Replacing Addiction Shame with Addiction Energy and the Importance of Parent Boundaries, With Dr. Wes Robins

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Replacing Addiction Shame with Addiction Energy and the Importance of Parent Boundaries, With Dr. Wes Robins

It’s nearly impossible for our kids to see us as anything but authority figures.  And, of course, we are.  We want to protect them from the world and sometimes even from the consequences of their own actions.  But teens and young adults struggling with substance misuse often need a different kind of relationship to accept responsibility for their actions and explore their behavior's roots.

My guest for this episode is Dr. Wes Robins, founder and CEO of Eternal Strength, which focuses on what he calls “radical youth work”.  This work breaks down the perception of counselors or therapists as authority figures, focusing on relationships rather than behavior modification.  Over the course of his life, Wes has progressed from his own addiction to cocaine and methamphetamine to a doctoral thesis in Consciousness and Society, making him a unique lens through which to view teens and young adults in recovery. 

On this episode we discuss:

  • Why parents should shift their energies from behavioral control to support with boundaries and self-care
  • Why recognizing the sovereignty and responsibility of teens and young adults is key to helping them open up
  • How Wes builds mutual respect with young adults that sidesteps a hierarchical relationship – and why it’s so difficult for parents.

You can learn more about Eternal Strength here:

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I have a confession to make about today’s podcast episode. I normally go through a pretty thorough planning process with guests because I want each episode to be meaningful and get across specific points for you. However, for today’s episode, I did absolute Leigh, no planning, no prep work because I knew the conversation would go in whatever direction it was supposed to, and I didn’t want to mess with the universe in that way.
I have known West Robbins for around two years now, and every conversation we have is super deep and meaningful, and I feel like we’re old pals from back in the day, even though we’ve really it’s only been a short time that we’ve been connected. Let me tell you a little bit about West, because I think it perfectly sets the stage for the conversation that emerged as founder, president and CEO eternal Strength.
Dr. Weston Robins is a licensed professional counselor and a visionary leader in the realm of psychology. Dr. Robins holds a Ph.D. in consciousness and society from the University of West Georgia. He’s been an advocate both in practice and in academia, for a truly humanistic and person centered approach. Since he’s been in the field serving youth across levels of care, from emergency stabilization to finding their own purpose and spiritual path, West has spent more than a decade dreaming of a place where youth and clinicians can experience mutual liberation and come into greater mental freedom together.
A center where the binds of standardized sociological pressures are cut away and every youth’s inner wisdom can rise up as an undeniable beacon of light and joy. So that gives you an idea of the beautiful and brilliant guy West is. And I’m so glad I didn’t prepare anything for the conversation because it went exactly where it needed to go.
So without further ado, I will let you drop into this fascinating conversation with one of the most passionate professionals I know in the substance use and mental health field, Dr. Weston Robbins. Enjoy. Dr. Wes Robins. We’ve known each other for a minute now. Never met in person. That’s on my list. Yeah, it’s on my list. But welcome to Hope Stream again.
My intention was to go back and listen to a little bit of what we recorded the first time, which I want to say was in 2020. I know that you’ve come a long way since then. Eternal strength is coming up on three years, right? Your your program. And so I thought it was a good time to check in, see what you’re seeing on the ground, and just see what’s happening.
That sounds good.
All right. Well, first of all, I want to know your is it a is it a dissertation? Is that right? Yes. Okay. I should know these things.
Now and they use it interchangeably. Dissertation thesis.  The big exhaustive capstone project you must do to receive the degree.
Yes. Okay, so the beginning of the title of yours was The Hand of Addiction. And then there was a second part, which I didn’t totally understand. So maybe we just start there. Like, what is it that you were really diving into and what made you so passionate? Because a Ph.D. is a ton of work and I’m wondering what made you so passionate about exploring that topic?
Yeah, Brenda and I, you’ll have to stop me because I love love talking about this. It was a passion, that one, because my mom has her masters in behavioral analysis. My grandmother has her ed in psychology and was the assistant dean in Charleston Southern University for years. So it felt really cool to carry that torch, this strong maternal lineage.
And so I knew I wanted to get my Ph.D. And when I started to look, I was going to do a Ph.D. in clinical or counseling psychology, looked at several programs. But when I found the University of West Georgia, I knew that’s where I needed to be. And this is a Ph.D. in consciousness and society, and it’s really unique.
It focuses on critical psychology’s humanistic psychologies and transpersonal psychology. And so it was beautiful and eclectic. And as I started to do the work, all these unique classes on consciousness, culture and subjectivity, Buddhist psychology’s really just depth, psychotherapy, a lot of unique study. And I knew I was going to do it. On addiction.
Because of the personal experience I’d had with addiction from the years of 17 to 23. Yeah, you know, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, three arrests, emotional turmoil, fallout with my family. I hurdled through that, had this beautiful cathartic awakening, moved away from all these destructive behaviors. I was already a licensed professional counselor in private practice. And so finding the Ph.D. was really a beautiful kind of rounding out of that.
And so as I started to study addiction, I met Dr. Kathleen Scott, a minor, and she introduced me to a methodology called Auto Ethnography. And she said, you know.
What I couldn’t understand.
Was that was the second part that I was like, Well, we’re going to have to talk about this.
And I did the same thing. I was like, Well, what’s that? And she was like, Well, ethnography is a socio cultural study birthed out of the field of anthropology. You know, when you think about ethnography, it’s just a cultural study. So you and I hop on a plane and we go to Papua New Guinea and we live with the tribe and we write about it and we study the culture and the tribe.
The auto component is we would begin to write about our own personal lived experience of what doing that research was like.
Got it.
So it is really depth. So I went and studied addiction and wrote an auto ethnographic exploration of my own personal lived experience of addiction and weaving that in with all of the theories on addiction, all the research, all the literature, all the treatment, and constantly bringing it back to did it land with my own personal lived experience. And so the title is The Hand of Addiction, an auto, ethnographic and trans contextual becoming.
It was it was beautiful. It was it was a one of the most proudest things I’ve ever done and written. And I still read over it and I’m like, Wow, I’m very, very proud of how it changed me in my exploration, how this journey of going into and exploring how addiction arose for me, my early childhood development and growth, my risk taking sensation, seeking impulsivity and learning as much as I could, but then also really understanding in a holistic way the entire field and how they conceptualize addiction, how they define it and what they do in terms of prevention, intervention, treatment, continuum of care.
And so it was just immersive.
As much as you would want to share. What did you find when you went back? Because I think from a parent’s standpoint were so Mr. Fied by our young people who are struggling, were completely mystified and scared of the whole industry that is there to help treat them because we don’t understand it. So what I’m wondering about is when you kind of traveled back through this journey, is what you saw, did it did it compute?
Like were you seen okay, I was going through this, I was doing this, and here were these different resources. Did they see you? Did they see the West that you needed them to see, or was it a mismatch?
The biggest epiphany for me was the standard developmental and traditional psychological and psychoanalytic models of understanding addiction didn’t resonate, right? What resonated for me was these fringe theorist Gregory Bates in and these French philosophers, the losing lottery and how they mapped and watched certain things. So rather than defining addiction, but by the time I got done writing, this addiction had a completely different meaning to me, and I no longer saw addiction as inherently negative, but I saw it as this powerful energy that always flowed through me.
But I didn’t know how to wield it, and I had no idea how to channel. Yeah. And so when I hear the word addiction now, it doesn’t ever feel shameful. It doesn’t ever feel negative. And I could get all heady and academic and break down, you know, different types of addiction. But for me, it was an embracing of a portion of me that was lost.
And so one of the last things that I write is I was once addiction lost, and now I am addiction found. Wow. And I think, yeah, understanding that it was this powerful tool and this flow influx of energy. So a lot of insights into myself and a lot of letting go of shame.
Here’s a question that I am really curious about. You didn’t connect with the traditional treatment approaches or theories around addiction. You said that you really identified with a little bit more of these fringe. I don’t know if we should even call them fringe, but let’s just call them that for now. Yeah, yeah. And as parents, first of all, I think one thing is we don’t know what’s out there because until you’re in this world, you don’t even know this world exists.
Right? So first of all, you get plopped into this world where you’re like, I feel like I’m in a movie because this can’t be happening in my family or my house or whatever. Everybody goes to Google, right? You start Googling, What do I do for a kid who’s misusing drugs or addicted or whatever? And you’re going to just find the typical for the most part, you’re gonna find the typical standard in the box treatment programs.
And then if you see something that’s a little bit outside of that, which I would say if I looked at the Internal Strength website, I’d go, okay, that’s different. And I would just wonder if we sometimes underestimate our kids ability to connect with some of these deeper level thinking approaches or, you know, like you’re talking about the auto ethnographic and trans contextual and that can seem really intimidating until somebody like you breaks it down.
It’s like, okay, well, that makes sense. It’s just words.
Do we underestimate our kids ability to grasp some of these things and find their own way out of addiction? I just have to believe that we’re almost doing a little bit of a disservice to our kids when we don’t look into some things that might be a little bit more exploratory.
Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, you’re spot on and I have a lot of empathy for the parents because I don’t think there’s a lot of alternative spaces of treatment that even exist overall. We underestimate young people’s ability to comprehend really, really complex things. You know, when I talk about radical youth work, which is this methodology that we utilize inherently embedded in it is a flattening of hierarchy.
The ability for an older individual or an adult to meet hand in hand and have a mutual liberation, mutual respect for that young person. And really being a inquisitive about their inner world and their lived experience and their thoughts. Right. One of the best things that you can ever do for a young person is to see their light, especially when you see addiction tied so much to shame and insecurity and low self-worth that if you can come in and you can see that light in that young person and say, I see your beauty, I see your strength, and actually I don’t think you’re broken.
I don’t think you’re disease, I think you are lost and struggling, but I think you’re strong and you have this ability to course correct. And that’s where I think, you know, I always view addiction like a sword as this powerful, powerful energy and force on wielded you harm yourself and you harm others, wielded some of the most insanely successful, holistically healthy individuals I’ve ever met are addicts.
And they’ve just they’ve learned and they’ve channeled and they’ve grown. I mean, the sinner wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t an addict. I’d be like, I’m done working right? But that like that relentless fixation and obsession, which oftentimes only gets seen as a negative.
As a beauty within it when when each person can understand it. And so I think that self depth and understanding of oneself, but the only way a young person gets there is if somebody gives a shit enough to actually be curious about who they are. But young people are going into programs and programs are already telling them, I already know who you are, you’re an addict and you’re using for these reasons and and you have this and here is the treatment and the thing that’s going to help.
And I think young people are seeking something that’s more individualized. And when we stop and go, Whoa, whoa, who are you? Yeah. Okay. You got all these things going on that I can easily compartmentalize and conceptualize you, but what’s your soul? What’s going on for you? Now we move past a theoretical understanding of addiction that may be biochemical psychological sociocultural.
Developmental. It’s like, what about that person? What’s going on for them in their internal narrative that’s that’s creating that how addiction is manifesting for them uniquely.
Yeah. It reminded me when you were talking about that I think there’s now a tendency to look at things like and I know you have a daughter on the spectrum, and I think there’s a lot of the narrative that I’m hearing is, Whoa, wait, that’s my superpower. That’s not that’s not a deficit or A.D.D. or one of those.
Right. And so I think that conversation is starting to shift to say it’s different and it’s my superpower. And I wonder if because when you were just talking about addiction, it in your own to it felt like that like okay, the way I was playing out, this addiction was destructive and chaotic and not great. If I can take that and turn it into channeled in a different way, that can be my superpower.
So what I was hearing you say is like, if you’re sitting across from a kid and you see and they’re, you know, they’re struggling with addiction, it’s like you are looking at, oh, wait, dude, this is actually a good thing. We just need to tweak it, is that it might just like overstating it.
No, no, no, no. Friend into your spot on. And I would even go a step further and I would say everything is simply potentia ality. Any diagnostic pathology that’s any deficit, everything is going to have is liabilities and its deficits and its weaknesses and simultaneously have the potentiality that, if wielded correctly, could be one of the greatest strengths ever.
Hi, I’m taking a quick break because there is a new resource for dads who have kids struggling with substance use and mental health, and it is a game changer. This is a private online community called the Woods. It’s completely disconnected from social media and it gives men the evidence based tools and strategies to help them help their children make positive change.
And it’s also a place where they can be totally real about what’s going on. The Woods is hosted and supported by battle tested advisors who are all dads themselves, and they work with members to help them better navigate a really challenging time in life. So if you’re a dad listening and wondering where all the other cool dads are who have these amazing, yet challenging kids, the woods is where you can meet up.
And if you know of a dad or a stepdad who could use some additional scaffolding around them right now, you can let them know there’s a private and supportive place to go. You can learn more at Members dot the Woods community, dawg. And there’s a free trial, so there’s no risk to check it out. Okay, now back to the conversation.
I’m just so wishing I would have been able to have a conversation like this with my son because I was I was not aware. When you have that conversation with the young person, what is their reaction to that?
I’m in a unique position because I’m not that kid’s parent yet, so I get to have this beautiful space with them where I’m a different entity. But you know, as a therapist, it’s another hierarchical role. Yeah. If not done correctly, there’s a lot of mutual respect. They’ll just see me as a parental figure. And so when I do it right and I do it correctly and I do it from a heart space, it’s ultimate freedom.
They they kind of they any resistance melts and they go, wow, this person’s telling me I have ultimate free will and they’re not critiquing or judging or agenda based trying to behaviorally condition me. They’re just talking to me. Yeah. And so I see a unique sacred space begin to open up where now young people can be free to say, Well, let me ask you, what do you think about this?
Because as soon as as soon as we shift from you don’t need to do this behavior anymore and you need to do this. If we stay there, young people shut down. Right. But if we open up and you go look, you’re your own human being, you have ultimate free will and you’re the only person in this world that can control your emotions or your behaviors.
Once we kind of acknowledge that that truth, then I see people start to open up and become more inquisitive. And now that energy shifts and it’s like, well, all right, we’re not going to argue about what I can or can’t do. You just name that I have individual sovereignty over myself. Now, let me talk to you about like, well, what do you think about this?
And now we start to explore together. We’re both putting on backpacks and we’re going trekking together through psychoeducation, through the world, through society, through culture. And I do think that parents have the capacity to do that with their children. It’s just a lot fucking of it’s so hard. It’s because I don’t want to put a backpack on right and go do that traversing with my two daughters.
I don’t want them to travel certain places, right? I don’t want to acknowledge that they have free will. I want to protect them. I want to love them. I want to care for them. I want to condition their behavior. So now, you know, you put me in my dad role and I’m like, I don’t want to do that.
Don’t tell them they got free will because they don’t know, you know? And that’s where I love Polly’s work. Yeah. You know, you become a conscious enough parent, you stop fighting what this inherent truth is, and you just start to work on yourself as a way to say, you know, I’m just going to try and connect with my kid as much as I can.
Relationship. Relationship. Relationship.
Yeah. And if we haven’t been having that kind of relationship, which I imagine a lot of people who are listening are like, what in the world is he talking about? And like, how would I even start to have that conversation? Because if you’ve been in that typical hierarchical parent child relationship, it’s awkward and uncomfortable to start to shift that, right?
It’s like, I don’t even know what words I would use. And I’m thinking specifically when you have a kid who’s struggling in addiction, so you’re like, your feet are in the fire and you’re freaking out and you’re like, I got to do something with this kid, or they’re going to be they’re going to overdose on fentanyl or they’re going to end up in jail or they’re going to end up dead.
Can we do that as parents or do we need to say, Hey, I think there’s somebody who could help you and then really engage a professional?
Oh, it’s such a good question. I mean, my immediate first thought was I’ve seen parents do it when they’re finally at a space where they start to care for themselves and let go of trying to behaviorally control. And I’ve seen them do it for themselves to kind of free themselves up to say, I’m going to relate to my kid different because I’m beginning to work on my own spiritual, holistic growth and relate to myself different, right?
Like, and then you and then I think young people feel that because any type of performative, you know, a parent can go backwards and skateboard and being like, Hey, let’s just think, you know, it’s not real, man. But when when a young person feels like it’s real and they feel a real shift in their mom or their dad, I mean, I know I felt it, you know, I felt when my mom and my dad were hanging on my every hour, get some resistance on my everything I knew.
And it was that was inherently killing me in certain ways because I tried to escape even more. Yeah. Like, I saw how much I was hurting and destroying them. And I just wanted them to leave me the fuck alone and stop loving me. Stop caring for me. Right. You know, like. But the more they clung, the more I went.
I’m going to show you. You can’t control me. You can’t cling to me. So it did this weird, paradoxical kind of thing. Whereas when they when they finally got exhausted and stepped back and said, Look West, if you get arrested again, we love you, but we’re not going to bail you out. You know, it is what it was.
My third arrest. And then we’re just like and they started to care for themselves and they started to be the stable structures of emotional stability, regardless of where I was. And there I am, 20 years old, using methamphetamine and cocaine and staying out for weeks at a time. But I felt the energy shift. Yeah, but they just went, we can’t stop this.
But we can set these really firm boundaries and we’re not going to participate in it and we’re not going to be riddled by it right, any more. But I knew I’d never once did I question the law. I knew they loved, and I would use it as a manipulative tactic. I would I would absolutely be like, you don’t love me because if you loved me, there’s no way you’d let me go do this.
And they, you know, we all had to come to that reality that I always had free will. They could never stop me from doing any of it, no matter what they did. But young people, I think, would just use that in creative and unique ways. And when you’re in that space of severe rigidity, of drug abuse, everybody is just something to hurtle around.
It’s getting in the way of the thing that you need to get a hold of right. And, you know, I think that’s where parents can absolutely and is the hardest part. Brandon, you know this, but it’s like severing any enabling. It has to be this really firm boundary. And that’s where I think it’s you know, that’s the greatest gift of love that you could ever give your child.
My parents said, We love you. We’re not giving you a car. We love you. You can’t have anyone. We love you. We’re not going to give you a cell phone. You cannot stay at our home. If you would like to go meet for dinner, we’ll meet you. And we have dinner. We want to go grab a coffee. Great.
We’re always here. We’ll always pick up the phone. But while you’re making these really severely unhealthy risk taking choices that are self-destructive, the only thing we have any control over is the stuff we provide you with. And if we put it in your hands, we feel like we’re contributing to it. We’re pulling back. But hey, you want to go into treatment, You want to go into a sober living.
We see that you’re clean and you’re making healthy choices. It begins to open a door for us where if we know you’re safe, we’ll talk about maybe what it would look like to help you get a car, to help you get your own apartment. And so I think it’s very hard. You know, I don’t know how my parents did it, but I do know that when they did it, it was absolutely what I needed.
Well, you know, you are absolutely speaking my language. And I. I love hearing it from the mouth of somebody who lived it. Because when I say those things, I think it doesn’t hold the same amount of credibility that I heard the same things from my son. I hear the same thing on this podcast all the time. And I think the fear, the true fear from parents is they are not going to love me.
They’re afraid of the repercussions of holding those boundaries, of what emotional outbursts there’s going to be or or even just the practical will. Now, he’s not going to have anywhere to live.
And you just have to be able to get there, which is so difficult. And I know we both believe in the power of community and not doing that alone because I did it alone and it almost killed me physically, mentally, spiritually, everything. And so I think the only way to get through that really difficult job of holding boundaries is to lock arms with other parents who are doing it, veterans who have been there and say, You can do this, you really can do this.
Absolutely. And as I talk to you in real time, Brenda, my daughter, River is right at the window.
She is so cute. She’s like, are you done yet? Are you done yet?
So she is my kid and this will be my greatest test will be in in all the ways that I preach to all these parents. I do all of this growth work, you know, Can I do that as a father myself? Yeah. And it’s really hard. But I think once you see it and like you said, you see it on the podcast, you see it everywhere, you kind of start to know like, Yeah, that’s it.
That’s what I have to do. That is in the best interest, in the greatest good of my child, myself and my family.  It’s definitely just moving towards taking your life back, taking care of yourself, and not diluting yourself with the fact that if you hold your breath, fixate on your child, and try every which way that you could control and stop their behavior, that you’re going to be able to do it. It’s like you got to come to that passive acceptance where you go an element of this is my child has to do this because there’s no parent on this earth that can behaviorally control their child for any sustainable period.
And that young person has to get it from within at some point. And that that’s the scariest thing.
Absolutely. Well, I’m going to let you go get to those beautiful girls and give them hugs and we will make sure that we get links and everything in the show notes to eternal strength and the work that you’re doing. And thank you for.
Yes, you can put up a link to my 165 page dissertation.
I will.
I know everybody is super excited to read.
I actually am excited. I’m a little bit of a nerd that way, but I am excited to read it.
Brenda, thank you for what you do. Yeah, thank you. From the whole extreme community. Yes. And and everything you do to create community support. And I can’t wait to talk again soon.
Okay. That is it for today. If you would like to get the show notes for this episode, you can go to Brenda Zane Gqom forward slash podcast. All of the episodes are listed there and you can also find curated playlists there, so that’s very helpful. You might also want to download a free e-book I wrote. It’s called Hindsight.
Three Things I Wish I Knew. And my son was Misusing drugs. It’ll give you some insight as to why your son or daughter might be doing what they are. And importantly, it gives you tips on how to cope and how to be more healthy through this rough time. You can grab that free from Brenda’s income for slash hindsight.
Thank you so much for listening. I appreciate it. And I hope that these episodes are helping you stay strong and be very, very good to yourself. And I will meet you right back here next week.

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