A Journey of Uncovering
Co-owner and member of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin
Many times, before substance use, there is trauma. Confusing, and sometimes destructive, messages from others about who we are as children affect the way we develop, cope, and mature. Lynn McLaughlin talks about her journey of self discovery, which she calls uncovering. Uncovering the real you takes time, support, and self-forgiveness. Lynn is a co-owner and member of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast Wisconsin. She can be reached at https://www.ebbandflowcooperative.com. Support services are available for mental health. Nationally, you can start your search at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help.
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Guitar Music]
[00:00:12] Mike: Welcome everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. We've had a number of guests who've been willing to share their recovery journey, and you know, no two roads towards recovery are exactly alike.
And I love those stories, I always find them interesting. My guest today is a familiar one to those of you who listen to this. It's Lynn McLaughlin. An entrepreneur, author, peer, trainer, consultant, and co-owner and member of Ebb & Flow Connections Cooperative in Northeast, Wisconsin. And when we were talking the last time, Lynn volunteered some information, so I invited her back on to talk about her own recovery.
Welcome back, Lynn.
[00:00:54] Lynn: Thank you so much for asking. I like talking about recovery.
[00:00:59] Mike: [00:01:00] I'm glad you wanna start there. For those of you who don't know this, and why would you, Lynn just got back from a vacation in Hawaii, so we're gonna deliberately not talk about that. Is that right?
[00:01:10] Lynn: Yeah. That's alright. I'm gonna be dreaming about - no. Okay. I'll be present.
[00:01:15] Mike: I'll start throwing stuff though. You know, when we talk recovery, I think it's always a great way to start by giving us a little bit of a map into your own story. So how long has it been?
[00:01:28] Lynn: So I like to give depth to my answers.
[00:01:31] Mike: Yes.
[00:01:32] Lynn: And I like to talk about recovery because for me, recovery is not when I started using substances.
Recovery to me is, from the day I took my first breath until today, because you need to know my whole story to really understand why substance use came into the picture in my mind. So I'm gonna be 60 in a few [00:02:00] weeks. So that's a lot of ground to cover if we're gonna talk about right now.
[00:02:04] Mike: That's alright.
[00:02:05] Lynn: That's a lot of years.
Like I said, it's important to know the whole story. I started using substances at the age of 12. I firmly believe that I began - well, I know, not even believe, I know - that my substance use came about because of my trauma.
[00:02:27] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:02:28] Lynn: Because of things that were happening within my family of origin. Different types of abuse that were happening in my childhood home. I think it's also really important to name trauma, both individual, family, collective, and systemic trauma. I think we have to look at all of those pieces, and in my mind, as a young person, the message I received from all of [00:03:00] those levels of trauma was that it was not okay to be me.
[00:03:04] Mike: Hmm.
[00:03:06] Lynn: And I used substances to hide who I was.
[00:03:10] Mike: Yeah.
[00:03:11] Lynn: Because it ended up taking a lot of time and energy to hide who I was. So when I think about recovery too, I can't just talk substance use because there were lots of different ways that I shifted out of who I am to try and be acceptable to everyone outside of me.
When I talked to people in high school, so I started using alcohol at the age of 12, and I talked to people from high school now, which is, you know, 42 years later. And even earlier when I gave up substances and started talking about what was real for me, people in high school had no idea the level of pain I was in.
Even in my early twenties, they had no [00:04:00] idea the shame and secrets I was holding onto. My family is upper middle class family. Dad, a business owner, very involved in community. So there was a really rigid line between what we showed in public and what was happening at home. And that juggling of mask wearing got really hard, for lack of another term, and substance use helped me let go of some of my anxiety. It helped me let go of my pain for a little bit.
If I were to classify myself as a substance user, I was a lot of fun. And what I've realized is I'm a lot of fun without substances, but at the time I didn't think anyone wanted to be around me. Like I said, what was going on on the inside versus what [00:05:00] people saw was very different.
[00:05:02] Mike: Well, and substances may have helped you cover the feelings, but it didn't help you figure out who you were.
[00:05:10] Lynn: Right.
[00:05:12] Mike: So how did you get there? That's the real recovery journey, right? .
[00:05:15] Lynn: Wow. How much time do we have?
[00:05:17] Mike: Oh, hours.
[00:05:20] Lynn: No, this is a very short podcast.
[00:05:22] Mike: Yeah.
[00:05:23] Lynn: Boy, it was a journey. You know, I constantly sought validation, approval, identity outside of myself. I have been married three times. I always joke around about I was the person that, you know, I didn't date a lot in high school. The first person I really dated, it was kind of like, "hi, I do." And then it was, "hi, I do." And then it was, "hi, I do." And then I was engaged a fourth time and I kinda went, "hi, hang on, hang on."
Who I was as a [00:06:00] person changed in every marriage from what I wore, to the music I listened to, to the way that I responded to who that person was. And it wasn't, honestly, it wasn't until - if I had to put a date on my recovery, I would say 1992.
That was a point in my life where I started recognizing that I was falling apart in a lot of different ways. I was not using substances at that point, but I knew that, I wasn't okay. And I started counseling, I was anorexic at the time. You know, there were so many ways that I was trying to control my life that had nothing to do with internal power.
[00:06:56] Mike: Well, and hence -
[00:06:57] Lynn: I'm looking at you for a prompt. Cause I'm like -
[00:06:59] Mike: Yeah, well [00:07:00] the discussions we've had on feelings, right, on past podcasts, where you're not getting the external - like, that wasn't doing it for you. Like, okay, I've changed my taste in music, I changed my taste in fashion. I'm doing what this person thinks I should do to be okay, and I'm still not okay.
[00:07:17] Lynn: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I remember when I was, I must have been in my early forties. My sister and I were having a conversation. Obviously we have the same upbringing and have both done healing pretty simultaneously and have grown and all of that.
But I was in the process of starting a business and she asked me, are you afraid of success? Or something like that, and I said, I don't think I'm afraid of success. And are you afraid of failure? And I said, I don't think so. But then she turned it inward for me because for my entire life I felt [00:08:00] like a failure. Like I wasn't going to have a failure, I was a failure. Like that was my identity.
And she said, Lynn, what if that's not who you are?
[00:08:12] Mike: Hmm.
[00:08:13] Lynn: And at that moment, I was simultaneously terrified and relieved because it was like you mean I can let go of that label that was given to me at a very young age?
[00:08:28] Mike: And you weren't. You weren't.
[00:08:31] Lynn: Right. Right. I was very much the person in the family that was outcast. I was the person that was kind of pushed out of the family in so many different ways, and I always felt like that meant I was unlovable.
[00:08:46] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:47] Lynn: That I was a failure. So when she asked me that question, it felt like my slate was clean, and it was, like I said, simultaneously terrifying and excited. [00:09:00] And I literally remember taking every day kind of things and looking at them, something like a tomato and saying, do I really enjoy this? Is this me or isn't it? You know, listening to music, is this me or isn't it? And little by little I have created a palette that's me. But it was terrifying. I don't know how to describe it other than that, because it's like, here I am, early forties and I don't know who I am?
[00:09:35] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:36] Lynn: And if there's anything I can share with people that are listening, you will never know who you are completely, but celebrate who you are today and keep that curiosity about who you are alive.
[00:09:50] Mike: Well, I think that's a huge thing for so many of us. Like we were talking before this started about different sorts of recovery, right? Doesn't always have to be [00:10:00] substance use. And finding that out.
So I'd be interested in this; how do you then, go from, do I like this tomato? Is this me? To - how do you figure that out? Like what's you and what's external? How did you get to the point where, like you said, adding little by little?
[00:10:20] Lynn: Lot of time. A lot of time. Recovery to me, you know, if we're talking substance use terms, it's not about the substances at all. It's about how much of myself can I share with the world. So as I'm figuring out who that is, am I comfortable saying, no, I don't like tomatoes, or, you know what, I love tomatoes and it doesn't matter who I'm in the company of.
[00:10:48] Mike: Yeah.
[00:10:49] Lynn: To be able to say that and to own that part of who I am, and the only way to do that is practice. It's being willing to be uncomfortable with [00:11:00] showing who you are. I don't think our collective culture encourages that. You know, as we look at all the different frameworks, I think of capitalism and going into a workplace, and you come there to produce, not to show up as who you are.
So once we get to the point, I mean, I'm very comfortable doing it now, like it doesn't matter.
[00:11:25] Mike: Yeah.
[00:11:26] Lynn: I will show whatever parts of my personality or my history or whatever, I'm comfortable with that. But when you are first coming into a journey of self-discovery and really recognizing why am I afraid to show that piece of myself?
And I think about that around emotion a lot. Anger was not an emotion that was allowed in my family for women. We were not allowed. My brother and my dad were allowed to have anger. And my mom did to a point when the males were not around.
But [00:12:00] recognizing, you know, why was I afraid of anger? Why did I attract angry men? I mean, I almost have always attracted angry men, and what was it about that? To me it was familiar, you know, that was something that was familiar to me. But being able to today recognize it's okay for me to have anger, it's okay for me to express anger. It's okay for me to sit with someone who is angry and it has nothing to do with anything from my past anymore. But for many, many years, all of those tapes that were created during my childhood dictated the way that I walked through life, and that included substance use.
My family used alcohol for everything. I think Wisconsin does. I think about, you know, why in the world would we have alcohol at a baby shower? You know, it doesn't make any sense and yet that's the norm here.
So [00:13:00] yeah, and it's been a really long journey and it's something, you know, I say that I can show up as I am in all kinds of situations. And you know what, I'm gonna clarify that, that's a lie, because there's still situations where I go, yeah, I don't think I fit here, and will withdraw. You know, I think that people have always thought that I'm incredibly extroverted because I love people. But I'm incredibly introverted and I pull back into my shell, and that's where my safety and my recharging comes from.
[00:13:36] Mike: You know, when you talk about kids, when kids are judged and live in judgment, it's not easy for them to get out of that cycle. And, you know, many, many of us spend a long time trying to figure out who are we and what are we okay with? And not being afraid of people judging us. People judge us every day. You're judged every day, [00:14:00] right?
[00:14:01] Lynn: Right. Well, and I think, like I said, I think it's that trauma piece of individual family, collective and systemic. When we think about our education system, and I could go off on a tangent here, but telling kids to sit still, be quiet, and yet they have emotions coming up, and they have, you know, needs and wants, and the school system says, be a robot. And then you get in the work environment and it says, here's where you're acceptable as a robot. There's a lot of change that needs to happen in our world, and I hope I see it, and I hope I'm a part of it.
Some of my school experiences were really traumatic. I had a first grade teacher at the time that if you were speaking or misbehaving in the classroom, she would pick you up and put you in the garbage can.
[00:14:59] Mike: Oh my [00:15:00] goodness.
[00:15:00] Lynn: And yeah, literally you were garbage to her if you didn't behave.
Now, granted, that's like I said, many, many, many years ago. And I think the teaching profession has changed a great deal, and I think there's more passion in teaching than there was back when I was five/six years old. But yeah, so recovery to me is life.
[00:15:23] Mike: You know, when you talk about that, I spend a lot of time in schools, and when you look at the little ones, the wee ones, right? They're so good at meeting their own needs. They're experts at it. You know, if they need a hug, they come up and hug your leg. I've dragged kids around, a lot. If they're on the playground and they need some attention, they reach out and grab the playground supervisor's hand and she looks at them and says, do you need anything?
And they just go, no. Well, yeah, they did. They got it right. And then we extinguish that. We tell them to stop doing that, and then I think we spend the rest of our lives trying to get it back.
[00:15:57] Lynn: Yeah.
[00:15:57] Mike: To be able to express our own needs [00:16:00] and surround ourself with people that meet our own needs.
[00:16:04] Lynn: Yeah. Recovery is, Karen and I will often say "uncovery," because there's so much conditioning and layering about who we're supposed to be, and we start to pull that back and then we see who we really are.
And sometimes that's really scary because that can feel really vulnerable, especially after years and years of being told no, this is who you are. You know, whether that's gender roles, or classism roles or however you wanna put it. All the different conditioning that happens and being able to come back to yourself.
I mean, one of the biggest pieces of my trauma that I think is really important, is all of the things that I created as a young person to survive that may or may not serve me as an adult. [00:17:00] They were creative and brilliant when I'm able to look at it through the eyes of my inner child, the little person inside me, the ways that she found - I mean, hiding was a big one for me. I wanted to blend in with the walls. If you saw me, you could hurt me. So I didn't want anyone to ever see me. So I hid a lot in my childhood. I had a couple of places that I could hide. And it's funny now knowing the power of our breath, I actually could get to a point where I could breathe so shallowly that you didn't know I was there. And that was intentional because I didn't wanna be found because I could be hurt.
[00:17:44] Mike: Okay. So then as you get rid of some of that behavior, or modify it, or then uncover - relationships change.
[00:17:54] Lynn: Mm-hmm.
[00:17:55] Mike: I mean you referenced your sister before, so I can only imagine that that relationship [00:18:00] has evolved. But not everybody probably accepted who you were becoming and uncovering, and some of them tried to probably get you back into the slot they were comfortable with.
[00:18:12] Lynn: Oh, yeah. And some of them, you know, the rest of my family has not been in the picture for a really, really, really long time. And that was an intentional decision because of the role that they needed me to play that I didn't wanna play anymore. So being able to step away from that.
I just read a really good article on what is it about our culture that says that family is the be all, end all, and the love that I have felt from friends, the love that I have felt from all different kinds of relationships that I have in my life, whether it's an old coworker or somebody I went to school with. Their [00:19:00] unconditional acceptance of me makes them family.
[00:19:04] Mike: Okay, let's talk about that a minute, because I hear that a lot, right? And I don't think that there's any place in our culture that we get "should"-on more than when it comes to family. "You shouldn't do that. You shouldn't feel that. You shouldn't say that. Blood is stickered in water. You should resolve these. You should go to that Christmas thing. You should go over there -," and my response to that is always why?
[00:19:31] Lynn: According to who?
[00:19:32] Mike: Well, right.
[00:19:35] Lynn: I should according to who?
[00:19:37] Mike: So I think, Lynn, it's according to those people who would feel more comfortable if you just continued to play the role. It makes them uncomfortable if you're not willing to play the role. I've had so many young people say when they went away to college that all of a sudden their parents had to look in the mirror and all of a sudden realize who they really were without their kid to focus on. And I think it's the same thing when we take care [00:20:00] of ourselves, isn't it?
[00:20:02] Lynn: I would totally agree with that. And I think it's also interesting watching my daughter go through that and going to college and really starting to cement who she is as a person. And I have always, that's a lie, I have always tried to create a space where we can be authentic with each other. And you know, she always has permission to say, not now mom, or your opinion is very different than mine. And I have always allowed for that because I don't want her to feel like I am making her into a mini me. She is not a mini me at all. Watching her figure out what that looks like has been incredibly beautiful.
And I think so often the conditioning we receive, we wanna pass on [00:21:00] and when we can go, no, just let them figure out who they are and support them - boy, we got off topic!
[00:21:08] Mike: Well, no, that is topic and I love that because how do you -
[00:21:10] Lynn: I'm glad you edit.
[00:21:12] Mike: How do you learn that? Because that's a huge issue I think, for so many of us who grew up in less than functional families.
Like how do you parent, how do you become a good parent? If you didn't see great parenting or experience it, let's put it that way, because we see it. If you didn't experience it, how do you know what it is?
[00:21:31] Lynn: That's a really good question. For me, it was my first sponsor in recovery helped me. I witnessed the way she interacted with her children, and I was like, I have no idea what that is.
And she also gave me the best permission ever. She told me, Lynn, none of us know what we're doing. And that was so freeing to know that I can figure it out as I go. [00:22:00] Like I don't need to have answers for my child from the time, you know, the time they're born until they're eighteen. It's gotta be an interactive relationship building. But that was modeled by my sponsor and I will be forever grateful to her for that.
[00:22:16] Mike: I remember my brother had kids before I did. And at one point I said, you're really a great dad. I'm sure I'm remembering this incorrectly or you know, or he would say differently. Differently, right? And, I said, you're a great dad.
And he said, no, I'm not, but I'm a good dad, and given what we came from, that's pretty good. And I know I'm remembering that in a way that frames my own, but it was something like that he said. And I thought, wow, you know, that helped me a lot when I finally had kids. Because just him saying that allowed me to not be great, or the pressure to be great and I had all - that was my thing, [00:23:00] right? I gotta be, I gotta be, right? And then it's like, no, I don't have to be great, I just gotta be all right. And as long as I'm all right, they'll be okay. Right? But that's hard. That's hard because you gotta get the messages from somewhere.
[00:23:12] Lynn: Right. Right. I think another piece that, and I don't know if this was from my sponsor or other mothers that I have looked to for guidance, but being able to say to your child, man, did I screw that up, and I am so sorry. To model imperfection for our children, so that perfection gene doesn't develop into a monster, which I can relate to. I was so afraid of not being perfect. Modeling that is really important.
And when we think about the emotions piece, when I look at my childhood, you know, if you're a trauma person and you know ACEs, the Adverse Childhood Experiences, emotional neglect and abuse [00:24:00] are on the ACEs chart, but we don't acknowledge them. And that's that modeling of emotion. When my mom was sad, she was in the bathroom crying, not crying in front of us so that we knew that crying was okay. The anger piece was modeled in different ways. There was "don't be disappointed," " as a child you have it made." And yet I'm experiencing this life where it sure doesn't feel like I've got it made, you know?
So yeah, lots of contradictions. And I think our world will heal when we allow more humanness into it. And that includes parenting and that includes all facets of life where we can show up exactly as we are. And sometimes, if I'm not doing okay, I'm okay. If I'm doing okay, I'm okay. And if I don't know, I'm still okay. You know, and if we can accept all of [00:25:00] the beautiful nuances of being human, there's so much power in that.
[00:25:05] Mike: Well, because if you're, if you're so worried about judgment all over the place, you're covering yourself with so many layers, you're missing so much of life, aren't you? Or if you're okay being flawed, if you're okay, like you just had said. Then something little happens and it just breaks you up. Or you can be thrilled by it. But if you're covered with veils, you don't see anything clearly.
[00:25:27] Lynn: Right. And I think there's incredible beauty, especially in the parenting piece, of modeling realness for our kids. You know, modeling mistakes, modeling emotion, modeling conflict. How do you resolve conflict and what does that look like within the nuclear family? How do you do that? And yeah, all of those pieces that you strayed from.
[00:25:56] Mike: Since you started this out by talking about you as a girl, right?
[00:25:59] Lynn: [00:26:00] Mm-hmm.
[00:26:00] Mike: Then let me just, you know, bookend it. Now that your daughter is a woman, right? And you've watched her be a girl, what do you see? What did she do well that you didn't learn until much later?
[00:26:16] Lynn: Oh my goodness. She has no problem setting boundaries at all. And I am in awe of that, even where I am sitting right at this moment. She is a truth teller. She has no problem, and I love this about her so much, if there's something that I do and I'm being incongruent with who I wanna be, she has no problem calling my attention to it, you know. Whether it's a value of something really becoming hyper aware of my judgments, and as human beings, we all have them [00:27:00] and sometimes they come out my mouth.
And we'll be in the car and I will say something like, well, why are they in such a hurry? You know, somebody goes speeding past. And she'll be like, I don't know and I bet you don't either, Mom. And she does it in, it's not sarcasm, it's not harm. She does it in the most loving eye-opening way. Yeah. My daughter's gonna change the world.
[00:27:31] Mike: Yeah. Well, and I know you won't take credit for this, but where did she learn that from?
[00:27:37] Lynn: A lot of different places.
[00:27:39] Mike: Right?
[00:27:39] Lynn: I mean, will I take some of the credit for her empathy? Yeah. Because that's something I modeled very well. Boundaries, I mean, honest to God, I don't know where she learned them as well as she did. I think there's been all kinds of influences. I know I have always encouraged [00:28:00] her to be true to who she is and to speak her truth. But yeah, a lot of that is her.
[00:28:06] Mike: That's a great one, a lot of it is her and a lot of you is you, right? And once we get comfortable with that, it's interesting how relationships are mature.
[00:28:18] Lynn: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So often you hear don't be your kid's best friend. And I think some of that is true in your teenage years, you have to have the guardrails up a little bit to help. But today we are really good friends.
[00:28:35] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:28:35] Lynn: And we can talk about what's hard in life. And I am still always her mom, you know? I've gotten better at stepping back from advice and allowing her to problem solve. And she's really good at saying, I really appreciate you sharing that mom, but I don't need that right now.
[00:28:58] Mike: Wow. [00:29:00]
[00:29:00] Lynn: Yeah. Her boundary setting is between us. I mean, there's still areas of her life that she will have additional practice and setting boundaries, but between the two of us, she's firm and I applaud every moment of it.
[00:29:17] Mike: I have three kids, they all have a different way of giving me the same exact method. So I've gonna be multilingual.
[00:29:26] Lynn: I completely understand that, and there's a reason why I have one.
[00:29:30] Mike: Yeah. Well, let me close it with this question; what are you looking forward to uncovering next?
[00:29:39] Lynn: I don't know, cuz I'm not aware of it.
[00:29:41] Mike: There you go. That's a great answer actually. That is a great answer. I thought it would be something like that, you know, which is we can't know, right?
[00:29:50] Lynn: Right. We can't know. I'm gonna be present and open to whatever that is.
[00:29:55] Mike: Present and open, I like that a lot actually.
Lynn, this has been great as always. I know [00:30:00] we're gonna talk to you and Karen again down the road about workplace stuff, because so much of this stuff applies to workplace relationships as well. And thanks again for sharing time with us after a wonderful vacation.
[00:30:12] Lynn: Absolutely. With my daughter!
[00:30:15] Mike: Yes. Well, yeah, it wasn't with me. You could have taken me to Hawaii.
For the rest of you, please listen in the next time when we talk about more people, and more issues, and more things that are interesting around substance use, and making a difference in our community. Until then, please stay safe and go uncover.
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