professional interventionist

The Anonymous Letter

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I am a mother, a wife, a sister, daughter, friend, a business owner, an author, a media expert, an All-American athlete and a recovering drug addict with 25 years clean and sober.

I have spent half my life being of service to others. Through my work as an interventionist, I have fought on the front lines of the disease, waging the war against addiction. I have been transparent about my story and my recovery, in my writing and in the media with the hope and mission of inspire others.

I have felt so much support from people across the world. I do not know most of them but none are strangers. Through, emails and social media, I have felt carried and encouraged in my career as well as my personal life. I have also have received a lot of hate. People can be very unkind and send incredibly ugly messages. I have been tormented, stalked and targeted by strangers. I have learned to have a thick skin but it took some time. In the beginning, it was very painful and shocking to feel, read and hear such hateful words and messages. One of the most painful was a comment saying “I don’t blame your husband for killing himself. If was married to you I would want to die too.” I am a professional but also human and that comment stayed with me for years. I will never forget the feeling in my stomach as I read those words. They actually took my breath away. For a few days, I considered retreating from the public eye but with support from my friends and family, I refused to back down or to turn back. I have a message to share and inspiration to offer, not only though my profession, but in how I live each day. I do my best to do good in the world and to be kind, and loving. I do not do it perfectly, but I do the best I can. However, I will not have my personal story of addiction and recovery mistaken as a sign of weakness.

I will not be silenced or bullied.

The second most unforgettable verbal assault was a few years ago when I received an anonymous letter saying I am 'a filthy derelict drug addict who deserves death.' Anonymous went on to say that 'every addict is the dirt and down fall of our society.' Anonymous wished me 'failure and relapse.'

Without any return address or identifying information I responded with an open letter on FB.

Dear Anonymous:

There is nothing you can say to me I have not heard a thousand times before. Your words roll off me, easily, smoothly without question or pain.  

I am a woman who knows the desperation of needing a drug so badly you are willing to die for it. I have been a lair, a thief, a derelict living off the scraps I found in dumpsters and the change dropped in my Styrofoam cup, on the street corner. I am a woman who broke the hearts of the people who loved me most, promising over and over I would be different, only to sneak out the back window, in the middle of night, not be heard from for days, weeks or months.  

I am also a woman who is a mother, a friend, a trustworthy family member, a business owner, making it my life's work to help addicts and their families, an author, an All-American athlete and an all-American drug addict, with 25 years sobriety.  

We derelicts and scourge of society are your law makers, school bus drivers, teachers, CEOs, government workers, fireman, union workers, nannies, doctors, nurses, lawyers and neighbors, to name a few. We are everywhere, living sober, bright lives full of love and laughter.  

I know this, that those who spit hate, have hate in their lives. My guess is you are addicted or have been hurt or abandoned by an addict.  

To this I say, if you are addicted, there is hope. You can find recovery. Change is possible. You do not have die the cold, painful, lonely death addiction guarantees. There is an expansive and beautiful life for you outside the small dark hole, from where you wrote your letter.  

If you were hurt or abandoned by an addict I am truly sorry. Addiction is an awful ugly disease and we cause incredible hurt to the ones we love most. My addiction changed and altered the lives of my family and this heavy and painful truth I still carry with me today, over two decades later. Whatever happened, it was not personal to you and I am certain you did not deserve it.  

I hope you find your way to heal the hate in your heart, find peace and live a better life. And next time you send a letter, sign your name. Be proud and own your shit.  

You have caused me no pain. You have only refueled my energy to wage the war against addiction and fight for addicts everywhere. We are an exceptional group of individuals of which I am very proud to be a member. Your letter inspires me to shine brighter, love deeper, live bigger and continue to thrive in recovery. For this, I thank you.

I will save a seat for you, keep the fire burning and when you are ready for recovery, I will be here. Until then,  

Fuck off.  

Sober and Shameless, Kw

On Any Given Saturday Morning

On any given Saturday Morning, you will find me at our local bagel shop, sitting across from my 16 years old daughter. We have a standing 10am date.

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I feel lucky that my daughter wants to spend time with me and trusts me enough to tell me about her life and to ask me questions however they are becoming more difficult to answer. No longer about math and science or why bananas come in a ‘shell’ we have approached the deeper life questions of love, friendship and world news.

She looks at me, with her big blue eyes wide open and thirsty for answers, as I sit and contemplate what to say and so I tell her,

‘Savannah, I don’t know shit about shit, but I do know something about a little.’

She laughed.

After eating our bagels, driving home, she asked me,

“What do you know?”

I know that the love of family will help heal the deepest of loss and pain.

I know the truest of friends are few and you need to protect them as if your life depends on it. Because one day, when your life changes in a split second or your first love breaks your heart, or your ‘life plan’ falls apart; it will. And even when life carries you apart, always know that time will bring you together, again.

I know we need to celebrate our wins. No matter how big or small.

I know we need to love ourselves because there are plenty of people who won’t. For reasons of their own. Hate and insecurity are poisons and will infect anyone who dare to indulge. So, love yourself and don’t wait too long to start.

I know that being jealous of others will blacken your soul. Jealousy is the murky mud of insecurity and is never about the other but a lack of love for ourselves. Discover and know your worth. We are never better or worse than the person next to us, rather pieces, fitting together perfectly in the large and Devine puzzle of life.

I know success and failure are visitors in life. Neither one will last forever. Learn from both and have no ego or shame in their stay.

I know you never give up hope, on yourself or anyone else.

I know change is possible and everyday miracles do happen.

I know the best gift I can offer as your parent, is to help you grow roots and wings. I wish for you to travel far and wide. Meet new people, hear different languages, taste different foods and fill yourself with the beauty of the world. I wish for you to dance freely, without reservation or concern, educate yourself and hare your lessons with as many people as you can. I wish for you to fly, and to never forget you are always welcome home.

I know my love for you is perfect but my parenting is far from it.

I know feeling proud about ourselves is one of the supreme pleasures in life. There is no greater awareness then laying your head on your pillow at night knowing you did the best you could that day. So live well and honest.

I know that losing your dad is a heart ache you will feel as long as you live. I know he is with us, watching and loving, just beyond our human sight and I know he would be so proud of you and your brother. And I want you to know, that there is so much of him in you and sometimes, when I stare into your deep blue eyes, long enough, I can see him looking out at me.

I know you have more strength than you can possibly imagine and your warrior spirt will carry you through the stormy days of life.

And I know, no matter how long the night can feel, the sun will always rise. No matter what. A new day will begin.

And I know I love you, wholly and imperfectly.

And with that, she jumped out of my car and ran up our front steps. As she disappeared inside and the front door closed, I was flooded with emotions, as it occurred to me, that the last thing I know, is how truly blessed I am to be living this one bittersweet life.

50th Edition of the Magazine “Recovery Today”

I had the pleasure and privilege to be interviewed for the 50th edition of the online magazine Recovery Today. In the interview, I was asked about my work as an interventionist, my recovery and my journey from homelessness to a life of recovery.

Click the link below to read my full interview.
https://siteassets.pagecloud.com/recoverytoday/downloads/Recovery-Today-Magazine-Issue-50-January-2019-ID-dc16afa2-53b6-43ca-cb54-b269acfb6037.pdf

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  • I have spent the last 23 years practicing intervention all over the world.

  • I have met the most extra ordinary families.

  • Families that are brave with the courage of a lion’s heart.

Intervention is a spiritual battle ground and I go to war with the family disease.

After years, and sometimes decades of active addiction, families crumble under the weight of shame and secrets, breaking apart siblings, marriages, friends and loved ones.

  • Addiction happens to family systems not individuals.

  • The disease possesses its prisoners.

  • Suffocating, slowly, the life out of families.

  • Families become strangers to each other, retreating to the far corners of house and home.

  • Thoughts become scrambled and recruited to unintentionally protect the very disease that is eroding the family. Loved ones become senseless, trying to save their children, spouses, parents and dear friends. Fighting in the dark, swinging at ghosts, families spend many lost and unhappy years trying desperately to control and contain the disease.

At the heart of the matter, intervention helps families do a turnabout face and walk into that which they are most afraid: surrendering the fight and letting go. Intervention is bringing families together, guiding the most difficult of conversations, and inspiring each person to change, heal and expand, breaking the chains of shame and addiction. I do not determine the success of an intervention, on the choice of the ‘addicted’, but the health of the whole family. There is a path out for everyone who is effected by the disease. The painful truth is, that sometimes, families and addicts do not travel the road of health and healing together. Often, one very brave person needs to lead the way and stay the course, no matter who follows. Letting go of the people we love most is a deeply counter intuitive choice for anyone who loves an addict. It is the bravest of action, to release the grip and allow the addict to descend into the depths. Addicts do not learn from education but from hard earned experience. The act of letting go, is offering the gift of consequence.

The very reality that families are most afraid of is the very reality addicts need most, which is the opportunity to run into themselves. It is only when there is no one left to blame, nowhere left to go, that denial is pierced just long enough, for the addict to reach outside themselves for help. It is the birth place of self-esteem and in that very Devine moment, I am there, standing strong with a compassionate loving hand. My job, as an interventionist, is to illuminate the way out and inspire the journey toward a life of recovery. The path toward healing can feel, at times, unbearable and terrifying, but just on the other side of the storm, there is a calm new life, free of the madness addiction always brings. No matter how dark the days or how lost a family can feel, there is always hope.

Intervention is leading a freedom fight and a radical act of love.

Sober and shameless, Kw

To All the Children Who Have Lost a Parent to Suicide

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To all the children who have lost a parent to suicide:

September 5, 2011 my dad shot himself.

When I was 9 years old my dad put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. My mom told me he lost the battle with not feeling he was good enough and was in so much pain he felt like he could not live anymore.

I was barely 9, when I lost the greatest love of life. People say I am too young to know love. People say kids don’t know real life love or loss. But I disagree. I felt love the moment I was born and my dad held me in his arms. I know I felt love because as I grew up I felt safe whenever he was in the room. When he would walk in the room, I felt like the luckiest kid in the world. I wondered if all dads were as great as my dad. When he cheered for me at my volleyball games his voice was the loudest, even when we lost, he stayed until the very end. Sometimes, he would get angry at me for not doing homework or talking back but even when angry I felt love. My dad believed I could do anything and when He told me I could do anything I believed him.

I know my dad’s suicide wasn't my fault. And it wasn’t my brother’s fault, or my mom’s fault. It wasn’t even my Dad’s fault. Sometimes, I feel like it was God’s fault. But, now after some time, I realize that God didn't take my Dad away for no reason or out of anger. He did it because my Dad served his purpose.

My Dad’s purpose was to show me and everyone around him that kindness and lightheartedness are two very important things you need in life. My dad was the best role model. He showed me so many important skills. My Dad was such a gentleman. My mom was so lucky to have fallen in love with him. My Dad would do anything in the world to keep me and my brother safe. When walking on the sidewalk he would stand on the side where the cars were passing to protect me from traffic.

My Dad had so many people who cared for and loved him. He had family and friends who would take a bullet for him but instead he took a bullet for us. I believe that he chose to end his pain for us. I think he didn’t want us to see him pretend anymore. He wanted his wonderful amazing smile to be real but it wasn’t. Behind his electric blue eyes, he was suffering and could not hide it anymore so, he did the unimaginable, and took a bullet to his head.

Suicide is a crazy thing to wrap your head around. It makes no sense. No one knew how much my dad was suffering. On the outside, he seemed happy. He accomplished a lot in his life. He was most proud of his years in the United States Coast Guard and had a love of baseball and world history. He played every day with me and my brother and supported my mom in her career of intervention and television. No one would have guessed that on the inside was a deep dark secret of depression and twisted thoughts that took him over.

For a long time, after my dad’s death, I would shut people out and cry. I hated it. I felt so alone and so sad. My mom told me every day that I was loved, it was not my fault and I was not alone. I struggled with trying to understand why my dad left us but with the help of family, friends and therapy, I know he did not leave us, he simply could stay any longer. It was not personal to me and even the love for his children, could not fight the painful dark thoughts in with head.  

I felt like I went hell and back again the day I found out my dad committed suicide. 6 years ago, I never thought the pain I felt in my heart would end. I believed that life would never make sense and that I would never laugh or smile again, but it does get better. I have a heartache every day but it's getting smaller as more time passes. The pain feels different and easier to live with.

I learned very young, that life has surprises that we never expect, ask for or even agree with but I wouldn't trade a single second of my life. I feel this experience has been a blessing and a curse.
Knowing that I have my dad in heaven guiding me in my life, is definitely a blessing, that not many people have but, knowing that I will never physically see him again, is a terrible curse.

I try to focus on the blessing. My Dad will not see me grow up, and that is one of the hardest things I will ever face. Knowing that he won't be there on the day I turn 16, or the day I leave for college, or my wedding day, brings me down at times but these struggles have only made me stronger.

My Dad’s death left a huge impact on me but it has made me who I am today and I love who I am. I have turned my greatest pain into an experience that I use to help others. I am wiser and more sensitive. I am a better friend and daughter. I appreciate every day and I know no matter how much life can hurt, it always gets better.

I hear terrible things about suicide in the media and in public. People are afraid to even say the word. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, we all have really hard feelings and thoughts at times. Sometimes, I feel people judge my dad for killing himself and my mom for not be able to save him but I will not allow suicide to my dad’s legacy. It is how he left but it is not how he lived. I have his blue eyes, his nose, big smile, long hands and most importantly his lighthearted and kind attitude.

No one will ever change how I feel about my dad or my family. I will always remember my Dad as one of the greatest heroes in my life.

In loving memory of John Wandzilak.

 

Everyone is so Beautiful on Instagram

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"Everyone is so beautiful on Instagram. Their lives look so perfect. What is wrong with me?" my 17 year old female client said.

We as a culture are assaulted everyday with pictures of perfection. Photos that are edited with filters and lighting posted with quotes of the great spiritual giants, of past and present, raising the bar of everyday life so high, that no one can achieve it. Our teen girls are comparing themselves, their value and purpose to the Instagram feeds that display perfect bodies, perfect relationships, and perfect lives.

We need to teach our girls not to believe everything you see on social media. No life is perfect. Everyone will experience pain and loss in their lives. Every body is flawed and it is the flaws that make us unique. Eating gluten free bagels and drinking green juice, posing for photos, in some of the most beautiful places on earth does not mean a person has life figured out, or is on higher spiritual plane. Trust me, gluten free bagels taste like cardboard and green juice will give you diarrhea, if you drink too much.

What Instagram doesn’t show:

High school can suck.It can be painful and girls can be mean.

You will have days that you miss your lunch because you are hiding in the locker-room with your beautiful face buried in your hands, because your best friend snap chatted a party you were not invited to.

You will be left out at times.

You may have your heart broken by the boy you have had a crush on since 7th grade.

You may fail a test, or a class, or mess up on that stupid useless dance routine you have to learn for PE.

Your tampon may drop from your bag in front of the football team, turning your face bright red and your legs and arms will feel numb with searing embarrassment.

You might not be invited to prom, and the dress you bought in hopes that the cute boy from math class just might ask you, will hang in your closet. Unworn. Or maybe that cute boy from math class, will ask your friend to the dance. And she might say yes. It will hurt but it will pass and you will survive.

You might have sex for the first time, drunk at a party, with the totally hot senior, that all the girls like, only to be ignored the next day.

And you will fight with your parents, screaming that they don’t understand you, slamming your door and dive into your bed, safe under the covers, watching Netflix and hiding from the world.

Most of the time you will walk around feeling lost, confused and awkward, doubting yourself, trying to hold it all together, smiling widely, so no one actually knows how lost, confused and awkward you feel.

And at the end of all this, on your bed at night, you will look at Instagram and Snapchat, and all the stunning pictures of perfect bodies and lives, only to end up feeling less than everyone else. Do not go to battle with IG, by comparing your insides to the outsides of your followers, you will lose. Every time.

The pictures you see on social media platforms are only pictures. It is not real life but an image captured, in perfect time, to show a perfect story in a seemingly perfect life.

The most unforgettable moments will be captured in your mind and on your heart, not on a camera. The feeling of a first kiss, when your knees go weak and your head spins with exhilaration, the feeling of passing your Chemistry final after weeks of anxiety and hours of studying, and the feeling of your mom or dad, sitting at your bedside, touching your back gently and reminding you how much they love you, cannot be captured in a video or a photo.

Do not believe what you see. Behind every perfect photo is a great camera. I promise, in only a few years from right now, no one will remember how drunk you got at the senior prom, kissed a boy that was not yours, and threw up in the back seat of your best friend’s car.

Life is not an Instagram feed.

Sober and shameless, Kw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Failure and Success

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In our relapse prevention group the question of success and failure often arise. Many clients
struggle with the feeling of failure as a consequence of relapse, feeling crippled with shame.

I do not believe in success or failure. I believe in experiences. Some more enjoyable than others, but all of them opportunities to learn and expand as a person. The terms success and failure are a creation of ego and a social barometer of a value of a person and their choices. I moved away from the labels many years ago.

Relapse is not failure. It is a deeply shaming to attach the judgmental term to a disease and the
process of recovery. This belief keeps people from seeking help once relapse has occurred and is a breeding ground for the internal torture that cripples’ addicts from ‘coming back’. Shame is the universal haunting of the addicted mind and the most powerful kindling for the raging fire of self-hatred and regret that follows a relapse episode.

We need to move away from viewing relapse as a failure.

When guided by a trusted professional, relapse can be a turning point in a person recovery.
What is viewed as a failure or a setback can be the greatest lesson in a person’s life which in
turn, can lead to lifelong sobriety. There is no shame in relapse, only an opportunity to learn.
Full Circle is a safe and inviting place, for clients to return for help, guidance and inspiration. If we can can make it as simple and gentle to return to treatment or self-help programs, by dispelling the belief of success and failure, reducing shame, addicted men and women will return and will begin again.

In my 24 years sober I have learned that I can never sit in judgement of another’s path. I believe that my spiritual and professional purpose is to keep the back doors to recovery as wide open as the front. My many years working in the treatment industry, have shown me, that although I may not be able to understand the journey of another, I am in no position to question it but rather help guide through the emotional mine field and help find the life lesson.

Some of the most considered successful people I know, are the least I admire and equally, some
who are considered failures, those who struggle and continue to fight for themselves, are my
greatest teachers. Once I let go of defining my experiences, both professionally and personally,
as successful or failures, life became a playground. A wide-open space to try new things, take risks, to say yes to opportunities that are terrifying and to fall down and get up again. I have said yes to every opportunity that has presented itself along my way, no longer afraid of failure but open to the challenge to face my fears, be brave and learn humility. I take no pride or shame in the outcome of any of my adventures, in life or career.

No longer defined by the terms and labels, I am truly free, to live large and be brave. Since letting go of any attachment to the outcome of my choices, or how others view me, life has become an arena of endless opportunities. I hope to inspire others to say Yes. To be unafraid. Take risks. Be uncomfortable. Be brave. Play, Struggle, stand still and hurt, take chances and through all of life’s experiences, evolve into people who simply, inspire others to live. Relapse is not an end but the beginning of someone new. I will stand my post, without shame or pride, hold the doors of recovery open and keep the fire of hope burning. Come home. We are waiting.

If success and failure, are illusions, what would you do with your one life?

Sober and shameless, Kw