Beth’s Blog

This page holds the blog posts and articles that Beth Syverson has written.

Just Tell Him No

By Beth Syverson

At my video appointment with my psychiatrist this week, he asked me how my son Joey was doing. He knows that I’ve struggled with my mental health the last several years, partly because of Joey’s existential struggles. As in…literally, he’s struggling to keep existing.

So I told my doctor that Joey was having a tough time with his addiction, and that he is vacillating between recovery and relapse. I mentioned that he and I regularly discuss harm reduction, and that if he uses substances, he has set limits for himself to keep him from going into cannabis-induced psychosis again.

I was shocked and dismayed at the doctor’s response. He told me that I should just tell Joey not to use drugs at all. That no amount is safe. He said that Joey probably thinks I approve of his use and it’s giving him confusing messages when we discuss safer ways to use drugs.

I stood up for my values and explained to him why I believe I’m doing the right thing. But I’m indignant that I need to take time out of MY psychiatry appointment to set this healthcare professional straight on life-saving protocols.

I told him that my main priority was to help Joey stay alive long enough to find his healing path of recovery. To do that, it’s very important to me to maintain a positive relationship with him, and to meet him where he’s at today. Harm reduction is a big part of that effort.

And I told him that I’m 100% sure that Joey knows I wish he would quit using substances forever. Joey wishes the same thing, actually! Talking about setting limits around quantity and potency is akin to talking to our kids about condoms and consent. Education and openness doesn’t give a green light. But it might save a life.

My doctor’s response to harm reduction reminds me of that great Bob Newhart sketch, “Stop It!” where the therapist just tells his client to “Stop it!” no matter what her issue was.

What would happen if I just told Joey to just STOP using drugs. First, he would probably laugh at me. (If he could "just" stop using, he would’ve stopped a long time ago.) And he would probably feel shamed and judged by me. Joey’s shame-o-meter is already on the highest setting because he is an adoptee and because his dad shames him all the time about all sorts of things. I refuse to add more shame to his overflowing cup.Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was an abject failure, but still, our healthcare professionals continue to throw that garbage at our addicted loved ones. It’s harmful to those struggling with addiction, and it’s harmful to those of us who are trying to create a new paradigm of connection with our loved one. This doctor made me question my own well-thought-out, researched, and intentional plan of how to relate to my hurting son. And that’s not fair to me, his patient. It’s hard enough to parent a struggling young adult without mental health professionals making things worse.

My goal with Joey is to show him unconditional positive regard every time I see or talk to him. Johann Hari coined the phrase, “The opposite of addiction is connection,” and I totally agree. The only way out of addiction is to have something stronger to lean on than what the drugs can provide. And the one thing they can’t provide is quality human connection. But I can provide that in spades.

Even when Joey’s in relapse mode,

Especially when he’s in relapse mode!

Instead of shutting the door on him until he’s committed to sobriety for the rest of his life, I am keeping the door open so I can be a source of stability, practical resources, and compassion. And I’ll keep speaking out about it and sharing our story (with Joey's explicit consent, BTW), so people like my psychiatrist will have a better understanding of addiction, harm reduction, and recovery.

by Beth Syverson

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Stay Safe! Beth Syverson and Joey Nakao

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