Note: I could write a book about the development and evolution of Be a Part of the Conversation. The following post simply reflects the more personal aspects of this journey. Please know that my gratitude for the incalculable number of people who have inspired, led and contributed to the growth of Be a Part of the Conversation is beyond measure. Thank you.

If you and I met any time after May 3, 2011, it was most likely because you attended a Be a Part of the Conversation community event or a parent support group meeting. Or maybe you got my number because you love someone who is struggling with substance use and you were looking for resources and support. If so, thank you for taking this journey with me and the thousands of others who have been a part of the “conversation” these past ten years!

Of course, we do much more than have conversations. We educate, illuminate, and connect people to treatment services and other helpful resources. We share our personal struggles, triumphs, and “lessons learned.” We have passed along countless phone numbers and email addresses to others in our network who helped us and just might help you.

There have been two times in my life that the stars magically aligned in order to change my life and the lives of those I love. The first time was on March 1, 2010. A friend of my then-21-year-old son, Daniel, was calling to tell me that he was very concerned about Daniel’s escalating drug use. When I think back to that moment, it felt dark, terrifying and lonely. Daniel’s friend introduced me to a university professor, who directed me to an addiction psychiatrist, who recommended an interventionist. By March 13th, that friend, his roommate, my then-husband, Michael, and our daughter, Anna (18 at the time), led by the professional, carried out an intervention. Daniel has not had a drink or drug since that day.

Two days later, Michael and I attended our first parent support group meeting. I seriously get chills when I think about how lost I would have been, and would continue to be, without the compassion, understanding, and dedication of those other parents. They guided us through one of the most horrific times in our lives.

One year later, the stars once again lined up at the exact, perfect moment. I was working for the Hatboro-Horsham Educational Foundation when I received a staff email blast announcing the formation of a new project called “Be a Part of the Conversation,” intended to raise awareness about substance use and addiction. I was eager to get involved and offered my experience as a graphic designer to help acquaint the community with the project. After only one year of being in the company of parents who understood my pain, confusion and fear, along with therapists, people in recovery and other treatment professionals, I had already developed an amazing support system in a world that I never knew existed. It was because of that network that I felt healthy enough to begin the work of becoming a resource for other families.

Why didn’t I already know about this expansive, invaluable world that is dedicated to understanding addiction and supporting recovery? One word: stigma.

I am fully aware of my good fortune when it comes to friends and family. While so many stories I’ve heard along the way have a frequent theme of shame and judgement, my shame came from within. I can honestly count on one hand how many times I felt judged after explaining to an acquaintance why my son was no longer in college and that he had a substance use disorder. However, instead of judgement, my friends and family offered support. I have heard countless stories to the contrary, with old “friends” avoiding those touched by addiction. But I wasn’t alone. I had a husband who was a regular at parent groups and Naranon meetings, and we were unified in our relationship with Daniel. While Anna was mired in her own uphill journey in early adulthood, she tirelessly searched for understanding of the changes her brother was going through. (Side note here: If you know someone who has a sibling with a substance use disorder, please show that someone some extra love. All too often, siblings are lost in the chaos and tumult of a family in crisis.) My mom was 81 when Daniel got sober, and to this day she is able to hear some very frightening stories about her grandson’s substance use, and she has nothing but support and compassion for anyone enduring the same kind of pain.

And then there are my friends. Not the friends that came along in the post-awareness world – they totally get it because they’ve lived it. But here I’m talking about my friends who have known Daniel all of his life, and who didn’t have a child with possession charges, or the need for rehab, or unfamiliar rules about visits and “boundaries.” I have so much gratitude for the tender and boundless love they gave us so freely when we needed it most.

The friends I’ve made post-awareness often express disappointment that there are no casseroles delivered when a child goes to rehab or has been arrested and there are court dates and therapy sessions and a tangle of emotions. How fortunate for us that we literally came home from driving Daniel to rehab to find a cooler filled with food from a friend who knew about our plans for the intervention earlier in the day. One of my personal goals in reducing stigma is that everyone who loves someone with a substance use disorder feel as accepted, loved, and cared for as we did that day.

To this day, my friends are the biggest cheerleaders for Daniel, our whole family, and for me and this organization that often takes my time, energy and attention away from them. I love them with all my heart.

My two remarkable and resilient children have been beyond supportive of this organization’s growth. Daniel has been consistently selfless in his willingness to allow me to share stories from his life that are deeply personal, and potentially subject to derision. His hope is that someone might benefit from his, and our, experience. I do not have words to express my gratitude for his life, and his life in recovery. Like so many people who have trudged the same road, he could write volumes about what he has learned about courage and grace. And Anna, my hero, astonishes me every day in her journey through a life that has thrown obstacles in her path that would take down giants. Someday I hope to be half the woman she is today. She was my brainstorming buddy on many a road trip as she helped me to imagine what this organization could become.

Michael, the best “was-band” ever, has been an ambassador for Be a Part of the Conversation since day one. He believed in and helped to create the vision, facilitated many breakout groups, often served as our photographer, and shlepped food, tables and chairs in our early years. He continues to be a resource for other parents who are where he was all those years ago.

Work life became exponentially better when Judy Hirsh joined Be a Part of the Conversation in 2018 as the Program Director and became my sister-from-another-mister. Her life experience and passion for increasing awareness about substance use have been invaluable to our growth. Kara Schwartz joined the family last fall as our Communications Manager, taking our marketing and outreach to the next level with her fresh and imaginative perspective. And after a decade of informally providing advice and guidance, local therapist, Mike Blanche became our Clinical Advisor earlier this year. I am deeply indebted to these remarkable co-workers and friends, and their unlimited creativity and innovation.

If Be a Part of the Conversation were a boat, Judy, Kara and Mike would be the sails that keep us moving forward. Our Board of Directors, past and present members alike, would be the rudder, consistently steering us in the right direction with their sites on a future that is bright and unafraid of rough seas. And our tireless volunteers and professional consultants would be the life rafts that are launched on a daily basis, providing families in crisis with hope for calmer days ahead.

Remember all those stars that lined up and helped my son to find recovery, and me to find my life’s work? That isn’t normal. We shouldn’t have to experience a magical alignment of celestial beings to find help for addiction. My greatest wish is that Be a Part of the Conversation provide a bridge to all the gifts that await the families who are still in the dark.

If Be a Part of the Conversation has accomplished anything in our first 10 years, I hope it is this: that those who have a substance use disorder, and the families and friends who love them, know they are not alone, believe that they are valuable and vital and deserve our compassion, and feel welcome to access this big, beautiful world of recovery from addiction that is out here waiting for them.

With love and gratitude,
Kim Porter, CFRS
Executive Director, Be a Part of the Conversation

Kim Porter, CFRS
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