September 28, 2007


Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen

Part Three of Four

Recovery for All


This is the fourth in the series on what drug addiction can do to a family. My last column dealt with the intervention of my daughter and her going off to Hazelden. The day after Adria left we drove the newlyweds to the airport so they could return to their lives in Juneau, Alaska. During the wedding week they had got word that their offer for a house they wanted was accepted. I envied my daughter, Alexa. She was able to insulate herself from much of the intervention mess by the happiness of her wedding and the hopefulness of her new life as Mrs. Alexa Connolly.

For my wife and youngest daughter, it was not so easy to forget about the bright future Adria had let slide into the Pacific Ocean and the depressing fact that she had a disease that could be far more destructive than cancer or heart disease. An addictive personality is not unknown problem in my family. My father's sister killed herself with her alcoholism in the early 1960's. She drank antifreeze when she was in her mid-fifties and killed her liver and kidneys. It took her a week to die. Her son moved to California and got into drugs and disappeared in the 1980s - we assume he is dead. His older brother hired professional investigators to find him and found nothing. I have three other cousins who have addiction problems with various substances. One cousin had a free ride to Stanford University to study physics and instead he fried his brains on so much dope he now is only capable of working a Quickimart job. A similar story can be found on my wife's side. One of her cousins is currently in jail for drinking….again. With a family history like that you can imagine how depressed we were after the intervention.

Lucky for us, Hazelden offers a family program. It is four days in length and is held at their main 500 acres campus in Center City. We arranged to attend the program during Adria's third week of rehab.

The Hazelden campus is huge. It could easily pass for a college the size of St. Scholastica. The buildings are new and the grounds are beautiful. The family program meets in the Cork Building, which also contains the graduate program on addiction studies. Our group was composed of about 40 family members and six recovering addicts (both drug and alcohol) who were unrelated to any of the family members. Each morning started with a lecture about addiction. The first speaker was a staff member and a grateful recovering alcoholic. He had only had one hand. He told us his personal history and how he was once a professional musician. Unfortunately he drank. He drank so much that he would have blackouts. He drank so much that he only lived to drink. One day while he had blacked out, a voice told him his hand was possessed by the devil. With a knife he hacked off his hand. This is how he hit rock bottom and finally surrendered to recovery.

Besides hearing his personal story we learned that addiction is a disease that lasts forever. There is no cure. Treatment is based on self-help group work, such as seen in organizations like Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other similar groups. The largest self-help programs use a 12-step plan. (For what 12-step recovery is go to The 12-step concept is part of the family member program as well. After listening to the speaker we broke up into small groups to share our stories and discuss how an addicted family member has affected us.

The next day we learned about the three Cs. They are: You did not cause it. You cannot control it. You cannot cure it. This is true for the addict as it is for the family. It is hard to fully believe this, but it is important to do so if you are to move on. This was the topic of our small group discussions for the rest of the day.

The third day's theme was detached love. This is a form of tough love. It is where you refuse to be an enabler or a hostage to the addict. We were told that we cannot control the life of our addicted family member. There were several good analogies they used which made perfect sense to me. One was an old Indian proverb - If you try to keep two fires going, both will go out. The proverb refers to your mental health as well as the addict's. The second analogy was that of trying to drive two buses at the same time. Again, a remedy for disaster. For those family members who had been trying to control an addict's life for many years it was very hard for them to understand that they needed to let go. Only the addict can take control of their life and remain clean. If you try to run their life you only make a mess of two lives - your life and their life.

It was on the third day of the Family Program that we had a mediated meeting with Adria over at her building. It was a nervous meeting, especially for Adria. She realized how serious her situation was. We were warned that many addicts at this point are overwhelmed by shame and guilt. However, many addicts still harbor anger at their family. They may still blame them for their messy life. They blame them for forcing them into Hazelden. While we could see Adria was looking better we also realized there was no serenity for her to be with us. We can only hope that she will find inner peace as her treatment continues. It was at this meeting we learned that she was going to go to Hazelden's Fellowship Club in St. Paul for four months. Recovery is a slow process - especially for meth addicts. This is why so many county programs for addicts are inadequate - they simply do not last long enough. In Adria's case it would be two more weeks before all the drug would be out of her system.

All addictions are like love affairs; the addict loves their drug of choice and will do almost anything to stay on it. Every evening at Hazelden, both patients and family members would go to Bigelow auditorium and hear a recovered addict tell their story of addiction and recovery. We heard from: a millionaire, a businesswoman, and a mother during our stay. Adria would hear 28 lectures during her stay at these nightly talks. At Fellowship Club she will hear many, many more. Hearing about other people's struggle is part of the recovery process.

Our last day in the family program we heard a lecture on how we need a recovery program just as much as an addict needs one. This was difficult idea for many family members to understand. In small group we discussed what that plan could be for each of us. After small group work and lunch we had a final lecture, which ended with a very emotional closing ceremony. Many people exchanged email addresses and felt they had made important new friends. Many finally had a clear vision of what their role would be in the future - that of a loving family member who would not help an addict continue to use drugs or alcohol.

For the addicts who participated with us in the Family Program it was a revelation to them on how much pain and emotional damage family members felt. The addicts knew they were hurting their own families, but they had no idea how deep it went. They were surprised at how many of the same feelings they had - shame, anger, depression, hate, and hopelessness. For the family members, it was an epiphany on how much the addicts desired to be free of their addiction, but how utterly helpless they felt about doing that. Many addicts felt so very alone and helpless. It is no wonder why most experts urge addicts and family members to attend AA, NA or Al-Anon meetings. Fellowship is the strongest tools these groups have. It is implied in many of the 12-steps.

I wish I could say we were lucky in discovering Adria's addiction early on. I wish I could say that she and her family will live happily ever after. Unfortunately, the future is a big unknown. It will all depend on how sincere she is and how strong the relationships she forms while in St. Paul. From the lectures we heard by recovered addicts, we gained hope that this lost year will only be a blip in an otherwise full and happy life for our daughter. One of the things that stuck me in talking to the addicts in our family program was how many of them were intelligent, talented and capable of many good things. My family can only hope we get the best of Adria back again and can soon be proud of her. We hope that her love of people is ultimately stronger than her love of addiction.

If you are a victim of addiction, I hope you may find the courage to confront the addict and stop enabling him or her. If you are an addict, I hope you realize the pain and suffering your actions are causing your family and surrender yourself to treatment. Seek serenity.


The Serenity Affirmation

I seek the serenity to accept what I cannot change;

The courage to change what I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.






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