Humans of Wellness Interview with Frank Cilurso
I’ve created a project called Humans of Wellness, which is modeled after Humans of New York. I really like this concept of identifying everyday heroes who are working tirelessly to serve the community and providing resources to those who need them the most. For our first Humans of Wellness feature, I would like to highlight Frank Cilurso of Principles Recovery Center.
So, a little bit about Frank: Frank Cilurso is the vice president of marketing and operations at Principles Recovery Center in Davie, Florida. He has over eight years of experience in marketing from Florida State University. Growing up, he was surrounded by addiction at an early age, and it has been his goal to find a way to help those who are suffering from addiction. He oversees the Principles marketing business development team and overall operations of the teen and adult facility — if you see any errors on the Principles website, you can blame this guy! Frank also helps keep the clients and employees safe with 3DK9 by conducting weekly sweeps on the facility.
Interview With Frank Cilurso
What inspired you to begin with the field of substance use disorders and addiction?
So, throughout my entire life, I’ve been surrounded by addiction. We actually had to reschedule this interview because one of my uncles passed away, which would have been two uncles and an aunt who have passed away from the disease of addiction to date. Unfortunately, a couple more are struggling, and most dear to me was my mother. My mother suffered from terrible drug and alcohol addiction my entire childhood. It’s all I really knew as I grew up.
Luckily, through a lot of hard work on her end, she was able to get clean a number of years ago. She told me she was opening up a place to help locals out that are suffering from mental health and substance abuse, and I was so proud of her for that. I said, you know, “I’m going to come and I’m going to help you.” I was in a completely different field, so that was more of just pride for my mom, really.
I first have to say I’m so sorry for your loss. I know that you had shared with me the day — I think it was the day of our first scheduled interview — and I was so saddened to hear that. I also wanted to say that I really love that this is a story that is connecting you with your mom as well. It’s a different perspective that you had — that you were surrounded by addiction growing up at a young age. So, how did that impact you growing up?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that around 8.1 million children live with at least one parent who struggles with addiction. This was absolutely news to me. Prior to this interview, I wasn’t aware of this statistic, nor was I aware of how many children were surrounded by addiction at such an early age.
When you’re growing up as a kid and you have parents that are suffering from addiction, you know, it’s normal. You don’t know anything else. There’s not a comparison, really. You know, you can see things on TV, but when I was growing up, there was a massive stigma on substance abuse and mental health. I mean, it still is a stigma, but it was even larger then. Luckily, through the work of a lot of people, that’s starting to get better, and people are understanding a little bit more about this. But I had no idea that this was something that was different, and I really didn’t get through too well.
I got terrible anxiety at a very young age. They were running me through stress tests and medical tests and a bunch of different things to try and figure out what was going on with me. And at the end of it all was actually what was happening at home. I remember pretty vividly the first time that I knew something was different. There was a show-and-tell, and they asked us to bring something that your parents cared about. I brought my dad’s black belts — a bunch of different black belts — and I brought those. Then for my mom, I brought this coin, which was a one-year chip for her at the time, and that’s kind of how I broke our anonymity. And when I came back home, they sat me down. They said, “Listen, this is private for Mom. You know, this isn’t something you should share.” It was the first time that I really realized, you know, “Okay, there is something different in here.”
Wow. How old were you? I’m really curious.
It was a second-grade show-and-tell, I believe.
Second grade. Wow. So, the question that I have for you, based off of what you just shared with me, is because you just talked about that anxiety. They couldn’t figure out what it was, what the issue was right or how to diagnose it. So, how did you overcome that anxiety?
It’s pretty interesting how it actually happened, and I think it’s a great learning lesson for a lot of different people and we talk to people every day in the center about it. So, I was going through all these stress tests. My grades were dropping, I was getting into consistent fights all the time and I was just kind of taking out my anger on everybody. That’s how I was dealing with it, I guess, and we got a call to go to a treatment center in Reading, Pennsylvania. My mom had gone to treatment a few times before, but this time, it was different. She was crying in a room, and they had a family session and they said, “Listen, mom is leaving permanently.” And, you know, we were kind of taken back by that, and they said, “Listen, she’s leaving permanently and she needs to go help herself and save her life.”
That was the last time we had seen her for a number of years. She packed her stuff and she moved down to Florida — went to a great program in Miami, Florida. Six years later, I was able to move down with her. So, to answer the question directly: How I got over that was actually separating from my parent. That was, at the time, really a cause of my worry, my anxiety and my stress when she went down to get some healing for herself. I personally healed, my grades went up, my anger and aggression went away. I knew mom was in a safe place. I knew mom was getting better. Now that I knew she was sick, it was important. So, I felt better and I really improved a lot of different things. The anxiety stayed, but I coped with it a lot better and I learned how to deal with life at an easier pace in my early adolescence.
The Recovery Village shows examples of what can happen when a child grows up in an environment of addiction. Consequences include:
- Problems in school
- Depression, anxiety or self-harming behaviors
- Impulsive behavior
- Trouble forming close relationships
- Increased risk of substance use
I always talk to the kids about how having an addicted parent is two completely different stories. I’ll give you an example. So, if your parent is an alcoholic — my mother was — my biggest trauma that existed was when she was blacked out. She doesn’t remember those moments, but you know, [seeing her] passed out on the floor or going through these terrible things. As a kid, those memories are tattooed in your brain. Your parent doesn’t remember any of that; it’s a different story. Theirs could be, “I was really drunk and I blacked out.”
I think one of the things that I see commonly is the disconnect from what a parent that’s suffering from addiction and their child feel like they’ve gone through. It’s a completely different story. I remember crying over my mom, shaking or trying to wake her up, all those things. She doesn’t remember any of that. So, it’s trauma that only one person experienced, yet both went through. The other thing is just anxiety. A lot of teenagers have no idea what anxiety is — it surprises me to this day that even though we have so much awareness around it, they really can’t pinpoint it.
But I would worry all the time about my mom. Is she okay? Are my parents going to fight? You know, their safety, their well-being — you’re going through this fear of if you’re going to lose a parent consistently. That builds up into how you think or act in situations that don’t even involve your parents. We see that with teenagers all the time, and they consistently come into the center with this anxiety that, really, a lot of the root cause is from an addicted parent and they just kind of carried on throughout their life with it. And we teach them the coping skills to kind of get through that.
Understanding the Impact of Addiction
It wasn’t until this interview that I started to look into the psychological impact that children experience from being in this environment. I remember reading about how our subconscious is programmed within the first seven years of our lives, and all of our memories and experiences are hidden deep within our subconscious. If you’ve been raised in a traumatic environment, that shapes your subconscious, your innermost fears and aspirations. It makes sense to then find the connection between a traumatic experience, like what Frank often experienced in his early childhood years, to the symptoms he brought up, like growing up with anxiety. This is why I am eternally grateful for programs that focus on youth and adolescents — to not only equip them with the resources they need, but also provide safe and inclusive spaces for those who need a place to heal from trauma related to addiction.
I want to thank Frank Cilurso for sharing his story to inspire others who may be currently experiencing what he went through. I think it’s incredibly commendable that his mother, the Founder of Principles Recovery Center, was able to heal and receive the resources that she needed to recover from addiction. And I found it beautiful to see that Frank was able to support his mother’s center by using his sales and marketing background to help Principles flourish.
Humans of Wellness was created by Cairo Eubanks (Miss Broward County 2020) to archive the chronology of interviews that she has as a brand representative of Advanced Recovery Systems Real Talk. Highlighting individuals in the field of recovery, Humans of Wellness provides excerpts from interviews Cairo has conducted, as well as the information learned from these interviews. Humans of Wellness aims to use dialogue and education to be an additional resource to the community.
Lipari, Rachel; Van Horn, Struther. “Children Living With Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), August 24, 2017. Accessed January 19, 2021.
Hoddinott, Aaron. “You’ve Got Some Looming Childhood Issues.” Capitalist Creations. Accessed January 19, 2021.