Commentary Printed in Newtown Bee Donna DeLuca
September was “Recovery Month.” Approximately 150 families have sought solace in the weekly Hope & Support Group sponsored by the Newtown Parent Connection Inc. Our kids are afflicted with the insidious disease of addiction; some fighting for their lives. We, their parents, fight for their lives as well — and for ours. Each of us attempts to remain stalwart as we face the tumultuous twists and turns of an illness that defies even the medical professionals.
It is a fact that there is no cure for addiction. It is also a fact that our loved ones can live happy, healthy, and productive lives; achieved by working a 12-step program and maintaining total abstinence over time. This is called “recovery.” We all seek recovery. Often, the recovery process is painfully slow – like a toddler taking his or her first steps. We stumble and fall repeatedly, brush ourselves off, and attempt the walk again. For some, the catalyst for change may be a single event, sometimes catastrophic, as consequences of addiction include jails, institutions, and death. Brian died of a prescription drug overdose at age 28, but his mother has continued, over the course of the last seven years, to help others get the kind of assistance that was unavailable for her and her family. Christian continues to struggle, but has remained clean and sober for the past 18 months. Experience has proven that our children change, and so must we.
Facing the reality of addiction, we have learned to live differently. We live according to principles that are, at times, counterintuitive. We love and care for our kids. Most of us don’t realize that we are loving our kids to death. So we learn “tough love,” which sometimes involves inviting our children to leave our homes and families and experience life on its own terms. Holding on to each other for support, we practice new ways of parenting, to try the thwart the devastation of addiction. We rejoice in incremental successes as we see the fruits of our efforts unfold. We celebrate our kids’ victories as evidenced in stories like Ryan’s.
Ryan grew up locally and began using drugs and alcohol at the age of 14. Ryan’s parents, as most who were raised in the 60s and 70s, thought they knew as much as they needed to about adolescent behaviors, especially those involving experimentation with tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. Unbeknownst to them, there was a profound difference between those who use substances and can stop, and those who use substances to feel “good” or “normal.” The latter is a red flag — one of the many symptoms of addiction. Ryan’s parents sought treatment for him immediately when the consequences of his addiction became severe: not living, but merely surviving.
He never felt “comfortable in his own skin.” His parents looked for help from mental health professionals who diagnosed him with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and some tags as serious as bipolar and borderline personality disorder. These labels came with accompanying prescriptions for psychotropic medications and the hope that one of these would be the cure. Ryan, however, had already found escape from the reality of his pain in tranquilizers, pain killers, and eventually heroin. After many failed attempts at recovery, his parents continued to get educated. They joined the Hope & Support Group, which led them to private therapy for themselves and their other children. They learned how to lovingly detach from their sick child, while still supporting each good choice he made for himself. They learned new ways to deal with the disease. They started the recovery process for themselves and finally surrendered to a disease they did not cause and could not cure. They turned to a higher power, practiced healthy behaviors themselves, and shared their message of hope and support with others.
Every Thursday for the past 350 weeks, many brave parents have come to the Newtown Parent Connection seeking answers. They find what we call a “sacred” place; a haven where everyone’s story is heard. It is a group nobody really wants to join, as an unfortunate societal effect of addiction is guilt and shame. What results, however, is nothing short of miraculous. Miracles happen. Ryan just celebrated his third year of sobriety. His parents are celebrating right along with him — both for Ryan’s achievements and for their own.
September was Recovery Month. The Newtown Parent Connection wishes to acknowledge with awe each and every individual who has thus far chosen to do the hard work involved in his or her journey of recovery. We share a prayer for those who continue to struggle. We celebrate with those families whose courageous battles have yielded any increment of success, and we grieve with those whose children have succumbed to the disease. Our promise is to continue to reach out until all afflicted have found the strength and courage needed to endure.
(Donna DeLuca is a co-founder, along with Dorrie Carolan, of The Parent Connection in Newtown.)
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