You never imagine your own child will become a homeless, hopeless, disoriented drug addict-the type of person you may have helped over the years as a criminal lawyer or encountered when looking for a trendy Gastown restaurant.
Several years ago, it began to dawn on me that my beautiful son was not simply going through the average teenage anxiety and detachment. He had changed his friends, no longer played sports and began to skip school, smoke and shoplift. For some children this behaviour may signal a rebellious and experimental period, but for our son it was due to mental illness and serious drug addiction. My husband and I tried many approaches that seemed to work with other children-an expensive private school, various doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists and medication.
I have always found guidance and support from my friends and family Generally someone has a personal experience, or knows someone who has found a solution to any number of life’s challenges. Not this one. No one could imagine what was really going on in our household. My son was constantly stealing to buy drugs; he was violent and unpredictable. The drugs and emotional challenges had taken over his life, and ours. Not only could others not help, they were critical and judgmental. They suggested we were being too lenient, too forgiving, that we put our careers before our children. Others suggested we just stop caring, as he did not deserve our love.
I arrived at a point where the level of emotional turmoil consumed me. I turned to the Lawyer’s Assistance Program for help, and found it. The LAP provides help to parents who experience the anxiety and stress resulting from living with a drug-addicted family member.
Derek LaCroix listened to my story and knew that I was not alone. He told me that other parents experienced this suffering and informed me about the organization known as From Grief to Action. We also talked about drug rehabilitation centres available to youths. I discovered the parent support group Parents Together and shared my story with other parents going through similar challenges with their children. I learned to step away from the blame and grief, which monopolized my thinking. We exchanged stories about rehabilitation strategies, about how to minimize the confrontations with your children and how to maintain your own strength and sanity.
After several years with Parents Together, I started to attend another parent support group, Parents Forever. My son’s addiction and mental illness led to school expulsions, criminal charges and finally jail terms. I found it tremendously supportive to speak with others who had lived through the experience and found a way to cope. I learned that addiction is an illness that does not discriminate. Many stable and successful professional couples have been touched by mental illness and drug addiction. These families have healthy children, and quite inexplicably a child with the illness of addiction.
If you think your child has a drug problem, you will find help at the LAP and at From Grief to Action.
The purpose of From Grief to Action is to support families and friends who have a loved one impacted by addiction, to educate the public that addiction is a health issue and to advocate for more resources for those afflicted with addiction and for their families. Their website identifies the stages that families go through when addiction hits home, from the first hint of a problem to navigating the way through the chaos and ultimately learning ways of coping that help families regain their own lives.
My son continues to struggle. From listening to other parents, I know I am lucky. My son is still alive. He has not experienced a fatal overdose, gang-related violence or the other dangers of relying on drug dealers for the required fix, as so many others have.
This article is an early step for me to repay those who have helped me, and it starts with the Lawyers Assistance Program.