Today Gloria Englund, the author of ‘Living in the Wake of Addiction’℠ and founder of Recovering U, which offers recovery coaching, grief support, and training, continues to share her personal and grief journey.
As you learned in the last episode, Gloria tragically lost her eldest son to a heroin overdose in 2007.
I’m in awe of Gloria still having a curiosity about and maintaining a teachable heart regarding the disease that took her son’s life.
There are many moments during this episode where I reflected, wow, I hope loved ones hear this. So here is more with Gloria Englund.
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.
Welcome back. Friends, today’s episode with Gloria is filled with her humility and continual service minded approach to her own recovery around grief and the disease of addiction. Gloria’s generosity, and giving spirit just blows me away. Obviously, the loss of her son was devastating, and she continues to pay it forward. And even in this episode, Gloria shares really valuable tools to loved ones out there living in this family disease of addiction. Let’s get back to Gloria
The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast.
You brought up earlier? Tough Love, CRAFT, compassion, loving your child, separating from the disease. There are a lot of early recovery families who are like, helped me understand the difference. Because some of them overlap. Right? When I hear you say, I asked myself certain questions and respond accordingly. Versus diving in. Someone could see that as tough love. I see that as prudent self-care and support of your son. Right. You’re supporting your son in learning to take responsibility for himself and manage his life, which is obviously I think, what all parents want of their children.
So how do you discern the difference between the words, because language is powerful? And people hear different terms and jump to assumptions?
I know that some of the times when I would say no or get or say yes. And then realize afterwards that I had wished I would have responded differently. It was because I was basing my decision upon a similar situation that happened to Aaron earlier. And I thought, well, I can’t trust him. I don’t know if he’s telling me the truth. Right. And so, what I tried to do is bring myself right to what his behavior had been like in the last week or so. And maybe he’d had a hard time, maybe he was in withdrawal from medication and needed to get to a doctor. But he overslept because he was in withdrawal. And I knew he was in withdrawal. And so, then I give him a ride to the doctor. Right?
Gloria: But it was based on what his behavior was right that day. Or in the last couple of days versus before when I knew he was on medication, He was stable. And maybe it was just being lazy and overslept. No, you find your way to the doctor. Does that. Does that help?
Yeah, it does. I think the hard thing is one of the things that I work with my families on and has been part of my recovery is trying to stay out of the head of the person who has the disease, right? Try not to figure out their plans, what they need, what they’re doing, what they’re not doing, and focus on what I am doing, not doing what my needs are. So, what I read in the book was a phrase that you use was I try to live in the moment with my child. Not react from the past hurts and resentments and pain.
Exactly. Thank you. You did a great job of that. And that’s really hard to do.
Gloria: But I think my meditation practice helped me with that. Continuing my family recovery group helped me with that, continuing my reading helped me with that. And here’s the other piece that I think is really important for that I don’t think loved ones think about and I didn’t realize this until I saw it happen in our relationship. Is when you practice self-care and get out of their lives. Get out of trying to manipulate them into recovery and just support them where they’re at. They aren’t worried about you taking care of them. See, there’s this codependent relationship that I believe the person that’s using has with the loved one that’s giving them all their support. They don’t want to disappoint you. And so sometimes they worry about you, they’re taking care of you, while you’re taking care of them, you understand what I’m saying.
Absolutely. The burden is placed on them to make us okay.
Margaret: And they’re barely able to make themselves, okay. It’s our job to make ourselves okay.
So, when I got that piece out of the way, by modeling my own self-care, I got back to exercising, I started going to my, you know, having friends doing other things, and Aaron would see that right, because I wasn’t as available. Then he knew I was taking care of himself. And it gave him more energy to focus on his own self-care and decided, you know, how do I want to do this? Rather than what do I need to do to make mom happy about my recovery today? Two totally different things.
Love that. That’s a great point, you make role model your own recovery out loud. So, they can see that that’s a possibility for them.
Absolutely. Perfectly stated. Yes.
So, detaching with love. It’s a hot subject, a lot of families struggle, they see that as black and white, as abandonment. And I’m curious, where you sit with detaching with love.
In the beginning of my book, I have this little praise, I hope I can quote my own work. God knows, maybe I won’t be able to do it. But I believe it goes like this,
I love you; I care about you. I know you need help; I can no longer give you that help. When you’re ready to ask for the help that you need. I am there to support you. And I’m still with you. While you’re figuring that out.
I think that what is so beautiful about this is, first of all, the teaching of I, not you. And that every ounce of those four stances that you wrote, are based on love and a willingness to help when they’re ready to do something different.
Margaret: Not when our timeline says they should. And you
And you know, any difficult relationship that you have, that you’re involved with, whether there’s chemicals, or addiction involved, of any kind. I have other difficult family relationships, you know, and I find that that is the best place to be. When you feel in your heart. You know, they need much more support, beyond what you can give them. It’s a great statement to use in any kind of a situation.
Margaret: I agree. It’s beautiful.
Gloria: Like a lot of the stuff in my book, that was another one of those things that was beamed down to me. I I don’t know what else to say, Margaret but that.
No, no I love that. I find it fascinating too, that you referenced the beaming and the messaging and the vision from your higher power, and how that’s been a part of your journey. When I hear you talk about developing your meditation practice, and the questions you reflected on, what I visualize or hear is, in those moments, you’re saying, okay, higher power, I’m not going to be the higher power right now. I’m going to allow you to be in charge. I’m going to take care of myself and figure out what’s the healthy thing to do knowing you’ve got him.
One of my biggest realizations, was oh my gosh, Aaron’s got his own Higher Power. And it’s not me. What a relief that was for me.
Can I interrupt?
Margaret: Still true, even though you lost him?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I wish I would have gotten out of the way so much sooner. I wish I would have modelled self-care for Aaron, so much sooner. We all have those regrets about what shoulda, coulda, wouldas but that’s when I saw the most change in his own recovery journey. And maybe it was just because he was just ready. I don’t know. Who knows. But but it just changed the dynamics of our relationships so much. And I just felt I felt so much closer to Him. Because I was closer to myself, I think.
Oh, that’s powerful. Like I want to take a minute to let that sink in for people. I felt so much closer to Him. Because I was being closer to me?
Yep. Yeah, because I you know, you can’t really give somebody all the compassion and love that they deserve unless you feel that same love and self-compassion towards yourself. I took a 12-week class on self-compassion to the meditation center here in Minneapolis. This was just five or six years ago, it’s still my biggest challenge. And I just hope that parents hear this, please take it easy on yourself. Oh my gosh, it’s okay. Any mistake you made out of love for your child or protection for your child, it’s okay. If you think you made a few mistakes with it. Just try to do it better the next time. Just be kind to yourself.
One of my most precious clients got into meditation. And, and I can talk about her publicly because she agreed to do a, actually a little video that’s posted on my website about the power that meditation had in her life. And she says at one point, you know, she was a pull myself up by a bootstraps person. And meditation taught her to be kinder to herself. And she said, you know, you need to treat yourself like you would a friend. And she says this so sweetly, it’s okay, honey. If anybody else was in your same shoes, they probably be doing the same thing. So, it’s just fine. And it’s just that tenderness that we have to have towards ourselves, and then we can I feel it’s easier to be tender to somebody else.
Absolutely. And don’t we want our loved ones who are suffering to be tender to themselves.
Aaron just thought he just had failed miserably. You know, people say to me if you had one thing you could tell Aaron now after all that you’ve learned and all the people that you that have come into your life, and it’s always the same answer me. I’m so sorry you didn’t understand this wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t because you didn’t try hard enough. Your brain was hijacked. It wasn’t you. I know it wasn’t you. Your brain was hijacked. And this isn’t all your fault.
This podcast is made possible by listeners like you.
Are you listening and have lost someone you love tragically to this disease of addiction? Have you felt the double whammy of the stigma associated with the disease of addiction and our societies struggle to allow people to grieve as they need to? If you find yourself saying yes to either of those questions. I am honored to offer you an invitation to Gloria and myself hosting a retreat at the Renewal Center in Center City, Minnesota at the Hazelden Betty Ford campus, December 9 through 11th this year. I know I’m coming back to Minnesota in December after relocating to the mountains of North Carolina. But for this, it’s worth it!
This retreat is called ‘A Different Kind of Grief℠’. Gloria and I hope that anyone who’s lost a loved one to this disease a minimum of six months ago will join us for a place to be seen, heard and validated in your grief, while giving you an opportunity to add to your community of support. If this feels like a fit for you. Please check out my show notes for links to the information. And also, feel free to call the 800 number at Hazelden Betty Ford, and speak to Peg or Georgia at the renewal center to make a reservation, the number to call is 1-800-262-4882. We really look forward to being with you through this weekend of self-care and compassion.
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.
You know, Margaret when you think one in 10 people that needs recovery, even has an option for recovery. And then if they don’t get a treatment program that’s designed for what they need, and they don’t have the family support. And they don’t get in when they ask, you know the sky parts and they’re clear and they say oh my God, I need help now. No wonder so many people are dying. We don’t offer that support to people.
In your story of addiction is a family disease. My words are when there’s someone with the disease at the table. There’s the people and the disease at the table. And what makes this a very complex illness is, I don’t always know and can’t discern when I’m talking to my person, or I’m talking to their disease. And so, as you aptly said in the beginning, and I wholeheartedly agree, we have to learn to separate our person from the disease. When you work with families, and in your own journey, what has helped people find the way to do that?
Number one, I think people are more prone to make that mistake, because they’re when they’re responding to that the disease. They’re still in fight flight, or freeze mode, you know, they’re still operating out of that reptilian brain or the midbrain, whatever you want to call it, right. And so, the one thing that a sponsor really helped me with, and it helped me figure this out, was, you know, unless it’s a case of life and death or physical injury, you don’t have to respond immediately. Right. And so, I think, teaching and allowing loved ones to know that they can, they can take a moment or a few minutes or a day or whatever. I think that helps in how you’re you’re going to respond to the loved one, right, knowing that you don’t have to come up with an answer. This minute.
I also appreciated that you incorporate it in that clarity. Having someone help you find it.
Margaret: Because I think one of the things many family members are reticent to do and or can’t figure out how to do is where to find the people that can help them slow that down, breathe, meditate, come to a plan versus reaction.
And the stigma and shame. I mean, I have one of my closest friends. I mean, we raised our children together in the same church. And when she read my book, she said, I had no idea you went through all of that. I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me? I said, because I was embarrassed. I didn’t think you’d understand. I was afraid you judge me or Aaron. See, that’s all my stuff. That’s all my stuff.
Right? Do you believe the philosophy because you’re candid about being a part of a 12-step recovery? Do you believe in living your recovery out loud?
Oh, boy, this is really a touchy subject. I talk a lot about family recovery. I don’t talk about Al-Anon. Because I felt so then if people asked me personally, I can tell them, yeah, I was in Al-Anon. I really do believe that you should respect the program, and talk about what your own personal strength, hope, and recovery is. And if people say, Well, where do you get it from? I will answer that. And I will tell you that a big part of my recovery is the CRAFT family principles. Aaron really is the one that turned me on to other pathways of recovery, because he couldn’t relate to 12 Step work. So that was that’s been a huge huge gift to me to investigate smart recovery and, and you know, all these other family programs CRAFTthat they have and Refuge Recovery, which is based on Buddhist practice. And, and I really encourage family members to read about that, because maybe their family member is bumping their head up against a program where they’re, you know, they don’t relate to it, you know, it used to be, well, you’re in denial if you don’t want to do AA right well, or NAR anon. Well, no, maybe you’re different. I mean, that’s part of I think the problem with treatment programs, we’re trying to put so many square pegs in a round hole.
So I think the other thing you raise in that is something I’ve also come to appreciate as the various solutions that there are for people, and that that’s an individual journey to establish what that looks like, I know what saved my hiney, I know what I believe worked for me, but I also love that I’m being exposed to other She Recovers, for example, which is an amazing organization and what I Quest 180 A lot of my families appreciate the scriptural connection to their recovery and find those wonderful. I think what’s really good in what you just shared also is that your journey may be in one program, whereas your loved ones may be in another but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect.
People really need to hear that Margaret because what Aaron and I shared in all the Joseph Bailey materials was really important to our relationship, it gave us something else to talk about other than the disease. Right?
Gloria: It was a point of recovery. And you know how he got me into it, because, you know, I was a meditator. And a lot of that program, Joseph Bailey’s program is one of his books is called ‘Slowing Down to The Speed of Sound’, you know. (laughter) And so, it’s about slowing your life down, looking at things, you know, one moment at a time, which is, a lot of the 12-step stuff is living one day at a time. Just different language, and if people understand it in a different way, who cares recovery is recovery, who cares how you get there, you know, a lot of people get their recovery from Christian based recovery organizations to or Jewish, there’s, there’s a whole pathway for Jewish recovery, and there’s also a pathway for Islam. So, you know, whatever, you know, recovery is recovery is recovery.
Right? And I think it would be so nice to not be so territorial and be more open to inclusion and people finding their path. Because isn’t that at the end of the day, what we want people to find their own wellness.
And some people can go cold turkey, and just stop and never go to a meeting. And I know a lot of people say this, and most people end up being what they call dry drunks. But I’ve known people that just turn their life around. And they’re able to quit. I mean, who knows? We don’t know what everybody’s Higher Power has in store for them, or what their path may be.
So, Gloria, when you look at the journey of your family with Aaron’s illness, what is your recollection of the impact on his siblings, at the time of his use, through his treatments, through his passing, you know, how was that in comparison to your journey?
Every single one of them was completely different. And this is another thing, I’m glad you brought this up. Because I really think family members need to know that every family member has a different relationship with your loved one than you do. And if they get into recovery, their recovery journey is going to be different than yours. And unfortunately, if they die, their grief journey is going to be completely different from yours. And that makes it really lonely. But it’s it makes it really important. That’s one of the reasons why I did the grief group. So, people would have somewhere to come when they had nowhere else to go. Right. And the way that siblings deal with this is so different than the way that parents or husbands or wives deal with it or friends. It was very hard on Aaron’s birth brother; it was extremely difficult for him. And it still is, and some you know, in some of the ways that he lives his life, I believe. That’s a judgment on my part, I guess.
What I appreciate you just sharing though, really hit me when I heard it was that we have to respect everybody does it different, but it can make it lonely. And I don’t know that that’s unique to this illness and grief. I think that’s probably true and family systems when someone passes.That we all navigate, live with through, grow around as you so beautifully say, grief.
And I think I think, you know, the reason why my groups are called a different kind of grief is because I think the stigma and shame add a whole different layer to the grieving process. And that stigma and shame is going to be different for a spouse versus a child versus a parent. I mean, it’s just, it’s really quite amazing to watch the way that this illness has affected people’s grieving processes.
Can you share an example of how it’s different or what you’ve experienced?
Well, just one example real quick as I had somebody in one of my grief groups whose daughter had died and she had divorced her husband many years ago, he was suffering from alcohol use disorder, and there was physical abuse and emotional abuse involved in it. And she had nothing good to say about him to her other children. But when her daughter died, she was very compassionate about her daughter and her illness. And her kids called her on it. You know, why can’t you understand? You know, that dad was able to. And she’s still wrestling with that. She has a really hard time separating the person from the illness as far as her former husband is but has no problem doing it with her daughter. And if physical abuse is involved, you know, it’s totally understandable man that, you know, and her situation was to that she didn’t even know that her daughter was an alcoholic. And then she died. You know, I mean, this woman is dealing with all kinds of complicated overlays of her story, right?
So, you just got to give her time and space and support her where she’s not right. Give her education, and she’s beginning to look at it differently for him. But that’s her own journey, you know?
Right. And like you said, this, the children’s journey is going to be different towards their sibling than their parent. And also, their reaction to their parents’ reaction to this.
Well, this woman’s other children knew that the daughter had a drinking problem, and nobody ever told her. Right, I mean, they saw it and their sibling
Secrets are a part of the illness, aren’t they?
Yep. I think siblings take care of each other, whether it’s unhealthy or not, right. They don’t want to tattle. I mean, there’s a point, you know, when they’re 8, 9 or 10, they tattle all the time. (laughter) But boy, when they get in their teens or you know, get to be an adult they want to hold on to that relationship. I think they protect each other. No. And is that all bad? I mean, it’s just such a conglomeration of interesting knots to untie, and some of them never get untied.
Wow, Gloria’s last line hits me every time I hear it such a conglomerate of interesting knots to untie, and some never get untied. Addiction is a complex multi-generational disease that can cause so much pain and suffering and is treatable. I’m in awe of Gloria still holding a curiosity for and maintaining a teachable heart when it comes to the disease that took her son’s life. Come back next week, when Gloria will continue to share about her recovery, her grief journey, her coaching business called Recovering U, and so much more.
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!