The following article is part of a continuing series of articles examining the effects of illegal drugs in Fayette County.
Twelve-step support groups aren’t just for addicts; families and friends of addicts also find support and a recovery of their own through Nar-Anon and Al-Anon.
“The people who come to Nar-Anon meetings are actually sicker than the abusers. The abusers have drugs to make them do crazy things. The folks that love them are the ones out in the bushes at 4 a.m. trying to help them,” said Buzzy, a Fayette County resident who has been attending Nar-Anon for the past 12 years and locally was one of the founding members. “Because of what people learn in these programs, they tend not to put up with as much. When you stop enabling, they are one step closer to recovery.”
Because anonymity is at the core of 12-step recovery, those interviewed will only be identified by first names, protecting both those attending the meetings and the addicts in their lives. To that end, other identifying details may also be either eliminated or changed.
“We don’t give advice to anybody, we just tell them how we handle situations,” Buzzy said.
In 12-step lingo that would be sharing “experience, strength and hope.”
“A lot of people come in thinking they’re going to fix the substance abuser. They don’t realize the program is there for them. It takes some time to acclimate,” Buzzy said.
Georgette: Ending the chaos
Georgette has been attending Nar-Anon for nearly two years, referred by a counselor who felt she and her husband could benefit from a peer support group.
“I don’t know what I expected. I was just so willing to have something else in my life other than the chaos of the addict,” Georgette said.
Her adult son was involved with a Suboxone treatment program the summer she started at Nar-Anon.
“It wasn’t great, but he wasn’t using. That October he started using again and he had stolen checks again,” Georgette said.
She had given her son an ultimatum: if he used, he had to move out. Attending Nar-Anon gave her the courage to follow through with that and to not feel as guilty about the decision.
“I knew it was what I had to do for my family. At that point, I realized the group had sunk in,” Georgette said. “It all came together, and I realized that what I had been doing for five years hadn’t worked. The program teaches that you release with love. I couldn’t be in that whirlwind anymore.”
Her son was arrested, and, while she and her husband hired an attorney for him, they didn’t bail him out.
“He spent a month in jail, which was the best thing that could have happened,” Georgette said.
With her son behind bars, then later in rehab, Georgette said, life became more relaxed.
“You know that every morning you aren’t going to wake up to him nagging for more money. He wasn’t on the street. He wasn’t in a ditch. You knew exactly where he was,” Georgette said.
Georgette knew that the period of calm did not mean she could slack off on her own program of recovery.
“I needed it. I needed the reinforcement from them. I needed the fellowship of the group. I needed to be able to share my story, and they already knew what I’d been through,” Georgette said. “It’s important for me to keep going back, even though it’s been 19 months, perhaps to uplift someone else.”
April: Enabler no more
April entered the Nar-Anon rooms five years ago, but, unlike most people, she came at the request of the addict in her life, her adult daughter.
“I had just found out a few months earlier that my daughter had an addiction problem. I thought maybe marijuana. I never dreamed it would be a cocaine addiction,” April said.
Her daughter got into an inpatient treatment program.
“Because I had no idea what goes on for a person who is addicted, she suggested I go to the Nar-Anon program,” April said. “I truly thought ,when I walked into the room, ‘These people have been through this, they’ll tell me what to do and tomorrow it will all be gone.’
“I was shocked when I found out this program is for me. I found out I can’t make her stop doing drugs, I can’t make her go to meetings. It has to be what she wants,” April said.
Two years after April’s daughter found sobriety, April’s grandson was struck and killed by a drunk driver as he was walking home from a bar. The grandson had drugs and alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
“He thought marijuana was the best thing in the world. He thought it was the best medicine,” April said.
The death hit April’s daughter hard but not hard enough to make her go back to a life of addiction.
“She’s still in therapy, but she never went back out. She says, ‘Nothing is going to take away my sobriety,’” April said.
April said it’s easy for the parents of an addict to beat themselves up, wondering what they did wrong.
“You look for a reason. You want to find a reason why it ever started, but you never find it,” April said. “When she got clean, I promised her we would not talk about the past, and I told her how proud I was of her and how much I loved her.”
April said she hadn’t realized how much addicts struggle with their addiction.
“Now I know why she wanted me in the meetings. I had never even heard of being an enabler before she went into rehab. I always thought I was helping, but there’s a fine line between helping and enabling,” April said.
There is also shame that comes along with the addiction that can keep both addicts and their family members from reaching out for help.
“I hid this addiction for years from my family and my husband’s family, even from my best friend, because they wouldn’t understand,” April said.
In the recovery rooms, everyone understands. They’ve all been there.
“Unless you’ve faced what we’ve faced, you have no idea. Most people don’t have compassion for our addicts. Before I knew my daughter was an addict, I thought addicts were bums who just hung out all day,” April said. “I can only hope and pray that she stays with her program and I stay with mine. When people come into the rooms, I tell them, ‘Don’t stop loving them, because if you do, what do they have left?’ Addiction is a terrible, terrible thing.”
Ann: There is hope
Ann first attended Nar-Anon in 2008.
“I went for about a year and quit. Then, when my son was one year clean, I went back. It’s different than it was in the beginning. I realized I wasn’t the only one out there, that other people faced the same underlying problem,” Ann said. “We understand each other.”
Ann initially returned to the rooms to see old friends. She stays because of the new people who may walk through the door.
“To help people who are in the same situation I was in seven years ago, feeling there was no hope. There’s hope,” Ann said.
Returning to the weekly meetings is also for herself.
“People may think that, because you have someone in recovery and has been for years, it’s easy, but it’s not. You don’t want to lose what you’ve got,” Ann said. “The insanity is gone, my insanity; the chaos, not knowing from day to day what’s going to happen next. It’s my program. I got through two years of knowing he was using without chasing him. I went on with my life. I went back to school, got two degrees. I didn’t let his using control my life.”
Ann said working her program, following the 12 steps, has brought her family closer together and has changed her perspective on addiction.
“I don’t look at people in addiction the way I used to. It affects anybody, anywhere, anytime. That’s a stereotype we put on addiction, that you’re no good, but that’s not the case,” Ann said.
Ann said the stereotyping even goes on among addicts.
“The alcoholics think they’re better than the drug addicts, and the drug addicts who get it from a doctor think they’re better than the ones who got it from the street,” Ann said.
But the bottom line is, a drug is a drug and addiction is addiction. Ann said family members need to get past the stigma and denial and seek out the help that is available.
Bridgette: Same steps, different door
Twenty-seven years before Nar-Anon started in Fayette County, Al-Anon opened its doors here, recently marking 39 years of meetings in Uniontown. Nineteen years ago, Bridgette walked through those doors to deal with her husband’s cross-addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Bridgette said that before her marriage she knew her husband-to-be drank a bit when they socialized, but it wasn’t until after the wedding that she realized how much he drank at home.
“I started seeing the ads in the paper for Al-Anon. It was for family and friends of alcoholics. When we would fight ... I’d call him a no-good alcoholic. He’d say he wasn’t an alcoholic, so I guessed the meetings weren’t for me,” Bridgette said.
Although Bridgette grew up in a family where alcohol was readily consumed, she had no concept of narcotics addiction.
“He told me one day that he had a drug problem. He was taking pills, and a lot of them, because it was easier to hide from me than the drinking,” Bridgette said. “He was doing a lot of doctor-shopping and pharmacy-shopping. It was expensive. Financially, it was devastating,” Bridgette said.
The two sought counseling outside of Fayette County because of the stigma of addiction.
“It was the counselor at (the) drug and alcohol (agency) that suggested I go to Al-Anon. I said, ‘The alcohol’s not my problem now, it’s the drugs.” She said Al-Anon could probably help me too,” Bridgette said.
Bridgette was nervous about attending her first meeting, but those jitters were rapidly dispelled.
“I thought they were going to throw me out if I said drugs. (The man) running the beginners’ meeting at the time said he wife was cross-addicted to alcohol and Valium,” Bridgette said. “I was really surprised by how much I didn’t know about addiction. I learned so much about narcotic drugs and how vulnerable anyone is to the disease of addiction.”
Bridgette also liked the structure provided by the 12 steps.
“I was always a problem solver and definitely a control freak. I’m an organizer; I’m a fixer. I could figure out how to make anything right. This was something I couldn’t fix. I liked the concept of the 12 steps. There were daily books to read. I loved that it was a spiritual program and not a religious one,” Bridgette said. “I was helpless, I was hopeless, and here was something I could do.”
Bridgette said her concept of why people attend meetings has changed, noting that attendance isn’t based upon someone else’s problem.
“I have no right to define my father or my husband as an alcoholic, but I have been affected by their drinking,” Bridgette said. “We’re all there because we’ve all been affected, and there’s no hierarchy. As one member says, all of our situations are different, but they all feel the same.”
Anonymity is the foundation of all of the 12-step programs, whether for the addicts or for those affected by the addicts, and that anonymity is taken very seriously in the meeting rooms, with reminders that everyone and everything seen or heard there stays in the room.
“Over the years, people have walked in that I know, people from all walks of life, but it’s a really safe place. It was so important for me for it to be a safe place,” Bridgette said.
The others also said that anonymity is important and that those who have not yet tried Nar-Anon or Al-Anon need to realize that they will be safe in the meeting rooms.
“There’s a bond because we’re all in this same situation. You can come to me and talk to me, and I’m not going to repeat it,” April said.
Unlike many rehabilitation programs, there is no cost or insurance approvals necessary to attend 12-step meetings.
Georgette said the rooms would be packed if the families and friends, those who have been affected by another’s addiction, understood what they have to gain.
“This is to give us some peace in our lives, without being consumed by what the addict is doing,” Georgette said.