Interview with writer Renee Hodges

Writer Renee Hodges joins me today to
talk about her memoir, Saving Bobby:
Heroes and Heroin in One Small Community
.
Bio:
Although her
Louisiana roots run deep, Renée Hodges and her husband have called North
Carolina home for the past thirty years. Always up for a new challenge, Renée has
run a campaign for a candidate for the Texas State House, worked at a ski
resort, was the registration chair for a presidential campaign in NYC and she
co-wrote and self-published in four states the Best Kept Secrets series of
guide-books for home services, a prelude to Angie’s List, in the 1980’s.
Settling into motherhood and raising a family, however, has been her most
satisfying work, and today she is a wife, mother of three, writer, investor,
community volunteer, and avid tennis player. She is also proud to be a Shatterproof
ambassador.
Welcome, Renee. Please tell us a little
bit about your book.
It’s difficult
to pick up a magazine, newspaper or tune into television without hearing about
the opioid epidemic. Saving Bobby is
about the hurdles recovering addicts face when assimilating back into society –
which is an extremely vulnerable period of recovery – and is aimed at caregivers
or just about anyone who wants to help someone in recovery. But unlike most
books on addiction, this one is extremely personal, as its told from my point
of view, an aunt who was on a mission to save her nephew. It also emphasizes
the long path that leads to recovery and the community resources that are
essential if you want to move forward.
Bobby was
twenty-eight years old and mired in an endless cycle of rehab, release, recover
and repeat when he came to stay with me and my husband. One of the biggest
hurdles for a newly released addict is the shame they carry and the stigma
attached by society of being an opioid/ heroin user, the lowest of the low. Bobby’s
story illustrates how a loving community can lessen the shame and stigma of
addiction.
Addiction is a
brain disease, not a parenting problem or character defect and when Bobby and I
chose to open up, what we found was a community who also chose to help Bobby in
his fight for sobriety and sustained recovery. The mutual love and deep respect
between Bobby and his community helped Bobby consider what it would look like
if he decided to save himself.
Excerpt from Saving Bobby:
Reaching out to
my friends had been an easy decision. In fact, I never really questioned it. I
simply decided to be open and honest about Bobby’s disease from the very
beginning. There was no hiding under a bushel, no secrets, no denial—from any
of us.
When Bobby
arrived in Durham, I was ready to join his fight, but intuitively I knew I
couldn’t go it alone. I couldn’t deny or avoid what was happening in our
household and in our lives. I couldn’t pretend that he was healthy and just visiting
his aunt and uncle to get a fresh start in a new town. I wasn’t going to have
the burden of lying to myself, and I sure wasn’t going to lie to my friends and
family. Anyway, what would have been the point of that? Bobby had a disease and
he needed everyone’s support, love, and understanding—not the devastating impact
of silence or the hurtful and sad avoidance of cover-up. Lying, manipulation,
spinning, evasion, and deception are already a part of the addictive process. I
didn’t want it to be a part of the recovery process too.
Although I can
now see what a powerful choice openness was and what a difference it made not
only in his recovery but in my ability to support him, back then, it really
wasn’t a conscious decision. It just happened. I enlisted the aid of my family
and friends, opening up to them and seeking their advice. They, in turn, kept
him accountable and watched his back. I trusted a professional to guide me when
I wavered or questioned. From the very beginning, I leaned on others, trusting
that sharing this monumental situation would be the right thing to do. I opened
the door wide and invited every- one into our lives and it was wonderful. We
were lessening the shame and we were giving him a support system. These friends
and family members, as well as professionals, provided us with everything from an
encouraging word to the promise of accountability.
And because we
were open and vulnerable, the most amazing thing happened, an unexpected bonus.
Others started to unburden and disclose, sharing their hidden stories. People I
had known for years shared stories I had never suspected. In the store or on my
cell phone I could hear the relief in their voices as many opened their memory
hamper, and shared their addiction secrets with me, for maybe the very first
time.
Why did I
become a confidant? I believe it is because others saw us refuse to attach
shame to our situation, and then witnessed the liberation and healthy outlook
that came with being open and vulnerable. They saw someone to whom they could
relate, someone in whom they could confide without fear of judgment. And it
felt good to open up, to feel less alone and share their own stories with
someone who had empathy and a willing ear.
This emboldened
me. Every time someone stopped to ask how they could help us, I felt stronger.
When friends called to tell me about their child’s struggles with OxyContin, or
other legal opioids—or heroin—I felt less alone. I also became more and more
frustrated with the knowledge that prescription opioids and their addictive
qualities are destroying so many real people, not just people in another state
or city or another part of town. I’m talking about people here in my own
neighborhood—a gated affluent neighborhood, where we all wave to each other on
the street.
Why didn’t I
know this? Why hadn’t I seen this? Where had I been? Having Bobby in my home
made me an automatic member of a private club—and only now could I share
stories of another’s addicted family member or friend.
When someone
finally decides to seek treatment, only then does he understand that addiction,
like a tattoo, always leaves a permanent scar. This is the mark of shame—the
disfiguring of the whole family indelibly inked by a misunderstood disease.
I saw the shame
in some of their eyes, the deep sadness and resignation as they confessed their
terrible secrets. I heard the fear and the weariness in their voices. They all
just needed someone who might understand and who would listen without judgment.
As more and
more people told me their brave and sad stories, I realized we are all in this
together. As I say too often, it takes a village. We had helped create this
small and strong village by telling our story and allowing others to tell
theirs. Addiction is a disease and it cannot be hidden away like a colony of
lepers on an isolated island, shameful and out of sight. We all must take
heroin and opioid addiction out of the closet, bring it out in the open, and
fight it together— head-on. This is the only way we are going to help our most
precious possessions—our loved ones.
Saving Bobby is a valuable tool for caregivers and
family, as well as being a heck of a good romance. We treated Bobby
holistically, mind, body and soul. We used structure and discipline, but always
in positive way and loving way. And, we were honest. Secrets make you sick, my
friends.
What exciting story are you working on
next?
Bobby and I have
plans to write a self-help book detailing useful tools for caregivers which
will include ways to help lessen the addict and the family shame. Bobby will
write from his perspective on ways an addict can lessen their own shame and
begin re-claiming their life, after short, long, or multiple stints in a rehab
center.
Bobby and I are
writing from first-hand knowledge, adding bits of advice coupled with inspiring
stories. One story I love is when Bobby found me in the kitchen and said: “Aunt
Nee, Mrs. Wollman asked me to walk her dog.” I replied with my back to him,
“That’s nice.” I didn’t think anything of it. His voice rose, “No, you don’t
understand. She asked me to walk her dog.” I began to hear there was emotion
under this statement. I slowly turned around to a face that was beaming with
pride. He continued, “No one has trusted me to do anything for seven years,
ever since I became an addict. She trusts me to walk her dog. Aunt Nee, she trusts
me with her dog.”
I tear up every
time I think of this story. What a revelation of how little it takes to show
someone in recovery that we believe in them. Bobby was not going to let Mrs.
Wollman down.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The day the advanced
reading copies of Saving Bobby arrived
on my doorstep was the day I began believing that I was a writer. I knew I had
a story to tell but writing for my nephew is very different from writing for
public consumption. It took only a summer to write Bobby’s story. I did not
write consecutive chapters, but rather jumped around writing vignettes and
stories, sometimes writing a last chapter before writing one that happened a
year earlier. I referenced emails, texts, journal entries and blended them with
personal recollections. The result is wonderful, letting the reader feel as if
they are side by side with me on Bobby’s journey to long-term recovery.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I am always
thinking of what I would write if I had the time to write full-time but publicizing
and marketing a book is like having a full-time job. As I find I am not a great
organizer of my time, I have had to set my alarm clock very early to find the
time to write. It annoys me when the birds start chirping as I know that they
have gotten more sleep! After a few cups of strong Louisiana coffee, my mood
always brightens and I always accomplish more in this early morning period than
if I had planned to write all day long.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I like to write
listening to music with my headphones on. I will change songs depending on what
emotion or mood I am writing at the moment.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I wanted to be
a CIA spy helping America in the Cold War. I studied for a winter break
semester in Odessa, Leningrad, and Moscow and was captivated by Russian history,
literature, and politics. The Berlin Wall fell, so I took up tennis.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
Here are my last
words on writing Saving Bobby. I
truly believe it takes a village and we are all in this together. They are
clichés because they are true. Saving
Bobby
will appeal to memoir readers, caregivers, and those in recovery and I
am hoping that it will start a conversation, if not a movement, to take the
shame and stigma out of the disease of addiction. Hope Lives! And, that is not
cliché.
Spoiler alert: Bobby
went on to get his Master’s of Social Work, graduating in the top of his class,
and is counseling others with addiction at a rehabilitation center in
Louisiana. He is working toward becoming a Licensed Therapist.
Links:
Thanks for being here today, Renee!

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