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. As the number of meetings spread due to growing demand, volunteer facilitators were trained and new meetings opened across the Phoenix metropolitan area, into Kentucky and Indiana. In 2015, PAL was incorporated as a non-profit and falls under a 501c(3) for charitable donations as a partner with Partners In Action. PAL is now governed by a volunteer board and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. PAL is a “faith based,” organization. Simply stated we acknowledge our faith based status, as a Christian organization, that acknowledges God for our reason to provide our services. We believe in the power of prayer and our meetings open and close in prayer.
“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 numerous PAL meetings in Arizona, Kentucky and Indiana with new ones getting started in other states.
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.’”
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 meetingheld 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.