Lisa Boucher has worked with hundreds of women to overcome alcoholism, live better lives and become better parents within the past 28 years. She is the author of “Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture” and was prompted to write the book after realizing doctors and traditional health care offers few solutions to women who struggle with addiction.
Sarah Grathwohl is a social media specialist and writer for DrugRehab.com. She is an advocate for mental health and addiction treatment and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Central Florida.
Hello, and welcome to Ready for Recovery. I'm your host Sarah, and today we have Lisa Boucher on the show with us. Her family had a history of addiction, and Lisa herself is now in recovery. She works as a registered nurse and witnesses the negative effects alcohol has on patients and physicians. For the past 27 years, she has helped hundreds of women overcome alcohol addiction, live better lives and become better parents.
Adding to her many accomplishments, Lisa is the author of "Raising the Bottom: Making Mindful Choices in a Drinking Culture" that debuts on June 20. And I myself can't wait to hear more about it.
Thank you so much for being here Lisa. We definitely have a lot more to talk about.
We do Sarah. Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to lend another opinion or voice to the topic.
Of course. I definitely want to hear your opinion on everything as well. I'm really excited to read your book and dive into more detail about your recovery and your advice.
You start whenever you want, I'm ready.
Okay. Well, to start off, I want to know more about your childhood and how that influenced your problems with alcohol.
My childhood was — I guess if I have to say one word, it was — I was in constant fear. My mother, who was also a nurse, ended up getting addicted to Valium from a physician. Back then, I don't know that they understood the negative impact that benzo's — long-term benzo use — would have on a patient. That's the category: Ativan, Xanax and Valium. She became addicted to that. My father — I think, as a result of my mother's addiction — was a rage-aholic. I think our family could've easily ended up a statistic had my father ... the financial structure level collapsed. That's what kept us, I think, off the street per say, and from being a statistic.
It's a very dysfunctional, crazy environment to grow up. What happens as a child growing up in any sort of dysfunctional environment like that, that is verbally abusive, physically abusive at times, you find a beer that makes you feel different and you're hooked. All of my siblings have some issues. I think this is probably why we found something at a young age that changed the way we feel.
This is happening over and over to kids. I can recognize this in young children. If you're able to put that whole piece of their environment, look at their coping skills, then you can almost predict who's going to turn to drugs or alcohol down the line. I had the family genetics there, so it was kind of a done deal early on.
Did you feel like, not only did it help you cope but, was it in high school when you started drinking?
I started drinking and smoking pot at 12 years old. I wasn't drinking heavily by any stretch. Sneaking a beer here and there. Smoking a joint here and there. That's how it started. I know there's alcoholics that say they drank alcohol from the get-go, whatever the case may be. That is not my story.
I think I did most of my heaviest drinking in high school. Or those years between 12 and 25 are when I did my heaviest drinking. I had a reprieve for a number of years, between 12 and 17, when I had a horse. That horse kept me out of my sinking into addiction a lot sooner. I fell madly in love with that horse. I think that did save me from really hitting bottom at a very young age.
My older sister, one of them — whose name in the book is Violet — she started using at 11. She told me that my mother was giving her Black Beauty's. Back in the day these doctors were giving those out like candy to women to lose weight. I don't understand why my mother would've done that with my sister because she was always so thin.
You're a registered nurse. You see how addiction is influencing medical professionals and patients — because you've dealt with these first-hand accounts — what do you see right now, as a nurse, patients coming in and the medical professionals?
The addiction problem is getting worse. The heroin is off the charts and we all know that. It's plastered all over the news. There's no doubt that what you read is true. That's been my experience. I know when I first started nursing, 23 years ago, we might see a couple heroin addicts a year. They were the leftover hippies from the sixties. We were kind of amazed that they hadn't died yet. That's all you saw. It just was not prevalent.
Now, it is 10, 15 a week at minimum. They're just piling into the hospitals. The doctors, they don't get addiction. I'm going to give you an example of what happened just over St. Patty's day.
The patient was a known frequent flyer, dirty urine, and the doctors don't see it for what it is. They continue to prescribe medication. There's one physician, because it was St. Patty's day, he told the patient, the patient said, "I think I'm sure I'd drink if you let me out today because it is St. Patrick's day." The doctor said, "Well, we'll keep you until tomorrow."
It makes your head want to explode. An alcoholic isn't going to care if it's March 17th or March 18th. The doctors really don't seem to get that. I think they mean well, but they continue to liberally prescribe. I've worked with many women that come to me — and you just take one look at them —and I tell them go back to your doctor and ask him why you're on all this medication. Nine times out of ten, the doctor has no good answer. These women, even if they want recovery, it's very hard to grasp recovery if you're heavily medicated on that trifecta. Then, a lot of times they'll keep on Seroquel to help the sleep or, Doxepin. Any number of medications.
This is hindering people's possibility of getting sober. You cannot grasp sobriety, or the concepts of one day at a time, or the concepts of prayer and reaching for a more spiritual life. Any of the things that are the crest of recovery, people miss that when we're so medicated. This bipolar diagnosis is getting tossed around. Everybody is bipolar now. I think they're doing a huge disservice and marginalizing the disease for people who really do have it and suffer and struggle daily with it. It's a legit diagnosis and people that do have it and are dual-addicted, it's a difficult ... it's very difficult for them.
I see doctors labeling just about everybody who comes in now. They slap a bipolar diagnosis on them. That could be really detrimental for them down the road. I know my mother — they diagnosed her back in the sixties and seventies as manic-depressive. Most of my childhood my mother was passed out, on the floor, on the couch, could barely function. We were traumatized in a many number of ways with that kind of thing, which was at the hands of the doctors.
They don't get it either. I have yet to work on a nursing unit when a nurse or one of the doctors didn't have a problem. It is not recognized. It’s brushed under the rug. I've seen some outrageous behavior. Even the attitudes of the addicts and alcoholics rolling to the ER. I used to work in the ER. It is exhausting, because you see the same people over and over. A lot of the traumas and whatnot are alcohol related. Not all, but a lot of things coming into the ER. Even the medical issues, a lot are alcohol related — the failing livers, the esophageal varices, the bleeding ulcers — many of those things can be traced back to alcohol. The doctors don't get it.
You're working with physicians that are shaky or their face is always red. I understand what's going on with that. Nobody around them does. Nobody will say anything. I've talked to people that have worked on the heart team, that are on call. She readily admits — yeah, we cover for each other; we come in drunk, hungover — no one is going to call out the cardiac surgeon with a drink under his belt. I don't believe a physician or a surgeon is falling-down drunk when they're on the job. On call...there's no doubt in my mind.
I was at dinner with a physician who is a heart surgeon in another city. He looked at the server and said, "I'm on call tonight so I can only drink the clear stuff."
This happened within the last year. Addiction affects 10 percent of the population. It doesn't discriminate. Whether you're a surgeon, a pilot, a nurse, a teacher, a mother, it doesn't care. I don't think the medical community understands this. I know in Ohio, the medical board is extremely pejorative toward surgeons who have addiction issues. They will do anything to cover for each other and not talk about that they have problems, too.
I think a lot of people think the medical community is immune from getting addicted to substances, because of the career that they have as well.
I think you're right. I don't think they want to admit that it can happen to them. They have just as many problems as the rest of the population. There's a hubris there. They are physicians. I think that they are not open to saying "This is something that we don't get." There's still that fallacy of thinking. I see it in ancillary staff as well. The medical profession is all about, what are your credentials? What are your degrees? That's what they care about. You've got millennials, and nothing against millennials, but ... I'm going to give you an example.
You have a millennial who graduates college, she gets her master's degree and she decides, I want to go into chemical dependency counseling. That's wonderful, but how well and how effective is she going to be? Number one, she doesn't have a lot of life experience under her belt. She's gone from high school to college to maybe her first job. You've got people that are addicts and alcoholics, and they don't understand the manipulation that an addict is capable of — how they can work every angle and they will work every angle. If you're not someone who has been exposed to those sorts of people— if you've never been that yourself — I can say from being an alcoholic, when I was in my addiction, I absolutely was manipulative. I absolutely was not always truthful.
All of these character things that we do when we're in our disease, if you're not someone who understands that, you're going to take them at face value. That's often what hurts people the most. They're not honest with the people that are trying to help them. The people that are trying to help them — unless they understand that fact — how effective are they going to be?
That is the other problem with the medical profession. They continue to say, if you have a degree, then you must know what you're doing. I talked to a gentlemen last year who was finishing up his PhD and wanted to go into chemical dependency counseling. I asked him — and I know that he's not a recovering person — I said, "What is your take? What is your approach?" He said, "I like to talk to the addicts and the alcoholics about their moral choices."
Really? That's what he said?
Yeah. That's what he said.
Their moral choices?
Their moral choices. How effective is this guy really going to be?
Addiction isn't a choice and that's what the medical—
This is the kind of thinking that's out there. This is why people are not getting the help they need. They're going to doctors who don't understand. So, these doctors continue to judge and write prescriptions. That's about it. I feel if someone seriously wants to get sober, their chances of finding the right kind of help, are to reach out to the any number of people in recovery — that it's not hard to find— who can point them in the direction.
There's plenty of doctors and counselors and what not in recovery. There's no way they are going to out themselves to the general public. If you approach them through the back door of a recovery room, they will help you or steer you in the right direction. I think that's a much more effective way to go than to look in the phone book, or get on the internet and just pick a doctor. They don't get it.
It's sad that the stigma around addiction is preventing people from getting the right kind of help too. You would think going to a doctor, you would get the help that you need but that's just not the case.
It's really not the case. Like I said, I don't think it's a malicious intent. I think it's just that the way that things have been done for so long. These doctors don't want to change. Their egos are involved to a large degree. They are exhausted by the number of addicts and alcoholics that are coming at them.
Medicine is more a money machine, it's a business. They want to make money. It doesn't really behoove them to heal all these people, either. Where are the patients going to be in the mental health units if we don't have the addicts and alcoholics? That's a hard truth that a lot of people aren't speaking out about. That's the truth.
I'm glad you're speaking out about it right now, and voicing your concerns and opinions about this topic. Not a lot of people would say what you're saying right now.
I don't think they would, either. I think what's happening is, they're forgetting there's lives and families on the other end of those. Every patient that comes into the hospital is somebody's dad, somebody's mom, somebody's grandma, daughter, aunt, whatever. The doctors aren't looking at them as a human being with a life and the impact that this disease has on a family, like it had on my family. My mother didn't sober up until I was in my twenties. I can tell you, it had an impact on all of my siblings. You can't grow up with that kind of crazy and not be impacted. It's literally impossible.
Now, I'm also working with children. These children are suffering on a whole other level, because of the heroin addiction. I can't tell you how many kids I have talked to in the last few months. Their parents are dying; they are dying from this fentanyl that's in the heroin. Now they're being thrust into foster care. The foster care system is a mess. You've got people that are looking to supplement their retirement and they're too old and they're not invested in these children. They're basically providing a roof and food. Any of us who have raised kids know that that is a, is just a fraction of what it takes to shape the life of the next generation.
We are going to have a whole generation of kids that have no coping skills, and they have no life skills. I think a lot of my motivation in wanting to help the parents, is we are — these children do not deserve to suffer the way they're suffering because of the rampant addiction in our society.
Tell me a little bit more about your book, "Raising the Bottom" and some of your reasoning behind writing it. I already feel like you're very influential with the people that you talk to. Why write a book?
This book was a long time coming. This is my fifth book. I've written fiction prior to "Raising the Bottom." My mother is like, she's had 30 years of great recovering, she used to say, "Lisa, why don't you write a recovery book? There's so many women who could ... need to hear and maybe you could help." I believe things are birthed and born when they're ready to be born. I couldn't have written "Raising the Bottom" 25 years ago. I wasn't ready to write it and I don't know that the world was ready for the message. I think we are now. I think the timing is right because of the heroin and the drinking and the cancer risk with alcohol.
Everything is coming much more to the forefront. It dawned on me that so many of the books and the things related to alcoholism, still deal with the low-bottom drunk. That is not my story. I sobered up in my late twenties. I had no health consequences. I had no legal consequences. I did not have my children yet. I was married four years. My husband drinks, and we were enjoying ourselves like a lot of young couples do. There was really no reason, looking at my life from the outside, why someone like me would quit drinking.
However, because I saw what happened to my mother — she had one of the lowest bottoms I've still, to this day, ever seen — I had a smidgen of knowledge. She was seven years sober when I got sober. She started to plant little seeds like, maybe you're drinking a little too much. She did send me a big book, six months before I got sober. I was living in Dallas at one point and she came to visit — and I had popped a beer and I guess it was about 10:30 in the morning — and she didn't think that was normal drinking. She said something about that.
These little seeds started to sprout in my mind and disintegrating a bit internally. I had been in college for 10 years — hadn’t finished my degree. That is how my alcoholism manifested. My inability to stick with things that were constructive. My inability to think before I spoke. I was like a cannon. You annoyed me, I would let you know immediately that you annoyed me. I was missing a filter. That's how it manifested. My mother planting the seed. I believe to this day, it was by the grace of God that I just decided, I'm done, and I’ve had enough. I quit drinking and I got involved in 12-step recovery. Come June, it'll be June 22, God willing, I'll have 28 years sober.
Thank you, Sarah. The trajectory of my life changed drastically many years ago. "Raising the Bottom" — I started thinking— we need a book for women and men. The men actually, who read my book are enjoying it very much. The people that I chose for the book all had high-bottoms. They were women who were still employed. They were raising children, they had cars and homes and from the outside, nobody would ever believe they were alcoholic. That is who I wanted to portray in the book. That alcoholism does not look like the stereotype that so many people still hold onto. Alcoholism looks like the surgeon who came home from work every night, and drank wine until she went to bed. Alcoholism looks like the soccer mom who is driving her kids, and maybe your kids, around with a travel mug in her car filled with wine. Alcoholism looks like the mother who takes her kids wherever they need to go, picks up the cleaning, comes home, throws something in the crock pot, and starts drinking. She's functioning. These are the women that I portrayed in the book.
There are 10 stories in the back. Everyone from a surgeon who also had a PhD in neurophysiology and admitted she knew nothing about alcoholism. She was a Nebraska farm girl. I believe the societal shift has gotten so ... we've lowered the bar so much. People think that out of control drinking is still social drinking and it's not. These women all thought they were social drinkers. They were not.
I had a woman say to me the other day — children went to a catholic school — she said the drinking was getting so out of control with the parents before the sporting event. The parents had now gone to sneaking alcohol into the football or soccer games or the swimming to whatever. Then they're drinking after.
They don't think there’s anything wrong with it, either.
They don't. Exactly, Sarah. Everybody's doing that. We have lowered the bar so much. I thought, this is not normal behavior for adults to be sneaking alcohol in for a game who are convinced they're social drinkers. Actually, that's what alcoholics do. A social drinker doesn't feel compelled to sneak alcohol anywhere. What is social drinking? I don't think any of us know anymore. I think it's gone so far the other way that alcoholic drinking ... I can tell you as an alcoholic, I did not drink every day.
They say that when a person picks up a drink is when they quit — their emotional growth stops. We have a lot of adults—
That's a really good quote.
People don't understand this, Sarah. They truly don't. We have adults with maybe very significant responsibility at their jobs, at homes, and everywhere else in their life, but emotionally, they're not handling it. They're still locked in adolescence. Eighty percent of the alcoholics have jobs.
In your book, "Raising the Bottom," you challenge women to ask themselves if they have a problem with drinking. From your experience, what do you believe are the two or three main indicators that alcohol may be taking over someone's life? I know you've mentioned a lot previously, but what do you really think are two that really stick out to you?
I think relationships. When you can't maintain a relationship. When you have trouble dating. I can give you a great dating story that my adult friend told me if you want it.
That is a key sign, when you have trouble with your relationships. I see that with the people that I work with. They cannot get along with anybody at work. They're always negative and they have dysfunctional relationships from problems with their kids, with their spouses, with their bosses. That is a good sign that alcohol may be your problem.
Another key indicator is women that are looking to fill the hole in the soul with shopping and men — all these women that complain of anxiety. This is huge. Anxiety and depression, I would say that — that and the dysfunctional relationships. Ninety percent of anxiety and depression, I believe, is related to underlying alcoholism. Maybe these women haven't crossed the line yet, but they will eventually in their lives. I have yet to be proven wrong on this, many, many times.
I've worked with so many women that tell me, "I have panic attacks," "I have anxiety." One of them was a physician herself. I said, if you're in recovery, Xanax and Ativan, forget it. That's off the table for you. My experience has been when women start looking at programs — when they start dealing with their underlying emotions and feelings — the anxiety dissipates when you learn new healthy coping skills. By the way, exercise is a wonderful tool. You're anxious? Go out, run around the block. Hit your knees, say a prayer, draw a picture, read a book. There's a lot of healthy ways we can cope. Go in the kitchen, cook something, paint something.
Alcohol is not going to fix those problems. If you're feeling depressed, it's only going to make feelings of depression worsen because alcohol is a depressant.
That's exactly right. I'm really angry when physicians prescribe antidepressants for women who drink. I have a lot of friends, that I love dearly, that they drink a lot and they take a lot of antidepressants. I don't believe a doctor should diagnose anyone with depression until that person has been off all alcohol and drugs for at least six months.
Then, I believe there are very few people with legit clinical depression. It usually is because they're taking medication or drinking alcohol that causes their depression. Or lack of exercise. You can't lay on a couch, week in and week out, and feel good. We're not made, our bodies aren't made, to lay around like that. We're just not. If you're going to lie down all the time, you're going to feel bad.
That's a good point. Those are great answers. I want to switch back to the alcohol, but the culture around alcohol. There's definitely people that associate with alcohol use. I know we talked about people that—social drinkers. I see just a culture with, "I don't think I have a problem," but they'll only drink on the weekends and they'll drink five or six drinks on the weekends. I think they're blind to how it can affect them on a daily basis, not just on the weekends when they're drinking.
I agree with you. Culturally, here's what I'm seeing. I'm sure we're all seeing this. Yoga and wine. There was a big ad in-
This is a 2,000-year-old practice that we're going to muck it up now with wine. I like yoga. I love yoga. I can't imagine having wine after it. They say do it on an empty stomach and now we're going to throw wine at it. Bridal shops, they're acting like casinos. I haven't been to a casino in a long time, and back in the day when I was drinking, they would give you free drinks at the casinos. Then, of course, everybody knows you're going to spend more money because you don't care.
The bridal shops are now doing that. Let's not forget the hair salons. These bridal parties are going into the hair salons, doing their mani/pedis, dragging along the little flower girls with them, as all the women sit there drinking. They're not only role modeling — if you want to be a bride and pampered — you have to have wine. These are the insidious ways that it's getting integrated into our culture and nobody bats an eye.
I saw on Amazon, they've got cozy covers now that are like Pepsi and Coke labeled — so parents, and believe me, the kids — can now carry around what appears to be a can of Pepsi or Coke, but they're really drinking a beer.
Really? I haven't seen that.
Yes. Get on Amazon.
I've seen videos for those really large wine glasses that fit an entire bottle of wine. Everyone's like, I want to try that. I'm like, that's not good.
It's so un-classy. Now they've got purses. Get on Amazon. They have purses. I think I'm going to buy one so I can take one to my job. They look like big tote bags and they have spouts on them so you can put a box of wine. I don't really know how that would even work. We're encouraging 24/7 drinking.
I think definitely products like the bag that you're going to purchase — I definitely think that makes it easier for those parents that want to socially drink before their kid's soccer game or during their kid's whatever event that they're going to. It'll make it easier for those parents to socially drink, and it's going to enable them to continue to function as an alcoholic and really have them step back and recognize that they might have a problem. They don't need this product. They should just enjoy the moment that they're in, not have to have alcohol everywhere they go.
You're right. This is how we're getting more and more alcoholics. People are crossing the line and they don't even realize it.
I agree with you 100 percent on that, Lisa. In your opinion, how do you think more people can make sober the new cool, so to say?
I believe there are a whole bunch of women out there — shall we say that other silent majority of people — that are already thinking a lot of what I've been saying. They think it but they're too scared to stand up and be the person who says "You know what? This isn't okay." There's a lot of that but they're afraid to step up. Women are powerful. If we join forces, right? I know not all the parents do what I saw. Maybe because I am alcoholic, I tend to gravitate to the more raucous, partying kind. Then I had to hold back from them.
I'm getting my logo redone, the cute little L, the adorable woman — you’ll find her on my RaisingtheBottom.com , you'll see a picture of her — I'm getting her redesigned so that she can go on yoga pants, t-shirts, bags. I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have moms wear a t-shirt or carry a tote bag with this classy looking L? Look at my website. She is really classy. She's so cute. Make it cool to be classy, confident and kick it with your kids. What's wrong with that?
I want that to be the new cool. The mother who can standup to herself, not the mother falling down the bleachers that everybody's applauding. Let's applaud the mother who, maybe had one beer and said, "You know what? I'm done. I'm going to drive home. I need to be safe." Why can't we make that the new cool? I think if we have more women saying those kinds of things, looking someone right in the eye instead of being ashamed of it, I think it will slowly, the pendulum will shift the other way.
Do we want our children to grow up to be us? That's what we need to start asking.
It's a great question to ask. Honestly, you talking with me today and talking about alcohol, the stigma behind it, you're one of those influencers that's getting more people to think, "I can be cool and not have a drink in my hand, I can enjoy my time." It takes people like you. You're doing great things. I applaud you for everything that you're doing.
I thank you, Sarah. It has been an uphill battle because a lot of people don't want to hear it. I do believe that little by little, with more and more people speaking out, this is not an anti-drinking campaign. It's just really, as they say, flip the crate and look at the other side of things and go back to redefining what is social drinking—redefining it so people that do find themselves all caught up in alcohol misuse disorder, something, maybe they can get help sooner than later.
I got help at a very early age. I decided this is not who I want to be. I do not want to be the person who cannot control my emotions or my mouth. I do not want to be the person—like I said, I didn't have children at the time, but I can't imagine what kind of example I would have been for my sons if I was still drinking. I would've lost their respect.
I'm so happy that you were able to recognize the problems that you were having with alcohol at an early age, so you were able to take control of your life and appreciate your children's lives and watch them grow up and be here today.
Right. I have a fabulous relationship with…I have twin sons, and they think they want the fun party mom and I had that. My mom was the mother, she was buying beer. Looking back, my mother was taking me to lounges with her when I was 15 to have martinis. That is not the mother who I wanted to be. There is no way I would've ever thought to take my 15-year-old twins to go to a bar and have drinks with me. There is no way that was going to happen in my world. That's what happened with me and my mother. It doesn't go well. It usually ends poorly for all involved. That kind of thinking.
I really look forward to reading those stories, the personal stories in your book. Really just getting a chance to read it. I can't wait for June 20th.
I'm excited that you're excited for it, Sarah. I really hope, my goal was, there's ten stories in the back of the book. If you can't relate to me, if you can't relate to my mother, surely there's going to be one of those women you will be able to relate to. I think alcoholism and addiction is affecting everybody. The book isn't just for the person that has a problem. We all have that friend, that sibling, that coworker. It's going to touch all of our lives somewhere. If we have a little more knowledge of what early alcoholism and addiction could look like, maybe there's a lot more people out there that can be ... catch it early like I did and it made such a difference in my life.
Had I not caught it early, I don't know what would've happened. I can tell you I would've never finished a couple degrees. I would've never written five books. I would've never had Division 1 athletes. They would've been a mess and so would've I. If I can help even just a couple families, there's a rippling effect. Even one life worth saving is huge. That person has a life. That is my hope and that is my goal for the book. I believe it will have some impact; I firmly believe it will.
I know that you're going to help somebody with the book. I know that you being here today and talking about alcohol and addiction is helping someone. When someone reads your book, maybe they think it's not going to relate to them at first. Who knows? Someone's going to have an eye-opening experience no matter what. I just want to thank you so much for being here today and talking about your book and this topic. You are making a difference.
Thank you for having me Sarah. I appreciate it, and I wish you well. I'm sure we'll talk again sometime.
I'm sure we'll talk again. I wish you all the best in everything, Lisa.
Thank you, Sarah. And you as well.
Thank you so much.
Have a great day.
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