Mary: Welcome to “The Voyage” a podcast for women touched by recovery. I’m your host, Mary Foster and today our guest will be Kate Daniels. Kate is a professor at Vanderbilt, a published author, and many other things. Due to some technical difficulties we lost the first few minutes of the interview. But it was so good we wanted to share it with you anyway so we’re gonna pick back up where the recording resumes.
So, going back to emotions and things of feeling fear and guilt, you mentioned shame. And there is a lot of stigma and shame surrounding the whole thing, not just for the family, but for people seeking help or deciding if they’re gonna seek help as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Kate: Yeah. I do think as you’ve said that shame is one of the biggest emotions that can come along particularly for a mother when she has a child suffering with this. And there’s all different kinds of shame, it’s your shame. As I said before you feel you failed as a mother, but there’s also I think a lot of shame in our society for many people about actually seeking some kind of help or some kind of support and admitting that there’s this kind of a problem in the family. In our family, one of the horrible kinds of macabre ironies that came out of this was that my husband and I used to say when we first got together and started having kids, we were wild to have kids. We were those young married people who just wanted to have a bunch of kids. But once we started having kids, and various things came up. We used to sort of joke with each other given the psychiatric histories of our families we should never have even been allowed to procreate.
My mother suffered from terrible depression. My grandmother was [inaudible 00:01:46] and she had psychotic breaks and was hospitalized many times. My husband’s father had bipolar disorder and actually committed suicide. There were all kinds of alcoholics in the family, there were other suicides. And so, some of our children were the genetic inheritors of some of these things, which of course, we didn’t think about when we were young and wild to procreate. Right? But because of that, we had availed ourselves, both the first people in our family have been served of the benefits of psychotherapy. And so, the idea that there could be something wrong that you couldn’t really see. It wouldn’t be like a pain in the leg or, you know, something that cut on your arm, but there could be something really wrong with the person that you couldn’t see, and that you could seek help for it. That was an idea that we were very comfortable with. And we had encouraged in our children, you know, to taking them to therapist or suggested you might wanna go to a therapist when they were having issues to work through. So, in some ways, it was a no-brainer for me to make that leap into Al-Anon and to admit yes, you know, we have a problem in our family and we need help.
Kate: And I have to add this, when my son first admitted that he needed help, he’d already had at least one hospitalization for detox. But he came into…it was on Easter Sunday and he had texted me and said that he wanted to come over really and talk. And he came in and I knew that things were very bad, and he sat on the sofa and looked at me and said, “I need help.” And that was a very important moment. We all know that’s an important moment, the voluntary nature of seeking, you know, recovery. But I often thought of that afterwards as this was something that was able to happen for him in our family because we had a history of saying, “Something’s wrong and I need help.”
And so, I encourage mothers who are struggling with this to try to help themselves not feel ashamed about reaching out and asking for whatever might help them. They think might help them or support them because this can’t be done by yourself. This is something that requires an enormous amount of support and a lot of people. And I’ll end this part of the anecdote of our story by telling another anecdote. At the end of this process, lengthy process, it was about two years for our family, my son came home on Christmas Day, which it’s his first day in his recovery group with his one-year chip and that was what he gave me for my Christmas present. And this part of the story still does check me up, but he found a moment to be alone with me, and we were standing there with our arms around each other and he’s saying to me, and I have thought upon the thought what will I say to him when I work my programs, say the right things, you know. And so, I congratulated him and told him and I said, “I’m so proud of you for how hard you’ve worked.” And he said a sentence that I will never forget. “A lot of people helped me, mom. A lot of people.” And that’s it, you know, you can’t do it by yourself. You have to have a lot of people and you can find those people at different places. The people in your family certainly, but in your friends, but also in a 12-step group, psychotherapy, a community of friends who gathered around you, who understand and can help you, whatever it takes.
Mary: I think, too, acknowledging all that mental health history in both of your families, you know, a lot of people don’t talk about that either. So, you feel like it’s just you or just our family looking through the history, but I think even as progressive as we’ve become in talking about things a little bit more, you still don’t hear about bipolar that often or, you know, severe depression, or suicide. I think people are nervous to talk about it and it just hinders finding information or resources.
Kate: Yeah. And of course, what you’re talking about is dual diagnosis, which was the situation in our family we have lots of bipolar and particular in both sides of our family. And that is a particular situation that needs even more support and…
Mary: How do you find the time to do, so, you’re very active in Al-Anon and you teach classes, and you are the director of the creative department, and you write and publish books, how do you make time for all of that?
Kate: I don’t know. I mean, I have more time now because I don’t have any kids at home. So, there’s no laundry and there’s need to have meals ready all the time. You’d have to drive people around that horrible soccer practice and put on their little pads and cleats. I don’t know, I used to say when they were young, as I said, I can tolerate a lot of chaos. I used to say when they were young that I just was gonna have no shame about the condition of my house for years, we had the laundry room downstairs and the dining room table was always piled with unfolded clean clothes, and I decided I can’t be humiliated about that, and I’m not gonna worry my car’s messy. So, I don’t know. I wanted to have kids so much and mothering. Being a mother has been the most profound part of my life. So, you know, it’s not gonna be perfect and it’s gonna be messy and disruptive and that was a part of it that I actually enjoyed, and my husband and I was very well-matched in that way. So, I don’t know what to say other than that.
Mary: Did you always work while there were young?
Kate: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Mary: Was it something that you ever questioned or you just always knew this is for me, you know?
Kate: Well, I grew up I’m a, sort of, classic baby boomer, you know. I was born in 1953, but I was born into the working class in the south. And my family had very little money, and all the women in my family worked. And my mother was first a typist and then a secretary. So, I grew up, with the model of a mother who got on clothes and those awful high heels from the 1950s and with red lipstick and went out every day to work. And that was part of my life. She couldn’t dare to stay home. A couple of times she felt guilty and she would quit and stay. We needed her to work, too, you know. We didn’t have enough money, she didn’t, but she got so bored. And so, she got back to work. So, I’ve never even occurred to me, what would you do if you stayed home, clean house all day. That was not something that was gonna work for me especially since I don’t care that much about cleaning.
Mary: It was a way to get out of it really.
Kate: Yeah. I later met, you know, and even had friends whose mothers had not worked and whose I came to discover the lives of women who don’t work are very different from what I had imagined them to be, but what I imagined them to be based on my mother was, I guess you have to clean if you stay home all day. And that wasn’t true, but so I grew up with that model. So, yes. I always knew that I would work and it’s a huge part of what I do. And I mean, when you do something like write poetry, which is so weird to most people, there’s not many places you can go and actually talk about that unless you’re teaching, in some context teaching English. And so, that’s been a really important part for me.
Mary: And so, you talked about teaching. I think I understand you’re also on, I hope I don’t mess it up, the American Psychoanalyst Conference Panel. What is that?
Kate: So, I’m associated for about 15 years. Again, you know, demonstrating our lack of fear in our family in any kind of psychotherapy or, you know, getting help for mental illness or mental disorders. I have been associated for about 15 years with an organization in Washington D.C. called The Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. And psychoanalysis is particular form of psychotherapy. You know, think of a person lying on their back, on a sofa with the therapist behind them and talk. And what I do up there is I teach writing. So, they have a program that combines psychoanalysis and writing, and I go up there three times a year. I was just there last weekend actually. And I teach writing, and that’s what I do.
Mary: And how did you get connected with that? Did they reach out to you?
Kate: I was in psychoanalysis in the early 2000s. I underwent that very intensive mode of therapy. And when I finished that, I wanted to continue my sort of formal education in a way in clinical psychoanalysis, and I found on the internet this program. So, actually, I was a student in this program. It’s a three-year program, and I did that for three years, and then they asked me if I would come back and teach writing up there [inaudible 00:11:17].
Mary: So, for all the things that you’re doing in your career, are you at your peak? Are you at your best? Or is there something that you’re still gunning for? Or do you even know?
Kate: I don’t know. I’ll turn 65 this summer which is huge and unbelievable. So, I’m thinking about retirement and feelings of closure around my academic career. I imagine of course that I’ll always read and write. An enormous amount of energy is freed up when a mother’s children meet home. For me, as soon as all three of mine were out of the house and pretty much on their own, this situation of addiction developed in our family, so that took me some more years. It took up a lot of energy for a good number of years. So I do feel in the certain way as if I am in a period where there feels like there’s a lot happening. This focus coming out. I’ve just finished teaching writing workshop. I just finished on Tuesday night here in Nashville for an organization called The Porch, Nashville’s literary community and the workshop was called “Writing For Recovery” and I designed it for people whose lives have been affected by addiction. Interestingly, 12 people were in the workshop, 11 of them were women.
Mary: Wow. I also like that there were 12.
Kate: I didn’t think of that actually, but I think I should have. And so, women have had the energy or the time to do that earlier and then going to Kent State University in next month to do a little mini residency around “Writing in Recovery.” I’m gonna work with a church in a year, a United Church of Christ that is deeply involved in the recovery efforts in that community with the opioid epidemic has struck very strongly, so and a number of things like that. I’m writing some more article.
Mary: Wow. And just to touch back on your book a little bit. Remind me what it’s gonna be called and when it’s gonna be out, and where people can find it?
Kate: I don’t know if we have time for this, but may I read one poem?
Mary: Absolutely. I love it.
Kate: Okay. So, my book is going to be called “In the Months of My Son’s Recovery,” it comes out about a year from now, and it’ll be covered by Louisiana State University Press. And I’m not sure what poem I wanted. I think I’ll read a poem because they’re not about addiction except peripherally. What they’re about is the experience of being…in relation to someone who is suffering with addiction. Okay. So, these poems are all written from the perspective of someone who is going through shelter to shelter with a loved one who is in the grip of addiction and then attempting to get into recovery. So, this is a poem that’s called, “The Power of Narrative,” as I was telling you before. One of the first things I noticed in my support group was how similar the experience of being in an Al-Anon meeting, felt to the experience I had in my head when I write poem, and simultaneous feeling of extreme emotional freedom, but all these constraints. Because when you go to a meeting there’s things that are said in the beginning, in the end, you have only a very circumscribed amount of time you can speak. You can’t answer anybody, no one can speak to you. So, a lot of these stories, a lot of these poems are about that experience. This is called, “The Power of Narrative.”
Even with the sprawling unbound stomach of dead life,
And the lumpy breasts she doesn’t bother to hitch up anymore.
Something makes her shine.
So, in my mind I call her gas light lamp.
The kind you find on the town homes of the rich
That flame steadily, nonstop.
Hooked up to some fossil fuel source
That energizes those generous pools of light they shed.
Both day and night.
Like that, she walks around shining.
Lit from inside, but not by something shut up
Snorted, smoked, years sense that.
At a meeting once, I heard her tell her story,
And had to step outside and take a moment to clear those images from my head.
All that stuff about what she did to the kittens and their mother cat.
How would anyone ever come back from that.
But there she was, and I could see her,
Through the window in her garish-colored polyester slacks.
Her un-dyed frizzy hair, and her cheap plastic flats.
All her ordinary splendor.
The kind I never recognized until I started coming to this room,
With its cinder-block walls,
And its scale snow of old coffee
Where all I have to do is show up,
And sit quietly, and wait my turn
And listen to some stories.
So, just break to achieve closure as poets like to do. Find your group, they’re there. Listen to stories, when and if you’re ever ready tell your story and you’ll find help.
Mary: Thank you so much for sharing that, and for coming, and I just think you’re amazing. Just wanna tell you that. If people want to find you or reach out to you online, how can they connect with you?
Kate: Well, I have a Facebook page, and of course, I am accessible through the…main site of the English department at Vanderbilt University. And they can connect directly with me there. Either of those would be the best way to do it through my Facebook page or just find me through the English department of Vanderbilt.
Mary: Great. And we’ll link Kate on the website, and thank you guys all so much for listening and watching. I’m Mary Foster, host of “The Voyage” podcast. You can find me online on Twitter, Instagram @maryelisefoster. “The Voyage” podcast is there, too, at @voyagepodcast. This podcast is part of the Journey Peer Podcast Network produced by Todd Schlosser. We would love it if you would review and rate us with all of the stars and glowing reviews. And we’ll see you in two weeks.