By Sarah Liz
A special to The Dagger
A Support Group has been formed here in Bel Air, “for family members and friends of alcohol and other substance/drug abusers.” This group takes place Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at The Harford County Health Department at 120 S. Hayes Street. The group began February 21, 2012, and is on-going for 12 weeks.
The group is run by Linda Davis, LCSW-C, the Hope Project Coordinator for the Harford County Health Department, Division of Addiction Services. The HOPE Project (Healthy Options Provide Empowerment) helps inmates of the Harford County Detention Center obtain a fast track into services including substance abuse, mental health, medical, shelter, etc., upon release. Davis has worked a total of 13 years with the Health Department, her first 10 with inmates with HIV, and her current position, with the HOPE program, working with those with a dual diagnosis.
The purpose of the group is to help the family realize that addiction is a “family disease,” and the family must recover. As family members we would do anything for our loved ones. Sometimes that backfires. As Davis notes, “even well intentioned people do the wrong thing.” Maybe you decide to pay off the DUI or DWI fine, maybe you ignore the drugs you find because you don’t want to ruin their chance at a scholarship or a job. The intentions are always good, but in the end do they benefit the person? How do you take a stand?
The Support Group teaches families to “act not react,” to help the family “make their own life.” Several skills are emphasized including 1) providing consequences 2) rules 3) focus on self 4) continuing “in spite” of addiction. Ms. Davis noted that if the family is in treatment there is a better success rate. The group provides education, support and encouragement by using videos, handouts, discussions and interaction, to accomplish its goal. The substance abuser does not have to be in treatment for the family members to take advantage of this group.
One constant word was empowerment. By bringing the family into focus, by creating dialogue to remove the shame, by discussing the actual issues at hand, the focus is brought back to the family. To those who have waited up for years, to those who wonder if their loved one will make it home, to those who gone to pick up someone who just drove off the road but passes a breathalyzer because alcohol was not the drug of choice; it breaks the cycle of co-dependence, let’s the family know that “No” is not a bad word, and allows them to begin to love and take care of themselves. The addiction was never about the family, but it impacts them in a profound way.
This group offers the opportunity to learn what helps and what doesn’t, to realize that’s you’re not alone, that other people also have problems dealing with family members with alcohol and other substance abuse/drug problems. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the problem and then decide that you will take responsibility for your part, and those suffering from addiction must own theirs. There is nothing in the world harder, I know:
Jane (not her real name) was someone I loved. Jane and I were very close, like oil and water or two peas in a pod, depending on the day. Jane, smart and adventurous, started drinking in high school. She called me one St. Patrick’s Day, drinking and horribly depressed. I was hundreds of miles away, rearranged my schedule to go see her the next day. I took Jane to the doctors, went out with her sometimes to keep an eye on her, and sat in the hospital with her. As the addiction progressed, I drove an hour to pick her up one night after she’d driven off the side of the road. I would have done anything for her. Jane and I loved to eat pancakes; we got each other funny cards, played hooky from work, we understood each other. I watched her come out of rehab, and listened as she called me while I was shopping with another friend, as she debated another scenario. I was finished. I was not watching someone I loved die. And for a long time I didn’t answer the phone. Cruel some might say, but I had nothing left. Finally she hit her own rock bottom and got clean and sober. Jane has been clean and sober for several years now, and we talk about pancakes and send each other cards, and I still don’t lie to her. I respect her more now than I ever did. We each had to recover in our own way.
Davis gave a wonderful quote which sums up the choice one has in attending such a group, “People are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln. It is the family choice, as it is the addicts to choose treatment, or to choose to remain in a situation that is destructive to all. Family’s can and do recover. Your family can be one of them.
For more information go to www.harfordcountyhealth.com/services or call 410.877.2340. No preregistration is required.