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My Turn, by Susan McKeown
I am a parent of a graduate of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program. I don’t think there is a bumper sticker for that. Every Tuesday my husband and I meet with other parents dealing with the issues around drug addiction in the family. We were the first parents when the group began. After three or four weeks another couple came, followed by a single mother. And so it grew, single parents, married couples, divorced couples working to save their children even when their own marriages had failed. There are half couples too, the other parent either working, doing supervision at home or in denial, a common thing with parents of a drug using child. For who among us, in even the most exasperating moments of parenthood ever pictured our loving, cherubic faced child fighting the devil of addiction. Not I, not my husband and none of the other parents who show up each week. They aren’t there for the pizza.
Although our son has been clean for over three years we have continued to attend. Drug addiction is never cured. It is faced every day, one day at a time. We need to remember that for our son. We have also realized that others are not yet able to see that recovery is possible. Almost every week we have a new parent hemorrhaging from the devastation of this disease. We feel such a responsibility to be there for them, to help in any way to give hope and courage to continue their fight to help their child get clean. To keep the faith that recovery is indeed possible and even likely given strong, loving, consistent support amidst the inevitable, tough, painful decisions that will have to be made.
Having the privilege of witnessing active recovery, we are able to see more objectively what every family endures as they face addiction head on; anguished parents trying to help drug-using children, ignoring themselves as they try to hold onto their marriage, family and job; siblings, who have been ignored by loving parents while they focus all their efforts to save this sick child. Things getting so out of control under their own roof, they can hardly recognize their family. "How did we get to this place?" the distraught parent asks. "No one else could possibly be experiencing this hell," they incorrectly assume. The shame is overwhelming. How can you talk to extended family and friends about this? They would either never believe it or offer an undeserved critique on your parenting skills.
Spending one evening in a group with parents who are traveling your road can offer solace and strength like few other things. We would be the first to say that faith in God gave us the courage to take action in ways we could never have imagined but the parent group offers humanity and humor in a situation where there is none. For parents dealing with an addicted child it is about the loneliest road they will ever travel. People will argue that drug addiction is a weakness in moral character, a choice that one makes or a result of poor parenting. Research tells us otherwise. Those of us who have been through it know differently. Firm, consistent, loving parenting will always, always be important. But sadly for those individuals with the biochemistry for addiction it is just not enough. Nevertheless, the stigma remains very real.
There is no parity in health insurance for treating addiction or the often accompanying mental illness. If one can pick his disease, he would be well advised to choose one from the neck down. For conditions like asthma and diabetes, a good health insurance plan will provide unlimited coverage until the condition is stable. Not so with addiction. Residential programs are few and carry an exorbitant price tag that is prohibitive to most families. Community based programs which have been shown to have as good an outcome as residential, are far too few. For the parent with a child suffering from drug addiction there are no fundraisers. No neighbors or civic clubs organize a bake sale or golf tournament to ease the anguish or assist with the often not -covered expenses. It is a painful path a parent walks alone. That needs to change.
Communities are really the places where children should receive treatment. For it is here where they live, go to school, work and will eventually raise their own families. It is in this real world in which they need to develop the skills and tools to live a clean and sober life. As citizens, we would be very wise indeed to take this issue head on. Call addiction what it is, a disease: A disease that deserves the same treatment that we afford other incapacitating illnesses. Work to remove the stigma from addiction. Assist families to address the impact this disease has on the family structure. Create and support community treatment programs for teens and adults.
This is not a case of "them" verses "us". Few families escape without some member in the extended family experiencing drug or alcohol addiction. The return of productive individuals to their families and the workplace is a win/win for society. Let us not waste any more time and energy with denial. Addiction is real and it is depleting our resources, our children. They are not just our future. They are our present.
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