Redefining the Rites of Passage

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 24

Episode #24 | June 14, 2017

Featured Guest: Todd Stumbo

My guest today is Todd Stumbo, CEO of Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center in northern Georgia. He sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share his powerful personal story of recovery and to advocate for combining clinical and spiritual experiences in treating adult men. Todd also shares how each man’s unique rites of passage develop in youth and explores what happens when men grow up and don’t meet the standards they unconsciously set for themselves.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hey guys, welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m David Condos and today’s guest is Todd Stumbo CEO of Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center in North Georgia. He sat down with me at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego to share his powerful personal story of recovery and to advocate for combining clinical and spiritual experiences in the treatment of adult men.

Todd also shares how each man’s unique rites of passage develop in their youth and explores what happens when men grow up and don’t meet those standards they unconsciously set for themselves. Now here’s Todd.

All right I’m here with Todd Stumbo. Thank you for being with us today, Todd.

Todd Stumbo: Yes, thanks for having me.

David: We’d start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself, your personal journey and how you got started working in addiction treatment.

Todd: I am from Southeastern Kentucky and I got sober in 2004. I was forced into a treatment program. And as I walk through that journey, I actually went to become a pilot and did that whole thing and just felt like this gaping hole was missing in my life and I went back to the facility I went through and started to volunteer and do some recreational activities and just fell in love with the work.

As I went through it, everybody had told me, you have to have an education, you have to do this, that and the other. And I would rather have worked than go to school and I became a certified addiction counselor and the one thing that I committed to is, I would work harder than anybody else around me, I’d show up early, leave later and I was determined to be successful without the school piece at that moment.

And as I made that journey, I went from being a tech, to a counselor, to operations director, to a clinical director and then I got the opportunity to go to Blue Ridge and be the clinical director and then about a year and a half ago, I guess now, that I got offered a job as CEO and with no college degree.

I finally graduated but it is just one of those [things where] I put God first in everything that I did and try to honor him with my actions and he blessed me with a life that I have now. It’s been an amazing journey, a blessing to be able to come and do stuff like this before people tell me to not speak and be quiet, now people are asking me to come speak. It’s a pretty cool experience.

David: Could you tell us a little bit more about your current role with Blue Ridge, you said you are their CEO?

Todd: Yes, I am a CEO there. We are an 35-day minimum residential program with an 18,000 square foot home on 40 acres of property and we designed the program to be a high-class experience for the blue collar worker. We are in that work with all major insurances and our philosophy there is always tell the staff is, I’m not concerned so much about the treatment we provide as the way we treat the people that we take care of.

Because if people don’t feel like they’re accepted in a program, they’re never going to hear what you have to say, you may come to the facility and I’ll be out cutting grass. I teach the staff from the clients, you’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes. I try to look at it as I work for them and they blessed me to be in this role. It’s a powerful experience for me to have clients come in and then be able to interact with them still, even as a CEO and sit with them, do sessions, do groups. I’m living my dream.

David: Yes, for people who aren’t familiar, could you tell us a little bit about the general philosophy and approach to treatment at Blue Ridge?

Todd: Our philosophy is what we look at is we’ve got one shot, we got one shot with these individuals and in that 35 days, how big an impact can I make? And how to live by this standard of the power of one. And I talked about it yesterday is, every day I wake up, I ask God to put one person in front of me that I could have influence in their life.

I want nothing but to inspire and influence them, and that power of one and if our staff and people in this field live by that, the energy they’ll put in front of that person– the person right in front of them, the energy is totally different, and it goes from being work to this experience that will change your life forever.

David: Here at the conference you spoke yesterday on treating the adult male. What are some of the specific characteristics that make up the complexity of that population group?

Todd: All men have this experience with what we call the rites of passage. As a young man, young boy, whatever it may be, these rites of passage are laid out for us by our fathers, uncles, whatever man is around us. Maybe there is no man and that’s society, TV shows or whatever, that tells us you have to do these certain things to be a man.

The problem is a lot of the men we treat never completed what they perceived as the rites of passage to go from being a boy to a man. When that happens, their independence or self-sufficiency, their confidence suffers, they become this person that is fearless, aggressive and vulnerable. And then, it leads to this emotional restraint and I talked about that dynamic.

One thing that I am concerned about in this field is it seems like we are straying away from the spiritual experience. When you say the word “spiritual” or “God” or “prayer,” people start to panic and, “Oh, I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings,” my idea about it is, if I have a client that struggles with that concept, spirituality or higher power, that’s the kind of client I want press against. I’d do them no service to let them get by on our program without engaging them about a spiritual life.

All that really means spiritual experience is, is you come about a psychic change that’s strong enough to change you to the point that you start to recover. Years ago, we had this concept in this field that, the only way to do things was, AA 12 Steps and spiritual experience. Now, it’s moved away from AA 12 Steps, to spiritual experience, to clinical work. I don’t understand why we can’t have both. One of those things that frustrates me, concerns me in the field of why can we not combine the clinical experience with the spiritual one.

David: How have you found that men’s relationship with a power greater than themselves can impact their recovery for the long term?

Todd: Men at a young age are taught to not ask for help, can pull yourself up by the bush, in essence, we’re taught to be our own God, that I can handle everything, that I’m supposed to provide, I’m supposed to do this that and the other and not rely on other people. I don’t believe in that, we need to be interdependent, which means the concept of we.

We can do this, I can’t do much of anything, I tried that for 13 years and failed miserably. It’s the concept of we can do it, as men, together, God in our life, the spiritual being in our life, whatever the case may be, we have to have that interdependence and what that shifts us to instead of having this confidence which leads us to being arrogant and having an ego, is humility and if I have humility in my life, within humility is a spiritual confidence that I feel. I can be humble and confident at the same time which is not a normal thing for a man.

David: Seems like that would also take some of the pressure off. Like you were saying, the rites of passage and if you’re also thinking, I have to do this on my own, that’s a pretty toxic situation.

Todd: Working to redefine the rites of passage is one of the primary things we have to do in treatment from here, because each one of us have a different version of that and some of my own personal stuff in the last couple years, I went through a divorce for part of my rites of passage as a grown up, was you just don’t get a divorce.

As that was planted into my head, it started to rip me apart from my spiritual connection with God because then I had this thought that, “Okay, if I get a divorce when I’m not supposed to. One I’m not a man and number two, God will abandon me.” It’s just an unhealthy dynamic, it’s a constant realignment. I talked about it yesterday, spiritual maturation is not a one and done, it is a daily realignment, and even at thirteen years sober, I have to go back and look and say, “Hey, where have my rites of passage influence me in a negative way to this day?”

For me, the first things I had to look at was the school piece. My dad would always say, “You’re not going to amount to anything without that school piece.” Well, I became a CEO before I even graduated to college, I got to call and tell him that, it was a pretty cool experience and that changed my rites of passage.

David: Yes, and thinking about the rites of passage, in your opinion, is that something that used to be more defined rites of passage and now, that’s gone away a little bit or was it always like this?

Todd: No, it’s gotten skewed and people have lost the sense of values and a mission statement, so to speak, how we grow our men and change the rites of passage is, they want first half to define spirituality, then they have to define what higher power is, they have to run a lot of mission statement that directs them because within the storm, I talked to clients about this I was when I was a pilot. So any emergency you have they have an emergency procedure card. The reason they have it no matter how much training you do; in an emergency, you often forget what you’re supposed- what guides you.

So, this mission statement is extremely vital. Because when I get in my storms, I need to turn and read it. And rely on the values I said that I was going to live by to get me through it. That’s the spiritual experience. Because normally, if I get angry, I want to lash out. Why I got to turn to my mission statement and understand that’s not what I’m going to do.

I think it’s important that we go back and we look at the rites of passage when we’re treating men and say, “Hey, tell me what a man looks like. What does that even mean to you?” And oftentimes, they’ll list the complete opposite of what they are. And that creates that guilt, shame and remorse. And we got to look at that.

David: Another thing you talked about in your presentation is treating the adult male with a focus on the whole person. What are some other– I know you talked about spiritual aspect. What are some other aspects that make up the whole person, and how do you meet the needs in all of those areas?

Todd: It’s the craziest thing because the physical piece, they start to feel better and that kind of thing. Then mentally, they become a little less foggy. Then their emotions start to come up. Then they start to socialize a little more. Then the spiritual life comes in. And that’s the hardest one to obtain, yet the first one to leave.

A lot of people I walk them through like relapse. The relapse started when you lose your spiritual life. And then you lose your social life. Your emotions go crazy. Then you can’t think right. Then you start to physically use and lose your health.

We want to always address how mentally, how are they feeling, how are they thinking. And with men in particular, they don’t know how to share feelings. Part of the rites of passage is, you don’t cry. You don’t talk about feelings.

David: Part of that being strong and being able to do it yourself.

Todd: So, what I challenge people to do is, don’t ask them how they feel. Ask what they’re thinking. Because men love to give their opinion. And once I hear your opinion as a clinician, then I unearth what the feelings are behind it and work with you on that. And say, “Hey, I love what you’re thinking, can you identify some of the feelings? Because I think I got an idea what you may be experiencing.”

And you help walk them into that process, because immediately in a group, when I say, “Alright guys, we’re going to go around check in and tell each other how we’re feeling.” You can see the discomfort. Everybody is like, I’m good. Well, that’s not a feeling. But that’s where they’re at. Then we have families. The dynamics and families where maybe a father didn’t know how to share his feelings and therefore the son never learns it. And it’s just an endless cycle.

I’m not here to go back and try to fix your dad, because that can sometimes be very difficult. We can start change with you though. We can start it right now. Your life does not, your kids don’t have to experience it and so on and so on.

David: Yes, starting a new legacy from here on out.

Todd: TD Jakes does a video called, Run After Your Destiny. And my destiny, if I look back at my past, and what I came from and my family dynamic, I got to ask myself, “Do I want that to be my destiny?” And many of these men will answer, “No, I absolutely don’t want that.” Okay, so we got to do something different. I got to teach you to quit running away from your fears and your past, and run towards your destiny.

I think it’s important too, as leaders, when I get up and I show my emotion. I talk about it. I talk about what true respect means all that kind of thing with men. And you just really look at that whole person while they’re in treatment of what areas do they really need significant help in.

David: I know you mentioned that you’re in recovery yourself, would you be interested in telling us a little bit more about your background with that? And your journey to how you started recovery?

Todd: Yes, I came from a town of 900 people in Eastern Kentucky. Small town there wasn’t a whole lot to do. Most of my life, I just didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. And I’ll never forget the first time that I smoked weed. My parents always told me it’ll kill me. So I had the mentality that it will kill you if you use it, wind up buying three joints and smoking them by myself.

And it wasn’t like a suicide mission, I just had this mentality of that ain’t going to happen to me. I’m invincible. And man, it set me off on a trail of heavy opiate use. So it then ended in and severe Methadone use and cocaine use to the point that I went in drug-induced psychosis. You hear this old mentality of people have to want to get sober to get sober. That mentality is killing people.

I didn’t want to be sober. I didn’t want to be in treatment. None of that. Yet, I maintained that my parents had boundaries. I stayed long enough that I started to change. And I have this saying it’s like you hear you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Well, you can lead a man to a well to make him thirsty.

And that’s what happened to me. I was led to this well and I started to see it. And I started getting thirsty for something different than I had. And it’s not been perfect by no means.

At almost 13 years sober, I’m growing more now in my recovery than I had the previous 12 years. And it’s really recreated my life with God or my connection with God. Because I had this vision that if I get a divorce he’ll take everything from me. And work on my sponsor he just was like, “Dude, you’ve got to recreate your higher power cause that ain’t healthy” If you got a punishing God dude that’s– but it all stemmed from my rites of passage.

I looked at my dad as a God in a way, and that’s what I experienced most of my life. Was you do wrong you get punished. You did wrong you get punished, and that was my belief system.

David: You just described that you have very powerful personal journey. How do you feel that that has helped shape the work that you do now. As you turn around and help other people.

Todd: I think it’s helped me to always maintain hope for the hopeless. I said it yesterday is that, that’s one thing we’ve got to provide is just feeling the hope for the hopeless. Freedom for the enslaved.

So no matter how hard people fight the spiritual life, because again, I was there, I believed in God but I believed I was supposed to be on the other side of the war. To me, that’s almost harder to come back from the not believe in God in the first place.

I think it really helps me connect with people and be able to share my experience and stay humble. Because it can’t ever be about me. I want to ignite something in people on a daily basis. Even if it’s a bad feeling they don’t like. Like I’m sure yesterday, me talking about spirituality wasn’t really up everybody’s alley, and it made some people uncomfortable, I’m okay with that because they need to be uncomfortable.

David: You’ve mentioned your own relationship with God, is that something that you discovered or rediscovered as part of your recovery journey?

Todd: Well, what happened to me was I got to create an individualized relationship with God. My whole life, my parents forced me to go to church. Small kid, I didn’t want to go. When I got 18, it was just like hey I’m done with it. Then I started watching all my friends dying. Being murdered from this disease. And I still had a relationship with God, I just hated him.

I honestly at one point in my life, I felt like I was put here to do the devil’s work. At that moment in my life, I was probably at the most hopeless I’ve ever been in. When I got into sobriety and got into treatment, this guy, Jason Wayne helped me reconnect with this power. And I started then to see things manifest in my life that I never believed.

I’ll never forget about two years sober, I go in and I haven’t picked up a Bible in years. And I open it and there’s this letter, I don’t know why I even opened it. But there’s a letter that my mom had put in there she wrote years before. What it said in there’s Jeremiah 29:11 said, “You know the Lord has plans for you. Plans for good not for evil.”

And that was probably the turning point in my recovery. I literally bought into God at that point. I’m not that evil guy, I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, but that’s not what I am or who I am. That’s stuff I’ve done. Just that moment, I’ll never forget where I was sitting in my bedroom. Where I was at. I’ll never forget it. Because it was just this power hit me that I never thought I’ll ever experience.

David: Well, thank you for sharing that with us. You’ve devoted a lot of your time and your life into this field of helping other people find recovery. Why would you say helping people through treatment is important to you?

Todd: Again, it goes back to that power of one. One man walked in my life and changed me. He was the platform I think God used to– I call him my guardian angel. That I have to share that. I have to give it back.

So, it’s that power of one on a daily basis, I got to wake up and kind of be without fear in the face of any enemy I come across. I speak the truth even if it can lead to my death, I have to have that mentality, then safeguard the helpless. And that’s kind of my mission on a daily basis. To wake up and do those things no matter what else is that I’m facing throughout the noon.

David: All right. Thank you for being with us today Todd.

Todd: Thanks for having me.

David: Thanks again to Todd for being with us today. Before we wrap up, I want to give a quick reminder about the Innovations in Behavioral Healthcare conference going on next week in Nashville, Tennessee. As you may recall, Jordan and Chip from the Foundations events team joined me a couple episodes back to give us the scoop on their annual summer conference.

It will feature a great line-up of speakers including today’s interview guest Todd Stumbo, and I will be there recording more great podcast conversations right from the conference exhibitor. And right now the Foundations events team is giving recovery unscripted listeners an exclusive chance to win a free registration to all the education and networking opportunities this conference has to offer.

All you have to do is leave a review for this podcast and whatever app you are using to listen and then send an email to [email protected].

Now, let’s conclude this episode with another installment of our ongoing series called, Minute of Mindfulness. Together, we will take the next 60 seconds to let go off distractions take some deep breaths and focus on this present moment. I will open things up with a quote and then rejoin you to wrap up the episode.

This week’s quote comes from Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place which recounts her family effort to help Jews escape the Holocaust in the Netherlands during The Second World War. Her quote ties in well with Todd’s story of faith and reliance on higher power for guidance through the journey of recovery. It says, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Todd Stumbo, CEO of Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center. For more about the care they offer visit

Thank you for listening. If you have enjoyed this episode, please take a second to subscribe. We’re releasing new conversations every week, so that’s the best way to have them delivered right to your device. See you next time.

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