Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Family Weekend" at Michael's House

It's been almost a week since my wife, younger son, and I got back from our Palm Springs visit, and I've been meaning to put together a blog post about it. Unfortunately, the long trip home, jet lag, a nasty cold, trying to catch up at work, and my home DSL service going out for three days all got in the way. But those things have all passed, so I'm going to try and get down to business now.

The Michael's House "Family Weekend" program we attended took place at the Hyatt in Palm Springs from Friday, October 14th through Sunday, October 16th. It was an intense, emotional, and draining experience, full of education and hope. Our journey to and from California was long and tiring, but it was well worth it.

It's pretty hard to put into words how wonderful it was to see our son after more than 50 days. When we met up with him downtown on Thursday night, it was great. Needless to say, there were lots of hugs involved. And seeing him and his little brother reunited was even greater.

The "Family Weekend" program went from 8:30am to 4:00pm each day, and was facilitated by Alan J. Massey, who spent 17 years at the Betty Ford Center as a counselor, manager, and supervisor. He's also a recovering alcoholic, with 37 years of sobriety under his belt. Definitely an excellent set of qualifications! Two therapists from Michael's House also helped out by leading some of the group sessions.

There were about 30 or so people participating in the program, and all of them had different amounts of addiction "experience" under their belts. But they were all there for the same reason: because they care deeply about their addicted loved ones. I have to say, though, I think being "veterans" who have been dealing with our son's addiction for several years made the three days a little easier for us. I think it was a lot tougher for the people who were relatively new to all this; especially the couple who just recently found out that their son was using drugs. (They sent him to Michael's House just days after they discovered he was using, and they were still very much in shock.)

The family program consisted of educational aspects combined with group therapy sessions. On Friday, family members met the Michael's House staff; talked about what dealing with addiction has been like; watched a great DVD called Pleasure Unwoven: An Explanation of Brain Disease of Addiction; heard a presentation called "Healthy Self-Addictive Self"; and had a breakout group therapy session.

On Saturday, the patients joined the program, which included a "Shameful-Shamelessness" presentation; a discussion of family roles and a role playing skit (which my younger son participated in); a communication talk and exercise; and the most powerful breakout group therapy session of the weekend. This group session consisted of the addict and their family sitting in the middle of the rest of the group, who were seated in a circle. The addict and their family members then took turns telling each other: 1.) What they've learned about themselves since they arrived at Michael's House (or at the "Family Weekend"); 2.) What issues and concerns they have; and 3.) What their plans are for their recovery. (Yes, family members need to go through recovery, too.)

There was a lot of brutal honesty during this group session. A lot of tears and apologies, too. For me, the most powerful thing was hearing my own son be so honest with my wife, younger son, and me. And hearing my younger son talk very matter of factly to my older son. Pretty emotional stuff, for sure. My family also had the "honor" of going first during this session. The therapist leading the group later told me that he knew we'd do a good job and that he wanted us to set the tone for the whole group. Chalk that up to experience, I guess.

On Sunday, there were more breakout group sharing sessions; a presentation on "Relapse and Recovery"; and a breakout session to discuss what our plans were in case of relapse. We then wrapped things up with everyone talking about what the highlight of the weekend was for them.

The Michael's House "Family Weekend" program was so incredibly beneficial. And we met so many lovely people from all over the country. It was so nice to be around so many people going through the exact same thing we are going through. For at least one weekend, nobody had to feel "alone."

The family program was a lot of hard work, but we managed to squeeze some fun in, too. Among the highlights was going on the Palm Springs Tramway ride on Saturday night. This is a 2.5 mile ride up a mountain on the world's largest rotating tramcar. At the summit is Mount San Jacinto State Park, which is just beautiful. The view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking as well (see photo below). We took our son's roommate--a great kid from Atlanta--with us on this little trip and we all went out to Pizza Hut for dinner afterwards. It was a fantastic time.

We also went out to lunch with our son's therapist from Michael's House on Friday afternoon. It was nice to meet him in person, and we got to thank him for everything he did for our son.

On the last day, our son gave us a quick tour of Michael's House, which is actually a pretty nice place for a rehab facility. We also took our son grocery shopping, then went back to his house and hung out by the pool with some of his housemates for a bit. They all seem like great guys.

While we were there, one of his housemates told us that their sober living house is only a half block away from the house where Elvis and Priscilla Presley spent their honeymoon! So we went and checked it out on our way back to the hotel. (By the way, the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway house has its own website!)

Saying goodbye to our son was tough, but we left Palm Springs early Monday morning knowing that he is in a good place right now, surrounded by good people. He also seems committed to staying sober and plans on staying at the sober living house at least another month (through November).

This is the most hope we've felt in several years, and it feels very good. Palm Springs is a very beautiful place. In more ways than one.


  1. I wanted to say i just went to the family weekend this past week! How is everything going ?

  2. There is so much hope woven into the story of your experience from this family weekend with your son. Thank you for sharing it. It is true that the entire family must go through the recovery process and it sounds like the family therapy you received really did benefit each of you.