September has been declared Recovery Month and Childhood Cancer Awareness month.
Four years ago, when they were 12, my daughter's best friend was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer. I'll never forget receiving the call from her mother while parking my car in the grocery store lot and we cried on the phone together. As a community we rallied around their family, cooking meals, helping with the other children and supporting them as they divided their time between home and hospital. As a close friends we spent time with them in the hospital, were there to witness how the disease was being treated, able to listen to doctors explain treatment plans and protocols, experience art therapy, music therapy and all the ways others families were supporting each other with hope and creativity. We were exposed to a whole new world of family run non-profits and organizations that were funding new research, helping families with basic needs, giving kids in the hospital special moments, taking their siblings to camp with other siblings, hosting retreats for the parents, hosting events for the families to connect.
Four years ago I didn't know what "Recovery" meant but I was intimately familiar with addiction and it was doing its part to ravage our family. I was suffering as a mother. One day my friend whispered, I don't know if she is going to live and I whispered back, I don't know if mine will either, tears streaming down our faces.
It was so different but so much the same.
There was a moment two years ago that I believe changed everything for our family and the disease of the brain we were in battle with. It was the moment I decided to treat addiction the way my friend Lisa was treating her daughters cancer. I remember vividly stating it out loud.
"I know what I am going to do. I am going to treat this like Lisa treated cancer."
And I did. At every turn. Lisa and her family showed me how to treat a disease. People in the pediatric cancer community like Tattoo Tom, Gabrielle Miller's family, Gavin Rupp's community, The Truth365 taught me how to treat a disease. I also learned that like every disease, not everyone survives even with treatment and all the love of the community but that people carry on in the arms of each other.
Things began to change, to shift with my belief system. Not all at once but over time big shifts happened. I'd been on the fence about the disease. Was it a phase or was it really a disorder and was treatment the answer all along? By being on the fence I'd been allowing addiction to rule our family and depriving my child of the professional treatment needed to heal and recover.
The idea that getting treatment (going to rehab*) was somehow a negative thing or a way of giving up instead of seeing it as treatment for a disease we were prolonging the agony and allowing the disease to progress. (*I don't use the word rehab for treatment but I have here to as a way to show the difference language makes.)
I opened up to the prayer group that had been organized to meet every Friday before school started to pray the rosary for Amelia and asked them to please pray for my son too and they did, without judgment and with so much love. And every Friday we circled up at sunrise from kindergarten to grandmother and prayed the rosary for Amelia and Mitchell and anyone else who needed extra prayers that day then had breakfast together.
I dove deep into research and science. I read all the books, tossing out any that spoke of disconnecting with my child. I went to support groups, leaving any that spoke of "letting him figure it out on his own" or "waiting for rock bottom."
This was a medical condition that needed medical attention but I'd been told that the way to treat this medical condition was to turn my back on it and let it go. I tried that. That didn't work and it only got worse.
Instead, I showed up every day present, aware, ready to learn and respond to the disease as a mother, somedays were brutal and some days we made headway and somedays we just rested. Just like Amelia and Lisa.
I learned the language. The right language that supported recovery and brain science and broke down stigma. You can access an Addiction-ary here to help shift your language to support recovery and end the stigma that keeps people from seeking treatment.
As we made our way to and through the treatment phase I continued to study and connect with people in "RECOVERY." That word that I didn't understand the meaning of until we were in it. I began to ask the providers for the treatment plans and ask more questions and hold the providers accountable in a different way. I reminded myself that they were working for me, for my son, for my family and the onus was on them to provide excellent care. His treatment and recovery was as much their repsonsiblity as it was his. We stayed connected to treatment as a family and followed the recommendations of professionals and other people in recovery.
I decided to model myself after people I met in the pediatric cancer community. The mothers and fathers who were outraged by the lack of treatment protocols and money for research for their children. The parents who'd built support systems for each other and encouraged each other even when they'd lost their precious child to an underfunded and outdated treatment system. The people who were shining a little on the darkness and asking for the culture to look at their darkness and love it in to the light. The people who were showing the truth of what was happening and bringing about change by calling it out. And the people who were just plain loving all the kids who were sick and doing what they could to help them survive.
What I found in Recovery is that community exists just like it does for the families with cancer or any other disease. The Recovery Community is emerging into the light, out in the open and out of anonymity in order to save lives and support the families who have lost their precious loved ones to a disease not a phase or a choice. A disease/disorder of the brain, supported by brain science, supported by peer reviewed research at NIH, the National Institute of Health, supported by the surgeon's generals report on addiction.
What I also found was a man named Dr. Tom Kimball who was doing incredible research in addiction and recovery and also had a child in recovery from pediatric cancer. God always puts the right people in front of me at the right time. This validated that I was on the right path with my beliefs.
For the families in the pediatric cancer community I am deeply grateful for how you modeled how to treat a disease as a mother, a family member and a community. You are always in my prayers and I admire your strength, resilience and especially your ferocity.
For the families impacted by addiction, the recovery community is here to love you through, its rising and big shifts are happening, people are deeply devoted, passionate, persevering and working hard to change the way addiction is treated.
For my community, daily we give thanks and gratitude for the way you showed up for us with love, prayers, meals, support, cards, presence, encouragement and acceptance, because of you we felt less alone and isolated, more connected and loved which ultimately empowered us on the journey.
September is the month declared for Recovery from addiction and Pediatric Cancer. May there one day be a time when a month isn't needed to remind everyone that there are children dying and families suffering. Let's treat addiction the way we treat cancer and embrace the families who are suffering without judgement or shame and instead offer love, nourishment and acceptance.
Let's keep showing up for each other. That is really what it all about. Being there for each other when things get hard and loving each other through.
Love Wins. Together. We can do hard things.
I AM DEVOTED
#familyrecovery #4%isnotenough #ameliais
Photo Credit: Jen Lemen
Family Recovery Advocate
I serve women seeking healing and transformation.
I serve people who have been impacted by addiction recover their lives.