Monday, February 4, 2008

How Dr. Phil Fixed Himself

Self Help: How Dr. Phil Fixed Himself . . . overcoming alcoholism in his family. I saw this online. This is an interview with TV host Dr. Phil and Readers Digest. I post this today, providing all of us with hope, especially parents, but also us who are children of parents. We can prevail and overcome.

Without giving an opinion of Dr. Phil, I have a different view of him based upon this interview. His father was a binge drinker, and apparently didn't get the guidance from his father.

Here is the article / interview:


After a tough childhood, Phil McGraw figured out how to fix himself -- and the rest of us too.
by Laura Yorke
From Reader's Digest
April 2005

By today's standards, Phillip C. McGraw -- better known as Dr. Phil -- has every right to be a mess. As the son of a binge-drinking alcoholic, he lived through cycles of dysfunction and near-poverty. He went to work early, not to earn spending money, but to help put food on the table. Not always the best kid, at times, Phil says now, he basically raised himself.

So why didn't he derail, like so many people would, and spend his life victimized and immobilized by his past? "That was not an option," McGraw says. Each afternoon, nearly seven million Americans tune in to "Dr. Phil" to watch him give his guests a dose of the no-whining advice he once gave himself. McGraw's motto -- "Get real" -- comes from having lived through his own ugly times, and having made himself better for it.

McGraw earned his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1979 and went into private practice in Wichita Falls, Texas. He eventually became a litigation consultant, and in 1996 was called in by Oprah Winfrey's attorneys for help in a lawsuit filed by a group of Texas cattlemen over comments she'd made about mad cow disease. After she won the case, Winfrey invited McGraw to share his problem-solving tips with her viewers, and soon he had his very own audience -- and show.

He refers to himself unconvincingly as a "reformed workaholic." Author of 10 bestselling books, McGraw and Robin, his wife of 28 years, live in Los Angeles with their sons, Jay, 25, also a talk-show host and author, and Jordan, 18, who will start Southern Methodist University in the fall.

RD: You had a traumatic childhood. How did it shape who you've become?
McGraw: My mother was and is so loving, but she had to work all the time. I had an alcoholic father -- basically a binge drinker. I had sisters who married in high school to escape, and I just had absolutely no leadership whatsoever. A lot of what I ultimately defined myself to be was a reaction against that. My dad was beaten and abused by his mother all through his childhood. She was a mean, vicious woman. I knew what he grew up with and why he was so embittered, but it doesn't make it any easier to live with.

RD: Especially when you're a child.
McGraw: He was never abusive with me or my sisters. He drank to escape. We were living in Denver when I was in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. He was a tool pusher essentially, sold drill bits to oil-drilling companies. He entertained the drillers, the buyers, constantly.

So he was out every night, drinking. It got so bad that he either quit or got fired -- as a kid you never know. All of a sudden, we were out of a job. He said, "I'm going to go back to get my PhD in psychology." He was admitted to the University of Oklahoma, so we moved to Oklahoma City. For that period of time, he didn't drink at all. He just quit.

RD: You must have respected that.
McGraw: I did, but it came with a price because when he was drinking, we had jobs and money. When he quit, we traded alcoholism for being dirt-poor. We lived with my older sister, who was married and had an 1,100-square-foot house. We threw paper routes for a living. We had one 52 miles long. I did that one in a car with my dad every morning at 4:30 or 5, and every afternoon I had a paper route that I threw off my bike. It wasn't my allowance. That was our food money. When it came time to collect for the paper, you'd go get $1.15 for that month. If you didn't come home with the money, you didn't eat. Even at 12 I understood the reality of "you don't work, you don't eat." It was that simple. That's why now I'm so accountable and so results-oriented.

RD: What happened when your dad finished the PhD program?
McGraw: He had to go to Kansas City for his internship. We couldn't afford to take the family, but he said, "My son needs to be with his dad." So off we went. We lived in an apartment with no utilities, right near the high school.

RD: Was he drinking then?
McGraw: As soon as he got a real job, he started again. He had every Wednesday afternoon off, and every Thursday morning I would have to go find the car. He'd go off and get drunk and leave the car and come home in a cab. I'd have to get receipts out of his pocket and go downtown and find the car. I'm only 15. I don't even have a driver's license, but I'm down there, finding the car and driving through rush hour to get home.

RD: One of the ways you built up your self-esteem was through sports.
McGraw: That gave me a place to distinguish myself. I was very team-oriented, and I took pride in doing well. I was also an angry kid, and it was an outlet for the anger. It was entertainment for the family too. They really looked forward to those games.

RD: So you began to realize that if you take action, things happen.
McGraw: I saw my sisters making certain decisions, and I said, "I'm not going to do that." I'd see my dad drink, and I'd say, "I don't want to see myself in that condition." I said, "I'm going to choose different things." They weren't all good choices.

RD: What was a bad choice for you?
McGraw: My friends were not the best citizens. At 13, 14 years old, we were racing cars, prowling around all night. They'd steal the family car and off we'd go joyriding at 120 mph.

RD: Did you reconcile with your dad before he died?
McGraw: Absolutely. My dad is an enigma, to be sure. In his later life he quit drinking again. In his late 60s, he went back to school to study theology so he could preach and teach. We were there at his graduation. He died at 69. If he was drinking, I just couldn't be around him, and if he wasn't, we got along just fine.

RD: You've talked about finding meaning in suffering. What do you mean by that?
McGraw: Everybody at some point is going to have adversity. I think if we don't learn from that, then it was just a penalty. But if you use it, then it becomes tuition. I draw a lot on my personal experiences. It's hard for people to con me, because I'm a pretty street-smart guy. Some husband comes on my show and tries to tell me he's not really a workaholic? I say, "You're talking to one. I've been there."

RD: Are there families who come on your show but whom you feel you just can't help?
McGraw: I've never been under the misapprehension that I'm doing eight-minute cures on television. But I think that 50 percent of the solution to any problem lies in defining it first. I can be an emotional compass that points them down the path, but the real work will start when they walk off the stage.

RD: What inspired you to write your weight-loss book?
McGraw: Obesity has absolutely ravaged my family. I lost my father probably 10 years early because of complications with obesity. I have two nephews who are over 500 pounds. I have a sister who's 300 pounds. I have aunts who are 350, 375. My whole family -- I've watched them become so infirm they dropped out of life. And I have issues with blood sugar that caused me to adopt a certain lifestyle. Probably 300 days a year, I work out twice a day. It's really important to me and my family.

RD: I understand you and Robin and your two sons are an incredibly tight-knit family. What would you say is the greatest value system that you, the McGraws, have? What runs you guys?
McGraw: It may sound trite, but it's really family first. Our family and its priorities, needs, values, come before everything else -- work, recreation, whatever. When I say family first, that means marriage also, because our belief has always been that one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a good marriage between their mom and dad, so they don't wind up living in an emotionally barren environment or a divorce situation.

I've often said that when kids show up, it's awful easy to stop being friends and lovers and start being moms and dads, and we never made that mistake. While Robin was pregnant the first time, we talked about it and committed -- we're not going to allow children to get in the way of that.

RD: You've said that parents need to be "actively present." What does that mean?
McGraw: You have to sit down and say, "How do we define success?" If you haven't asked yourself that question and you don't have a good measurable answer, then I think you're missing the point. We have sat down and talked about what would be an absolute home run for the McGraw family at 10 years, 15 years, 20 years.

RD: What's an example of a home run for your family?
McGraw: First off that your family is a soft place to fall for everybody in it -- that each child and the mother and father knows inside those four walls "I'm accepted. I'm loved. And I give that to everybody else." Then you have to say, "Do I do that on a day-to-day basis? Do I really, no kidding, make my children feel they're safe and secure and valued and welcomed?"

RD: What if you're both working and have only X amount of time?
McGraw: It's how you spend the time you have. But, frankly, you have to make sacrifices. If you're a double-income family because you want to live in a nice house and drive nice cars, you need to revisit that. I'll promise you, in the long run you or your kids will be happier living in a house half the size, driving 10-year-old cars, if you have time to attend all their school programs or help with homework.

RD: What if you just don't have that option?
McGraw: Then you have to have some strategies to maximize the time you have. Single parents need to be really good delegators. From the time children are two, four or five, they need to be contributing to running the house -- pick up their toys, help with dishes, take out the trash -- so it's not a constant task-management situation where Mom's either working at work or working at home. We can do these things together, so a) you're sharing time, and b) they get done quicker and you're left to say, "Now, let's go to the park." You want to do something where you have to engage the children.

RD: How do you feel you've succeeded as a parent?
McGraw: Our approach was that if Robin and I fell off the world tomorrow, would our boys be equipped to manage their lives, would they have the values, work ethic and goals-management skills they needed to go forward? I think they would. You know, last Christmas, Jordan asked me what I wanted, and I said, "Two hours a week, you and me, my agenda." He has not missed once.

RD: Good for you.
McGraw: His nickname is Peteski, and he comes and says, "Peteski time?" My agenda is to just sit down and talk, because he's heading off to college. We've talked about drinking. We've talked about life management. We've looked at "When you get to school, we need to create your support system."

RD: Is there a part of your life where you could use a Dr. Phil?
McGraw: I have my wife. Robin keeps me pretty much in line. She is a great checkpoint for me, and she is one of the strongest, most intelligent and self-directed people I know. Robin is my Dr. Phil.


Syd said...

I wonder if he was ever in Al-Anon. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the interview with Dr. Phil. I always knew that he was an adult child. The problem with him is that he still acts like one. He worked hard all of his life to achieve what he has and to make a comeback from the impact of his father's drinking.

He is now in a position to tell his clients, "my way or the highway" aka "I know best." Undoubtedly, he has helped innumerable people get off their duffs and do something about their situation.

Dr. Phil also has to be the center of attention. The camera has to be on him all of the time. It is all about him and it keeps him laughing all the way to the bank. Do you seriously think Dr. Phil is going to mention Al-Anon? It is competition to him. Besides, members don't use his books at meetings and the cost for attending Al-Anon is a lot less than five minutes of Dr. Phil's time.

My understanding is that he views Al-Anon as a program that keeps people in victimhood. Our lives have become unmanageable because of an alcoholic--look what someone's drinking did to me. He doesn't seem to understand that because AL-Anon members make the identification of being affected by a relative or friend's drinking, we are able to use the tools of our Twelve Step program to move on. He hasn't taken the time to really understand what Al-Anon is because he is very busy writing and selling his books and marketing himself as "Dr. Phil knows best."

In Al-Anon, all members are experts on living with an alcholic or being affected by someone else's drinking. People like Dr. Phil wouldn't be gurus or make all the money that they do from books and TV appearances. He needs an audience not only to remain a major personality and synomous with helping people but also to sell books.

Is he wrong for how he has approached his personal recovery? I don't think so. He has done it his way and obviously, it works for him because he is leading the type of life that he wants. He has a successful career, and successful marriage and his kids are doing well too. He "pulled himself up by his bootstraps" and it has worked for him whereas for many of us, being totally self reliant on ourselves rather than seeking guidance from a Higher Power has caused us to fail.

So, Dr. Phil is not my hero. But I do have empathy and compassion for his experience as an adult child of an alcoholic. I take what I want and leave the rest from him which is what Al-Anon has taught me.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
linda garrity said...

I am an Adult Child. I use to go to meetings.I agree with Dr Phil in one area. The meetings ACOA, ALANON,AA.NA ECT.
Feels LIKE ANOTHER DEPENDENCY. IT Is like something is missing,there needs to be and ending, a way to teach us how to move on. Not define our lives as an ACOA.

linda garrity said...

Also Dr Phil Does believe in GOD.And He has said that Many times on the show.
Also he has had Men and Women of Faith come on the show and preach and teach.

Jhon mac said...

Great information,I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work.Thanks for sharing this great article.Great information thanks a lot for the detailed article.
dr phil program