When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Linda Van Tol
Medical Assistance Residential Substance Use Disorder Supervisor with ARC Community Services in Madison, Wisconsin
Linda Van Tol discusses women’s substance use and recovery. Linda is the Medical Assistance Residential Substance Use Disorder Supervisor with ARC Community Services in Madison, Wisconsin. Using a Relational Model of Therapy that helps women with their substance abuse, life roles, cultural expectations, and socioeconomic needs, Linda and ARC provide a safe environment for women to heal and grow. ARC Community Services programs and Linda can be reached at https://arccommserv.com. Linda can be reached at [email protected]
If you need help for your substance abuse issues, help is available. In Kenosha, contact the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse; call 262-658-8166 or explore their website at https://www.hopecouncil.org. You can also find AA meetings here: https://mtg.area75.org/meetings.html?dist=7 and NA meetings here: https://sefa-na.org/meetings
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Guitar Music]
[00:00:11] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. As always, I'm Mike McGowan. Today we're gonna have a conversation about substance use disorders and women, and sometimes women who are in trouble with more than just substance use disorders.
I'm pleased to have as our guest, Linda Van Tol. Linda is the Medical Assistance Residential Substance Use Disorder Supervisor with ARC Community Services in Madison, Wisconsin. She'll tell you the other stuff she does too. It's too long doing an intro and we're gonna talk about the many services that ARC offers, but also about the particular needs women bring into recovery.
Welcome Linda. Thanks for coming in.
[00:00:54] Linda: My pleasure Mike.
[00:00:57] Mike: Well first, can you tell us a little bit about your [00:01:00] background and work, just so people know a little bit who you are?
[00:01:03] Linda: So I am one of the longest standing members at Art Community Services. I've been there almost 30 years.
[00:01:11] Mike: Oh, wow.
[00:01:12] Linda: So I volunteered in college in Madison with the rape crisis center.
So after five years I graduated and I, I saw a job with ARC, when I started, I recognized that these were the same women that I was talking to on the crisis line.
[00:01:29] Mike: Yep.
[00:01:30] Linda: So I started out as a relief staff. I became a case manager. I went to school to get a little training in substance use disorders and.
I was, I've been at multiple locations. I've worked with the Justice Involved Women. I've been a substance use disorder counselor. I've managed programs with diversion. So I've really done my traveling. I'm the most well-traveled of the ARC [00:02:00] employees [laugh].
[00:02:01] Mike: You know, I hope you forgive me, but I try to find this and maybe I'm just inept, which would not be the first time with a computer.
Does ARC stand for something or is it just ARC?
[00:02:12] Linda: It's just ARC. Years ago, back when the first project, it came out of a meditation group called the Ananda Marga Resource Center.
[00:02:23] Mike: Oh.
[00:02:23] Linda: They were a meditation group and they came together and they wanted to do something for women, and that is our flagship, the ARC House that they started back in 76.
[00:02:36] Mike: Well, that's great. Okay. There you go. That's, I must have missed that in your company little thing, but. Well, before we get to the services, you and ARC offer, let me ask you, cuz I've, I've done a couple on this. All the data from the pandemic show that drinking increased substantially and substance use substantially among women during the pandemic.
Why? Why, [00:03:00] why would you think that is?
[00:03:02] Linda: I think that at ARC we've always talked about women are relational and we all know that the pandemic and COVID really, it was problematic for making those connections and engaging in these relationships in a way that I think women find very fulfilling and necessary.
[00:03:22] Mike: Yeah. Well, you, you know what? Your brochures and website talk about you using a relational model of therapy. Explain that.
[00:03:30] Linda: Well, I think our roots are in with women. They sort of define themselves in the context of their relationships and all these different relationships that they have. They draw so much meaning from them.
From them and who they are and how they navigate the world. Our women would come home after, you know, going somewhere when I was at ARC house and they'd say the bus driver was weird today. You know, we have this relationship and today he was different. You know, that's just, [00:04:00] you know, sort of a, an example. But the women, their roles as mother, you know, their role as daughter and, and friends and just all these different things.
I think we get so much from our connections and I think that the relational model just really highlighted how, how much the women need these connections.
[00:04:20] Mike: Do you think their role in our culture and in, in, does society play a use in their using and in the recovery?
[00:04:30] Linda: You know, I believe so. You know, men do better in co-ed groups.
Women do not.
[00:04:37] Mike: Yeah.
[00:04:37] Linda: That's because the women are always sort of in this caretaker role, and I think that we're designed or we're, we're sort of programmed that we should not be selfish. You know, you put other, other people's needs before your needs and in recovery, guess what? You have to be selfish. Nobody else is going to live your recovery, Practice your recovery for you.[00:05:00]
You have, I tell the women, if somebody says you're being selfish in your recovery, you say Thank you. You're doing a good job.
[00:05:07] Mike: Hmm.
I also found that and, and the programs that I ran, that women would disclose more stuff in women's only groups than they would ever disclose in a co-ed group.
[00:05:21] Linda: Oh yeah. I think that's probably why they do so much better in a women's only group. I think it's safer, and I think the other women probably understand. They believe the other women understand more about what their experience has been.
[00:05:35] Mike: Okay, so, but if we're all recovering, I, I like talking about this. It's okay. Right?
[00:05:40] Linda: Oh, perfect.
[00:05:41] Mike: Yeah. So if we're all recovering, is that a fear of judgment even in the group that if I disclose in a co-ed group, I'm going to be judged? So we still hold back that part of our persona to be seen in a different light?
[00:05:56] Linda: I would think, you know, the stigma for women in recovery, being a [00:06:00] mother in recovery, the stigma is huge.
So I certainly a co-ed group is not gonna be as safe and there is gonna be, you know, some perceived judgment because you're judging yourself as well. So, I think so.
[00:06:14] Mike: Is that what you guys mean by being women responsive?
[00:06:16] Linda: Women have different needs. Women have different barriers. When I worked with women coming outta prison it was always, "Here's your kid, take your kid".
You know, And they go, "Okay, what's childcare now?" "What's this now?" When the men came outta prison, nobody was standing there, going "Here, take your child, take your," you know, they don't have the same pressures.
[00:06:35] Mike: Or, what's your, what's your safety plan? Right?
[00:06:39] Linda: No. What are you gonna, you know, you know, "We've had your kid for you."
"Take your kid", you know. So I think it's a lot different. The expectation is that immediately, you know, your mom, you take your child, you get a job, you pay your supervision fees, you know, all these things and the barriers that you [00:07:00] have as a woman in recovery, you know, certainly your income childcare and things like this are at the top of the list.
So I think that, you know, women do have different needs and then if you look at the rates of trauma in women, I think we're easily, you know, 95% of our women have, you know, experienced trauma in their lives. So everyone that you approach, we pretty much use a trauma inform approach with everyone because it's a, a fairly safe assumption that women have been survivors or experienced trauma.
[00:07:34] Mike: And, and you all work with a population that is socioeconomically challenged, right?
[00:07:42] Linda: Oh, definitely. If you're not, if you're not disadvantaged because you're a woman, you know, add a felony conviction or criminal justice involvement and substance use to that, and the avenues that you're gonna pursue for, for employment are certainly, you know, [00:08:00] complicated.
And housing is complicated because you carry this, you know, history of being justice involved and people don't wanna rent outside of the fact that the prices of rent are just so high these days.
[00:08:14] Mike: You know that's funny. Well, it's not funny. It's ironic you should say that. I become friends, I guess, with several women who have done podcasts with us here, volunteered their stories and a couple more than.
And they all will text me, email me or call me and say, Mike, I got a job. I mean, that's their number one thing. It's hard for them to see a way into recovery and out of the abyss when they can't find work, they can't find housing. And once they get it, holy cow. It's like off to the moon. It's unbelievable.
[00:08:54] Linda: It opens doors. It opens a lot of doors.
[00:08:58] Mike: Talk about women's empathy for a [00:09:00] minute, because I think that they're good at that.
[00:09:04] Linda: Well, I, I believe that women can be good at empathy. But you have to understand too, when we get women and they come into treatment, they're not feeling anything.
[00:09:13] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:14] Linda: So you don't have, I I don't think you have a lot of empathy at that point, because they haven't experienced feelings. And it's scary when you come into a place and suddenly you're overwhelmed by your feeling things. So I think if a lot of times that leads to sort of looking for distractions. I find that you know, distractions are what other women are doing.
It's you know, get on your phone, get on Facebook. You know, feeling all these things is, is just so overwhelming. We try to work on things like coping skills and just, you know, DBT skills, that emotional regulation, that distress tolerance, and just learning to be in your body a little bit.[00:10:00]
Stressing that, you know, I want you to go to a place of feeling maybe vulnerable and being OK with that. I don't want you to go into a place of feeling unsafe. I never want you to feel unsafe. I don't wanna get into your trauma. I wanna get you to a place here where we can help you always feel safe in your body so that when you leave and you do your trauma work, then you're gonna always have that confidence in your ability to take care of yourself.
Trauma work is a long term commitment. I'm gonna help you connect with somebody outside of here so that you can do that.
[00:10:38] Mike: That must be scary for them.
[00:10:40] Linda: Oh, it's terrifying. It's a terrifying experience.
[00:10:43] Mike: And finding a, the, the of the line between put yourself in an uncomfortable place but not an unsafe one is...
Wow. That's a, that's an interesting line.
[00:10:55] Linda: That's, that's the place where growth happens though. You know, if you're feeling too comfortable, [00:11:00] then you're not moving. So we really have to. Our job is just to kind of help them. Well, we meet you where you are. And then we try to help you move forward in whatever that means.
If you're in a pre-contemplation state, I wanna help you get into [inaudible] contemplation or preparation for action or take you where you need to go. If you're clearly in pre-contemplation and you're, it's not your time, I'm gonna plant some seeds and I'm gonna tell you about harm reduction. Because you know any day that we can keep you alive, it's another day that we'll have an opportunity to help you address that trauma and improve the quality of your life and the life of your kids.
If it's with an MAT that keeps you alive, MAT save lives Medically Assisted Treatment saves lives for women, and it's so necessary these days.
[00:11:51] Mike: Harm reduction has certainly got pretty good legs in the last couple of years, hasn't it?
[00:11:55] Linda: Oh, yeah. It's real sexy now.
[00:11:56] Mike: I used to do a ton of debate about it.
I don't, you know, there's still [00:12:00] people that don't advocate it, but I, I think most people are like, yeah, well, but beats the alternative, right?
[00:12:07] Linda: You know, I remember back in 1999 when I was thinking, "What harm reduction? No, no. We're an abstinence program. We don't do that." And I started doing some thinking about it and that's where I came up with the idea, you know what, one day that you don't use, improves the quality of your life.
One joint, you don't smoke, one shot you don't do. Anything that you don't put into your body, improves the quality of your life. That's how I really accepted and embraced harm reduction.
[00:12:36] Mike: I like that. That's not a bad philosophy for all of us, actually.
[00:12:40] Linda: Yeah, I really, that's where I am. [laugh]
[00:12:44] Mike: So, you know, you've talked about relationships before and relationships for all of us are important in our lives, but women do define themselves in their relationships are really important for them, right?
[00:12:56] Linda: Mm-hmm. Yes, definitely.
[00:12:58] Mike: And [00:13:00] so, many people that I meet have really unhealthy relationships in addition to everything else.
[00:13:07] Linda: Yeah.
[00:13:08] Mike: So how do you end up making healthy choices for yourself in an unhealthy relationship where your partner is making unhealthy choices?
[00:13:16] Linda: Well, I think one thing that I always try to stress is there are three kinds of people in your life, as Linda sees it. You have 3:00 AM people, you have fence sitters, and you have rattle snakes.
Now your 3:00 AM people are gold. You call them at 3:00 AM and you know, and they go, Oh God, I'm so glad you called me. What do you need? Then you have your fence sitters, sometimes fence sitters are those gold people. Other times they go, "Why you bothering me? I got stuff going on." Now your rattlesnakes are, are never good, but you love 'em and you know what, I can't tell you not to love a rattlesnake. But what I can do is I can talk to you about how I can [00:14:00] help you stay safe while you have this rattlesnake in your life, whatever that might mean. My job is not to tell you who to have, who not to have in your life, but I can help you plan and I can try to help you be safer. So that's what I try to do. If I can keep the wall down, I say it's my not my job to protect you. It's my job to help you.
You're gonna go, you're gonna go home and you're gonna argue with somebody. Great. We can come back and talk about it and we can figure that out. But I just need to make sure that I keep those, those walls down. And I keep that communication going, you know, both ways. And I think that's, you know, the most effective way.
[00:14:36] Mike: Give us some examples of the boots you teach women to wear around the rattlesnakes.
[00:14:43] Linda: Well, it might be a lot of times moms a rattlesnake. You know, I love mom, but...
[00:14:47] Mike: I say that all the time.
[00:14:49] Linda: Yeah, I see mom at the clinic. Well, maybe you know, something you do is you, if you're gonna see mom, you take your sponsor with you, you take your recovery coach with her, you [00:15:00] meet mom in a public location.
You know, maybe you don't go to mom's house. Maybe you sent rules with mom. "Hey mom, I know that you always drink at night, so how about we talk in the morning? We're not gonna talk after seven." Just, you know, looking at patterns and then trying to find out ways that you know you can improve her outcome and, you know, lessen the consequences.
[00:15:22] Mike: You know, I set those same boundaries with my father when I was like 16, 17 years old. So it's doable, right?
[00:15:29] Linda: Yeah, it is.
[00:15:29] Mike: And, and then I hear that a lot with the moms, and then you hear the sarcasm around it. "Oh, you think you're so much better than than me. You know it." And then what follows that oftentimes is guilt on the part of the daughter.
[00:15:43] Linda: Yeah. Exactly.
[00:15:44] Mike: So then you, [inaudible] the guilt.
[00:15:47] Linda: Yeah. And we're also gonna, we're gonna do some role playing. I like to do a real honest role play. I don't let people off real easy, you know, they just go, "No, heh, no, no, no, no. Come on, let's go." You know, it's not gonna be that [00:16:00] easy. So I really try to do an honest role play. I think that I think that's best for the women.
And I always say that a well practiced recovery is what I wanna hear when you're transitioning, you know, home or wherever. Practice, practice, practice.
[00:16:17] Mike: I'm, I'm grinning ear to ear here because I, I, I'll invite you the next time I do a training. Cause...
[00:16:22] Linda: [laugh]
[00:16:22] Mike: if I say, if I say to social workers or counselors, "We're gonna do some role play."
Oh my gosh. There's a stream to the exit, right?
[00:16:30] Linda: Oh, I know.
[00:16:31] Mike: But how are you gonna use to get used to saying the words, unless you practice?
[00:16:37] Linda: You're not.
[00:16:38] Mike: Right.
[00:16:38] Linda: That's why when you, when you're in a group and there's a list of skills, you read that skill list every time when we go, "We just read it!" "No, no, no!".
The best thing I ever heard was a commercial that said, "How many times do you talk to your kids about drugs?" "How many times do you talk to your kid about cleaning his room?" How many times [00:17:00] exactly. Repetition is our friend. You write that skill down, you read that skill every time you practice it. And I tell 'em, you know, when you're in a pinch, you're not gonna go, "Oh, I remember, Susie read that one time in a group."
Like, no, no, you've really gotta put that in just a little deeper if you're hoping that if you, you practice it, you'll be able to call it when you need it. So, yeah.
[00:17:23] Mike: How do you convince somebody to detach from a romantic relationship with somebody who's toxic?
[00:17:30] Linda: Well, I, I don't make them detach.
I can help them get healthier, and I think a lot of times when they're getting healthier and they're learning all these skills and they start practicing these skills, they start to recognize maybe some parts of their relationship that they don't like as well. They start feeling better about themselves.
And what they're doing. And if, if their partner's not making those changes, then I think they start to see the [00:18:00] world a little differently. We, we don't, we don't have cell phones, you know, we don't let the women, you know, live on cell phones. We really try to create a sense of community. So that they learn from each other, they talk to each other and they share from with each other so that, you know, sort of therapeutic community, you know, helps them and they talk to the other women and they see how the other women are doing.
So I think that's also a big piece of learning healthy skills, practicing these healthy communication things. And then, you know, seeing what other people are doing with their partners and how their relationships are, and when you're not looking, they're also watching staff to see what staff's doing.
Is she, is she on the phone with her boyfriend all the time? Or what is she doing? They're watching and they're learning.
[00:18:46] Mike: I'm gonna pull two things together that you just talked about first, that all the data says that men with substance use disorders [chuckle] seem to have higher self-esteem than women.
First of all. And then the second part [00:19:00] is when in recovery, I don't know too many more groups of people that are supportive of one another, than women in recovery. Women in recovery support each other, like nothing I've ever seen in my life. Would you agree?
[00:19:16] Linda: Yes. I think women I, I've been with them [inaudible] long, it's always, we learn so much.
Watching them and watching how they help each other, teach each other and, you know, care about each other and bring each other up. It's it's it's a pleasure to, it's a, it's a real privilege to be a part of that journey and to help them with that. And, you know, just be a part of it.
[00:19:38] Mike: With, with no limited jealousy and envy, you know, just like supporting and helping each.
[00:19:45] Linda: Well, there's [chuckle] a little jealousy and envy. You know, they're living together in a, you know, in a [laugh] in a place for 24 hours a day. And, you know, you put 10, 12 women together in a group, you know, personalities, but. You know, the generosity and [00:20:00] the compassion that they have for one another always comes through.
You know, it's always, you know, she didn't pick up her stuff, but [chuckle] you know, the, the genuine care is there. You know, the compassion's there.
[00:20:11] Mike: We need to keep reminding "Clean up your room", right?
[00:20:13] Linda: Yeah, exactly. [chuckle] "Pick that up!" "Is that yours?" [chuckle].
[00:20:19] Mike: You've been doing this a while, you must have a gazillion success stories.
[00:20:24] Linda: Yes, we have a, we have a lot of, we have a lot of success stories, but you also need to, I think we always remember that success is different for everyone. So once again, you know, improve the quality of your life and the life of your kids. I have, you know, some, some that really stand out for me. And then we have others that we don't even hear from.
I, I, I've not heard from someone and come in and said, "By the way, I got a note in your box. Susie called, she left a message. Thank you." And that's all the message said. You know, other, other [00:21:00] people once a year they would email me and send me pictures of their kids and say, "Hey, Linda, I'm doing good. How are you?" [laugh]
[00:21:08] Mike: That's great.
[00:21:09] Linda: Ya. Yeah, it's, it's really great. I think that, you know, it's a, it's just, this is about connecting. I know that we're talking a lot these days about spirituality, and those are kind of the roots of where ARC started with this meditation, with this meditation group. And I think it's kind of come full circle and it's about spirituality, but spirituality's all about connections.
You know? It's about connecting with other people. It's about connecting with yourself. And I think when we do our job well, this connection just seems to carry on with the women.
[00:21:44] Mike: I also think that spirituality, or if you don't like that word and you're listening, something values based really helps you resolve shame of things that you're deeply ashamed about, that you went through.
[00:21:55] Linda: Exactly. Because that, that shame interferes with, you [00:22:00] know, how I relate with myself.
[00:22:02] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[00:22:02] Linda: And how I relate to other people. You know, I think connections help battle things like shame and stigma. And that's the women certainly have so much of that. We certainly work on building, you know, that self-esteem.
And we do every, you know, we have lots of. Lots of ways that I think that ARC thought about that. If it's like doing like a, a daily chore and just checking off all the boxes every day, completing things, seeing that you can do things. You complete goals, you meet goals, you do all these great things, and that, you know, this feeling of, you know, self-efficacy and self-esteem and competency and belief and faith in your self.
And hope for something better and having people going, "Yes, I can do this." You know, we believe in you.
[00:22:53] Mike: We believe in you. I like that. Have you had women come back and work there? We've had a couple, yeah. [00:23:00] That's always, that's always great. A lot of times they come back and just visit to tell the women about their lives now, and just to sort of, to feed the hope.
[00:23:08] Linda: You know, and say, "Hey look, I did this and this is who I am now and you can have this too. And that's powerful.
[00:23:17] Mike: I was doing a training one time for corrections workers and I did, this woman looked so familiar to me and I went up to her and said I know, I know you.
[00:23:26] Linda: [chuckle]
[00:23:26] Mike: And she goes, "You sure do!" And she goes, "I'm not gonna tell you though. You're gonna figure it out." I'm like, "Ooooh, I hate that", you know? And about I, I was in the middle of the training and all of a sudden I looked over at her and I went, "Ooooh, Natalie?" And she went, "Bingo!", I worked with her when she was 15 and 16 years old. So that's why I didn't. And I said, "What are you doing here?" She goes, "Well, I became a psychologist."
[00:23:57] Linda: [chuckle]
[00:23:58] Mike: And [00:24:00] I said, "Oh wow. Why did you pick that as a career?" And Natalie looked at me and goes, "Are you any good at what you do?",
[00:24:06] Linda: [chuckle]
[00:24:06] Mike: "Can you not figure this stuff out that it has to do with people?" I'm, And I just started laughing at her, you know, It was a nice compliment, but people change people's lives, right?
[00:24:15] Linda: Yeah.
[00:24:16] Mike: Programs aside, the women are changing one another.
[00:24:20] Linda: So relationships [chuckle].
[00:24:22] Mike: Yes. That's great.
[00:24:24] Linda: Yeah.
[00:24:24] Mike: So last thing, how are you helping the women moving forward in an economy that isn't great?
[00:24:32] Linda: Well, I know that I try to connect women with programs that help them earn a living. I hate to say to a lot of these are male dominated construction type trades or whatever we can do.
If a woman doesn't have her GED, you know, that's a, that's a life altering change. That's always phenomenal for a lot of women are becoming peer support specialists because we [00:25:00] do a whole lot with recovery coaches now, and I think that if anything came out of the pandemic, it was recovery coaches and utilizing recovering coaches.
And so things like this are what we can do. And our women, we, we try to set the foundation and get the, get them stable in their recovery before we move out and into, into the workforce. Without your recovery, you're not gonna, you're not gonna be able to move forward. So it's unrealistic to set people out without that.
[00:25:35] Mike: Good answer. It's great answer. Linda. Thanks for we're recording this on a Sunday, people, so I really appreciate you taking a Sunday to do this with me. A lot. So thank you so much for being our guest.
For those of you listening, you know how this goes. There are links to both the our community services as well as Linda's contact information attached to the podcast.
Again, we'll thank Linda for being our guest today. Hopefully we get to [00:26:00] share more time with her in the future. Those of you who are listening, thank you for continuing to listen and until we see you or hear you again, please stay safe and take care of one another.
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.