Dean Dauphinais is the father of two sons. One is a recovering dual-diagnosis addict who also suffers from severe depression and anxiety disorder. Dean has made great strides in his own recovery and dreams of a day when the stigma associated with addiction no longer exists. We asked Dean to contribute to Heroes in Recovery as a guest blogger. Below is his story of inspiration.
Being the parent of an addict is not something one aspires to be. But that’s what I am; and what I have been for the last several years. My 22-year-old son was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder when he was 15, and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he began self-medicating to try to feel “normal.” First it was pot. Then it was prescription meds. Then it was heroin. And cocaine. To be totally honest, I’m not sure what all he’s tried over the years. But heroin was his drug of choice for quite a while, and that’s when I realized that drug addiction was not reserved for inner city kids who lived on the streets. My son grew up in a middle-class family in an affluent suburb. And yet one day I woke up and found myself trying to figure out how to help my drug-addicted child.
After the initial shock, anger, guilt, and tears, I eventually figured out that being the parent of an addict is very similar to being the parent of a child with any other disease, with one exception: Most other diseases don’t have the stigma attached to them that drug addiction does. And believe me, that stigma is huge. I’ve often said that if my child had cancer, I would’ve had friends knocking down my door offering to help my family in any way they could. But having a child who suffers from addiction? That’s a completely different scenario. Friends must’ve thought my wife and I were bad parents. Or that our son was a bad kid. Or maybe some of our friends thought it was contagious. Whatever the reasons, there was no one banging down our door to help in the beginning.
There is no owner’s manual for being the parent of an addict. It’s something you learn by doing. Sure, you read a lot about it and try to pick up pointers here and there from others who’ve experienced it. But it’s kind of like reading a book about mountain climbing and then going out to climb Mt. Everest. Reading about it and actually doing it are two very different things. But somehow you find your way and get through it.
I think the toughest thing to accept as the parent of an addict is the fact that no matter how hard you try, or how badly you want to, you cannot “fix” your child. The only one who can “fix” the addict is the addict. It goes against everything you’re conditioned to believe as a parent, but it’s true. So all you can do is offer as much support and unconditional love as you can. That’s not always easy to do, and sometimes you’ll forget and let your anger get the best of you. But you have to try to let go of that anger and be there for your child. That being said, you also have to learn to set boundaries—and, most importantly, stick to them.
My wife and I have done all we can to support our son during his battle with addiction. Some of that support has meant a bit of sacrifice for our family. Even with insurance, rehab isn’t cheap. But we refuse to give up on our son. We also support our son by working on our recovery: going to Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings, going to therapy, going to family programs at rehab facilities; these are all ways we’ve tried to help our son by helping us. Addiction is a family disease, and the whole family needs to be treated.
I have also chosen to be completely transparent and open about my son’s addiction right from the start. I talk about it with friends and co-workers. I talk about it with complete strangers in support groups, either in person or online. I blog about it. And I try to counsel friends or acquaintances who are going through the same thing. My philosophy is that the more I talk about it, the more I help to chip away at the stigma associated with addiction. It really can happen to anyone, and it doesn’t deserve to be treated like the plague. Addicts and parents of addicts shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed about the disease. And they should seize every opportunity they can to educate people who don’t “get” addiction.
Over the last few years, my son has been to rehab three times and has lived in six different sober living houses. There have been ups and there have been downs. But my wife and I have never given up hope. The same goes for our younger son, my relatives, my wife’s relatives, and our close friends who now better understand what it is we’re going through—and how much we need their support.
Like an addict, the parent of an addict also needs to learn to live life “one day at a time.” Sometimes one hour at a time. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t worry about the future. Live in the moment. Recovery is an ongoing process, for both the addict and his or her family. In recovery there is hope. And hope is a wonderful thing.
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” - Anne Lamott