Editor’s Note: Following is the FAM keynote address of Gigi Reyes during the 14th Graduation Ceremonies of SELF on May 23, 2009.

I was requested to give a few words tonight for the 14th Graduation Ceremonies on behalf of the families behind their loved ones who have spent some of the most meaningful, life-changing and memorable years of their lives in this facility. The request for me to speak on this occasion evoked so many memories and mixed feelings in me. Foremost was the disbelief that my son’s graduation was actually happening. I looked back and could not believe that it has been more than two and a half years since my own son, David, entered SELF in October 2006.

On the night David was taken from our home, I had to be given a tranquilizer to calm me down and help me cope with the emotional storm raging within me. The only thing that kept me sane at that moment and the ensuing days and months was my conviction that I was doing the right thing. This, after years of trial and error, hit and miss, and experimentation as to how to deal with my son’s addiction.

When the drug problem hit our family, we were alternately angry, afraid, confused, helpless and, most of all, ignorant and clueless about what to do. Drug addiction is a malaise that defies our usual norms of disciplining our children such as our notions of “reward and punishment” or “carrot and the stick.” It is ruthless not only in the way it destroys the body but, worse, in the way that it breaks the human spirit, strangles the soul, and shatters families and relationships. No amount of money, power or even connections can solve it.

I found myself on my knees, sobbing and begging God to show me the way. He must have heard me because one day a client of mine noticed that my eyes were very swollen and gave me a number to call. It turned out to be the number of SELF and on that same day I went straight to their office in Alabang. At midnight, they took my son to this facility. My worst enemy then was my impatience and my strong longing to have my son back in the quickest time possible. I did not see him for seven long months. During those days, I would eagerly watch the DVDs they would show during the monthly FAM meetings. I would get hold of a copy and watch them over and over again, several times each night.

The staff of SELF, patient as they are, were not spared from my occasional outbursts every time David would get demoted or be deprived of his privileges because that meant I could not see him. My son was addicted to drugs. I was, in turn, addicted to my son. From there, I personally went through different stages of change and growth as a person and as a parent. By dealing with my denial and understanding the program better, I learned to acknowledge, slowly but definitely not easily, my own weaknesses as a co-dependent and enabler.

Through our facilitated dialogues, I realized my own faults and the issues that needed to be addressed and hopefully, resolved, within our own family. During our first dialogues, my son, speaking as an adult for the first time, expressed his innermost feelings and rebuked me. It is very painful to be confronted and even judged, whether rightly or wrongly, by your own children.

But I had to listen to him and to understand where he was coming from. In the same way, he listened and began to understand me. We both cried a lot but, amazingly, I listened calmly, intently and with an open mind and heart. It was the first real dialogue we had, for I was finally talking to my son and not to the drugs that took over his person for a long, long time. The important thing I realized in that process was that I, too, needed to be reprogrammed and to do some serious self-examination and deep introspection if I were to be of any help to him.

Since then, I stopped counting the days and months and took each day, each setback, and each challenge as part of the process. I soon learned that the term “tough love” is not so much about being tough on our loved ones. It is more about mustering the toughness needed to conquer our fears: fear of being misunderstood; fear that our loved ones would think that saying “NO” might mean that we do not love nor care for them; fear of the judgment and opinions of other people. Tough love is also about being tough in conquering our feelings of shame, guilt and self-blame.

And so, I feel sort of lucky that for the time and the price I paid for my son’s sobriety, healing and recovery, I got quite a huge bonus because in many ways, SELF actually had an outpatient at no extra cost, and that patient was me. This experience, I am sure, is not unique to me. In one way or another, this is shared by numerous other families whether their loved ones be drug dependents or not. We have all been through a similar roller-coaster ride of emotional highs and lows.

Through the monthly FAM meetings and activities, we, the families of the residents, have indeed shared a lot. We shared our feelings, doubts, frustrations, concerns, as well as our excitement over every inch of progress that our loved ones have made and the milestones that marked their growth. We shared tears of disappointment, worry, loneliness, and tears of joy and relief as well. We gained new friends from whom we drew new insights, helpful advice and moral support. These friendships were built upon the foundation of our common experiences, much like the friendships and bonds that were sealed among our loved ones here in the facility.

Indeed, an important ingredient in the success of any recovery program is the family’s own commitment and involvement in the long and tedious process of achieving change and reform for our loved ones and ourselves. But, I believe that at the core of this program is Faith. First, faith in God and in His promise that He will complete the good work He began in each of us; Second, faith in ourselves — that we are endowed with a deep reservoir of inner strength which will enable us to win this difficult battle; Third, faith in our loved ones — believing that the innate good in them will resurface and shine once again. Given the lessons and the tools they have learned, they can face and overcome the tough challenges and trials that await them in their struggle towards sobriety; And finally, faith in SELF and its Therapeutic Community (TC) Program under whose care we entrusted our loved ones.

Even beyond the confines of this facility, it is comforting and assuring to know that SELF will be there to help our loved ones get up if and when they slip or fall, to guide us as we rebuild the trust that has long been lost, and to extend a helping hand in our moments of doubt and trepidation.

Today is a milestone not only for our graduating residents and for their families, but also for SELF. On behalf of the families here today, I would like to express our deepest gratitude to Martin and the staff for the inspiration and the vision, for their dedication, fortitude, and perseverance. Martin is never content even with what we think is already good enough. He continues to introduce new innovations and ideas to make this program more responsive and dynamic, and to upgrade this facility to the extent that its limited finances can afford.

When David graduated from grade school and high school, I shed tears of relief. I say “relief” because the way he was going, I was always nervous that he might not even make it up that stage to receive his diploma. Well, somehow, he did, and that was enough to make me cry then. But today, I am more than relieved. I share with the families here a sense of real joy.

This graduation is a very different one because you, our loved ones, are graduating from the best school there is. This is the “School of Life” — where lessons are learned the hard and painful way; where values are ingrained and planted on fertile ground; where character is defined and strengthened; where self-worth and dignity is restored; and where discipline is acquired through constant practice and learning.

All these, I dare say, could rival a masters or even a doctorate degree from any prestigious university. Many people acquire these academic degrees, even graduate with honors, and reach the pinnacle of their careers, yet, still miss out on these attributes that make up what I would call “real education.” To graduate simply means to move on to a higher level or to move forward. But the School of Life continues far beyond this day. This is just a prelude to another phase on the road to a new life. You are all privileged to forge on with the journey better prepared to face the future and the real world, with all its promise and beauty and along with the harsh realities that come with it.

May God continue to bless and guide us all on this journey called Life. If tears must be shed today, let these be tears of triumph and joy.

Congratulations to all the Graduates and Thank you!