Living with addiction in a family is one thing but coming to grips with the why, and how to heal the pain, the shame, and the public perception for the addict is another. And when your struggle is public, that is a whole other story.
I know some people look at us and think we’re crazy. Some have outright told us to ask ourselves “when enough is enough”. As though we haven’t asked ourselves that question a thousand times.
We’re not crazy. We know the toll drug addiction takes on a relationship and a family. But that’s just it, this is our family. How do you give up on your family?
The only answer we’ve ever found to that question is … you don’t!
There have been moments when Ken and I have looked at each other with our “WTF?” and “now what?” faces. Greg’s recent arrest was one of those times. But even at the worst of times we’ve never considered just letting go of our kids.
So, what do we do? We try to regroup, we talk to more people, we talk to each other. We try to find a different perspective on the situation. Understand the “Why” and the triggers.
I was fully engaged in much of the recovery programs both my sons were part of. The NA meetings, the group counselling, visits to the emergency multiple times.
But it wasn’t until I read Dr. Gabor Mate’s book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” that I had insight into how a brain works, especially how it responds to serious head injury, emotional childhood trauma, and ultimately, drug use.
I learned how the ability to “just say no” isn’t there. And most importantly for me, I learned that they weren’t doing this to hurt me or our family. When I understood the pain that they were in and how they had to self-soothe with drugs to survive that pain, I had a much clearer understanding of the why and the consequences not only for us, but more importantly for them.
I wish I had that knowledge so much earlier in this journey. Greg has such incredible insight into his emotional pain and he helps me every day to learn to forgive myself. I had to learn not to take on responsibility for the things I couldn’t control, including the things that had caused them pain. But, as we learned recently with Greg, just because you understand your pain, there’s no guarantee you won’t slip back into your old ways of dealing with that pain.
A quote from Dr. Gabor Mate says “I believe there is one addiction process, whether it manifests in the lethal substance dependencies of my Downtown Eastside patients, the frantic self-soothing of overeaters or shopaholics, the obsessions of gamblers, sexaholics and compulsive internet users, or in the socially acceptable and even admired behaviours of the workaholic.”
He goes on to say “Drug addicts are often dismissed and discounted as unworthy of empathy and respect. In telling their stories my intent is to help their voices to be heard and to shed light on the origins and nature of their ill-fated struggle to overcome suffering through substance use. Both in their flaws and their virtues they share much in common with the society that ostracizes them. If they have chosen a path to nowhere, they still have much to teach the rest of us. In the dark mirror of their lives we can trace outlines of our own.”
That understanding that drugs addicts are not so different even if their actions have such drastic consequences guides us now.
So when it comes to Greg, Ken and I bring that understanding to the table. We talk through our options. We act to help if we can. And then we just go on.
Maybe that is not the right thing to do? I don’t know! But I do know for us, the possible consequences of doing nothing are unthinkable.