Recovery and Resilience with Guest Clay Hapstak

What do connection and support have to do with recovery? In a word, everything. In this week’s episode the Mental Health Mamas bring you a Dad and Expert by Experience, Clay Hapstak. Listen in as we talk openly about recovery, peer support, single parenting and more!

Notes and Mentions

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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website,

Tina: As we’ve mentioned before, the Mental Health Mamas in our podcast refers to me and Serena as fellow mamas in mental health. We are working to bring you a variety of voices and experiences and today, we are super excited to welcome a man, a dad, the man, the myth, the legend, Clay Hapstak to our show.

Serena: Clay is a single parent, an Expert by Experience and a peer in our community. Welcome Clay!

Clay: Hey guys. Glad to be on.

Serena: We are so glad to have you here. So like many, I wear a number of different hats in our community. One of those hats is as a facilitator of parenting classes. I met Clay when he came to one of those classes that I was facilitating. So I think it’s important for our listeners to know that parents come to these classes for a variety of different reasons. Some parents choose to attend and some are court-mandated. And one of my favorite parts about leading these classes is that I don’t know any of this information. I don’t often get to know the stories of my participants unless someone personally chooses to share them with me. So Clay, I wonder if you can back us up and share with our listeners a little bit of your story leading up to when I met you?

Clay: OK. So we, before we had met or actually, you know, kind of during the process of meeting, I was starting my own personal recovery journey and I don’t remember if I met you at the very first class that I had taken, but it was definitely early on. So I couldn’t tell you if I was at that point there voluntarily or mandated. But yeah. I actually took the very first parenting class while I was at inpatient. And so when I had gotten out I had remembered that and enjoyed it. So I’m glad I continued to do them.

Serena: Yeah, so you actually did something that most people don’t do, especially if they are court-mandated and that’s that you kept signing up and you kept coming back to the same class and that’s how we really got to know one another better. So tell us, what was it that kept you coming back?

Clay: I mean overall the classes flowed kind of the same with the material but the way it was always presented and with the variety of different people in the classes, you were surely to learn something new. Plus, you know, I met some good people and I think it was just nice because we kind of got to vent about our kids and learn how to deal with those types of situations. So there was really no negatives to it.

Tina: That’s awesome. And connection is super, we’re all about that. Totally about connection. So as you know, we are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health. Not everyone believes that addiction or dependency is tied to mental health. We are not certified scientists but we will refer to the DSM 5, written and published by scientists. For those who don’t know, this stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it’s the 5th Edition. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association and it is what is used by mental health professionals in the US to diagnose mental health conditions. “Substance Use Disorder” is listed in the DSM 5 as a mental health disorder so clearly in our world, there is no question about that connection. Clay, what are your thoughts on addiction and mental health?

Clay: So working in the addiction field, I’ve yet to see a situation where they didn’t coincide. One led to the other. Vise versa. Or they started at the same time. They’re really attached to each other so when, you know, it’s almost easier to treat the addiction side. Like that’s short term because it’s the mental side of it that’s going to be the long journey. So when you do them both together I think you increase your odds of being successful. But yeah, like I said, I’ve never seen a situation where, you know, trauma, anxiety, depression, you name it, where something like that didn’t exist in the addict/alcoholic.

Serena: Yeah, so in your opinion of, you know, the programs and in your experiences, have you seen that they are addressing both at the same time? What is the typical sort of approach to this, you know, the co-occurring thing?

Clay: So, it’s nice because it is being noticed and more dual programs are out there that address both of those at the same time. You see more inpatient facilities long term. But usually when you come to an outpatient clinic the questions are asked and what’s unique is I get to share my experience with addiction and mental health issues. And that’s something counselors aren’t allowed to disclose. It kind of puts their mind at ease talking with somebody who has gone through it and is, I mean, currently going through it.

Serena: So Tina and I do peer support work locally in our community and we’re aware that you too work as a peer. So, you know, tell us a little bit about your work and what you see the benefits are of peer support as opposed to just seeking what we might call “professional support”?

Clay: Sure. So a peer position, it’s fairly new. And it wasn’t around loing when I started doing it so there’s like no handbook. And you know, there’s rules as we deal with OASIS and HIPAA but really how you deal with the client, you’re kind of left to figure that out. You’re not coached on how to have a one-on-one with a client. So a lot of trial and error. When someone says, you know, what does a peer work consist of, there’s like a very broad answer but I think depending on the peer that answer will be different. So this is kind of how I explain it. I heard early on that the opposite of addiction is connection and I saw that personally. So what I try to do is connect the client with supports early on that they can carry on with when they’re no longer going to outpatient. And that looks like a variety of things but I’m also there to share my personal experience and once again I think that’s unique because I’ve had, you know, therapists and counselors and you just don’t always know and that’s one of the first, you know, if they’ve had experience with, personal experience with addiction. But like I said that’s something that I let them know right off the bat and you can see that relief like, “Oh OK. So he knows. He knows”. So I try to connect them with what’s available and some of the same supports that I utilized early on. I mean that’s kind of the short and narrow is really just trying to set someone up for that day to try and make better decisions.

Tina: Yeah. And we love that you’re paying it forward, for sure. And we also love what you just said and I want to repeat it. “The opposite of addiction is connection.”Love that. Totally love that.

Clay: I would love to say that I came up with it but it was one of those things that I heard early on that kind of clicked for me. And I saw it. I saw it work.

Tina: It’s totally about those mantras, those affirmations, those things that really help us move forward, for sure.

Clay: Let me share a quick story that I shared with a client that was in inpatient this morning. It’s about being open-minded. We were talking about the Parenting Skills that they were taking while they were there. I said, you know, when you leave here be open-minded to taking the same class. And I said because I was open-minded I made positive connections just through that class. That was one case of being open-minded. I was open-minded to every suggestion at the beginning and that’s how many connections, you know, you want to be willing to make.

Tina: Yeah, so let’s think for a minute about, you know, we know as peers that we hear some really hard stories and they are hard to hold sometimes.

Serena: Yeah, they certainly are and I also want to add to that the idea that peer support is super powerful and we heard you say that. In terms of just being able to know that somebody else gets a little bit of your struggle. So certainly one of my concerns before starting this work was the idea of holding other people’s stuff and not knowing if I could handle that or if I would take too much of that on. But really the big surprise for me was that this work actually helps me.

Tina: Yeah I feel like it totally feeds me in a way that I didn’t expect. I think again we’ll go back to that power of connection and how helping someone hold the hard things is a really connective way to find, I don’t know, to find my purpose, that’s what I would say. And you know, full disclosure, when you help people hold hard things, it can sometimes be triggering and we’re just curious about how do you manage that as, you know, as your role as peer support person?

Clay: Oh, OK. Because I had never done anything remotely close to this kind of work when I was asked to do it I didn’t realize that aspect so for the first six months...I quickly learned boundaries. And what I mean by that is I let people know that I wear different hats and normally when I don’t have my peer hat on I have my parent hat on. So because I’m in the community and I’m not always working, I’m allowed to say hi but I make clear that the boundary is I don’t work when I’m with my son. Simply explain what the expectations should be regarding that and that seemed to work for me. You know, as long as I knew that when I left work I did everything I could do and once you get to that point you have to toss the rest up to acceptance. People, you know, people pass away and it’s heartbreaking but I don’t live with the “what if’s”. So like I said I practice acceptance every single day and I think that acceptance and gratitude, every single day. And I think I’ve just found ways to cope with it where I’m not, you know, losing sleep or letting it take up unnecessary space in my head but it was a learning process. Trust me.

Tina: Yeah, for sure.

Serena: Yeah I could imagine that that’s super hard but it’s amazing how you’ve been able to learn to let go and, but you’re right. It’s a process, right?

Clay: Yep.

Tina: And I love the boundaries stuff for sure. Creating those boundaries is, no matter what you do and who you are, it’s super important to make sure and create those boundaries.

Serena: So I happen to know (if it’s OK to share with everyone), that you recently celebrated 4 years of being clean and sober. And that is huge. For anyone who doesn’t know and for all the people who do know that is. That is huge. So tell us what...first congratulations.

Clay: Thank you. Thank you.

Tina: Yes! I’m clapping. I’m clapping.

Serena: Tell us what contributed to your success and you know, what are the things that have been most helpful along your journey?

Clay: Aw, man. I always give credit to everybody that helped me and continues to help me because I’ve learned, I’ve learned from some amazing people that do this recovery thing a lot better than I do. Oh, some of these people that you turn it over to that are part of the process, that become supports throughout the way, it’s just...I’ve met so many incredible people along my journey. I mean, I really have. I just come to the point that, you know, Clay’s program doesn’t work and I know that now. So I plagiarize, I steal parts from other people’s programs. I’ve pieced together a program but most importantly I live life one day at a time. I have to. I have to center myself. It’s not easy and it doesn’t always work but at one day at a time it seems more manageable than, you know, trying to plan out how my future’s gonna look in ten years or in ten months or however you want to say it. So once again, that’s something I’ve learned from people who have been doing it a lot longer than I have.

Tina: For sure. One foot in front of the other and yeah, that’s all we can do sometimes. For sure. So we do like to ask people about their self-care or the things they do for themselves that give them a sense of renewal. What does that look like for you Clay?

Clay: That was a foreign concept at one point. That’s something me and my therapist have worked on and I have improved. I see the value in it and I was serious when I said it but I was kidding when I said my self care time is from quarter after five in the morning until six when I wake him up and from 8:30 to 9:30 before I go to bed. And I thought that was what that was supposed to be. You know, single parent and a lot of acceptance just like this is how it is. But fortunately my therapist forced me to at least be open-minded to doing things, which isn’t always easy to get out by myself but I have found ways. One of them being golfing which the season has started and Gage was kind enough to go golfing with me twice this week. And we have a fun time doing it. That’s mainly my self-care. I got out of town this past weekend to go see some family out of town. I got to golfing some more which was great. But what I...I said this earlier today. You know, I consider my life pretty uneventful but uneventful is good for me where I’m at right now. You know, I’m OK with that. I don’t, I don’t...I have a lot of stuff to do in my own personal time. So, you know, I bought a house so self care for me is doing stuff around the house. Self care looks different for everybody. I just know it’s important they have that time set aside to do it but good luck to all you single parents out there doing it without a kid. But you know, Gage, my son has been great with like understanding like, I gotta get dragged along to go do this and he rarely argues with me and I appreciate that about him.

Tina: Awesome. He has a good dad.

Serena: Well and I find that a lot of self care is about the intentionality of just, sort of, you know, thinking of it in that way and making sure you are calling it what it is and setting aside that time. So I think that’s what you were saying, right?

Clay: Well a nice thing is, and I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but when you can find something that is productive and can label it self care, it’s almost like a win-win situation. So like recovery stuff for me and service work, it’s a win-win. Like that’s my, I consider that self-care time because that’s one of the few times I get out by myself. So yeah. I think if you can find something like that, that’s great.

Serena: Yeah, that’s great. So, you brought up your son, so tell us about your bond with your son. How does he fit into all of this?

Clay: Oh Serena. If he only knew how much work goes into him living his best life. It has been made clear to me that parenting, or at least a valid attempt as I like to call it is like one of the most selfless things a person can do. And it was really tough doing the home-schooling thing because I was getting resentful. I really was, you know. Like, this kid’s in his boxers at two in the afternoon and I’m like it must be, dude, it must be nice. And then he wants to complain and then I’m like, oh what you only had enough cream cheese for half your bagel? If that’s your biggest complaint today… We must have a pretty solid bond because we’re always together and it’s scary because I see more and more of me in him. And he’s getting to that age where he asks the most outrageous questions. But he’s doing good. We’re both, we both live by routine and I think that really really helps. We notice when we need to take a break from each other which is important and we give each other that time. Actually, I lie. I give him that time. I don’t necessarily receive the same courtesy but, yeah, we’re doing our best, we’re doing our best.

Serena: Yeah. Well, you’re modeling that for him.

Clay: Well let’s not lie. I mean there’s so many times where I’m standing looking at him and in my head I’m like, “Gotta keep it together, gotta keep it together, gotta keep it together.”

Tina: Oh funny. Alright we have one more question for you. This is something we like to ask all of our guests who are Experts by Experience. What do you know now that you wish you had known earlier in your journey?

Clay: I guess at the very beginning my recovery journey, my number one priority was my son because that’s how I felt. I mean, I genuinely felt like I needed to be doing this for him. And then I learned I needed to be doing this for myself and I wish I could have grasped that concept a little bit earlier on. But really, like I said, acceptance and gratitude. If I had started them earlier, I’d be even better at them. But, yeah. If I said to myself, you’re going to meet some really cool people. They might not seem like that at first, but you’re gonna meet some really awesome people. Stay open-minded. Seek those connections out. Like all that stuff that took me, you know, a year, year-and-a-half before I it started clicking. If that could have clicked that first week, oh, I’d be ahead of the game right now. But really, just take it one day at a time. Try to do the next right thing. Choose a positive attitude. Those little, those little sayings that were foreign to me, right? I’d never heard them or anything like that.

Serena: Mmm. Yeah. So before we close out the episode here, I just wonder, is there anything Clay that we didn’t ask you that you would like to put out there to the world?

Clay: Well, yeah, definitely. I’ll do a little plug. If you’ve never taken any of the parenting classes through Cornell Coop, look into it. I mean, I still don’t fully grasp parenting but I have a better handle on it than I did four years ago. With a lot of help, stay positive and don’t be afraid to ask for help. A lot of people struggle with that especially. So if you need it, reach out.

Serena: Yeah.

Tina: We all need our support people, don’t we? Yeah, for sure.

Serena: Yeah. We do. And I love the, the message about having an open mind. I think that’s, that’s hard when we’re deep down in it but. Yeah, so Clay, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing…

Clay: The pleasure’s all mine.

Serena: Wait, wait, I’ve gotta give you some more compliments. Hang on.

Clay: You snap your fingers when you’re done so I know. I’m gonna let you roll.

Serena: OK. So what I want to say to you and I’ve said it to you before, but I’m gonna say it now for the world to hear. You are a true inspiration and you give me hope for the many other people out there who are struggling. So thank you for the work you are doing on yourself, for your son, and for other people out there.

Tina: Absolutely. And I hope that you can stop and recognize the impact you’re having supporting others along their journey.

Clay: Well I truly appreciate that and I appreciate you guys being part of my journey. I mean, now you’re in there. So if you have any questions ask Serena. She’s been there for awhile.

Tina: Absolutely. So podcast friends, we are, as always grateful for all of you for listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and sharing with others. You’ll also find more content on our website,

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks for listening!

Serena: Bye!