March 2, 2015

The Addiction Community – On Support, Stigma, Suggestions

Ignorance and Addiction - 100PedalsAddiction is not simply a media buzzword, it is a serious societal disease. Addiction is misunderstood, often ignored, seriously under treated, and is killing our children.

Addiction is rampaging our homes, our schools, our community, and our society.  It is a highly charged emotional land mine.

Over 23 million people suffer from some form of addiction. At least 100 million people have experience with addiction in their lives.

It is hard to fathom that with almost one-third of our county’s population exposed to addiction that we still need to be activists.

Lacking the courage and living in fear of public scrutiny too many parents are not receiving the peer-to-peer support they need most.  As parents struggle to find the courage to share their story and get the help they really need, many of them look to the Internet for support. As much as I like the concept of on-line support groups, this is not the best place for parents to recover. Right now, it is the safest, most anonymous way to do research. They do not take the place of community support groups like PAL (Arizona) or Learn to Cope (Boston).  This must change!

Parents with passion, experience, commitment, and resolve must to take their battle to streets and to mainstream media.  We need to start educating those who need educating by fighting ignorance with knowledge and awareness. We need to stand tall for those who struggle as we once did and help guide to an empowered haven of love, support, and learning.

I am determined to fight this battle to bring the disease of addiction into its proper place where care, support, education, and change are part of a mainstream program not some secret society only for those who somehow found themselves members of the “Addiction Club.”

Below is my behavioral checklist. These are tips for parents advocates who want to help families (Rules 1-7) and who are committed to ending the stigma of ignorance and fear in our society (Rules 8, 9, 10). Hope they help!

1. Listen: Listen to those who are struggling. Every word a parent shares is a cry for help. They are in pain. More than anything, they are simply expressing their feelings and seeking a helpful refuge. They do not want to feel alone. They need to be heard. Listen. Let them know you heard them and they are not alone.
2. Understand: Take a moment to understand where they are, not where you were or are. Their words, their struggle, their pain is about them, not you. Put yourself in the position they are in. If you were there once, without comment go back to that place and feel it.  Speak to them from that place, not your current place.
3. Encourage: Encourage them to have faith, stay strong, believe. Encourage them to trust their instincts and while pointing them to an effective support group or call a parent coaching helpline like the one at Partnership for Drug Free Kids to have someone to talk to.
4. Share: Feel free to share your story without using it as a means to advise them what to do.  Share the commonalities of the pain, the struggle, and the hope we all have experienced. Everyone loves Sandy Swenson’s book “The Joey Song.”  The power in this book is how Sandy shared her story without “telling” any of us what to do. Her story resonated with and inspired us because of how she shared it.
5. Educate: Teach these parents how to think. Go back and reflect on how you learned, how you thought, and how you fell down and got up.  This was your learning curve. Everyone learns through experience. Learn to educate others to discover the lessons and their future steps based on thoughtful reflection, not simple, quick answers.
6. Participate: Participate in a parent coaching training program. Learn the skills to communicate – listen, understand, encourage. Your passion for helping others and supporting those who are struggling is awesome. If that is your desire, learn how to engage in a more powerful, helpful manner.
7. Attend: Attend a local parent support group regularly. Healing the best trainer. Many of my greatest and most productive interactions from those who want to help have come from those with experience in active participation of a local parent group.  Learn how these groups work so you can encourage others to attend. We do not have enough parents using these programs. This is the best place for them to be.
8. Inform: When it comes to those who don’t understand addiction, there is always an opportunity to inform someone. When a person says something stupid or irresponsible see it as an opportunity to first understand why they believe that; what their experiential reference for that opinion is; and, from a place of understanding inform them of the error in their thinking.
9. Enlighten: The issue of addiction needs advocates not victims. Or job is to tell our story to anyone and everyone we can all the time! Enlightenment improves awareness. Far too many people do not know how serious this issue is, because we are not talking openly, freely, courageously and forcefully about it with our relatives, our neighbors, our church members, or friends. Get out there and start educating people.
10. Fight: The only way to win this battle of knowledge and awareness is to fight for truth. The stigma of addiction is a byproduct of fear and ignorance, both of which are behaviors that need not be tolerated or accepted. When someone says something wrong, stupid, or inaccurate it is your responsibility to set the record straight from place of love and wisdom.

We have all become members of a club we didn’t really plan on signing up for. Now that our membership is official, it our job to help those who need us as much as we needed others in our darkest place while eradicating ignorance and stigma in the process.

Thank you for being an advocate. Thank you for being passionate and committed. Stay active and proud, together we will make a difference. Peace!

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About Dave Cooke

Dave Cooke is a dad on a mission. His mission is to help parents get control of their lives over the powerful, destructive influences of a child's addiction. As the father of a son in a ten year heroin battle, Dave knows all to well the challenges parents and families face. He also knows there is a way to find peace in the chaos. It is his mission to help parents discover their path to a healthier, balanced life even if a child's active addiction is still part of their daily journey.