Today’s guest shifts the conversation around substance abuse disorder and makes forgiveness the dominating theme.
Annie is a writer, speaker, and family advocate who focuses on addiction and family dynamics. Most importantly, she’s the mother of a son who is an addict.
In 2016, Annie published her memoir, Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction.
Her story is especially relevant in helping us all understand the personal challenges facing parents and family members, and how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process.
In this episode, Annie shares her heartbreaking and heartwarming story of how her family began to navigate the trauma to find hope and healing through the power of forgiveness.
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The Power Of Forgiveness
I am super excited to have our guest with us for this episode. I met her as a guest on her podcast several months ago, which was such a super conversation. Our readers know that podcast. Annie is an extraordinary person in the recovery space as a mom of an addict, an author, and a speaker, all the things that are changing the conversation around substance abuse disorder and how we love our kids, families, and loved ones in the midst of the chaos.
I’m excited to have Annie here as an author and a mom, and to know what she wants to share with us relative to her own story, and what she’s up to now in changing the world of addiction. If you would, Annie, give us a little bit of your background story relative to crisis to thriving. Her book, Unhooked, is a valuable read. It’s that piece of it. What I want to delve into, which I understand is coming in your third book, is the space of healing and forgiveness. I don’t think there’s enough of a conversation around that now. I’m going to turn it over to you.
Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here. I love the work you’ve been doing. I’ve listened to all your podcasts so far, and I can’t think of anything that would be more than a benefit to the affected family members. In fact, you had said to one of your guests in the early episodes that when you were starting out in the learning process and discovery of this journey, usually, your thrust into that is woke up in the middle of the night, thrown into icy waters, and told to swim for your life. That’s what it’s like. There aren’t a lot of resources for the family members. There seems to be more now. A lot of this I was looking into in 2008 and 2009.
I was reading books by Mackenzie Phillips and by people who had recovered from addiction. That was great. Those were not things my son was reading, and I wanted to know where is the husband, the wife, the mom, and the daughter. I’ve had this experience with my son, but I’ve also had the experience with my mother. I’ve spent my entire life surrounded by the dysfunction of alcoholism, substance abuse, and all of that. I was just out of my mind, trying to grasp where I could find sanity. There weren’t a lot of resources like you said. I appreciate this work. I can kind of not shell it for you if you’d like. Most of it is a short memoir of Unhooked: The Mother’s Story.
My second book is called Unbroken. It’s about navigating that discovery process to hope and victory, and I’m working on book three. Long story short, I am from the Midwest. I’m an Ohio girl. I was raised the youngest of six kids, and was born into pretty much a family that was in crisis and conflict. There was a lot of trauma and intense poverty.
My father had had an alcohol addiction, and my mother had had severe trauma in her background that I wasn’t aware of until I was in my twenties. I was born into this madness as the youngest of six. My parents had gotten swept up before I was born in the Jesus Movement. It was from California to the Midwest. It was a lot of prosperity, triangle scheming stuff, faith movement, and all of that. They had some good aspects. It drew my father out of alcoholism, and he had been a very violent man. It pulled him all the way out of that, but he became a dry drunk because he didn’t have recovery.
He was focused on self-salvation and all of that but white-knuckling it and pretty much still miserable. My mom had all this trauma when the threat of his violence and drinking was lifted. The four older children had experienced it. The younger 2 of us, a total of 6, had not. She went into a deep response to her childhood trauma and his years of violence. She sunk into not only a church aspect of it but a prescription problem of her own.
Back then, it wasn’t called a prescription problem. It was just mom’s pills. My mom took too many pills. She was kind of the church lady. People would say how sweet she never raised her voice, but she had all of these pills. Not only that, but our family doctor was very close friends with her. He would come over to the home with his little black bag and give her Codeine and things like that. It was a lot of early-year recipes for disaster dysfunction. I was born right into the middle of it. Right before I was born, she was eight months pregnant. Our family seemed to be a flypaper for the crisis. Their house burned down when she was pregnant.
She moved all five kids and her pregnant self with my dad into her parents’ home. Her older brother lived there. He had worked for Ohio State. He was a translator for the government, but he also was a hippie in bands and experimented with it. It was madness. Her parents had chips on their shoulders from my dad’s prior years of alcoholism and violence. It’s all this conflict after the trauma of the home burning down and the years of untreated family disease in one house, and I was born into it. They lived there for a year. I did not walk. I was left in a playpen and pretty much neglected. It was survival. We didn’t live from holiday to holiday or season to season. It was more crisis to crisis.
We were there for a year, and they moved next door. That was a process of moving from trauma in crisis to trying to get footing. My dad had experienced a change in his life of salvation and all of that. He was at least trying to stabilize and become saner. There wasn’t criminal activity or dysfunction like that. We didn’t have booze in the fridge, cussing in the home, or anything like that, but it had its own weird rhythm of dysfunction. I grew up coming out of this poverty. We moved to a better neighborhood because he realized that it was more beneficial having that many kids. We were sent to schools where kids seemed more normal and had money, and we did not. We were neglected, and we were sent to school. I couldn’t make sense of anything.
It was crazy-making.
That was all the way up through the teen years, and I was feral from it all. I knew I was intelligent. When you’re a child, you’re so intuitive. I knew all of this was upsetting, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I don’t want to spend my life like this. I knew that early. I was trying to follow in my father’s footsteps of self-help, do the right thing, and be obsessed with what’s normal. I would go to the library and read celebrity biography. It’s what’s normal. I want to find a normal family so I can repeat. I spent a lot of my teen years doing that. I was not equipped. I didn’t have the language or any emotional coping guidance, no skills. I didn’t even understand what was around the corner. There were no conversations of, “This is what’s next. You either get married and have a family or go to college.” It was, “What crisis are we in? It’s probably forever.” I didn’t have a lot of emotional intelligence.
My son was born. I ended up pregnant by my high school sweetheart. He’s the only boyfriend I’d ever had, and we married. My son was born when I was eighteen. Everything then came to a screeching halt because not only was I trying to find my footing. I had these screams inside going on all the time from where I came from and desperation for peace and normal. I had to kick it into high gear, “How do I make things as pleasant and sterile as possible for this kid?” I kept getting licensing, working more jobs, and trying to make my way forward to have a home for him that was safe, clean, and not chaotic.
I put him in private school. I would sometimes work 2 or 3 jobs but still not miss a field trip. I was trying to hold all these plates in the air. When you’re doing that, it’s a recipe for codependent whatever disaster. It’s a lot of years of that, and it did do a lot of good. The ship turned around somewhat, and our life got better. We went to the ocean for the first time and traveled together. He did great in school and had a great personality. He excelled in sports. He was gifted in sports, so he played every sport on varsity as a freshman and did well. It was just a struggle if that makes sense.
What’s your son’s name?
It’s Elliot in the book. He’s my only child. I raised him on my own with this desperation. I thought I was an insurance agent and thought I was on the clock to cover every risk as an agent. You go to a home and get the railing on the roof, so you cover the risk. I would cover every risk. I won’t behave like this. His dad and I got divorced, but we made this agreement. We will be divorced but not divided. There won’t be competition, manipulation, or arguing. We will keep everything as kosher as possible. He had come from dysfunction too. It looked very different than mine. Mine was more present. His was more of a hidden behavior.
We were both trying to be rails around my son and make sure that he didn’t fall into the pill problems and all of the things that build up to addiction and cover the risk. When he was a junior in high school, he got his jaw broken in football practice. Right after that, at the next appointment, he saw an oral surgeon and his family doctor. He was prescribed Percocets at seventeen. It was like a light switch flipped in the home because, as anyone knows that has dealt with addiction, that’s coming quick. It was like a freight train came rushing into our lives. It’s a complete personality change, friendship changes, behavior changes, and constant conflict.
He always had a job and worked and took care of himself. You couldn’t tell by looking at him, but it was always, “I don’t have gas. I need a tire. I need a new outfit for work.” You’d never see those things. He would be working, but there was never money. There was always a need for something. It was a lot of constant drama, conflict, tug of war, and things like that. When his addiction ignited and began, my mother’s addiction exploded and became the parallel enemy to the situation. I believed I was on the clock for his life and against his death. I tried to track him down. She would keep secrets for him. They were in it together, and she would feel sorry for him.
He would manipulate her, and she would manipulate him. All of my siblings would believe her because she’s the mom and comes attacking me. I would be sitting at work reading emails and talking about liability limits as my phones and emails are going off. It’s a crisis every day, and I’m trying not to snap. It’s all of that going on, and it became unmanageable. It was like that for a couple of years. He would go to his dad’s house, a friend’s, or her house, and it was a hot potato. Nobody could keep him because it would be an eruption soon. You couldn’t manage it. He has this sweet Richie Cunningham personality that is so lovable.
He wouldn’t hold you at gunpoint. You would rob yourself for him. I’d always say, “He’ll steal your person and help you look for it.” That’s horrible because you have even more of a sense of emotion about it. That went on for a while. Finally, through the learning curve of finding therapists and treatments, I didn’t get into support rooms until he had gone off and away. It got to a boiling point where I couldn’t manage the stress anymore. Nothing I was doing was helping. If you remember, everybody used the word enabler as a dirty word. My mom would have been his secret keeper and the one who kept him in that and made it possible.
She was considered his enabler. I thought, “I’ll be his enforcer.” I’ll make it miserable and make him hate that life so much like I do. He wants out of it. I won’t make it comfortable. I would try to get him arrested. I would show up at these houses he was at. That didn’t do any good, either. That just made me crazy and put me at risk. He even said later, “It broke the trust between us because you still need to respect your person no matter what their behavior is. You’re still accountable for that.”You still need to respect a person no matter what their behavior is. Click To Tweet
He would talk about how it made him go into more dangerous situations. It increased the threat from people I would confront who were then angry with him for exposure. I know a lot of parents do it, and you got to use up all your ideas that you think are going to work until you finally come to a point where you realize they don’t. I get that. The sooner you can come out of that idea, the better because it does no good.
Enabling and enforcing, neither one make it any better or any worse. They’re just part of the sickness. That went on for a while too. I finally could hardly bear it anymore. He had been sleeping in my mom’s car. She would let him come stay there. I then would threaten her if she put him out because my goal was he’ll go to treatment. I would say, “I’m not going to do anything more for you, but if you’re willing to go to treatment, I will drive 90 miles an hour to get to you and get you into treatment. There’s nothing else I’m willing to do because you need to go to treatment.”
We all had box him out plan for him, but it never seemed to come about right. Before he’d go, something would happen. Someone would take him in. It was madness for about 6 or 7 years of that. We would all try to do that intervention and have that in the home and imitate the TV. Nobody knew what to do when there wasn’t a conversation. I hadn’t been in the rooms yet. I’m managing all this on my own, and you’re still having to go to the store, do laundry, and not snap. You’re crazy. As a parent, you are climb the walls, walk the floor, pain, nostalgia, guilt, grief, fear, primal fear crazy.
Annie, take a breath because what you’re saying here is so important for us.
This is the breaking point.
It’s super important to understand that we create this crazy. We are responsible for our own crazy in this. While the addicts have their own crazy going on, we generally have our own crazy going on. Ours is cloaked in responsibility, “I’m going to save my child,” all those things. Was there a moment that was the turning point for you?
There were several, but before he went to treatment, he went out. He went to treatment locally and relapsed the day he got out. I have an eye for having grown up around a lot of dysfunctional conflicts. I have a detailed eye for patterns. I know when something’s not working. The harder I would try, the worst it would get. When you’re in a situation that is so urgent and desperate, you’re quick to get to solutions. When something doesn’t work, you can cast it off quickly. I realized I needed a break. I went away for a weekend and let and let him know, “I don’t care where I’m at. If you’re willing to go to treatment, I will, by osmosis, get right back to you, and we’ll get you in treatment.”
He ended up sleeping in a dugout. It was the same dugout that we had watched him step out of and hit grand slams as a child. It has his name over the speakers. It is painful when it’s a spouse, your world’s crashing, and the dream’s dying. It’s painful when it’s apparent. That has a longer, bigger impact because it’s ingrained in you. When it’s a son or daughter, it is a pain. It’s like being gutted while you’re wide awake. I said, “I’m going to take a break.” When I took a break, he summoned all of his resources and realized, “I had no place else to turn.” He booked a flight to a treatment center in LA and went on his own with nothing but a backpack.
He’s ended up making a life out there. He is lived out West now for several years. That was the beginning where you think, “They’re in treatment now. It’s over. We’ll go back to normal. All of this will be put behind.” That’s just the beginning because you realize you’re nuts. I was still so caught up in the chaos and the PTSD that as soon as it was calm, I would look for things to freak out and be upset about because I had lived at that level ten adrenaline for days and nights for years now.
It becomes the way of life.
That was when he went out West. He was there for about 30 days. He was in a celebrity treatment center. I was furious because I was still thinking consequences, “He should be in jail. I should be the one getting acupuncture and massages. He’s meeting all these celebrities.” I was furious like, “We’re all in your wake. How are you going to learn from this?” I remember somebody had said to me, “This is not going to play out the way you control it or expect it to. There’s a path for him, and your path may coincide. They may have started together, but you don’t control his path. That’s where you’re going crazy.” That’s where I took my hands off that.
I always hear parents say, “I don’t want my son or daughter to end up in jail.” That’s exactly what I wanted, but it doesn’t usually go the way you try to puppeteer it to. At that first treatment center, he relapsed there and manipulated somebody. He got a counselor who thought she was a grandmother figure. She had worked there for many years and was giving him money and got fired for it. I knew better, but he was good at it. He’s cute, and she should have done better. That was a lesson learned. I couldn’t control that either. He went into another place that was aware of it, and he’s been doing his own thing for several years since.
I love the way that you frame that in terms of the puppeteer. We think we control the strings, which makes us crazy.
It’s because other problems in life are solvable by cause and effect or that vertical strategic thinking. This is a different problem. I was raised in a family of faith, so we were taught to be selfless. When the prodigal returns home, you celebrate and give them gifts. This is a whole different, unique situation. They might return home 100 times a year, and you’re not necessarily wanting them to give them the keys to the car or the kingdom. I don’t necessarily at all believe in tough love. I believe in smart, healthy love. It’s completely different than any solution or type of love I had been trained to believe then.
Could you just describe what healthy love looks like when you are the mom of an addict?
First of all, minor or adult, and one thing that’s very strange when somebody becomes an adult is they cross that threshold when birthday. You’re still enmeshed in governing them and what’s best for them. Your concerns for them to be safe and healthy are often a lot more invested than their own concerns are. You’ll fight for their life harder than they will sometimes, especially when they’re caught up in that. Healthy for me was a process. I had to relearn it. I had to learn what the term enmesh was. I had a real hard time with authority because I’d had fraudulent authority and this relationship with my mother. I would sometimes have women come along and try to mother me or guide me, and it was awkward.
I had a counselor come into my life. There are three of them. One is specific, just in friendship. We were friends. She worked in the court system and drug and alcohol court with families. She would speak these untangling concepts to me. It was a process of getting healthier and trial and error. It started with not being enmeshed, and you want to be. It’s natural and an instinct to be to save, rescue, show up, coach, and guide. I’ve had a friend in the room say, “It’s like you know that fire is there. That fire is the drama and the consequences of this person’s choices. How close do you want to get to that fire because you know you’re going to get burned every time?” You can choose.
I would go, “You don’t have this. Let me give you guidance.” It was a process of giving him space and dignity as an adult, getting his own victory, facing his own consequences, overcoming those things, and developing his own life skills. We interfere because the situation is so painful and dire. You have to be trained to pry your fingers off of it. For me, that was the process. I wasn’t a helicopter mom, but I was very much cause and effect, speak the truth, teach, be involved, and push consequences in. When he hit eighteen, especially when he went across the country, that was completely cut off. I’m met with myself and with silence.
I want people to learn the idea that this is a process and a journey. Both of us have done a tremendous amount of work to get where we are now, which has been all part of the process, but the process has taken years. We’re still in the process. Another year from now, we’ll be having another different conversation about the next evolution of our process. I want people to know that it’s a process. It’s a personal, spiritual, mental, and emotional journey for you. Have grace and compassion for yourself, and be gentle.
Go easy. This is how nuts I was in the beginning. Somebody was telling me that there’s a recovery promise that if one person in a family situation does work to heal and get well, the situation is bound to improve. I’ve always said that was a helicopter work to me. I was so sick that I would do work to heal, go to a meeting, read a book, and go back to him with the materials. It was like giving somebody a drink from a fire hose that they didn’t want to drink from. I took all of my recovery, skills, and all of that and tried to throw it onto him.
It was enmeshed, and you had to break that yolk and start walking it on your own. That’s to me also in that space where we get crazy and try to control it is where faith had to come into my own personal spiritual journey. I had to develop stronger skills of turning this over and trusting that there was a path for him as well, where I could trust safety, protection, healing, and awakening to the God I believe in and was raised from for him, and I wasn’t the rescuer.
I personally have gotten to this space where I bless Sam’s addiction as one of my greatest gifts. I’m wondering where you are in that spectrum. In order for us to mature and grow spiritually, we have to get cracked wide open. Personally, for me, that was my son that helped. For me, dealing with the pain, heartbreak, and shattering of all the things around Sam’s addiction was me getting cracked wide open. I was like, “I need to rise from this crisis, trauma, and all of this.” I’m curious in terms of your own healing journey and rising from the crisis, trauma, desperation, heartbreak, and all the things around this. How was that for you?
I realized that pretty early on because I knew I’d come from a lot of pain, neglect, and dysfunction. I remember telling one of my friends I’d been so hurt and neglected with guidance that I didn’t know if I could ever be sane. You can’t mistake intelligence or even financial success for emotional well-being because they’re far apart. I never felt like I would be strong, healthy, or at peace inside. I knew that when that tornado hit, it was also a call to get it all dealt with and healed.You can't mistake intelligence or even financial success for emotional wellbeing because they're far apart. Click To Tweet
Let’s fast forward because you’re writing this book now that has to do with healing and forgiveness. Where are you on the forgiveness path?
This third book I’m writing is called Unshakeable. It is a recovery concept from toxic religious experiences. We had a lot of terminology in our home. Who hasn’t had a hurtful rejection type or weird church experiences that affected them and maybe turned them off? I’ve always said, “I’ve had people be ugly to me at McDonald’s, but we all return.” It’s so different when it happens in church.
We were there three times a week, and in every type of church, from Lutheran to Pentecostal, that went until 4:00 in the afternoon. We’d experienced all of it. I’m thankful for that now because a lot of good stuff was ground into me. You get a lot of wounds in the church, especially if you’re a family that has dysfunction. What’s missing a lot of times from the recovery concepts in the church is introspection because if you’re going to the altar, people assume you have sinned. They apply one-liners of scripture and don’t broaden that to the needs which can be broadened. A lot of those things are lacking.
That’s what this book is about. It’s interesting. I sent out a note and asked people to send me their experiences. I’ve had an overwhelming amount of church abuse experiences. I wanted to make it. I said, “Make sure you include how you came back to faith and hope.” I don’t want it to be woe with me. There was a lot of healing and forgiveness. You have to break away, journey on your own, and find your own personal space, salvation, and all of that. The book is about that.
Say a little bit more about your own breaking away and your own unfolding in your spiritual journey to come to this place.
I don’t want to shame my parents. People do the best they can with the tools and the beliefs they have. There were a lot of good things, taught ethics, and a relationship with God being a daily thing and a daily walk, but there was a lot of scary, condemning demonology and manipulation. There were things like, “If you disagreed or argued with something or disputed it, you weren’t just disputing with mom or arguing with your siblings. God stood on their side. It was your eternity at stake. God hated you. You are un-Christian.” It had this bigger picture to it. I hated all of that. My mom had sunk deeper into her own types of dysfunction, and I became a target of it, being the youngest and the one still at home.
A lot of that religious stuff was vented on me. I wanted nothing to do with it for a long time until I started thinking, “What is the truth?” and searching for that on my own. Once I had my son, I got involved in keeping him in church and Christian school because I wanted to safeguard him from the world, but it was put to the test and strengthened through that adversity. It is its own process parallel but very much the foundation of what we’ve been through.
Who did you turn to? This last go-round with Sam, when we found out that he was using fentanyl and had been for quite a while, it took the anxiety. The stakes are so much higher. I’ve trained myself to go, “Stakes higher? I need to up my game.” I went to Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and other people that is in their DNA that higher level of thinking about spirituality and the big picture journey. My best friend is a shaman. I dialed her up. I kept stretching and growing for a different way to think about it and work with it. It’s all working with me. I’m working with my mindset, heartset, soulset, and all those things to recalibrate and rewire. I’m asking you. Who did you reach for? What did you read that was particularly profound for you?
I was raised in a Christian family, and every type of doctrine we’d been in every church. We ended up in a Pentecostal church. It was a little fiery. It got some things to it that I felt uncomfortable and weird about, being an embarrassed bashful teenager or whatever. I returned to my roots and went to the word myself. My mom and I would have these terrible arguments over scripture. They were always used to scare me, say the world was ending, or control me. I would go into the Hebrew or the Greek of it and study what the root meanings were. Where I went was to the word. I remember early on learning the names of God and what they meant, the God I believed in.
There was a name for Jehovah Shalom is peace, Jehovah-Rapha is healer and Hosanna. I remember Easter and how the plays would always have Jesus coming in on a donkey, and they would say Hosanna. When I learned that the word Hosanna means rescue me, that was profound for me because it was like, “I could call a counselor. I could call my best friend. I could go to the rooms.” There were times it was so bad. When you’re in a situation where nothing can help you, your back is against the wall, and there’s no helicopter coming to help you, I could not wait to get off and be alone, walk in the woods, or stand outside and even could not breathe or talk, and I could say, “Hosanna, help us. Rescue us. Where are you?”
Peace would always come. I didn’t often have a big event happen where there was a movie scene. It’s all been a process. I always call it turning the ship around, and slowly, things would get better, and peace would come. It’s a process. For me, my process was to go into the scripture for myself, not necessarily having anybody else pound it or explain it to me for myself and calling on the God of peace that I know for myself. That became my daily thing. I remember doing a podcast some years ago. It’s one of my first ones. The guy said, “What’s your morning ritual?” I was like, “I get up, hit snooze, and hit the floor running. Whoever pisses me off first calls me, that’s my day. I let the day run me.” I thought about it. I don’t have a morning ritual.
I start getting up an hour early and go for a walk. I heard about another tribe that had all these terrible things happen to it, but they were known for their positivity. It was because they would go, sing, and get all their feelings off their heart. I started getting up early and getting everything off my heart. I did this process of ABCs, the A to Z. How I wanted something terrible to happen to whoever in my family had made me mad because it got out to me. I didn’t have to feel bad. It’s A to Z goals, A to Z who God is or what I’m grateful for. By the time I came back in, all of these worries and stress were off of me, and I’d start the day. That was life-changing, even just those little adjustments. It’s not a big event. It’s a process. That’s what I turned to, a process of recovery and faith. They’ve both been very patchwork.
What you said there in terms of, “It doesn’t have to be these big things or a whole stack of these things. It can be just one change that changes the trajectory.” You are getting up early, going for a walk, being outside, being in gratitude, and releasing that one thing completely changed the trajectory for you. What I want people to learn is it’s not a lot of things.
It’s not a one size fits all or one thing. It’s just as needed. You figure out what brings you peace and stabilizes you.
When I wrote the Five Acts of Courage, each one of those, I said, “If you take one and do one thing within the one, it will change the trajectory for you.” That’s important for people to understand. Grab hold of one.
Before you know it, you’re grabbing hold of more. I remember someone saying to me early, “You don’t go outside and plant tomatoes and then rush out the next morning and say, ‘Where are my tomatoes?'” It’s a process, but because it’s so emotional, painful, and urgent, especially like you said with the fentanyl, that ups the Annie for everyone because that changes things in a moment. That affects their personality in a lot of ways. It’s on steroids compared to any other opiate. In my experience, that’s what I’ve seen.
It’s 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin and meth. The stakes are so much higher. It’s Russian roulette. For those who are reading, heroin got sucked out of the market, and fentanyl was what filled the void. When you’re dealing with addiction, you’re going to do whatever’s available. Therefore, you’re in it already. I chose to think about this through the lens of, “I don’t know if he’s going to live or die.” I know the stakes are higher. I need to do my work at a higher level to be able to lean into whatever shows up and be able to continue to deliver the mess message to him in particular, “No matter what you do, you are always loved. If and when you pop out the other side of this, you are going to come home to a whole, happy, healing, and thriving mom.”
You learn to take small steps as you big picture it.
Say a little bit more, Annie, if you would. Is there a moment of forgiveness for you that stands out?
I’m pretty quick to forgive and rebound because I have this inner fear that anything I hold against somebody else stops my momentum. There are certainly grudges or things that are still painful and triggering for me, but I try to wipe the slate clean. That’s part of that morning process. Like I said, I get that poison out of me. When you go through this with a child and all of a sudden launch into your own healing, a lot of things get purged in your life. You sometimes realize, “I don’t have a healthy friendship circle or work setting. I’m repeating traumas everywhere.” It’s like the lights are turned on everywhere, and you realize there’s a lot of dust, mold, and sickness, and you want everything to heal.
I had a lot of tornadoes hit at the same time that I had to quickly forgive and get pass. That’s a process also of even if you forgive, you realize maybe something or someone’s not healthy to have around you anymore. My mom and I are in a good place. There were a lot of years that I remember thinking I was going to end up in prison over this because I’m so hostile that she’s so scary in this situation. I’m scared and dealing with it anyway and then having to fight that off. The family that would get pulled in and creates the distraction was a mess. That was a hard process to forgive. It’s about allowing myself time and space, doing the work, and getting up early.Even if you forgive, sometimes you will realize that maybe something or someone is not healthy to have around you anymore. Click To Tweet
I would go from A to Z, and sometimes everything I wanted to see happen. I want her to go through all the things I have. I want her heart broken. I would go from A to Z to recompense and revenge even just to get it out of me and do it over and over. Ironically, my mom had said to me one time when my dad was dying in hospice and I was going through a divorce at the same time. I was heartbroken. Sometimes she could say these pearls of wisdom. She said, “When grief and pain hit you this hard, it’s like a wave crashing in. If you resist that misery and fight it, it’s going to hit harder and last longer. If you start to let it come and breathe through it and say, ‘This is grief. I’m miserable, and I can’t do anything about it,’ and breathe and let it go back, it eventually stops crashing so hard and so often.”
That’s been my process of forgiveness. Sometimes you can feel like you are full of poison about a situation or a person. You’re powerless against the ferocious emotion you have about it, but you let it come and process it. For me, it was getting it out every morning. I would go take walks for 90 minutes or stand barefoot in the grass and say, “God that I believe in, take this from me. Do for me what I can’t do for myself because I’m full of hatred now.” It’s all a process.
What I want our audience to learn is that it is a process, and there are all these different ways you can enter and create that process for yourself. One size does not fit all. It’s reading, listening to people, coming up with things, learning, picking the things that work for you, and letting the rest go.
It’s like fitness. No one exercise or diet plan works specifically for one person. It’s not about eating the same food and doing the same jumping jacks every day. It’s a process of getting healthier, stronger, and learning. It’s no different with spiritual recovery, emotion, and all of that. It’s a practice and a lifestyle. You veer in and out, get dull again, something launches you back in, and you have to pull your tools again. Sometimes I would call that therapist friend of mine and say, “How did I end up here again? I feel like I’ve not done any work.”
She said, “No. Before, you used to open the door, walk into the room, and make yourself at home. Now you open the door, take a step, and back out. It’s not the same thing.” Those triggers used to come in like elephants, but now they’re more like naps you chew away. You are not seeing progress. You’re feeling the trigger. It’s not just with time, but with time and you developing your own skills and tools. It’s turning a ship around fitness and weight loss. It’s no different.
What I love about what you said is the community that surrounds us gives us a perspective that we don’t have. If we’re willing to ask and reach out to people that we can smartly trust and have our back through this and love us through the ups, the downs, the sideways, the crazy, and all the things, and can give perspective, like your friend gave you the perspective of who you used to be and who you are now, you could step back for it and go, “You’re right. I have developed a lot of skills. This is just a moment.”
It’s so important who you call. When I started becoming friends with these people that worked in therapy and recovery, I would have a moment where I’d have an argument with my brother, and if I called one of my childhood best friends, it was like, “You know how he is. Do you want to kill him?” One of them would say, “That triggers this in you. That’s his inability to recognize nuance.” You start learning who to call. For me, I wanted a healthier response so I could overcome that. I didn’t want to be mad and be validated in that anger and rage. I didn’t want to just be right. I wanted to get better.
You learn who to turn to and who is safe. Sometimes you confide in somebody, and everybody’s been through stuff like this. I’m not saying I’ve been a perfect friend my whole life, but I experienced a lot of friendships that I had to purge from my life. You call somebody, or you get the dreaded question when stress is building up, “Are you okay?” All of a sudden, you erupt in the grocery store over the phone. You then find out that person called and told people. That’s your child that’s precious to you that should be sacred to them too. You have betrayals like that, and you learn, “I got to forgive you too. I probably would never put you in that category again.” I got a call and control myself and keep this until I’m with safe people. That’s a process too. I know a lot of people that go through that. I don’t know if you did.
Fortunately for me, partly because of who I am in the journey that I’ve been on, I have a book about creating a safe community. I had already created a safe community for myself. I just expanded it. When we found out that Sam had a substance abuse problem, I was on the backbone, calling the people I know, trust, have my back, and love me and him, and not going to judge him for his disease. I already had that in place. I expanded it more. One of the things that I coach and train to is how you build that community.
I’ve had people ask me that too. I’m like, “You always need your safe support system.” People then say, “How? My family’s like this. My best friend’s like that.” It’s a process too. The healthier you get, the healthier you’re going to want. You start reaching out to meetings. It’s a process. It’s those things that start popping into your life. You start learning wisdom. I remember a dear friend. People have good intentions, telling me, “You just need to detach.” I would think, “Your son’s three years old, in bed with his teddy bear. This is my only son. He’s eighteen. I have no idea where he’s at, who he’s around, or what he’s involved with now. I’m dying. How do I detach?” As wonderful as she is, and I love her, she could not hold that space with me. That’s not even her fault. You start learning what’s stable.The healthier you get, the healthier you're going to want to be. Click To Tweet
Everybody’s doing the best they can. It’s just we’ve got to figure out what’s going to serve us at the highest level possible.
They care, but nobody’s going to care about your situation, your child, or your outcome. They’re not going to understand all your details. Nobody cares about that as much as you. If you think you’re going to unload that on someone that has no experience with it, you’re going to learn and get burnt.
There’s so much around that.
I know. That’s a process to learn. It’s a learning curve.
Is there something I should be asking that I haven’t thought to ask so far?
It’s finding your own recovery process. I read on one of your episodes where one of your guests had said Al-Anon didn’t work for her. I’ve been to a couple of those meetings. I didn’t find a fit for myself. Some people love it. It all depends on areas, how many times you go, your mood, and who’s there. Nar-Anon did work for me. I know there are other groups, like DBT therapy. It’s all a process as long as you’re doing something to take care of yourself and learn and grow. I don’t care if it’s a book. You can order DBT books off of Amazon.
Nowadays, there are telephone numbers you can call that are helpful. Reach out and do something. Personally, I’d grown up in church and had problems in group settings. I’m from a big family. When people would be mad, it would be all against one. I had a fear of group settings when I was vulnerable to being ridiculed or turned on. I was afraid to go to the room. I had to heal in that process too. It’s not, “You need to go to the rooms. You need this therapy.” It’s just finding your way.
Speaking to Al-Anon, Al-Anon does work for a lot of people. Ninety percent of loved ones are not served. That’s where the vacuum is.
It should be overflowing, one way or another.
If that doesn’t work for you and you keep looking, you’ve got to keep looking until you find the things that work for you. That takes courage and intentionality.
For me, it didn’t often work up the courage as much as I would work up the misery. Misery would launch me to the next thing like, “I’m going to try that meeting again. I got to get into therapy. I got to get a new book because I’m crazy today.” It is courage, but also, misery is a pretty good threshold for needing to open up a new door.
I think they’re married because pain pushes until vision pulls. When the pain pushes, courage has to show up in order for you to take the next step towards healing. I believe that courage is present in order for you to take that step.Pain pushes until vision pulls. And when the pain pushes, courage has to show up in order for you to take the next step towards healing. Click To Tweet
Misery can give you courage. A mom can lift a car off a child. It’s the same thing. Have you ever heard of the book, Hinds’ Feet on High Places?
It’s such a wonderful allegory. It’s a metaphor. It’s where this paralyzed victim type of thing is. I can’t remember if she was a woman or a character. It has all of these relatives that attack her. They’re jealous. They teach her the wrong things. She ends up meeting these two characters called Sorrow and Suffering that lead her up this mountain. The worse her journey gets and the higher she goes, the more she starts developing strength and taking all these treasures and tools. By the time she gets to the mountain, she’s no longer paralyzed, and Sorrow and Suffering have become Grace and Glory. I’ve read it probably ten times. It’s so good to flip that suffering into, “I’m going to work this toward healing.”
Don’t you think that’s the journey of life?
I was saying to somebody, “I’m just hitting my stride. I’m hitting my flow because I’ve done this for many years and continued to grow, stretch, fall, tumble, and do all the things. I’ve been climbing that mountain.” It’s guidance, wisdom, humility, grace, and all these things. I’ve walked so many different dark paths and to the other side of lightness that you and I are both able to walk with people from that dark path to the light. That’s the gift.
I forget what the word was that you used. My similar word is it’s been a renovation process. Sometimes you tear things down, and it looks like a disaster before you rebuild it. Renovation, for me, leads to transformation. Sometimes things are painful, which leads to renovation. Sometimes there has to be separation. If you have all or nothing thinking like, “If I put space here between this adult child and me, spouse, or family member, it’s forever. The relationship is over. I’m abandoning them.” All of this all-or-nothing thinking comes in, but sometimes separation and tearing down has to happen for a new thing to spring up and for the situation to be renovated.
I learned in one of the early meetings where one of the moms that were there said, “A life lesson for me was judgment.” She said, “I learned judgment doesn’t pertain to just people and behavior. Judgment is situations. Sometimes what I’m calling good is not good and bad is not bad. Sometimes bad leads to good. Sometimes good and comfort lead to bad. It’s not about judging situations. It’s about taking it as it comes and being in your process of renovation, repair, and renewal. It’s unending.” It’s even in times of peace when things are okay, and we’re not wanting to do the work. We want to be normal, but you’re still doing that work because it’s the ebb and flow, and it’s going to come back around one way or another. Tools are lifelong.
It’s the process of living. It’s that whole notion that I, for the most part, do not orient a good, bad, right, and wrong. I orient to what works and what doesn’t work. I have a strong belief that when things feel like they’re completely falling apart, they’re falling together. That’s why the beliefs that we hold are so critically important in the rise, the phoenix coming out of the ashes, the butterfly being birthed from the chrysalis. All of these metaphors that we generally hear about so much, there’s so much wisdom and truth in them. It’s how we become if we show up for the work, kinder, compassionate, wise, resilient people.When things feel like they're completely falling apart, they're actually falling together. Click To Tweet
Also, not petty and shallow. I used to get caught up in a lot of arguments with family, friends, or whatever and get offended, insulted, or hurt. I don’t care anymore like I used to. I care, and I’m careful with people’s feelings, but I don’t take as much personal. I stiff-arm any type of drama that I’m invited to. It’s renovated all of that. That’s a necessary part of growth.
I think so too. I think about Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, in which nothing is personal. If you could get that one thing, like getting clear about that one thing, that would change so much for you.
I have a close friend whose husband was planning to leave the family. They were trying desperately to keep him talked into staying, and they were going to counseling and all this stuff. I remember one of the counselors said to him. He gave his complaints about things at home, and the counselor said, “Your misery is internal. Wherever you go, whether it’s a new relationship, a new job, or out to a party, it goes with you because your misery is not this family. Your misery is internal.” That struck me. That’s the truth for all of us.
The situation is outside of us, especially our son or daughter. I’m not minimizing that by any means because I’ve walked those floors. It’s still internal. Our response is internal. I can be having a great day. The world is all rainbows and lollipops. One phone call from my son, and I am life and death. The world is over. It’s our internal response. Good or bad out there, it’s still about how you process it within here. The healthier you get, the healthier you can respond to that. It’s all internal.
These situations call us to our own work.
Not to go fix out there because that’s crazy-making.
That was the gift for me. That’s why I thank Sam for this gift. I don’t begin to know the fullness of his purpose and why he’s on the planet. I just know it’s meant to serve, and it looks all different ways. If you were going to leave our audience with one pearl of wisdom in addition to all the other pearls you have laid on us, what would that one pearl be?
Do your own recovery work. That’s so important. Emotional IQ is so far from a success, intelligence, how things look, and how nice your home is. Work on your emotional IQ and your resilience, empathy, and compassion. Introspection is a huge thing missing in a lot of lives, that self-awareness. It’s the self-awareness that is productive, healthy, and compassionate, but it does the deep inner dive. There are a lot of acronyms in recovery, but one of my favorite ones, and it always seems to turn a light on for people, is JADE.
You get caught up in a lot of arguments when you’re dealing with somebody in active addiction. There’s a lot of spinning, blaming, projecting, accusing, and all of that. I learned the acronym early on that unless I’m in a courtroom facing a defense attorney, or a judge, or I’m on trial, I don’t have to Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain myself to anybody unless I choose to. Out of respect, I will, but you’re not going to corner, accuse, interrogate, or blame me and make me justify, argue, defend, or explain. You can apply that without being a UFC fighter. We don’t have to go at people.
I do a lot of CRAFT method work through allies and recovery. That’s about setting the weapons down, picking up tools that work, and doing those inner dives. Part of that is things like JADE when I’m not going to get into these arguments that are circular, bottomless pit arguments because they don’t matter. I’m going to work on my emotional IQ. I’m going to love you. Sometimes that love involves space. It doesn’t mean it’s forever, and it’s not selfish. It’s healthy. The healthier we become, the healthier the situation can become. Do your own work. The whole entourage needs to heal.
Thank you for that. I had not heard that JADE before, so I will be using that.
It comes up. Trust me.
That’s priceless. Would you tell our audience how they can get ahold of you?
You can email me. I answer every email, maybe not immediately, but I answer every single one. I’ll sit down and do it at AnnieUnhooked@Gmail.com. The best way to follow me is on Facebook at Annie Unhooked page. I also have a blog site. My books are available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and all of that. The first one is Unhooked, and the second one is Unbroken. I wrote for a book that Ohio State University published. If you search my name, all of that will come up. I welcome questions, venting, ideas, feedback, and anything like that. I answer everybody. Please stay connected. We’re all in this together.
Thank you so much for your energy, all that you bring to the table, your perseverance, and these pearls of wisdom you shared with us. You are a force in this world to elevate all of us. I am eternally grateful for this time that we’ve had. I’m looking forward to another conversation in the future when your book comes out.
I appreciate you as well. Again, we’re in this together. I’m happy to partner with you anytime.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. God bless.
God bless. Take care.