When a person becomes an addict there is usually more than one victim. Families, marriages and relationships can be ripped apart.
While there are plenty of places an addict can go to for help, those closest to them are often left behind. But now the White Oaks Yard Project based in Queen Street, Derry has begun a new service offering help and support for families trying to cope with a loved one living with an addiction. The Journal spoke to the man providing the new service with the Columba community - counsellor Harry Rowan.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate, no matter your background, upbringing, social or financial position,” says Harry.
And Harry knows this for a fact. As a full trained and accredited IAAC counsellor, Harry has helped many addicts on the recovery process.
But in his new role at Columba House - Harry will be there to help family members, those without the addiction, but living with it all the same.
“There’s lots of support for people with addiction but not for families,” he said.
Harry explained that it’s vital for families to be supported because if an addict goes into recovery and then returns to the family home, nothing will have changed for the family member.
And for other family members it may be that their loved one will not stop drinking or taking drugs.
Harry’s first interest in addiction and recovery started when he began working with street drinkers at Foyle Haven as a volunteer.
He then moved on to Whiteoaks where he was encouraged to become a counsellor. Harry was since worked with the Hazeldene Institute undertaking their highly respected international addiction counsellor training programme.
“At first I worked in primary care,” he explained. “This is mostly residential. When someone presents with an addiction problem a lot of times they will be in denial, so they have to be challenged around certain areas of their addiction. This will involve family intervention, one to one counselling or group therapy.
“I spent five years working in secondary care in rehab in County Meath, working with people who had already been in primary care and needed extended treatment.
“When I worked in rehab or did family intervention the family would feel annoyed that the addict was in getting all the treatment while they were at home running the house and paying the bills.
“It was in my mind that there needs to be more for families, so I spoke to Father Neal Carlin and Stephen McLaughlin around this.
“I worked part time for a year doing presentations at Whiteoaks doing weekend retreats and information and education sessions with family members.
“Recently Father Neal and Stephen spoke to me about a new idea of working with families, irrespective of whether the family member is still using or drinking.”
Harry said that two major issues were denial and enabling.
“Clients look at how they can change their behaviour,” he said. “Denial and enabling are the two major issues and they can be hard to break for the client and the family. The family member doesn’t always see it as a family addiction, this is a family disease, the family can recover together. But if the person in addiction keeps drinking, taking drugs, or gambling, the family member can still get help and change - stop the enabling. But this a no fault, no blame illness. You have to take responsibility for your addiction if you want to be well.
“Most of the people that come to me are still in active addiction but the family member can be every bit as affected because a lot of the time they have no substance.
“The person drinking, gambling or using can be out of their heads but the family member has to pick up the pieces.
“I often find that if the person who comes for treatment recovers family members can be left behind if they are not getting help.
“Sometime the addict keeps drinking, using or gambling and the family member recovers and detaches.
“A lot of it is about learning to detach from the addicted person, it sounds easy to say it but it is hard to do it. It’s a big struggle for everybody.”
Harry said he’s seen husbands, wives, mothers, son, fathers and daughter.
“Ring and make an appointment,” he said. “Just talking helps, when people come in here they can be like a pressure cooker and the relief is just being able to sit and let it out.
“Come in confidence, no one will know you are here, you don’t have to tell anyone.
“Sometimes when the family member starts to change the addict starts to change because that enabling stops.
“I try and get them to look at how they react to the addict, quite often it is confrontational and no one hears anything.”
All counselling sessions take place here at Columba House in a private and discreet counselling space.
To make an appointment in confidence ring 02871 262407 and firstname.lastname@example.org