Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Day Our Son Was Missing

Have you ever felt the fear of not knowing where your child is? The pain of not knowing whether he is dead or alive? We have, and it was one of the worst days of our lives. Our then 19-year-old son had been missing for more than 24 hours and not one person had seen him.

The nightmare started with a text message from his girlfriend around 6:00 pm asking if we’d heard from him.

Me: Not since yesterday. Why?

Girlfriend: We had a big fight last night and now I can’t reach him.

Me: Did you try his cell phone?

Girlfriend: Yes, he isn’t answering.

Me: Maybe he is just upset with you. I will call him.

I try to call and text him several times over the next half hour but there is no answer.

I call his girlfriend back and ask her to call around to see if any of his friends have seen him and I’d do the same.

I contact everyone I could think of and not one person had seen him since the night before when he was spotted walking down the Avenue alone around 10 pm.

I let his girlfriend know what I found out, praying that she had better news. She didn’t. Not one of his friends had seen him.

Panic set it.

I keep calling his phone. Nothing.

I call the police station to see if he is there. He isn’t and they hadn’t seen him at all.

I call the hospital to see if anyone matching his description came in (dead or alive). Due to the privacy laws, they can’t tell me anything but promise to give him my message if he is there. I know he will call me immediately if he gets the message. Nothing.

Mike takes a drive around town to see if he can find him. I wait by the phone. Nothing.

I post a message on Facebook to see if anyone has seen him. Nothing.

By midnight, we still haven’t heard from him. I am in tears. Where could he be?

Mike tries to comfort me, but we both know that this is really out of character for our son who always stays in touch. I am scared. It doesn’t look good. He had a bad fight with his girlfriend and he is at a bad point with his addiction. A terrible combination. Now, he is missing.

I get down on my knees and pray and cry and pray and cry. I eventually fall asleep (if you could call it that) with a broken, worried heart.

We get up early the next day to get things ready to file a missing person’s report with the police department. I cry as I look at his photos and pray some more.

I hear from a few friends who saw my Facebook posting. They offer to contact some other friends to see if they’d seen him. Nothing.

We plan to file the missing person's report and then go check along the Hillsborough River and other waterways to see if we can find him. We are heartbroken. At this point in time, it is getting hard for Mike to be the strong one. It isn’t looking good.

As we turn onto Kirkwood Drive, where the police station is located, my phone rings. It is OUR SON! I have never been so glad to hear anyone’s voice in my whole life. In tears, I ask, “WHERE ARE YOU?”

Very innocently, he said, “I am at the hospital. Why? What’s wrong?”

It turns out that our son was feeling suicidal the night he went missing. Instead of jumping off the Hillsborough Bridge, which had entered his mind, he decided to turn left and continue on to the hospital to get help. I am so thankful they did not turn him away!  Instead, they took really good care of him for as long as he needed it.

When I called the hospital looking for him, the person I spoke to had only checked the emergency room records for that day/night, not the admitting records from the previous night. This is why he didn’t get my message.

We were so grateful that our son was alive and well. We were also grateful for the care that he was given at the hospital. I am not sure why it worked out for him that particular night (it wasn’t the norm for addicts), but we are glad that it did!

While this type of scare can happen to anyone, these things happen more often when your child is addicted to drugs. Our loved ones are at a higher risk of death than other people their own age. It is our sad reality. It is our constant worry.

We can eliminate a lot of stress on Island families by providing meaningful and timely treatment for addiction. This will prevent the disease from escalating to the level where the person is suicidal, committing crimes, etc. 

The recent investment in Addictions Services will certainly save lives but there is a lot more to be done. We cannot take this lightly. There is too much on the line, including the lives of people like my son who deserve the chance to get well.  Today, it is my son, tomorrow it could be yours.  Let’s stand together and support addicts and their families in finding the road to recovery.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

SMART Recovery: Another Option on the Road to Recovery

Our son was never one to attend 12-step meetings like NA. He simply did not care for them. While they have helped millions of people to find recovery, the meetings just didn’t motivate my son enough to keep him going back. Motivation is a key component of change so finding something that works is important if one is to stay in recovery. Unfortunately, 12-step meetings seemed to be the only option around, leaving people like my son with no outside support system that they could relate to.

Last winter, while reading about programs being offered in other areas, I found the SMART Recovery program. I thought it sounded great. It is not a 12-step program so would provide a real alternative to AA/NA.  It would also be a good complement to AA/NA for those who have found recovery there. I wanted to partner with someone in recovery to eventually bring it to the Island. My son was still in active addiction so wasn’t ready. While I waited for the right person to come along, I continued to talk to people about the program and direct them to the online meetings.  

I am a firm believer that there is more than one way to recover. We have to offer as many options as possible so that individuals have a greater chance of finding what works best for them. Any treatment plan should have the client, and what motivates them, at the centre of it. We can no longer promote only one option and expect everyone to conform to it. There is too much on the line. We have an epidemic. We have to do better.

Last month, someone (Molly Nielson) finally came along! We are starting up a SMART Recovery program in the New Year. Her timing was perfect because my son was only days into his recovery and I knew he would likely benefit from these meetings. He liked the online meetings so I knew he would like the face to face meetings as well.

Molly is a wonderful young woman who is doing great things in her own recovery. She was ready to start something new and so was I. She had a friend (Natasha Flood) who wanted to be involved. My son wanted to be involved. Another friend also wanted to be involved. Now, all five of us are doing our facilitator’s training in order to bring SMART Recovery to PEI.

SMART stands for “Self-Management and Recovery Training”.  We really like the SMART Recovery program and hope that you will too! Here is a bit of information so that you can make your own decision about it. You can find more on the SMART Recovery website. You can also take part in online meetings for addicts and families.


Their 4-Point Program offers tools and techniques for each point:

1. Building and Maintaining Motivation
2. Coping with Urges
3. Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours
4. Living a Balanced Life


• Teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance.

• Provides meetings that are educational, supportive and include open discussions.

• Encourages individuals to recover from addiction and alcohol abuse and live satisfying lives.

• Teaches techniques for self-directed change.

• Supports the scientifically informed use of psychological treatments and legally prescribed psychiatric and addiction medication (Methadone, Suboxone, etc.).

• Works on substance abuse, alcohol abuse, addiction and drug abuse as complex maladaptive behaviors with possible physiological factors.

• Evolves as scientific knowledge in addiction recovery evolves.

• Differs from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs.


SMART Recovery has a scientific foundation, not a spiritual one. The program teaches increasing self-reliance, rather than powerlessness. The meetings are discussion meetings in which individuals talk with one another, rather than to one another. They encourage attendance for months to years, but probably not a lifetime. There are no sponsors in SMART Recovery.  They also discourage use of labels such as "alcoholic" or "addict".

I know many people who have found recovery in the rooms of 12-step meetings. The comparison above is just that - a comparison. It is by no means saying that one type of meeting or method is better than the other. It is only meant to show the differences. You may actually enjoy both types of meeting. In the end, we all want recovery for you. You can decide what's right for you.

We do not have our dates, times and location for the meetings established yet. That’ll happen in the New Year when our training is complete. I’ll post the details here when we have them. For now, we are just letting everyone know about the meetings.


PS: Molly and Natasha's names are used with permission.