Don’t Isolate Yourself In Your Worries


An Interview with June Ariano-Jakes, author of Addiction –A Mother’s Story.

By Isabella Mori – Coordinator – Vancouver Coastal Health – Family Connections

Ms. Ariano-Jakes shared some of her own life experience before moderating the panel at the end of a conference. The following is a post-conference interview with her.

What did you find useful about this particular conference?

Conferences such as the 2019 Family Conference on Mental Health and Substance Use are particularly valuable to families in providing updated information that many may not be aware of. It also provided a chance to ask questions and feel heard. Those in attendance are able to ask questions in a “safe” setting where there is no feeling of judgment or stigma.

When professionals set aside time for conferences, it is because they truly have a vested interest. You do not go into this field of work unless you truly care about people – the patient or client.

Often times the people most in need, are fighting any available help or support all the way. This career choice may look like a thankless job, but when you hear the professionals speaking, as family members you realize they are looking out for your loved one. As a family, you are not in this alone.

At times during the conference, you could sense that some people felt we are not making progress. This conference in particular allowed the sharing of information showing just how far we have come, in just the last five years for example.

There has been a phenomenal shift in thinking – in how the public views mental health conditions and addictions. More and more people are speaking out. Many more people are discussing addictions and mental health within their family unit.

As a society we are taking addiction and mental illness “out of the closet” in a sense – people no longer feel it is “the dirty little secret” that even just a year or two ago was common.

This conference provided information on harm reduction, and the importance of trust between the doctor and the patient, which is crucial.

I understand families want to know what is happening. I get that. As a family, no one besides the patient receiving care has more at stake in their treatment. However, what is more important – getting the information about our loved ones care and treatment or allowing that loved one to feel safe in knowing that their discussions are between the doctor and themselves and is privileged. Failure to understand that puts those needing help most at risk.

They have to know that their right to privacy is respected. Failure to provide that “privacy safety” could mean the difference between someone accessing help or refusing it.

The discussions and talks during the conference validated that. At the same time it allowed the family members a safe place to voice their frustration with that while learning why it is so vitally important.

As someone who frequently interacts with people with severe substance use/mental health issues, what is one little thing that an individual/supporter can do for them? What do they need most from the system?

My answer is in the form of a story ….

A couple of years ago while working in the Whalley area of King George Blvd and 108thAve, while doing outreach – I heard about a woman that had recently be released from the penitentiary. I didn’t know her when she lived in that area years ago, so I only “knew” what I was hearing.

That she was mean, aggressive, a bully, eager to fight, etc.

One day I saw her sitting on that corner leaning against the building with her backpack and contents spread out in front of her.

I put a few personal care items in a bag and walked across the street to offer them to her. This was our discussion:

“Hi, how’s it going”?

“Fuck off”.

“Oh that good eh”?

“I hate you church ladies, always wanting to save the junkies”.

“Oh I’m no church lady and I definitely can’t save anyone. I just wondered if you could use a few items”.

“Fuck off”.

“Okay, well you take care”.

The next day I saw her sitting in that same basic spot so I thought I would give it another try.

I walked over and said, “Hey, how you doing today”?

“I told you to stay the fuck away from me”.

“Okay, well, you’re a phony”.

“Fuck off.  You don’t know nothing about me. You don’t know who I am or what I’ve been through”.

“You’re right I don’t. But what I do know is that you’re a phony”.

She got up, walked right up to me and said, “Yeah, well Fuck you”.And I left.

Now the next day I saw her sitting in the exact same place. I knew she was waiting for me. I knew she had a question for me. Otherwise, she would have picked a different place to sit.

You know it was one of those times when you think to yourself, “I’m making progress. We are communicating”.

Anyways, I proceeded to walk across the street and as soon as I reached the other side, she stood up, angry and said, “Yesterday you called me a phony. Why would you do that? You don’t know nothing about me”.

And I said, “You are right. I don’t know anything about you. Except that you’re a phony”.


“No, please let me explain. The other day I watched as a little boy and his mother walked by you on the street. The little guy fell and he started crying. I saw you reach into your backpack and hand him a little stuffy. And he stopped crying.

“Now I know that everything and anything of any value to you is in that backpack. And so I know that stuffy was important to you. And yet when you saw that little guy crying, you gave it to him.

“You see, I think you are a really good person. I think you are kind and thoughtful and I think that ‘mean girl’ persona you flash about is your armor.

“If you can keep people away from you, they can’t hurt you. So you wear this hard-core armor and it keeps people away.

I think you are a really kind person”.

“Yeah – well if you ever tell anyone that I will kick your fucking ass”.

I did the zip across the lips thing and in time we became really good friends. She would eventually allow me to cut the ‘rats nest’ out of her hair.  She asked me to dye her hair purple and another time blue. I carried nail polish with me and when I would see her sitting on the sidewalk, I would paint her nails and then she would paint mine.

You see everyone in her life who should have protected her let her down. From the time she was a young child. She was used, neglected, abused. And eventually she learned that if she didn’t let people in, they could hurt her.

She wore that tough armor and it worked. No one wanted to be around her.

But she let me in. She made a comment once, “Everyone I ever trusted fucked me over”. I don’t trust no one except June. Her I trust. I’m a mess, but she always listens to me. She understands me, and she always gives me a hug and tells me she loves me, and I know she does”.

The reason I wanted to share that story is because often times those people who work so hard to push you away, it is only because they have been repeatedly hurt by people that should not have hurt them. It is much more safe –to keep people away than risk letting them in and getting hurt.

And sadly that is exactly what so many people struggling do. Those needing love the most, are often the ones who appear most unlovable. It is crucial to make inroads. But you have to carefully judge the situation.

I fully believe that we have to meet people where they are at. We often have to go to them because they won’t often come to us.
For me, sitting on the curb talking to someone, or offering a haircut or a shave, has never served me wrong.
It is vitally important to do whatever we can to gain trust. And sometimes that is by being vulnerable ourselves.
Once someone trusts you they are much more apt to allow you to help them. In whatever way is comfortable to them. And again we have to accept what is, not what we may want it to be. But to be there and hopefully at some point be able to guide or help or direct that person to help.
What do family members of people who experience severe substance use issues need the most from their immediate supporters? What do they need most from the system?
We have to accept that each person will accept or handle their loved ones’ mental health issues or addictions differently. While we wish everyone could be on the same page, that is not the reality.
We have to accept that each person’s perception of a situation is their reality. What may be heart wrenching grief for a mother may come out as anger from a father, frustration from a sibling, alienation from extended family.
And while that is frustrating, we have to understand that each person is being affected differently and no one’s pain is more or less than another’s.  We just all process differently, our personalities are different, and our basic understanding may be different. We can’t judge anyone else’s reaction.
We need to also remember that we are making headway – we all wish there was a magic formula –but there isn’t – but every day I truly believe we are making progress.
Is it as fast as we would like? No. And many, many will continue to suffer and tragically die.  And that is heartbreaking.  Devastating. But we are making progress and that is the message we need to share with families that are struggling. We need to continue to offer this support in a non-judgemental environment.
What is your message of hope?
Never, ever give up. The miracle you are hoping for may be just around the corner. You will never know when that day will come when your loved one is ready to get help, or when your loved one’s medication finally connects the pieces.
Just never give up. And remember you are not alone. Reach out to those who understand your journey, because they too have walked their own journey.
We may not walk in each other’s shoes but the path we travel is very similar. The most important thing is to not isolate yourself in your worries, in your times of devastation. Those times that seem impossible to be able to reach out are exactly those times when you must

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