I can’t even imagine the loss a family member feels when a loved one dies of something other than natural causes. But I do understand the pain a parent feels when they lose a child to drug or alcohol addiction. The first signs are subtle; usually the first thing that happens is you start to feel as if the person you know and love has suddenly turned into a different person. Then you notice the red eyes, glassy stare, the odor of foreign substances, unemployment, anger, lying about anything at all (even “Who took the – ?”), a complaint of a sore nose, paranoia, and I could go on and on. I have been dealing with this with my children for more than 20 years.
You try everything you can to get them to open up and admit what they are doing. But if they do tell you, the stock answers are always there: “So-and-so does it,” “It isn’t addicting,” or “What did I do now?”
You see that they can’t take care of themselves, let alone caring for their own children. They give them up to the state, or they drop them off for you to take care of, only to take them away again when they see you are making headway with them. I could go on, but this part hurts the most.
Do I have addictions? Yes, I smoke way too many cigarettes, I have addictions to food, just gotta have it. Do I like myself for these? NO!!
But, thank God, I do not need a joint, a beer, a hit from a pill snorted, an IV substance in my bloodstream to make me high. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to put chemicals in their bodies and maybe get addicted, overdose or die from a bad batch of drugs.
If I am aware of who these “kids” are getting their drugs or alcohol from, why don’t the police know? They sure get around a lot better then I do. But they don’t want to catch the little guy; they want the big dealers. Oh yes, then has anyone noticed the sentences these dealers are getting? Two weeks, 30 days, house arrest, and granted some of them do get stiffer fines and more time but not very many. There is one man in particular who started giving and selling pot to my children more than 20 years ago and he still does. Everyone knows it but who really dares “narc” on these people? I have grandchildren to worry about; what if someone takes it out on them? SCARED? You bet I am.
I was the neighborhood mother to all the kids on weekends and I enjoyed every minute of it. I let them come to my house to listen to their music, watch movies, get rides to the roller rink, anything just to keep these great kids off the streets. But guess what – when they weren’t there with me, they were off getting high, God only knows where. At the time I felt we were doing the right thing and I still do. It got noisy at times but the laughter and fun they all seemed to enjoy was wonderful to listen to.
Where did I go wrong? What happened to those happy kids? God, I miss them.
And where do I go now to get the help I need to take the hurt away? I can’t fix my adult children’s problems and I am watching them throw away their own lives and their children’s lives. I don’t get to see my children or grandchildren very often and it hurts like the dickens. Because my adult children have to lie and hide everything they do.
I AM HURT AND CONFUSED AND VERY ANGRY!!! It is eating me alive and I can do nothing about it.
– Grieving Mother in Aroostook County
Please join our weekly conversation about Maine’s substance abuse problem. We welcome stories, comments or questions from all perspectives. Letters may be mailed to Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04401. Send e-mail contributions to email@example.com. Column editor Meg Haskell may be reached at (207) 990-8291 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six skills for families and others affected by substance abuse
The use of alcohol and other drugs is often directly connected to crime, incarceration, domestic violence, child abuse, and work-related problems. While the primary focus of treatment and intervention is on the person who has a problem with substances, more attention is now being given to the serious impact substance abuse has on family members and significant others, who are also greatly affected by the problem.
Spouses, partners, children, parents, siblings and others who are connected to someone with a substance-abuse problem can be affected emotionally, physically, spiritually and economically. Many family members live in a state of constant fear and uncertainty about what to do. There are six skills that are useful to family members and significant others in learning new ways to cope with substance use problems in the family.
Many times when families and significant others seek help first, the person with the substance-use problem will follow, although there are no guarantees. Sometimes things can get worse before they get better and it is very important to always address safety concerns immediately.
Research has found that when family members are involved and supportive of individuals with substance-use problems seeking treatment, the likelihood of success is improved. Not only can family members work towards making things better for themselves, they can increase the chances of the person achieving recovery.
. Skill No. 1: Detach yourself from the problem. This can be the most difficult idea to understand at first and it is very important. Sometimes people understand this to mean that they should walk away from a loved one. However, detaching yourself from the problem means that you should know that the person who is misusing alcohol or other drugs has the problem, not you.
. Skill No. 2: Set limits, rules and boundaries. Do not enable the individual abusing substances. Calling in sick for them, bailing them out of jail, etc. can actually make things worse by delaying the substance user from having to address their problem.
. Skill No. 3: Be firm. As the substance abuser begins to see changes in other family members, he or she may become irritable, angry or hostile. By deciding on a position and sticking to it, family members help the addicted person begin to accept that things are going to be different from now on. This is good for everybody – the person with the problem and the family.
. Skill No. 4: Support sobriety. There are many ways to support sobriety and clearly let the person know you are there for them during the recovery process. Compliment him or her about the positive change and help them get to an Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, etc., and other support groups, and participate in family therapy. Always ask the person about their progress.
. Skill No. 5: Set small goals. Those working towards recovery must set small goals “one day at a time.” The same is true for families and affected others. Families can become overwhelmed and it is OK to step back and set one small goal just for today. For example, instead of setting a goal to attend Al-Anon meetings every day, set a goal to attend one meeting on a specific day this week. Likewise, instead of a goal to take better care of your health, set aside a specific amount of time today to go to a park and walk or sit quietly.
Skill No. 6: Sustain your physical, mental, and spiritual health. An individual’s health may be negatively affected when a loved one misuses substances. Eating properly, getting enough sleep, exercising, taking breaks and addressing spiritual needs are all examples of things that family members should do to take care of themselves. Taking care of your personal needs is critical. If there are safety concerns due to domestic violence or child abuse, you may have to leave the situation immediately or contact law enforcement for assistance to help remove children or yourself from an unsafe situation.
– Jamie Owens, Director of Marketing and Development for Aroostook Mental Health Services
For more information about treatment and recovery resources in Maine, contact the Maine Office of Substance Abuse at www.maine.gov/dhhs/osa.