The first time someone warned Kim Humphrey that one of his sons might be in trouble with drugs he was offended.
“We got a phone call from a mother whose daughter was friends with our son,” he recalls. “Her daughter was worried that our son was going to overdose.”
“Our first reaction was, ‘That’s ridiculous,’” Humphrey says. “’He doesn’t take drugs, so how could he overdose? Our kids are fine. They do well in school, they’re not in trouble. They’re all-American kids.’ What she was saying didn’t make any sense.”
Kim Humphrey, who now leads the Phoenix, Ariz.-based group known as Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, wasn’t just your average dad. He was also a high-ranking police officer with the Phoenix Police Department—so he wasn’t unfamiliar with people addicted to drugs.
“You would think I would see the signs, but I didn’t,” admits Humphrey, now 56. “[My son] was good at manipulating us and hiding it.”
Unbeknownst to Kim and his wife Michelle, their eldest son, then 14, had begun taking prescription opioids recreationally. While the couple were still in denial after that warning call, the seed of doubt had been planted, so they reluctantly purchased a home drug test.
“For ten years, my wife and I spent every waking moment trying to get him to stop.”
“When he wouldn’t take it [at first], that’s when it started to dawn on us that he might be an addict,” Humphrey says. “When it came back positive for opioids, he swore the test was wrong. But even at that point, we were still believing him.”
Eventually, they realized that their beloved, eldest son was addicted, and they began trying to “cure” him.
“For ten years, my wife and I spent every waking moment trying to get him to stop,” he recounts. The worried parents took their kid to doctors, counselors, psychologists, but nothing worked. The only progress made was their son’s: He got much better at hiding his drug use.
While the Humphreys were hemorrhaging money, paying both the recovery industry and medical profession for help that never quite took, their son had moved on from painkillers to smoking and, then, injecting, heroin, while supplementing it with meth.
“He destroyed our home. Literally. By the time I got home, there wasn’t a thing that wasn’t torn up, ripped up, broken.”
“Finally, for lack of a better term,” Humphrey shares, “we did our own little intervention.”
To say that their son did not take it well would be an understatement.
“He destroyed our home. Literally. He had some kind of psychotic breakdown, and by the time I got home, there wasn’t a thing that wasn’t torn up, ripped up, broken. I told him he had to go into treatment or just go. His answer was that he was just going to go. He got in his car and left.”
Eventually their son figured out he had no money to support himself, so he reluctantly agreed to go into detox and a 30-day treatment program. It was while he was gone that Michelle discovered Parents of Addicted Loved Ones meetings.
“I didn’t even want to go,” says Kim. “How was a support group going to help?
“But it was killing us,” he continues. “Before this, we figured that we were both strong, so we can solve any problem that comes our way. But his addiction proved it wasn’t going to be the case. I think it took that much time to break our will.”
PAL was founded in 2006, by an Arizona substance abuse counselor named Michael Speakman after he saw how addiction affected the families of his clients. The meetings are similar to Al-Anon in that they’re free, have a spiritual element, and anyone struggling with an addicted child is welcome. They open with introductions and announcements, a prayer, and then a ten-minute to half-hour lesson about a topic like “the three promises to a loved one” or “the four stages of growth in recovery.” Attendees are then free to talk, or ask for suggestions, or stay silent if they prefer.
The meetings were a revelation for Kim and Michelle, who were struggling with the isolation, shame, and guilt that comes with parenting an addict.
“We realized that we weren’t the only ones on the planet,” Kim says. “I started listening to these people and they were setting boundaries and talking about enabling. At first, I was thinking, my kids are different. ‘Chronic uniqueness’ they call it, because at base, addicts are pretty much all the same.”
“His response was, ‘We can’t fix your son, we can only fix you.’”
Michelle jumped in with both feet, but Kim was slower to see the benefit of sharing secrets with a room full of strangers.
“I went there for six weeks and didn’t say a word,” he says.
The seventh week, founder Michael Speakman asked Kim if he had anything to say. Humphrey said, “I want you to tell me how to fix my son.”
Speakman’s answer was definitely not what Kim Humphrey wanted to hear.
“His response was, ‘We can’t fix your son, we can only fix you,’” Humphrey recounts. “I thought that was ridiculous—my son has the problem. Why do I need to work on me?”
The group leader pointed out that the Humphreys had stopped doing things for themselves, and their whole lives revolved around their sons. (By now their younger son was also addicted to drugs.)
“I couldn’t believe it,” Humphrey says. “You’re saying if I get better, it might help my sons? Then I’m all in.”
Soon Michelle and Kim were in counseling. They even planned a vacation, but they were so worried about their sons they turned around and came home right away. They went back to a PAL meeting, expecting to be scolded or laughed at, Humphrey recounts. Instead, they were met with understanding and empathy.
“They said, ‘That’s okay, just go again next week.’” And eventually the pair started to erect boundaries and appreciate each other as a couple again.
“Other people in the group showed us that we didn’t need to scream or yell,” Humphrey says. “We didn’t have to pay for their cellphones. Over time, we started implementing these ideas and learned that we didn’t have to participate in the insanity.”
“One day I got a call from one of my best buddies at the department. He says, ‘Kim, I got your sons in custody and it’s serious.'”
Humphrey’s role at the Phoenix Police Department meant that everyone at work also knew what was going on at home, which added an extra level of shame.
“I was on the command staff,” he says. “So I’m in a leadership position. Everyone knows who I am. Everyone knows what I do. And officers are finding my sons in parks and in bushes.”
“One day I got a call from one of my best buddies at the department,” Humphrey recalls. “He says, ‘Kim, I got your sons in custody and it’s serious. There’s not only possession. There’s other crimes too. Technically, I can release them. What do you want me to do?”
Kim made a heartbreaking decision. He told his friend, “Joe, I want you to do whatever you think will save their lives.” His friend responded, “Then Kim, I think they need to go straight to jail.”
Incarceration, treatment programs, and even several hospitalizations weren’t enough to sober up their sons. But Kim and Michelle continued to work on themselves. Six months after they started attending meetings, Michael Speakman asked them to facilitate a different meeting, closer to their home.
“I thought he was crazy,” Humphrey says empathically. “Why would we do that? We have two sons living on the streets. We’re a mess! We’re devastated. But Speakman kept insisting we were perfect for the job. That was over six years ago.”
About two years after the Humphreys joined PAL, their older son had a particularly severe hospitalization. Afterward, he turned a corner and finally got himself sober. A few months later, with the older brother’s help, the younger one also got clean. Today they’re both employed, sober, and homeowners, Humphrey says. Their father could not be more proud.
He retired from the police force in late 2014. The next year, founder Speakman stepped aside and turned PAL over to a 12-member volunteer board. Humphrey was elected its first chairman. This year he became executive director of the group, which now runs meetings in 30 states.
“When people come through this and follow this program, more often than not, good things happen—at a minimum to them,” Humphrey says.
“We had one couple—their son overdosed and died. We went to his memorial with them, and she and her husband came back to the meeting. You’d think they would be bitter, but they said they didn’t know how they’d ever gotten through it without PAL. She still helps us six months later. That’s not a happy ending, but she’s making a difference in the lives of a lot of people.”