This interview is the latest in our Family Interview series. We will be sharing one interview each month of the family members of those who struggled to get sober, those who are sober today and those who died as a result of their addiction. Family members are often in pain after years of doing everything in their power to help their loved one. Living with the effects of someone else’s addiction is devastating and for most people it is impossible to bear without outside help. Our hope is that as a family member, you can find experience, strength and hope in these stories.
What crisis brought you to recovery? My son was arrested at the age of 20 for drug charges and although I knew he had dabbled in smoking pot and some drinking I had no idea it had escalated to this point. This was the first awareness that there was a bigger problem than we were aware of. But even then, we did not have any idea of how bad the drug use would become. His addiction continued for the next 12 years, with numerous arrests, going to several rehabs and then relapsing over and over again. Finally, he was in the never-ending cycle of opiate/heroin addiction and I as his mom realize my helping, enabling, and fixing was not helping him in fact it was making it worse. I began to work on myself and as I did my husband, his father. We had to let Johnny go and stop rescuing him. At that point he was homeless, living in his car. I knew there was a good possibility he would die but I knew it was out of my control to do anything.
Had you ever heard of Al-anon or Nar-anon before this crisis? Yes, I was aware of Al-anon and did attend a couple meetings, they were not a good fit for me, but Turning Point of Tampa had a family program and a support group that was really the group that changed my thinking and helped me to get out of the cycle of enabling.
What have you learned about the importance of family members recovery? I personally believe it is one of the most important factors of our loved one getting into their recovery. As long as they know they have someone to bail them out they will usually stay in their addiction. We saw that firsthand with our son, when we got better and worked on ourselves, it was the motivating factor for him to get help.
Does the recovery program that you are a member of have online meetings during COVID19? Yes, my husband and I facilitate a group call P.A.L. Since Johnny’s recovery we have felt very strongly that we needed to give back and have a group that had some of the elements that we would have needed during his active addiction. P.A.L. stands for Parents of Addicted loved ones, so it is specifically for parents, we are meeting online right now but soon will be going back to in person meetings. If you would like more information their website is palgroup.org
Did you have any reluctance in accepting your need for your personal recovery? Meaning, did you ever have thoughts of “I don’t have a problem so why do I am I the one who needs help? Yes, absolutely, I felt as I know many people do that our situation was different, we didn’t need to go to a group, we could work it out ourselves. We felt those groups were only for other people. I feel that there is a lot of shame attached to addiction and I would love to see that change. I feel there is still a stigma attached to the family to the point they want to keep it a secret until they cannot. It was really in desperation that we took the step for our own recovery.
What would you tell family members who are considering their own recovery? Do not hesitate, it will be the best thing you will ever do for yourself, your family, and the person you love with the addiction.
Have you experienced any stigma surrounding addiction and recovery? Yes, as stated earlier, some of it is our own perception of what people would think if they knew, but I also have heard statements where people state things like, “there must have been something that happened at home for a child to become an addict” or “everyone with an addiction comes from a place of trauma and abuse in their home.” Although this can be the case it is not always the case as studies have shown there is a genetic component to addiction that has nothing to do with your environment or upbringing.
Is there anything else that you would like to add? Yes, I would just like to finish the story. Five years ago, our son was homeless, using heroin and I was anticipating the worst was going to happen, I am a person of faith and released him the best that I could to God. I worked on my own recovery and quit enabling, Johnny called a friend that worked at a treatment center and got into a rehab but this time it was different. He was doing this on his own, he was ready and now he just celebrated 5 years of sobriety. He is the administrator of a sober living facility (Real Recovery) and is a man of honesty, integrity, and compassion. He now spends his life giving back to others what has been given to him, a life that is even better than it could have been before the addiction took over. So, my message to anyone reading this is never give up hope for your loved one. It was at the worst point in our journey that things turned around. Keep working on yourself, find a group, live your life, and find joy and peace even if things are not changing. But always have HOPE!