This is Part One of a 3-part series on PAL, Parents of Addicted Loved-Ones, by Mike Speakman. Part One focuses on how PAL started. Part Two explains how Pal works. Part Three advises how to get involved.
A support group for parents with a child suffering from addiction.
Part One: How it started.
Parents with a child addicted to drugs and/or alcohol can find hope in a support program called Parents of Addicted Loved-ones (PAL). PAL was founded in 2006 by Michael Speakman, LISAC, while working as an in-patient Drug and Alcohol Addiction Counselor in Arizona.
“In working with young people being treated for alcohol and drug addiction I witnessed how much the entire family is impacted,” Speakman says. “Parents in particular are beset with challenges they’ve never had to face before. I saw how difficult it is for them to identify and work through these challenges alone. And that’s what they feel—alone.”
Many recount their relief when they first realized: “I don’t feel all alone with this problem anymore.” While in truth they were going through what most parents go through when placed in the same situation.
This is the founding principle of the PAL movement. People helping people through the woods. PAL groups meet weekly to educate, support and help each other with issues arising from loving someone with an addiction. Each PAL group is facilitated by a peer, someone walking the same path. While the focus is on parents with an addicted child, anyone with an addicted family member is welcome, including spouses and adult children of an addicted parent.
In reality the active addict acts like a child, displaying childish behaviors such as tantrums, sulking, disregard of consequences, irresponsibility, immediate gratification and magical thinking. A husband or wife may experience the same immature behaviors with a spouse as a parent experiences with a child.
Regardless, once the addiction has surfaced, it’s hard for family members to know what to do, what to expect.
“We needn’t blame ourselves for not knowing what to do about an addicted loved one,” Speakman says. “There are no prep courses, no way to know exactly what to expect before it happens. But there is a curriculum for recovery. If we learn it, if we follow it, it works. There is HOPE. And it comes from educating ourselves.
“When we focus on educating ourselves rather than changing the person who is using, it takes a lot of the pressure off everyone involved,’’ he says.
“Just finding out for sure that a loved one is using drugs or alcohol can be difficult,” Speakman says. “There can be a lot of lying and denial. Once you know for sure, the next question is: What now? This is where the educating begins and where PAL can really help. There are others who have walked before you, some walking along with you, and others right behind. But all are on the same path.”
But knowledge doesn’t happen overnight. “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” Speakman says. “We don’t learn instantly, we learn over time. It’s incremental learning. So we need to be patient with ourselves.