Welcome to Our Young Addicts

Welcome to Our Young Addicts.

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Past, Present, Future

Midwestern Mama recognizes that she and her family have come a long way!

Our past, our present and our future all deserve contemplation. Today, I am taking pause to think about how far we — yes, we – my son, our family, and me — have come through addiction, and more recently, recovery.

We’ve been a team through all of it. At times, as individual players. At other times, as collaborators. At times, a dysfunctional team and at other times a functional one.

When your kid is actively using and abusing substances, whether alcohol or drugs, things get rather tense. Our kid’s addiction wraps us up in the present – the immediate crisis, chaos and turmoil. It also gets us thinking about the past – either the good old days or trying to figure out whatever it was that happened to cause this problem … until we figure out and accept that we may never know the cause, and that we most certainly were not the cause.

During active addiction, it may feel impossible to think about the future – at least not in positive terms because we’re so worried about consequences like them not graduating or getting in trouble with the law and about horrible, scary outcomes like overdose and death.

Past, present and future, over and over again. It’s a relentless cycle until we decide to stop it. But that’s not easy and it’s something we have to learn how to do. It takes practice. It takes commitment. And it takes support – support from the whole team.

That brings us to today. Where are we today? Where have we been? Where might we be headed? These questions are not nagging or guilt laden at present. Today, these questions are cause for celebration, so I decided to capture some of the past, present, future. The common denominator is honesty and truth, and I expect that the future will also encompass enhanced self esteem, confidence, independence and richer relationships. All in all, no matter whether we are talking past, present or future tense, these days it’s a whole lot less tense for our family!

A Car, Driving & Transportation
Past Present Future
Finding drugs and paraphernalia in my son’s car. Speeding.   Going places he wasn’t supposed to go. Random, unexplained dents. Frequent flat tires. Taking away his car. Sharing the family car so he could go to work. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Taking away his driving privileges altogether. Possession charge. Accident in friend’s car. Court dates. Driver’s license suspension. Past-due fines and late-fees. Warrant for arrest. License reinstated. He’s insured. He drives the speed limit and doesn’t tailgate. He’s nearly 8 months sober. He keeps a mileage log of driving the family car to work, school and appointments. He’s pleasant about sharing the car and accepts a ride or willingly takes the bus when I need the car. He willingly drops his little brother at school and picks him up from sports practice as well as runs family errands … with a smile. His driving record will clear itself and he’ll have more insurance options along with lower premiums. He may have his own car. He’ll take on responsibility of gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs. He’ll be able to come and go as he wants.
School
Past Present Future
Cutting classes. Not doing homework. Not studying. Relying on skimming text books before a test. Being high in class. Dropping out. Trying again. Repeat. Academic probation. Successfully appealed academic probation. Registered for college classes (8 credits maximum allowed on probation). Doing homework. Studying. Attending each class. Taking notes. Met with his academic advisor. Achieves GPA to get off academic probation. Registers for summer and fall classes. Finds an academic interest and declares a major. Connects with other students and teachers. Gets involved on campus. Completes an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Living at Home
Past Present Future
Knew the rules about no drugs in the house and keeping family hours, but repeatedly broke these and left to sofa surf. Left his house key at home. When he did visit to shower and eat, often stole money. We changed the garage code so he couldn’t get in the house if we were not home. Was unable to pay rent to friends. Ended up homeless on multiple occasions. Lived at a shelter for several months, but broke their rules and after three warnings had to leave. Went to treatment, ran away. Went to treatment and lived at home – continued to use and ran away. Went to treatment and stuck it out. Went to halfway house and quit. Homeless again. Came home, went to treatment.   Could not leave him home alone. Living at home and sober since July 2014. Keeps bedroom and bathroom tidy. Does his laundry. Keeps family hours. Keeps us apprised of his plans including work schedule and occasional social outings. Interacts pleasantly with the family and loves taking care of the dog. Has a closet with clean, newer better-fitting clothes. No money has gone missing. He has a key to get in if we are not home. Will continue to live at home while saving money, working part time and going to school part time. Eventually will be able to move out, but will be welcome at home.
Money & Finances
Past Present Future
Always spent every dime he earned or was given. Stole merchandise and food from stores. Stole money from wallets and purses. Ran up debt – ambulance ride to ER, unpaid tuition, un-returned text books, unpaid fines and tickets. Participated in scams. Lost several banking accounts due to writing bad checks. Overall broke and bad credit. Did odd jobs over the summer to pay off tickets and get back his driver’s license. Got a part-time job and is earning and saving money. Told Mom and Dad the truth about some of his financial consequences. Made payment arrangements with debt collectors. Still spends “too much” on things he doesn’t “need” and buys gifts for others. Eats out instead of taking a lunch to school. Shares a weekly update with Mom. Will continue to work from a budget and to save. Will be debt free and build a better credit rating. Will have and use credit responsibly. Will have savings for emergency needs. Will be able to do “fun” things and get things he “wants.”

Nothing to Hide

We are a couple of moms creating a community of adults who care and are concerned about the young addicts in our lives. Together, we share our stories. Together, we share our truths. Though experiences, support and information, we are connected. We are together.

With kids born in the late 80s and early 90s, I didn’t jump on the social media train until a few years ago, and of course, it wasn’t even an option when they were little. Thus, they were spared from having baby pictures shared on Instagram. They were spared mommy blogging about spit up and potty training. And, they were spared from having their lives shared with “friends,” “followers” and “fans.”

The absence of social media did not equate with super private lives necessarily. Among friends and family, whether face to face or in letters and phone calls, we certainly shared plenty of details. I remember having daily, hour-long phone conversations with another mother who was part of a volunteer committee. We talked about anything and everything.

At the same time, I like to think I always had good judgment and a healthy respect for family members and family matters about what to share and what to keep within more immediate confines. Maybe that’s my generation. Maybe that’s my set of values. But maybe there’s some real merit in it, too.

When our middle kid, Our Young Addict, began having problems, I was open and honest with just about everyone, especially with teachers, coaches, counselors, neighbors, co-workers and many others. It seemed important to clue them in on our chaos and to share our experience. We had nothing to hide and only the best intentions.

More often than not, we were offered support and concern. Not everyone knew what to say or do, but everyone cared. Some people were grateful to know what was going on. Others had personal or family connections to addiction and recovery. Most were sympathetic if not empathetic.

Sure, there were some people who didn’t understand. Some thought surely I was exaggerating. Some probably were in denial about their kids. Some probably passed judgment on us and on our son. Most certainly, some got tired of getting a truthful response when they asked how we were doing or how our son was doing. They probably wanted to hear that everything was better, that he wasn’t an addict, that he had stopped using drugs, that all of this had just been a phase.

Along the way, I did turn to the internet to find information. Not only did I find volumes and volumes of information (and varying degrees of helpfulness), but I also started to find communities. You’ve read this before – this is how Our Young Addicts started; another mom and I connected as part of an online forum, exchanged our stories, and found value in sharing our experiences. We bolstered each other up. We offered each other the advice we ourselves needed to hear. We supported each other. We didn’t hold back because honesty was the key to success.

We decided that social media would be the best way to create a community with you. That’s way we launched on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress. Our intent is to provide glimpses into our own experiences as encouragement for you to share yours with the rest of the community. In addition, we like to share current news and findings so each of us becomes smarter and more informed.

One of the things that Mid Atlantic Mom and I feel strongly about is finding a balance between honesty, transparency and identity. Our sons are in their twenties now. They are legally adults. They have a right to their privacy and that includes their identities. That is why I do not use my name or my son’s name. It’s out of respect for his past, present and future. But that is also why I tell it like it is what we’re experiencing, what it’s like. The anonymity … It’s not for fear of shame or stigma. It’s not for keeping a secret. It’s for what I call being appropriately anonymous. That’s why we use the monikers – Midwestern Mama and Mid Atlantic Mom.

Our stories, not just mine and Mid Atlantic Mom’s, all of ours collectively, are vitally important. These stories create community regardless of whether the young person you’re concerned about is just trying out drugs or alcohol, is using recreationally, is abusing regularly, is progressing toward addiction and or more substances, is experiencing consequences, is in treatment, is in relapses, is in recovery, is struggling or thriving. Our stories are our truth and our truth is our connection.

Midwestern Mama

B Minus or A Plus – Grade This Essay

The youngest member of Midwestern Mama’s family writes about his brother’s substance use disorder.

When someone in the family is using drugs, it’s only a matter of time before one person’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. Our youngest son is 15 years old, a freshman in high school, and he recently wrote a “coming of age” essay for his English class where he talked about growing up with an addict brother.

He was nine years old when his brother began using drugs. For a year or two, he likely didn’t notice much, but by fifth grade we couldn’t hide it from him, nor did we want to. It was the year that things started to implode and it was the year that his class would participate in D.A.R.E. We believed it was important that he understood the chaos (in an age-appropriate manner) and to let this experience shape his own future choices, behaviors and attitudes towards drugs.

As we tried to work with our older son to move him toward treatment, we also worked hard at helping his younger brother and older sister process things. We talked openly with them, asked for their impressions and ideas, and we encouraged them to talk with a counselor or attend Ala-non or Ala-teen to put things in perspective. They saw us at our best and at our worst. They saw us for who we are.

One day our youngest was particularly distraught. In his recent essay, he wrote: “My life was ridiculously hard for a fifth grader.”

He knew that I had been working with a therapist to help myself manage the emotional roller coaster of parenting a kid with substance use disorder, so I offered to let the two of them meet and chat. It seemed to help little brother embrace the idea that he didn’t have to go through this alone and that there might be merit in talking with someone other than his family members – someone more objective and trained at these sensitive topics.

The next day, our youngest went to his school counselor. They hit it off, and she shared with him that she had a sibling with a substance use disorder. For the next couple of years, he would talk with her whenever things felt out of control, and through these conversations, a middle-schooler worked his way through some tough, scary, emotional times.

Just how did he feel during fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades? His essay reveals: “D.A.R.E made my problems even worse. I already knew a lot about what drugs did to the body because I had seen what they did to my brother.” He went on to say: “My brother’s problems affected my life in many ways. I (wanted) to be his friend … it was difficult to do so when he constantly was high or on the crash from drugs.”

They essay continued to talk about all the times when his brother had stolen his wallet, when he was homeless and his hygiene deteriorated – “He would smell like rotten apple dipped in crap drizzled in vinegar,” — when he was arrested for underage public intoxication, when he went to treatment but ran away … In just a few pages, my youngest son detailed the many low points he witnessed during his brother’s active addiction.

He concluded his essay by writing: “Knowing all I’ve been through is scary. The purpose of writing this (essay) was to (say) people have crazy family problems. I am outgoing and energetic, but deep inside, I still have problems. The best thing I learned through this experience is to stay strong. Talk to friends and counselors. Don’t let your problems overcome who you truly are. You are allowed to be affected by these tough moments in life, and at times you will feel worthless. Stay strong and it will get better. If life doesn’t have ups and downs, you’re (not really living).”

Little brother’s essay was as heartfelt and honest as anything I’ve ever read. It was also full of insight and perspective. I give it an A-Plus. His teacher, however, because the essay was riddled with typos, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, gave it a B-Minus.

Oh, well. I’m glad there’s another writer in the family who is willing to share this story – a story that has impacted each family member and a story that has had dark chapters, and now, over the past seven months of sobriety, is changing to chapters that are becoming increasingly bright.

Midwestern Mama with excerpts from her youngest son.