Stories of Hope for Mother’s Day
The powerful stories of two mothers and their children’s struggle with addiction.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we want to highlight the role that mothers play in their children’s addiction recovery process. Mothers play a foundational role in the lives of their children, riding with them on the terrifying and exhilarating roller coaster of life. During addiction and recovery, countless mothers bravely stand by their children, acting as a loving, caring and resolute pillar of support and encouragement. Mothers of children who struggle with substance use disorder should remember that they are never alone.
Substance addiction is a major issue facing millions of families in the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12-17 and an estimated 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder in the US in 2015. An estimated 24.6 million Americans (9.4 percent of the population) ages 12 and older engaged in illicit drug use in 2013. Addiction is a crisis in the United States, and mothers are all too aware of the painful ramifications of substance use disorder.
In this Mother’s Day piece, we will tell the true stories of two brave mothers and their children’s struggle with substance use disorder. These stories not only shed light on the nature of addiction and the role that mothers play in recovery, but they also inspire all of us to encourage and support our loved ones with unwavering support.
Tina and James
Woodstock weekend, August 15-17, holds a tragic and significant place in Tina’s family. Tina and her late husband, Geoff, shared a passion for music, which they instilled in their son, James. Geoff particularly enjoyed Jimi Hendrix and other musicians who headlined at the legendary Woodstock music festival, demonstrated by his venerated poster of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. Their family bonded over their shared affinity for creating and appreciating deep, heartfelt tunes.
But one day, in 2006, they received terrifying news. Geoff was diagnosed with lung cancer. Geoff’s hard-fought but a short-lived battle with lung cancer lasted two months until he died on Woodstock Weekend.
Tina and James, who was 11 at the time, moved to a different town not long after Geoff’s passing. Once Tina and James settled into their new home, James was introduced to drugs by some older kids in the neighborhood. This introduction to drugs became the catalyst for a long, fatal bout with addiction. James was kicked out of his school for possession of marijuana, and then was continually ostracized by schools in the area. Tina struggled to find a place where James could get a good education for years, since so many schools did not want to deal with the challenges that came with having a student who struggled with addiction enrolled. Eventually, James earned his way back into high school, but then suffered a serious physical injury on July 7th, his father’s birthday. James was prescribed pain medication for his injury, which led to relapse.
James eventually dropped out of school because it was teeming with drugs. James continued to struggle with addiction to all kinds of drugs, and showed a preference for hallucinogens. In and out of recovery centers and programs, he experienced relapse and suffered a psychotic break. One day, James told Tina, “The only time I ever was able to dream about my dad was if I got high enough to hallucinate.” Tina believes that the desire to reconnect with his late father played a major role in James’s persistent substance use.
At age 18, James was doing well. He worked hard at maintaining his recovery and was engaging in productive activities. James had an interview for a job lined up and reignited a romantic spark with a former girlfriend. But before James could pursue his new career and romantic relationship any further, he overdosed. James took his last breath while sitting in front of his father’s Jimi Hendrix poster. James overdosed on August 16th, and passed away on August 17th — eight years after his father — on Woodstock Weekend.
Tina is now heavily involved in the recovery scene. She works with HOPE (Heroin Overdose Prevention in Erie) and NOPE (Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education), holds a monthly open door recovery dinner to support families and individuals whose lives have been affected by substance use, and speaks with nurses, teachers, parents, kids on juvenile probation, and individuals in the process of addiction recovery. She continues to organize major events in order to advocate for individuals with addiction and to support families through recovery. Tina’s primary project, at the moment, is writing a book about her son’s life.
Tina provides advice to parents at every possible opportunity, drawing on her extensive research and experience with addiction recovery. She continually emphasizes important actions that every concerned mother should adopt:
- Don’t rely on not finding drugs. Many parents believe that, if they are not finding drugs in their child’s home, addiction or drug abuse is not present. But an individual with addiction can always hide drugs or alcohol in a place that his/her parents will never find. Tina explains that parents should instead look to the larger picture of their child’s overall behavior to determine if addiction exists.
- Keep an eye out. If a child consistently leaves the home without telling you where he/she going or lying about his/her whereabouts, that is an indicator of addiction.
- Know the crowd. Parents should never hesitate to believe people who say that their child is hanging out with the wrong crowd. Even good kids can encourage others to engage in substance use. Don’t discount the testimony of others who are concerned for your child’s wellbeing.
- Don’t get too bogged down with the “what-ifs.” It’s natural for parents to look back and identify decisions and actions that could have been taken. But a more fruitful approach is to look ahead and identify concrete actions and steps that can be taken to support those struggling with addiction.
- Don’t delay treatment. Tina firmly believes that James’s experience in treatment saved his life and is the reason that he was able to live as long as he did. She wishes that he spent more time in treatment. While it may be difficult for parents to send their child away, they should know that they are investing in his/her well-being and quite possibly saving his/her life.
- Know that addiction is a disease. Addiction is not something that individuals voluntarily engage in, but is a powerful disease that can take hold of anyone at any time. Parents should approach their child’s addiction as they would any other disease by providing support and encouraging treatment.
Beth and Jillian
Beth, her husband, and three children were living in Pennsylvania when Beth started to notice that her daughter, Jillian, was exhibiting some unusual behaviors. Jillian, who was 18 at the time, started taking sick days from work without telling Beth. She was nodding off during the day and staying up late at night — a major break from Jillian’s routine sleep schedule. Jillian, who was normally kind and gregarious, had grown increasingly belligerent and angry.
Jillian’s siblings alerted their mom to the fact that Jillian may have a drug addiction, so Beth began requiring Jillian to provide urine samples for drug tests. They all came back negative. Beth would later learn that Jillian was hiding a friend’s urine samples under her bed and using them to outsmart the drug tests. Since the drug tests kept registering as negative, it seemed like Jillian was in the clear. But everything came to a head when Jillian stole her father’s debit card to help pay for drugs. That was when Beth and her husband had to finally face the unsettling truth: Jillian was struggling with an addiction to heroin.
At first, Jillian was resistant to addiction treatment. However, she eventually agreed to participate in a 30-day treatment program. Beth was relieved that Jillian agreed to receive treatment, and expected that Jillian would be addiction-free after the treatment program. Then, Beth thought, they could put the addiction mess behind them. But Jillian relapsed almost immediately after completing her treatment program and would go on to also relapse multiple times at a recovery house.
Eventually, Beth had to do the hardest thing in her life. She refused to let Jillian come home until she remained clean. Beth understood that she could no longer enable Jillian by providing her a place to stay. It was at that point, when Jillian was living in a homeless center, that Jillian realized she had hit rock bottom. From that moment on, Jillian remained resolute in her fight for recovery. Jillian lived for nine months in a recovery house and diligently worked her recovery program. She achieved new milestones, getting better every step of the way. Now, Jillian has been clean for 3 years and happily lives with her boyfriend and stepson in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Beth would never have guessed that Jillian would struggle with drug addiction. Jillian was the typical, all-American girl — captain of the cheerleading squad, president of the recycling club, and a dedicated, hard-working student. Their family was close-knit and supportive. Beth and her husband attended every game and event that their children were involved in, the family regularly ate dinner together, and they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. This did not seem like the recipe for substance use disorder; as Beth explains, “It never once crossed my mind that heroin would be part of my life.”
Looking back, Beth can identify the many warning signs that she missed, accepting Jillian’s excuses in an attempt to avoid acknowledging the reality of addiction: “It was a slow process for me to catch on… she would give me these excuses, and I guess I wanted to believe them.” Beth admits that she was just not educated on what to look for when it came to addiction. She didn’t think that she needed to be aware of warning signs since she was convinced that none of her children would ever struggle with substance use disorder. “I had no idea what warning signs to look for because I was so uneducated.”
However, through the unwavering support of her mother and a relentless pursuit of self-care through treatment, Jillian is now clean. She is healthy and consistently attends meetings for support. Jillian’s boyfriend is a leader in recovery, leading a home support group and sponsoring others. Beth is also active in the world of addiction recovery, telling her story to anyone who will listen and talking with other parents whose children struggle with addiction.
Beth’s relationship with Jillian is better now than it ever was before. Beth could not be more proud of her daughter. Addiction recovery is one of the most challenging processes an individual can experience, and Jillian remains strong every day. For Beth, Jillian represents the hope and healing that result from effective addiction recovery.
Beth has some helpful tips of advice to parents whose children struggle with addiction…
- Get educated. Parents should educate themselves about what addiction is, how it works, and how they can help encourage their children to pursue treatment. Understanding the basics is essential for identifying problems and solutions.
- Never wait. If an individual is struggling with addiction, then there is only a small window of time in which effective action can take place. Don’t delay the recovery process by waiting for the “right moment” or making sure that everything is perfect. Parents should immediately find a treatment program for their child.
- Lose the shame and the stigma. Parents are prone to blame their parenting skills for their child’s addiction, but that is not an accurate or healthy way to understand the causes of addiction. Parents must understand that this is not their fault and resist the unhealthy burden of shame placed on individuals who struggle with addiction.
- Ask for help. There are plenty of people who have overcome addiction, and many of them devote their lives to helping others do the same. These individuals are not just success stories — they are concrete embodiments of hope. They show that recovery is possible. The pain and overwhelming struggle of addiction is very real, but that should not overshadow the hope of recovery.
- Never give up hope. Beth urges mothers to never lose sight of hope. “There is another side to addiction. There is a possibility for hope, for a promise and a future. My daughter will always be an addict. I understand that. But she also has the possibility for another life.” Jillian is living proof of the profound power that a mother’s love and support can have. There is hope for a better life, for a better world, and you and your child can pursue that hope today.
Addiction Recovery Treatment at Futures of Palm Beach
At Futures of Palm Beach, we offer effective and compassionate addiction recovery treatment. We not only help individuals who struggle with addiction, but also support their families through the difficult process of addiction recovery with family programs and services.
To learn more about how Futures of Palm Beach can help you walk with your child on the road to recovery, contact us this Mother’s Day.