Kathleen and Brett Moore say they get several inquiries a week from parents who want to join the Ontario support group. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO – On a Wednesday evening, a group of parents and other relatives shuffle into a large empty room and sit in a circle. The room is quiet.

The families meet once each week because they share a bond -- they are all dealing with family members fighting addiction.

One by one, the parents and others tell how their lives have been clawed apart by drugs. Each story recounts the relentless cycle of treatment centers, overdoses and jail cells. 

Many say they are broke from paying for treatment. Some say they have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kathleen and Brett Moore, the leaders of the group discussion, know those feelings.

They have cried those tears. They have felt the guilt of being an enabler. They have felt the shame of despair. 

For over 10 years, their son was engulfed by meth addiction, and the chaos of his addiction consumed their lives.

The Moores’ marriage deteriorated, their daughter neglected.

The family was falling apart. 

Little did Kathleen and Brett Moore know their journey would help others.

Six months ago, they started an Ontario chapter of Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, where kindred spirits can draw strength for their quixotic battle against drugs.

Through the group, the Moores work with other parents and family members to change the way they handle behaviors of their addicted loved.

Kathleen and Brett Moore remember their son as a rambunctious child, full of energy, who at times was shy. Their son is smart, they said, but sometimes struggled to focus in school.

That their boy would ever use drugs never occurred to the couple.

He was 14 when a relative got him to experiment with methamphetamine. And for the next 15 years, his life was a mix of addiction, jail, recovery and relapse. 

Brett, who retired in 2013 as a captain in the Idaho Department of Correction, said he often wrestled alone with his son’s secret. 

“I was an investigative services lieutenant and I would do midnight raids inside the prison, where we try to catch people with drugs. We’d do raids on the streets to get drugs out, and then I find out my son’s using drugs,” he said. 

Brett said he feared what others at work would think of him. He rarely spoke of his son’s struggles.

“I didn’t even want to talk about it because it was embarrassing,” Moore said. “He was there. He was embarrassing me in my profession.” 

Helping or enabling?

The couple said they didn’t know how to set healthy boundaries with their son, whose addiction took over their lives. Every conversation seemed to revolve around their son and his drug abuse. 

Kathleen said she constantly had to wonder where their son was or what he was doing. They never knew if he’d be arrested or need money, and they lived in constant fear that he’d be found dead. She said she handed him cash for food, gas, medical bills and legal fees every time he needed help. 

“We’ve bought about 18 cars just for him. That’s a lot of cars. So it means we were good parents and that we were so good that it didn’t help,” Kathleen said. “But why would he need to change if we got him everything? There’s no reason to change, right?” 

She and her husband felt powerless, and they didn’t know how much more they could take. 

The couple estimates they have spent more than $400,000 in a futile attempt to save their son.

“We worked a lot of jobs,” said Kathleen. “We didn’t realize we were spinning in this cycle of chaos.”

It wasn’t until Kathleen’s involvement in a group called Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) two years ago that she and her husband finally found hope. The national group was founded in 2006 by Michael Speakman, a substance abuse counselor based in Arizona. 

“We had hit a rock bottom and nothing was changing,” said Kathleen. “What are we doing wrong?”

She said, it was through PAL that she and Brett began to understand their limitations in helping their son.

“PAL taught us what kind of behaviors to expect from our addicted son and the tricks he’ll try to play on us,” said Kathleen. “This meeting gave us a sounding board to better understand what’s helping and what is enabling.”

The group offers support, education and hope to anyone 18 and older dealing with a son, daughter or a spouse suffering from addiction, she said.

“It’s a place of hope,” said Brett. “It’s a place where you can meet other parents or loved ones who are going through the same thing you are going through and you don’t feel so all alone.”

For the first time in 15 years, Kathleen and Brett Moore feel comfortable enough to smile.

“He likes to call himself a recovering enabler,” said Kathleen. “And I would say I’m a proud recovering enabler and codependent. I’ve done a 360 with having PAL in my life.”

She added that the family has been more open about their son’s drug use and addiction, too. 

Sharing the journey

“It’s better to be open but it’s difficult to do,” said Kathleen. “What’s so good about PAL is we’re all going through the same journey. These parents and us, we’re all on the same journey but some little different circumstances, so we’re all able to relate with what each other is going through,” Kathleen said. “So the peer to peer support is incredible, beyond amazing.”

For too many parents, the Moores’ story strikes uncomfortably close to home. 

They suffer in solitude, balancing sorrow with relief, shame with perseverance, resentment with forgiveness.

Their stories drive home the fact that meth, heroin and drug abuse are part of life in Malheur County.

Seeing a need, Kathleen and Brett decided to start a chapter of the parent support group in Ontario to give hope to other families in the same position. They said people who don’t have kids with drug addictions are often unaware about how difficult the journey is for family members of an addict. 

“When we started doing PAL, we didn’t get to meet other people in person. It was just phone meetings,” said Kathleen. “That’s why we wanted our area to have a meeting here. We needed it so badly. There are so many hurting parents here. They’re everywhere.”

The Ontario group met the first time last September and now meets for two hours each Wednesday at the First Christian Church of the Nazarene in Ontario.

On average, about 15 families attend. Kathleen said it gets as many as 10 inquiries a week from parents who want to join PAL.

PAL’s curriculum involves education and group discussion. 

“We found out that, as parents, it’s not that we’re doing anything wrong,” said Brett. “We were not informed. We were not educated enough, and that’s why PAL is so great.”

Kathleen and Brett’s message to other parents is that even as they agonize over the decisions their children make in the midst of addiction, they can only do so much to help. Ultimately, it’s up to their child to change their lives.

Kathleen said she and Brett have stepped back from helping their 29-year-old son, who will be released soon from the Idaho State Correctional Center in Kuna.

“He has his wings, and we know he can do it. He’s already got his housing figured out,” Kathleen said by cutting off her addicted son from their financial support and other help, he might finally recover.

“The goal is to treat them the age they are, not the age they’re acting,” said Kathleen. “My son needs to start on his own and figure out his own vehicle, his own schedule and make his own money.”

Brett added that it isn’t about “tough love.” Rather, he said, it’s about self-preservation and putting what’s best for his family.

News tip? Contact reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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