By: Kevin M. Kelly, LAP Contributing Author
I recently received the Karl Rolewick award from Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP), an award recognizing those who volunteer in the area of addictions recovery. I would like to thank LAP for the award. I am very honored and humbled at the same time.
I have been a LAP volunteer for the last 7 years, mentoring young attorneys with issues. I also have been an Alateen sponsor for the last 19 years. For those of us who work in the area of addictions recovery, all our work is done in private and behind closed doors to protect the privacy and anonymity of those with whom we work. I never discuss what is told to me by the young attorneys I mentor and told to me by the Alateens in our weekly meetings. Privacy engenders trust. After 19 years of weekly Alateen meetings held in private and in a cloak of secrecy, to be recognized publicly for my efforts is quite a treat. Thank you LAP for the honor.
Quite often, I am asked what is Alateen and what do we do in our weekly meetings. The simple answer is that Alateen is a 12 step self-help program, similar to Alanon, but focused on the teenage children of the drug addicts and alcoholics. The more thorough answer is as complex as the disease of alcoholism.
When asked what Alateen is, I usually first ask in return the person’s notion or definition of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I usually receive the same answer 90% of the time: the alcoholic drinks, the drug addict uses drugs, and the alcohol and the drugs makes the addict do crazy things. I wish alcoholism and addiction were that simple. I wish the simple solution to the disease of addiction is abstinence from alcohol and drugs. I also wish that abstinence from alcohol and drugs alone would lead to a healthy life. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
From my own personal observations, having been raised in a home with an alcoholic father, there is something about the brain of the alcoholic/drug addict which reverses the pain and pleasure sensors. As a result, the alcoholic/addict rejects everything meaningful in their lives (career, family, physical health, mental health etc.) and instead seeks out that which destroys everything meaningful in their lives (drugs, alcohol, chaos, etc.) The alcoholic/addict is drawn to chaos and bad decision-making. True recovery from addiction is more than abstinence from alcohol and drugs, more than sobriety. True recovery addresses all the bad behaviors, the bad decision-making and the self-made chaos. True recovery makes the person whole.
For the children raised in a household with an alcoholic/drug addict, the result is devastating. Teens begin to behave like the alcoholic/drug addict, begin to make all the same bad decisions, seek the same chaos and follow the same path of self-destructive behavior, even though they do not use drugs or alcohol. If not stopped, arrested or changed, the life of a child raised an alcoholic home will be equally chaotic, full of misery, full of failed relationships and constant underachievement. The job of an Alateen sponsor is to break the cycle of self destructive behavior.
When the Alateens first show up at our weekly meeting, their feelings, their fears and their angers are, for the most part, universally the same:
They feel completely isolated, as though they are the only people on the face of the earth with the problem. We show them that they are not alone.
They are thoroughly confused about why all the chaos keeps happening. We teach them that the confusion is normal, that the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction is a very baffling and which confuses most adults.
They feel guilt ridden because they have been blamed or told by the alcoholic that they are the cause of all the problems. We teach them that the alcoholic is responsible for their own lives. The teens are not at fault.
They are fearful and scared because they been told to lie and never to discuss the family problems with anybody. We teach them that Alateen is a safe place to talk about the family situation, that they will not be judged, they will not be criticized and they will not be silenced. Alateen is a place where they can find their voices.
They arrive at our doors angry about their situation. Often the anger is turned inward resulting in self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, burning and other forms of self-harm. We teach them healthy ways to deal with and express their anger and not to turn their anger inward.
They feel hopeless about their situation. Many newcomers arrive with suicidal thoughts. We teach them that even though they have been dealt a crappy hand of cards, if they focus on themselves and make good decisions, they can build a good life for themselves irrespective of whether the alcoholic is drinking or not
I asked my Alateens a few weeks before receiving the LAP award for their comments about the program and what Alateen means to them. Here are a few of their comments:
“If not for Alateen, I would not have made it to where I am now”
“If not for Alateen, I would’ve committed suicide by now”
I am so proud of my Alateens for their courage to deal with their problems openly and honestly. And to be an example of healthy behavior even if the other family members do not.
For those with addiction issues, their struggle can be and often is life or death. I cannot emphasize the gravity of this disease. My own father died from the disease of alcoholism at the age of 49. His drinking began to get out of control when he was 42 years old and I was only 11. I was 20 years old when he died. Despite his demons, he was my best friend and the most important person in my life. His death still affects me to this day because I lost the person I cherished the most.
We all need to recognize the tremendous mission of LAP, of AA, of Al-Anon and all the 12 step programs because without them, lives will be lost and families would be shattered. All the 12 step programs foster true recovery for the whole family.
I encourage everyone in our industry whether a judge, a prosecutor, an attorney in private practice, whenever you come across a situation where alcohol and drug addiction has taken hold of a family member, please refer the spouses to Al-Anon and the children to Alateen. Without addressing the effects of addiction on all the family members, true recovery is not possible and the families will continue to suffer.
KEVIN M. KELLY is a partner at Markoff Law, LLC, practicing in the areas of, Collections, Creditors Rights, Civil Litigation and Judgment Enforcement. Kevin is currently licensed to practice in the State of Illinois and in the Northern District of Illinois, and obtained his BA from Marquette University in Milwaukee WI and his JD from DePaul University College of Law. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Illinois Creditors Bar Association, and a memberof the following organizations: NARCA – National Creditors Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association. Kevin works on the Outreach Committee and State Government Affairs Committee for NARCA – National Creditors Bar Association. Kevin also is a Certified Alateen sponsor providing counseling services for teenagers and pre-teens whose parents are drug addicts and alcoholics.