Sunday, 27 April 2014

Graduation season: Our sad reality

To my fellow parents of children battling addiction:

This is the time of year when young people walk across the stage at graduation ceremonies, and celebrate with their families who beam with pride. It is also one of the most difficult times for us.

Every photo of a smiling graduate with their proud parents is a constant reminder of what we are missing out on, and/or what we have lost. Life can seem very unfair.

It is through tears that we look at, or pass by, the happy photos on our Facebook newsfeeds.

With hurting hearts, we wonder why our journeys through life have to include something as devastating as addiction. Why do our children have to suffer this cruel, misunderstood disease? Why? Why? Why?

Many of us have other children who do follow the traditional paths in life and graduate from college, but we can’t wear it as a badge of honour like other parents can. We are robbed of this feeling of pride in a job well done because we learned the hard way that good parenting is not a guarantee of anything. If it was, all of our children would be doing well, but they are not!

On the other hand, we are probably ten times as happy for, and proud of, our children who graduate because we know how easily things could have gone off the rails. We know the reality of today’s world. We live it each and every day.

Some of us have learned to function through the pain of a child’s addiction, while others are still struggling to find their footing in the very rough terrain. This is not an easy journey. 

The disease of addiction cuts deep into our hearts. Graduations and other special occasions are like salt to open wounds.

I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many of us who feel sadness at this time of the year. If you are one of them, please do something nice for yourself such as taking a walk or going out to dinner.

If you want to give yourself a lasting gift that will make you feel better now and into the future, reach out to those of us who understand how you are feeling. There is nothing like talking to someone who truly understands your situation and the pain involved with it. Addiction in the family is not easy. You don’t have to go through it alone. Let us help you.


Sunday, 20 April 2014


As someone who has experienced addiction first-hand in my family, and who tries to offer support to others who are devastated by it, I am always grateful to hear stories of recovery. These stories provide hope to those still in the grips of addiction because they show that recovery is possible.

Treatment and recovery look different for each person. What works for one will not work for someone else. It matters not how they found recovery. What matters is that they have their lives back and their loved ones have them back.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same way that I do. Some are very opinionated, especially when it comes to such things as addiction medications. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, for sure, but it gets dangerous and very sad when their opinions lead to stigma and judgment of another person’s recovery. I find this heartbreaking.

I am a member of many online addictions support groups. Recently, someone posted a sign in one of the groups that clearly had an anti-addiction medications (i.e. Methadone and Suboxone) message. The member was looking to generate lots of support for his negative views on these medications. Oh, and the people did not disappoint. They laughed about these medications as if they were a joke. 

During the negative exchange, a young woman spoke up to say that she was on Suboxone and it saved her life. She was working and living again and was very grateful for that. That wasn’t good enough for these people, though. A couple of them even argued with her and questioned whether or not she was even in recovery.  I was heartbroken for her so I came to her defence.

When speaking up for her, one of the things that I mentioned was how a lot of people that I know had tried 12-step programs but relapsed. These individuals are still using, in jail or dead. I asked if we were going to start saying that the 12-steps don’t work. The members were silent.

My point was that what works for some, will not work for all. There is not a program out there that has a 100% success rate. That is why we need as many options as possible. We have to stop judging things that are really none of our business. Another person’s method of recovery is NONE of our business.

I couldn’t help but think of how that young woman must have felt after that exchange. Here she had been feeling so good about life. I can imagine that the attacks had made her feel bad. Bad enough to relapse? I don’t know! What were they trying to accomplish by attacking her recovery option?

If you are someone who has negative views about addiction medications and openly express them, what are you trying to accomplish? When you express these negative views, you stigmatize a whole group of people who have found recovery with Methadone or Suboxone. Why? Shouldn’t we just celebrate that these people have their lives back? Isn’t that what matters? Shouldn’t we spend our time trying to help those still suffering?

What compelled me to write this particular post today is the heartbreaking conversation that I had with another mother recently. Her son was a hard-core user of drugs for many years before getting on the Methadone program. He tried in the past to find recovery without addiction medications, but couldn’t do it.

On the Methadone program, he started living again. He went to meetings regularly. He reconnected with family and was working. He was feeling good about life. Everyone was happy to have him back. All was well. His family began to heal.

Over time, he began to feel the pressure to come off of Methadone. It seems that people can tolerate you being on it for a certain amount of time but then the silent (and sometimes not so silent) pressure starts. He felt stigmatized. He was reluctant to mess with things because life was going so good, but he felt coming off of Methadone was something that he needed to try.

Some people refer to Methadone as “liquid handcuffs” so this young man wanted to get rid of them. He began the process of weaning off of the medications. His life quickly went off the rails again because he wasn’t ready. He may never have been ready but so what! Now, his liquid handcuffs have been replaced by real ones. He is currently sitting in a jail cell looking at 7 years.

This is where stigma leads. When we judge others and make them feel inadequate in their recovery, it forces them to do something that they may not be ready for. This has to stop! When (or if) a person stops taking addiction medications is between them and their doctors – not the rest of us. It is none of our business.

I ask each of you to please start celebrating every person’s recovery. Whatever works is what we need to support. After all, the biggest handcuff of all is stigma. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


PS: I dedicate this post to all people in recovery, regardless of what your recovery looks like. It is not easy to recover. In fact, many people die because they can’t get there. Congratulations on finding what works for you. That is wonderful!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

My pivotal moment: Treatment DENIED!

Since I started speaking out about our family’s struggle with addiction, I’ve met with a lot of people. Naturally, most of them ask what made me decide to speak publicly about addiction, especially at a time when there was still so much silence around it.

I tell them about the pivotal moment in June 2012 that set me on a course of advocating for Islanders battling addiction and their families. This is how it began.....

First of all, having a child battling addiction is one of the most painful things that you can ever go through. It is an ugly disease with ugly symptoms that cause people to go to jail. You live in shame, fear, and silence. You don’t feel you can talk about it to anyone because of the stigma attached to addiction. You feel alone. You are also scared to death that you will bury your child. 

Please take a moment to imagine yourself in my place. You have a child who is dying a slow death and you can’t share your pain with anyone. This was my existence for many years.

In the fall of 2011, our son’s disease escalated to IV use, which is very serious. When we found out, we were crushed. I felt something shift inside of me that day. I felt like a part of me had died. I began to lose hope.

The worry and stress took its toll on me. I began to experience my own health problems in January of 2012. I was put off work by my doctor. The lady who never took a sick day was forced to take four weeks off to figure out how to live with the fact that my child could die any day, and there wasn’t a darn thing that I could do about it. I could no longer protect him. The monsters of his childhood were no longer in his closet or under the bed. He had one living inside of him and it was heartless. It goes by the name Addiction.

My son and I are very close so it really bothered him to see me sick like that. It wasn’t long before he came to us and said that he was tired of living with addiction. He wanted to go for serious help and was willing to go off-Island to get it. This was a HUGE deal because he was a homebody who loved his family and didn’t like to travel too far. To say that we were thrilled and relieved would be an understatement.

Our family doctor wrote a letter of referral for him to go to Homewood treatment centre and his psychiatrist wrote one as well. They both felt that was a great option for him. Their referral letters were sent to Addictions Services with his application for off-Island treatment.

While we waited for his application to be approved, my son tried to get his things in order so that when he came back from Homewood, he could enjoy his new life without any baggage from his past life. Part of this included confessing to a drug-related crime. He was sentenced and served his time while he waited to go to Homewood. By having his debts paid to society, he could have the fresh start that he desperately wanted when he got back from treatment.

We waited.

In June, his application was DENIED! He would not be going to Homewood.

We were shocked! How could they go against the recommendation of two doctors? How could they say no to someone who was desperate and ready for help?

In addition, they are well aware of how much pain a family goes through while they wait for their loved one to ask for help. Addiction is a family disease because everyone who loves that person hurts in some way. When you treat the person battling addiction, you treat the whole family. This was an opportunity to heal a family. Yet, they denied his application.

I was so upset. We all were. I requested a meeting with the Chair of the committee. My son and I met with him and another person from Addictions Services. They proceeded to tell us the treatment path that everyone had to follow. They even drew it on the white board.  It didn’t matter that our son’s addiction was advanced, dangerous and deadly. It didn’t matter what he thought would give him the best chance of success (residential treatment). It didn’t matter what two other doctors thought. Our son had to follow their path, which started with the least effective treatments first.

I was armed with studies that showed how ineffective those options were for a young person who was an IV user addicted to opiates like my son was. The success rate was less than 3%. It didn’t matter. My son was going to follow their path and that was it. They were not changing their minds.

This was when I realized that our Addictions Services was “system-centred” and not “client-centred”.  The client had to meet the needs of the system and not the other way around. That is wrong! That is very wrong. Addiction is a difficult disease to overcome. Many die because they cannot do it. The last thing families need is more obstacles. The very system that was supposed to help him was going to be the obstacle to his getting well.

When it was clear that we weren’t going to get anywhere with them, my son and I stood up to leave the meeting. I said, “This is not right. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it but I can’t accept this answer. I will be doing something, though. This is so wrong.”

We left.

Crushed, my son was nearly in tears. He was so shocked, he could hardly find the words to express how he was feeling. He said, “I’m sorry, mom, that I didn’t say much in the meeting. I just didn’t know what to say. I was so upset.”

For the first time in my life, I asked politicians for help. None came.

My son, feeling trapped in a life he didn’t want, went on a downward spiral that ended with him back in jail. So, instead of the Province funding his stay at a residential treatment centre on the way to the new life he so desperately wanted, they were paying for him to be in jail.

I could not give up. At that point, I knew that the only chance that my son and others had to break free from the prison of addiction was if the silence was broken. I had to go public to raise awareness. Besides, I knew that no amount of stigma was ever going to hurt as much as watching my son slowly dying with no help in sight.

I had shared our family’s story with a university class earlier in the year (when we were waiting for our son’s Homewood application to be approved), but with this new revelation about the broken system, I needed to go even more public. I talked to Jim Day at the Guardian.

I added my voice to the conversation that was started by a few other parents (Cathy DesRoches and Theresa Kenny, to name a couple). I wanted to educate Islanders because unless you are battling an addiction, or are the parent or spouse of someone who is, you would have no idea how broken the system actually is. I certainly didn’t until addiction entered our home.

I haven’t stopped talking.

I will not stop talking until addiction is treated like any other disease.

There’s a saying that talk is cheap. I don’t believe that. When we talk, we educate. When we educate, we build compassion. When we build compassion, treatment improves. When treatment improves, lives improve. When lives improve, families and communities begin to heal.

Please join the conversation. Every voice matters.