Addiction passed from one generation to the next, and Reyna watched her family succumb to alcohol-related disease and death. She never had a chance to speak up, and she was never given the words to speak out. Then Miaveya, her 10-year-old daughter who attended the Children’s Program, came along and taught her. Now they both sit down with host William C. Moyers and share their experience with the disease and how, in the end, acceptance and open communication win out.
0:00:14 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a podcast series produced by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm William C. Moyers, your host, and today we have a story of hope for you. A story that proves the power and impact of addiction on the entire family. A story that highlights the power and possibility of recovery from addiction for the whole family. My special guest today are Reyna, a mother, and her daughter Miaveya, joining us from Colorado. Welcome to both of you!
0:00:45 Reyna and Miaveya
Thank you! Hi! Thank you for having us!
0:00:48 William Moyers
And thanks for being with us today with this story of hope. But before we get to the hope, Reyna, tell us a little bit about your family's struggle with substances.
Sure. So yeah I grew up in an environment where the children were exposed to alcohol at a really early age. I witnessed family members experience delirium tremens and alcoholic seizures at a really young age. Many of the adults in the family struggle with alcoholism. It goes back generations. We've seen some of them that actually did—were able to stop. However, many of them did end up passing away from cirrhosis of the liver and other alcohol-related diseases. And so I didn't have a grasp of understanding really what that was. We didn't talk about it. We didn't talk about addiction. I'd just seen it. I'd seen it play out and happen in the family. And so there was really no education around it. And I never—certainly didn't think it would end up impacting me. So, it was about I'd say the age of 24 when I began really struggling. And so it was about I'd say an eight-year time period from about 24 to 32 where I struggled the most. And during that time when I realized that it was a problem, I tried a myriad of different approaches from inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, IOP programs, group therapy, DBT therapy, dual diagnosis therapy—
Yep. The list goes on. I pretty much did it all in really trying to tackle and address and it stopped, you know, what was happening. And essentially fixed my problem. And so, keep in mind the majority of the time while this was happening, I hid my struggle very well. And so when I say I hid it, a lot of people didn't know that I was struggling with this outside of my family. So I actually was really productive in my career, in my academic life, and for the most part in my family. Being a parent. Until it became out of hand. Until it got to the point where I was—my life was unmanageable. And my health was impacted by it. And so at that point when it was unmanageable, it was—for me it was life or death. [looks over at Miaveya beside her] And thankfully, towards the end of that, that is when I was actually referred to the Betty Ford program through the Denver family court system. Because I was actually going through a divorce process during that time and we were figuring out family parenting plans and such. And so, I was referred through the program and fortunately [gestures to Miaveya, who rests her head on her shoulder] this little one got to come into my journey and that's when we'll share a little bit more about this and about how she ultimately was the way to my sobriety.
0:03:47 William Moyers
Miaveya, how old are you today?
0:03:51 William Moyers
You're ten! And how old were you when your mother got well?
I think I was about maybe eight, nine?
0:04:00 William Moyers
Okay so it was a couple years ago. Did you have an awareness that your mother was struggling?
Yes. My parents, all my family, they would just say like she sick all the time and I believed it. I didn't really know what was happening at that time until we got introduced into the Betty Ford program.
0:04:18 William Moyers
And so how did that happen? Tell us about I mean you mentioned the court system had a role in that. Tell us more about how you all went from struggling with the problem and into the solution.
Yeah. As I mentioned I felt like there were solutions along the way. It's just that for me the solution wasn't—it wasn't a long-term solution because I was a habitual relapser. I would fall back into relapsing. And so that's how we mentioned we were involved in the family courts because of course, her father was concerned, the family members were concerned. We all were, which is reasonable. And so, in finding the parenting plan and how we were gonna work through this, one of the family courts—a Judge at the family court that we were working with—recommended the program. And it was new to me and I thought I had, you know at that time heard of everything. And I thought wow, this is great, let's do it! It was during the winter. She actually did take—it was a Thursday through Saturday interestingly enough. So I was worried about you know like taking off of school like that kinda thing. And obviously this was more important than anything, the school understood, everybody understood because at this point, people were beginning to know that this was what I was trying to do. Is find a way to hope and healing. So that's essentially how we were invited in. We did the four-day program. She did it and we'll talk more about that. She was in there the majority of the time and in fact she enjoyed it so much she went back for Stage 2. After that she did another round of the program. And so really that was it. And I think that was you know really my saving grace because at that point, I was thinking wow, I was working with a sponsor, I was working a Twelve Step program, I was doing so many things, and what was really missing and I'll share more about this later is that nobody really asked for Miaveya's input. And nobody really brought us together. And nobody looked at it as a family issue. So, which in fact it really is.
0:06:22 William Moyers
So Miaveya, you must have been so happy when your mom found recovery!
Yes I was.
0:06:28 William Moyers
How was that different—how did that affect you when your mother got well?
It affected me because I felt like I could be safer with her. I could talk to her more about what I was feeling inside. And it was—it was just a way better moment than what was happening in the years past.
0:06:50 William Moyers
If you don't mind me asking, Miaveya, did you ever blame yourself for what was happening to your mother in terms of her struggles?
At some points maybe I did but when I was younger, I had no clue what was happening to her. I just thought that she was really, really sick.
0:07:09 William Moyers
Yes. Sick with?
Sick with—I know there was alcohol involved but like my dad at one time said, 'Oh, she has the flu,' or—
0:07:23 William Moyers
0:07:25 William Moyers
So there was a lot of—I'm sorry, go ahead Reyna, go ahead.
I'm sorry for interrupting but it was just that just goes to show that there was no real way to talk about it and folks—people in the family didn't have the tools or the language to talk about it.
0:07:36 William Moyers
Right. And of course there's a lot of shame and stigma. And not just for the person who struggles with the substance use issue, but also for the entire family. Miaveya, I guess I wanna ask you, what was your experience in the Children's Program in Colorado?
Oh it was—it was amazing! And it wasn't just like talking about feelings or how you feel like they let us play games, they let us do different things, they took us to a swimming pool, and they really just made it funner [sic] for us to understand the things that our parents are going through.
0:08:15 William Moyers
And what did you come to understand about what your mother and your parents were going through?
I learned that she isn't whoever is using is not a bad person. They just don't know how to fix their problem or help themselves to understand what they're going through.
0:08:37 William Moyers
Wow!! That is—you articulate that beautifully! Because a lot of people can't articulate it whether they're ten years old or thirty years old, or fifty years old! They think it's their fault, they think it's, you know, some other circumstance. That was beautifully put. Reyna, it must lift you up to hear your daughter be able to speak that way.
[shakes head] Oh, I'm telling you this is why I tell the team at Betty Ford here in Colorado and wherever you all are based out in Minnesota, I will forever just lift this program up in praise. Because that's what we were missing. That was it. And I think, you know, for families that are wondering, you know, too how to speak about it, it really just—it opens up I think a doorway for others to learn it. Communication, really, I think often times families are—struggling families I think there's this universal message that says children aren't allowed to speak about adult issues, right? And so they're just silenced through this whole thing. And so for her actually learning this, wow! She has more understanding than many adults out there! And children are often times to me it's like it's—these are the solutions right here. And I credit the team and your staff and team you know professionals at Betty Ford. 'Cause they obviously prepared her so well for what she said right now and what she said during that time we were there.
0:10:03 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Miaveya, tell me the story as you remember it about the bag of rocks. [grins]
So, what I remember is they just made it a [sic] easier way for us to understand that adults carry a lot with them through their lives like loneliness, sadness, abuse, shame. And it was just they explained they'd bring a backpack out and they filled it with different rocks. [Reyna nods, smiles] And on those rocks it said different things. And they were feelings inside that people can carry around with them. [Reyna nods]
0:10:43 William Moyers
Mmm. And how did you learn to get rid of those rocks and the bag that you were carrying?
They said that all you did to do is believe in yourself and believe in who you are struggling with because really, all they're looking for is help. And a path to be able to find where they were before.
0:11:08 William Moyers
Wow! [chuckles, impressed] You should be sitting here at this desk.
0:11:15 William Moyers
[laughing with them] I—I've been around a long time, I've worked for this organization for 25 years, I'm not a clinical person but I've been around it and I'm a person in recovery like your mom is. But I—I don't know that I've ever heard it articulated by anybody as eloquently and as directly as you've done it. And you're ten! [Miaveya laughs] And you're ten! How do you share your experience with other children at school? I mean, do they know that you've been through the Children's Program, do they know that you've got a mom in recovery?
Yeah, some—most of my close friends do know about this. And they—they do support me and they help me get through it when times are rough. And they—they do understand.
0:12:04 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. And Reyna, what about you? What is the message that you would have for other moms or other dads who are either struggling with substances or are in recovery and they've got their children to consider?
As far as a message I think first and foremost, alcoholism in itself is a chronic and progressive disease. I think understanding that educating ourself on the disease factor in that when we're told and we're shamed into saying that we're choosing alcohol or drugs over our kids, those words—they're hurtful, originally. Initially. But with the foundation and education of understanding the disease of it, and understanding that it is progressive and it is eventually at the worst case, if it's not treated, it's fatal. However it's a disease that is treatable. And so when I say that it's treatable, that means that we're managing it for a lifetime. It is not just a one-stop you know attend this session here and there, it's a lifetime thing. And so when you say lifetime for me, who's in our life for the rest of our lives? [squeezes Miaveya who smiles] These little ones, right? And so we incorporate them into our hope and healing. And so my message is that there is a way out and do not be—do not hold back from educating our little ones. It's okay for them to know about—I mean they're gonna learn either some way or another. And they're gonna look on the Internet and they're gonna find things. Why not start with what's at home, conversations at home, and great organizations such as the Hazelden Betty Ford that can actually teach us the tools. Reaching out to people like—like me. If you're not comfortable with going to an organization or something, you know, hearing, I think the most important thing to get healing and hope from are people who have been there. And have gone through it.
0:13:59 William Moyers
Right. You know we've done this Let's Talk podcast series for a number of years, we've had a lot of experts and we get a lot of people who watch it who are really struggling. Are you prepared, Reyna? Are you prepared to become a beacon of hope and a resource for people, other mothers who are struggling and who watch this? I mean, you're being very public, are you nervous at all?
[nods] No! I am not, I am—when you talk about a beacon of hope, that gives me light because we're doing this together and we actually had this conversation and I said Miaveya, people are gonna see this and this is our—our time to give hope. So yes, absolutely, I'm prepared and I'm prepared to be on board as a volunteer or whatever capacity I can be with the Foundation. Because I know most importantly, access is a huge thing and when we're talking about barriers and people don't know how to get to the program, it's sometimes through someone like myself who has come from an underserved community. And comes from struggling with barriers like poverty and everything that people out there are going through right now, I have been through. So, if I can be any kind of messenger, I'm prepared to do that.
0:15:09 William Moyers
Miaveya, how about you? I mean you're gonna be very—you're being very public about not just your mother's experience but your experience. Do you get nervous about being so public?
No, I don't. Because I know that it's my own story and I can help other people who are going through different things and if things happen, I know that anybody can do it.
0:15:38 William Moyers
Mmm. [shakes head, moved] And Miaveya, what is your message? I mean I know there will be people watching this who are gonna wanna listen to your mother and then are gonna realize that your message is just as critically important. What is your message to other children or other moms and dads?
My message is I understand that you might not feel safe right now or but you can get through it and certain programs like the Betty Ford program, can help you so much because all you really need is just that voice to let you know that you can do it.
0:16:21 William Moyers
[speechless, smiles] I don't know what else to say! I mean I can't—I can't say anything, I'm—I'm profoundly affected not just professionally but personally by the power of each of your stories. And then the power of both of your stories and the dynamic that represents itself and how you're sitting right now and holding each other. So thank you so much, thank you so much for standing up and speaking out and indeed being a story of hope for so many mothers and fathers and families and children who will not be aware of what their watching until they watch it and then find that hope. [nods] Thanks to both of you for being with us today.
[smiles] And thank you.
[nods, smiles] Thank you.
Thank you so much, William.
0:17:12 William Moyers
[turns to camera] And thank you all for joining us. Wow! [chuckles] What an inspiration. They were to all of us today. And again, that message, that they each conveyed which is that addiction to alcohol and other drugs does not discriminate. But treatment—treatment works and recovery is possible. Recovery not just for the addict or the alcoholic, but for the children and for the entire family. So if you've watched this and have been inspired, don't wait for your loved one to hit bottom. Ask and get help now. Help is available. I'm your host, William C. Moyers, I hope you'll join us for another edition of Let's Talk. See you soon.