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Emotional Resilience

May 15th, 2020
A couple hugging and walking outside while discussing emotional resilience

In this episode we have guest Dr. Carla Manly joining us to speak to the power and importance of emotional resilience, and its value during challenging times, much like we’re all experiencing right now. Following Dr. Manly we have Ashley McCarty, a Business Liaison for Kentucky’s Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment. She’ll be telling us about the work she does with local businesses to reduce the stigma surrounding hiring people who have previously struggled with substance abuse, and how they can create a recovery friendly culture.

Welcome to Recovery Radio by Landmark Recovery with your host, Zach Crouch. In this program we’ll discuss the root causes and treatments of alcohol and substance addiction, speak with experts in related fields, and help navigate the road to recovery.


Now, here’s the host of Recovery Radio, Zach Crouch.


Zach: Hi. I’m Zach Crouch and you’re listening to Landmark Recovery Radio, your source for addiction and recovery news and knowledge. You can find us online wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe to get the most up-to-date information from leading experts.


We have guest Dr. Carla Manly joining us on the show today. Dr. Carla Manly is a clinical psychologist and wellness expert in Sonoma County, California. She is the author of Joy From Fear, an award-winning book that ties into what we’ll be discussing with her today. From addiction and resilience to personal empowerment with a holistic body-mind-spirit approach, Dr. Manly specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, as well as relationship issues.


She’ll be telling us about emotional resilience and its value during challenging times like these.


Dr. Manly, we are really grateful to have you on as a guest today.


Dr. Manly: Thank you so much for having me, Zach. It’s a pleasure.


Zach: As I mentioned in the intro there this idea and topic of emotional resilience how would you define that? What is emotional resilience?


Dr. Manly: Emotional resilience when we break it out to specifically emotional resilience we generally tie it together into psychological resilience which is the mental and emotional capacity to cope with a crisis, difficult situation and then we turn to pre-crisis homeostasis very quickly.


When we’re looking specifically at emotional resilience then we look at the emotional charge that arises in situation, how we can utilize that emotion, and then we turn to a homeostatic position meaning a place where we’re not really charged in a healthy and resilient way.


When we have emotional resilience, it allows us to be triggered emotionally, to notice what’s causing the triggering, the reaction and then to be able to process all of that in a healthy way rather than turning outward on to others or engaging in addictive or self-hurting behavior. We learn how to manage our emotions effectively so that our emotions aren’t making us react. We are driven to work with our emotions.


Zach: Someone talked about that the return to homeostasis when there is an emotional charge that goes on and in my experience obviously I always get back to some homeostatic state, but the time it takes for myself and others I talk to, to get back to that it can seem like a long time. How do you help people coach or how do you coach people through being able to get back to that baseline say, quicker?


Dr. Manly: Okay. It’s a great question. What I tell people is first don’t compare yourself to somebody else. That’s the first step. Know that you are an individual. Building resilience is a process and no two people are alike. When you start with that template and realize, “Okay, I do have to stay with me, figure out what works for me,” then realize the second piece is and the reason why no two people are alike is that we all have different genetics and…


…What we’ve come into the world with our DNA is a factor into how we respond, but also a huge factor is not only the way we were raised, how our caregivers treated us and how we saw them handling their emotions but also life experiences beyond the origin that taught us we were safe or not safe, that taught us that we could regulate our emotions and how to do that or we weren’t taught that. In fact we witnessed emotional dis-regulation.


That’s the first thing I tell people. First look at yourself. You’re unique. Next, then look at your history, not blaming anyone. This isn’t about blaming parents or school coaches or friends that might have bullied us. They weren’t friends if they were bullying us, but you get the point. When I look at my history so that I understand where my emotional reactivity is coming from and so if I pause here and say, one concept that we work with a lot in the world of psychology is something called or at least I work with it a lot, is called an ab reaction, an abnormal reaction.


If you find that your partner comes home and they’re five minutes late and you just have a huge fit that’s abnormal for that situation. You realize you’ve likely either triggered a very old unresolved wound or a habit that your partner’s doing so there’s something bigger going on. Often it emanates from an unresolved childhood wound.


That’s one of the really important thing to do is to start turning inward to realize why you’re being triggered, what the historical patterns are, and again not so we can blame ourselves from history but so we can understand it. Does that make sense?


Zach: That makes a lot of sense and just a follow-up question to that, this building of resilience you mentioned that it’s a process. I’m curious to hear from you how will I know or how would some of our listeners know if they’re in this process of building resilience that they’re making progress?


Dr. Manly: That’s such a good question. One of the things that I do not during the pandemic is to teach meditation at a local drug and alcohol rehab center. I do that once a week. We’re not allowed to do this now because of the pandemic. I do it once a week.


What I have found by devoting my time to that cause every week for about seven, eight years now is that the women in that rehab center realized not maybe from week to week but from every few weeks they realized they’re less reactive. They’re able to allow themselves to cry. That’s a very common one where people weren’t able to cry and they say, “Oh, I’m feeling safer. I can cry now and feeling better. I can talk still feeling activated or anxious, but I can actually use ‘I’ statements to talk about how I’m feeling.”


Those little pieces are how we know we’re making progress. A client once described it to me as though…I could see her making progress. She couldn’t see it.


One day after working with me for about three months she came running. She was so excited. She said, “I get it. It’s like I’m a big ship and I was turning from one shore to another shore. I couldn’t see. The progress was so slow. I couldn’t see it until now I’m looking at the other shore, my new way of being. I actually can look back and see how it’s so different from the old shore, the old way of being.”


Zach: Yes.


Dr. Manly: Isn’t that lovely?


Zach: I love it. Yes. As you’re talking as well I was thinking more about even some of the things that we do at our facility here in Louisville, Kentucky with Landmark Recovery we use an integrated trauma model of treatment called the seeking safety curriculum. Dr. Manly, I had Lisa Najavits the creator of the seeking safety curriculum on last week.


One of the things that she talked about with me during her podcast in her explaining the approach was that it’s a very present-oriented model of treatment where yes the trauma is there but it’s about honoring what’s there and not having to dig deeply into it right then and there but providing people the safety and the space if it does come up to provide space for it so that they feel safe so that they can move forward and do some of the work that’s necessary because in our experience at least trauma is a lot of what drives addiction in general.


Dr. Manly: I agree wholeheartedly. In the moment let me clarify, in the moment is not the time to be doing the work. I didn’t make that clear. In the moment we want to learn. There are two separate things. One is, when you’re in a calmer space being able to access what the cause was because often that older cause, whether it was a father berating you or a mother ignoring you or watching your father beat your older brother, whatever it is.


Sometimes we actually do have to understand that in order to heal those wounds and then to make choices of how we want to do it differently. In the present when we’re dealing emotionally reactive one of the best…I’ll walk you through how I coach clients, how I teach.


First notice something, an image like a stop sign.


Zach: Just real quick, Dr. Manly you’re a little bit low on my end in terms of audio just FYI. We can edit that part out.


Dr. Manly: I’m turning up my volume. Does that help?


Zach: That’s perfect. That’s much better.


Dr. Manly: Okay. In the moment if you’re able to imagine let’s say somebody’s yelling at you or you’re feeling really hurt and angry. First thing to do is to call a time out and sometimes we can’t do that even with words. We’re so angry and so we use the traditional time out signal with our hands.


If we’re able to listen “I’m taking a time out to collect myself,” you might need to have a visual image of a stop sign, of a red balloon that is floating away, something that’s helpful for you; some people like having an image of whatever their higher power is, whether it’s God or Buddha, whatever something that allows you to center.


Then you count, whether from 10-9-8-7, something that allows you to de-stress, to calm down. I focus a lot on deep breathing, breathing in to a count of four, hold it briefly, exhaling, count to four.


Then when you feel like you’re in a better space then you can start processing the emotion and say, “Okay. I was very angry. How do I want to handle that? Is it something I did? Can I speak to the other person an ‘I’ message and say, ‘I feel hurt when you called me a jerk. I would appreciate it if you would not criticize me like that in the future.'” Again we have to be first calm to do that and then we learn to use ‘I’ messages. We learn to use reflective listening.


The reason I want to emphasize that we then seek help whether with a primary care provider, with a therapist, it’s one of the reasons I wrote my book Joy From Fear is because a lot of people cannot afford psychotherapy. That book is psychotherapy. It allows people to go through and learn to understand their anxiety, their depression, their trauma, their PTSD. It is all evidence-based, very exercise-oriented because it is empowering.


If I simply create a new behavior, let’s say I get triggered when somebody makes a comment and says, “Oh, you look tired today.” Let’s say that triggers me. I get angry and react to it. It’s fine and helpful for me to learn to calm down in the moment, but it’s also helpful and healing for me to go back to a trained therapist into my childhood to understand why that happened.


Maybe my mother was very picky. Maybe my father was a perfectionist. Maybe my friends taunted me. Here’s why it’s important to go back because often what we find is that the way we were treated in those areas of our lives actually affects us in far bigger ways than just that emotional reactivity to the cause.


Zach: A hundred percent.


Dr. Manly: Yes. When we come to understand our past more fully and I really see this a lot with people with addiction, once they are able to understand why they’re reactive it’s almost like a dandelion. You can pull off the flower, that little yellow dandelion flower, but if you don’t get to the roots it’s going to come up in another situation.


That’s how I look at it that it’s important and the lovely part about doing the work is sometimes you pull out a major root and by choice that major root, pulling it out you’ve also addressed a lot of the other little roots that have led off of it throughout.


Zach: I love it. I’m curious to hear from you, too. There’s a saying I think within recovery support groups, 12-Step communities, etc. that going and doing the work of recovery for many is being able and being willing and being open, rather to re-feeling old feelings and maybe in feeling feelings for the first time. Has that been your experience in working with people as well? Does that make sense?


Dr. Manly: It makes perfect sense and it is so on target because in our society we tend to ignore how important emotions are and men really get the short end of the stick because women are told they’re allowed to feel sad, happy and joyful and irritated. Women are generally not allowed to feel angry or assertive. Men however are given like one emotion and that’s well, too. They’re given okay which is not an emotion and anger.


By learning that our emotions are there for a reason that indeed emotions are part of learning to handle our emotions, learning to live with them and to use them wisely is part of our actual right and our responsibility as human beings is to be emotionally intelligent.


I work with people on learning the difference between emotion and feelings, being able to identify their emotions and their feelings, and then being able to understand the importance of processing them and then releasing them so that they’re not stuck in one particular emotional area, whether it’s feeling angry all the time or feeling the need to be happy all the time.


Zach: Right. I’m curious, we hit on it a little bit earlier but when you’re learning this I would call it’s certainly a tool when you’re learning emotional resilience how long does it typically take for someone to get good at it though?


Dr. Manly: That’s a good question. It depends on the person and I’ll tell you why. It’s like asking me how long will it take me to learn to ride a motorcycle. Some of that is am I not truly adept at riding? Am I willing to practice? Here’s the third one. Do I have any childhood trauma or life trauma around motorcycles that may affect my psychological readiness to ride? It’s the same thing with emotional resilience.


Let’s look at your history. How damaged is that particular part of your psyche? How wounded, how hurt is it? There’s no judgement there. Some of us simply didn’t have great childhoods. Some of us have encountered a great deal of damage, a great deal of harm throughout life. First of all we have to assess how deep is the trauma, how deep are the wounds. We look at how much are you willing to invest.


I have clients and I give a lot of homework in my practice because I want clients to get their wings and fly and not need me anymore except in an emergency or a challenge and so I give lots of homework. Why do I do that? Because if you come to see me for 50 minutes a week or 50 minutes once a month the chances that you’re going to learn to ride that motorcycle very quickly is slim, but the person who gets out there and practices and practices and practices.


That’s another piece. How much are you willing to practice? Another key piece is how much support do you have around you. If you come to a session with me and we work ourselves a lot and then you’re willing to practice, but you’re going home to a situation that is chaotic, challenging, disruptive, unsupportive, no matter how hard you try you may be set back simply because of your environment.


Do you see it’s not about easy but all things? Everything went beautifully and we wave a magic wand and create the perfect environment which is why so many recovery centers allow for a person to work the steps while they’re still in treatment to learn the habits and why it’s important to recovery and not to be in a new relationship because it takes so much effort to hardwire…


Zach: I didn’t listen to that one, by the way. I met my wife I think I was probably about two months’ clean at that point. We’ve been together for ten years and more now so I think that we’ve gotten past any of those statistics that would probably suggest otherwise, but I hear what you’re saying though.


Dr. Manly: My guess is and call me on it if I’m wrong. My guess is that your wife must be a very grounded, stable person.


Zach: Oh my gosh. You have no idea. She is…you probably do, but she is in some respects just the yin to my yang. I’m pretty high energy. I definitely am more extroverted. She’s introverted. She is an Episcopal priest so she carries I think around with her just a presence that is just calming in general for people that she encounters, not even just me but others. It’s no wonder that we gravitated towards each other I’m sure.


Dr. Manly: That explains why you’re a statistical anomaly because you lucked out in running across someone who is a rock. The problem is when you run across someone who looks like a rock but isn’t a rock or you ran across someone who’s attractive because they’re electric. They’re electricity and you’re electricity creates all sorts of trouble. That’s why you lucked out is because you ran into a beautiful kind of angel on earth who was able to ground you.


Most people aren’t that lucky. Most people out of recovery are returning unfortunately to families, circumstances, or to relationships that are already chaotic. Yes?


Zach: I’m glad that you brought that up because I was thinking more about the people that we treat. The people that are most successful are often the ones that have their families coming to our entire day of family programming on Saturdays. They just are.


Dr. Manly: That’s a very good point.


Zach: Yes. Their families get prepped on what to expect. When they get out of treatment they’re being sort of pushed towards starting or being part of, rather their own recovery support groups. From my training as a grad student, I understand completely how it is a family process, a family disease, so to speak. Family, if they don’t participate in the treatment process and don’t start their own recovery the person with the substance use disorder is typically going to go back using again especially if they live together.


Dr. Manly: Absolutely. You hit on one of my favorite pieces of resilience. Resilience, why are some people more naturally resilient emotionally and psychologically or mentally than others is because some people, this is a generalization; some people have supportive and caring relationships and some do not. Resilience is certainly bolstered when we believe and know that others are caring for us, supporting us.


That is because you have resilience, the foundation of resilience. We must feel safe. We must feel that we have trust and trust in people around us and that they trust us. We trust them. That is exactly why I believe what you were seeing makes perfect sense.


The more family that is there to support you in a non-judgmental loving, supportive way doesn’t mean that we allow no boundaries and that the recovery gets to do what they want. No. It’s about having some boundaries that build trust, safety, and resilience.


Zach: I appreciate that. I want to go back to sort of thought that came up for me. Can you tell the audience or maybe even give an example of how someone would actively practice even this technique of emotional resilience in a situation where they are under a lot stress?


Dr. Manly: Okay. A really good example…the idea of being in that place of acute stress when again, for listeners; when you’re under acute stress physically, psychologically which includes mentally and emotionally that is when we are all most susceptible to entering into a bad habit realm — when we’re tired, angry, frustrated, all of those things, hungry.


If I’m in that place, if a person is in that place of being exhausted, feeling stressed and overwhelmed and somebody comes in and does something, says something. They’re feeling that anger and that heat come up.


Zach: That’s a good way to put it — the heat. Yes.


Dr. Manly: Yes. They want to reach out and throw a punch or use a slew of expletives. They want to like tear at the person because that’s how they make her feel. What do you do with that? Do you take a drink? Do you go and smoke weed? Do you punch the wall?


Zach: Do you go into your kitchen? Yes.


Dr. Manly: Exactly. You have to be able to go, “Okay, wait. I’m feeling this. What am I feeling? I’m feeling angry. Okay, I’ve assessed the anger. It’s anger. Okay, count. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Okay, a little better. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Okay. Look at the person. My eyes actually naturally shut doing that. I couldn’t look at the person.”


Zach: Mine actually shut, too.


Dr. Manly: Isn’t that interesting? Yes?


Zach: Yes, yes. Absolutely.


Dr. Manly: “Now I’m a little calmer,” and I’m big, Zach. I’m using scale. They’re so helpful for clients. Zero to ten, zero to ten. Weight yourself, not in a judgmental way. In that situation I could actually feel my anger which is about a nine on a scale of zero to ten. Now I just check in with myself in a non-judgemental way.


“How am I feeling? Ah, it’s a little more like a six now. Okay. Can I open my eyes, look at that person? Sure. I look at them. Uh-oh. Anger just spiked back up to a nine. Okay. I count again. I breathe. I do not care what the other person is thinking or doing. It’s not my job to worry about them right now.”


Zach: It’s about your sanity. Right.


Dr. Manly: Yes. “I’m working on me.” Focus. As I’m talking, Zach I’m building. I’m patting myself on the back. “Good job. Good job, Carla. You’re controlling your emotions. Good for you. Okay. Open my eyes now. Okay, I’m okay. Open my eyes. Look at the person.”


“Hey, you know what? I’m feeling really charged right now. I’m going to go and pull some weeds in the yard. I’m going to go and meditate for five minutes. When I’m feeling better I’ll come back. I’m going to try and talk to you about how I’m feeling right now, but right now is not the time.” Go out, take my time out. Rule of time out is always “This is where I’m going. This is how long I’ll be. This is when I’ll be back and I’ll try it again.” We do that…


Zach: By the way, Carla how do you coach people to get through the…because that would be an awkward conversation right there to have? If this is the first time that you’re doing it with someone, how do you help them get over this sort of awkwardness that they’re going to probably feel?


Dr. Manly: Ideally the person knows that you’re working with emotional resilience, working on building your resilience. If they have your buy in, if you have their buy in which is ideal then you might have had a discussion with them in advance. You might say, “Hey, I listened to this podcast. I’m trying out this technique,” or “I saw my therapist today. My therapist has given me homework. Can you role-play it with me a couple of times in a non-charged state?”


Zach: Got it.


Dr. Manly: For people who don’t have someone where they have a buy in, they’ll often role-play with me, role-play in the bathroom mirror until what are we doing, Zach? What are we doing, listeners? We’re rewiring our brain to return to normal. It takes 21 days of sincere, concerted practice for a new pattern to get wired. 66 days for it to really be entrenched.


Remember, please be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be loving. You might, you will have a few missteps. It’s okay. If you need to apologize say, “I’m sorry. This is where I mucked up. I’m going to try harder next time.” Make a concerted effort to do that. What you’ll find is the more your practice, the more you’re humble about it, the more you take responsibility when you stumble because that’s different from apologizing, it’s saying I’m sorry is not really enough.


What we want to do when we take responsibility is to say “I’m sorry. This is where I could have done better. This is what I’ll do next time.” It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a courageous person who’s doing your work and practicing. You’ll find that over time if you practice that every day for less than a month, you will find by day 21, 22 it’s easier.


Zach: You’re in a better place, yes.


Dr. Manly: Oh, absolutely. You feel better about yourself because you feel in control, not a hundred percent but you feel more in control of who you are, of your emotions. You’re not pushing them away. You’re not stuffing them in a garbage can or in some compartment in your brain. You’re giving them space. You’re not judging them.


Back to the person that you’re in relationship with, if you have their buy in they will be ever so happy to support you. If you don’t have their buy in and they’re going to try and aggravate you, make fun of you, make it worse that’s another issue altogether. That means you have a toxic person in your life who is likely going to fight your mental health improvement for their own reasons.


Zach: Talk to me a little bit about people who have substance use disorder, someone that struggles with addiction or even depression or anxiety. Have you noticed that those folks, that subset of the population that they have a hard time maybe with emotional resilience and learning how to learn these skills, different and more difficult for someone like that?


Dr. Manly: Absolutely. That’s why I really stress not being judgmental or coming from a place of judgment because to be quite frank I believe that most people who use substances, not all of them but most of them have some form of PTSD from childhood or somewhere in life. That’s my opinion. I believe it’s pretty accurate.


I do believe that there are some people who choose to use substances for recreation as opposed to self-soothe, self-medicate, but for the top percentage of the population which they believe is very high who self-medicate. It is because they are terrified of their feelings. They are terrified of looking and feeling all of the hurt and pain and wounds that they’ve experienced, not to mention the shame and the guilt from childhood forward.


In my work specifically with addiction and recovery, I have never honestly met a person who was in substance abuse recovery who did not have incredible life trauma.


Zach: Absolutely, a hundred percent. Yes. To your point, that’s one reason why we do what we do at our facility is that we have an integrated model that treats both the trauma and the addiction because we know that most people who have a substance use disorder to your point, they have trauma if not diagnosable PTSD.


Dr. Manly: Absolutely. I believe that it is so important for that to be acknowledged so that the person who is in recovery it’s not giving them a pass. It’s not explaining it away. It is simply saying as we would do with any physical issue, we would say, “The reason you can’t walk on your leg and the reason it needs a cast is because you have a fracture. We would take the x-ray and we would explain it and they would feel fine having a cast.”


They would know it was necessary. We don’t treat addiction the same way because we can’t see the broken pieces, but the broken pieces, the fractures are there and they deserve attention as much as any physical issue.


Zach: Absolutely. Just to sort of wind down, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on just what your average everyday person right now that’s listening to this program, what can they do to make it through this time that we’re in, this pandemic in a way that they can look back and say, “I’m proud of the way that I handled myself during this time,” especially if they’re prone to high stress which right now will certainly qualify?


Dr. Manly: Absolutely. I think some of the most important things; I’m a big mindfulness practitioner. Stay in the moment. Don’t go to the past. Don’t go to the future. Anxiety is what occurs when we continue to look into the future. It doesn’t mean we put blinders on, but we do stay pragmatic but present and saying, “I’m going to do the best I can in the moment without trying to imagine what it will look like six months or a year from now.” That’s what the news wants us to do, but the news works against our mental health in that way.


Zach: Amen.


Dr. Manly: That’s the first thing is stay mindful. Stay present. If you want to watch the news, watch it in the morning, never before bedtime. Take your news from a newspaper or a radio where you’re not also having the visual and the emotional reactivity of a lot of the…


Zach: Newscasters?


Dr. Manly: Right, yes. That’s another piece. The other piece is stay in a place of gratitude. Gratitude is a way of being — waking up being grateful, going to bed being grateful. It is one of the best things we can do to stay positive and stay in…we can all go into the negative. I know we were talking a little earlier before we went live about today in my community we all now must mandatorily wear masks.


For myself, my partner, my husband, many of my clients really felt anger come up as though there’s one more restriction so now I can’t take a walk without a mask. We start thinking, “Ugh!” It doesn’t feel good, but then it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to say, “Okay, this feels like one more restriction, but, but I want to do the right thing. This is mine. This is temporary.”


Stay grateful. This means I can go for a walk. This means I can go to the grocery store. This means that there are groceries in the grocery store to be had. When we stay grateful it makes a big difference. The other piece that I’m really recommending to people so that you can be proud of where you were is be kind. Stay kind. Lead with kindness. In your personal, professional, social relationships stay kind.


Zach: I appreciate that.


Dr. Manly: It’s so important for all of us. Some people, rates of domestic violence and child abuse are sky-high right now. People are taking out their angst and their anger on people that are closest to them behind closed doors. Please don’t. Please be your best self. Please reach out for support if somebody’s harming you or you feel like you want to harm someone else. There is support available.


The last piece I would say, do your best to give back during this time. Even if you don’t have finances to give, maybe you have a bunch of flowers in your backyard that you can safely pick and safely leave in an uncontaminated fashion on the doorstep of a neighbor. Maybe you have an extra five dollars to send to somebody who has nothing.


I think all of those little pieces are ways that we as individuals and communities will come out, but if there’s anything I could say as the key thing: lead with love. Lead with kindness. Be your best self.


Zach: I appreciate that. There’s a nurse that lives in the cul de sac here in Louisville, Kentucky. There’s about probably five people in this cul de sac. What we did yesterday is we created a sign because she comes home after a shift usually like around 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. She leaves pretty early. She works ten, 12-hour shifts.


She walked into her house and pulled in her driveway, rather and saw a sign. It was signed by all people in her cul de sac just thanking her for her service. That made her day.


Dr. Manly: Leading with kindness. Leading with love and those are the kind of memories. She will never forget that.


Zach: No.


Dr. Manly: Nor will your children or the people in the cul de sac or you because those are…we could go back that way and we feel good about ourselves, too.


Zach: I want to thank you for taking your time to come on the show with us today. I really appreciate it, Dr. Manly.


Dr. Manly: My pleasure, my pleasure. It has been a joy. Be well and take good care.


Zach: If you know someone struggling with an addiction and are searching for answers, visit us at landmarkrecovery.com to learn more about substance abuse programs that are both saving lives and empowering families.


Until next week, I’m Zach Crouch with Landmark Recovery Radio wishing you well.


Zach: Hi. I’m Zach Crouch and you’re listening to Landmark Recovery Radio, your source for addiction and recovery news and knowledge. You can find us online wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe to get the most up-to-date information from leading experts.


We have guest Ashley McCarty joining us on the show today. Ashley is a Business Liaison for Kentucky Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment. She works with employers to create a recovery-friendly culture and reduce stigma regarding substance use disorder in the workplace.


Ashley, I’m glad that you’re on today. This is a great topic. Thank you for coming on the show.


Ashley: Oh, thank you for having me. This is great. Thank you so much.


Zach: Tell us a bit about yourself. Did you have a personal connection to recovery before taking on your current position with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce?


Ashley: Let’s see. Let’s go back a little bit. I was at Eastern Kentucky University and I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I got hired right out of college as a pharmaceutical sales representative. I did that for about eight years, but during that time I had a couple of surgeries and I got addicted to opioids during the time I was a pharmaceutical sales representative.


Zach: Sure.


Ashley: The performance part of this linked with that because I was doing very well. I was going places like Hawaii and Paris, France and Venice, Italy.


Zach: Wow.


Ashley: I was on all these trips. Yes, it was great. I started missing work and calling in and missing deadlines and things like that so I actually lost my career as a pharmaceutical sales representative. I tried to get a couple of jobs here and there. I never could keep a job. I never could keep one. I kept either getting fired or I’d get mad and I’d quit because you’re on a roller-coaster when you’re on drugs.


After that, I got addicted to methamphetamine. I was using it. I eventually got arrested, went to jail, went to rehab for a year. On July 20th of this year 2020, I’ll have seven years in recovery.


Zach: Awesome.


Ashley: Yes.


Zach: It makes you July 2013, 2013 you cleaned it?


Ashley: July 20th, 2013 is the day I got a new life.


Zach: That’s fantastic. Go ahead. Go ahead.


Ashley: I was going to say whenever I did get out of rehab though; I started working for a company called Addiction Recovery Care. I was a case manager. I got certified as a peer support specialist and I did that for a while. I was in and out of exchange programs and helped people get into treatment, but I got an e-mail regarding this job position just a normal push out e-mail from md.com.


I looked at it and I was very interested because that’s what happened to me with pharmaceutical. I had a problem. I had a problem with pain pills. I had a substance use disorder problem. Instead of anybody every asking me, “Can we help you? Are you okay? What’s going on? Do you need to talk?” I was let go. There was no support. It definitely wasn’t a recovery-friendly culture.


When this job came up and I knew that I was meant to work with the Kentucky Chamber and help businesses change their mind about substance use disorder.


Zach: You probably learned a lot of skills that’s why you were in pharmaceuticals I’m sure that relate back to your current position I imagine.


Ashley: Oh, yes. This is how I look at it now though. In pharmaceutical sales, I was selling medication to physicians. Now I’m selling recovery to business leaders. It’s pretty awesome.


Zach: I want to just touch briefly on kind of what started this whole roller-coaster for you. When you had that surgery, you got addicted to opiates. How long were you and then you switched over to meth? How long did your addiction process last? How long were you using for?


Ashley: Probably eight years I was a functioning addict, so they say. I was functioning for a while. When I first started using the pain pills it was like I said for surgery. I just kept getting more and more and more. I realized that they let me…because I suffer from co-occurring also. I also have depression and anxiety, but it made me more social.


It just made me feel like I suffer from perfectionism, too. I have a problem with that. Everything needs to be perfect. I have to do everything right. The thing is you hear what people say. I’ll take this or I’ll take that. That’s never happened to me. I’ve never lost my job or I’ve never been to jail or I’ve never been to rehab or I’ve never lost my family.


That’s when I think back to none of these things have ever happened to me but it was just that they were never going to happen. They just hadn’t happened yet. If people continue down this path, I guarantee you that things will happen to you.


Zach: Yes. I couldn’t agree more. The story seems to be consistent among people that I’ve spoken with. In my recovery process, people who are in the recovery process now is that you get to a point where you do some of the things you never told or you never thought you would do to support your habit.


Ashley: Oh, yes.


Zach: I’m really curious to know and I want to hear more about what drew you to this position especially now your current position with the Chamber of Commerce? I’m curious to know. In your experience in working in this role, what are some of the biggest reasons businesses might hesitate to hire people who have struggled with substance use in the past?


Ashley: Okay. We’ve had a couple of training sessions for employers and a couple workshops, summits. I can remember one where we had flipcharts and all the employers were asked that question. Why are you hesitant to hire someone in recovery? They had to list all their reasons.


A lot of them said because one, they’re afraid that they’re going to relapse. They’re afraid of relapse. They’re afraid of relapse because they’re afraid of jeopardizing their safety. They’re afraid of jeopardizing their safety because it’s concerning there not be an accident. Relapse is one of the things that employers said they’re afraid of.


They also say, “How do we know when someone’s in recovery? How do we know when to hire someone after they’ve been in recovery for how long? What’s the timeline there?” They have a lot of questions there.


They’re very uncertain, but that’s because they’re not knowledgeable when it comes to this topic. That’s not their fault. That’s how the Chamber was. Somebody came to them and said, “What are you going to do about this opioid problem in Kentucky?” They were like, “That’s kind of public health and recovery centers.”


Zach: Yes. Right, right, right.


Ashley: Right, right. Now employers say that it is a workforce problem. Now they have to be educated about it. That’s what we’re doing. We’re in the stages of just educating them so that the relapse and the stigma that surrounds substance use disorder and mental health.


Zach: Yes. Thank you.


Ashley: Yes. They think they’re going to be tardy or miss work. They have problems with the background check, the criminal record and things like that. Some of them have problems with that when it comes to hiring someone in recovery because as you just said, eventually you start doing things you never thought you’d do. My background, whoo. You can look at me and then look at my background. It looks like two different people.


Zach: Yes. I think no truer words could be spoken about people who get through the addictive process is that you do become a different person. It’s something I’m glad you mentioned stigma because I think that addiction and you brought relapse.


If you compare addiction which is a chronic illness to other chronic illnesses, diabetes being one of those, the relapse rates among addiction are not dissimilar at all to other chronic illnesses, whether that be diabetes, you name other chronic illnesses. The relapse rates among those are almost identical.


I think that our job, your job probably, too, my job certainly is being an advocate for education and looking for those opportunities to educate workforce people, just simple lay people who don’t understand addiction. I think a lot of headway can be gained by doing just that the education.


Ashley: Oh, definitely. That’s so funny you said that about the relapse rates because when we are educating employers, I put that in the presentation that we created. I put that exactly in the presentation about the reoccurrence rates that are similar, hypertension, asthma and diabetes. They all range between 40 and 60 percent I think it is.


Zach: Right. Let’s talk about some of the positive things though. What are some of the positive things that employers can do to make the workplace more friendly?


Ashley: Okay. Let’s see. Exactly what we’re doing is we’re telling them what they can do to create a recovery-friendly culture and be more positive. We talk to them about…the first thing we talk about is having an organizational culture change to becoming recovery-friendly, but they have to look at that culture. They’ve got to reduce the stigma because that affects your culture. They’ve got to do that. They have to move from substance use disorder or addiction being a moral failing to being a chronic illness.


In order for them to do that, they need to educate or train their supervisors and also their employees, supervisors, managers, employees. Educate them about substance use disorder and we also include mental health because they’re co-occurring because keeping this issue underground by not talking about it at a place of work, it reduces productivity; increases absenteeism; you have an amount of risk of injury to employees and others; in places of work there’s compensation, disability, medical, legal costs.


That’s all because an employer has kept this topic underground so we have to dig it up and bring it to surface and we have to go to work and it has to be talked about. That’s one way is by changing their culture.


Zach: I’m going to add on to that because I think you bring up a really good point.


Ashley: Okay.


Zach: What we know among the general population is that addiction rates may hover around ten percent. That’s one out of every ten employees has an addiction, have been using something against their will, so to speak. They’re involved in a process that doesn’t allow them much choice anymore. We know that these folks are employees. They’re employed. They’re in a workforce right now.


I’m curious to know. You mentioned creating a recovery-friendly environment and educating supervisors as an example. What would be some of the push back that you’ve experienced thus far from the supervisors as an example of creating a recovery-friendly environment?


Ashley: Some of the push back, most of the people that attend the events that I have like the workshops and the forums and everything like that they’re actually just very interested and curious about what it means to be transformational employer or be a second-chance employer. The companies that I’ve personally worked with, they basically come to me and they’re like, “What do we do? What do we do?”


Zach: Yes.


Ashley: They just don’t know. They don’t know what they don’t know. There’s not been much push back because the people I deal with are interested and they’re curious about it. They’re just ready to learn more. I have heard one thing. They’re concerned about… let me see. I went blank for a minute. I just went blank.


Zach: It reminds us we have plenty of time for the rest of the week. I’m glad you mentioned that the employers don’t know.


Ashley: Yes, yes.


Zach: They just don’t. They aren’t in the know, so to speak about what constitutes substance use disorder versus substance abuse, what constitutes addiction versus dependence. These are all questions I think that are just so good to engage employers with and how and what does recovery treatment look like.


Ashley: Oh my goodness. Sorry, I interrupted you. I’m sorry.


Zach: No, you’re fine. I think that those are all…they’re just such grist for milk, questions that really engage people, employees, employers.


Ashley: I was going to say is even in the presentation that myself and my counterpart created we go so far as what is an opioid when we’re talking to employers because you will be surprised they don’t know what an opioid is. We break it down. What is an opioid? What is substance use disorder? What does it mean to be in recovery? We break down all those things and educate them on that.


Zach: I think that’s perfect. I think that’s such a wonderful thing to do because prior to getting into this field which has been well over ten years now in the addiction space at least, I had to do some education as a counselor for myself. What is heroin? What are opiates?


Ashley: Right.


Zach: What is a pharmaceutical? How does it affect the brain? What I’ve come to understand about opiates is that there are different levels of potency and different levels of dependence that opiate products, so to speak will sort of facilitate for a person.


It all really goes back to the same way that it affects the brain, that it hits that same piece of our brain, every single one of us when we ingest an opiate, whether it’s for pain or we buy it off the street, whether it’s from a pharmaceutical company or whether it’s from a drug dealer. The ways that we go about obtaining opiates once we get into that process vary pretty widely.


Ashley: Yes, yes.


Zach: I’m curious to know. From your perspective, why should an employer hire someone who is in recovery?


Ashley: That’s a great question because I get that all the time. I have to go back a little bit and say when I do my presentation for employers I also…I get up there. I tell them I work for the Chamber, what I do, blah-blah-blah, get into it and then I put up my mugshot after I’ve talked to them. Yes. They still don’t know it’s me.


I put that mugshot up there and then I talk about that girl in that mugshot almost seven years ago. I switch to the next slide which is my Kentucky Chamber picture and you can see like the walls being torn down, like the stigma being crushed because they had no idea that that girl on the mugshot was the girl that was educating them on how to create a recovery-friendly culture.


That goes back also to show the stigma that surrounds that and so therefore I have to not only, like I said show my mugshot and who I am today, pull at heartstrings, so I say to employers but they want to know also how this is going to affect their bottom-line. How is it going to help me if I hire someone in recovery? Why would I want to do that? It’s not just me pulling at their heartstrings.


There’s actually statistics out there, studies that have been done that prove why you should and it’s because employees who are in recovery they actually take fewer sick days and change jobs less frequently than get this, the general workforce.


Zach: I believe it.


Ashley: The general workforce, yes.


Zach: Our space especially here at Landmark we have hired people and continue to hire people who have come through our program. They are some of the most loyal people we’ve met and they’re highly trainable. They’re very intelligent. Recovery continues to happen with these people. They share their experience.


One thing I’ll mention is that we’re talking about education previously. Addiction, substance use disorder is a highly-treatable disease. It is very treatable. Treatment is a good start for a lot of people. It’s something that I think can offer a lot of hope.


Ashley: Yes. This is just so important. Like you said, they’re the most loyal people because I’ve read somewhere that the number one goal of someone in recovery, the number one goal is to stay in recovery. To stay in recovery, whether it’s clean or sober or whatever the terminology you want to use, stay in recovery.


The number two goal of someone is to find and keep meaningful employment, not just employment but meaningful employment. That’s the number two goal of someone recovered. That’s why those individuals are so loyal and that’s why they take fewer sick days and that’s why they have less job turnover because it provides them with a sense of purpose and opportunity to learn and a chance to have that communication and that connection with other people.


Zach: Which when you start rolling these pieces together, you’re really talking about someone having a career.


Ashley: Yes, exactly. Not just a job, a career, yes.


Zach: I think most people who are…if someone’s in treatment and they’re looking for a shot at hope, so to speak treatment in the life is just at its worst. I’m in recovery treatment right now. That there’s a lot of hope for people once they get sober, once they start pulling some days of sobriety together that there’s a lot of second chance employers who are jumping on board because we mentioned before that through a podcast DV8 Restaurant in Lexington, they’re sort of like the shining star I think in terms of what we’re talking about here.


Ashley: Oh, yes. It’s kind like a business model with people in recovery.


Zach: It is. It still is.


Ashley: Yes. It’s just amazing. Gosh. You get the best service when you go there. Those people are just so excited to have a job and Rob doesn’t treat them like…


Zach: Rob Perez, the owner yes.


Ashley: Yes. It’s a really great example.


Zach: He has really I think created a mission for that restaurant. Certainly there are a lot of ties. There’s faith that comes in. We even see the experience that his employees…That is a wonderful thing, too because I think that the principles that so often are talked about in recovery process like having integrity, having ownership of a role, giving back, those things those all come out in your experience in dining at Deviate.


Ashley: Oh, yes. Yes. I think also because, Zach I’ve been in many places with Rob Perez. We’ve been on road trips and been to summits and conversations and he spoke for the Chamber a million times. He talks about employees let’s say they miss a couple of days of work in a row or whatever. Your normal or your general, not normal, I don’t like that word your general workforce you’d be like, “You miss another day I have to let you go.”


With these individuals in recovery, he actually says, “Hi. What’s going on? Is something going on? Is there something I can help you with?” He breaks down that wall. They just tell him, “Hey, you know I’m working all day and I have to take care of my kids and this and that.” He’s like, “Let’s work on this so that you could continue employment.” He works with them. It’s just amazing.


Zach: That’s good stuff.


Ashley: Yes.


Zach: Listen, Ashley. I can’t thank you enough for coming on the show today. It’s been a real pleasure.


Ashley: Oh, no. Thank you so much. I love this. This is awesome.


Zach: I will mention, too if you know someone struggling with an addiction and are searching for answers, visit us at landmarkrecovery.com to learn more about substance abuse programs that are both saving lives and empowering families.


Until next week, I’m Zach Crouch with Landmark Recovery Radio.


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Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.

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