Bermudian offers virtual help to anyone caught in ’the ripple effect’ of addiction
If you have a loved one who is battling an addiction, Margaret Thompson is offering help.
For more than two decades she worked as a drug and alcohol counsellor with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, serving people with chemical dependencies and their loved ones.
Ironically, it was a job she pursued only after “life threw a major curveball” and she discovered the man she intended to marry had “a compulsion”.
“I had no idea. It blindsided me and I fell apart, to say it mildly,” said Ms Thompson, who was at that time focused on HIV prevention, sex education and outreach in her work with the Women’s Resource Centre, PRIDE Bermuda, EAP and the television production Youth Talk.
“Within two weeks – thanks to many angels who intervened – I landed in Center City, Minnesota at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation as a student for a year-long certification and training and working with people with the disease of chemical dependency.
“That started a whole new chapter. I swore in my career that I didn’t want to work with people with this disease and have since gone on to work at Hazelden Betty Ford for 22 years. I have worked with thousands of people with the disease but also equally – and actually, probably my passion point always – the family members surrounding that person.”
When Covid-19 led to job cuts last year she got certified as a life coach and yesterday launched her own business, Embrace Family Recovery.
“My primary client, my niche, is anyone who loves someone with the disease of addiction,” she said. “Most family members neglect their care because they’re so focused on trying to do everything they can to make the person with the disease well.
“A lot of people don’t get the care they deserve; they don’t understand how it’s impacted them at so many levels and how everything they’re doing out of love and wonderful best intention actually fuels the disease of addiction. It’s so different than loving someone with any other chronic, progressive and potentially fatal disease.”
While researching the next step to take in her career people told her it was the type of help they would have liked to have had before their loved one was in treatment and in the first two years after, particularly.
“I felt that it was important to offer a service that intrinsically believed that we have within us what we need to do this,” Ms Thompson said. “What I love about coaching is that it’s a co-creative relationship. I come alongside the person or family and they bring the experience, wisdom and knowledge of their specific family. I bring what I have and together we work to create strategies for healing and thriving with an illness that is baffling, frustrating; scary.”
She is grateful she was able to benefit from something similar after she was “blindsided” by her fiancé and their relationship collapsed.
“I’d been a really out-front, trying-to-put-it-all-together, make-it-look-good person – that was a survival mechanism. And when all of that fell apart I felt like I lost my sense of being able to function well. I was trying every trick I knew to be OK and I wasn’t. At my darkest time in 1997 I was absolutely suicidal and thankfully was recommended to see a therapist and find a 12-step support for family members of someone who identifies as having a compulsion and addiction.
“The first thought someone might have is, ‘Why would you need that when the relationship’s over?’ When the disease of addiction, any addiction, comes into your life – whether you’re born into it, whether you marry or partner into it, whether you have a child who has it – the disease becomes a separate member of the family that manoeuvres all the players of the family, almost like a marionette puppet.”
Without professional treatment, people tend to learn survival skills and often become so accustomed to operating in chaos they do not know how to be in a relationship with someone who is “more stable and healthy”, she said.
Now married, with two daughters, Ms Thompson is excited that Covid-19 has given her the opportunity to help more Bermudians from her base in Minnesota. In the US, one in every ten people has the disease of addiction. She assumes there is a similar occurrence here.
“If you then take that out from the person with the illness to the people that it touches – family, co-workers, communities – it’s the ripple effect. It touches many, many people’s lives and, unless they have the opportunity to go through a family programme and education, attend a 12-step meeting for them, then they don’t get the help they deserve and the education to understand where they’re at.
“So though in Bermuda I can’t say what the numbers here, as in anywhere else in the world they’re prevalent. I just get sad when I think of families out there isolating and in such pain and not letting people in to help them. There is really good help and hope available and I hope I will be part of that.”
She continued: “Through the years I’ve come back and done talks and different workshops when I could or was invited to and I’ve also cared for people from Bermuda who found their way to treatment in Minnesota, which was wonderful. However I wanted to do more. So when this opportunity arose and I pivoted to this new platform and this new business I got excited because now I can work with people at home. I can give back to the island I feel like I gained so much from.”
Listen to The Embrace Family Recovery podcast on Spotify. For more information visit embracefamilyrecovery.com or follow Embrace Family Recovery on Facebook. Contact Margaret Thompson on 715-501-8392
According to Margaret Thompson, a drug and alcohol counsellor and life coach, it is likely that you need help if “whatever you’re doing creates more consequences and it’s harder to deny that life is falling apart”.
A counsellor will then do a full assessment of various aspects of a person’s life.
“How’s their career going? How’s their family life going? How’s their use? Is it going up? Is it going down? Is their tolerance increasing? Are they having withdrawal symptoms? Have they had any major health consequences to their consumption of whatever it is they’re using? Socially, are they isolating?
“The difficulty with addiction as a disease – and also for family members around it – is it’s the most incredibly powerful disease in that it tells the person who has the disease that they don’t have it,” Ms Thompson said.
“Life is falling apart, pieces are falling off but this disease is telling them you’re not hurting anyone, it’s not that bad, you need this to be OK.”