CNM 052: How To Start Implementing The BALM Philosophy In Your Home – with Beverly Buncher

Welcome to the show!

This is Part 3 of a 4-part mini-series, and we’re speaking with Beverly Buncher who is a pioneer in family recovery.

If you haven’t listened to the previous 2 episodes (CNM 050: The Loving Path To Family Recovery and CNM 051: Practical Strategies For Communicating With Difficult People), you might want to do that first. We talk all about what Beverly calls “The Loving Path”, and discuss hands-on strategies for communicating effectively with a substance user or difficult person.

Today we’ll be talking about what Beverly considers the most important part of her philosophy, how to start implementing The BALM your life, how to make it difficult for your loved one to keep doing whatever bad behavior they’re doing, and more.

If you already want to know more about The BALM – if you’d like to read Beverly’s book, or learn more about her family recovery programs, I’ve set up a partnership with Beverly’s organization because I believe in what they do. So if you go to readytobalm.com and enter your contact info, I’ll have Beverly’s team contact you as soon as they can, and see how they can help.

Alright, let’s get to it. Here’s my last interview with Beverly Buncher!

Interview with Beverly Buncher on Implementing The BALM in Your Home

Brian: Hey, Beverly. Welcome back to the show. We’re glad to have you back.

Beverly: Oh, it’s great to be here, Brian. Thank you so much for letting people know about the BALM.

Brian: Yeah, it’s absolutely my pleasure. I know people are needing and wanting it and they’re going to love it. Since we’ve talked a couple of times already, we want to tie everything together for the audience.

Question: Let’s start by discussing real quick, what would you tell our listeners about how to start implementing the BALM in their own lives and families?

Beverly: Oh, that’s a great question. I think we get the answer right out of the name of the program; BALM: Be A Loving Mirror. The first thing that I’d invite family members to look at is this – how are you ‘being’? Are you ‘being’ in a state of upset and panic or are you being in a state of calm? This will determine whether you’re reacting to everything around you – which contributes to them (your loved one) getting worse – or responding appropriately in each moment so that you can be most helpful and contribute to recovery.

Here’s the interesting thing, we are not the cause of someone’s use disorder or dysfunction. We can’t control it, we can’t cure it, but we can contribute to it. It’s not that if things are getting worse, it’s because of us but rather, when things are getting worse, if we are responding in BALM-like ways that contribute to recovery, it’s possible for them (our loved ones) to get better.

There’s a very fine distinction there. This isn’t a cure-all. I would never promise that ‘if you do this, your loved will get recovery’. That would be a blatant lie.

Here are the facts; we’ve seen countless families where they practice the BALM and things get better and their loved one starts to see the possibility of recovery in a way they never did before. But we’ve seen situations where things get worse for a while. The families who continue to practice BALM don’t contribute to them getting even worse, but rather become a port in a storm for the loved one so that the loved one can start to see the possibility of a life in recovery.

Brian: Excellent, great explanation.

Questions: To that end, what would be some of the most important tactical tools in the BALM toolkit? We’ve discussed some strategies and tactics, but what are the most important things in this and how should they be used?

Beverly: Yeah. All of these are really explained in depth in the book but the key is to, as I said, get calm. How do you do that? We’ve talked about four-four-eight; breathing in to the count of four, holding it for the count of four, and breathing out to the count of eight. More families than I can count have said that when they started to become aware of their breath, they changed – they, the person doing it (being aware of the breath).

Starting to have awareness of your breath and starting to utilize that awareness to create a different way of relating to your breath can have a huge impact. It starts to bring peace back into the family.

You know what’s funny, Brian? I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Bev, I did that four-four-eight, it didn’t work.” Then as I talk to them more I’d say, “How did you do it?” “Well, my husband started screaming at me. I breathed into the count of four, I held it, I breathed out to the count of eight, and he kept screaming.” We’re not talking about changing him or her from breathing, we’re talking about creating a calm state of mind within yourself.

I have this one story that really hit me where I got some bad news from someone and it shook me to my core. I was driving, they were on the phone, and I started to shake. They were crying and talking and crying and talking and I immediately had my default four-four-eight; breathe in to the count of four, hold it for the count of four, breathe out to the count of eight. I did it over and over and over while listening until I was calm. I think it took four to eight times that time. But the thing is if I didn’t have a practice of calming my breath on a regular basis, that would not have been available to me in crisis.

The key is to create a practice of four-four-eight when you wake up in the morning, in the middle of the day, and before you go to sleep at night so that this becomes your default. You go to that while you’re in the middle of the crisis and you don’t become part of it. You have the foundation to become part of the solution.

Brian: Excellent. As you’re talking about that, it just occurred to me, I was invited to speak at The Overcoming Codependency Summit recently. It was a virtual summit that was held with a lot of speakers. I spoke about the Achilles Heel of Codependents, as I called it. Essentially, it is the inability to regulate emotions; emotion regulation. What you’re speaking to really, really correlates with the message I was trying to get across.

I’m a huge proponent of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation practice. Four-four-eight really seems like a good practice that’s a lot easier to think about and to practice than sitting for thirty to sixty minutes in a meditation. But it’s effective in just breaking that immediate reaction. It seems like what we’re after is to take a minute, focus, and react in a different way rather than what our panic mode reaction would have been.

Beverly: Yes, and Brian, I think I shared with you that I, too, am a big proponent of that. Mindfulness meditation is what changed everything for me, but it’s this four-four-eight that allowed me to help others to work regularly for that bit of a commitment; you’re right.

Brian: Excellent.

Beverly: Very powerful.

Brian: Yeah, that’s a really good point that just needs to be hammered home. Just to your point too, I’ve heard people say, “Well I’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked.” It might be a degree of, ‘How much did you try? How hard did you try? How many times did you try?’ We need to sometimes keep trying because sometimes it’s hard that we hit a wall and we think we’re at the end of our rope when we really have a lot more capacity to keep trying and practicing. Yes, I’m a hundred percent in favor of calming the mind. It’s a magical key to help short circuiting a lot of this, in my opinion too.

Question: Moving on, you touched on this just a minute ago but on this show, we often discuss the fact that a lot of people who have ‘codependent tendencies’ are often very focused on changing or helping someone else which you alluded to there, when in fact, it’s probably more useful in a lot of cases to focus on ourselves first. So I wonder, are there any more observations you have about that when it comes to the work that you do?

Beverly: Yes. This is really critical. People call us ‘Al-Anon on steroids’ or ‘Al-Anon plus.’ At first I wondered, “What were they talking about?” The more I asked people, the more they said, “Al-Anon helps me with my self-care but you help me deal with my self-care AND my relationship with my loved one in a very structured way.” We say that we’re a dual-focused program; ‘get your life back’ is really the tagline, get your life back and help your loved one get their life back.

Some people say, “You have to help yourself first.” We say, “Do them both at once.” But if you’re in such a state that you are completely unable to function, of course, you need to take care of yourself so that you can get to the functional point.

Many families, when they come in with a loved one who is in big trouble in one way or another can’t hear that. They can’t hear the self-care message. We have these twelve principles and we start with, “What will help the loved one?” First, understanding that you have crucial role to play in their recovery, then understanding how change happens in yourself and in them, then learning how to let go of the obsessive thinking without giving up on them and without giving into manipulation. I like that one because it’s a hybrid of both self-care and being there for the other. Finally, we say to families, “You can be your loved one’s best chance at recovery.”

Once they get these concepts, families start to have an attitudinal shift. But they almost need to see that we’re there to help them help their loved one to be willing to focus on self-care. Then our next four principles combine the two. Principle five is all about self-care. There are self-care assessments and self-care ideas. It’s really a wonderful self-care principle with lots of tools, checklists, and surveys.

Then in principle six, it’s all about being loving. In fact, we have a principle that states, your primary task is to be a loving person. We redefine loving because for many families, they thought that ‘loving’ meant doing whatever their loved one asked for – what we call (if we want to label it) being an enabler. They thought that if they could just close their eyes and deny that there was a problem, they were being loving.

We’ve redefined being loving. We say, “First, be loving to yourself.” Going back to principle five; when you focus on yourself and not your loved one, you both benefit; What does it mean to be loving to your loved one? Stay out of denial into awareness of what’s happening. And remember – help, don’t enable.

We have strong guidelines about what that means. One of the things that means is to allow the other person to take personal responsibility for their life when they’re able. The BALM really teaches families how to figure out if they’re able or not – there’s not enough time for us to go into all of that – but it is an important distinction.

BALMers learn how to discern very well between whether a loved one is capable of this one or not, whether it’s enabling, whether it’s helping. Then, families learn how to set boundaries. I think this is really a review of the conversations we’ve had; remembering that a boundary is something you set for yourself so that you can be safe and be happy with your life. You get to decide what gets in your life, what doesn’t, and to what extent. It’s not about setting boundaries so you can fix them (your loved one), it’s not about deserving them. It’s about figuring out what you can live with and what you can’t, and offering them some possibilities if they’re willing to respect your boundaries.

For instance, ‘I’m not willing to live with active substance use disorder in my home. Here are some options for treatment.They may not choose to take those options but I can still set the boundary.’ Of course, we say in principle seven; “Do not set a boundary until and unless you’re willing to stick to that boundary.”

Our whole program is about strengthening families to become strong in their boundaries. Someone might listen to that and say, ‘Uh, so you’re all about getting me strong enough so I can kick the bum out.’ No, no. We’re about teaching you a whole new way of being so that hopefully that won’t be necessary. But if it is necessary, you will know and you will be able to do it in the most loving way possible; a helpful way, not an enabling way, not an unkind way.

Finally, getting support. Getting support is very selfish but it’s also very “other-ish”. Because when you get support, you’re filling your cup so that you can be there for others in the most positive way possible. I don’t know if that answered your question.

Brian: It’s extremely helpful. It’s really great to first of all, hear the principles as you laid them out. Also, clarifying the meanings of some of those ambiguous words that have such ambiguous meanings is helpful for us. That’s great.

Question: Actually, to continue with your point, I think it would be fascinating to get your opinion something. In the book where you discussed making it difficult for your loved one to keep using (or doing whatever behavior it is that they’re doing that’s causing the disruption), and making it easier for them to stop. Can you give us a few minutes of commentary about how to do that and why that works?

Beverly: That’s a really important question. In the BALM, everything starts with love. There’s an expression in the cult world in terms of people who help people come out of totalitarian regimes or brainwashing situations and it’s called love bombing. In the BALM, we love bomb, we love BALM. What love bombing means is that we keep love at the forefront, we remember at all times that we love this person. We don’t hate them, we don’t resent them, we love them. We do the inner work to get through those other feelings of course.

How does that help make it difficult for them to keep using? Being loving isn’t always giving people things. For instance, if you’re giving your loved one a car, a credit card, or a phone, and they’re using that car to drive to their dealer, the credit card to pay for drugs, the phone to call up their dealer or whoever it is that they drink or drug with, or do the other behaviors that aren’t working – if you’re providing these tools for them, is that loving? We would posit that it isn’t loving. We’re making it easy for them to keep using.

There comes a point that a person, a family member, decides to pull away the supports that are making it easy to use in order to make it easier to stop. Again, these are things that we learn how to do over time and with support.

The reason that I started this conversation with the idea of love is if you do it with nastiness – “You’re no good; ‘I’m taking away that car. I never should have given you that credit card. I can’t believe you’re using that phone to call your dealer. Get out of here!’” That would not be BALMing.

Instead, ‘Sweetheart, I love you. Here’s what I’m seeing, you’re drooping, and you’ve lost forty pounds in the last two months. You’ve lost your job and yet you’re using my credit card, my car, and my phone. These are allowing you to do things that are not helpful to your health.’

They may say, ‘What do you mean they aren’t helpful to my health? What could be so bad about that? Do you want me to be without a phone, a car, and a credit card? How will I find a new job?’

So you say, ‘Sweetheart, I love you. I’m seeing the results of your using behaviors,’ (then listing a few of the facts), ‘As a result, I can no longer pay for your car, your credit card, and your phone.’

‘What? Do you want me to go out in the street and starve?’

‘Sweetheart, there are options. We want to work with you on those. But our supporting you without any structure isn’t working. We’d be helping you die. We don’t want to do that, we love you too much.’

Can you see the difference between, ‘Get the hell out!’ and this conversation?

Brian: Yeah. In fact, I’m putting myself in the shoes of the substance user in this case thinking, “How can I possibly respond to that in a disruptive way?” I mean, it seems you’re giving me no ammo to come back and argue with you. You’re diffusing it a hundred percent so that all I can do is say, ‘You know what? You’re right. What can we do about this?’ I’m sure a substance user may continue to come up with ways to counteract it but truly as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking, there is nothing I can even latch onto in what you’re saying to continue an argument here.

Beverly: You know, Brian, these conversations are like, ‘Tell me about the BALM on one foot.’ The fact of the matter is that just like it will take work for your loved one to get recovery and keep it, BALM recovery, for many people, is not a one foot thing. Some people who listen to these conversations, they’ll go out and do it. It will be – boom! Everything’s great, everything’s sunny. But for many of us it takes work, practice, and support. That’s why we’re here. The book is there to give people the introduction to see, ‘Ah, wow, things can be different.’ Then there’s coaching and classes. We wrap our arms around you with love, the way we teach you how to do with your loved one.

Brian: Absolutely. Obviously the BALM stands for ‘Be A Loving Mirror’. Then we’ve been talking about the subject of love a few times in this conversation already so I wonder if there’s anything extra to add. If not, that’s fine, we can move on.

Question: But you do reiterate in the book that love is the ultimate answer. I’m wondering if there’s anything else on what love means in this context and how people should start looking at love differently in this light; again, if there’s anything else to add.

Beverly: I think just the word says it all; love is kind and not harmful. Love doesn’t include judgment. It lets go of fear. Others far better than me have said, “Our definition of love is one of being there in a way that helps and doesn’t harm.” On one foot, that’s what I would say. The rest is in the book and in the BALM. People spend lots of time and energy to master this.

Brian: I bet there are some people listening who are thinking, ‘This all sounds great but I have a family where there are three, four, or five of us in the house, or more and I’m just one person. I feel like I’m ganged up on by the other people. How can I possibly make a difference doing this when I’m only one of so many people?’

Question: Can one person acting with love really start to make a difference in the entire family unit?

Beverly: Oh, my gosh. We have a saying in the BALM, “We believe in the power of one.” We’ve had many families where only one person came into the BALM and slowly but surely, the other people came along. In some families, everybody joins the BALM in the end. In some families, nobody joins the BALM but there’s a palpable shift in the way people relate to each other. The ‘power of one’ is not to be taken lightly.

Questions: I’m curious, what are some stories, if you can, of how it started with one person? Or just in theory or in practice, how does it start with one person and then spread throughout the family in your observation?

Beverly: I just interviewed a mom and a son this week on The Daily BALM – if people become part of the BALM community, they’ll be able to listen to that interview – the son had been using for thirty-four years off and on. Mom had tried everything, read everything, gone everywhere, and done everything. During the last stint of the son’s treatment, the treatment center said, “I think you should look into the BALM,” and she did. They connected her with one of our coaches, joined the BALM, and started working with her coach. After a while – and remember, her son was already in treatment but things were bad – he made it through treatments successfully many times in his life. The thing is that she couldn’t stick to a boundary.

She was learning The BALM and everything was falling into place. She was working really hard with her sponsor. One day, her son who was getting better every day said to her, “You’re different. What are you doing?” And she told him. He was interested. He was an educated man, and he was intrigued. Soon after, his son started having trouble with drugs and he decided he wanted to learn the BALM to help his son. Today, that man (the original son that we’re talking about), is studying to be a BALM coach. His son is in treatment and doing well. His father, who didn’t talk to him for a good long while and here back on good terms and that family is enjoying recovery together. Now that’s only one of many stories, do you want more or shall we stop there?

Brian: Why don’t we have another short one and then we’ll continue on.

Beverly: Okay. Recovery isn’t promised in a linear path. I’ve had families where the family gets into recovery, the whole family. I’m coaching lots of family members (by the way, any of our BALM coaches are trained well to do this), and the loved one is in treatment. He comes out and is doing well at first, and then he has a slip. Because the family were all BALMers, they came and worked together and it was very short. Now here’s the thing, this started with his wife, just his wife, and then the parents got involved, and then it was other people. Everyone came along during that first year, there were lots of slips, but eventually everyone supported him, and there was a strong recovery.

Another one?

Brian: Let’s do one more.

Beverly: Okay, this one is about a daughter. Her mom came to become a coach because she wanted to help other people. She realized that she needed the BALM for her family. Within three months, her daughter was in treatment. Today, she has almost two years in recovery and mom is a professional coach, helping other families. This is one of the stories in the book.

Brian: Excellent, thank you for sharing those.

Question: I wonder, as people move through this recovery process, what obstacles will we face along the way and how do we face those down?

Beverly: Hmm, wonderful questions, you’re very good at this. There are many obstacles in the path. Let’s think about the loved one, what obstacles are in their path when they’re trying to get them to stay sober? What do you think, Brian?

Brian: Well, certainly the temptation to use again if they’re a substance user, and the resistance to boundaries that are being set by a person from whom there hasn’t been boundaries traditionally. That’s not going to feel very good.

Beverly: Let’s just take those two, the temptation to use again. We would call that the temptation, for the family member, the temptation to enable. That loved one says, ‘Just this once, mom, let me use the car.’ Mom says, ‘Oh, he’s doing so well, okay.” Even though the contract that they’ve set says not yet or the husband says, ‘Sweetheart, I love you so much, I’m ready to come home. I don’t need sober living.’ Even though all the professionals are saying he needs to be in sober living for six months, the wife says, ‘My husband’s an adult and he says he needs to come home so he needs to come home.’ One obstacle is the temptation to go with what the addict’s and the loved one’s will is rather than being an advocate for their recovery. That’s a first obstacle; not being strong enough in your BALMing to be their advocate. What was the second obstacle that you said for the loved one? Because I’d like to address that.

Brian: It was resistance to boundaries.

Beverly: Right. Yeah, you decide that you really cannot have them living in the house and you’ve given them treatment options. They convinced you that they can come back and it’s going to be alright but nothing has changed.

Leverage, boundary setting, helping (not enabling), these are difficult. They are difficult to do on your own. Being calm is difficult to do on your own. The obstacles are not getting the education, transformation, and support necessary to be able to stand up to the obstacles and move your family recovery forward.

Brian: Absolutely, makes sense.

Question: As we get near the end of this series – and you’ve taught us so much, we’re grateful, I’m grateful from what I’ve learned from you and I’m sure the audience is as well – is there anything else that you’d like to say specifically about the work you do or the BALM before we wrap up for good?

Beverly: You know there are families who say, ‘I can’t afford this. I’m spending all of my money on my loved one. How can I do something like this?’ What we say to families is, ‘How can you afford not to do something that’s going to help you get your life back and help your loved one get theirs back? We’re not looking to deplete your life savings, we’re looking to be a springboard to help you move your life forward so that you can have a life again.’ Start with the book, see if it appeals to you, see if it resonates with you.

Maybe you have a different path. But if you think the BALM is your path, get started. You can get started with the BALM itself then later you can add your coach. If you’re able to, you can do them both at once. Some of you will decide that you want to be coaches, that you want to help families. In the course of your studies, as a coach, you will have access to the entire BALM so you and your family can benefit from the transformation as well. If you feel called to this, we invite you. Our mission is to help all families blaze the trail to recovery in their home. We can only do it with the help of other coaches so we invite you to consider the BALM path and be part of this movement that’s allowing love and connection to be practical forces for change in families.

Brian: Thank you, Beverly for all of this.

Question: Are there any final thoughts you have at all that you’d like to share before we wrap up for good?

Beverly: I just want to invite our listeners to be kind to themselves. I’ve heard from so many people when they find the BALM, “Oh, my God, if only I’ve done this sooner. I can’t believe it. What about all those lost years?” Today is day one. In this moment, you can live from love that heals rather than love that hurts. Join us.

Brian: Beverly, thanks again so much for all the attention you’ve given this and the time and just the expertise in this wonderful program that you’ve pioneered. We thank you for the time and effort. We look forward to keeping in touch in the future.

Beverly: Thank you so much, Brian. I want to thank you for the important work you’re doing.

Brian: Thank you so much.

Items Mentioned In This Episode

  • readytobalm.com (Here, you can inquire about all The BALM programs, coaching for families, and coach training. This is an affiliate link. Please know that I believe strongly in The BALM philosophy, and therefore I promote Family Recovery Resources programs as an affiliate. This means I receive a small commission for any purchases made through this affiliate link 🙂)
  • BALM: The Loving Path To Family Recovery (Beverly’s Book)
  • BetterHelp.com/codependency – our show sponsor (affordable licensed professional counseling services via chat, phone, and video conference)

We Want To Hear From YOU!

What did you think of this episode? Did you learn anything new that you’d like to implement in your relationship(s)? What else would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below!

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