A Family Member by Choice Shares Her BALM Story
By Jen Fisher, ACC, CBC
Certified BALM Family Recovery Life Coach
I came into the BALM community in a different way than many others I have met here. Rather than coming in looking for answers, I was attracted because I learned the BALM method was teaching a few things I already knew to be true. Through our experience with a young man named Dale, I knew that a family significantly contributes to the state of being of someone suffering from substance abuse disorder and I knew that when it comes to those individuals in our families, the most important job we have is to love them. I came to the BALM so I could learn more and I wanted to be able to help others learn as well.
On an otherwise “normal day” in 2012, my husband came home from work and told me he’d met a young man on the streets of Chicago who was homeless, alienated from his family and struggling with substance abuse. My husband wanted to get involved. I was floored. I was standing in my kitchen thinking, “What??? What are you talking about???” We had no experience with addiction and recovery… we had heard stories of other families struggling, but by the grace of God, we had been spared. Although I was afraid and skeptical, I was immediately drawn in by this young man’s story and the fact that he was completely alone in the world. As much as I could never imagine the circumstances, what if one of my own 3 sons were lost and alone somewhere? Wouldn’t I want another mother to step up???? Do something??? My husband and I were now on the same page.
If someone would have told me that night Dale would become over the next few years like another son to my husband and me and a brother to my boys, I would have told them they were crazy. But for two years, he spent weekends at our house, celebrated holidays with us, and became part of the fabric of our family. We were with him when he served jail time, went through recovery, lived in sober living homes, and struggled with independence. Knowing nothing about addiction and recovery, my husband and I did the best we could to love and support this young man because at the core, we felt what he needed first and foremost, was a loving family, a support system, and a set of strong advocates that would both guide and fight for him. Wasn’t that the foundation of how we’d raised our own sons? We decided we would figure out the rest.
And we did. He got a job, worked a 12 step program and created a social life with other people in recovery who supported his new choices. For years it worked really well…and then we got the call. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and he was on his way home from a retreat with his AA brothers. He confessed to them and then to us that he had relapsed. Despite much effort on our part, we were not able to get him into a detox facility that night. We were uneducated, uninformed and it was 2 AM on a Monday morning.
There were many things that happened in the course of the next 2 days…cryptic messages, unanswered texts, reports from friends…, but the very short, very sad ending to our story came in the form of a call on Thanksgiving morning from his sponsor informing us that this “bonus son” had passed from an overdose. We had loved a boy, and he had loved us deeply. He had made such progress and now he was simply gone. To say that we were devastated is an understatement.
His passing was a forceful turning point in our lives. I know that while we had been uneducated, our efforts to love this boy and give him a support structure was effective. Without knowing it, we had in many ways contributed to his recovery rather than his addiction and we had loved him without expecting a certain result. In some ways, we were Loving Mirrors before I knew what that was! Although I am at peace about his passing, I humanly wish I had known more then about a true BALM way of being. I see now we had much to learn about boundary setting, manipulation, and getting support and I wonder how that knowledge might have altered his path.
I am forever changed because of Dale and am incredibly passionate about educating families so their learning can come, as much as possible, before heartache. I know most families simply want to help, but they don’t know how. The BALM holds keys to helping families get the kind of education that can affect outcomes. Although it’s “rear view mirror” learning and too late for our boy, the BALM helps me work with families and teach them how to be their loved one’s best chance. I am committed to passing it on.