Written for JF&CS of Atlanta
One of the hardest things to learn about addiction is that people cannot just stop. Like with many mental illnesses, most people who suffer from chronic situations have to hit rock bottom before they can ask for help or even admit to themselves that they need it. Without the crash, they say it’s manageable, it’s okay, it’s just how things are. The people who work at HAMSA know this all too well, with an endless list of examples. People can be too stubborn, or too attached. People can be, quite simply, too complicated.
A woman called HAMSA because she was worried about her mother: the mother, hereon referred to as Jane Doe, was living in a Jewish community center for older adults, though for the most part, she was independent. Doe had overdosed several times but refused treatment all the while. She refused to talk about it, no matter how many times her daughter had tried to bring up her addictions. It was complicated: Doe was in pain, chronic pain, and had the prescriptions for a reason. At the same time, addiction has its consequences. Desperate for her mother and worried for her health, the daughter called HAMSA, hoping the program could do something. After HAMSA filed a complaint with Older Adult Services, the police were called for a wellness check. This, perhaps, was a rock bottom for Doe – her daughter claimed that Jane Doe was infuriated to see police at her door, embarrassed as well. The visit had scared her enough to ask for therapist through Aviv. Not for her addiction, but she wanted to see a therapist. Jane Doe’s story became a group effort between HAMSA and Aviv, as she began to see her first therapist in quite some time. After several months of tough work with her clinician, Jane Doe had a breakthrough and admitted she had a problem with addiction. Finally, after years of her daughter’s worry, she was ready to open up and face the addiction head-on.
While Jane Doe had her daughter’s worry become the catalyst of her health, it’s reasonably often that the other way around happens as well. It wasn’t too long ago that a man called HAMSA when he was worried about his son. The son had left home for work in Colorado. He was alone, away from family and friends, and seemed to develop an addiction to opioids. The family rabbi suggested to the father that he call HAMSA as he planned to travel to Colorado and bring his son home, safe and sound.
That’s not always how it works out. Addiction is dangerous, and while the son came clean for the drive home, the risk of overdose increases after a detox. It didn’t help when the son admitted to HAMSA that he also had used heroin. For the drive home, HAMSA was able to train the father with NARCAN, a tool used to treat an overdose. While NARCAN is a lifesaving treatment, it takes training and it isn’t perfect. It is tough to imagine the man struggling to prepare for such a drive while being told his son might die either way, that he might need to use this medication to save his son’s life. The son was lucky. Not only did he make it home, but his father was so willing to care for him. HAMSA found the family a place with MARR (Metro Atlanta Recovery Residence) and connected the son with a Sober Buddy. With HAMSA’s help, they were even able to get scholarship funding to stay with MARR, with the rest covered by a JIFLA loan. For the past five months, the son has been in treatment and he is working to a healthier future with his father.
These family stories have long been important to HAMSA. There are plenty of times that family calls on behalf of a loved one – someone who hasn’t admitted that they need help or that they have a problem. There are so many people asking for help because they wonder how to talk to their brothers and sisters, how to tell them to get help and that they have an addiction. These cases always show that no one is alone when it comes to addiction. The examples of someone who has yet to have been told by family or friends are still a rarity.
When John Doe was told by his boss to get help, they were both in very safe and dependable positions in their lives, until addiction got in the way. John Doe was a thriving Jewish man in the media sphere; he held a high-profile position in production. He even had a young son, so much that the boy had yet to leave elementary school. With his job at stake, he saw his young son’s life at stake. The first thoughts anyone has when it comes to a child is their safety – if his addiction worsened, he could lose his job and then eventually his custody. On the other hand, John Doe couldn’t take care of his child if he went into treatment.
While John Doe admitted that yes, he did need help, he had no idea what kind. HAMSA directed him to a therapist that could help figure this out, a step they are familiar with executing. John Doe settled into Intensive Outpatient Care, which allowed him to keep taking care of his son and himself at the same time, while displaying his functionality. He went to therapy in the morning, and went home every afternoon to care for his child. John Doe even exclaimed that the place HAMSA chose for him was the perfect placement, and he wouldn’t have improved so well in any other situation. While he will probably in IOC through the rest of January, HAMSA has allowed John Doe to get himself back on track but face his illness and keep taking care of his son in a way many programs would not have allowed.
The epidemic of addiction in American populations creates a sense of shame. Many people don’t want to admit what has happened, that they fell to addiction or that they need help. HAMSA’s goal is not only to combat this but to be a place of safety and shelter with the tools of recovery easily in reach. HAMSA wants to help people navigate recovery with the right resources and clinicians so that the addicted population of Atlanta can reach for a better life.