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Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness with Wendy Blanchard

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

In this episode, I connect with Wendy Blanchard, who is a writer and mental health advocate. Wendy has recovered from addiction and now has dedicated her career to helping others recover and break the stigma, too. In this episode Wendy speaks about the loss of her daughter's partner, Johnny, to mental illness, and shares a chapter from her upcoming book, Write Pray Recover.

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Intro: Welcome to the "Sober Yoga Girl" podcast with Alex McRobs, international yoga teacher and sober coach. I broke up with booze for good in 2019. And now I'm here to help others do the same. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how. good morning everyone welcome back to another episode of sober yoga girl i am very excited to have wendy blanchard with me again today and wendy joined me on the podcast way back i think it was in august september and it was the first time we met after connecting on social media and she told a very powerful story about her journey with recovery so if you haven't listened to that episode i recommend you check it out i'll put a link in the episode bio for this episode to that one but i have wendy here today and wendy has some exciting work coming up and some new stories to share with us so i'm really happy to have her here and welcome wendy how are you thank you so much my beautiful friend i'm good i'm good thank you i'm thrilled to be here i was just saying to you that i can't keep up with all of the work that you do but you're certainly in such an important part of raising awareness on mental health and substance use disorder and i'm so grateful for our connections and our friendship oh thank you wendy me too mutually and it's really nice to see you and connect again so i know that something that wendy has been going through that she wanted to share with us today was about the passing of her daughter's partner which is so awful and very brave and vulnerable that wendy is open and wants to share it with us and i just kind of wanted to ask you a bit about what you've been going through thank you and i appreciate the condolences it's been globally i've had such amazing support so i want to dedicate if it's all right with you i'd like to thank you thank you dedicate this episode to johnny manwaring who passed away one week ago today on december 7th 2021 and unfortunately johnny had been living for many many years with substance use disorder and mental health disorders and he had been in and out of rehab he had just recently been in rehab again and had been home just a short time he died from an overdose and so my johnny by the way was 46 years old he was very young and he loved my daughter nicole and my granddaughter rose and rosie got up at the funeral service and she talked about being johnny's stepdaughter although nicole and johnny weren't married but he really was like a dad to her and she talked about how i'm quoting her 13 years old and she says johnny used to push my buttons on purpose to get me to uh realize my potential and how much i had to offer this is a very um intelligent old soul my granddaughter so um it has been extremely difficult this week i was saying to you before we went on that you know just watching my daughter you know try to navigate this it it it's shocking to lose someone so unexpectedly but what i want to say about all of this you know myself being in recovery i'll start my 10th year of recovery in april of 2022. and over these past years i have been challenged you know kicked out of my comfort zone getting my ass kicked constantly by the universe to challenge myself to always do the right thing for me and my loved ones choosing healthy practices and making sure that i have a good support system making sure that i have that body-mind connection that awareness of how i'm feeling having the tools knowing what it is that i need at any given moment to help myself to de-escalate if i should start to feel unwell so not only over these all all of these years in my recovery have i been challenged like this my mother passed away a year and a half ago i was definitely challenged then to keep myself healthy and this past week has been another such challenge right so i have to constantly remind myself and this is where recovery you can be in recovery and help other people but if you're not taking care of yourself then you can't help anybody else and i chose this week to support my daughter and my granddaughter of course and at the same time i made sure that i was taking care of me it's that we talked about this last time it's that oxygen mask analogy right i can't help nicole if i'm not well and to be honest i had some moments this week that were extremely anxiety written when i watched my child screaming in disbelief and in devastation for the loss of the love of her life you know as her mom i it devastates me and so i have had to grab on to every tool that i've had changing tools often using my support system making sure to leave my home when i because i'm here alone when i start to feel that escalation of my anxiety because i never want to go back to old behaviors and old thinking and so um the day before yesterday it got very bad today it was very bad and i and i left and i went and visited a friend my friend rose a couple of days ago and she made me some nice tea and you know we talked and today i went to the gym and out for a walk and i do a lot of writing because that's so cathartic for me i blog on my website and i i do everything i can not only to make sure that i am in good health and wellness but then to offer my journey and my story every day to give other people hope because here's the bottom line with johnny and his untimely passing johnny said that he only needed aaa his 12-step group to recover once again and i've said this so many times on so many different podcasts and radio shows that i've done and in my book if we're not treating the mental health piece that occurs simultaneously we call that co-occurring disorders with substance use disorder we also call it addiction if we don't treat that mental health piece we're not recovering we're not recovered we never will because that trauma is always there and when we least expect it we may be triggered and we don't even know possibly what may trigger us in an instance and if that mental health piece if it's not treated if it's not it whatever trauma we've experienced if we don't talk about it if we don't unravel it if we don't figure out what it is that specifically is making us live in the past and so traumatized if we aren't aware of our body-mind connection right if we start to have terrible anxiety depression we do start to feel it somewhere in our body everybody does we all have mental health we all know that once we start to get anxious either we're having we feel a knot in our stomach or our heart starts to race so we have racing thoughts or our shoulders are up to our ears because we are so tense we have the ability to recognize our mental health escalating and we also have the ability to intervene on our own behalf and de-escalate in many different ways johnny couldn't do that because he felt the stigma of the mental health piece was i believe that was what held him back and kept him only in the in the 12-step groups and i'm not saying that 12-step isn't helpful it is a great support to so many people but it has to be an adjunct to treatment yeah and so often i know for myself my addiction with alcohol was a coping mechanism for what was happening with my mental health and the more the deeper i get into this work the more i see that pattern amongst people and you're so right that you know i needed so i never took an aaa myself but i needed substance support and i also needed mental health support and the two were different things they are different and they occur together and sometimes it's hard to separate them yeah but there are great facilities and practitioners who treat co-occurring disorders and um yesterday i was a guest speaker on a global zoom and this was the topic it was you know people talking about not getting help for their mental health and relapsing constantly it's like being on a hamster wheel why because just as you just said it it is the trauma that we have experienced that we suppress we push it down it's still there and we're self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or even food or sex or gambling or shopping where we're self-medicating with unhealthy practices in order to not not unravel what traumatized us in the first place and so if we're not treating that we're always going to be carrying that around and you know i'm a holistic health practitioner and coach and you know we know i've studied this and i i see it in a lot of the clients i work with the the trauma embeds itself into our dna and it stays there on a cellular level if we don't process it and release it

yeah absolutely and so what advice would you give for someone who's going through something like this like what would you recommend i always you know i recommend whatever it is that's going to work for the individual yeah so you and i were talking a little bit about this earlier um first i said this on the last podcast and i this is the truth you have to have the awareness that you're feeling unwell and most people do yeah most people know that that they're feeling unwell but they're afraid and they feel again they feel too afraid to speak their truth because of the stigma right um i i would say in my in my humble opinion most people have that awareness that they need help and that they need treatment and once once we speak that truth um we can ask for what we need and some people are going to need therapy some people may need to be in a hospital short term for treatment or even long term some people may need medication for myself because i had been addicted to prescription drugs for 40 years i just knew that i did not want to take pills to manage my my symptoms of anxiety and sometimes bleeding i don't even want to call it depression it was more it's more of a a deep sadness that i feel for my past and remorse for those that suffered because of me especially my children because of my behaviors so it's going to be personal for everybody and believe it or not inherently we all know what it is that we need individually if we take our time and sit with it and maybe talk to someone about it we'll know what it is that that we need to heal and we'll know what it is that isn't going to work for us so here's an example so when i began in in recovery two rehabilitation facilities and they told me that i had to go had to go to 12-step meetings and so i did what i was told and immediately i realized that you know it wasn't for me it does work for people but it just wasn't for me i didn't feel that sitting in a group of people who were focusing on their past behaviors and then being required to to begin when you speak to say i'm wendy i'm an addict to define myself probably i don't define myself as an addict that's not who i am i live with substance use disorder that is in remission right now but i i don't define myself that way so i early on and me pretty pretty quickly i realized it wasn't for me and so i spoke my truth but i was very afraid because the recovery community my sponsor in particular began to yell at me at the meeting when i said i wanted to recover through natural and organic solutions and to you know live holistically she said nobody ever recovers that way so here we are and i'll start my 10th year in april of recovery and that's how i recovered i knew that's what i needed i inherently i knew that's what was going to be healing for me and i've learned so many healing practices for myself so when one thing doesn't work holistically i have another and another and so on um and i know how to take really good care of myself that way so it's going to look different for everyone and it will change over one's lifetime as our situations change as our environment changes as biologically what's going on within us we may need different things and you know how we practice daily self-care is going to um impact our health our overall health but especially our mental health yeah

absolutely so i would suggest that a person really speak their truth to themselves first to be honest this is a brain disorder brain disease these these co-occurring disorders these are real uh brain disorders and there's no shame in being unwell it would be like saying to someone with cancer don't talk about it it's embarrassing so to speak your truth and that's we by the way that i tell when i speak i say once you speak your truth the way i did when i finally said to my doctor i'm addicted to my medication oh i could breathe because i gave myself freedom to finally live i wasn't living so to speak your truth and then to ask yourself what do i need in this moment to bring me wellness and peace and who can help me to get there who can help to guide me right now

and then to implement an integrative approach because body-minded spirit and again it will look different for everyone so it can be exercise it could be uh you know for your body and for your mind it could be meditation and for the spirit it could be you know prayer or taking a walk out in nature it's going to look different for everyone and i always suggest you start small i would say to begin maybe 20 minutes per day and when you feel comfortable you can continue to add on or you can continue you could actually subtract time if it's too much it's always going to be individual individualized and then make a commitment daily to that self-care practice to your mental health to staying connected to asking for what you need every single day my aspect every day but to tell you the truth it's just the universe reminding me to commit myself to my wellness daily no matter what anybody else is saying no matter what anybody else is doing i cannot allow it to affect my wellness that is my commitment so i have an ebook and if your listeners want to go to my website i have to put the updated one on there but the ebook is called spear and swim into wellness and what i just shared with you is the swim s-w-i-m part of my program s speak your truth w is for what do i need to bring me peace and wellness in this moment and w again who can help to guide me to achieve that and then the i is the implement an integrative approach whatever that means for you and the m is to make a daily commitment and then the sphere is for when you feel yourself become triggered um s is stop p is pause e is emote um safely a is acceptance because when we practice acceptance of our circumstances that brings us peace it promotes peace right like johnny passed away i had to stop and i had to pause to be present to take it all in i allowed myself to eat emote safely with other people in my own space a practice that acceptance to provide myself with peace write about it talk about it whatever that means for you individually and then the r is to rest and then to realign and then to put it in a new perspective right how i'm going to use it when i move forward how am i going to use this experience to move forward in a healthy way and once i do that then i can implement a swim program oh it's so amazing i just think that the work you're doing wendy is so incredible and the offerings that you have and i i'll definitely put the link in for that ebook i think lots of the listeners would be interested to check that out and and learn more so thanks for sharing that of course thank you so let's talk a little bit about so you and i share this in common of using writing as a tool for for healing and work and i'm wondering how did your writing practice support you during everything you're going through this past week yeah thank you i don't know what i would do if i didn't have this gift of writing you know my book is coming out and so yeah for years i've been writing that book and it's been so cathartic for me again not only for myself to just you know get it all out everything that i'm feeling i'm able to get it out onto you know paper

but i've seen it where i share my thoughts and and my experiences through my writing and it's helping someone else i can't tell you how many times i've written a blog i mean hundreds of times where i've written a blog and people contact me and say oh i thought i was alone that happened to me too it happened actually today as a matter of fact i was speaking with someone and was sharing one of the experiences that i've had through my writing and she was shocked and said oh my god i had the same exact experience i thought i was alone so not only am i doing this to help myself because expressing ourselves is a type of uh that expression is a release right um and then being able to share that is is what i'm all about being able to share it and have somebody read my writing and say wow i'm going through the same thing i'm not alone and you know wendy went through this for 40 years and she recovered so it gives people hope and it gives me a forum to express myself and once i'm done i promise you and i promised your listeners as i'm writing i'm like in another zone it's just coming out and coming out and i feel like it's divinely guided coming out of me yeah and then at the end of it i take a deep breath and i feel so back into balance at that moment because i've been able to express myself and i feel like you know i i do therapy as well but i feel like when i'm doing this writing nobody a therapist nobody is going to know the perfect question or the therapeutic question to ask me in order for me to answer and release what i'm feeling it's coming from within and that's where writing is different than therapy we know what we want to say what we need to say to heal the therapist you know like as a holistic health coach when when i'm meeting with a person i just say to them you know what are you feeling right now how can i serve you what how can i help you in this moment and i just let them go because they need to to talk they need to verbalize right they need to release it it's so true that's so true i remember i got to go back i remember the word it was reframe reframe reframe love it so when is your book coming out so it is going to be released next month in january amazing i can't tell you how many edits it's gone through but um it's worth it and i feel very proud of the final product and i i know it's going to help a lot of people and at the end of every uh chapter there are interactive questions where the person reading this interactive journal story will be able to read my my work my experiences and then

think about reflect upon how they may have experienced something similar and i i give them these reflection questions and then they can write about it themselves so i feel like that's going to be really feelings for a lot of people to you know connect with my stories through their own experience yeah wow yeah that sounds incredible so and this and it tells your journey and your story through substance use disorder yeah so i always say i don't you know i do give specific examples about many of the experiences i had during my substitute disorder but more importantly i focused on how i recovered yeah solutions in celsius so the name of my book is right w-r-i-c-e right pray recover a journey to wellness through spiritual solutions and self-care so more than i do give you have to talk about what happened in the past in order to move forward so i do give you know glimpses of situations that i do experience but i focus more on the recovery piece and how and offer people solutions on how they may be able to recover the way that i do they're just suggesting not trying

yeah oh that's incredible and so do you have you had a part of the book that you wanted to share with us can you share that with us yeah so um i'm actually doing a lot of um

pre-launch book chat so what i do is i i've chosen the chapter and then i i send it out to the libraries that have hired me in the organization in a pdf and i send it with these questions and then it goes out two weeks before the book chat and then we get together on june and we talk about it and you know it's it's been healing for a lot of people so many people who have connected so the the chapter that i've been sending out i'm going to i hope i don't use them here it's called when you believe and the subtitle and belief is called when all hope is done happy and i i'm just going to read through the part those apart because it's so profound and it really just speaks to my spiritual connection this isn't for everybody this is just my journey and i hope that some people will just resonate so i feel drawn to my loving angels and guides and i do believe that when we ask for this relationship the universe offers us more love connections people joy than we ever experience alone and in isolation if this resonates with you ask for your engagement guide to provide you with information that helps you to navigate your life in your best interests your highest blessings and which will protect you these will be signs that you will completely understand without any doubt and they will reveal themselves through information conversation music numbers greetings and a variety of other modalities this includes simultaneous synchronicities through text messages or emails through a conversation between others that we may overhear and many other ways that these fears of spirits can get your attention ask them for a clear sign that only you would understand as a validation of this divine relationship and present take close attention god spirit universe speaks to us in the most curious yet direct ways especially when spirit has been trying to reach us to no avail to save our life in 2012 i was using prescription drugs heavily and had been for quite some time i was barely able to stay awake every day or function in a normal capacity i had been getting strong intuitive messages that i would die if i kept going at the rate of rejecting more than two thousand shows a month i just could not stop my brain was so unwell i was living with multi-occurring disorders and i loved being high there it is my truth my safety zone from the years of suppressed emotions on october 29 2012 was the day that hurricane sandy was to come through our area i drove to the pharmacy after speaking with the pharmacist on the phone and being told to come down and that my prescription would be ready because of the bad weather i wanted to make sure that on these hills because we lost power or streets were blocked and i couldn't get to the pharmacy it is said that when god wants to get your attention he taps two on the shoulder if you do not respond he then gets closer and destroys your ear still no response he hits you right over the head or very nearly perfect through missing you by a nano stepping amen the wind-driven rain was blowing across the highway as i drove home from the pharmacy only a mile down the road the wind was toweling and as i turned off of route 304 and into my driveway i pushed the button to open my garage door from the east side of the car so that i could just clean and stay drive the garage open i pull it in close the garage door and walk through the door that goes from the garage into my downstairs family room within three seconds three two one boom i heard a loud trash right outside that shook the ground and the entire house the lights went out my dog max ran into my arms barking incessantly my heart was beating so loudly and seriously that i could hear a beating in my ears i felt my chest pounding and feeling with fright i was terrified what the hell had just happened i took max and went into the closet that was located underneath the staircase we stayed there for about 30 minutes when i was assured that all was quiet around me and i had calmed down i went to the front door to see what had happened three trees had crashed down to the ground at the top of our driveway less than 20 seconds after i had pulled in taking the telephone pole and wires down with it god had merely hit me over the head this was my wake-up call i believe on that day that event was divinely orchestrated because god has desperately been trying to get my attention from years to no avail those trees telephone pole and wires were the closest thing he could use to actually hit me on the head without actually killing me in order to get my attention looking back i see it as a metaphor for intending death god had called lights out sound off darkness and isolation had i turned into that driveway just a few seconds later i would have been killed god spirit universe took that opportunity to let me know that he meant serious business either i guess talk or my death would be an imminent this is a preview surrounded by darkness no way out my living grave i had to ask for help this divine message resonated with me deeply and i knew i was running out of time i was trapped in the house with max i couldn't get my car out of the garage there was no power i was too ruth and too unwell to open the heavy door on my own my cell phone had about half a bar of power left i tried to make a call to no avail there was no connection thinking deeper into the earth another metaphor i passed out as you hear from all the pills and slept through until morning upon awakening and a moment of clarity and a moment of hope that god is guiding me and all will be okay in a moment where i connected with myself and screamed aloud i wanted to live

i picked up masks in my arm stood out on the deck of my house in the backyard and screamed as loud as i could over and over please help me i'm trapped

i had nearly been scared to death the night before i was indeed living in total darkness disconnected and could not see the light it had been the perfect storm perhaps that was the beginning of my awakening my wake-up call wow wendy thank you so much for sharing that i feel as i was listening that i was transported into

into that moment for you and that's such a powerful experience i knew that day after all of this happened i was finally able to see somebody came to pick myself and max because or my dog's up and take us to safety but i hope you read this will will get the book and continue reading on to talk about that even though i was out of the house and i could have asked for help it took me five more months to ask for help although we weren't going to have power for two weeks after that there was no power excuse me cold it was you know getting to be november i still went back to that house in the darkness where i lived alone in the freezing cold because i knew i i wanted to be high and my friends said come and stay with us nobody knew that i was addicted to these kills right so i i said no because i couldn't get high and i couldn't disagree with my disease alone if i was in the presence of other people it's like my power and my freedom at the same time and so i hope your leaders will pick up the bus next month when it is released and see how i was finally able to uh find my way out through what i believe was a divine intervention yeah wow that's so inspirational thank you so much for sharing that and i just now i just can't wait to read your book when it's finally out i'm sure everyone listening probably feels the same way so wendy thank you so much for your time today and sharing your story and really really appreciate it is there anything else that you wanted to share as we wrap up yeah so tomorrow uh i am offering a safe space this is a free one hour i'm going to call it an open dialogue on mental health that i will be facilitating your listeners can go to events right although this is probably going to come out later on so it will be over by then yeah but though if you go to my website i have so many of these trainings that i do and many times i do watch events for free so it's harmonious health for perhaps you can put it in there absolutely yeah if you go to forward slash training you'll see all of the different um available trainings that i offer and when i do offer them for free i certainly put them up


you have since you and i have connected we've done such great work together in collaboration and you have been my mentor in business and personally and you have given me so many extra skills that i didn't have in mind for your strategy and i just love you and i i thank you for the work that you do and for guiding you you still guide me even though we don't keep in touch as much you i follow you and you're just such an inspiration for myself and so many people so thank you for everything oh wendy thank you so much i really appreciate it

thank you and we'll speak to you soon bye

Outro: Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of "Sober Yoga Girl" with Alex McRobs. I am so, so grateful for every one of you. Don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss the next one and leave a review before you go. See you soon. Bye.

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