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The Nameless Recovery Show
Episode #3 Karen Williams & Estil Wallace

Transcription

Estil Wallace:

Hello and welcome to The Nameless Recovery Show. For those of you that may not know me, my name is Estil. And if you’re watching this for the first time, the purpose and the mission of this show is to reduce the stigma around addiction and the stigma around recovery. Joining me today is the one, the only, none other than herself, Karen Williams.

Karen Williams:

Hi, Estil. Glad to be here today. I’m privileged. Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

Thank you for taking time to sit down and talk with me. My first question is professionally, what do you do in the world?

Karen Williams:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). What’s my job? I am a primary therapist and clinical lead for a recovery center in Phoenix, Scottsdale Area, Arizona. I run treatment plans and see clients individually and in group therapy and help them improve their lives.

Estil Wallace:

So you deal with drug addicts a lot?

Karen Williams:

All the time, every day. Yes, sir.

Estil Wallace:

Never a dull moment?

Karen Williams:

Truly.

Estil Wallace:

And you’re in recovery yourself?

Karen Williams:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

Before you got into recovery, did you know there was recovery? Did you know what an alcoholic was? What did you think prior to entering-

Karen Williams:

Right. It’s a great question.

Estil Wallace:

… this new chapter of your life?

Karen Williams:

My opinion at the time was alcoholics were these people that lived either on the street, under viaducts, drinking from brown paper bags. It’s the stigma that’s attached to that.

Estil Wallace:

I’m imaging like a cartoon character.

Karen Williams:

Like a cartoon character, exactly. People that didn’t have any means to support themselves. People that were just struggling in life and that was the lot that was carved out for them. For sure, I didn’t have a clue that there was anything really beyond that in my growing up and in my acquisition of the disease, which I now know to be alcoholism.

Estil Wallace:

And you didn’t view yourself as a cartoon person with fingerless gloves and a brown paper bag?

Karen Williams:

Correct. Something quite different indeed. No, I thought it was kind of a garden variety. Michigander, grew up in down River Michigan.

Estil Wallace:

Is that the correct terminology, Michigander?

Karen Williams:

That is. That is a-

Estil Wallace:

That’s what other Michiganders say?

Karen Williams:

That is and we also point to our hands like this.

Estil Wallace:

I know the hand thing. I’m from here.

Karen Williams:

So you’re from here and it’s the thumbs over here on this side. This is like the Detroit Area and I’m right around there.

Estil Wallace:

Is it a right hand thing?

Karen Williams:

It’s a-

Estil Wallace:

Am I doing it wrong by doing it with my left?

Karen Williams:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

I see.

Karen Williams:

This is probably New Jersey or some city like that, but this is the-

Estil Wallace:

Every time I mock Michiganders, I’m always using my left hand because I’m right-handed. Now I now better.

Karen Williams:

Now you know.

Estil Wallace:

Next time I try to play a joke-

Karen Williams:

[crosstalk 00:02:49]-

Estil Wallace:

… or make fun of somebody from Michigan-

Karen Williams:

There you go.

Estil Wallace:

… I’ll do it the correct way.

Karen Williams:

Glad I could help.

Estil Wallace:

Thank you.

Karen Williams:

I helped.

Estil Wallace:

I think it’s important.

Karen Williams:

Yes, indeed. We grew up in this… Like everybody did this. My impression was you eventually grow out of this and that was my go-forward plan.

Estil Wallace:

You grow out of what?

Karen Williams:

Out of heavy drinking and acting like an idiot.

Estil Wallace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). What age? Is this in your world considered acceptable/normal behavior?

Karen Williams:

Any post-diploma four to five years, that’s your breakeven time.

Estil Wallace:

I could see that.

Karen Williams:

You got to pay your dues to the keg and then you should be able to slip into gently and gracefully the new life that’s awaiting you. That was the theory [crosstalk 00:03:32]-

Estil Wallace:

I think that’s… I might be reaching here, but I feel like a lot of people probably think that. And some of them are right and some of them unfortunately are wrong.

Karen Williams:

Right. I would agree. Yeah, and there’s shame attached to that too. So I should be doing these things and I should be getting my life in order. And doggone it, I’ve gone through four, possible five-ish years of college and I really should be onto the next chapter, but it didn’t quite work that way for me.

Estil Wallace:

At what point… Did you have any idea of what recovery was? Did you know anybody that had gone through hell and then sobered up and lived a totally different way?

Karen Williams:

I think-

Estil Wallace:

Did you know anybody like that?

Karen Williams:

I think from… Nobody in college. Nobody I knew was not drinking. After that, people that I heard were sober were people probably that I just held in very different esteem entirely. It was mysterious to me how they could have stopped drinking. I heard of programs that were out there to help people. And-

Estil Wallace:

How did those programs sound to you?

Karen Williams:

Very scary like there’s no way. And it was always clipped with, “I’m going to figure this out. I’m going to solve the problem myself and it’s just not now.” And if I were to be honest with you and tell you, every single December 31st or January 1st, stopping drinking was on the top of that resolution list. And by day seven, I was already back at it again.

Estil Wallace:

You know when the best time to get sober is?

Karen Williams:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Estil Wallace:

Tomorrow.

Karen Williams:

Of course.

Estil Wallace:

Tomorrow.

Karen Williams:

Yes. That was kind of my philosophy. That was kind of my way of thinking that.

Estil Wallace:

I’ll make an effort to say that in social circles, we’ll see if it picks up.

Karen Williams:

Right. I’ll be with you on that.

Estil Wallace:

Okay. You didn’t really know anything about recovery, didn’t really know anybody in recovery, you were sensing intuitively that maybe something was wrong, but still pretty sure you could fix it yourself. When did you actually try?

Karen Williams:

To stop?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah. And did you try and fail?

Karen Williams:

Yes. I often heard the term relapse. I hear that now. I positioned myself doing all of my relapsing prior to my sobriety. I see that now very clearly. But how many times I actually tried to quit on my own? We’re into the double digits for sure. The last gallant effort on my part probably I was in my 30s. I had already had my second child and I knew I needed to stop. I knew I drank differently than my counterparts in the adult world. I was very shamed by it. Again, I thought it was all about willpower and personal pressure and I will power through this. I had gone successfully six months. I adopted a heck of a cease candies addiction at that point as well.

Estil Wallace:

I’m not mad at you about that.

Karen Williams:

I know. I’m not either. It was a very wonderful part of my life. I was getting it sort of, but still very large and in charge. And you think I would have gained weight, but I was drinking so much that when I did stop that, a lot of the pudginess were off. I was just switching over. But I had been invited to a graduation party back in Iowa. I was living in Phoenix at the time with my family. Invited to my sister-in-law’s graduation and it was an alone trip.

Karen Williams:

So I was going to travel on an airplane by myself. I was fine. I mean, I was fine and feeling really good. And it wasn’t until I got to the hotel where I was going to stay and then the invitation to the dinner party, the celebration happened. I do remember vividly sitting at the table in the glassware and the waitress is coming around offering the red versus the white and I didn’t say no. And I had been six months dry at that point. And here’s my family and all the old stuff starts coming back. And it was almost like automatic. It returned. I took the red and I was off to the races. I didn’t tell my family back in Arizona until I got there, and that’s a whole other story.

Estil Wallace:

I want to pick apart or unpack something you just said. So you had a little bit of sobriety time. Not really recovery, so to speak, any kind of programming or new disciplines. Just were being a good girl and not drinking?

Karen Williams:

Yes.

Estil Wallace:

You’re six months sober. You’ve flown back home. They’re about to pour the wine, and you mentioned all the stuff with the family. You’re back in your family of origin environment. First of all, I don’t know if your childhood was traumatic or if it was not traumatic, but I do know people and I know that most people have generally dysfunctional families to some degree or other. Some are downright horrible, but most by and large are a little scurry at best. Now, stepping out of your story as a clinician, as somebody who works with newly sober alcoholics and drug addicts trying to straighten out their lives every day, how significant is the combination of you back in your family system while attempting to stay sober with no real tools?

Karen Williams:

Oh boy. Well, I was a sitting duck as I would look at that now as an analyst. Good question. As I reviewed my steps in becoming an alcoholic, it started super early for me. So that table experience with the glassware was a setup in my mind, thanksgiving. And I was probably six years old when I had my first remembrance of alcohol entering my body. I remember it and I can remember thinking how good it felt going down. I can remember again the pretty glassware and what it looked like and that instant connection.

Karen Williams:

When I was there at that table, you have some fun with that as a psychological experiment, but that was a setup. I mean, I was completely powerless. I just didn’t know it. Sp that’s why the automatic response, that’s why there was no thought. The shame that we attach to that stuff, that you have no power over, I didn’t understand that either, but why I attach shame to that when you have no power? I had to make some peace around that as I grew in my knowledge and in my new way of living as a sober adult.

Estil Wallace:

Well, and that’s good there. It’s still surprising to me and part of the reason that we’re even doing this show is for that very reason it blows my mind, I should say. How many people still view addiction/alcoholism would just wrap that in the same basket still view addiction as anything other than a disease? I know it looks like selfishness. I know it’s heartbreaking. I know it’s a goddamn nightmare for everyone whose lives-

Karen Williams:

Truly.

Estil Wallace:

… touched the suffering person. But we’ve got so much medical, psychiatric and behavioral healthcare data around this. American Medical Association, 60 plus years ago called it a disease and illness and it’s been a part of all five DSMs. There’s a metric ton of data explicitly describing and articulating with further iteration over the years the type of disease, the type of terminal illness, this is. And yet that we carry a lot of shame around it. If I had cancer, I wouldn’t be like-

Karen Williams:

You wouldn’t have shame around that.

Estil Wallace:

“Nobody can know I have cancer. I’m just going to pretend like everything’s fine.”

Karen Williams:

Lay low, right?

Estil Wallace:

“I’m going to figure this out on my own. I don’t need any help with it.”

Karen Williams:

No, we would never.

Estil Wallace:

No.

Karen Williams:

And diabetes, same way. Any kind of cardiovascular. No, we harness our best resources around us. We put together a team of professionals and friends and spiritual helpers to be with us and we don’t carry shame around that. It is to me a forgone conclusion that the thing that I carry with me, these negative core beliefs that also pop up as the bad seeds and how we kind of form ourselves around them. But I should be able to handle my liquor. I should be able to drink like a lady or a gentleman for the people that are on both sides. We should be able to handle this. That we should be able to get rid of it also. It’s a mythology that doesn’t play and can keep people stuck for a really long time. So I think your idea in having this symposium, this discussion active right now is huge because there are people out there that are staying away from good help because of that stigma and because of that shame. That’s permeated our society, permeated our culture, our communities, and our families.

Estil Wallace:

I just read a study last night, of one million of the several million that did not get help, treatment of any kind for substance use disorders last year. Not last year, 2018, so two years ago. That was the data I was looking at. There’s a subset of people who did not get help. And of the million that they were able to have contact with to gather some data on, 44%, so 440,000 of those people did not get treatment because they were afraid to because of stigma.

Karen Williams:

Wow. That’s shocking and so sad and unnecessary.

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, and we’re losing another alcoholic or drug addict every four minutes, 3.6 minutes.

Karen Williams:

And now the drugs are even more powerful than they ever have been. We’re living in a society now where a person whose only been addicted for a very short amount of time and they may still be in denial about their addiction, can overdose in a drop of a hat.

Estil Wallace:

Don’t even have their fingerless gloves yet.

Karen Williams:

Correct.

Estil Wallace:

It’s all right. That was your shot. Were there many attempts at recovery? And we don’t need to necessarily go into all of them, but-

Karen Williams:

Hmm. Yeah. The one that I [crosstalk 00:14:31]-

Estil Wallace:

Or did you get sober the next time?

Karen Williams:

Yeah. The miraculous thing about it for me was I did go back out. I stayed out after that experience with the Iowa graduation party. I came back. I was welcomed into my family almost unregrettably and sort of a relief like, “Oh, she’ll just be able to control the drinking this time.” There was a revision in the way that I should have been, I remember that kind of being a thing. I stayed out again until I got into as much, if not more misery each successive attempt. It was like I knew I could stop for six months, so that was the mission, the timeframe to beat in every subsequent attempt.

Estil Wallace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s a gambler winning their first try at Blackjack.

Karen Williams:

Oh yeah. Then-

Estil Wallace:

False safety net there.

Karen Williams:

Then of course the shame piles up. You can’t do it. I guess, my onset of finally getting it ended up in a therapist’s office. We can go into that story. I can tell you about the bitter end of the drinking that way, but I couldn’t stand therapists. So it was kind of a little irony that I actually became one later on. But I had reached the end of the limit as far as spiritual directors, psychologists, mental health professionals and good friends who were kind of babysitting me through this care and trying to stop drinking out of own thing.

Karen Williams:

I ended up in this woman’s office and she was a referral from my pastor at my church. I took it on good authority to go visit her, lied all over the intake forms, still the shame. I told her I think I was drinking about a couple of glasses of wine per week, I was going through some personal business and so she made the recommendation. And I find one at that that I stopped drinking for the period of time that I was in treatment, that I was in therapy, which I thought was unthinkable. Because that was my coping and my-

Estil Wallace:

Was it longer than six months?

Karen Williams:

Hmm. She only told me to give it up for 90 days, but I’m a good Catholic. So, it was right around the beginning of Lent, good timing, so I thought, “I’ll just… And I’ve given it up for Lent before, right? That surely-

Estil Wallace:

How long is Lent? Two weeks?

Karen Williams:

Lent is 40 days.

Estil Wallace:

It’s 40 days. okay. So it’s six weeks.

Karen Williams:

And 40 nights. All together. But doable and I’ve done it in the past, but this time the stakes were higher. I was in a lot of emotional turmoil so I couldn’t anti-it myself through that. And I think I made it a total of three days and then began to show up in my therapy appointments lying the whole time about that. So, more shame and more guilt and more nonprogress. What I had done… This was about in a period of time from February until about May going weekly to this woman trying to help me. Then I finally had an event that was a senior-

Estil Wallace:

I’d love to read her notes.

Karen Williams:

And we’re friends to this day. We’re actually colleagues to this day. She refers people to me, which is a great-

Estil Wallace:

Excellent.

Karen Williams:

… great ending to this. But finally it was starting to near the end and reach the full blister in my life that it was. And I’d gotten into a pretty bad argument with a loved one and that was probably the thing. It was on a golf course and that whole sort of the affair took place. I came home. I poured out again for the umpteenth time all of the alcohol in the house. I think I’ve poured more alcohol down the drain than I’ve consumed, which is another feat in and of itself.

Karen Williams:

And then went back into the therapist’s office and declared myself a person with problems, so unable to call myself a full alcoholic. But she told me about a program that I might want to check out a particular area in the Valley and let her know how that works out. It was a full 30 days of more controlled stopping. I adopted a Sharp’s and O’douls addiction in that time figuring that that also was a way to stop drinking.

Estil Wallace:

I’m trying not to judge you right now. O’douls is gross.

Karen Williams:

O’douls and Sharp’s, yeah, they’re-

Estil Wallace:

I don’t know anything about Sharp’s.

Karen Williams:

No. I mean, growing up, Michigan, we had-

Estil Wallace:

So they’re near beer?

Karen Williams:

Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

It’s gross.

Karen Williams:

Yeah, it’s disgusting.

Estil Wallace:

Which is strange because I like beer.

Karen Williams:

Right. But that’s-

Estil Wallace:

I like imported beer, but non-alcoholic beer tastes terrible.

Karen Williams:

It’s a horse of a different color and it’s… So whenever I can [crosstalk 00:19:27]-

Estil Wallace:

There’s something that they’ve done wrong in the formula.

Karen Williams:

Yes, I agree. Don’t try it if you’re considering. It doesn’t count, you’ll still be drunk and miserable. So anyway after all of that, I did finally enter into my sobriety and I didn’t look back after that. I don’t consider myself special or uniquely informed. I just figured that’s the path that I was able to go on. And I have not had a drink since June 12th of 2005.

Estil Wallace:

Wow.

Karen Williams:

Thanks be to God.

Estil Wallace:

Congratulations on-

Karen Williams:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

… on not just recovery, but on your new life-

Karen Williams:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

… and recovery has given you.

Karen Williams:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

So then what does recovery look like for you now? Is it hard? Is it every day is painstaking, white-knuckling it? What is recovery like today at 14 plus years of recovery?

Karen Williams:

Boy, I don’t think about drinking and that’s truly miraculous for this alcoholic. I don’t have the mental obsession and the craving it’s lifted. And people often ask me like, When did that happen? What can I look for? Is that a three month thing? Is it a six month thing?” And in my view, in my experience, it was somewhere to me around the six to nine month watermark, where I finally was able to look back and say, “There was a day that went by that I didn’t think about drinking.” It took that long. To me, that’s a bit of a long time, but I also drank my entire life since I was up until age 39.

Estil Wallace:

Mine was similar. Mine was between the six and seven mark.

Karen Williams:

Yeah. Where I just turned around and looked and it’s like, “I didn’t even think about it.” That was huge for me. Today in recovery and in my life, I love my life. I had lost myself spiritually and I don’t… It’s hard to talk about this without getting emotional, but-

Estil Wallace:

That’s okay. Just let it [crosstalk 00:21:43].

Karen Williams:

Thank you. I’m in touch with my feelings. I’m a good therapist. I do like therapists now these days by the way just so you know.

Estil Wallace:

Therapists are great.

Karen Williams:

Yes, they are great people. But that… Everything that I… We’ve got a fellow that works over the place that I work and he’s always talking about live the life of your wildest dreams and he’s wonderful. And I’m motivated by the folks I work with. They’re fantastic, every single one of them. But it’s true I’m living that life and God made that possible for me to experience that life.

Karen Williams:

And oddly, it was always in my mind that I knew I wanted that and that I had the potential to do that. I just didn’t know how to do that. And how I learned how to do that was unique and fascinating and something that I keep going back to. In the beginning where it felt like drudgery and pain and torture to have to do the things were recommended for me are delights to me today. I love my job. To hear those words emerge from this mouth, that was anathema.

Estil Wallace:

What was that word?

Karen Williams:

Anathema.

Estil Wallace:

Can you please define that for us?

Karen Williams:

A mystery. Something counterintuitive to the extreme. And to me now, I look at… There’s a lot of things like that. There’s really… I don’t know where the limit is, but I can’t wait to find out and I keep pressing the envelope. So, life has truly taken on new meaning and I walk a different way, chest out, chin up, nose to the grindstone most days. Then other times it’s like the random inner child gets to play and I really truly know what fun can be. It’s a constant exploration. It’s a spiritual enterprise of the highest order. And my work and the people that are in it are truly blessings.

Estil Wallace:

So just to… Let’s take a quick detour. I don’t know how close any of you have been paying attention, but Karen uses really big fucking words. I’m really impressed with your vocabulary and vernacular the way they layered together-

Karen Williams:

That was [crosstalk 00:24:16]-

Estil Wallace:

… very nicely.

Karen Williams:

There is a nice word right there.

Estil Wallace:

Let me ask you this, how, if you even know, has your vocabulary expanded to the current extent that it’s at? How does one-

Karen Williams:

I don’t know.

Estil Wallace:

… develop and use in context such a broad scope of a verbiage?

Karen Williams:

I used to… I’ll tell you what-

Estil Wallace:

You got a real command of the English language lady.

Karen Williams:

Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

It’s good.

Karen Williams:

It might be a Michigan thing because I know you share the same space that I do in this.

Estil Wallace:

I’m not from Michigan.

Karen Williams:

Well, you spent time in the Midwest, let’s just put it that way. This is Missouri M words, we’ll go with that. The M [inaudible 00:24:56].

Estil Wallace:

It’s geographic?

Karen Williams:

It could be. I don’t know, but I’ll tell you the amount of fakery and fraud that there was in my life prior to getting sober. One of the things that I think I did encounter was an okay to be me type of a thing. I don’t have to pretend at that today. So it’s kind of like a direct shot and a heavier footprint and a way that I choose to live in the world. I love words.

Estil Wallace:

Do you pick those up in your reading?

Karen Williams:

No. Here’s what I do. I-

Estil Wallace:

You sit down and Google this stuff at night?

Karen Williams:

Here’s what… I’m an analyst by nature and I think that’s kind of why I love psychology so much and working with people because they’re the ultimate puzzle, right. But words mean things. I like to look into the deeper meaning of things. So when I hear a word… For instance, I’ll give you one. Vulnerable. If you were to ask guy on the street, girl on the street what that word means, what do you think you’re going to get back? I’ll ask you.

Estil Wallace:

To me, vulnerability means I am laid bare unprotected.

Karen Williams:

Right. Good shot. Yeah, that’s the essence of it, right?

Estil Wallace:

My tender underbelly is shown without my heavy armor to protect it.

Karen Williams:

That’s right.

Estil Wallace:

I’m like thinking National Geographic right now.

Karen Williams:

Correct. So to be vulnerable, when you do that you’re going to be in an unprotected environment or would you rather be in one that’s a little more safeguarded?

Estil Wallace:

I’d like to do it with the door shut and locked, please.

Karen Williams:

Exactly. With safe people. So this word took on kind of a… I explored it. I was curious. I like Latin so there’s part of the answer here, but I always go to the Latin derivatives because Latin is a dead language. You cannot vernacularise it, you cannot make stuff up about it. It’s no longer used so it’s sort of protected in its own little earthy way. So when I looked up the word vulnerable and found the Latin root, it says from the wound. So the vulnera part of that actually means wound. So of course that’s why we’re protective.

Karen Williams:

When we’re exposing that sensitive area and showing it, we have to be careful. When we share between people and I show you my wound and you’re a safe person for me, we can connect and the intimacy in that grows. So believe me, that… I mean, that’s huge, right? Humility is another huge word. Principle words are just… They are delicious.

Estil Wallace:

Yes. That’s exactly what I looking for.

Karen Williams:

I have a cross addiction now to Latins just so you know.

Estil Wallace:

Excellent. Well, I might have to look some of my favorite words up and see what the Latin roots are.

Karen Williams:

There you go.

Estil Wallace:

Okay. What do you do… You’ve been sober a long time. You’re at a party or a wedding or somewhere normal at some type of an event and now you’re standing there and not drinking and somebody asks you, “Hey, how come you’re not drinking?” What do you say?

Karen Williams:

Today?

Estil Wallace:

Yeah.

Karen Williams:

I have all the-

Estil Wallace:

If this wasn’t my office, if this we were at sushi and the lights were down and people were hanging out and somebody was like, “Hey, how come you’re not drinking?” The booze is free here or whatever. If we’re in that setting, what do you say?

Karen Williams:

The shock. It would probably not be a plausible or pleasant sight to see me on this table dancing with my clothes off or that’s an-

Estil Wallace:

I think that’s going to be subjected to whoever you say that to.

Karen Williams:

This would not bode well for me or for the people in that room, let’s just put it that way. So, different answers that I would have provided probably 14 years ago, but-

Estil Wallace:

What would you have said 14 years ago?

Karen Williams:

I would have probably called my sponsor and asked what do you do in that situation? Maybe used an answer somewhere in the vicinity of I’m the designated driver tonight.

Estil Wallace:

Oh, that’s a good one.

Karen Williams:

Yeah. And I have an important coffee date in the morning, I want to be on my game and alert. No, thank you. And I would have left the scene and been very nervous and my palms would have been sweating over that conversation.

Estil Wallace:

Does it make you nervous today?

Karen Williams:

And I would’ve said I would had book club to go to the next day too.

Estil Wallace:

Book club?

Karen Williams:

That technically works.

Estil Wallace:

Does it make you nervous today?

Karen Williams:

Does it make me nervous today? No.

Estil Wallace:

No?

Karen Williams:

No, today I… What I do now is I think that person asking that question is interesting to me like, “Why would that person be motivated to ask me that?” That’s again the analyst inside me.

Estil Wallace:

Why are you interested in why I’m not consuming alcohol?

Karen Williams:

Yeah. Throw it back on and-

Estil Wallace:

Yeah, it is a little strange, but it happens. It comes up non-drinkers are asked in drinking scenarios why not?

Karen Williams:

Correct. Well, and look at everything now. I read an article recently. It was geared towards women and it was all the ways now that women drink at everything, so baby showers, it’s a drink fest.

Estil Wallace:

Mimosas.

Karen Williams:

Mimosas.

Estil Wallace:

Brunch.

Karen Williams:

Yes, Halloween-

Estil Wallace:

Bloody Mary.

Karen Williams:

Notice Halloween parties. When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, there were no adults accompanying us anywhere. There was Devil’s Night, the night before, and we would go out and trash the neighborhood. Then there was Halloween night [crosstalk 00:30:55]-

Estil Wallace:

I have never engaged in anything with my parents or anyone from my family of origin on a Halloween in all my 42 years of my life.

Karen Williams:

No, right? I know.

Estil Wallace:

On the flip side, up until my recovery, I think I was drunk, stoned, loaded out of my mind since like elementary school days on Halloween.

Karen Williams:

So it’s our-

Estil Wallace:

Halloween’s always been a favorite.

Karen Williams:

Correct. It’s our generation that I think brought this notion, front and center, we party right along with the kids. So I got to dress up like the cocktail waitress, whatever else I can squeeze myself into and drink and it’s a block party. So-

Estil Wallace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You’re describing my Halloween-

Karen Williams:

This is-

Estil Wallace:

… pretty recently where they shut off the cul-de-sac in my-

Karen Williams:

In your neighborhood?

Estil Wallace:

I live in the suburbs-

Karen Williams:

I know.

Estil Wallace:

… they shut off the street and there’s the big old booze party.

Karen Williams:

Exactly.

Estil Wallace:

And all of us adults are dressed up and the kids are dressed up and we just set up buckets of candy. So none of us have to sit at our houses.

Karen Williams:

We don’t even have to participate?

Estil Wallace:

We just all… Yeah, kids come down and “Hey, hit it up, get the candy.” I don’t obviously drank. I’m just eating the pizza and hanging out and joking with the kids [crosstalk 00:32:03]-

Karen Williams:

But I’m astonished at the amount of Go Cups that I see walking around the neighborhood and the kids are… So anyway, that’s just is an interesting phenomenon. There’s that, there’s Super Bowl, so yeah, this is-

Estil Wallace:

Super Bowl, yeah.

Karen Williams:

Alcohol, it’s a phenomenon and it’s reached epic proportions I think in our culture. Again, where is the line? Where is the limit on that? I don’t know, but it does… It’s an enterprise that I think we’re not done with and we’re just going to be continuing to see a lot of addiction as it goes forward.

Estil Wallace:

What do you do to stay lined up, so to speak, in your recovery disciplines when you’re traveling?

Karen Williams:

Traveling? I usually search out, go online and Google the meetings that are going to be near me. I do maintain a level of my sobriety wherever I go. So I have to advance plan. I just don’t think that stuff is going to occur out of the ether. I do plan and I actually like going and visiting places that I don’t know and meeting other people like me that are doing their thing. And it’s a lot of fun that way.

Karen Williams:

As far as my daily practices, I am highly connected spiritually. I pray morning and night. I have a routine. I have a formula, so to speak, but I also like to be of service and I find that that’s an essential part of my walk. My design is being of service to other people. So taking the time. I also love hanging around the people that I do hang around now because we engage in life in a way that’s unprecedented. There’s all sorts of clubs and things that you can join that you can belong to. I have a hiking group. I have a motorcycle group. Oh, another gift of sobriety is I ride a motorcycle. Got a license late in life, got my endorsement. I hang around with a lot of people that thankfully do not drink and drive on those kinds of machines, but that’s a riot too. So I have a lot of fun.

Estil Wallace:

When I’m working with a new person, let’s say I meet a new addict or alcoholic who’s struggling, wants to get into recovery and we’re having our let’s say first, second or third, sit down face-to-face conversation. I can see by their curiosity, their willingness and their honesty level, wherever that’s out, roughly how much work it will take for them to have a similar experience that everyone who’s had the experience I’m talking about in recovery, for him to have that same experience. But they don’t believe that there’s somehow completely different for fill in the blank reason. How do you convince a new person who wants this, needs this, but doesn’t believe that their life can change?

Karen Williams:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s a great question.

Estil Wallace:

It’s a tough question. I’m not sure I have the answer. I just want to pick your brain.

Karen Williams:

I find less is more. I’ve heard this expression oftentimes, we meet people where they are and you do. And that person is me. So I keep that in my mind when I’m speaking with a newcomer, with a person who’s new to recovery, knowing that it took me up to 39 to get to that place. And I didn’t have like an earth-shattering experience. I didn’t get to that place. I didn’t even collect any DUIs though I was definitely a candidate for collecting DUIs. But I had reached the end of a tether and I didn’t want to go anymore.

Karen Williams:

I speak from my own experience. It’s the only narrative I have. It’s my truth. It’s my story. And I share that. That vulnerable word, that’s it. And we just have a conversation. I find people are a little bit tight-lipped about things until they start to trust. And there’s a lot there not to trust when you’re an addict alcoholic. You don’t trust your world, you don’t trust yourself, so how are you going to trust this person, this man or woman sitting in front of you claiming all of these things and you don’t even know them and you haven’t even been around them? It’s a hard sell for sure.

Karen Williams:

The other thing I do is I pray a lot and I just pray like help me be of service, help me to encounter people that suffer and find me useful in their life so that new person can just feel like they can relax. They may not get it right away. I also think this too, it’s common that people will experiment. They’ll put their toe in then they’ll pull it back out. They’ll do this strange Hokey-Pokey for awhile there. They’re getting to know what this is all about. They’re trying. But I think the thing is, I’m there to carry a message to them. I’m there simply to show another person this is a possibility, this is what can happen if you just do this this much amount of time. Maybe it’s just an hour. Maybe this person can’t even set down a drink for an hour. Maybe just try going an hour. How about a half day?

Estil Wallace:

And you do work like this outside of your career in your spare time?

Karen Williams:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I do. I can’t keep the level of my recovery going unless I share that with other people and that is-

Estil Wallace:

For free and for fun?

Karen Williams:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Estil Wallace:

It’s pretty cool. You’re pretty cool, Karen.

Karen Williams:

Thanks, Estil. There are still a ton of people in the world for one reason or another don’t view addiction the same as they do heart disease or HIV or anything like that. What, if anything… And this is a tough question, there’s no easy answers for this, at least in my mind, but I think it’s worth discussion. What do you think can, could, should needs to happen to really change that?

Estil Wallace:

Hmm. Well, you’re doing it: more discussion, more conversation, more education in schools, more students, more university populations embracing. I was visiting a local college in a neck of the woods recently and with the possibility of bringing a message there and working with the faculty in the psychology department to talk to students that are struggling. That was based upon my experience and my counterpart who was with me, where we found addiction, where it found us.

Estil Wallace:

So having the common sense dialogue about it, taking the shame away from it. When shame is exposed to light it diminishes. I think that the more that we can bring it out of the closet and look at it and see it for what it is, what it’s doing to our sons, our daughters, our mothers, our aunts, our best friends… We have to start raising the bar. We have to start reaching out and getting out of the shame. I guess we just keep showing up and saying yes and puzzling over it and dealing with the heart issues.

Karen Williams:

I love the old 12 step joke. The child is on the beach, the low tide in the morning, and all the starfish are suffocating in the air. They’re drying out and the child is tossing them back in the water one at a time. And the grownup walks by and says, “You know what you’re doing doesn’t matter, there’s so many of them.” The child picks one up, looks at the grownup, tosses it in the water and says, “It did at that one.” I think about that and it warms my heart and helps me sleep better at night and feel better about the human race to know that there are people like you out there in the world, tossing starfish back in the water.

Estil Wallace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love that.

Karen Williams:

If there’s somebody that’s struggling, I mean, right now watching this, what would you say? What would you say to them?

Estil Wallace:

I would say to them, hang on, there’s hope. Don’t give up on yourself. Talk to somebody, reach out, just say help me. I would say to those who are on the receiving end of that, just listen and find a way in. Keep the dialogue going. But there’s nothing that you’ve done, there’s nothing that you could possibly say that some other human being that struggles in this way would not understand. You are more numerous out there than you realize we’re here. We’re here. We’re everywhere. We’re in every continent. We’re in every city. We’re in every community. And there are people that are right around the corner, just ask.

Karen Williams:

Karen, thank you for sitting and talking with me today.

Estil Wallace:

Thanks for having me.