When I founded FOA Families of Addicts in late 2014, my goal was to bring people together to rebuild families and transform lives. It was an ambitious goal. As a person in long-term recovery, I knew about alcoholism from my own experiences and had attended a 12-step program, which truly saved my life. But when my daughter, April, became addicted to heroin, it was an animal of a different color. I just didn’t relate to her addiction like I understood my own. I started asking questions, and we began a dialogue.
April reminded me that her addiction was an illness and shared openly how she got to that place in her life. She let me into her world, answering my questions and helping me to understand how the culture works. Addiction is a disease recognized by the American Medical Association. It is not a moral failing or lack of willpower. I wanted other families to get the same education I was getting, so I founded FOA to promote recovery and help families to heal. Seven years later, we continue to provide hope while touching thousands of lives in the Miami Valley every year.
FOA, a nonprofit organization with a volunteer board of directors, has become a trusted resource in the region over the years. Our mission can be understood from the three E’s: we educate, empower and embrace families, friends and individuals struggling with addiction by providing support and promoting recovery.
FOA doesn’t attempt to replace treatment programs, which are led by trained professionals. With FOA, you’ll meet regular people — families and other loved ones of those who have been there and are not only surviving but thriving. We give hope to families and individuals, and we encourage families to open communication pathways. As the adage goes, knowledge is power. We have a lot to learn from one another.
One of our outreach strategies in typical times is to attend recovery-related events with information and resources. As soon as we started attending these events, families began calling, desperately looking for support, and many times, referrals to treatment programs for a loved one. They were absolutely terrified and did not know how to navigate the systems in place to help people with substance use disorders. We were able to help them access treatment that fit their specific needs and circumstances.
For example, for someone who doesn’t have transportation, we would look for a treatment center closer to home while providing one-on-one support to the caller. We know that we must act quickly when a person who uses drugs is ready to take the step to enter a treatment program because the window of opportunity to help our loved one is a very narrow one.
In addition to one-on-one support, we offer weekly meetings, where we share stories, bring in relevant speakers and celebrate even the smallest milestones to provide encouragement to one another. Newcomers have described themselves and their families as broken and without hope. By their third meeting, they are often sharing their own stories, seeking advice and adding more to the conversation. Families learn quickly that others have had similar experiences, and that gives them hope that families can and do recover too.
FOA is unique because we provide support for the entire family. An important part of our work is to advocate for individuals to find their face and voice, which is key to eliminating the stigma associated with addiction. During our annual Rally 4 Recovery in Dayton, drawing over 3,000 people in recovery and their families, who gather to share the message that those struggling with substance use disorder are not alone. Families are not alone. Our message is that treatment works and individuals and families can get better. It is important that our rally takes place in public, in front of the community, and without shame. Some may underestimate the power behind this event because in addition to being a face and voice for the community to witness, we are eliminating the stigma associated with addiction and providing connections to treatment.
We were extremely disappointed when we had to cancel the 2020 in-person rally, but we adapted for the safety and well-being of our community. We continue to meet virtually, but we know there are barriers that keep people from joining. Technology can be a major barrier. To attend a virtual meeting, you need access to a reliable computer and internet connection. We are very anxious to be able to meet again in person.
We hear from individuals and families regularly about how FOA has transformed their lives and relationships. One participant shared, “I went through a 12 ½-year journey of loving a person who was an addict. I thought I was the only person out there going through this. … If we talk about our experience, it helps us heal. I don’t want other people to go through what I have gone through.”
FOA works to fill a gap in services for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones. Often, families need a compassionate space to ask questions without judgment or stigma. As we educate our peers on addiction, we provide a space for people to share their stories, which is incredibly empowering. Unfortunately, people who use drugs may face judgment and stigma, even in treatment and recovery spaces. We value people in recovery, something they may not feel elsewhere. To us, they are our biggest educators and heroes. They have so much to give.
Today, FOA offers two weekly virtual meetings due to the pandemic, so people can join from anywhere. Meetings are also offered in person in Clark and Van Wert counties. When we resume in-person meetings, we will continue with four locations — Dayton, Springfield, Sidney and Van Wert, serving Montgomery, Clark, Shelby, Miami, Darke and Van Wert counties. For more information, visit https://www.foafamilies.org/meetings.
If you know anyone who would benefit from connecting with FOA, please have them text HELLO to 844-844-2362 for one-on-one nonjudgmental and compassionate assistance through our NEW FOA Navigator Network warmline.