Guest Blog: The Real Me by Brook McKenzie

Ever wonder if your kid will overcome addiction and live a life in recovery? Never stop believing that it is possible. Treatment works. Recovery is possible. Today’s guest blogger is a young man who did just that. Meet Brook McKenzie and find hope in his story… MWM

With no tattoos, barely any muscles, and a quiet, sensitive nature, I had very few credentials to suggest I would survive in prison. Yet there I was, orange jumpsuit and a shaved head. At 19 years old, 155 lbs., I was not much to behold.  If anything I was the poster-child for “easy prey.”

How often I wished that I had never taken that first hit of crack-cocaine. How many times I wondered at how different things might have been.

Like many, I grew up in a great family with plenty of opportunity. It would have been much more likely for me to go on to graduate college, embark on a career and start a family than to wind up in prison.  But that was not at all what happened.  For years my parents had been wringing their hands in dismay. They would say things like, “how did this happen?” “why can’t you stop?” “can you quit for us, if not for yourself?” These were questions I sometimes had answers for, but none of them really made sense when set against the backdrop of my family’s life in shambles.

I was fifteen years old when my addiction to crack-cocaine began, a child really – with little idea as to what was in store.

This nightmare of enslavement would continue for me and my family for the next 20 years. There would be late night phone calls, desperate pleas, thefts, bail bonds, disappearances, missing purses, missed holidays, and an assortment of promises always ending in disappointment. As a child I had wanted to go to college and become a dentist. I loved my parents and they loved me. My younger brother was my sidekick.  Together, we would spend our youth exploring the woods, fishing, going on family vacations and making forts and tree-houses. I played baseball every year and enjoyed a host of childhood friends.  From a very young age our parents taught us how to be responsible, courteous, and conscientious young men.

As hard working, middle class young adults, our parents sought to provide for us the best that they could, and all they could.  They did a wonderful job! Still, in my heart, I sense that they felt to blame for what happened to me. But in reality, what happened to me, happened to each of us. Addiction is a family disease and it touches all lives that come into contact with it.

Between the years 1999-2009, I served about 8 years in prison as a result of my drug addiction, and my family served it with me. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she would come to visit. There would be times that I would bring a black eye to the visitation room with me. She would squeeze my hand while recounting all that had happened since I’d been away.  My brother had graduated high school, gone on to college, and earned his bachelor’s degree. He even met the love of his life while traveling abroad.

Sometimes during these visits – when I could muster the courage – I’d look my Mom in the eye and promise her – with all of my heart – that things would be different next time – I had changed. Unbeknownst to me, and certainly to her – none of us had come to a full realization as to the severity of my condition.

Once released from prison, and with every good intention to live my life reformed for the sake of all my family had been through – I would relapse!  Whether it took a few days or a few weeks, I always went back to it, as if asleep and unable to awake.  Similar to a nightmare, I would “come to” in complete shock  – “how did I get here again?” “What happened?”

The horror I felt would consume me. How could I do this to my family? And the thoughts would come:  wouldn’t it be better to kill myself now and let my family begin to heal than to go on causing harm indefinitely? Ashamed, I dared not show my face to anyone. The only way I knew to cover up what I felt was to go on to the bitter end, which for me, always resulted in another arrest.

As my addiction progressed, I found that I would steal for drugs, lie; even prostitute myself…I would walk miles and miles to get my next fix, roaming the streets like a zombie.

Whatever I had to do, I would do, my conscience under siege. The pain I felt inside, the loneliness and sense of isolation was unbearable. During these times I would fall to my knees and pray, “God please help me, please show me another way.”

Then, in 2010, as though an answer to my prayers, I was presented with an opportunity to go to treatment for my addiction. With a small duffel bag of clothes in tow I embarked on a life changing experience that would prove to be the launching pad for a brand new life in recovery. I haven’t been back to prison since. The truths I learned in treatment are the truths I carry with me today and they are the same truths that I share with others, with families and with those similarly afflicted.

…Not too long ago I accepted the position of Outreach Coordinator for a well-known drug and alcohol treatment center in Southern Orange County, California. This role allows me the privilege to interact with other people’s parents and family members on a daily basis. Together, the families and I walk hand in hand towards getting their loved ones the help that they need and deserve. Ironically, and despite it being a big part of what fuels my passion to serve others, my own story rarely comes up any more. As time moves on, there are newer stories to share, with brand new faces and brand new names; stories of hope, and stories of redemption.

Today, when my Mother calls me I answer the phone and we talk. We don’t talk about the things we used to discuss, we talk about our gratitude; we talk about life. My father, same thing. And as for my younger brother, well, we are best of friends again. He now has two young children of his own, two girls, and I get to be an uncle to both of them.  By the Grace of God, my nieces will never know me as a drug addict, a convict or a thief.

They will only know the real me; the one that God intended me to be…

Brook McKenzie serves as Outreach Coordinator and Family Liaison for New Method Wellness treatment center. His passion is working with families to help interrupt the cycle of addiction.

Guest Blog: Impact of Exercise in Addiction Recovery for Youth

This week’s guest blogger is Fiona Parascandalo of DUO, an Ontario addiction-recovery program focused on youth and the healing value of exercise. For young adults,  in particular, exercise is a key component to recovery. Learn why and how. MWM. #OYACommunity

Exercise is something that is often touted as making people happier and reducing stress, but less commonly discussed is the how the benefits of exercise can be used in the addiction recovery process. Youth especially have a lot to gain by incorporating exercise into their treatment or counseling. Exercise allows youth to take control of their journey towards to recovery, exercise also has significant impacts on the brain in there critical stage of development, and exercise is an easy practice to build into a daily routine.

  1. Exercise promotes active engagement with recovery: It is important for youth to feel in control of their recovery process and be given the opportunity to see the outcomes of their daily choices. In many treatment programs, youth are treated as passive participants and removed from making choices about their recovery or long term treatment plans. This can be damaging to the development of self-identity in a crucial stage of transitioning into adulthood. When youth engage in an exercise program as a focal point of recovery, they are the centre of the recovery process and their physical effort has direct ties to their recovery.

The purpose of exercise is to revitalize and develop the body, mind, and spirit. Initiating a fitness regime at any stage of recovery involves making a change to addiction driven behaviours and engaging in new, mindful behaviors. Exercise is an opportunity to tune out stimulus and cravings, and focus on natural sensations in the body.

As youth are developing into themselves and defining who they are as individuals, exercise provides a means to discover the underlying catalysts of addictive behaviors so that addiction does not become a lifelong issue.

  1.  Exercise stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive substances: Addiction is created in the brain by the addictive substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamines) or behaviour (i.e. sex, video games) continuously stimulating the brain’s reward centre. New pathways are created and the user begins to crave the substance that caused the over stimulation of their reward centre. For youth, this is an especially dangerous neurological dependence as their brains are at an important stage of development.

In terms of brain development, late teen and early adult years mark the time when the prefrontal cortex, involved in the control of impulses and decision-making, is maturing. Involvement in substance abuse can delay or damage this development causing lifelong struggles with reckless and irrational behaviour.

In addition to creating new pathways in the brain, establishing a regular exercise regime as part of a stringent recovery process has been shown to reduce cravings and build resistance to triggers.

This allows the youth to take control of their reliance on a substance or addictive behaviour and engage in an activity that will positively affect their future neurological development as well as overall health.

  1. Exercise can be incorporated into a daily routine: For treatment to have a lasting effect it should be easily integrated into daily life and the practices learned should be simple to recall when facing a trigger. Establishing a daily routine will allow for a disciplined approach to facing triggers that can be utilized anywhere and at any time.

For example, if first thing in the morning is when you typically have your first cigarette, switch this behaviour with a morning run or simple body-weight workout; if after school you typically use with your friends, switch this with an after school team practice or start a regular football game with your friends. While this is a simplified explanation of how exercise can be leaned on when facing triggers or cravings, it does highlight the fact that exercise is a tool that can be used by anyone to assist in the recovery process. As part of a controlled and monitored recovery process small behavioural changes can have lasting impacts.

For teens and young adults the ease of integrating exercise into their daily routines is essential to its impact on their addiction. Between the ages of 15-24 daily activities and commitments are continuously changing, and addiction can be used as a coping mechanism to deal with these changes or as a way to escape the burden of increasing stressors.

Exercise is an affordable and customizable tool that has the capability to replace the feelings of relief and escape caused by substances. Chemicals released in the brain while exercising, endorphins and serotonin, reduce stress and increase happiness.

When facing stressful or overwhelming situations, individuals in recovery can learn to rely on exercise rather than abusing a substance to improve their mood and cope with the situation. Youth have the most to gain from engaging in an exercise focused recovery program as they will learn lifelong skills that can be easily integrated into their busy schedules.

Fiona Parascandelo

DUOaddictionfj@outlook.com

www.duoaddictionsupport.ca

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

Guest Blog: A Mom Stops Enabling and Starts Supporting Her Daughter in Recovery from Meth Addiction

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One of the most rewarding aspects of the #OYACommunity is connecting with other parents who are on the addiction and recovery path with their children. Together, we share experiences with the hopes that it helps other families facing a similar situation.

Today’s guest blogger is the Jennifer Jinks Yates, the mom of a young woman who is overcoming Methamphetamine addiction. She writes about recognizing the signs, to getting her daughter into treatment and now supporting her in early recovery. We wish Jennifer and her daughter Abby the best as their journey continues. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JYTS68

I realized very quickly I had no idea who my child was. About a year ago I knew something was going on; the violent outbursts, the weight loss, hallucinations.

Of course, she looked at me right in the eyes and lied; “I swear I’m not on drugs.” I believed her.

I even took her to a gastroenterologist because of her vomiting and diarrhea episodes. I later learned she was actually just what they call “dope sick.”

One night last fall she called me in the middle of the night hysterically crying. “He beat me up bad, mom. Come get me.” I met her at a gas station, dried blood on her face and windshield busted out.

I asked again, “…are you on drugs?” “Yes, mom. Yes!” she yelled. I’d love to say I was in shock but I already knew in my heart.

She told me she had been using drugs, mainly methamphetamine, for over years. Smoking it, snorting it, and within the last year, injecting it. I look back and that is when my instincts kicked in. Prior to that, I truly had no idea.

Back to the night I met her at the gas station, how broken and tiny she looked in her car. I brought her home and called her father.

We had her in treatment within 72 hours. I felt peace for the first time in a while.

I drove her to the treatment center three hours from home. Leaving her there was the hardest thing I’ve done since burying my mother at the age of twenty-five. I cried the whole way home. I cried almost every day for a while, uncontrollably at times.

Thinking back and wondering, “How did I not know? Did I ever really know her at all?”

Two weeks in she convinced me she learned her lesson and was ready to come home. I reluctantly went and got her.

I was the queen of enabling at that time.

Three days in and she was at it again. Her abusive boyfriend brought drugs to my home while I was working two jobs. I previously told her if she relapsed she could not live in my house. Two weeks before Christmas she moved out. I prayed and prayed for her. A few weeks later she asked me to come get her again. I told her I would only if she would agree to return to treatment, and she did. That was early January, 2015.

Immediately she was a different person. She stayed in rehab until the staff said she was ready for sober living. She will graduate from sober living in a few weeks. While I am nervous about her returning home, I have to give her a chance. She has done all she has been asked to do.

I have had several people who knew her the first rehab visit say she is a totally different young lady. Our battle is far from over. She feels like sober living is a bubble protecting her from the scary real world.

What I got out of all this was strength I never knew I had. The enabling stopped after I took her to rehab the second time.

It is unimaginably difficult and breaks your heart, but in the end it will save their lives.

Enabling kills, it is that simple. By doing drugs these addicts are killing themselves anyway. Enabling helps that process.

Addicts do not have a soul. They are empty shells doing whatever it takes to get the next high. Once they are so deep into addiction, they are no longer in control. Enabling the addict will get you nowhere. They aren’t themselves.

Letting the addict to hit rock bottom quickly makes them see they have no other option but to seek treatment.

I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know my daughter. She has my eyes and sense of humor. She is very well liked where she is. She is excelling in her job, earning employee of the month for the last three months. I have been so blessed by this experience. She could have easily overdosed and died. I also would like to mention the show “Intervention” helped me become a better parent. I learned a lot from other parents going through the same thing as well. I am very appreciative and honored to be asked to write and share my experiences.

Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your wisdom with us. We are glad to have you as part of the #OYACommunity.

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

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

Let’s Chat

One of our goals at Our Young Addicts is to provide a place where family and friends of young addicts can talk to each other in a relatively anonymous way.  We expect to be able to provide a forum for that kind of interaction on our web site, it’s just that we haven’t developed it yet.  It’s in the works though!

In the meantime we are offering a secret Facebook group to those of you who want to connect in a meaningful way.  To join the group you must first friend our Facebook group Our Young Addicts.  https://www.facebook.com/OurYoungAddicts   After you join, send us a direct message asking us to add you to the group Family and Friends Place and we will  add you.  From there you can chat with us or others in the group.

Your profile WILL be visible to others in the group but the general Facebook public will not see that you are part of the group.

We respect the privacy of you and your young addicts and expect all who join the group to have the same respect for each other.

Looking forward to connecting with you.

Our Young Addicts

Email ouryoungaddicts@gmail.com

Twitter @ouryoungaddicts

Another Chapter

We got a call earlier this evening that our almost-21-year-old son was picked up with a blood alcohol level of .12. The officer said he could put him in detox, in jail or release him to us. Our son said he and his friends got drunk and then got in a fight. He said they left him at a gas station and took his phone and wallet, and that he must have fallen asleep. That’s when the police showed up. He’s supposed to be at work and will probably lose his job for not calling in. He’ll have to go to court. We are letting him experience the consequences of his choices.

This real time post is part of why Mid Atlantic Mama and I started the Our Young Addicts blog and Twitter feed. More tomorrow.

Midwestern Mama