This week, your friends at Surfside Structured Sober Living jumped at the opportunity to sit down with the family of a Surfside graduate. One of our greatest joys is watching our residents rebuild their lives, which includes healing their relationships with family. Recovery allows James R. to be a son, brother, uncle and friend today, but his personal challenges with substance use disorder (and subsequent recovery) also enabled his family to grow, heal and forge new bonds. We are honored to spread the good news that this family and many others are no longer living a life crippled by substance use.
Our conversation with James’s family sparked after his sister joined him for a CrossFit workout at Saltwater Athletics while on vacation in Ocean City. She shared that the secrecy of addiction initially fractured their family, but they were united and began their own recovery after arranging an intervention for him. We met with his mother Francine, who spoke candidly about her confusion when James (then 17) began getting into trouble shortly after her husband died. A newly single mother still grieving the sudden loss of her husband, she was stunned when she brought him to the ER and encountered a doctor with a not-so-great bedside manner, who coldly told her that her son was using opiates. Like many other families confronted by addiction, Francine asked a few trusted friends for guidance before transitioning him to a psych hospital, followed by a wilderness program. This would become the beginning of a decade-long battle with addiction.
As we often see in families that have survived a tragedy (like the sudden loss of a parent), James’s sisters wanted to protect their mother from the reality of his substance use, convinced it would be an additional burden. This meant that his sister Jen began living in secrecy, connecting him with doctors, psychiatrists, and different forms of harm reduction. While she was well-intentioned, she didn’t yet grasp that keeping secrets breeds unhealthy behavior and kept their family isolated. Jen recounted stories of helping James relocate and get on his feet, only to be devastated again when he’d inevitably call to ask for help. From Vegas, to Saratoga Springs, to Bethlehem, they’d feel hopeful for a period of time before being stumped again.
The family reached a breaking point just a few months after Jen gave birth to her first child, an adorable little girl named Etta. During a time that should have been filled with joy, James’s addiction continued to fill them with fear and anxiety, until Jen finally acknowledged that they desperately needed professional help. She spoke candidly with us about her realization that she’d never be able to be a healthy mother and continue to help James unless they reached out to a specialist. A good friend connected her family with Jonathan Rauch, a renowned interventionist, and the seeds of hope were planted.
How dark it is before dawn! As we spoke about Jonathan, everyone in the room cried. The relief he brought their family was palpable – this was a person who didn’t shame them for the steps they’d taken to keep James alive thus far, and instead encouraged them to begin working as a cohesive unit to support him. Although their conversations with Jonathan Rauch were initially about Jame’s substance use disorder, Francine and her daughters were also able to acknowledge their own trauma, grief, and anxiety. During their last session with Jonathan, he told Francine, “This has been about James, but he did the entire family a favor.” Their meetings with the interventionist were frank: plans of action for any potential relapse, steps to take for their personal mental health, how to share openly about their experience to help the next family that struggles, and more. Jonathan assisted their family in getting James to Surfside, but also maintained a relationship with them – his role was as much about supporting them through the recovery process as it was focused on getting help for James.
Today, James is a man in recovery… and so much more. He is a member of his community, in service to others, an active participant in a 12-step fellowship, an employee, a friend, and a light in his family’s lives. By learning the dance between giving to her son and taking care of herself, Francine is able to set boundaries that keep them both sane.
Francine shared with us that by healing as a family, James and his struggles are no longer at the forefront of every gathering or the nagging fear in the back of their minds. All of their decisions used to be shaped by a secret fear that he might die. That’s not what drives them today. Instead, their family is becoming whole again. Sometimes families don’t realize how much their world revolves around the one member of the family who struggles, but a Zoom Family Support Group that Francine attends week gives her hope that eventually, our focus shifts and things begin to fall into place. Spending time with this family lifted our spirits and reminded us that while addiction poisons every life that it touches, recovery breathes life into parts of our heart that we didn’t know were broken.