TLA, Online Support Groups, and the Opioid Crisis

by Susan Hulsebos

The DEA and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, released a statement in a joint news conference this month stating that the opioid crisis is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Amy Goodman, in her June 7th, 2017 article reporting for the Global Independent News source: Democracy Now!, presents a shocking list of fatality rates from the conference:

“…opioid deaths have now surpassed the peak in death by car crash in 1972, AIDS deaths in 1995 and gun deaths in 1993. After 20 years of heavy combat in South Vietnam, U.S. military casualties represented only one-third of the death toll from 10 years of opioid overdoses.”

This list takes my breath away. Just as cancer took the breath of my son away almost two years ago after his 7 year battle with prescribed Oxy and then heroin addiction. You can’t escape hearing in the nightly news about the daily battle EMT’s and law enforcement have to save victims of opiate related overdose. The city of Everett Washington has just this week filed an unprecedented lawsuit charging a pharmaceutical manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, with the devastation of their city and citizens. As the mother of four adult child who first learned of her oldest son’s addiction with shock and disbelief – before this crisis hit the news – I experienced gut wrenching worry in isolation, confusion, denial and panic as I tried to wrap my mind around heroin? I knew it was deadly and I needed to find someone who could help me get a handle on my emotions, options and yes – who could get past the stigma against “junkies” that even I was carrying around inside my misinformed stereotypes. So I started an internet search for information and help.

What emerged among the horrifying data of low recovery rates with detailed images disclosing the damage addiction to heroin was already having on the brain of my child, was a Facebook page set up to support parents and family members dealing with heroin addiction. It was a closed group. When I was admitted, I found about 1,000 parents, siblings and spouses on the cutting edge of our current crisis pouring out their stories. And I found raw and aching language, post after post, both commiserating, comforting, offering knowledge, resources, support and sobbing over stories. And through the power of shared stories to unite us, these precious aching souls became my new community.

Caryn Miriam-Goldberg, in her introduction to The Power of Words, lays a wide foundation for understanding the practice of transformative language arts and the healing power it holds for social and personal transformation.

“TLA is the practice of connection and community…TLA practice works to resist community fragmentation…TLA is so much about letting and listening to people speak in their own voice, telling their own truths in a language authentic to them…”

I did not know at the time I began to contribute my story and respond to others that this online community would become my life-line. In the privacy of our homes, we regularly wrote how no one wanted to be here, but also how grateful we were for it. We followed each others stories as we dealt with trying to locate and help our addicted loved ones get into treatment. Writing here was unguarded, filled with unconditional acceptance, devoid of stigma unlike hurtful, naive input many of us were getting from our family and community. This group was diverse to it’s core. Even international members found us and were welcomed in with sadness because they had cause to join us, but with gladness that they found us. New comers were given encouragement to post and join their stories with ours. We needed our stories to be understood and to be met with love and acceptance. For me it began to heal some of the isolation and pain.

Then, after two years in this online group, and 3 ½ precious months getting to know my beautiful son again, he was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Large tumors lined his colon and were spreading through his lungs – the result of years of smoking, drinking and heavy opiate use.

I informed my online community that my son had passed and I stopped posting to the group for fear of discouraging others still hoping their loved one will beat the odds and recover. I looked for and found a new group, GRASP: Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. This national support group facilitates community in person and online. I continue to be helped along by the words I read and contribute. At last look, my former community was numbering over 5,000. My “new normal” is this new community of equally thousands of broken hearts huddled together and “listening” each other through the shock and numbness. Once again, the power of our truths unites us.

Editor’s note: This is Susan’s 5th and final blog post requirement for her TLA certification. We have enjoyed having her share her writing with us!

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