I recorded my conversation with Tennie McCarty a while ago, and this is episode 80 of The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast. It is the episode where Tennie shared that she will turn 80 in December!
In recovery, you hear there is no such thing as coincidence – how about that one?
Today you will hear about how instrumental Tennie’s sponsors have been in her recovery. Taking direction is vital.
Tennie has been serving people with the disease of addiction for over thirty years at Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas.
As Tennie reminds us, recovery is hard work, and it is worth it.
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, today, we rejoin Tennie McCarty, who will share more about her transition from her personal recovery journey into her decades of professional work in her treatment center Shades of Hope, let’s get back to Tennie.
The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast
Tennie McCarty 01:13
I was far sicker than my husband ever thought about being. He was just one of those quiet alcoholics that would just drink and wanted to pass out and be left alone. But you know, in that rage, and I’m not proud of that. But I will tell you, as one of my claims is I am a recovering rager, I no longer rage. I guess I can get angry I can, you know, anger is just a feeling, and it can be dealt with. But I do not rage today. And that is totally by the grace of God, and some willingness on my part.
And it speaks to the fact of the living amends, we work in our recovery. Right, Tennie? I mean, you work diligently to not re harm in the ways that we did in the active addiction.
Tennie McCarty 01:57
Absolutely, absolutely. And, and I was different. And it was exciting to be able to have some directions. I mean, I wanted directions. And that’s what sponsors gave me through those 12 steps. And, you know, I had people that would hold my feet to the fire. You know, I had a sponsor one time, it was early on, my husband was still drinking and one Monday morning, I was up washing and called my sponsor, it had been a bad weekend. My mother had been there and she was drunk. My husband was drunk all that. So I started crying and talking to my sponsor, and she said, well, you don’t come to that noon meeting anymore. And I said, well, I’m just so busy, you know? She said, well, what is that noise? And it was a racket. Well, I was drying tennis shoes, and I was doing laundry. And she said, you know, anymore, the only time you call me is when there’s a crisis, and she said you either meet me at that noon meeting, or don’t ever call my phone again. And that scared me because that woman was my lifeline to recovery. So, I got myself together. And I got to that meeting. And she met me at the door and said, you go in, and I’d gone long enough that I thought I knew something. And she said I want you to go in and if you’re called on you say I pass because you don’t have anything to share. I mean, this sweet woman that was so nice had turned on me. (laughter)
So and this is what good sponsoring is they will tell you the truth.
Tennie: So, after the meeting, she told me to get my car and follow her. And so, we went to this kind of an early type of Walmart, is way before we ever had a Walmart but anyway it was kind of a general store. And we went in and I had no idea what we’re gonna do. But we went back to the laundry section. And she said, I want you to get a laundry basket for each one of your kids. And so, for each one of them, and I said why? And she said, because we’re going to teach your kids how to do laundry. And she said, you use your kids to keep from doing what you need to do in your program? And so, she came out on Sunday, and we did, we taught them laundry. They didn’t all like it but when my bonus son went to the Marine Corps, he called me back on the first telephone call that he could make. And he said Tennie, I just want to thank you he said I came here knowing how to do laundry, how to make a bed, how to sweep a floor and really that’s what parents, that’s what we need to do is teach our children how to take care of themselves out in the real world.
So that came from good sponsorship. Because I did everything for my kids and my husband down to polishing their shoes, everything because I thought if I didn’t do, I was a human doer instead of a human being. And I thought if I didn’t do for everyone, if they didn’t have to have me, that they wouldn’t want me, if I wasn’t doing something for them.
And I will say they didn’t always like it. One Sunday afternoon, I was doing my husband’s laundry, all the kids were gathered up around my husband over in the kitchen area. And they were talking, and my bonus son said, well, I don’t even know what to call her since she started going to those meetings. He said, I’m just going to call her she. And my oldest bonus daughter said, well, I’m just going to call her it. And then my brilliant husband said, well, let’s just put it together and call her, S-H-I-T, shit. Now that’s what you put up with in early recovery.
Margaret: You do.
Tennie: They will not always like it, but you have to just keep going. And we can laugh about all of that, but it wasn’t easy. It would have been easy to give up a lot of times, but I know I couldn’t.
Where does that part come within you? I mean, I just get a little tear in my eye where you said I was a human doing because I thought if I didn’t do, they wouldn’t want me around. But then how do you go from a place of believing that at your core to being a seeker? Like how did that? Do you think that just came in you? That was who you were?
Tennie McCarty 06:22
I was really a seeker from the time I went to that little church at age 8. I knew there was a better way of life. But I had such low self-esteem, all of my life of early adulthood until I got into Al-Anon. I knew there was a better way. And I knew I had to keep looking for it. I went to every denomination, every church, you can imagine. I just kept seeking and seeking. And I did I mean, I found God in church, but I found a deeper, really workable solution.
So, the 12 steps, and I know a lot of people don’t like the steps in today’s time, you know, we hear a lot about the 12 step program is antiquated, it is too, you know, doesn’t apply to these time. Yes, it does. They just don’t want to apply it. But anyway, I do believe God put that in my heart, that there was a different way. And that’s what surprises me sometimes with people we work with, you know, I own a small treatment center that I put in after I came home from treatment for my eating disorder, because there wasn’t any place to treat eating disorders. And this is an all-addiction treatment centers called Shades of Hope here in Buffalo Gap. But I put it in wanting to treat all addictions because we were seeing people in good recovery from alcoholism, and then dying from Diabetes from being overweight or dying from nicotine. But I’ve always had that love of addicts, and I know that was put in there because of my mom. I couldn’t help my mother, I could not. I gave it my best shot, and I did everything I could to help her. Put her in and out of treatment. And I loved my mother, my mother was like my child. And so, for whatever reason, God has put something inside of me, that has made me persevere. That is probably what I’ve done more than anything I just keep on keeping on. I persevere until there’s a solution. Until there’s a solution.
So, I appreciate you mentioning your treatment center Shades of Hope, in Texas, I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the way you do it. I’m always in awe of your simplifying the process. I love touching base with you and your Tennie Talks, which we’ll talk about what you offer there. Because I just love hearing the back to the basics, you know, not overcomplicating it, keeping it simple, seeking the solution. When you look at your treatment center, and you know, there’s a lot of treatment centers out there doing it in various ways. You shared that you do work with any addiction, all addiction, do you use the same format? The same treatment, the same 12 steps? Obviously, there’s individual needs, but do you use the same basis for all your clients?
Tennie McCarty 09:23
Okay, main thing that we do. Now, there are some things that we do with our eating disorder clients, of course, that we wouldn’t do with our drug addicts and alcoholics. Although many of our women who present for alcoholism, then two, three weeks later, we uncover an eating disorder there and with men too, not all of them, you know.
So, the main thing that we do is we get them all sober, you know, clean and sober and put them all basically on the same type of food plan because one of the things, the man who trained me in the alcohol and drug field. He said most of your alcoholics who are going to come to you malnourished. And he said, that’s one of the best things that you can do is feed them well. So, we have the same meal plan, of course, we increase the amounts with our man. But anyway, so we feed them, they have good food, and exercise.
And then they do hear, you know, lectures and you know about the 12 steps. But it’s so much more than just the steps that is more for aftercare. What we do here is we take people back to their core issues; everyone has something that’s in their core that is where the pain is held. So, we do a lot of shame and anger reduction, we’re, it’s a hard treatment center to go through for some people, because they work, they work hard. And they get on the other side so many times, but so many of them will come to us after being in many treatment centers. And they’ll say, well, we’d never got this anywhere else we’d never did this kind of therapy work. It’s hard treatment center to work in even for the counselors because it is hard work. It’s not just sitting around doing talk therapy. Talk therapy is good for you know, to get the story straight. But after that, the experiential type of treatment is what we really focus on.
So, you can tell I get excited about it, I love doing it. And we’ve always had like a 42-day program and pretty much stuck with that. But we’re seeing that people have different needs today. And what we’re looking at, we do an intensive once a month. But what we’re looking at doing, and we’ve already started doing it is we’re gonna do tailor programs more with the clients, because a lot of times, clients can’t take off work that long, their insurance won’t pay or whatever. So, we’re going to tailor the program to each client. And we’ve already done this many times where they’ll come in and do an intensive and maybe stay two more weeks.
And so, what we want to do is to help people get the help that they need, and not have to, unless some of them need to stay longer, but if we can get them back to work quicker, that’s what we want to do. And so, like I said, it’s more of a tailor made to the individual. And we see lots of good results through the type of work that we do. And what we tell people if the pain comes back up, which it usually does come back in six months or a year and do an intensive.
And one of the things we’re going to start doing is for people that have gone through any kind of program, at Shades we’re going to start doing a two-and-a-half-day program where they can come in and do a piece of work. And what I mean by piece of work if they’ve had different forms of abuse, or if they’ve had unresolved grief, or if they, you know, have marital problems, any number of problems. If they’ve gone to a program at Shades, we want them to be able to come in and do a short-term program, like two and a half days, do a piece of work, kind of you know, get back into the real groove, sometimes it helps eating disorder people to get their absence back. So anyway, we’re really trying to meet the needs. And not just be, you know, be a flat 42 Day Program. Because in today’s time, people just a lot of times don’t have the time or money to do that.
Right? Yes, things have changed in many ways. I mean, access with insurance can be a blessing, but then it’s also some limitations on days and how long people can stay.
This podcast is made possible by listeners like you.
I have a special bonus for you today. Tennie McCarty does a free Wednesday zoom talk on a variety of topics. It’s called Tennie Talks. Please find the link in my bio, or on Tennie’s Facebook page spelt, T e n n i e M small c Big C a r t y. You will not be disappointed. It’s just a wonderful touchstone of recovery tools to help you on your journey. Check it out.
Tennie Talks on Wednesdays at 10am CST Zoom ID: 823 5702 0585 Passcode: 476 552
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When you look at intensives, what is an intensive? Who’s a candidate to partake in an intensive?
Tennie McCarty 14:48
Okay an intensive is we start that on Monday and it goes till noon on Friday. And it’s for people that think that they might have a have an addiction, but they haven’t diagnosed themselves. Now, I’ve never had one yet to come in thinking they did that didn’t. You know, people don’t just sit around and think if they have an addiction, if they don’t, have one.
Tennie: And so, we get newcomers, you know, coming in to really get diagnosed. And then we’ll have people that are getting back on track that had been in recovery for a while. But it’s really more about they come in and they do what we call a life map. And we take them back into their history, to see what is walking down from the sunlight of God’s spirit. And it’s usually something you know, like unresolved sexual abuse, a lot of times the abuse really doesn’t even come up until recovery. Some people come in that they need more help, but they have a fear of coming into inpatient. And so that’s kind of an entry gate for them, they’ll come in, and do a piece of work and many times, about 40% will move over into the program. But anyway, that intensive is we work 12-hour days, they get a lot out of it in a short period of time, we work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and each one of them, we limit it to six people, because we work with each one two or three hours at a time. So, they get a lot out of that four and a half days.
You work 12-hour days still
Tennie: only on the intensives,
Margaret: you still do that?
Tennie McCarty 16:35
I do! I’ve been sick and 34 years, I’ve only missed two. I had to miss one in June, we started doing it about 34 years ago. And I hope to do the one in July. And I love doing the work. And my daughter Kim is, she’s a therapist over 30 years. She does them with me. We’ve been doing them for years together. And so I hope to be back in there in July, we’ll see.
Amazing, you’re, you don’t stop, do you?
Tennie McCarty 17:06
Well, I hope I won’t have to. I’ve been, I’ve had some illness here in the last two months. But I’m working through it. I’m getting better.
You are, you’re getting stronger every day. I wonder if you would talk about that a little bit. I think that in your Tennie Talks? Well, first of all, let’s touch on that. Tell people about that. What’s your Tennie Talk?
Tennie McCarty 17:22
Allrighty. During the pandemic, my executive director came to me, and she said, is there anything that we can do live? Would you be interested in, or willing to do a Zoom, I said well in the first place I don’t know what Zoom is. (laughter) So she explained to me what it was? And would you do something on Zoom a topic or something. And I thought we were going to do one or maybe two. And we’ve been doing them ever since.
So, what it is, is I take a subject and spend maybe 30/35 minutes on it, and then we’ll open it up to discussion. And then we get a lot of good, you know, people that show up on Zoom. Many are in good recovery themselves. Or we’ll have newcomers. So anyway, it’s a gift. It doesn’t cost anything. I enjoy doing it. We have had people from there come in and do the intensives. And we’ve had them to like we’ve had some to even come to inpatient, but I’ll do it for free and for fun. It helps me and I love doing them. And I guess we’ll keep doing them as long as we have an audience.
And they can be seen after you’ve recorded them on YouTube, correct?
Tennie: Yes, yes.
Margaret: Will make sure in the podcast I have the links to them; your topics are very relatable. And that’s where I want to transition into your health because you did a speaking engagement in the Tennie Talks about having to be hospitalized and making sure your family knew how to care for your recovery, and your abstinence when you couldn’t for yourself. So, I don’t know if you’re willing to share a little bit about what your health changes have been and how they relate to your history of an eating disorder.
Tennie McCarty 19:08
Oh, absolutely. Every health issue I have is related to my eating disorder. I had the old timey and Bariatric surgery in 1972 where they just make you a straight gut, they knew nothing about it. It was very dangerous. They don’t even do that anymore. Many died from it. I did survive of course, or I wouldn’t be here. A lot of us that have had that, have a syndrome with the acronym BADAS, BADAS you can look it up. And only those of us who’ve had the surgery has this particular syndrome. And what happens is and I when I started having them I had no idea it was connected with the surgery. And I didn’t until seven years ago to know that it was really connected to the surgery. But I would start out with breaking out like almost like a shingle, just pimple things on my shoulders, on my thighs, that would be followed by a high fever. That would be followed by every joint in my body swelling. And anyway, I would get so ill, I would go to bed for four days, and I wouldn’t let my family, no one come in. And then they would have to give me steroids, whatever to come out of it. So, I’ve lived like that for years and not had no idea that it was related to the surgery, and then I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. So about seven or eight years ago, a long story short, I had never had those biopsied. And a rheumatologist said, the next time they come up the next time you’re in one of these flare ups, I want you to go to a dermatologist and have them, have a byopsy. So, I did. And it was a brand new, he had only been there week, he just got gotten out of medical school at Texas Tech. And I just know today that it was a real God deal anyway, he read my paperwork saw where I’d had the surgery, and he said, I can’t believe this. He said, the last thing he was taught before he left school was about this syndrome. And his professor said, you’ll probably never see anyone like this because most of them have died. And so, he is the one that diagnosed me with this syndrome. And, you know, it didn’t change much, but the awareness of what it was and how to start taking better care of myself. So, for some reason, other I did that eight years ago, and I believe in prayer, I’ll do that I had prayed for myself a lot. But I had a group of people that really prayed for me, and I had a reprieve from those. I’d have one about every three or four months. And really, I haven’t had a bad one for the last seven years, until this time. And they came on, I was getting ready to go down to Miami for a, She Recovers,
we get to see each other there.
Tennie McCarty 22:29
Yes. And I had a bad fall the night before. And I’ve landed on my left side they anyway. But I thought that I had been in one of these flare ups for a few days. And I thought I was on the tail end of it. And I thought I can do this I can go on but I’ve got down there and I got sicker, and sicker, and sicker and wound up in the hospital there in Miami and I got good enough to come home. And then two days later, I had a friend in Nashville that Wednesday, my daughter and I went stayed with her for seven days, they’ve had a death in the family, and I had another fall down there on the stairs. I came back very sick. They did some blood work, and my blood count was real low. That’s what got me to the hospital was the blood count was real low. And by the time I got there it kept getting lowers, down to about 6.5. That’s all a part of this surgery. This is why people need to really take this eating disorder serious. We do so many dangerous things to our bodies, but anyway. Then when they put me on the heart machine there in the ER, they noticed that I had a fib. So, anyway, all of that said, it’s been, a hard couple of months, but I have never been sick much in my life. And so, it’s been hard to do this. And I know I’m gonna keep getting better. You know, I’ll be 80 in December. And I’ve always wanted to live to be 105. And I still think there’s the possibility of that, if God’s willing.
I don’t doubt it Tennie, I don’t doubt it.
Outro: I adore how familiar Tennie feels to me. She reminds me of some of the legends that I used to work with and was trained by in my years at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Such as Carolyn White, Jim Atkins, Jerry McGrath, just to name a few. I can just hear Tennie saying in her wonderful Texas twang, Keep It Simple Sweetheart, and get back to basics. As she says, it is hard work, but worth it.
Join us next week where we finish out our conversation with Tennie McCarty, and she shares more about her personal journey, her professional career, and the passion she still holds to help people fight the disease of addiction.
I want to thank my guest for their courage and vulnerability in sharing parts of their story. Please find resources on my website,
This is Margaret Swift Thompson.
Until next time, please take care of you.