From the book “How can you help a drug addict?” Spb:1997.
It is very difficult to live with a drug addicted person, but it’s his family who suffers the most. The most difficult moment in my work is communication with the patients’ parents and relatives. And it’s them this section is addressed to.
The relatives of drug addict must be involved in the process of treatment. Life of drug addict’s relative often completely depends on whether he takes drugs or not, whether he came home drunken and whether he came home at all. They live in constant stress and in fear, and finally they also fall ill with neuroses and different psychosomatic diseases – hypertension, gastric ulcer and duodenal ulcer etc. It is just one side of the problem. On the other hand people living with drug addict with their behaviour often prevent him from making a decision to stop taking drugs. But it’s not easy to realize that. Therefore relatives of drug addict also need help, and there are family programs for relatives in almost all rehabilitation centers.
As a rule, most parents have never faced this problem before, and they think that their children cannot do “that”. But one day they found tracks on their arms and got horrified. That was it, and most of them put their own life aside. Tormenting themselves with questions "why?", “how could it happen with my child?”, they started to rummage in their past, trying to understand where they got wrong, accusing themselves, feeling guilty and pity at the same time. When the first shock disappeared, they started visiting doctors, psychologists, extrasensory individuals etc., believing that they are able to “cure” their child. They always interrupted his life, going off into hysterics, making a row, starting ¨heart-to-heart talks¨, checking their pockets, searching for them in dens etc. After another attempt to cure them, when their offspring started to take drugs again on the day of discharge, they gave way to despair, accusing him of criminal dissipation, of money thrown to the winds, of disappointing them.In the result a gulf appeared between once close people.Parents tried to help, and children often started to hate them.This can last for years.
It’s very difficult to talk to such parents. They hear only what they want to hear.They would listen attentively to the doctor’s arguments that drug addiction is a chronic severe disease, and that less than half of all patients stop taking drugs even after durable thorough treatment, but on the next day they would pay big money tempted by the signboard “cure drug addiction in a single session”, and will deceive themselves again.
So what should we do?
I think the most important steps are, at first, to stop lie to oneself, at second, no mater how difficult it can be, to understand that children are not their parents’ property and they have the right to live the way want to live, and at third, to remember that parents have their own life.Having found out that their child takes drugs, most parents decide that he shall go through treatment, and this fact is incontestable for them.But their children can have a different opinion.Here are words of drug addicts from the book “Anonymous drug addicts”:
“Desire is a key word; desire is the basis for our recovery.And here’s another circumstance appearing over and over in our stories and experience we share with other drug addicts, who still suffer:a drug addict who does not want to stop taking drugs will never stop doing that.You can advise, threaten them, you can try to persuade them, to beg, to lock them, but they will not stop taking drugs until they want it themselves”.
Drugs is a great pleasure, or otherwise they would not take them; and thus dependence and disease develops gradually.Powerful motivation is needed for the desire to recover to appear.But why should one wish to give up drugs if his mother tries to shield her son or daughter wherever possible, and once they just give a hint, mom already breaks her neck trying to find money to pay for treatment, to repay debts etc.Therefore, by taking responsibility for their children’s actions, parents do not allow them to understand that they should pay for everything in their lives themselves.Mothers selling their last goods and chattels to get money for treatment often say:“Well, it was him who asked, it is him who wants to go to hospital”.In such cases I always want to tell them:“You do not know what “I want” can be like”.I remember one of my patients, a young man, whose mother did not run across the hospitals instead of him.He came to the head doctor’s reception room and said he would not leave until they take him for treatment.And I can give lots of such examples.If a person really wants, he will find a way out, and he will not say that he does not like this hospital for any reasons.
The most difficult thing is to understand that anyway you child will do what he thinks necessary to do, and you cannot change that; but he should also bear responsibility for the way of life he has chosen.If he decided to take drugs, it should not ruin your life, and you are not responsible for that.
I remember former drug addicts from the USA who visited our city and gave a performance in one of the theatres about their way to recovery.After performance they answered the questions from the audience.One women stood up crying and told that she agreed to come there with her 16-year old sun who was a drug addict, and then he refused, and she didn’t know what to do. In response one of performance participants told her a story, the main point of which was the following: she took drugs as long as her parents supported her. But one day their patience ran out that they turned her out of house. She went to rehabilitation centre, but she didn’t like it there and she went back to the street. But soon this “dog’s life” made her go back to the centre, and now, 8 years later she is grateful to her parents for what they did. I understand that it may draw someone’s objections, and I do not insist on acting that way, but I want to underline – almost all drug addicts I know stopped taking drugs after they had to become responsible for the results of their addiction.
Here’s an address of an addicted person to his relatives. This letter was written as if on behalf of all chemically addicted persons to their relatives, and is used among other literature by the groups of relatives of alcoholics and drug addicts in their work:
"I suffer from chemical addiction, and I need help.
Do not let me lie to You (and You take my lie as truth), because when you do that.You encourage me for further lies. Truth can be painful, but please accept it.
Do not let me outwit You. It teaches me to avoid responsibility, and besides I can lose my respect towards you.
Do not give me lectures, do not moralize, do not scold, do not praise, do not blame me and do not dispute when I am drugged. And do not destroy my drugs. Maybe. You will feel better, but in fact the situation will get worse.
Do not believe my promises – it’s my way to postpone pain. And do not change conditions of our agreements. If there is an agreement between us, you should keep to it.
When you talk to me, do not lose patience, and do not be out of temper.It will ruin Your life and the possibility to help me.
Do not allow your anxiety to do something I have to do myself instead of me.
Do not cover me up and do not try to change the results of manifestations of my disease.It will reduce intensity of crisis, but will also prolong the disease
And first of all, do not run away from reality in the way I do. Addiction, my disease, will get worse if I continue abusing drugs. I need help of a doctor, consultant, recovering patient and God. I cannot give help to myself.
I hate myself, but I LOVE YOU".
It is very difficult to understand and to accept everything written in this section at once, especially for drug addict’s relatives. They often need help themselves, as they live in the state of chronic stress. Besides, they always say that they are eager to help their children, but they are hardly able to do that while being on the constant brink of a psychotic meltdown.
There are groups of relatives of alcoholics and drug addicts called Al-Anon, created to help such people, which also work according to the principles of the program “12 steps of Anonymous Alcoholics”. These groups consist of people united with common trouble, they help each other to find peace in their souls and to continue living despite everything. When visiting meetings of the groups, relatives of drug addicts start to understand not only with their mind, but also with their heart everything I have written before – they stop lying to themselves, controlling their children and making rows; they give them a chance to bear their own responsibility for the lifestyle they have chosen. But they never stop loving their children, they just start to understand that to love does not compulsory mean to solve their problems. A Chinese wisdom says: “It takes strength to hold, and wisdom – to let go”.
Every meeting of Anonymous Alcoholics, Drug Addicts and Al-Anon starts with a prayer:
“Lord! Give me reason and peace of mind To accept what I cannot change, Give me courage to change what I can change, And give me wisdom to differ one from another",
As time goes by, relatives of drug addict start to understand that they can change only themselves and nothing else.
I will tell you a story of a woman – a mother of drug addict who passed this way.
My life was probably like life of many other women – when I was getting married, I saw that my husband drank, but I though that my love would not let him become an alcoholic. But gradually he ruined himself by drinking, I was crying and kept patient. But finally I broke down and we divorced. Our divorce took 3 years. Our small son suffered a lot because of that, but I asked him to chose whom he wants to live with, he decided to stay with me.
I loved my son a lot, but I spent little time with him, as I had to work from morning till night - we lived paycheck to paycheck. I often accused myself of paying little attention to my son, of not being able to buy him expensive toys, and I thought he didn’t get share of the cake.
My son grew up, went to school, went in for sports. One day, when he was 16, he came home and looked and behaved in a strange manner. I decided he was drunken, but he denied that, and he did not smell alcohol. I always feared he could follow his father, but I tried to reassure myself, telling myself that I did not drink and that my son did not see any parties and companies. Of course, I heard about drug addicts, but I did not admit even the thought that my son could be drug addicted. After that, he started to be at home rarer and rarer, he called me and said he would stay at his friends at night. I considered it improper to check him, but I still worried, especially because my son changed a lot – he became slack, started to skip lessons at the college, stopped his hobbies.I did not understand what was going on.
And then one day my son came home in terrible state, hardly talking.He told me that he “took pills”, and that there were nothing special about that because everyone did that.I became terrified, I lost my peace.I went to psychologist, he calmed me down several times, telling that it’s because of his difficult age, that 80% of teenagers take drugs, but give it up with time.After that I started to accuse myself even more that my son saw nothing in his life apart from a very small shared flat and that I could not give him so many things.But at that time I did not realize the whole tragedy.
I often noticed that my son slept in a long-sleeved T-shirts, but he told me he felt cold.I remember that evil day when some guys brought my son home more than half dead.I wanted to call an emergency immediately, put him in bed, took his clothes off….and saw his arms – his veins were all prickled.I sat close to him and could not do anything, I felt my life was over.And I sat that way all night through.In the morning, when my son came to consciousness, he told me he had become a drug addict long time ago, and that he wanted to leave me not to hurt me.I started to persuade him to tell me who made him a drug addict; well, now I understand none can become a drug addict against his own will.The son told me that when he started taking drugs, he was warned that it would be difficult to give it up, but he thought that “it’s difficult for them, pushovers, and not for me”.He really left home, and after three days I started looking for him myself.I met him in the street and persuaded him to go back home.
From this moment my head was busy with thoughts on how I can help my child.I bought different books about drug addiction, made press cuttings and showed them to my son, thinking that it will persuade him.But he didn’t read anything and told me that it was written for “fools”.I used to be interested in my work and friends before. Now I was interested in my son’s problems only.I visited different doctors, called to multiple hot-line services, paid money for consulting.Searching for medical establishment, I visited all hospitals myself to check their conditions, because someone told me they treat drug addicts badly in psychiatric clinics. Everywhere I was told my son should wish to recover, but I hoped, I was almost sure that he would recover with my help.
And one day he told me he wanted to go to hospital, but only to a particular one. I ran to that hospital, begging them, and finally they took my son for treatment. I thought he would recover there. But when my son came back home I understood these were my dreams only. He didn’t leave home for two days, then he went out on the third day, and I felt with my heart he took drugs again. I gave myself up to despair. I started making a row and crying. But my son told me he just could not give up drugs. I did not believe him, and decided he was just a loose person.
My life used to be a sheer nightmare, my son continued shooting up, I knew he was robbing to get money for drugs. I took him from police several times, where he had been taken from dens; sometimes he was about to die in my arms. When he was under the impact of drugs he often had a happy smile on his face, and I looked at him and thought: “Lord! Why do I feel so bad?” One day, when my son was about to die again, his pulse was at a forty and breathing interrupted, I broke down and called to narcologist. The doctor told me that if he did not feel better within an hour, I should call for an emergency. I sat with him with a stopwatch in my hands, counted his pulse and prayed to God to save my son’s life. In four hours life gradually came back to him. My son again asked to place him to hospital. Hope sprang up within me again: he came from the hospital with good intentions. But everything resumed its natural course in a while, and my hope disappeared again. I went off into hysterics, cried, tried to impede him, but everything was in vain. Surrounding world stopped its existence for me, and I even didn’t always understand whether it was summer or winter then.
I used to dream that my son would grew up and would become a real support for me, as I needed that greatly.When all my hopes were ruined, I understood I would not overcome that alone as I ran out of my physical and spiritual strength. I could not wait until he would die in my arms. I decided to leave this world, I took vacation, went to my parents to say them last farewell, and gave them my final directions. But God helped me - at that moment I was offered to visit a meeting of relatives of alcoholics and drug addicts. At first I did not understand that group was for me too, or otherwise I would probably not go to it. When I came to the meeting of Al-Anon group I saw happy people who always smiled and joked. I thought it was strange – I had already forgotten how to smile, and I envied those people. Then the meeting started, and I was shocked when listening to the stories of those people; many of them had life that was not easier than my own one. When I was going home I saw sunset for the first time during long period. By that time my son used to come home very rarely; I think that was because of scandals I made. After I came back from the meeting I started reading brochures they gave me there. At that moment my son came back home. I usually met him at the door with a look of “prosecutor”. But at that evening I did not quit my room. He looked in and asked me: “Mom, are you sleeping?” I said I was reading. He went to his room and switched on TV. He stayed at home! I understood my hysterics only worsened the situation. He also felt more quiet. I stopped looking for him at night, stopped calling his friends and asking them when he would come home. But I continued checking his pockets, and if I found any syringes I put them on his bed without saying a word. I finally realized that my son was sick, and until he wanted to recover himself it made no sense to try to force him. He could die at any moment with me or without me.
When I understood I was not able to change my son, I felt great relief, as I did not accuse myself like I used before. When he left home I prayed to God to save my child from death and to keep him from causing damage to other people. I knew my son raised money for drugs on the bend. One day he sold my books and I told him: “I earned everything you see here by myself, and if you need money for drugs take it wherever you want". And I prayed that he would not cause harm to anyone.
My life was very difficult, hope changed to despair. When I felt very bad, I went to the meeting. I did not want to leave home, but the only thought that I would stay at home and would see my son drugged made me go to the meeting. And I usually returned from it with renewed energy. One day my son decided to go to the meeting of Anonymous Alcoholics. I waited for him impatiently. He came back home late at night in a terrible state, he was at the meeting, but then took drugs again. And I again realized that my hopes were just my hopes. I continued visiting meetings of Al-Anon, I also visited open meetings and meetings of Anonymous Alcoholics. At those meetings former drug addicts told me that my son was not ready to give up anything in his life, that he probably lost too little, but one day he would come to them. I lived in these hopes. I needed much patience to talk to my son. But I was already able to do that calmly, without hysterics and tears. He tried to visit AA meetings, but he always failed to give up drugs.
And I continued living, though I didn’t feel much joy in my life, my nerves went all to pieces and I started to experience problems with health. I was offered to undergo treatment in the neuroses hospital, but I could not make my mind to make this step for a long time. Guys from AA group told me: “One day he will need your help, and you won’t be able to provide it”. I went to hospital. On the very first day when I called home I understood my son was drugged again. After that I decided to call in the mornings only, when he was more or less conscious, just to find out if he was still alive or not. Neuroses hospital helped me a lot, the doctors from it taught me to build a wall between myself and my son’s problems. My life became quiet. I started to visit my friends, relatives, I became interested in my own problems. I continued visiting Al-Anon meetings where I was given great support.
When my son asked me to place him to hospital again I told him: “I did it so many times, abasing and begging, so do it yourself”. And he settled in the hospital himself, though not after the first attempt. After he was discharged from hospital he started visiting AA meetings.
I used to think that my life would be happy when my son gave up drugs. My son became sober, but my life did not become easier. Sometimes I thought it was easier for me when he was taking drugs. He became irritated, rude, I could not please him, sometimes I thought he hated me. But after crying with offence I made a conclusion – I prayed to God that my son stopped taking drugs, and even if he hated me for all his life I would be grateful anyway. Such life lasted for a long time - we lived like strangers, we did not talk for several weeks, but I was wise and strong enough to accept that, to be patient, and Al-Anon meetings helped me a lot in that. I realized even better that my son’s life was his life only, and I was not entitled to interfere with it. I think that it would be much more difficult for him to give up drugs if I did not change myself.
Now our relations have become better, I do not try to make him take care of me, but when he does so I feel happy. I rejoice at his success and I worry when he has troubles. But if he does not ask for help, I do not interfere, and I just pray for him.
The most important thing for me was to understand that I could not change my son, no mater how much I wished to. The most difficult thing for a mother is to separate herself from her child and to understand that he is entitled to dispose of his life the way he wants. Not to blame her children with betraying our hopes after we have grown them up; these were our hopes, and our children do not owe anything to us until they want to. The main thing is to accept the situation and to have great patience. I think it is what people call “love”.
In the end I would like to give you a one-day program used by the members of Unions of Anonymous Alcoholics, Anonymous Drug Addicts and Al-Anon.
TODAY I will try to care about today and will not try to get rid of all my problems at once.
TODAY I will be happy, and Lincoln was right when he said: “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be”.
TODAY I will accept my current situation, I will not try to change everything in my own way, and I will accept what my destiny sends me in this world.
TODAY I will try to strengthen my mind. I will learn. I will learn something useful. I will not be lazy. I will read something that requires effort, thinking and concentration.
TODAY I will make three spiritual exercises. I will do good to someone, and I will do my best that no one knows about that, and if somebody finds out about that, it will not be counted. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, but I will do them to train my will. If someone offends me and I feel offended, I will not show that.
TODAY I will be more attractive, I will try to look the best I can, I will put on nice clothes, I will not raise my voice when talking to someone, I will be polite and will not judge anyone and anything. I will try not to see defects in anything, and will not correct or change anyone but me.
My program is made for today only. Maybe I will fail to complete all items, but I will try to struggle against two enemies: hurry and indecision.
TODAY I will withdraw from anything for half an hour to stay alone and to have rest. During this period I will try to understand my life better and what I should do to improve it.
TODAY I will not be afraid of anything. I will enjoy beautiful things. And I will believe that everything I give to the world will come back to me.