Making Sense of Signals

How do we know that another person is parenting a young addict? What signals do we give? Midwestern Mama explores the subtle ways we communicate and the important connections we make when we share that we know addiction.

Confession: As a high school student in the early ‘80s, I tried marijuana. It’s entirely possible but I may be the only person on earth to say I did not like it in the least. I actually tried to like it, but after a couple months of trying I gave it up declaring it just wasn’t for me.

That’s not say I didn’t continue to hang around high school friends who used marijuana regularly. It’s also not so say that I didn’t engage in some teenage and college drinking; for whatever reason, my “experimentation” was just that and it didn’t manifest as addiction in any sense.

Decades later, with a high school kid of my own, experimentation with drugs and alcohol went in a vastly different direction. My teenager became an addict almost immediately, and I gained a whole new understanding of substance use … addiction … mental health … treatment … relapse … recovery, and a whole lot more in between.

As much as I have learned, there remains so much I do not know – in general as well as specific to my son’s experience. Most of the unknowns I have accepted. The past is the past. I do, however, have curiosity and I have to remind myself whether that knowledge has any great purpose. I also realize, that the missing pieces may reveal themselves at some point in the future, if my son chooses to share and if it’s meant to be.

Even still, I have questions. For example, even for the extent to which I experienced drugs, personally and vicariously through my son, one thing I never figured out is the communication style that drug users use. How do they determine if someone else is a user? How do they find out if someone has something to share or sell? What is the language and what are the signals that that they use?

I may never know these things and I’m OK with that. It’s interesting, but not particularly useful. Save for sharing knowledge with other parents and as my son continues in recovery, I hope I never need to know the language or signals.

It occurs to me, however, that parents of young addicts also develop a language and set of signals.

Just the other day, I met a former colleague for coffee. As we caught up on careers, she mentioned that her 17-year-old son had given them some “challenges” the past few years. That’s an ambiguous statement. It doesn’t specify anything yet neither does it invite nor discourage any follow-up questions – unless you are a completely nosy person or a parent who has experienced your own ambiguous “challenges.” Instead, the ambiguity either goes without notice or it hangs there waiting to see if the other parent will pick up on something.

Acknowledging that we’d had challenges with our son in recent years, I gently asked if she cared to share what kind of challenges.

Quietly but without hesitation, she said, “Addiction.”

And, without hesitation, I said, “Oh my goodness, my son, too,” adding – to give her hope, “he’s now one year sober.”

You can imagine the rest of the conversation as we shared our experiences. It was refreshing to connect with another parent who understood what it’s like to have a young addict in the family. We listened to each others stories, empathized and validated feelings, and we exchanged ideas on what had worked and what hadn’t. All of a sudden, we had a new appreciation for each other and a renewed sense of our parenting roles not to mention additional hope and belief in the possibility of recovery for our sons.

What’s interesting about this scenario is that it is increasingly common. It seems I’m having this conversation more and more often. A part of me is glad that we are talking about our kids’ addiction and connecting rather than going it alone. At the same time, a part of me is sad that there is a seemingly rising number of families dealing with young adults substance use – too many kids are using and becoming addicted.

It got me wondering about what is the language and what are the signals that someone is parenting a young addict? I always used the phrase, “our son is taking a detour right now.” This was a nice way of saying, he was not doing what other kids his age were doing ,i.e., he’s not in college, he’s homeless, he’s addicted to drugs including heroin, he lies and steals, he sells his plasma to get money for food and drugs.

Yuck, who wants to say those things even if they are true? Instead, we test the waters with a catch phrase. Some people don’t pick up on the ambiguity and the conversation proceeds without addressing it. Other people do pick up on it, and it’s an opportunity for them to choose whether to engage.

The language and signals may be invisible to most people, but to parents who have been there or are still there with their kids, these are an opportunity to connect.

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Gratitude – Then and Now

With November arriving soon, Midwestern Mama is pleased to bring back the ever-successful “30 Days of Gratitude” initiative. Look for daily Twitter posts starting Nov. 1. #Gratitude2015 #OYACommunity

When your kid is in active addiction and recovery seems like a slim, distant possibility, it’s hard to embrace gratitude. Yet, the “attitude of gratitude” is a life saver as many parents will tell you.

Addiction can be all consuming for parents, family members and friends. We get wrapped up in the horrors and fear that addiction brings to our lives. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that we can’t see ANY of the good things – the things for which we are thankful.

At night, when I was wondering where my son was, what he was up to, how he was feeling, what would happen next … and more. Exhausted from worry, not to mention all the responsibilities that I shouldered during the daytime, my mind would race instead of being able to settle into much-needed rest.

During those times, I would shift my focus to think about all the good things that had happened that day. I would start with remembering the day from alarm clock to work, family time, and climbing into bed.

In reality, most of the things that I worried about with our young addict were beyond my control. In fact, some days I hadn’t even had contact with him. I could imagine what was going on (and, yes was mostly right), but I did not know for certain.

I had to learn to let go as best I could and be the best mom to our other children, the best wife and friend to my husband, the best co-worker at the office, the best teacher to my college students ,etc. By best, I don’t mean some unrealistic heroine, rather simply do the best that I could because these roles and facets of my life were important to me, and these were the very places where I could have a positive impact.

Each evening as I went to sleep during those long years of addiction, I would make the effort to think through the good things in life … and yes, say a prayer that these good things would soon apply to my young addict.

In November 2014, my son was nearly four months sober. These were some of the best days we’d experienced in a long time. In such a short time of sobriety, our family had come a long way toward recovery – his and ours. I decided that I would dedicate the month of November – Thanksgiving – to 30 Days of Gratitude on Twitter, Facebook and this blog.

The 30 Days of Gratitude (#Gratitude2014) was sensationally popular within the Our Young Addicts community, so I’m bringing it back for #Gratitude2015 and hope you will join us no matter where you may be on the spectrum of addiction and recovery. After all, there is always something for which we can be grateful.

I am eternally grateful for this community and look forward to sharing this year’s 30 Days of Gratitude with you!

Midwestern Mama

Guest Blog: Impact of Exercise in Addiction Recovery for Youth

This week’s guest blogger is Fiona Parascandalo of DUO, an Ontario addiction-recovery program focused on youth and the healing value of exercise. For young adults,  in particular, exercise is a key component to recovery. Learn why and how. MWM. #OYACommunity

Exercise is something that is often touted as making people happier and reducing stress, but less commonly discussed is the how the benefits of exercise can be used in the addiction recovery process. Youth especially have a lot to gain by incorporating exercise into their treatment or counseling. Exercise allows youth to take control of their journey towards to recovery, exercise also has significant impacts on the brain in there critical stage of development, and exercise is an easy practice to build into a daily routine.

  1. Exercise promotes active engagement with recovery: It is important for youth to feel in control of their recovery process and be given the opportunity to see the outcomes of their daily choices. In many treatment programs, youth are treated as passive participants and removed from making choices about their recovery or long term treatment plans. This can be damaging to the development of self-identity in a crucial stage of transitioning into adulthood. When youth engage in an exercise program as a focal point of recovery, they are the centre of the recovery process and their physical effort has direct ties to their recovery.

The purpose of exercise is to revitalize and develop the body, mind, and spirit. Initiating a fitness regime at any stage of recovery involves making a change to addiction driven behaviours and engaging in new, mindful behaviors. Exercise is an opportunity to tune out stimulus and cravings, and focus on natural sensations in the body.

As youth are developing into themselves and defining who they are as individuals, exercise provides a means to discover the underlying catalysts of addictive behaviors so that addiction does not become a lifelong issue.

  1.  Exercise stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive substances: Addiction is created in the brain by the addictive substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamines) or behaviour (i.e. sex, video games) continuously stimulating the brain’s reward centre. New pathways are created and the user begins to crave the substance that caused the over stimulation of their reward centre. For youth, this is an especially dangerous neurological dependence as their brains are at an important stage of development.

In terms of brain development, late teen and early adult years mark the time when the prefrontal cortex, involved in the control of impulses and decision-making, is maturing. Involvement in substance abuse can delay or damage this development causing lifelong struggles with reckless and irrational behaviour.

In addition to creating new pathways in the brain, establishing a regular exercise regime as part of a stringent recovery process has been shown to reduce cravings and build resistance to triggers.

This allows the youth to take control of their reliance on a substance or addictive behaviour and engage in an activity that will positively affect their future neurological development as well as overall health.

  1. Exercise can be incorporated into a daily routine: For treatment to have a lasting effect it should be easily integrated into daily life and the practices learned should be simple to recall when facing a trigger. Establishing a daily routine will allow for a disciplined approach to facing triggers that can be utilized anywhere and at any time.

For example, if first thing in the morning is when you typically have your first cigarette, switch this behaviour with a morning run or simple body-weight workout; if after school you typically use with your friends, switch this with an after school team practice or start a regular football game with your friends. While this is a simplified explanation of how exercise can be leaned on when facing triggers or cravings, it does highlight the fact that exercise is a tool that can be used by anyone to assist in the recovery process. As part of a controlled and monitored recovery process small behavioural changes can have lasting impacts.

For teens and young adults the ease of integrating exercise into their daily routines is essential to its impact on their addiction. Between the ages of 15-24 daily activities and commitments are continuously changing, and addiction can be used as a coping mechanism to deal with these changes or as a way to escape the burden of increasing stressors.

Exercise is an affordable and customizable tool that has the capability to replace the feelings of relief and escape caused by substances. Chemicals released in the brain while exercising, endorphins and serotonin, reduce stress and increase happiness.

When facing stressful or overwhelming situations, individuals in recovery can learn to rely on exercise rather than abusing a substance to improve their mood and cope with the situation. Youth have the most to gain from engaging in an exercise focused recovery program as they will learn lifelong skills that can be easily integrated into their busy schedules.

Fiona Parascandelo

DUOaddictionfj@outlook.com

www.duoaddictionsupport.ca

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

#TBT – In Hard Times, Siblings Will Ask … And Deserve to Know – Truth about Addiction

There’s no hiding the fact that a sibling is struggling with addiction, so it’s important to include and involve the other siblings. In this 2012 column, Midwestern Mama embraces a #NoMoreStigma approach.

Real Mom_ In hard times, siblings will ask — and deserve to know – Minnmoms

Guest Blog: Judy Rummler on Being FED UP! with the Opioid Addiction Epidemic

This week we are reblogging a guest blog from the Phoenix House. It profiles Judy Rummler, founder of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and leader of the recent FedUp! Rally that took place in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. Thank you, Judy, for being an action-oriented advocate for overdose prevention.

http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/our-perspectives/judy-rummler-on-being-fed-up-with-the-opioid-addiction-epidemic/

This blog ran on the Phoenix House website on Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Judy Rummler (2)Our guest blogger this week is Judy Rummler, president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which provides programming and hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. She has been chair of the FED UP! Coalition since its inception in 2012 and is working with the committee that is planning this year’s FED UP! Rally on Saturday, October 3 in Washington, D.C. The coalition and annual rally bring together individuals and organizations to prompt federal action to end the epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths related to opioids, encompassing both heroin and prescription painkillers. Here, in a Q&A conversation, she discusses FED UP!, the rally’s goals, and what individuals can do to help fight the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Phoenix House:  How did you become involved in FED UP!?

Judy Rummler:  My son Steve died of an accidental opioid overdose after becoming addicted to the painkillers that were prescribed to him for his chronic pain. After his death, my husband and I created the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation to provide hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. We had no idea at first that his death was part of a national epidemic of overdose deaths, but we quickly learned that federal action would be required to bring this epidemic to an end. I started attending hearings at the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], where I met Dr. Andrew Kolodny. And I met others there who were passionate about creating change, many of whom had also lost loved ones. We decided that change would come faster if we created one voice as a coalition.

PH:  When you first started, what did you hope FED UP! would accomplish? Has it lived up to your expectations?

JR:  One of our first goals was to get the FDA to reschedule hydrocodone combination products from Class III to Class II, which was important because a doctor’s visit is now required for refills of prescriptions for these drugs. This has happened. We also wanted to increase public awareness of the epidemic. We now see it in the news regularly. So, we are happy with these and other successes, but there is much more to do!

PH:  What do you hope will come out of this year’s rally?

JR:  We hope to get President Obama to speak out about the epidemic. It wasn’t until President Reagan spoke out about the AIDS epidemic, after 20,000 deaths, that the nation began to seriously look for solutions. We have a petition on change.org asking the President to provide the needed leadership and speak out about the opioid epidemic.

Fed-Up-Flyer-2015PH:  What part of this year’s rally are you looking forward to the most?

JR:  This year’s rally will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech. I am looking forward to this special location and to our partnership with UNITE to Face Addiction—in addition to our usual array of amazing speakers.

PH:  When most people hear “prescription drug abuse,” they think of a teenager rummaging through the medicine cabinet looking for a quick high. How does that jibe with what you know about the opioid epidemic?  

JR:  The root of the epidemic is the overprescribing of opioid painkillers, not the “abuse.” The medications in medicine cabinets were prescribed to someone. Many people mistakenly believe that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor that they are safe.

PH:  What do you wish you could say to people who currently have a loved one struggling with opioid addiction?

JR:  This is a very difficult question. My husband and I did everything we could think of to save our son from the disease of addiction. I now know more than most people about the disease, and I would do some things differently, but I’m still not sure how we could have saved him. I would tell people to learn as much as they can about the disease as soon as possible and to be sure that medication-assisted treatment is available at any addiction treatment program they might choose.

PH:  If someone can’t attend the rally but would like to do something to fight the opioid addiction epidemic, do you have any suggestions for things they can do?

JR:  I would suggest that they join an advocacy group in their local community that is working to fight the epidemic. I would also encourage them to tell their story as often as they can. Public awareness of the issue is increasing, but we need more people to speak out.

– See more at: http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/our-perspectives/judy-rummler-on-being-fed-up-with-the-opioid-addiction-epidemic/#sthash.3qGogI6T.dpuf

#TBT – Tips for a Strong Marriage When Pareting a Young Addict

Recently, Midwestern Mama penned an article for In Recovery magazine about the impact of a child’s addiction and recovery on the parents’ marriage, so it’s only fitting that for #TBT that we rerun a 2012 column on a similar topic. It seems the principles stand the test of time regardless of the scenario.

A Real Mom 1-23-12_ Tips for a strong marriage while dealing with addiction – Minnmoms