Keeping up appearances as a family hid the denial and shame Anita Devlin felt as her son struggled with an addiction to opioid painkillers. But when she finally shared their experience, it opened the door to healing and recovery. Devlin, author of “S.O.B.E.R.” about her son Mike’s addiction and road to recovery with Caron Treatment Centers, shares her humble opinion about banishing judgment and reaching out to others.
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As part of our series America Addicted, tonight, we look at the role shame sometimes plays in families coping with a loved one’s addiction.
Anita Devlin speaks to groups all over the country about addiction, but, as you will hear in tonight’s In My Humble Opinion, it was a dangerously long time before she spoke up at all.
Author: If you looked at our family photos seven years ago, you wouldn’t have seen the darkness, because that’s exactly what I wanted. I cared about keeping up appearances.
I couldn’t imagine what would happen to my world if people found out. If I said it aloud, if I asked for help, that would make it real.
My son Michael was 17. He had been taking painkillers after having back-to-back surgeries for lacrosse injuries. They were prescribed by a doctor, so I never thought twice about giving them to him.
I even picked them up at the pharmacy and doled them out like vitamins.
Giving them to my son was my choice. Taking them was his choice. Becoming addicted to them was never a choice.
Little by little, Mike started to change right in front of me. He lost weight. He began to lie. In the place of my son stood a complete stranger. This wasn’t in our life plans.
My husband and I had a loving marriage, strong careers, a beautiful home and two wonderful children. Then the voices started creeping into my head, first, the denial of, not my child, then the shaming of, don’t tell anyone. People will think I’m a terrible parent. Everyone will think I have failed my child.
I thought it was his choice to be taking those pills. And when his roommates called to say he was missing, a friend was at my house and heard what was going on. I had kept it a secret. I hadn’t told her anything.
Once I did tell her the story, she reached out to treatment centers, because I didn’t even know who to call.
Shame is powerful. Shame makes us quiet. And being quiet means being alone. No one can do this alone. And we will never solve the opioid epidemic if we continue to let judgment fester. No one should be afraid to ask for help, for fear of being blamed or shamed. No one is immune to this insidious disease.
I’m one of the lucky moms. It took time, but I realized I was living a lie. Keeping up appearances no longer mattered. Helping my only son was the only thing that mattered.
Fortunately, Michael accepted help. He went to a residential treatment program, where our family received counseling. He’s been in recovery for nearly seven years, and our lives are filled with gratitude.
Today, I’m an advocate, not only for long-term addiction treatment, but also for living authentically. Only when we take steps to eradicate shame can we truly help heal broken families.
We’re still a ways off from having precision genetic testing to ascertain risk of addiction. As I tell my addiction patients; “you should have chosen different parents–you got the gene(s)!” This admittedly ignores the patients free will, environment and choices, but it does help reduce the stigma that they suffer from with this disease