Look Beyond: Reflections on addiction and our community during the second annual From Statistics To Solutions conference.

Today’s guest blogger has attended the annual From Statistics To Solutions conference twice, with the goal of becoming more educated about addiction. Attending FSTS has enabled her to become a more compassionate and knowledgeable ally. MWM

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The day of the second annual From Statistics To Solutions was unseasonably warm.  The sun beat down undisturbed, glinting off a dormant sea of parked cars.  Walking through the lot, I could not help but think of Adam, the young son of a dear friend, who had died just over a year ago because of addiction to opioids.  

His death, even more so his life, was the reason I came to this workshop last year. I longed to make sense of it.  He had struggled and suffered terribly, but I mostly understood this through the struggles and suffering of his mother.  For Adam—a good looking, charismatic guy whose infectious smile hid his addiction with the beauty and fragility of gold leaf overlay—I held a lot of judgement towards rather than understanding because I could not look beyond the misery of my friend, whom I love very much.  I felt ashamed of my short sightedness after his death. A kind of death that is too common in my community.

It [From Statistics To Solutions] was the only seminar of its kind I knew about where multiple organizations of addiction were presented in a public format”

I came to From Statistics To Solutions last year in hopes to learn about an unfair and difficult and impossibly complicated problem. It was the only seminar of its kind I knew about where multiple organizations of addiction were presented in a public format.  I was impressed and thankful for the resource, but frankly, I put most of my energy keeping my composure in public instead of actually listening to the information.

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This year, my mind was a little clearer and I still longed to make sense of Adam’s life, so I gathered with the hundreds of others at the second annual FSTS.  As I checked in and made my way to the auditorium to sit among a throng of smartly dressed men and women, I realized I was an outlier.  I was not there to attain professional credits, nor do I have a background in education, health care, or social work.  I wondered if the content would be purely academic and not relatable to a Regular Jane like me.

From Statistics To Solutions is brilliantly laid out as multiple panel discussions.  These panels are studded with a mix of leaders who (somehow) manage to uplift, engage and inspire around a subject that has bogged down our region with dark shadow for years. The topics are ambitious, ranging from neuroscience discoveries and understanding how the developing brain responds to substance abuse, to the correlation of mental health and its complications, to reentry into society after treatment—often times—after multiple treatments.  

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I did not feel like an outlier, or that the information was beyond my comprehension. I sat on the edge of my seat scribbling notes, enthusiastically nodding my head, and occasionally swallowing hard lumps of compassion and bits of memory.

I was exposed to people and stories and challenges that are very, very different from mine. This allowed me to look beyond my own experience.”

The presenters, strategically curated and highly experienced, were powerful to me not so much because of their credentials, but because of their willingness to be open and honest.  They held their own beliefs about what might work, but any successes they discovered cost them many hard mistakes.  Every panel included a recovering addict and because of their moxie—sharing their most intimate and painful details—I was exposed to people and stories and challenges that are very, very different from mine.  This allowed me to look beyond my own experience.

Panel after panel of diverse professionals combined with the deeply personal stories of addicts themselves, uncovered a relentless and jagged truth, made bearable by a shiny grain at its murky center: there is no clear-cut reason or answer for addiction.  And that no matter how difficult the struggle, no matter how many failed attempts there might have been—and might be still—there is always hope.  

This grain of hope lies within our ability to look beyond our own all-consuming perceptions, judgments and struggles. Substance abuse, particularly in our youth, is not a singular problem—it is a collective one. If I am ever to understand Adam’s life with addiction, I will need to try and understand anyone’s life with addiction.  

From Statistics To Solutions has taught me the best ways I can truly honor Adam and my friend’s unimaginable loss, is not through more tears, but through the continued pursuit to educate myself, be humane to all, and try to be part of the solution beyond my inner circle.  

 

FSTS Logo 2017About FSTS: From Statistics to Solutions is an annual conference that addresses the underlying issues of youth substance use. The conference is co-hosted by Our Young Addicts and Know The Truth, the prevention program for Mn Adult & Teen Challenge. Together, we create community and collaboration among treatment professionals, social workers, law enforcement, educators, coaches, medical professionals, parents and more. We embrace a variety of perspectives and approaches to prevention, addiction, treatment and recovery.  

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 2.50.38 PMAbout the Author: Mandy Meisner believes in the power of stories and that we all have important ones to tell. She is a regular blogger on Fridley Patch and is nationally published on several different syndicates. Mandy is honored to be a guest blogger for Our Young Addicts, sharing a story that she hopes will help the many others who are living with or supporting those with addiction. You can read how she learned how to support a mother of a young addict, in Before and After published last year on Our Young Addicts.

 

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.

©2017 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

Coming Together as a Community

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We’re gearing up for lots of activity among the Our Young Addicts community with writing and speaking opportunities. To that end, check out our new logo which now brands our Facebook, Twitter and WordPress Blog. Midwestern Mama invites parents and professionals to be part of our community to share experience, resources and hope. #OYACommunity

When I started writing about our family’s experience with addiction, it was just that – writing, more often than not it was therapeutic stream of consciousness with the hope that it might help other parents and families facing addiction. Quickly, however, the writing became a calling and a gathering of perspectives. We became a community of parents and professionals.

Without a doubt, we have a mission, vision and core values for Our Young Addicts. And, today, we have a logo that begins to convey what we are all about and what we hope to accomplish. I’m looking forward to an active calendar of writing and speaking and other ways to spread the Our Young Addicts message.

The logo is a teal blue box with reverse type that says Our Young Addicts.

In large, capital letters, is the word OUR. This word stretches over the words YOUNG ADDICTS, indicating that this is our community, that we are coming together because we care and are concerned, and that helping young people with a substance use disorder is OUR shared responsibility. Not one of us can do this alone, and fortunately, within a community, we don’t have to be alone.

The word YOUNG is bolded in orange to call out the distinct needs of this age group – the age group when 90 percent of addiction begins.

For the time being, we are still using the word addicts because it is familiar and less cumbersome than saying “people with a substance use disorder.” We also hope that we can role model and de-stigmatize that the word by demonstrating our care and concern for them.

Thank you for being part of the Our Young Addicts community. I am forever grateful that parents and professionals are coming together to share experience, resources and hope.

Midwestern Mama

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

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

Absolutely, please share!

Last week I was talking with one of the professionals who has been with us from midway in our son’s journey.  As I was sharing updates, including pride in the progress Mid Atlantic Mom and I are creating with Our Young Addicts on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook, the professional asked if he could share these resources with another client.

Absolutely! (By the way – BTW – I never knew an online experience could prove so valuable until I gave it a try. So,we encourage others to see if it can help them.)

I was once just like this client – a parent looking for resources and trying to do the right things for my son and for myself not to mention for my husband and our other children.  Some days, I truly felt like my roles and responsibilities were colliding. I was acting part on gut and part on advice from others. In time, I was acting on a more spiritual, Higher Power  I desperately wanted someone to give me a simple three-step solution to stop my son from abusing drugs, to get him into treatment and recovery, and to get him back on track with a happy, healthy life.  It felt like there should be something like 1) have a direct, caring and honest conversation with him about our concerns, 2) take him to a doctor or counselor who will enroll him in treatment, and 3) go back to college … and BTW, tell your parents you are sorry for all the concern you caused and thank us for all the time, money and emotions they spent trying to help you.

That plan is far from simple and even farther from realistic. No matter what we said or did, these steps didn’t go as hoped or planned.  Every effort was met with resistance, hurdles, and more.

What I’ve learned is by acting on our gut as well as taking professional advice (conventional and alternative), we continue to do “all the right things” even if the outcomes haven’t always been “right.”  I’m grateful that none of those more experienced than I have said something like,  “OMG what were you thinking Midwestern Mama – that’s the worst thing you could do.” I’d have been mortified that I was not doing the best by our son and family.  Yet, sometimes, I wish someone would have spoken up and said otherwise.  Instead, we have a report card of As for effort but results TBD and I so much want an A (or at the very least a passing grade) for results – not for ours but for our son’s.

Neither Mid Atlantic Mom nor I have the answers, but we’ve each hit on a trifecta that works – one part gut (mom radar), one part advice (a mixture of professional, parental and alternative) and one part faithful spirit (Al-anon or similar).  Please share our resource so that it becomes richer with your contributions – be these experience, professional, alternative, parental, spiritual or whatever works.

We will keep sharing.  Please keep letting us know what’s working – or not working – for you.

Here for you,

Midwestern Mama