Can One Person Make a Difference?

by Sarah McDade
September 9, 2019

About eight years ago, at a parent Twelve Step meeting, I became alarmed when I heard a number of my peers say they were waiting for their children to hit “rock bottom.” My twenty-one-year-old son was in his third year of recovery after a seven-month treatment program for alcohol and drug abuse, and I wanted these parents to know there were options to help their offspring get better with professional help. I had heard their stories, and, like mine, their children had escaped death by the good fortune of something, perhaps a Higher Power.

After one meeting, I discreetly approached certain parents and offered them a short list of nationally respected treatment centers. I was timid about it. I didn’t want to offend anyone. A few months later, after another meeting, I offered other parents a list of regional parent support group meetings. In a few more months, I offered others a list of interventionists I had met. All of these parents were appreciative of these resources, and I became emboldened. With the help of a friend in recovery, I started to interview local therapists who had considerable experience with addiction—professionals I had learned of after asking to be invited to a luncheon for therapists who were learning about different addiction treatment options.

Parents were getting back to me with early success stories with therapists, interventionists, and treatment centers. Now, after each Twelve Step meeting, I would approach newcomers to have a chat. Usually, I had heard their stories during the meeting and had seen that they were distraught over impending disaster with their children. If they were interested, I would share a certain type of resource. My lists had grown to extended-care facilities, Twelve Step clubs, helpful websites, reading material for parents, and more. Soon, other parents in the meeting would suggest that newcomers come to me for resources.

What had I gotten my self into? Whatever it was, I didn’t want to stop. During the time I was creating these lists, Caron Treatment Centers allowed me to oversee two family support group meetings in Northern Virginia, one in Falls Church and one in Herndon. I was getting telephone calls and emails from Caron parents as well as folks just looking for addiction resources. It was all by word of mouth. The bad guys of stigma and shame had kept these resources underground, away from doctors, teachers, and others in the public domain.

Perhaps if I had established a website, I would have been able to reach even more families, but so far I have resisted that thought. I enjoy having one-on-one conversations when I get to listen to each person’s story. I’ve usually walked in these parents’ shoes, but when I was in their situation, I didn’t have the resources to help me make an educated choice or find some peace for myself. If these parents are interested, I offer a menu of options.

The real beauty is watching my fellow parents in the support groups help others. There is one professional mother in our Falls Church group who seems to wear a sign that says, “Talk to me. I’m the mother of someone in recovery. I’d love to help you!” She has brought so many people to the meeting. Parents seek her out because she has been down this road of fearing you’re losing a child to an illness that has a cure. Although she has brought more than ten parents to the meeting over the years, she’s not the only one helping others. One by one, these parents, who have survived the torment of a child suffering from addiction, are reaching out to offer their listening ears and wisdom to others. They attend local addiction programs and numerous local support meetings, and they can share experience and wisdom with those struggling with the first tastes or enduring heartaches of a child of any age suffering from addiction. These are my friends; they are humble, and they help others.

One by one, they are making a difference.

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Sarah McDade

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  1. Sarah, I’m so proud to know you! The work you are doing to help other parents is making a wonderful difference in the community. Regardless of how our children are faring, the twelve-step meetings we’ve both attended, with all the coping tools we learn there, have the potential to work miracles in our lives. I learned how to reclaim my life at the very meeting you refer to, welcomed by other parents who could show me the way. With your caring, one-on-one approach, you are lighting the darkness in another parent’s world. Thank you!

  2. I am assuming the majority of mothers here have children at home. If your addicted child is young you have the power to to get them into rehab programs. Are there others like me who have a son or daughter in their forties? After a divorce my son is drinking more than before. And in my case I have no control over his decisions. I was able to convince him to detox and then into rehab. But he would not stay past 30 days and he’s struggling. At this age I feel helpless.

    • I meant to add any of our children in their 20’s or 30’s as well. I also feel disturbed when I’m told. “He has to hit rock bottom”. What does that mean and what is his rock bottom?

    • Hi Debbie, I’m glad you commented. I attend a parent Al Anon meeting and other support groups for families of loved ones with addiction. I know plenty of parents who have children in their 40s who are struggling, and the struggle is with the parent as well as the adult child. When I first met these parents their children were on very dangerous courses, repeatedly. Over the years the parents kept attending the meetings. Of the 6 I have seen most recently, 4 of the 40 something children have embarked on a recovery journey, with AA figuring prominently in their lives after treatment. There are also recovery coaches for those coming out of treatment. It’s a hard time for them, and their brains have been changed by the repeated introduction of that drug (alcohol is considered a drug). My son is now 30, and he had 3 relapses between age 19 and 29. I was immersing myself in support group meetings and 12 step meetings over those years. He could tell that I had changed, and I think that in itself was helpful in him seeking help for himself. He was living away from home for two of those relapses, as he lived 1000 miles away from me from age 19-29. There are recovery services that coach families as well as sick loved ones. Phenomenal addiction therapist Michael Herbert coaches families and loved ones, for a fee, via the phone. He knows this world so well. 561-221-7677. That’s a thought for you. There are others who do it in my region of metro Wash.DC. There is hope. Sarah

      • Thank you so much Sarah for your reply!

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