Finding Hope for Parents of Addicted Children
Featured Guest: Kim Humphrey
Today’s guest is Kim Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the board for Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, a non-profit organization offering education, support, and hope at weekly meetings nationwide. Kim joined us via Skype from Phoenix, Arizona, to share how the PAL organization has helped families like his by teaching parents how to radically change themselves and the way they approach their addicted adult children.
David: Hey guys, welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted. I’m David Condos, and this podcast is powered by Foundations Recovery Network. Today’s guest is Kim Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the board for Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, a non-profit organization that offers education, support, and hope at weekly meetings nationwide. Kim joined us via Skype from Phoenix, Arizona, to share how the PAL organization has helped families like his by teaching parents how to radically change themselves and the way they approach their addicted adult children. Now, here’s Kim.
I’m here with Kim Humphrey. Thanks for joining us today, Kim.
Kim: Hey, it’s great to be here.
David: All right. First, let’s have you tell us a bit about your personal story and how you got involved in the world of addiction and recovery.
Kim: It’s kind of a long story, but I’ve been married for 34 years. My wife and I have two sons. They’re now 30 and 25. If you would have asked me 10, 15, 20 years ago if either one of my sons would have had an issue with addiction, I would have thought you were crazy. I guess the way to put it is, we were kind of that family where we thought we had it all figured out. We thought we followed all the recipe for raising kids. You can only imagine when my older son was 14 and a half, almost 15, and we received a phone call.
It was a woman from school and her first words were, “I don’t know what to tell you but my daughter is telling me that they’re all afraid that your son is going to overdose”. Our first jump into this issue was not, “Oh, your son’s smoking” or, “Oh, you son tried marijuana”. It’s “Your son might overdose”. I’m a police officer in a major city here. I just retired a couple of years ago, I had 32 years in. I, of all people, you would think, would recognize the signs and all of that, but when it comes to your kids, I think most people are pretty much blind. They just don’t see it. Honestly, he had done a really good job of keeping this from us. After we drug tested him, we found out that he had opioids in his system.
That starts a very long journey of dealing with him. As we kept trying to force our older son to get help, the more we tried to figure it out, the more it just got worse. He had progressed from taking prescription pills to heroin, which eventually led to us having to have him leave our home because we couldn’t take it. He was between stealing and all the other behaviors that run along it. It eventually just got out of control.
David: At that time, you still had your younger son with you watching your older son go through that. How did all of this affect him?
Kim: He had seen all of this with his older brother, so we knew that he was not going to have this issue. Until one day, he came home from school and told us that he was dropping out. We were in complete disbelief as he then started to explain to us that he basically had gone down the same path as his brother, and that he was now actively using. We just did not even know what to think. We have two sons raised in this loving home, we were sure that we had done everything we were supposed to do right, and yet they were both addicted to drugs. And not only just drugs, but heroin, meth; powerful drugs that are extraordinarily difficult to deal with.
David: How did you and your wife first find out about PAL group?
Kim: We were sitting around talking. We were in desperate situation. My wife just goes online, finds this meeting called PAL and we attend. After six weeks of me sitting there and not saying anything, they were going around the room and people were sharing and it got to us and the facilitator looked at me and said, “You kinda look like you have something you want to say”.
I said, “Yes, I guess I do”. I said, “I’ve been coming here for a while and I want you to tell me what to do fix my son, because both of my sons now are on drugs and I’ve been coming here and I want you to tell me, what do I need to do?” The facilitator looks at me, he says, “So you’re kind of a fix it guy?” And I go, “Yes, I guess so”. He goes, “Well, here’s the thing. That may be one of your greatest assets, but the problem here is you can’t fix your sons. What you could do, is you could start working on yourself”.
Kim: I remember just looking at him and thinking in complete disbelief, “You don’t seem to understand. My sons have a problem. I don’t have a problem”. Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had a big problem with everything from enabling to just how I talked to my sons, to everything that I was doing. My entire approach was getting the exact opposite results of what I wanted. That’s when I started listening, and that’s when I started choosing to do what was suggested, and that’s when things started to change for my life, my wife’s, and our sons’ eventually.
David: Would you call that the turning point in your family’s journey with addiction?
Kim: Without a doubt, the turning point of when things changed. There is no doubt that as of that day, after years and years of us trying it our way, that we realized that not only was it not working, but we really believed it was getting worse, and it did get worse. It got to overdoses and hospitalizations, criminal issues, homelessness, living on the streets, and no knowledge of where they are. But if it weren’t for PAL, and if it weren’t for the help of professionals, we wouldn’t have made it. It saved us, and my wife would say the exact same thing and now my sons say the same thing. I can’t help but not believe that it’s worth sharing with others when it did so much for me and my family.
David: Now, you’re serving on PAL’s board of directors. How did you go from being a parent at a meeting to serving in a leadership role like that?
Kim: Fast forward seven or eight months into it, the individual leading it asked us if my wife and I would consider facilitating another meeting because there was a demand for more meetings, so we started facilitating a meeting about a little over five years ago. Then three years ago, the founder of PAL came to me and said, “Look, I love PAL and it just continues to grow, but I’m just not in a position to take this to the next level”.
We incorporated it as a non-profit back in 2015, and it’s now run by a board of directors. I, actually am the chair of that board and have been since the beginning. From that handful of meetings here in Phoenix, effective this week, I think we have meetings in half of the states in the United States.
David: Yes. Do you know about how many groups that entails?
Kim: I think we now have about 70 or so, and we’re opening meetings every single month. It’s just starting to grow faster and faster.
David: Could you step back a little bit and tell us some of the history of PAL and what the mission was and is?
Kim: The founder of PAL was a substance abuse counselor and he had been working with families for many years. He had come to the conclusion that the relationship between parents and their children, particularly adult children, is unique. Parents, in particular, were many times doing things in his view that were not only hindering their loved one’s recovery, but potentially even making it worse. He decided to form a group.
He realized right off the bat that they had family seminars on the weekends and things like that. He said that it just doesn’t work long term. He said, “You need repetitive support”. That was really the impetus for it. Help parents with the education so they know what they’re dealing with, and then provide support that’s ongoing so that parents can be healthy in their responses to their loved ones.
David: The core element of PAL now is these weekly group meetings, they’re going on all over the country. Could you walk us through how a typical PAL meeting might unfold? Is there a usual format for that?
Kim: We actually provide training to our facilitators. If somebody shows up at a PAL meeting, whether they’re in Arizona or Indiana or Kentucky or wherever, it’s going to look like a PAL meeting. All of our meetings are run the same way. They have two basic components to that. They have an educational piece, and we have core lessons that we go through, and then they have an opportunity for people to basically share and
to be able to talk amongst each other about what’s going on and what other people have done.
We value not only confidentiality but we don’t offer advice, we only offer suggestions. We’re there to support people in the decisions that they make, and to hopefully educate them on what we consider to be helpful when it came to dealing with our loved ones. We have our preamble that we read at our meetings at the beginning. The last line of the preamble is that it’s our goal that you can find joy in your life, regardless of the choices of your loved one. We can’t fix other people but we can work on ourselves. We can work on our response. We can work on how we’re dealing with what they’re doing.
We can work on a lot of things that we are in control of. Our mission is to provide education and support to bring hope. That’s really what we try and do at every meeting, is that we try and keep bringing the meeting back around to, “There is hope”.
David: So then when someone comes to their first power meeting, what are some common questions that you hear from people who are starting that journey?
Kim: Almost inevitably people come at the beginning and if they’re like me, when I went the first time, my first question was, “What’re you going to do to help me fix my son?” And what they begin to learn is that it’s more about acceptance, it’s more about understanding that you don’t get to control what they do. You have to accept them and you have to start to try and figure out how to take care of yourself.
One of the things we say is that if you’re so miserable and you can’t function in life because of the problems that your loved one is having, then I want to look at yourself as a role model. And what kind of role model are you if your sons or daughters look at you, and you can’t even function? And then think about this, they already feel guilty about ruining your life. And now, they see you and they see that what they’re doing is making it worse, then that just gives them one more reason to use drugs; escape from the problem; escape from, “Look what I’ve done. I’ve ruined my parents’ life too”.
So as counterintuitive as it is, you really have to focus on yourself and help them see you as somebody that can deal with a problem when it comes up. You don’t resort to drugs or alcohol. You actually can move on with your life. Then they start realizing that they can make changes themselves. So those first questions usually start shifting from, “How do I fix them?” to, “Oh, how do I fix me?” And realizing that we have issues with codependency and we have serious problems with enabling and over helping, and we’re doing it out of love but when we start to realize it’s not working, then all over sudden that’s like, “Okay, what do you suggest?”
A lot of people come to the meeting I think like I was. They’re very sure that their situation is unique. I like to refer to that as somebody having what we call chronic uniqueness. They’re consistently sure that their situation is totally different than everybody else’s. That’s one of the first things people figure out after they come to the meeting for even two or three weeks; you’re not alone, your situation is not different, there is a curriculum to addiction and recovery.
That’s a good thing because you can understand why they react the way they do. You can start to realize that there are some things that people do that work. Many, many times when they start treating their loved ones differently, in loving ways, but doing things in a more healthy way, then interestingly they start seeing the results in their loved ones. So if you ask either of my sons today, they’ve been sober for three and half years or so. You ask them what made the difference, they will say, “I think it saved my life that you changed”.
David: As you are working to educate these parents and help them realize that enabling is not the way to go, what are some of those next steps that you recommend they take?
Kim: As we work through the lessons we start to understand issues like a late emotional growth. And that starts to explain why they’re so immature. So when you’re asked what the next steps are; the first problem you run into is, these parents are dealing with a 25-year-old that acts like a 15-year-old. Here’s what they do, they treat them like a 15-year-old.
Well, if you’re treating a 25-year-old like a 15-year-old, they’re going to keep acting like a 15-year-old.
So, one of the biggest next steps is learning how to have an adult to adult relationship. For example, I used to find myself on a regular basis talking to my son and lecturing him. The lecture would always go something like this, “Don’t you understand that your life is going to be ruined? You need to get into a treatment center. You need to get help”. I learned later that my son was basically hearing what they hear on Charlie Brown which was, “Wa-wa-wa”. From his parents.
He wasn’t listening, he wasn’t hearing anything that I was saying. But the worst part was is, I was treating him like a child. So, how do you treat them like an adult? First, you stop saying, “You shouldn’t. You ought to”. Then you start thinking, “Okay, how could you treat him differently?” Okay, you can treat him like an adult, and you can just say, “Hey, are you interested in hearing my concerns?” “No am not”. Okay, then don’t share them.
“Yes, what’re your concerns?” “Your behavior is indicating that this drug problem is getting worse and worse and I’m very concerned about you and your health. I’m really afraid you’re going to end up being hurt or in jail or something else. I just wanted to let you know that it’s very hard for us to see that”. That’s a big difference between that and telling them what to do.
So those next steps are, how do you learn how to treat him like an adult? How do you learn how to step out of the picture and start becoming more of a cheerleader and not trying to be the coach, and not trying to tell them what to do. And then hopefully, we all have that hope that their sons and daughters that have been into substance use, the sober issues that they get better. That they realize that they want a different life. But a lot of times we’re unfortunately in the way; and that’s sadly one of the first things we have to learn is, how do I get out of the way?
David: In your view, in your experience dealing with all these families, why is the parent-child relationship so vital to the recovery of not just the person with addiction but really the whole family?
Kim: It affects everyone. It affects the siblings, the parents, it affects the extended family. We say to people, even if one person in the family goes and gets help, they bring that help and that hope back to the whole family. We see it all the time. One person starts to get better, the next thing you know, somebody else in the family starts to get better. Then we see the family starting to come back together, we see them getting reunited on the same page, we see them all focused on making sure that they’re doing the most healthy thing in their response with their loved one.
The next thing you know, their whole family is getting back, because honestly if you have multiple children, and you have, say only one that’s got an addiction issue, guess where the attention goes. Then guess what happens with all the rest of them, they start resenting all of this. So the whole dynamic of the family is ruined even just from that, because the parents have just poured everything they can into the one that they think they have to, and in the meantime the rest are neglected. It’s understandable why you think people would do that until they start to realize that what they’re doing isn’t helping anybody.
David: If anyone is interested in attending a PAL group or even to try and start a group in their area if they don’t have one, what would be the next the next step for that?
Kim: First of all, our website is palgroup.org. You can go on there, click on the map and you can determine whether there’s a meeting in your area. If you don’t have a meeting in your area, one thing I would really encourage people to think about is this; it’s that you might not think you’re suited to do this, and you might say to yourself, “Well, my family is a mess, so how can I possibly facilitate a meeting?”
My wife and I facilitated a meeting for two years before either one of our sons even remotely started looking at getting into recovery or doing anything to help themselves. Yet, it was that accountability of knowing we had to go. It helped us as much as it I’m sure helped others. So what we’ve done is we’ve put together a training for our facilitators.
It’s all done online. It takes about six hours. It’s all video based. So if you’ve never even been into a meeting, you get to see what it looks like. You get all the materials sent to you, and then we now have a nationwide network of mentors.
So once you finish the training, we assign you a mentor and they are going to be available by phone to you. So really, what does it take? Our number one criteria is that you’re a parent of someone who’s suffering with addiction. And really it’s just that willingness to be there not only for yourself but for others. It’s as simple as that. So when you’re ready, you send us an email at email@example.com and you just request information on how to get a meeting started, and we’ll start the dialog right there.
David: All right. Let’s wrap up with this final question. Everyone who serves in their recovery community has their own very personal reasons for doing so. So could we end by having you sum up why helping people find recovery and create a healthy dynamic in their family is important to you?
Kim: I, personally along with my wife have found it so extraordinarily rewarding to be there for people when they’re going through something that they honestly are not sure they’ll even survive. Why? Because somebody did that for us, and it saved our lives. I believe it saved our son’s life. We, knowing that it feels like it’s just something that we not only want to do, but we really have to do for ourselves. They did it for us, we’re thankful of people who went down that road and were willing to share and now we just love giving back. So, thank you for asking that.
Interviewer: All right. Thank you for taking the time to share that with us, Kim.
Kim: I appreciate it.
David: Thanks to Kim for joining us. Now I’ll close the show by featuring another story from the Heroes in Recovery Community, as part of our ongoing series called Hero of the Week. Today’s story comes from Dave C, who shared it on heroesinrecovery.com, a grassroots movement where over 1,400 people have contributed their stories. Dave was shocked when he suddenly found out that his son was using heroin and living on the streets.
And just like Kim, Dave’s first instinct was to do everything he could to coach his son out of addiction. But instead, they endured a painful 18 month cycle of use, recovery and relapse. As Dave realized how his son’s addiction was destroying their lives, he decided to focus on changing himself. As Dave says in his story, “I had to empower him to choose his path, commit myself to loving him unconditionally, and live with the hope that my choices would somehow at the right time inspire him to change his life”.
For the next 100 days, Dave rode his bicycle at least an hour a day. These meditational journeys helped him find his own path and inspired him to create a new program called 100 Pedals, that he now uses to help other parents navigate a child’s addiction. Thank you for sharing that Dave. If you’d like to read Dave’s full story or share your own, visit heroesinrecovery.com.
This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today we’ve heard from Kim Humphrey, chairman of Parents of Addicted Loved Ones. For more about their work, visit palgroup.org. Thank you for listening. Please take a few seconds to leave us a rating on your podcast app, and subscribe so you won’t miss any of our new episodes. See you next time.