When those in recovery reference the shame that comes with substance use disorder, I get it. Because as a mom, I got that treatment, too.
It was bad when my son suffered depression and anxiety attacks at school. But attitudes towards my family and Charles got much worse once drugs entered the picture.
I expected it from clueless neighbors and uneducated parents.
Surprisingly, the most belittling humiliation came from behavioral health specialists–people I was paying to educate me on what to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are some compassionate, awesome people in the field. But in 2010, finding them was not easy.
One particular instance stands out in my mind.
My family was in an intense outpatient program for Charles and we were the only family where both my husband and I showed up with our son. At that time, I was barely hanging in there, holding onto hope with the edge of my fingernails.
Charles had broken into a store after mixing alcohol and ambien, his sleep medicine. He was not understanding his own behavior and we were crushed because he was arrested in front of his whole family on a beach vacation. What’s worse, he was humiliated and we didn’t know what to do.
I was trying to figure out what his diagnosis was from a mental health perspective and his sleep disorder was out of control.
So back to the adolescent drug abuse outpatient program.
I approach the group leader at week 6 out of 8 to ask about the sleep medication his doctor had ordered. After the Ambien incident and the fact that it was creating bizarre behavior, his sleep doctor had prescribed Restoril. We were out of options and trying to get a teen to execute a regimented sleep and light therapy program was simply not realistic given his level of maturity.
I didn’t know much about this medication and I wanted an opinion. I was asking for feedback but what I got back was not what I expected.
When I asked about the medication, the jaw dropped, I got the eye roll and this person said, “Some parents are so stupid,” followed by stalking off and throwing hands in the air.
At my lowest and most vulnerable moment, someone kicked me when I was down. Not literally, of course but that’s what it felt like. I stood there shaking and trying to suppress tears which I was unsuccessful in doing.
At no time in this process did I feel more shocked, ashamed and confused. If I could have crumpled up in a ball, sunk through the floor and disappeared, I would have.
For the only the second time I had confided in a behavioral health professional about medication, I got a completely unprofessional response that left me feeling devastated.
So what happened after that? I swallowed my hurt and we finished the program. I never got any answers or discussion on what I had asked about.
Once we were at the point he was supposed to have twice a week follow up to transition out, it never got set up. I called every single day for over 2 weeks. Finally, I get a call back. I was told they were not going to set up the follow up sessions because of the sleep medicine. And then they hung up.
So that was the answer I got to my question over a month later.
I had time to pursue finding resources for my son or looking for vindication. And I chose my son. It wasn’t the first time we were mistreated. Or the last.
What am I getting at? There is prejudice within the behavioral health system itself–the last place I ever expected to find it. When it comes to changing attitudes, it needs adjustment on all fronts, in all places if we are to beat this epidemic.
These young people suffering addiction need our support, not our disdain.
And guess what? Their parents need it, too.