Always End The Conversation With ‘I Love You’
By: Elsa H. Partan
Lisa M. Murphy of Mashpee and Donna L. Mello of Falmouth have only known each other since October, but they already know each other’s story. Speaking in Ms. Mello’s kitchen over coffee and cookies this week, they remarked that the parents of recovering drug addicts often have a lot of similar experiences and emotions.
Chief among those is a pervading fear that their children will die at a young age. There is also anger at being lied to, hope for recovery, despair during a relapse, and motivation to go to financial and personal extremes to help their children get clean and sober.
Since Ms. Murphy founded the support group Parents Supporting Parents in early October, attendance has grown, topping out at 25 people. The group meets each Monday evening at 6:30 at the Mashpee Senior Center and is composed mostly of parents from Mashpee and Falmouth, although some have come from as far away as Dennisport.
The members’ children represent every stage of addiction and recovery and range in age from 19 to 35, though that should not prevent anyone whose child is younger or older from attending, Ms. Murphy said.
“Your child is always your child; it doesn’t matter what their age is,” she said.
Ms. Murphy’s 25-year-old daughter, Teena-Marie, kicked her heroin habit four years ago and attends a support group meeting daily. Ms. Mello’s son, Jason, 35, has been clean from his heroin addiction for six weeks, also with the help of daily meetings. Both Teena-Marie and Jason hold jobs.
The two women leaned in to offer smiles and kind words to each other in the midst of answering questions, clearly comfortable in their roles as givers of support and comfort. Oblivious to their children’s early drug use, they have become managers of limits and boundaries, they said. They always seek to end a conversation with their children with the phrase, “I love you.”
Their support group has gathered at a time of heightened awareness of prescription drug abuse on Cape Cod, a problem that has grown dramatically in the last decade. Experts say that for many, a habit of opiate-based prescription drugs leads to a heroin addiction, a drug that costs less on the street.
Meantime, drug abuse costs a significant amount to the criminal justice system. The latest available state figures, from 2007, show that nearly 40 percent of the federally sentenced defendants in Massachusetts have committed drug offenses.
What often gets lost in stories of drug abuse is how many people have succeeded in getting clean and sober, said Raymond V. Tamasi, the president and CEO of Gosnold on Cape Cod, a center in Falmouth that provides addiction treatment.
Mr. Tamasi said he recently received a call from a man whose son was treated at Gosnold and is now back in college and getting top marks.
“Our family is a totally different family from a year ago,” the man told Mr. Tamasi.
“The sad thing about this illness is that it doesn’t make it easy for people to come out and talk about their recovery,” Mr. Tamasi said. “I think if more people did, it would strengthen support groups.”
A support group is the place where people find out that they are not alone, Mr. Tamasi said. “You get a sense of hope.”
Ms. Murphy, who works as a laboratory technician at Cape Cod Hospital, said she founded the group in part because she did not fit in with already established groups. Al-Anon Family Groups, which are related to the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, are helpful for many people, she said. But she found those meetings to be too general, the experiences too varied.
“There were women who described these terrible boyfriends,” she said. “All I could think was, ‘Can’t you just leave him?’ You can’t leave your child.”
Another difference is that heroin and other opiates are among the most addictive substances on Earth, with a week of flulike withdrawal as a reward for trying to kick the habit.
Ms. Murphy and Ms. Mello said they did not want to minimize the struggle of alcoholics to get sober. Yet there is something unique about dealing with a heroin addiction, they said.
“Opiates are in a class by themselves,” Ms. Mello said. “My child has been in and out of recovery since he was 15. This latest time it was opiates. And this time he lost.”
Ms. Mello, who works as a counselor for AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, explained that Jason went into a residential drug detoxification program five times in the last eight months, relapsing within days of his release each time.
“He wanted it, he cried about it. He just couldn’t do it,” she said.
Jason’s solution was to ask the district court to lock him up at the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Bridgewater.
“It’s not a pleasant place,” she said.
Upon leaving the center, Jason moved to a sober house in Falmouth. His six-week sobriety is promising but fragile, Ms. Mello said. Jason once stayed clean and sober for two years before picking up marijuana.
“No big deal, right?” Ms. Mello said. He moved on to hallucinogenic drugs, cocaine, and heroin, she said.
Though he has six weeks under his belt, Ms. Mello still asks Jason to call her each day.
“I look at that clock,” she said, pointing across the kitchen. “I worry if he doesn’t call me by 5 PM that he has picked up again. The anxiety doesn’t end.”
Teena-Marie hit bottom in a terrifying way four years ago, Ms. Murphy said. At 21, she was married to an abusive man who was also a heroin user. One day Ms. Murphy got a tearful call from her daughter, who said she needed help. When she saw Teena-Marie, blood was streaming from her head, a result of broken facial bones, including a broken nose and eye socket.
As soon as it was clear that Teena-Marie would survive the head trauma, Ms. Murphy began seeing her daughter’s hospitalization as an opportunity. Teena-Marie agreed that she wanted to get clean and sober and she was able to move to a safe house for battered women. She underwent a medical detoxification at Gosnold and moved to Emerson House, both in Falmouth. Now she is able to live on her own.
“She got involved in the 12 steps and the Big Book,” the bible of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous movements, Ms. Murphy said. “She stays in contact every day with clean and sober people.”
Even with a four-year history of being clean, Ms. Murphy said that Teena-Marie stays vigilant against complacency.
“Addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes,” Ms. Murphy said. “You have to manage it every day.”
Ms. Mello agreed, adding that providing a lifetime of moral support for one’s child can take a toll on a parent.
“This group is about helping our kids, but it’s also about us,” Ms. Mello said. “Parents need a place as well.”
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