by Sue Ann Rybak

Lori knows what it’s like to have a child who is struggling with addiction or substance abuse disorder

Addiction is a chronic medical disease that results in psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, despite harmful consequences on a person’s physical, emotional and social well-being.

Lori, who asked that her name not be published, knows firsthand the devastating effects a substance disorder can have on a loved one.

Her son started struggling with addiction when he was 13 years old. Now 16 years later, he is 15 months sober. Lori is incredibly proud of her son and grateful to those who have helped her through the years.

For roughly ten years, Lori belonged to a parent support group in Plymouth Meeting, which was sponsored by the Caron Foundation, an internationally recognized not-for-profit dedicated to addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment, research, prevention, and medical education.

When someone in the family is struggling with substance abuse, everyone is affected. It’s one of the reasons the longtime Chestnut Hill resident started a parent support group for parents whose children have mental health issues, or who are struggling with addiction. 

The support group is held on Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Church of St. Martins-in-the-Field, 8000 St. Martin’s Lane in Chestnut Hill. Parents meet under the church’s large event tent and everyone practices social distancing and wears masks.

While Lori is facilitating the group, she is not a professional. Unlike Nar-Anon, a support group for family and friends of addicts, the group does  “cross-talk;” it occurs when a member of the group provides feedback on another person’s comment.

The parent group will not have professionals speak about addition. However, she said they do often have people who are in recovery come and speak. Recently, a 25-year-old spoke, who has six years of sobriety.

“Parents often blame themselves for their child’s addiction,” Lori said. “There is a lot of guilt and shame.”

Lori wanted to bring parents together in a place where they can share.

“Parents need a safe place to share their experiences without judgment and more importantly, with anonymity,” Lori said. “Everything that is said here stays here. It’s completely anonymous. Chestnut Hill is a very small community, we don’t want anyone to feel like their child’s story is getting out. Right now, we have people in the group whose children are 17 to 42 years old. We have several people in the group whose children are in their 40s; we want people to return to their daily lives without anybody ever knowing.”

Lori has been to NAR-ANON meetings, but this format fits her a little bit better.

“After 10 years of going to parent support groups, I think what helped me the most was when people tell their stories,” Lori said.

“The first young man, who came to speak, got sober at 25 and now has six and a half years of sobriety,” she said. “He will talk to the parents and share his story, and parents will be able to ask him questions.”

“I am not a professional; we have done this so many times,” she said. “We know what it feels like to drop a kid off at rehab or whatever.”

She added that the group is not just for parents whose kids are addicted to a substance but foor other activities such as gambling. She encouraged parents or family members to come to the support group if they suspect their kids might be using.

She said there are a few red flags you should watch for like sitting in their room all the time, including losing interest in social activities, a sudden change in grades or mood, and drug paraphernalia such as roll-ups, tin boxes, and burnt spoons.

“We know plenty of addiction therapists to refer people to,” Lori said. “Sometimes, families don’t even tell their family. So, it’s nice to come to a place where [family members] can share whatever and not feel any judgment whatsoever. Things we would be embarrassed to tell other people until you realize it’s the disease.

“What I have learned is, there is never a kid, who blames their parents,” she said. “When they get sober, they take it on as their own responsibility. Parents need to hear that because there is so much guilt and shame.

“One woman, who was in recovery, explained it. She said, ‘It’s like someone has a gun to your head, and if she didn’t get her drug, the robber would shoot her.’”

Lori, a member of Interim House’s board, said their parent group [at Interim House] used to bring residents dinner at Interim House, 333 W. Upsal Street in Mt. Airy.

“We would share our stories, and they would share their stories,” she said. “That’s where I learned to forgive my son.”

It was there she realized the power of addiction. When a mother loses her child to substance abuse disorder, addiction is stronger than a mother’s love.

“What I want to say is they love their children more than themselves, but the power of this drug is so strong that it takes their children, and their children are placed in foster care. I have many friends who have lost their children [due to addiction]. Relapse is so horrible right now.”

Lori is thankful to Rev. Jarrett Kerbel for allowing them to use the space and supporting the group.

Kerbel has worked with and supported lots of families whose children are struggling with addiction or mental health issues.

“I have been here for almost ten years, and I thought it would be great if families could get together and support each other because knowing that you are not alone is so helpful,” said Kerbel.

Talking to other people who have gone through this provides hope.

“Knowing that there are other people out there who have gone through this helps,” Kerbel said. “By sharing our [individual] stories, we hope to help.”

He added that there are a lot of parents who are struggling with a child’s drug addiction, but people are afraid to talk about it.

“We need to create places where people feel safe to talk about it and help people know that they are not alone,” Kerbel said. “Sometimes, people think ‘everybody else’s kids are fine and successful. I must be the only one.’”

He said addiction and mental illness do not discriminate.

“It affects people at every income level,” he added. “I am really grateful to the parents who are leading this support group.”

For more information about the support group, contact Lori at lwq224@aol.com.

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