Are you concerned about your child’s substance use?
Are you looking for answers?
This interview shares some insights from a father who has walked in your shoes.
Dean Dauphinais is an advocate for addiction prevention and recovery. His energy comes through and his determination makes positive change happen.
His most recent cause is “Palcohol” a powdered alcohol that could be very harmful for teens or young adults looking for their next quick high. Shocking to many, it was approved and will be on store shelves in the fall.
Please sign his petition directed to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and trade Bureau to have them reconsider their approval of “Palcohol” powered alcohol. Also, Like his Facebook page, We Oppose Palcohol and follow this important cause.
I’m happy to share my interview with Dean Dauphinais this week!
Can you briefly introduce yourself to those that don’t know you?
My name is Dean Dauphinais, I’m 52-years old, and I live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, which is a suburb of Detroit. I am married to the most amazing woman in the world and we have two sons, ages 18 and 24. My older son was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety when he was 15 and eventually started self-medicating to feel “normal.”
He started out smoking pot, then experimented with other drugs—prescription meds, cocaine, etc.—before finally becoming addicted to heroin. Our whole family was on one heck of a roller coaster ride for several years. Addiction is certainly a family disease and it affected us all; emotionally, physically, and financially.
Thankfully, my son is now in long-term recovery. He’s been clean and sober since July 2, 2012, and I am incredibly grateful for every single day of his recovery.
What has been the most challenging part about being a father of a son who became addicted?
There are a couple of things, really. The first challenge was just accepting the fact that my son is an addict. When you have kids, you have certain life paths mapped out for them in your head. I’m pretty sure no parent includes “become addicted to drugs” on that map.
Likewise, I know that no young person aspires to be an addict. No one wakes up one morning and says to themself, “I want to be a heroin addict!” As a parent, I think the first things you feel are shock, maybe some shame, and guilt. You wonder why this happened to your child. Then you realize you have to move past those things and get down to business.
The other challenge was the whole process of figuring out what to do to help my son. Unfortunately, there’s no owner’s manual for dealing with an addicted child. When you’re suddenly thrown into that role, it’s overwhelming.
Learning what I, personally, could do to help my son would’ve been enough just by itself. But then there are other things added into the equation: Figuring out if he needs treatment and, if so, where to send him; dealing with the insurance company (don’t even get me started); finding the money to pay for things insurance doesn’t cover; what to do about his schooling; keeping the family together; making sure my younger son isn’t ignored; etc., etc. etc.
I think educating myself—learning as I went along—was the biggest challenge. It took me a long time to get to a point where I finally felt like I understood what was going on.
What tools and resources helped you the most during your journey?
Wow. There are so many. How much time do you have?
First off, anyone who talks to me about my journey for more than five minutes will hear me say that my life was saved by one book. That book is Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff. Maybe it was the timing of when I read it, but I still think it’s the best book I’ve ever read.
It taught me so much, not only about addiction in general but about being the father of an addict and the way the whole family dynamic is affected. Beautiful Boy also validated the firestorm of emotions I was feeling. I wasn’t crazy. In fact, I was very normal. It was such a relief to find that out.
There’s one paragraph in Beautiful Boy that I quote constantly when I’m talking to other parents who are new to the whole “addicted child” thing. In the book’s introduction, there lies this paragraph that changed –and saved—my life:
“Like many in my straits, I became addicted to my son’s addiction. When it preoccupied me, even at the expense of my responsibilities to my wife and other children, I justified it. I thought, How can a parent not be consumed by his child’s life-or-death struggle? But I learned that my preoccupation with Nic didn’t help him and may have harmed him. Or maybe it was irrelevant to him. However, it surely harmed the rest of my family–and me. Along with this, I learned another lesson, a soul-shaking one: our children live or die with or without us. No matter what we do, no matter how we agonize or obsess, we cannot choose for our children whether they live or die. It is a devastating realization, but also liberating. I finally chose life for myself. I chose the perilous but essential path that allows me to accept that Nic will decide for himself how–and whether–he will live his life.”
I’ve probably read that paragraph a thousand times. It may have taken me 800 times before the message finally clicked, but better late than never, right?
Another author who has proved to be an indispensable resource for me is Anne Lamott. Anne is an amazing woman (in recovery) who writes books that are brutally honest and full of self-deprecating humor. She writes about faith. And grace. And hope.
She covers topics like alcoholism, sobriety, depression, Christianity, and parenthood. She’s an inspiration, and her words have helped heal me over the last several years. There are so many quotes from her that speak to me. For example, “Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” I mean, how can you read that and not be moved by it? Anne is the reason I had “HOPE” and “FAITH” tattooed on my arms.
I am also a music geek, and there are a handful of musicians whose songs have aided me so much in my recovery. Kathleen Edwards, a fabulous Canadian singer-songwriter, is at the top of that list. My wife and I started out as fans of hers, but we’ve actually become friends over the years. She’s been so supportive of our family and our situation.
Other people whose music has been a magical elixir for me are Jim Bryson, Hannah Georgas, Matthew Ryan, and Ryan Adams. Music can be a healing force, for sure.
Other resources and tools that have helped include Al-Anon (“You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it”), therapy, exercise, helping others, and blogging.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife as a “resource” that has helped me on my (our) journey. Her strength, calmness, and ability to deal with just about anything while keeping a level head and positive attitude are beyond admirable. She is my rock and the glue that held us all together during a tumultuous time.
Although we definitely shared in carrying the baggage during the journey, I think her bags were a lot heavier. I truly would be lost without her.
What prompted you to start your amazing blog, “My Life As 3D”?
As my son’s addiction progressed, I started journaling as a form of therapy. Getting what I was thinking in my head onto paper—actually a computer hard drive—made me feel better. I could say what I was feeling and talk about what I was going through; just get things off my chest, if only for the time I was actually writing the journal entry.
After a while, I had a Word document that was hundreds of pages long. But I was the only one reading it. When I went back from time to time and re-read some of what I’d written, I thought that maybe other people who were going through a similar experience could benefit from my stream-of-consciousness babbling. So I considered starting a blog.
The blog didn’t happen right away, though. I think I started two blogs before I actually decided to commit to doing it. I guess the third time was the charm. It’s kind of funny to go back and read the first post from December of 2008. It says, “I don’t know if this will work or not. . . .So I’m creating a post to get things started. Whether or not I post again is anybody’s guess.”
My blog is still a therapeutic outlet for me. But I also see it having almost equal value as a resource for others. I get a lot of emails from people who thank me for writing the blog. They tell me it’s helped them deal with their own child’s addiction. That feels good. If something I write can help ease another person’s burden—even just a little—then I’m happy to keep doing it.
Please tell us about your work with Heroes in Recovery. What is the purpose of the organization?
I like to sum up Heroes in Recovery in three words: BREAK THE STIGMA.
Heroes is a group that’s dedicated to celebrating recovery and, more importantly, breaking the stigma associated with addiction and mental health issues. I think we can all agree that there is still a huge stigma that goes along with addiction; one that prevents millions of people from seeking the treatment they need and giving recovery a shot.
At Heroes in Recovery we work to chip away at that stigma by inviting real people to share their real stories about recovery on our website. Every story that gets posted there is another hammer taking another whack at that “wall” of stigma. If we get enough hammers and take enough whacks, maybe that wall will come tumbling down.
As one of five lead advocates for the group, I help gather stories of recovery for the website, write blog posts for the Heroes blog, spread the message via Facebook and Twitter, put on events so people can learn about the Heroes movement, and volunteer at the Heroes 6K races when possible. (That extra 1K is for recovery!)
Everything we do is about breaking the stigma and giving people hope. At Heroes in Recovery we’re telling people that recovery can and does happen every day—and we have the stories to prove it. Maybe one person will read one story and decide to take that first step down a new path. That’s why we do what we do. I’m so proud to be a part of something I’m so passionate about.
By the way, if anyone reading this would like to share a story of recovery—either their own or that of a loved one—they can get in touch with me through my blog and I’ll guide them through the process. And if they don’t want to write, I’m more than happy to do a phone interview with them and write their story up for them
What would be three pieces of advice you would give parents who are now struggling with their child’s substance use?
It’s tough to limit it to three things, but since you’re putting me on the spot…
1. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed. Addiction affects millions of people in this country. It doesn’t care where you live, how much money you have, what color your skin is, what your level of education is, what you’re occupation is, etc. While it might be a natural first reaction to feel guilty or ashamed, the quicker you can move past that and realize that you are not alone, the better off you’ll be.
2. Stay calm. This is something that will likely take some practice for most people (myself included). No matter how much anger you feel toward your loved one and their substance abuse problem, losing your cool and yelling at them will not make anything better. In fact, it’s likely to make things worse. Believe me; I was anything but calm early on in my son’s addiction. I have since learned that cooler heads definitely prevail.
3. Work on your own recovery. So many parents and loved ones of people afflicted with addiction don’t realize that their own recovery is just as important as the addict’s. In fact, it might be more important. If you are a physical/emotional wreck, you will be unable to help your loved one in any positive way. Instead of one healthy person being available to help one sick person, there ends up being two sick people, neither of whom can help the other. To paraphrase David Sheff, don’t become addicted to your loved one’s addiction.
Dean Dauphinais is the founder of the blog, My Life As 3D, a Lead Advocate with Heroes in Recovery, and a member of National Parent Partners through The Partnership at Drugfree.org. You can follow Dean on Twitter @deanokat.