Thursday, 10 July 2014

An Addictionologist's Perspective

I received this thoughtful and touching email from Dr. Denise Lea who was my son’s doctor at Addictions Services before she moved away. I was thrilled to hear from her. She is someone that I really respect, both professionally and personally. I think her message will mean a lot to the parents on this journey so I asked for permission to share it with you...

Dear Rose,

I just read your poem about the beautiful gift of your son’s recovery, which is indeed beautiful, and sensitive, and I'm so happy for you.  I know how long of a haul it has been for you.

I always say that I learn a lot from my clients, and what I really learned from you and your son was that loving, committed parenting does not necessarily protect young people from addiction risk.  You were brave and communicative enough to be able to show that to me, and I am glad I had an open enough mind to see it.

There are many good parents who are severely “afflicted" by the stigma of addiction.  The way the disease affects them is by making them feel like they did not do an adequate job in raising their children when, from my educated and relatively enlightened perspective, I can see that they surely did.  I can easily see the good, moral, and kind young people that they raised, behind the dreadful distortion of the disease that is affecting them and their minds.

I also see parents become uncertain and question their best efforts in raising their children. Some get inwardly angry, for no good reason, because they think that they could/should have done “better" - and that is hurting them as well as their addicted children, and probably the entire family, quite a lot.

I have you to thank for my ability to recognize all of this, and to therefore be empathetic to it.  I have seen the pain and suffering of addiction so many times and from so many different perspectives, but I didn’t really intuitively “feel” the truth of the words, “it is a family disease”,  until I  understood, and ultimately heard your voice.  

The way I tended to interpret the “family disease” thing was more along the lines that the CAUSES of addiction originate within family dysfunction in many cases, as well as that the affected person inflicts suffering on the family due to the behaviour and personality changes that are caused by the addiction.  What I didn’t clue into right away was the truth that the suffering on a parent who has a child with addiction can have nothing to do with either of those things.  The suffering perhaps may be more due to the loss of confidence of something you really used to believe in:  That your love, support, and unceasing devotion to your children could still not have provided them with something that you thought it should have:  protection from their own so called “choices”.  

This is one of the many things that now really bugs me about the stigmatization of addiction - that many other people inherently judge the parent of an addict as having “screwed up” somehow (as well as judging the addict as lacking in “morality”).  I didn’t even realize that I was passively buying into the former element of stigma myself until you opened my eyes! 

I get tired of hearing that addicts have made bad “choices”.  None of us “choose” our DNA.  The choice to “try” drugs is hardly a choice, if you consider the relevance of brain development, mood and anxiety disorders, peer and societal influences, and the underlying desire to fit in that every single adolescent has to negotiate on their way to adulthood.

You were brave enough to eventually stand up and say, “You know what?  My husband and I did the absolute best that we could have done as parents, I loved my kids as much as I possibly could, and I believe that my children know that…and by the way, my son IS the product of a stable and loving home, and he IS a loveable human being that you people should be treating with the value and respect that he deserves,” yet you managed to say it without being strident, sensitively, but insistently.  Your voice is special, and I hope you know that.

Your words really moved me when I heard you talk in front of all the parents the night of the panel presentation on addiction at the school.  I could see how terrifying and frustrating it must have been for you, and how utterly powerless you must have felt, to have your lovely boy “stolen” from you.  I’m glad you were somehow able to keep the faith alive in you that he was still “in there”, even when it must have been really hard to see.  I’m also glad that you had enough faith and confidence in yourself to not let anyone run over you by buying into the mistaken belief that you had done anything “wrong”.  

You and most parents do the best that they can, and love their kids as much as they can, and make very few “pivotal” mistakes that make any great difference in what happens to their kids.  Some people who have the disease of addiction may be born into families suffering poverty, addiction, and violence, and their risks are relatively higher, but a LOT of people who suffer addiction do not have any huge environmental risk factors, and that this is more common within the current epidemic of opiate addiction than it ever has been before.  Good kids from healthy families who have been loved, empathized with, and supported still end up with addiction.  What I have definitely observed is that these kids often have better long term OUTCOMES than the ones who did not have good environments. They are more resilient, the damage is less severe, and the support is more likely to remain consistent, and the patients are more willing to accept the support.  It is not all for nothing, is it?  

The truth of addiction recovery is that it takes time, it is exhausting to keep on caring and to stay supportive, and that at times it seems impossible to keep on going, and to believe that hope exists... but that it is definitely WORTH IT to keep on trying, and that the rewards of doing all the hard work are often not what you were expecting at all… because they are SO MUCH MORE than you had ever hoped for in the first place.  We are somehow “perfected" by the process of “breaking” and eventually healing, and that certain joys can only be formed by the suffering that “sculpts” our souls as we endure. 

I have heard that the light often shines brighter through the cracks.

Here’s to keeping on hoping and caring,

Dr. Denise Lea


  1. Thank you for sharing Dr. Lea's letter. I am not surprised to hear she has learned so much from you... we all have. Thank you for that.

    The part of her letter that really struck home for me is "The truth of addiction recovery is that it takes time, it is exhausting to keep on caring and to stay supportive, and that at times it seems impossible to keep on going, and to believe that hope exists... but that it is definitely WORTH IT ". I can certainly attest to that! I live with three young people struggling with addiction. Two are on methadone and one on suboxone. The transformation of these young people in the last year has been nothing short of a miracle. I think back to a year ago to the days when I barely had hope of seeing them survive and compare them to the productive, happy and healthy individuals I live with now, I am amazed. Dr. Lea is correct.... It is so Worth It. Parents, never give up on your kids. Methadone and suboxone don't work overnight but if they are used properly, these drugs make a huge difference in contributing to a successful recovery. It has not been easy and like every parent going through this, there were days that I really felt that there was no hope but with treatment and a supportive environment, my kids now have a fighting chance on recovering from this horrible disease.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I am so pleased to hear that your children are doing well. That is just wonderful!! Yes, Dr. Lea said some really great things in this letter. I really like the part you mentioned as well. It is one of the reasons that I asked her if I could share it. I knew that parents would get a lot out of it. She is a great doctor. We were fortunate to have her here and it was a big loss when she left. Take good care and my best wishes for your family to continue on the right track!


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