Each week, a group of parents warmly greet each other as we meet in a townhouse office building on the east side of Manhattan in New York City. Many different groups gather here, including those attending AA and Al-Anon meetings, sibling groups, and others seeking comfort, support and education. Ours is a group of parents whose children are addicts, and this is our weekly Parent Support Group.
We share heartbreakingly honest stories about the challenges we have endured: the good, the bad and the ugliest. What’s gone right and not; what has been learned along the way from professionals that have guided us in a new way of parenting. We update each other on the status of our children — those in recovery or relapsed, in treatment, on the streets or not heard from, and so much more.
The central reason we are together, however, is to help ourselves and each other, not to figure out how to “fix” our children. We’re kept on track by a clinician who leads our group and creates teachable moments along the way. At each session, I find something to bring home from this room.
We share strategies and support as we seek to keep our own lives together, to maintain our marriages, and to still be parents to our other non-addicted children. I’ve become better educated as I try to deal with all that it means to experience the impact of having an addicted child in the family. This insidious, progressive, deadly disease really has infected me and my family in ways that I could never have imagined.
Fear and hope brought us together, so we hold on tightly and quickly go from strangers to the dearest of friends– new friends that have become the safest place to reveal our darkest thoughts to, even when withholding from family members and colleagues. I have found that regularly attending this, and other Parent Support Groups in New Jersey and Connecticut, has made all the difference, even when my son was not doing well.
For me, these sessions are akin to a deep tissue massage, painful, usually with discomfort throughout, but a sense of relief that this is good for me. And, I have a desire to want to come back again and again, as it also makes me feel better, stronger, more capable of keeping it together — especially during tougher times when I am tested beyond my limits.
And now, a group of us has created a way to reach even more parents, including those who are still isolated, through a digital Parent Support Group. It is available to all who seek an honest offering of compassion and commiseration without having to show up anywhere, see anyone or allow another person to know what is being listened to, or thought. This podcast is available to anyone — comes through headphones and into hearts, privately, anywhere, anonymously, and at no cost.
My Child is an Addict: A Parent-to-Parent Podcast* emerged when three of us who have been attending weekly Parent Support Groups decided we wanted to, “do something.” The three of us, Steve, Stephen and Jay, thought that it would feel right, feel good, to try to help some other parents just as those who came to the rooms before us did; welcomed us, with painful candor and the honesty that often still brings me to tears each week. It was frustrating to me to always be told about my “powerlessness” against this disease, my inability to cure my cherished son. But as I was educated, I came closer to accepting (but holding back a little, even today,) that I was neither the cause of, nor could I control, drug addiction. Even if we couldn’t make our kids healthy, we just might be able to help other parents and families by talking through some of the same traumas that we were experiencing; and ultimately, that would be a way to help the kids too.
I called this trio “The Three Papas,” (and it seemed to stick,) admitting we were not experts, had little or no professional education in this field, and were simply dads, trying to be good dads, which is what we thought we had been doing before the tsunami struck our families. This entire process has been humbling beyond belief, and the title “Papa,” was good enough. We just wanted to help.
Most of the parents in our podcast group have children either not in recovery at all or in early recovery, so it’s real and raw, and we share personal experiences about what is happening to us now, and how we are coping at the moment. And, for those in better shape, we have come to realize how precious and fragile these times might be and that with just one call or text, another scary chapter lurks.
Our regular weekly Parent Support Group is led since 2004 by an insightful dedicated social worker, Ilya Mandel, a family consultant specializing in addiction. One parent used the term “nuggets” to describe the thought-provoking ideas he carefully cultivates from each meeting, as we are gently guided to focus upon learning how to care for ourselves- something we do have the power to undertake.
The meetings, although operated independently, are held in the New York City headquarters of the not-for-profit Caron Treatment Centers.
I had learned that the core mission of Caron included a recognition that families, not just addicts, needed to be treated, and that family members educated and supported; could lessen the devastating impact of addiction. The “Three Papas” were invited to meet with Caron’s respected president and CEO, Doug Tieman, a leading national figure, shepherded by someone who became the “Fourth Papa,” (our Fifth Beatle), Caron’s inspired New York Regional Vice President Todd Whitmer. With their learned guidance, we sought to carry out our, “do something” mantra.
My Child is an Addict: A Parent-to-Parent Podcast is produced in association with Caron, and a Caron clinician joins in the discussion each episode. We also offer a brief Q &A segment in addition to the group session when the clinician answers questions that have often been sparked from comments during the actual parent support group meeting.
The podcast hopes to reach those who aren’t quite ready to step outside and physically meet the many others riding the same roller coaster in all too similar circumstances. I see each podcast episode as a digital hug as well, with our group of parents sharing our precious Parent Support Group with others, because we want to, “do something.” For those not yet prepared to enter a meeting room, this is an effort to reach out, in hopes of offering support for those having a tough time with the isolation of being a parent of an addict — we know those times and have found that listening and hearing others just sometimes provides the life saver that makes it possible to cope that day. With fellow travelers, the “shame and blame” evaporates. We know.
I have come to learn that addiction is a terrifying, lonely disease for addicts, and also for us parents. I have come to deeply appreciate the comfort in knowing that I am no longer alone, and neither are you.
Please, join our Parent Support Group podcast.
Steve is one of the “Three Papas” and the producer of
My Child is an Addict: A Parent-to-Parent Podcast,
available at no cost from Apple iTunes and Google Play