THE GODS FAMILY: A Story of Addiction
A Military family’s struggle with substance addiction and how they sought help.
Written by Mrs. Gods, veteran mom, and Virginia R. Barnes, UWS Family Services advocate.
Edited by Kaitlan Morehouse, UWS AmeriCorps VISTA.
Virginia R. Barnes has interwoven resources within this story of addiction from recommendations by Mrs. Gods.
“Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently to keep my son safe and away from self-harm? What changes could I have implemented? How could I have reached my son when he isolated me? How should I have behaved when I looked into my son’s eyes to see only vacancy? How could I have connected with him? He is not a child. I cannot make decisions for him. I thought, ‘Hopefully, I invoked enough character in him to be strong.’ The strength to overcome the Boa Constrictor-like grip substance abuse toxifies a person. How do I convince my son to be stronger than the drug(s)? Stronger than the grip!”
These are only some of the questions and thoughts Mrs. Gods plagued herself with during the last five years while living with her son, an Army veteran and a professional in the civilian world, her stepson, and her husband. The road to addiction started the same as many stories before his. Yes, opioids were the start of this veteran’s vicious life change. A physical medical condition that required pain medication manifested into a substance addiction. It not only affected the now-civilian, but it affected his family and friend’s lives too. The Gods family did not foresee the journey they were about to embark on as denial played a role at first sight. Mrs. Gods would like you to think about the following.
WHAT SYMPTOMS HAVE I SEEN?
Think about what actions, changes, and behaviors you have seen in your loved one that have caused you to think he or she might be addicted to drugs. There may be one specific occurrence or a string of subtle questionable behaviors that has alerted you to the possibility of drug addiction. If you think your loved one is addicted to drugs, look for the following symptoms: changes in mood (Is my loved one more agitated, irritable, or aggressive? Is he or she having mood swings?), problems at work or school (Is my loved one taking several sick days? Is he or she missing deadlines/not completing homework assignments? Has my loved suffered consequences at work/school due to behavioral issues?), different spending habits (Is my loved one spending more money than usual? Is he or she asking for money from myself or others? Is money disappearing?), health problems (Is my loved one having new health problems? Are existing health problems becoming worse? Consider physical and psychological health when asking yourself this question).
When I asked Mrs. Gods if and how drugs were affecting her son and her family, it was with conviction she replied, “Yes.” Mrs. Gods, a devoted mother, shared her son was evicted from his abode. His belongings were scattered on the street, which should have been labeled as free as many passersby’s shopped without respect or financial remittance. It was then our veteran began to sleep in his jeep. That roof over his head served as temporary as soon after his jeep was repossessed, based on no payment. The undercarriage of a bridge became his new home. He was homeless. Mrs. Gods learned of her son’s status and recruited family to pick her son up and deliver him to their family home. The calm of the household erupted into dismay.
During his residence in his parent’s home, the young man was erratic, based on the side effects of Tweaking. Tweaking is a slang term for the compulsive, disorganized behavior methamphetamine users exhibit, particularly after large doses or long periods of repeated dosing. While meth creates a state of euphoria, its effects are much more sinister. He would remain awake for 3 days and sleep for 3 days. During the nights, he would stumble home and attempt to navigate to the living room or bedroom. He would trip over furniture or décor while speaking to himself. Mrs. Gods would wake to greet her son. She would ask, “Who are you speaking to?” His reply, “I’m talking to Jesus.” Hallucinations were common. Finding paraphernalia in her flower beds was just as common. He has two court dates pending in two different states. Mrs. Gods would like you to ask yourself the following.
ARE DRUGS INTERFERING WITH MY LOVED ONE’S LIFE AND FAMILY’S LIFE AS WELL?
A common sign a drug addiction is occurring is when drugs begin interfering within a user’s life. Ask yourself: are drugs interfering with my loved one’s life? Examples of this include the following: neglecting responsibilities at home, no longer participating in previously enjoyed activities, not showing up to work/school/appointments because he/she is catching up on sleep lost or tending to other personal issues, related to the previous days’ drug use, experiencing trouble with the law, such as getting an OUI, being arrested for disorderly conduct, etc. For example, they could have two court cases, one in AL and one is SC.
DO I KNOW WHY MY LOVED ONE IS USING DRUGS?
The origin of your loved one’s use might be well-known and obvious. For example, you know your loved one is abusing painkillers because they got hooked on them following a surgical procedure, or your loved one is a veteran and uses to mask the symptoms of PTSD. You may also not know why they are using at all. Consider the possible underlying causes of their drug use to help determine the severity of the addiction.
Mrs. Gods stated she knew only half the story as to why her loved one was using drugs. She knew he was addicted to pain meds for two, physical, medical conditions. There is animosity and anger because of his paternal parent. They left the home when he was six months old. He was a civilian, employed in a professional position when the pain increased. Then, the pain meds and various miscellaneous drug usage increased, which left his employer no option but to force him to resign. Added to his misfortunes are two failed marriages. There was also an enormous disappointment derived from his medical diagnosis that prevented our veteran from pursuing his dream to become a helicopter pilot for the Army. Since he was not permitted to honor his passion to fly, our veteran departed the Army via a medical discharge. Can you imagine the heartbreak and disappointment?
Where is the breaking point? The breaking point for the veteran, the family, and friends? What is the pivotal moment a person, whether the one suffering from substance abuse or a family or friend, finally expresses “Enough”?
For Mrs. Gods and the rest of the family, the finality came when their son became careless with his filled paraphernalia as it fell out of his pocket while napping on the couch. The finality came with the side effects of his tweaking and the unknown if he would awake from passing out, naked on the living room floor, with mixed company present. It came with the slip and fall in the bathroom, leaving him lying on the floor with only a towel covering him. It came with his stepdad’s anger and concern for their younger son, and Mrs. Gods’s daily internal struggle of fear of the unknown. Above all, it came with the impact felt by his daughter, Mrs. Gods’s granddaughter. Mrs. Gods said, “That’s it! I cannot do this anymore! Something has to give!”
Mrs. Gods connected with her nephew, a police officer. Her nephew shared with her the details for Upstate Warrior Solution. Mrs. Gods’s son was not communicating with anyone; Therefore, it was left up to his family to advocate on his behalf. Finding help for their son became a family matter and their top priority. I was introduced to Mrs. Gods via phone. After our telephone conversation, I consulted with a few team members as well as a community champion, Sophrona. It took a team as there is no “I” in team. I called Tom, the coordinator of military and veteran services with FAVOR. Later, Hubert, the senior director of emergency services at FAVOR, and I remained connected, sharing the commonality of serving others. It was then the story for the Gods family began to transition into change for the better. Following is an important message to understand:
HOW CAN I TALK ABOUT MY CONCERNS WITH MY LOVED ONE?
Not all drug users are going to run away the second someone mentions something about drug addiction. Do not let your fear of your loved one walking away deter you from talking about your concerns for them. Find a time to talk to your loved one and express your concerns in a non-judgmental, compassionate manner. Be honest, kind, and remember your loved one is not the enemy, and neither are you.
Mrs. Gods struggled with interacting, having an open dialog with her son. Each time Mrs. Gods transported her son to his commitments, she would take the opportunity to give her thoughts, ask questions, and would invite her son to participate. This was an opportunity for him to share his thoughts and internal battles; however, her son struggled with anxiety and would resign from significant expression. Mrs. Gods did not press the issue for severe concern her son may jump out of her moving car when confronted with the conversation. She was simply and horrifically at a loss, one at how to successfully address her son’s and her family’s needs as well as her own care.
Until an influential resource was introduced, Mrs. Gods lived in fear and with daily question marks. She was constantly tiptoeing, internally feeling pins and needles, and living moment-to-moment. The internal conflict was felt between her husband’s anger and her unconditional love for her child, both her child of the past and her troubled young man of the present. Do you see the red flags? Are you struggling to find the help you need for your loved one suffering from substance abuse? There is no shame or embarrassment to be felt, only proactive action. Mrs. Gods recommends the following:
HOW CAN I HELP?
You have the power to make a difference in your loved one’s life. You can start finding ways to help. You can call a local treatment center for advice, speak to a therapist, or even go to an Al-Anon meeting in your community. Helping yourself helps your loved one.
Mrs. Gods, like she has expressed, did not know who to speak with. She and her family understood they needed assistance so they could secure help for their son. Out of fear, out of disconcertment or lack of understanding, not knowing who to reach out to, proactive action was delayed. Prior to reality setting in, denial was predominant, which served as a contributor that allowed Mrs. Gods to be an enabler, a common trait when you love someone. Mrs. Gods did not see what it was doing to her or her family immediately. “I only saw what I did to him as an enabler.” The following is a more conducive approach you may want to consider:
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR LOVED ONE
When you talk with your loved one, it is so important you are not aggressive, brash, or judgmental. If you approach them in that manner, you can expect defensiveness and potentially scare them away. Be compassionate, understanding, and kind, even if you are feeling resentful, angry, and overwhelmed. The goal is to help affect change not cause an argument. Ask questions that can help your loved one get closer to considering treatment and understanding your concerns.
“DO YOU KNOW THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR WELLBEING?”
Inform your loved one you and others are worried about them because of the drug abuse. Frame this question and discussion to follow in a way that highlights how many people love and care for them. Coming from a place of compassion instead of disdain allows for a more open line of communication.
“HAVE YOU NOTICED YOURSELF STRUGGLING?”
Put the ball in your loved one’s court. Ask them what they think about the drug abuse. Asking this question can help you determine how aware your loved one is of their drug use. That information can indicate what level of intervention you may need to take in order to get them to accept treatment.
Mrs. Gods had this discussion with her son. “Before the situation got bad, my son independently was looking into a facility. His friend was willing to remit payment for 50%. He was just waiting for a bed. Beds can be hard to come by but do not give up. In the meantime, drug usage got worse to the point of near unbearable from my perspective. I told him, ‘You are becoming very careless. I am finding paraphernalia all over. Do you want to attract attention? You are even careless with drugs too!’” When our loved one is living with substance addiction, the entire family is at risk legally and with their health.
“HAVE YOU TRIED TO STOP?”
Don’t just assume since your loved one is still using, and they have never made any attempt to stop. Many people addicted to drugs make several attempts to stop using but are unsuccessful. Asking this question can bring you closer together, allowing the opportunity for you to support them if they decide to try to get sober.
Mrs. Gods shared how her son was successful and drug-free for 8 months. He went to the VA in Anderson in conjunction with his appointment with his psychiatrist at the Columbia VA. Our veteran stopped meeting with his psychiatrist and omitted Suboxone. He felt Suboxone too is habit-forming.
“HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT GETTING HELP?”
Same as with asking if your loved one has tried to stop using, asking them if they have considered treatment shows them you are respectful of the situation. Regardless of the answer, let your loved one know they can rely on you for support and encouragement from the very beginning to the end.
“HOW CAN I HELP YOU?”
Sometimes, all it takes is asking your loved one what you can do for them to break down their walls. Many people with drug addiction feel no one will be there to help or support them if they admit they have a problem. By eliminating that possibility, your loved one may be more willing to let you help them.
Mrs. Gods would ask, “What can I do as your mother to help you?” Her son replied, “Honestly, Mom, I do not know.”
He did a group therapy session at a hospital in Greenville. He earned a certificate. That was during his 8-month sobriety. Mrs. Gods stated he shared he may have reached out to join the group again, but there was no response. Then, COVID forced the hospital and others to have video calls, which served as a discouragement for him. He ceased his search for assistance.
Do you or a loved one need help? Call FAVOR now! FAVOR Greenville & Spartanburg: (864) 385-7757
FAVOR Anderson: (864) 226-6569
Mrs. Gods has chosen to share her family’s struggle with a loved one that is presently fighting with conviction, fighting against the strength of a Boa Constrictor, to combat substance addiction. She wants you to know you are not alone. This is what Mrs. Gods has to say, “Do not be an enabler. Do not provide resources to contribute to their purchase of drugs. Consider using family and friends to show support and encouragement. Do not think just because it is your child and that you raised your child in a Christian home and that your child is a good child, that substance addiction cannot enter your home.” She continued, “Substance is no respecter for person. Do not turn a blind eye. Do not ignore thinking the problem will go away. It does not mend itself.”
Mrs. Gods’s message to anyone struggling with substance addiction is to please understand this: “do not push your family away. They want to help because they love you. Do not stay isolated. I get the why, but I don’t, at this point and time, understand how when you know that someone loves you as much as they do that you cannot feel that you cannot ask for help.” She continued, “When you have a coherent moment, allow yourself to be vulnerable for those that love and respect you as a person to be the shoulder you can lean on. Substance abuse does not define you as a person. It is such a mind-altering thing that changes you. Unconditional love means a judgment-free zone and encouragement.”
Mrs. Gods continued on to say, “My family and I learned the following: fighting substance abuse takes a T.E.A.M. TOGETHER EVERYONE ACCOMPLISHES MORE. You are not alone! Our T.E.A.M. consisted of family, friends, strangers, like community champions, FAVOR, and Upstate Warrior Solution. Here is what I have to say about our experience with our T.E.A.M.: I do believe with all my heart that had it not been for God and his strength this would not have transpired as quickly as it did.”
Speaking to the assistance her and her family received from FAVOR, Mrs. Gods said, “FAVOR, I would not have known how to address the issues without the guidance and education offered by the FAVOR Team. I would not know how to ask or what to ask or what things to look for or the signs to be aware of. FAVOR is an amazing resource, a blessing! They are a resource that are competent to provide a solution. It is a team of passionate concerned, and they are well-meaning in their endeavors to find the solution to the challenge. They offered hope where I felt hopeless and restricted to my knowledge, regarding substance abuse. Compassion was 1000%! I was drawn to their holistic approach to act with compassion to treat the person with dignity and to realize that substance abuse does not define the person. Their forward approach is to build up and point out the good in a person as opposed to tearing the person down. “
Mrs. Gods continued, “After 3 communications within 10 days, our son was driven to Journey Pure by the River for treatment on October 4, 2020. All three visits took place at our home. It was on the Sunday that my son came out onto the porch where I was positioned. I said, ‘Son, you are going to have to let me talk to you.’ We are participating in meetings so that we may learn how to help you. Just be there and listen.’ Our veteran did not participate in-person during the visits, but he did listen from his bedroom where he intentionally left the door open. ‘Later that day, my son came to me and said, ‘I will have a meeting with FAVOR. Just you, me and the FAVOR team if they will meet tomorrow.’”
Mrs. Gods balled and continued, “My son’s first step was to test the waters with FAVOR. Once he felt he was in a safe zone, he shared in-depth details. FAVOR’S sincere approach to build a person up, as opposed to shaming a person, has proved successful on many occasions. My son started to cry. It got really intense. Hubert got on the horn. Immediate action was taken. Family, FAVOR, community members, and UWS worked together. October 4th is when Rick and our veteran’s family dropped him off to Journey Pure by the River, located in Murfreesboro, TN. FAVOR, they are gold to my family as they expressed what I could not. My son would not attend the meetings but was curious and left his bedroom door open. I honestly felt it would take forever. I was so concerned that I would have to incorporate an involuntary commitment. God had a lot to do with the positive outcome.”
Remembering Upstate Warrior Solution’s assistance, Mrs. Gods said, “UWS, Rick Gay, volunteer, you are my Angel! You did not have to drive my son, but you did! Thank you so much for checking in with me after our trip. My experience with UWS was awesome! Virginia is easy to talk to. She is very informative. Had it not been for UWS and Virginia connecting me and my family to FAVOR as a solution-based resource to help my son and family, I honestly do not know where we would be right now. I totally love and respect Virginia, even though we have never met in person. To care so much and to be so diligent about getting the help that we needed and to be there for me any time of the day to talk to and to have the right answers and, if not, will find them and get back to you. I did not even know any of you existed. I feel like Virginia and I are kindred spirits.”
Mrs. Gods continued, “Although my son is safe, although my son is getting the treatment that he needs, and although he is doing exceptionally well, it is still hard. There is still worry and concern, but now, I know that I am not alone. Every day is hard, but we have this! One moment at a time. After all, my son does have the character of strength instilled in him as it takes just that to combat the wrath of a Boa Constrictor filled with poison.”
I stated, “Your son should only pat himself on the back as it is not often enough, we see the strength and determination for someone to accept the path of recovery. Facing one’s truths is courage. Staying the path is character and integrity. On behalf of everyone at Upstate Warrior Solution, we are cheering your son on! We have his back! He is family, and he is why we serve those who have protected the safety and sanctity of our country and our communities. Best wishes with your future endeavors, Warrior! You are cared about!”
Mrs. Gods and I said together, “When you connect with FAVOR and Upstate Warrior Solution you are not alone! When you cannot help yourself, they are there to advocate for you. They are that helping hand that you are looking for. Always believe in hope and have faith. You cannot help your loved one overcome substance abuse alone. It takes a T.E.A.M. Together Everyone Accomplishes More”