Letter from the CEO/Executive Director -
My issue is not knowing what I need to do, it is the doing part that is hard. My head tells me it’s the right thing to do, but my heart is just not into it.
My wife Michelle was at a local supermarket the other day just before Christmas and as she was leaving, she was approached by a 20-something young girl and boy who were clearly strung out on drugs. They asked her for money – during the holidays they knew that people are more likely to help them. She looked at them both and said, “I am not going to give you money but if you are willing, I will call the local rescue mission and they will come, pick you up and help you.” Normally, you would expect they would just call you names or walk off, but they started talking about it and contemplating the idea. As this was happening, a woman that was walking by to her car (someone who they had not even approached) quickly walked up with a $20 bill in her hand and said, “Here, take this and promise me you won’t use it for drugs.” She then walked off, not even listening as the two were, of course, promising exactly the opposite of what they were about to do. The young pair looked at my wife, turned and walked off.
Even if you do not read the Bible, you probably have heard of the Good Samaritan story and when you read this – who is the Good Samaritan? My wife Michelle or the woman that handed two homeless-looking drug addicts $20? What would you do if you saw this scenario unfolding, which I am sure most if not all of you have, if you are out shopping these days?
PAL is what helped us reframe our thinking, that helped us see that in this case the story of the Good Samaritan is not a good story if it involves enabling someone addicted to drugs. In the book Smoke and Mirrors by Dorothy England we read on page 70 that, “In this paradox filled disorder, preventing or lessening pain is the most dangerous, destructive thing one can do.” That is frankly the opposite of what we naturally want to do, especially during the holidays when we want to be generous and kind and give gifts because it “feels right.”
Well, Christmas is now behind us and no matter what you did or would do if you were in this circumstance, we are now facing a new year and the opportunity to start fresh, to set boundaries, to focus on taking care of yourself, and to get the help you might need.
Sadly, the reports keep coming in, overdoses are worse than they ever have been, we are losing precious lives so fast we can’t keep up as families are suffering tremendously. The pandemic has exposed something about this issue that may take years to get back under control.
PAL is looking at the soaring problem with addiction, and we enter this new year with a newfound resolution to stay the course, find a way to reach more people with hope and keep fighting for the lives of our loved ones as well as ourselves.
I hope this newsletter brings you some practical ideas on this, as well as inspires you to not only make some changes but to stick to them. That is why going to PAL meetings works, repetition and support, repetition and support, repetition and support!
One quick thanks to Ron Paterik, our resident counselor who has been contributing his amazing insights through the blog we publish every month in this newsletter. He is retiring from blogging and we certainly wish him the best as we welcome our new blogger, another great counselor, Josh Azevedo whose has graciously agreed to be a regular contributor.
Blessings in this New Year,
PAL CEO/Executive Director
Power of PAL
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PAL's first-ever national presentation
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2020 was a year of great challenges for Parents of Addicted Loved Ones as it was for many organizations, but it was also a year of great opportunities and even successes.
Despite the shutdowns and social isolation of the pandemic, PAL was able to:
Grow the number of states with PAL meetings from 36 to 40!
Double the number of national virtual/phone-in meetings from two to four.
Swiftly create training for more than 300 facilitators and co-facilitators to use technology and effectively lead virtual meetings when needed.
Create an online fundraising event that expanded awareness across the country of the organization and its mission.
Maintain the existing number of PAL groups.
There was concern at the beginning of the shutdown last spring that we would lose many of the established PAL groups with the shut-downs. The pandemic definitely slowed the momentum of the organization’s growth, and we have about three dozen groups that are temporarily referring parents to the national virtual meetings. Sadly, there were indeed some groups which closed, but the great news is that number has been balanced with the opening of new groups, resulting in the net gain of one new group, and two new national virtual meetings from the first of the year!
It remains to be seen what 2021 holds, but PAL is poised to resume its rapid growth. As overdoses and addiction-related issues have skyrocketed during the pandemic, the need for the organization’s services have also soared. Tragic as that is, we are confident in saying that PAL is ready to reach out to those hurting families in new ways in the coming year. We are grateful to our hard-working volunteer facilitators and financial supporters – we’re looking forward to continuing to change lives for the better in 2021.
Give it Away to Keep It
PAL Blogger Josh Azevedo, LISAC
How can parents continue to grow and develop in their recovery over time?
Parents often come to their first meeting feeling hopeless and the first thing they usually learn is that they are not alone. Knowing this is a tremendous relief. Finding others who are willing to listen and can identify with their story is a great start. Next, parents often realize that although they might have come seeking to learn how to change their child, or addicted loved one, they are finding out it is actually themselves who they will need to work on and change.
This opens up a tremendous learning period, a true paradigm shift, and a new way of looking at themselves, their loved one and addiction as a whole. Parents then change long-term behaviors, learn to let go of control, work through anger and hurt, become free of guilt and taking responsibility for others actions, learn to work with their spouse better, learn to communicate with their child, get educated about addiction and more. So, while they originally came for their child, they stay involved for themselves and their own growth. As their tools develop, so does their sense of comradery and friendship with the other attendees of their meetings. Parents often find themselves attending even when everything is going well, just to see a friend. A recovery meeting is often one of the brightest spots in their week regardless of how their child doing.
Unlike most people, my whole life has been an open book. Regardless if it was good or bad, my motto has always been that it is what it is. I was blessed with three sons who grew up like most do and like all moms I just knew they would become amazing men with an amazing life and that I would be so proud of them. The crazy idea we get when they are little is so far from the reality of what can, and many times does happen. There have been times that my sons made me so proud and other times it was impossible for me to even pick out a birthday card for them because none of the cards fit the way I really felt. As they grew, little did I know that two of the three would become drug addicts, one would be shot and suffer terribly, and the other would follow his brother’s footsteps down the deep dark hole of addiction.
I was embarrassed about them and their addictions. I dealt 12 years nonstop with the effects of their addiction on all our lives. I went from a trusting mom to worried to leave my purse or valuables around them. I found myself constantly getting them out of financial problems, both legitimate and non-legitimate, eventually being afraid of a drive-by shooting. At times I felt like such a failure as a parent but then my oldest son was the epitome of a wonderful son and somehow, I would try to hang on to the idea that my two wayward sons did not get it from me or my family. The truth is some of their addiction problems were likely made worse because I enabled them so much and I knew that alcohol addiction ran in my family.
My one son, Marcus, was involved in a motorcycle accident and prescribed oxycontin which he just could not let go of. He was immediately addicted and started going after it any way he could and started to buy it on the street. One day he and a friend set up a “buy” to get more oxycontin, and the “seller” decided to rob them at gunpoint rather than give them the drugs. The friend gave up his wallet, but Marcus the tough football player, refused, even though he only had $33 in his wallet. He was shot three times and one of the bullets severed his spinal cord leaving him paralyzed. His life was never the same, as he sunk into depression. For ten years, even in a wheelchair, he kept chasing drugs, living in and out of nursing homes and on the street. Eventually other health issues became worse and his lack of taking care of them eventually led to him waiting for insurance to approve a treatment, but when it was not coming through, he took a large quantity of oxycontin and overdosed and died.
Finally setting a boundary and how I did it – a reminder for the New Year
The question that generally pops up when I discuss personal goals and boundaries with people is NOT how hard it is to come up with them, but how in the world do we stick with them? This was quite a challenge for me personally in the early years of dealing with two adult sons addicted to substances.
Little did I know that the journey with my sons would ultimately affect every area of my life…for the better! Of course, at the beginning I felt that none of us would likely survive, let alone be healthier due to what we had been through. Several points came up for me that might resonate with you.
The first was that I discovered I had tied my identity and value as a person to how my sons would “turn out.” I also bought into the concept that I could not be happy or joyful unless they were happy and joyful, (and sober). I discovered that I also had a fair amount of perfectionism going on just beneath the surface of my consciousness.
All of this led to living in fear. Fear that my sons wouldn’t survive. Fear that I would be judged as a “bad” parent. Fear that my sons would feel unloved if I held to my boundaries, and even worse…fear that my sons would not love me if I set and held a boundary.
In order to address all of these unhealthy thought processes, it was important to focus on educating myself about addiction which started at PAL. In the course of that education, I learned that I needed to be a positive role model to my sons by exhibiting what a healthy adult lifestyle looked like. Much to my surprise, a healthy adult lifestyle contradicted the way I had been parenting my sons and relating to people in general. I had placed my sons on a pedestal and devoted myself to their service. I had grown completely out of balance by always, and I really mean always, saying yes! Even when “yes” meant compromising my personal values.
As time went on, I was able to start implementing the suggestions made by PAL and my counselor. One of the first was that I needed to revisit what my own hopes and dreams were for my life. Not my sons’ lives. They were in charge of their own dreams and acceptance of the way they were choosing to live at the time was key for me in moving forward.
The next was that I needed to learn how to say NO! Learning that I could not say yes to everyone and everything and still stay healthy was quite a mind shift. I practiced. I know, it sounds crazy, but I carried 3x5 cards with samples of ways to say no in a kind way. Such as, “I really hate to say no, but I have to this time,” or “I’ll need to think about this and get back to you.”
So, for me personally, I chose to stop living in fear. I chose to take responsibility for my own happiness. I chose to practice changing my behavior – to the point of carrying reminders around on cards (LOL). I chose to hold a boundary because I bought into the idea that it might help save my sons’ lives, and somewhere along the way, miraculously, I started feeling better.
I started feeling better long before either one of my sons began their own journey in recovery. My other relationships became healthier. At the beginning of each year, I love to revisit Melody Beattie’s “personal waiver for the new year,” found in the Language of Letting Go. In the waiver she asks participants to recommit to taking full responsibility for their happiness and their goals for the new year. I use it to remind myself that I’m in charge of my future happiness or unhappiness and that in order to live happy, joyous and free, occasionally we have to say no.
The right thing isn't always easy PAL Blogger: Sean, In Recovery
I love you all. It’s such a pleasure to write this newsletter and be a part of this community. I admire you for your strength in trying times. I admire the tenacity in your attempts to do the right thing and help others. I admire the struggle that you experience setting a boundary with someone you care about and deeply love. I admire the fact that these simple, but difficult steps can become the beginning of a new freedom for someone struggling with the disease of addiction. I know it was for me.
Seven years ago, my dad told me the family wouldn’t come visit me in the hospital, and that I couldn’t come home. I sat there, during the Christmas season, broken, alone, stricken with disease and sickness, miserable and afraid. I had nowhere left to go. I had exhausted every possible financial resource I could think of in my attempts to stay completely centered in my heroin addiction. 12 years of heavy drug use had left me a shell of a person. In the early years, as is so common amongst so many when we lack education and support, my parents enabled me. They indirectly supported my addiction by providing me with financial means and a place to stay. They fruitlessly tried to plead with me, rescue me, and place me in situations where they thought I’d get help. And while I won’t say it was all for nothing, I will say that I can look back and see that the beginning of the end was when they let me go. When they got involved with Mike Speakman and PAL groups. When they not only learned how to help me – but actively implemented those strategies into our relationship, and most importantly, when they stuck with it, even when they didn’t want to.