Sister Shenanigans with Melissa Moore & her less famous sister

Unmasking the Painful Truth: Addressing Family Secrets, Addiction, and Codependency with Therapist Kevin Peterson

August 07, 2023 Melissa Moore Season 1 Episode 3
Sister Shenanigans with Melissa Moore & her less famous sister
Unmasking the Painful Truth: Addressing Family Secrets, Addiction, and Codependency with Therapist Kevin Peterson
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Imagine growing up in a family where secrets are an everyday reality. Picture yourself being taught to rehearse stories and lies to mask the painful truth of addiction. That's the terrain we navigate in this powerful episode with our insightful guest, Kevin Petersen, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and founder of the Chronic Hope Institute. Kevin draws on his abundant experience to explain the detrimental effects secrets can have on families dealing with addiction. Together, we expose the debilitating shame and sickness that can result from misguided advice to keep secrets, and highlight the transformative power of telling your own story, not someone else’s.

But don't think we stop there. We're also wading through the murky waters of codependency. We're unmasking the art of setting boundaries for personal protection and establishing systems of rewards and consequences. We're emphasizing that therapy should focus on the system, not 'fixing' the other person. Additionally, we're laying bare family trauma, stressing the importance of self-care and understanding the varied impact of 'big T' and 'little T' traumas. This poignant discussion provides a guide for anyone struggling with addiction, codependency, or family trauma. Every issue, from the most urgent 'A-Basket' to the more manageable 'C-Basket', finds its place in our conversation, offering listeners valuable insights, guidance, and hope.

Music for Unshackling the Soul from Josh Woodward - Invisible Light (Instrumental Version)

Melissa Moore :

Hey, I'm Melissa Moore and welcome to Unshackling The Soul podcast. These are conversations that will hopefully drop the stigma around talking about difficult things and along the way, I hope you learn, I hope you laugh and I just want you to know I appreciate you being here. I'm glad you're here and I also believe if you found this podcast I always believe you found it for a reason. I am so glad you're back this week for part two of our conversation with Kevin Petersen. He's a licensed marriage and family therapist, also the founder of the Chronic Hope Institute, which provides family addiction coaching for families in crisis due to addiction and codependency. He's a published author Chronic Hope Parenting the Addicted Child and Chronic Hope Families and Addiction. And Kevin, I want to pick up kind of where we left off last week, talking about secrets in a family where there's addiction and just the wearing of those secrets.

Kevin Petersen:

Oh my God, because there's nothing more important. You know my family, when we went to holidays and we had family that lived an hour or so, within an hour's drive, we didn't show up a couple of minutes late, we showed up hours late oh wow Hours. And we always had we rehearsed the story in the car, you know, and we always had. It was always because of X or because of Y, or blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it was just like I was taught as a child when I answered the phone. You know, back in the old days when we had these phones around the walls that had these wires and stuff dials, I was taught when I answered the phone to say you know, peterson residents, this is Kevin speaking out, can I help you? And they're like, oh, is your mom right there? Nope, and they could be standing next to me. And they're like nope, and can I take a message please? And I look back on it now and it's like an eight-year-old is telling whoever's on the phone yeah, my parents aren't home, yeah.

Kevin Petersen:

You know I'm like, well, that's loony tunes, but that was you know, that was it. That was the rule. Absolutely Nope, never changed that rule. That was the law.

Melissa Moore :

What I think is interesting, as you're talking about the secrets, is and I'll tell you very briefly the story. So I'm in marriage counseling and she's a sex addict professional Like she's trained and all that stuff whatever and so that's her specialty. But the one thing that has bothered me for years is that she said to keep the secret about what happened. She told you that, yes, yes, not to tell anybody about what happened because it would cause more shame. And so, yeah, and I look back and that is.

Melissa Moore :

That is that point where I got sicker and sicker because I had to keep the secret, keep the image, yeah, and now I'm like, no, no, that was the worst that was, that was so unhealthy because, as you're talking about those family dynamics and keeping secrets, that's all it was.

Melissa Moore :

It was keeping a secret, it was keeping a facade, it was not allowing. I mean, this is you know, this was gosh, what you know several, several years ago at this point. But the fact that that is what somebody who was trained in this field, who studied in Arizona with the top guy supposedly that was the advice, and for me the secrets are just. They are the gateway to living in the dark and to keeping that addiction and to keeping the codependency and to keeping all of that flourishing. They're like fertilizer, that's amazing, I you know.

Kevin Petersen:

it's interesting is that I actually I know who you're talking about in Arizona and that, to be totally blunt, that they don't advocate that. No, I couldn't imagine that that was your therapist. I don't know what that was going on there, but they actually they're big on disclosure, you know. And now by that I mean this is what I tell my. This is all the families that I work with. They're like oh, what do I say about so-and-so's addiction? I'm like what do you mean? Well, but don't I need to tell everybody. I'm like, no, it's none of your business, right, you know that's his business. You know His or her business. Now, if somebody asks you and says, hey, you know, I noticed your family members been gone 30 to 45 days, yeah, they're on a cruise, yeah right.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, there's nothing wrong with you saying, oh yeah, they're in treatment for whatever oh really why? Sorry, it's not my job to tell their story, yeah.

Melissa Moore :

And by the way.

Kevin Petersen:

I'm talking about someone friends close, not you know. I'm not like telling everybody, I mean you know, because my dad was, like you know, when I started going to AA my dad was like what do I tell people? I'm like what do you mean?

Melissa Moore :

He goes well what do I tell them?

Kevin Petersen:

I'm like, oh, just tell them, I quit drinking and then I'm taking care of myself and if they have questions they can call me. Yes, yes, and he was like okay, cool, and you know, in that scenario, you know the, you know the theater. I don't know where the therapist was coming from on that, because that the one thing, but the one thing I always tell the families that I work with is it's not your story to tell. You can tell your story. Yes, I have a partner, I have a child that struggles with addiction and this is how it affects my life.

Melissa Moore :

Yes, but it's not okay for you to tell their story, and I would a hundred percent agree with you on that one. But did not be able to tell your story or what happened, or? Oh yeah, yeah, I mean it.

Kevin Petersen:

just you live in the darkness and Well you know, one of those goofy little things we always have in recovery is that you're only as sick as your secrets. You know.

Melissa Moore :

And I a hundred percent believe that. Yeah, I do, and I've seen it in my own life and I've seen it in others because it also. Yeah, there's something weird that happens when one spouse is told to keep a secret for the other spouse and now the relationship is another level of unhealthy. And, you know, part of it may have been she was a Christian therapist too, so I feel like there may have been a little that that may have played a big role in it too of don't he's the man of the house, he's the whatever blah you know we could go down several roads on this one.

Melissa Moore :

I won't even go there anymore, but but it was very.

Kevin Petersen:

it was very after first of all, I'm so sorry that happened to you, because nobody deserves that and nobody deserves to be treated that way. And the last thing you want to be told is it's your job to perpetuate the problem, right? You know you're like no, I'm trying to get out of this.

Kevin Petersen:

You know and and and you know, to be totally clear with you I got sober when I was 27, in 1991. And my mother never got sober, you know, and my mother died in 2014 of long term prescription drug use. You know, when she was in the hospital, she had three artifacts and she was in the ICU in Lafayette a good Sam, and you know. The doctor came out and I was on call. My sister and I had developed the system right. I was on call, so I went and my sister and the doctor came out and he's like so I'm really sorry. And I'm like, oh, it's okay. And he's like, really, I'm like, yeah, dude, I mean I'm not surprised. And he's like I'm sad, it's my mom. I love my mom, but this is terrible. I mean this is awful, but I mean this is no surprise. And he's like your dad is in the waiting room balling saying this is such a shock. And we're all like there's no way she has this much drugs in her body toxic. She's so toxic he was. I can't give her anything. There's nothing I can do. She's got.

Kevin Petersen:

Most people come in here. We're like, oh, we can do this. We can put this drug in. That'll fix it. She already has that, you know. And I'm like, yeah, I know. And he's like, oh okay. I said, yeah, I'm a therapist, this is what I do Bubble bloods where I come from. And I said, you know, I love my dad, I love my dad. My dad died two years ago. I love my dad. But I mean, you know that's, that's now we're talking. Now we're into the entire environment. Right, you know the secret. Like it didn't happen. I don't know what you're talking about. Your mother didn't have a problem Like dad. Everybody knew, you know. I mean, come on.

Melissa Moore :

But it was easier to buy into the secret versus admit it.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, he had learned that in his childhood, sure.

Melissa Moore :

You know it is. It is so generational.

Kevin Petersen:

Oh my God, I mean, it's just. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Melissa Moore :

You know it's the gift that keeps on giving, Clark yeah yeah, it's the game the whole family can play. Yeah, it's the jelly of the month club. Yeah.

Kevin Petersen:

I mean, it's really, it's nutty, it's just absolutely nutty. And and I'll tell you and you know one of the things that I always tell people, so that people always want to then they come to me like all right, well, what do I? Do you? Know, I have a loved one. Where do we go? Are we ready to get to the solution you want?

Melissa Moore :

to go there. Do it, do it, all right.

Kevin Petersen:

Okay. So you know, I always tell them well, you know, you can't expect them to do something. You're not willing to do so. And they're like well, what do you mean? I'm like well, so the most effective way to fix a family system is to fix you, not to fix them. And they're like okay, what else you got? You know like, yeah, no, I know, because that's going to be hard, right, and and, but it's.

Kevin Petersen:

But what you got to do is really tighten up and take care of yourself and start saying things like I don't agree with that. I mean, you're an adult, you can do what you want. But if you're going to do that, I am not going to participate, or or I'm going to create distance. Or if you're going to continue and you're in the situation you're talking about, you know, seeing other people, I'm going to call a lawyer and I'm not I'm not yelling, throwing tantrums and threatening and trying to get you to behave I'm like oh, no, no, I get it, you're an adult, that's your choice. But then here's my choice right, you know, and I'm going to take care of me.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, and, and, and. That's what it really comes down to. That's the number one thing. You have to learn how to do is set an appropriate boundary, have an accountability function to the boundary and then have a system of rewards and consequences behind that boundary. And remember, the boundary isn't about them, it's about you, right? You know? It's about you saying this is far as I go, and, and, and. If you're going to choose to go there, I'm just not going to go with you, right, and I'm going to move on. You know, and God bless you and I hope it works out.

Melissa Moore :

But you know that's what the initial stage of recovery for the codependent or the trauma survivor looks like is getting now that takes getting help you know I was going to say I don't feel like I was mentally there, I don't feel like I was such a mess when I found out that the life I thought we lived, there were two separate lives going on and I had no idea about life number two. And you know, you go back and you look and you say, man, I wish I could have said hey, this isn't working for me. Instead, codependency flares up. And so, yeah, it's really interesting when you are married to an addict and you yourself have been the codependent, they've been the addict, and then you don't trust yourself, you don't know what to do. You're in therapy together, so it's not really like you're working on yourself. All of a sudden you're in marriage therapy and it's like, well, wait a minute, this is how can I work on me? And you're here and it's very messy.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, and you're absolutely right, and that's one of the things that I do as a licensed marriage and family therapist. When I work with a couple, I am insistent that they're both seeing someone individually and working out their own stuff. And because couples therapy is not intended to be focused on one person's situation, it's intended to be focused on the system and how the system is existing and how we can fix that and change that and move that towards a different direction. But I have some terrible therapy stories. Oh yeah, my current wife and I saw someone in Denver and it was a disaster, Just an absolute disaster, and I look back on it now and I was like, oh God, I mean that was just what the heck, was that all?

Melissa Moore :

about Right, right. And then I think sometimes you have to say you know what, it's just not gonna work, or this is so unhealthy, this is so you know. I remember the therapist. I finally found that was good and I think this was our third or fourth marriage therapist. She goes okay, if you wanna stay in this marriage, we have to blow it up and start over because it is so unhealthy. And I remember looking at her and I said I wouldn't choose him again, I don't wanna be here. And it was finally that moment of clarity after 16 years of oh, if that's what it takes, I don't want this. I'm so full of hate and resentment. And I've gotten healthy and he hasn't, and it was just such a mess. But it took how many different marriage therapists and how many different states to finally get to that point. But I was also getting healthier. I was seeing somebody else on my own and that was the difference.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, that's. The key is that you can't go into marriage and couples therapy or family therapy for that matter thinking you're gonna fix the other person Right and the goal is to fix the system. And, by the way, you're part of the system, yes, and you have to acknowledge the role that you play in the system. And that's not to say that the other person might be having an addiction problem or something glaringly obvious. But a good therapist knows that's just what's on the surface. We gotta get underneath that. And if this is an addiction situation that's been going on for years, it's like okay, so why aren't we doing something about that? What's the story here? Why are we here? What's? Why aren't you handling your addiction and why are you tolerating their addiction? It's like, oh, no, no, I just want you to fix them. It's like, no, I don't do that Right. And that's really the key piece. And that's hard right Because, like we said, the profile of the codependent is that I'm right, I'm not the one causing the problem.

Kevin Petersen:

I make sure the kids are fed, I put them to bed, I clean the house, I cook the food, I put the money on the table. I do all those things you know, while Bozo over here is blowing things up or is asleep on the couch or is just completely out of it, you know, and it's like how can I have a problem? I'm not the problem, right? Well, yeah, but you are, because you're perpetuating the lie, you know, and let's get you some help and let's get you to a place where you don't do that anymore, right, and let's see how that impacts the relationship.

Melissa Moore :

Right, right, and then the wheels pop off the bus for some of us.

Kevin Petersen:

Some of us and some others of us. You know, what happens is that, like you said, it's like we blow the thing up and they're like oh no, I don't want to lose you. Ok, well then these things have to change, OK. And then it's not about punishing the person, it's like saying so, let's get you the help that you need, let's get you what you need to fix this Right.

Melissa Moore :

You know, and on both sides, no, I agree, I agree and I think that's why I love. The first step is taking care of you.

Kevin Petersen:

Oh yeah, you know, powerless over blank and our lives have become unmanageable, you know, and and this the second half of the first step our lives have become unmanageable. Is so critical? Yeah, because that means we're gonna have to start taking a look at the way we live, the way we act and the way we treat people. Yep, you know, and that's what has to change right, and sometimes we don't know.

Melissa Moore :

Our lives have become unmanageable, until something does blow up. Yeah, yeah, absolutely because you thought you had all the plates spitting.

Kevin Petersen:

That was my favorite analogy. I'm like remember the Bob Billak or the guys back there spinning all the plates? Yeah, and they're like, am I like? Yeah, okay, let the plates drop.

Melissa Moore :

And they're like so tough.

Kevin Petersen:

I'm like let the plates drop. What's I had? We had a great my. I had a great therapist. My first marriage marriage wasn't great, therapist, great.

Kevin Petersen:

And and and she said I want you to consider that there are three baskets. There's the a basket, the B basket and the C basket. A is life-threatening. A is like the kid is choking. Okay, the house is on fire. You know that's an a basket issue.

Kevin Petersen:

A B basket is we probably need to figure something out pretty darn quick here, but no one's gonna die, you know it's. We've got to come up with a solution. A See basket is. You know, sometime in the next couple months we're gonna have to sort this out, but it's not a crisis. And she's like here's the one rule you can't put Stuff in the a basket that belongs in the B basket and she goes. I want to give you a hint there's very little that goes in the a basket.

Kevin Petersen:

A basket is like someone has cancer, you know, and as she goes, and that's not your situation. So you guys got a quit living in this spiral of trauma and the spiral of chaos and crisis, right, and you've got to start. You know, and you got to start, and the way you do that is by dealing with your own stuff. Yep, favorite favorite phrase you know, you know, you know me, I have my catches. And my wife says we're gonna print t-shirts and it's gonna say Happy families come from happy individuals. Happy individuals work on their shit, everybody has shit. And and on the back it's gonna say and of course we're gonna talk about your child.

Melissa Moore :

It just all comes back there. I mean even just learning from the start of our conversation today that codependency is now family of origin trauma. Yeah, yeah, that one's gonna stick with me. I'm gonna call my sister, be like holy shit, guess what, because we'll send each other tiktoks. I'm like did you know?

Kevin Petersen:

I'll make one, because it does it everybody has shit.

Melissa Moore :

You got to deal with your own shit and yeah, there's pregnant stuff. I forget that's gonna go back to your family of origin. That's not pretty, I.

Kevin Petersen:

Well and again, people when they hear trauma, they think you know war, sexual assault, murder, and I'm like, no, that's what we call that big T trauma, right. And then there's little T trauma and little T trauma is just the accumulative things of like. We're talking about watching your parents fight, watching your parents not talk to each other, you know, dinner not being consistent, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. All those things, right that build up over time, that disrupt a child's emotional capacity and development.

Melissa Moore :

Well, and I think that's so huge to hear is that trauma does not have to be the big T, that the little T can affect you just as much, and that's okay.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, Sorry, sorry about that. They're speaking of trauma, Right, I mean, by the way. I want to be super clear. All this stuff I'm talking about, you know healthy lifestyles and everything and how to treat your partner it doesn't apply to how we handle our animals on any level whatsoever. They run the show.

Melissa Moore :

There's no boundaries. No no, no, no, no they sleep in the bed.

Kevin Petersen:

They get what they want, right, you know you go downstairs, the house is littered with dog toys. I mean, we are just pathetic. But, like you were talking about, you know the family of origin, trauma and being aware of that, because, because that awareness really is the big piece, right, it's understanding that you don't have to grow up in you know the worst of the worst of the worst, and that's what people always want to do.

Melissa Moore :

Well, that wasn't us.

Kevin Petersen:

I'm like look, I want to tell you something. It wasn't me either. You know, I grew up in a $2 million home. We had BMWs, we had trips to Hawaii. On the outside we had everything, but on the inside it was crazy town, you know, and there was just a lot of nutty behavior going on that it took me years to figure out and sort through. And that's the reality of the situation. And I want to be clear with you Everybody has a story. You know. Every time someone's like oh you know, these people are dysfunctional, I'm like everybody's dysfunctional, bro, there's no, there's no, there's no functional family.

Melissa Moore :

You know, we've never found the perfect family.

Kevin Petersen:

That's everything's groovy to be. You know that's not how it works. You know, and but it's how you respond to it. You know, and the response needs to be I love you. We're not going to do this anymore. Let's find you some help. You know, and not, you know, getting mad at people or coming. What's wrong with you? What happened to you? Let's, let's, let's figure this out together. I'm I'm going to support you. I may not be able to fix it, but I want to support you as you take care of yourself.

Melissa Moore :

Yeah Well, and I love what you just said, because I can see looking in the mirror too and saying that same thing I love you, we're not going to do this anymore.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, let's get you some help, right? Exactly, I mean, that's the, that's exactly. I mean people that do that generally have done it for themselves first, and they can offer it back to their loved ones and be like so here's the deal, I'm taking care of me and you know, I think you need to take care of you, but if you're, not going to do that. I don't know how much longer I'm going to stick around, you know and I'm not obligated to this, I don't have to do this, you know.

Kevin Petersen:

I mean, I choose to spend my time with you because I love you and I care about you, but if you're not going to take care of yourself, it turns out I can't do it for you. Yep, you know, and and and you know that's, that's a tough call.

Melissa Moore :

That is a tough call.

Kevin Petersen:

Yeah, it's very hard. I had to have that conversation with my mom. I'm like you know, I love you, but this is not healthy, Right. And she's like I don't know what you're talking about. I'm like, okay, cool, and I mean, and I hung out with my mom, but very limited you know, and I was just like you know this is it's not. It's not healthy.

Melissa Moore :

And and when you put your health and your boundaries first. Things become a lot more clear when you, when you stop looking at everybody else and what they're doing yeah right, so well, if you stop, you want to say, let's spread the word to the American people. Yeah, you know.

Kevin Petersen:

I think one of the things again cute little phrase is that you know, stop complaining about dealing with clowns. Ask yourself, why do I keep going to the circus? You know it's like. Well, you know, I mean it's easy for me to see because I'm a professional and I'm trained and I'm recovered and this but I'll talk to people and they're just like oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I'm like you know, you have a choice.

Kevin Petersen:

Just so we're clear you have a choice. You don't have. I always one of my favorite analogies is that every morning when you wake up, when you're living in this environment, every morning, when you wake up and you open your front door, it's like one of the cars from the roller coaster shows up and it's like oh hey, we're ready for you and you have a choice. You don't got to get in, you know, you don't got to go on the roller coaster ride. You can be like, you know, today, no roller coaster for me, thanks anyway. Yep, you know. And everyone's going to be like what do you mean? Oh, come on, you're not having any fun. And I'm like no, I like my life serene. Yep, you know, life's going to bring me stuff all by itself. I don't need to go manufacture it, I don't need and I don't need to talk, I don't need to take on your stuff. Yeah, and.

Kevin Petersen:

But again, that takes years of work and a lot of therapeutic awareness, and I would tell you that I also I mean, I'm a huge believer in Alenon and Code of Defense, anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics and all those programs, I think, and there's a lot of great therapists out there that do their own thing and that help people recover from that kind of, you know, family of origin trauma and traumatic childhood codependency, whatever you want to call it and, and as long as those people are helping you, address you and take a look at you, if you're in there constantly bitching about the other person and foguling here's what they did and here's what they did and here's what they did, that's not good therapy, right, you know, I'm sorry, it's just not. I mean initially, when you're doing like, let me tell you why I'm here. Oh, and, by the way, I have a memory of like, oh, okay, so, so what did you learn from that? Oh, I learned I needed to do this. Okay, how are we going to correct that? Yeah, yeah, and that's good therapy.

Melissa Moore :

Yeah, yeah. Well, I always love talking to you because we're going to talk about, because there's so much more to uncover.

Kevin Petersen:

Oh, I can. I have plenty of stuff to talk about All right.

Melissa Moore :

I'm counting on that, Kevin. Kevin Petersen, licensed marriage and family therapist and the starter, the founder, of Chronic Hope Institute. You can find out more information about the work that Kevin does. You can reach out to him at Chronic Hope dot us and I'll also throw that in the show notes. Until next time. I'm Melissa Moore.

Melissa Moore :

Thank you for listening and being here today for unshackling the soul. It would really mean a lot to me if you could take 30 seconds to do each of these three things. Number one follow or subscribe to the unshackling the soul podcast. And if you're kind of technically challenged like me, it's easy. Just go to the unshackling the soul show page on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcast. Then click on the plus sign in the upper right hand corner or just click on follow. And the nice thing is you never miss an episode and then I never miss a chance to get to connect with you. And while you're there, if you'd be willing to give me a five star rating and review and even share an episode with a friend, that would really mean a lot. I am so glad you're here and I really do believe you are here today, right now, listening for a reason and I appreciate you.

The Impact of Secrets in Addiction
Setting Boundaries in Codependent Relationships
Navigating Family Trauma and Seeking Help