Navigating Addiction during the Holidays

With Thanksgiving 2016 one week away, the holiday season kicks off. This can be a particularly challenging time for families whose loved ones are using drugs and alcohol. Today’s guest blogger is Sherry Gaugler-Stewart, Director of Family and Spiritual Recovery at The Retreat.  She share first-hand experience as well as professional guidance to help families, and was one of our panel speakers at our conference this past year. Thank you, Sherry, for your blog post!

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Oh, the holidays!  When we think of them, so many thoughts and images pop into our heads!  Snow!  Family!  Food!  Togetherness!  Traditions, old and new!  Excitement is in the air, and we start planning how and when our ideal holiday will come together.  Unfortunately, for those who have a loved one struggling with alcoholism or addiction, an additional level of stress typically accompanies the holidays: worry that our imagined holiday will turn into our worst-case scenario.

When Our Young Addicts asked me to write a blog post on how to navigate the holidays when addiction is present, my first thought was “Yes!  What a great topic!  This will be so helpful!”  As I thought about it more, the task became a little more overwhelming.

As someone who works with family members in the addiction recovery field, as well as being a family member myself, I know there is no right or wrong way to navigate the holidays when addiction is present.  But, there may be a way that’s right for you, which is what I hope to address.

My husband and I live in a different states than our families, and we make it a point to be with them over the holidays.  For a number of years, we would get caught off guard by the ups and downs of addiction.  Each year we would start out with our vision of the holiday and prepare for it.  We’d ask for Christmas lists, and go shopping for the perfect presents.  We’d be in contact with everyone in advance to make sure we could all get together.  We would plan festive menus, and listen to holiday music on our drive across the Midwest.  We wanted to experience what so many of us want to experience: family.  We wanted to be in the midst of the love and connection, and thought if we could just plan far enough in advance that we’d get exactly that.

Unfortunately, the addiction in our family wasn’t playing along.  Although there are a few in our family who have struggled with alcoholism and addiction, when I think about the holidays, I often think of my step-son, who is a meth addict.

We would embark into our greeting-card-worthy vision of the holiday, but addiction would stand in our way.  There would be times when we’d reach out to him, and not hear back.  There would be times when he would come, and show up despondent.  There were other times when he would show up and would be angry at the world.  There were times when he left on an evening saying that he’d be back tomorrow, and we didn’t see him again for the rest of the time that we were there (we once found out later that he ended up in jail for a while).  There were visits that ended in loud arguments.  And, then there were the times that he showed up as his incredibly witty, big-hearted, intelligent self – and the family would try to figure out how we had magically set the stage for this to happen so we could be sure to recreate it again, and again.  Of course, we were always confused when we tried to reenact the situation at another time, only to have a completely different, and often heart-breaking, outcome.

One of the things we needed to do as a family was to know what we were up against.  Sometimes the fact that someone is struggling with addiction becomes apparent during the holidays, especially since we usually see each other more at this time than other times throughout the year.

At times families fall into the trap of thinking that someone who is struggling with addiction is just behaving badly.  It’s helpful to know the signs of addiction and alcoholism.

Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov) and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (www.ncadd.org) have helpful information.   Educating yourself allows you the opportunity to know what you’re dealing with, and will be helpful in understanding what to do next.

As a family member, I have found that getting support for myself has been imperative.

There is no way that you can watch someone become entangled with alcoholism and addiction without being affected.  Family members often feel that if they love someone enough, and say and do the right things, they’ll be able to fix their loved one so they no longer have the struggles that they have.  To be around others who have had a similar experience in their reactions, and who have found a way to cope with it, helps to break the shame and stigma we often carry where addiction is concerned.  The easiest and most accessible way to find support from others who have been there, too, is through Al-Anon (www.al-anon.org) or Nar-Anon (www.nar-anon.org).  So many family members keep the addiction in their family a secret.  Al-Anon and Nar-Anon provide safe places to talk about it.

Talking about the holidays was important for our family, as well.  We needed to decide what we wanted our holiday to look like, and be focused on what was realistic.  If your loved one is actively using, what is realistic may be different than at other times.

Some families decide that they need to set some clear boundaries: that their loved one is only invited if the can be clean and sober during the gathering.  They also need to have a plan in place on how they’ll honor that boundary if it’s not met.

Some find that they want their loved one included in everything regardless, so that they know that they are in a safe place.

Some families decide to change how they will celebrate so that they can all meet at a place where anyone can easily leave from if they feel uncomfortable.

As I stated before, there is no right or wrong in deciding this.  There is only what is best for you and for your family.  These decisions are more easily made with an understanding of addiction, and remembering that the person you love is still the person you love, even though their disease may bring unwanted attitudes or behavior.  These decisions are also more easily made when you have support.

Families have choices, and they get to make them – including during the holiday season.

Our family feels blessed that we have received the gift that so many of us hope and pray for, the gift of my step-son’s recovery.  He’s been clean with the help of Narcotics Anonymous for more than three years, and we love watching his life unfold.  That witty, big-hearted, intelligent guy shows up most of the time, and even when he shows up occasionally as someone who’s going through a difficult time for whatever situation is happening in his life, we trust that he will navigate in whatever way that he needs to with the support of his people in his recovery circle.  And, yet, we may have gotten a little too excited when our first holiday came around and we thought “Finally!  We get to have our ideal holiday!  There will be SO much togetherness!  We’ll be a Norman Rockwell painting!”

We found that going through the holiday in early recovery was going to take some navigation, as well.

My step-son did a great job of talking to us about what he needed, which wasn’t non-stop family time.  For many folks, the holidays can trigger or exacerbate addiction.  My step-son needed to find his own balance.  His primary focus was to continue to build the foundation of recovery, and we needed to honor that.  We listened, and we trusted that he would show up for what was important for him, and that he would do what he needed to support himself when he needed to do so.  And, we stayed focused on taking care of ourselves, and being grateful for the time we got to have with this wonderful, clean, clear-eyed young man.

Even if the gift of recovery hasn’t happened in your family, my hope for each of you is that you’ll find moments of peace and joy.  I believe that they are there and accessible to all of us, even if our loved one is actively struggling.  Remember to learn what you are up against, find support for yourself, talk about it – and listen.  Be gentle with yourself and your loved one.  I believe that we are all doing the best that we can with the tools that we have, and I’m hopeful that these new tools will be helpful to you as you embark on this holiday season.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

From Rock Bottom to Recovery – A Young Woman’s Story

Our guest blogger this week is Maddie, a remarkably smart young woman in recovery. Through Maddie’s story, parents and licensed professionals might better understand youth substance use – and more importantly, recognize that it is entirely possible to progress from rock bottom to recovery and why family support is key to that. I have known Maddie and her family for many years and am so pleased to share her story with the OYA Community. Thank you, Maddie, for courageously writing this week’s guest post. MWM

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On April 20th, 2012, I hit another bottom. It wasn’t the first bottom I had hit and it wouldn’t be the last.

I had reached the ‘jumping off place’ where I couldn’t live with alcohol and drugs, but I couldn’t live without it. Sometimes, it surprises me that I couldn’t see my addiction sooner, but the compulsions and denial of addiction were incredibly strong.

My addiction escalated slowly enough to be inconspicuous to those around me for a time, but quickly enough for me to hit several serious bottoms before I graduated from college. By the time I turned 22, I was on a consistent, daily rotation between marijuana, Adderall, Klonopin, and alcohol.

Occasionally, I would use cocaine or other drugs I deemed ‘recreational,’ but by the end of my addiction there was nothing ‘recreational’ about my drug use.

In the beginning, I would have considered myself a ‘binge drinker.’ I would only smoke pot, experiment with pills, and drink copious amounts of alcohol on weekends. By 15, cocaine had became an integral part of my problem. I remember ducking in the back of my mother’s BMW X3 as my sister and her boyfriend drove through Cabrini Green and the other Chicago ghettos bathed in blue lights from constant surveillance to pick up cocaine from some low-level drug dealer. I was afraid of getting shot.

This began the constant cycle of tearing down my life and building it back up, ad-nauseum. While I began experiencing the consequences of my addiction immediately, I was unaware of them until my illness had destroyed everything worthwhile in my life: my relationship with my friends and family, my self-worth, my physical safety, my emotional stability, my independence, my sense of humor, my integrity, and the list goes on.

My emotional stability was the first to go.

In November of 2004, I had my first major suicide attempt at age 15. I swallowed an entire bottle of bulk Tylenol P.M. a few days before Thanksgiving. I would have died that night if my sister hadn’t heard me stumbling around upstairs trying to make it to the toilet – dizzy from all the sleep aid. My parents took me to the hospital down the street. In the waiting room with my mom, I had not yet lost consciousness, but I could barely keep my head up.

Once admitted, they tested me for drugs and pregnancy, even though I was not yet sexually active and I had barely kissed a boy. They found cocaine in my system and deep cuts on my left forearm that I had made with a dull pair of scissors and occasionally one of my mother’s gourmet cooking knives.The doctors gave me an IV and forced me to drink charcoal. I slept for over 24 hours and when I woke up, my mom was in the corner sobbing. It’s hard for me to think about the pain I caused her that night and for many nights to come during my active addiction.

I spent most of junior and senior year grounded, which was great for me. I was able to study and take care of myself, get good grades, and find friends outside of the party scene. I spent a lot of time with my parents and their friends during this time; we would go to Steppenwolf or out to dinner. My mom and I would work out together like fiends. Things got better. Without alcohol and drugs, I was able to put my life back together for brief periods of time. Inevitably, I would drink and use again; everything would begin to fall apart again.

To self-medicate during my dry periods,  I started smoking pot. When I smoked, I wasn’t blacking out and falling face first on our stoop or throwing up in the elevator shaft or getting in random cars or going near Cabrini Green to pick up drugs. I was sleeping, reading, watching movies, and studying. It took away that persistent and aching longing I always felt (and sometimes still feel).

When I was accepted to a prestigious liberal arts college in Southern California, I found friends who drank and used just like I did. Often, we went through two or three handles a night between five of us 130-pound girls with the aid of Adderall and cocaine. We were the blackout crew: high all day and incredibly smart. During my freshman year, I went out 6-7 days a week to party and my health suffered. I had Bronchitis over 3 times that year.

In the spring of my Junior year, I was sexually assaulted. While I had been struggling with my depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for some time, I had never had symptoms this severe. Once I started crying, I would beat myself with my fists or a hammer until I could get myself to stop – often an hour later. I withdrew from all of my friendships and started isolating. I began blaming my friends and family for being unable to save me from myself. Looking back, this was the point where my addiction stopped being a choice: I could either use or kill myself.

Everything after that was a blur. I would have periods of okay-ness (not happiness) where I could get my work done, take care of myself, and was moving forward. Then, about every 3 months everything would come crashing down again and it felt like I had to start completely over.

I remember throughout college I would keep a post-it note on my mirror that said “no smoking before 4 p.m.” Eventually, I crossed out the 4 and wrote 2. I never was able to make it. I remember I would leave my drugs at home while I was studying in the library. About 30 minutes into studying, I would have to drive home – the anxiety so overwhelming I felt like my skin was crawling.

During the spring of my senior year, I was trying desperately to graduate. My mom flew out three or four times that semester to help me pick up the pieces of my disintegrating life and to help me finish my Economics degree. On April 20th, my senior thesis was due and I couldn’t turn it in. I remember people coming to my house to celebrate 420 and sobbing in my room. I kept taking Klonopin to soothe my anxiety, but it stopped working so I kept taking more.

I don’t remember this, but  I called my sister that night and told her I was suicidal. I don’t remember this, but she showed up later that day to find a bottle of Klonopin spilled all over the floor. She panicked and called my mom, who showed up the following day. My roommates found out I was suicidal and kicked me out of the house because they were scared about what I might do. While I worked on finishing the last requirements of my degree, my mom cleaned the bile, piss, shit, and blood of the walls of my room so I could move out. Through sheer luck, they let me graduate.To this day, that entire month is blurry; I was in so much pain and had been ingesting so many drugs that I have lost most of those memories.

Two weeks after graduation, my behavior had become increasingly erratic and my parents kicked me out until I agreed to get help. My relationship with my parents was all I had left and I believe that setting that boundary saved my life.

The next day, I committed myself to a 7-day inpatient treatment center in the next city over. They took my shoelaces and locked-up all of my stuff.

This is where the healing began.

Often, there is a tendency to ‘make sense’ of an addiction by blaming certain people or circumstances for causing this behavior, problem. For me, I blamed my addiction on bullying, sexual assault, depression, being bipolar, or tumultuous family life. In my opinion, I was born an alcoholic. I always drank and used differently than those around me. From my first real drunk, I seemed to drink with a purpose: to get drunk. Each time I drank, I almost always would puke, black-out, or both. Today, I am grateful I only faced some of the consequences associated with addiction and my family has stayed by my side through my sickness and my recovery.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

 

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

A Dangerous Recipe for Addiction

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Midwestern Mama aka Rose McKinney is a community faculty member at Metropolitan State University. Several of her students have written guest blog posts for Our Young Addicts as part of working on a class assignment to support the upcoming “From Statistics to Solutions” conference taking place on May 12. #FSTS16

Beware of the non-user; their adverse childhood experiences coupled with the cost of stigma could potentially be a dangerous recipe for addiction. My life reminds me of the pharmaceutical commercials that warn viewers that side effects are more hazardous than the symptoms I am trying to relieve.

Unfortunately, my life didn’t offer a disclaimer, instead it claimed all that I had.

I was 10 years old when my dad lost his battle with cancer, 12 when my sister’s boyfriend made sexual advances toward me, and just 15 when my oldest sister died from what was ruled an accidental discharge of a .357 magnum to her temple. A single traumatic episode is a lot to handle, three in five years is too much.

People deal with trauma differently. My mom, she constantly needed people around her. So much so that she would send dishonest notes to teachers to excuse me and my siblings from school so that she didn’t have to be alone. My brother and sister, twins that are two years older than me, submersed themselves in their music. My brother was an original member of Mazarati, the first band signed to Prince’s Paisley Park label, while his twin sang in another band and became very promiscuous. They also submersed themselves in drugs and alcohol.

How did I deal with it? With the exception of attempting to smoke a joint of weed shortly after my dad’s death, drugs and alcohol never crossed my mind – unless I was judging the many weak-minded people around me who consumed them.

Ironic that I placed stigma on what later became my own getaway.

Being that my mom didn’t like to be alone, our home turned into the kool-aid house soon after my father’s death. My house was like a 24-hour park that musicians rehearsed, slept, and consumed alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) in. Although I shunned drug use, I became dependent on entertainment and excitement. Dysfunction and trauma became first nature to me and any sign of normality felt uncomfortable. But hey, I still wasn’t using . . . yet.

Unless there was a talent show, basketball game, or event coming up, I rarely attended school – remember it’s all about excitement for me. When I was 15, help appeared to show up through the judicial system. After multiple court appearances to address my truancy, a judge sentenced me to a 35-day evaluation program at a sheriff’s ranch in Austin, Minnesota. Psychological assessments and interviews revealed I still had trauma and anger associated with my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s sexual advances towards me from four years prior. I was amazed, intrigued, and scared by the assessment’s ability to reveal I had traded in my buried pain and trauma for anger for so long afterwards. At the end of the 35-day evaluation period, I initially was court-ordered to undergo counseling, but I received a stay of imposition so long as my family would accept the recommendation for family counseling. I thought it was a blessing in disguise.

Treating the entire problem, the shifting family dynamics, and the underlying issues sounded like a great idea when we accepted the offer.

But after three family-counseling sessions, we allowed the stigma associated with counseling to ruin our chance to heal; after word seeped into our community that we were receiving professional help, we never returned.

If I could have learned to bury the hatchet as well as I buried pain, I might have been able to sustain the conditioned appearance that I was okay. But remember, dysfunction was my normal.

Dropping out of school so I was able to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico with my cousin and his band at the age of 16 was normal; traveling to Los Angles, California while that band prepared for the Black Radio Exclusive (BRE) showcase was normal. And when it was time for that band to head back home to Minneapolis, Minnesota, not telling my mom I was going to stay in Los Angeles with my oldest brother until the beginning of the next school year was normal too.

When the next school year arrived, instead of going back to school, I went on another nine-month music tour – spending my 18th birthday on a bus along some highway in Texas was my normal.

Although I still hadn’t picked up a drink or consumed a drug, I was addicted to a life of excitement that would be impossible to sustain . . . alive.

When the tour was over, I met a beautiful girl whose normal was as dysfunctional as mine. Within a month, Marie and I moved in together and began a very serious and intense relationship. A few years later, I would have my first drink to celebrate Marie’s pregnancy. I also became my aging grandmother’s primary caretaker; so my celebration didn’t last too long before grandma passed. Although my siblings had about a year of sobriety under their belt at the time of grandma’s passing, she still left her home to me. Trusting me with all that my grandparents worked for was a gift of joy that later became a self-inflicted continuum of pain.

I had a good job that I was excelling at before my double-life caught up to me.

Partying all night and then showing up for work an hour late doesn’t work in a functional business. After multiple warnings for tardiness, I was fired. But being jobless didn’t drive me to drink because owning a home gave me some freedom. I have since learned the danger of having too much free time. Since dysfunction was my normal, pinpointing where my downward spiral began is hard. I can’t even remember when I had my second drink, but I know that somewhere around the 10th drink, it took me and not the other way around. I know that when I snapped out of my first binge, I had lost my long-time girlfriend and mother of my daughter and that my drinking had intensified.

Everything after almost seems like one long blurry nightmare. I write almost because I remember being drunk and getting in a fight one night in a club. I remember being retaliated against a couple weeks later when out of nowhere a man popped up and started shooting at me – hitting me in the chin and each arm. I remember the high I got from the pain pills to treat those wounds. I remember becoming addicted to cocaine afterwards. I remember taking a mortgage out on the home I promised my grandmother to raise my family in. I remember my mentor, a surrogate, passing away from cancer just as my dad did. I remember a letter my daughter wrote reflecting on the day we experienced a home invasion. The letter I only became aware of because she won an award for it at school. I remember waking up in the back of a police car after my third DUI, and again after my arrest for fleeing a police officer a week before trial was scheduled for that charge.

So instead of trial, I remember pleading guilty, serving my short sentence in the workhouse. I remember surrendering at my first AA meeting, and the liberation of admitting I was alcoholic.

I remember treatment, and the liberation that followed admitting I was an addict.

I remember my counselor encouraging me to go back to school, my doing so, my nomination to be vice president of the alcohol and drug counseling student association once I did. And I remember the mistake of thinking I was cured because I had been sober. I remember my first relapse, the necessary and dire need to tell people I slipped in order to save myself.

But I slipped again. This time on some ice and broke my leg. I also broke my routine of interacting with my sober-support system. Six months later, with a year of sobriety under my belt, I was arrested for possession of cocaine. My sponsor asked me how I was doing with sobriety. In the midst of my trouble, I was happy to report I was clean. He then asked “how are you doing with your recovery?” There’s a huge difference in recovery and sobriety, one is a lifestyle that prevents winding up in the back of police cars. I have since re-immersed myself in recovery, school and I graduate this May with an individualized degree aimed at alleviating the adverse experiences that children face.

A question I used to ask is “what is so tough about life that causes a person to want to alter their reality by way of potentially fatal substances?” The question I should have been asking is where can I get help for the emotional pain and trauma I’ve endured?

 

 

Bio:

David Starks is a student who completed the required coursework to obtain a bachelor’s of science degree in alcohol and drug counseling (ADC) from Metropolitan State University. However, he is unable to get licensed in that field due to the Department of Human Services (DHS) strict criminal history guidelines. As David’s blog reads, he has refocused his degree to one that will work on the underlying issues of drug addiction versus the treatment of substance use after addiction sets in and will graduate in May of 2016.

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Parenting in Recovery

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Thank you to our guest blogger, Rose Lockinger, for another timely and insightful post. Addicted as a young person, she is now a parent in recovery offering an invaluable insider’s perspective. (Don’t you love her name?!)

I’m not sure if I was born an addict or not, but I can certainly look back on my childhood and see that I struggled with impulse control, self-discipline and acting out. I had a knack for spitting out whatever I thought not really thinking through if it was appropriate to say.  As I moved into adolescence, I discovered substances like food and drugs and alcohol.  Eventually I found help in treatment. and found out that life in recovery was possible.

Parenting In Recovery

Most parents worry about their children, and fears around drug and alcohol use are often near the top of the list. We all know that drug and alcohol use can cause a number of very serious issues for teens. For the recovering addict who is also a parent, this is something we are acutely aware of.

Knowing that addiction is often passed down from generation to generation thanks to a combination of genetics and environment doesn’t do much to help the fear.

I think that most recovering addicts understand how important it is to address substance abuse and addiction as early as possible. Many kids begin experimenting as early as elementary school. Not only that, but many of the signs of potential trouble can begin even earlier. What does this mean? Well, kids who abuse drugs are often kids who struggle with low self-esteem, who feel as though they don’t “fit in” and who have experienced trauma or turmoil in their lives. While any kid can develop a drug or alcohol problem, these kids are particularly vulnerable, especially if they have an addicted family member.  Early intervention and treatment is key this usually starts with a drug or alcohol detox program.

Talking To My Kids About Substances And Addiction

Many parents in recovery find that their worst fears are realized when their children go down the same path that they did. My own children are still young and this is not an imminent concern at the moment but I have taken steps to mitigate the potential for problems.

I’ve done my best to educate my children, to model good behavior for them, and to talk to them about substances and addiction when it is age appropriate.   My children are still young so I am careful to make it age appropriate. I talk to them regularly about strategies they can use when they are struggling with powerful emotions and situations. For me, the most important thing is to be sure to have honest, open dialog with my kids. They need to trust me, and I need to be willing to listen. Here are some of the ways that I address this issue in my home.

If you are a parent who struggles with bringing up drugs and alcohol, don’t feel bad! It can be an uncomfortable topic, and kids sometimes get irritated or “weird” when you bring stuff like this up. Even as a recovering addict I sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about it. Practice makes perfect though — this isn’t a talk you are only going to have once! It needs to be brought up and then brought up again. Your kids are likely at their most vulnerable from 10 to 21 years of age, so it warrants more than one or two conversations.

Real Education

Education is also important. “Just say no” isn’t good enough. Kids need to have a working knowledge of drugs, what they do to the body and brain, and how substance abuse can affect them. However, scare tactics are NOT the same as education. Kids know when you are just trying to shock them into steering clear of something. Respect their intelligence. Talk to them when age appropriate about drugs and alcohol, what they are and what they can do. Don’t blow things out of proportion for shock value. Don’t make blanket statements on things like “drugs are bad” and leave it at that. Why are drugs bad? It’s important to be specific.

I’m Honest With Them, And We Talk About The Hard Stuff

They know I am a recovering addict. I am honest and open with them. I also do my best to keep open lines of communication with them, so they can talk to me about anything without fear of judgment. I let them know that I went through some hard things. And no, I don’t tell them every little detail…it’s not necessary, but I also don’t sugar coat the truth. I omit information that I feel either isn’t necessary or would be harmful to them.

Fun is important for kids and grown-ups alike

I live a clean and sober lifestyle, and I have fun! This is part of setting an example. When I was growing up, l quickly learned to associate drinking with having fun. It’s how grown ups would unwind from a day at work, how birthdays and holidays were celebrated, it’s what you did when you went to sporting events and went camping. In other words, alcohol and getting drunk were how you had fun. When I got into recovery, I had no idea how I would ever have a good time without it. I truly believe that showing kids how adults have fun sober is an important way to lead by example.

What If They Become Addicted?

Finally, it’s important to realize that despite your best efforts, your children may still struggle with substance abuse and addiction. With that in mind, it’s helpful to have a plan of action so that you can be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Many parents don’t have a good understanding of addiction. Addiction isn’t a stage, a behavior problem, a moral or character problem or something that will just go away. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so educate yourself.  If anything as parents who have addiction in their past we can be grateful that we have a an awareness of a solution and have lived that example to our children.  They can see firsthand that recovery is possible and life changing by the example we set. Early intervention is key and treatment centers that specialize in youth are available. In the end as parents you cannot control the path your child may or may not take, what you can do is support and love them to the best of your ability through whatever pain they face.

About This Week’s Guest Blogger

Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find Rose Lockinger on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

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Dear Mom and Dad, (rerun)

Dear-Mom-and-Dad

Last night, our local school district hosted the second of a three-part series on substance use among teens. Parents and guardians asked many questions and our panel of experts, which included professionals working with students as well as former students now in recovery and parents. Our responses were heartfelt and honest – there was not much sugarcoating, but I do think there was spirit of hope and helpfulness. For all the adults out there concerned about a love one’s use, I am re-posting one of our guest blogs from the summer; it is written as a letter from a young man in recovery to his parents. Click on the link below. I believe you will find wisdom and hope to guide you forward.

https://ouryoungaddicts.com/category/alcohol/

Wishing you and your family the best,

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

 

Gateway? You bet.

Many times, as they shrug their shoulders in dismissive way, I hear adults of influence say the following: “At least it’s only marijuana – not hard drugs.” They go on to say they smoked weed in their teens and 20s and turned out OK, or that cannabis is no different from alcohol.

Perhaps this is an attempt to put their past use in perspective. More likely, however, it is a disbelief that there is any real concern – that casual use of marijuana is a problem, that it can be a gateway to other substances, or that regular use can lead to addiction.

Recently, this article ran in the the Boston Globe asking: Can We Please Stop Pretending Marijuana Is Harmless? https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/10/08/can-please-stop-pretending-marijuana-harmless/MneQebFPWg79ifTAXc1PkM/story.html

Believe me, my husband and I have heard all the arguments and been presented with mountains of evidence. Our son was exceptionally passionate in his beliefs. We used to tell him – even though we disagreed – that he should go work for one of the pro-marijuana groups because at least then he’d be putting action toward his beliefs rather than just arguing for his own use. Of course, he never did.

Research tells us that marijuana and alcohol remain the starting point for additional substance use in later years. For most kids (under 18), it stays at an experimentation phase or it may progress to more frequent use but not necessarily to addiction.

For many, it never becomes more than “just “ marijuana or alcohol, and with maturity and adult responsibilities, their use moderates.

But, for one in nine people, marijuana use is problematic. It may show up as missing school or work and not completing assignments. It may show up in apathetic attitudes and the inability to follow through with goals. It may put your kids in situations where other drugs are being sold or used.

Think about this. If your kid is smoking marijuana and driving a car, they are impaired and any passengers are at risk. As the parent, you are liable for this, too. States like Colorado are feeling the effect of impaired driving as more and more motorists are using cannabis products.

From a neuro-science perspective, marijuana is particularly dangerous for developing brains, and it has lasting impact on IQ not to mention mental and emotional health as well as decision making.

Without a doubt, marijuana use clouds their judgement.

Today, kids have far greater access to substances, which means they may not start with the usual suspects of marijuana or alcohol. They may try prescription pills – think pain pills or things like ADHD medication. They may try synthetic drugs like K2/Spice (bath salts) or Molly (MDMA/Ecstasy) or others.

If a kid is susceptible to addiction, particularly if there is a family predisposition or if they are struggling with any mental health symptoms, we need to be particularly vigilant and cognizant of what they are thinking, doing and feeling.

Often teenage emotions can lead to “wanting to escape” or “wanting to fit in.” At first, alcohol or marijuana may ease anxiety or depression; in other words, they self medicate. In time, this stops working and they may progress to other substances.

Sometimes, kids are curious or even bored, and marijuana seems like a safe experiment – until it gets out of control and leads to progressively more dangerous things.

One of the statistics that really sticks with me is that 90 percent of adults with a substance-use disorder (aka addiction) experienced their first substance use under the age of 18 – regardless of whether that was alcohol, marijuana, pills or other drugs. The time to do something about addiction is when they are still kids – our kids. When we still can. When we are still obligated to parent them.

If your kid is using drugs, they are not bad kids and it is not the result of bad parenting.

It’s simply a scary reality that requires unconditional love and a commitment to discovering, understanding and solving the use as well as the underlying situation.

That’s a bold, big undertaking, but as parents we are not alone in this challenge. The most important things we can do is to connect with other parents, to tap professional resources, to learn as much as we can, to take care of ourselves, and to take on this challenge. This is the essence of the Our Young Addicts community, and it is what drives us to participate. Join us and we will help each other.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Guest Blog – A Letter to Mom & Dad – 11 Years into Recovery

PrintThis week’s guest blogger is a young man, eleven years into recovery, who shares some truths and encouragement for parents seeking to understand a child’s addiction. Midwestern Mama is touched by his heartfelt words, and he tells me that he plans to share this post with his own parents in hopes that it brings further clarity and healing for their family – I know it will.

Dear-Mom-and-Dad

As a former young addict and now a slightly older recovering addict, I don’t have anything original to contribute other than my own experience. My story isn’t remarkable except for the fact that an absolute miracle happened 11 years ago, and I continue to be blessed everyday with a life that I never could have imagined.

Reflecting on my experience in the context of Our Young Addicts as a place for parents and recovery professionals to gather, I began to think about things I wish my parents would have known when I was a teenager and young adult and a few things I’d like to share with them now.

This list comes from my personal experience with addiction and recovery, but hopefully it will resonate with some readers and provide some insight, comfort, and hope.

1. You didn’t make me an addict.

There wasn’t a lack of parenting or warning signs that you missed. Long before I took my first drink or used my first drug, I started on a path that led me into my addiction.

At least in my experience, no amount of intervention could have prevented me from making the choices I made. I was a deadly combination of naïve, stubborn, foolish, and scared, and I got there on my own.

It’s not because you missed a single opportunity or series of opportunities to “make everything better.” Even if genetics or learned behaviors played a part in my path to addiction, ultimately I am responsible for my choices.

It’s not your fault.

(Honestly, I’m better off for my experiences, so there’s no need for blame.)

 2. No amount of education or warnings could have stopped me from my addiction.

I am a proud graduate of the D.A.R.E. program, class of 1992.

I was well aware that drugs were bad for me before I started using them.

In fact, that was part of the allure. While trying to keep up appearances, I enjoyed secretly engaging in a forbidden activity. I had very little self-respect and didn’t care if I was harming myself.

I already had it in my head that I wasn’t worth much, so it wasn’t a huge leap to actively hurt myself.

I knew there was a family history of alcohol and drug abuse. I knew the risks, and I really didn’t care.

Just like in recovery, reasoning and mental exercises are not very helpful to change the behavior of an addict. I knew logically that drug abuse is not good for us, but all the knowledge in the world couldn’t heal a sickness in my soul.* We could have talked and reasoned through my situation, and it wouldn’t have done any good.

I had to get to a place where I could love myself before I could accept the love and caring of anyone else.

I had to experience a fundamental shift in my belief about mySELF, God, and the Universe before I could really listen to what anyone was saying to me, even those with the best intentions.

3. I couldn’t stop until I was ready.

I went to my first AA meeting a few months after my 21st birthday. I had been using for years, but decided that I wanted to try stopping and realized that I couldn’t stick to any of my plans for abstinence. That was when I really got scared. I didn’t want to use anymore but couldn’t seem to stop.

I’d like to say that was the last time I ever drank or used drugs, but I wasn’t ready to change. I spent the next two years in and out of recovery, rationalizing and experimenting.

I thought, “I’m too young to be addicted.It’s not as big of a deal as I’m making it. Other people I know do it more than I do. I can always quit when I’m older, or maybe I’ll just outgrow it!” These and many other thoughts that I tried my best to drown out kept me from really committing to changing my life one day at a time.

When I went back again to that AA clubhouse on a cool September evening, someone finally said it to me in a way that made sense: “You hit bottom when you stop digging.” It’s probably just another recovery cliché, but that night it really made sense to me. How bad does it have to get? I had been using daily, driving under the influence more times than I can remember, holding everyone at arms length, losing all self-respect, having no direction, and feeling hopelessly stuck. I suppose I could have kept digging, but I decided to stop. Hearing those words didn’t cause me to stop, but for some reason, I was finally open to hearing what I needed to hear.

That was the miracle. I can’t say where that readiness came from, but it was real, and I’ve carried it with me. It was nothing that I did and nothing that you could have done for me.

4. Just because I stopped using, it doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect.

Some of my most difficult days have come since I’ve been in recovery. After removing the drink and the drugs, I was still stuck with myself and my own twisted view of the world. Don’t expect everything to suddenly change. There have been many times while perfectly sober that I have been selfish, dishonest, greedy, insensitive, hurtful, and downright obnoxious. At times I may be seen distant than before. In some ways, the addiction can keep everyone closer. We all play our parts to maintain the status quo. When a big change happens, it shakes up the whole family dynamic.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been told that it was better or I was more fun when I was using. To be blunt, that’s too bad because I’m finally living a happy and fulfilling life! I get it – change is hard and painful, but the rewards are too good to pass up. (Not to mention that change is the only thing that’s certain.)

When someone makes a big change, the hope is that everything will be better, but we can only count on the fact that things will be different.

We’re responsible for our own perception of whether a change is “better” or “worse.”

 5. Love yourself and take care of yourself first.

The last thought that I want to share with you has very little to do with me other than the fact that I learn more from your actions than your words. I know that you want the best for me and care deeply for me, but you can’t give what you don’t already have.

It’s a tremendous gift for you to find your own happiness and peace.

Then you can give from a place of true generosity and selflessness, regardless of the outcome.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which I truly believe:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

And we’re all in this together, just trying to figure it out – parents and children, addicts and non-addicts. I am grateful for all my experiences and for the life I have today, so to my parents I say,

Thank you.

I love you.

Matt

*I firmly believe that addiction is a sickness of body, mind, and soul. For me, I had to have a fundamental shift on a spiritual level as my primary focus, however I would encourage anyone with physical or mental health concerns to seek out a medical and/or mental health professional as part of their recovery as well.

My Child Has a Problem with Drugs

Here’s a post I wish had been around when our son started using drugs. This is informative and realistic. In particular, check out the questions for parents and the suggestions it offers. One of the hardest things for us was that we recognized our son’s drug problem long before anyone else did and long before he was ready to admit it let alone accept help. In time, however, he successfully completed treatment (not the first couple of times) and has embraced sobriety and recovery.

800 Recovery Hub Blog

As a parent, it is your role to take care of your child. But, when your teen or adult child is addicted to drugs, most likely the best you can do is to guide them to a solution.  If your loved one wants to get clean and sober, then help them get into a rehab. But what if you are not sure they are addicted to drugs …or what if they don’t want help…

If your teen or adult child starts behaving differently for no apparent reason––such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of the growing up process.

Through scientific advances, we know more than ever before about how drugs work in the brain. We also know that addiction can be successfully…

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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

An Attitude of Gratitude

Our Young Addicts is celebrating Thanksgiving Month by posting 30 Days of Gratitude. Let us know what you’re thankful for. Midwestern Mama starts us off with the first three days of November.

It’s Thanksgiving month. By far and away, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – perhaps because it’s all about an attitude of gratitude celebrated with family and friends enjoying a delicious meal.

Three years ago, I penned my first column about being the parent of a young addict. I often go back to this column which reflects a difficult realization, but one that also is grounded in gratitude. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m not sure if my son will be at our Thanksgiving table this year. And, I need him to be. He always helps make the cornbread stuffing.

“Mom! How could you even say something so ridiculous?” my son likely would respond with disbelief.

But it’s shaping up to be the hardest thing I’ve ever expressed to date. While I could never say he’s not welcome, it’s honest to say his drug addiction is not welcome. He is the son we have always loved, and will always love, but he is not the son we have always known.

There are actually several reasons why he might not be there – from the unthinkable (drug-related death or disappearance) to the hopeful (he’ll have admitted himself for drug treatment).

He’s on his own with his life choices these days. Notice, I didn’t say the choice to be addicted. He didn’t choose addiction; he is its victim and we are the witnesses.

As you know, my son is now more than 100 days sober and is sincerely making efforts to turn his life around. How far he has come! Gratefully, 2014 is a far different year than the ones that preceded the inaugural column. All the same this year has had its ups and downs with addiction and recovery, which inspired me to share 30 days of gratitude via Twitter @OurYoungAddicts this year. Join MidAtlantic Mom and me in sharing what you’re grateful for!

Day 1: I am grateful for my husband and our three children.

Day 2: I am grateful for my home, and even more grateful that my son is no longer choosing to be homeless.

Day 3: I am grateful for all the caring people we have met during our son’s addiction – counselors, parents, and more.

Midwestern Mama

Could it be? The questions we ask. The answers we crave.

Could it be? Drug use? My kid? Are you kidding?

Yes, yes, yes, and no.  Asking questions when we would prefer not to hear the answers, not to know the truth – this takes courage.  It also takes commitment to find the answers, consider the possibilities, and commit to a new parenting role.  It takes a strength we all possess, but one we would just as well not have to tap.

 

When our son’s mental illness and substance abuse began, we focused on finding out what was going on. We focused on him.  We asked lots of questions, sought lots of answers. We didn’t know for a fact what was going on; we just had a lot of suspicions.  We didn’t know where to turn.  We didn’t know much.

 

The more we asked, the more confusing things became.  Each quasi answer was vague, ambiguous and either alarming or even a bit patronizing. 

 

I took a lot of notes.  I Googled lots of topics.  I started putting together pieces until a picture emerged. 

 

When I found something or someone encouraging, I rejoiced.  It didn’t mean the findings were necessarily positive, but the feeling of being understood and of gaining understanding was so helpful. 

 

Looking back over notes on my phone, scribbles on pieces of paper, and journal entries, I recognized a pattern of questions and answers.  I found that the process of asking and answering is valuable, and I found that some of the best sources were other people who had experienced something similar. 

 

Together, we are sharing.  Together, we are learning.  Together, we journeying.  Together, we are recovering.

 

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you care about a young addict.  Perhaps it’s your child.  Maybe it’s a neighbor or student, or a member of a team you coach.  Whoever it is, you’ve asked the questions that Mid Atlantic Mom and I have asked:  Could it be? Drug use? My Kid? Are you kidding?

 

While I hope the answers that you find are different than mine, I still encourage you to ask and seek information.  It’s possible to suspect substance abuse only to find out it’s not.  Not all kids that try drugs and alcohol will have problems with these substances – the substances aren’t good for them, but they may not be addicts.  We owe it to ourselves to ask questions, to find answers and to share with others.  We most certainly owe it to our kids.  We are in this together.

 

In upcoming blogs, I will take this topic in two different directions.  I will explore potential responses to these questions and resources you might turn to.  In addition, I will confess how questioning has driven me batty at times and how I learned to stop the questions especially the ones that kept me up at night.

 

By the way, the question on my mind right now has to do with what it’s like to be newly sober and what it’s like to be in recovery.  This is a new experience for our son, and for us.  I wonder about it quite a bit.  Feel free to chime in with your experience.  Let’s do this together, too.

 

Until then,

 

Midwestern Mama

Ready or not, here I come

Tomorrow morning I will pick up my son at treatment. Due to complications with finding an available half way house, his 28 day treatment has lasted 42 days. I am great for the extra days. He is ready for a new routine. He would like to return to complete freedom but is far from ready. The half way house will provide transition. Ready or not, this is the next chapter. In an upcoming post I will share my impressions.