On Thursday May 4th, 2017, Portage’s MICA program for mentally ill chemical abusers held an open house to share its expertise with various health providers. At this special occasion, the father of a past resident gave a testimony on his family’s journey in the misery of despair caused by the associated problem of drug addiction and mental illness. For his family, Portage was a critical lifeline. Following is a moving testimony about a little-known reality.
We became aware of Portage’s program in October 2015. During quite a few years already, our son’s consumption had become highly problematic. Moreover, he had recently been diagnosed with a mental illness disorder for which he was medicated, requiring intensive medical follow-up in his home environment.
As parents, the confirmation of this diagnostic brought answers to our questions and shed new light on problems we had experienced during the past years. We understood there was a reason for his unusual behaviour! Drugs were not the only factor!
After the diagnostic, we put aside the consumption problem and told ourselves our son would get the appropriate medication to control his symptoms, that the intensive medical follow-up would help him get back on track and everything would be resolved!! Life would then get back to normal!
This way of thinking was totally wrong. Our son categorically refused the diagnostic and did not see the use of stopping or reducing his consumption because, according to him, he did not have a problem.
That was the start of a very difficult year as we watched our child sink deeper, destroying himself gradually, lose all sense of time and of people and his surroundings, because the consumption was taking over his life and psychosis was not far off. We watched him:
Stop washing himself
Get home in the middle of the night asking for food
Sleep on the school grounds at night
Start committing crimes (break-ins, thefts)
Be arrested by police and finally,
Our son started Portage program because it was required, but he did so without much confidence: the psychiatrist had given him the choice between two organizations; naturally, he chose the shorter program!
To our surprise, he integrated well in the program. Was it because of a will to get better and use the means made available to him? Was he influenced by the concept of the therapeutic community of the Portage program? Was the trust shown him by various counsellors, to which he reciprocated, the reason behind the change? I have no idea! However, the fact remains he stayed and we were quickly invited to participate in the family support group. Should the counsellors have not insisted on our participation, we probably would never have gone, for all kind of reasons, each one worse than the last!!
We therefore came on a Wednesday evening, reluctantly, quite stressed about the idea of having to spill our guts and afraid of cracking up at having to talk about ourselves and our experience! We came out surprised and slightly under shock at having benefitted so much from this first encounter. For the first time, we were under the impression that we were talking the same language as the other parents. We were extremely relieved and reassured, and that helped us break out of the isolation which had gripped us for so long.
At this place of encounter, discussions and sharing, the group quickly became one of our reference points. The experience of other parents was greatly educational.
Moreover, we always felt that the family group facilitator had considerable respect and was totally non-judgemental towards each parent attending the meetings, whatever the individual journey and feeling of each person! He also never gave us ready-made answers or proposed any quick fixes, but he had an ability to listen and a leadership compatible with the needs of the time.
Participation in the family support group made us realize that it is impossible to dissociate drug addiction and mental illness. These are two aspects of the same problem that must be taken into consideration for rehabilitation and social reintegration, which is well understood by Portage.
We think that one very important aspect of the Portage program is that it allows families to work along with counsellors. Too often, other organizations (the medical community for instance) take all the information given by families, but return information is not particularly forthcoming on the pretext of the right to confidentiality. Yet, we are the ones on the front lines be it in good or tough times!
So, in successive months, with the feeling that we were not alone as a family, we saw our son begin to live again, pull himself together and, of course, going through good times and tough times! Our contact with counsellors allowed us to have a global picture of our son and of his journey.
Considerable work of acceptance of his illness was accomplished. At some point of his progress, our son could admit he was sick and began to get a grip on this new reality. Relations with counsellors and other youth in the program had a major impact on him. He began to understand and to accept that people around him were there to help.
Our son made progress and so did we. Particularly, amongst other things, thanks to accompanied home visits during weekends. In principle, these visits are meant to restore the bond of trust with family members. The first time, we were shocked to learn our son had permission for a 24-hour outing, which he would like to spend at home, accompanied by another resident. We were afraid: two for the price of one! It was extremely distressing to know he would come back home to sleep because the only souvenirs we had in mind were those before Portage, when no trust whatsoever was possible and the situation was unbearable. First visits presented quite a few misgivings, in fact, there were many!
Finally, we were very privileged to meet these other youths who are also having similar issues and who shared our son’s daily life. At first, their presence lightened the atmosphere, relaxed the tension and brought back a normal dialogue which we had not have as a family, due to damages incurred in last years. We enjoyed discussions, good communications, even some side-splitting laughter on topics such as consumption, mental illness and their personal experience. It was very rewarding! The personal contact with other residents helped us understand illness and accept differences.
Today, our son is miles away from where he was before Portage. He is starting to blossom. He has successfully completed the program, he lives in a Portage supervised apartment and mostly, he continues to progress despite the difficulties encountered. We are very proud of him and we have an immense respect for the man he is becoming. The journey he had at Portage is amazing. As parents, that journey has allowed us to get our child back, a son we had taught lost forever.
And that is invaluable.
Thank you for everything!