From: Renée Hodges
Subject: My nephew has moved to town! Do you need some errands run? Lightbulbs changed, dogs walked?
Date: Thursday, March 14, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.
To: Friends listserv
My nephew Bobby Redford, my brother’s son, moved to Durham recently and is living with me at the moment. Long term, he is looking for a job, or possibly school, but until then he needs some money! Please keep him in mind if you want your dog walked or brought to the vet (great with dogs!), lawn mowed, lightbulbs changed, milk and bread from the store, etc. Returns? Packages mailed? Mailings done. He is willing to do most anything, except really heavy lifting. And anything you pay him will be greatly appreciated.
If you do have an errand for Bobby, I’d like for you to know more about him. He is twenty-nine and a very smart, kind, handsome, young man who was sent to a Texas Hospital Scoliosis Center when he was twenty-one. He became addicted to the medicine that was prescribed for his back pain and has struggled with opioid substance [misuse] since.
He has a college degree from University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He has been [in recovery] now for a while, and is looking for a fresh, new start. He moved here for a complete evaluation at Duke University Medical Center, and I am delighted to say he loves this area. Everyone he has met has been so nice to him, and I am greatly encouraged.
He has his own vehicle. All you have to do is call him on his cell, or at my house (since cell service is limited inside my house). Please think of Bobby first when you need something done. And if you have a young man or woman around his age who might show him around town, would you let me know so they can meet? It does take a village . . .
Reaching out to my friends had been an easy decision. In fact, I never really questioned it. I simply decided to be open and honest about Bobby’s disease from the very beginning. There was no hiding under a bushel, no secrets, no denial—from any of us.
When Bobby arrived in Durham, I was ready to join his fight, but intuitively I knew I couldn’t go it alone. I couldn’t deny or avoid what was happening in our household and in our lives. I couldn’t pretend that he was healthy and just visiting his aunt and uncle to get a fresh start in a new town. I wasn’t going to have the burden of lying to myself, and I sure wasn’t going to lie to my friends and family. Anyway, what would have been the point of that? Bobby had a disease and he needed everyone’s support, love, and understanding—not the devastating impact of silence or the hurtful and sad avoidance of cover-up. Lying, manipulation, spinning, evasion, and deception are already a part of the addictive process. I didn’t want it to be a part of the recovery process too.
Although I can now see what a powerful choice openness was and what a difference it made not only in his recovery but in my ability to support him, back then, it really wasn’t a conscious decision. It just happened. I enlisted the aid of my family and friends, opening up to them and seeking their advice. They, in turn, kept him accountable and watched his back. I trusted a professional to guide me when I wavered or questioned. From the very beginning, I leaned on others, trusting that sharing this monumental situation would be the right thing to do. I opened the door wide and invited every- one into our lives and it was wonderful. We were lessening the shame and we were giving him a support system. These friends and family members, as well as professionals, provided us with everything from an encouraging word to the promise of accountability.
And because we were open and vulnerable, the most amazing thing happened, an unexpected bonus. Others started to unburden and disclose, sharing their hidden stories. People I had known for years shared stories I had never suspected. In the store or on my cell phone I could hear the relief in their voices as many opened their memory hamper, and shared their addiction secrets with me, for maybe the very first time.
Why did I become a confidant? I believe it is because others saw us refuse to attach shame to our situation, and then witnessed the liberation and healthy outlook that came with being open and vulnerable. They saw someone to whom they could relate, someone in whom they could confide without fear of judgment. And it felt good to open up, to feel less alone and share their own stories with someone who had empathy and a willing ear.
This emboldened me. Every time someone stopped to ask how they could help us, I felt stronger. When friends called to tell me about their child’s struggles with OxyContin, or other legal opioids—or heroin—I felt less alone. I also became more and more frustrated with the knowledge that prescription opioids and their addictive qualities are destroying so many real people, not just people in another state or city or another part of town. I’m talking about people here in my own neighborhood—a gated affluent neighborhood, where we all wave to each other on the street.
Why didn’t I know this? Why hadn’t I seen this? Where had I been? Having Bobby in my home made me an automatic member of a private club—and only now could I share stories of another’s addicted family member or friend.
When someone finally decides to seek treatment, only then does he understand that addiction, like a tattoo, always leaves a permanent scar. This is the mark of shame—the disfiguring of the whole family indelibly inked by a misunderstood disease.
I saw the shame in some of their eyes, the deep sadness and resignation as they confessed their terrible secrets. I heard the fear and the weariness in their voices. They all just needed someone who might understand and who would listen without judgment.
As more and more people told me their brave and sad stories, I realized we are all in this together. As I say too often, it takes a village. We had helped create this small and strong village by telling our story and allowing others to tell theirs. Addiction is a disease and it cannot be hidden away like a colony of lepers on an isolated island, shameful and out of sight. We all must take heroin and opioid addiction out of the closet, bring it out in the open, and fight it together— head-on. This is the only way we are going to help our most precious possessions—our loved ones.
Although her Louisiana roots run deep, Renée Hodges and her husband have called North Carolina home for the past thirty years. She co-wrote and self-published the Best Kept Secrets series of guides in the 1980’s. Settling into motherhood and raising a family, however, has been her most satisfying work, and today she is a wife, mother of three, writer, investor, community volunteer, and avid tennis player. She is also a Shatterproof ambassador.
Photo credit: Phillip Bossier