Group helps parents of teen drug users

NASHUA – About two years ago, after Pat Marquette discovered that her teenage son had a drug problem, she felt both guilty and alone. It didn’t help, said the Brookline mother of three, when friends stopped calling or pretended her son was no longer a part of the family.

“You feel like it’s bereavement, the death of your child. You feel anger, denial, the same as if your child had a terminal illness,” Marquette said during an interview at a local restaurant Monday.

The mother said her son was one of the lucky ones. There are few, if any, treatment programs in New Hampshire for adolescents, but the family was able to find an out-of-state program – a resource that was the beginning of her son’s recovery process.Now, Marquette wants to help other parents.

She is organizing a support group for area parents dealing with similar issues – a group that may be the only one of its kind in the state. In addition, she has put together a monthly educational series for parents that starts Nov. 10 at Hollis/Brookline High School and includes programs dealing with teenage development, setting limits, communication, underage drinking and other drug use, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and more.

Marquette said parents often feel guilty after discovering their teenager has a problem.

“Where did I go wrong? What did I do?” she said they will ask themselves. “Why did my child make these choices?”

Asking why, however, is an exercise in futility, she learned. Instead, Marquette said, she had to learn how to help her son, how to face and deal with her own feelings, and how to live without answers. She said other parents must do likewise.

“My son taught me in the process that it’s all right to be in the gray area in life,” said Marquette, explaining that prior to the family crisis she tended to see the world in sharp relief.

Marquette said she also learned that some family friends would support and accept her while others judged and rejected her after learning about her son’s problems.

“You learn as a parent and as a family,” she said.

Recently, Marquette decided to write a book about her experiences. She was eager to help others, she said, and was certain she had an audience.

“I think a lot of parents throw up their hands. One therapist told us to throw him (her son) out on the street, but we couldn’t live with that,” she said. “I feel there are so many kids out there that need help and direction and are not fortunate to have (resources).”

During a conversation with an educational consultant, Marquette realized she could help area families more directly by organizing a parents’ support group: a regular meeting where parents with drug-involved teenagers could meet privately to share their stories and resources.

“Parents with kids who are doing well say, ‘It will never happen in my family,’” said Marquette. “It only happens in dysfunctional families or after there’s trauma in a family.”

But she said her family suffered neither trauma nor dysfunction prior to her son’s drug involvement.

When she speaks with parents, Marquette tells them that children and families are unique. There is not one approach that fits every situation; in fact, the best she can do as a helper is to share her experiences and offer her support.

What she offers, however, is something she said trained therapists and other professionals often lack.

“No one can really know what the parent is feeling, they can’t relate (unless they’ve had the experience),” she said.

When she was doing research, Marquette could find no parent support groups in the state. The Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, which has existed for 13 years in Massachusetts, assisted her in setting up the New Hampshire group.

Marquette said she doesn’t expect a large turnout for the first few parent support meetings. But if she can help even one family, she will be satisfied.

“You’ve got to remember, it takes a lot for someone to go to a meeting, to admit they have a problem, and admit they need help,” she said.

But she is also hoping her efforts ripple into the community.

“To outsiders who don’t have these issues, I want to say, ‘Don’t be so quick to turn your back, because when you do, you make it even harder for families, for kids, to get through it,’ ” she said.