Have you ever loved someone with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and felt completely alone? As a mother of a daughter with SUD, it’s a question Brandi Mac asks regularly. Brandi talks about what she has experienced and the changes she made in order to start meeting her daughter where she is while in active substance use. Brandi, her blog, her guide, Doing What You Can Live With, her social media, and her contact information can be accessed at https://bio.site/BrandiMac.
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome, everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction brought to you by Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: For me, one of the most rewarding things about doing these podcasts is meeting and talking to the dedicated army of family members who have been affected by a loved one's substance use disorder.
Mike: As we've learned, there isn't one way to cope with a loved one, especially a child who is abusing and addicted to chemicals. Brandi Mac is one of those parents. We're going to talk to her today about what she's learned, how her daughter's use has changed her, and the dynamics of her family. Welcome, Brandi.
Mike: You know, before I ask you the first question, I should say this, that anytime we talk about a family member, you have their permission to talk about this.
Brandi: Yes, I do. I think it's very important to do that. A lot of people don't understand that. But yes, my daughter and I have this mutual agreement.
Brandi: I don't ever go into details about why, you know, she like her story as to why she struggles with addiction. That's her story to tell. I simply share mine. And naturally there's kind of a gray area there, but yes, she fully supports the awareness that's going out.
Mike: Well, so tell us a little bit about Brooke and you as a parent, when you discovered what was going on and how you dealt with it.
Brandi: So, my daughter on and off, she had struggled with mental illness as a child, depression significantly actually. And I was always concerned obviously about when it comes to teens experimenting with drugs and things like that. And so we had discovered in her teen years that she had been sneaking out and experimenting.
Brandi: And I was concerned, but I also did the same thing when I was that age, but I never got addicted. I was kind of like a one and done. And it kind of seemed to be the same thing with my daughter. And then it was the end of 2019. She had had my grandson in March of that year. And this was right after Christmas.
Brandi: I had learned that she was an IV fentanyl user. And I was absolutely devastated, absolutely devastated because she had been sober, not using any drugs during her entire pregnancy. I was flying down cause I lived in Idaho. She lived in Florida. I was flying down every three months. And I think part of it was probably related to some postpartum depression.
Brandi: And the story kind of went from there. I had created a TikTok in the beginning of 2020 with COVID, kind of like when a lot of people did just to, you know, make stupid dance videos and, and whatnot and watch videos. And she had overdosed in March of 2020. And I flew across the country and by the grace of God, she was willing to go into treatment and she signed over like temporary custody to us.
Brandi: Just a generic document because I really believe that I was naive and thinking it was going to be one and done. She just needed treatment 1 time. This is going to be fixed. We were going to move on with our life and that's not how it worked. And it was hard. And then in August of 2020, she wrecked our car, left the scene.
Brandi: And that's when I knew she relapsed. And I, and I made a video venting my frustration, just like just getting it off my chest and it pissed a lot of people off, you know, especially people in the recovery community. But then there was also a lot of people who are very understanding and that was kind of when I kind of just started listening to people in recovery and sharing the story and it just kind of went from there and never stopped.
Mike: Well, and, you know, like you, like a lot of the parents that we've had on here, work in the medical field.
Brandi: Yes. (chuckle)
Mike: So, (chuckle) I know, so, did, can I ask you, did you feel like you should have known?
Brandi: You mean as far as, like, about the IV drug use?
Mike: Well, I guess what I've had parents say is, if I didn't know and I work in the medical field, then how can people that don't know the signs and symptoms know?
Brandi: Yes, so she was actually, she was living in Florida with her boyfriend and my mom was down there. Well, my mom's older, her eyes aren't the greatest, she's, you know, she has no medical background. So she wasn't seeing the track marks, she wasn't seeing you know how really paying attention, or I think it was even a combination of denial about how she was looking. So I'm across the country and I'm not seeing it.
Brandi: I think I would have known because I did ER nursing and I see you for 10 years bedside. And so I dealt with people who were struggling with addiction and I can just kind of look and I've naturally pay attention to arms, everything. It's just part of my like, assessment skills. And so when she overdosed and I flew down and I saw her cause my mom had no idea it was that bad, I looked at her and I said, how did you not know?
Brandi: Like I looked at my daughter and I'm like, Oh shit. Like, yeah, I was genuinely, I could just see it all. But my mom, I just think it was a combination of denial and really wanting to believe that she was no longer doing it, which clearly she was.
Mike: And you, like I think a lot of parents who have not dealt with this before think the one and done.
Mike: How many has it been now?
Brandi: She has been nine times in three and a half years. And that's several, and that includes, that doesn't mean she's completed nine times, but she has gone to leave. You know, there were a few times she would walk out. Typical, she thinks she wants to go in and get better. She maybe makes it through detox or part of detox and then, you know, run.
Mike: Takes a walk.
Brandi: Yep. And so nine times total. And you know, and she's an active drug use now. It's, you know, and she's, she doesn't, she has no interest in ever going to treatment just because unfortunately she has experienced what we call treatment trauma. So it's so she's pretty jaded.
Mike: Meaning what?
Brandi: As far as treatment trauma?
Brandi: Like it's, you know, there are programs and I didn't realize this, you know, you go in this as a loved one and me, I'm not a naive person.
Brandi: I'm a medical provider and you know, I'm an ICU nurse practitioner now. And so I do my research and I thought I probably do more research than the average person. And I call, I ask questions, I do all of these things. And you realize, like, no system is perfect, but the last place she went through, I had never heard of this, but a therapeutic community and I had to actually research it, and because no other place that she had gone to utilize that, but if you read about it, you know, it talks about how basically the recovery community holds them accountable, and it doesn't sound like a bad thing when you actually read about it on paper, but how it's, you know how they used it in some of these places can be very traumatic for people who already have trauma.
Brandi: And one of the things they do is like the hot seat is what they called it at the facility she was at. And were basically if you mess up, you won't even know necessarily why you're all of a sudden getting put in the hot seat and they bring in all the staff, all the residents. And they basically put you down, they call you out and put you down. And I'm thinking for people who have trauma, how is that therapeutic? And that concept is you got to tear them down to build them back up, which just doesn't really make a lot of sense to me.
Brandi: And maybe I know there's some people, maybe that has been good for, I know they utilize this, I guess, in the prison system. I've heard people saying who had gone through and they said it was very traumatic.
Mike: Well, you know, Brandi, that's interesting. You say that my mom, I always say, got sober in spite of her treatment because they did a very similar thing where they brought out actually a steel pail and a wire brush and had her scrub her face and she never wanted to go back, but she did get into recovery and she took an alternative part.
Mike: And I think it's a lot like support group meetings. There's really good ones. And then there's ones that, ehhh, I don't know about that. And it sounds like she had exposure to the, ehhh I don't know about that one.
Brandi: She did. And sadly I had started learning kind of about, which I know we're going to talk about like the Florida shuffle and things like that.
Brandi: So I didn't want to send her anywhere in Florida. I just knew I didn't. I was so terrified. And so I did what I thought was a lot of research and I even reached out to an interventionist who I thought I could trust and because he talked about the Florida shuffle and this place is accredited, they told me they were, I thought they were very honest.
Brandi: I didn't feel like they were trying to sell me on, you know, yoga pools and like a bougie center because to me, that's not what it should be about. It should be, you know, about, you know, finding a life of recovery, not making these unrealistic expectations. And they more or less, they're accredited by CARF and JACO, the Joint Commission.
Brandi: And I did tons of research. They don't even talk about the therapeutic community on their online stuff or in their pamphlet. I had no idea. I didn't even think to ask about that. They stress it's individualized care, right? Which is what everyone wants. And they probably cause more trauma than any of the other facilities she's gone to.
Mike: Well, as long as you brought it up I, I think a lot of people who listen to this may not, even though they may know a lot, have not heard of something called the Florida Shuffle, which is not unique to just Florida, but tell us what it is.
Brandi: So the Florida shuffle, unfortunately, it kind of got its name because South Florida has so many treatment industries, like everywhere.
Mike: Every block.
Brandi: Every block! There is a treatment industry or a sober home of some sort.
Brandi: And it's a little complicated, but more or less what happens is when people who have private insurance in particular, it's kind of like they'll call it like their golden ticket. And what happens is they'll get people into detox, they move them through detox and then inpatient P. H. P. I. O. P. And then sober living. Well, ugh, you would think, you know, that's the goal to get these people better. But these people also want to make as much money as they can, and they get reimbursed at higher rates with detox and inpatient. So some of these there's players who they'll pay people, throw drugs their way, have them relapse.
Brandi: To have them cycle right back through again and start the cycle all over again. And I mean, there are stories of people who have gone through this treatment, the treatment shuffle, as they say, like five, six, more times. And you know, they're paying, they'll have people who will recruit. And those are people who are in recovery or, you know, were, they were former patients and they'll offer them, you know, thousand bucks, couple thousand dollars to go and find people.
Brandi: And to do this, it's just a moneymaker and you know, some of the studies that have come out in the data that's been given is that addiction treatment is a $42 billion industry per year right now. Okay, and it is predicted to be a $52 billion industry by the end of 2025.
Mike: Not surprising, right?
Brandi: No, not at all.
Brandi: And then you also, I mean, think about it. They're charging a lot of these places, 30 to $40,000 a month. And there's people who they're desperate. They play on this. Families are desperate. They will deplete their retirement. They will take a second mortgage out on their homes to try to help their loved one and this place will sound perfect that they're sending them to when they send them, they spend this money for them not to get that care that they really needed.
Brandi: And sadly, many have lost their life because of this system.
Mike: Well, so I think that leads into the next thing I want to ask you in one of your blogs, you said that the Brandi that you see now in the mirror is different than the one you saw four years ago, but that's not a bad thing you say?
Brandi: Uh uh [shaking head]
Mike: How do you like this one? This version of you better?
Brandi: I think, you know, talking about changing. When anytime you go through this. It's very humbling when you have a child, you know, there's this attitude that this could never happen to me. This could never happen to my family. Society, I think, has this view that it's lower class individuals that become addicted and you have this, you, when you see people who are homeless on the street suffering that, oh, well, they came from a really crappy home environment and addiction doesn't discriminate.
Brandi: That's something I always say. It can, it can touch any live life and home. And you know, I worked bedside for many years. E. R. Nursing is very, very hard and dealing even with the addiction population. And I've always talked about this when they're in active drug use. It is a challenging population to deal with, and I've always had empathy, but I felt like I was getting burnt out.
Brandi: And when my daughter, when I learned of this. I saw things through like different lenses. Now it's a completely different perspective when it touches your home. And I gained a huge amount of empathy and also speaking out. What changed me was I have had the opportunity to speak with thousands of people in recovery.
Brandi: And hear their stories, listen to their stories, meet them.
Brandi: And they're human, like the, you know, what you're seeing with someone inactive drug use is not that's not who that person is. And it is really, I cannot like I have just been touched by so many stories and it's because of them I believe I have grown so much. And I prefer who I am today because of that because this experience has humbled me and it has made me I feel like the mother that my daughter needs through this, because I listen to these people and them share their heartbreak and what, how their families treated them.
Brandi: You know how they have many years of recovery, yet these families still won't even have anything to do with them. And they share that pain with me. It is heartbreaking because none of us are perfect.
Mike: Right, you know, in one of your video posts, I don't remember if it was TikTok or YouTube. And I actually, this is the reason I contacted you.
Mike: You were hoping, crossing your fingers, and then it actually happened that Brooke showed up so that you could get a family photograph. Why are photographs so important?
Brandi: Family photos are so important because every time, well, let's talk about addiction. Every time somebody uses. They are at risk of becoming a statistic.
Brandi: Tomorrow is never promised for any of us. And addiction, especially with the illicit fentanyl that's out there. And the last time I had pictures done was when my daughter was sober. My grandson was only, I think three months old. And in my mind, I felt like I could only have pictures done if she was sober, not in active drug use.
Brandi: And she was sober a few years ago. I finally scheduled them. We were all dress heading and like the worst storm ever came through and and the photographer canceled. I can't even tell you, like I was devastated and I, looking back on the video I made, cause I've always just kind of recorded myself when I'm in my emotions is I knew then she was going to relapse.
Brandi: I knew, I saw it coming and I, and I said this to the photographers during the holiday time and I'm like, I have to get these done. Like I said, you just never know when you could lose them. And I wanted to have those memories. And I wanted my grandson to have updated pictures of him and his mom. And, and now my perspective is I can still make those memories because my daughter and I are at a point where we've healed even in her active drug use to where she came for our Thanksgiving and we were all nervous about it. And, you know, and yeah, was she high? Yes, she was. But it was probably the best holiday we have ever had. And even her siblings said that. And that was with her in active drug use. And because I think we appreciate our time, we take that for granted, you know, in day to day life. And I think now knowing that any of us could die or we could lose her at any time we take in and absorb those memories and cherish every moment we can.
Brandi: And but yes, we got them and they turned out beautiful and I'm just. It was just the whole day was wonderful. Even the pictures, they were the easiest family pictures with nine people that I have ever gotten.
Mike: Is that when you click on your website, one, a big family picture comes up. Was that that day?
Brandi: Yeah, that was that day. That was that day.
Mike: Everybody looks like they pose for it. It looks easy.
Brandi: No, we did 50 pictures in 30 minutes. Like seriously, I've never gotten that easy because we just went with it. And I wanted it to be a pressure free zone. And I got beautiful pictures of her and her son and they're genuinely happy.
Brandi: And it can be done. It can.
Mike: Well, she's had periods of sobriety and I know that's her story, but you must have hopes she'll get help or quit eventually.
Brandi: I believe that my daughter will eventually want to live a life of recovery. I do. Naturally, my fear is the drug supply that's out there and that she's going to get something it's going to, and she isn't going to survive it.
Brandi: That is naturally a huge fear of mine. If my daughter can make it through as long as she has now and continue to the point of when she's eventually done. I think she's going to have a story that can impact many lives. And but yes, I do believe she will eventually want to live a life of sobriety. And I think each time I've seen the change in her, you know, who knows how long it'll take, but there's growth in her.
Brandi: And I mean, we talk or message almost daily.
Mike: Well, then I'll ask you a question I get asked all the time. How do you avoid the arguments, not just with Brooke, but with all of the people who want to dip their toes into the water and give you advice?
Brandi: (laugh) With my daughter, we'll start with her. With my daughter, it, it came down to early on, I created very strict boundaries.
Brandi: And you know, this comes, it's hard because right now I. You know, I, I still have those boundaries, but the boundaries I created early on allowed for mutual respect and healing. And one of the things is that naturally we get angry at each other, right? We're gonna, it's their, their stuff that we're going to trigger each other and we're going to get upset.
Brandi: One of our agreements is that if we're talking and it starts to turn south, we'll end the call. It's kind of one of our things. And that's cause we have to, cause it's like. It's World War three if we get going and it's not our drug use that causes chaos and pain in this household with the family.
Brandi: It's our fighting. That's that's what it is. And and so, you know, but we healed a lot and but so that's kind of one of our things is even visits. And I, and I think that's why families, if they start to meet, like I say, meet them where they are in their active drug use is. You don't have to go all in. Do a little at a time.
Brandi: And that's what I did. You know, I would meet with her and it may just be 10 minutes of spending some time with her. And, but if it goes, starts to go south. I'm going to leave and I, you know, and that's what I'll do. I'll be like, you know what, why don't I take you back to where you are? And that's kind of how it is.
Brandi: So it, it really works for us now. Now when it comes to people giving their opinions like say on social media, I know in my platform when it because it's public, people think that they can give their opinion and I need to listen to it and and so I will say this. I do. I would not have grown if I had not listened to other people's advice or opinions.
Brandi: So I do read them. But there comes a point where I try to just ignore it. I let people say what they say. I try not to block people because I think different views are important in my comments and I try to leave it. But if you start to be really nasty and harass, I'm going to block you. Like that's just kind of how it is.
Brandi: If you don't stop because I don't agree, then I'm going to block you. But you know, it's. Everybody's going to have their own views on this, and everybody's story is different. Like, what is working for us isn't necessarily going to work for every family.
Mike: Well, and how's it working with your grandson? Where are the boundaries around that?
Brandi: So, for the longest time, from the beginning of this. Kind of looking back in the beginning, talking about the chaos. Initially I, ever planned on not allowing my daughter to see her son when she had relapsed that August.
Brandi: I had her come over and she was so obnoxious to me and that the focus wasn't on her son, but it was because of the healing had not taken place between us. And I just think a lack of boundaries I had created and we had to heal. And so we got to a point in agreement throughout where we both agreed it would be best for him for her not to come around in active drug use.
Brandi: And that was something she was agreeable to. Looking back now, it's tough because now we're at a point where. Thanksgiving went so great because he had been suffering like he's four now, you know, when they're little, they don't, they can't talk and tell you really how they're feeling now he can. And my husband and I had seen the sadness.
Brandi: My mom had seen the sadness and he would ask about his mommy and I was torn. I'm like, what do I do? What is in the best interest of him? And I don't think there is a wrong or right answer. I, you know, it, it really is. I always say we're just winging this and, and so. I felt like I'm going to give it a shot and have her come around, even in active drug use, spend time with him and let's just see how he does.
Brandi: And he was so happy to see his mom. And, but it was hard when she had to leave. And, but he, It hit her in the heart, which I think she needed because now he'd ask her those questions. You know, he asked her, do you have another family? Like he doesn't, you know, it's tough we've, you know, and that broke her.
Brandi: Like she just cried, but I think she needs that because I think in her mind for so long, she felt like he's better off with us. He doesn't really need her. Whereas now she's saying, wow, you know, I've been away, but he loves me. Like I'm his mom. He knows that. And so those questions, him asking his awareness, it really was hard on her.
Brandi: And I told her, I said, as far as like boundaries with him. Don't make promises because even though you have every intention in active drug use to keep those promises, as we know, things can happen and you can't. And so I'm like, whatever you do, don't make promises. And, but she has called him like every night, if not every other, you know, maybe every other night and FaceTime'd with him.
Brandi: And she has made it a point to do that nightly. And it has been good for him. And so right now we're just taking it day by day. And if something happens to her, he deserves to have memories of his mom. And I want him to have that.
Mike: Well, and that's where the hope lies to.
Mike: Brandi this has been. Wow, this is great. You're very articulate and thoughtful and helpful.
Mike: For those of you who are listening, you know that we link Brandi's stuff, for lack of a better word, at the end of the podcast. One of the things I liked Brandi was you had a link somewhere. I don't know if you made it or somebody else did, but the red flags that you should be aware of when you're looking around for a treatment community and what to look for.
Mike: You have a a little things that you've learned booklet that you put together, compiled, although you say it's all available on TikTok as well. So there's links to all of that stuff here for those of you who want to explore a little bit more. I would say to those of you who want to do that if you choose to dip your toes into that water, do it gently and kindly and politely, right?
Mike: Brandi, thanks so much for joining us today.
Brandi: Yes, absolutely.
Mike: We're so crossing our fingers and saying prayers for you. Please listen in next time.
Brandi: I appreciate it.
Brandi: Yeah. And until next time, everybody stay safe and be kind.
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