ʺIt takes a long time for a parent to realize their child has a substance use problem. After all, maybe their child’s behaviour is just par for the course for a teenager? Maybe they’re just going through a bad phase?

I had started noticing changes in my son’s behaviour. He had a new group of friends. I was getting calls from the school principal. My son became withdrawn. He’d come home and go straight to his room. It took me a while to recognize the signs of substance abuse.

After I picked up the phone and made the call, everything went quickly: they called back the very next day and scheduled an appointment three days later. Then comes the crucial moment when your child has to agree to go into treatment. At that point, the only thing you want is for him to go to Portage: if you don’t take him, I don’t know what I’ll do; I’m desperate. I had the good fortune of having Kim to help us. She understood my son right away.  That was a crucial moment because if Portage hadn’t been there for me, I don’t know what I would’ve done. The word despair takes on its full meaning when you can’t help your child while knowing he’s at risk of becoming an addict and a homeless person for the rest of his life, unless he changes.

My son needed help, but so did I. The first part of getting that help was knowing someone was giving my son the care he needed. It was such a relief. The first few weeks, it’s great; you can finally get some sleep, you stop wondering where your child is at night, you trust he’ll get better because you know he’s in good hands. For my son, those first weeks were really hard. He just wanted to leave the program. He told me he wasn’t like the other people there; he wasn’t as badly off as them, he didn’t fit in with those ʺcrazy peopleʺ. It took him at least three months to realize the full extent of his substance use problem and to understand he had to get to the root of his problem.

In addition to providing my son with the support and tools he needed, Portage got to the root causes of his substance use. Uncovering those root causes was essential to rebuilding the person he had once been. Taking an in-depth look at a person’s emotional problems is what makes the therapy work, and it’s what makes people thoroughly commit to the therapy.

One of Portage’s strengths is how they support parents. I thought I would have to look for help outside Portage, but they offer complete family support services. I attended all the family support meetings and they changed my life. Even now that my son has completed his therapy, I go once a month and I get so much out of it. You’re part of a community of parents that is built on mutual support. The first thing you realize is you don’t feel alone as a parent anymore, and that makes a world of difference. You’re also given the right tools and coached on becoming an integral part of your child’s therapy. Your child has his therapy and you have yours.  There’s a tendency to put a lot of blame on the child, but whether we like it or not, parents are part of the reason behind a child’s substance use. Certain decisions a parent makes in a child’s life have a much bigger impact that one would think. It’s important to accept that, to listen and to remain open-minded. Once you understand that, you can move forward.

It’s really hard to do, but once you’re fully committed, you can start moving forward. As parents, we have to acknowledge our mistakes in order to rebuild our relationship with our child. Trust is something you build together. I came to understand it wasn’t just my son’s therapy, it was our therapy. Because that child comes back home after his program. And everything isn’t perfect; it’s not about sweeping everything under the rug as if nothing had ever happened. That’s not it at all. Towards the end of the residential program, we had to make sure we maintained really strong, honest channels of communication.

Portage is all that. It’s the before, the during and the after. It’s a therapy for youth dealing with substance use issues, but it’s also therapy that supports families and does so very well. Recently, I had come doubts about certain things and I decided to talk about them with my social reintegration counsellor. He answered my call immediately. Post-therapy support is extremely important. The parents’ group still holds meetings and, if I want to, I can join in any week, even if I haven’t attended in over a month. I’m always welcome.

The meetings are also a way of passing on what I’ve learned to other parents who are just starting therapy. Parents who have gone through Portage form very strong bonds.

Portage has helped make me the person I am now. It goes beyond the services they provide. You can just tell that the work the counsellors do is their vocation, and that applies to each and every one of them. And that makes a huge difference. I certainly felt it.ʺ

Mira, mother of a teenager, adolescent program, Lac Echo, 2020

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