ORLANDO | Julia Hayden sat on the floor of her room sobbing and broken. Her leg still in a brace after a serious car accident during her recent move to Florida, she was reeling from the phone call that ended minutes earlier. Her son had just informed her he was using heroin. “In that moment I realized I had been waiting for decades for him to hit bottom, so I could fix it all, make it right finally. Really, I had been living at bottom throughout his addiction,” she said.
She prayed and recalled reading an article about PAL – Parents of Addicted Loved ones, four years earlier – a peer-to-peer support group for family members with addicted loved ones. She visited the PAL website and drove 50 miles to the nearest meeting. She recalls, “The fingerprints of God’s healing cradle are all over that moment.” She arrived hobbling around with crutches in hand. “I got into my seat. I couldn’t say anything. I thought I might vomit. I cried. I had to change. An amazing woman, the PAL facilitator, hugged me that night and my journey of healing began.”
The following week Florida went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hayden continued PAL meetings via Zoom. In time, she found strength and resolved to pay it forward, training as a facilitator.
PAL is a national organization present in 45 states. Family members and other 18 years of age and older and sober are welcome at the weekly meetings. Following a 12-week curriculum, participants are welcome to repeat the series as many times as they wish, and most do. “PAL goes with you and grows with you,” she said.
“We understand everyone experiences this journey at their own pace.”
The defined curriculum is based on research and offers proven ways for parents to help their children and themselves, Hayden explained. Facilitators are vetted, trained, reviewed, and monitored through PAL. The group offers support with confidentiality.
“We invite people to take what they want and leave the rest. We don’t offer advice and we don’t judge,” said Hayden, who is not a counselor and makes that clear at the start of her meetings. PAL encourages participants to also seek trusted professional help.
The free meetings are faith-based and begins in prayer. The program offers fact-based information, insight into understanding addiction, and offers coping tools and support.
“We help parents understand the disease of addiction and the dis-ease that our loved ones experience,” Hayden said. “Our loved ones have dis-ease in their life. They are often not equipped with the coping strategies to handle life’s problems. Minus those coping strategies, they return to using.
“We take the spotlight off the addict and put it on us and our recovery,” she added. “PAL focuses on delayed emotional growth in our loved ones, healthy versus unhealthy help, enabling, roles of family members, the road to recovery. We also make it clear that relapse is not failure. It is a signal that our loved ones need to reset their recovery, learn and continue to seek sobriety.”
After reaching out to the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud, Hayden was referred to Gary Tester, president of Catholic Charities of Central Florida (CCCF), who works with Project Opioid, a coalition that brings together business, faith, government, and philanthropic leaders to battle the overdose crisis in their communities. The coalition reports nearly 450,000 people lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses in the last decade and pandemic isolation and depression is quickly increasing those numbers.
With these facts in mind, Tester gave PAL a seal of approval to go forth and meetings began at the church in August 2021.
“Families and individuals across central Florida are impacted by alcohol and other drug use, abuse and addiction and opioid use is at an all-time high,” Tester said. “Economic woes, exacerbated by a pandemic now two years long, have contributed to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression, resulting in a desire to escape these challenging realities. The mission of CCCF, is to embrace all those in need with hope, transforming their lives through faith, compassion, and service. Families dealing with addicted loved ones are seeking hope in desperate times.”
Tester said it is natural that Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Orlando would join this healing mission, “given the sacred dignity of each human life.”
“Working with Parents of Addicted Loved ones (PAL) and Project Opioid is simply a natural extension of our mission,” he said.
Father Derek Saldanha, parochial administrator of St. Thomas Aquinas, said he is happy to have PAL at the parish, making the program available to parishioners and the surrounding community.
“Addiction is a reality in our society that has affected many families,” he shared. “PAL gives families an opportunity to deal with this challenge and receive healing. A few parishioners have approached me personally expressing their gratitude.”
Meetings are offered in person and via Zoom simultaneously for family members who find it difficult to get away. Currently, meetings are held once per week at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, St. Cloud and at St. James Cathedral, Orlando.
Hayden said PAL saved her and refers to the program as “God’s red carpet to healing.”
“It is a ministry of disciples making disciples. Just as addiction travels through addicts, healing travels through parents and God,” she said. “God has given me fortitude. I know that all in life will be put right in time, and I am living that at this moment.”
For more information regarding PAL or meetings, contact email@example.com or call 518-951-9610.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, November 10, 2021