Learn to Cope is a non-profit support network funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that offers education, resources, peer support and hope for parents and family members coping with a loved one’s addiction to opiates or other drugs.
Founded by Joanne Peterson in 2004, the organization has become a nationally recognized model for peer support with more than 7,000 members and numerous chapters located throughout Massachusetts. We often refer parents to this important resource knowing they’ll be in the company of individuals who can relate to the needs of a parent looking for answers and support.
The letter below is from a Learn to Cope parent who thought it was important to share his experience and what he and his wife learned through their participation
A Father’s Letter: What I’ve Learned at Learn to Cope
My wife and I have been coming to Learn to Cope’s (LTC) weekly meetings at Salem for just over a year. I have never been to a support group in my life, so you can imagine my reaction when my wife first suggested going. But I figured, ‘What the hell, our lives were falling apart anyway, what’s there to lose?’ As with many if not all parents that come to their first meeting, we were emotionally drained, stressed, lost, and desperate for answers and a solution. We found that LTC didn’t have a recipe for fixing our son. Instead, we eventually found that LTC offered a recipe for fixing us, for educating and healing us. We found over time that LTC would give us the knowledge, the courage, the strength, and conviction to face the addiction and help our son get himself well. Here are just a few of the things I learned:
MY SON IS AN ADDICT!
Wow, this was a very difficult thing to clearly see. Call it denial, ignorance, fear, shame, embarrassment, or all of the above; it was nearly impossible to even say it out loud. After all, addicts were bad people that came from bad homes, you know, from the other side of town. So, despite the evidence in front of us, the love for our son, and our fear of the worse, we kept our suspicions buried deep. LTC help to lift the blinders and face the facts for what they were, without the drama and without judgment.
ADDICTION IS A DISEASE!
Through LTC, I learned that addiction isn’t a choice. It’s a chronic disease affecting the brain. Coming to terms with this helped me immensely to understand the horrible behavior and terrible decisions my son was making despite the most unbelievable negative consequences that awaited him. LTC helped me understand that the person my son transformed into was not who he really was. Rather, he was the same good person, but was compelled to do bad things by a disease that had taken control of him.
IT’S NOT MY FAULT!
We spent many hours poring over our son’s life, searching for why this happened. What did we do wrong? What did we miss? We analyzed his past and wondered if we did something (or didn’t do something) that led him to addiction. LTC helped us realize that there was nothing that we did. Addiction is a physiological response of the brain to drugs or alcohol. Something in the addict’s brain physiology causes an ‘off-the-charts’ reaction to these substances. Some studies even suggest there is a genetic predisposition to addiction. In any case, we didn’t cause this. Many recovering addicts have come to speak at the LTC meetings and each one has always said that their addition was brought on by their own choice to try alcohol or drugs and then their body’s reaction to it. This knowledge and reinforcement has helped to relieve the feelings of guilt that eat away at your soul and even insidiously lead you to enabling the addiction further.
I CAN’T FIX THIS!
As a parent, we fix things. That’s what we do. We start off soothing the pain of cutting teeth, curing diaper rash, putting band aids on skinned knees, and easing hurt feelings in middle school. As our kids get older, the problems become more challenging, but we persevere to fix the problems. It’s no wonder that once we identify the disease, we saddle up to fix yet another problem. But this is a problem the addict has to fix themselves. Our children are adults and we can’t be watching over them for the rest of their lives. The addict has to want to change because it is this deep desire to change that will have to sustain them and give them the strength to face the daily challenges of life with sobriety. LTC showed us that in many ways, instead of helping, we were enabling the addiction. By understanding the addict’s behaviors and needs, we could then see how we were unknowingly contributing to his addiction lifestyle rather than his recovery. As a parent, it is extremely difficult and fundamentally counterintuitive to step back and let the addict face the consequences of their actions, no matter how severe. But if we don’t, we only perpetuate the addiction. Once we had this knowledge, we were able to stop the enabling and help nudge him onto the path to recovery.
I CAN HELP HIM RECOVER!
Although we learned that we can’t fix the addiction, we did learn that we can still help. Armed with the knowledge and experience of other parents who have journeyed (or continue their journey) down this road, we put ourselves in the best position to be ready to help our son once he was ready to ask for help. LTC has given us the knowledge and access to resources, so that when our son was ready to get help, we were ready with informed choices for him. By understanding the disease and understanding what to expect during his recovery, we have been able to be encouraging and supportive, including during a very brief period of relapse.
THERE IS HOPE!
LTC is a caring and supportive group of parents and loved ones of addicts and not of psychologists and counselors. As people open up with stories and problems, they sound so familiar because with little variation, they are telling your story. There is comfort that you are not caught up in the chaos of addiction by yourself. You are surrounded by people who are listening and offering advice, but people that have gone through the same dark times. Amidst those stories of pain, worry, and disappointment, there are also stories of small victories, stories of recovery, stories of getting their loved one back from the abyss and back into their lives. These are the stories of hope. These are the stories that sustain me from week to week and from day to day. Whenever the doubt creeps back in my mind, these are the stories that remind me that recovery is possible. LTC can’t fix your son, your daughter, or your loved one, but they can help to fix you! There is nothing easy about fixing addiction either for the addict or for the affected family. LTC doesn’t have a pamphlet with 10 easy steps to fix addiction. But, LTC does provide an environment of parents and family members of loved ones who are struggling with addiction. In the stories you hear and in the knowledge and experiences people share, you will learn something new at every meeting. Gradually, you will find yourself being able to laugh again, to not worry 24/7, to sleep through the night, to not be fighting with your spouse about the addict, to not have every conversation start and end with something about the addict in your life, and eventually be able to focus your attention on your other family members and yourself. You’ll find yourself getting stronger and healthier, which will put you in the best position to objectively and knowledgably help in your loved one’s recovery. It won’t happen in one meeting or five meetings, but I promise it will happen. You just have to “Keep Coming.”
You can lean more about Learn to Cope and the resources they have available at: