Friday, 6 May 2011


So many people ask the question 'why?' or 'why me?'.  There is no answer to that question.  Bad stuff just happens.

This morning, I received news that the nephew of one of my friends committed suicide - he was a troubled young man with an addiction problem.  And the dreaded 'why' question rose its ugly head.  So, I headed to Steve's Diner to pick up a ticket to hear George Chuvalo speak at the Wesleyan Church Celebration Center on May 28th.  Mr. Chuvalo lost 3 sons to addiction and his wife committed suicide because of this.  How can one survive and keep going on?  I am anxious to hear him speak, but I believe he will say that the only way to get through such a tragedy is to somehow make a difference in other people's lives - by sharing his story, by making people aware of the dangers of drugs -  for only when one does something positive can one overcome grief. 

I am the facilitator of a parent support group called PLAD (Parents Learning About Drugs).  I have been doing this for the past 6 years.  Why? (again that question) - because I have been on that road (which thankfully I am no longer on) - but by helping some other parent, it makes sense of what I went through.  My son has been clean and sober for 4 years now and for that I am thankful.  Some people do beat their addiction problems and become well and productive members of society.  My son was unfortunately not one of them - since the use of illegal drugs left its mark in the form of a mental illness.  So we now deal with that - and again try to make something positive come out of something negative by trying to help others who are in similar situations.  So I work closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association and by also doing other things.  And I will continue to do so until I am no longer able to.

But returning to the topic of addiction - and PLAD.  I truly believe that there is a need for a support group for parents who have a loved one with addiction/potential addiction problems.  Yet  this year, there has been a definite decline in attendance.  We run two 10-week sessions (one in the fall and one in the spring) - there are sessions that deal with Drug Classification, the Addicltion Process, and Co-Dependency (presentations made by a counsellor at Addiction Services),  we have a guest speaker come in (this year a mother came and spoke to our group about how she survived and dealt with her son's addiction - he went to a rehab center called Portage - he now works there.  We had a staff member of Portage at another meeting and next week we will have an RCMP officer come in to talk to the parents.  That covers 6 out of our 10 meetings as 'educational' sessions - I do a presentation on Communication, leaving 3 meetings for sharing and supporting each other.  It is a mixture of education and support.  We have many hand-outs with good material presenting facts on drugs and addiction.

So why the low attendance this year?  I have no answer to that question.  The other 5 years, we had an average of 8-10 parents in attendance, sometimes as many as 15.  This year, we are lucky if we have 3 parents - yet, I have not counted the low attendance as not being worthwhile.  If one can help only 1 parent - all is not lost.

However, I got a call this week from the counsellor in charge of PLAD who informed me that the 'powers that be' had decided that PLAD would no longer be needed nor meetings held next year - all because of low attenndance this year.  Althought I was more than prepared to step down as facilitator - after all I had been doing this for 6 years and felt the need to move on more towards the field of mental health - I still felt a sadness that because of low attendance, PLAD would no longer exist - even if someone stepped forward to run the group, even if I changed my mind and decided to continue as facilitator.  You see, it has to do with justifying paying the addiction counsellor overtime and where there was low attendance, it did not justify paying for 3 hours' overtime for the counsellors.  As facilitator, I do this free (or as a volunteer) - the guest speakers were not paid by Addiction Services - and the counsellors did not have to stay for the full 2 hours - they only had to come in for one hour to do their presentation.  How much is one person worth? How much of a cost is it  to help one person?  But numbers matter....... if we had had our usual 10-15 parents in attendance, PLAD would have continued.  Numbers matter. 

And I feel sad.  A new parent came to our group last week - she is desperate for help, for support.  But there are only 2 more sessions left.  She has called me (because I do give out my telephone number to any parent - altho we do not ask their names, nor their telephone number - but if they wish to contact me to just talk, I am always available).  That is my 'give back because I have received'. 

So, this morning, I heard of a young man who took his life because of an addiction problem.  I heard about how his mother is feeling guilt.  Like I told the new mother at this week's PLAD group - I told her to remember the 3 C's (I did not Cause it, I cannot Control it and I cannot Cure it).  When she called me yesterday, she said she had been pondering these 3 C's and it felt like a load had been lifted off her shoulders.  The PLAD group empowers parents so that they know the signs and symptoms of addiction, it gives them accurate information on the drug process - experimental, recreational, regular and then addiction.  It may ease  their minds to know their child is simply experimenting and let them know how to not enable their child to continue using (or experimenting).  If the child is addicted, it gives them tools in how to deal with the grief they are going through, the helplessness, tools on how to deal with an addict, how to communicate with someone with an addiction problem.  PLAD is also there as a preventative place for parents to go to - to learn about drug classification, drug paraphenalia, what to look for, how best to prevent.........  but this is over with.  Next year there will no longer be a support group for parents.

We have feedback forms that I ask parents to fill out at the end of each meeting.  In ALL cases, what they mark as most helpful is the sharing part - being able to voice their concerns, hearing that they are not alone.  (This feedback happens even if the counsellor is doing a presentation for the first hour).  So, now, where will parents go?  They will hide in their closets, panic, become co-dependents, feel very alone.  (Not to say that all parents will do this - some have the tools to deal with it quite effectively).  But as I heard this week at the Mental health symposium, when a nurse got up to address the speakers toward the end - she was a nurse, she had a phD, she worked with youth with problems when she went to work on a reserve out west, yet when HER child developed a mental health problem, she was suddenly lost - she did not know what to do - where to turn (this is what she told the panel - when it is YOUR child, everything you thought you knew flies out the window).  It is totally different when it is YOUR child.  Believe me, I know this from first hand experience.  Logic does indeed suddenly flies out the window. 

Not my child, you say?  I pray and hope it never happens to your child.  But a door has been closed this week - PLAD will no longer exist.  There are no other support groups that families can turn to and that is a shame.

Thank you for reading while I vented :o)  Just as the purpose of PLAD is to allow parents to vent, even though my son no longer has a problem with illegal drugs, sometimes I still feel like I need to vent when I see something important and needed not be available anymore, all because there were not enough numbers to justify having it (in the opinion of government run agencies, in the opinion of 'experts').