If you’ve ever welcomed a loved one back after their release from prison, you understand the rollercoaster of emotions that ride alongside.
In today’s engaging podcast episode, KL reconnects with Jeannie, a mother who has recently welcomed her son back into her life following his battle with addiction and prison release.
Together, they explore the intricacies of these delicate reunions and the hurdles that lie ahead. Jeannie reminds us to confront our fear of the unknown and encourages us to focus on our daily plans, maintain a positive outlook, and relentlessly pursue our goals.
Tune in to this podcast episode for a heartfelt and enlightening conversation that offers guidance, hope, and inspiration.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
The Journey After Prison Release
We are a little bit over a year out from having interviewed and talked to Jeannie Erickson. I’m thrilled to have her back because a lot has happened in 2022. She left us with great wisdom, which was secrets keep us sick. I want to say thank you for being here.
If you can give us a little bit of an update in terms of what happened last episode, that would be great, and we’re going to have a conversation.
Looking back on September 30th, 2022, my son was released from prison. He was incarcerated for a few years. It was awkward. It was tough to see him in that state. He looked good. He was a little bit overwhelmed with what’s changed in the world in the last few years. In prison, COVID affected him too. What was interesting to me was how he acted like it was another day after being in prison for so long.
I did a lot of work while he was in prison on how to manage my own life and take care of myself. That was my focus. It was important for me to take notes, feel the feelings, and make sure I was doing the best I could do with my self-care. Whether he’s healthy or he is in his addiction, it’s his side of the street. He’s my child. I’ll love him until the day I die, but I can’t let that affect me on a daily basis. It can’t cripple my decision-making. We started our journey.
Jeannie, can you speak a little bit more about this because this is mission-critical for parents, those who love others who are dealing with the disease, to do our work and figure out what our work is and the self-care component. As you worked on yourself in the midst of your son’s incarceration, what would you identify as some pivotal things that shifted for you that you took hold of and now embrace in your own self-care?
I would think about continuing to deepen my relationship with my higher power. Being religious and spiritual are two distinct things. It’s different for everybody. For me, working in my Al-Anon program was huge. I have a great fellowship and an extended family in Al-Anon. One of the things that is helpful in my walk is to participate, be involved, and do my prayers and meditation every day.
I stay connected with my Al-Anon fellows. What that means is going to meetings and reading the literature because my definition of working that program is, without it, I get distracted quickly on how I can rescue someone else, what I can do, and how come they can’t see what they’re doing to the world to me. That’s a big part of it for me.
That’s such a huge distinction to know that community matters. Whether it’s Al-Anon or some other community, it is mission-critical for our mental health and wellness. The other piece is the Al-Anon book, but if you’re not in Al-Anon, there are plenty of books out there. We have a resource guide on our website for you to continue to steep yourself in. What has been important is making sure that I am the guard of what I’m reading, what I’m listening to, and who I’m listening to that keeps me centered, healthy, and all the things that you spoke to. Thank you for bringing that up.
I’m a seeker. I love information. I love to hear other people’s stories. I have dear friends who share literature and experiences, and it makes a difference. To share with someone who might be in the throes of a traumatic event, you’re not alone. There are many folks who are willing to support, care, listen, and be there. When we keep it all up here, it helps to fester that worry.
It is still embedded in the nature of this disease. There are a lot of people in the shadows and keeping silent. My hope is that through the people I get to interview on this show and the work that we do, we’ll begin to begin to create these cracks in the dam of silence.
Is it fear? I don’t know. Is it a shame? There are myriad labels you can put on why people go inside rather than to try to reach out for help and support, but there are lots of resources and opportunities. It’s crucial for my own survival that I continue to walk that path.
How did you prepare yourself for your sons coming out of jail or prison?
Fortunately, I have a great partner. He and I did a lot of pre-work, like getting ready for a major exam. We had conversations about what that would look like. We had discussions about what we did in the past that weren’t successful. We did the rescuer. All the money in the world can’t help an addict. You’re just fueling the fire. We had made a conscious decision that we needed to continue with whatever our plans were. We’re not going to change our focus on how we live our best life. He got out of prison, and nine days later, we left for an adventure. It’s one thing to say, and it’s another thing to execute it.
Say a little bit more about the internal journey for you in terms of executing it.
It was scary because my past behavior was like, “I need to be here. I need to be accessible. Who’s going to drive him here? Who’s going to drive him there?” Fortunately, in Lane County, we have some tremendous programs. My son, by the direction of the court, went directly into sponsors. He had a mill with me. I drove him straight away to where his residence was going to be, and I dropped him off.
While we were talking, I told him about this journey. I didn’t make apologies for it. I said, “We’ve got this going on. I’m excited for you. I support you. You’ve got all the resources you need to be successful.” The day we left was scary because it was that fear of the unknown. It’s all the things that we have no control over. To be willing to let it go and know that even if I was home, I probably couldn’t change the course of what was about to happen.
It was the cool part because I was different. When I returned from that journey, my son, through his good work, was honest for the first time. He said, “When you told me you were leaving, I was terrified because you were my person.” It proved to me that sometimes, with our best intentions, we’re getting in the way of someone else’s recovery. He needed to stand on his own two feet, find his people, and do the work or not, but it couldn’t be contingent upon me.
How did you deal with the fear?
I talked a lot about it. I didn’t hold it in because that’s a scary place for me.
It takes tremendous courage to do what you did. I want to acknowledge that. Did you have a sense of your own power coming back to you? It’s a courageous act. It sounds like a first-time act he’s coming out of prison. Nine days later, you and your husband are off on an adventure. You change the dance and pattern. When we do those things, there’s a little wonkiness that can go along with, like, “Here we go.” That’s why I’m asking you the question.
My actions validated my decision that I had made the right choice. We had a great time on our adventure. My husband is my person. We are open about everything that affects us, especially matters of the heart. That’s important. We love our children with all our hearts, but we can’t live their lives for them.
You are fortunate that you have a person that you can talk to about and share matters of the heart. I’m encouraging our audience if you’re reading this. If you don’t have a person, please go about the journey of finding someone with whom you’re able to feel safe psychologically and emotionally and talk through, whether it’s a counselor, a friend, or a new friend through Al-Anon or another group. I am a big believer in being able to share our own humanity in the midst of these kinds of journeys.
Sometimes, other people’s experiences strengthen hope. That gives me promise and reminds me I’m on the right path.
I can’t tell you how many interviews we’ve had where they’ve said 1, 2, 3 things, and I’m like, “At the right moment.” My experience is being on this journey and being aware that your spidey antenna is out for the right message, reading, or podcast to give you that next step of hope, like, “Yes, I’m on the right path.”
You can’t do it alone. I believe that sense of community, digging deep, trying to understand the disease better, doing research, getting information about how drugs affect people, and paying attention to what’s going on in our community is a big war out there. There are drugs that are now polluted and killing people much quicker than they used to.
We have to be wary of that. We have to arm ourselves with the tools that we have, walking the walk and making sure that we are open to listening to other people. I’m never too busy not to talk with someone about that story because that’s the thing that has to happen. The shell has to get broken open so people know you are not alone in this journey.
I think so much of this disease is focused on the people in the midst of the disease. Those of us who love people have our own recovery that we’re navigating. That’s how I interpret what you’ve said in terms of doing your work. My story that I tell is that I would never have done this level of personal development work, emotional work, and spiritual work if it hadn’t been for Sam and me getting cracked wide open. I am like, “Here we are. Game on.”
It’s no different whether you’re the addict or the loved one. We all need help in navigating this horrible disease. It’s crucial.Whether you're the addict or the loved one, we all need help navigating this horrible disease. Click To Tweet
I feel like a more compassionate, kind, loving human on the other side of some of this. I’m still evolving as far as that’s concerned. I think I’m a better person because of all of this.
It’s like doing your part in humanity because, without it, I would be that person looking for my child, trying to find help for my child or be the quarterback to make this work, and I can be a spectator. What I mean by that is to show up, participate, and be available, but I’m not running the plays.
A huge opportunity for growth for a lot of parents and moms, particularly when we have adult children dealing with the disease, is this is their journey to navigate. In some respects, it’s redefining how we think about ourselves as a parent.
Early on, we were the caretakers. We were the ones that fed them, clothed them, and did all the things. I can even remember my childhood growing up. My parents’ greatest desire was to provide me with the tools and resources to go out and be an adult who participates in life, not to live under their roof or follow their leap but to flourish and have an amazing life. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Say more about what happened since he was released, and you came back from your trip.
It’s been a wonderful journey to be a spectator and see all the steps, strides, and accomplishments that our son has done, and it’s all on him. It’s not I helped him do this, or I did that. All is him. I celebrate his accomplishments and successes. He’s been working since he was two weeks out of prison. He’s on fire. He’s got a sponsor. He’s working a staunch program. He’s doing service work. He is living in a sober living house.
I want to give a shout-out. I live in Lane County. I don’t know what other counties are, but we have so many resources. You got to ask. From having a shelter to food, clothing, and counseling, it’s all there. They have solid AA and NA programs. It’s wonderful to sit back and watch the movie of my son as a 38-year-old man living his best life. All I get is this moment right now. It’s no different than any other disease. It could scoop him up in an instant. I pray it doesn’t, but I helped celebrate his success. Enabling and having them live with you is not the answer.
There are two things that you said. The first was to ask for help, which, for a lot of people, is a huge lift. I’m going to be having a conversation with a woman next Sunday, whom I have been talking to her stepfather for a few years, to encourage her to have this conversation. My hope is that this is the beginning of her having more conversations, coming out of the shadows, and stopping the silence that she has been putting herself in a way that doesn’t serve.
The asking for help part, whoever’s reading this, please, because the resources are out there, whether they’re virtual or in your community. There are plenty of people. At this point, 1 in 3 families is dealing with this. You can look to the right or left. One of you is going to be dealing with this. You’re in great company, unfortunately.
We know that as we are open and vocal about this out in our community, every time you tell a story, you have people coming up to you and say, “My son passed away. My daughter was in rehab.” The stories are everywhere. The other thing, Jeannie, is to focus more on the successes and the things that are going well. It dampens and shrinks the notion that we all live with in terms of recovery. It could change in a heartbeat.
It’s not the way I was brought up to keep the focus on myself, but the only thing I truly have control over is how I manage my life. Do I want joy and happiness? Do I want serenity? Do I want relationships? It’s such an amazing experience. I never dreamed that any of this would happen, but it did. It’s no different than if you are injured, have reconstructive surgery, and have to learn how to live your life to the best of your ability with what you’ve got, or you can sit there, do the woes me, and make your world small. I don’t want to do that.You have to learn how to live your life to the best of your ability with what you have. Click To Tweet
It’s a choice, a decision, and an execution one step at a time.
We say one day at a time. Don’t make it big. It’s okay.
Giving yourself permission, and I’ve talked about this before. I was like, “When my son pops out the other side, who do I want him to see?” I wanted him to see me happy, healthy, whole, living my best life, joyful, and thriving in the life that I’ve created. What you spoke about is being a model for our children, no matter what age they are, is an extraordinary thing.
With your friends and family, if they witness that, it’s not a façade. It’s who you are and your true, authentic self. It makes a difference. There’s no reason. It’s like when you sit in a room, you go, “I want what she’s got. How do I get that?” We have a responsibility for our world and community because this disease is not going anywhere, and that’s tragic. Are we doing our part? Are we doing what we can do?
I asked you this the last time, but I want to ask you this time because you’re different than when we talked before. What would you identify now as the major gifts and lessons embedded in your journey for you?
I touched on it a little bit. It is clarity around what is helping someone and what is enabling, and keeping track of what’s truly my part in any relationship.
Can you say a little bit more about that?
It’s easy to get caught up in judgment and opinions. I’m no judge and jury. It’s not my role. I don’t wear that hat. I have an open heart and open mind to know that the worst of the worst can happen. It’s a conscious decision and a choice. I wake up every day with gratitude. I’m solid and clear that if I have wronged someone, I want to make amends. I don’t want to have any dirty laundry at the end of the day. It’s amazing to believe that all I get to do is my part. If someone I’m wrong doesn’t want to accept my apology, that’s on them. I need to do my part of the dance.
I want to exemplify for everybody what Jeannie is exemplifying for us now. It is this notion of courageous authenticity and integrity, being truly who you are, advancing that best version of who you are, and releasing others to theirs.
I am blessed beyond belief. In my eyes, I have been gifted with friends of every race, religion, and sexual orientation. The minute I surrendered judgment, it was such a gift. I have many people who are teaching me and opening my eyes to whatever walk of life they’ve chosen. It’s great. They welcome me with a hug and tell me about what’s going on. That wasn’t the way I was brought up.
I don’t know that many of us were.
It would’ve held me back and limited my ability to appreciate others and where they are. I feel fortunate.
The power of suspending and eliminating that judge that we all have in our heads. We’re judging ourselves or others, but giving it less power and authority is a part of the human journey.
Here are a couple of simple examples. Years ago, you’d go to the basketball games. You see all these cute little cheerleaders in their little itty bitty dresses. It’s easy sometimes to form your own opinion of negativism about what it is until you sit next to somebody, and they go, “That’s somebody’s daughter.” It is the same thing for the people on the street and the homeless. That’s someone’s husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, and child. There’s no need to be mean to them or look down on them. They are having a tough time. It is truly up to them on how they choose to work it, but I’m not their judge. I don’t need to do that. I can be kind to them.
We’ve learned so much in the decades since we grew up about trauma and brain science. For me, what was illuminating was for the vast majority of people, it’s trauma-based. It’s brain science. Their brains have been compromised. That understanding completely reoriented me in many ways. There was a reverberation through every domino. That’s one thing. For everybody who’s on the street at this point who is homeless, most of them are trauma issues. Their brains have been compromised. Somebody somewhere loves them or has loved them along the way. Some have given up on them.
They’ve given up or surrendered.
There are two things I’m thinking about. One is to love as deeply as what we’re talking about takes courage and a knowing of who you are. To be in the fire of this disease while loving that deeply, that evolved way to be.
You need to have the tools in your toolbox to do that.
One of the bigger things is we can develop the tools and skillsets from an emotional, mental, and spiritual perspective to stand in authenticity that way, whereas we used to think, “That’s the way it is.”
We give up or be an acceptance.
The other piece is some people are like, “I can’t take it anymore. They’re not doing it the way I need them to do it. I’m watching them suffer. That’s too hard on me. I don’t have agency over this person to change the potential outcome.” A few people say, “I’m done.” They’re right at the doorway of their own work.
They have a journey.
Are there any other lessons that you would want to point out before we close up?
What I would suggest is one thing that’s helpful, especially when we get distracted by our own thinking, is to truly sit down with pen and paper and write five things that you’re grateful about now. Focus on the positive, whatever it is, big or small, it doesn’t matter.Focus on the positive, whether it is big or small. It doesn't matter. Click To Tweet
I’m a wholehearted believer in that. I believe that we tend to focus on what’s going wrong or what’s bad and flip it to enlarge the picture and the viewpoint of all the blessings, gifts, and all the things that we are blessed with. It’s almost ridiculous not to give it the recognition it deserves.
We take it for granted.
Thank you. I appreciate you and your willingness to share these different phases of this journey for you because it’s ever-changing, and we’re ever-changing. Who the audience is reading now is different than the person that was a year ago.
One day, one minute at a time.
Maybe a year from now, we’ll do this again. Thank you.
It is my honor. Thank you for asking. I appreciate it.
You have a great trip you’re getting ready for, and we’ll see you on the other side.