The Game of Life

Almost every child has giggled himself silly playing games like Peekaboo and Hide and Seek. There’s the element of surprise. There’s the element of relief. And there’s an element of interaction. Each part of these games involves questions and realizations, and kids and parents learn a great deal from playing types of games together.

As my son nears his 22nd birthday and his childhood friends are graduating from college, I’ve remembered quite a few of the old games drawing connections between these pastimes and current times. Being a Millennial, my son’s playtime started out with more traditional activities – board games like High-Ho Cheerio and building sets like Legos. By grade school, he and his peers were moving toward electronic toys – GameBoy, video games, computer games. Social media took off when he was in high school with Facebook, Instant Messaging and texting.

If you’re a parent in your 40s, 50s or 60s, you probably remember the Game of Life. You moved around a board with a game token that was shaped like a car, and you could make choices about college and careers, buying homes and insurance.

Lately, I’ve thought about addiction as a board game. Please know I’m not making light of it or even being glib, and I am absolutely not implying that it’s a game on purpose or a mind game. No negative intentions or connotations, just a positive and easy to understand metaphor. OK, we’ve got that settled. Thank you and keep reading.

It’s just that parenting a young addict reminds me of a board game that comes with an objective and requires strategies as well as luck (sometimes good luck and sometimes bad luck) in order to move forward. That is the point after all, to move forward, to come out a winner.

Surprise!

Whatever the game, the element of surprise is ever present. It ranges from the anticipated to the unexpected, and leaves the players wondering what will happen next. The inherent intrigue, including the unknown possibilities, creates interest in continuing the game instead of quitting.

For my young addict and for our family, surprise was definitely part of our early experience with addiction. It started off with our surprise that he was using – he was such a good, smart, well-liked kid and we had been good – not perfect – parents. Our son didn’t fit the stereotype of a drug user, let alone an addict. No one would have predicted he would have a substance use disorder. Yet, the signs were there and when we had confirmation that he was using drugs, we really weren’t that surprised.

I think his quick thrust from using to outright addiction certainly surprised our son- he didn’t plan to have a problem – and the consequences of use surprised him even more. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect that his path would diverge so much from his peers’. They went to college. He postponed college and when he started a semester late, he ended up in detox and the ER six days after classes started and was kicked out of school within a month after that. Talk about a fast track that further propelled his use and myriad consequences.

We stood by him, but in a firm yet loving way. Our no-enabling stance definitely took him by surprise as did our loving detachment and relentless encouragement. Our imperfections with parenting a young addict created inconsistencies that set us all back from time to time. (Where are the rules to this game?) Sometimes, it has felt like playing one of those games when you get close to the finish line only to draw the card that sends you all the way back to the beginning so that you have to go through all the dice rolling or spinner spinning again. (How many times did that happen in High-ho Cheerio? It was the game that seemed like it would never be over.)

Relief

Once we knew what was going on – what game we were playing — we immersed ourselves in understanding addiction, treatment and recovery in all its many variations. While we didn’t necessarily have the answer or solution, we certainly embraced knowledge and explored options.

Having an understanding of the game means that now there really are no more surprises from our perspective. Each difficult step has come with realistic, but ever hopeful, understanding. Instead of surprises, we get confirmations of our suspicions and concerns. Instead of surprises, we are better equipped to deal with whatever happens next, or at least we tell ourselves that.

We continue to anticipate a happy surprise. We hope one day he will want to change enough to get maintain a positive attitude that maybe today will be the day. When it isn’t, well, we find relief in a text, sighting or visit. These aren’t always pleasant, but these are tiding us over. We are grateful he’s alive for another day because each day is a day of positive possibility. That is a relief.

Interaction

Each interaction with our son is an opportunity. We can tell if he’s high or coming down. We can tell if he’s had a good day or not. We can tell if he’s receptive to talking about his situation or if it’s better to give it more time. We can tell if he’s had a good night of sleep, a shower or a meal. We can tell when he’s itchy to leave us to go with his friends.

Anymore, our interactions are less and less frequent, but still somewhat predictable. He’ll contact us and ask to come over. He’ll shower and eat. From there, it depends. He might fall asleep – anywhere from a short nap to upwards of 16 hours, no kidding. Or, he might be energetic and play video games with our younger son or even take the dog for a walk.

Then … he’ll hesitate by the kitchen counter and say, “I’m heading out.” We both know what that means. From there, it’s usually days – even a week – before we hear from him again. We’ll reach out to remind him that we’re here, that we care. If he interacts, great; if not, we let him be. Too much interaction on our part seems to drive him further way and it takes longer for him to return.

We’re finally getting good at this game, and we know that the most important winner will be our son!

Midwestern Mama

Advertisements

Never Say Never

Midwestern Mama and her family have been modeling for us what it means to be the loving support system for a family member with a substance use disorder. They keep him close and include him in family activities without enabling or condoning his use. They treat him with dignity and respect, while encouraging him to get the help he needs. This is a very difficult line to walk and it’s easy to step outside the path, but I believe it’s better to make mistakes and keep our loved ones close.

I have always said to both my sons that I am glad God gave them to me. Someday I believe Midwestern Mama’s son will tell his family that he is glad God gave him to them.

Recently Midwestern Mama tweeted “I keep praying that a guardian angel will show up and that my son will trust and have faith in the help this angel offers.” It looks to me that that angel has shown up and it’s guiding this family.

“Never, never, never give up.” Winston Churchill

Mid Atlantic Mom

Every time I buy more bagels …

Breakfast food is among my favorite. I like bacon and eggs, in particular, just about any time of day. My young addict likes eggs, but not bacon. He doesn’t care much for cereal. He’s usually not hungry until an hour or so after he wakes up. When he was still in high school, his go-to meal was a bagel and cream cheese. We kept these in bulk so he always had quick, easy and nutritious meal available.

Our remaining at-home kiddo is more of a frozen waffle person. He toasts these and eat waffles for breakfast just about every day. So, of course, we keep these in good supply. He likes bagels all right, but with his braces, a bagel is a bit more difficult to bite and chew, so waffles are a better bet.

As a mom, I think about breakfast a lot. That’s what you do as a parent. You make sure there is always a breakfast option so everyone can start the day off with that all-important fortification.

Although our young addict has intermittently lived at home – or spent some nights here — these past several years, his not a regular resident and my grocery-shopping reflects this; I hardly, if ever, load the cart with bagels and cream cheese. And, then he shows up and the refrigerator might as well be bare because there are no bagels, no cream cheese.

Right before he started drug treatment in December, our young addict was staying with us for a few nights. We bought some bagels and cream cheese. The very next day, he got a call from the treatment center that a bed had opened up two weeks earlier than anticipated. That morning, he smeared some cream cheese on a bagel and we made the 40-mile trek to treatment. For the next 50-odd days, the remaining five bagels and opened package of cream cheese sat in my refrigerator … until I decided the freshness date had expired and tossed these out.

Since completing treatment and then starting and then quitting his half-way program against staff recommendation, our young addict was immediately homeless again, back using, and sofa surfing at the homes of his former drug buddies.

Ever concerned, we’ve reached out to him to encourage returning to a treatment and recovery program. As always, he’s denying that he’s using and resisting any help. Even though we know otherwise on the using. Even though we know that staying at home may be a form of enabling.

All the same, we know he needs a safe place and some good food so he can possibly think more clearly. Last Tuesday, we said he could stay the night and that we’d get him to work the next day. We brought up out-patient counseling. He said, “Maybe.”

After a few days, he was better rested, better fed (including bagels and cream cheese) and had a better attitude. We were working together as a team. He said he had a plan. We said we were proud, that we would support that, that he could stay in the interim as he was pursuing a recovery program.

Yet, we knew better, and when his work week wrapped up and he had three days off before his next shift, and headed out the door to hang with his heroin and pot-smoking “friends” that it wasn’t likely that he’d be with us for breakfast the next morning. (My only hope, and this is admittedly grim, is that I hope he will be back because every time he uses, I know that it’s possibly, even increasingly, a fatal outcome. Yes, I am bracing myself for that even as I remain ever hopeful, ever optimistic, ever realistic, ever, ever, ever … believing that one day he will be sober and healthy, instead of intoxicated and dying.)

In fact, we knew he wouldn’t be home that night. We knew he wouldn’t call or text letting us know that he wasn’t coming back. We knew he wouldn’t respond when we reached out. We knew he wasn’t having a phone interview the next day with a sober house; just one of the well-intentioned promises he appeases us with that becomes a well-worn, well rehearsed and routine lie. We knew that he couldn’t meet the sober-house requirements of a minimum of 30 days sober and with a letter of recommendation from his halfway house, another well-intentioned action that he couldn’t act upon.

So, here we are. I’ve got a half-full bag of bagels in the refrigerator and a couple more bags in the freezer; the cream cheese is half gone with a couple more packs in the deli drawer. We are ready for his homecoming. Every time I buy more bagels, anticipating that we’re turning in a positive direction, the cycle begins again.

My prediction is he will call tomorrow because his work clothes are here and he will want to come shower and change. Will we offer him a bed to sleep in when his shift is done? Will he want to stay here that night? I don’t know, but he’ll probably have a bagel and cream cheese if he does show up.

Inspired by my cohort, Mid Atlantic Mom, I’ll wrap up this blog post with a quotation: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.”

Midwestern Mama

Sibling Sleepover

This weekend, we had all three kids at home on Friday night – a real rarity.  Our adult daughter was taking the dog on a charity walk early the next morning, so it made sense for her to stay the night.  Our 14-year-old son, of course, lives at home with us.  And our young addict son has been staying with us the past few nights as he’s once again run out of options and we’re once again encouraging him to go back to treatment.  (If you’ve followed our journey, he’s been homeless due to his drug use and our anti-enabling for much of the past four years … so this letting him back in is a newer strategy that might just be working.)

In the few days our young addict has been home, he’s gone from being a hungover zombie to getting regular sleep, keeping a regular schedule and having regular meals.  We’ve had a reminder of who he is at the core and who he has become at the stronghold of addiction.

For the siblings, every time we can gather them together, it’s healing as well as eye-opening.  Learn more about the impact of drug use on siblings in a recent article that I wrote for Your Teen Magazine: http://yourteenmag.com/  This publication in print and online holds a wealth of resources, perspectives and tips for raising a teen.  Our Young Addicts is pleased to contribute this story.

After a short, but sweet sleepover, Saturday morning came bright and early.  Daughter and puppy dog left for their walk.  Dad and our 14-year-old left for a sports match.  And I repeatedly tried waking our young addict so he could go watch his younger brother play.  Eventually, he did get up yawning for much of the time.

It was a happy day.

Midwestern Mama