I just finished a book called Ben Behind His Voices written by Ben's mom, Randye Kaye. She is telling the story of their journey to get Ben the help he so desperately needed and the eventual diagnosis of schizophrenia. What I am most astounded by is how parallel the journey is for the parents of an addict and the parents of a mentally ill child...adult or not.
From the gradual progression, the lack of real help that is available, the need for them to get worse in order to qualify for any help, the endless costs involved, the battles with insurance companies to get treatment and hospital stays covered, the letting go process, the relapses, to the stigma. Randye said at one point she had to "reject" her son over and over again and felt like it would kill her.....but it was the only way for him to qualify for any sort of help. He had to be "homeless." In order to receive a mental health dx you have to have two confirmed periods of psychosis before you can receive your dx and then be eligible for services.
What if addiction was classified as a mental illness? I think we are making progress in that realm..... it is called a "brain disorder" in the DSM, but society, the medical profession, the judicial system, hasn't received that memo yet. As hard as it is to get appropriate help for our mentally ill children, its even HARDER for our addicted children. What if we didn't view deep addiction as a character weakness, or a moral issue, as a bad choice? What if we could acknowledge that the drugs are a symptom of something else, a root cause. What if we found a way to change our system to actually help people get to places of health and healing without making them want to give up before they have even begun. The thing that we all have in common is that we all have had to beat our
heads against big thick stone walls to get our kids the help they so
desperately need. And only a small percentage of us are actually
successful. Why is that?
I was recently talking with a mom-friend about her mentally ill daughter and my addicted daughter (who does have a dual dx....but I didn't go into all of that.) We talked about the gray area of letting go when your child is bipolar with blah blah blah disorders because they truly can not manage to take care of their own business vs. an addict....who in my situation, is very often in that same boat. Unable to navigate big insurance conglomerations and make her own medical appointments without lots of encouragement and direction. This mom unknowingly said, "Yeah, but she has a choice. My daughter doesn't." In other words...my daughter is just a victim of some awful circumstances. Yours chose to live in this hell.
I bit my tongue. I KNOW that this woman meant no harm. I KNOW that she doesn't understand and THAT is part of the stigma of addiction. I was able to gently point that out.....that most, if not all, addicts are so physically and mentally stuck. That many many begin to use because of a mental health issue. That no one plans on becoming an addict, just like no one plans on becoming mentally ill. Our commonality is that we both have daughters who are very sick and very stuck.
I know of a young person, mental health issues, addiction issues....has lived on disability for the past several years. Was able to get healthy enough, thanks to the services made available to this individual. Was recently able to get a job making very little, thus lost all of their resources. No health insurance, no counseling, no methadone program... nothing. Now with the meager wage this person makes, if this person is able to hang onto the job for any length of time, they are expected to cover all of that and their living expenses. Its like they are being penalized for getting better. If you weigh them out...on one side you have the services that helped this person be well enough to accomplish what they have, to come this far.....on the other, you have the pride and feelings of self worth of holding down a job. They shouldn't, they can't, cancel each other out...but in our society, they do. There needs to be a provision for both to co-exist. A burgeoning sense of accomplishment and self reliance, with the support of the system. Without such provisions it feels like an impossible situation that is set up to keep our sick kids stuck.
So what is the answer?
In my little opinion, here in blogger-land where I spout my thoughts, I think our perceptions of "illness" need to change. Our judgements of deserving and being a victim need to change. No one "deserves" to be sick, in any form. But it happens. Babies are born with deformities, cancer, wonderful people who have given so much to society die from diseases and illness, and homeless drug addicts, someone's son or daughter, loved and hoped for by someone at some time, die alone in parks during the night....it happens. And no one is more innocent than the other. Even when addicts do awful immoral things, it circles back around to their disease. Please do not misunderstand me.....they are responsible for the things they do, and they need to live out those consequences....but if they weren't sick in their disease, they wouldn't do these things. Treatment vs. judgement. Absolution, forgiveness, freedom. For us all.