S1 E5: Selena Stockley on Family Dynamics Across Cultures

Selena Stockley, Executive Director of Serenity View, joins host David Condos to talk about how family dynamics influence our views of addiction and mental health and how we can start the honest conversations that inspire recovery.

Podcast Transcript

Selena Stockley: Hi, I’m Selena Stockley and I’m the executive director at Serenity View here in Princeton, Texas.

David Condos: All right, Selena, thank you so much for joining us.

Selena: Thank you.

David: Good to have you with us. Yes, we’ll start with you introducing us to you and your story and how you came to care about recovery. I know you have some family history that led this to being so important to you, so let’s start there.

Selena: Yes. I have been in behavioral health field for about 24 years. I started my career in psychiatric services and worked with all ages, children and adolescents from ages four to 17 and then started working with the adult population and–

David: That’s a big difference, four to 17?

Selena: Oh, yes. It definitely teaches you a lot about patients. Then I started working with the geriatric population, which also teaches you a lot about patients. Then I had the opportunity about three and a half years ago to come to Texas and work in a specialized unit in the addiction recovery realm.

David: That was your first kind of foray into the addiction side?

Selena: Correct. I kind of felt like I was coming back full circle. Part of my story is that I am an adult child of an alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic for most of my childhood and early adult years and he went into recovery about five years ago. Then being the daughter of a codependent mother, firstborn, I was–

David: They were doing a lot of learning on the job when you came around?

Selena: Absolutely, and they were very young when they had me. My parents were in their teens. I feel like in some ways, we kind of grew up together. Growing up, you don’t know what you don’t know, as far as what the disease and how it affects and how many layers it can have on the family. Now that I work at a facility with amazing people, I’ve gotten a better understanding of it, that I have a lot of empathy. That’s really what my passion is, is just to be there for our patients and especially the families.

To this day, a lot of my family members still don’t quite understand the disease and how it affects. I think now more than ever, we have to stand together and really support one another and get that education out and let people know that it’s okay, that you’re not alone, that you can overcome it. It’s going to be hard work but there’s a community out there that supports you and wants you to be successful.

David: Yes. I just want to back up a little bit because you said your dad, you grew up adult child of an alcoholic now and you grew up with him, and he just came to recovery five years ago?

Selena: Yes.

David: Wow, so did you play a role in that? What finally clicked for him?

Selena:I think the thing that finally clicked for my father is, my father was a Vietnam vet; he experienced so many things in Vietnam and he never came back and really processed that, which is a lot of what our military and their loved ones are experiencing now. What they go through and the trauma that they go through, those are things you just don’t come back and sit down with a two-year-old, a five-year-old and explain.

For my dad, I think it was very much an eye-opener when a lot of his friends who were dying of the disease, cirrhosis of the liver, because they came back from Vietnam and they never expressed, they didn’t have an outlet and they were drinking to hide their pain. I think that was a really big eye-opener. Also, I have a younger sibling. My youngest sister is an alcoholic. They have really looked at the disease and how it has affected the family and some of the behaviors that my father had, have now come with my sister, my younger sister, and I think that was also an eye-opener.

David: He was kind of getting that outside perspective of, “Oh, that’s what that looks like.” To have somebody you love acting that way or making those choices. Yes.

Selena: Right. Then there’s the other component to have been in a Hispanic culture. The men are very macho, you don’t show emotion. In the Hispanic culture, it’s very reserved–

David: Don’t ask for help. Yes.

Selena: Don’t ask for help because that’s a sign of weakness. You’re the protector; you take care of your family. My dad had three girls. From in a relationship level, when you have a young father too, how does he relate to girls, to young daughters? Just in recent years, we’ve come to a better understanding. If my father and my family can really recognize it, I know that there’s so many other families out there, even in the Hispanic culture, the Asian culture, Indian culture, Native American culture, we really don’t discuss it. I think now is the time to really have those conversations and we’re seeing a lot of that because it affects everybody; the disease affects every race and it plays favorites against no one. It affects everybody.

David: Yes. How do we get there? Looking at the cultural piece, who starts that conversation and starts to make that change?

Selena: It’s about education and it’s about letting people know at a very young age, this is part of life. Whether you are a baby boomer, you grow up and you’re not to talk about anything that’s negative, only talk about positive things. If you’re sad, you really shouldn’t express it. You need to stay strong. People need to see you as a strong person. I think now, and especially as we’re one big melting pot. My kids are biracial, so we are connecting with every kind of culture and we are a community now that’s becoming more diverse. It’s okay to have these conversations about, “Are you feeling sad? Tell me what it is that you’re sad about.”

Also normalizing a little bit that there is no such thing as perfection, that it’s okay. You might not be an athlete and you’re just as precious and you’re just as valuable as someone that’s an athlete. You might not be a good painter, but guess what, you might be a great singer. Just to be able to express because I think that means so much, especially as you get into your adult years.

David: Looking at the work you do now, I know one of the big pieces of that that you’re passionate about is this family piece. You’ve already touched on it a little bit. Could you dive a little bit deeper into that concept of family dynamics, the role that codependency can play and how that can have all these ramifications spreading out?

Selena: Absolutely. One of the things that I have found, especially working in the addiction component, is that that family piece is so important, that we don’t spend enough time talking about it. One of the things that we’re doing it at Serenity is that we are expanding our family education program. When a family member admits one of their loved ones, the first thing that happens is a family counselor will make contact with the family-

David: Making sure they know they’re part of it, they’re involved. Yes.

Selena: Correct. That in order for the patient to be successful, it’s going to involve them. In the past, I think people have had this and I knew this when my sister was younger and she was in treatment, you’re going to come in for the day and do like a family session. Really understanding what we do at our facility is we talk about the disease, the history of the disease, how the brain functions, how dopamine levels affect the brain but then what the what is the family’s role in that? It’s been very surprising to me to have a lot of family members that, “I want to send my loved one to treatment.” “Get them well and we’ll come visit them at a family session.” They play a big–

David: It’s not their job. It’s kind of with you.

Selena: Right, it’s not their job. It’s really surprising to me because when you have an alcoholic or you have someone an addict, nine times out of 10 there is something behind that that has led that person to that behavior. In some cases, decease itself through a trauma. What I have been really surprised about is how many family members really don’t take, like I never drank, my parents never drank, we’re not alcoholics, I have no idea where they got this from.

Then you really start to find out some of the stories that maybe depression played a big part, that there was maybe a family secret or two, and those things play out and those things, those secrets, or those things of not really sharing, we all know we have this intuitive sense of what might be going on in a family, but if we don’t talk about it, how all of those things can affect the person with the disease. It’s really important that the family members take accountability and have some sense of understanding that they have a role to play in their loved ones disease and how they can help and how can they look at themselves?

One of the things that we do in our family education program is, the first day and a half is intensive work with just the family. Dr. Kevin McCauley, one of our senior fellows at the Meadows comes in, and he presents at our family weekends. He really talks to the family about disease and the brain and how we take and receive information. It’s been really beneficial to the families to have this almost an aha moment of, “Wow, I didn’t think about that.”

David: Understanding the neurobiology, the science of it.

Selena: The science of the brain, and how did we get to this point? Then the next day and a half, we bring the loved one in that’s in treatment. We do a lot of role playing and we do a lot of- we read cost letters. For us the cost letter is–

David: What does that mean?

Selena: Cost letter is what has the disease cost in the family and the relationship with their loved one? It could be a cost letter from a father, a mother, sister, brother, wife, spouse, child, grandparent. It’s a really eye-opener, it’s very hard for our patients, but at some level, it’s good for our patients because they are now detoxed. They are not consuming and they are not taking type of an altering medication, where they can hear and process that information. It’s a release for the parents too and the loved ones, but then it’s also that release for the patient because the patient also explains and can spend time with the family in a safe environment with counselors to talk about why they didn’t really share or why they couldn’t come and discuss. Sometimes it’s accountability too on the family members.

I have found that to be one of the most beneficial things. It’s something that families, when we have alumni dinners, and we invite all of the family members in November, they’ve come back to me over and over and have said that the Family Education Program changed their life. Their loved one had been in treatment numerous times, and things have failed, but the family education program was like the final missing piece to the puzzle, and it was an opportunity for the family to be able to make change and hold themselves accountable.

David: Get everyone on the same page.

Selena: Exactly. And stay in treatment, and go to support groups and get in counseling themselves. It’s healthy. I think that’s one of the things where you had mentioned about how do we spread this word going to counselor is okay? It’s healthy, it’s good too.

David: That’s for normal people. That’s not only when you’re somebody we don’t want to talk about on the corner of the family.

Selena: Absolutely. It’s healthy.

David: I know another element of this is how being in that family, how the family dynamic can change our view of what’s normal, being in that perspective. How do you see that play out? Then how do you change that perspective?

Selena: One of my favorite authors is John Bradshaw in Family Secrets. I read that in college and it was one of the things that really kicked in for me, was how family secrets really can hurt a family and when you don’t talk about it, you don’t talk about why your father came home really inebriated and was banging dishes and turning on lights and yelling and screaming at 1:00 in the morning, and that’s not normal. At that same time, you wake up in the morning and you’re having breakfast, and you don’t talk about it. It never happened.

David: That still affects you.

Selena: It does because that’s your reality. You don’t talk about things. You don’t talk about what just happened or I don’t think that’s normal that dads should be coming home at 1:00 in the morning and not calling and being really angry about having to come home. One of the things that happens sometimes when you’ve got young parents, they’re frustrated and have no idea how to parent and they’re upset about it and they’re making statements like, “I didn’t sign up for this or I can’t wait till everyone’s 18 and leaves. I just want to leave.”

When you hear those things as a young child, that impacts you. That’s one of the things about working in addiction and working in this field, you get a better understanding and you do get some empathy. Some of those same things that I think P. Melody says some of your biggest woes also you get your biggest strength from. They make you who you are, that’s part of that inherent worth and they’ve made an impact on your life.

I adore my parents, I adore my siblings. I’ve learned a lot from them. But then I’ve also learned at my age now that it’s an experience and we should be able to talk about it and you can grow from it when you talk about it, stuff in those feelings.

David: That’s cool. Like you mentioned John Bradshaw humility. You were saying before cording that their teachings meant a lot to you. That’s cool to see it come full circle now working at the Meadows and they’re part of the Meadow senior fellows. That’s quite-

Selena: I know, that’s probably been one of my most biggest blessings with working with the Meadows. You read some of these books and you’re just, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” Then when you get to meet them, and I didn’t get to meet John Bradshaw, but P. Melody, I’ve gotten to meet her and spend some time with her and it’s amazing. Just a pioneer and you really relate and her teachings have really helped. It’s helped me be a better mother, be a better friend, be a better wife, be a better daughter.

David: Looking at the behavioral health industry, the treatment industry, what would be one thing that you would like to change here? If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Selena: It would be that people aren’t so quick to just take off mental health off the table. It goes back to one of the things in certain states. I’ve worked in Oklahoma, first things that get cut as a state budgetary is always mental health. Texas as well, not recognizing sometimes mental health. We put that aside. We’ll treat cancer, we’re going to treat diabetes, but addiction, people still in this world think that it’s a choice. It’s not a choice. It’s the disease. It’s the disease and it’s overpowering, it’s overwhelming, and you just can’t turn it off and choose to be an alcoholic and choose not to be an alcoholic.

For me, it would be about people really understanding when you get health insurance, they’re making sure that there’s mental health in there and people talk about it. We talked a little bit earlier about the things that have happened in our country, especially in the last 96 hours with mass shootings, and the talks and the debates about gun control and mental health and who has access. At any point in time, it’s not just about mental health. Mental health affects everybody, and it spares no expense on age, demographic, culture, and diversity.

What I would really want and if I could have one wish, it would be that we really talk about mental health and that we provide services for mental health, and we make it part of every day that we discuss it and we don’t discuss it just when there’s a crisis, or when there’s something that’s tragic, a tragedy has occurred, that we talk about it every single day, and that it’s important that we, we talked about wellness, health, physical, but that’s also part of your mental health too.

There’s something that I could do to get people to change their perspective about that. It would be that we have to talk about it and we need to support it and we need to embrace it. You don’t wait till it’s too late because we look at that as an after fact. Sometimes if we could be more proactive, we probably wouldn’t get to some of the places that we’ve gotten to recently.

David: That gets back to the family secret

Selena: Absolutely.

David: It’s like we’re this big family of America, and we can’t have that family secrets sitting over there.

Selena: Right, exactly. You look at some of the data and you really talk about United States being the highest. I think the 250 plus mass shootings, this year alone, and you look at other countries in comparison, and they don’t. Well, they also talk about mental health. They’re a little bit more open to it. They discuss it. They have preventative as part of healthcare and insurance in some of their plans. Here it’s selective.

David: Then what would be, off the top of your mind, what would be one recovery book, recovery resource that you keep coming back and keep recommending?

Selena: Interesting that you say, obviously, Facing Codependence is one of my favorite books.

David: That’s Pia Melody, which you mentioned earlier.

Selena: That’s Pia Melody’s book. Another one is Growing Yourself Back Up, which is a great book for an ACOA because it’s about regulation, and it’s about your feelings but not having these perceptions of what everybody else is thinking. It’s about you in the moment, what do you feel, and being able to express yourself. Growing Yourself Back Up is a really good book. Then Living Like You Mean It, which is what I talked about, being present center.

We grow up with not really, like I had mentioned before about not being able to express your feelings because maybe you didn’t want to upset the apple cart. You didn’t want to upset your parents or anyone. Living Like You Mean Itis about really being in the present and experiencing your feelings and being okay, which also relates to Pia Melody’s talking boundaries.

David: What would be one piece of advice, something related to recovery that you’ve received yourself or something that you love to pass on and see really impact people?

Selena: One of the things that has really helped me, and I have noticed with my staff and with our patients is that there is no such thing as perfection, and progress comes at different times, at different moments. Never sell yourself short. If you can be in present center, I think that’s probably one of the biggest things. As a human, we are always tending to look at what’s going to happen in the future, but you miss out on a lot of life. I think one of the things that have really helped me that I’ve really embraced is that you have to be present center and be in the moment and understanding that there is no such thing as perfection.

Your life is a canvas. There are no bad paintings. What you create, it’s up to you. You don’t have to be what everybody else expects you to be. When you’re at present center and you have the opportunity to just really take a deep breath, you realize that you can regulate yourself, and everything’s going to be okay. The biggest part of coming into treatment is that fear, but it is so important. It is so important that people really look at present center to say, “Where you are at this point right now, is that how you really want to be or do you just want to take that leap of faith?”

When you can take that leap of faith, things can happen for you if you’re just willing to try. I think that’s the biggest thing because people come in with this idea that, “I’m going to go into recovery. I’m going to go into treatment. They’re going to dictate everything. I will have no power. I don’t want to cry, but I want to be well, and I never want to take a drink again.” That’s not really how it works. It’s hard. It’s messy, but it’s worth it in the end.

David: It requires you to open up.

Selena: It does. It requires you to be true to yourself.

David: Selena Stockley is the executive director of Serenity View, an inpatient recovery program for co-occurring addiction and mental health issues located north of Dallas, Texas. You can find out more about Serenity View’s staff and their approach to treatment at serenityview.com.

To check out more episodes of this podcast and find all kinds of other resources and tools for Meadows Behavioral Healthcare visit beyondtheorypodcast.com. Finally, thank you for listening and I hope you’ll join us again next time for another episode of Beyond Theory.