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For families of people with drug addiction, telling their story can be part of the healing process

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Dana Henderson doesn’t often tell the story of her recovery.

That’s part of what Henderson, 38, of Summit, NJ – now a reception nurse at a Recovery Centers of America addiction treatment center – doesn’t like drawing attention to him. This is in part because he still doesn’t know how to tell the story of how he developed, and eventually recovered, from an addiction to the prescription drug Adderall that began in his early twenties.

But last year, when her mother, Linda Henderson, began to write down her memories of the difficult years he spent in and out of addiction, Dana knew this process was how this mother began to heal.

The Hendersons’ different approaches to their stories are a hallmark of how patients and their families experience addiction treatment and recovery – how what is therapeutic for one family member may not be part of the process for one. other. Substance abuse treatment providers in the region say that involving families in a patient’s treatment can also help the family unit recover.

READ MORE: Hear more stories of addiction and recovery at a panel discussion at the free Tell Your Health Story from the Inquirer event.

“There is a parallel process – a family has to start their own path of recovery while their loved one begins theirs,” said Trish Caldwell, RCA’s vice president of family and clinical programs. “How do you help support yourself in a way that allows you to support your loved one? “

Four years ago, Caldwell started a weekend-long program at RCA, Seeds of Recovery, designed to educate family members of patients about what their loved ones were going through.

“The estate has a history of not involving families – they are in the shadows, scared, alone. This prevents themselves and their loved ones from reconnecting. But the recovery is strengthened when [patients] to have people who believe in them and support them, ”she said.

Brad Sorti, CEO of Caron Treatment Centers, said his own experience of early recovery – where he and his family worked with a therapist – also reinforced the importance of caring for family members of someone with drug addiction. .

“For me, it was very important to work with families, because someone had the courage to do it for me,” he said.

Released and Caldwell both want to move away from outdated and stigmatized language about families and substance abuse, such as references to “co-addiction” or “empowerment.” Instead, they work to help families set healthy boundaries and talk about addiction as a chronic illness, not a moral failure.

This realization was essential for Linda Henderson early in her son’s recovery, she said. “People said throw him out. I found [what helped] be the absolute opposite, ”she said. “[Our kids] need whatever they can get to help them. My whole message is, don’t give up on your loved ones.

It’s also something patients are eager to pass on to their families, Caldwell said. “When we have these conversations, patients will say, ‘Are you saying these things to my family? They want them to understand what the disease pattern looks like. They want their families to understand that [their addiction didn’t happen] “Because we don’t love you. “

For Linda Henderson, writing down her memories of her son’s addiction was like putting together a puzzle. While writing, she said, she recognized signs that Dana was struggling and missed at the time. She also noticed setbacks that made the family’s journey more difficult, such as her own lack of a support system and the inadequacy of Dana’s first rehab: the family’s insurance only covered 11 days. hospital treatment.

“I just felt like it had been roasting in me for years. I have to get this out. I have to write it down, ”she said. Eventually she turned her handwriting into a book, Wake up mom, on the family’s experience with drug addiction, hoping it might help other families.

Although Dana is supportive of the project and participated in a Q&A section at the end of the book that fills in some of the gaps in her mother’s memories, he read Wake up mom just one time.

“I have my own recovery and my own way of staying sober, and I know my story,” Dana said. “[The book] is my mother’s interpretation. It’s therapy for her, knowing that she’s doing something good out of something horrible.

Earlier this year, Linda spoke at a Seeds of Recovery virtual event – during the pandemic, the program took place online every third Saturday. It was a particularly significant experience, she said, as Dana works at a facility in RCA – but was also treated there for drug addiction on her third successful recovery attempt.

For Dana, a crucial part of her recovery story is that it’s not over yet – something her mother has also achieved.

“I think once I went to rehab [the first time], my mom thought it was like – “Oh, he’s better now.” I don’t think she expected me to keep writing chapters there, ”he said. “And I tell him today to pray just one day at a time – that any chapter we add is good.”


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