At the end of September, Portage graduate, Catherine, and her mother, Jane, attended a conference in Barrie, Ontario called “Building a Community of Practice in Adolescent Mental Health and Addictions: Sharing the Challenge of Outcome Research.” With several other parents and youth, Catherine and Jane made up a panel of experts for a discussion entitled, “What we expect when we are desperate,” led by Gloria Chaim, Deputy Clinical Director of the Child, Youth and Family Program at CAMH (Centre for Addictions and Mental Health).
Catherine led off the panel address to the mental health and addiction professionals in the audience by pointing out that, for every young addict, there are at least six people who are closely affected by their addiction. Not only the child, but the entire family unit needs support.
“When I was in crisis, so were my parents, my siblings, and my grandparents,” she said.
The panellists agreed that all too often, parents do not realise that their child has a problem until it comes to a point that they cannot protect them or take care of them anymore, at which time they become desperate for help. A key message to treatment providers was to create awareness among parents about how to identify substance abuse problems in their children and where to go for help when necessary. The panellists stressed the importance of providing information to family physicians and schools, as they are often the first places where parents seek support.
On Access to Treatment
The parents each described that pivotal moment when their son or daughter became willing to enter treatment and stressed the importance of immediate access to substance abuse rehabilitation programs.
Catherine told her story of having gone through years of counselling, being told repeatedly that she needed help, but that it was not until she had lost everything, and had nowhere else to go, that she finally became willing to enter residential treatment. She admits however, that it was a fleeting moment, and that by the time she arrived at Portage a few weeks later, she had changed her mind. Luckily, she agreed to stay. She has recently celebrated four years of sobriety, a healthy and happy young woman.
On the Process of Change
“At Portage, I wasn’t allowed to escape from my feelings, my fears, or from the consequences of my daily decisions and actions,” explained Catherine. “I developed an openness for change because I didn’t have a chance to build up my wall. I found myself immersed in a group of girls all fighting for the same thing and that created a very strong bond. ”
The young panellists and parents agreed that the rehabilitation process is very personal and cannot be rushed. One panellist explained that, though she had needed to be pushed, she also needed time to process what she was going through and to make changes in her life. None felt that they would have succeeded if they had had to complete a program in a set short-term time frame.
On Family Therapy and Aftercare
The importance of including the family early on in treatment was stressed time and time again throughout the discussion. The parents agreed that, while they had felt a huge sense of relief just to get their child into treatment, once they were there, they realised that their work as parents had just begun.
One father stated, “As much as you might like to just say, ‘Here you go–let me know when she is fixed,’ you need to sign on to participate in family therapy to help your child get well.” Panellists expressed their appreciation for the ongoing family support and the one-on-one counselling sessions they received while their child was in therapy.
Catherine, who finished her program four years ago, when Portage Elora did not have a Continuing Care or a Family Program, stated that she wished that she had had more regular personal contact with her case manager, the staff members, and her peers as she reintegrated into society. As it was, she and Jane managed with lots of phone calls with Portage staff members and other support mechanisms.
On What Constitutes Success
Jane spoke glowingly of her daughter’s success; four years sober and now in school, with a job, and surrounded by true friends again. She told the audience that Catherine got well and has stayed well by persevering one day at a time.
“Here you have an abstinent vegan, working in a boozy steakhouse after a long day at school. Not an easy thing to do but she manages very well.”
All the parent panellists were extremely grateful to the rehabilitation programs that have helped their children learn the tools to help them make good judgement calls and to become happy.
Portage graduate Catherine, and her mother Jane