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

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

 

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.

#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!

#TBT – The First Four Columns on Parenting a Young Addict

Midwestern Mama started writing about her son’s addiction in November 2011. Even in the throes of chaos, she wanted to share experiences, resources and hopes for parents and professionals. #TBT will feature past columns.

Throw Back Thursday or #TBT is an online phenomenon. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the past, and hopefully gain perspective on the present. I’ve decided to post some of the early columns that I wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press that chronicle our family’s experience with parenting a young person addicted to drugs.

PioneerPress Minn Moms – First Four Columns

Making the Grade – From Addiction to Academic Achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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What Can I Say? Arguments Happen.

Midwestern Mama shares three great sayings that put arguments in perspective.

Bloggers are not just blog writers. We are blog readers, too. One of the blogs I read regularly is written by a mom whose son is eight months sober – you can see why I find this one of interest.

In her last post, she shared an argument that happened over the holidays. It was eating her up as she wondered about the impact of this on her relationship with her son and, of course, on his recovery. She had hesitated to blog about it, but then found value in processing her feelings and gathering input from her readers.

It got me thinking about this blog and our vision to provide honest, real-time posts about our sons, their journeys, and our parenting experiences. Aside from maintaining appropriate anonymity, I hold back nothing; at the same time, I try not to bore you with all the details. If anything, I hope you see us as real people dealing with addiction and recovery in a real way – not always perfect, but always with good intentions, and always willing to share what worked and what didn’t.

We, too, had an argument with our son recently. It scared me. It scared him. Fortunately, it was short-lived and we weathered it. In fact, I think it actually strengthened things. A year ago, I doubt this would have been the case.

This argument was about a laptop computer. It’s been a recurring topic in parenting our young addict.

When my son graduated from high school, we were paying his tuition (minus a wonderful scholarship he’d received) and he was supposed to use some of the money he earned from a part-time job plus graduation-gift money to pay for his college laptop and textbooks. Seemed like a fair deal.

Well, of course, he spent all his money on drugs before classes ever started. Because we desperately wanted him to go to college and hoped that he’d rise to the occasion of a clean start, we bought him a laptop. Within a few weeks of drug-related trouble at college, he sold the laptop. For drugs.

Two years ago, my son won a $1,000 raffle. He immediately went out to purchase a laptop with it. He relished in being able to play online games again instead of being limited to the family computer or the computers at the library. A few months later, I noticed the laptop was missing. He sold it. For drugs.

Now this fall, out of treatment and working on recovery, he took action to return to a local college. Certainly, he would need a laptop computer for homework. With a part-time job, he wanted to buy a laptop. Props to him for wanting to buy a laptop himself and for sharing this decision with us.

The laptop he selected was quite expensive – because it was primarily a gaming computer, one that had more bells and whistles than he legitimately would need for school. And, because his bank account is set up to prevent him from making purchases over $300 due to a history of bad checks and debt, he would need his dad or me to pay for the laptop and then he planned to reimburse us.

That’s where the argument ensued. We had concerns about the amount he was spending when a more affordable laptop would meet his school needs. We had concerns about him spending too much time gaming – contributing to staying up late, engaging in another form of addictive behavior, etc., etc. We also had concerns about him putting this purchase ahead of other debt he needed to pay off and expenses that we are covering while he’s getting his life back together.

Black Friday and Cyber Saturday were feeding his impulsiveness and obsession. He needed this computer and he needed it right now. He felt the deals would never be better. That he had to buy the laptop NOW! We felt he could wait until after the holidays, earn a bit more money. Do a bit more research on which laptop to buy.

He kept pushing the conversation. Kept asking if we’d put it on our credit card. Kept saying he’d pay us back.

I tried to explain our concerns. He did listen, but he had a comeback for each one. Finally, my husband entered the conversation and in his direct, to-the-point style, he asked some hard questions of our son, and laid out our concerns in no uncertain terms. When my son started to explain, my husband interrupted him, and then my son interrupted him, and then each one raised his voice, and then each one started saying what they felt. It was getting ugly.

By this time, my son stood up, grabbed his coat and said he wouldn’t continue the conversation. He was leaving. This is a behavior we’ve witnessed many times in the past, and it never led anywhere good. It was always a setback. He’d always go running to his drug-using buddies. This scared me.

We gave him some time. About an hour. Finally, we exchanged a few text messages. I think I started it with, “The mudroom door is unlocked when you’re ready to come home” He asked if Dad had unlocked the door or if I had. This mattered a lot to him. I lied and said Dad had unlocked the door. About an hour later he came back.

The next day he was scheduled to see his therapist, and following that, he suggested a compromise – he’d look for a less expensive laptop AND he would write a note to Dad explaining that “walking out” was his way of cooling down.

A few days later, he wrote the note, he apologized for raising his voice first and for using expletives. He was sorry and he wanted to move forward. And so we have.

My son found a less expensive computer that met his school needs and would accommodate gaming. He pledged to limit his time on the computer, keep good sleep habits and to be open to feedback from us if we observed otherwise. He says he’ll share his grades with us on a regular basis. He’s going to let his behaviors build trust.

To make things even better, he went to his bank and explained the situation and was able to work out a way to pay for the computer directly from his account. The banker listened as he explained going back to school, working part time and being committed to recovery. They let him make the one-time larger purchase, but have kept the spending limit in place until he reaches and maintains an established minimum balance. That my son did this on his own is incredible. We did not enable, and he empowered himself!

We all learned some things from this argument, and it reminded me of many of the things I’ve learned as a result of our son’s addiction and recovery about relationships and communication.

Support groups are full of good sayings. Sometimes these seem trite but more often than not, these are great reminders of the good old Golden Rule. Who can argue with that? I can think of at least three sayings that resonate with me on the topic of arguments.

One is from my Al-anon group, one is through an online group where Mid Atlantic Mom and I met, and one is a quote from Steven Covey that my son embraced during his treatment program.

“Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.”

“From chaos comes clarity.”

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviors.”

What can I say? Arguments happen and those three sayings are as great guides for these, sometimes unavoidable, exchanges.

Midwestern Mama

Wrapping Up 30 Days of Gratitude

Midwestern Mama counts her blessings this Thanksgiving season with “30 Days of Gratitude.” Among her most grateful reflections? Relationships, Community, Family, Friends, and her son’s Sobriety & Recovery. Thank you for joining us in a celebration of #Gratitude2014

Thank you for reading along as I gave great consideration to all that is good, all that I am grateful for this season. What I truly realized it that I am grateful for far more than one thing each day, far more than 30 things in one month. I am blessed to have multitudes of things for which I am eternally grateful. The more I thought about things, the more I realized I could put on the gratitude list.

In sharing some of these thoughts with my husband, he shared a wonderful realization that he’d recently come to: He shared that since our son’s commitment to recovery, he is beginning to think about the future and is no longer dwelling so much in the past.

I, too, find myself better able to look forward. For so many days, months, years, it has been all we could do to just focus on the here and now, taking things one day at a time (sometimes even one minute at a time). We would replay the past. We would long for the good ‘ol days.

Now, we are excited to see what’s next for our son. And, our son is excited, too. He’s working part time with hopes of a promotion and perhaps finding an even better job. He’s registering for spring-semester courses at a local college. He’s appealing academic suspension by writing an honest and sincere account of his young-adult life and showing that he’s ready to be a drug-free, committed student. He’s turning his life around, and we are so happy for him.

Here is a quick recap of Days 21 – 30 of #Gratitude2014.

Day 21: I am grateful for information sharing and gathering. Smarter is better, when it comes to addiction.

Day 22: I am grateful for truth even when it’s difficult.

Day 23: I am grateful.

Day 24: I am grateful my son is alive in spite of so many past situations that could have killed him.

Day 25: I am grateful for how far my son and our family have come since last year – it was getting bleak; now it’s full of hope.

Day 26: I am grateful that family and friends will gather in our home to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Day 27: I am grateful my son is here to help me make the cornbread stuffing for our Thanksgiving meal!

Day 28: I am grateful for leftovers. Today, I am making turkey soup to warm the soul.

Day 29: I am grateful for the upcoming holiday season

Day 30: I am grateful all year round – Thanksgiving is more than a day, more than a month. It is a way of life.

All the best,

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

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

It never ceases to amaze me how easily my son slips away. He’ll be home, in regular contact for a few hours, even days. Then, he’ll just be gone for days at a time. We’ve come to accept this as the user’s way of life.

He won’t answer his phone or respond to texts – sometimes because his phone is dead and sometimes because he views our outreach as intrusion. And more and more often we wonder if he might be dead. That’s what family and friends are left to wonder.

When we drop him off somewhere, he’s barely out of the car and is immediately lost in the crowd or turns the corner and we can’t see him anywhere. No matter how hard we try to watch where he goes, in one split second he’s disappeared.

Same thing when he walks out the front door. Instead of staying in view, he darts to the side of the driveway and by the time I can get to the window, he’s nowhere in sight.

Even though he doesn’t have a car anymore, that doesn’t stop him from getting around. In in given day he may cover 75 to 100 miles. He’s adept at using public transportation and bumming rides from others.

Back in high school when he had a car, I started tracking his mileage because he was never where he said he was going to be; the mileage gave me insight into how much he was lying. After a while, all that tracking accomplished nothing beyond continued validation that he was on the run, all the time.

The more I’ve learned about addiction and the more I’ve observed our son’s behavior, it’s all about patterns and routines. I’ve come to call it an ongoing pattern of “now you see me, now you don’t.”

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

Normal Teen-Age Behavior or Could it be Mental Health and Substance Abuse? One Mom’s Observations

Over the weekend, Mid Atlantic Mom (MAM) and I had a long overdue phone conversation.  Although we’ve never met face to face, we are quite close and we always amaze each other with parallel thinking on trending topics such as her post on mental health relative to suicide and substance abuse.

With my son in recovery, my attention is less geared toward the day-to-day things he’s doing as I’m letting go and letting him live his life.  Instead, my thoughts are divided between future and past.  I think about his future possibilities as he contemplates returning to college.  Similarly, I’m remembering the genesis of his drug use in high school and our concern about his mental health.

Our first inclination that something was going on had to do with changes we observed in our son’s behavior.  He was sleeping a lot, was irritable.  He had less and less interest in family and was gone more and more – often anywhere but where he said he was.  He would wake up in the night and go downstairs to play computer or video games, to talk with friends on Facebook.

In many ways, these seemed like normal teenage behavior.  Other parents said their kids did the same types of things.  But we knew it was something more.  Even he knew something wasn’t quite right but in his immaturity, he expressed outrage.

Finally we decided it was time for a visit to the doctor.  We wondered what was going on.  His physical health was fine.  The doctor didn’t screen for drugs or do a urine analysis.  We were surprised and asked if that might be a good idea.  The doctor simply said, “He’s a good kid.  It’s tough being a teen these days.  Maybe consider some family counseling.”

During family counseling, our charming and intelligent son said things were fine and claimed he didn’t use drugs.  The counselor didn’t really think he was depressed either, just going through teen-age-itis.  It was very frustrating because we knew in our gut something wasn’t right and felt the professionals were too cautious with their way-and-see attitudes

In time we discovered that our son was doing drugs, primarily pot.  A lot of pot.  Like getting high multiple times a day, every day.  Spending hundreds and then thousands of dollars.  That’s when we started testing him (Wal-green’s pee test – about $19 – well worth it, fast and accurate).  FYI: Marijuana stays in the system for 30 days or longer, while other drugs may only be present for a few days.

And in later years, he learned that he was depressed and having anxiety.  Pot was self-medicating, or so he thought, and so were opiates like Heroin and Oxycontin.

I’m taking a long time to get at a list of signs, but here’s a start of what we saw.  Please add to it with your experience.  In doing so, we can offer other parents and caring adults some valuable ideas and things to consider as young-adult addiction is often masked in adolescent behavior.

  • Changes in sleep patterns – more sleep, less sleep, interrupted sleep
  • Changes in friends – always hanging with different people
  • Changes in plans – never where he says he’s going to be, always has an excuse
  • Mileage on the car – more miles than it should be for where he said he was going
  • Fast-food receipts – for places outside of the neighborhood, at times he should have been at school or sports practice, in the middle of the night when spending the night at a friends
  • Lighters even though he didn’t smoke cigarettes (at the time)
  • Visine – to cover up red eyes
  • Cologne – to mask smells
  • Fabreeze – to mask smells
  • Dryer sheets – to smoke through
  • Tin foil – to smoke heroin (small rectangular pieces with burned black splotches on it)
  • Paper clips, unfolded with black tar on the end – to clean pipes
  • Broken ball-point pens – just the hollow tube for snorting
  • Punch cards for a local “head shop” where he bought rolling papers and other paraphernalia
  • Diminishing bank balances
  • Incorrect change when we gave him money e.g., $20 for a $12 purchase with only $5 in change
  • Leaving early and coming home late from work

For many of these there could be an explanation and our ace debater could talk us in circles to protect himself and guilt us about accusing him of something.  Such is the back and forth of a young adult user and his parents.

If you are concerned, even a tiny bit, act.  Act now.  Don’t wait.  Don’t worry about offending your kid.  Don’t worry about looking silly with professionals.  It’s so much easier to halt the disasters that mental illness and drug abuse bring by addressing it as early as possible.  We were never in denial, but always counseled to not be so quick to jump to conclusions.  In hind sight, I wish we’d pursued this even more vigilantly -especially before he turned 18, because that’s a turning point that changes the parental role forever.

Go forth and be strong, parents.  We believe in you and your young addicts.  There is a better life ahead.

Midwestern Mama

A Second Chance for Midwestern Mama’s Son

Addicts of all ages deserve a better, more fulfilling life.  I strongly believe that no one wakes up and decides he wants to be an addict.  If anything, it just happens.  Sure, it’s the results or consequence of choices, but those likely weren’t the original intentions.

From a parent’s perspective, I think it’s understandable – even reasonable – to ask, “What were you thinking?”  Frankly, the addict wasn’t thinking, wasn’t even capable of thinking.  Addiction got the better of them. 

Yet, as a parent, I still wonder why my young addict says and does the things he says and does.  More over, I grapple with why the words and actions rarely match up.  And then I remember that it’s part addiction, part mental illness (in my son’s case), partly a lack of perspective (as Mid Atlantic Mom wrote about), and partly age, partly the chemicals (substance and brain).  It’s many, many parts that add up all funky.

I can rationalize this.  I can understand it on a text book level.  I can even relate to it from an experiential perspective – after all, we’ve been witness to this for quite a few years.

Recognizing all this, I am again wondering what will happen next.  Nothing will surprise me, good or bad.  That’s just the reality of being the parent of a young addict.  However, nothing will stop me from hoping and praying that this is the day that he makes another small commitment to sobriety and recovery, and that in time his steps will be bigger and more confident.

About two hours ago, my son received a second chance at continuing his recovery program in a new halfway house, the one he originally said he preferred.  A bed became available.  Funding became available.  But we had to reach him and get a “yes” by 2 p.m.  By the grace of God, we did reach him and he did say, “yes.”

We were willing and ready to give him a ride right then and there.  He declined a ride from us.  He says his friends (users themselves) will give him a ride there and ensure he arrives by 4 p.m. today.  If not, the halfway house will have to give the bed and recovery opportunity to someone else … who really wants it.  

The halfway house and the funder have done their parts, nothing short of a small miracle.  Our son says, “yes.”  That’s a small miracle, too.  What will be a true miracle is if he actually shows up, on time and works the program.  You know what they say:  the program works when you work the program.  Words are one thing, but actions are what it’s all about when it comes to sobriety and recovery.

I am grateful that he has another opportunity.  (Since becoming an addict, this kid has had opportunity after opportunity.  He seems to attract them.  He also tends to waste them.)  

Today, right now, I am praying for all of you and the individual places you are on your journey.  You may be an addict.  You may be a parent, a teacher, clergy, family member, neighbor.  Whoever you are, I pray for you and am so glad you have joined Mid Atlantic Mom and me as part of our community of caring people who are concerned about the young addicts in our lives.

Will he show up at the new halfway house in the next 45 minutes?  As soon as I know, I will share with you.

Journey on ….

Midwestern Mama

 

Always hopeful, ever realistic

There have been few surprises on our son’s addiction journey.  That’s not to say we have been able to predict the future nor that we always have all the facts, however, it has followed patterns of other addicts and patterns that are uniquely his own.  We’ve just gotten pretty good at expecting the unexpected/expected.  With that, we’ve also become calmer and more accepting.  It’s just what our life is about.  We do our part, but cannot control the other things going on.

And do our part, we do.  My husband is a problem solver.  I am a connecter, a doer.  Together, we are in this together and whether we are directly trying to help our son or offering guidance, experience and a shoulder to others, we are compelled to do our part.

Before I tell you what I felt I needed to do this morning, let me fill you in on what transpired this weekend.  Since walking away from the halfway house on Wednesday evening, the family has not heard from my son.  By Friday, however, his older sister started posting on Facebook and friends pointed to a photo he had been tagged in.  She reached out to this person and introduced herself.  Meanwhile, I looked the person up on Instagram and found a photo of my son and some friends; they were using drugs and he was sitting there with them.  I do not know if he was using, but he was certainly around them and that’s hardly a good place for someone in recovery … if he is indeed in recovery.  I tried to hold back from entering the online exchange, but felt the urge to at least say we were concerned and hoped he would reach out to us.

So far, not contact with us, but he did call his sister from a friend’s phone late Saturday night.  Said he didn’t like the halfway house (after just a few hours of being there), planned to stay sober and would go to his first-choice halfway house when a bed became available in early February.  He even said, he had already talked to them about this. 

As always, this sounds good on the surface, but addicts are adept liars.  Hate to say it, but they are.  If he’s telling the truth, it still doesn’t align with his actions.

Meanwhile, here’s what else I was compelled to do and I believe it was my Higher Power’s will for me:  I called the “preferred” halfway house.  The intake director said he was glad I called because he needed to reach my son as a bed was opening up this week.  I updated him on the situation as he was not aware. But he said, this isn’t uncommon and if our son could provide a clean Urine Analysis, that he would go to bat to help him get the funding to admit to their program as soon as possible.  In other words, in spite of the poor choice and actions, my son my have another chance to continue his treatment recovery within a halfway program.

Now, we just need to reach our son and see if his word is good, if he truly wants to do it.  So far, we’ve not been able to find him, but his “friends” say they will let him know we have good news to share.

As much as I hope he will get back with the program and that everything will work out, I am ever realistic that it may just be him saying whatever he thinks we all want to hear.  Either way, he has a clear choice and his answer will be one of the first truths we’ve heard in a long, long time — even if it’s not what we would choose for him.  Only he knows which way he’ll choose.  It’s his choice. 

Midwestern Mama