I recently met Dennis and Will, but those are not their real names. Dennis is the father of Will, a recovering user of drugs and alcohol. Will’s recovery process has been a long and arduous journey, and Dennis has stood beside his son along the way, even attending recovery meetings when his son would not.
Will started using drugs and alcohol when he was 16 years old. When Dennis would hand over money to his son for a movie ticket, Will would turn around and use that money for drugs. When things started spiraling downhill, Dennis sent his son to an inpatient rehabilitation center. Once Will was out of rehab, in an effort to keep sober, he started attending meetings at Rise Recovery, a place where he seeks help and comfort even to this day.
According to a 2014 Kronkosky Foundation report, 75.6% of high school students have used addictive substances, including cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine, and within that group, 46.1% are regular users.
Rise Recovery, home of the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, is a nonprofit recovery organization that helps those overcoming addiction. The program offers out-patient counseling, group and family meetings, life skills training, and tools to help keep people sober.
The program is free. The organization, founded in 1977, served 3,148 teenagers, young adults, and family members last year.
After attending meetings at Rise and getting sober, Will enlisted in the military and fell back into his old habits.
“When I joined the military, I thought there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to have a beer with the guys in my platoon, and there is a reason,” he said. “It’s because I have a disease called addiction.”
Rise Recovery Program Director Trish Frye said the brain is comprised of three layers that each performs specific duties. The middle brain, she said, is where survival instincts live, surrounding that is the part of the brain that controls our emotions, and the outermost layer is in control of thinking and judgment. She said the brain categorizes addiction in the middle brain as a form of pleasure.
“Pleasure is part of survival. We experience pleasure because it helps us to survive. (For example) sex is pleasurable so that we procreate,” she said.
She said people with addictive personalities file stress and pain as danger, so they turn to their survival brain for help. Since pleasure is stored in the middle brain as a survival tool, addicts turn toward substances to provide a quick fix for the stressful situation.
“Addict thinking does not make sense, but to them it makes perfect sense,” she said. “It’s a hijacked brain. It translates use as a way of survival, when really, what translates as survival is killing them.”
Will, now 26, said he is a capable person in almost every aspect of his life except for when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
“I had a successful military career, I have all As this semester in college. On everything else that I try to do, I do it very well. I don’t have a lack of willpower, but when I drink – it’s kind of a difficult thing to explain – I make decisions that aren’t sane,” he said. “The thought that I’m going to hurt myself or hurt someone else just never enters my mind, and I keep drinking. (I think) that one more can’t hurt. One is good, two is better, three is best.”
During the time Will was in the military and using drugs, his father was still attending meetings at Rise.
“Now I’m back. I think because I’m ready to be back, but mostly because Dad never left, Dad stayed, and so he gave me a place to come back to,” Will said.
Frye said the involvement of family members in an addict’s recovery heightens the chance that the person will stay sober. She said family members can even get involved in the program without the participation of the person in need of recovery.
“Often somebody isn’t ready to get better, they don’t understand that they have a problem,” she said. “They haven’t experienced the consequences yet; they haven’t experienced enough pain yet to understand that they have a problem.”
The family meetings teach members how to respond to the person using drugs and alcohol with love instead of fear or guilt. “There is a lot of shame behind this thing, and people walk in here and they think they are bad parents,” Frye said.
Dennis said he tried to control Will’s behavior before attending the family meetings.
“It is very difficult to see your loved ones struggling, but they have to struggle,” Dennis said. “They have to be the ones to recover. We can’t recover for them. The struggling is what finally gets through to them that have to make an effort to do something different.”
Dennis said Rise looks at the peripheral elements of the disease, instead of narrowing in on the addict alone. Rise aims to treat the family unit as a whole, which means each family member must be malleable to the change of another family member.
Will, the father of a little girl, is sober and he’s looking forward to rising to the challenges of tomorrow.
“I was just miserable, absolutely miserable (when using),” he said. “Now I have some happiness and some peace and I’m all right with the world. I can be okay with being alive.”
Rise Recovery is hosting its 15th Annual Campaign Breakfast Friday, May 29 at 8 a.m. at the Omni Hotel at the Colonnade. Debra Jay, a nationally recognized author and lecturer who has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Dr. Oz Show,” will be speaking at the event about her book It Takes a Family: A Cooperative Approach to Sobriety. Tickets are $100 and are available for purchase by calling (210) 227-2634. For more details, click here.
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*Featured/top image: Rise Recovery youth huddle at their group meeting to support each other in the recovery process. Courtesy photo.