Do your research. Don’t wait until it is a crisis. If you see a problem and know that it could get worse, make sure you do your homework, start early, and know what the options are so that when it is a crisis you will know what to do.
As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Susie Hopson-Blum.
Having been in recovery for over 25 years, Hopson-Blum has been an active, vital member of the recovery community ever since she went into treatment in 1988. Her experience managing and directing a behavioral health treatment facility has its roots in Sober Pacific Living, a sober living house which opened its doors to clients with a passion for treatment and recovery. Susie Hopson-Blum used her professional expertise and personal experience to establish New Method Wellness, a substance abuse treatment center that takes a holistic approach to recovery.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please describe your childhood for us?
I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. In those days, you didn’t say ‘I love you’ or at least my family did not. My dad was a successful attorney and our family was prominent, but my father was also an alcoholic. He drank at night and on the weekends, which was when we saw him most and he would get angry when he drank. He used to have two bars — one at each end of the house — which were always “stocked” and I remember how I would steal bottles from them.
As a result of his drinking, my father would beat up on me and my mom both physically and mentally. As the middle child with an older brother and a younger sister, I often didn’t think I got the attention I deserved. My brother got the material things and my sister would get the attention, but I would get beat up or picked on. I did a lot of things for attention — like steal my dad’s alcohol and my mom’s car. Looking back on it now, my whole family really had some type of addiction whether we recognized it or not.
Growing up, I was a poor student and never got grades — so I would manipulate the system. I would break the rules and come in past curfew, and whenever I did, my father would throw me up against the wall and beat on me — physically and mentally. I remember one night my dad thought I was under the influence and he took me to five different hospitals to see which would draw my blood to confirm it, but none would.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
Like I said, my father was an alcoholic so there was always alcohol in our home. My mom recalls a story on Thanksgiving when I was about 2 where I went around the room and poured everyone’s drinks out because I wasn’t getting attention. I think that’s what initially drew me to addiction — I was seeking attention. I also liked the way it made me feel; it made me feel good and I thought it was the perfect solution.
I think I really started drinking at around the age of 8 or 9. We would have brunch on Sundays and my dad would let me and my friends drink Bloody Marys, but the real addiction started at age 11 when my dad took me the doctor to address my weight problem. He put me on amphetamine (diet pills) and I fell in love with them. As a result, I didn’t eat and would only drank. Overall it made me feel great and I lost probably 40 pounds, but it was completely unhealthy and dangerous. However, I believed everyone lived the way I did and that it was all perfectly normal, but obviously it was not.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I was running from the physical abuse of my father. I also wanted attention. I wanted attention for being ‘good’ or obedient because I only ever got attention when I was misbehaving.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
There are two that come to mind. The first was when I got my fourth DUI when I was 34 or 35. I was in a head on collision on the Pacific Coast Highway. Thankfully, no one, including myself was hurt, but I was taken to the hospital anyway. They let me go, but the first thing I did was call a cab to take me to the liquor store and get vodka (my alcohol of choice), and go to the ATM to get cash to pay my drug dealer for cocaine.
The other lowest point was when I was 33 years old. I was finally starting to get my life together, or at least I thought that I was at the time. I was still drinking and doing cocaine, but I had money in the bank from my job as a real estate broker, which I never had in the past. I went to see my parents and we were drinking. I remember I was drinking Stoli and my father was also drinking. I started asking my dad how he knew that my half-sister (who came to live with us when I was 12) was really his, especially since he was never married to her mother. He told me to shut up, but I kept talking. He then started to beat me up. I had blood coming out of my eyes and ears. My mom was too scared to stop him — eventually I learned that she was always too scared to stop him from beating us up. This time, though, she ended up calling my brother, who came and got my father off of me. That was pretty low.
Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?
It was not by choice. I was court ordered after my fourth DUI to do drug testing. I was put on formal probation and had to text about once every week or two. If I failed the test, I would have to go back to that court. I didn’t like the judge and I don’t think she liked me either, because she thought I could just get off because of my dad’s work as a prominent lawyer, but unfortunately that was not the case. After about the fourth or fifth time I came back to her courthouse after testing positive for alcohol or drugs in my system, she said, “If you ever come back to my courthouse again, I’m going to send you to jail for a year.” I decided I didn’t want to go to jail and that’s the moment when I started to get clean. I went to see a therapist who I had seen previously, and she asked if I would check out some addiction centers. I ended up looking into Betty Ford on October 31, 1988 and on December 2 that same year I entered treatment.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
I got very involved in AA and began sponsoring other girls. Part of AA is working on 12 steps. The eighth and ninth steps are to make amends and you go directly to the people you hurt and apologize. I also decided to stop being friends with the people I used to party with when I entered treatment because I wanted to change, and because of all of this I feel like a completely different woman today.
When you ‘stopped’ your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
When I left my treatment center, Betty Ford, I went directly to an AA meeting. I went to about 2–3 meetings a day for about the first 6–7 years. Then I started volunteering at Betty Ford and would form alumni meetings about once a month, during which I would help others get into AA meetings. I dedicated all my time to AA — both for my own journey and to help others.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
Prayer, trust in a higher power, and seeking balance in my marriage, work and loving friends. These are the things that keep me on the right path each and every day.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
My entrepreneurial journey really started when I was in real estate. I did that for about 35 years, but I never really had a passion for it. Real estate gave me somewhat of the lifestyle I wanted, but I at some point I decided it was no longer just about the money.
In 2006 I decided I wanted to open a sober living house. I was friends with people at Betty Ford from when I volunteered there and one of the girls I befriended helped me get it off the ground. She said I should start with a sober living house for just men, so I did just that and opened it with my husband. We found a house I really liked and rented it. Most sober living houses at the time we not every nice or welcoming, but I wanted everything to be quality, so we made this one beautiful.
After that, I was helping a friend who had an eating disorder treatment center and decided I wanted to open a treatment center that went beyond just that and also focused on addiction, which is how New Method Wellness started. I always knew someday I wanted to open a treatment center of my own, but I never had the knowledge or direction until then. It is truly the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. I have a really beautiful life now, and while I would be ok giving up most material things, I don’t think I could give up New Method Wellness — it is my passion.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship? (Please share both the positive and negative).
I really changed everything about how I was and who I am today, but the character traits that are important to me are being compassionate, hard-working, and having integrity and honesty. One negative trait that I’ve always had is that I’m a workaholic, but I’m finally starting to slow down. It’s been very hard with the pandemic, but I still come to work every day and I love it.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
It’s hard to say because I’m very open about this topic and about who I was. However, I do think that some people don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to believe that their loved one has a problem, — until it gets so bad they finally cannot ignore it. No one wants to share that a member of their family is a drug addict or an alcoholic because we all have egos. The truth is no one wants to be judged, but there really isn’t judgment. I talk to people every day about this stuff and I do think people have become more open about it in the past 5 years.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
(1) There is hope for ALL of us.
(2) Talk to someone. There is always someone you can talk to you even if you don’t think you have anyone. Pick up the phone and call AA or go to an AA meeting.
(3) Do your research. Don’t wait until it is a crisis. If you see a problem and know that it could get worse, make sure you do your homework, start early, and know what the options are so that when it is a crisis you will know what to do.