[The following is the speech given by Nancy Espuche, Founder of KardBoard House on October 5th at EAPA 2017 in Los Angeles]
IMPROVING THE CULTURE OF FACING ADDICTION IN THE WORKFORCE
I am grateful and honored to be a participant at this important conference. It is a gift of faith. My beloved son Lucas fought a long, hard, gripping battle, whose life succumbed to the giant beast called addiction. Although Lucas is not here with us physically today, I am certain that his contribution and spirit are close. He is the messenger. Our work together is just beginning. This work is not for those struggling with substance use….it is for those whose lives’ have been at the effect of a loved one’s struggle; a child, partner, sibling, parent, friend and for the purposes of this conference, an employee.
Emily Dickinson wrote this about hope:
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” It is why I am here today. Hope has become one of the most important words spoken in any language.
I dreamt about KardBoard House way before it was given a name. Having first hand exposure to the insidiousness of a child’s substance use, I knew almost immediately that I was plucked from a world once familiar and that it would never be the same. Sadly, there are many who felt as I. With our child/partner/sibling/parent/friend in treatment, out of treatment or having never entered, the staggering impact had begun. The search for guidance and resources difficult. Access outside of family treatment and 12 step programs limited and many of us begin the fall. The shame overwhelming, the stigma haunting and the guilt shadows our thoughts and actions. Where do we go from here we think? How do I continue to engage in the world? How can I reveal this unbearable truth to my family, friends and employer? How can I muster the courage to share my pain and story? Will I be ridiculed and blamed?
I speak to you today from my heart on a topic that is both critical and personal. On December 19th, 2016, my beloved son Lucas lost his long and arduous battle with addiction from an accidental opioid overdose. The chapters of our story are bewildering and wrenching. My beautiful boy was being eaten alive from something way bigger and stronger than my profound love for him. And right before my eyes, we both started our paths of decline. Lucas had now become my addiction. Our lives were spinning out of control and our four walls were collapsing.
Families have one thing in common. Its’ strength and health depend on the family unit. When dependency on drugs or alcohol enter the family structure, most systems that were intact, break down. The effects go way beyond numbers and statistics. Addiction inflicts havoc on its’ victim and every family member. The rippling affect cannot be calculated but the evidence is clear. Family members are challenged by the extensive emotional, professional, physical, financial, psychological chain reaction. The consequences are far and wide and the work force is one of its major recipients. Loved one’s are now in crisis too.
We ARE in the midst of a health epidemic, one that can no longer be denied, one that has no interest in slowing down. Its’ name is addiction and it is highly contagious for every family member and loved one. The symptoms and challenges spread to every aspect of life and employers often feel it first. However different, the residual impact great.
We know that addiction impacts many and that the costs are great. The facts indicate that one in twelve adults and adolescents are afflicted, nearly 22 million suffer, 91 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose and the cost to society in 2016, $442 million. We are all in this crisis together and we each have a job to do.
Businesses are exposed to lost productivity and employee instability. Managers are confronted with increased absenteeism, missed deadlines and more occupational accidents. Tempers flare, accountability is reduced and being present is a memory. The domino is here.
To deny this deafening sound wave dismisses the interwoven, intimate and unique connection within the family structure. When one member is struck, everyone else is struck too. How that shows up in the workplace can vary, but one thing is certain…… performance, accessibility, participation, teamwork, reliability, interest are erased, minimized or inconsistent.
I recall clearly that descent, when work became an interference. I committed that morning to contacting a therapist in Florida for guidance, close to the U of Miami where Lucas was attending college. I needed help. After having read Lucas’ history, this is what I heard…. “I’m good Nancy, but not this good. Lucas needs treatment.” Suddenly I was on this runaway train, engaged in the battle to save Lucas’ life and mine. From that day forward till his passing, countless hours of every day were spent searching, running, hiding, fearing. I was unable to give what was deserved. The strain, stress and toll superseded my cognitive thought and who I once was at work no longer existed. I have witnessed similar versions of my journey from hundreds across this country……continuing as before is virtually impossible. Relationships struggle, health declines, finances dwindle, work ignored. How do I step towards life when my son may be headed towards death? I can only tell you that we must…..somehow, some way, with the assistance of the workforce and community.
I learned this through people and shared experience. I learned it through stories, community and truth telling. I learned that I was not alone and through public awareness and speaking up and out that the shame, guilt and fear can be attenuated, one baby step at a time.
As I struggled, so did all I was responsible for. Getting up and showing up each morning felt futile. I was consumed. And slowly and gently along my travels I learned the following; letting others know releases the stigma; taking care of myself and my life is critical to my healing; I cannot tackle this alone, it does take a village.
So today, I ask you to ask yourselves;
Do you have an environment that addresses the impact of substance use in families?
Do you invite this topic into the workplace?
Do you promote storytelling and community, enlisting speakers to share their experience?
Do you engage in conversation through literature, webinars and such?
Do you have resources in place and visible so those living with this challenge can seek help?
Do you understand the impact this struggle has on your organization?
Do you advocate for collective wisdom from those who have walked this path?
So here I am, determined to do something that could help countless others who were suffering as I. To create something that might help one person save themselves. KardBoard House (a name Lucas gave a thumbs up to) emerged from there….. a resource built to help family members learn, grow and protect themselves in the midst of a loved one’s substance use. It is a navigation system. Its guidance, direction and support offer insights, methods, tools from those who have been there. Our vision is to activate audiences using sustainable practices, providing the skills, knowledge and compassion to create positive change. It is a source for OUR recovery… to ignite, thrust forward those whose lives have halted and to address this complex dilemma through exploration of our current and changing role with our loved one.
We MUST learn to work with and engage family members around addiction….to educate, to advocate, listen. It is our responsibility to ourselves, our organization and society. To minimize the impact, the shame, the often-negative universal responses. To help rebuild and empower those, so they may once again make productive contributions to their life, community and workplace.
I am here today not just to share my story. There are thousands of parents who have endured a similar journey. My goal is to help you establish programming; to support early intervention for those at the effect of substance use. To encourage everyone to implement a course of action because like me, doing so is a step towards changing our course, making a difference, honoring our lives and work.
Mark Twain said “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” This is one reason I believe we are all here today...to build courage...to listen with new ears, see with new eyes, to be brave. And most importantly, to have HOPE.
I dedicate this work to you Lucas, who I miss more than ever imagined.