Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………Oct 14, 2014
The other day I watched “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Inside Utah’s Struggle with Drug Abuse.” She showed that even though Mormons have a strict health guide, they are still falling in high numbers to the addiction of pain pills. I felt that she was very compassionate in her interviews. She attended a Mormon Addiction Recovery Program meeting, spoke with a Mormon Bishop and in addition to others, met with a very candid girl named Sarah.
I didn’t learn about the danger of prescription pills until my son was in high school. He went to a friend of mine who worked in the school’s bookstore and asked her for one of her pain pills. Very responsibly, this friend called me before giving him one. She told me that Jeffrey had come to her saying that his back really hurt. As a football player, Jeffrey had many reasons to have a hurting back. I told her it was OK to give him one of her pills. Unbelievable, I know. Looking back, I am astounded at my naiveté. I had no idea that I had just given my consent to an addiction that would become so full blown that we wouldn’t see the end of it for fifteen years. I knew nothing about addictions and, of course, nothing about the role pills play in dependency.
Drugs were so out of my realm of consciousness. I had five nearly perfect children. It was very interesting to watch the Ling program because it stressed the obsession we as Mormons tend to have with perfection. We don’t want anyone to know that our family might be having problems, so disasters like drug addiction can be swept under the rug of denial for years. Although that’s probably not solely a Mormon dilemma.
Lisa showed how easy it is to get addicted. Many start innocently with prescription pills given by a well-meaning doctor. When pills get too scarce or expensive many turn to heroin and other illegal drugs. Addicts need their next hit just like everyone needs their next breath of oxygen and they’ll do about anything to get it.
When Lisa Ling was interviewing Sarah—a full blown heroin addict—she asked her if she wanted to quit. “More than you’ll know,” said Sarah. Lisa also asked Sarah what she wanted. Sarah’s answer was that she just wanted a hug from her Mom.
Sarah’s Mom, who was never named, might have sounded like an unfeeling woman, one who wouldn’t even hug her daughter. But not to me. I have been that mom to some degree and I praise her for her courage. It takes a lot of courage to divorce your addicted child and let her determine on her own that she is ready to pay the price for sobriety. I would guess that Sarah’s Mom has already spent years hugging and encouraging and saving Sarah from the consequences of her disastrous choices. After all, she is raising Sarah’s child which is a difficult thing to do after raising your own children. I would also assume that Sarah’s Mom has been lied to and stolen from because that is what addicts do—they lie and they steal. Enough is enough.
Brad and I have had many couples sitting in our living room trying to absorb any advice we can give them about dealing with their own addicted children. We tell them all the same thing that a recovered addict told us: “There is nothing you as a parent can do or say that will change your child. They are the ones who have to decide when they are really ready to walk the difficult path of recovery.” We also tell them of helps that are available to parents and meetings that would strengthen their resolve. Most parents don’t like our advice.
I am assuming that Sarah’s Mom finally arrived at the point we all must come to: we are not helping our children by enabling them. We are not helping our children by giving them a nice place to live and driving them places and paying for their needs. They will never recover until it is harder to be an addict than it is to be sober. When we make life easy for them, addicted children continue farther down that destructive path and there is no retrieving them. Our son wasn’t willing to get ultimate help until he had been homeless for about a year—living behind dumpsters and on the canal bank in a bush, panhandling for money to get more drugs. We couldn’t coddle him anymore. We couldn’t bring him home. We had to go on with our lives and let him go on with his even though his path might lead to death.
So to Sarah’s Mom I would say that there are many imperfect Mormon Moms who are behind you right now, wishing you the best and saying, “Hang in there, Sarah’s Mom. You are doing the right thing. The only right thing!”
I wish I could tell Sarah that although she wants to be clean she didn’t sound like she was quite ready to throw herself into a program where she’d have to give her all into getting well. With the nation watching, I imagine that many would step up to help her into a rehab if she had said that she was ready and willing to go right now. But when she is done, truly done with her addiction, there is help for her.
Our son finally got the help he needed in a 24 month program that changed his thinking and his life. It is called the John Volken Academy . It was started by a wonderful philanthropist and costs next to nothing. Two years seems like a very long time to be in a program, but the many expensive thirty day and three month programs worked only for a little while and then the addiction returned. When you are deep into addiction, a few months isn’t going to pull you out. Thanks to John Volken we have our son back—our wonderful son.
And one day, Sarah, if you are willing to make recovery your first and only priority, your Mom will get you back . And, I promise, the hugs won’t stop.