Tough love needed to save youngsters from the vicious circle of addiction

Filio is 45 years old. Her son, 23 years old today, is in the last stage of the drug abuse treatment program. «It came to me one night. I knew something odd was going on, but I couldn’t think what. My other children had grown up without the issue arising. Until the day that the police brought him. They found him in a woozy condition, ‘He must have taken something,’ they told me. ‘What could he have taken?’ I thought to myself. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. That was the beginning of the ordeal. «In the beginning, we took our child to a psychiatrist. He went every week for four months. I thought it would be a quick and easy process, but nothing came of it. We took urine samples. We did things that I couldn’t even conceive of today. «Once, we searched for him an entire night only to find him in a hospital the next day. He told us that he wouldn’t do it again, that he would stop, that it was easy. And even then I believed him. When I saw him at home, a bit better, I convinced myself that he was OK. I treated him like a baby. I didn’t do it deliberately. I couldn’t stand it. Every now and again, they had us running to one hospital or another. He would then come to me, cry, hug me and tell me again that he would stop, until matters came to a head. He got hooked on heroin; we nearly lost him. «Then my other son brought me a card from ‘Diavasi.’ I called them immediately, made an appointment and went. I was still so out of it that when the program supervisor told me that my son would have to enter the community, I asked him if he would be able to go on a trip with the group in the summer. It was May. «I started going to special seminars. I heard others relate their experiences and then I understood that I was part of the problem. And that my son wouldn’t be able to manage on his own. Something changed inside me, a lot. And, at last, I did the right thing. I persuaded my son to telephone the center; he had to make an appointment by himself. He had begun not to be able to stand himself. And he made the call. «Physical detoxification had to be complete before he entered the center. He was afraid. ‘Don’t worry at all,’ I told him. ‘We’ll go through it together. If you lie awake at nights, if you hurt, I’ll be there.’ We got video cassettes, opened up the bed and sat side by side until he had got over it. «We went through it all together. As he made progress, so did we. We went on parallel journeys for 17 whole months during which we all changed. Indeed, there were moments during the whole thing when I felt happy. It’s crazy; this evil had happened, and I felt this way. «Now my son is in rehabilitation, the last stage of the cure. A few days ago, we were in the house and the radio was playing. Suddenly, he moved his hands, as though he were going to dance. I started crying. He had come back to life.» Katerina is 50 years old. Her daughter, Anna, 26 years old, is fully cured. «Ten years have passed since I crossed the threshold of Strofi. The first time, like everybody else, I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ My daughter had already been a drug user for three-and-a-half years. She had seemed a normal teenager, with somewhat anti-conformist behavior. «In adolescence, some things seem normal. She wanted to go out, she was late coming home, there were fights over the times she returned… There was nothing very striking to make us suspicious. Now, of course, I see that there was something wrong with the whole family. Nothing obvious; small things that we didn’t pay attention to… «My generation, for example, had grown up with very strict parents and we wanted to keep a distance from that. We didn’t say no to our kids. But the adolescent who doesn’t feel a parental presence setting limits for him becomes disorientated, can’t find a wall to push against. Then, we didn’t know this, neither my husband nor me. We spent a lot of time outside the family. «Of course, as the child sank deeper into drug abuse, things became clearer and if you don’t see it, it means you don’t want to see it, that you can’t stand it, that you’re not present. At some moment, we asked for help from a specialist, still thinking that our daughter was going through a very difficult adolescence. We lost our sense of direction. A child that is taking drugs has an existence that has lost coherence; the support of a psychologist doesn’t help. «This was until a friend of mine gave me the telephone number of Strofi. I went there with my husband and my son. We sat down in a circle with other parents whose children had completed the program. Listening to their experiences, we recognized our child in what they said. The shock was huge. Perhaps that’s why many parents leave, they can’t stand it. Fortunately, we stayed. «We went there every week and quickly had to confront our child. From being parents who didn’t know what ‘no’ meant, we suddenly became adamant. ‘You’re using drugs. You have to go to the center; we already have.’ After nearly four years of drug abuse, a child begins to face some dead ends. So, she accepted going into the program. We did too. It’s difficult for everyone, it requires commitment. It’s a very human process, when there is genuine caring. We talk about our fears, our mistakes, about how to rebuild ourselves. Side by side, we learned how to be parents.» Theodoris and Nikos, 28 and 24 years old, are in the last phase of their treatment, six months before they complete the program. One-and-a-half years have passed since they entered the drug dependency treatment center, Diavasi. The decision to undertake a cure was a life-and-death matter, and not remotely easy. «My parents put pressure on me,» Theodoris says today, «but if you don’t want it within as well, you won’t make it.» He had abandoned a previous program after three months. But this time round, he caught the «community bug,» as he called it. Questioning the program at the outset is normal. «It all feels strange,» Nikos said. «They place all these restrictions on you and you follow a strict program both at home and at the center. How does it help me to wash my plate? What you never used to do, you do double of in the center. But the logic is that if your room is a mess, you’re probably not too well either.» «Work therapy. You have to do something. Otherwise, you think,» said Theodoris. The thought of leaving often crossed their minds. Both of them, at some point, could take it no longer, and left. «When you begin to have responsibilities in the community, it’s a lot of pressure. You say you’re not up to it and you leave. But these are all excuses. I was having difficulties, that was all,» Theodoris recalled. Nikos left the center and returned the next day. «I wanted to see my old friends. I was disappointed. I’d been through so much and they talked to me about their new computer. I went back to the center.» Now, he sees his friends and they talk – up to a point. «I’m elsewhere. I have a problem even with people who’ve cleaned up.» Recently, Theodoris met a girl. «When I told her I was in rehab, she acted like I was a leper.» «We’re different; we’ve been through different things,» said Nikos. «Few people have opened up as much. It takes guts, it’s tough,» Theodoris added.

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