“This group helped me realize my child is special, he’s unique, and he’s not just a junkie,” Melinda Ross said. “The group told me it’s not hopeless. I’ve got to believe that where there’s life, there’s hope.”
Ross, an Urbana resident, is an administrator with The Addict’s Parents United (TAP United), a group of people struggling to help their children and loved ones through drug addiction.
The group, started by Columbus resident Brenda Stewart over a year ago, is Facebook-based. It consists of those with addiction in their families and those who have lost loved ones to the disease. There are approximately 2,000 members across the country, Ross said.
TAP United is made up of two Facebook groups – an open group called TAPU Alliance and a closed Facebook group, the Addict’s Parents United. For the closed group, all members are screened before receiving access, Ross said, so that it is a safe place for parents and families to visit. The screening looks at how a person heard about the group, why the person wants to be part of it and what the person is battling with their loved one.
Ross said the screening is needed to ensure there aren’t people there just to advertise services or rehabilitation facilities. Links to assistance are not allowed, though TAP United has a resource list for members if they request it.
“At one point we had a person want to get on the group because they wanted to see what their mother was saying,” Ross said, noting that is one of the reasons for the screening.
TAP United is needed because of the stigma that goes with drug addiction, Ross said.
“We are just mainly a mental support group,” Ross said. “There’s so much out there that when you are first hit in the face with addiction of your child, you don’t know where to turn.”
There are also TAP United-associated Facebook groups for survivors who lost loved ones to the disease (Survivors of Loss) and grandparents raising grandchildren because the parents are addicts (Grands United).
TAP United is a non-profit. In addition to the Facebook support groups, it sponsors the Anthony’s Angel Blessing Bags. The bags contain items that any person with limited means could use: Personal hygiene items, warm clothing, non-perishable foods and more. The bag drive was started by one of the administrators who lost her son to addiction. She wanted to honor him.
Collection for the bags takes place all year, though TAP United emphasizes it during the holidays. The bags are distributed to the need. Often members will go to homeless camps with local police and deliver them, Ross said.
“I was in denial for a long time because of the stigma, the shame that goes along with drug addiction,” Ross said. “So many people don’t want anybody to know. What I went through might help somebody else, or what someone else has gone through might help me.”
Ross realized the truth of her son’s addiction three years ago, when he turned 22. His friends had taken him out for his birthday. Later that evening, his girlfriend called Ross, worried because she couldn’t wake him and his lips and ears were purple.
Ross told her to call 911. When she did, her son’s friend left the house before the squad arrived. This was before Ohio’s Good Samaritan law passed, which provides immunity for individuals for minor drug offenses when they seek emergency assistance.
It took two doses of NARCAN to bring her son back,Ross said. NARCAN is a form of Naloxone, an emergency treatment for drug overdoses.
“I had suspected (his drug addiction) before,” Ross said. “I would call him, said I’d heard he was doing things he shouldn’t be. He said, ‘Mom, no, I wouldn’t do that.’ As a mom, you want to believe that,” she said.
Ross called him again a couple weeks later, and her son continued to deny drug use. He had hidden the needle marks by injecting the drug between his toes or in his tattoos, so it wasn’t easy to see.
Her son went into treatment and went to a sober-living home, but then he relapsed. At that time, he was planning to go to one of his recovery meetings, when one of his friends called him and asked him to pick up some drugs for him.
The dealers tend to want their customers to do a sample with them, Ross said. And the dealer was doing a “speedball,” a mix of heroin and cocaine. Her son took one, went to a friend’s house and crashed. The friend, who arrived home later, found him face down on the floor. That was the second time her son overdosed and needed NARCAN.
“When my son first relapsed, I said, ‘why would you do that, I don’t get it,’” she said. “He said, ‘You’re right Mom, you don’t get it.’”
TAP United begins
Ross found TAP United when a friend of her son’s was living in a sober home in Whitehall. The friend and the person who managed the home visited her son in the hospital. The friend took them into the sober home after he was released and introduced Ross to Stewart. Stewart and Ross decided they needed to help each other to deal with their children’s addictions, and Stewart and her husband started the group from there.
“I was originally very embarrassed,” Ross said, when she realized her son was an addict. “I didn’t want anybody to know. I used to be one of those people who would say, ‘look at that, why didn’t their parents do something to help their child?’ I didn’t want anybody to think that about me.”
Ross had confided in a friend at work, and her boss walked in while they were talking. When she admitted it to him, he was supportive.
“It blew my mind he wasn’t embarrassed of me. I thought if he’s not embarrassed for my situation, why am I? I decided I needed to get help for me, or I can’t help anybody else,” she said.
Once Ross realized she needed help, TAP United was there for her. The group helped her learn to separate herself from her son. She realized she had to stop enabling him – by paying his electric bills, or by giving him money to get gas. He would use the money to get drugs, she said.
The group focuses on ending the shame and stigma for its members.
“We can’t be ashamed of our children,” she said. “No matter what they have gone through or put us through, they are sick and need our help.”
Addiction has many similarities to other diseases, Ross said.
“You talk about different stages of cancer and death. You go through all those same stages with addiction,” she said. “The shame, guilt, anger, fear. It truly is a horrible disease. And it is a disease. So many people argue the point that they have a choice. And they do. But so many start with mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. They feel so much internal pain and will do whatever it takes to ease that pain.”
The group has been a huge help for Ross, and she knows it will continually be needed.
“Addiction is an ongoing disease, even when your kids are in recovery,” she said. “It’s still an ongoing battle mentally for a parent and for the addict. They have to learn how to deal with different triggers and, as a parent, you have to learn how to do it, too.”
Ross’ son is now 25 and in jail. She said she had to distance herself from him.
“I saw him for the first time this past week,” she said. “He’s doing better. He’s my son again. Before, it was just the shell of my son with the demon inside.”
No matter how long it takes her son to get through recovery, Ross will be there for him.
“I want him to know I love him, I will be there for him, but I cannot enable him anymore. I will always have that love, and whenever he’s ready and wants me to help him get somewhere, I will do that. Until then, I just have to love him from a distance, because I can’t do the enabling anymore,” she said.
For more information or to donate for the blessing bags, email Ross at [email protected] Ross focuses on Champaign, Clark, Logan and Union counties. For more information about the group, visit www.tapunited.org.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.