Jeb Bush sets the standard for facing addiction
In your family as in mine, did side conversations occur during the holidays about cousins, in-laws or next-gens in rehab, relapsing or actively using? How about relatives or offspring of family friends fresh out of treatment – are they back at it? Of course these are all very quiet discussions; don’t tell anyone.
We don’t want to talk about it, do we?
But Jeb Bush does.
As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse. My daughter Noelle suffered from addiction, and like many parents facing similar situations, her mom and I struggled too.
I never expected to see my precious daughter in jail. It wasn’t easy, and it became very public when I was Governor of Florida, making things even more difficult for Noelle. She went through hell, so did her mom, and so did I.
It’s very debilitating when you have a loved one who is struggling, and you can’t control it. You have to love them, but you also have to make it clear you cannot enable the behavior that gets them in trouble.
Showing a lot of courage, Noelle graduated from drug court. Drug courts use a restorative solution model involving multi-disciplinary coordination, including the judiciary, the prosecution, mental health specialists, social services and treatment professionals. I was the proud dad that saw Noelle finish that. She’s drug-free now.
Noelle was charged with forging a fraudulent prescription for Xanax and with possession of crack cocaine. Her parents chose not to use their influence to get her off. They were smart enough to realize that criminal charges could be used to force her into multi-disciplinary treatment with accountability for clean drug screens over many months – the proven formula for successful recovery.
Hearing from parents like Jeb helps us understand how Noelle recovered and “normalizes” addiction – making it just like any other illness. Unfortunately, most families aren’t as forthcoming as the Bushes and few follow through to see that consequences remain in place.
Common rationalizations counterproductive to achieving long-term recovery (and my responses) include:
- It’s up to the addict to tell people. (But if s/he never does tell, people can’t be supportive.)
- Let’s keep it a secret. (But addiction thrives in secrecy and withers in openness.)
- I am ashamed to have an addict in the family. (But addiction is a disease. Is it shameful to have cancer?)
- I need to let go. (But addicts need accountability. If not you, who will hold them accountable?)
- I would never suggest alcohol/drug testing. (But testing leads to improve outcomes and early intervention in case of relapse.)
Facing addiction means talking about substance use and abuse and recognizing it is a chronic disease that can be prevented or minimized if families and their advisors work together. For most, however, even simple steps, like attempting to estimate the percentage of substance abusers or others with significant behavioral health disorders within the family, is fraught with controversy and rarely undertaken. And what is the tipping point – 20%, 30%? – sufficient to motivate action? In my family of origin, combining my parents, grandparents and siblings, our rate is over 50%. That’s 911 time in my book – and one reason I became a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.
Doing nothing or ignoring it is not a successful strategy and only leads to tragedy. It takes a village and thoughtful planning – before you find yourself in crisis – to have a chance against the power of the drug or the drink.
When parents talk openly about their experience, other families learn about what works for recovery. And their stories serve as cautionary tales for those in their teens and twenties.
Until we find the courage to move beyond our shame and our silence about addiction, unneeded relapse and avoidable deaths will continue to happen.