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Interview with a Clinical Therapist

Interview with a Clinical Therapist

We interviewed Blythe Landry, a health professional and published author out of Chicago, Illinois.  In this interview she talks at length about her book, tips for recovery, and her experience working with people from all walks of life.

Hi Blythe. Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. What piqued your interest about social work and reaching out to those who suffer drug addiction?

I come from a long line of addiction and, at some point, I realized that instead of complaining about it, why not learn more about it and find compassion for the disease…instead of self-pity and hate.

On your website, you write that you know what it's like to be down on your luck. Can you elaborate?

I'll say this. I, too, know about the power of addiction and the power of change. I also know depression and fear. More importantly, I know freedom. My freedom is available to anyone else who seeks it, whether they work with me or not. Life is reversible. After all, isn't wisdom only failure in reverse?

You're a published author, having written the book 101 Substance Abuse Recovery Tips. What prompted you to write this book?

I am a clinical therapist and former educator who has not only witnessed the lives of hundreds of students and clients negatively affected by this disease, but also the journeys of friends and family. As I emerged deeper into the field(s) of education and mental health, I realized that many, many helping professionals and loved ones knew very little about the "basics" of addiction and about the underlying behaviors related to these diseases. Many of my clients were labeled as "bad" or as having a personality disorder, when I could see that the truth was that their behaviors were manifestations of one of two (or in some cases both) things: Growing up in an addiction-plagued home, or struggling with addiction themselves.

This book is extremely simple and is primarily a reference book for any helping professional, addict or family member/loved one of an addict seeking to know where in the world to begin finding their first steps towards recovery. I wrote it in this format for three key reasons: I wanted to provide a book that anyone from any walk of life could pick up and read with very little time in the day, with a quick-point reference table for their specific areas of concern–even though I work in academia, I specifically did not want to write an academic text that was too cumbersome and an unrealistic resource for the average person (or even extremely busy mental health professional) to take the time to peruse. And finally, I was offered the opportunity to perform this important service by LifeTips Publishing, which provides books in this format for varying topics.

My ultimate goal in writing this book was to get resources and what I believe to be some fundamental truths about addiction and addiction recovery out there so that someone somewhere might not feel so alone. I hope to write a companion book specifically for families of substance abusers/addicts sometime in the future.

Generally and/or specifically-speaking, what can we expect to find in the book?

It is a quick-point reference book for recovery trends and options for every possible substance abuse concern one could think of: alcohol, marijuana, heroin, painkillers, crack/cocaine, etc. While I as a professional have my own opinions about what makes for the most successful recovery program, I made every concerted effort to maintain professional objectivity in writing this book and to provide the current thinking and options for treatment related to specific addictions.

The one thing I regret not having the opportunity to write more about is the area of process addiction(s) (i.e. sex, gambling, relationships, shopping, etc.) because the research supports, as does my professional experiences, that the process addictions are very common companions to the substance addictions. I see addiction as a serpent that just keeps slithering around and manifesting in whatever form it finds to, ultimately, destroy the person. I would also like to write more about the thought process that addiction, barring the biological component, of course, is in many ways a coping mechanism that is protecting the victim from having to feel discomfort or fear.

Is there a single most important tip you have for recovery?

Absolutely. I don't care what it is–a shoe, a crab leg, a semi-automatic train or a higher power–you MUST find something somewhere somehow that is larger than your ego and your disease that you can trust with your recovery and your journey. If you don't believe in prayer, meditate. Do yoga. If you are an atheist, turn it over to mother nature. If you want to call it divine goddess, universal force, God, or anything of your choosing, just do it. No person, no sponsor (and the good ones will tell you this) can save your life. You have to choose to save it by connecting with people and places and meetings and support systems, but you can do all these things, and in the absence of some kind of willingness to turn your ego over, you won't make it. Some people even choose to think of G.O.D. as an acronym for "Good Orderly Direction." It doesn't matter. Nobody cares what you choose and, frankly, it is nobody else's business what it is unless you want to tell them. My experience over and over and over again, however, is that people who do not find something greater than the ego of this disease will self-destruct and most likely die.

If this is a hard decision to make for you, think of it this way. There is a high likelihood that everyone who reads this will know someone or know someone who knows someone who has died from terminal cancer. I can guarantee you that if someone told that person he/she could find some source greater than themselves (or that they trust the consistency of) to turn over their disease to and it would mean that they could live, they would darn well do it. The fear for addicts is the fear that the disease ego will die. It will but no worries, it will never be gone for long. If you want to get better, you must fight this disease with some source of power every day for the rest of your life.

You've also created a blog called Find Your First Step. What is the purpose of the blog?

The purpose of the blog is twofold. First, I wanted to have something that supported my book in a contemporary way that would potentially help others and, of course link them to my book. Secondly, I also wanted to link it to my other blog, which is Staying Sober with Sam, because I believe that not only are dogs universally lovable, but they also speak the language of recovery: simple, unassuming, humble, grateful, unafraid of loving others, and, of course, playful.

What has been your most memorable moment in your line of work?

Wow. That will be impossible to pinpoint, as there hasn't been one client or student I have met that hasn't profoundly changed the course of my life. I still think about students and clients from 10 years ago. If I had to answer, I would say this.  I have worked with people struggling with severe and chronic mental illness, people struggling with severe post traumatic stress disorder, people who have lost their loved ones to suicide, and people who have been in jail for the majority of their lives.  I can say the most profound lesson I've learned is that the lower we go, the higher we have to go, and that those who have gone lower are often the ones who make the biggest impact on the lives of other people when they do recover.  And while sadly there is literally nothing that could shock or surprise me, the tenacity of the human spirit is insurmountable.

I would also say that the function of my job that places me in situations where I hear truly unthinkable realities for some people in this world has profoundly altered me as a human being (as my website implicates, "from the inside out,") and I wish there was some rule or something mandating every human being would have to at least witness another person's tragedy in this life to this end. There is so much grief and loss in this world, and I suspect that most of us don't know anything about what is going on a few miles (or doors) away from us. These stories MUST be heard and shared.

Have you had experience working with aggressive or difficult clients?

Absolutely. I have been threatened for murder. But I will say this, that the vast (and I mean 99.8%) of my clients, from ALL walks of life have been beautiful, willing and expansively grateful. I am truly honored to witness the stories of pain and growth of others.

Your proudest moment?

Taking my mother (along with my sister and my eldest neice) to Manhattan for her 74th birthday in April 2009. Sort of funny. We planned the trip thinking she was turning 75 and then we realized that she wasn't, but decided life is way too short so we did it anyway. It was my mother's lifelong dream since she was 12 to go to New York and see shows on Broadway. Since theater and music are great loves we share, it was an honor to do this with her. The most important lesson here, however, was the realization that no book, no success EVER (and I do mean ever) outweighs the self-esteem that comes from showing up for another human being. I will die being grateful for this opportunity. Truly.

And it is a truth I readily try to impart to clients.

Any last words?

No Question! If you put your feet where you want your brain to be, change isn't only possible; it is inevitable. I would be honored to assist in getting you where you want to go.

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