FA helps parents of substance abusers take positive steps

By ED RUNYAN | runyan@vindy.com


To Laura McLaughlin, the weekly meetings of Families Anonymous are about the only place where she can speak her mind about her son’s drug and alcohol abuse.

It’s a place where people understand how it feels to have your child steal from you, lie to you and manipulate you.

Where they understand how guilty you feel about some of the things you did or didn’t do as a parent.

Where they understand how confused and frightened you are, now that you know substance abuse may kill your child.

It also may be one of the few places where you can talk about it without feeling you’re being harshly judged because of the view some people have that drug abuse is a moral issue rather than a disease.

Linda Spies of Cortland, “advocate” for the meetings, who started the group seven years ago, said the stigma attached to substance abuse prevents people from talking publicly about it, which can prevent people from understanding how many people are affected.

Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk said recently that Trumbull County drug-abuse deaths have become an epidemic, especially because of the availability of cheap heroin, the choice of many people who have become addicted to prescription and street opiates such as OxyContin over the past decade.

“It’s not a popular subject. We are kept in the dark,” Spies said of addiction.

For parents, coping with the stress of a son’s or daughter’s addiction can be overwhelming.

That’s where Families Anonymous, which has 6:45 p.m. meetings Wednesdays in the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic on Clifton Drive Northeast, comes into play.

It’s a 12-step program similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous that starts with the Serenity Prayer, which asks God to “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The first two of the 12 steps teach participants they are “powerless over drugs and other people’s lives” and that trusting in a higher power “could restore us to sanity.”

The steps include a “moral inventory” that allows a participant to admit the “exact nature of our wrongs” and “make amends” to those we wronged.

McLaughlin said she apologized to a friend for allowing her son to house-sit for the family when his addiction made him untrustworthy.

Spies said she apologized to her son for not realizing that narcotics for a dying relative were too dangerous to be left unguarded in their home while her son was young.

A key component of Families Anonymous is understanding concepts such as “tough love,” “enabling” and “detachment.”

“Rescuing or covering up for the abuser only strengthens the tendency to continue the behavior that caused this person’s troubles in the first place,” Families Anonymous says. “If unacceptable behavior is rewarded by the pleasure of drug use with no unpleasant results — such as paying one’s own bail, covering one’s own bad checks, losing a job, being expelled from school, being dropped form the varsity team — the abuser is never allowed the valuable opportunity of experiencing the consequences of his decisions.”

Spies said of her son: “He started getting better when we let go,” adding that it’s hard for many people to accept this concept.

In simple terms, she said, she would buy an addict a sandwich but not give him money.

Detachment, Families Anonymous says, means putting distance between the parent and the addiction, but “we can freely love the person who has the illness. We do not stop caring; we simply detach emotionally from the user’s problems.” Enabling an abuser means failing to demand responsibility from him or her.

McLaughlin said she started to understand this right before she began to attend Families Anonymous, when she decided to leave her son in jail after his second DUI in four weeks.

“We’re not writing them off. We can only change ourselves. Others we can only love,” she said. “In my head, by letting him go, he may die, but I have no control over that. I love him, but I have to let him go. We have to take care of ourselves.”

Doug Wentz, director of community services for the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinics in Youngstown, Austintown and Howland, said programs such as Families Anonymous and Al-Anon (for families and friends of problem drinkers) and their “tough love” strategies are “still valid.”

Wentz said he believes parents should “have that conversation early and repetitively” with their children about avoiding dangerous activities such as drug use, but when they are the appropriate age they should also understand that they must get a job.

“Many parents don’t want kids to experience pain and suffering or [the parents] don’t want to experience pain and suffering,” he said of why some parents of addicts refuse to hold their children accountable.

For more information on Families Anonymous, call 330-307-8182.

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