Episode 37: Losing a Child to an Overdose with Robert Cox, LPC
Episode 37: Losing a Child to an Overdose with Robert Cox, LPC
Therapist and host of the Mindful Recovery podcast, Robert Cox, shares his grieving process after the tragic loss of his son, Tristn Jevon, to an overdose in February of this year.
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LAT listed in the Top 30 Trauma Podcasts
Alyssa Scolari [00:03]:
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hi everybody. If you are new here, welcome, and if you are not new, then welcome back. I’m going to dive right into it today. We have special guest Robert Cox, who is an LPC, a therapist, in Missouri, specializing in trauma, addictions and autism. He is the creator and founder of Life Recovery Consulting, which will soon be turning into a nonprofit organization called The Tristn Jevon Center for Recovery. Robert is also the host of The Mindful Recovery Podcast, which I had the honor of being a guest on. It is a fantastic podcast that covers all things addiction, trauma and mental health related. Welcome, Robert. Thank you for being here.
Robert Cox [01:14]:
Thanks for having me here. I appreciate it.
Alyssa Scolari [01:17]:
Now you do a lot of incredible things. I feel like there are so many different conversations that I would love to have with you. First, let’s just talk a little bit about your podcast. The Mindful Recovery, when did you start that up?
Robert Cox [01:39]:
I started it probably five or six years ago but I took two years off because life got very complicated for me and building this group practice, The Life Recovery Consulting, was taking up all of my time, but I continued to get downloads and I continued to get emails from people saying, “When are you going to get a new episode out? This really helps me.” And so just last January I started it back up and we’re currently at like 380,000 downloads or so in like 90 countries, so it’s ringing a bell with some people because I’ve only got about 35 or 36 episodes out total, right, so we’re averaging about 5,000 a week hits so it’s doing pretty well right now.
Alyssa Scolari [02:22]:
Robert Cox [02:23]:
It just came out of the fact that I had been an addict with a lot of trauma myself and in my recovery when I thought mindfulness saved my butt to a large extent. I was a practicing Buddhist for 15 years and that really helped me, so I thought I might as well share this space and some of the information that I’ve accrued not just as a professional with a Master’s degree but as someone who’s been there and done that and made really stupid choices.
Alyssa Scolari [02:53]:
Right, and in listening to your podcast that’s something that, one of the many things that makes your podcast really great is the vulnerability that you add in again coming to this as a human who has been through some shit, made some mistakes. Just so the listeners out there know, I first found Robert on a platform that we are both a part of as podcasters and he had posted in the Facebook group that he was starting up his podcast again after taking a break for a couple of years. Then we touched base and we planned to record together and after doing some more research on Robert and listening to his podcasts I had realized that he had been through a great, great loss recently and today we are here to talk about that. If you wouldn’t mind Robert, I will turn it over to you, if you wouldn’t mind sharing what life has been like for you for the last several months.
Robert Cox [04:07]:
Wow. It’s been a lot of loss. I talk a lot on my podcast about holding space for the pain and not trying to numb it out and trying to learn from it or make something of it instead of just allowing it to eat you alive. I have struggled with every avenue of addiction. My own addiction and then my wife relapsed while we were married and she has bravely overcome that. Then we dealt with my oldest child, my stepchild, he came to me when he was about five or six years old and the first five or six years of his life were pretty horrible. There was a lot of abuse involved and so those issues left him, all adolescents go through the experimental phase with drugs and alcohol, that’s pretty normal actually, the problem is that when there’s a lot of trauma there that they haven’t dealt with, much like I did, they realize hey, when I’m doing this I don’t hate myself so much. I can actually talk to people without feeling like a piece of crap.
Robert Cox [05:15]:
That’s what he discovered, and he went down that rabbit hole and we talked about it honestly, his mom and I set healthy boundaries, and I really do believe, and I’ve talked to our family therapist about it and she believed too, all of us believed that he had a really, really good heart and eventually he was going to overcome this like I did when I was his age. But he didn’t have time. He had dental surgery and didn’t feel like he had enough painkiller so he went to his dealer and got what he thought were Percocets but they were actually laced with fentanyl and that one or two week period he and seven other people died from those pills.
Robert Cox [05:59]:
On February 4th we got a knock on the door and he’d been in jail before so the police are there and I’m like, oh crap. What’s going on with Tristn?
Alyssa Scolari [06:09]:
Robert Cox [06:10]:
That was not what we expected to hear. I don’t know, it’s changed my whole world. I always thought about him, I always worried about him, but like every minute of every day now is pretty much me thinking about him in one way or another. Part of understanding that is being able to hold space again and practice what I preach and not retreat from that pain.
Robert Cox [06:42]:
I did an episode on the stages of grief and talked about that a little bit on those two episodes, but truthfully the stage I was in for weeks was just being pissed at him for not listening to what I was telling him. For not taking seriously what I was saying and just being really pissed. Then there was the phase of being pissed at myself because, pardon my French, but I’m a fucking addictions therapist and I can’t help my son? Are you kidding me?
Alyssa Scolari [07:09]:
Robert Cox [07:12]:
Understanding those spaces and not retreating from them was, is, really important. I would say honestly I agreed to do this podcast, when you asked me about this topic and you were very polite about saying, “If that’s too much I totally get it,” and I’m like, I kind of see this as an opportunity to embrace that space again knowing full well that what it’s going to do is probably lay me out for a day or two. The last time I dealt with this pretty much at this level was when my daughter and my wife, we got these little kind of amulet things that you can put ashes in, they could not bring themselves to sit down and do that. I’m Dad, I’m supposed to hold the pain for my family, so I said I’ll do it. But it knocked me down for a couple of days.
Alyssa Scolari [08:03]:
Robert Cox [08:04]:
Understanding that that’s going to happen, knowing that doing this podcast with you, it’s going to leave me in a funk for a couple days, but also knowing that I’m going to survive that and that that’s a space I need to enter into sometimes in order to heal, is really, really important. Part of that healing for me has been sharing with the listeners and stuff and getting feedback from them about that it’s helped them and part of the healing for me was starting the foundation in his name, The Tristn Jevon Center for Recovery, which if you go on GoFundMe you can find it there, The Tristn Jevon Center for Recovery.
Alyssa Scolari [08:41]:
Yep, and I will absolutely make sure to link that in the show notes.
Robert Cox [08:44]:
And we’ve raised enough money on there that I could at least pay for the attorney and get that started and get the nonprofit going so that we can provide services for people who can’t afford them and free coaching seminars and public things and this kind of stuff, educating the public about these things and hopefully helping other people to not have to go through this because quite frankly he didn’t get as lucky as I got. When I was only two years older than him my heart stopped but I lived, and that was the last time I used.
Alyssa Scolari [09:17]:
Wow. You were two years older than Tristn was and your heart stopped as a result of your substance abuse?
Robert Cox [09:26]:
Yeah, putting too much cocaine and methamphetamine and whatever else in my system and your body just says you know what? I quit. That’s too much.
Alyssa Scolari [09:34]:
Robert Cox [09:36]:
I lived through that event and there’s a little voice in my head that said, is that really the way you want to go out? The answer was no, and so I’ve been clean 33 years since that.
Robert Cox [09:48]:
My hope was he will be smarter than I was and come out of this before something like that happens. We talked about it frequently but denial is a powerful part of addiction. All we could do is keep the boundaries there and hope for the best and it did not come out for the best.
Alyssa Scolari [10:06]:
Robert Cox [10:08]:
But this being able to hold space, being able to maintain that vulnerable space where you’re hurting and not numb that out is so important. The night after the memorial service, wife and daughter and I and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, we all went out to a nice Italian restaurant to eat together. Kind of something some people do. My daughter leaned over to me and said, “Dad, it’s okay if you have a glass of wine today. I understand.” Alcohol was never my problem, so she wasn’t worrying about me relapsing or anything.
Alyssa Scolari [10:38]:
Robert Cox [10:39]:
She’s seen me have a drink before at dinner and it was fine and she just said, “If you need a drink, I get it.” I said to her, “The problem, kiddo, is that I really do need a drink and so I’m not going to have one.”
Alyssa Scolari [10:53]:
What a powerful statement.
Robert Cox [10:55]:
Back to what my sponsor said years ago, he said, “If you can take it or leave it, then you can have it. But if you feel like you got to have it, then you better leave it.”
Alyssa Scolari [11:07]:
Robert Cox [11:08]:
That is exactly what goes through my mind in every one of those situations and I said, “The problem is, kiddo, I really want one right now but I want it to stop the hurt. I want it to numb me out, and that’s not a good reason.”
Alyssa Scolari [11:20]:
Robert Cox [11:23]:
Part of what gets me through this is being able to inhabit a teaching space at the same time I’m going through it. That was a moment where I could explain to her that yes there are times in our lives we’re going to want to numb out really bad. Those are the times we shouldn’t.
Alyssa Scolari [11:40]:
Yeah, and I can think of no more difficult time than this to want to numb out, especially as you … There’s so much that you touched on, from the stages of grief to even just the pressure that you feel kind of as the man to kind of absorb the family pain. It is just so much and I also want to point out to the listeners that this was less than two months ago that Tristn passed.
Robert Cox [12:12]:
Alyssa Scolari [12:13]:
Yep, so today that we are recording is March 25th, so this is so fresh.
Robert Cox [12:20]:
Six weeks, yeah.
Alyssa Scolari [12:23]:
I guess one of my questions for you is was there a sense of, because in one of your podcast episodes you talk about this concept of anticipatory grief. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and was that an experience for you?
Robert Cox [12:43]:
Sure. Not with Tristn, no. Denial was not something the addict goes through. Denial is also something we go through and I kept telling myself, “He’ll come around. He’ll come around.” The truth is there’s nothing I could have done in that space.
Alyssa Scolari [12:57]:
Robert Cox [12:58]:
But no, as a parent … When I talked about anticipatory grief it was because my father had Lewy Body dementia as a result of his Parkinson’s, was going in a nursing home and that was a very real space at one point that we thought he wasn’t going to live beyond a week and I knew this was coming because I could see the fade and suddenly we moved him to a better nursing home and he’s doing a lot better but that was what started that anticipatory grief was understanding that this is coming and hopefully with parents and stuff we have time, but it’s not something that any parent’s going to ever be able to anticipate or prepare for.
Robert Cox [13:36]:
One of the things I point out in the episode is even if you prepare for it, you’re still going to feel completely unprepared for it. What did help was educating myself beforehand about grief and because of my field I understood the stages and so instead of, when I got really pissed at Tristn for OD’ing I didn’t think I was a bad person, I just thought yeah, that’s the stage I’m in with this right now and I could allow myself a little grace and space without feeling shame over being angry with him. You know what I mean? Just understand that’s a normal part of the healing process. That is really one way that we can prepare for grief when it comes, because it’s going to come. No matter how much we prepare, there are times that it’s going to come and we’re completely unprepared for it and no matter how much we prepare for it, even the times that we were planning on, are going to hit us in a way that we weren’t prepared for.
Robert Cox [14:30]:
When I talk about anticipatory grief I’m talking about really moving into the idea that loss is a part of life and it’s going to be painful and if you try and numb out that pain you’re going to create … I tell my grad students, I tell my patients all the time, if there’s one thing I could get across to people in recovery, whether from mental illness or from addictions or whatever, it’s that pain is a guarantee in life. Suffering is something we choose when we try and avoid it.
Alyssa Scolari [15:03]:
Robert Cox [15:05]:
I’m not saying go looking for pain. I’m not saying create pain. I’m saying don’t numb it out when it comes to you. Use it.
Alyssa Scolari [15:13]:
Right, it’s when we try to numb our pain with things like drugs or food or sex or what have you, that’s when the pain turns into suffering.
Robert Cox [15:26]:
Absolutely. I have been very, very conscientious about trying to inhabit that space in the opportunities presented to me.
Alyssa Scolari [15:37]:
Let me ask you this. As you’re inhabiting that space, when you say like after I talk about this, or after I do this podcast interview I’ll be laid out for a day, are there some parts where you truly feel like this is suffering? Because I also can imagine that the loss of a child regardless has to make you feel some type of suffering.
Robert Cox [16:04]:
I think it’s pain. For me suffering is like what happens when I ignore the pain.
Alyssa Scolari [16:09]:
Robert Cox [16:11]:
I guess if you were to put it in terms of the Buddhist perspective, they would say both of them were suffering but the cycle of suffering doesn’t have to continue if you stop trying to avoid the suffering that is inevitable, right?
Alyssa Scolari [16:24]:
Robert Cox [16:26]:
I think that’s the way that I kind of keep the division in my mind, is this is pain and I expect it to hurt and I expect it to lay me out for awhile, and by lay me out I mean make me not real happy and chipper for a day or two and I’m going to have to push myself through functioning in certain places for a day or two and giving myself grace in that space, but not numbing that out is so important. Not avoiding it. I don’t have to live in it all the time.
Robert Cox [16:59]:
Over the weekend I went out in my wood shop. Before I knew it I had lost track and it had been three, four hours had gone by. That’s my self care space. In that time I was not in the middle of all this grief. Allowing yourself that time, I’m not saying that we should feel pressure to experience that pain all the time, but I’m saying when it comes observe it, understand it’s there, and know that you can survive it.
Alyssa Scolari [17:26]:
Robert Cox [17:27]:
My sister called a couple days after it had happened when really it was at its peak. Took a couple days to sink in. Initially it’s numbness that hits you and you just kind of, I mean there’s a lot of pain and crying and upset the first day but then you exhaust yourself and you go into this numb phase.
Alyssa Scolari [17:48]:
Robert Cox [17:49]:
Then coming out of that numb phase is really hard and my sister called. She had been incredibly supportive through this for me. She said, “If I could take this pain from you, you know I would.” My response to her was, “Even if you could, I wouldn’t let you, because this longing that I have for him, this pain that I have, this is what’s left of our connection.”
Alyssa Scolari [18:19]:
Robert Cox [18:20]:
To give that up means I’d begin forgetting him and I’m not going to do that.
Alyssa Scolari [18:27]:
Right, like the pain that you feel is the reminder of the love.
Robert Cox [18:33]:
Is the reminder that the connection was real, right?
Alyssa Scolari [18:36]:
Robert Cox [18:36]:
That it was real.
Alyssa Scolari [18:38]:
Robert Cox [18:39]:
I remember, one of my favorite poets is Rumi.
Alyssa Scolari [18:43]:
Oh I love Rumi.
Robert Cox [18:44]:
If you ever get to read or listen to Rumi, go on YouTube and look up Coleman Barks and he reads Rumi and he’s this South Carolina, Southern drawl big bear of a man reading Rumi to this jazz music in the background and it’s just this amazing experience. But one of my favorite poems is called Love Dogs and it’s about this guy who everyday prays to Allah. Every day he’s on his knees praying to Allah and as people pass him by every day on the beach they see him praying to Allah and then one day he stops praying. Rumi talked a lot about the spirit guide Shams and he said Shams comes by and says to this man, “Every day I see you praying and suddenly you’re not praying anymore. What’s the problem?” The guy, “You know, in response to my prayer all I got was an increased sense of longing.” The prophet said to him, “Are you a fool?” He said, “Like a dog whining for his master, that longing is your connection.” He said, “There are love dogs in the world no one knows the names of. Give your life to be one of them.”
Alyssa Scolari [20:00]:
Robert Cox [20:01]:
That has always spoken to me about the pain of loss and the fact that you don’t want to go away from it. That longing is the connection. That’s what’s left.
Alyssa Scolari [20:12]:
Right, and almost I would imagine, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you don’t want the pain to completely go away because the thought of not being in pain just also must be kind of like an intolerable thought.
Robert Cox [20:28]:
I don’t seek it out. Again, it’s not like I’m a masochist.
Alyssa Scolari [20:34]:
Right. Right, right.
Robert Cox [20:35]:
But I do understand that if I think about him and there’s not a little hurt, then I’ve lost some of that connection also.
Alyssa Scolari [20:42]:
Robert Cox [20:44]:
I don’t want it to hurt the way it has in the past six weeks the rest of my life. I’m hoping that will subside. But I would like to be able to remember him. I would like to be able to sit and have a picture of him pop up on Facebook and not have it hit me in the gut so hard at some point.
Alyssa Scolari [21:02]:
Right, in a way that it just knocks you off your feet.
Robert Cox [21:06]:
Alyssa Scolari [21:08]:
Now I want to ask you about the stages of grief. I know Kubler-Ross is, for the listeners out there, she developed the five stages of grief and then she worked with David Kessler to add the sixth stage of grief.
Robert Cox [21:28]:
Alyssa Scolari [21:29]:
Could you talk for a little bit about the five stages of grief and just the way in which they’re so not linear?
Robert Cox [21:39]:
Well and you know the thing is that they really, so like back in the ’70s or ’80s two individuals were looking at smoking cessation and stopping that addiction and they came up with the six stages of change and if you look at the six stages of change and you look at the stages of grief, there are a lot of similarities there.
Alyssa Scolari [22:02]:
You know what, you are right. You are right because isn’t the first stage like, the first stage I think is almost denial that you need to change, right?
Robert Cox [22:12]:
It’s called pre-contemplation.
Alyssa Scolari [22:14]:
Robert Cox [22:14]:
It’s about denial. It’s about I don’t have a problem. Everybody says I have a problem.
Alyssa Scolari [22:19]:
Robert Cox [22:20]:
Then there’s contemplation. That’s like okay, maybe I do have a problem. I need to weigh the pros and cons. Then there’s like, we’ve got a whole two episodes the past couple weeks on the six stages. Actually it was a three episode series on the six stages of grief, but they really mirror that and especially in the fact that it is non-linear. That unfortunately relapse can be a part of that cycle and then you’re stuck with oh, I got to kind of get back on track here, and we’re back to pre-contemplation. Oh, is this a problem that I used? Oh it probably is. Okay, what do I do?
Robert Cox [22:59]:
Then preparation is the next step and then action and then, and so they’re not exactly the same but the reason they are so closely related is that grief comes from change.
Alyssa Scolari [23:13]:
Yeah. Any kind of change.
Robert Cox [23:17]:
When we grieve we are facing a change. That’s grief of anything, we are facing a change. We had to adapt our life to the new normal. That is exactly why they fall in that pattern I think. Understanding the non-linearity of those things, like anger and denial, denial pretty much when you’re facing the death of a kid, is not a thing anymore. What I have to face is, the denial that I face is often like oh well, I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I’m fine. Right?
Alyssa Scolari [23:53]:
Right, it’s more denial of how much pain you’re in.
Robert Cox [23:56]:
Denial I’m not big on, and part of that was my own recovery from addiction and understanding that denying shit is not going to make it any better and that I just have to walk into that space.
Alyssa Scolari [24:09]:
Robert Cox [24:11]:
The understanding that I can go from acceptance to then being pissed off, to then denying that I’m really mad at him, and I can go back and forth. Bargaining, it’s like in these situations of death there’s really no bargaining to be done. What’s done is done, right? Unless I think take this pain away from me and I’ll follow you forever kind of thing, which is not going to do any good anyway.
Alyssa Scolari [24:38]:
Robert Cox [24:40]:
Bargaining is something that happens more in the addiction recovery kind of phase. Pull me out of this hell and I will become a priest. That kind of thing.
Alyssa Scolari [24:51]:
Robert Cox [24:54]:
The stages change. They change not only based on where you’re at in the process but on what that process looks like for you. You may not experience all of the stages.
Alyssa Scolari [25:06]:
Right, you might only experience a few and they could change not even just day to day but sometimes hour to hour, minute to minute I’m sure.
Robert Cox [25:17]:
Yep. Been there. Yeah.
Alyssa Scolari [25:19]:
Just sounds like you have been so much, right, it’s like okay, with the death of a kid, denial, not really there. Bargaining, who am I bargaining with? Not really viable.
Robert Cox [25:29]:
Alyssa Scolari [25:29]:
You have spent a lot of your time maybe going back and forth between acceptance and just anger.
Robert Cox [25:40]:
Yeah, that’s true. I think there’s been some, I don’t know, there’s been some denial on my part but I’ve tried to stay out of that space. A lot of staying out of that space has been me repeating to myself, “I need to be present for my wife and my daughter.” But there is denial at times in that you see an ad or TV for a show coming out and you’re like, “Oh, Tristn would really like that,” and then it hits you like, shit, Tristn’s not here anymore.
Alyssa Scolari [26:09]:
Like a ton of bricks.
Robert Cox [26:11]:
Yeah. That’s kind of what happened when I sat down and filled those memorial things with ashes for my wife and daughter, was that it took me out of that temporary I can forget about it denial space and put me right back in. I remember mumbling to myself, “This is all that’s left of my son,” and made it very, very real again.
Alyssa Scolari [26:33]:
Robert Cox [26:34]:
That’s a quick way to get out of it, for sure. I think it’s important though that people learn to grieve as a family and grieve together. Honestly I don’t think my family’s been doing that very well.
Alyssa Scolari [26:48]:
Yeah, how is your family?
Robert Cox [26:50]:
Everybody’s responding out of their own pain. I don’t want to talk too much about what their process is because I don’t want to step on their rights to grieve without me sharing that with the world, but I can say that pretty much any time a family member dies of something like this everyone in the family says, “How was I responsible for part of this?”
Alyssa Scolari [27:16]:
Robert Cox [27:19]:
One of the first things I did was set them down and say, “You are not responsible for this. He made his own decision to do this.” Some of that sinks in and some of it doesn’t, but the thing I have to be careful of is having an agenda with their healing process. In other words, I am going to swoop in and help you heal from this so you don’t have to hurt. Uh uh. I can’t take the pain from them anymore than my sister could’ve taken it from me. If I do, I’m robbing them in the same way of that healing experience that they will be able to find on their own in their own time.
Alyssa Scolari [28:00]:
Exactly. I imagine it even requires more restraint to do so as a therapist because you probably do have that urge to kind of swoop in.
Robert Cox [28:10]:
Well as a father I have that urge. As a therapist I know that I should not be therapizing my family because there’s too much emotional crap in me connected to them. My daughter has wounded spaces from me and I can’t separate that from what we’re talking about. I have to be able to inhabit that space. You see what I’m saying?
Alyssa Scolari [28:38]:
Robert Cox [28:39]:
If I go into therapy space with her, there is the great danger that I am minimizing what she has experienced. Look, I am broken too. I didn’t do fatherhood perfectly. Absolutely not. Nobody does.
Alyssa Scolari [28:52]:
Right, who does?
Robert Cox [28:54]:
Yeah, if anybody out there has I’d like to have them on my podcast if for no other reason than to call them a liar.
Alyssa Scolari [28:59]:
I was just going to say, we would like to have them on the show to tell me that they are liars.
Robert Cox [29:05]:
Right. There’s this great Christian author out there named John Ortberg and he talks about the perfect church, the idea of a perfect church. He said, “Even if I knew of a perfect church, I would never go there because I would just screw it up.” Because there’s no such thing as a perfect human being.
Alyssa Scolari [29:21]:
Robert Cox [29:22]:
We’re all broken, but the wonderful thing is, the wonderful thing is that in that brokenness, in the things that I do wrong, and I know this from being a therapist, I can move in for repair and make that relationship stronger.
Alyssa Scolari [29:38]:
Robert Cox [29:39]:
That is the important thing to realize. I can’t do that if I avoid the pain of that space. A really good quick example here is that a lot of years ago my daughter and my son got together and they were both in their teen years and they were pretty tight at times and they decided to do some stupid shit together. Then they lied to me about it. When I found out about it I lost it. Yelling, hollering, grounding for life, slamming the door, being angry, and none of that is any good. None of that does anything for two kids that experienced very real physical trauma when they were younger and their brains are still reacting that way. That didn’t help them.
Robert Cox [30:27]:
When I calmed down later, about three hours later, I set them down and I said, “That was ugly. I really don’t like who I was in that space. I got that way because I don’t like feeling hurt and I was hurt by the fact that you lied to me and I don’t like being scared and what you did scared the hell out of me and instead of feeling those things I decided I would just rage and be angry.” I said, “That was not cool. That guy won’t be back.” Then I worked to make changes in that space so I didn’t ever do that again.
Robert Cox [31:03]:
The benefit of that is later that night my daughter comes in, crawls in bed with me and my wife and says, “I need snuggle time with you, Dad.” That doesn’t happen if I don’t make repair.
Alyssa Scolari [31:18]:
Exactly. Exactly. That is such a pivotal moment for them.
Robert Cox [31:23]:
Alyssa Scolari [31:24]:
And for you.
Robert Cox [31:25]:
Well not just that but what I’m showing them in that space is that you don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be accountable.
Alyssa Scolari [31:37]:
Yeah, you just have to own it. You don’t have to be perfect, you do have to own it and be accountable.
Robert Cox [31:44]:
I had a client one time who told me, and it was a brilliant thing he said, he said, “Nothing my father did to me was ever my fault but it has all become my responsibility.” I think that’s brilliant.
Alyssa Scolari [31:58]:
Robert Cox [31:58]:
It’s his responsibility not to pass that brokenness on. It’s his responsibility to sit with the pain that it brings and deal with that.
Alyssa Scolari [32:07]:
Yes. I think it’s so powerful and it’s an unfortunate statement but it’s a statement that packs a punch, which is just this idea that what happened to us is not our fault. The hurt that we endured is not our fault but the healing is our responsibility.
Robert Cox [32:24]:
Absolutely, because if I don’t take that responsibility then I numb out to avoid it and if I numb out I create suffering in the lives of people around me. I repeat those broken spaces with my children. I repeat the same kind of damage over because I haven’t learned from it.
Alyssa Scolari [32:44]:
Robert Cox [32:47]:
That’s the responsibility part. Now I remember my son, when he was first driving and he had a car, we had given him one of our old cars for graduation kind of thing, and he hit a raccoon so hard he took the radiator out.
Alyssa Scolari [33:04]:
Robert Cox [33:05]:
You got to be going pretty fast to do that.
Alyssa Scolari [33:08]:
Yeah. Oh yeah.
Robert Cox [33:09]:
His thing was I don’t have the $300 to repair the radiator and part of being boundaried is saying, “I’m sorry about that,” and I’m kind of a smart alec so I said, “You’re right. It’s not your fault that you hit the raccoon and it’s not my fault that you hit the raccoon but if you can get the raccoon to pay for it, I would encourage you to do that. Otherwise your car is your responsibility.”
Alyssa Scolari [33:34]:
Robert Cox [33:36]:
That’s kind of where it’s at. Sometimes things aren’t my fault. Sometimes they’re nobody’s fault. But it becomes my responsibility to cope with what they’re doing in my life.
Alyssa Scolari [33:46]:
Exactly. Exactly. Now I certainly don’t want to leave out this other part of grief and this other stage of grief that you’re in, which is finding meaning.
Robert Cox [34:01]:
Alyssa Scolari [34:03]:
Can you talk a little bit about was it after Tristn’s death that you decided okay, this is what I’m doing.
Robert Cox [34:12]:
I had been moving towards a nonprofit structure for a long time, but honestly I had a lot of fear around doing that because I feel like I’m called to this field for specific reasons and I didn’t want to turn anything over to a board who could tell me that well, we’re not going to go that way, when I felt the calling to go that direction. You know what I mean?
Alyssa Scolari [34:35]:
Robert Cox [34:35]:
When this happened it just removed all those excuses for me. Then we had already picked out a name and started the paperwork for the nonprofit but I changed the name within just a few days. I thought this is how I’m going to honor him. This is how I’m going to make meaning out of it. He didn’t get the chance to make a life that was impactful and so I’m going to give him that opportunity.
Alyssa Scolari [34:57]:
Robert Cox [34:58]:
That was how I made meaning.
Alyssa Scolari [35:04]:
This is how you make meaning and it’s not, and I just want to point out, meaning doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain.
Robert Cox [35:11]:
Alyssa Scolari [35:11]:
It doesn’t mean … It just means that you are taking the pain and transforming it and doing something with it.
Robert Cox [35:20]:
Right. It gives me a place to channel that energy into. Look, the worst part of trauma, you listen to Bessel Van Der Kolk or anybody else, the worst part of trauma is the energy that gets trapped in the body.
Alyssa Scolari [35:32]:
Robert Cox [35:34]:
Grief is traumatizing.
Alyssa Scolari [35:36]:
Robert Cox [35:37]:
Making meaning out of grief with something like this is a way of externalizing that energy so it doesn’t get trapped in my body.
Alyssa Scolari [35:46]:
Yes. It allows for movement so that it does not stay stuck in whatever form. Sometimes it’s stuck in the form of catatonia, can’t get out of bed. Sometimes it’s stuck in the form of rage and being able to take your pain and find some kind of meaning in it and start this foundation, this nonprofit, is your way of effectively channeling all of those feelings. It keeps life moving for you, but it also maintains the connection that you have with your son.
Robert Cox [36:21]:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I find. It helps me follow through. I mean he had a heart for helping people and had talked before about doing firefighter training and paramedic training and I’m like, “Dude, you’d be great at that. Your pulse doesn’t go up in emergency situations so you’d be fantastic at that.”
Alyssa Scolari [36:42]:
He’d be great at it, yeah.
Robert Cox [36:43]:
Yeah, and so he never got that chance so this is my way of kind of making that happen.
Alyssa Scolari [36:50]:
Right, he didn’t get the chance but you have the chance.
Robert Cox [36:53]:
Alyssa Scolari [36:55]:
What do you see for this foundation? Ultimately the goal is to turn this into a nonprofit where you can help people with addiction?
Robert Cox [37:08]:
Yeah. What eventually I would like to do is apply for grants and take donations and get all the money we can. It’s a nonprofit. Our salaries are set. It’s not going to go into that. I take as little salary as I think I can get by on, and the rest of the money then, once we’ve paid the overhead, goes straight into helping people with recovery by providing free workshops, or let’s say we had a hefty amount in our account that we could use for this, we might have someone who’s been hardcore IV heroin addict for 10 years come to us and say, “I really need to quit,” maybe we could pay for their longterm six month intensive inpatient program.
Alyssa Scolari [37:48]:
Robert Cox [37:51]:
This is the idea, and it’s not just addictions, it’s also trauma. I’ve had this vision ever since I started my Master’s program of being able to create a holistic center that would be a campus that would treat trauma. I would love to have the money to buy, and this is my dream down the line, I would love to have the money to be able to buy 30 or 40 acres down in the Ozarks Woods and set up a campus where we have one dorm for people with development disabilities and one dorm for people with trauma and one dorm for people recovering from addictions and make this whole community where we have psychiatrists on staff, nurse practitioners on staff, medical staff available, we have massage therapists, yoga teachers, all these things that we know work for trauma, to really begin this holistic kind of program of healing. That has always been my dream. This is the first time I’ve been able to release the fear involved in what if it doesn’t work and just say, “You know what? F it. It can’t get any worse than this.”
Alyssa Scolari [38:54]:
Right. Like what do I have to lose at this point? I’m going for it.
Robert Cox [38:58]:
Absolutely. It does not get any worse than this.
Alyssa Scolari [39:02]:
Robert Cox [39:03]:
I’m going to for it.
Alyssa Scolari [39:05]:
Yeah. That is, just to make sure that I have it correct, right now it’s a GoFundMe and it’s the Tristn Jevon, or Jevan?
Robert Cox [39:17]:
Yeah, Tristn Jevon Recovery Foundation is what it’s called on GoFundMe. I decided not to leave it a foundation because of some of the legal limitations in where you could use money and how that foundation would have to be used for not just … So I just decided to make it the Center for Recovery instead.
Alyssa Scolari [39:36]:
Robert Cox [39:37]:
Turned out the word foundation meant there were certain things we could do and certain things we couldn’t do and I just don’t want those limitations up front. Those might end up being self imposed limitations but we really have to get off the ground and build this thing first.
Alyssa Scolari [39:51]:
Exactly. Exactly. I don’t know, the whole idea is amazing. In building it it’s like as you’re talking about it I’m just like, ooh. I feel like I want to go there.
Robert Cox [40:01]:
Alyssa Scolari [40:03]:
As a trauma survivor it’s just, that holistic healing is so helpful.
Robert Cox [40:08]:
Yeah I think the reason I wanted to build in the Ozarks Woods was because that was my healing place.
Alyssa Scolari [40:12]:
Robert Cox [40:14]:
I grew up down there. I was always safest when I was out in the woods.
Alyssa Scolari [40:18]:
Robert Cox [40:19]:
From the minute I was able to drive I was not in my home. I was gone. If I wasn’t working somewhere I was swimming in the river from literally sun up to sun down. That was my healing space. That’s why I see that as such, I see nature as such a great healing space.
Alyssa Scolari [40:41]:
It truly is and now you have the opportunity to potentially allow it to be a healing space for so many others.
Robert Cox [40:49]:
Yeah. That is the hope.
Alyssa Scolari [40:50]:
That is the hope.
Robert Cox [40:52]:
But you know the thing is, part of the serenity prayer is I have to let go of things I can’t control.
Alyssa Scolari [40:59]:
Easier said than done. Man.
Robert Cox [41:02]:
Do the footwork and hope for the best. Recovery at its foundation is a bicycle built for two. My job is to sit in the back seat and pedal like hell and let my higher power steer.
Alyssa Scolari [41:15]:
Yeah. That’s a tough one. That is a tough one.
Robert Cox [41:18]:
Alyssa Scolari [41:21]:
I just want to thank you for your vulnerability and-
Robert Cox [41:23]:
I really appreciate you having me on, Alyssa. It was a good interview.
Alyssa Scolari [41:27]:
I can’t thank you enough for coming on. I know how difficult this is and I feel like with every word that you speak, I am hoping and praying you are reaching more people and touching more people and-
Robert Cox [41:44]:
That would absolutely be what I’m hoping for. That’s how we make meaning.
Alyssa Scolari [41:50]:
It’s how we make meaning and I will be sure to link the GoFundMe in the show notes and as well as the link to the Mindful Recovery podcast. If the listeners out there, if you have not heard of this podcast please go check it out. It’s a really good podcast. It had me very much in my feelings and was very, very introspective and it’s phenomenal work that you’re doing.
Robert Cox [42:22]:
I’m glad to hear it put you there. I’m shooting for the feels.
Alyssa Scolari [42:24]:
It really put me in my feels. My husband went out to walk the dogs and I was listening and he came in and I was sitting on the couch and tears are just pouring from my eyes and he was like, “What’s the matter?” I was like, “This podcast is so good.”
Robert Cox [42:41]:
Good, I’m glad to hear that.
Alyssa Scolari [42:43]:
Thank you for all you do and I am-
Robert Cox [42:45]:
Thank you for having me on.
Alyssa Scolari [42:50]:
Holding you in the light. Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate you.
Robert Cox [42:56]:
I appreciate the support.
Alyssa Scolari [42:59]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to LightAfterTrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram we are @LightAfterTrauma and on Twitter it is @LightAfterPod. If you’re on Facebook, please be sure to join our Facebook group. It is a private community where trauma survivors are able to connect and chat with one another. That Facebook group is called Light After Trauma, so just look us up on Facebook and be sure to join.
Alyssa Scolari [43:30]:
Lastly, please head over to Patreon.com/LightAfterTrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Please head on over, again that Patreon.com/LightAfterTrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support.
Alyssa Scolari [43:54]: