By Piper Klemm, Ph.D.
Alcoholism and addiction are epidemics in this country. Millions of people struggle with these serious, life-changing issues (see sidebar below), and the horse show world is no exception.
Lyn Pedersen wants people to know that there is a way to live differently, and still enjoy life and competitive riding.
Pedersen has been riding since she was 10 years old, from ponies to the Junior Hunters and equitation, to the Amateur-Owners. She’s also been sober for 24 years, and spent that a large part of that time earning her degree in social work and helping others who suffer from substance use disorders. She currently works as a sober coach, intensive case manager and interventionist as a way of giving others a way to get sober, stay sober and be happy.
“Addiction, whether to gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, shopping—you name it—can hijack a person’s logic and perception…their best thinking,” Pedersen tells The Plaid Horse. “And the denial is profound, which makes it difficult to ask for help. Simply put, if drinking or drug use is causing problems in your life, you have a substance abuse problem. Alcohol is a drug, and severe alcohol use disorder is every bit as damaging as drug addiction.”
Pedersen wants people to know that there is help, and whether a person is curious if their drinking or drug use is a problem, is interested in investigating what options are possible, or is ready to address their addictions, she is available to talk to about it.
“I have no opinion whether a person has a problem with drugs or alcohol. I just want people to know that there is a safe place to ask questions,” she says. “My work is totally confidential, and has no expectation of outcomes, or goals to change.”
“Drinking and doing drugs, or ‘partying’ is a big part of the of the horse show lifestyle. I think that that can make it difficult for people to see how their alcohol and drug use may be changing from something that was once fun to more of a ‘need’ to use, and drink. If drinking or doing drugs is starting to cause problems in a person’s life, it might be time to take a look at it.”
Pedersen knows these consequences all too well. Coming from a family of alcoholics, she grew up stressed out and had huge expectations. She excelled by focusing on her riding at the expense of school and everything else. “I was an addict before I had my first drink,” she says. “The first time I got drunk, I was finally comfortable in my own skin. All addicts have the common thread of not feeling good enough and I wasn’t able to recognize or confront that until I got sober.”
Her Personal Turning Point
Despite having sober people around her, Pedersen never felt like she belonged or was able to be part of that group. “In my mind, my idea of what an alcoholic looked like didn’t match the way I drank,” she says. Pedersen’s family did an intervention and she went to treatment, where she surrendered herself to fighting her addiction.
Pedersen realized what a challenge she was to the people around her. “I never believed that I was lying,” she says. “I would stay out all night and promise to my husband that I would never do that again. And I believed I could. I thought it was possible. Addicts truly believe that the next time will be different.”
Now sober, Pedersen started coming back to riding and had to confront her perceptions and reactions to every moment. “Being sober has given me the gift of being willing to suit up, show up, and do the right thing. It’s given me fluidity and grace. I’m present in the moment and have the gift of being able to enjoy and be here now,” she says. “My emotions are more authentic and less erratic. I didn’t experience authentic joy and authentic laughter until I was sober and able to get in touch with all my feelings and be willing to be uncomfortable.”
As she had success in the show ring, she started to look for ways she could get involved in the rehabilitation community that had helped her get her own life back. Pedersen earned a Masters in Social Work and a Certification in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment from Fordham University, where she graduated with honors.
Developing her own style for intervention came from her personal experience. “Twenty-four years later the compassion and empathy of my own intervention still feels fresh,” Pedersen recalls. Using a family approach to lovingly confront addiction and mental health issues helps her create a supportive situation, not a challenging situation. The goal of an intervention is to get a patient out of denial and willing to accept treatment, a part of the journey through the only disease that tells patients’ brains that they don’t have a disease. Non-clinical support specialists like Pedersen help remove barriers and obstacles to recovery.
“Recovery can look a lot of different ways. We want people to enjoy life. No one wants to get sober and miserable,” she says. “There are ways to get sober and stay sober and have joy in your life. For many people, willingness to try becoming sober and try activities sober must be learned.”
Pedersen also counsels those who are sober-curious. “As what is created in your environment always seems normal, many people at horse shows are not sure if they have a problem or if they have to do anything about it. A person doesn’t need to be ready to change their life to talk…they can simply be inquisitive about what a sober lifestyle might look like for them, especially a sober lifestyle at a horse show. A lot of people in the industry don’t know that there is access or someone who understands their lifestyle and can help change where they’re at and where they want to be.”
A Better Life
Back when she was drinking, “I spent a lot of time in my head. A lot of comparing my insides to other people’s outsides,” says Pedersen. “Being resentful and frustrated with people, places, and things. Not being in the moment. Wherever I was, there was somewhere else I wanted to be. I was truly uncomfortable in my skin. Being sober was an adjustment and was not a comfortable way to be until I developed the tools and recognized a roadmap for how I think and do. Most people use drugs to avoid feeling uncomfortable and it takes a lot of support for anyone to work through their issues to confront life sober.”
As it turns out, a life of sobriety is far better than she could have imagined. “I have a lot of gratitude for my life. I am a productive member of society and I can help people,” Pedersen says. “Everything I was seeking when I was drinking and doing drugs I have found in sobriety.”
The joy and admiration that Pedersen feels for every horse she rides fuels her mission to help our community. “I love every horse I get on. So many people make it possible for me to ride great horses, especially Alex Hamer, Liz Reilly, Don Stewart, and Becky Gochman. These people have been incredibly generous and supportive and I am forever grateful. I love the spiritual connection and being in the moment with a horse. Everything else goes away, all the noise.”
How do you know if you might have your own use, abuse, or misuse? Pedersen says in general, if you’re making excuses for your behavior, hiding your behavior and lying to others about it, or experiencing negative consequences for your behavior, it might be worth looking into whether you have an issue. Meeting with Pedersen is totally confidential and discreet and she meets with people wherever and whenever they want, including at horse shows.
For more information, visit lynpedersen.com or reach out at 203-921-9566. Talking to Lyn does not come with any commitment and you can reach out if you want to change your life for the better and want to understand your options.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2020, more than 16 million people reported misusing prescription drugs.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is the most loving thing you can do for any person suffering from a substance use problem, mental health struggles, and/or behavioral health disorder.
Whether it is addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs, mental illness, or eating disorders, the ripple effect these issues have on the people surrounding the addict is often devastating. It is nearly impossible to rationalize with someone caught in the grips of addiction. We have an understanding of the addictive brain and create a safe, loving environment where the individual in need of help will be met where they are in their life. They will feel the power and presence of those who love and care about them most in a collective effort to provide them with the help they desperately need.
When a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and repeated attempts to persuade them to seek help are unsuccessful, a professionally facilitated intervention can be a life-saving step.
Interventions are an opportunity to interrupt a person’s destructive life patterns. It can be the starting point for change. An intervention is a carefully organized, loving approach that can be used to break through denial, resistance and excuses that often accompany substance use disorders.
We will work closely with the family and friends of the individual to create a controlled, safe setting where they can express their love and concern and offer a solution. Once a loved one contacts us, we will be involved with everyone involved throughout the intervention process. We will work with the family and loved ones to create a unique plan that will suit the individual and begin to put that plan in motion. Our goal is to help move the individual towards recovery and a more hopeful, fulfilling, and empowered life.
The best options for treatment will be made available to the individual and the family if needed. We will work hard and use our experience and connections to provide the most healthy and positive outcome for the individual struggling with a substance use disorder.
*This story was originally published in the January 2023 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
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