From addict to family
Editor’s note: Ever since the Whig concluded its “Voices of Recovery” series last fall, many have asked the paper to continue discussing recovery and addiction. As an extension of that focus, we now present “Shift the Focus” an every-other-week column by Lorri Irrgang, a local author, recovery advocate and mother of someone in recovery. Join us as Lorri discusses many topics pertinent to the recovery movement.
— In January 2011, I discovered that my son was suffering from a disease that was rarely discussed. It was not a disease that friends and family would show up with meatloaf dinners to help us cope. It was a disease that caused anger, isolation, confusion, frus-
tration and helplessness. I discovered my son was suffering from addiction.
It was that discovery that changed the course of my life. As many parents experience, there are tears and many unanswered questions. It is a challenge to get out of bed each day. It is difficult to focus on your work, home and family. Relationships with your spouse, friends and closest family members often change. You find yourself on an island that you did not know even existed.
Minutes turned into hours, and hours into days. The feelings of anxiety and fear fail to subside. I realized I was not going to get through this alone. I knew if I were going to survive this trauma not only for myself, but in order to continue to be a good parent to my healthy daughter, I was going to have to get some control back of my life. It was within days of this realization that I ran into a friend who bravely shared she was suffering with her son’s addiction as well. We decided to start a support group that gave us a new focus: “Peace and Hope.” This meeting is at Bethel Lutheran Church every Monday at 7 p.m.
Shortly after our 12-step group began, a men’s recovery house opened in Cecil County called “The Dexter House.” Being able to confront the issues of addiction in the support group gave me the courage to become involved in recovery. The first group of men at the house willingly and openly shared their own stories. I began to understand the torment and destruction that addiction has caused all of them. Watching their thought processes and physical changes as they got farther and farther away from drugs and alcohol was truly amazing. I was able to see that there was hope for my son’s future.
Addiction is truly a family disease. It affects many layers of the addict’s life, as well as, the family’s life. I knew that if I could help just one parent by providing support and hope, they might not feel so alone and helpless. “Where Did You Go, Addi?” by L.A. Fry, was my first effort in this direction. It is a children’s book that shares the story of the chaos that addiction brought into my home. The child you once knew becomes lost in the grips of the drugs and alcohol. The book also identifies the progression of drug use that all people go through, many starting during their teenage years. There is a checklist of the many signs to look for to help you determine if your child may be using a chemical substance of some sort. “Where Did You Go, Addi?” is a basic resource for those parents who are new to this disease.
Two years ago a nonprofit advocacy group called “Voices of Hope for Cecil County” (VOH), was launched. VOH meets at the Cecil County Health Department on Wednesday nights from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. Due to my support and participation, I was asked to represent the family on the Board of Directors. This is a group of Cecil County residents in long-term recovery who have planned many events to give back to the community in hopes of helping others in search of recovery and reducing the stigma of addiction.
Interventions and support for the addicts, however, is not enough. I passionately feel that in order to increase the addict’s opportunity for recovery, we must provide support for the family members. Just as the addict suffers, so too does the family. In addition to representing “Family and Community Outreach” for VOH, I provide individual family support through my consulting business, A.D.A. Family Trauma, I offer resources, sugges- tions and guidance to help parents make decisions, not only for themselves, but for their addict and the healthy siblings in the family who have become invisible. I have presented educational programs and workshops for churches and middle schools. Additional presentations were provided at Washington College, Cecil College and the University of Delaware. I also led workshops through Cecil College’s “Life Long Learning” program that also provided support and information about addiction.
The goal of this column is two-fold: to provide information that may be beneficial to those of you who are searching for help with an addicted loved one and, more importantly, to “shift the focus” on what you can control during this journey.
Be sure to check out “Shift the Focus” on Aug. 19, which will help to answer the question: Is addiction biology or psychology?