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Write, Pray, Recover with Wendy Blanchard


Wendy Blanchard, M.S., CHHC, CPS is a certified holistic health counselor/practitioner, certified peer specialist, drugless practitioner, and mental health educator. She is trained by the National Council for Behavioral Health, the Suicide Prevention Center of NYS, and the Office of Mental Health NYS.


Wendy specializes in holistic health counseling through nutritional support for the body, mind, and spirit through natural and organic solutions. Wendy works with clients who are on their own recovery journey from these same disorders, and clients who are simply interested in making sustainable lifestyle changes to achieve their health and wellness goals. Tune into this episode to hear Wendy's inspiring story overcoming her addiction to prescription drugs, and how she helps others by sharing her story and supporting others recovering.



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Wendy can be found at: https://www.harmonioushealth4life.com. Follow me on Instagram @alexmcrobs and check out my offerings in yoga, meditation and coaching at http://themindfullifepractice.com/live-schedule.


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Transcript


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. Alex

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". I am super happy to have with me today. Wendy Blanchard and Wendy, I don't think I pronounced that correctly. Wendy Blanchard, right.


Wendy

Right.


Alex

Wendy is a mental health coach, counselor and consultant, and I'm Super happy to have you here. So welcome. Wendy, how are you?


Wendy

I'm so good. I have to be great, because being your presence is just so uplifting. You're always so bubbly and upbeat and it's contagious. So thank you. Your energy is amazing.


Alex

Oh, thank you, Wendy. Yours as well.


Wendy

Thank you.


Alex

So let's get started. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about yourself, who you are and where you're from.


Wendy

Yeah. So first of all, I'm in Orange County, New York. Consider the Hudson Valley. I'm actually from Rockland County, New York, which is about 30 minutes south of here. And I am in my 9th year of recovery from substance use disorder and mental illness. I was using prescription drugs for about 40 years from the time I was 14 years old to self medicate, even at the young age of 14, after I had experienced some pretty severe trauma as a young child, I was living in a house where there was domestic abuse, and sexual-- I had experienced sexual abuse not in my home, but from someone else. And my parents, unfortunately, were living with their own addictions. My father was an alcoholic and my mother using prescription drugs, and they were both living with their own mental health disorders. And so I was really on my own. I didn't have anyone to support me in the home. I had wonderful grandparents, and they were the light of my life, and they were involved in my life quite a bit. And so I'm very grateful for that. And this has been a long journey for me. And I can't wait to share this with your listeners and with you in the hopes that I'm going to, you know, put a voice and a face to a disorder, substance use or alcohol use disorder, so that we normalize these disorders because these disorders are mental health disorders, and they are actually listed in the "Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" put out by the American Psychological-- I'm sorry, the American Psychiatric Association. And it's listed right in there. It's called the DSM-5. And so, we want to normalize these disorders. We want to have an ongoing dialogue, and we want to bring it to the forefront because there are millions of people living with these disorders and they're living in shame, and they are in fear of talking about it because of the stigma and my voice and my work in the field. And I do a lot of work in the field. I'm hoping that this is going to open up the dialogue. And free so many people from living the way that I used to live in fear, in isolation, with my pills, with my mental illness and nearly dying in early 2013 from an overdose of those pills.


Alex

Wow. You've just--you've been through so much, and I honestly just got shivers, just thinking about you know, how much you've overcome and how much you've been through to get to this point where now you're like a Lighthouse for others. It's inspirational.


Wendy

Thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it. And you know, just want to say how much-- you're my second podcast, but I'm so thrilled that I have these venues, these large platforms, to have these conversations, because when I was living with my addiction and mental illness, people hush hush. It right. We weren't supposed to talk about anything like this, but the truth is, it's a real brain disease. And the great news about that is that it's diagnosable, treatable, manageable, and you can live an amazing life, not only thriving in your own life, but being a service to the millions of others out there that are still living with this and need us to be their voice. And so, I really am so grateful to you, for giving me this platform to talk about this, because I believe we're going to be able to help a lot of people here.


Alex

Yeah. I completely agree. So tell me a bit about how you started using prescription drugs.


Wendy

Yeah. So actually, as a young child, I--as I had said earlier, I was experiencing a lot of-- there was a lot of abuse and neglect and dysfunction in my home that absolutely was traumatic, right? No one, no child, nobody should be made aware of such behaviors, in where it's supposed to be our safe haven in our home, are soft place to fall. And it was pretty chronic daily. And again, you know, in the years of my own recovery, I have learned great empathy and compassion for my parents, right, because they were very unwell. And I know they didn't mean to hurt my sister and I, but the fact is that is exactly what happened. And so I was experiencing at the time, severe endometriosis, which is a medical condition that put me in the hospital. The severe cramping each month with my menstrual cycle, was just unbearable for me. And so when I was diagnosed with this, the doctor gave my mom a prescription for codeine sulfate, for me. Now, remember, I had been experiencing a lot of trauma up until this point, and I was extremely nervous and anxious. I was experiencing severe gastrointestinal symptoms where I would lose control of my bowels without notice, due to the fear and anxiety and stress that I was living with in my home. So, when the doctor gave her this prescription and she filled it and gave me that very first pill, and I said to myself, oh, this is it. This is--this feels so good. I felt it from my face and my neck throughout my whole body this warm, relaxed feeling. And even at age 14, I had to grow up pretty quickly. So I was pretty aware of my body and what's going on around me. And I realized that was going to be what was going to give me some peace, from not only this severe cramps I was experiencing monthly, but daily. From the trauma that I was experiencing and with the abuse and neglect that was going on within my home and outside of my home. And so, to be able to get those pills at that time, I was using it sporadically when I really needed it, right. My mother would just call the doctor and fill it as I needed it. But monthly, I made sure whether I had cramps or not, to act out and say, oh my God, I need more pills. And they would give it to me. And there was really you know, very little awareness of addiction to prescription drugs back then. I'm talking about I'm 63 now, so I'm talking decades ago when I was 14. So nobody really questioned me, ever. When I got older and I had my children, there was a doctor that questioned me and he wouldn't refill a prescription. He said to me, I think you're addicted. But he never intervened. He never offered resources. He never asked me what was going on. He never-- And I understand, he never felt safe enough, maybe within his knowledge. If I asked her and she said yes, where am I going to send her? What am I going to do? So there wasn't enough information and resources out there for me. And so, I continued to use those pills. Alex, over the next 40 years, until I was 54 years old. I found a doctor, you know, I think-- I don't remember the year it was, it's very blurred. But I was 54 when I went into treatment. And I would say about 13 to 15 years prior, you know, I saw how my life is unraveling. And I, I found a what-- he called himself an addiction psychiatrist. And I began going to him. Immediately he diagnosed me with PTSD, which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it was manifesting itself physically and mentally within me. And again, I was complaining of a toothache and ear ache, cramps, a stomach ache, any little thing I could, because he was a doctor that was prescribing very, very easily. He began prescribing without treating me for the PTSD in excess of 2,000 pills a month, during those 13 to 15 years, which I was taking. And I-- in early 2013, I had--I took an overdose. When you take that much medication, control substances that are numbing your body and your mind. After a while, you need to take more and more to get the same results. And all I wanted to do was be high so that I really didn't have to acknowledge or deal with all of the trauma that came before those years. And so I really wanted to die. And I don't want to go on and on because I know you have other questions, but I really wanted to die, but I didn't really want to die. What I mean by that is, I wanted to live. Excuse me. I just didn't know how I was so unwell. And I didn't know who to ask for help because it was such a stigma. And I was so afraid of what my family and my friends, in my community, we're going to say when I finally spoke my truth. So I just kept going on all of those years, pretending to be physically ill, which, by the way, those pills cause very frightening, real--a blood disorder. It triggered something called lupus, which is an autoimmune disease. I really did become physically ill. And the more pills I took, the more unwell, I became. And so it was very hard for me to know, how do I get out of this? And I hope-- I know you're going to give me an opportunity to tell your listeners you know, finally, after that overdose, when I awakened, how it was that I was able to come out of it and not only live, but right now in my life and serving others.


Alex

Yeah. Tell us. What was the turning point.


Wendy

Yeah. The turning point there was, my children had grown up and moved out. And by the way, I just want to say it to my children, Matthew, Nicole, Olivia, Sarah, that they experience so much in their lives due to my addiction as their mom. It was so profound-- it had such a profound effect on them. And at that time, I only had one grandchild, Rosie, and now I have a brand new granddaughter, Harper. And at that time, they were watching me slowly dying. And they were terrified. And nobody could help me and nobody would say a thing to me. Like, once in a while, I would be asked by my ex husband or by my mother, do you think you have a problem? Are you taking too many pills? Are you addicted to these pills? And, of course, you know, in addiction, we get very defensive and say, no. How dare you?


Alex

Right.


Wendy

So in not feeling safe in speaking my truth, I took an excessive amount of pills. Years after someone in my family came right out and said, don't you-- not knowing that I was addicted, this person thought that I was just very unwell and slowly dying and said to me, don't you realize what a burden you are to your children and to all of us? And so in 2006, that's the seven years before I ask for help. I-- we made an agreement that I would take my life, that I would die by suicide, put everybody else out of their misery. And quite frankly, to put me out of mind, it seems like the only solution at the time. And so we said our goodbyes. I wrote letters to my children. I gave those letters to this person to give to my children. This person went into the living room to await my passing. And I remember just laying there and realizing how crazy this was, how you know, my children would never recover from this. Me taking my life intentionally. And I couldn't do it. Fast forward to 2013, in early 2013, when I had that overdose, I just continued taking these pills and taking these pills. I just didn't know a way out. I couldn't see a solution. So I just, I guess I was waiting for myself to pass naturally from a heart attack, from all these pills or whatever my organs were effect shutting down and I overdosed. And when I awakened two days later, nobody was around. My children were out of the house. I was going through divorce. And I awakened after 48 hours. And I remember coming to and looking around and trying to understand what has just happened to me. And the TV was still on and I realized how much time had gone by. And I remember laying there and saying I'm not going to curse. I use a different word, but I remember saying out loud, Holy crap, I'm alive. And I had a moment there, just a tiny moment where I realized, I pour myself another cocktail of these pills, the doctor was prescribing over 2,000 opiates and Benzodiazepines a month that I was in fact going to die. And I could not-- I could see that day that I could not do this because my children would never recover. And I--when I woke up from that overdose, I remember actually picturing my children standing over my coffin and never getting over it, most especially my son. We have a very special connection. Of course, my girls too, of course, they would all never recover. But I knew that it would have an extremely profound effect on my son. And that was where I began to strategize, as I allowed myself to come to and that clear minded, what I was going to do. And so, I waited a few hours into the afternoon and that night I prayed. I'm a very spiritual person, and I remember being in my bedroom and I'm very connected to the universe, spirit, God, whatever the noun is that people use that resonates for them. I remember praying really hard on sobbing on my knees on the floor to my bedroom, saying, God, please just show me the way out of this and I will follow any path you put before me. And through music, which I always felt very connected to the universe, I always feel like I was getting messages and it's more profound now. I said, God, in the next song that plays on the radio, please let me know that you hear me and that is going to help me. And I remember getting back up on the bed and sitting down and my iphone was next to me. Iphones were very new at the time. It wasn't even an iphone. I forget the kind of phone, it was even called a foot phone I think I had. And I had an ipod and ipad filled with music. And I pressed play. And the first song to play was "Jesus take the Wheel". And it-- you know, the song, those words, "Jesus take the wheel, take it from my hands. I can't do this on my own. I'm letting go". I remember sobbing and dropping down onto my knees again and thanking God for that answer. And I remember going to bed and then waking up. And I heard this voice to say, Wendy, you have to call for help? I was in really bad shape. And actually, there's a couple of days in between there where I actually get myself together and I go to a motel, going through this divorce, it's a whole mess. People will be able to read about it in my book. I stopped taking the pills. And you can't do that, especially after 40 years of such a severe addiction. And I went into very severe withdrawals, so I started to experience-- I was vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time. And my heart was racing in my head was, it felt like it was crushing. And I was going in and out of consciousness. I remember that. And my body felt like I had flew times a thousand. Really severe physical symptoms, sweating profusely, it was horrible, it was really, really horrible time. And that's when I heard that voice say to me, Wendy call for help, now. Everything's going to be okay. And it's in that moment that I made that choice to live, no matter what that was going to be look like for me. And, man, I knew Alex Ted, I had a very, very, very long road ahead of me. But it was my children, my love for my children that gave me that determination and incentive in that moment of clarity, where I had to make the choice to live or just allow myself to pop another handful to take away those withdrawal symptoms and continue using for the rest of my life and being unhealthy. And I wanted to live. And it was my children and my connection to God, the universe spirit, that gave me that strength to pick up that phone and ask for help to save my life. And I've been listening to that voice ever since.


Alex

Wow. Oh, my God, what a story.


Wendy

Yeah.


Alex

And you're such a-- you know you said about me at the beginning of the episode that you said that my energy was really beautiful. And I would say the exact same thing about you, like, I just feel this beautiful energy from you. And I think it's amazing how-- somebody may look at people and they look like they have their whole life together and they seem so happy. And we're like, you know, oh, it's annoying. Nothing hard has ever happened to you. And you're like, one of these people who, if I didn't know, you just seem very happy and very put together. And it's amazing that most people that are this grounded and have this energy, have like literally climbed mountains to get to where they are.


Wendy

You know, that saying "Don't judge a book by its cover". Here's the thing that I believe, and you know, I recovered Holistically. I chose a different path. And I know you're going to ask me about my program later. I did not want to-- what I thought about it and the message that I was getting through spirit from day one, was to offer solutions. Yes, I have to acknowledge and share some of my story, as the backdrop for my program. But more importantly, let me create a new pathway to recovery that's untapped, which is organic, natural solutions in a holistic recovery and integrating at some point when the patient or client wants or needs or ask for that or even myself, bringing in the traditional recovery approach, we all learn from one another.


Alex

Yeah.


Wendy

All right. Sorry about that.


Alex

No worries.


Wendy

We all learn from one another. And so that's what I began to do. I began my program, and then I have patients that come right out of the hospital that are discharged and sent to me. I have patients, clients I should say that are just beginning recovery. That finds me, however they do by word of mouth or on the different sites that where my businesses listed and they are already in a 12 step program. I'm not gonna say to them don't do that. If it's working for them, I'm just going to enhance their recovery if they want to. Right. If they want to start to adapt new practices that can also be valuable to them and benefit them in their recovery. And so, that is what I heard. Spirit, tell me, share your story. But focus on this new pathway to offer the people this solutions.


Alex

Yeah. And I love that because I kind of take the same stance in my offerings. I was not part of a 12 step, but I have people who join my community who are. And it's exactly the same. Like, I totally--I'm like you can absolutely do both. Right. And you can find what works for you. And it's like my teacher role described this like mixing things into your soup. That's what he said.


Wendy

Yeah. I just want to say that I did not recover with the 12 steps. It didn't resonate with me. That's fine. This is why I found and created what I did. I had a client come to me on Friday, and the moment she showed up, I could see the profound fear and devastation in her eyes as she explained to me that she had, "fallen off the wagon". Going into a relapse or having a relapse or going--, this is-- what I want to say about that is this is all part of this disease, you know, when a person has cancer and they go into remission, and then at some point they may present again with symptoms. We don't shame them. A person doesn't show up and say, which this one was in. I'm so sorry that I fell off the wagon. We have got to change the language. We have got to normalize this. As I said earlier, we have got to let people know it's okay. You didn't do anything wrong. It's the nature of the disease and stop beating people up and stop being ourselves up if that should happen. We take that as a lesson. We get back up and we start again. No judgment, no self judgment and no judgment from anyone else. Nobody will ever recover that way. And I really want to get that out there. We must change the language, brought to a strength based model. Where we all have mental health. It's on a continuum. And as I said earlier, that substance use and alcohol use disorder is listed in this manual by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness. And just like any other disease, it's subject to relapse.


Alex

Yeah. Absolutely. So tell me about your program. What inspired you to create it? What are the elements that may get up?


Wendy

Yeah. So it's called "My Wellness Approach to Recovery". It's going to look different for everyone. I am-- I sit in the belief that inherently we all know what we need to heal, and it's going to look different for everyone, and it's going to change over one's lifetime, and that's going to depend upon you know, how we're feeling. It could be a biological factor that may spike our symptoms of anxiety or depression or anger or rage or whatever we're feeling. It can be an environmental factor, or it could actually be how we're practicing or not practicing self care.


Alex

Right.


Wendy

So all of these are holistic, natural and organic tools and strategies. I have a million of them. So when I started my recovery, I went away two rehabilitation facilities. I've always been an amazing Cook, and I've always been an amazing Baker. And I was always interested in exercise, I was exercised, even in my addiction. And so the first facility I went to, started teaching us how to cook healthy. How to use whole foods. How to not use or ingest anything with gluten in it. That's another talk that I do on "The Gut/Brain Connection". But gluten is an unhealthy toxic substances for humans. We have a terrible time trying to digest that and sugar and cows milk and processed foods and all of these wonderful lessons. The chef at the facility was doing a weekly class for us. And since I love cooking and baking, and it's actually one of my self care practices, I soaked in every bit of it. And I was thinking to myself, I need to find a way to manage my symptoms of severe anxiety that I still have to this day. By the way, I haven't had any controlled substances for my symptoms since I began my recovery. And that's not to say people aren't going to need medication. Absolutely. Long term, short term, going to a treatment program, having someone like me as a holistic health practitioner, guiding them, going to a hospital longer, short term. Whatever you feel, you need to heal, do it right. So I began to think to myself, how am I going to manage my own symptoms? This is nine years ago now and live a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable, and I'm going to be able to really live and practice, and it's going to keep me healthy, give me longevity and that I could actually share with others. I've heard a lot about holistic health, and so I began to research. Once I researched, I hooked up with a functional medicine physician, which is a physician that treats the whole person body, mind and spirit. I was led to a position of that nature who is amazing in getting me back on track body, mind and spirit. And then I said, you know I've tried the 12 step program. It didn't resonate with me. One of the things that I guess bothered me was that, we are not defined by this disease. It does not define who I am because I live with a substance use disorder. And when we sit in a meeting and say, I am an addict or I am an alcoholic, that defines the person, I won't have that in my life. So on a cellular level, our body is here with everything that we say and think. We are trapping that in ourselves. And then it's a negative connotation. And so I'm just going to keep living that every single day for the rest of my life. Absolutely not. I won't do that. So I wanted to create something that is going to be healthy and sustainable. And I just began that went back to school. I was an English Professor and a reading specialist teacher. I still do that dig now while I'm building my business. But I went back to school and got my certification in holistic health counseling. And then I began working for the Mental Health Association here in New York, creating and providing mental health and welness, trainings and workshops and seminars and going into the school districts and training the students in mental health and the teachers and the administrators and social workers, psychologists. I got certified by the New York State Office of Mental Health as a peer specialist, as well as a Suicide Safety Prevention Center in New York State and the National Council for Behavioral Help. So I started getting all of this work under my belt and then training first responders, family, universities, families. Explaining to them and giving them their trainings on mental health and wellness. And it just started to ripple out to the community with my business, working one on one with clients. As I said earlier in patients that are sent to me from the Behavioral Health Unit or the Detox Recovery Unit from our local hospitals. And it's all about sitting with that person, having a dialogue, meeting them where they are, and then guiding them from there, using what resonates with them, using these healthy practices that I implement into my program. It's all about having an awareness. You have to have that awareness that I need help. I want to get well and be willing to do the work. It's a lot of hard work. Recovery is you know, not for the faint-hearted I always say. It is hard work, but, man, it's so worth it. It's so worth it. I love my work. I love my life. I am very blessed to have built this program where so many people are interested in healing through this new pathway. Or, as I said earlier, integrating the traditional pathway and my pathway. And you know, we work week to week, one on one in my private practice. Meeting that person where they are and guiding them from there. So what you do is well, it includes mindfulness practices, meditation, prayer, exercise, healthy eating, healthy sleep hygiene, being engaged in healthy, loving relationships because we know that if we are engaged ongoing in toxic relationship that creates inflammation on a cellular level. And the thoughts that we think ongoing, we're constantly stressed in a stressful situation. We're constantly angry or anxious. That too. We know scientifically. We know we've learned that will cause inflammation on a cellular level. So having healthy, loving relationships, helping environments. And honestly, I feel like one of the greatest self care tools is being a service to others and seeing that light go on on their side of the street. Right? I don't care about what anybody's doing over there or saying or thinking. I want to focus right over here on my side of the street and brighten that side of the street. Then it will ripple out over to that side and to the community and into the world. And that's really what my program is all about.


Alex

So beautiful and you know, hearing you speak about it, I'm like we're just so on the same page. Like the whole thing of, like walking into a room and saying I am an alcoholic that just did not work for me because for--, like you, like I have a mood disorder and for so many years, I thought of it as I am this disorder. And it's ridiculous to me because it's like I also have psoriasis, which is the skin condition. And I never was walking around as a kid being like, I am psoriasis, right? I have psoriasis. There's so many other things about me, I'm creative, I'm you know, I'm an artist. Like, there's so many other things, and this one illness does not define me. And that was my thing against-- I didn't want to be saying that every day I'm an alcoholic, right? Because now I don't identify it. Then the only reason why I identify with my sober journey so much is because it's literally my work and I am sober yoga girl. But you know, you hit a point where you have moved beyond that, and that is not who you are. And so I really resonated with that.