At first, Teresa Robinson thought it was simple. Her children struggling with addiction were the ones who needed help, not her.
Teresa’s daughter Andrea, who has battled alcoholism for about 20 years, told her she needed to educate herself on addiction.
“I thought, ‘No I don’t,’” Teresa said. “’I am not an addict. I don’t need education. You need to educate yourself how to get out of this.’”
In a roundabout way, not only did Teresa educate herself, but she’s now leading a group in Juneau that aims to help other parents dealing with the same situation.
Teresa’s son Alex has fought a heroin addiction for about 10 years, she said. The mother of one of the other people Alex was using with invited Teresa to do an online course through an organization called Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL).
The course, she said, was a revelation.
“I was amazed at how much the material did help me immediately,” Teresa said. “It gave me insights into things I had never thought about, and it helped me heal emotionally through the pain of looking back and going through everything I’d ever done with my kids, how I could have done it better and how I could have made their lives different.”
Finding common ground
In October 2016, the mother who had originally talked Teresa into taking the course was going to start an in-person PAL course in Juneau. That other mother, Teresa recalled, ended up not being able to do it, so Teresa took the lead.
The PAL program, which is faith-based, involves 12 educational components and takes a few months to complete, Teresa said. Meetings are from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Juneau Christian Center.
She said most people go through the program and then stop coming to the meetings, but she said she’s gone through the program multiple times now and finds the repetition helpful. Attendance has been very low of late, she said, and she hopes to get the word out and make sure people know there’s an option.
PAL isn’t the only program in town, as the Family Support Group has been regularly meeting on Tuesday nights since its formation in August 2016. The group, started by Lisa Rickey, provides a place for family members to share stories and hear from guest speakers. That group is currently on its summer schedule, Rickey said, meeting on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. They meet at the offices of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA), located at 302 Gold Street.
Both Teresa and Rickey said their groups are confidential, run by parents and are safe places for people to come and feel less alone in their struggle. Rickey said many parents feel like they’re the only ones going through this kind of pain, but once parents get together, they find they have many of the same experiences.
“I know there are people who absolutely need to be encouraged,” Teresa said. “It’s time that they find out there is a place for that.”
Taking a step, finding help
PAL Executive Director Kim Humphrey, who recently retired from spending 30 years with the Phoenix Police Department, said he can spot someone on drugs from a block or two away after years of patrolling the streets.
When it came to his own sons, he said, he had completely missed the signs.
When he and his wife found out their two sons were struggling with drug addiction, they were shocked and horrified. Humphrey said they thought there was no hope for their sons, and no hope that he and his wife would ever live a normal life.
Then they started attending PAL meetings, and Humphrey said it benefitted everyone.
“We could actually move forward, and in doing so, by us getting healthier, it sent a positive message to our sons that they could get healthier,” Humphrey said. “That was sort of the promise, that changes that we made might be what saved them.”
Six years later, Humphrey’s sons have been sober for four years and four and a half years, and Humphrey is the executive director. He said his sons have told him that seeing their parents seek help was a key moment for them in their own recovery.
Teresa’s son Alex, who said he hasn’t used since Jan. 26, 2017, said he wasn’t inspired to find help because his parents started attending the meetings, but said he was relieved to see them doing something for themselves. Alex, who turns 29 this month, said he had already been to treatment three times by the time his parents sought help.
“I was all about it,” Alex said over the phone from Anchorage, where he now lives. “I didn’t really want them to go with me to (Narcotics Anonymous) just because they wouldn’t really understand it as well because of where they come from, so I was super excited that my mom had found this thing and talked with these people.”
Alex said it made him feel better that his parents were taking time out of their day to understand what he was going through, and finally getting the education that his sister Andrea had asked them to get years before. Now Alex talks with Teresa regularly, he said, and he’s proud of the fact that she continues to be at the meetings every Monday, even if nobody else shows up to the meeting.
Teresa said attendance has been very low this year, but she’ll keep showing up every Monday night. She said the program has taught her that even parents need help sometimes, and she understands it’s difficult for a parent to admit that.
“Stepping out and making that first contact is huge,” Teresa said. “I just pray that people have the strength to do that, to get that stigma off their back and realize that there are so many people going through what they’re going through.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.