"I am honoured to be able to give back to such a wonderful and meaningful program like Portage, and that I have members of the Portage family that trust me to represent them by telling my story. This was something I couldn’t have imagined doing a few years ago but with the help of the Portage Team, I’m not scared or ashamed to say that my son is an addict.
Four years ago, I couldn’t have imagined saying that and looking back, I don’t think I knew what it meant. I didn’t personally know anyone who struggled with addiction, and I felt there wasn’t any possible way that it would be able to affect my family directly.
We are a well-educated family, we have careers that we love, we have a beautiful home, we give back to our community, we are protective parents, we know the friends our kids are hanging around with, and we are on top of things, or at least we thought we were. For example, we always spoke to our children about the dangers of drinking and smoking. We have been there for them when they needed us, we cheered them on at football games, and we cried at their graduation.
Gage was a rule follower, he wasn’t one to take chances, and he was as close to a perfect child as anyone could ask for.
But none of that matters. All the success, the support, the experiences and the love couldn’t save our son from addiction. Love just wasn’t enough.Addiction crept silently into our lives, and over time, it stole everything from us. It took our sense of security and faith; above everything else, it took our beautiful boy. I realized, now, that I didn’t notice the warning signs that were right in front of us. I didn’t know about drugs, and I trusted my son. So when he would lie to me, I believed him. Nevertheless, I did have this nagging feeling, but I would brush it off, probably because I didn’t want to think there could be a problem with my son.
On Thanksgiving weekend of 2017, we were called to the Moncton Hospital, where Gage had admitted himself. We sat beside his hospital bed as he told us he had been using drugs for three years: from cocaine to his brother's stolen ADHD medication and other prescription drugs. He had started in the school bathroom and the sports locker room, and at this point, he was using every day and knew he couldn't stop. We sat in shock and disbelief as the doctor read the toxicology report and listed the drugs in his system. He told us that we were lucky he was alive and that he needed immediate help. We left the hospital the next day with information brochures and numbers for mental health and other clinics.
Our lives were forever changed.
We brought Gage home, and as he lay in bed trembling and shivering day and night, I called the number on the back of a Portage brochure handed to me earlier. Tambrie told me all about the facility and said she might have an opening that same week and that we could come for a tour the next day. When we pulled into the long driveway, my legs went numb. They met us at the door, and she urged Gage to take a tour with two of the male residents. I couldn't bring myself to go with him, I didn't know why I was there, and I couldn't imagine leaving my son with strangers for six months when I knew we could love him enough to make him better.
On October 17, 2017, Gage was admitted to his first 6-month program, and we said goodbye to our sweet son and drove home to try and make sense of this new life without him.
I wish I could say that Gage was successful in his first program, but he wasn't. He played by the rules, and I genuinely believe he did the program for us. He wanted to make us proud. Even so, I do think that there was part of him that also wanted to make a change.
Addiction is one of the most patient things you will ever encounter. Addiction is patient and silent, and it is strong. It was much stronger than Gage was ready to be. He didn't make it through first time and within days, he had relapsed. His old friends and habits were waiting with open arms, and addiction patiently waited for him to come home. Within only a few short months, Gage had no job, no money, nowhere to live and no options. As he sank deeper into addiction, we grew stronger as a family, and through counselling and the Portage Parent Support Program, we learned all we could about addiction, and we took care of ourselves.
One night as Gage did drugs with his friends, he called Portage and left a message telling them he needed help. Although it was harder for me to know Gage was going back to rehab a second time, I knew he'd be safe, and this time, we were much stronger as a family.
We could do this.
If I didn't have the Portage Parent Support Group, I would not have been able to be as strong as I was. We all have different stories and situations, but you can still see little bits of yourself in everyone's stories, allowing you to feel less alone. To be able to support other parents who were going through the same thing also felt good. All of this prepared us for the next steps in our son's therapeutic journey. It was so helpful to have this safe space that allowed us to tell our truth and not feel like a bad parent. It's a space without room for judgment, ever. There is only love and acceptance. We felt for the other parents and their pain, and sometimes, we even felt some anger toward their own kids. We were all in this together – not alone. We acted as cheerleaders for one another.
On January 30, 2018, Gage completed his second program. On that very day, he stood in front of his peers and all of his counsellors with tears in his eyes. He was terrified of what his future would hold, and he was fearful of the outside world. But, this time, he was humble and raw.
Gage will celebrate his 4th year of sobriety in a few weeks. He went to college, he has a full-time job, he has a loving girlfriend that he will be moving in with shortly, he is a great big brother, he has a group of sober and positive friends, he works out every day, he goes to aftercare & counselling, and he is the shining light for our family that we had not seen for many years.
He hugs us every morning before he leaves for work and every night before bed. There are days when he reminds us that he's not quite where he needs to be, but he thanks his family at home and at Portage for giving him hope for a new tomorrow."
Jennifer, mother of a youth that graduated the Adolescent Program in Cassidy Lake in 2018.