Relapse is a part of the journey for a majority of addicts.
KL Wells opens up with Jenn Stine, VP of Community Development for Voices InCourage, about her son’s relapse and how she went months with no contact. She advocates for elevating oneself above the chaos and challenges us to redefine the way we navigate life.
Join her as she delves into the concept of avoiding the rabbit hole and reclaiming control over one’s destiny. KL dismantles the futility of worry and introduces a refreshing perspective on investing energy wisely in gratitude, creating a morning routine that sets the tone for success, prioritizing nutrition, and gaining knowledge in books as a means to overcome challenges.
Finally, she shares a heartwarming experience of holding space for someone’s journey to rehabilitation, emphasizing the incredible impact of genuine support.
Join us today for this impactful episode!
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
How To Thrive When A Loved One Relapses
It’s been quite a while since you and I have talked, KL. How have you been?
Lots of ups and downs, sideways, and all the things that go along with substance abuse disorder. I can’t even think of the last time we had a conversation about this. What prompted this conversation was we thought it would be important for our audience to know that 2023 was a challenging year, to say the least, from a substance abuse perspective in dealing with my son.
We interview a lot of people. We talk about resiliency, how to keep your act together, and the things that are important to do to keep yourself sane in a pretty good space and more thriving than not. We’re talking about this most of the time through the lens of we’re still dealing with this.
We’ve entered 2024 and everybody’s ready to start anew. You had that rollercoaster of 2023 where there was some good, some bad, and some ugly. I was hoping that you could take us through. You had a period where you were in no contact with Sam for pretty much the fall season. We’re here because we want to help people get through that experience of having no contact. We will get to that but the most important thing is to start back to where it all began so they can understand Sam’s story for 2023 and where you are.
For those of you who have not heard this story before, my son has been dealing with substance abuse disorder for a long time. It ratcheted up in the fall of 2017. We began to realize that he had a bigger problem than we had anticipated. There were lots of ups and downs, arrests, drug courts, multiple rehabs, and all of those things.
Let’s fast forward to 2023. He moves across the country. We’re on the West Coast. He moved to the East Coast with his best friend, got a job, and was doing all the things. In March 2023, we found out that he had relapsed. It was because of circumstances in this day and time that heroin had been sucked out of the market, so he was left with Fentanyl. When we found out that he was dealing with a relapse in Fentanyl, it took our breath away. You realize that any moment throughout the day could be the moment.
You stop there when you realize any moment could be the moment. If you put us at that period when you have those feelings and you could get a call and he’s gone, how did you cope with that? How did you move on with your day? What are some of the things that you did that you found were helpful to keep you going?
One is you have that realization. You realize, at least for me, it’s a possibility. At the same time, I can’t suspend my life for a possibility. I can’t go down the rabbit hole of losing my sanity because of a possibility. I was not willing to give my life away for a possibility. It’s a possibility. There’s no question about it. Is worry going to help that possibility? Absolutely not.
My son’s an adult living on the other side of the country. The only thing I could do with that moment was certainly pray and do my work to take care of myself at as high a level as I could. That knowledge prompted me to go back to Eckhart Tolle and pull The Power of Now and Byron Katie’s Loving What Is off the shelf. It prompted me to surround myself once again with learning from reading books, listening to podcasts, and talking to people who are learning and have learned how to thrive in the midst of some moments of desperation in this disease and the chaos of this disease.
I was taking back my power at another high level. You keep taking it up. I have a perspective on it personally. I continue to elevate my ability to get back in the present moment to take care of myself at a high level. Anytime a thought would go through my head that I could get the call, honestly, those are pause moments for me where I’m like, “I’m aware that that thought went through my head. Am I going to pick it up or am I not? Am I going to give it energy or am I not?” The vast majority of the time, it is a decision to, “I’m not going to give that any energy because it doesn’t serve me and the moment. It doesn’t allow for hope.”
You’re making a conscious choice at that time. You’re talking a little bit about the mental and emotional choices that you’re making. You’re also a very physical person. That’s a big piece of your life that helps you be at the level that you’re at. Physically, what is it that you do to take care of yourself during that time?
I think about it from an emotional fitness perspective. Through that lens, I have a very rigorous way of consistently doing my work to take care of myself every day. From the moment I open my eyes, I go to gratitude. That’s how I start my day. I’m up early between 4:00 and 5:00. Before I pop out of bed, I open my eyes and do my gratitude rounds. I then go about getting up and getting in the shower. I am meditating in the shower. I’m very aware of being in the shower. I’m present. From a physical perspective, I have a whole glass of water to rehydrate. I do stretching.
I’m listening to tapes that I have that’s a positive tape for my day. It sets my intention for the day. I’m then off to the gym. In the gym, I have my workout routines that are scheduled. I know what I’m doing that day. I will vary it depending on where I am. If I need an extra energy boost, so to speak, then I’ll shift my routine so that I can get the up-level in terms of the energy that I know that I need for the day. I then come home and do a mantra of gratitude rounds. There are other things that I do from a mantra perspective on the way to the gym and home from the gym. It is very intentional.
You know what you’re doing. That’s great.
Here are other couple of things that are important. Number one is I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I’m keeping my body clean as best I can. I’m pretty vigilant in terms of nutrition and the supplements that I take. I want to be at the top of my game because I have a life I love. Finding out Sam was relapsing on fentanyl did not change any of that. I still stayed consistent through nutrition and the sleeping hygiene that I had. All of those kinds of things that I had been perfecting for years stayed consistent for me to continue to navigate at a high level despite what was going on.
It takes a lot of self-discipline, for sure. You’ve mentioned how you went about in the world when you were thinking at any moment you could get the call. From March into May, things got a little bit more heated up.
Those two months were holding the space for him to find his way to rehab. That was about two months. For me, it was two months of working at being present in my life. I was praying for him. I was sending him good thoughts and holding the space for him to find the rehab that he eventually did find. When I was having those moments of, “This is a lot,” because I’ve worked hard at perfecting habits of thought, behavior, and emotion, those are just moments. I never had a bad morning, afternoon, or day. That’s not how I am trained. I may have a bad moment. I may have a thought going through my mind that takes my breath away and I’m aware. I know what I need to do to get my breath and presence back in that time.
I had a couple of moments where he had moved across the country with his best friend. When he relapsed, he was stealing from his best friend. His best friend moved out and left him with almost nothing in the apartment. I talked to Sam on a Tuesday evening. He was quite desperate at that point. He was like, “Bring me home. I can’t do this.” It’s hard to hear your child begging you to bring them home. At the same time, from a logical perspective, they can’t get on an airplane. It’s impossible.
Those are the logistical things that you don’t think you have to think about but you do.
Fentanyl is an hour-by-hour addiction so there is no getting on an airplane. It’s to say no and know that he was going to have to figure it out. He was at the apartment. I said, “At least get some sleep tonight.” He sounded so exhausted. I said, “I’ll call you in the morning.” I called him in the morning and his phone was disconnected. I had a moment. I had a meeting that I was facilitating that morning. Fortunately, these people know me well. They know the story.
I said, “I’m fragile right now. I’m asking you guys to hold the space and be who I know you are so we can do this meeting together. By being here, I will begin to rise.” I didn’t say, “I’m having a bad day,” because then, it declares a bad day. I was not going to have a bad day. I love these guys or people so I said, “I’m fragile at this moment.” As the morning wore on, I got more present, lifted, and was able to be there with this group of people.
You’re putting your book into practice. There is a part in your book, 5 Acts of Courage, to feel your emotions, allow yourself to feel, and then surround yourself with community. You’re putting them right into practice at the moment where you’re pretty much at a very dark, dire time for you. A big piece of what you do is that you don’t talk the talk. You walk the walk. That’s a crucial aspect when you’re in those dire moments.
There’s no question about that. I firmly believe that when we have those moments where we’re on our knees, and it’s incredibly vulnerable for us to own them. That’s where I was. I value authenticity and genuineness. That’s who I want to be in the world. When I have those moments, I want to be genuine and authentic about having those moments. I want to allow others to rise to be there and present for me. As a business consultant, I’m the one generally who’s there for others. They had the gift of the opportunity to be my shoulder that morning. They rose. That’s a great gift for all parties involved.When we have those moments where we're on our knees, it's incredibly vulnerable for us to own them. Click To Tweet
It brings you closer together.
Everybody needs to see that I’m human too and that I do walk my talk. I don’t have any qualms about doing that. That evening, I got a phone call from Sam. He had found a rehab to go to. I knew we were in a different place because this was the first time he’d ever been across the country. He had, for all intents and purposes, burned every bridge he had. He was alone.
He knew he needed help. It is in those moments where your adult son or daughter is going to either choose to get help or not. He chose to get help. Fortunately, there is a fantastic program in the city that he’s living in. He has been in that program. Another trying moment for me was when I talked to him in August 2023 and then there was radio silence for months.
We hit the radio silence part. This has got to be one of the toughest things you’ve gone through as a mother, having radio sounds for four months. I was hoping you could take us through because, in those four months, I can’t imagine what you went through. From going through it myself, you’re almost afraid to allow yourself to live your life. You sometimes might feel guilty about that. When you’re laughing, I remember stopping myself. I was like, “I’m not allowed to laugh because I don’t know what’s going on over here.”
It’s obvious that you’re resilient and self-disciplined. It’s obvious that you’ve got your schedule. What I’d like to know are those moments when you’ve got radio silence and someone’s made you laugh or you’re having a good afternoon with Patty. Did guilt ever creep in? It didn’t so tell me about this time.
Years ago, I gave myself permission to live my life so I have no guilt about living my life. It’s a little crazy to think we should suspend living our lives because somebody’s ill. I’m a big believer in laughter. At no point did I go, “I shouldn’t be laughing because this is happening over here.” That’s a good thing to do. It’s a good thing to still look for the joy in our lives. None of that was part of the equation.
What did happen at one point was I said to Patty, “It’s been two and a half months at this point. Would you mind checking to see if he’s either been arrested or dead?” She said, “Yes.” You are left to make up all this stuff that won’t serve you and I wasn’t going to continue to do that. I was like, “I need facts if there’s a John Doe that has died. If he’s arrested, we’ll know that. I’m going to assume that he’s still in rehab and that he’s doing his work. That doesn’t include me and I’m okay with that.” That was what I continued to think about, stay clear about, hang on to, and focus on.
Don’t get me wrong. There were moments when the darker thoughts would creep in but I was prepared to send them packing. I was prepared to acknowledge their presence and acknowledge the fact that that doesn’t help or serve me because I don’t know the answers. I was like, “I’m not going to be able to fix this or change it. The only thing I can control is myself at this moment.” I chose to be conscious and thrive.
Is there any point that you want to bring up that stands out for you during those four months of no contact? It could be a positive memory or experience or one that wasn’t your favorite that you think could be helpful to share with somebody who’s in the middle of no contact. Is there anything that stands out for you in those four months?
Yeah. If you hit a moment where your heart is broken, let it break, and then pick yourself up and realize that you don’t know what’s going on. Don’t make stuff up because it’s only going to take you down the rabbit hole of darkness. I interviewed a mom for our show who had lost her son a few years ago. What we talked about was parents who die with their kids, whether they’ve passed or they’re still alive and are in the throes of substance abuse disorder. I was determined not to die with my son’s disease and to continue to laugh, love my life, thrive, and have moments, for sure, of heartbreak.
Where I had to take a breath, I chose to pause and think, “How’s this serving me? It’s not so I’m going to let that thought go and continue to believe that Sam’s doing his work. It doesn’t include me and that’s okay. He’s an adult. He’s a big guy. He’s going to figure his way out of this. He is going to call to himself the resources of people and tools that he needs to pop out the other side.” I wanted to be a happy, whole person when he popped out the other side. I didn’t want him popping out the other side to a broken mom.
Can you tell us about when he did pop out on the other side when you got the call on Christmas?
He had reached out through Messenger that he was past 6.5 or 7 months into the program, which is awesome. That reach-out on Messenger was fantastic. He’s still in the program. He has moved to this next level. He has been doing his work. He’s coming up on another phase of the program that would lead to him being accepted into an outpatient treatment house and a job. We kept messaging back and forth sporadically.
On Christmas, we were messaging. I said, “Are you able to call?” He said, “Yes.” He had spent Christmas at an all-day meeting with his community. He said he would give me a call later that day, and he did. It was the first time I got to hear his voice. It’s a breath of fresh air hearing your child’s voice when it’s been a long time. He sounded good.
At this point, he is eight and a half months into recovery. We know that it’s going to take 15 to 18 months for his brain to come back, get rewired, and all of the things. It sounds like he’s strongly embedded in a community of support and thriving to have the things in place that he needs, which are the same things I need. Feel the feelings. Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with a great community. Continue to learn. Shift your beliefs about yourself. Drop the shame, the guilt, and all that swirls around this disease. It was a great twenty-minute conversation. He started work for the first time in probably ten months or so.
Congratulations to him. That’s a tremendous accomplishment. We’re running out of time here. I want to make sure that we touch base if there’s something that I didn’t ask you about that you think is important for us to touch base on. Is there anything that we missed?
Be compassionate with yourself first. You have to put your oxygen mask on first. The self-care for you is mission critical so that you can be a healthier person when and if they pop out the other side. You can’t worry your way into helping them. You can only self-destruct with worry and concern.
You said it exactly right when you said when they pop out on the other side, you want them to see a healthy, happy mother who’s living her life, not somebody who has gone in a different direction. That’s a very important piece of this. Thank you for that. For the last one, moving forward into 2024, knowing that he’s got a job and you’ve had the opportunity to speak with him, is there anything new or different that you’re both going to do or move about in the world differently or are you guys the same old day in, day out self-discipline and you’re up at 4:00? Is there anything new?
I’m still doing my regimen because it supports me. I’m super clear about that. The routine of us being in contact with each other is yet to be determined because he’s still doing his work. He started a job. Pretty soon, he’s going to be moving into a halfway house. That’s another layer of things that are in his life that he is relearning to do from a healthy perspective. I’m going to give him the space that he needs and consistently let him know that no matter what happens here, he is always loved and we’ll figure it out.
In June 2024, it will have been two years since I saw him. I’m holding the space for his health and wellness. I’m letting him determine what that looks like. When he’s ready, I’ll be there. I encourage parents to take care of themselves. Give yourself a lot of grace and self-compassion. Do your work. Be the healthy, thriving parent, friend, or grandparent when and if they pop out the other side. Continue to send great thoughts of them that are healthy and whole.Give yourself a lot of grace and self-compassion. Do your work. Be a healthy and thriving parent, friend, or grandparent when and if they pop out the other side. Click To Tweet
That’s a great way to finish it. If you could help the parents or anybody out there who’s going through this, especially with the no contact, can you remind everybody of the name of your book and where they can find you?
You can find me on LinkedIn or at VoicesInCourage.com. The book that I wrote in 2023 was 5 Acts of Courage. It is because I believe that the things we’ve talked about are courageous. It takes guts to authentically, genuinely feel the depth of feelings that goes with this. It takes courage and conviction to take care of yourself, create a community of support, and change how you’ve looked at the disease or your loved one in a kind, compassionate way. Continue to do the learning because your life is going to change.
Thank you so much. It’s good to sit down with you. It’s been too long.
Thanks for doing this with me. I appreciate you.
It is my pleasure. It’s always good to chat with you. I’m looking forward to our next topic, which we’ll have to decide offline. Thank you so much.