Rarely, and only when important conditions have been satisfied, The Martha’s Vineyard Times publishes in its print edition Letters to the Editor that are unsigned. The following letter is one of those. The subject is important to Islanders, the writer is known to the editors of the newspaper, the events that underpin the experience described here have been verified, and the liabilities consequent to the writer’s public position warrant anonymity.
To the Editor:
I had the unfortunate opportunity to have to spend time recently at the Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth, due to an alcohol relapse. Many people think this is a place that alcoholics go to dry out, but it’s so much more than that, and so much scarier.
There were 10 people over 40, about 15 between the ages of 25 and 40, and 25 below the age of 25. The majority of those were in the 18 to 22 year range.
At centers like this, everyone shares stories in both group and individual settings and are counseled by trained counselors who were once addicts and by alcoholics themselves. The list of counseling topics is long — how to identify the warning signs of using, identifying when life is becoming unmanageable, handling shame, guilt, the increased chance of getting HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases from using drugs and/or having sex with people who do, how to set up a path to recovery and manage it once they achieve it.
As one of the 40-plus, I was shocked and heartbroken to hear why the 18- to 22-year-olds were there. It was mostly for percocet, opiates (heroin, oxycontin/oxycodone, suboxone), and benzodiazepine.
Stories of how these young people started using drugs around age 14 or 15 were beyond imagining. Some had children by the age of 16 and 17, and their lives are in shambles. During breaks from class and during free periods, I approached these young adults and discussed how they got to where they are now and how important it was going to be to recover, since they had so much more life ahead of them to live.
I asked about their parents and answers ranged from normal, loving, stable two-parent homes to single drug-using parents. I asked how their parents failed to notice the use of these drugs and was told that most had working parents and by the time the parents recognized the drug use, it was too late: the young people had already become addicted. Others said their parents didn’t care or were themselves addicts.
Addiction led them to do whatever was necessary to get money for more drugs — stealing from their parents and others and even having sex with dealers to get their fixes. All had sold off any jewelry they had received from relatives over the years and all the electronic devices their parents had bought them.
These young adults were lonely, in pain, fearful, self-hating, with low self-worth, shame, and helplessness.
One young lady, she was 19, addicted to opiates, and alcohol, had been at the center for 15 days. She was scheduled to be released in a few days, on a Friday, with more than 20 days of drug-free living under her belt. Arrangements had been made for her to enter a longterm treatment center on the following Monday. I asked what her plan was for the weekend. She cried while explaining that her mom and dad had thrown her out of the house, and they wouldn’t take her back.
She told me she had no other plan than to go stay with her boyfriend, who was a dealer/user, and she didn’t feel as though she’d have the ability to not use again if presented the chance to do so. If she did, when she got to the long term center and they tested her, they would turn her away because she has to show up there already being detoxified and drug free.
I suggested that she call her mom and dad and explain the situation to them. She said it wouldn’t matter to them, they didn’t care. But I could see those painful feelings were really getting in the way of her asking. I explained to her that as a parent, if I was given these circumstances I would never say no to my child. I told her, let’s go make the call together, and I would be there for support.
We made the call, she talked about how she felt, and her fear of using again over the weekend, the fact that she didn’t think she had built up enough strength yet to say no to using, and would be losing all the work she had accomplished over the last 20 plus days.
Her mom and dad agreed to pick her up on Friday so long as she stayed in the house all weekend, and they would deliver her to the long term care unit on Monday. It was a compromise decision that benefited both the parents and their child, and a young girl had a better chance of recovering from her addiction.
At night, everyone attends an AA/NA meeting to hear speakers from outside the center come in and tell them of their experiences and their road to recovery to help reinforce that recovery is possible.
After that there is a rock ceremony where everyone who is scheduled to leave the next day hears, in a group session, from each of those who are staying on for further treatment. It’s a chance to say goodbye, and to offer good wishes.
On my rock night, I was never so humbled. The easiest thing for these kids to do would be to hold the rock and wish everyone the best of luck moving forward. I was brought to tears by how many of the young adults I interacted with cried and thanked me personally for being there for them and for helping them as much as I did while trying to help myself.
My response to all of them was that any help I gave to them came back two-fold as help to me as an addict.
The main reason I wrote this is because when we think of treatment centers we tend to think of inner-city kids, or somebody else’s kid. Unfortunately, here more than 75 percent of them came from Cape Cod and the Islands. These are our children on Martha’s Vineyard who are doing drugs and ending up in treatment centers.
The 19-year-old young lady I spoke about above was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard. I never told her that if she didn’t come to an agreement at home that she was welcome to stay at our house. If an addict is given an easy way out they’ll take it every time. By calling home she will get to spend the weekend clean and sober with her mom and dad, which is something she hasn’t done for more than three years.
Remember the things they were most grateful for — talking and listening to them, being there for them when they were having a hard moment during the day, and to ease their emotions.
I spent less than a week with these kids, and maybe we could relate to each other better because I am an addict too, but as parents, isn’t it our responsibility to be doing all these things before it gets to this point? Also, even if it’s gotten to this point in one of our lives, shouldn’t we be just as understanding and supportive?