When people are suffering from the diseases of alcoholism or drug addiction, sometimes there’s a moment of desperation or clarity in which they will ask for help. When they or their loved ones reach out for that help, there’s a dedicated team of professionals, whose stories are seldom told, that form a critical lifeline to treatment and hope. Episode 4 tells the stories of those unsung heroes who answer the calls for help day in and day out, one call after another. Their patience, tolerance, compassion, and ability to not only ask the right questions, but also to provide meaningful feedback, is something few people ever see. Yet, taking that call, and it may be the only call someone in crisis makes, can mean the difference between hope and despair, life and death. Follow Howard Lester behind the scenes as he takes an inside look at the people in the front-line people in the battle against the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction.
The opioid epidemic is boiling over. Addiction, including alcoholism, is killing hundreds of thousands and destroying millions of lives. Especially tragic is addiction’s ravaging effects on teenagers and young adults. Their developing brains are being chemically altered by drugs and alcohol. That’s creating a whole new generation who will suffer from addiction. Many will die. Parents everywhere are looking for solutions to save their kids. They are desperately seeking an understanding of how and why addiction occurs. But more importantly, what can be done right now to save their children’s lives? We take you inside the problem and shine light on immediate and effective solutions. We talk with Lori Fiester, a highly-regarded clinical therapist and well-known mental health and addiction expert. She has helped thousands through her knowledge, compassion, and commitment in the field of recovery. By the end of this podcast, you will have the information, ideas, and inspiration you need to help save the lives of people you love….Or maybe your own.
Dr. Claudia Black, one of the world’s leading experts on family systems and addiction, reveals the startling connection between the psychological injuries experienced in childhood and the long-term trauma and addictive disorders that are destroying families everywhere. In this in-depth interview, Dr. Black discusses how trauma and addiction literally change the brain, and why the unspoken effects of these conditions can reverberate for generations, uprooting family trees and perpetuating both shame and denial. But, recovery from trauma and addiction is possible, and Dr. Black illuminates a simple, yet powerful and effective process for both healing and creating a new narrative for living. This podcast coincides with the release of Claudia Black’s 16th book, ‘Unspoken Legacy’, a far-ranging examination of how the combination of addiction and trauma causes family dysfunction and why it’s one of the most potent negative forces in people’s lives. Filled with vignettes highlighting the various causes of trauma, ‘Unspoken Legacy’ helps readers understand the physiology and psychology of trauma and how it intersects with addition. The second half of the book covers the vital process for self-examination, and gives readers proactive steps for healing, recovery, and building healthier relationships.
In our premier episode, our guest, Bob C., shares an extraordinary story of his amazing efforts to save his daughter’s life during her 15 year odyssey with drug addiction and mental illness. At times, he thought he had lost her. But he also realized that desperately trying to save his daughter might just kill him. With other family tragedies swirling around him at the same time, he somehow found the solutions for staying alive and helping his daughter survive. Bob’s hard-fought quest for understanding and answers is both inspirational and informative. It’s something every parent should hear.
How did you react when you found out you won The Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award?
There just seemed to be so many people, so to be singled out – it took me aback. I have always worked in the background. When I first came in to AA a woman came to my hospital room. I was hospitalized because I’d quit drinking cold turkey. There were a rough couple of days, and I was hospitalized. Ann Hoy came to my hospital room. She was a friend of a friend of a friend and she came to see me. She took me under her wing and took me to my first AA Meeting outside the hospital. She guided me to The Council. At the time, it was a ground floor office with two rooms and just a handful of employees.
What did it mean to you to have someone you didn’t even know come to support you?
Oh, it meant the world to me. Here I was embarking on this new life, this new lifestyle. To have somebody there to guide you…she guided me to The Council. She said, “The only way to keep something is to give it away” So, that’s been my credo that I’ve gone forward with.
That is profound. Is that what initially attracted you to serving at The Council?
Absolutely. At that time, we started volunteering to do this and do that – book sales and workshops. There were all kinds of activities to volunteer for. Also, all of my life I had been saying, “Does anybody need a piano player?” And they needed a piano player! So that worked out well.
You’ve had more than 35 years of service to The Council and the impact of what you have accomplished is truly extraordinary. What advice do you have for other individuals that are in service?
Keep it up! It’s such a worthwhile cause. There are families that are torn apart by this disease. It is like knitting families back together, whichever member happens to be in need of The Council’s services. And there are so many things that The Council offers to everybody: the family, the person who is suffering from addiction. It’s a win-win.
One of your many contributions to The Council’s recovery community was your role in starting and overseeing the Noon 12-Step Meeting at Jackson Hill.
Oh, not I alone. Really, I think it was several friends and other board members. We decided that it would be great to have a noon meeting. So it was I that volunteered to be the treasurer and take the Monday meetings. It just rolled along, everything was just great for about nine years. I collected the money, and kept up with the rent and quarterly donations to the General Service Office and Intergroup. I had also been the treasurer of the Post Oak Club back in my infancy. I would collect the money from the Post Oak Club, bring it home to count, and then deposit it in the bank. But in the interim I thought, “Oh my God! I can’t keep all this money around!” So, I put it in my extra clothes hamper. And that’s exactly where I used to put the overage of my liquor! I thought to myself at the time, “I used to keep my liquor in here and now I keep money from the AA meetings. Oh dear!” (Laughs.)
One of your most remarkable and lasting contributions to The Council is your role in helping to start the luncheon series. You’ve shared before that when the luncheon began you were charging $50 per ticket, which was considered very expensive at the time.
I remember Claudine Henderson was the wonderful president and director of The Council. When we told her we wanted to have a fundraising luncheon, she hadn’t heard of anything like it. I think it was in the 1980’s that most of these fundraising luncheons started that continue as we know them today, charging a good amount for a ticket. Until that time, all anybody had been doing was having $10 spaghetti dinners, so it was a new concept. I remember Claudine saying, “Do you think anybody is going to pay $50 for a lunch?” So, we were thrilled when we got 300 people or so.
Today, our luncheons attract about 1,000 people per event. What has it been like to watch the luncheons evolve? Could you have ever envisioned such a change?
Never. Never in our wildest dreams. We just thought The Council needed some extra funds, and was not getting enough to do what we wanted to do. So, we thought, “Well, let’s do something!” It started there. It’s been a ride.
We’ve talked about some of your notable contributions: you helped launch our luncheons, have served on various boards, helped start the Noon 12-Step Jackson Hill meeting, and oversaw our capital campaign just to name a few. In all the work you’ve done, is there anything that stands out as your favorite?
Oh gee. They’re all my favorite! Incidentally, when we decided to launch the campaign – I think that was in 1995 – I had just been voted onto the board of the McCullough Foundation, thanks to my brother. The McCullough Foundation was not started by my parents, but my aunt and uncle. So I thought, “Isn’t this wonderful? That I now have this resource available, because I don’t personally have the funds, but I can do this. It just happened. (Points upward) Thank you!
You shared that when you first came to The Council it was a two room office with just a handful of employees. So much has changed over the years. What do you think has been the biggest change in treating addiction? What does the landscape of recovery look like today?
Well, I think it has evolved into treating all facets of recovery from the sufferer itself to the family. It is so important to have treatment for everyone, because it completely changes the life of the family or even the relationship between a husband and wife. There are so many adjustments. All the things families suffer on account of addiction and the addicted person have to be shored up and pointed in a new direction.
Do you feel like there has been a change in the way the community responds to addiction?
Oh I think by all means, addiction and treatment has been accepted by the majority of the public. It had some growing pains in its infancy. Over the years it has been so hush-hush up until probably the 1970’s or 1980’s. People became more open minded about recovery and addressing it.
Do you have any hopes for The Council for the future?
I hope The Council keeps doing what it’s doing. It’s been wonderful what The Council has done under the direction of Mel. He’s been great. I’m so glad he’s in charge.
You hired him! You were on the board that helped hire him. Tell me about that.
I ran against him! Well – briefly. I had a notion that “Oh, I think I can do it,” but I was dissuaded by my friend and mentor! I thought I better just stick with piano and bookkeeping.
What do you think is next for The Council? What do you see in our future?
Nothing but grandness. I think that there are so many avenues to explore in recovery, the sufferer – the one who is seeking recovery – and the family members and friends and associates. I think that the word has really gotten out in the last 20 years to friends and family about recovery. They understand. At first, it was a little bit rough.
What would you say to the people that don’t understand?
Well I think everybody is addicted to something or other. I think you can draw a correlation. I think it’s human nature. It’s something you like and it makes you feel good and you do it some more.
One of the things I’ve heard you mention several times today was family. It’s an important topic, and certainly at The Council we have a family focus.
Well you know, the family is such a close knit group. When one piece is taken out or put back in, it’s confusing. There is conflict. That’s why there are so many divorces after somebody decides to sober up, because it’s not the same person. It’s not the same relationship. The spouse of an alcoholic has learned to manipulate that person because of the alcoholism, and when that is taken out and things are above board – it totally changes. And then the poor children. I grew up as a child of two raging alcoholics. That’s how they operated their lives. My father had a clock in the family room that had all fives on it, so it was always five after five. Both my mother and father were alcoholics till the day they died, so I thought nothing of their lifestyle. They would get together with their friends and meet at the house and have drinks, and then go out and “terrorize” a restaurant, and then come back for the proverbial night cap. That was just the lifestyle, so of course I thought everybody lived like that.
Is there any kind of message that you would share with people that are actively affected by addiction and are trying to face this disease?
Well, I don’t know what message I would send them except: think about how it all plays out. People in that posture can’t see or even look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I just wish them well and hope they will find recovery. Because it is so much more than abstaining from your drug of choice. It’s building a new life. It’s touching into one’s value system. It was the first time for me. It will make you realize what’s really important.
As you are sharing all of these reflections with me, I can’t help but think about how important one person can be. You are only one person, yet you have made a profound impact. And your story began with Ann, and her impact, which in turn rippled down to you.
There are just so many of us. It’s not just one person. I don’t know, it’s the spirt. It’s contagious. You could say, “Oh yeah, let’s do that!” And then we would find out it can be done, so you do it again.
Is there anything else you think is important for people to know?
There’s nothing more dramatic than just thinking of one day at a time. In everything. One day at a time. That’s all we have.
Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 23 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.
In the beginning of Herman Melville’s classic, Moby-Dick, Ishmael is in an aimless, anxiety-ridden state and decides to go to sea on a whaling vessel out of Nantucket. He befriends a Polynesian harpooner, Queequeg, who possesses enormous strength and ability and a simple but poignant view of life. Together they choose to sail on the Pequod, a classic and strangely adorned whaling craft. The name, Pequod, is from an actual tribe of “celebrated Massachusetts Indians,” a tribe that was particularly aggressive, and which the Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to eradicate in 1537 in the first instance of genocide in the Old World’s colonization of the Americas.
Melville’s tale is enormously rich with analogous and symbolic imagery and character development. The white whale Moby Dick; the Pequod’s Captain Ahab and the Mates, Starbuck, Stubb and Flask; the native Harpooners Queequeg, Tastigo, and Dragoo; and the various other seamen form a marvelous ecosystem of characters operating in an unusual aggregation of events. The central story is that Ahab, having been seriously maimed by the albino white whale known as Moby Dick, has become obsessed with the need to hunt and kill the animal to validate his own existence as a whaling captain extraordinaire. He hijacks the Pequod from its normal commercial whaling mission and pursues Moby Dick around the known oceanic world of the time, only to be killed himself along with most of this men, and the Pequod sunk, in the final confrontation with the whale.
The story is told in the first person, with Ishmael as the narrator. In effect, it is his journey that provides a wonderful vision for us…through the terrors of the whaling excursions and the final battles with Moby Dick to the miracle of his sole survival. His decision to go to sea is the symbolic initiation of the process of recovery. His experiences in the interactions with the Pequod crew, in the hunting and killing of whales, and in the horrific final battles with Moby Dick parallel our own journeys though the early process of recovery. The story might also be seen, perhaps, as a Melvillian exposition of the world of 19th century commercialism run amok…in the slaughter and pillage of such magnificent creatures as whales.
Ishmael’s survival, the sole survivor of the disastrous final battle with Moby Dick, is a great culmination to the story, even to the extent that he is the only one to survive, the only one to tell the tale. He has survived, coming back to tell the story, to bear witness to the world of the terrors of rampant commercialism. For us, the parallel is our survival to tell the story of our lives in our disease. There is some belief that much of this book, Melville’s story, is based on Melville’s own life, on his life and beliefs. That he may be Ishmael and that the story is Ishmael surviving to tell his story is the ultimate image for all of us. It tells all of us that, in our search for a life in Sobriety, the finality must always be the complete embrace of the 12th Step, that of passing on the Story.