Quiz-of-the-day: What One Word Describes … ?

Midwestern Mama observes the fragile nature of her son’s recovery.

It seems today there is a quiz for just about everything. Some are quite fun and lighthearted, and others get at deeper findings … albeit in nine simple, multiple-choice questions with the option to share the results on Facebook.

Admittedly, I’ve taken my share of these and generally agree with the assessments, but that’s just it – these quizzes are easy, occasionally even insightful, and I enjoy the feedback. If there were a nine-question quiz that would sum up my son’s outlook, I think the finding would be: Fragile.

Ever since I started keeping notes, logging observations, and blogging about addiction and recovery, I’ve believed that situations resolve eventually, that there is potential for improvement, for transformation, for better days ahead. That’s my orientation to life. For my son, it’s another orientation altogether.

I started writing real-time accounts about my son’s addiction and our family’s experience because it seemed that there were really only two narratives out there: 1) the horrific, after-the fact story of the addict who died; and 2) the heroic, full-on, recovery story. What was missing was the story that is far more common, the story that’s still unfolding – either of addiction in progress or of recovery in progress.

Our story is still in progress. There are still many chapters to go. We don’t know what will happen next, and so I continue to write about what is going on now, and share it with you in hopes that it resonates in some way with your own experiences, and that together, we will be less fragile and grow in strength.

I am pleased that my son is six months sober. It is his longest time of sobriety yet, and even more importantly, it is one that he embraces. Thanks , in part to Suboxone, the sobriety aspect has the easiest part of recovery. Now, without drugs, he’s facing the realities and aftermath of the past five or six years: debt, academic probation, tickets, deteriorated friendships, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and more.

Everything he does takes extreme effort and the result is exhaustion. Nothing is easy. But he’s plugging away at it. We are supporting him, but it’s not easy to watch him struggle.

A few tips that are helping, include:

Keep repeating the Serenity Prayer, and it really does help.Think about each part of it.

Ask open-ended questions and share personal experiences, feelings to see if he wants to talk – usually not.

Listen without offering advice.

Help with somethings – simply being nice (do unto others type of things) but try not to enable.

Give him space.

However, I’m as concerned today about his mental health as I ever was about his addiction.  Recently, he completed a series of psychological evaluations and is working with a therapist on mental health, including depression and social anxiety. The evaluation confirmed several things, validated others, and raised our awareness that he is still at risk. In short, he’s fragile, and it’s going to take time and effort to build up his strength from the inside out.

Midwestern Mama

What Can I Say? Arguments Happen.

Midwestern Mama shares three great sayings that put arguments in perspective.

Bloggers are not just blog writers. We are blog readers, too. One of the blogs I read regularly is written by a mom whose son is eight months sober – you can see why I find this one of interest.

In her last post, she shared an argument that happened over the holidays. It was eating her up as she wondered about the impact of this on her relationship with her son and, of course, on his recovery. She had hesitated to blog about it, but then found value in processing her feelings and gathering input from her readers.

It got me thinking about this blog and our vision to provide honest, real-time posts about our sons, their journeys, and our parenting experiences. Aside from maintaining appropriate anonymity, I hold back nothing; at the same time, I try not to bore you with all the details. If anything, I hope you see us as real people dealing with addiction and recovery in a real way – not always perfect, but always with good intentions, and always willing to share what worked and what didn’t.

We, too, had an argument with our son recently. It scared me. It scared him. Fortunately, it was short-lived and we weathered it. In fact, I think it actually strengthened things. A year ago, I doubt this would have been the case.

This argument was about a laptop computer. It’s been a recurring topic in parenting our young addict.

When my son graduated from high school, we were paying his tuition (minus a wonderful scholarship he’d received) and he was supposed to use some of the money he earned from a part-time job plus graduation-gift money to pay for his college laptop and textbooks. Seemed like a fair deal.

Well, of course, he spent all his money on drugs before classes ever started. Because we desperately wanted him to go to college and hoped that he’d rise to the occasion of a clean start, we bought him a laptop. Within a few weeks of drug-related trouble at college, he sold the laptop. For drugs.

Two years ago, my son won a $1,000 raffle. He immediately went out to purchase a laptop with it. He relished in being able to play online games again instead of being limited to the family computer or the computers at the library. A few months later, I noticed the laptop was missing. He sold it. For drugs.

Now this fall, out of treatment and working on recovery, he took action to return to a local college. Certainly, he would need a laptop computer for homework. With a part-time job, he wanted to buy a laptop. Props to him for wanting to buy a laptop himself and for sharing this decision with us.

The laptop he selected was quite expensive – because it was primarily a gaming computer, one that had more bells and whistles than he legitimately would need for school. And, because his bank account is set up to prevent him from making purchases over $300 due to a history of bad checks and debt, he would need his dad or me to pay for the laptop and then he planned to reimburse us.

That’s where the argument ensued. We had concerns about the amount he was spending when a more affordable laptop would meet his school needs. We had concerns about him spending too much time gaming – contributing to staying up late, engaging in another form of addictive behavior, etc., etc. We also had concerns about him putting this purchase ahead of other debt he needed to pay off and expenses that we are covering while he’s getting his life back together.

Black Friday and Cyber Saturday were feeding his impulsiveness and obsession. He needed this computer and he needed it right now. He felt the deals would never be better. That he had to buy the laptop NOW! We felt he could wait until after the holidays, earn a bit more money. Do a bit more research on which laptop to buy.

He kept pushing the conversation. Kept asking if we’d put it on our credit card. Kept saying he’d pay us back.

I tried to explain our concerns. He did listen, but he had a comeback for each one. Finally, my husband entered the conversation and in his direct, to-the-point style, he asked some hard questions of our son, and laid out our concerns in no uncertain terms. When my son started to explain, my husband interrupted him, and then my son interrupted him, and then each one raised his voice, and then each one started saying what they felt. It was getting ugly.

By this time, my son stood up, grabbed his coat and said he wouldn’t continue the conversation. He was leaving. This is a behavior we’ve witnessed many times in the past, and it never led anywhere good. It was always a setback. He’d always go running to his drug-using buddies. This scared me.

We gave him some time. About an hour. Finally, we exchanged a few text messages. I think I started it with, “The mudroom door is unlocked when you’re ready to come home” He asked if Dad had unlocked the door or if I had. This mattered a lot to him. I lied and said Dad had unlocked the door. About an hour later he came back.

The next day he was scheduled to see his therapist, and following that, he suggested a compromise – he’d look for a less expensive laptop AND he would write a note to Dad explaining that “walking out” was his way of cooling down.

A few days later, he wrote the note, he apologized for raising his voice first and for using expletives. He was sorry and he wanted to move forward. And so we have.

My son found a less expensive computer that met his school needs and would accommodate gaming. He pledged to limit his time on the computer, keep good sleep habits and to be open to feedback from us if we observed otherwise. He says he’ll share his grades with us on a regular basis. He’s going to let his behaviors build trust.

To make things even better, he went to his bank and explained the situation and was able to work out a way to pay for the computer directly from his account. The banker listened as he explained going back to school, working part time and being committed to recovery. They let him make the one-time larger purchase, but have kept the spending limit in place until he reaches and maintains an established minimum balance. That my son did this on his own is incredible. We did not enable, and he empowered himself!

We all learned some things from this argument, and it reminded me of many of the things I’ve learned as a result of our son’s addiction and recovery about relationships and communication.

Support groups are full of good sayings. Sometimes these seem trite but more often than not, these are great reminders of the good old Golden Rule. Who can argue with that? I can think of at least three sayings that resonate with me on the topic of arguments.

One is from my Al-anon group, one is through an online group where Mid Atlantic Mom and I met, and one is a quote from Steven Covey that my son embraced during his treatment program.

“Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.”

“From chaos comes clarity.”

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviors.”

What can I say? Arguments happen and those three sayings are as great guides for these, sometimes unavoidable, exchanges.

Midwestern Mama

From Addiction to Recovery: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Is …What?

Midwestern Mama updates us on her son’s recovery from opiate addiction and his return to college.

Even if you’re not an expert on Einstein and his many brilliant ideas, chances are you have heard that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It makes sense. It sounds simple.

You might think that my math-whiz son who considers himself logical and prefers a fast pace to a slow one could embrace the idea and apply it to his life. But life is not a formula and by no means is addiction or recovery.

At best, these are a process, an equation to work at to which we apply knowledge, wisdom and experience – almost never in a straight line, but often as a series of zigs and zags, with plenty of scratch outs and eraser marks.

Subtract Addiction. Add Recovery.

Let’s start by subtracting addiction. That’s my favorite part of this. My son is six months sober. This is the longest period of sobriety he has ever known since starting with marijuana and progressing to heroin not to mention trying just about everything else including meth, ecstasy and more.

Now let’s add in recovery. My other favorite part of the equation. Since wrapping up a high-intensity outpatient program, he continues to take daily doses of Suboxone and to attend bi-weekly counseling appointments. He also sees a mental-health therapist and recently completed an extensive psychiatric evaluation.

He’s living at home and is re-establishing trust with the family. He paid off several tickets, so his driver’s license is no longer suspended, and we diligently found auto insurance (albeit, expensive) that would take him on our policy. He drives with care because he doesn’t want even a tiny mark on his record to jeopardize this privilege.

He is paying off debt that he racked up from some scams he got involved in while desperate for money a few years back. As much as he wants to be financially independent and have freedom to spend on things he wants, he’s putting hard-earned hourly wages and tips from a part-time job toward debt.

Last week, he started back to college, taking eight credits – the maximum allowed while he works his way off of academic probation from the last go around at school. He had to petition the school to let him come back by writing an essay and getting letters of support. He wrote an honest account of the past five or six years, explaining that he’d attended class high, if he attended at all and that now he’s completed treatment – once and for all, he says – and is committed to recovery.

Show Your Work

If there is one thing I do remember about math class: it’s not enough to come up with the answer, you have to show your work. He’s repeating a high-level, complex mathematics course this term – Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, to be exact.

Some of the problems are taking more than a page of writing to work through. He uses a scientific calculator to go out many, many decimals for the answers. (It’s beyond me, but it resonates for him.)

This reminds me of his recovery work. It’s not easy. It’s not neat. It takes time. It’s not making him immediately happy or confident. It’s a struggle. But it’s his choice and his commitment, and it’s what he feels he can do.  I wish he had chosen an easier class or even opted to repeat something from earlier in the math sequence, but he wanted to start back where he left off.

I can witness it. I can sympathize. I can worry, and I do sometimes, because I’m a mom. I can offer resources. But, I can’t help him and I absolutely can’t do it for him. No matter what, he’s the one who has to figure out the shortest (or longest!) distance between the two points in his life, and I have no doubt he will do it. Why? Because he is doing it. Problem by problem. Answer by answer. And it shows!

Midwestern Mama