When someone struggles with substance use, it’s not only the individual who is impacted. Parents and grandparents, spouses and siblings, friends and co-workers … all can have their lives turned upside down and at the time, there can seem little hope of the world becoming righted again.
“It’s been a long journey,” reflects Ron, whose family member continues to battle with substance use disorder and mental health issues.
“For families who have the loved ones going through this, it’s just horrendous in so many ways,” from extreme, erratic behaviour, to the constant fear of overdose, to the hopelessness at not being able to help, he says.
“I would have given anything not to have had the learning opportunities we’ve had, but you have to go with what you experience.”
The question then becomes, how can you take that experience and help?
Today, as a member of the Port Alberni Community Action Team (CAT), Ron fights the stigma that can accompany addiction and mental illness by talking about his family’s experiences.
“There’s definitely a stigma around the concept of substance use disorder,” Ron says, noting many people are afraid to talk about their experiences because of the perceived judgement that comes with addiction. While we know a simple fix isn’t possible, “a lot of people still think you can snap your fingers and make it go away.”
That speaks to the misunderstandings surrounding addiction. For example, research shows that 70 per cent of substance use-related conditions are driven by previous trauma, which itself can take so many forms. “They’re trying to eliminate the pain that has come with that trauma,” Ron says, pointing as well to the strong correlation between mental health and substance use disorder.
Families Helping Families
Through the Port Alberni CAT, Ron is working toward establishing Families Helping Families, featuring workshops and opportunities for families to connect, to talk about their experiences, and explore resources in an open, judgement-free environment. “We’re not professionals, but our experience gives us a unique perspective,” Ron explains.
“When you’re in the trenches, and you’re family’s going through it, you don’t really have the time to find others experiencing the same things you are,” Ron says. “We’ve felt the alarm and the stigmatization, and deep down we know there are so many families out there.”
“The CAT membership is so pleased to have our Families Helping Families Initiative underway,” says Deb Hamilton, Executive Director of the Alberni Drugs & Alcohol Prevention Service (ADAPS), and co-chair of the Alberni CAT. “There are not enough resources for families whose loved ones are substance affected, and those available can be hard to find. Families in need of support should reach out to their health care providers, churches, local non-profits and the Alano club to find support groups and counselling. Look for programs that can increase their resiliency and wellness. Those who have employer-assisted counselling available shouldn’t hesitate to access it. BC 211 is another good resource for identifying local programs, and ADAPS Prevention Service can support families who have youth who are struggling with Substance Use.
“We want families to know they are not in this alone. Every person who is affected by the opioid crisis has a family, a story and a future. Families need to be supported to be resilient so they may be part of positive change when their loved one is ready.”