Recently I had an unusual opportunity to witness the dilemma felt by many parents whose lives have been affected by their children’s addiction. I ran into a family friend on a mountain weekend. Our families were very, very close when I was growing up, and I knew both his children well until we grew up and apart. As it turns out, through the confidential nature of my work, I had come to know that both adult children have battled the disease of addiction and were both in early recovery. I knew, but he didn’t know I knew. After the usual pleasantries, I asked how they were doing, and you know, he never missed a beat. “Oh, they’re both just doing great!” he said. There was no mention of rehab, of a medical license in the balance, of the divorce or the crises that led to rehab admissions — just an enthusiastic, postive report.
Now, before you get too upset, please know that I get it. I get it that this dad doesn’t see me often enough to share their family’s personal challenges. Although we have a lifetime of friendship, it’s fair to say that even the long friendship was somewhat limited in its depth. I know that he doesn’t even know that I’m in the recovery business and that he would get a compassionate response from me. All he knows is that his adult children have suffered and that the world may not be very compassionate in their suffering. He knows that some people even think that those who suffer with the disease of addiction got exactly what they deserve. He knows the stigma is there and he is not about to risk having one more person think badly of the children he loves so deeply.
But I also suspect that, if one of the adult children had been battling cancer, he might have said, “You know, s/he had a pretty big cancer scare last year, but she’s doing really well. The care she received at ________ hospital was just phenomenal! She has a long way to go, but we’re really very hopeful.” Imagine if he had been able to say, “You know, s/he had a pretty big scare last year. We thought we might lose her to the disease of addiction, but she’s doing really well now. The care she received at _____________ was just phenomenal! She has a long way to go, but we’re really very hopeful.”
Addiction leaves in its wake a trail of pain, fear and sometimes even abandonment — for the patients and those who love them. But so does cancer. But rarely does the trail of tears about cancer include embarrassment, shame or the vague desire to disown the person who is sick. In fact, sometimes the desire is not vague at all. The disease of addiction yields symptoms that are incredibly damaging to relationships, trust, careers, self-concept and self-awareness, reputations and the capacity to achieve dreams — at least until recovery is solid. When recovery is solid, it is possible that the disease of addiction can go into remission.
The great stories told in The Anonymous People help remind us that there are 30 million people in various stages of remission from the disease of addiction. They are getting treatment, they are halting the progression of the disease, and they are working really, really hard to get well and to stay that way. Most people who are working a very solid early recovery plan are dedicating about 15-18 hours a week to healing. And imagine if his job was negatively affected by alcoholic/addictive behavior, and now he’s working harder than ever to restore his boss’s confidence in him (but giving 15-18 extra hrs/week to recovery above the hours on the job). And she’s trying hard to demonstrate to her husband and children that she can be a good wife and mother (but giving 15-18 extra hrs/week to recovery above the hours on the job or healing the family relationships). I could go on, but I think you get the point. People in recovery from the disease of addiction will likely spend as much as 1800 hours over a 5-year period doing whatever it takes to get well and stay that way. That’s almost as much time as the average dialysis patient dedicates to keeping themselves alive for 5 years. Once the patient has started getting healthy from the disease of addiction, they give 2+ hrs a day — every day — for years —- to keep getting healthier. “They still have a long way to go, but we’re very hopeful.”
The message of The Anonymous People is that “together, we can change public perception and ultimately the public response to the addiction crisis.” Please join us at the screening at @a/perturecinema on 4th St. in Downtown Winston-Salem on Sunday, June 22nd at 7:30. Our Full Life team will welcome you and lead an interactive discussion after the movie, so please join us!
And as for the dad, I wish he knew that he is NOW living in a world where at least some of the people know — addiction is a very serious, sometimes fatal but always treatable disease. Those who are getting well have reason to celebrate! They may “have a long way to go — or perhaps they’ve already come a long way — but we’re very hopeful for a full and complete recovery. Thanks so much for asking!”
The Full Life Team