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Eliminating Stigma: The First Lady of North Dakota Speaks Out

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Hello and welcome to. Let's talk a series of award winning podcast produced in brought to you by the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation. Each podcast focuses on a topic related to addiction to alcohol and other drugs from prevention research treatment current events trends advocacy and of course recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. I'm your host William Warriors and today our topic is personal stories public advocacy. I can't think of anyone who best represents this in our guest Catherine Burgum. Welcome Catherine thank you so much for having me here today. Well and as we as we are here at the Ford Center in February of Twenty Twenty. I want just recognize this moment. By giving you a medallion because yesterday was a big day for you. This is so cool. Thank you so much. How many numbers? So this is my eighteen. Sit My year eighteen of sobriety so my eighteenth sobriety birthday today yesterday. Actually so thank you. So much for this amazing medallion. I'm so grateful and that's thoughtful of you. Who team years ago. What what what. What was your bottom eighteen years ago. My bottom was you know not being able to look at myself in the Mirror. Complete loss of of self respect And I you know Decided I needed to make a change and And I was able to do that. Eighteen years ago and walk this path of recovery sobriety. I'm so grateful. How did you know that you have a problem? What what was that moment? That said I'm not doing this the right way. Well I could achieve almost any goal. I'd set for myself in my life but I could not stop drinking. You know no matter how many drunk episodes I would have or struggles or you know mornings Hong over I just. I just not stop drinking. And so that's how I knew. I knew I needed help. And I knew I needed to really make a change in my life And did you seek treatment or just walk into a recovery path? I went down a record both actually I. I did go to treatment but I also Went down the recovery path and found like minded people that I could take this journey with. And you've been on that journey for a long time but one of the fascinating dynamics of your recovery journey which. I'm sure you hadn't really anticipated back when you started at eighteen years ago. Was that Five years ago or so. Your husband was elected. The Governor of North Dakota. That's right that makes you diverse lady of North Dakota the First Lady of North Dakota and so there you are suddenly very public persona in the state of North Dakota and not long after that nationally but very quickly Catherine you recognize the unique opportunity you had to have the public platform and a personal experience and to combine that personal story with public advocacy. Talk about that for our audience. Well early on in my time as first lady Spent time trying to decide you know what would I do? What could I be really passionate about and you know? It didn't take me long like a hot second to decide you. You know because of my own recovery. I you know this was the path I needed to go down especially related to eliminating the stigma of addiction. And you know what I heard you speak a few months before that and you said the best way to eliminate the stigma of addiction is to just talk about very simple solution and I basically took up that idea and made it part of my platform. And that's what I'm doing and so early in my time first lady. I did an interview with the newspaper and You know they just wanted to get to know the first lady and five minutes for the interview. I told my husband. I was going to talk about my recovery which I had not done really publicly for fifteen years at that point. And how did that go that day? When you sat down with the reporter and really revealed the essence of who you are How did that go? It was a huge weight. Lifted off my shoulders. Yes you know because I have a disease you know I figured out. I have a brain disease and I shouldn't have to carry this burden on my shoulders of keeping keeping silent about it. You know but the stigma is what kept me there for most of my recovery and kept me from seeking treatment And getting help for over twenty years so It was such a huge relief to really be able to talk about it and You know my husband was super supportive. Rooney Talk Oh yeah. He's he's very supportive and he believes that the more we talk about it to more. We're able to eliminate the stigma and then when you did begin to appear publicly whether it was in the media or On the stump as first lady. What was the reaction that you got overwhelmingly positive You know there's hardly anyone who is not impacted in some way by the disease of addiction as you know you know I mean and so people reaching out asking for help you know thanking me for being voice It's overwhelmingly positive. You know and it's an opportunity to connect with people on on a much different level And on a very real level And in both my husband and I are very focused on how the importance of behavioral health you know in our state but for me You know working with people on the front lines who really making a difference in treatment and recovery The peer support specialist. We have in our state And one of the population are states. That's most adversely affected by. The Disease of addiction are native Americans and so the opportunity to partner with so many of them trying to make changes Where they live in their communities on the reservation has just been so powerful. And I'm grateful for that. Opportunity was really blowback. Did you get any criticism or people scratching their heads saying you know? You've Catherine you shouldn't do that or why are you doing that? Did you get anything like that? No no not I would say pretty much. It's been positive and super supportive. I think there are. You know some people who struggle with You know sort of there's an anonymity issue related to recovery for some people But I believe the people that are in recovery needs to be the faces and voices of recovery over twenty three million people struggle with the disease of addiction across our nation. But you know over. Twenty million people are in recovery and so people need to see what recovery looks like and and so i. I believe that I'm grateful for the opportunity to be in this role and have that opportunity to to tell my story at this level to help eliminate the stigma bef face and Voice of recovery. And you do it so well and you do it so well. Not just in the small state of North Dakota but you really have become a public national advocate for the illness right. Well I've been able to meet people on a national level for sure you know is able to speak to. The National Governor's Association about how this disease is impacted my life and what they can do and their states to make a difference. Now we've measured the level of stigma related to addiction in our state through a survey. Because I believe that we really won't know how the progress we're making less. We can measure against the baseline you know and I've shared that story With everyone including the director of the CDC encouraging them to measure things like stigma So yes so at a meeting at the at the White House had been involved in opioid related meetings and people reach out and ask me for input So yes on a national level. I've been really surprised at the opportunity that partnerships with people like the Drug Czar Jim Carroll the Office of National Drug Policy to surgeon general He's been door state meeting with him. So you know there are so many people really trying to make a difference and help people and families struggling across our nation. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to partner with them. And how would you? How do you measure the impact that you're making me obviously just by the public story that you tell it gets a lot of attention and certainly that makes a difference but do you feel like you're making progress. Yes I do you know but I have a team of people I work. With a couple of instances you know we host a conference every year called. Recovery reinvented And which you were a very helpful and instrumental in helping US conceive and design and thank you so much for that him to me And it's been super successful but as the result of that you know people have come up to me and said you know. I am now about my recovery at work. I'm now talking about my recovery openly and I didn't do that before I speak to groups like the Chamber of Commerce four hundred people in a room and and I feel like I have to walk the talk when I do. These talks with people and so I ask people to stand with me if they're in recovery and be face supercup free and they do and it's a very motion moment. I get emotional about it. You could hear a pin drop but the number of people that come up afterwards and say. I'm so grateful I don't have to carry this burden on my shoulders where I work. You know I'm now the people you know people and I didn't know so and so that I work with was in recovery and so you know people are have less fear and and you know more courage to stand up and help others because I frame that in a way that by doing that you may be saving one person in this room because that person might reach out and ask for help. And so you're eliminating stigma by just by standing by standing up and speaking out like you. Do you do get a lot of requests for help. Yes yes absolutely. How do you respond to that? Will you know I spent Again I'm grateful for the opportunity. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day helping a woman who's From one of our tribal reservations who was really struggling. I helped her get connected to the right people in our state to get into treatment on she was ready she needed to go and the timing and I wasn't going to be like I'm on vacation. It's holidays you know but I'm also through that process finding very Impassioned committed people who are willing to do this work but we're also as a result of that creating a lot easier pathways for people to find support and get connected themselves. But I never turned anybody down as you know. I often ask for your help as well. Well and I know I thought I what you said about the fact that she spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day just like. I'm sure you could sight lots of other examples. When you've spent time helping people how do you Katherine How do you Balance Your public role and the advocacy that you do in the results that come with it with your need to take care of yourself? Because oftentimes we hear that particularly in the field that prediction treatment addiction advocacy of were always willing to give away so much of ourselves. Whether we're counselors our first lady's or people like myself in the organization but we've got to make sure we take care of ourselves. Is that hard for you so it is? It's it's hard to say. No actually when you were asking that question I took a deep breath and let it out. You know because most of the time I'm actually an introvert trying to do extroverts. Joppa this role is first lady. I mean I'm pretty good while one but you know I definitely you know. It's sort of depleting of energy for me and I have to go somewhere alone release. Oh you know where I can like meditate or read and just get my energy back and just fill up those reserves that sort of get depleted doing this work. Because it's it's it's just such an emotional You know a difficult journey sometimes helping people but I do that I love to watch you know historical dramas on TV. You know I snowboard. You know I walk. I you know love to get connected to people that I don't spend enough time with in my life but mostly I just sort of take one on one little mini vacations You know where it's just me You know getting rejuvenated doing yoga and and and then I'm just ready to go back into it again so I just have to do that as an introvert. You know have that time away from also. So you're taking care of your mind and your body and your spirit people are going to be watching. Are going to be inspired. So we're going to be inspired to find recovery as a result sharing some of your own story summer going to be inspired to stand up and speak out. What would be your council to people who are new in recovery? Who are now being inspired by what they heard and seen with you today should they stand up and speak out. Or what would you be your council to them? Well you know when I was new in recovery that that was not that was definitely not something. I was ready to do or willing to do. But you know feels like things were different back. Then you know it was eighteen years ago I think if I would have had more courage to talk about it you know I wouldn't have had to have all that burden and live with shame for so long. I think it's important to find like minded people that you can talk to on your recovery journey But you know every person I think has to decide when the time is right for them to be speaking about it publicly but I think that having the courage to do that sooner than later will help people along their recovery journey because you have support from the people around you and people understand. Potentially what you're going through because there's so many other people out there so I guess I would encourage it sooner than later which I would have spent more time. focused on that and and being with people that were in recovery And also really talking about it really have a minute or two left Catherine. I want to go back to where we started. This conversation in me handing you that medallion eighteen years ago. Did it ever cross your mind that you could recover from alcoholism? No I mean. I had tried so many times on my own back then. Eighteen years ago I mean I relapsed and went to treatment then relapsed for eight years I didn't you know I kept trying. I guess you know I kept thinking you know. There must be a better way to live my life. There must be a better. You know So I would say that I never completely gave up. But my hope levels were pretty low And so I but it is possible. It did happen you know. I'm so grateful that I kept trying. That kept trying to find the right people the right situation or the right group to be with to help me on this journey on because the the most important thing is you know just never give up hope because recovery is possible on especially you know if you find the right recovery journey and find those people to to support you along the way and did you ever imagine that one of the gifts of your recovery. All these eighteen years later would be the role that you have here in this chair now and this national arena that you have whether it's North Dakota across this country. Yeah no never never You know this was never on my radar. That's the thing that's the thing about it. You do not know the incredible amazing things that show up your life you know you may think I could never be there. I can never be that person I could never whatever but you know literally become a different person when you are able to walk the road of recovery and literally everything's possible and you at least At least you do have the opportunity to to read our full potential. We sure are grateful that you've been walking that walk for so long and that you've reached your full potential that you've given away what's been given to you and that you've done it in a way that proves that treatment works and recovery as possible fact that you touch the lives of so many people those of us at Hazelton Betty Ford where you're on the board of trustees but also those across the state of North Dakota and across this country. Thank you for sharing your recovery story. Thank you for sharing your story publicly and thank you for being with us today Catherine Burgum. Thank you for your inspiration. Grateful thank you and thanks to all of you for tuning into another edition of. Let's talk a series of podcast on the issues that matter to us of Hazelton Betty Ford and a youtube. Please let your friends family colleagues First Ladies and others know about our podcast series and we hope you'll tune in for another one so thank you.

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