Deirdre “Dee” Hebert hosts the radio show PaganFM! which broadcasts live on WSCA 106.1 Portsmouth, New Hampshire and on-line at portsmouthcommunityradio.org
Thursdays from 10 pm – Midnight Eastern. Her new book is The Pagan in Recovery: The Twelve Steps From a Pagan Perspective.
Dee would like to make the book available to those in need who can not afford a copy at this time. You can request a copy by
emailing her or contact Dee to get information on making donations to help her offset the costs of providing free copies.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Dee on Skype.
IMAGE: Deirdre Hebert seated next to a framed cover image of her book The Pagan in Recovery.
Masery: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your book.
Dee: No problem. Thanks for the invitation.
Masery: The Staff of Asclepius blog is for Pagans and family members who are disabled, impaired, or part of the Deaf of Blind community. I haven’t addressed recovery issues yet so I appreciate this opportunity.
Dee: I was looking at the blog, and I like what you’re doing. It seems to be filling a need that hasn’t been very much addressed in the Pagan community. Thanks for taking that on.
Masery: Thank you. It’s also inspired me to start the Pagan Health Care Resources Team. We’re putting together resources to help Pagans and health care providers communicate. I hope to add your book to the literature list.
Dee: Thank you for doing that. The Pagan in Recovery addresses not only addiction issues, but is a resource for anyone struggling with any type of compulsive or codependent issues as well. An appendix in the book lists a number of programs for a variety of 12-step programs.
Masery: It is a much needed resource. I haven’t read The Pagan in Recovery: The Twelve Steps From a Pagan Perspective yet. I did listen to your interview at Lamyka’s Wiccan Podcast. I’d like to start by asking you some questions about what lead you into the recovery process.
Dee: I’m pretty much an open book as it were.
Masery: In 2005, you began attending a 12 step recovery program but felt uncomfortable with the Christian language being used. Please share what lead up to your addiction and what lead you to the group.
Dee: Well, I tend to think that addiction is something that we’re more or less born with. Using a substance only activates that addiction that we are predisposed to. I actually got drunk the first time when I was just a toddler. There is a family story about me going around the table at my grandmother’s house, asking for sips of wine. I got shut off for the first time when I was about 3 years old. But I’m also transgendered, and so I was very much uncomfortable with my life, and didn’t get along very well in school. I was pretty much constantly bullied. In 8th grade, the teachers and my parents thought it might be a good idea to hold me back – that a change of classmates might change things. It didn’t. In high school, I was drinking and using. After high school, I joined the Air Force, and started using even more drugs and alcohol.
Masery: When you said you got shut off, what do you mean.
Dee: “Shut off” as when a bar-tender stops serving an individual because they are drunk.
Masery: I understand. That is such a young age and a fragile developmental period of life.
Dee: It was pretty much a humorous story or anecdote that was told in my family. The toddler was rather toddling and all that.
Masery: In college, I went to large parties most weekends to get drunk to help me feel better and destress. I didn’t understand I was coping with post traumatic stress from sexual and emotional abuse.
Dee: The difference between the addict or the alcoholic and other users is that for people who aren’t addicts, when the situation changes, they are able to stop using. For the individual with a dual diagnosis, it’s pretty tough. That’s the category I found myself in.
Masery: Yes, I was able to move away from alcohol easily once I began addressing my health and mental health concerns. Was drug and alcohol use your way of coping with your transgender identity in a society that wasn’t very accepting. About when was this?
Dee: The whole story is a little longer than that. As well as being transsexual, I was also diagnosed with a few mental health issues. And when I went through a divorce in about 2002, things really came to a head. I spent about 4 years in and out of mental hospitals with diagnoses of Bipolar, PTSD, and a few other issues. So it wasn’t just about the drugs and alcohol when I was looking for recovery. Through most of this time, I didn’t want to address my alcohol use – I thought that my *real* problem was mental illness.
Masery: We could write a whole book on being Pagan in the stress ward or mental ward. I was only there for a week and felt all it really did was keep me from harming myself. Other than that, I felt my needs were not addressed.
Dee: It’s interesting how one problem can mask another. We can ignore *this* problem because we have *that* problem. We get this mistaken idea that one problem is *better* than another.
Masery: The mind body connection is very complex. There is rarely one answer or just one issue to solve.
Dee: That’s very true. The real issue, especially when it comes to addiction, is spirituality. That’s why the most successful programs of recovery deal with the spirit, and not simply the avoidance of substances.
Masery: This brings to mind food addiction. I have heard so many people criticize those who are over weight by saying “Just stop eating so much.” Really it isn’t that simple. There is something the soul is missing out on and the body replaces it with either food, drugs, or other things to the extreme. And as you said, there are other health concerns that need to be addressed to help reveal the whole picture.
Dee: Food addictions, as well as other eating disorders all are an attempt to satisfy a deeper need. We want to feel good about our selves – to be thinner, or to be heavier. Many people who are heavy are that way as a form of self-defense; some feel (perhaps sub-consciously) that if they are heavy, or less attractive, that they won’t be subject to some form of abuse. We build up many defense mechanisms that we don’t even understand. We try to feel better about our selves and try to fulfill some very deep needs. We aren’t always able to understand what those needs are. But working through the 12-steps, we are supposed to come to some form of spiritual awakening. The major part of the process is geared to helping us understand our selves.
Masery: One of your inspirations was a series of essays on The Witches’ Voice. In the interview with Lamyka you quoted the author saying, “Everything that we consider as a fault eventually had another purpose.”
Dee: That’s correct. RuneWolf did an essay on the virtues of the craft. Just when I was considering leaving a 12-step program, I read his article, and it gave me the motivation to continue in the program.
Masery: Those words really rang true with me.
Dee: He said, specifically, that true humility is to look at our strengths and weaknesses, and to cultivate the former and transform the later.
Masery: I was introduced to that concept in a Sexual Abuse Survivors group. The therapist explained that many of our behaviors now that were interfering with our happiness and ability to cope with daily life, were originally there to help us cope with the abuse.
Dee: Exactly. The same can be said for even such severe *disorders* as Dissociative Identity Disorder, which many people might recognize as Multiple Personality Disorder. Many of our *problems* are really nothing but coping mechanisms that have somehow failed us now that we no longer need them.
Masery: Instead of us berating ourselves for our weaknesses we were empowered to rethink them and determine what other skills were needed or learn how to use them (specifically fight or flight) in more appropriate ways.
Dee: That’s pretty much the essence of the middle steps of the 12-step programs. We take an inventory, look at who we really are, whom we might have hurt, and make amends. We take responsibility for our actions and find better ways to deal with things.
Masery: I have to admit, I was very biased against AA and other 12 step groups because of their Christian language. I thought the major concept was to ask Jesus into your heart or you wouldn’t be able to make the changes. But what you said in the interview with Lamyca changed my mind. You said the theory for the program is sound, the original creators wanted it to be for many different people but they had to use the language they were familiar with.
Dee: That’s true. Asking Jesus into your heart is the heart of Christianity, not the 12-steps. The heart of teh 12-steps is coming to know a higher power – whoever that might be. The founders of A.A. came from a Christian background, so that’s the language they used. In fact, the 12-steps are descended from another program, originally called The Oxford Group, or “Moral Re-Armament”. This group still exists, and is now known as “Initiatives for Change.
Masery: I think it was a wonderful idea for you to write about how Pagans can utilize the 12 step programs instead of creating a new one. Pagan focused recovery groups are few and far between. Was part of your reason for writing the book to encourage Pagans to use the resources that were available to them?
Dee: Yes. A.A. and other 12-step groups are available everywhere. If you open up a telephone book and look at the business listings, you’ll find A.A. on the first page. These groups are ubiquitous, and they are open to everyone. You might find a group that is particularly Christian. If you do, and you can’t deal with it, all you need do is find another group.
Dee: Just go to a few meetings, and trust your instincts. You’ll know if you are being welcomed. Most groups aren’t going to try to convert you. But the greatest pitfall is when we try to compare rather than identify with those who are speaking. We’ll tell ourselves “I never had an OUI charge”, but fail to recognize that we probably did drive while under the influence. And don’t suspect that just because someone is a Christian, that they’re out to change you. My sponsor is a Christian, and we get along very well. She’s not out to convert me, nor I her. We respect each others’ beliefs, we pray for each other. It’s a fabulous relationship because it’s based on honesty and trust.
Masery: That’s wonderful that you found someone you can connect to as humans going through similar struggles.
Dee: That’s what the Twelve Steps are about. We find recovery, in part, by helping others to find recovery. If you can’t give it away, you can’t really have it.
Masery: It’s been about six years then since you woke up in intensive care after an overdose and decided to stick with a recovery program. This may seem like a long time for those anxious to heal. I’ve learned through my healing process with PTSD is that it isn’t a direct line to health.
Masery: The process is small steps of successes and what seem like failures that can be helpful when approached as a learning experience.
Masery: I assume it’s similar for addiction recovery.
Dee: I think it is. Many of us do have relapses. But I learned another lesson in studying music, and I try to teach it to all my students and to others I work with. As we’re learning, as we’re studying anything, we eventually reach plateaus. We become frustrated because we feel as if we’re not making any progress. I tell my students that these plateaus are simply the time when we’re taking what we have already learned, and making it a part of who we are – we’re integrating it into our being. The plateau is nothing to fear, but it is as important a part of our learning as anything else.
Masery: That’s beautiful. It feels true to me. Thank you for sharing those words. You teach music?
Dee: I play a few instruments – mostly recorder and guitar – I sing as well. Before I became a Pagan, I was a music minister in the Catholic Church. I think that music too, helped save my life. Now I do teach occasionally. I have one student now, but I’ve had others in the past.
Masery: I’m a second soprano and sang mainly in church, school and college choirs. Chanting and listening to classical music sooths my nerves and helps me return to center.
Dee: That’s really cool. Music is terribly important. I can’t imagine life without it.
Masery: Me either.
Masery: I think I understand now why you include music in your show PaganFM! There’s more to it than just entertaining listeners.
Dee: Here’s a link to one of my most favorite pieces of music.
Masery: I listen to the folk station on Last FM all the time.
Dee: Part of the reason I play music is because the show is live, and weekly. There would be no way for me to come up wtih two hours of material each and every week … it’s a lot of work. But I also love the music, and music is a huge part of Paganism. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some marvelous performers and to have them as guests on the show. And yeah – having been a music minister, I can’t imagine faith without music.
Masery: Music is a form or communication that is deeper than language. The way it vibrates air molecules that bounce off of our bodies creates sensations that simply speaking can’t.
Dee: It’s a little off-topic, but one book I appreciated was “The Secret Power of Music”, that somewhat addresses that.
Masery: I enjoyed the detour. I think I have that too. It’s by David Tame.
Dee: Not a lot of people have read that book! I’m impressed!
Masery: Part of an advanced magic class I taught included a section on music so I read that to help plan the lessons. Ultimately though I went with Drumming at the Edge of Magic. http://www.amazon.com/Drumming-Edge-Magic-Journey-Percussion/dp/1888358181 It’s by Mickey Hart drummer from the Greatfull Dead.
Dee: Haven’t read that yet. I’ll have to get it.
Masery: So allow me to steer us back to you and health care and not just recovery. Kimberly Hendrick from the TriWind institute conducted an extensive Pagan health care survey. When I asked what surprised her the most she said, “Two things considerably surprised me: the extent to which the Pagan community overlapped with the LGBTQ community and the relative degree of conformity in responses. I expected that the rate of LGBTQ and non-duality in gender identification would be significantly higher in the Pagan community than in mainstream American populations, both based on my experience of being in the community and because it would be logical for LGBTQ individuals to gravitate to spiritual groups that are accepting and do not frame non-heterosexuality as a negative attribute. However, I didn’t expect that almost 40% of the Pagan community would be LGBTQ – a tremendously high number. In terms of health care, this is even more important, because it means that many Pagans are people who have multiple minority identities and are therefore more likely to be inadequately served.” Staff of Asclepius “Interview with Kimberly Hendrick, PhD about the groundbreaking Pagan Health Survey”
You identify as a transgender woman. What has your experience been like finding and communicating with health care providers?
Dee: Actually, the largest problem has been financial. Many insurance programs specifically exclude Sex Reassignment treatment. But strangely, the Veteran’s Administration has now recognized hormone therapy as necessary treatment for transsexuals, so I’ll soon be going back to the VA. I had avoided it, mostly because of the rather macho attitude of the military, but that seems to be changing. There are quite a few physicians who won’t treat transsexuals, but there are enough who do – so it really hasn’t been much of a problem.
Masery: I didn’t know they were willing to cover hormone treatment.
Dee: The hormone treatment from the VA is relatively new. Interestingly, asserting my Pagan identity, as well as coming to terms with my trans identity have been essential parts of my recovery from addiction.
Masery: Coming out to my family as Pagan and accept my bisexuality has helped me as well.
Dee: Part of recovery is embracing truth. There is nothing more powerful than truth.
Masery: Indeed. It is very freeing to be yourself. When facing truth in the recovery process, it seems one of the harder steps would be acknowledging those you’ve hurt.
Dee: If there is anything that rivals truth in power – it’s forgiveness. The ability to forgive those who have hurt you is very liberating as well. Making amends to those we’ve hurt, and forgiving those who have hurt us – they pretty much go hand in hand. If we can’t forgive those who hurt us, how can we expect forgiveness from those we have hurt?
Check back with the Staff of Asclepius for Part 2 of the interview with Dee on Friday, Aug. 5th.
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Al-Anon is a mutual support program for persons who are affected by the compulsive drinking of a family member or friend. Alateen, a part of Al-Anon Family Groups, helps teenage sons and daughters of alcoholics to cope with problems in their homes. Groups provide direct services to individuals, family and friends of alcoholics, by providing information on alcoholism and sharing experience in coping with the disease, and by providing the opportunity to learn to grow spiritually. Al-Anon’s program of recovery is adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous and is based upon the Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and Twelve Concepts of Service.
Narcotics Anonymous – NA
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a nonprofit, international organization founded in 1947; it was created to help people of all ages, races, religious perspectives, occupations, and lifestyles stop using drugs. There are more than 58,000 weekly meetings in 131 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, and meetings are also held in correctional and treatment facilities. The World Service Office of NA provides and distributes complimentary group starter kits and NA literature upon request. The material can also be obtained by professionals who refer their clients to existing NA meetings. NA approaches the 12-step recovery program by focusing on the disease of addiction itself, and not a particular drug. There are no dues of fees for NA services.
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