My name is Laura, and I’m a survivor of many things, including incest, domestic violence, rape, mental illness, and cancer. Throughout my life, I have thrived through and with my traumas. I have felt tremendous support during all of these traumatic events, from family, friends, communities, my church, and organizations that work with these traumatic experiences.
The year I spent in cancer treatment is one such trauma that I am most grateful for. While I was going through treatment, my family received three meals a week, my house was cleaned regularly, and I had a laundry fairy that picked up all of our laundry (4 peoples worth) once a week, and returned it to my doorstep the following day. The only thing I was supposed to focus on was getting well! I genuinely believe this great care was part of my survival of a Stage IV cancer that had the real potential to take my life. The concept, “it takes a village,” took on a very personal meaning for me, as that is what my “village” did – took over and provided love and support so that I could focus on the cure.
However, there was one traumatic period in my life when I felt neglected and stigmatized. For four years, my beautiful and beloved firstborn son suffered from heroin use disorder. He had a potentially fatal illness, much like my cancer, that currently takes the lives of 197 people a day.
Every day, I experienced the dread and anxiety of a phone call or a knock on the door to let me know that my son was arrested, or worse. And, eventually, when my son was unable to comply with the terms of his probation, he disappeared for nine months. No one had any idea where he was. This was when my calls to hospitals and morgues started. “Hello, I’m checking on whether you have any John Does?” This was all-consuming through my waking, and when able, sleeping moments. Is my son alive? I thought cancer was rough? This was brutal. We still lived in the same community that rallied behind us when I had cancer, but the response was the exact opposite. No one called, reached out, visited, asked how they could be supportive. Nothing. Silence.
My family and I became pariahs. As if substance use disorder was contagious. Friends that I had known for years disappeared. I saw people turn and go down a different aisle at the grocery store. People averted their eyes when they saw me, that was if they could not change directions. I lived in fear every day that I would lose my son, but I had to keep up appearances, go to work, care for my younger son, shop, cook, clean – all those things that I was helped with when I went through my life-threatening disease. I felt abandoned, ashamed, and oh so very alone. Where was my casserole?!
Dealing with a loved one’s substance use disorder and other mental health issues can be an isolating experience. We tend to disconnect ourselves from the world we knew out of our fears, self-judgment, shame, and guilt. I have come to understand that it is natural for people to feel uncomfortable or avoidant. Most people unaffected by SUDs don’t know what to say or do in a situation like this if they haven’t experienced it themselves. And even those situations come with their own unique, specific tales. On the flip side, many people are triggered negatively by addiction due to their own traumatic experiences with people they love who have suffered. Maybe a parent or spouse had an alcohol use disorder. That can be life-defining for many people.
Here’s the thing, I understand where that pain comes from. But, right now, more than ever, we need to come together to drive out stigma. Ignoring and running away fuels silence and isolation, which keeps families sick and suffering. Here are some simple tips for reaching out to someone impacted by substance use – be it active drug use, in recovery, or grieving from a substance-related loss:
- Do what feels right for you. If a friend’s addiction situation is bringing up old memories of your trauma, share that. We get it. If you don’t feel like talking about that but want us to know your thinking about us, please tell us, we get it. If you don’t have time because you are feeling pretty stressed yourself, let us know. We understand. When you stop shaming yourself, you can help remove shame others feel.
- Call or text. We might not respond, but just knowing that you care is paramount. All you have to say is, “I’m thinking of you.” “I’m here.” Keep calling or texting; keep leaving messages. It helps.
- Send a card or e-card of encouragement. Nothing fancy required.
- Show up with a meal or deliver a gift card to a restaurant.
- Offer to pick up siblings and take them on an adventure. Siblings suffer when someone in their family is sick. They can be forgotten family members.
- Keep including us in your events. Keep the invitations coming. We might continually turn you down, or not show up. Invite us anyway.
- Don’t offer advice unless we ask. Inquiring about whether or not your friend has sought out counseling or a support group can be helpful.
- You cannot make it worse. There are no magic words, and we aren’t looking for you to fix this, we need connection. We need to know you still love us and care. We need to know that you don’t feel our child is a bad person or that we are bad parents or spouses or caregivers.
- If you offer to help, don’t be surprised if we don’t know how you can help us. We have no idea what to do, how to handle the situation, or what we need. Just sit and be with us.
In closing, don’t forget about us. It’s okay to say that you don’t know what to say, keep reaching out. The disparities I saw between these two life-threatening situations were heartbreaking. Don’t let a friend of yours go through this alone. Show up with a casserole. You never know when that one moment of intervention or compassion can help give us the motivation to keep going, make a positive choice, or change our mood.
Laura Fry is Live4Lali’s Chief Programs Officer, and she oversees programming and staff management across the organization’s recovery, harm reduction, education, and peer support efforts. In long-term recovery, she and her son, Alexander, are now recovery coaches and outreach workers. For help, resources, safe supplies, or information, call 844-584-5254 x800, email us at [email protected], or visit our social media pages.
Categorised in: Uncategorized
This post was written by live4lali