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The PAL Story     [Print PAL Story]

How it started

Parents with a child addicted to drugs and/or alcohol can find hope in a support program called Parents of Addicted Loved-ones (PAL). PAL was founded in 2006 by Michael Speakman, LISAC, while working as an in-patient Substance Abuse Counselor in Arizona.

“In working with men and women being treated for alcohol and drug addiction I witnessed how much the entire family is impacted,” Speakman says. “Parents in particular are confronted with challenges they’ve never had to face before. I saw how difficult it is for them to identify and work through these challenges alone. And that’s what they feel—alone.”

Many recount their relief when they first realized: "I don't feel all alone with this problem anymore.” While in truth they were going through what most parents go through when placed in the same situation.

This is the founding principle of the PAL movement. People helping people through the woods. PAL groups meet weekly to educate, support and help each other with issues arising from loving someone with an addiction. Each PAL group is facilitated by a peer, someone walking the same path. While the focus is on parents with an addicted child, all family member and friends are welcome to attend PAL meetings.

The guiding principles of PAL are confidentiality, respect, acceptance and support. Differences in opinion are embraced without judgment and suggestions are offered in lieu of advice. Members are encouraged to “take what works and leave the rest.” Everyone experiences the journey at their own pace and is supported by the group regardless.

In most cases, the active addict acts like a child, displaying childish behaviors such as tantrums, sulking, disregard of consequences, irresponsibility, demand for immediate gratification and magical thinking. A husband or wife may experience the same immature behaviors of an addicted spouse, as a parent experiences with a child. Regardless, once the addiction has surfaced, it’s hard for family members to know what to do, what to expect.

“We needn’t blame ourselves for not knowing what to do about an addicted loved one,” Speakman says. “There are no prep courses, no way to know exactly what to expect before it happens. But there is a curriculum for recovery. If we learn it, if we follow it, it works. There is HOPE. And it comes from educating ourselves. “When we focus on educating ourselves rather than changing the person who is using, it takes a lot of the pressure off everyone involved,’’ he says.

“Just finding out for sure that a loved one is using drugs or alcohol can be difficult,” Speakman says. “There can be a lot of lying and denial. Once you know for sure, the next question is: What now? This is where the educating begins and where PAL can really help. There are others who have walked before you, some walking along with you, and others right behind. But all are on the same path.”

But knowledge doesn’t happen overnight. “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” Speakman says. “We don’t learn instantly, we learn over time. It’s incremental learning. So we need to be patient with ourselves.    

How it works 

Some consider PAL an alternative or supplement to Al-Anon, the 12-step program for families, associated with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Today there are 16 PAL meetings in Arizona with new ones getting started in other states.

Speakman founded PAL specifically for parents because, “There is no human relationship like that between parent and child,” he says. “As the saying goes. ‘When it comes to our children, every parent is blind.’ However, any family member is welcome, including spouses and adult children.”

PAL aims to help parents or other family members deal with issues arising from an addicted loved one. These issues tend to be more alike than different, which is precisely why these groups work. Members quickly realize they are not alone, a big relief in and of itself.

Once family members realize a loved one is indeed addicted to drugs or alcohol, the big question is: What now? More often than not this gives rise to a broad range of feelings: anger, guilt, fear, loss, denial.

"If you have an adolescent son or daughter with an addiction problem you may still have some control over their actions,” Speakman says. “You may still win at the negotiation table, the place where your life and their life collides. But, when your child turns 18 everything changes. Now, you lose at that table every time, even when it looks like you're winning".

“That's why parents get so angry. They wonder, why is this happening, how is this happening, what can I do to change it? Solving this mystery is the essence of the PAL curriculum."

There are two parts to a PAL group meeting: an educational component and a sharing component. Along with information about addiction and recovery, PAL uses stories and metaphors to help parents better understand what they are up against.

For instance, a first-time parent might be asked to picture their child’s age. They are often surprised to find they picture a 25-year-old son as a 15-year-old adolescent. This mental picture is important because it shapes how they decide to help, which can turn into enabling a grown man to act as a boy. Once parents realize this, they gain a better understanding of the problem and more clarity on possible solutions.

“It is important for parents to realize they did not cause their child’s addiction any more than they caused a condition like asthma or diabetes,” Speakman says. “Yet once they realize their child suffers from addiction, they can learn how best to help -just like with any other ailment.”

How to get involved

Getting involved in PAL is an important way to begin managing the ongoing issues surrounding an addicted child. Meetings are 90 minutes long and free of charge.

By attending PAL meetings, parents learn proven ways to help their loved one and ultimately how to find joy in life regardless of the choices their loved one makes.

“Adult children make their own choices and we’re not responsible for that,” says one parent member. “If we don’t set healthy boundaries and say ‘We’re not going to rescue you from the consequences of your choices,’ our adult children won’t get well. A healthy boundary lets them know ‘I love you, but you’re responsible for your decisions and their consequences. Not me.’”

PAL does not endorse any particular action or school of thought. The group is just one way for parents and spouses to educate themselves and prepare to make their own decisions. Members aren’t required to attend each week or follow every suggestion.

“It’s a really relaxed atmosphere where everyone offers support and encouragement to one another as they make positive changes,” Speakman says. “Not only does this help the parent. As parents change themselves and how they interact with their child, the child is more inclined to admit to a problem and seek help. It doesn’t always happen but it is our hope.”

PAL groups are currently being held across Arizona and they continue to spread. For a full list of meetings visit the PAL website at www.palgroup.org, where you’ll also find helpful articles, videos and links.

If you’d like to start a group in your area, PAL has trained dozens of volunteer facilitators to do just that. You can simply contact PAL through the website: www.palgroup.org and express your interest.

Any parent can also participate in PAL’s monthly conference (telephone) call meeting held on the third Thursday of each month. The 90-minute call runs the same way as an in-person meeting and is also free. More information is on the website.

Typically PAL meetings follow the same general pattern. Each meeting begins with prayer, followed by the stating of group guidelines (confidentiality, etc.), introductions, then exploration/discussion of an educational topic, such as: 

  • Delayed emotional growth
  • Three promises to a loved-one
  • Healthy Helping
  • Enabling check-list
  • The four stages of growth in recovery
  • 13 family lessons about recovery
  • Alcoholic/addict roles and family roles
  • Re-entry, transitional living, and after-care

Lastly, members have an opportunity to share what’s going on in their present struggles or victiories with their loved one and then the meeting ends with prayer.

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Ahwatukee Foothill News 5/25/12

Group for spouses, parents of addicts offers education, support  -By Allison Hurtado

“A good example is diabetes,” Speakman said. “You didn’t cause it but if your son had it you might want to learn a little about it so you could help better.”

Speakman offered counseling for families during weekend visits for years, but eventually realized the change that needs to occur with drug and alcohol addiction is a long-term change for the entire family. They may learn a lot over the weekend but repetition and consistency is what will cause the change. That’s why he began the PAL-Group (Parents of Addicted Loved-ones.)

The first meeting began in July of 2007 at the Calvary Addiction Recovery Center and has since spread to 13 meetings happening once a week across the Valley and one in Tucson.

Each meeting, which is designed for parents or spouses of loved ones going through an addiction, begins with a prayer, followed by introductions. The group is then introduced to one of eight lessons which include delayed emotional growth; three promises to a loved-one; healthy helping, enabling checklist; the four stages of growth in recovery; 13 family lessons about recovery; alcoholic/addict roles and family roles; and re-entry, transitional living and aftercare. After some discussion of the lesson the members of the group give an update about what’s going on in their lives and the meeting ends with prayer.

Speakman said while some people may feel a need to attend multiple meetings a week, many will come once and not come again for a few weeks to give themselves time to understand the lesson they were given. The challenge is that the teaching goes against natural parenting instincts.

Jerry Law, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident who has been to PAL meetings while his son was going through an addiction and has also facilitated some meetings, said it’s helpful for parents to be able to learn some healthy boundaries.

“Your kid is making his own choices,” Law said. “You’re not responsible for that. If you don’t set healthy boundaries to tell your kid ‘I’m not going to rescue you from the choices you are making,’ that kid is never going to get well… A healthy boundary lets your child know ‘I love you, but you’re responsible for your decisions. I’m not.’”

Law, who is now a certified interventionist, said it’s important for parents or spouses to find a support group like PAL so that they don’t have to feel so alone.

“It’s critical,” he said. “It’s the only way to survive. You feel like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ You didn’t do anything wrong. This is reality. This is life. This is the hand you’ve been dealt. If you’re going to live beating yourself up you’re never going to be healthy. You have to be around other people who get it or you’re going to die in the disease along with your kid.”

PAL-Group does not endorse any particular action. Speakman said the group is just one way parents and spouses can educate themselves and prepare to make their own decisions.

The group doesn’t currently have a meeting in Ahwatukee Foothills but they do have facilitators ready to begin one as soon as they can find a location. Speakman says churches are the most convenient meeting spaces and all the group requires is a room for about two hours once a week.

For more information or to find a meeting location, visit: www.pal-group.org or call (800) 239-9127.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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West Valley View Avondale 7/27/10

Group offers support to family members of drug, alcohol addicts  -By Rachel Nichols 

In 2007, licensed substance abuse counselor Mike Speakman established the first Parents of Addicted Loved ones support group to address the growing number of families with children addicted to drugs or alcohol. “Kids are starting to use drugs and alcohol younger and younger, and the parents just don't have much education about it”, Speakman said. “They just don't seem to know how to deal with it.”

Currently, the support group has expanded to seven different locations around the Valley. The group is free of charge and is open to both parents and spouses of family members who abuse or are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The focus of each meeting is one of eight educational topics, such as how to help an addicted loved one in a healthy way and how to identify enabling behavior. “When a person comes to the group they get educated about addiction and recovery. At the same time, they're getting support and encouragement from people who are going through the same problems.” Speakman said.

There is no requirement to go to every meeting or learn all the educational topics. Meetings also include a time for prayer, although the group is open to any denomination or religion. “It's a really relaxed atmosphere of everyone going at their own pace,” he said. “They just give support and encouragement to one another as they make positive changes.”

Joyce Page started attending the original PALS group at Calvary Addiction Recovery Center three years ago when her son was addicted to opiates. Even though her son had opted out of treatment at the time, Page found that she still needed support for herself. “The hardest part is walking through the door for the first time and believing that your problems are so horrific, so awful that nobody else has the same problems that you do,” Page said. “The shame involved in even saying those things out loud, and the things you can't say to your friends because they're just clueless about how to respond.”

Page said she was overwhelmed at first, but she soon discovered that one of the best things about PALS was the support and encouragement from other parents dealing with addiction within their families. “Last night we had a brand new mom just finding out that her son was an addict, just figuring it all out. And then another mom, who's a year down the process, was able to say this is how I handle things, I understand what you're going through parent to parent.” She said. “It was all very powerful.”

Not only can PALS benefit parents and spouses, it can also be a step towards helping a loved one with his or her addiction. “The whole idea is that as parents or spouses make some changes in how they are interacting with their loved one, it helps them get closer and closer to admitting their problem and getting treatment,” Speakman said.

As of March 13, Page’s son has been sober for two years. She is now facilitating leader of the PALS group at Scottsdale Bible Church. “My goal is to give a parent hope, Page said. There is a possibility of hope on the other side.”

Rachel Nichols is a journalism student at Colo. State University. She is doing a summer internship at the West Valley View.

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