Former BC NDP leader Carole James’ private struggle with her son's drugs and alcohol addiction

Carole James in 2011. Photo by David P. Ball.

I was recently interviewed on NEWS 1130 radio here in Vancouver about the very touching story that has surfaced regarding former BC NDP leader Carole James and her son’s addiction.

When I initially became aware of this, my first thought was about the harrowing ordeal this family has gone through—with virtually nowhere to turn for help.

Ms. James’ son Evan—now 28, clean and sober—first began using drugs and alcohol when he was 16. At this time, Ms. James was in the process of getting her professional career off the ground and would later become quite a well-known public figure.

But more importantly, at this point in time, there was little understanding of the depth of pain and anguish this kind of addiction also causes family members and friends. That kind of awareness was not even on the radar then—certainly not the way it is today.

Today there are many avenues for help open to alcoholics and addicts. In fact, there are currently 12-Step programs for virtually any addictive behaviour you can think of—which I think is a wonderful thing. Addiction is finally being talked about as the very serious condition that it is, which can only be positive for our society as a whole.

One of the benefits of bringing this to the light is that it helps to dissipate the shameful stigma that has been attached to addiction for a very long time, finally allowing people to accept the stark reality of their situation and reach out for the help they so desperately need.

Where to turn?

Unfortunately, when Ms. James’ family was in the beginning throes of hell with Evan’s ever-progressing addiction, there weren’t a lot of places they could turn to for help. Twelve-Step programs existed then—Al-Anon being one of them—but I can well imagine that for a public figure like Carole, going there could be somewhat of a dicey choice.

Until recently, there have been very few other resources for people in her position as loved ones of addicts and alcoholics. Thankfully that is beginning to change now—but in my opinion, this change is still happening far too slowly.

For every one addict—regardless of what the addictive behaviour is—there are any number of people, both family and other loved ones, who are being negatively affected by that person’s addiction. There are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, bosses, colleagues, fellow students, teachers—the list just goes on. They are all having a really hard time too, as they witness someone they care deeply about destroy his or her life with addiction. But where can they go for help?

As an addictions therapist, I specialize in working with the loved ones of addicts as well as with the addicts themselves. Every day I receive at least one or two new calls or emails from loved ones seeking help for this horrendous situation they find themselves mired in.

Most often, they have been experiencing the pain of this for quite a long time before they pick up the phone or write to me, and when they finally do reach out, they generally ask for help for the addict they love so dearly, not for themselves. This is often because they have been putting their own needs on the back burner for such a long time that they don’t even recognize their own unaddressed suffering.

Addiction affects virtually all of us, in some way or another. It’s hard to find anyone these days who doesn’t know someone with some kind of problematic addictive behaviour—and if you are a loved one of an addict who is currently in active addiction, you owe it to yourself to get the support and help you need, so that the entire family dynamic can heal and change for the better.

Resources for help 

If you are the loved one of an addict, there are some places you can go for help if you live in British Columbia. These include (but are not limited to) Vancouver Coastal Health, Family Services of Greater Vancouver, and Sources BC in White Rock which runs a wonderful “Affected Others” group for loved ones.

Treatment centres such as Pacifica, Edgewood, and Cedars at Cobble Hill run excellent family programs. There are therapists like myself who are skilled in counselling loved ones—and of course there is Al-Anon, which remains an exceptional lifeline to so many loved ones of alcoholics. Nar-Anon is its counterpart for people whose loved ones are addicted to other mind-altering drugs.

If someone you love has an addiction—wherever you live in the world—I deeply hope that you will check to see what kinds of services are available to help you.

My book, Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself: The Top 10 Survival Tips for Loving Someone with an Addiction, is also available worldwide through Amazon, Chapters, and other online sites, as well as in a variety of bookstores throughout Canada and the US. I wrote Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself specifically for the loved ones of people with addictions, and it is now used in a number of addiction treatment facilities for their family programs. You can read more about my books on my website.

To Carole James—my sincere thanks to you for being so courageously willing to share your personal story with us. And to you, Evan, from one recovering addict to another—my heartfelt congratulations to you.

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