Too many young people are becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol. OYA is a community of parents and professionals sharing experiences, resources and hopes on the spectrum of addiction, treatment and recovery.
We’ve heard it before. Substance Use Disorder runs in families. For our family this was particularly concerning as our youngest headed to college last year.
While I didn’t have reason to believe it was going to be a problem, his sister’s and brother’s college experiences weighed on my mind. I kept reminding myself that our youngest kid had walked a different path in high school, that he was well aware of the danger and consequences of substance use, that he was a different person and that he would walk his own path.
Still, I was relieved when he called home after the first weekend on campus. Do I think that there wasn’t any alcohol? marijuana? other substances? I’m sure there was. It’s college and these are prevalent on campus, but it didn’t seem to be a focus for our son.
He made his choices and these worked out for him. And following a summer of being back home, I have no suspicions of use. My mom radar is not bleeping. What a relief!
However, I’m super sensitive to drug and alcohol use among young people, so when we dropped him off for sophomore year – on Thursday, with four days and nights until classes would start, well, a mom’s mind starts to wonder. Heck, that’s a lot of down time before the commitment of classes.
Would there be parties over the long weekend? Yes. In fact, they were planning a pool party at one of the off-campus apartments. Would he attend? Yes. Would there be alcohol? Maybe. Drugs? I don’t think so. And if there are, I don’t think it’s a choice he’d even consider.
After meeting some of his friends, I have a positive sense about this group. So, after saying our good byes, I said my usual, “Remember the three S’s (smart, safe, sober) and one more – please wear sunscreen.”
The lesson here is that just because one sibling has a Substance Use Disorder doesn’t mean that all siblings will. It does mean that we talk about it and are mindful of the college culture.
It’s been a year since we got the text. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I can’t stop using and I need to go to treatment.”
For 3 years we’d been struggling with the knowledge that J was using. We had seen the “evidence.” An empty bed in the middle of the night. Missing plastic bottles (where did our hair products go?). Broken pens. Knives. Bowls. Parts of sockets sets that smelled like weed. And finally the day before, missing jewelry set aside to sell. The elephant was in the middle of the room and it finally couldn’t be ignored. Should I be surprised? After all we had plenty of addiction in our family. But could this monster really be in my house? Surprised but not surprised.
And so we began…this cycle of hope and disappointment. More hope and more disappointment. And so it goes.
It’s been a year of judgement. Most harshly from ourselves. What did we do wrong? Maybe we should have disciplined more. Maybe we disciplined too much. Maybe we shouldn’t have homeschooled. Maybe we should have homeschooled longer. Maybe if we would have taken that trip together….Maybe we shouldn’t have let him playing video games so much when he was younger. Maybe we should have kept him on that ADHD medication. Maybe we should have tried more therapy sooner. Judgement from others (real or perceived). They didn’t teach him to say “no” to himself when he was young. They were too permissive. They weren’t consistent enough. They were too strict. They should have kept him from “those” friends. They should have insisted that he hang out more with the “good” kids. They should have never let him get those earrings. They should have let him express himself more. They should put him in this treatment, not that one. Oh, addiction is a sin matter and should be treated that way. He was genetically predestined from birth and he really didn’t have a prayer against the monster.
It’s been a year of waiting, wondering and praying. Waiting for help. Waiting for insurance. Waiting for a bed in rehab. Waiting for J to “decide” if he really wants to recover. Waiting for him to come home at night. Wondering if he is going to come home. Praying that we don’t get a call from the police yet in a weird way praying that we will. Praying that he’ll have some sort of wake up call. And mostly waiting on God. Waiting on him to pierce J’s heart. Waiting for Him to open doors. Waiting for Him to show us the next right decision. Waiting for change. In J’s life. In my life. Waiting.
It’s been a year of learning. Learning that “you didn’t cause it, you chan’t change it and you can’t control it.” Learning all the “treatment jargon.” Detachment with love. Letting go. Learning way to much about THC levels, benzo’s, mollies, tar, salts and all the names of the various drugs and pills, what the police can and can’t do, juvenile courts, drug courts, public defenders, county attorney’s and judges. Learning the in’s and out’s of insurance. Learning about recovery, enabling and co-dependance. Learning that there are still so many misconceptions about addiction and trying to figure out what is truth and what isn’t. Learning that’s it’s o.k. some days to sit on the couch and cry and not be able to get off of it. Learning how to hold my tongue. Learning that I don’t need to be right all the time. Learning that I am right sometimes. Learning how to set boundaries. Learning that I have my own “stuff” I have to deal with.
Mostly it’s been a year of healing and growing. Understanding that I can’t support anyone else unless I take care of myself. Believing that I need to “recover” and work my own “program.” Sitting at the Lords feet every day, crying out to Him, sometimes in joy, mostly in desperation. Listening as he whispers to me words of comfort and truth and power. Soaking in the presence of my savior and accepting, truly accepting for the first time how much HE loves me. Seeing others through the eyes of our Savior with love and compassion. Loving the unloveable. Forgiving the unforgivable. And hoping when there is not hope. Understanding that I am not God and completely and utterly giving up any notion of control to him. Surrender. Truly surrendering. Laying it all at the cross. My life. My son’s life. Because it is all I have to give and I have given it all.
We are here now. A year down the road. J is no more recovered then he was 365 days and 6 rehabs ago. But I have changed. Transformed really. Today I have love. Today I have joy. And today I have hope. Not in J’s recovery. That may or may not come. But I have hope in the great knowledge that we can grow and we can change and God’s not finished with me yet.
Pam wrote this blog 5 years ago. Just for today, gratefully, her son is sober and working a program.
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.
Our family dog is the best-ever LADC (licensed alcohol and drug counselor). This rescue mutt came to us in early 2013. He was 14 weeks old and 19 pounds.
Little did we know what a prominent role he would play in our family – particularly in our son’s life as he lives through addiction, sobriety, recovery and relapse.
At the time, our son was 19 and he was deep on his addiction path.
Although I had hope, I realistically knew that tragedy was a distinct possibility.
He was bouncing between living at home, sofa surfing and being homeless.
He was every bit as much in need of rescue as our sweet puppy.
Watching our son meet and interact with the puppy was pure delight. His heart showed. A smile returned. A tenderness came forth. Although he was struggling, he always had a few minutes to play with the puppy, take him outside to go potty and take him for walks around the neighborhood.
It was a bright spot for all of us to observe the bond and it was a reminder that there was a happier, healthier young man waiting to emerge from addiction.
It didn’t happen right away, of course, and even when he decided to go to treatment about a year later it also included a devastating and rapid relapse that once again reminded us how fragile addiction renders its young adults.
Later that year, he would decide again to pursue treatment, sobriety and recovery. This time it took. Our son was three years free from opiate use in July 2017. During this time, he got a job, earned money to return to college and got straight A’s in his classes.
Through it all, the family dog was his constant companion giving new meaning to the cliche “man’s best friend.”
They spent many hours together. The love between the two warmed our hearts, and each one thrived in many ways.
But then there was a shift. Tiny at first, but unsettling. Then another shift, and then another and another.
Here we are eight months later. Our son’s personality – characterized by attitude, mood and behavior – has changed significantly.
We’re all too familiar with his current state and fear the direction it’s headed.
Exaggeration? No. It’s a pattern we recognize, a pattern we’ve experienced before, a pattern we do not welcome but that we must acknowledge regardless. It’s no longer just mom’s and dad’s radar, it’s the dog’s too.
Without a doubt, the dog knows. He waits by the mudroom door.
When will my guy return he wonders. When are we going for an adventure he wonders. When will we hang out together he wonders. Why is my guy always sleeping when he’s home? Why won’t he talk nicely with Mom and Dad? Why didn’t he celebrate his birthday? Why do I see his car down the street instead of coming home? Why did he come home and go right to his room? Why did he leave in the middle of the night? Will he come back?
The routine has changed, and our dog doesn’t understand. He doesn’t want to eat. He just wants to wait for his guy and get back to the sober, recovery days.
A special, sincere and personal thanks to this week’s guest blogger and his mom, who granted me permission to share his recent Facebook post and her response with the OYA Community. Brandon’s older brother Devin overdosed and died earlier this year; he was a friend of my son’s and their family often provided refuge for him during addiction. Today, Brandon is sharing a heartfelt and courageous plea for siblings. Thank you, Brandon and Mom. You write the truth.
A Sibling’s Post & Plea
Me and Devin used to be best friends when I was young. He would take me everywhere and show me everything. He was there for me always.
Then the drugs took over and we distanced. He either got away from me so I wouldn’t have to see him like that. Or I distanced myself from him because I didn’t want to see him like that.
There were points where we didn’t talk to each other for months on end. Purely because I was mad at him for doing drugs. But you know through all of the drugs and everything else I still loved him as my brother and woulda done anything for him. I always borrowed him money and helped him. Like family is family.
And for those out there that are doing drugs. Think about your siblings …you have such a big impact on them. Like you could lose them at any moment or they could lose you. Please, please think about them.
They will never have another “you.”
So please if you get clean for anyone. Please get clean for them. They need you more than anyone else needs you and I can tell you that right now.
Even if you argue and are mad. Drop it. I can tell you from experience it’s not worth it. It really isn’t. Because you could wake up one day and not have them.
Losing a sibling is a terrible, terrible thing, and I wish that upon no one.
Please if you need anything to help you get clean let me know and I promise you I will do anything in my power to get you clean. Just remember you doing drugs is helping no one. Absolutely no one.
Mom’s Proud, Caring Response
Devin, we miss you so much. Your brother especially. 💔 We will never understand why you were taken from us so early in life. It’s not fair. Please watch over us and help us through these difficult days. Brandon, you are a wonderful young man I am proud to call my son. I know with this statement on here that you will be able to help others get help so they don’t have to go through the hell we are going through. Love you so.
Here’s a draft that I started in 2012. At that time, my son’s addiction was in full swing and getting worse. Now (in 2016), we are nearly two years into his recovery. Yet the question still seems as relevant now as it did then.
So much of the 12-step wisdom for loved ones and co-dependents feels like it’s from the perspective of a long-term, adult addict whose life has become upside down. With an older teen to young 20-something, it seems to me the rules don’t fit so neatly.
It feels like sink or swim. It feels like tough love. It feels like an impasse. It feels like abandonment by the parents at a young addict’s most vulnerable of times. I understand love the child and hate the disease … but in letting go, detaching, etc. are we sending the wrong message — one that may be appropriate for an adult but is inappropriate for a young adult?
Brain research says that maturity and chemistry are still malleable until age 25, so it makes me wonder if we don’t need a significantly different approach in approaching treatment and recovery for young addicts than what “works” for adults.
This is something that my husband and I struggled with during our son’s addiction. In many ways Al-anon saved my life because it came along when I desperately needed serenity and through the steps I did learn and recover. However, I still needed guidance on how to parent a young addict and so much of the protocol was AA-based.
Ultimately, when we realized how close we were to a deadly overdose, we rethought our approach and embraced a more nurturing one. Mostly, with hindsight, I do not feel our earlier approach was wrong but it was very hard on all of us and I always wondered if we were doing all the right things. For our family, the nurture seemed to come at exactly the right time because it was around this time that our son finally admitted his problem, sought help and embraced recovery.
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?
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.
This week, my school district is hosting the second of a three-part series on drug and alcohol prevention and use among teens. I am grateful that local media is helping drive attendance and attention. (The picture above shows the district’s website homepage following our first event.)
The epitome of the OYA Community is having parents and professionals come together to share experiences, offer resources and provide hope. This is what that looks like in my home-town community. What’s happening in your community? Let’s collaborate and share content to address the issue of substance use among young people.
Today’s guest blog post is by Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, CIP, a Twin Cities-based substance use and mental health professional. Welcome to the #OYACommunity, and thank you for sharing part 2 of a 3-part series with our readers.
Recently I had a conversation with a mom from North Dakota, and truthfully, it’s a typical conversation I have with parents all over the country.
The mom asked, “Would you be able to come pick up my 22-year-old son and bring him to treatment in Minnesota?”
“Sure.” I replied. “I would be happy to help your son get the treatment he needs. What day are you thinking?”
Her reply: “Well that’s the thing, he doesn’t exactly want to go nor does he think he has a problem”
“Oooookay,” I said with an extended tone. “Well how exactly do you want this to happen?”
The parent went on to explain her utter exhaustion with her son’s addiction and reported that she and her husband were simply “done.” She wanted her son out ASAP and in a treatment center by the end of the week.
I asked the mother, “Have you tried to encourage your son to seek treatment, and if so what did he say?”
Her words: “I have told him over and over again that he has a serious drug problem and he is not the son we raised”.
Enough said, I understood.
The Traditional Approach to Intervention Doesn’t Work Well with Teens
In previous years, my common response entailed an immediate plan of action to quickly intervene and remove the young adult from the environment. The plan would have been simple, either he would come with me to Minnesota or exit the home and live independently (potentially with police involvement). Additionally, I would have placed the element of fear inside his head, by letting him believe that he either came with me or he positioned himself near death.
Using this traditional approach, I have conducted countless interventions nationwide. Repeatedly, I showed up at homes around the country and informed young adults that they had two choices: A. Go into treatment TODAY or B. live independently on the streets without the support of family or friends.
Addicted or not, almost 80% made the choice to reluctantly enter treatment. Leveraged into a corner, the young adult considers living independently on the streets, however, generally sees that treatment may be a better option.
That being said, it’s almost never a fairy-tale ending.
An extremely high percent of those admissions did not stay sober or even remain in treatment.
Families would call me a few weeks later and ask for help – in complete despair with the rebellious nature of their son or daughter.
A Realization in the Making
Continually, I was saddened by what I was seeing and it personally effected me. I realized that I was not actually providing a beneficial service to families as THEY, the families, were essentially dictating the course of action.
I posed the question to myself, “Shouldn’t it be I, the professional, to provide the family with the best option to support their son or daughter?” I pondered on that thought and knew that there must be a better way to do this!
Launching a New, Improved Approach to Helping Young Adults with Addiction
In August 2014, when I founded Drew Horowitz & Associates, I decided that my method of intervention would change. My objective would be to incorporate a strength-based, empowering approach to intervention.
The new approach is called the “Teen Environmental Advancement Model” (T.E.A.M) and it’s designed to help teenagers and young adults seek treatment for their existing substance use disorder.
It does not use leverage or force to move them into a recovery setting. Instead, this model works to educate people on themselves, identify values and aspirations, draw discrepancy between existing behavior and goals and learn about steps that best position them to be successful in life.
In my professional opinion, it made much more sense to “meet the client where they are at” and guide them through a process to begin understanding the detriment of their behavior. Not only does this model help the individual make their own decision to enter treatment, but also it increases the odds of long-term sobriety.
T.E.A.M. Work (Teen Environmental Advancement Model)
Let me share the approach with you in with the counselor applies empathy, genuineness, self-disclosure and compassion and in which we continually work to strengthen rapport and alliance with the young person.
Preparation: This consists of the counselor gathering information from family and friends regarding the condition of the identified young person. This process helps the counselor come to understand the person of concern.
Introducing the idea: The counselor provides a suggested script for families to use when they introduce their loved one with the idea of meeting a counselor. The counselor then coaches parents and other family members on how to answer the person’s questions and address their objections, thereafter helping families overcome those barriers and create a segue for the counselor to meet with the person.
Meeting the Young Person: Next, we schedule a first meeting between the person of concern and the counselor. The counselor begins building rapport and establishing trust, taking an empathetic and person-centered approach that differentiates between the people being “sick” versus “bad.”
Building Discrepancy: At this point, the counselor meets with the person of concern to help identify goals, aspirations and personal values, continuing throughout to build rapport and validate the person’s thoughts, feelings and frustrations. While encouraging the person to attain their vision, the counselor begins the process of building discrepancy between the ways the person is living versus their values. The counselor methodically works to help the person see that their current behavior isn’t allowing them to be the person they want to be. In most cases, the person of concern starts to become self-aware of their destructive behaviors and agrees with some need for change.
Making a Recommendation: Now the counselor recommends a course of action. This involves remaining non-confrontational and compassionate while informing the person that the next step in moving forward and accomplishing their goals entails entering a treatment program of some type. Opposition and frustration are typical responses, to which the counselor reminds the person that by seeking treatment they best position themselves to be successful in life and attain goals. However, the person is never forced into treatment, but instead is encouraged to keep an open mind about the process. It is not uncommon for the person to start at a lower level of care and work up to an in-patient setting.
Entering Treatment: The counselor arranges transport to the treatment facility and, in the interim, prepares the person for their treatment experience, investing considerable time in articulating to the person how much courage and strength they’re demonstrating by taking this life-changing step.
Moving Forward: At this point, the person of concern is under the care of the treatment provider and it’s critical that they remain on track. Toward that end, the counselor’s role changes to that of a clinical case manager for the person and a family educator for their loved ones. Ideally, the counselor visits the person in treatment weekly or biweekly, depending on the facility’s location.
Providing After Care: As primary treatment concludes, the person of concern receives a recommendation for continuing care. The counselor supports the treatment program’s recommendation and encourages the person to follow through, applying intervention tactics and working with the family as needed to ensure that they take the appropriate aftercare steps.
Turning it Over: The counselor’s involvement isn’t intended to be long-term. The hope is, after a period of time, the person of concern will no longer be a concern. The counselor defers to the recovery community and encourages the person to lean on their new found community—their sponsor and peers—for ongoing support. That said, the counselor never declines a phone call or meeting request.
Using the T.E.A.M. model, I have seen a massive increase in positive outcomes among young adults: Pleasant goodbyes from home, motivation in treatment to get healthy, abiding by aftercare recommendations and active participation in the recovery process.
In order to be effective with today’s vulnerable young adult population, we must promote autonomy, strength and mutuality. I now leave interventions with a sense of inner peace and hopefulness that I had never experienced in the past. More importantly, our young loved ones and their families are finding a similar inner peace and hopefulness, too.
Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, has a vast range of experiences working with addiction and mental health. He gained a wealth of knowledge through his own recovery coupled with extensive training: a master’s level education from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction and an undergraduate degree in psychology and human development from Hofstra University. Following a career with several substance abuse and mental health organizations, he formed Drew Horowitz & Associates, LLC, an organization designed to assist young men who struggle to overcome addiction and mental health.
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.
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.
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…
When trust is lost during addiction, it takes time to rebuild during recovery – sometimes it seems like forever – but Midwestern Mama is discovering that trust is possible. She’s coming up with more and more examples of the growing trust that’s taking place with her son.
Trust is possible. A few months ago, I would have been skeptical of that statement. A few years ago, I would have thought it was impossible.Today, I know it is not only possible, it is true.
Already, I have noted at least 13 examples of trust that I now have in my son. Each day this month, I am capturing example after example. Check out our twitter @OurYoungAddicts and Facebook for these updates. I will share more examples here, too. When I look at all of these together, I am filled with amazement and I am filled with excitement.
We still take things day by day; however, with each act of honesty, the trust gets stronger.
Today is eight months sober for Midwestern Mama’s son! Not only is trust growing, she is trusting herself more and seeing the #PositiveChange that come from trusting that things will turn out as they are meant to be.
Encouragement is one of the best things we can offer each other, especially for those of us who are parenting young addicts – in active use or in recovery. It’s often the most uncharted territory we’ve ever experienced, so that’s why encouragement is important; but I’d say that’s where unvarnished truth is paramount as well. We need to hear the good and the bad because the truth in neither good or bad – it is simply the way it is currently and it gives us an opportunity to see the possibilities ahead.
In each of my interactions with the Our Young Addicts community, I offer been-there-done-that perspective. I’m a naturally upbeat, positive person but don’t confuse this for being naive or oblivious to the challenges that addiction and recovery bring.
When we discover substance use and then begin to experience addiction, we focus on “if they would just go to treatment” or “if they would just stop using.” Sometimes they do. Sometimes that happens right away. Quite often, it takes time – lots of time and consequences – before they are ready. During this process many mantras surface, including the familiar “letting go” where you and a higher power connect.
Then, one day, recovery begins. With that comes a whole new slew of hopes and expectations. Once again, the “letting go” mantra surfaces. This time, letting go is about three-way trust – you, your higher power and your loved one. This third component – your loved one – is so much stronger than you ever imagined.
Trusting my son means trusting myself and also trusting that things will work out as they are meant to. Whoa! What a difference.
As I write about the many positive changes taking place for my son and our family, it’s also had its challenges and concerns. Recovery is not easy for any one of us, but trust me we much prefer this stage.
In particular, my son has a good deal of social anxiety. He pulls it together for school and work, but frankly, it exhausts him and overwhelms him.
Initially, he reconnected with some of his high school friends (now in their early 20s and having moved on with their lives) but has sense withdrawn from them. He has very little social life – and mom, dad and little brother day in and day out are a poor substitute for the fun and interaction that a 22-year-old craves.
Because he doesn’t embrace 12-steps, there are fewer options for support meetings. And, because he doesn’t like groups in general, he doesn’t want to attend alternatives such as Health Realization or SMART Recovery or Sober Meet Ups. It’s frustrating to live in what’s affectionately known as the Recovery Mecca or Land of 10,000 Rehabs (Minnesota!) and that he doesn’t want to be part of this community.
At work, he’s convinced that no one likes him and that his coworkers conspire against him. He’s certain that’s why he doesn’t get the good shifts. Likely it’s not true, but it feels miserable all the same.
All this pessimism worries me. It feels like an anxiety attack or depressive strike in the making. It feels like a relapse could trigger. Sometimes, I realize that it could be even worse – suicide or overdose. Honestly, I don’t sense this is eminent or I would be taking extremely proactive steps. I do, however, know that I have to be aware and that I have to trust myself to intervene or to let go. I pray a lot. And as you know, I write and reach out to others. I am blessed with a wonderful support network and this community. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
With all that aside, let me share with you a recent positive change, however, and I am crediting it all to the growing trust that we’re experiencing!
The other day, my son begrudgingly went to his workplace party – a Monday evening dinner with games and prizes. All on his own, he styled up in a sharp sports coat, button-down shirt and leather dress shoes. (Most days, it’s sweat pants and a hoodie.) Not only did he enjoy the meal, he played cards and even won one of the raffles, and he got to meet and chat with the owner of the company. He stayed the whole evening and was in an upbeat, chatty mood when he got home.
The next day, he worked a lunch shift (since he’s on spring break from school and had extra hours available). He was tipped well and again came home in a positive mood.
That evening, he ran some errands with the family and we went out for burgers at a new restaurant. Often in the past, we’d ask if he wanted to join us and he’d say, “No, don’t feel like it.”
Today, he took the dog out for a walk – something that subzero temps have precluded. The sunshine and mild temperatures spoke to him. I can only believe that some Vitamin D will do him some additional good!
And, he shared with me that one of his friends is turning 24 today and that he had reached out to say happy birthday. I was so proud of him for doing that. Further, the friend lives a couple of hours away and my son asked if it might be possible to borrow the car to go visit him sometime. Absolutely!
It’s funny because a week ago I had said to my husband that I’d probably trust our son to drive to visit his friend and stay the night. We agreed we could trust him, but I was hesitant to suggest it. Instead, he came up with the idea on his own – thus, he likes the idea! This really encourages me. This is a friend who stuck by him through his worst days and who is himself a positive role model.
Midwestern Mama recognizes that she and her family have come a long way!
Our past, our present and our future all deserve contemplation. Today, I am taking pause to think about how far we — yes, we – my son, our family, and me — have come through addiction, and more recently, recovery.
We’ve been a team through all of it. At times, as individual players. At other times, as collaborators. At times, a dysfunctional team and at other times a functional one.
When your kid is actively using and abusing substances, whether alcohol or drugs, things get rather tense. Our kid’s addiction wraps us up in the present – the immediate crisis, chaos and turmoil. It also gets us thinking about the past – either the good old days or trying to figure out whatever it was that happened to cause this problem … until we figure out and accept that we may never know the cause, and that we most certainly were not the cause.
During active addiction, it may feel impossible to think about the future – at least not in positive terms because we’re so worried about consequences like them not graduating or getting in trouble with the law and about horrible, scary outcomes like overdose and death.
Past, present and future, over and over again. It’s a relentless cycle until we decide to stop it. But that’s not easy and it’s something we have to learn how to do. It takes practice. It takes commitment. And it takes support – support from the whole team.
That brings us to today. Where are we today? Where have we been? Where might we be headed? These questions are not nagging or guilt laden at present. Today, these questions are cause for celebration, so I decided to capture some of the past, present, future. The common denominator is honesty and truth, and I expect that the future will also encompass enhanced self esteem, confidence, independence and richer relationships. All in all, no matter whether we are talking past, present or future tense, these days it’s a whole lot less tense for our family!
A Car, Driving & Transportation
Finding drugs and paraphernalia in my son’s car. Speeding. Going places he wasn’t supposed to go. Random, unexplained dents. Frequent flat tires. Taking away his car. Sharing the family car so he could go to work. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Taking away his driving privileges altogether. Possession charge. Accident in friend’s car. Court dates. Driver’s license suspension. Past-due fines and late-fees. Warrant for arrest.
License reinstated. He’s insured. He drives the speed limit and doesn’t tailgate. He’s nearly 8 months sober. He keeps a mileage log of driving the family car to work, school and appointments. He’s pleasant about sharing the car and accepts a ride or willingly takes the bus when I need the car. He willingly drops his little brother at school and picks him up from sports practice as well as runs family errands … with a smile.
His driving record will clear itself and he’ll have more insurance options along with lower premiums. He may have his own car. He’ll take on responsibility of gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs. He’ll be able to come and go as he wants.
Cutting classes. Not doing homework. Not studying. Relying on skimming text books before a test. Being high in class. Dropping out. Trying again. Repeat. Academic probation.
Successfully appealed academic probation. Registered for college classes (8 credits maximum allowed on probation). Doing homework. Studying. Attending each class. Taking notes. Met with his academic advisor.
Achieves GPA to get off academic probation. Registers for summer and fall classes. Finds an academic interest and declares a major. Connects with other students and teachers. Gets involved on campus. Completes an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Living at Home
Knew the rules about no drugs in the house and keeping family hours, but repeatedly broke these and left to sofa surf. Left his house key at home. When he did visit to shower and eat, often stole money. We changed the garage code so he couldn’t get in the house if we were not home. Was unable to pay rent to friends. Ended up homeless on multiple occasions. Lived at a shelter for several months, but broke their rules and after three warnings had to leave. Went to treatment, ran away. Went to treatment and lived at home – continued to use and ran away. Went to treatment and stuck it out. Went to halfway house and quit. Homeless again. Came home, went to treatment. Could not leave him home alone.
Living at home and sober since July 2014. Keeps bedroom and bathroom tidy. Does his laundry. Keeps family hours. Keeps us apprised of his plans including work schedule and occasional social outings. Interacts pleasantly with the family and loves taking care of the dog. Has a closet with clean, newer better-fitting clothes. No money has gone missing. He has a key to get in if we are not home.
Will continue to live at home while saving money, working part time and going to school part time. Eventually will be able to move out, but will be welcome at home.
Money & Finances
Always spent every dime he earned or was given. Stole merchandise and food from stores. Stole money from wallets and purses. Ran up debt – ambulance ride to ER, unpaid tuition, un-returned text books, unpaid fines and tickets. Participated in scams. Lost several banking accounts due to writing bad checks. Overall broke and bad credit.
Did odd jobs over the summer to pay off tickets and get back his driver’s license. Got a part-time job and is earning and saving money. Told Mom and Dad the truth about some of his financial consequences. Made payment arrangements with debt collectors. Still spends “too much” on things he doesn’t “need” and buys gifts for others. Eats out instead of taking a lunch to school. Shares a weekly update with Mom.
Will continue to work from a budget and to save. Will be debt free and build a better credit rating. Will have and use credit responsibly. Will have savings for emergency needs. Will be able to do “fun” things and get things he “wants.”
The youngest member of Midwestern Mama’s family writes about his brother’s substance use disorder.
When someone in the family is using drugs, it’s only a matter of time before one person’s problem becomes everyone’s problem. Our youngest son is 15 years old, a freshman in high school, and he recently wrote a “coming of age” essay for his English class where he talked about growing up with an addict brother.
He was nine years old when his brother began using drugs. For a year or two, he likely didn’t notice much, but by fifth grade we couldn’t hide it from him, nor did we want to. It was the year that things started to implode and it was the year that his class would participate in D.A.R.E. We believed it was important that he understood the chaos (in an age-appropriate manner) and to let this experience shape his own future choices, behaviors and attitudes towards drugs.
As we tried to work with our older son to move him toward treatment, we also worked hard at helping his younger brother and older sister process things. We talked openly with them, asked for their impressions and ideas, and we encouraged them to talk with a counselor or attend Ala-non or Ala-teen to put things in perspective. They saw us at our best and at our worst. They saw us for who we are.
One day our youngest was particularly distraught. In his recent essay, he wrote: “My life was ridiculously hard for a fifth grader.”
He knew that I had been working with a therapist to help myself manage the emotional roller coaster of parenting a kid with substance use disorder, so I offered to let the two of them meet and chat. It seemed to help little brother embrace the idea that he didn’t have to go through this alone and that there might be merit in talking with someone other than his family members – someone more objective and trained at these sensitive topics.
The next day, our youngest went to his school counselor. They hit it off, and she shared with him that she had a sibling with a substance use disorder. For the next couple of years, he would talk with her whenever things felt out of control, and through these conversations, a middle-schooler worked his way through some tough, scary, emotional times.
Just how did he feel during fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades? His essay reveals: “D.A.R.E made my problems even worse. I already knew a lot about what drugs did to the body because I had seen what they did to my brother.” He went on to say: “My brother’s problems affected my life in many ways. I (wanted) to be his friend … it was difficult to do so when he constantly was high or on the crash from drugs.”
They essay continued to talk about all the times when his brother had stolen his wallet, when he was homeless and his hygiene deteriorated – “He would smell like rotten apple dipped in crap drizzled in vinegar,” — when he was arrested for underage public intoxication, when he went to treatment but ran away … In just a few pages, my youngest son detailed the many low points he witnessed during his brother’s active addiction.
He concluded his essay by writing: “Knowing all I’ve been through is scary. The purpose of writing this (essay) was to (say) people have crazy family problems. I am outgoing and energetic, but deep inside, I still have problems. The best thing I learned through this experience is to stay strong. Talk to friends and counselors. Don’t let your problems overcome who you truly are. You are allowed to be affected by these tough moments in life, and at times you will feel worthless. Stay strong and it will get better. If life doesn’t have ups and downs, you’re (not really living).”
Little brother’s essay was as heartfelt and honest as anything I’ve ever read. It was also full of insight and perspective. I give it an A-Plus. His teacher, however, because the essay was riddled with typos, punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors, gave it a B-Minus.
Oh, well. I’m glad there’s another writer in the family who is willing to share this story – a story that has impacted each family member and a story that has had dark chapters, and now, over the past seven months of sobriety, is changing to chapters that are becoming increasingly bright.
Midwestern Mama with excerpts from her youngest son.
Midwestern Mama observes the fragile nature of her son’s recovery.
It seems today there is a quiz for just about everything. Some are quite fun and lighthearted, and others get at deeper findings … albeit in nine simple, multiple-choice questions with the option to share the results on Facebook.
Admittedly, I’ve taken my share of these and generally agree with the assessments, but that’s just it – these quizzes are easy, occasionally even insightful, and I enjoy the feedback. If there were a nine-question quiz that would sum up my son’s outlook, I think the finding would be: Fragile.
Ever since I started keeping notes, logging observations, and blogging about addiction and recovery, I’ve believed that situations resolve eventually, that there is potential for improvement, for transformation, for better days ahead. That’s my orientation to life. For my son, it’s another orientation altogether.
I started writing real-time accounts about my son’s addiction and our family’s experience because it seemed that there were really only two narratives out there: 1) the horrific, after-the fact story of the addict who died; and 2) the heroic, full-on, recovery story. What was missing was the story that is far more common, the story that’s still unfolding – either of addiction in progress or of recovery in progress.
Our story is still in progress. There are still many chapters to go. We don’t know what will happen next, and so I continue to write about what is going on now, and share it with you in hopes that it resonates in some way with your own experiences, and that together, we will be less fragile and grow in strength.
I am pleased that my son is six months sober. It is his longest time of sobriety yet, and even more importantly, it is one that he embraces. Thanks , in part to Suboxone, the sobriety aspect has the easiest part of recovery. Now, without drugs, he’s facing the realities and aftermath of the past five or six years: debt, academic probation, tickets, deteriorated friendships, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and more.
Everything he does takes extreme effort and the result is exhaustion. Nothing is easy. But he’s plugging away at it. We are supporting him, but it’s not easy to watch him struggle.
A few tips that are helping, include:
Keep repeating the Serenity Prayer, and it really does help.Think about each part of it.
Ask open-ended questions and share personal experiences, feelings to see if he wants to talk – usually not.
Listen without offering advice.
Help with somethings – simply being nice (do unto others type of things) but try not to enable.
Give him space.
However, I’m as concerned today about his mental health as I ever was about his addiction. Recently, he completed a series of psychological evaluations and is working with a therapist on mental health, including depression and social anxiety. The evaluation confirmed several things, validated others, and raised our awareness that he is still at risk. In short, he’s fragile, and it’s going to take time and effort to build up his strength from the inside out.
Midwestern Mama discovers a community of opiate users in recovery — just miles from her suburban home – as her son begins Suboxone treatment and counseling for Heroin addiction.
Less than five miles from my suburban home is an outpatient treatment center that offers Methodone and Suboxone dosing in addition to individual counseling, group sessions and training. Although it’s close to where I live, it’s not on a road I ordinarily take and even though I’ve driven that road many times over the 20 plus-years that I’ve lived here, it’s not a structure that I ever noticed.
The past two days, however, changed that. I have taken notice and I have spent several hours there. It has been eye opening and I actually look forward to seeing and experiencing more in the days ahead. As part of my son’s journey with addiction, I have yearned for an insider’s perspective to better understand the complexities of substance use disorder – if not his, that of others.
Sitting in the waiting room for several hours yesterday as he met with a physician, had a lab test and met with the intake coordinator, I busied myself with a proposal, client emails and some trade publications. All the while, I engaged in people watching and caught snippets of their conversations with each other.
It was clear that most of the men and women were regulars, although there were definitely some other first-timers and perhaps a few other supportive parents. The regulars were animated in their talk, joking and catching up with each other. Their faces and bodies evidenced difficult times, but their conversation indicated hope and commitment to better times. Many of them carried backpacks stuffed to the gills and I wondered if they were transient. Quite a few had large beverage containers from the convenience store across the street – sodas, chocolate milk, juice. Several of them had small lock-boxes.
One 50-something man, in particular, had an Irish accent, immediately introduced himself as Chillin’ McDillon, and complemented me on my smile telling me that it may him very happy to see. Without prompt or hesitation, he began telling me his life story. My son was signing in at the reception desk or he probably would have had a fit that I was interacting with Chillin’ McDillon
A younger woman used the clinic phone (sign posted above stating a 3-minute limit for calls). She was trying to get a school transcript to enroll in community college and it sounded like she’d been through a number of hoops already. Yet another woman was quite angry and punctuated her account of the last night’s activities with four-letter words to describe her boyfriend’s shortcoming.
In dress pants and a button-down shirt, another man filled out paperwork and checked his mobile device. He kept looking up hoping his was his turn to get called back to the lab.
Meanwhile, staff with lanyard nametags and jangling sets of keys came and went calling names and taking clients back for various appointments. In addition, someone was job shadowing and someone else was there for a site visit. Clinic staff were giving a tour and explaining the programs they offer.
A few years ago, let alone a days ago, I would not have imagined being here. Although we had suspected opiate use, this drug of choice was quite foreign to us. It’s only been recently that I began learning more and more about it and the challenges of overcoming this highly addictive substance. I had heard about Methadone and Suboxone, and more recently about Naltrexone (a medication our son took while inpatient earlier this year). Now, we were in the midst of it and it was not far from home.
After another round of “now you see me, now you don’t,” our son arrived home last Tuesday evening unannounced and coming down from a high. Our family was united in our expectations and the conditions under which he could stay in our home. We were not feeling very tolerant of another breech and initiated a straightforward conversation – with loving intention but resulting in a somewhat ugly verbal exchange.
My husband’s direct and strong voice expressed the message. We were clear, come morning he had to honor our agreement to do something positive and productive every day toward sobriety and it would begin with a call to some treatment places and start a program or he could not stay with us. His choice.
Midway through this ultimatum, and I hate that it was an ultimatum, he zoned out. I don’t think we realized he was coming down from a high or perhaps we would not have started this conversation, but as cognizant as we are of his use we simply didn’t see this.
For the next 30 minutes, he was half asleep but not at all engaged with the rest of us. We just watched. Finally, we said, it’s late and time to go to bed. My son went upstairs and climbed in bed. We tucked in our younger son and my husband and I proceeded to toss and turn the rest of the night.
True to our word, the next morning, I woke my son and handed him a list of places to call before the day was up. Groggy, crabby and feeling dope sick, he begrudgingly got up and spent the day with me. By late afternoon, he’d talked to one place but didn’t think it was the right place for him (a common theme) and left a message for the other. He didn’t want to talk about any of it and seemed resentful. There was lots of silence.
The next morning, I woke him up and he went with me again. I encouraged him to call back the place he’d left the message because sometimes getting through means being persistent. I’ll be darned, but he reached them and they had an opening with the physician for the next morning. Without hesitation, I changed a meeting to be able to take him.
Again, I had to wake him up. He ate a bagel and cream cheese. Without showering or changing out of his baggy PJ bottoms and sweaty t-shirt, we drove to the clinic. Throughout the morning of him meeting one-on-one with their staff, he would return to the waiting room and gradually began filling me in, being more conversational.
That afternoon, my husband and I took him for a haircut and we ate a late lunch together. He was energetic and pleasant. When we got home, he showered and trimmed his beard. He was feeling better and looking better, too.
Then, of course, he made a last-minute departure to hang with friends instead of attending a family birthday dinner. We know for certain he lied about which friends and we were 50-50 on whether he’d let us know his plans let alone whether he’d come home that night. We were unsettled, but decided to let go and accept that we had done all we could to include him in the family. Shortly after 10 p.m., he texted to see if we were home yet as he was on his way back. Didn’t really expect that.
This morning he woke up on his own and ready to get his Suboxone dose at the clinic. He came out with a list of dates for seeing the physician and counseling appointments. He talked about the upcoming group sessions that he’d be attending. He even gave me the sheet of paper to read, which he’s previously stuffed these things in his pocket and resisted letting us see them.
We had a short conversation about honesty and being a support system, but didn’t belabor it. It remains wait-and-see, but I am ever grateful for some positive motion and the possibilities that this could yield for him to get back on the recovery track. As much as he has fled from home in the past, it’s interesting that he’s sticking so close to home these days and that this current endeavor is not that far from home.
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.”
Almost every child has giggled himself silly playing games like Peekaboo and Hide and Seek. There’s the element of surprise. There’s the element of relief. And there’s an element of interaction. Each part of these games involves questions and realizations, and kids and parents learn a great deal from playing types of games together.
As my son nears his 22nd birthday and his childhood friends are graduating from college, I’ve remembered quite a few of the old games drawing connections between these pastimes and current times. Being a Millennial, my son’s playtime started out with more traditional activities – board games like High-Ho Cheerio and building sets like Legos. By grade school, he and his peers were moving toward electronic toys – GameBoy, video games, computer games. Social media took off when he was in high school with Facebook, Instant Messaging and texting.
If you’re a parent in your 40s, 50s or 60s, you probably remember the Game of Life. You moved around a board with a game token that was shaped like a car, and you could make choices about college and careers, buying homes and insurance.
Lately, I’ve thought about addiction as a board game. Please know I’m not making light of it or even being glib, and I am absolutely not implying that it’s a game on purpose or a mind game. No negative intentions or connotations, just a positive and easy to understand metaphor. OK, we’ve got that settled. Thank you and keep reading.
It’s just that parenting a young addict reminds me of a board game that comes with an objective and requires strategies as well as luck (sometimes good luck and sometimes bad luck) in order to move forward. That is the point after all, to move forward, to come out a winner.
Whatever the game, the element of surprise is ever present. It ranges from the anticipated to the unexpected, and leaves the players wondering what will happen next. The inherent intrigue, including the unknown possibilities, creates interest in continuing the game instead of quitting.
For my young addict and for our family, surprise was definitely part of our early experience with addiction. It started off with our surprise that he was using – he was such a good, smart, well-liked kid and we had been good – not perfect – parents. Our son didn’t fit the stereotype of a drug user, let alone an addict. No one would have predicted he would have a substance use disorder. Yet, the signs were there and when we had confirmation that he was using drugs, we really weren’t that surprised.
I think his quick thrust from using to outright addiction certainly surprised our son- he didn’t plan to have a problem – and the consequences of use surprised him even more. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect that his path would diverge so much from his peers’. They went to college. He postponed college and when he started a semester late, he ended up in detox and the ER six days after classes started and was kicked out of school within a month after that. Talk about a fast track that further propelled his use and myriad consequences.
We stood by him, but in a firm yet loving way. Our no-enabling stance definitely took him by surprise as did our loving detachment and relentless encouragement. Our imperfections with parenting a young addict created inconsistencies that set us all back from time to time. (Where are the rules to this game?) Sometimes, it has felt like playing one of those games when you get close to the finish line only to draw the card that sends you all the way back to the beginning so that you have to go through all the dice rolling or spinner spinning again. (How many times did that happen in High-ho Cheerio? It was the game that seemed like it would never be over.)
Once we knew what was going on – what game we were playing — we immersed ourselves in understanding addiction, treatment and recovery in all its many variations. While we didn’t necessarily have the answer or solution, we certainly embraced knowledge and explored options.
Having an understanding of the game means that now there really are no more surprises from our perspective. Each difficult step has come with realistic, but ever hopeful, understanding. Instead of surprises, we get confirmations of our suspicions and concerns. Instead of surprises, we are better equipped to deal with whatever happens next, or at least we tell ourselves that.
We continue to anticipate a happy surprise. We hope one day he will want to change enough to get maintain a positive attitude that maybe today will be the day. When it isn’t, well, we find relief in a text, sighting or visit. These aren’t always pleasant, but these are tiding us over. We are grateful he’s alive for another day because each day is a day of positive possibility. That is a relief.
Each interaction with our son is an opportunity. We can tell if he’s high or coming down. We can tell if he’s had a good day or not. We can tell if he’s receptive to talking about his situation or if it’s better to give it more time. We can tell if he’s had a good night of sleep, a shower or a meal. We can tell when he’s itchy to leave us to go with his friends.
Anymore, our interactions are less and less frequent, but still somewhat predictable. He’ll contact us and ask to come over. He’ll shower and eat. From there, it depends. He might fall asleep – anywhere from a short nap to upwards of 16 hours, no kidding. Or, he might be energetic and play video games with our younger son or even take the dog for a walk.
Then … he’ll hesitate by the kitchen counter and say, “I’m heading out.” We both know what that means. From there, it’s usually days – even a week – before we hear from him again. We’ll reach out to remind him that we’re here, that we care. If he interacts, great; if not, we let him be. Too much interaction on our part seems to drive him further way and it takes longer for him to return.
We’re finally getting good at this game, and we know that the most important winner will be our son!