By Lori Welch Brown
I missed out on summer camp as a kid. Not sure if my parents couldn’t afford it or it just wasn’t a ‘thing’ in their social circles or maybe it was a Northern thing. I don’t think I even knew what I had missed out on until I was in my twenties and overheard some coworkers from NY reminiscing about their experiences at swim and tennis camps. All I know is that it sounded magical–spending a week with virtual strangers who shared a common interest. Sitting around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, sharing stories and swapping secrets. Oh the bonding and lifelong friendships that I had missed. My husband loves telling tales about his summers spent sailing at Camp Seagull. It was a tradition he was able to pass down to his son. The closest thing I’ve come to that was what I’m calling my adult summer camp. I recently spent three days in beautiful, sunny Florida with a room full of addicts and their families. I kid you not. I would like to say I was there by choice, but nobody is selecting Camp Addiction on purpose. No flashy brochure or shiny marketing materials are sucking anyone into that destination.
Each morning I awoke early, dressed in my camp attire of comfy clothes and flip flops, took the elevator down to the hotel lobby, walked through the beautifully appointed lobby, past the Grecian style pool with water falls, poolside bar and spa. My fellow camp mates and I breathed in the ocean air while we waited for the van to pick us up for the ten minute drive to the treatment center where we would join our loved ones (treatment residents) for ‘family week.’ While I am not a parent in that I didn’t push anything through my feminine parts, I always wanted and loved children. Nowhere in that fantasy, however, included anything about rehab facilities or treatment centers. I’m pretty sure baby books don’t discuss things like emotional terrorism or other-centered relationships, all of which I am now well versed. No doubt these families saved for and dreamed of trips to Disney and Caribbean vacations, not group therapy sessions in dimly lit conference rooms where everything but water was prohibited–and that was a special concession for the occasion. And–be careful when you’re drinking not to crinkle the bottle, subconsciously twist the cap or in any way be a distraction. When you board a cruise ship, you are required to attend a mandatory orientation and so were we. Our host counselors spent an hour going through the rules of the road for the next three days. No candy, gum or food of any kind. No getting up to go to the bathroom or leave the room except for designated breaks. No sidebar conversations. No sitting with your family member/child. No unauthorized hallway conversations with your family member during break. No re-entry into a session if you step out for any reason or entry into a session if you’re late. All of the sudden, I realized my addiction to coffee and bathrooms. I wasn’t sure I would be able to white knuckle my way through each 90 minute session without either. Suddenly I was scared.
After orientation, my camp mates and I took turns going around the circle introducing ourselves. The patients–our beloved family members–aka the addicts wouldn’t be joining us until the evening so this was an opportunity for us to get to know each other and talk freely about our heartbreak. Of course, the room was to be considered a sacred vault–no words, emotions or tears would ever see the light of day. Not only was I scared, I suddenly felt claustrophobic and acutely introverted. How was I to share the resentment and anger I felt over someone close to my heart? Turns out that was the easy part. The hard part was keeping it together when they laid their lives out wide open. Suddenly the Jersey stylist, French financier, Palm Beach socialite, campaign strategist, stay at home mom, blue collar dad and I all had a lot in common. Our respective asylums were all being managed by the crazy person in our lives. Everyone’s story was unique and yet similar and filled with pain, resentment, guilt, anger, frustration and hurt. The counselors used this time to ensure us that what brought us to Camp Addiction was not our faults, but what might bring us back here-or to a cemetery-probably would be if we kept loving these people to death.
Instead of idyllic afternoons by the lake, we spent hours debating enabling. Enabling sounds very black and white. When asked, say “No.” No, we won’t buy you a car. No, we won’t pay for your cell phone. No, we don’t have any cash. This theory goes to hell in a hand basket very quickly when the addict in question resided in your womb for nine months and even trickier when you are in the dark about your loved one’s use which many of us are until the addiction is either full blown or it’s too late. Of course it is easy to stand firm in saying that no way, no how would you ever make a rent payment or pay a light bill for your little addict, but reality says you probably would which is the absolute worst thing for him/her. It is crystal clear when the woman next to you defends why she paid her son’s credit card bill when he was living in his car because she didn’t want his credit score to be impacted that SHE is bat sh@t crazy. Of course, when you rationalize that your purchase of a new MacBook was simply to aid in his/her job search, it is a different story altogether. Someone call the enabling police. It is a lesson in rewriting your brain and DNA to say ‘no’ and mean it. Saying ‘yes’ can’t be an option and it is slowly eroding their self-confidence and sending the message that they’re not capable. The end result is that they have no self-esteem and resent you for your role in their demise. Is it time to go sailing yet? Which way to the weenie roast? Please.