Gloria Englund witnessed what opioid addiction does to a loved one for nearly 20 years.
She worked with her oldest son, Aaron, while he was struggling with heroin addiction and did everything she could to help him.
Englund tried to bring Aaron to different treatment centers for aid, but there was not enough information available about opioid addiction to help treat her son.
She did not know enough about the illness to effectively treat her son, and she was limited by the information available while Aaron was struggling.
“I blamed my son for his illness for years,” Englund said. “I’m not proud of that, but I didn’t know any better.
“He couldn’t stop using drugs when I knew in his heart that he didn’t want to. I should have known that this is a horrible disease and he progressed to the point where he couldn’t recover, which is why he died.”
Aaron died in 2007 of a heroin overdose. He was 33 years old.
Making a difference
Rather than letting her grief overcome her, England, a Richfield resident, used itto help others who have struggled with opioid addiction.
“I’m never going to get my son back, but his loss is the tip of the iceberg,” Englund said. “Since his death in 2007, there have been over 100,000 people that have died.
“This isn’t about Aaron, but about what we can do to help people who are struggling with this illness and to inform the public that this is an incurable brain disease.”
In the nine years since Aaron died, doctors and experts have uncovered new information about opioid addiction that seems to contradict past ideas.
“The social norm is that the addicts aren’t trying hard enough, they don’t have enough willpower and that there is a character defect in these people,” Englund said. “They’re chronically ill. People don’t understand that the brain only focuses on meeting its need for the substance once you get to a certain stage of addiction.
“This disease is no different from diabetes and heart disease. The medical community is willing to pay for those diseases, but it isn’t willing to pay for the disease of addiction.”
Englund believes that she was initially ignorant of her son’s situation, and there was not enough information about her son’s situation at that time.
“I really feel I did everything I could with what I had,” Englund said. “If I had known how ill he was rather than a behavioral disorder, it would have been completely different.
“I would have had more compassion with him, but I didn’t have the knowledge then.”
Englund, in the nine years since her son’s death, has advocated for recovery and worked on a way to shift the preconceived perception of opioid addiction, as well as shift the way that the media perceives the disease.
“There’s so much out there right now about all the devastation about all the deaths related to opioid addiction,” Englund said. “We need to do that to bring awareness to the devastation of the illness, but not a lot of people are talking about how to prevent this to begin with, what we can do to help people who are addicted now and to prevent them from dying.”
Sharing the knowledge
Englund believed the best way to prevent addicts from dying was to write about her son’s battle and what she has learned in the time since he died.
“As I was recovering from his illness, I was keeping a journal and this voice inside of me told me to share this with other people so they don’t have to go through what I went through,” Englund said.
Englund began writing the book, but she had trouble finding a focus for it until her editor suggested how she could best get her message across.
“The book started out being a book about my grief journey and a little bit of advocacy, but she told me to focus on what’s going on right now, which is the opioid epidemic,” Englund said. “She told me people needed this book.”
Englund began working on the book and became a recovery coach to help other parents dealing with the same situations she dealt with while treating her son’s illness.
After years of research and writing, Englund’s book, “Living in the Wake of Addiction: Lessons for Courageous Caregiving,” was released in October 2015.
While Englund works with as many people as she can, she hoped the book would allow others to learn more about the disease to better treat someone going through opioid addiction.
“I didn’t want it to be just a memoir,” she said. “I wanted it to provide people with a solution or with some places to go for education. I wanted to change the conversation from all the death to where people can go to get help and how the parents and loved ones can get help.”
What can be done
Changing the conversation about opioid addiction has been Englund’s goal from the start, as she has found that many people focus on the wrong aspects of addiction rather than ways to prevent current addicts from dying.
Englund believes the first step in changing the conversation involves changing the way the disease is discussed.
“We have to get the media behind educating people rather than focusing on all the drama,” Englund said. “That’s what I mean when I say we need to change the conversation.”
Englund cited a recent documentary that focused mainly on the addicts who had been using the drug and the drama surrounding opioid addiction, while spending a short amount of time showing how opioid addicts can possibly recover.
“The documentary made it seem that addiction only impacts a certain group of people, which isn’t accurate,” Englund said. “This is an illness that’s crossing all socioeconomic boundaries, which is good to know.”
Englund also believes that more money should be invested into learning more about how addiction impacts the brain.
“The biggest thing we can do to prevent substance use disorders is to put more money into research of the brain,” Englund said. “We know we can trace a pattern, but we don’t know what part mental illness plays into addiction.”
Since this release of her book, Englund has continued to work as a recovery coach through her consultancy, Recovering U, which offers recovery coaching and grief support, while also presenting workshops and presentations to those in need.
Englund has also worked to advocate for the pending Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 that would work to expand prevention and educational efforts, to prevent the abuse of opioids and heroin and to promote treatment and recovery.
To learn more about Englund, her story and her book, visit her website recoveringu.com.
Contact Chris Chesky at firstname.lastname@example.org.