In two weeks, Renown and Reno Behavioral Healthcare Hospital are bringing Nic Sheff to the Pioneer Center. Sheff’s story of addiction and recovery are the inspiration behind best-selling memoirs and the new movie “Beautiful Boy.” Mary Duffy, registered nurse and counselor with Renown’s new Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute, is here to talk about the importance of family support. She also addresses why bringing this free event to Reno is so important.
Nic’s personal stories talk a lot about the importance of family support in helping reach recovery. How have you seen that support help patients?
Families are everything, as David and Nic’s books point out. The quest for a family to help a loved one is everything — but more importantly, to stay with your loved one through their journey to reach recovery. At Renown Behavioral Health, our partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs are day programs, which means patients go home at the end of the day, and there’s the family to greet them and help continue their treatment and recovery. Families provide the loved one with a supportive and safe sanctuary. Family involvement provides encouragement, maybe offering a compassionate shoulder or just listening in early stages. Families help alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Your loved one’s recovery is a chance for all members to learn healthier coping skills and communication. It’s very important that family members take care of themselves during this time; there are support groups that can help. We have family and couple sessions during their treatment here. Patience and tolerance become the motto, as family ties are mended. Knowledge of this disease process may bring you more compassion. As you learn how addiction can take control, you may be in a better position to understand what your family member is going through.
What would you say to friends and family who don’t know how to talk about addiction or mental illness with someone they love?
I encourage family and friends to just start the conversation. There’s no perfect script or good way to have that conversation. This is often a difficult topic to address, but you need to. And don’t postpone it. It’s important to have the conversation as soon as you can to help get your loved one the help, support and treatment they need. The language of the heart is heard above the spoken words. People in denial can’t always take in your words, but they know you’re there.
It’s more effective to talk about how this hurts you than how it hurts them. If you try to explain how their mental illness or addiction is hurting them, they probably won’t listen, because that is part of denial. But if you explain how this hurts you, it’s more difficult to deny. Families can struggle with questions like “What did I do wrong?” or “Why don’t they just stop?” Recognize your own frustrations, and choose a time and place where you can be calm and offer solutions. Reach out to professionals; we’re here.
What are the signs family and friends should watch for and when should they seek additional help?
Family and friends often recognize things are “off.” Small things — their loved ones become detached, distant and isolate more. Sleep habits are off. Missed days at school or work. Excuses seem lame. They seem distracted and unfocused. They can be angry, agitated or withdrawn. Later, you recognize your own rationalizing, as doubts and fears are magnified. In Beautiful Boy, the Sheff family sought out counselors and others, accessing resources right away. Use all resources available to you; learn about the disease.
Why do you think bringing speakers like Nic and sharing these personal stories is so important for our entire community?
We know that stories are very healing, and Nic and David’s book really echoes that. Once we get our stories out, we begin to heal. The stories are indicative of the community that’s healing and in recovery. What we’re experiencing is a community crisis, and therefore our community can heal together just as the families did. Their story is really one of hope, and even with an uncertain outcome, we never lose hope. Stories connect us to one another.
Mental illness and addiction are diseases of isolation, and the remedy is connection. Personal stories are the narratives that let us know that we are not alone; they comfort, inspire and teach as they offer hope. Part of the hope is that these stories destigmatize these diseases, so more people will reach out and receive the help and support to recover. I hope even just one person hears this message today and reaches out for help, then they can reach another, and another, and so on.