Lisa & Geoff’s Story: How SMART Recovery Family & Friends Groups are making a difference
Maria Chapman, the Newport Family Support Worker met with a couple, Lisa and Geoff, who have been accessing their local SMART Recovery for Family and Friends Group. Lisa and Geoff outlined the reasons why they sought support from a facilitated peer support group and extoled the friendship and support they had found in a group of other people dealing with, and learning to cope with very similar circumstances.
Lisa and Geoff described an all too frequent picture of how their lives had been impacted on by their son’s choices and life decisions that had led to a life of alcohol and drug abuse. Sadly, they portrayed the emotional roller coaster of watching a loved one wander into a cycle of substance use, detoxes, medication and rehabilitation. Just as important was their own parallel journey.
Lisa and Geoff described their son, Jason, as a quiet teenager who started smoking cannabis around 15 years of age, in his later teens he found alcohol and experimented with LSD. His parents confirmed that Jason had a warm, loving and supportive upbringing with no serious dramas and they have no idea why he was drawn to alcohol and drugs. They have been through the full gamut of emotions watching Jason’s experimentation turn into dependence. Lisa and Geoff confirmed that Jason has always had a problem with alcohol and has spent some time on heroin with a few periods on rehabilitation programmes, with a substitution methadone prescription, including a number of residential interventions. His parents are aware that he has used a wide range of drugs including amphetamines, ecstasy and benzodiazepines. Jason has managed some significant episodes of abstinence but sadly Jason has always returned to both alcohol and drugs. Jason’s mental health was poor and his substance use has undermined it significantly. Lisa, explained the excruciating guilt and shame that she had experienced as a mother and the history of self-blame and looking for reasons why Jason had become alcohol and drug dependent.
Lisa and Geoff outlined the support and hard work that they had applied in trying to rescue their son from himself. Over 20 years later they found themselves in a different place where they felt they could no longer cope by themselves and looked around for some support for themselves. Lisa and Geoff were quite clear that the first year or two of accessing GDAS Family Support was still with the focus of saving Jason. However as they worked with their support worker they began to realise that Jason’s life as an adult was his responsibility and that their own lives were their responsibility and that they needed to focus on their own needs. Their GDAS Family Support Worker recommended that they link into the SMART recovery for Family and Friends Group which provided a space for people with similar experiences in dealing with the fallout of someone else’s substance use.
Lisa and Geoff attended the SMART Recovery Group local to them and have been attending for the last 2 years. Geoff first outlined the benefits at the meeting and wanted to point out that they had dealt with their sons alcohol and drug use both quietly and as private as they could. Lisa confirmed that it was a breath of fresh air to be able to talk to people with no stigma or judgement about their son’s behaviour and to talk with people who fully understood the journey they had been on.
Geoff was clear that that the SMART Recovery Family and Friends Group had opened his eyes and helped him understand why many of the tactics and strategies that they had employed to help Jason had not worked. The group helped both Lisa and Geoff to make peace with the fact that Jason was in charge of his own life and that they were grieving for what they saw as his lost potential and in fact the life that they had wanted for him – not the life he had chosen for himself.
Lisa and Geoff recognised that SMART Recovery for Families and Friends had helped them to understand the following:
- Jason was in charge of and responsible for his own life choices and decisions.
- That their love and practical help was ‘enabling’ behaviour and in effect helped Jason abdicate both ownership and responsibility for his own life.
- That their rescuing behaviours prevented Jason facing the harsh consequences of his own choices / actions.
- Positive communication without conflict
- Recognising the need for healthy boundaries and being able to communicate them (and stick to them).
- Being able to withdraw when boundaries are not respected
- The importance of self-care and focussing on meeting their own needs and maintaining their own lives and health.
Lisa and Geoff were very keen to point out that the learning aspect of the groups were in fun group sessions, where everyone chipped in. The most valuable aspect of these meetings was the feeling of mutual support and understanding that was provided. Lisa and Geoff both felt that they knew the theory after 2 years but they rely on the support network for much more. They appreciated the group’s camaraderie and the way the fellow group members lift each other spirits – it helps to face another day knowing you are not on your own.
(*All names changed for confidentiality)