The effects of addiction ripple out widely, to parents, children, spouses, other relatives, friends and colleagues. Facing the addiction of someone you care about can be terrifying, confusing, and fraught with emotion, making it tough to figure out the best steps to help your loved one.
At CleanSlate, some of our staff came to work in the field of addiction medicine because of their personal experience with addiction, whether through their own substance use disorder or that of a loved one. We asked several of these employees to share their journeys of coping and recovery for a Pocket Guide directed towards families and friends of people suffering from addiction.
Here is one employee's experience, in her own words:
Michelle*: Center Manager, CleanSlate
On Jan. 1, 2016, the father of my children told me that he suffered from substance use disorder (SUD). I can’t describe what a shock this was. This isn’t someone who looks like he suffers from an SUD. We both had phenomenal jobs, we had kids, life was good. Or so I thought.
My husband said that he wanted to go to inpatient rehab. He didn’t want to start with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for his addiction. He was so lost, but was serious about wanting to go to rehab. I reached out to a friend who was educated on this issue because he had experienced it personally. He walked me through his process and gave me advice.
At the time, I lived in Massachusetts, so I learned about calling 211. It’s a resource that facilitates ways for people to get help from addiction. While not all organizations around addiction are listed in 211, it’s a good starting point.
I made hundreds of calls to land a bed for my husband. I finally found a bed that had a two-week wait, but when the time came, my husband never showed up.
In fact, my husband went missing. And he remains missing to this day. We know that he’s alive because he’s still on Facebook. But nobody has seen him for 2 1/2 years.
"The stigma hits you so hard"
At the time, I was employed as a social worker. I had friends who worked at CleanSlate and in the field of addiction. But even I had such a hard time talking about this. I went through six to eight months of feeling abject shame. Truly, the shame factor is overwhelming. Families who are affected by addiction try to hide it rather than getting help. The stigma hits you so hard.
I kept asking myself: what could I have done differently? My husband didn’t display any obvious signs of addiction. Were there other signs I could have been looking for?
I realized that I had to better educate myself on addiction to cope with my situation. I moved my family across
the country and found a job as a Care Coordinator for CleanSlate. Now I understand how important MAT is to recovery.
We often get family members in our centers who don’t know what MAT is. I explain the process, show them how heroin and other opioids affect the brain. I show them the research, and you can see their minds change.
"People have to want recovery for themselves"
The main thing I learned about coping with the addiction of a loved one is that nobody will achieve recovery from addiction if they don’t want to achieve recovery for themselves. They can’t do it for anyone else.
I also learned that education is a #1 priority. Keep an open mind that there is more than one way to treat addiction. Being open to different approaches is so important.
In Indiana, the Governor has launched a campaign called “Know the O Facts” which aims to change the mindset around addiction. Even just changing the way we talk about addiction, having the right terminology that isn’t stigmatizing, is important.
Arming yourself with the facts and a list of local resources, wherever you are, is critical. Keep an active, up-to-date resource list for your loved one, including treatment providers that may be helpful in their area.
When you feel backed into a corner, all of these steps help you have hope.
And hope is freeing.
LESSONS I WANT TO SHARE
- You can’t make someone want to go through recovery until they’re ready.
- Educate yourself so you know your options.
- Keep an up-to-date list of local resources for yourself and your loved one.
* While most CleanSlate employees are open about sharing their personal stories with patients and others, we have changed all names for this piece.
Read other stories like Michelle's by downloading our free Pocket Guide.