#TBT – Maybe Today Will Be The Day

In today’s #TBT column, Midwestern Mama writes about the guiding, calling HOPE that “Maybe today will be the day,” that her son would choose sobriety and recovery.

Every parent of a young addict hopes and prays that TODAY will be the day that addiction ends and sobriety and recovery begins. None of is knows how long the journey will go on. All along though, we must maintain hope – for ourselves and for our young addicts.

A Real Mom – Maybe today will be the day 1-31-12

Several years after writing this column, after lots and lots of hoping (and other things), that day came. My son made that choice on July 11, 2014, and I’ve never been so grateful.

Midwestern Mama

#TBT – Addiction … Truth for 24 Hours

Three years ago, Midwestern Mama contemplated what it would be like if her son could tell the truth for 24 hours. Here’s a column that ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. #TrustFeelsGood #OYACommunity

Real_Mom__What_if_we_had_the_truth__for_24_hours_

You know the saying … we’ve come a long way, baby. And thank goodness for that!

Denial Leads to Enabling Young Addicts

Friendships among neighbors often go awry when kids are using drugs and alcohol, and especially when there is denial and enabling behavior. Midwestern Mama respectfully and sadly shakes her head at the continuing chaos down the street.

Just a few houses down the street from us lives a young addict. At 24-years old, he’s been using, and abusing, drugs and alcohol since sophomore or junior year of high school.

When my son was curious and wanted to try marijuana, this was the kid he sought out. Although they had been acquaintances, it wasn’t until they started using together that they became friends, if you can even call it friendship. From there, a tumultuous relationship ensued, and our relationship with the parents went awry.

At first we tried to engage with the parents. They had become our friends over the years. We were open about our son’s situation and our concerns. Interestingly, they would share this with their son, who would share it with our son, and just like the game of telephone, the message was always messed up. This became detrimental to our relationship with our son and toward efforts to encourage him to get help.

We never blamed our neighbor’s son or passed judgment on him or on them. We realized he had his own challenges and consequences just as our son had his.

From time to time, the other parents would tell us of the horrors happening in their house, including overdoses and violent threats toward their family members. Each time they would say, “Whatcha gonna do?”

What are you going to do? Stop denying the problem! Stop enabling the situation!

It sounds so simple, but admittedly it’s far from easy … until the day when parents realize that we have to do something. That moment came early for us, and it was not easy nor was it always clear how to distinguish loving support from enabling. The more we worked at it, however, the clearer it became.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the dangers of denial and enabling young addicts.

The neighbor’s future daughter in-law (she’s with their younger son) said the user had threatened her and the parents did nothing. She moved out saying enough is enough, enough of the enabling.

In time, our son – after many, many consequences and heart-wrenching experiences including relapse – did successfully complete a treatment program. Today, he is almost 10 months sober, is back in college part time, has a part-time job. He is living at home, continues to see an addiction counselor and a mental health therapist.

We are so grateful for our son’s efforts and recovery. We are healing, too.

Meanwhile, the chaos and dysfunction of addiction continues down the street, and I only hope it ends before it’s too late.

The Nose Knows – a common-sense guide to recognizing drug and alcohol use among young adults.

Midwestern Mama is convinced that the signs of drug and alcohol use are right before us. You can see it, smell it, feel it, taste it and hear it. Let the “Mom (or Dad) Radar” guide you in identifying use before it gets out of hand.

It was April 2010 that we first confirmed our son’s drug use. He was a senior in high school and we had suspected drug use but he denied it and we hadn’t found actual evidence. He later confirmed he started with marijuana in summer 2009.

For a full year prior, his behavior and attitude started to change and although we addressed these head on with a visit to the doctor to rule out anything physical followed by family counseling and individual sessions to identify the emotional and mental needs. He always flat-out denied drug use, and stupid as it sounds, we didn’t know how to drug test him.

We later learned that you can get inexpensive marijuana and other drug tests at places like Wal-greens; while not the most thorough, these can be a starting place. There are also a variety of other places to purchase Urine Analysis drug tests. We thought you had to go to a hospital or doctor’s office – we just didn’t know and it was nearly impossible to find answers even among professionals or online. Crazy, I know. Live and learn.)

Some of our observations included changes in sleep patterns, changes in friends, lying, poor attitude toward family activities, not turning in homework, skipping class, and more. Our first thought was some kind of depression and because bi-polar runs in the family, it was a natural concern. However, it was more than mood, it was agitated, angst and other exhibits that really concerned us and gave us reason to suspect drugs.

The timing of our realizations is key here. April. Spring. Spring fever. Kids being kids? Right of passage? NO WAY. Yet, kids get tired of school and sports routines. They feel their oats, as it were. It’s spring break, it’s prom season, it’s graduation coming soon, it’s all kinds of feelings and situations where we trust them because we’ve had all the right conversations, and yet, they make choices that sometimes lead places they never imaging – like experimentation, recreational use, substance abuse, addiction, consequence, and worse.

So what’s a parent to do? I’m big on trust and communication. However, because of our experience with our son, I’m also big on the five senses.

  •  Eyes: Keep an eye out. Become an observer. Take notes. Watch for patterns and changes. Open your eyes to the possibilities – even the unthinkable ones. Drug and alcohol use is often right in front of us, yet we miss it.
  •  Ears: Listen. You know the expression, God gave us two ears and one mouth. Resist the urge to lecture, yell, tell, etc., even though it’s OK and important for our kids to know how strongly we feel about the negative impact of drug and alcohol use among young adults. Listen in your conversations – hear their tone and think about its meaning (intended or just teenage-ease). Without being an overt eavesdropper, pay attention to their interactions with other people – on the phone, in person, etc. Are they talking in code?
  •  Mouth: Above, I addressed talking, so here I want to talk about taste. No, not actual tasting – that could be nasty and dangerous! However, there’s taste as in does this interaction, observation, etc. leave a bad taste in my mouth? There’s also a sense of is their action, behavior and communication in good taste? For example, my son stopped wanting to receive gifts from family members – even Grandma! – and definitively didn’t believe he should have to say thank you for gifts he didn’t ask for or want. Whoa! This was not the polite son we had known. This was a bitter, negative person and it left a really bad taste in our mouths.
  •  Touch: Sometimes there’s a point when our kids don’t want to be touched, even hugged. I get that and as they mature, they become loving again. But let’s think about touch – if they recoil, they may be hiding something. Also, you never know what you might feel. I would feel my son’s jacket and backpack – sort of like a pat down at the airport – and from there, I started to find all kinds of things: lighters, matches, Visine, hollow tubes used to snort, empty baggies with oregano-looking flecks (marijuana), and more. One day, his backpack was particularly heavy and I gave it a gentle kick with my foot. Ouch! There was something large and hard inside – an expensive, gigantic glass bong.
  •  Nose: That same backpack smelled horrible. There was a wet towel drenched with filthy bong water. Yuck. Also pay attention to smells to mask drug use – body spray to cover up smoking and other chemical smells that are related to drugs; strong mints to cover up alcohol use or smoking; Febreze or Lysol sprayed in the car. The smell of marijuana itself. And more.

There are so many clues that may indicate drug and alcohol use, and as parents we have to rely on our five senses and our gut – what I fondly refer to as Mom (or Dad) Radar. Without a doubt, we know what is going on and we must address it before it’s too late.

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

Gift-Giving Guide for Our Young Addicts

Midwestern Mama struggled in the early years of her son’s addiction with what to give him for Christmas – torn between what was kindness and enabling.  She poured her heart out in a column (below) for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2011.  Last year, her son was in a residential treatment program.  Now six months sober, she’s as excited as a “kid at Christmas” to have her son home for the holidays.

Without hesitating, parents are natural givers. It starts with the miraculous gift of life and continues with gifts of protection, encouragement, sustenance, love, praise, boundaries, hope, strength and more.

We give our best without expectation for anything in return. All the while, we’re prone to question ourselves if we could do better or do more. It is the unwritten code of parenting, the natural order, the way it is. Our parenting report card may not be perfect, but it’s all A’s for effort. It is our heart that tells us if we’ve given well, if it’s good enough.

When our son was little, it was easy to give gifts that absolutely delighted him emotionally and materially. It showed in his face and in his behavior.

During this season of giving, I’m at a loss what to give our 19-year-old son. Certainly there are things he needs – things we’d ordinarily give him if he was not living a transient, unemployed, addicted lifestyle further exacerbated by deceit and denial. It’s far more complicated because material gifts (clothes, food, money, and housing) fall within the taboo category of enabling, the major no-no of addiction.

Instead, we give him our prayers daily – actually, multiple times day and night when I wake up at 3 a.m. and wonder if he’s warm and safe. We give him our love. We give him our commitment to help. We give him our best wishes. We give him all we’ve got and we keep trying to come up with something more, something better, something of affirmation and value.

We’re learning to give him the freedom and respect to live with the outcomes of addiction and mental health, to own his problems, challenges and choices. This is the gift I understand in my mind, but find difficult to reconcile with my heart.

There are other things we have given him that I wish we hadn’t, at least not for as long as we did. We gave him benefit of the doubt way too many times. We gave him chances to change, only to be shortchanged by more of the same. We gave him a clean slate more times than he’s aware, including paying off substantial debts all with the idea that we don’t want a poor credit record to hurt him once he gets his life together.

We also forgave him for all we went through these past few years because we finally realized that he didn’t do these things on purpose or to us. A combination of drugs and mental health has influenced his actions and choices beyond his control.

We’ve made amends, too, by realizing he is emotionally starved for the comfort and joy that home and family represent. And while we can’t give him our trust these days to live in our home, we do welcome him to visit, to curl up in a blanket by the fireplace, to play with his little brother, and to hold hands around the table in grace before sharing a home-cooked meal.

Emotional gifts are sustaining but often aren’t noticed or appreciated unless these are absent. Material gifts, however, can be just as important because these are physical reminders, even symbols. And this is the season of material gifts, things wrapped up in paper with ribbons and small notions that Santa puts in stockings.

I suggested he put together a Christmas list, so we’ll see if he does and whether there are items we can give with good conscience – items we don’t think he’d sell or things that will go unused. The last couple of years, he’d open his presents and then these would stay unused in a pile on his bedroom floor.

The idyllic mother image in my mind compels me to pile gifts under the tree that will magically trigger a transformation in him from despair to delight, from pessimism to optimism, from stubborn to open minded, from addiction to recovery.

During the gift-opening frenzy, sadly, I know that we’ll keep an eye on any cash that his siblings or cousins receive from relatives because our son has had sticky fingers. (Three times in the past year he stole his little brother’s wallet full of allowance he’d been saving for an i-pod; his older sister has had cash taken from her purse; and, this summer he stole money that his grandmother gave to his cousin for doing chores around her house. Parents of addicts nod their heads, yep, it’s part and parcel.)

Any ideas what we should wrap up for him? I know we’ll give the gift that keeps on giving – love, commitment, hope … and probably some socks, underwear, gloves, books and favorite candies.

With no job at present, he said he won’t be able to give presents this year. It’s nice that he wants to give, but we don’t expect anything nor do we want something he picked up at the store.

The gift we want is a gift he’ll give himself – the gift of help, of sobriety and recovery, of health and happiness.

Midwestern Mama