Be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

At a recent gathering of bereaved parents the discussion was about coping. Specifically, how did we each find or develop coping skills to continue our lives after the loss of our child? I’ve learned that many things change over time. In the early days of loss we talk about the “fuzzy teeth” period – those days or months where we don’t care how we look, where even basic self maintenance like brushing our teeth becomes irrelevant.

The question is similar for parents whose children are alive and struggling with this disease – what coping skills are employed to maintain sanity and do these skills change over time? On either side of this same coin, we each must find what works for us.

My personal path forward is an ingrained need to seek out information. Not only is there fact based information to be learned, there is the physical, emotional and mental aspects to understand. When Jim first showed signs of this disease, I became a crazed single mom who needed to know how other moms felt. As a fact based logician working in computer systems for fourteen years, I needed to look at trends and potential pitfalls. When my body began to show signs of battle fatigue, I needed to better understand stress and its effect on me. Where do we turn for such information?

In 2011, access to information is unprecedented. In 1982 when I first learned of Jim’s substance use, it was a very different story. Ignorance of drugs was huge in 1982 – my counselor at that time told me that Jim was using drugs because I had divorced his father and worked outside the home. Today we are no longer bound by such limiting beliefs.

In the early years after Jim died in 2003, I was drawn to information on grief, to online groups who also struggled with their children’s drug use and/or whose children had died. Illogically I also kept researching options for heroin treatment. While I was working to integrate the impact of Jim’s death into my life, I also floated in a state of resignation. As far as I was concerned there was no hope for the world. Drugs would continue to steal lives and souls.

And, then a miracle occurred….. I came across a report called After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation. Like finding an oasis in the desert, I can still recall the physical sensations that flooded my body. My muscles relaxed, my mind softened, my heart began to beat faster in excitement! What?! Not “if”, not “when” but AFTER the war on drugs! This was my wake up call. Somewhere in the world think tanks were putting great minds together towards hope.

At the same time a casual comment from a friend sent me off to read The Fix, a book by Michael Massing. Essentially he presents evidence that the war on drugs is not a winning strategy. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had lead a task force made up of local and state police along with Federal officers from the DEA and National Guard troops. A massive, well coordinated plan to clean up some of the worst drug neighborhoods in the city was put together. Result? All the brain power and manpower available to this task force failed to make even a dent into the problem. The mission was a failure and very costly.

To the casual observer there is often a simplistic belief that if there were just enough policemen around, enough military might, the problem of drugs could be resolved. Take a look at Mexico and their lack of success in using the Mexican army for such purposes. There are no simple answers to addiction, to supply vs. demand, to treatment options.

In June, 2011 the Global Commission on Drug Policy, headed up by current and former international heads of state, submitted their latest findings: The war on drugs is not a winning solution. Read their report – you can link directly to it on the Links page.

In July, 2011 the conservative NAACP called for the end of the war on drugs citing the horrific impact on African-American communities. (See link in Headline News) In Florida there is an organization mandated by the Florida Supreme Court to identify and offer assistance to bar members who suffer from substance abuse, mental health, or other disorders which negatively affect their lives and careers. Where ever you look for news – in the papers, online or television – – drugs, substance abuse and addiction are not going away any time soon.

As the famous adventure writer Jack London wrote in his book John Barleycorn: “In a thousand generations to come, men of themselves will not close saloons. As well expect the morphine victims to legislate the sale of morphine out of existence.”

London died at the age of 40 of various diseases and drug treatments.

Since Jim died in 2003 from an overdose of heroin and alcohol at age thirty-five, much has changed in my life. For twenty-two years my days were spent seeking ways to help Jim deal with his disease while making a life for myself. Today I’ve met hundreds of parents who still live this form of existence. Equally I’ve met hundreds whose children have lost the fight for life.

All of us have lived the nightmare of addiction, the loss of life or fear there of, and dealt with the stigma of addiction. My self directed research has caused an axial shift in my thinking. It has given me hope. Nothing will bring my beloved son back to me. Jim’s death has pushed me into a greater arena where hope lives. If enough of us find our own axial shift, we can help shatter the stigma of the disease of addiction and bring hope to future generations.

If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. (unknown)

Therefore on the next pages I offer you books and web links that I found helpful to broaden the landscape of my thinking and give me hope. There is no starting or ending place; each of us journey our own path. Happy reading!

The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Viktor Frankl