The numbers and statistics, they say something about addiction. They tell us about its prevalence. Or its scope. Or its mechanisms.
But they don’t speak to Joan’s sense of somehow failing her son. Or the anguish of having to tell him to leave the home. Or her fear that he might never return.
Those, she knows about all too well on her own. But it’s tough to describe, or even to find the right words.
She turned to notes from a past talk she had given about her experience: “When a family is struck with addiction, the effects go far beyond numbers and statistics. The emotions of failure, depression, anger, despair, confusion and sheer terror that addiction inflicts on its victims and their families is not something any statistic can accurately describe.”
Put another way: “It’s devastating to families,” she said later. “It’s almost like you’re losing someone, like they’re dying. They fade away, and they’re not the same person anymore.”
And, really, they are not. They’re not thinking as they once did. And so they will do things counter to who they once were, who they might be again.
“It’s the drugs that change them. You know there’s a good person in there,” Joan said.
She had seen the effects of addiction in an alcoholic relative. So she and her husband did their best to shield their children from the disease.
They involved themselves in their children’s lives, both in school and out. Their father took them fishing. They played sports. They went to church.
“We didn’t drink in our house,” she said. “I try to be that good example, showing that you can have a good time and enjoy your life without (alcohol).”
She also said they talked at length about what her relative was going through.
“With those issues in my family, believe me, we talked about it a lot,” she said.
Yet, despite her efforts, her son developed a habit, which she believes bubbled out of a cauldron of genetics, surroundings and negative life events, including a nearly fatal illness — all out of anyone’s control.
She said she and her family first learned the truth after suspecting something was amiss. And he wasn’t paying his bills. And more importantly, he was distancing himself from his family.
So they confronted him. Joan recalled that it took hours before he admitted to having a problem.
That was more than 10 years ago, and he’s been in and out sobriety since. At the moment, he’s doing well, Joan said, following a relapse a few months back.
And that’s how it’s gone with him, she said. He uses. He stops. He gets on track again. And then it starts all over.
The latest relapse, she said, was particularly hard, because he had been doing well for an eight-month stretch, working and saving money, attending recovery meetings and seeing a sponsor, someone with an understanding of addiction who is there for support.
But he went out one night with some friends. She could tell immediately he’d slipped. But he denied it, she said.
“I know him well enough that I can tell. And that’s what so hard … (addicts) will deny it and you know,” she said. “I hate the lies. I hate the denial.”
There’s not much a family can do, she said, except to encourage their recovery, which sometimes means allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions. But that’s always easier said than done, especially when telling an addict they have to leave the home if they don’t seek treatment.
“God forbid something should happen. You have to live with that,” she said. But at the same time, she said, the addicted won’t learn if the family stands by and takes no action.
“But it’s still very tough,” she said.
READ MORE: Read the rest of this week's pieces of "A Sobering Story: The Disease of Addiction" here, as well as last week's articles.
Do you or a loved one need help with addiction? Local resources are available here.
As a parent, she said, she sometimes feels helpless to do anything. Her faith, though, gives her hope.
“It’s such a terrible disease. I don’t know that, without the help of God, you can get though it.”