Catholic Charities Boston’s Recovering Connections Program Ignites Hope in those Affected by Substance Use Disorder
“For over a decade, I would go to bed at night and think, ‘Tonight’s the night I’m going to get a call from the police.’
Jeanne*, 80, knows firsthand the heartbreak of watching a child struggle with the disease of substance use. Over the course of 15 years, Jeanne did everything she could to help her daughter Sarah, placing her in multiple detox centers and treatment programs.
Their story has a brighter ending than some––Sarah, now 50, is in recovery, and both mother and daughter recently attended Catholic Charities’ weekend Hope & Healing Retreat for individuals who have family members that struggle with substance use. For them, the Hope and Healing Retreat is an opportunity to connect with each other and with others who understand what they’ve been through; it is also an opportunity to demonstrate to others that recovery is possible and that relationships can be mended.
“This is a family disease in that it’s not just affecting the person with the disease,” said Sister Maryadele Robinson, Catholic Charities’ Outreach Social Worker, who leads the retreats. “It negatively impacts the entire family.”
Catholic Charities Boston has long provided services in regards to substance use, including treatment and counseling for both substance users and affected family members through its Family Counseling and Guidance Center locations in Salem and South Boston.
However, a conversation nearly a decade ago with South Boston priest Joe White inspired Sister Maryadele to go a step further for the family members who are so often firsthand witnesses to the devastation, with little to no power to stop it.
Father Joe, who spent many years leading prayer vigils and services to honor those who lost their lives to substance use disorder, had approached Sister Maryadele to ask if Catholic Charities would be willing to donate crafts supplies to children who had lost a parent to addiction. Sister Maryadele jumped into action––first donating items to the children, and then teaming up with Father Joe to raise grant money and spread awareness of the rising need.
The Recovering Connections program is the fruit of their labors, one which continues to grow and evolve each year. In addition to the Hope & Healing retreats attended by Jeanne and Sarah, the Recovery Connections program includes a Growth through Grief retreat for parents who have lost a child to substance use, and a collaboration with Camp COASA for children whose parents have experienced substance abuse.
“In the programs we help folks realize that they’re not alone and that they’re not the only ones that are experiencing this,” said Father Joe. “It can be so overwhelming and isolating that families get very tired, but it’s the healing they provide to each other that builds resilience.”
Edie Morrill knows just how paralyzing the grief of losing a child. After her son passed away due to substance use disorder in 2010, Edie found strength through the Recovering Connections program, eventually becoming co-leader of the Hope and Healing Retreat. She has found that mothers are often eager to open up and confide in others who have been in their shoes when given a safe and supportive space.
“The mothers love having the opportunity to share,” said Edie. “It is a time to speak up and express how you feel. I consider it a time to celebrate my son.”
Christina*, who has attended retreats for four years in a row, said the Recovering Connections Program has solidified her spiritual purpose.
Though her daughter continues to struggle with substance use disorder, and is currently living on the streets of Worcester, Christina remains firmly rooted in her faith.
“I used to come to these retreats thinking, ‘What can I get out of this?” she said. “Now, I go, and I think, ‘What can I contribute?’
“Sister Maryadele is quite literally the embodiment of hope during these retreats,” said Jeanne. “We may do the healing ourselves, but she brings the hope.”
*Due to the sensitive nature of the real life experiences shared within the story clients are referred to by their first or middle names only to protect privacy.
For more information regarding the Catholic Charities Recovery Connections programs or counseling services, please visit ccab.org/counseling.