Lorie still occasionally wakes up in a panic in the middle of the night, channeling the 3 a.m. call a decade ago telling her that her 19-year-old collegian son was having seizures.
Unaware that it was an early sign of the addictions he still battles, Lorie and her 13-year-old daughter rushed to the car for the two-hour drive to his school.
“I don’t remember the drive, but I do remember the fear on our faces,” she said.
The seizures stopped, but Lorie’s son was unconscious and courting death with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.389 percent. The incident resurrected the specter of her brother’s death of an overdose of alcohol and cocaine when he was 26 and she was 24.
Lorie, who asked that her last name not be used, persuaded her son to return home for a time, but she was flabbergasted to pick up his belongings.
“When he went in, his friends were cheering, saying how entertaining he had been and how much fun they had had,” she said, adding that this drunken episode came after friends bought him 27 shots.
“Part of me wanted to punch them,” Lorie said in an interview. “He almost died, and that’s the disconnect.”
Even as Lorie and her daughter agonized, “he slept through it,” she said. “That incident didn’t change his behavior.”
Lorie is one of three women who will speak about their children’s struggles with addictions during the first in a series of free public presentations titled “Addiction and the Family.” Several organizations are sponsoring the series, which start with the mothers’ perspectives, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Cargill Room at Riverside Center at 332 Front St. S. in La Crosse. A clinical explanation of addiction will precede their comments and a question-and-answer period.
Six months after the initial episode, Lorie and her son’s girlfriend persuaded him to seek help. When he was 21, he attempted to find different friends and a different atmosphere, she said.
“Crying, begging, pleading wasn’t helpful,” she said.
Since then, “moments of sobriety are precious,” she said. “During moments of relapse, I don’t stop caring. As a mother, it’s not built into our genetic code to give up on our child.”
How to cope with addiction also isn’t in that code, but she testifies to the value of aids such “Get Your Loved One Sober” at Coulee Council on Addictions, one of the series’ co-sponsors.
“I tried to change the pattern I grew up with — I didn’t want to repeat it,” she said, adding that she wasn’t saying her parents were at fault.
She decried what she described as “name-calling. I hate the words alcoholic and addiction. My son has a substance abuse issue. If he had cancer or diabetes, we also would ask for help. I love him just the way he is, just as I would if he had cancer or diabetes.”
At the same time, she sought help, saying, “I was just as broken as my son” and needed help developing skills to cope, too.
“It’s a roller-coaster. It’s a disease — a family disease,” she said. “We need help and support because the disease is too tricky, too cunning.”
She underscored the need to talk to relieve stress, saying, “If I keep it bottled up, I’m not a good mom, not a good wife. If I don’t set a good example, it isn’t a credit to my son.”
One her most satisfying moments came when her daughter attended a counseling session and thanked the counselor “for fixing my mom.”
“I can’t even express how huge it was for me to hear her say that. It gave me hope,” she said. “I’m changing the family dynamic.”
Also addressing the session Wednesday night will be Jean, who also asked that only her first name be used, whose daughter has been in recovery for six years.
With an “out-of-control addition” to opioids, her daughter developed an infection in a heart valve from injecting drugs in a vein. It was so serious that her life hung in the balance, Jean said.
“She had a friend come in to the hospital and sneak her drugs, and she crashed” again — again nearly dying, Jean said.
Jean took videos that she was able to show her daughter — in an ice bed to cool her raging temperature — how horrible she looked. The infection was in her brain and heart and, after the relapse, she wasn’t even able to read.
Ordered into treatment, her daughter responded with what Jean said was motivation from how far she had fallen, and she is doing well at age 30.
“If she hadn’t had that experience, I don’t know if she would be alive,” she said.
“In the midst of addiction, you basically are not sane anymore,” she said. “The lives are very scary. They can’t live in the house because they will steal to get more drugs.”
Despite such transgressions, Jean said, “We love our daughter, and we wanted to help her, but we needed to get help for ourselves.”
Jean also used Coulee Council’s “Get Your Loved One Sober,” which also is the topic of several books and a common regimen at recovery facilities, along with reading self-help books and attending support groups at Coulee Council.
Both women said one of the keys to battling addiction is to talk about it publicly as the debilitating health problem it is instead of treating it as a hush-hush stigma.
Dee Paqué, a board member of the Mental Health Coalition of the Greater La Crosse Area, which is a co-sponsor of the series, is one of the driving forces of and serves on the committee for the family sessions.
“I started thinking about this when I kept reading obituaries about families who lost young ones to overdoses,” she said.
“I thought, ‘If it’s bothering me, then mothers and fathers who are struggling need help,’” said Paqué, a retired social worker from Gundersen Health System.
Noting that she has friends and family who have been sober for 20 to 25 years, she said, “I know it’s possible to recover from addiction. How different people get to that sobriety is different.”
Discussing cases and emotions is important, as well as being courageous enough to confront people with addictions, Paqué said.
“Some parents are afraid to confront family members — afraid that they will get mad,” she said. “I used to tell them they have a choice: to have them mad or dead.”