My story says it all. We were prisoners of the disease. Now we are advocates for families who do not know where to turn.
One Day At A Time......
I am the father of a now 28 year suffering from drug addiction. He has 8 years of recovery, but he will always be an addict. To me there is no shame in this statement. My wife and I raised our children together and did all the right things. The choices that he made were his. I didn’t want any of this to happen, but it did. We learned quickly that addiction takes a serious toll not only on the person with addiction but the entire family. Our whole family was affected by the disease and it was only when he was in recovery that we were able to begin our own healing process.
When we were in the middle of our son’s addiction, it wrapped its tentacles around all parts of our lives. All we wanted to do was try to control and stop his destructive behavior, and everything we tried never worked. Our stress level was high, we were angry and fearful, depressed and despondent, and our lives had become unmanageable. Life was ugly. Valuables were hidden, locks were put on internal doors, prescription medication was locked in lock-boxes that were subsequently broken into, and there were nights we did not want to go home for fear of what we might find, or even answer the phone, afraid of what news we might hear. We lived in constant fear and anxiety, not knowing what was next, when his next use would lead to a fatal overdose. We coped, we fought, and we tried to control the addiction, but nothing was working. Our family was held hostage, and we were fighting a war without rules, a war that we did not know we could not win.
We got relatively lucky. He hit his bottom fast and after 18 months of crazy times that included two serious overdoses and four arrests, the fear of serious jail time made him realize the insanity had to stop, and he agreed to long-term in-patient rehabilitation. After six months of rehab we made the hard decision to not allow him to move back home, and he moved into an Oxford House (sober living house) where he stayed for seven years until moving into his own apartment last fall. Six months into his recovery I was still an angry father, angry at what he did to his life and how he hurt our family (emotionally and financially), and still trying to control him and his life. One day he said to me “Dad, I am further along in my recovery than you are. You need Al-Anon”.
I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting frightened, angry, and feeling like I was still fighting the disease, even though my son was in early sobriety. I walked out of that first meeting with a sense of hope for the future, and knew that I was not alone with my out of control feelings. Al-Anon became my medicine, and all I had to do was sit in a chair at a meeting at least once a week. Al-Anon has shown me that I don’t have to try to help fix everyone’s problems and feel like my life is out of control. I know now that I have choices in how I respond to the events around me, and especially how my son lives his life.
As a result of my own recovery and the Al-Anon program I have been able to help others in crisis. Speaking at rehabs such as High Focus, and sobriety conventions and events, I have met with groups of parents to share my experience, and to let them know they are not alone. Working with others in need, formally and informally, opened my eyes to the number of people affected by this disease each day, and how much help they need. The family is held hostage, and they need to see others that have experienced what they are going through, and they don’t have to face these issues alone. It is only when co-dependents see they are not alone, that their issues are not unique, that they will begin to see there is hope. The substance users in our lives are living, breathing train wrecks, and our lives were insane, but it does not have to be that way.
I believe I have a social obligation to help as many people as I can, and educate and de-stigmatize people’s perceptions about the disease. We need to do a better job educating people about how widespread addiction is and how close it is to their own lives. We need to make sure it is socially acceptable to talk about this in public. My son’s disease and continued recovery, and my own continuing recovery as a co-dependent, has given me the impetus to help others, to share my experiences and to let people know they are not alone and there is hope. I thought long and hard about this, and realized the best way to help others would be to formally become part of the solution and be a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.
After two years, I completed the 270 hours of required CADC classes, and in January I started earning my 3000 internship hours at Wayne Counseling and Family Services. Working Thursday evenings and Saturday’s, I quickly became immersed into learning how to become a counselor. I helped run two groups, met individual clients, created and updated treatment plans, performed intakes and evaluations, and wrote case notes for the groups and individual clients. I was enjoying the work and felt I was helping clients each day, and my supervisors and co-workers valued my input, insight and life experiences.
However, after eight months I soon realized that earning the 3000 internship hours was not only going to take me five to six years, but was taking time away from the other recovery work I had been doing for the last couple of years. I therefore made the decision to end my CADC internship, so that I can shift direction and focus my efforts on other ways to help families in crisis. I am now looking for other ways of helping, and my research has found many local, county and state efforts that interest me such as the NCADD NJ Advocacy Leader Program, Partnership For A Drug Free NJ, Parent To Parent, ReachNJ, and the Livingston Municipal Alliance Committee, just to name a few. The issue I now have is where do I go, to whom to I give my free time and efforts where I can do the most good?
I am realizing that I don’t need the “letters” next to my name to make a difference, and my goal remains the same. I want to help as many people as I can, help end the stigma that comes with this disease, and share my experience, strength and hope so that others will know they are not alone.
Those of us that have lived through this disease must help end the shame, stigma, and denial that surround addiction and recognize it as a health crisis. Speaking out about addiction and recovery is the only way I know to break the stigma that surrounds this devastating disease. People not affected by addiction make their own assumptions about the disease. The more we speak out, the better perception people will have about those dealing with addiction and recovery efforts. Change is possible, but change can only occur when everyone is aware how bad the problem is and what is needed to get it under control. People don’t realize that addiction is all around us, in our offices, schools, supermarkets, and our homes.
I am no longer willing to hide behind the disease, and want to be able to help families in need. I want to help families find the resources to help the substance users in their lives. They also need help finding the tools, strategies and groups in which they themselves can get help. Hiding behind the disease, as most families do, only allows the cycle of enabling and co-dependency to continue unabated. As a parent, your initial instinct is to step forward and help the child in your life, bail them out, call the lawyer, pay their fines, but all that does is send the message that they will continue to be supported regardless of their bad behaviors. The only way to stop the cycle is for family members to find the resources, the tools, and strategies to help them deal with the substance user in their lives. I want to be able to help families achieve these goals.