“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”—Unknown
When I was asked to reflect on how my son's struggles with drug addiction and mental illness has impacted our family, I thought, "Why not?", especially if it can help someone else who is going through this same nightmare, right? Why not share our stories of success and struggles, and, most of all, our HOPE that we continue to hold on to? Our hope is always the same, that someday our son's emotional pain will lessen and he can start a new life, free of drugs. We have a saying in our house, "No one can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." This sentiment is very true, and can support anyone in any situation that has them feeling stuck and hopeless.
Unfortunately, the horrific cycle of drug addiction has reared its ugly head once again for our son and our world has once again been turned upside down. We are constantly asking ourselves, “Does it ever end? Is there more that we could have done?” Again, the feelings of denial, anger, and helplessness and depression resurface, knowing that we have again lost our son to this horrible addiction. Each family member feels these emotions at different times and the severity differs depending upon where they are in their healing process of having a family member who is a heroin addict. Addiction destroys not only those who live in active addiction, but their loved ones as well. Addiction never gives you enough time to catch your breath, so you can see; things can change in a heartbeat and you are always on high alert. However, another saying that we have in our home is: "Live life; never give up Hope."
I have always told extended family members who don't know what to say or do during our son’s relapses, to just try and imagine living in the addict's mind and body before they judge and say things like, "Why doesn't he just stop? Doesn't he know that it is bad for him?” These are pretty uninformed viewpoints when you look at them through our son’s eyes. Our son doesn't get up in the morning and say, “I can't wait to use today, because it so good for me mentally and physically!” Our son has shared how exhaustive being an addict is, similar to having a job 24/7. You get up every morning at the same time, call someone for your drugs, go and get them, use, and then start the cycle all over again.
Fortunately, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel for our family. We rally around again, reboot our emotions, and work towards recovery for our son and our family. What has helped us out the most these past 10 years has been the support that we have received from numerous agencies, including Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and, most importantly, from all of my co-workers here at the Family Care Network. Never has our family felt judged or blamed for our son's mental health issues or his addiction. There has only ever been on-going support and understanding around how our family deals with addiction, and our ability and commitment to always move forward.
Although our son's addiction has greatly impacted our family, it has made me who I am today and has helped me in my role as a Family Partner here at FCNI. Most of the families I work with have been referred to our agency due to a family member’s addiction or mental health issue. They most likely have had their children removed or a family member has spent some time incarcerated. Unfortunately, relatives and friends tend to abandon you during these trying times because they don't know how to support you, having not been educated on mental illness and/or drug addiction themselves. Working at FCNI, I am able to walk alongside the families I work with, supporting them by linking them to the resources that I myself have utilized, in addition to helping them navigate the system, (i.e., Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, and the Department of Social Services). I want my families to feel valued, supported and heard, just as I have. Most of all, I can be there emotionally for them, as one who has walked down or is currently walking down a similar road as them. I feel honored to be a part of their lives during these difficult times and being that support that they haven't had in a long time. Every day is different, but we get through them together, recharged by the hope that we generate for one another. It’s called the “Road to Recovery” for a reason—it’s long, it takes a lot of effort, it has its ups and downs and twists and turns, but, thankfully, it can also be traveled together.
For more information on overcoming addiction, please visit www.slocounty.ca.gov/health/DAS_Home.htm for local resources.