Category Archives: Stories

CBC: “Manitoba methadone clinic saved my life,” young mom says

manitoba


Winnipeg inner-city clinic offers holistic approach to treating additions

If Faith ever needs a reminder about her descent into drugs, she just has to look at the jagged thin scars that run along her arm.

“I couldn’t hit myself in one of my veins, so I started slashing my wrist,” says Faith (not her real name). “And then when I did that, I [saw] my veins, so I [shot up] where I slashed up.”

Faith cradles her now-healthy baby, who was born two months ago addicted to drugs. Faith (not her real name) has been clean since she entered a Winnipeg methadone clinic last fall to deal with a morphine addiction. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

Welcome to the hell that is morphine addiction.

“It is the awfulest feeling,” she said. “Of all the drugs I did in my life, that’s the one I’m most scared of.”

Today, Faith shoots up a different kind of opiate. But this one, methadone, is under doctor’s orders. And this one, Faith says, is saving her life.

“If you’d told me last summer I’d be clean this long, I’d have said [never],” she said. “I was so close to overdosing.”

Morphine’s near-deadly hold on Faith reflected a grim trend that’s now firmly entrenched in Winnipeg – a dramatic increase in prescription opiate addiction. And the methadone program? It reflects a growing acceptance of a somewhat ironic therapy: giving an opiate addict a different kind of opiate. It keeps the cravings under control, manages withdrawal symptoms and gives the patient the time and the ability to pick up the pieces of their drug-shattered life.

A hard sell

Not surprisingly, it was once a hard sell as an addictions panacea, says Dr. Lindy Lee, an addictions specialist at an inner-city methadone clinic.

“The problem is Manitoba has always been an abstinence-based province,” Lee said.

Faith’s story

Tune into CBC’s Information Radio this (Tuesday) morning at 7:20 and 7:40 a.m. to hear more on this story.

“I myself have an abstinence-based heart. I totally endorsed that. We just saw for opiate addiction it wasn’t working. They were relapsing.”

Those who go on methadone, however, stand a better chance, which is why the province now supports it.But Lee takes it one step further and several years longer.She doesn’t just dole out doses of methadone. She treats the addicts “holistically,” she says, providing resources to slowly help them rebuild their lives physically and emotionally.

In fact, some of the first OxyContin addicts she treated a few years ago are just now being weaned off the methadone.

“These were kids with lovely parents who often didn’t have a clue from ordinary backgrounds,” Lee said. “Somehow they stumbled into the OxyContin mess and it took them away.”

Today, they have their lives back, she says – evidence that the combination of counselling and methadone might be long and slow, but it works.

Healthy and thriving

Faith herself is a believer. She was four months pregnant and still shooting up when she finally entered the clinic last fall, mortified because the baby inside her had become addicted as well.

“He was withdrawing. He needed a fix just as much as I did,” Faith said. “It really freaked me out.”

She didn’t hold out much hope for herself. She’d tried rehab before, including methadone, and failed. This time, however, she realized this program was different. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about taking methadone. Suddenly, she was getting counselling, parenting classes and ongoing support.

As for her son, when he was born two months ago, he had to be weaned off the drugs. But he’s now healthy, thriving and living full-time with Faith at the rehab residence she’s staying in.

She has not had a single relapse – the longest she’s ever been clean, she says – and she’s now doing the groundwork to get skills training, get an apartment and raise her son. She credits it all to Dr. Lee and the staff at the clinic.

“I didn’t think anyone cared about me, they care about me and my baby,” she said, cradling him in her arms.

“At one time … I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I was disgusted. And today I wake up and . . . I love myself again.”

Take back your life – S’s story

Last week I attended my son’s 5 year cake at an AA meeting, something I thought I’d never see years ago but never lost hope about it happening. What an amazing group of folks who have become S’s cheerleaders. My five visits to these AA meetings have spurred me to reflect on S’s journey and our journey through addiction.

Although our journey runs parallel to S’s and in the end we arrived at a similar place, the time frame varies. Early on we were counselled to look after ourselves through the teachings of Parents Together, a peer-led support group following the book “How to Deal with your Acting Out Teen” by the Bayards. This lesson was one of so very many that we learned through this wonderful group. My husband and I took it to heart and worked hard to maintain a great relationship with each other through the tough times.

Tough times…. that brought out tough emotions in me. It was vitally important to my husband and me to keep our family together in our home during S’s early years of using even when his using caused no end of grief. He quit school, became involved in criminal activity, used threats to try to get what he wanted, stole from us, disregarded the needs of anyone else and became a hostage to drugs. We held on by our fingertips for four years until it became apparent that what we were doing was not helping S or ourselves. I was angry, tired, sad and so sick of feeling this way. This was not the way I wanted my life to be. After giving S a week’s notice, we asked him to leave. What a miserable day, probably the worst day of my life but I knew it had to happen. Something had to change.

What ensued was six more years that saw S bounce from shelter to shelter with several attempts at treatment/rehab, one lasting five months, an occasional stint in jail and hospital, becoming terribly undernourished, homeless. But something began to change for me after a time, without the daily barrage of ugly behaviours, I began to realize that I needed to recover from S’s addiction, that his illness had affected my thinking, behaviour and feelings and had indeed affected my sense of well-being as well as my relationships with others. Around this time we started attending Parents Forever led by the formidable Frances Kenny. What an amazing woman! We learned valuable lessons, coping strategies, and gained strength from the folks at the group. We rarely missed a meeting in seven years. Little by little we climbed out of the pit.

Recovery for me was a lengthy process and not tied to S’s addiction or happiness. I managed to disengage from the chaos that is addiction and put energy into loving and accepting my son as he was. Photos of S as a child that put a smile on my face went up on the fridge, loving letters to him were written in my journal, never sent but the hopeful messages helped me turn my self-talk into positive messages rather than negative ones. My husband, who was and is my rock, and I would meet S for a meal weekly and this helped us remain in contact. Some of these meetings were tough but I learned to feel gratitude for the fact that S was still with us.

A number of years ago, during another cake celebration and after reading the AA steps posted on the wall, I began to think that, as a parent, I had probably gone through some steps too in my recovery. These are some of the ideas that came to mind then:

Admit that you are powerless to change someone else
Admit that you did not cause the illness
Admit that whatever you might have done to contribute to the situation, it was done unintentionally; let go of the guilt
Accept where your loved one is – his situation, his struggles, his addiction/illness – and love him as he is
Continue to hope that he has the strength and courage to seek help
Take one day at a time and refuse to let your loved one’s illness take over your life any more
Make gratitude a part of everyday
Live your life as you would want to be remembered

In conclusion I would encourage anyone struggling with the effects of a loved one’s addiction to seek out a support group. Folks in similar circumstances provide a safe place to be, to feel, to speak. You are definitely not alone.

Tammy’s recovery from crack addiction

Filmmaker Brynn Campbell used her camera to compose an anti-stigma message in collaboration with Tammy, an Ontario woman long addicted to crack cocaine. The consequences of Brynn’s project were probably unexpected both by the videographer and her subject.

The video lets you see how Brynn’s unflinching presence supported Tammy in the recovery strategies she invented for herself —e.g., putting a purchase on hold for payday so that she would buy something durable instead of purchasing crack.

Campbell’s intention is to show Canadians that accepting an addicted person without judgment is the healthiest possible response, both for the person and for our society as a whole.

I’ve been swallowed whole by my daughter’s drug addictions.

TORONTO – November 19, 2013

As I watch the daily circus and the madness surrounding Mayor Rob Ford, I envy the people of Toronto, who get to watch this on television, read it in the newspaper and listen to it on the radio.

They quack about it on Facebook and laugh about it on their daily travels. I envy them because they can change the channel, stop talking about it or turn it off. In my life this is not an option.

My daughter is 23 and she has been an addict, in one form or another, for seven years. She has been sent, at government expense, to rehab centres in the United States and has had a number of hospitalizations in Toronto. She has been to the best psychiatrists, psychologists and various and sundry other therapists, who have all done their level best.

She has snorted drugs, shot them in her arm, smoked them and taken pills. She has had her own version of the “drunken stupor,” and she has even been found with vital signs absent by paramedics.

She has attended 12-step groups, six-step groups, no-step groups. She has tried alternative treatments in various countries. We have shelled out more than $150,000 in treatment costs over the years. Everything we own of value has to be placed in a safe, or it will be stolen when she “slips.”

Contrasted to this is the very bizarre fact that our daughter is also a university student who pulls A grades in every subject.

What she desperately wants is to be well. When addicts, especially female addicts, are desperate they resort to many desperate measures and are often victims of sexual assault. Some suffer from co-morbidities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is from these memories that many relapses occur.

The family, if the addict still has a family intact, is swallowed whole and suffers immeasurably.

Our son is consumed with hatred and depression because he only gets our leftover time, as he sees it, even when the time is a good time.

Everyone in the family lives in suspended animation wondering what the next day, hour or moment will bring. We can have a happy family dinner one day, and the next be robbed of our credit cards.

We have found that there are very few facilities for young-adult addicts in Toronto, and the problem has spiralled out of control.

Hard cases involving a dual diagnosis, such as a mental illness co-existing with addiction, end up being shipped out to the United States. Many of these U.S. centres offer substandard 12-step programs with a very poor success rate.

What is worse is that these facilities are in upper-middle-class, pseudo-resort communities complete with pools and, often, beach access. Everyone in them seems the same, part of a new subculture of the young, addicted and entitled – albeit with angst.

Upon completion of up to six months of “therapy,” these young clients are encouraged to live in the city where they were treated and become part of a “sober community” there. This actually works for many people, but not for Canadians because we cannot work in the United States.

I find it appalling that Ontarians are shipped out to foreign countries for treatment and that our health ministry is paying up to $20,000 a month for that treatment. Why don’t we create our own post-treatment centres in Ontario? It is inconceivable that we entirely miss the crucial step that, after treatment, people need to live and work within a safe and supportive community.

I have not been back to work for several years. My husband I take separate vacations. We can never leave our home and our daughter alone.

We love her, and we are not enablers. The only time we kicked her out of the house was at the behest of a psychologist who assured us she would go to a shelter and be home within days, contrite and ready for change. Instead, our daughter ended up in the clutches of someone who is now in prison for violent crimes.

We are her family, even if we haven’t always made the best choices or said the right words. We will never give up on her, and so far she has not given up on herself.

Addiction is a very complex issue, but until we learn to walk away or to protect ourselves, the addict is always in control of our very lives.

The City of Toronto and its people are in a very tough situation. But at least, for now, they can change the channel. Lucky them.

Marlene Burdon (a pseudonym) lives in Ottawa.

from the Globe and Mail online

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/i-envy-those-who-can-laugh-at-rob-ford/article15467997/

Vicious drug cycle haunts Ottawa family

The Ottawa Sun on July 25, 2013 ran a story that adoptive families in British Columbia may find achingly familiar.

by Tim Baines

“I wish I could live forever.”

Darren Cody tattooed those words on his chest, a tribute to his 18-year-old brother Nick, who had tweeted it before he was found dead in Vanier early in the morning of June 24.

Drug overdose.

Tragedy.

Heartbreaking.

A kid who had to overcome so much to be who he was, was gone.

Nick Cody was small, maybe 5-foot-3, 120 lbs. He had a great inner circle of friends. He had dreams. He wanted to be a police officer, maybe an underwater welder.

He was going to be the one to change things, to make something of himself. His dad, Andre, died of a drug overdose when the kid was nine months old. Drug use ran in the family.

“He’d say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to break the cycle. He said it to us several times,” says Steve Cody, who, with his wife Natalie, took in Nick, his cousin Andre’s child, when he was seven. The Codys own businesses — Cody Party, Cody Mobile and Monster Halloween.

Nick had returned to live with his birth mother 10 days or so before he died, but was at the Cody house for Steve’s birthday on June 23. He left at 7 p.m. or so.

“We got a call, at 2 o’clock. It was (Nick’s) mother’s boyfriend. He just said, ‘Nick’s gone.’ They tried to revive him, but his body had just shut down.”

Nick had come so far in 11 years.

“When he came to live with us, we said, ‘If you’re comfortable and want to call us Mom and Dad, it’s your choice.’ Two days later, he was calling us Mom and Dad,” says Natalie.

He had anxiety issues — he couldn’t sit. But he changed, adapted, warmed up to people.

He went to St. Patrick Elementary School, then St. Joseph High School.

Nick fit in with the Cody kids: Paige, 22, Bradley, 20, Darren, 17 and Katrina, 14.

He loved computers, dirt biking and listening to Lil Wayne. He was a good soccer player (Ottawa South United). He was outgoing. His favourite colour was pink. He wanted people to pay attention, he wanted to get noticed.

When he was 15 or so, Nick experimented with drugs. It started with pot, then pills — oxycontin.

“He’d go to his room. He’d isolate himself,” says Steve. “He’d do drugs alone. His dad was a cocaine addict. It was in the family. I’d tell him, ‘Nick, you can’t take that stuff.’ “

Steve and Natalie later started testing him for drugs.

“He was fooling us. He’d switch up the pee bottle,” says Steve.

When confronted, he’d fess up.

“He wasn’t a good liar,” says Natalie.

The Codys had taken a course through Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services. They learned how to cope with situations.

“We have a rule: If you’re doing drugs, you can’t live here,” says Steve. “Our house has to be safe for the other kids.”

They gave Nick a choice last summer — check into rehab or move back to Vanier. He spent three months at a treatment centre near Carleton Place.

“He came out, he was great. He was more relaxed and more focused,” says Steve. “We thought he had it under control. Probably about a month before he passed, we found out he was using drugs again so we told him he had to go live with his mom.”

He seemed OK the night of the birthday party.

“He’d had cocaine and speed the night before,” says Steve. “He had two hits of MDMA (ecstasy) the night he died. What MDMA does is overheat your internal organs. It was hot that day and he hadn’t slept in three days. He literally would have fried himself inside.”

Steve spoke candidly about the drug issue at a beautiful, emotional service at Kelly Funeral Home, with a few hundred people there to pay their respects.

“As a family, we don’t pretend to be perfect,” says Steve. “We don’t believe in hiding things. The message was whether you’re on drugs or thinking of doing drugs, just say no. Try and turn that into a habit. You have a choice. We want to let people know it’s OK to say no … and let them know there’s a consequence, a consequence that’s very real for us now. The reality with drugs is there is no second chance.”

A supplier donated T-shirts. There’s a Facebook page (Say No for Nick, created by Paige, with 2,000 likes already). Nearly $3,000 has been raised, with the money going to Rideauwood. You can donate by clicking on the Facebook page’s link.

Messages of sadness, reassurance, support and love come from near and far.

“His whole life came to us through the people he had touched,” says Natalie. “It’s been very comforting.”

In the backyard of the family home, in a serene setting in the Cedarhill area, water cascades down rocks into a pool. The serenity masks the hurt, the giant puncture in the collective heart.

The night of Steve’s birthday party, Nick’s last words to Natalie: ‘I’m leaving now, I love you Mom.’ “

He was a teenager with a big, goofy smile — a kid who made some bad decisions. Now he’s gone.

Say No for Nick. It’s a powerful message. One that needs to be heard.

 

Why Good Parents Should Support Drug Legalization

As an ex-junkie, I know how harmful addiction is. As a father, I want to protect my daughter from harm. Making all drugs legal will help.

By Tony O’Neill at www.thefix.com, 04/18/13

A friend of mine used to laugh when I said I was in favor of legalizing all drugs. He just couldn’t fathom such a position. He told me that if they legalized drugs, “It would take all of the fun out of it.”

Three years after he died of a heroin overdose, I wonder whether he’d be alive now if drugs had been legal.

As a father, I sometimes find myself on the receiving end of an argument that’s a perennial favorite of the hardened drug warrior: Why would I, the father of a nine-year-old girl, advocate for a society awash with legally available drugs?

The answer is simple: My daughter is already growing up in a society in which illegal drugs are easier to procure than alcohol. Unlike the guy behind the counter of my local liquor store, I’ve never known a drug dealer who checked IDs.

Of course, as an ex-addict, the idea of my daughter using drugs is disquieting. But let’s be honest: The idea of her dating boys is disquieting. I’m not about to campaign to ban co-ed schools. It is hard to remain detached and logical when I’m talking about the little girl I tuck into bed every night. But I truly believe that ending prohibition would protect her, not expose her to harm.

A relapse isn’t something that can be prevented by legislation. But at least when alcoholics relapse they don’t risk death from drinking contaminated bathtub hooch.

The horrors of drug addiction are the last thing I’d ever want her to experience. But if it did happen, I’d prefer it to happen in a society that treated addiction as a medical issue, rather than a reason to lock her up. And frankly, I’m more at ease with the idea of her smoking a joint when she’s old enough, rather than exposing herself to the greater potential harms of alcohol. That doesn’t mean I’m going to head off with her to my local 420 rally this weekend.

Maybe it’s easier for me than most parents because the cat, as it were, is already out of the bag. I’ve written about my experiences with heroin and crack in great detail in my books. She’ll no doubt read them when she’s old enough. But even without the paper trail, I’ve always felt that I have a duty to be honest with my daughter about drugs. Especially when she’s growing up in a society that will be bombarding her with politically motivated propaganda via police-led “educational” programs like DARE, and a media that often prefers hysteria and controversy to cold hard facts.

I truly believe that we’re moving toward a society in which it is no longer acceptable to persecute drug users, and it’s my duty to prepare my child for that.

The movement to legalize marijuana is gathering unprecedented momentum. In the US, it’s now legal in two states for adults to buy pot just like tobacco or alcohol. In many other states, all it takes is a doctor’s prescription. There is a steady shift in public attitudes to the War on Drugs: According to one recent poll, only one in five Americans feels it has been worth the cost. Suddenly, it seems everything is up for grabs.Taking a stand against prohibition – whether by how we vote, where we donate or simply being “out and proud” about our beliefs – is one thing that our unique, fractured and excluded community should do with one voice. If we don’t, others will make their own assumptions about where we stand.

Addiction and recovery issues have for years been moving out of the shadows and into the media spotlight. Celebrities openly discuss going to rehab; in a weird way, recovery has become trendy. We can seize this high profile to speak out against the injustices of the drug war.

My introduction to activism came in London a decade ago. I was on the methadone program at Homerton Hospital and my doctor was giving me hell. He wanted to wean me off immediately. While I was open to the idea of detoxing-in my own time, I knew that if the clinic started weaning me off just weeks into the program, I was going to be back on the needle at the end of it.

That terrified me. Because methadone – which gets a pretty bad rap – saved my life. It gave me enough breathing space to finally look at my situation. And I didn’t like what I saw. I began to believe that maybe I could try a life without heroin at its center. But I could see this potential new life slipping away after an immediate attempt at detox.

Somehow I got in touch with a fellow called Bill Nelles at the Methadone Alliance, and to this day I thank the stars I did. Bill argued my case with the clinic; pulled out pages of evidence in favor of high-dose maintenance from men way smarter and more experienced than my doctor. Eventually my clinic capitulated. Within a year I was able to wean myself off without their help.

Bill’s advocacy was a powerful lesson. With his help, I soon immersed myself in groups like The National Drug Users Development Agency. I went from feeling utterly disempowered to realizing that even junkies, society’s outcasts, could wield enormous power, if we only fought smart and stuck together.

When I quit dope and left England I lost touch with a lot of my advocate friends. But what we were fighting for-equality, decent treatment and an end to our persecution-is still a major concern of mine. And these goals are irrefutably tied to the question of legalization.

People who have never experienced addiction often express some confusion on this issue. They feel that we, as current, recovering or ex-addicts, should be fighting against legalization. After all, drugs have wreaked havoc in our lives: Why on earth would we want them legal?

We want them legal for the same reason that few ex-alcoholics are in favor of banning booze. The legality of the substance is not the issue; the availability of it is. Prohibited or not, trillion-dollar drug war spend or not, drugs remain readily available all over the globe-in small towns, big cities, schools and even prisons.

A relapse isn’t something that can be prevented by legislation. But at least when alcoholics relapse they don’t risk death from drinking contaminated bathtub hooch. Many of the tangible harms of addiction come from the illegality of substances we use-the prohibitive cost, the uncertain quality and the legal risks involved in procuring our substance of choice.

You must know by now that the current approach has failed. A century of prohibition has resulted in a wider proliferation of drugs than ever, sold by criminal organizations so powerful and well funded that they hold the power to topple governments. This “war” has done nothing to stop people taking drugs. The only people who benefit are drug dealers and the profiteers in the prohibition industry.

It’s all well and good for us to rally around “safer”-albeit crucial-causes, like better and more accessible drug treatment, ending the stigmatization of drug users, and developing new and more effective medications to help break the cycle of addiction. But even these issues fail to get to the root of the problem. The addiction community’s number one priority has to be convincing the powers that be to end drug prohibition. Only when drug use is classified as a medical rather than a legal issue can resources finally be focused on helping to solve, not worsen, our problems.

Drugs are either illegal or they’re not. Drug users are either criminals or they’re not. There is no “third way,” and “compassionate prohibition” is an oxymoron. We have a moral imperative to speak out.

Addicts and former addicts-drinkers, smokers, IV drug users or whatever-are anything but a homogenous bunch. While undergoing treatment I shared a room with a crack-smoking bank manager and a meth-shooting ex-hooker who’d changed gender twice. During the time I once spent in the rooms, I sat alongside priests, actors, gangbangers, businessmen, housewives, prostitutes and pilots. The only thing binding this ragtag group together is an obsession for narcotics.

Sometimes we agree; sometimes we scream at each other. We may be using actively or moderately; we may have quit via the 12 Steps, CBT, free will, religion or some other way. We might not like each other; we might not agree on a single issue politically or socially. But we do have a shared, collective experience.

We know that a life spent as a slave to a substance isn’t glamorous or fun. And when we’re at our lowest ebb, no law on the books can cause us the kind of hurt and pain that we heap upon ourselves; we need support, not persecution.

Drug prohibition should be our top priority also because it has the greatest potential to unite us: 12-step, non-12-step and anything in-between. AA “neither endorses nor opposes any causes.” But that doesn’t mean that those who are in the program should also remain silent. We should be getting involved with organizations like MPP and LEAP. We should be talking to our families, our friends and our peers about this. We should be putting pressure on politicians.

We’ve long had the experience and the knowledge; now we have the momentum, too. For ourselves, for our kids, for the countless others who will follow in our footsteps down the dark path of chemical dependence, let’s make it count.

Tony O’Neill is the author of several novels, including Digging the Vein, Down and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

Tammy’s recovery from crack addiction, a time-lapse anti-stigma video

Filmmaker Brynn Campbell used her camera to compose an anti-stigma message in collaboration with Tammy, an Ontario woman long addicted to crack cocaine. The consequences of Brynn’s project were probably unexpected both by the videographer and her subject. 

The video lets you see how Brynn’s unflinching presence supported Tammy in the recovery strategies she invented for herself – e.g., putting a purchase on hold for payday so that she would buy something durable instead of purchasing crack.

Campbell’s intention is to show Canadians that accepting an addicted person without judgment is the healthiest possible response, both for the person and for our society as a whole.

There are only three things that can happen to a prescription drug addict

I am the grandmother of a child addicted to prescription drugs. My Christopher started with alcohol then pot, then anything he could get. He started when he was 15.

He ended when he was 22. I wish I could say that he is in recovery but I can’t: you see, my Christopher overdosed and died May 2, 2010.

If only we could get through to these young people that think it won’t happen to them. Because there are only three things that can happen to an addict: they get clean, go to prison or they die.

Unfortunately my Christopher didn’t believe it would happen to him. My life forever changed the day he died.

FGTA, keep up the fantastic work you do.

Take Back Your Life

Last week I attended my son’s 5 year cake at an AA meeting, something I thought I’d never see years ago but never lost hope about it happening.  What an amazing group of folks who have become S’s cheerleaders. My five visits to these AA meetings have spurred me to reflect on S’s journey and our journey through addiction.

Although our journey runs parallel to S’s and in the end we arrived at a similar place, the time frame varies.  Early on we were counselled to look after ourselves through the teachings of Parents Together, a peer-led support group following the book “How to Deal with your Acting Out Teen” by the Bayards. This lesson was one of so very many that we learned through this wonderful group. My husband and I took it to heart and worked hard to maintain a great relationship with each other through the tough times.

Tough times…. that brought out tough emotions in me. It was vitally important to my husband and me to keep our family together in our home during S’s early years of using even when his using caused no end of grief.  He quit school, became involved in criminal activity, used threats to try to get what he wanted, stole from us, disregarded the needs of anyone else and became a hostage to drugs. We held on by our fingertips for four years until it became apparent that what we were doing was not helping S or ourselves. I was angry, tired, sad and so sick of feeling this way. This was not the way I wanted my life to be. After giving S a week’s notice, we asked him to leave. What a miserable day, probably the worst day of my life but I knew it had to happen. Something had to change.

What ensued was six more years that saw S bounce from shelter to shelter with several attempts at treatment/rehab, one lasting five months, an occasional stint in jail and hospital, becoming terribly undernourished, homeless. But something began to change for me after a time, without the daily barrage of ugly behaviours, I began to realize that I needed to recover from S’s addiction, that his illness had affected my thinking, behaviour and feelings and had indeed affected my sense of well-being as well as my relationships with others. Around this time we started attending Parents Forever led by the formidable Frances Kenny. What an amazing woman! We learned valuable lessons, coping strategies, and gained strength from the folks at the group. We rarely missed a meeting in seven years. Little by little we climbed out of the pit.

Recovery for me was a lengthy process and not tied to S’s addiction or happiness. I managed to disengage from the chaos that is addiction and put energy into loving and accepting my son as he was. Photos of S as a child that put a smile on my face went up on the fridge, loving letters to him were written in my journal, never sent but the hopeful messages helped me turn my self-talk into positive messages rather than negative ones. My husband, who was and is my rock, and I would meet S for a meal weekly and this helped us remain in contact. Some of these meetings were tough but I learned to feel gratitude for the fact that S was still with us.

A number of years ago, during another cake celebration and after reading the AA steps posted on the wall,  I began to think that, as a parent, I had probably gone through some steps too in my recovery. These are some of the ideas that came to mind then:

Admit that you are powerless to change someone else
Admit that you did not cause the illness
Admit that whatever you might have done to contribute to the situation, it was done unintentionally; let go of the guilt
Accept where your loved one is – his situation, his struggles, his addiction/illness – and love him as he is
Continue to hope that he has the strength and courage to seek help
Take one day at a time and refuse to let your loved one’s illness take over your life any more
Make gratitude a part of everyday

Everything happens in the foyer @ youth court

It’s like a play. The stage managers come dress the stage (ie, pin up the day’s docket). The youth straggle in, sheepishly. The lawyers in slick shoes and careful collars glide in. And then the Crown’s prosecutor wheels in her laden cart. It strikes me that the cart is red. Burning hot red files wheel by.

The arrivals, the departures, the occasional appearance of other concerned mothers, some in patten leather, some in Uggs boots al la their heavily made-up daughters, some pushing baby strollers. Few fathers. Lots of scraggy girls friends accompanying thuggish looking boys with hard looks on their faces. The girls, like they are starring in their own tv “reality shows”, texting to friends outside court. Too many babies in strollers wheeling by, little children in training to go to court. Heartbreaking.

We file in to the court room, seating proximate to irascible, troubled children, next to blazed youth reaking of marijuana and stale cigarettes, odours permutating the mixed stink of fear and anxiety wafting around the cologne, gabardine, leather briefcases. The files, clerks, legal reps, passing papers, whispered messages shifting by.

Moments after the judge enters the court, son’s lawyer passes his business card to him, to son’s father, then on to me. Then, minutes later, son’s lawyer whispers to me, “So it is on the matter of mischief, that is the charge.” What? What happened to possesion and concealment of a prohibited weapon? My one hope for real action to finally have the court mandate son into residential drug treatment. What happened?

I rise, bow to the bench, approach son’s probation officer, seated in the front row, leaning in I whisper asking, What happened to the second charge? “I don’t know: it’s between Crown and police,” she replies.

I return to sit, aghast. Waiting. Sitting there with a letter I prepared asking for a pre-sentencing report quietly tucked into my bag, in case I have a chance to address the court. Or someone. Hope sitting in a letter.

File by file, youth or their agents ring out the charges, the “held over” dates.
Bing! Break time. After the Sheriff can’t get the video hearing details sorted, after 8 youth have dates held over. Shuffle, shuffle. File out of the courtroom.

In the foyer, where the People’s Work actually gets done, I ask son’s probation officer again, “What happened.?” She convenes with Crown, will ask her to come over to speak with me. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Then, she approaches, The Provincial Crown Prosecutor.

It was deemed a warrantless search of son’s pack, therefore not a charge that can be prosecuted; charge was dropped.

If you are still reading, here is the back story: this is third time son has come before the court, on trafficking, mischief, theft. Over 4 dozen missing person’s reports. Assaults, bad acid trips, ketamine, ectasy, chronic self medicating with marijuana, failed probation yet no breaching son, hope in the only form of the court intervening. Youth justice system has been the only “help” in addressing son’s very troubling issues (street-involved, at risk, duo drug/ alcohol and mental health issues, over several years; probation, mental health assessments, any drug will do, alcohol blackouts; a father who is a mental health pro yet does not provide the spine and limits son has needed, is as clinically accustomed to the lack of efficacy in his own work world, and who adds to son’s issues with his own troubling past).

Yet, the people’s work happens in the foyer. The Prosecutor hears from me a brief summary of son’s troubles, that many of the professionals in his life support the need for residential treatment. And the law, the misguided law, says Youth: Do Whatever You Want – it is your choice whether to access treatment. AND, Parents: You Have No Say.

The Prosecutor states the limits within which she can operate: youth criminal justice is explicit that youth criminal justice CANNOT be used for child protection purposes. What about the Ministry of Children AND FAMILY, she asks. I scoff in reply: as I want my son home, the MCF deems the matter not a child protection issue: MCF says to son, Go home. Son sleeps in parks, on couches, comes home only in times of extreme illness, abuses me, commits break and enter, steals from me, is a thief, a dealer, uses me then leaves. On and on, year by year.

Further, a pre-sentencing report can ONLY be requested if son pleads or is found guilty. (On mischief – agh, such a little charge, which will be minimized by son’s lawyer to “protect his client’s rights and interest”, the law falls down and will NOT protect son’s best interest).

Son’s probation officer indicates to son that he will not be welcomed back home after court. So the son lashes out at the mother, in the foyer, for being rejected from the home he has spent less than 3 months in over the past 3 years. The father stands there as usual, slack jawed, silent and only speaks when all other of us have hashed out the possibilities, the avenues available to seek help for this kid. Father just states what he’s heard, looking to be the good guy.

MYST officer (Mobile Youth Specialized Team or some such name – a special unit of VICPD) meets me in foyer, where the work of the people really happens. She counsels me to step back, let my son fry, cause himself more and further harm, let him go to jail if that is the case.

To cap it, son’s laissez faire drug and alcohol counselor tells son that residential treatment isn’t effective. Forensics counsellor, the professional who has had the longest therapeutic relationship with son supports residential treatment as outpatient counselling, left up to son to attend, has been ineffective in addressing underlying psychological issues.

The people’s work gets done in the foyer but the work is never done, never accomplished, never satisfactory.

The law must stretch, bend and become supple enough to protect a mother’s right to obtain help for her child.

Anything short of this aim is criminal.