Addiction and love? I got a chance to sit down with Andrea Owen (our January recovery story) on her podcast Make Some Noise. During that conversation she talks a bit about her own recovery journey and the concept of love addiction. We talked about addiction from the perspective of brain science and what love addiction means. I wanted to share this interview with you during Valentines Week.
Transcript from Andrea’s show:
Betsy Byler 00:00 Whether you’re having trouble with substances or using a relationship to manage it, it doesn’t have to stay that way permanently. There can be change and there is hope. As long as we have breath, there’s hope that we can make changes to do things differently. Each time you make a small step in a different direction that is worth it and it doesn’t have to be some big thing. It can be a series of small things that you put together, and they make a big difference long term.
Andrea Owen 00:29 You’re listening to Make Some Noise Podcast episode number 504 with guest Betsy Byler.
Welcome to Make Some Noise Podcast, your guide for strategies, tools and insight to empower yourself. I’m your host, Andrea Owen, global speaker, entrepreneur, life coach since 2007, an author of three books that have been translated into 18 languages and are available in 22 countries. Each week, I’ll bring you a guest or a lesson that will help you maximize unshakable competence, master resilience and make some noise in your life. You ready? Let’s go.
Hi, everyone, welcome to another episode of the podcast. I am so glad that you’re here. And guess what we have exited the women’s health theme, and we are on to the recovery theme. And before you turn it off, if you’re not someone who’s in recovery, the way that I interviewed these guests, and that I tried to sort of mold this theme, is that it is for really well… There’s a saying in recovery where we say everyone’s recovering from something. So even if you’re not someone who has maybe a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol or anything like that, we’re talking about just recovery in general. And if you are interested in personal development, if you listen to this podcast plus other self-help podcasts, I really do think that you will walk away with some nuggets of wisdom from these episodes. And if nothing else, you will understand what it’s like to be a person in recovery. And I know that probably most of you listening know someone who’s in recovery. So that’s coming up over the next couple of months here.
And I wanted to tell you, just a quick heads up, if you’re on my newsletter list, if you get my emails, you will see this coming through very soon, if it hasn’t come out already. There are three ways to work with me this year. All of which I’m really excited. And I wanted to give you a heads up so you know ahead of time, so you don’t miss it. So plenty of people who were like I didn’t see this, I’m not on your email list, and I missed it. So the first way is something I’m really excited about. I haven’t done this in, I don’t know how long. I am offering one off sessions at a really, really low price. And I’m going to do a set amount of them. I haven’t decided how many maybe I’ll do about like 25 or 30 of them. But it is for anyone who is like stuck in a decision.Maybe you’re stuck in a decision or you’re having a creativity block, or you are nervous about taking action on something you’ve been kind of, you know, hemming and hawing on something. Nervous, afraid, but kind of want to do it. This is the type of topic that I excel at that it’s just my passion that I love coaching people around. There’s going to be more information to see if it is a right fit for you. And I never offer these. Especially at this price. Heavily heavily discounted, because I love them. And I just I miss getting on the phone with people to have these conversations. So that is coming up. And then there are two Daring Way groups that I’m going to do. So one is going to be a retreat in Asheville that’s going to be this fall. I’m going to open up registration for that in a couple of months. And then there is also a Daring Way online group where we’re going to meet via zoom at twice a week in the evenings. That’s going to cover six weeks. So if you’re interested in the methodology of Brené Brown that I’m certified in, one of those two is going to be perfect for you. So if you do not want to miss it, make sure that you’re on my newsletter list, AndreaOwen.com/free. Or if you want to make sure that you get into one of those two Daring Way, programs, go to AndreaOwen.com/retreat and sign up for the first to know list and we’ll tell you about both of the groups, even though it’s the retreat page. And then in terms of coaching, why don’t you shoot us an email if you are for sure like I want to get in on one of those discounted one off sessions. Shoot us an email at support@AndreaOwen.com and in the subject line, put ‘coaching session’ and just say hey, I heard Andrea talk about this on the podcast and I want to make sure I get in on it and that I don’t miss it, because once those sessions are full, they are full and I’m not going to offer them at that rate again. Alright, so that’s it for the Will year of 2023.
And I am excited to bring you today’s guest Betsy is here I was on her show. And she was just one of those people… She’s so incredibly smart. And I’m like you have to come on and talk about recovery. She is a therapist herself. Let me tell you a little bit about her. Betsy Byler is a mental health therapist, substance abuse counselor, clinical supervisor, and host of the All Things Substance Podcast. Betsy specializes in working with trauma and substance use. She has a passion for helping other therapists feel competent and confident in their ability to address client substance use in their own work. So without further ado, here is Betsy.
Betsy, thanks for being here. I’m so glad to have you.
Betsy Byler 05:45 Thanks so much for having me.
Andrea Owen 05:46 I knew we had to start recording because I could talk about recovery all day long. So people who have experienced with themselves and who are in the mental health field, regarding it. I want to start like from the very beginning, because I have a hunch that we have a lot of people listening who look at their behaviors as self-care, or they’re unsure, like, is this an addiction? I don’t know. And so, in your words, can you tell us how you define or explain addiction.
Betsy Byler 06:16
Addiction for a lot of folks seems really final and really severe. It’s sort of more of a spectrum, in my experience with my own experience, with friends, but also in the work I do as a therapist, I see where it starts to move in a direction where it’s causing problems. And so problems don’t have to be where you’re missing work and neglecting your children or anything like that. There are plenty of people who are starting to have more consequences, emotionally, physically, relationally. And we’re heading in that direction. And that because anyone’s choosing to become addicted. I firmly believe that people don’t choose addiction. I believe that we choose to use, but nobody is thinking like, you know what, that’d be awesome.
Andrea Owen 07:17 I can’t wait to do that when I grow up. Yeah, right. Yeah.
Betsy Byler 07:19 And we all believe that we will be able to pull the plug before that happens. It is human nature to believe that we can see bad things when they’re coming and we will step out of the way. What people don’t expect is that the line gets really blurred and when you’re up on it, you’re like, oh, no, no, no, I was just being super conservative, this really isn’t a problem, I’m okay right now. And they’ll say, well, everybody does this, or everybody makes mistakes and you know, drives drunk. Or everybody wakes up with a hangover on a Sunday or whatever the case may be, and finding people who are in the same space as you using the same amount a lot of times can make it so you don’t see your own stuff. And it is just really hard to tell and people start sliding into a space where they’re moving towards what I would say as clinically in addiction.
If we’re talking about clinically in addiction, we’re talking about a very specific set of brain changes that occur that you wouldn’t be able to tell me what they’re visible on a scan, but you we wouldn’t be able to just tell by looking at someone. Some of it is, well, a lot of addiction happens just quietly in your mind, maybe not quietly in your mind, but in your mind and it’s the obsession. The justification for when you’ve done things that aren’t really what you would normally do. And so, addiction looks different for everybody but there are some commonalities between all of us who are in recovery of what we were like, while we were using. Oftentimes in the moment it’s hard for people to see that in themselves.
Andrea Owen 09:17 Yeah, oh, yeah. In my experience, I was convinced I had a handle on it, you know? Like until I until I didn’t use that a word that jumped out at me. And then I often tell people when they come to me, and they’re like, I’m not sure if I have a problem and, you know, because then they’ll quantify like, well, I only drink this much or I’ve cut it down to only drinking on these days or whatever. And I’m like, well, like let’s just make that not part of the equation for a second and like what’s going on in your mind? Like, how do you feel like if we were talking just about alcohol, how do you feel when you go to a wedding and you get there and you realize that it’s a dry wedding and there’s not going to be any alcohol? How do you feel when you’re at a dinner party with people and everyone’s drinking wine and you want to refill your glass, but you’ve already had two and you know, everybody’s still on their first glass but there’s like only one glass in the bottle? Like, are you thinking about it a lot? Or are you engaging in the conversation? Like there’s like these small moments, I think, for me, where I realized it was like that whisper of like, I don’t think this is healthy. I don’t think other people think this way, you know, and then I would shove that aside, and keep drinking, because I was like, I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to hear that my intuition telling me that that probably the best path for me is to get sober. But then again, you know, and then people will be like, well, how bad does the obsession to have to be? How often does the obsession have to be…that I always say like, if you if it’s kind of fucking up your life? Like, there’s your answer. I was so frustrated that I was the only one that could answer that for me.
Betsy Byler 10:53
People struggle with finding that line. One of the things I often do will ask people, alright, so how much is too much? When would you say that this is the line, if I’m drinking, or if I’m using this much, that’s too much. And so then when we inevitably get to that line, I’ll say, okay, remember, you told me that this amount was too much. What do you think about that? And they’re like, well, I don’t know. I think maybe I thought that was a little, that’s not quite right, now it’s further. And that’s just what happens is we have to move that line. But there are definitely things I was just talking about this signs that use is moving from recreational to problematic. It’s not really typical for normal drinkers to pre drink before they go somewhere else. Right? That’s not That’s not a typical thing for normal drinkers.
Andrea Owen 11:48 They just don’t think about it.
Betsy Byler 11:50 For people who drink normally non problematically. It’s also not normal for them to be really angry if something gets in the way of them being able to drink people who drink now unproblematically don’t care if the people with them are drinking or not. They can take it or leave it.
Andrea Owen 12:05 It’s that take it or leave it thing was the thing for me and I was like, I don’t even know what that’s like. I always want to take it.
Betsy Byler 12:13 And that is the thing is that if that’s if that’s where your brain is at, have I always want to take it, why would we do that, that’s a signal that like, your brain doesn’t function the way other peoples do in this sense. So for myself, I didn’t know that it wasn’t, quote, normal to feel that, why would I drink if I wasn’t going to get a bit least a buzz? Like, why bother? I don’t know. I like logically I understand that. But experientially, like, I would rather have Coca Cola. If I’m not going to if I’m not going to get buzzed and or hammered, like, why would I bother doing that?
Andrea Owen 12:52 Yeah. And because beer really isn’t that great.
Betsy Byler 12:56
You know, it is by like the fourth one where you don’t taste it as much anymore.
Andrea Owen 13:00
It’s an acquired taste but still, I don’t want to acquire it in the first place.
Betsy Byler 13:05
And people who are wine tasting, like legit doing wine tasting, they don’t drink a lot. Because then you can’t taste the wines. And so being honest with yourself, when no one else can hear that conversation, that’s hard to be honest about it to be like, oh, maybe other people don’t think like that. That’s why I think a lot of folks can really kind of stay in the dark about it a little bit on their own, and that others won’t see it because we spend all of our lives fitting in to what’s happening around us, like we learned really early, you know, kindergarten, preschool how to act in a given setting. And so by the time we’re adults, like, that’s second nature, right? You figure out why you know how to act in this situation, or what, you know, people have one, they’ve had one drink, and you’re about to order a third, you know, you don’t want people being like, oh, that was kind of quick. And so you’re waiting to see what the what the temperature is in the room, so to speak, before you move forward.
Andrea Owen 14:17
Or before you go to a different bar in the restaurant and order a shot on your way back.
Betsy Byler 14:21
Very nice. Yeah.
Andrea Owen 14:24
Not that I’ve ever experienced that before. But you said something interesting about the brain. And so can you tell us why addicts do the things they do based on how the brain changes within the addicted person or the you know, the problem drinker user.
Betsy Byler 14:40
So without getting into kind of all the parts of the brain and how they function, there are a few systems that get impacted by substance use, and they get changed, like permanently too, that increases the chance of the behavior happening again, whatever the behavior is. Part of that is the reward system that we all hear about, right? The things that feel good. Well, it’s not just the reward system. There is something that our brain is like, oh, this is good. Let’s do this again. And it’s all based on the drive for us to live. So eating, sex, sleep, those kinds of things. Things that makes us feel good, it’s meant to keep us alive. And so that system is alive and well inactive, even though we’re not in the kind of danger for the most part that we may have been biologically speaking a long time ago. But that system is, it learns. And so when you’re drinking, it’s like, oh, this is good. We want more of this. And so what ends up happening is that the reward system gets us to a certain amount of dopamine spike, that’s the feel-good chemical that when we drink, or use a substance or whatever, do anything pleasurable, that it spikes our dopamine, and it makes us want to do it again. But if you’re doing it so that it’s happening more often than your body wants it more often. It’s not content with what it has and so it’s going to push you to do it more, because it’s like, no, no, no, it’s been like three or four days, and we’re feeling kind of edgy, we need to drink some more. So that’s happening on one end.
The other end is that depriving yourself of it is making you more irritable than you normally would be. It’s increasing the pleasure drive, but it’s also increasing your distress at not having it. And so you’re getting kind of jacked on both ends, right?
Andrea Owen 16:52
So it’s not like if you like, I like bananas but if I stopped eating bananas for a few days, and they’re fine, and then I don’t eat bananas like that’s not going to happen that like anxious drive that you just mentioned. Right?
Betsy Byler 17:07
No, but say so our dopamine, and I don’t know whether you want this much detail, but…
Andrea Owen 17:11
I love brain science. I mean, if nothing else, it’s all for me. Sorry, everybody.
Betsy Byler 17:15
So if dopamine sits at a zero, and then we eat something, it goes up to about 100, maybe 150. If you smoke a cigarette, it goes up to 200. If you have sex that is decent, it’s…
Andrea Owen 17:34
Not media or sex. Yeah, okay.
Betsy Byler 17:36
Like 200 to 250. And that’s facts that we can do as a human without drugs. Like that’s it with any kind of faux substance. Alcohol is about 200 or 250. And there’s the spike, and then there’s the drop off. So a drop off for like nicotine is 45 minutes. So if you think about it, that’s why people smoke every hour, right? Is it spikes, and then it comes back down. And the thing about alcohol is the same way. So it spikes and then the thing is, you’re not just drinking a couple of drinks, like it’s spiking, spiking, spiking. So every time it starts to drop, you know, it’s increasing again. And so that is a huge reinforcer. If every single bite of something you took was spiking your dopamine, like, you would want to eat that thing all the time. And so if you’re drinking for four or five hours, or whatever the case may be like it’s spiking your dopamine and giving you that feel-good over and over and over. Even though as the night progresses, it could be a shitshow around you, right? But your dopamine is like woo, and it doesn’t care that it’s a total disaster out there. It cares that you feel good. And then conversely, you’re not supposed to have a high high high dopamine and then a huge drop. And so it’s the drop, then that’s more uncomfortable, because you don’t drop back to zero. It’s kind of like it almost drops underneath. And then normal life feels super mundane.
Andrea Owen 19:11
And then you throw some shame in there and it’s just…
Betsy Byler 19:15
And alcohol and other substances are super effective. If you want to stop thinking about something, it works. Right? And that also is giving you relief. So instead of a dopamine spike, it’s taking away distress, as well. And so like it’s the systems that are that are all being affected, and it’s making it so that you are more likely to use again. Kind of the final nail so to speak is that there’s something that happens in your the part of your brain that tells you that you’re in danger.
Andrea Owen 19:57
Is that the amygdala?
Betsy Byler 19:59
The amygdala, but prefrontal cortex A lot of our impulse control. In these systems, the thing that tells us that things are a problem, that stuff’s starting to fall apart. There’s the thing that happens for people who are in an act of addiction is they can’t judge danger very well, ad that’s a brain change. Like that literally is changing to where they look at something that someone in recovery, or an average person who’s not using looks at and was like, holy shit. And the person who’s using this, like, that’s not that bad. And so they start, they have this thing, pushing them to feel more pleasure, they’re way more uncomfortable not having it now, tnd they’re really they’re really not able to judge consequences and danger the way they used to. And so why would they stop? And, and so when addicts are in the midst of it, when we get further in, that gets so much more exaggerated and extreme, that people can’t see the disaster that is happening right before them, even though everyone on the outside is like, dude, what are you doing this? You see that? Nope.
There’s a reason why someone’s just overreacting, or, you know, they’re being judgmental. There’s this protectiveness that in your body, that’s like, don’t let them, don’t let them stop you. You know, your brain, these drives, we need to be fulfilled. You’ve been giving us to this, and we’re not going to let you just take it away. We’re going to make you anxious and uncomfortable. And there’s kind of this whole host of things that happens, that’s all happening at the same time, that once we get into the place where the addiction, I say switch gets sort of flipped, that all is kind of cemented in and it makes quitting really hard.
Andrea Owen 21:52
Do you mean when the switch is flipped when people kind of fall off the deep end into addiction or when they realize that they need to get into recovery?
Betsy Byler 22:01
I would say… so I can’t say that I have science to back that up. My I’ve been doing therapy with people for 19 years and working in addictions, there is a line at which it’s kind of all in. They can’t go back to normal.
Andrea Owen 22:21
Okay, so this, these are like the cases that we see on the show intervention, people who are in active, deep addiction?
Betsy Byler 22:28
When they flip that switch, it’s before they get into that really dark place, but when they look back, they can look back and go, here’s the moment, here’s the time period where this completely went off the rails for me, where I can see that it was no longer dabbling and now I’m in and nobody get in my way. That gray area is difficult because a lot of folks have use that’s in this kind of gray area where they’re not sure. But if you’re Googling ‘do I have a drinking problem’, you may have a drinking problem.
Andrea Owen 23:03
100% I agree with you. I’ve never heard anyone explained that explained that way. Thank you so much for taking the time to do that. And I’ve had a lot of people on talking about recovery. I’ve been in recovery for many many years and I’m seeing my own life flashed before my eyes. As a dopamine chaser, I was late diagnosed ADHD was diagnosed with anxiety disorder 19 years ago, which I think it’s kind of like which came first the chicken or the egg with those two with the dopamine issues. But that last part that you were talking about, I think that I got… I went into recovery before that switch was flipped and I saw it coming. Partly because I saw my saw my father get sober when I was 18 and his life had pretty much fallen apart and his own mental health was really bad and had to be hospitalized for depression and anxiety. And there was some there was a voice that told me that is where you are headed, like you are headed… And I had two babies and a brand new business and a husband and I’m like, I will lose everything and people are gonna be like, how did that happen? You know, because I looked so good on the outside. So I think I and I want to say this for the record. I think those of us that can see it coming and can get out. I wish it was that way for everyone. I want to say that and I don’t think that I’m any smarter than anyone else. And who knows that there’s a difference in the brain or if it was just the kind of the planets lined up for me that I am so incredibly grateful that I got out because I could very much see, because people sometimes will be like, oh, I can’t imagine my life you know, as like a runaway addict and I’m like I can I can totally, totally see why people can’t get sober for their kids. Why they completely lose everything and have their children taken away from them and they lose their business and they blow up their marriages and then keep using. I totally understand. I get it and I have so much compassion for those people.
Betsy Byler 24:54
Well and I think that piece about getting sober for someone else… If love was enough people would get sober 100% all day every day. It has nothing to do with that. In fact, those reasons when people come into treatment, and they’re doing it for someone else, it doesn’t work. Until they find something that’s really internal… It might work in the beginning, and then I’ll take however, anybody shows up there say they’re getting sober for someone else. Fine. I’m on it. Yeah, but very soon, that’s gonna have to shift to something that actually, I want to show up in my life. I don’t want to feel like shit all the time. Because the love of someone else’s like, okay, I love them, check. Okay, so now what’s keeping me sober? You know, like, so I love them, what does that mean? And I have seen tons and tons of people struggle on both sides. The person who wonders why their parent can’t give up whatever it is for them. And then the person on the other side who’s like, I love my kids, why can’t I do this for them? Well, there’s a lot happening.
And, and you’re right about, there’s a lot of folks who are able to see it. And I can see addicts behavior before I ever started using. The way I was as a kid, you know, all or nothing from very early on, as opposed to my very cautious sister, who was just born that way, right? As opposed to me who’s like, hell, no, I’m gonna do all the things and whatever I want all the time. And there’s actually a trait that we can have called novelty seeking and that some of us have a greater degree of novelty seeking behavior, kind of DNA coded into us. And that we want more new things, rather than just being, I don’t know, fine with the way things are. And so I can see it. And I also know if I hadn’t gotten sober when I did, I would have gone on to use heroin, like hands down.
Andrea Owen 26:58
I am the same. I just I think I’m just really lucky that it never crossed my path.
Betsy Byler 27:03
And for me, I think getting sober early was not because again, I was smarter or luckier, or whatever it just, I don’t know. Something happened. I was got sick and tired of being sick and tired and for whatever in that moment, I was able to be like, oh, shit, I should stop this right now. And for whatever reason, I was able to do the things but it easily could have gone the other way. That is not morality or intelligence that took me there because I really thought I was invincible for the most part. Yeah, so like, that wasn’t. That wasn’t like a choice. It just was. But I’m really I’m really blessed because I would have been an absolute have us like beyond what I already was.
Andrea Owen 27:48
I have never heard of that either. The novelty… What you call it novelty chasing?
Betsy Byler 27:53
Andrea Owen 27:54
Novelty seeking, I still have to be careful with that. I lived by the mantra I heard this in a recovery meeting one time like, well, my philosophy is if you know if one is good, then five is better. And I’ve never felt so seen in my life. Like and still like, if I have a headache, I’ll get the bottle of ibuprofen and two will probably be good, but I’m like, I wonder if I should take six. Like a quick funny, but not funny story… So many years ago, and I was sober at the time I had a few years under my belt and I had shoulder surgery. I had my husband taking care of the whatever I think like a dinner or whatever. So I was fine with that. But I got really constipated and it was like a week and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom. And so I had tried stool softeners and laxatives and nothing was working. So I went to the pharmacist and it was a woman pharmacist, thank goodness. And I told her my predicament and she gave me the magnesium citrate liquid. I think it’s the same stuff they give people when they’re about to have a colonoscopy. And she like looked at me like dead in the eye and she was like, whatever you do, do not be far away from a bathroom. When you take this. It was like a clear liquid and it was it was in like a one liter bottle. So I take it home. Do you think I read the instructions Betsy to find out how much?
Betsy Byler 29:11
Nope, because you wanted to have more because she doesn’t really know how much you’re suffering. And so get it done.
Andrea Owen 29:17
You don’t know how much pain I’m in. I’m just going to crack this bottle open and chugged it. I drink the entire thing in one, you know, fail swoop, I’m surprised I didn’t put it in a beer bong. And then I look at the instructions. And it was like, you know, someone of this weight should be about 200 milligrams, and I had drank five times that amount. And I was like, I think I might die. It was awful. For 24 hours, it was the worst. So it just is an example of like, my brain just doesn’t… Like why would I read the instructions first? And even if I had read them, I probably would have at least doubled it.
Betsy Byler 29:58
Oh hands down. This is like a conservative amount. No, no, no, no, no. Like, I need this to work three days ago, not like…
Andrea Owen 30:08
I need to… I want you to put me on a freight train to pleasure town.
Betsy Byler 30:12
Whatever it is, well, and, and that goes for pleasure and for getting rid of discomfort, whatever it is, right? That’s what we’re after is making us feel better or making us like in terms of better than our average or better than we’re currently feeling whichever it is and away from this discomfort.
Andrea Owen 30:29
Yeah, it’s not that I was trying to get high. Like I know, you can’t get high from like, cleaning out your GI tract, like I just wanted to run away from this pain. So it’s just, it’s interesting to me to like connect the dots. And still, after all these years, like my brain still sometimes thinks the way that it used to.
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Before we run out of time, I really want I would love for you to talk about trauma and substance use from kind of what we were just talking about, you know, for like not wanting to deal with things. So I’m just going to kind of throw that out there very broadly.
Betsy Byler 32:01
So in all the years that I have worked with people, myself, or I was the director of an agency for many years. And so all of my staff and all the clients I’ve known about, I can’t quantify how many it’s a lot. There have been, I believe two instances where somebody who was struggling with a substance problem did not have trauma. And to that end, I was still like, Are you sure?
Andrea Owen 32:28
Did you just block it out?
Betsy Byler 32:30
Because literally it’s so rare, and I’m thinking okay, people always downplay their trauma. When I have someone new come to me, and they’re filling out an intake packet and it’s like, what kind of trauma have you experienced? None. Okay. And then I find out they grew up in an alcoholic home. And I’m like, okay, there’s no chance that you grew up in a home where someone’s using actively, and it doesn’t impact you. Right? That’s not happening.
Andrea Owen 32:59
Even if they’re super functional, even if it’s like a like a happy go lucky kind of family, there’s stuff lurking.
Betsy Byler 33:05
Well, and then somebody’s covering it up. We’re all pretending that everything’s fine, right? And there is stress in that. When everybody is like, nope, we don’t see dysfunction, we don’t feel anxiety, we’re gonna pretend it’s not there. So trauma can be big T trauma, or a little T trauma. So like big T trauma being like assault, violence, things like that, and little T being things that left an imprint, that aren’t necessarily maybe one of those big tea things where you’re having flashbacks, or whatever, but that were leftover, and were really hard and you still can think about and have connection to that emotion later. You’re like, why am I being a baby about this? Well, no, we are impacted by things and we bury them very, kind of not just deeply in the sense that we don’t know they’re there, but it’s like we weave them in to ourselves. You know, these statements about ourselves, or things that other people say that for whatever reason, our kids self just believed, and it became part of our fabric of who we are. In a lot of ways. Unfortunately, it’s the bad stuff that we do that too It’s not really common for us to weave in all the good stuff automatically.
Andrea Owen 34:26
Okay. The you know, the praise and accolades that we receive.
Betsy Byler 34:29
It’s just not because then it’s, you could have 100 good comments and then two bad ones, and your brain is stuck on, why did they say that?
Andrea Owen 34:38
Yeah. With that negativity bias that we all have.
Betsy Byler 34:42
Yeah. And the trauma piece. Oftentimes, when people experience trauma, they don’t have the resources either in themselves or around them to help them interpret the situation and resolve it. So I’ll say two things that seem a little opposite. One is that time does not heal wounds. And the other is that people heal naturally over time. So here’s the example. Let’s take a big hurricane, or 911, or whatever, .I realized I’m slightly dating myself at that time.
Andrea Owen 35:24
You’re in good company.
Betsy Byler 35:26
But when people have a natural disaster, the majority of folks will recover over time, because that’s what our body is designed to do is to try to heal itself. It just does. It tries. But when there is something that is traumatic that impacted you, in a in a specific way, that is not going to get better on its own. It’s just isn’t, right? Like, it’s not… People will I can’t tell you the number of adults who will be like, why am I this upset about something that happened 30 years ago, right. And I’m like, because it didn’t go anywhere. It’s just, you weren’t looking at it and so it wasn’t really present but once we look at it, it’s like, it just happened. And so it’s when people get stuck in their healing of whatever it is, they kind of go in this endless loop around it, and life keeps moving on. It’s like, when someone passes away, and you’re in two worlds at once. On one foot, you’re in the world that’s still moving, going to the grocery store, bitching about dumb things annoyed with people, and the other part of you is stopped because this person just died. And doesn’t the world realize that like, we should all stop. And so when that starts to get even more distance, where you feel like part of you is just stuck in that moment and the other part of you is just moving along, it’s like it becomes more and more distressing internally, and you have to shut it down somehow. So people overwork or they drink, or they have to helicopter over somebody and control somebody else’s life, or whatever the case may be is to deal with, I don’t know how to resolve this on my own and so numbing it out is super effective. Not for long, right, but it’s it works. And it’s a lot of times can be private. There’s this idea that you should be over that by now. What? Why? Why should we be over something, but it’s just this mentality. And it also depends on culture. How you grew up the messages around you. So there’s a whole bunch of factors. But trauma in and of itself is highly, highly correlated with substance use.
Andrea Owen 37:48
That makes a whole lot of sense. I’m curious, I didn’t initially plan on asking you this but I love the way you talk about this and I’m, I’m selfishly curious, and I know that there’s a lot of people listening who, at least in some way can identify with the behaviors around love addiction. And when I… This was actually before I got sober from alcohol, I was coincidentally at a rehab center because I was dating an addict. I know you’re shocked. And it was The Meadows and Pia Mellody wrote the you know, a book on love addiction and I one of the therapists pointed out when I was talking about my behavior, she was like, oh, that sounds a lot like love addiction. And I was like, what is that? And then I read that book and was like, oh, my God, she’s this is like a biography of my life. I would just I’m curious, just to even just throw up the question, again, very generally of I have found it’s it tricky… And in many ways, one of the hardest things to recover from someone with it. I know, it’s very common with some abandonment wounds because we have to be in relationship with people. And I see I see my own love addiction symptoms, not just in my romantic relationships, but in my friendships with women, too, that are platonic. So I’m curious, what are your thoughts on that around whether it’s, you know, you want to talk about it in regard in its connection with trauma or recovery? I just want to hear your smarts about it.
Betsy Byler 39:18
When people talk about love addiction, it’s a little bit different. It feels very similar, right? The compulsive compulsiveness, the uncomfortable the drive, the obsession. That’s all really similar. It is biologically different than substance use. And actually, so is sex addiction. It doesn’t chemically do the same things as substance use. I know it feels like it does, but it doesn’t. So it’s not the same thing because the substance use addiction really is a very specific thing. But the behaviors of needing to be around people to the point that It’s painful to not be. That you will do a whole bunch of things that are really outside of what common sense, your common sense, your instincts, your values telling you to do. That part is something different, and it’s coming from a different place. And what that is coming from, in my opinion is this, I need to make sure that I am safe, and that I am okay and that I will not be alone. Because if I am alone, I will die. And it’s a very primal place. And it’s also very normal. And it’s a very old wound for most folks who have it. There was uncertainty around a very key time in their early life, where they weren’t certain that the adults around them, had it, handled it, whatever it is. And their kid self was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know that we’re okay. I don’t know that we’re safe, I have to make sure we’re safe. And so a kid doesn’t know how to do that. All they know is, I have to pull all these things to me to make sure I feel safe enough. And so it could be food, it could be relationships, it could be all sorts of things that a kid would do. Almost like imagine a kid piling stuffed animals all over their body in bed, right? Where they are trying to just feel safe.
There is this deep sense of needing a mirror. And what I mean by that is a mirror of am I okay? And if you don’t have a mirror, that’s when people start to panic internally. And that’s the like, asking someone who’s been quiet for too long. Are we okay? Or are you mad at me? Or all sorts of things, right? Of trying to get somebody to say like, am I okay? Yes, you’re okay. And it’s a very old wound that a lot of folks have, because it isn’t just biological needs that we need as kids. Whenever we look at a baby or a kid, and we’re cooing at them, like they bring us a scribble. And we’re like, it’s beautiful. And we want to put it on the fridge and like, that builds a sense of self, and it’s like a mirror to the kid of like, you’re amazing. And they’re like, yes, I am. And that’s how we build confidence as a human. When you had that, only sometimes or it was not there at all, like that’s kind of where the trauma starts kicking in and the person has this kind of, they’re unsure if they’re okay. And what they find is that relationships are the quickest way to feel okay to have someone else. It’s like a shortcut. Am I okay? And the person’s like, I need you more than I need life and you’re like, yes, we’re going to do this together, right? We’re going to be all in. That person starts pulling away in any way, even a perceived way. They didn’t answer you quick enough, that kind of thing. Then that emptiness kicks in and the panic starts. And that’s when they’re like, they’ll do anything, and they end up doing and a lot of women specifically do a lot of things that in their right mind when they feel calm would not do and no, it’s not great. But in the moment, they literally cannot stop.
Andrea Owen 43:29
I love that explanation. I mean, so much. If I wasn’t already married, I would ask you to marry me. Speaking of a love addict. When you were saying that, like the whole you know, when you’re a kid and your parent gets excited over your scribble and knowing if you are okay, okay, my words that I use for that is valued, like, am I valued here, and then even now at 47 years old, I’ve talked about this on my show before, is when we talk about like worthiness, like as a whole I know it’s a big topic in these spaces. Like I don’t really have a fear that I’m unworthy it maybe that’s not just the word that doesn’t resonate with me. My biggest fear is that people don’t really like me all that much. Like they pretend like they do and they like to have me around sometimes, but at the end of the day, like we don’t, we don’t really like you all that much. And it comes down to that. Like am I valued by am I perceived as valuable to other people is really the better explanation because you’re right, like I participated in behaviors that I would hate for someone else to do to me, but I did them all in an effort just to feel some semblance of do like me, do you love me, am I valuable, am I wanted in these spaces, even if it was very temporary, and even if I knew it was temporary.
Betsy Byler 44:51
And the thing is, is that we may know that it’s only going to last for a few minutes, whatever it is, but it is It’s almost unbearable to say no. Like, and this is why when I talk with a lot of my lot of my young women about casual sex, right? Like, I don’t have a moral judgment about that, like, sleep with whoever you want. And if you feel worse in the morning, that’s a problem. Right. Because in that moment, they feel totally focused on and present and whatever, and then it’s gone. And then it leaves you feeling even worse. And it’s this pattern that they’re like, I’m gonna stop doing that, I’m not going to do it again. And then they find themselves in it. And sometimes it’s one person, that they have no ability to say no to. Just none. And it’s like, it’s like kryptonite, almost like they just, they just can’t. And part of that is finding that very deep, negatively held belief about, I’m not lovable, I’m not, etcetera, like that… Part of what I do, because I do trauma work, and I’m an EMDR therapist, is that we have to root out at its core to say, and not the mantras not going to do it. Like there’s some very deep stuff. And then there’s all these messages about you shouldn’t care what people think about you. Bullshit, everybody cares.
Andrea Owen 46:28
I say the same thing. Like, every human…
Betsy Byler 46:31
Okay, like, I generally don’t give a fuck about a lot of things. Even I, when somebody doesn’t like me, I’m like, oh, you know, like, I feel that. I have to change what I do. Like, that’s the difference, right? I still have to do what I’m going to do and be me and be consistent with who I am and what I want to portray. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. And so it’s like, it’s just another way to shame ourselves that like, we’re weak, or we don’t, you know, we’re too sensitive or too whatever people tell you, as opposed to just owning the fact that it bothers me. I have a hard time. If someone if someone’s saying to themselves, when someone doesn’t like me, I will go out of my way to make them like me and I know, I’m doing it. And I know I shouldn’t do it, but I can’t stop myself. And so there’s this really difficult thing that we want to empower women, right? We want to empower anyone who hasn’t had a voice to have a voice. Because we want them to feel heard. At the same time, as we’re telling them that they’re not sure they deserve to have a voice or have anything useful to say. And it’s just a bunch of people who were raised by other broken folks, and that broken person into like, broken, not worthy, but like, we’re all kind of, you know, yeah, like, we’re all missing some shit. And you know, it, some people had worse experiences than others, maybe they were raised by truly evil folks, I don’t know. Most of the time, people are trying to not fuck up their kids and minimize the amount of therapy they need. I don’t know.
We’re all just trying to make it having some grace for yourself, that there are things that are harder for you and why? I don’t know they just are and to have some grace, that like, your kids self-learned that if you did things for people that they liked you. And so you have trouble saying no. And that’s an old message, but that part of you still exists, and you don’t have to berate her, you can just tell her that it’s okay. If that person doesn’t like you, you can feel sad, and you can feel it and you can not change what you’re going to do. You can still do something different in that letting that part drive the show.
Andrea Owen 48:57
I didn’t get that message as a kid.
Betsy Byler 48:59
Right. And that’s the message we’re trying to get people now right? Is just because you had this old stuff, you can choose something different now.
Andrea Owen 49:10
Now. Yeah. You said something that like hit me over the head a minute or so ago. And you said like, you keep making these decisions and oftentimes it’s with one person over and over again where to say no to that person almost feels unbearable. And in my head I thought to myself, for me, it wasn’t almost like it was I felt like I would die. Like if I actually I remember I’ve mentioned this on a podcast a long time ago, there was a scene in Sex in the City, so this had to be late 90s And I had been in a relationship for many years at that point, which did continue for many years. That was not healthy. But there’s a scene where Carrie is supposed to go on vacation with Mr. Big and she’s doubting the relationship and he’s like, you know, getting your suitcases and putting it on the curb and she says no to him. And I remember thinking saying, what is that? Like what is that like to be able to know that? Like, in like, your, your gut is telling you like this relationship is no good. Like, I don’t want to make this choice with this person. The evidence is no. But and actually say no, like the chronic self-abandoning that I was doing. And that seems stuck with me for so many years. And even when I watch it on YouTube, I get emotional. And I mean, it took him leaving me after we were married, for me to finally get away from this relationship. And it’s so difficult when people around you are like, why on earth are you? You’re too good for him, like why on earth… And I felt so stupid, like, why can’t I be stronger? Why can’t I be a better woman like, and I think it’s helpful to hear, and not use it as an excuse to stay long, longer term, but, if I would have had more compassion for myself, in those moments, instead of just so much self-loathing, and so much shame around it, I might have been able to find the strength to leave. I can’t say for sure that I would have but it would have been a very different experience.
Betsy Byler 51:14
And I think that is the cycle that we get into. How can you beat yourself down about staying and then have the strength to leave?
Andrea Owen 51:23
That’s not a good like, warm up.
Betsy Byler 51:25
Right. And I think it’s sort of what we need and I think what our friends need in those places is, I don’t totally get why you’re staying. I think you see what I see and I’m going to stop bitching about it. And I’m just going to tell you, I love you and that whenever you choose to go, I’m here for you but I’m not going to. I’m not going to bench about him anymore. I’m not going to I’m just going to be your friend and I want you to know that I may not get it. But like, I can see how given a different set of scenario, it might be me too. Because we all have that. It’s just a different. There are other things that we’ll put up with that someone else is like, what the fuck is that? Like, why would you put up with that shit? I don’t know. It’s, it’s very, it’s very different. But I think when it comes to what we’re doing to survive, whether it be survive past, present trauma, or survive discomfort, we’re doing the best we can to make it up and substances feeds into that bad relationships, feeding our need to feel whole, which is not a bad need. It’s just, we’re feeding it with something that’s really temporary, it’s the best we can do at the time. And to have some grace for yourself. Grace is different than making excuses. Like I can feel that difference. When I’m just like totally being like, it’s like, weak when I’m you know, not like weak as in not strong, but just lame. excuses for why I’m gonna do a thing. I’m like, this is so lame, even as I’m thinking oh, justifications Yeah. And, and then I encourage people just fucking to own it, just own it. And, but I think having grace for ourselves, like, at least stop beating up on yourself about it, and just accept this is the thing I’m doing right now. I don’t want to do it forever. And I’m going to stop making it harder to exist.
Andrea Owen 53:22
And yeah, let it let’s just end on that note because if people take nothing away from this, and we took a lot of turns, and I appreciate all of your expertise and really the way that you explain things, I know that my listeners are probably taking notes, I’m gonna listen to this more than once. But before we close out, I always like to give my guests an opportunity to circle back to something that you said or add anything to feel complete.
Betsy Byler 53:47
I guess I want to just say that, whether you’re having trouble with substances or using a relationship, to manage it, like it doesn’t have to stay that way permanently. There can be change, and there is hope. As long as we have breath, there is hope that we can make changes to do things differently. And each time you make a small step in a different direction, like that is worth it. And it doesn’t have to be some big thing. It can be a series of small things that you put together. And they make a big difference long term. So when you see people like us that have long term recovery, that, you know, seem like we got it all together like that was all these small steps. Little things that we learned over time. And certainly we don’t have it all together. There’s still stuff that happens. But like, you aren’t so far from it, it’s just deciding to take the small step that you can take. What can you do?
Andrea Owen 54:51
100%. Thank you. Thank you so much for your for your time, and we’re gonna put all those links in the show notes and you’re at BetsyBylor.com And you have your own podcast correct?
Betsy Byler 55:00
Well, you can just go to BetsyByler.com. The podcast is on Apple, Spotify, etc. It’s called All Things Substance. I’d be happy if anybody reaches out and wants to ask question. I’m happy to answer those. Yeah, I really appreciate you having me on was fun.
Andrea Owen 55:14
Yeah, this has been so, so great and enlightening. And everyone, thank you so much for your time. You know how grateful I am that you choose to spend it with me and my guests. And remember, it’s our life’s journey to make ourselves better humans and our life’s responsibility to make the world a better place. Bye for now.