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Recovery month highlights freedom from addiction

Lea Minalga mediates a support group for parents of drug-addicted teenagers at Hearts of Hope in Geneva. September is National Recovery Month by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Lea Minalga mediates a support group for parents of drug-addicted teenagers at Hearts of Hope in Geneva. September is National Recovery Month by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

To have an addiction is like a house under attack by dark clouds that are carried by a whipsaw wind.

To be in recovery is to have all the lights on in that brave little house, while the desolate forces of addiction swirl in frustration.

The lighted house surrounded by assailing gloom was but one of many pieces of art and poetry recently presented by the Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court in its first Fine Art and Written Word Extravaganza at the judicial center. Drug court allows those charged with nonviolent drug offenses to participate in a recovery program.

Many poems, essays, drawings, paintings and collages illustrated the suffering and waste of being addicted – whether to alcohol or illegal drugs – as well as the joy of creative expression.

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning,” was a statement on one of the entries. “But everyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Kane County Presiding Judge Patricia Piper Golden of the drug court said the art contest invited addicts in recovery to share their creativity. It was so popular, organizers extended it, accepting the last piece of art for the show the same morning that the show opened.

“What we try to do in drug court is to replace using behavior with positive behavior, and to do that, they go through treatment,” Golden said. “An important part is to get to know each other without using.”

The drug court’s art show was appropriate for September, which is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the month promotes the societal benefits of treatment for substance abuse and mental disorders. It also supports and celebrates people in recovery.

“Recovery, for me, has truly changed my life,” Eric D. wrote in his drug court poem. “Each day is brighter than the next ... . Now I work an honest job, pay taxes and bills ... . It’s nice to live a ‘normal’ life. This was all impossible while still using.”

Many pieces in the art show included just the first name and last initial of their creator.

“I would do whatever I needed/To get a fix/And I must admit it’s not worth/All of this,” wrote Ed W. “Not any more/That life is not for me/I have found life is so much/Easier drug free.”

Randy Reusch, who supervises the drug court, said the art and poetry will be an important tool in participants’ continuing recovery.

“What we wanted them to do was to be able to express themselves in ways they were not able to before,” Reusch said. “It’s opened a lot of doors and been a benefit to everybody.”

• • •

The truth is, recovery works – but prevention works better, said Lea Minalga, director of Hearts of Hope, a Geneva-based nonprofit that provides drug awareness and prevention education, advocacy, support, outreach and treatment referrals. Hearts of Hope is affiliated with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

According to the latest research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the teen years are key for youth to experiment with smoking, drinking and other drug use. Nine out of 10 addicts began drug use before age 18. One in four who used these substances as a teen becomes addicted compared to one in 25 who started to smoke, drink or use drugs at age 21 or later, according to the report.

“That’s why drug prevention is the key and educating and alerting parents,” Minalga said.

“Parents need to talk to their kids when they’re little, and often. I had, like, two good talks and thought I was good to go. And my son was such an athlete ... that I thought we were fine and he would never use drugs or alcohol.”

Minalga’s son is in recovery.

“Parents deny it or call it a rite of passage, but the research shows it takes the average parent 20 months before they admit their kid has a problem with addiction,” Minalga said. “The earlier the addiction is caught, the better, because parents have more influence. Drugs and teen brains don’t mix at all.”

A dozen parents at a recent Hearts of Hope support group meeting shared their ongoing struggle with their addicted teens and young adult children. They agreed that they did not know about their teens’ addictions – and even following up with experts, their kids were able to lie and hide their drug dependence.

The parents did not want to be identified.

One mother, whose young adult son is in recovery for heroin addiction, said she never would have thought anyone in her family would have that problem.

“It can happen to anybody,” she said of addiction. “It does not define him as a person. It does not define him as a human being.”

The man’s father said he was grateful for his son’s progress, that he is someone he can laugh with and have a relationship with again.

“I hope it makes him stronger not weaker,” the man said. “He is a good person with a bad disease.”

Another father talked about his son being addicted to alcohol and marijuana and trying K2, a synthetic marijuana. He said his son tried marijuana at 12 and became a habitual user by 14.

Now 18, the son is currently in jail on charges of stealing his parents’ credit cards. In addition to his drug problem, he was also diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder –  a mental illness – and referred to the county’s mental health court, the father said.

“The next week he had a court hearing for probation violation, and that’s when he failed the drug test,” the man said. “It was too late to drop the charges. He’s doing very good in jail.”

The conundrum that the support group families also faced with their addicted children was being told to let them “bottom out” and ask for treatment. Minalga said that was dated thinking about addictions.

“It’s the only disease where we’ve ever told the victims that, like ‘bottom out,’” Minalga said. “Can you imagine telling that to a cancer patient? ‘Let your cancer get way worse and then come back and we’ll see what we can do.’ It’s ludicrous thinking, especially when we’re dealing with adolescent kids.”

“Addiction,” a father said, “is a disease that tells you you don’t have a problem.”

Another mother said she and her husband cashed in their retirement accounts to pay for a private, out-of-state hospital for their 16-year-old son addicted to alcohol. He was bringing water bottles of vodka to school at age 14 and 15, she said.

The mother described hiring a private transport company to put him in restraints and whisk him away in the middle of the night last year. He was doing well until he and some others drank hand sanitizer a couple weeks ago because it contains alcohol.

“It really opened his eyes,” she said. “He’s finally to the point now he needs to be sober for the next 70 years. Before it was, ‘Nothing is wrong with smoking weed; I can smoke weed.’ Or, ‘I can drink.’ There were lines he kept drawing and now he’s finally to a point where ... this is his cross to bear ... . He’s a kid with grown-up problems.”

The mother said in that in her son’s letters home, he described a struggle of trying to cope an hour at a time, an even shorter amount of time than the Alcoholics Anonymous credo of one day at a time.

“Without this group [Hearts of Hope] I would have never had the courage to send him away,” the mom said. “I absolutely did the right thing.”

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