VIC 26 | Voices InCourage

In today’s podcast, KL Wells and Tucker Stine reflect on celebrating one year of the Voices InCourage Podcast.

They explore the harsh reality of the recovery journey: the highs and lows that addicts and their families face.

In a surprising realization, KL discovers that her relapse plan as a family member mirrors Tucker’s relapse plan, who has been sober for eight years. In addition, they look back on the top podcasts, memorable conversations, and lessons learned on hope, loss, family dynamics, and finding new purpose.

Listen as we look forward to another year of real and raw conversations with people changing the narrative of addiction and giving courageous voices to the families of loved ones. Don’t miss this milestone episode!

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Voices InCourage 1 Year Anniversary Podcast

I am very excited to be hosting alongside KL Wells where we’re going to flip the tables a little bit where I’m going to ask KL some questions because believe it or not, we are exactly one year into the show at this time. Congratulations, KL. Here we are one year later and we have committed to and held strong to two episodes a month, which means 12 times 2 is 24, and we will have 25 episodes at our one-year anniversary. Congratulations and welcome to the show.

I remember the day that you floated this notion and I about had a heart attack. It’s remarkable. I had a moment. I had to breathe and said, “Okay.” We found a company to help us figure this thing out. We have had some remarkable conversations in 2022 that have changed our audience’s lives and mine. I’m so blessed that we’ve had the opportunity to do this, and we’ll continue to do this. Let’s have a little revisit of 2022.

Nothing beats a real-life conversation in doing all the research, wanting to be where all of you are at, where all of our readers are, and where our community is growing. Being on the show is the best place to be. It’s an opportunity for us to have great and memorable conversations, and provide some insights that we may not normally see on a daily basis.

We get bogged down with our own daily lives and the stories that sometimes hold us back, but these conversations are meant for us to move forward in breaking down those past generational cycles. Speaking of memorable moments, is there anything that stands out to you where it was an a-ha or things that have settled in your heart, soul, and mind that struck a chord with you?

First and foremost, we set about doing this show to have a very different conversation taking place in the marketplace. It’s because most of the shows that are out there are about recovering addicts, alcoholics, and substance abuse disorder folks. We have yet to find a show that is for the loved ones, and I’m a loved one. There are so many more of us out there that don’t have a voice and are in the shadows.

The thing that first stands out to me is the courage that some of our guests have had to have some serious, raw, and real conversations about the devastation, the grief, the shattered dreams, the, “I didn’t see this coming,” and, “Now what?” In the midst of it, pain shows up for us so that we get to do our own work. We have this tendency as a loved one to think, “Just fix them and we’ll all be fine.” Stepping into that pool of conversation has been fascinating too.

One person that stood out along those lines was a very successful CEO that woke up one day and realized that his son was an addict. His daughter was massively struggling and his marriage was in shambles. He almost was living this double life, which I work with execs and CEOs. Success in large places is still a professional success, which leaves the family to navigate on their own.

To Andy‘s tremendous credit as a man, as a husband, and as a father, he opted to come back home and do his work. What I loved was that he told me that his son, Scott, who was dealing with substance abuse disorder, when Andy asked him, “What can I do to support you?” Scott said, “Just do your work, Dad.” I think about that quite often because we’re still in the throes of our story, and I keep thinking, “Keep doing your work.” That one stands out for me.

Also, there’s Jeff Bristol who is recovering, and I didn’t do that interview. Jenn Stine on our team did that interview because she knew him. That interview came at a pivotal time for me, as most of them do, honestly. He spoke to never lose hope. This was at a moment when we found out that my son was addicted to fentanyl. That took the air out of the room and the hope out of our souls. Listening to Jeff, I grabbed ahold of what he said and have never let go.

Lately, I’ve had the privilege and the honor to interview two extraordinary people in different places. One is Jim Horton, whose son did pass away from an overdose. To interview this amazing man with such a vibrant soul of service on the other side of the heartbreak of losing his only son, wow. We did two interviews with Jim because I had more questions to ask him and he was so emotionally available.

I have thought if, at some point, we face this ourselves because it’s always a possibility, he would be almost the first person I would be reaching out to ask for help. One of the things we’ve learned along the way is asking for help is mission-critical to navigating this. Another one is Mary Beth O’Connor, who wrote a book and released a book called From Junkie to Judge, which is a harrowing and traumatizing story. Honestly, she’s a miracle walking and awe-inspiring in her story of decades of trauma and substance abuse.

VIC 26 | Voices InCourage
From Junkie to Judge: One Woman’s Triumph Over Trauma and Addiction

She is climbing up out of the darkness to take hold of the light and create service in the world now, having gone through Berkeley Law School and then becoming a Federal judge. She’s wicked smart, brilliant, and had her own life’s traumas that she needed to take hold of, deal with, and incorporate into who she is now. She reminded me that no matter how long you’ve been doing drugs, alcohol, or the things you’re doing, there is always hope as long as there’s a breath.

It’s fun to reflect back on when we even named the community. To think about all the different stories and the voices that we’ve heard, the courage it takes to stand in those and to be able to finally hear people that are willing to express, share, and be vulnerable is amazing. What’s great and what I’ve felt most proud about the show, too, is being able to see multiple angles of how all these conversations are happening.

We’re seeing inside the executive world. What’s happening when we leave these dual lives and how we’re having to deal with that? We’ve got the families that are completely at a loss for resources, scrambling for things, which is exactly why you even thought about putting this together. Third are the addicts themselves that are in recovery and are able to share what those stories are.

We’re learning a lot about what the addict goes through in terms of recovering from certain things and the processes that we take. We were talking about relapse prevention, and I thought there are so many similarities that we can learn from one another, yet we haven’t done a very good job of giving those resources to the other side of the story to the families.

At one of the rehabs that Sam was in, I remember going to the front desk and saying, “What do you recommend for loved ones?” Getting this look like, “What do you mean what do we recommend for loved ones?” I’m like, “Isn’t there something I should be reading, watching, or anything along those lines?” Finally, somebody from the back of the office area said, “There’s a good video that you should watch.” It was done by a doctor who struggled with addiction himself, and he was going through his own exploration as to whether this is a disease or it’s a choice.

The brain science that he went through because I ordered the video was illuminating for me. I’m a big learner. Give me the information. I want to understand this disease. I wanted to understand what was going through the addict’s mind. I wanted to understand what the turnkey was when they decided that they were going to take this on and lean into long-term recovery.

There are so many answers to those questions. That kind of information was mission-critical for me personally, but it also illuminated the fact that we’re not given the information. We have to go look for it. I remember another conversation I had with Sparkle who’s a very dear friend of mine. She said to me, “You do realize that you are just a transaction. You’re not a mom.”

Sam’s coming to me to get money so he can buy drugs. If I say no, in his mind, it’s like, “Next.” I’m still thinking I’m relationship-building with my son. She’s like, “No, that is not what’s happening here.” That was illuminating that the addict’s brain is operating at such a level that its whole thing is wired for survival, and that means getting drugs, getting money to get drugs, or doing it in whatever way. The hijacking of brains has been mind-bending for me to remind myself of the difference. Stay clear about that.

The addict's brain operates at such a level wired for survival. It means getting money to get drugs or doing it in whatever way. Click To Tweet

One of the things I want to make sure we touch on is being able to break down the barriers and the conversations that we’re having in the workplace. It is being able to address addiction and substance abuse in the workplace. It’s at the top. It doesn’t discriminate. We see it all the time in C-level executives. It is being in this space of having to live a dual life but, at the same time, we haven’t created an acceptable culture around having the conversation.

It’s happening, but it’s very slow. In the same way we would’ve talked about mental health several years ago, now we’re finally starting to break down that barrier too. Specifically, when we think about that, what are some elements of those conversations that you feel need to be brought to the light and things that are changing, that are shifting the paradigm?

First and foremost, 1 out of 3 American families are dealing with substance abuse disorder. You look around a C-Suite, 1 out of 3 people sitting in that room is either dealing with substance abuse disorder themselves, or they have a family member, to the right or to the left of you looking at the disease. We have this illusion and denial that it is that pervasive. We don’t have a conversation about it because it’s still steeped in the stigma of, “You’ve done something wrong. You need to fix it,” or the judgment and the shame.

Shame is pervasive and a silencer and, therefore, it’s a killer. That is another reason why the show is so important because we’ve got to come out and have these conversations. We’ve got to drop the veils of stigma, shame, and judgment because, honest to goodness, the vast majority of people are dealing with this subject.

Shame is pervasive. It's a silencer. Therefore, it's a killer. Click To Tweet

Just in communities, how many people have lost spouses, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, and parents to overdoses? It is as prevalent now as it used to be back when I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s when you would say, “Somebody has cancer.” It is shocking. We’re in a pandemic, and we’re not talking about it. We’re not dealing with it at the level that it deserves and demands.

In recovery myself, it took me up until year five to start to let go of the shame. There’s so much of that, and it’s not shame from others as much as it is self-shaming but lack of self-forgiveness. It is that internal civil war. It wasn’t until I was being more open, having honest dialogue, and being able to be carefree about it. I’m not saying everyone needs to be this way, but that was my medicine. In order to let go of the shame and the guilt and have that forgiveness and all that stuff, it was this opportunity to share it. It was this a-ha moment of, “If we had more of this sharing, imagine how others would let this go.”

It’s because what ends up happening is when you bottle all that up, it creates problems, and then you’re battling multiple things at the same time. Just because you go into recovery doesn’t mean everything’s peachy keen. However, that adds another layer of stress to loved ones and coworkers. It creates that ripple effect.

As you’re saying this, what I’m thinking about is if we don’t talk about it, we’re left to our own devices, which means we’re in our own heads. Honest to goodness, that’s where things are. We’re making stuff up. Most of the time, it is stuff we’re making up that does not serve us. It keeps us in that drain of crisis. It keeps us in that drain of struggling. It keeps us in that drain of surviving. It is the notion of giving ourselves grace in our own humanity.

We’re all doing the best we can. It took me a while to be able to look in the mirror after my entire life has been surrounded by this disease to be able to say, “At every step along the way, I’ve been doing the best I can. I keep putting one foot forward and getting help, talking to people, reading, and continuing to have these conversations.” It’s going to be never-ending until I take my last breath. It is a lifelong journey of being a human.

VIC 26 | Voices InCourage
Voices InCourage: Most of the time, the stuff we’re making up does not serve us. It keeps us in that drain of struggling. Give ourselves grace in our own humanity. We’re all doing the best we can.

I was just thinking about this. Anything that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting or something that went, “I’d never thought about it that way,” here’s the reason I bring it up. You and I had a conversation about the similarities. I always thought that my situation being in recovery had its own unique path and there were no similarities in what my family would have to go through. All of a sudden, one day, you said, “What’s your relapse prevention plan look like?” I thought to myself, “Why would she want that?” I was like, “They look very similar.” Also, realizing that we’re still creating these divides in these siloed areas of thinking was an a-ha for me. I’m thinking about additional conversations. That’s a whole topic in itself, but I was wondering if there was anything that struck you as surprising.

That’s a brilliant one to illuminate. We do have this notion that, “Your recovery plan is different than our recovery plan.” I remember having a conversation with you and another gentleman. We were talking about the books that we were reading. I was like, “Your library’s my library. We’re all reading The Four Agreements. We’re all reading The Power of Now. We’re all reading very similar things.” I then began to noodle with this more because Sam had multiple relapses in the last couple of months.

I thought every time he relapsed, I relapsed. I’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still angst when the person that you love the most and you want the most for relapses and go into that dark hole again. As soon as I would hear that, there’d be a hurt and an ache in my heart. I thought, “That’s my relapse. Now, what do I do with that?”

It’s because I don’t want to ache every single time because this last journey, he has gotten clean and sober for 4 or 5 days and relapsed. He’s probably done 5 relapses in the last 2 months. I don’t have the capacity to relapse every time he relapses. I was like, “I need to take a look at this and explore this notion that my emotional health and wellness are predicated on whether he’s relapsed or not relapsed.”

It’s work. It is to recognize that his crisis in his relapse and his disease isn’t my crisis. The two phone calls I got in the middle of the night, I didn’t answer them because his crisis isn’t my crisis. That is illuminating for most parents. It was for me. It’s taken practice to get to the point where I can say, “No, his crisis isn’t mine.” I do think this notion that they need to hit bottom.

It’s so relative.

There are so many different bottoms. If you think you’re waiting for a certain bottom and they just blow through that bottom, the ultimate bottom is that they overdose and pass away, but that’s not what we’re looking for here. Their addiction is our addiction. We’re waiting to figure out, “Where’s their bottom? Is it going to be here? Is it going to be there?” You disconnect from that craziness too.

The big question for me is, 25 episodes a year into it, what’s next? Where are we going? Where do you see the show? What do success and future visioning look like?

I believe that the more conversations we have, the more up-leveling we do in terms of those conversations and the higher profile people that we continue to have conversations with, and people who have written books. I see it as a spider web that keeps growing. I believe that from a visionary perspective, we need to create a web of conversations and inclusion for all parties concerned.

Particularly, for the people who live in this space of a loved one. We’re not having enough real, raw, and honest conversations. I’ve heard so many people talk to the notion that “My brother was an addict. That was a while ago. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” That generally is coming from a place of, “That was too painful. I don’t want to revisit the pain.” If it’s still too painful to “revisit” the pain, you’re still carrying the pain with you.

You may not think that’s the case, but that is absolutely the case. We’ve got to learn how to almost embrace the pain, work with the pain, release the pain and heal. That’s only going to come through some work and conversations. I see us as at the forefront of some real conversations, and that’s going to continue to grow and grow. We’re going to create a movement here of conversations and of people that are courageous enough to tell the truth and to talk about where they are in their journey.

It’s because as we say, I’m still in my journey around this. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still evolving, I’m still growing. I’m still learning from every single conversation I have, which is what I love about this. I said quite frankly that this show has been such a great source of support, illumination, hope, and courage for me in the midst of this. That’s what I hope for millions of people.

I agree. I’m right there with you. It’s an opportunity. In terms of my vision, one more conversation can lead to 100, 500, or 1,000. The more that I talk and connect with others, it’s so great that having a conversation with somebody becomes a voice of permission for them to let go too. That’s what I love about this show. Hopefully, it’s giving those voices who do not necessarily feel silenced but haven’t found a way in which they can connect with others in a way that’s nonjudgmental, safe, doesn’t affect the reputation of the family, and that sort of thing.

It is rare, and I can’t even recall. I think I would have recalled if this happened. Any conversation that I’ve had with someone where they’re like, “Why would you tell me that? Why are you doing this,” or whatever, it’s only been met with kindness, compassion, and curiosity. Curiosity to me is an awesome tool to start getting the conversation more dialed in, which is comforting because, for the first five years of my journey, it was my biggest fear.

It was being judged. It was the scarlet letter that’s like, “Everyone can see me, everyone can see this giant A on my chest,” but when you can convert that story into a badge of courage and be able to share it with others, it is that permissive voice. My wish is that we continue to open up and offer those permission slips, per se.

There are two things about that for me that stick out. One is for people to realize that they are never alone and so many people feel they’re in this alone. Breaking down those barriers is mission-critical. Number two is we can thrive in the midst of this chaos, disease, destruction, and heartbreak. Most people are not thinking that. They’re either in crisis or they’re massively struggling or they’re trying to survive.

I, early on, decided that surviving was not good enough for me. I have a life that I love, and I want a life that’s about thriving. How was I going to thrive in the midst of a shattered heart around this disease? I started looking for how to do that. The fastest way to learn something is to find a model. Quite frankly, I have not talked to somebody, yet who is “thriving” in the midst of the disease.

I’m going to look until I find them. Most of the time, I will say I consider myself in that thriving space, but in the last few months, I have dipped back down and gone sideways and cattywampus. I’ve had my moments of surrender and all the things. I’m doing it at a little higher level than when we first started this journey. It’s like a stair step of turning it back to thriving more quickly.

I was going to say that every response gets stronger and stronger. I’ll equate it to this. Having a conversation with a gentleman, his message to everyone is how he trained for a quadruple bypass. What does that mean? He knew he was destined for heart issues. It was genetic. It was there having smoked five packs of cigarettes, and all that stuff, but what he was doing was he was doing his squats. He was doing his walk and jump rope.

By the time he had his quadruple bypass, he was standing within the first five hours. He was walking within the first day or two. After five days, he was back at home, thriving better than he had before. Now, at the age of 68, he’s healthier than ever. He said the nurses were ready for him to need help out of bed. He stood right up. He was like, “Those are my squats,” and all of those things. You think about the muscle that he put into it. When you do have a quadruple bypass, you’re going to have your setback or your relapse. Those muscles in place or the muscle memory is there to catch you.

I love that story. The corresponding story on our side is building emotional muscles. That’s what I’m in the process now of doing with a program called Positive Intelligence. That’s a seven-week-long program. It is me working the program to build my positive intelligence muscles on a consistent basis throughout the day to rewire my brain to be able to shift more quickly.

This is the power of the times that we’re living in. We have enough information and research now to know that we can rewire our neural pathways. We can train ourselves or change in a way that serves us at a much higher level. When I’m operating at a higher level, I make much better decisions around this disease than if I wasn’t.

I never thought about that before. I wanted to have this conversation with you. I do remember specifically no word for word, but when I said, “When you get the show going,” it was like deer in headlights, “Wait a minute. Hold on.” It was only a few months later that we got right into it. I love the fact that we’ve stayed true to it. I love the fact that we’ve been consistent. I love the fact that the variety of guests has been far more than I imagined. I’m excited about what’s to come. We’ve got an incredible list of ideal guests that we’re going to be reaching out to. Stay tuned for some pretty high profile powerful guests.

I do want to say we’ve had some therapists that have come to the table that I want to give some kudos to. That’s Bill Crawford, Ken Clark, and Vanessa Sexson. They are brilliant, heart-centered, and doing amazing work in the world. We’re able to bring grace, forgiveness, gratitude, and skillsets to the table for all of us in how we can navigate this in a much more heart-centered way for ourselves.

I also want to do a shout-out to the moms that have been courageous enough. One being my own wife Jennifer, but also Janet. Janet is bold and courageous enough to be able to share her story and what she’s been going through. I can’t even imagine watching a child go through it like you have. You’re in that same category as a mom. Those have been some incredibly powerful stories that I know I’ve learned a lot from. It’s always good to see a different perspective.

We have Joanne and Sarah too. Joanne’s the mom and Sarah is the daughter-in-law. Bart is the son, father, and husband. They navigated this and came together when Bart passed away to raise the two kids, Joanne’s grandkids and Sarah and Bart’s kids. I could feel him with us when we did that show. It was palpable in terms of his presence. They have woven an extraordinary family on the other side of that devastating loss. They are such courageous people.

Our stories will live on and continue. As we wrap up, I’m excited for what’s to come. Congratulations again on 25 episodes a year into it as of this time. Stay consistent, stay strong, and be able to reach as many people as possible. If you’re reading this, please share this. Give permission to others to do the same. Let’s help change the narrative together. Any parting comments, KL, that you’d like to address with the audience?

Please share this with people who need to hear a positive, hopeful voice, and to hear a voice that is theirs, to know that they are never alone in this, there are resources out there, there are places they can reach out to, and they never ever have to do this on their own. That is one of the main reasons why we started this. Please send this on to others who need a sense of hope and a different way to navigate this disease.

To your point, and I’ll end with this. You not being able to find the resources that you needed and have to go search for them, that’s our goal. You don’t have to go searching again. Just come. They’re here. The voices are here. The resources and the tools are here. The stories and the people are all here. Thank you again, KL. Congratulations. Until next time.

Thank you.

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