I’m so pleased to welcome addictions advocate, Rose Barbour. In this interview Rose shares her story and how becoming an advocate for the voiceless has changed her life.
Welcome Rose Barbour!
Please briefly introduce yourself to those that don’t know you.
Like most people, my husband and I were shocked when we found out that our son was using drugs. It wasn’t supposed to happen in families like ours where there was never any alcohol, drugs or even cigarettes around. Kids are supposed to model their parents’ behaviors, right? We found out the hard way that nothing is ever that black and white. His addiction took everything we thought we knew and turned it on its head.
Sadly, we also quickly learned that addiction was not treated the same as other illnesses, and this realization would ultimately lead to my becoming an advocate for change. It started when our son was turned down for residential treatment, which he desperately needed and was ready for. We were devastated. We tried to fight the decision but the decision makers wouldn’t reverse it.
I stood up in the boardroom after meeting with them and said, “This is not right. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it but I can’t accept this answer. I will be doing something, though. This is so wrong.” I left and went home and had a good cry. My son felt like he had no hope of getting better, but I tried to assure him that we would figure something out. I allowed myself a cooling off period and then went public with our story and have been an advocate ever since.
Some of my advocacy work involves sharing our family’s experience in my blog, Living in the Shadows in Prince Edward Island. As of October 6th, 2015, I can add being a published Chicken Soup for the Soul writer to my experience. My story in Think Possible is about my journey to addictions advocacy.
It is my hope that it will inspire people who are struggling with substance use and their families to never give up and to reach out for the help that they need. For everyone else, I hope that it will give them a small glimpse into the paralyzing pain of addiction so that they might show more compassion toward those who are struggling with it and the family members who love them.
I love how you mentioned that attending a meeting was the beginning of your healing process. How did getting support from others help you going forward?
Before I reached out for help at a support group, I felt alone. Addiction is so isolating. You want to protect your child from being judged. You also don’t want your family to be unfairly judged in any way.
You try to keep it in the family and deal with it as best you can but you can only do so much before you begin to get sick from all of the stress. I don’t know one parent who ever thought that their child would experience an addiction. Because we truly believe this, nothing prepares us for it when it does happen. That is why finding support is very important.
There is something very freeing about sharing your story in a safe place where people know what is in your heart even when you can’t find the words to explain it. Taking that first step to go to a support group set me on a path of healing that I never would have imagined for myself. My entire family, including my son, benefitted from my getting help.
What kept you going in your darkest hour as you were struggling with your child’s substance use?
When you love someone struggling with addiction, it can take you to some pretty low places emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. You question if you have the strength to continue. It was at those points that God would give me little glimpses of my old son to remind me that he was still in there and that I needed to keep fighting.
I also knew deep in my heart that my love was powerful and this gave me hope. In this battle with addiction, my love for my son would be my greatest weapon. I just had to figure out how to harness it properly so that it would be helpful to him, not hurtful.
I did this by getting educated and keeping an open mind to all the new information that I was learning about addiction. I had to get to know my enemy and understand what I was dealing with in order to be effective. I truly did look at it as a battle between life and death for my son.
If our family happened to lose the battle, which so many have despite their best efforts, I would have been absolutely devastated, but I also would have taken comfort in the fact that we tried everything humanly possible to help our son. We knew our role and we knew his role. That’s so important!
That is wonderful that you started speaking at the university. How has becoming an advocate for the voiceless changed your life?
It was such a big step for me to speak publicly, especially at the university where I work. Like most people, I was afraid of public speaking but I had a lot to say and was determined to say it. I have never regretted that decision. It empowered me in ways that I never thought possible.
By overcoming that fear, a whole new world of possibilities opened up when it came to getting my message out about addiction. Since that time, I’ve done a lot of public speaking, including interviews for radio and television. Helping others has helped me.
I am also a doer and a fixer so I hated that helpless feeling I had when my son was in active addiction. Through my advocacy work (and that of others), I was able to help him in other ways like putting the pressure on government to invest more in resources so that when he and others reached out for help, it would be there.
Thankfully, our government did invest more into addictions treatment and my son did get the proper level of help and is now two years in recovery.
You mention the silence around addiction is deafening and deadly. Do you sense as much stigma and misunderstanding around substance use as maybe just a few years ago? What can we do to lessen the silence?
I definitely sense a positive change around stigma but we still have a long way to go. At the time that I went public, there were only two other moms who had done so (at least that I knew of) in my area and I really admired them for that.
Today, more people are sharing their experiences and every time someone does, the stigma gets a little less powerful. Addiction thrives in stigma and silence. We have to remove those conditions if we want to save this and future generations from this terrible epidemic.
If your readers take only one thing away from this interview, I hope it is that they have nothing to be ashamed of. The experts and science are on our side. Addiction is not a moral failing or a reflection of our parenting. It is a health issue with many risk factors that can lead to it, many of which are outside of our control.
We can no longer let shame keep us silent. Our stories are powerful weapons that will help others to heal as well as ourselves.
Can you share three suggestions for parents who are just learning that their child has a substance use issue?
- That there is more than one way to treat substance use issues and that every path is valid. There is not one solution to any health issue and this is no exception. We have to be open to everything and make sure that our children know about all of the options, including harm reduction. People don’t have to hit rock bottom before we help them. For some, rock bottom is death. We have to intervene with a health approach much sooner just like we do for all illnesses.
- That it is very important that parents get help for themselves so that they can stay strong for their families. Along with getting educated, that is the best way to help your child who is struggling. And, just like there are different paths for our children to take to get help, there are options for us, too!
I think we all know about groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon but some people may not know about groups like SMART Recovery Family & Friends that use the CRAFT approach. There are also many family counselors getting trained now in CRAFT, which I think is wonderful. CRAFT is about using kindness and compassion to help your loved one and yourself.
While I didn’t know about CRAFT when my son was struggling, it is definitely the approach that we used. We just didn’t know it had a name. It fits with a parent’s natural instincts to love and protect, which is why I believe it is having success. Parents should research what is available in their area or online and find the program that works for them. Every family is different.
- To always remember that your child loves you. Addiction makes people desperate and many will say and do things that they wouldn’t say or do if they weren’t struggling with it. Don’t take it personally. They are sick and need help. At the same time, you have to take steps to keep your family safe and this is where boundaries come in. Set good, clear boundaries that will keep your family safe and your struggling child connected to the people who love them. Connection is very important!
Rose Barbour is an addictions advocate from Prince Edward Island, Canada. She is married to her best friend and they have three beautiful children and a granddaughter who they adore. As part of her advocacy work, Rose is a blogger, SMART Recovery facilitator, SMART Recovery Family & Friends facilitator, a member of her province’s mental health and addictions advisory council and, most recently, a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. She has also been involved in prevention programs, panel discussions on addiction, and parent information sessions, among other things.