The Fix Q&A with Barbara Theodosiou, founder of “The Addict’s Mom,” on how to take action when faced with every mother’s nightmare.
In 2008, Barbara Theodosiou, a South Florida mother of four, found out that two of her sons were addicted to drugs. Overwhelmed by the pain, not knowing where to turn, she almost succumbed to every mother’s nightmare. Lying in the pit of her bed, despair swallowed her every waking hour.
Rather than drowning in her own brokenness, Barbara got out of bed, stood up, and decided to take action. If the true story of the American dream is a fight against incredible odds, facing adversity with courage and hope, then Barbara’s story is a modern realization. Not of a dream because the suffering continues, but of the transformation of a nightmare into a supportive reality of consolation and solidarity.
By taking that first step and starting The Addict’s Mom as a Facebook page, Barbara Theodosiou began a movement that has grown to help countless thousands across the country. United behind the credos of “Sharing without Shame,” and “Together We Really Are Stronger,” thousands of mothers have joined The Addict’s Mom group fan pages on Facebook. The Addict’s Mom launched a free membership site, giving mothers support, valuable low-cost resources to help their addicted children and a place to share with other mothers.
Today, with over 25,000 members and chapters in every state of the country, the website and forums of The Addict’s Mom have proven to be an invaluable support network and a lightning rod for progressive advocacy. Representing a true symbol of the ongoing fight against the disease of addiction and each addict’s prospect for long-term recovery, The Fix is honored to interview Barbara Theodosiou.
Barbara, let’s start at the beginning with a look at the microcosm of your own experience that led to the founding of The Addict’s Mom (TAM). I know it’s difficult, but can you tell us about the onset of your experience with addiction?
I discovered within a six-month period that two of my sons were addicts. My first reaction was that I became physically sick. I was completely lost in the sadness of addiction. On the outside, to the world, I appeared to be doing well. I was a woman of great personal and professional success. I had a nice house, a nice job, and I was the founder of a women’s business organization so I guess it appeared like I had it all. But, on the inside, I was broken and I honestly felt like I shattered into a million pieces. It was through my own brokenness that The Addict’s Mom was born.
I knew deep inside that there was no way in this world that I was the only mom who was suffering like this. I knew there had to be so many other moms going through the same horror that I was experiencing. I wanted to connect with those moms and create a place where their pain and feelings could be shared; a safe place where moms could share without shame.
Barbara, I know this is a horribly difficult question, but you told me about one of your sons recently relapsing. If it’s okay, can you give us a play-by-play of what happened for the benefit of other mothers that might now be experiencing the same terrible reality?
This relapse was pretty horrific. I have been going through this for the past eight years, and it never gets any easier. But this was a very horrific relapse. My son was once again in treatment at the time. When a child is in treatment, it gives you a sense of hope. A relapse destroys that hope.
I received a call that my son had left treatment, and they did not know where he had gone, although he had mentioned something about going to this one local area, probably to get drugs. I then received a phone call from him, and I decided to pick up the phone. It’s a big struggle for mothers, whether or not we should pick up the phone. Should we do tough love and let them fall even when every maternal instinct is telling you to never let them fall because this is your child and everything inside cries out for you to help them.
This time I picked up the phone and Daniel could barely say a single word. He was smashed. From past experience, I knew by the way he was talking that he was going to be unconscious very, very shortly. I kept saying desperately, “Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, stay on the phone, stay on the phone!” I grabbed my other phone and I called the police. I kept asking him, “Daniel, what’s in front of you? What are you looking at? Where are you? Do you see anything around you that you recognize?”
But he could barely say a word. He did mumble that he was in West Palm Beach, and I knew he had mentioned going to Riverside Drive. The police began actively searching for him while I tried to keep him on the phone. Every five or 10 minutes, he would garble something into the receiver so I did know he was still there, but he couldn’t utter an intelligible sentence. And I knew he was passing out and the police still could not find him; they tried to trace his phone but that didn’t work. Then, within about 45 minutes to an hour, as I am sitting there screaming in the phone, trying to do anything I can to keep my son from going unconscious, begging him to talk to me—“Please pick up the phone, Daniel, please just talk to me, Daniel, just stay on the phone…”—he was found and taken to a hospital.
After the hospital, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital because he had fallen into a drug-induced psychosis. Daniel was placed on a 72-hour involuntary emergency commitment that in Florida is known as the Baker Act and is designed keep someone from harming themselves or others. When it happens, it is referred to as being Baker Acted. For the last couple of days, my singular focus has been to find a mental health track dual diagnosis treatment program for him. I want to get him the treatment he needs.
But my world has stopped. It just stops when this happens. No matter what is happening, everything else gets thrown aside. That’s why, John, I even called you and I said, “Can I please move the interview back?” and I appreciated how supportive and understanding you were when we spoke. I was running back and forth to the hospital, gathering all the things he had left at the rehab, trying to clean up this horrific mess. No matter how many times this happens, you never really get that used to it no matter how many times it happens. I mean, you do, but you don’t. And I just thought for sure this time, “He’s dead.” You always play out the worst scenarios in your head. It is so awful.
As mothers of addicts, we become traumatized. Do you know that I turn off my phone at night? It has become a habit. I just shut it. From 10 at night until the morning, I leave it off because I can’t bear anymore of those phone calls. I trust in God, but it is what it is. I just can’t pick it up. As many years as I have been doing this—eight long years—this relapse was just terrifying. Read more “the fix”….