you wish you’d been given. Do you remember in the process of reflecting in the writing and what you gave to, because I’ve read it, and it’s wonderful, and you give a lot of really good tips, tools, strategies, along with your experience? Is there one that stands out that you wish you understood sooner or knew sooner or were given sooner as a tool for yourself?

Gloria  07:49

Absolutely, no question about it. I wish I would have known more about medication assisted treatment. I wish I would have understood it as a tool, rather than a band aid. I just think I could have been more supportive of Aaron. He felt a lot of shame and stigma because he was on methadone, off and on for several years. You know, and people talk about what do you think about methadone, and it’s lifesaving. And there’s just still, even to this day, I was part of an opioid summit via zoom last night that was hosted by Ryan Hampton, who wrote American Fix, and they had a lot of stakeholders in the recovery community, including they had someone there representing family recovery. And we discussed this and one of the things that came up was still the stigma that is around methadone. The stigma is much more prevalent in the community of color. We’ve got this whole nother aspect now to look at about Native Americans, people of color. Native Americans have a much higher overdose rate and death rate than white folks do. So, there’s a whole new area to look about how this has been stigmatized now, in a completely different way than when my son died.

Margaret  09:12

Aaron passed in ‘07. 

Gloria:  Yes. 

Margaret:  In ’07, methadone was the main medicated assisted treatment, correct? 

Gloria  09:20

Yes, it was and suboxone was available, but only if you were in treatment. And Aaron did the last time he was in treatment. He did get on Suboxone. I said oh moms is so much better. He ended up in the hospital a couple of times with methadone because the liquid form of methadone was the only way that they would give it to him unless he was hospitalized and under the care of a physician, then he would get the tablets. And he could tell immediately that the tablets agree with this digestive system much more than the liquid dead and we figured out it might have been the dye and the liquid because he had kind of a sensitive digestive system anyway. But when he was taking the suboxone the last time he was in treatment, he said, I just feel so much better on this mom, it seems like that it quells my cravings without making me as foggy as methadone. Did. It seemed like when he got his cravings, quelled with methadone, then he would be kind of dopey. But he did very well on Suboxone. But then, back then, in 2007, when you were out of treatment, you had to find a doctor to prescribe you Suboxone. It was not covered by insurance. It was covered by insurance as long as you were in treatment. And at that time, in the state of Minnesota, there were only seven physicians that were licensed to dispense Suboxone. And they had waiting lists of hundreds of people. And then the cost was $1,000 or $1,200 a month. Well, that was nothing that, we couldn’t afford that.

Margaret  10:52

Right. So, when someone says to well, that is a band aid, they’re not sober. What’s your feedback to that?

Gloria  11:00

Well, it’s not any more than a band aid than somebody that takes insulin for diabetes and has to take it for the rest of life. I have dear friends and family members that have been on antidepressants for the rest of their life. It’s all wrapped up in the stigma of addiction. I know that mental illness gets stigmatized, and also with medication. 

And to be honest with you, Margaret, I know it can be abused. And I know at times my son abused it. And I know at times when he was told to taper down. See at the time that Aaron was taking methadone, they get him to an amount where he was stable, where his cravings weren’t there, and he could still function. Once in a while he’d be a little dopey, but basically, they get him stable and then within a month of getting him stable, they’d start tapering him down again. Because the idea was you’re on this to get your cravings under control. And then we’re going to taper down, well, he’d start tapering down and the cravings would come back. So, he’d buy it on the street.

They have a totally different way of dealing with it now. But the way that he was dealt with is, you got to get off of it. Well, for somebody who had been using opioids for almost 10 years, you can’t stop your cravings and a month. They’re finding out a lot more now about it. Not enough. I mean, my goodness, we need to spend so many dollars on research and brain and the body’s response to medication assisted treatment, and we’re not there. We’ve got so far to go.

Margaret  12:38

Yeah, we’ve evolved. We’ve come a ways, but we’ve got a long way to go.


This podcast is made possible by listeners like you.

Margaret  12:46

I am incredibly excited to announce that Gloria and myself will be hosting a retreat at the renewal center in Center City, Minnesota. At the Hazelden Betty Ford campus. 

This retreat will be held from December 9 to 11th. Yes, I’m coming back to Minnesota in December. This retreat is called A Different Kind of Grief. Gloria and I invite anyone who has lost a loved one to the disease of addiction, a minimum of six months ago to join us for a place for you to be seen, heard and validated in your grief, while building your community of support.

To register, find the links in my show notes, or call peg or Georgia at the Renewal Center. The number is 1-800-262-4882.


You’re listening to The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast. Can you relate to what you’re hearing? Never miss a show by hitting the subscribe button. Now back to the show.

Margaret  13:54

So, when you also think about the things you’ve included, because I know you did a nice job on a chapter on looking at the disease, and not a moral stigma. And that that journey for many people is a hard one. Because the behaviors of addiction looks so immoral. And it’s easy to judge or appears to be. What else do you wish as a mom, you had learned that you’ve shared with moms since?

Gloria  14:27

To number one get educated so you understand that, just like what you said, Margaret, that their behavior is the disease it is not them they are not their disease, and to have compassion around that and to remind yourself over and over again that they are ill. They’re erratic or disrespectful and negative behavior is about the disease. It’s not about them. Learn to separate the person from the disease is for thoroughly as you can remind them about who they really are, when it’s appropriate. When they do something that supports their recovery, praise them constantly. Look at what you’ve done. I knew you could do it. I was awful at that until the last three or four years of Aarons, I would always point out what he wasn’t doing right? You know, you missed this doctor’s appointment, you didn’t do this. I’m not proud of myself. But when I finally accepted that he could die from this, and that, again, was kind of like another one of those ideas that came down from above. Then I totally changed the way that I started responding to him. And that’s why when he died, I am so grateful I did that. Because we die without any stuff between us. I mean, we were pretty clear that we loved each other, and respected where each other was on their own journey. And oh, my goodness, Margaret, I deal with so many grief clients and people also who, whose loved one are still alive, or they’re just tormented by things they wish they wouldn’t have said or done, you know. 

So, I guess that’s the other thing is to. If you’re educated about the illness, then you can start to look at them as a seriously chronically ill person. And then how would you treat them if they were chronically ill with cancer or some other disease will you’d treat them with compassion, and you can still draw boundaries and have a compassionate relationship with your loved one.

Margaret  16:39

And that is one of the most baffling parts for many family members, how do I love them, and show them compassion when they have a disease that will manipulate me any way it can. So, what has been your experience in finding that balance of showing the love and holding boundaries against the disease?

Gloria  17:00

In my book I give an example about I have three other sons, three other teenagers at home when Aaron was going through all this, two of them were steps sons, one was a birth son, but we were raising the step sons, they lived with us all the time. You know, it was a pretty busy household, I had a home-based office, so a lot of times, Aaron would call and ask me for something. And my initial response was always Oh, my God, I gotta help him now. 

And I started a meditation practice. And that allowed me to slow down enough to say, when he’d ask for something, instead of giving it a yes or no answer, which used to be my modus operandi, and many times it was, yes, when I should have said no, right. I’d say, you know what, I’m right in the middle of something, I’m going to call you right back. And then I, it’d give me a time to say now, is this going to support Aaron’s recovery? Or his illness? Is it gonna interfere with my life, or the life of the of the kids, if I do this? Or am I, is it going to jeopardize my work? If I do, what is he’s asking? So, if I could answer all three of those questions, if he needed help immediately, I can answer all three of those questions and say, no, no, no. Then I call him back and say, sure, I can do that. Many times, his requests were, you know, he didn’t have a car. And so, he had a lot of doctor’s appointments he was going to and meetings he wanted to get to. And so, when I could, I would give him a ride. But I also know he was very savvy with the bus line, and he had a bus pass paid for him. So, if he’d say, hey, Mom, I overslept. I need to get to a meeting, or I need to get to a doctor. So, if he just overslept, because he was too lazy to get up, I’d say, you know what? I’m sorry. I think you need to find your own way. Because it wasn’t a matter of life or death. Right? 

Margaret  18:59

Right. There’s the other facet, which we’ll get into that you incorporated someone to check in with who is a little more detached than you, which was your husband. 

Gloria:  Right?

Margaret:  However, before that, because that’s a great tool in strategy for many family members, because not only are you saying to everyone, I backed myself away from the crisis reactivity moment. I ask questions that are about putting the oxygen mask on me first. 

Gloria:  Right

Margaret:  And then I respond. So, it’s a three step actually, when you ask for help, too. So, the conditioning that the disease does in our families is conditioned us to live in this perpetual crisis alert.

Gloria  19:40

Boy, does it ever.

Margaret  19:42

And we’re reacting all day every day. Even if we’re not asked in our head, we’re premeditating the reaction. So, what I hear you did in your learning of meditation, and those questions of self-reflection, and then incorporating asking someone else for their input, who you trusted to be less reactive. You got away from crisis reaction into responding from a place of self-care,

Gloria  20:09

Right. Or our care for my family or what I was more comfortable with? Yeah, I was so lucky to have a husband who loves and loved Aaron like a son. But he had more distance than I did. You know, it was great. And he was self-employed. So, most of the time, unless he was with the client, I could say, hey, Aaron’s asking me to do this, what do you think, you know, and he, he gives me his honest feedback. If I couldn’t get a hold of him, I had a couple of sponsors. And I had people in the program that I would call in and get feedback from. And this happened a couple of times, Mom, I’m on somebody else’s phone. I got beat up at a bus stop. And I need a ride to the emergency room. I dropped everything and took him. Right. Whether he was high or not, I didn’t care. I mean, he needed medical treatment. Right. And the other thing I really learned, and this is, boy, I didn’t do any of this at all close to perfection. 

Margaret  21:04

Can we just put that on record, Gloria, so we don’t have to say that over and over. I have never met anyone who loves someone with the disease of addiction, who’s done this perfectly.

Gloria  21:15

But I really tried and worked at, and this was another thing Bob and I, his stepfather and my husband talked about a lot. Is basing our response on what is going on in Aaron’s life right now. Like I said, if he was in need of medical help, whoever could get him to a doctor, you know, was going to do it. If he overslept, man, that’s a totally different thing. So rather than just say, no, no, no, no, no. And you know, I could have said, you know, what were you doing at the bus stop? And you know, it doesn’t matter what he was doing at the bus stop is that one particular instance he had no drugs on him. He was high, police pulled him over, questioned him and beat him up because he was high.

Margaret  22:04

Gloria honors her son in helping others by sharing her truth, and her story around Aaron, his disease, and the effects on the family. We are humans and perfectly imperfect. I love the strategies Gloria shares for you on this journey. Come back for more with Gloria next week. 

Outro:  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!

To learn more about Gloria Englund’s coaching, groups, workshops, and book visit her website.

Recovering U

To learn more about our upcoming retreat at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Center City, MN December 9-11th called A different Kind of Grief℠ visit their website.