Lana Baumgartner is an addiction recovery coach and co-founder of Psychedelic Times. Today, she shares her story about her experience with addiction and how her views about addiction changed when she got involved with recovery coaching.
Mikey overdosed on prescription painkillers and died October 20, 2008, at 28 years old. He was an incredibly skilled musician, among many other talents. He was deeply committed to his family and friends and maintained close friendships for years. Mikey was a character that would leave an impression on everyone he met, sometimes for the worse. As a deeply troubled individual, he struggled with authorities throughout childhood and, in later years, with addiction.
Mikey was my cousin — my uncle’s son — but our relationship had more of a sibling dynamic. I spent the first twelve years of my childhood with Mikey in my grandmother’s home as she took on the role of our mother. We would throw things at each other, scream and yell, and then make up over ice cream and Super Nintendo. Mikey played my protective older brother and introduced me to his world, as older siblings often do. Mikey also introduced me to the dark world of addiction.
Growing Up with Addiction
My grandfather, Robert Kundert — AKA “Pres. Bob” — was the President of the American Cannabis Society, so growing up, I was never a stranger to marijuana. Mikey made sure to be the first to formally introduce me to getting high. We pulled up to West Towne Mall in Madison, Wisconsin, and parked in the lot about fifteen parking spots away from the entrance. I was in the back seat of Mikey’s old Cadillac with my best friend Yanya, who I spent nearly every waking moment with. Mikey and his girlfriend Laura were in the front seat, giggling and preparing the bowl as we sat in the parking lot.
Mikey looked over his right shoulder as he explained, “I’m going to light this, and you’re just going to suck as hard as you can, okay?” I would do almost anything for his approval, and I nodded my head as he lowered the bong over the front seat in front of me. I watched the flame dive into the bowl as I sucked — the smoke seemed to enter my lungs just as fast as it had filled the glass tube. What felt like ten seconds later, I was choking and gasping for air with tears streaming down my face. I managed to squeak out, “I-I-I can’t BREATHE!” Mikey’s eyes widened and he began punching my thigh as I curled into a ball in the back seat as he told me, “Breathe! Just breathe!” I finally caught my breath, and Yanya pushed me out of the car into the rainy parking lot. Mikey looked out at me and asked if I was okay. I couldn’t even speak.
This was a classic story in the adventures of Lana and Mikey. Despite all of our sibling quarrels, I loved and cared for him deeply. But the dynamic of our relationship changed as we grew older. Eventually, Mikey’s recreational experimentation with drugs spiraled out of control. He brought Yanya along for the ride and, eventually, two other close friends of mine — they were shooting heroin together. I chose to distance myself to mitigate my feelings of despair.
Addiction was commonplace at this time in my life. I watched my mother struggle to kick smoking, and my father battled with his addiction to every narcotic he could get his hands on for over three decades. His parents were raging alcoholics throughout my childhood, and my grandfather on my mother’s side died of emphysema from his smoking addiction. Another friend I became close with literally withered away due to her meth addiction. At nineteen years old, it felt like everyone close to me was addicted. I have my own personal story of abuse, but I never saw the day when stopping was not a choice. When I decided I was ready, I walked away from everything.
One thing I remember well about Mikey was that he responded to compassion and empathy. He would express his love and devotion he had for his girlfriends when they would argue or threaten to break up with him. He yearned for authentic love and understanding. I don’t believe this is a desire sought by just Mikey, but of anyone who is struggling with addiction. Truly, all human beings seek compassion in one form or another — whether we realize it or not, we all want to be seen as worthy and loved in the eyes of others.
It was Mikey’s path to end his life at the early age of twenty-eight. However, it’s clear to me now that if he were approached with the understanding of an experienced recovery coach, he may still be here to tell his story of recovery.
Conscious Conversation and the Power of Listening
Growing up, I learned that I should shun and shame a loved one with addiction — that they should be scolded and made aware of their wrong doing. But I’ve never witnessed this approach to be effective or successful for the person struggling. I wasn’t told that, no matter how low addiction brings a person, it’s crucial to hold a divine vision of them. Maintaining an empathetic dialogue with them is imperative. People suffering from addiction are not doomed to a lifetime of addiction; they do not have to label themselves as an addict until death.
Becoming a recovery coach with Being True to You — which provides recovery services to people suffering from all kinds of addiction — began with a twelve-week training that has now evolved into a daily practice. This approach to interacting with others has illuminated every relationship in my life. In our recent interview with Deanne Adamson, founder of Being True to You, she said that one of the pillars of recovery coaching is conscious communication. Listening is the integral piece that allows for this deep kind of communication in any conversation.
Effective listening is a universal skill. There are levels of listening that can be observed in any conversation. These levels are actually not specific to any one modality, and they can be applied to almost all forms of communication. In conversation, the listener can be simply hearing without actually registering the speaker’s words. Another form is selectively listening, in which the listener adamantly waits just to speak themselves. The greatest intention of a recovery coach is the highest level of listening. This is when the listener practices empathy and truly takes in every word that the speaker says. Conscious communication can occur with a clear channel of receiving and giving, when empathetic listening is being practiced authentically. This is a central practice of recovery coaching, although there are many other moving parts that come into play as the dynamic of a relationship unfolds.
What is the potential result of this higher level of communication? I can only imagine now what Mikey would have felt if he someone had listened to him with genuine empathy and compassion. Would he have felt more supported? Would have he felt understood? Maybe this was the connection that was lacking in his life. I can guarantee that Mikey was missing presence and conscious communication in his relationships. This wasn’t because he was incapable, nor because of the social circle he kept, but because there was little or no awareness of what could facilitate a shift.
Conscious communication isn’t a widely known practice for facilitating the process of recovery. Just this alone can be incredibly beneficial for someone struggling with addiction. Being addicted can feel very lonely and isolating. To allow someone in and develop an authentic dialogue can be the gateway from addiction to recovery, especially with the help of powerful plant medicines like ibogaine.
It’s Not Too Late to Rewrite Your Story
It’s too late for Mikey, but for the millions of people who suffers from addiction in the United States and around the world, there’s still time. If someone you love is facing the challenge of addiction, never discount the importance of simply listening to them and offering them love and understanding; and, if you happen to be the one battling an addiction, it’s never too late to rewrite your story.