Puppy Love at First Sight

Midwestern Mama celebrates a wedding anniversary, her son’s continued sobriety, and the puppy that has brought incredible healing to the family.

Welcome Home Puppy

Three years ago on our 25th wedding anniversary, a neighbor was taking care of a Golden Retriever puppy and asked if we’d like to meet it. This adorable little fluff ball needed a home. Without hesitation, my husband and I offered to adopt the puppy. Our neighbor was thrilled and said she’d make arrangements with the owner the next day.

We were getting a puppy! Until recently, our family life with school, sports and work schedules did not lend itself to having a puppy. Now, however, we had a bit more flexibility and believed this was an ideal time to add a puppy to the mix.

The next morning, my husband purchased puppy chow and a soft bed. We texted the neighbor and didn’t hear back. We waited. Then we got the call that the owner had already promised the puppy to someone else; our neighbor was sorry to share this message.

We had geared up for this exciting new adventure only to have it end before it even started.

Without hesitation, my husband looked online at puppy adoption through our local animal humane society. There among the puppies was an adorable, 14-week-old with white fur and black markings. So cute, so loving, we knew he would be adopted in a heartbeat.

We arrived at the animal humane society the moment it opened. Upon meeting the puppy, we knew this was the one. There was something extra special about him and we brought him home.

Our 12-year-old son had just gotten back home from a sleepover when we pulled in the driveway with the puppy. Love at first sight.

Later that day, we texted our 20-year-old son hoping to reach him from wherever he might be in whatever state of high he might be in. We didn’t tell him why he should return home, but said we really wanted to see him. A few hours later, he showed up and met the puppy. Love at first sight.

These were the days when our son was working an overnight shift at a local Perkins. He had been living with us again for a few months and was participating in an out-patient treatment program – although his attendance and commitment was anything but engaged. He was using, lying, stealing, and living in a fog. It was one of the many chapters of his devastating drug addiction.

But upon meeting the puppy, we observed a softening. Our son’s caring, compassionate, loving self was visible. Although the turmoil of addiction – including homelessness – continued for another year and a half, having the puppy at home was always a welcome reason for him to stop and see the family. The puppy became a connection point for our family, and our young addict and the puppy developed a strong and special bond. (The puppy even ‘wrote’ a letter to our son and attended an intervention with family and friends.)

When our son moved back home and committed to treatment, sobriety and recovery, the puppy was the best therapist ever. Best friends.

As my husband and I celebrate our 28th anniversary this weekend, and our son’s 18 months of sobriety, we are forever in awe of the role that our puppy has played in healing our family. Love at first sight, indeed.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

Making the Grade – From Addiction to Academic Achievement

Whoo-hoo! Midwestern Mama’s son has successfully completed a semester of college – sober and with good grades.

Until this week, my son had taken college classes here and there. A few he took as part of our school district’s PSEO (post secondary education option) program – mostly because he’s gifted in math and had taken all the courses available at high school. A few he took after high school graduation, but these he either didn’t complete or didn’t meet minimum grade requirements to continue.

When he graduated (just barely) from high school in 2010, his addiction was full on and he had no interest in going to college in spite of a wonderful scholarship and opportunity to play on the men’s tennis team. Instead, he enrolled in community college and then proceeded to skip classes and within a month or so dropped out without paying the balance of his tuition.

In 2011, he decided the college opportunity was better than what he was doing at the time, so he gratefully thought he’d get his act together and start up for spring semester. That didn’t go so well. Readers of this blog know that the first weekend on campus landed him in the ER and detox, and soon after in getting kicked off the tennis team and out of campus housing.

A year later, one of the treatment programs he attended encouraged us, and him, to go back to community college. Same old, same old. He was using drugs, didn’t do assignments, didn’t go to class. While he technically completed two classes, his grades reflected his lack of commitment and the college placed him on academic probation.

Fast forward, at age 22, as his childhood friends were graduating and getting “big-boy” jobs, he embraced sobriety and recovery. He decided to go back to college for spring semester 2015.

With hopeful trepidation, he addressed academic probation with a heartfelt letter of appeal and asked for admission. It was granted and he signed up for the maximum number of credits allowed as part of academic probation – 8 credits, two classes.

He took the placement exam and scored well but it indicated that he should go back a course or two in math. Stubborn as always, he decided proceed with the next course anyway – differential equations and linear algebra. Tough classes regardless of having completed the prerequisites … even tougher when that was five years ago.

The first week, he realized he was in over his head. It’s like taking a language but not speaking it for five years and then thinking you can pick up right where you left off. Instead of dropping the class, he put in long hours and took out a highlighter as he used “Calculus for Dummies” to reacquaint himself with the topic. Night after night, he struggled.

Social anxiety precluded him from connecting with the teacher or other students, and he failed the first test miserably. At this point it was too late to drop the class, and being on academic probation from his addiction days meant that he might not get off it if he didn’t get a B or better in the class.

Of course, I went into problem-solving mode. (Old habits, right?) My son said he was well aware of his options, including getting tutor. (Old communications style, right?) Being aware of options and taking action are two different things, so he continued to struggle.

Shortly thereafter, another mom on Twitter turned me on to tutoring source, so I signed up and found local options for my son. My husband and I said, this is our gift to you – here are names, contact info and we’ll pay the fee. To our surprise and delight, he took us up on the offer.

The first tutor he met with was a dud. I encouraged him to try another. He did, and this one turned out to be, “awesome.” They have worked together several times now and my son’s grade and confidence have soared.

He continued to put forth significant effort – hours and hours each day to mastering the material. The final exam is today, and while we don’t know what grade he will receive, we do know that he’s learned something of infinite value and we are confident that he will be off academic probation.

Never in 22 years have I seen my son put forth such effort and discipline. I am proud. More importantly, I know he is proud, too!

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.

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

Let #Gratitude2014 Continue!

Midwestern Mama recaps the past week of #Gratitude2014 posts. 

At this time last year, our son was in desperate shape, and it was getting worse.  At age 21, he was several years into drug addiction, and he was homeless, penniless and jobless.  He was, however, softening to the idea of treating his depression and anxiety, and a wise, young counselor directed him toward in-patient dual-diagnosis treatment as the first course of action. Fortunately, when funding became available and a bed opened up, our son went and this time he stuck it out for the recommended time.  While a terrible relapse occurred a few months after that, he got back to treatment and recovery this summer.  As you can imagine, the transformation and positive possibilities ahead fill us with gratitude.

Here are some of the things I’ve identified this past week as part of Our Young Addicts “30 Days of Gratitude.”

Day 13: I am grateful that my son is starting to open up with us about his feelings and experiences.

Day 14: I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story with you.

Day 15: I am grateful that my son has nutritious food, a warm bed, a clean shower and fresh clothes these days.

Day 16: I am grateful that we recognized our son’s struggle and did everything we could to get him help, even though he resisted.

Day 17: I am grateful that my son’s siblings are a strong support system for him.

Day 18: I am grateful that my son is building a sober network of friends even though social anxiety makes it difficult.

Day 19: I am grateful that we are part of our son’s recovery, now and forever.

Day 20: I am grateful for all the stories that others have shared with me and the encouragement offered.

Please join us in looking for gratitude even in the darkest days.  Keep hoping and praying, and know that there is a community that cares.

Midwestern Mama