FIVE YEARS AGO, Megan wrote in her journal that she wished she were a better parent.

She has come a long way from that moment when she thought her son’s drug addiction was her fault.

“I know differently now — that I didn’t cause it, I can’t fix it, but I can love him,” she said.

Sue, sitting across the table from Megan, quickly responded: “But you can’t let it consume your life.”

“That’s right, and he was,” Megan said.

The women were attending a Nar-Anon meeting Wednesday in Waterville where confidentiality is a priority, so I am not using their real names here. Nar-Anon is a 12-step program for friends and family of those who are addicted. Group members say they find strength in hearing stories from those who are going through similar experiences. They also learn that addiction is a disease; they have no power over it. And while they can not change the addict, they can change themselves and live a happy life.

Megan’s son, an addict who has been incarcerated nearly a year, was released recently, and while she is optimistic, she knows not to try to predict the future. The group, she said, has given her strength.

“It’s given me the understanding and the feeling that my life is going to go on, no matter what I do, what I say. It’s taken away the guilt that I caused my son’s addiction, that I could have prevented it.”

The women speak candidly about addiction and how it wreaks havoc, not only for the addict, but for friends and family members. Nar-Anon provides a safe place for friends and family to learn new ways of dealing with the situation and finding some peace in their own lives.

Sue, the group facilitator, said attendance has been small, and she and the others hope more people will join. The meetings, which started in May this year, are held at 6 p.m. Wednesdays in a room the Kennebec Club allows to Nar-Anon to use in the basement of The Center at 93 Main St. downtown. People wanting to attend may call Sue at 594-2801, but that is not necessary — they may just show up, she said.

“One thing I think is incredible is that we have this meeting, and Waterville has such a drug problem, and we can’t figure out why people don’t come,” she said. “The big thing is, we’re confidential, we’re caring. You’ll feel much better after you come. You’ll feel supported.”

Sue brought a friend to the meeting who told us a story about her cousin whom she described as a wonderful and bright person, but in the 1970s he got into drugs.

“He had a family. He couldn’t shake it. He ended up living in New York City in a box. There was a lot of pain for my aunt in dealing with it. He died. His liver gave out, but the last five years of his life, he was clean. That was some peace for my aunt, but it was difficult.”

The four who attended Wednesday’s meeting were professional people, friendly, open. They have struggled for many years with their loved ones’ addictions and say that being able to talk with others who “get it” is empowering.

Jeff, who has been attending since August, talked about his son, a heroin addict who is now in a rehabilitation center. His son, he said, had a sports injury when he was younger, was prescribed narcotics by his doctor and ultimately started taking drugs such as heroin that he could get illegally, and easily.

Jeff said he had seen his son more than once lying on the floor, his eyes rolled back in his head, a needle sticking out of his skin. He has been visiting his son in rehab and taking part in group discussions there, but he worries about what will happen when his son is released.

He also struggles with the past.

“It’s still so hard and complex to figure out because I have so much fear and resentment for what’s occurred in our lives,” he said.

At the rehab center, it’s mostly young people, and Jeff has been the only family member to visit, he said.

“My son sees that a lot of them are worse off than he is. A lot of them don’t have family.”

At one point in the meeting, Sue read aloud a quote she said she reads at practically every session she has facilitated:

“If I’m willing to stand aside and let God’s will be done, I free myself from personal anxiety and a mistaken sense of responsibility.”

“I think that says it very well — that once kids turn 18 and they’re doing this, we certainly want to love them and care for them in a certain way, but we can’t do everything for them because they’ve got to make a decision themselves to get help.”

Because the group members are so comfortable with each other, I ask if they knew each other before they started attending. They said they did not.

“You get close very quickly,” Sue said.

Jeff recalled how difficult it was for him to open up about his son.

“Up until this year, I had a very hard time admitting my son is an addict. He’s very ill, and we’re trying to help him and I’m not ashamed of it. I was at first. He’s just a victim of the circumstances that exist in our society, and our society is dominated by drugs and crime and upheaval.”

They talked about how they feel better when their family member who is addicted is in jail or rehab, as they don’t worry about where they are and what they are doing. Megan said that when her son was released from prison, she realized she was excited for him, which surprised her.

“I’m excited that he can begin this new life, and let’s hope for the best,” she said.

Sue offered her hope that he can change his life.

“I’ve seen wonderful things happen to kids. They go out into the community and tell others what they have been through and counsel other kids or work in rehabs. He might get that opportunity. If he doesn’t have a job, he can certainly go to a rehab and say, ‘Do you need any help or counselors?’ ”

Many young people became addicted after being injured, but older people do as well after having hip or knee surgeries, according to Sue.

“It’s not just a bunch of kids doing drugs at a party,” she said.

Drug addiction, she said, is widespread, and more people are affected than one may think.

“You could ask anybody on the street, in the church or grocery store if they have a person in their family that is addicted and they will say, ‘Yes.’ That’s how prominent it is in these towns.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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