Shawn Nocher and Kelly Gill met each other 30 years ago, as mothers of young children with their whole lives ahead of them. They couldn’t have known then that years later, their bond would become “mothers of addicted children” and that they would form an organization, Love in the Trenches, to help other parents whose children are suffering from the disease of addiction, either in active addiction or in recovery, or who have died from drug use.
For several years, Shawn and Kelly were each other’s lifeline as their sons moved through addiction and recovery at different times. Kelly’s son was in recovery, while Shawn’s son was somewhere out west, actively using. In one of the ironic, unpredictable twists of addiction, at the same time that Shawn’s son moved into a recovery phase that he has maintained, Kelly’s son relapsed and tragically died of an overdose.
Their stories are only partly about their sons. Loving children who suffer from the disease of addiction also affects the entire dynamic of the family. Parents are often not in the same place emotionally and can’t agree on the next steps. The siblings are often angry and confused and feel isolated when all the family’s energy is focused on one child. Families crumble under the weight of addiction. They isolate themselves from extended family and friends and the family keeps secrets.
Love in the trenches
Aware that other parents were trying to connect with each other for information and help, Shawn and Kelly joined forces and created Love in the Trenches as a supportive community for parents. Love in the Trenches helps parents erase the shame of addiction. Many parents come into the LITT community feeling like a parenting failure on their part is the reason their child is suffering – some wrong turn or wrong decision made the problem worse. Through LITT, they come to accept that they did not cause it, cannot control it, and they can love their child and hate the addict.
Drug abuse is a complex set of behaviors. It’s impossible to predict who will suffer from this disease. A group of teens can grow up together, in similar environments, experimenting with the same risky behaviors – 70% of high school seniors drink alcohol, 50% have tried illegal drugs. Most young people who experiment with drugs and alcohol will mature, begin to make good decisions, and become successful functioning adults, but a few will go on to become addicted to drugs and alcohol. The desire for drugs takes over the addicted brain and rational thought processes are compromised. An addict eventually comes to believe—however irrational it might seem to us—that the drugs are keeping them alive, and they can no longer control their moods or the things they do to maintain a high. Friendships and family relationships fall by the wayside, and a normal life becomes impossible. Parents and families have to find their own way to love their child, to be supportive when it is appropriate, but to protect themselves. It takes a community of support like Love in the Trenches to be able to do that. Kelly and Shawn are quick to point out that they don’t have a magic panacea for addiction, but they do know that addiction flourishes in isolation. With support, parents learn to “put on their own oxygen masks first in order to support their child in the best possible way.”
Change a step in the dance, change the dance
LITT runs a bi-monthly speaker series featuring various authorities in the field of addiction, as well as training in the administration of Naloxone to reverse overdose. LITT also supports like-minded programs that work to assist families in recovery and help in their mission to erase the shame of addiction.
Normally, Love in the Trenches holds in-person Support Group and Grief Group Meetings using their experience to offer coping skills, networking opportunities, recovery resources, and active support. However, during this time of social distancing, the groups are meeting on Zoom. Their website, www.loveinthetrenches.org, has information on meetings and lots of resources for parents. Shawn and Kelly are available to talk to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.