Bill Tierney Interview, Part 2 – Episode 11
The following is part 2 of the interview Jeff Jones created for his podcast, Families Navigating Addiction and Recovery which can be found at www.TheFamilyRecoverySolution.com. In this conversation, Jeff inteviews me as I tell my story of recovery.
JEFF: Yeah. So I mean, I just in listening to your story, I can’t help think about your, you know, your upbringing. You were probably in an environment that reinforced that, I’m guessing.
BILL: Oh yeah. Absolutely. You know, my folks handed down to me what was handed down to them. They both were violent alcoholic people. Not at first, it developed over the years, but by the time I was in high school, they were beating each other up once or twice a week. And there were some pretty obscene and horrendous scenes that took place in our home. And I have five sisters and one brother. Both my folks are gone now, but they were both very, very alcoholic and very, very angry and very, very violent.
JEFF: Yeah. So maybe it wasn’t safe to tell the truth.
BILL: Oh no.
JEFF: Or talk –
BILL: Yeah. I learned it was deeply, deeply embedded in me. It was not safe at all. The world wasn’t a safe place.
JEFF: Yeah. Yeah. So then just looking at AA, it seems like, you know, the community, environment, the fellowship, the transparency, that was attractive. And it’s like, it seemed like that was a really big part of what helped you stay clean and sober.
BILL: Absolutely. No doubt about it.
JEFF: And then, yeah, you know, so down the road, years down the road, did you kind of, when you said you got into therapy and that kind of stuff, like then did you kind of circle back and do the steps again?
BILL: Well, yes, but I had a real problem with authority figures, so in AA they would say get a sponsor, read the big book, work through the steps and go to meetings. I mean, that’s the formula –
BILL: – to stay sober. Well, I would get a sponsor and then I would lose my respect for this sponsor very quickly because it turned out they were human. Sometimes that meant that they were liars. Sometimes it meant that they were hypocrites. Sometimes it just meant that that I would see through, I could just see through the humanity of each of them. And I wasn’t very forgiving about that. I would set these men up on pedestals and expect them to be the perfect image of what emotional recovery should look like. And then when they showed up as human, I wouldn’t want anything more to do with them.
JEFF: Yeah. So like put them up on a huge pedestal with a lot of expectations and then when you see that they’re human kicked that pedestal out.
BILL: Exactly. Exactly. And I just always had a lot of reasons to, a lot of justification for doing that. And I went back to my old MO of being a loner.
BILL: What I found was that I was comfortable as a being a sponsor, uncomfortable having a sponsor. I can help other people, but I didn’t trust and this is really what’s the bottom line for me. I couldn’t trust another human being to have any say in my life at all.
JEFF: And so when did that like switch? Transformed because, I mean, I’m making the assumption that that did.
BILL: I was going to point that out. I’d say that’s still in process. I have found a lot of healing and a lot of recovery in the last 16 years or so. Let me just insert a couple of things. My wife died of a brain tumor when I was, I think I was eight years sober at that time and the way that I dealt with it was I just got into one relationship after the other, after the other. Over the course of two years and then married one of the women that I’ve gotten involved with. And it was just a really poor choice. Sold her short. I wasn’t – the reason that I married her was because I was afraid I was just going to keep getting into these relationships unless I got married. So I got married and she knew all along that I didn’t really love her. That I still loved my first wife and she thought she even said one time she thought she was competing with a dead woman.
So we constantly fought. She didn’t feel loved by me and felt justified in trying, in punishing me for that for the entire marriage. And after about nine years with me, not, never, never been able to see how I had contributed to the extreme dysfunction of the marriage. We got divorced. And by then I was so afraid that I would repeat that pattern again, that I became more willing to do my work, my internal work than I ever had been. And that’s when I discovered Byron Katie. And the work of Byron Katie, which you can learn about thework.com has made all the difference in my life. It’s a method for being able to take a look.
JEFF: Yeah. I’m familiar with Byron Katie. I don’t know the work really well, but I have seen her in person and read some of her stuff. I have a lot of respect for. Yeah. So, then Byron Katie was it sounds like responsible or impart was a piece or a factor for your transformation?
BILL: Absolutely. No doubt about it. I really don’t think that I would have drank. I stayed involved in AA and I just, it feels nothing short of miraculous to me that I just haven’t been interested in drinking for over 35 years now. But what has been a problem is just being in a journey. Living a life as me from the inside out. And Byron Katie helped me to begin to sort out why that was, why thinking the way that I used to think created so much pain and suffering for me and the other people in my life.
JEFF: Wow. Wow. So yeah, and right now you’re a coach. You said you do group coaching in a business people.
JEFF: And so, I’m assuming you’ve done quite a bit of work on yourself.
BILL: I really haven’t. And part – the initial reason I started doing so much work as I said, it wasn’t that I was so afraid that I might repeat the pattern, that I may not be aware enough of what I was doing and the choices I was making in my life that I wouldn’t just repeat the pattern. And get involved with another woman. And create another very, very toxic relationship. So I wanted to know what it was inside me that attracted me to my second wife and frankly to my first wife. And so I did a lot of Byron Katie work. I got involved with landmark education. I stayed involved in therapy. I’ve read, it’s not an exaggeration to say hundreds of books to help me go inside, take a look at what’s in there, do a lot of healing and blow up a lot of the beliefs that I’ve had in my life that I brought with me into adulthood that just weren’t true. But that had lived in me like they were the truth, so I just automatically react from. Like, I’m not good enough. There’s something wrong with me. I’m fundamentally flawed. And the list goes on and on and on.
JEFF: Yeah. Wow. So then, you know, looking back at your journey and say if you had a friend or someone came to you as a client and they wanted, they were in the very early stages, you know, how do you look at AA now kinda thing. Like, do you suggest AA for other people?
BILL: That’s a really great question.
JEFF: Well, I’m just curious because I mean, AA is like all over the world then, you know, and the community and the fellowship. And like there are like, they have a certain technology, you know, and it’s doing the steps, like you were saying. Get a sponsor. Read the big book, you know. Go through, I mean data, data, data kind of thing. And a lot of times that, what I’ve seen that can be really helpful specifically when at the very beginning.
BILL: Yeah, I believe that the AA program works. I absolutely do. And here’s why I can say that. It was probably this time of the year, last year, when a friend who had gone in and out and in and out of recovery came to me and said: “I need some help. I need to get clean and sober again.” And he’d been trying to get clean and sober since 1988. And had as many as seven years at a time of recovery. And he said: “What do you suggest that I do?” And I said: “Well, I’ve got, I think I can really support you. I’ve got a lot of things that have worked for me in recovery, but I think that you need to get sober first. You need to go through the physical withdrawal. Detox. You need to get some real solid guidance and direction in your life and there’s nothing better than Alcoholics Anonymous for that. And I can introduce you.”
Well, that’s what I told him. The truth is there’s nothing better that I know of than Alcoholics Anonymous for being able to hold your hand, help you to normalized through the early days and early weeks and months of recovery. And have some clear guidance and direction to begin to gather up all the insanity of the craziness of the thinking that that’s part of being addicted to substance behavior. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, that’s not what I did. I didn’t get, didn’t follow that guidance. I just stayed plugged into the meetings and yet it still worked for me. And I used to say this when I was going to meetings, I’ve done it all wrong and it still worked.
BILL: So number one, I think there’s gotta be, you gotta want it. You gotta want to be sober. And for some people, really being sober and living sober is not what they want. They want to be able to control their drinking. They want to be able to manage it and do so socially and there’s people that can do that. And AA is not for that. But if somebody does want to just learn how to live without alcohol, AA is absolutely a great place to go. A great place to start. And my advice to anybody would be to not waste the 34 years that I wasted. By the way –
JEFF: Do you see it as wasted really?
BILL: Yeah. A poor choice of words. It wasn’t wasted. Here I am still sober and it put me on my path. And I don’t think I would have access to all the help that I got without the introduction to recovery by AA. But waste of is a good word to use when I consider that had I somehow been able to get past my own trust issues and rebelliousness and really allowed some of the loving members of AA that wanted so badly to help me, to guide me through 164 pages of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous and show me how to work the program. If somehow I’ve been able to muster up the willingness to do so, it would have made a big difference for me in terms of the quality of my life and the choices that I made much, much sooner in the process of recovery.
JEFF: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I just want to kind of like look at this from a little bit different angle and that is seeing that, you know, the majority of people who may listen to this podcast, I mean, the name of this podcast as Families Navigating Addiction and Recovery. Do you have some thoughts or takeaways or lessons learned specifically for families that they may find of interest?
BILL: I think I may have. There’s conversations that are just permanent in my memory. And one of them was a lecture by one of the counselors at the treatment center that I went to 35 years ago. And they were trying to explain that alcoholism is a family disease. And I would say that that’s probably true of dysfunction of, excuse me, of any addiction that creates so much dysfunction like alcohol. Doesn’t matter what the addiction is, whether it’s an act or substance of both. But he said, imagine that each member of the family that you’re in is represented by a little part on a baby’s mobile. That goes –
JEFF: Right. I know that mobile. Yeah.
BILL: Okay. And now, it works just perfectly. It’s perfectly balanced. And he goes round and round and round and things work until you pluck one of those little parts off of the mobile. And now it’s sideways and gravity’s thrown things way off and it won’t even turn around anymore because it’s out of balance. You can expect that to happen. And that was really meaningful to me back then. And it still is a great model for what to expect whenever someone steps out of their role. And I know you teach this too Jeff, that’s whenever somebody steps out of their role in the family, whether it was seen as a positive role or a negative one, somebody steps out of the role, then that affects the roles that everybody else –
JEFF: The whole. Everybody. It affects everybody. Yeah.
BILL: So that being said, you know, the scapegoat of the of the addiction is the addicted person. That’s the person that it’s easy to point the finger at and say: “If this person would just change and everything will be alright, but what families find out over and over and over again is that when that person changes, everything’s not alright.” In fact, each member of the family begins to feel a certain amount of discomfort and displacement until they began to do their own internal work and find recovery for themselves. And what they’re recovering from is their addiction to whatever role they were playing in this –
JEFF: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah – yeah. I mean, the way I talk about that is they are in habitual patterns as well and their nervous system gets activated and it automatically has a way to deactivate the nervous system with a certain behavior which is their role and the family, their reaction. And so oftentimes they’re, you know, imagining the thoughts and feelings of everyone else and you know, taking action as if that imagination was true.
BILL: Yes, exactly. I’ve gotten involved in another 12 step program and since I’ve named my first and last name and I want to honor anonymity for that program. I won’t name the program but what we talk about there is dosing. That we use our behaviors to dose ourselves using the internal chemical factory that we have.
JEFF: Yeah. Yeah. I like that. I mean, how the lens I look through at this, I really see the, you know, the nervous system and the brain chemistry really being a big part of, you know, what’s underneath the mobile that you described. You know, and if one little mobile is cut off and the whole thing kind of goes, you know, gravity takes him down. So, it’s like those habitual patterns that can get in the way. And it’s like when everybody in the family starts to have an understanding of that. And they can start to be aware of what’s happening in their own body and track their own body sensations are there. It’s like there’s so much information and knowledge and wisdom that our bodies have kind of like your story earlier of, you know, when your body just, you know, at some point it’s like, it just, all this emotion needed to come out. And it’s like it needed to do what it needed to do. And it wasn’t you thinking about what the right thing to do was.
BILL: No. No.
JEFF: You know, the body leading.
BILL: Yeah. The body is very – we can trust our bodies. It took me a long time to learn this, that we can absolutely trust our bodies to tell us the truth, even when it’s painful. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Our bodies are constantly trying to communicate with us so that we can get back into alignment where our thoughts, our feelings and our actions are once again in alignment.
JEFF: And so Bill, like you were talking about the family disease component. And can you talk a little bit about that from the standpoint of, you know, your own family? And if you don’t want to, just say no.
BILL: Oh no. I’m happy to. Are you talking about my children and my wife at the time that I got sober up to now? Or are you talking about my family of origin?
JEFF: No. I’m talking about your kids, your wife, you know, maybe your wife now kind of thing. Not like day one or the first year.
BILL: So, let me say that after my second marriage, I stayed out of relationships for 13 years before I began to date my current wife. And during that time I wasn’t spending that time avoiding catastrophe completely, although that was certainly part of it but I spent the time diligently doing the work that I had. And one of the very first things that I did when I left my second marriage was I reached out to my two older children who are now 37 and 39 years old. And I began to do the work of healing the damage that I had done with them their entire lives, including having them living with me and their stepmother in a really, really dysfunctional circumstances situation. To their credit, they both were very, very forgiving and understanding and forgave me right away. And, but I insisted that we have some frank and honest conversations about the things that had happened and asked if they would just be willing to let me acknowledge how I had hurt them and how I’d let them down because I needed that for myself. But I also wanted them to know that I was committed to being now the parent that I could be, although I couldn’t change the past.
And like I said, they’ve been very gracious and our relationships have continued to improve over the years. And I’d say the key to that is that, you know, that I’m very, very honest now, about my thoughts, my feelings. And I have actually the capacity of having compassion and curiosity about what’s going on with them. They’re no longer an inconvenience. I –
JEFF: Yeah. Wow.
BILL: Is the precious beings that they are and just really constantly am trying to connect with them and they reciprocate it. It’s been a wonderful healing.
JEFF: Yeah. That’s so beautiful that you got to that place and you went right in. I mean, what sounds like, you know, right in and saying: “Hey, I need to have this conversation with you. And can you just listen to me, you know, tell you how I hurt you.” And it’s like, wow, that I mean, so that happened. That’s huge. And they listened and it sounded like it had an impact on them.
BILL: I believe so. Eventually it got to the point where they began to trust me again. They didn’t trust me. Why would they? I’d hurt them so often and so bad but over time they did begin to trust me and they began to see that I was actually this person. Not just pretending to be this person.
BILL: And all of that was a result of the work that I’ve done. You asked earlier if I had some sort of any words of wisdom or, I don’t know exactly how you asked me for –
JEFF: Takeaways. Lessons learned. Yeah.
BILL: I didn’t really believe that I could change at first. And I’ve been in my family of origin, every single one of my siblings has had struggled with addiction. And one of my youngest daughter also, she didn’t struggle with addiction, but she did have behaviors that absolutely terrified me. I wasn’t sure that she was going to survive herself through her teenage years. So, I got to have the experiences of someone who is not in addiction and yet is impacted by a close family member who is. And there’s been a lot of lessons for me in letting go and getting clear about what is and is not my business. And clear about how I use my efforts at control to try to control another person. How I can use that to once again go away from who I am and what is my business, which is my life and all the things that entails by distracting myself and focusing on someone who is in an addiction.
JEFF: Yeah. Well that sounds like a really good takeaway right there. You know, just being clear about what is your business and what isn’t your business. And you know, what is like the serenity prayer kind of thing?
BILL: The things I cannot change. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. And so, that would be anything outside of what I call my power center.
BILL: Any – I can’t change the past. I really can’t change the future. You’re actually even exist in the present moment is all that does. So, I can’t change anything unless I’m in the present moment.
BILL: There is something that I can change. It probably has to do with – really what I’ve discovered is getting me and my will and my great ideas out of the way to allow what’s supposed to happen to happen.
BILL: I believe that we live in a friendly universe. So that’s not such a bad deal.
JEFF: Yeah. Yeah – yeah. Wow. Well it sounds like there’s been just a huge amount of transformation that you’ve experienced in your journey in the last 35 years. I mean, that’s huge. So you know, is there anything that you wanted to share that you haven’t or I haven’t asked about yet?
BILL: Yeah, thanks for that. There is one thing. And that is the word recovery implies that we might be restored to a previous state doesn’t it?
JEFF: Right? Yeah – yeah – yeah.
BILL: No, thank you. If that’s what recovery is. No, thank you. I don’t ever want to return to who I used to be.
BILL: Unless I go far back enough. And so, I’m going to throw a little philosophy here. And you can agree or not agree and welcome or just disregard it. I believe that we’re all born as perfect whole human beings. That there’s nothing wrong with any of us despite what may apparently be wrong with this.
JEFF: Right. I’m on that page.
BILL: Okay, good. So –
JEFF: I am.
BILL: And I’m not a religious person. And I’d struggled with even identifying as a spiritual person, but I feel for some strange reason, entirely comfortable saying, I believe we’re all God’s kids.
JEFF: Right. Yeah – yeah.
BILL: Is that we’re all perfect. And so we just made up, all of us have done this to some degree. We’ve all made up somewhere along the lines, probably in the first six years or so, in real life that were flawed. And I know that I did that. I did that because as a young person, as a young child, being so completely powerless and unable to really and vulnerable and unable to really make much of a difference in my own life, the only thing that I had any hope at all changing was me. So, I had to make me broken so that I had some hope of fixing me so that I could finally get what I needed in life.
JEFF: Yeah. Yeah. Well, so I mean, one way I see this is our mind is going to create stories no matter what. There’s going to be stories. It’s just, what stories do we create? What belief system is being reinforced by our stories. And those stories can either empower us or disempower us, but yeah, yeah, yeah. So, if people wanted to get ahold of you, you were saying you’re doing recovery coaching. Can you talk a little bit about that? And you have a podcast, is that right? Like Recovery and Discovery or something like that.
BILL: Yes, that’s it. That’s the name of the podcast. It should start showing up on Itunes any day now. We just got the first five episodes edited and up. This movement in the direction of dealing with people in addiction and recovery is new for me. So, I’ve got group coaching programs in place. Curriculum that I’ve written for people that have been in recovery long enough to have stabilized both physically, emotionally and mentally and already to rejoin or join the mainstream of life and begin to create the kind of life that they can begin to imagine having. This same program I’m offering to people that don’t have addiction or at least haven’t acknowledged it if they do, and are using this program with great success to be able to accomplish whatever it is that they want to accomplish in their life.
I’m imagining that as I began to work with people in recovery, that I’m going to probably coach them to get the kind of support that’s needed. Whether it’s medical, 12 step, treatment, like I said, I’m in the discovery phase of that. And I don’t have any fixed answers, but what I do know is that each one of us were introduced on this planet whole perfect and complete, and that if we can get access to that perfection again, and I think we all can do that, then we all have our own answers. And that’s what I want to help people do.
JEFF: Great. And so can you say how you would like people to get ahold of you?
BILL: Maybe a good place to start would be to just go to my website and look at my message there. Maybe listen to my podcast, read some of my blog articles and the website is breakthroughsuccessclub.com.
JEFF: All right. Great. Bill, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BILL: Jeff, thanks for having me. This has been a great experience. I appreciate you.
JEFF: Great. Thank you.
Please check out Jeff Jones other episodes at www.TheFamilyRecoverySolution.com You can subscribe to his podcast at Itunes and Stitcher. Look at show notes for links to Jeff’s website, his contact information, and his podcast.