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Addiction Recovery Needs a Modern Makeover

As a parent, was I complicit? Was I guilty of not being a good parent? People always tell me what a great parent I was. But was I? Why did I give birth to two children and now have one child? We say that addiction is a disease and I do believe that. Or I really want to believe that. But then why do I still blame myself as if I could have done something different that would have saved Isaac? If Isaac had cancer and died, would I have blamed myself that I didn't do everything that I could to save his life? I guess that is possible, but would be uncommon. It would be easier to just accept that the disease took his life.

It has been 7 years since Isaac passed away from an accidental opioid overdose. He would have been 31 now. I thought that, at this point, it would get easier. But as my cousin who lost a child told me at Isaac’s funeral, “It doesn’t get easier. It just gets different.” I tell other parents who have lost their children that there was nothing they could have done. Al-anon taught me that it was out of my control. I know and believe that, but still…

It seems that everyone I speak with knows someone who has struggled, someone who has lost someone, or just knows about it. And everyone understands, but they don’t really. Unless you have lost a child to addiction, you cannot really understand.

In the Jewish community, there is still a lot of shame associated with this disease of addiction, and it is keeping so many people from asking for the help that they need. I know that so many families like to keep up the pretense of being a “perfect” family, and they think that just because their kids go to Yeshiva, they are immune to this. But those of us who have lost our beautiful children, friends and other family members know all too well that nothing can protect our kids completely.

I once went to a friend’s home and he had confided in me about his son’s struggles with heroin, but when that son passed away due to an overdose and I paid a shiva call, they were telling everyone he had an aneurism. My friend pulled me aside, away from other visitors, to speak with me about privately. It made me sad to realize that he had to live with this pain without the support of his community. He was afraid of being judged as being a bad parent if he told the truth about his son’s death.

At Isaacs funeral 8 years ago, we all got up and spoke about his struggles and I saw a lot of heads nodding in understanding. They had their own stories to tell. I have too many friends and people in my network now who have lost children and they get it, and we can speak openly about it.

The one thing we all wonder is will it get easier. I wish. I actually feel that I miss Isaac now more than ever. I can’t remember what it felt like to hug him, his smell, his voice, his laugh. It’s fading, and that really sucks. Time keeps moving forward, and each year it’s one more year that Isaac’s gone.

Isaac was a bright, funny, compassionate, and caring young man who had struggled with addiction for years. Despite access to excellent treatment centers, loving support, and a desire to recover, relapse was part of his story. When Isaac left an in-patient treatment program for the last time, he was sober, in good health and optimistic. I saw the determination in his eyes as he told me that he was eager to face the future substance free. I saw his strength. Yet, just like the nearly 2 million young adults who complete addiction treatment programs each year getting sober is the simplest part of recovery.

I have talked with countless other parents who also lost children and it is clear that a massive blind spot exists in recovery treatment protocol specifically for young adults. There is BIG MONEY in the system of addiction and relapse. I challenge that we are being blindly conned into believing the system cares and is trying to help when, in reality, it is only fueling the very lucrative well-oiled machine of Addiction Relapse, not Recovery.

I am angry that we are stuck with a broken system that is not helping to keep our children alive, but is instead setting them up to fail as they walk out of a controlled 30-90 day rehab environment initially sober, yet unprepared to fit into the real world—lost in early recovery with the impossible task of how to ‘get a life’ and meet young people, go places and do things socially, but safely—the kind of life needed to joyfully sustain recovery.

For a 20-something in recovery, a house party, bar, or a fraternity gathering are clearly not good choices, but neither is being in a church basement with a group of middle-aged people who are also on the road to recovery. The younger you are, the longer road you must imagine for yourself substance free. It can be incredibly difficult to find ‘your people’ as a young adult in recovery. People need people. Young people need other young people.

I vowed to give Isaac’s death meaning and with hope to help save our children. Founded in 2015 BIGVISION Foundation picks up where the ‘business of treatment’ trails off and exists as a bridge to the real world to help young people (age 18-35) in early recovery experience full and fun sober social lives in a supportive peer community.

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