Helping Families Heal

Gaining understanding and strategies

"My mother and I hope someone will read this story and say, 'Oh my goodness—that’s my mom and me! We can get better. We can get help!'"– Joe D.

As a child, Joe remembers being different from most of the other little boys. “I was a stereotypical gay kid—more feminine, interested in theater and the arts—who would rather play with Barbie dolls than G.I. Joes.” Perhaps that’s why he was singled out by a teenage boy when he was only 9. Joe was abused—sex, drugs and alcohol were all part of it.

That was his first exposure to alcohol and other drugs—and he continued using through high school, college and beyond. He moved to Hawaii in the ‘90s, where he got deeply involved in the nightlife. There was a lot of partying, and it was fun for a while. But then things got scary.

Joe watched as friends became ill or overdosed. He knew he had to stop, but when he tried, he couldn’t. That’s when he knew he had a serious problem.

There were many attempts to quit. But he never stayed sober for long. His relationship with his three siblings and his parents suffered—badly.

Then, in 2012, he found his way to Hazelden. While he was in treatment, both he and his mother, Jean, participated in the Family Program at Center City.

He’s been sober ever since. And today, at age 40, his relationship with his mother has never been better.

Here, in their own words, are Joe’s and Jean’s thoughts about the experience.

Joe D.


Joe DI got sober a number of times, but every time I went home—any time I was around my family—I screwed it up. I drank, stole someone’s prescriptions or found some other way to mess up my sobriety.

In 2005, my mother told me that I couldn’t come back home—that I wasn’t welcome there. I know it was one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do.

I missed my sister’s wedding.

I arrived for treatment at Hazelden with very broken family relationships. I think my parents and siblings were afraid I would continue the cycle of abuse around my nieces and nephews. And I had taken terrible financial advantage of my mother.

In the Family Program, I learned how addiction affects family members, from people who weren’t my own family. One woman was there because her husband was in treatment. Through her, I was able to see the damage I had done to my mom and siblings—without the pain of hearing it from my own family. Through me, she was able to see that her husband was just a normal person—a man struggling with a sickness.

The Family Program teaches that recovery has to happen on both sides. The addict needs to be responsible for his own recovery—parents or siblings can’t force him to do it. The same thing is true for the family. I can’t take my parents’ hurt or my sister’s anger and fix that for them. They need to do that themselves, and it has to happen from within.

Today, I see a new understanding of addiction in my mom. And a different way of supporting me. She is incredibly loving and caring, but she is a little more detached—more protective of herself. As she should be.

A mother’s perspective: Jean D.


Jean DI really didn’t suspect anything when Joe was growing up. I never smelled any liquor or anything in the house. I never saw needle marks.

But his brothers and sister knew. They’re all sad that they’re not close with Joe, but they drew their boundaries long before I did. It just took me longer to learn.

Joe came home for my daughter’s wedding in 2005. And it wasn’t good. I thought, I just cannot deal with this—I need to focus on the wedding. We took Joe to the airport and sent him back to Minnesota, where he’d been in inpatient treatment. He moved into a sober house there.

He missed the wedding. I couldn’t believe I did that. That was the most harsh moment for me.

The Family Program helped us a great deal. I learned that family members need assistance through the recovery process, just as much as—sometimes even more than—the addict. That was a surprise. You have to distance yourself from the addict—take care of yourself first. That’s what hit me full force at the wedding.

The Family Program tells you that you’re not alone. There are other people who have the same feelings. We all learned that trying to maintain the family in the old way just doesn’t work. Not for lack of trying, and not for bad genes or bad personalities. It’s just the disease. Just the way it is.

It was hard for me. But you don’t give up on your child. Ever.
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