I was a young addict.

Today’s guest blogger shares his personal story and struggle as a young addict. And, how he used his weaknesses to propel him forward. MWM.

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I was a young addict. Some would say I still am. Not using for nine and a half years isn’t what makes me an addict. Attending anonymous twelve-step meetings isn’t what makes me an addict. Arrests, institutionalizations, rehab stints are not what have made me an addict. I am an addict because I am hooked on any and all mood-altering substances. I’m hooked on a good deal more too. I just try, today, each and every day, to focus my addiction on healthy outlets: creativity, my work, my family.

Yes, I believe there is no curing my addiction. I also don’t believe in suppressing my dopamine receptors with medication. I choose to live with my addiction as best I can. And I’ve found my disease lends itself in surprisingly advantageous ways to living a wholesome, full, and happy life.

It didn’t seem possible back then.

Back then, I couldn’t see past my next fix. I woke with that insatiable craving in the pit of my stomach—if I woke at all. Often I was up all night. I was a self-prescriber. Mainly street drugs. Some prescriptions. But I believed in the right balance. The perfect mixture of substances in my blood stream that could achieve an elevated stasis—a heightened state of living. I rotated through pills, plants, and powders, believing I could manage them all. It all came crashing down nine and a half years ago.

As a young addict, I craved to stand apart from the crowd. I craved to be so unique that no one could relate to me. So I write this now with the understanding that, if you are a young addict reading this, it does not matter how you came to this resource. It does not matter who said what to get you reading up on the solution to your drug problem. All that matters is that, if you identify with writing like this one, you seek help. There is no fighting this thing alone. It takes fellowship. For me, it took sponsorship. And sponsorship took acceptance. Acceptance that I am an addict and that addicts need help. It does not matter how you got to this post. What matters is what you do from here.

Nine and a half years ago I was admitted into the intensive care unit of a San Diego hospital and diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis. Rehab came next. And then a stay at a halfway house and an Oxford house.

Today, I am a writer, and a teacher. I am a husband to my wife and a father to two children. We own a home and I pay the bills on time. I show up for the people who expect me to show up.

It’s not a way of life that I have discovered. I’m not trying to pioneer this clean life stuff. It has been done before. People show me how to live today. All I need to do is accept their help, daily, just for today, and not pick up no matter what.

 

 

About the Author: 

unnamed-2Mark David Goodson writes a recovery blog: www.markgoodson.com that he calls “The Miracle of the Mundane.” It celebrates cleaning living, the simple life.  He throws his addictive behavior into his life’s endeavors. When he is not teaching or writing, he can usually be found throwing his children too high in the air or hugging them too hard once he catches them.

 

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

 ©2017 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

From College Drop-Out to Graduate: The Gift of Collegiate Recovery Communities

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When your kid is using drugs, it may seem like sobriety – let alone college -is impossible. Today’s guest blogger, Teddy Rybka is proof that it’s possible. He’s a young person in long-term recovery and the program director of a popular, growing collegiate recovery community. Enjoy his post. MWM.

I was introduced to recovery at a young age, 18 years old to be exact. I had been an active user since 15 and the summer after high school graduation I decided to reach out for help. Two days later I found myself in inpatient treatment. I immediately regretted fessing up to my parents that I was chemically addicted as it meant I had to miss my first semester of college. What a bummer. I was all set to study business management and play upright bass for the college’s jazz ensemble, and here I was in a facility with other young junkies.

After inpatient treatment and a subsequent outpatient program, I found myself on a college campus. I was so excited about school. Finally, no more living at home with my nagging parents! I remember vividly standing outside my residence hall after my parents dropped me off and screaming at the top of my lungs, FREEDOM!

I was serious about staying clean and sober.

Well, sort of. The clean part, yes, but not the sober part. I could admit drugs were a problem, but I had a hard time grasping being powerless over the alcohol bit. How could I really be an alcoholic? I wasn’t even legal to drink nor had I ever had a drink in a bar. I figured I could control my alcohol use on my own and drink socially. How hard could it be? Little did I know the effort I needed to put into recovery, the support needed, and how recovery was an all or nothing deal. Within a week I started drinking almost every day again and a week after that I was back on my drug of choice. It was so sudden. Within a month of “partying” (in my case isolated drinking and drugging), I knew I needed to give it all up in order to survive in college.

I tried to stay clean AND sober. I realized that drinking led to my drug use and once I picked up that drink there was no telling when I would stop. I sought out help. However, the university I was attending had no support for students in recovery. The counseling support didn’t have any resources besides area AA meetings filled with old people I couldn’t relate to. I tried outpatient treatment again and also hooked up with a therapist who ended up telling my parents that I was a lost cause because of my continuous relapses and excuses based on endless lies.

I managed to complete 3 semesters of college. I got passing grades, but I was a wreck physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I knew I couldn’t go on so I dropped out, and for three years I bounced in and out of treatment centers. I put my parents through the merry-go-round of deceit, lost a lot of friends, and destroyed my self-esteem and motivation.

I never thought college would be possible.

Despite my out-of-control behavior I knew deep down inside that I was better than this; a testament to my parents and their unconditional love and support. A college degree was my dream, but my previous attempt had traumatized me. I thought the temptations around me would be too strong to overcome. How could I find friends who were also clean and sober? How could I have fun? These thoughts almost destroyed any hope of becoming a college graduate.

While at an inpatient treatment center in Minnesota in the fall of 2009, I learned about Augsburg College’s collegiate recovery community called StepUP from a couple of students who came in to share their testimony. A comprehensive program on campus where students in recovery can receive an education while enjoying college life clean and sober?! I was so overwhelmed with hope that I knew right then and there that was where I needed to go to obtain my college degree.

I was sent to California after treatment for after-care which was a great experience. My sober living roommate was a celebrity, we went to meetings in Hollywood, and for the first time I really started to have fun in recovery. Everything was going great until my best friend, and using buddy, was sent to the same place where I was for aftercare. Bad idea.

Within a week of being together we had relapsed and were kicked out of our sober living home. His parents took him back home, but mine would not. To this day my parents say this was the hardest thing they have ever had to do; to stop enabling me and let me go 2,000 miles away from home. I found myself with three options: homeless shelter, the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), or suicide. I chose the Salvation ARC, but soon after getting admitted I contemplated suicide. Here I was, going through withdrawal, the youngest in a facility of 110 men – the majority facing 10+ years of prison time, and stuck working 9 hours a day in a rat-infested warehouse.

That was my rock bottom; but instead of jumping to my death I got on my knees and prayed. I had an overwhelming sense of relief and calmness come over me. I had a spiritual awakening, surrendered to my disease, and have been clean and sober ever since.

I ended up hand writing my application while in the Salvation Army and was accepted to Augsburg College and the StepUP Program. I had never stepped foot on campus, but I knew that’s where I needed to go. I needed 6 months of sobriety so I really immersed myself into my recovery. I went to 4 support group meetings a week, and worked the 12 steps with a sponsor. I really had a goal which made it easier getting through the initial few months of sobriety. I went back to school in the fall of 2010 and immediately hit the ground running.

People in recovery are the most perseverant people in this world.

I am a testament that if you put just 50% of the energy you put into getting your drink or drug into something healthy and positive you can achieve anything. For example, I decided I wanted to get into shape and play the sport I love most again, a sport taken away from me from my addiction. I accomplished that and played baseball collegiately. I wanted to take on a leadership role and become a Residence Assistant and mentor for a group of students in recovery. I got the position and thrived. I wanted to graduate magna cum laude and I needed to get straight A’s my senior year. Success.

Before graduating with my degree in Marketing, I heard that St. Cloud State University was starting a collegiate recovery community and needed a graduate student with residential life experience helping students in recovery. What an opportunity! I could use my experience mentoring students in recovery while the university paid for my master’s degree. I got the position. Little did I know those would be the 3 best years of my life.

To be continued…

About our Guest Blogger:

Thaddeus “Teddy” Rybka has been a person in long-term recovery since February 2, 2010. Hailing from the Chicagoland suburbs, he has lived in Minnesota now for six years. He currently is the Program Coordinator for the Recovery Community at St. Cloud State University. In his free time, Thaddeus enjoys fishing, listening to music, exercising, and spreading the message that recovery works.

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

©2017 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved

#TBT Thoughts on Pot from 2012

Midwestern Mama has been reviewing a series of drafts from four years ago when her son’s addiction was escalating. At the time of this draft, she knew for certain that he was a pot smoker; she suspected it was a lot more than pot, but hard evidence remained elusive.
When it comes to addiction, there are several schools of thought.  Intervene right away  — and keep at it.  Let the addict bottom out.  Raise the bottom.  It all makes sense … with most addictions — eventually, the addict will have enough consequences that they seek or accept help aka treatment.  They truly become ready and willing to change.  And they have to, because recovery is forever, every single day.
But Pot, good old harmless Pot, is something else altogether.  The user — aside from the consequences of laziness of which there are many — can go on for decades until life and all its potential passes by.  All in the vain of self righteousness.
Now for many people, Pot is more or less harmless, but for an addict — someone who has a chemical dependency disease, Pot is insidious.  Unlike hard drugs, users don’t crap their pants, vomit, pass out, rot their teeth, get sores on their body, etc.  Pot users are less likely to commit violent crimes.  They may steal money from a sibling or sell a belonging to support the habit.  They may not live up to their potential, but they get by and often they are generally well liked.
Their friends usually move on, finish school, get jobs, have families, and while they may occasionally smoke for fun, it’s no longer an obsession, a right or a calling.  The addict is left in the dust, alone, miserable and desperate for the next toke. That’s my son – wondering where his high school friends went. Reality, they went to college, graduated and got jobs, even bought homes and started families. 

 

Pot is called a gateway drug, and it’s true that most drug use started with Pot or s similar first high.   But there are also Potheads that never advance and in many ways, I think that may be the saddest aspect of all.  Pot is the anti advancement.  It is the ongoing nothing.  It just is.
Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Are the rules the same for young addicts as adults?

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.

What are your thoughts?

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Twelve-Step Rebellion

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This week’s guest blogger is Jay from @OneMindDharma who writes about finding serenity through meditation after years of trying to find it through traditional 12-step programs. It’s important for young people in recovery to find an approach that works for them rather than what works for people quite a bit older. Thank you, Jay, for sharing your experience with the #OYACommunity. MWM

I can give the story of my life quite simply. I was 12 years old when I started to drink. I would show up to punk shows drunk because I felt self conscious about being so young around older kids and hoped that the smell of booze and the forced stumble would make me appear as cooler than I felt. I grew up to be addicted to opiates quite young and found heroin at 22. At 26 I decided to stop using drugs, was hospitalized and stayed in sober living for many months.

One of the things I can relate to with young people is the resistance to a 12 step program, and I congratulate you on this discovery. The fact that anybody has gone to something enough to realize that they like it is extraordinary if you think of the different tasks that acquiring drugs or alcohol entails. We become mindless when we’re going through the motions of getting high, that even a small fire wouldn’t have inconvenienced me much while I was loaded. But sober, the initial resistance is to be expected and deeply encouraged to push through.

The problem however is once you’ve gone to your first few meetings and you see the word, “God,” or you look around the room and there isn’t anybody similar to you. I was 19 at my first meeting and spent many nights in diners with folks who talked about their mortgage or even put on music in the car that made me want to jump out. I understand feeling misplaced, and so I commend you for this observation. This means one is aware, not simply “going through the motions.”

I would estimate that I went to 2,000 twelve step meetings before I turned 25. I tried to force myself to believe that “this would work for me.”

I tried to see drugs as this vacuum that could steal my soul by simply thinking about it– reciting, “brick wall,” for fear of being possessed. I would call my sponsor to ask permission to go on a date or to leave work early to catch a concert I wanted to see. He would ask, “is this Jay’s will or is it God’s will?” The idea was that any decision I was making was most likely harmful and going to lead to me getting loaded or with a needle in my arm. I appreciated this — this was the father figure I longed for for so many years.

Eventually though my life resembled somebody else’s life and I found little joy in my daily activities. The lack of luster I could live without, however I began feeling more and more alone. I started thinking in two different thought patterns– the 19 year old who wanted to be 19 and skip class to skateboard like any other 19 year old versus the 19 year old young man who was focusing on interest rates, responsibility and work ethic.

Neither is worse than the other, but I felt the focus was slipping from not wanting to get high into being a clone of my sponsor and his 40 plus years of life experience. So I began to rebel against his suggestions, and a satisfaction would come when I broke these rules. The same feeling, in fact, as getting high, which eventually led to me getting high.

And so for years this cycle would continue. I would push my drug runs to the brink of death so that I could feel this “bottom,” that they would all tell me I wasn’t finished using until I felt and experienced. The reality is that I was done and I didn’t need to feel ostracized or shamed for being a kid. Instead, I began to search for different methods of getting clean without the help of AA. One of these for me was NA for a short while. I liked the fellowship– it seemed to be a younger crowd. I didn’t like the steps, and I started to realize that that was okay. I believed for myself if I were to tell my deep dark secrets to anybody it should be a therapist, as that was who I felt comfortable telling these to. I didn’t mind paying for it, since my life was on the line.

My therapist eventually would say things like, “You have so much going on up there Jay, have you looked into meditating?” I had not.

And so my journey of meditation began. In the beginning I had candles and incense and would focus on the fronts of my eyelids and my breathing. In time, I found guided meditations and Buddhist principles.

I knew that quieting my mind and observing my thought patterns were both important, but I also wanted to grow as a person. I didn’t want to change who I was, I wanted to become a better version.

I finally met my teacher at a meditation meeting in Hollywood. He seemed to like the same music as me, could identify with my anger and my rebellion, and began to help me implement different principles and practices into my personal life.

One of the big ones was what the Eightfold Path refers to as “Right speech.” This, to me, means not to speak ill of anybody, and unless it’s absolutely necessary not to speak about anyone who isn’t around. Of course people have to be mentioned, but the way I mentioned them became a focal point. Even the way I said things seemed to have an undertone I wasn’t normal aware of. I began thinking before I spoke, and being mindful of the intentions behind my words.

Slowly, I meditated more and more frequently, and I noticed that the urges I had to use and to act out weren’t as prevalent. I also noticed that I started doing things in my free time that I enjoyed again, and surrounding myself with other people my age who didn’t care how I got clean, they just enjoyed the fact that I was myself.

Eventually I started working for my teacher, and am now the outreach director for his meditation company. At 27 years old I have over a year clean from everything, I bought my first car, I have two jobs, and

I’m becoming the version of myself I secretly knew I could be. For the most part I don’t do anything I don’t want to do or am required to do.

I live a life that I choose to live and it no longer feels forced.

We can choose to be who we wish to be in this world and anything truly is possible if the effort is there. So long as you’re trying you have a chance to make the change at anytime that you wish. Rebellion is the catalyst of change and true rebellion begins when you make the effort to change yourself. Meditation helps me, and if you’re struggling with finding your place in AA or any program utilize the wonders of the internet and find different means of recovery. There are meditation websites, there are online recovery communities, and there is meaning if you search for it. You’re too important to give up hope, and your place in this world is out there somewhere. I wish you well and hope you find it on your journey.

About Jay:

Jay is the community outreach director for Www.oneminddharma.com He works on an animal rescue ranch and enjoys playing music in his free time.

Puppy Love at First Sight

Midwestern Mama celebrates a wedding anniversary, her son’s continued sobriety, and the puppy that has brought incredible healing to the family.

Welcome Home Puppy

Three years ago on our 25th wedding anniversary, a neighbor was taking care of a Golden Retriever puppy and asked if we’d like to meet it. This adorable little fluff ball needed a home. Without hesitation, my husband and I offered to adopt the puppy. Our neighbor was thrilled and said she’d make arrangements with the owner the next day.

We were getting a puppy! Until recently, our family life with school, sports and work schedules did not lend itself to having a puppy. Now, however, we had a bit more flexibility and believed this was an ideal time to add a puppy to the mix.

The next morning, my husband purchased puppy chow and a soft bed. We texted the neighbor and didn’t hear back. We waited. Then we got the call that the owner had already promised the puppy to someone else; our neighbor was sorry to share this message.

We had geared up for this exciting new adventure only to have it end before it even started.

Without hesitation, my husband looked online at puppy adoption through our local animal humane society. There among the puppies was an adorable, 14-week-old with white fur and black markings. So cute, so loving, we knew he would be adopted in a heartbeat.

We arrived at the animal humane society the moment it opened. Upon meeting the puppy, we knew this was the one. There was something extra special about him and we brought him home.

Our 12-year-old son had just gotten back home from a sleepover when we pulled in the driveway with the puppy. Love at first sight.

Later that day, we texted our 20-year-old son hoping to reach him from wherever he might be in whatever state of high he might be in. We didn’t tell him why he should return home, but said we really wanted to see him. A few hours later, he showed up and met the puppy. Love at first sight.

These were the days when our son was working an overnight shift at a local Perkins. He had been living with us again for a few months and was participating in an out-patient treatment program – although his attendance and commitment was anything but engaged. He was using, lying, stealing, and living in a fog. It was one of the many chapters of his devastating drug addiction.

But upon meeting the puppy, we observed a softening. Our son’s caring, compassionate, loving self was visible. Although the turmoil of addiction – including homelessness – continued for another year and a half, having the puppy at home was always a welcome reason for him to stop and see the family. The puppy became a connection point for our family, and our young addict and the puppy developed a strong and special bond. (The puppy even ‘wrote’ a letter to our son and attended an intervention with family and friends.)

When our son moved back home and committed to treatment, sobriety and recovery, the puppy was the best therapist ever. Best friends.

As my husband and I celebrate our 28th anniversary this weekend, and our son’s 18 months of sobriety, we are forever in awe of the role that our puppy has played in healing our family. Love at first sight, indeed.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

Lost & Found – Reconnecting with Those Who have Helped our Family through Addiction

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Along our journey through addiction, many professionals have helped our son and our family. From time to time, I reach out to let them know what has happened next – often each professional was just a brief participant.

Last night I texted a private investigator whom we hired in summer 2011 when our son had run away from a wilderness treatment center just nine days into the program, to give him a positive update.

That summer, without a phone or wallet, our son left on foot to escape treatment. He was in denial of his addiction and was not at all ready to stop using drugs. We were devastated to receive the call from his counselor and very concerned about our son’s well-being and whereabouts.

After checking in with area shelters and filing a missing person’s report with the local sheriff’s department, we had fleeting hope of finding our son and getting him back to Minnesota. A day or so later, having heard no word, we hired a private investigator.

Fortunately, this caring, young man tracked our down our son within a day. He told our son how worried we were and how much we wanted to help him. They had dinner together that night and he let him sleep at his home before getting him on board a plane for Minnesota.

While there is more to this story as you may have read in many of the old posts on this site, it was a turning point in more than one way – many of which were even more devastating. I felt compelled to reach back out to the private investigator to let him know that #SoberSon is 14 months sober, living at home, taking college classes, working part time, attending counseling, and more.

Shortly after texting him with the update, I received the nicest note back. I imagine that often people never know what happened next and must wonder if things eventually turned out all right.

Midwestern Mama

©2015 Our Young Addicts                            All Rights Reserved.

#TBT – Maybe Today Will Be The Day

In today’s #TBT column, Midwestern Mama writes about the guiding, calling HOPE that “Maybe today will be the day,” that her son would choose sobriety and recovery.

Every parent of a young addict hopes and prays that TODAY will be the day that addiction ends and sobriety and recovery begins. None of is knows how long the journey will go on. All along though, we must maintain hope – for ourselves and for our young addicts.

A Real Mom – Maybe today will be the day 1-31-12

Several years after writing this column, after lots and lots of hoping (and other things), that day came. My son made that choice on July 11, 2014, and I’ve never been so grateful.

Midwestern Mama

Denial Leads to Enabling Young Addicts

Friendships among neighbors often go awry when kids are using drugs and alcohol, and especially when there is denial and enabling behavior. Midwestern Mama respectfully and sadly shakes her head at the continuing chaos down the street.

Just a few houses down the street from us lives a young addict. At 24-years old, he’s been using, and abusing, drugs and alcohol since sophomore or junior year of high school.

When my son was curious and wanted to try marijuana, this was the kid he sought out. Although they had been acquaintances, it wasn’t until they started using together that they became friends, if you can even call it friendship. From there, a tumultuous relationship ensued, and our relationship with the parents went awry.

At first we tried to engage with the parents. They had become our friends over the years. We were open about our son’s situation and our concerns. Interestingly, they would share this with their son, who would share it with our son, and just like the game of telephone, the message was always messed up. This became detrimental to our relationship with our son and toward efforts to encourage him to get help.

We never blamed our neighbor’s son or passed judgment on him or on them. We realized he had his own challenges and consequences just as our son had his.

From time to time, the other parents would tell us of the horrors happening in their house, including overdoses and violent threats toward their family members. Each time they would say, “Whatcha gonna do?”

What are you going to do? Stop denying the problem! Stop enabling the situation!

It sounds so simple, but admittedly it’s far from easy … until the day when parents realize that we have to do something. That moment came early for us, and it was not easy nor was it always clear how to distinguish loving support from enabling. The more we worked at it, however, the clearer it became.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the dangers of denial and enabling young addicts.

The neighbor’s future daughter in-law (she’s with their younger son) said the user had threatened her and the parents did nothing. She moved out saying enough is enough, enough of the enabling.

In time, our son – after many, many consequences and heart-wrenching experiences including relapse – did successfully complete a treatment program. Today, he is almost 10 months sober, is back in college part time, has a part-time job. He is living at home, continues to see an addiction counselor and a mental health therapist.

We are so grateful for our son’s efforts and recovery. We are healing, too.

Meanwhile, the chaos and dysfunction of addiction continues down the street, and I only hope it ends before it’s too late.

My Child Has a Problem with Drugs

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

800 Recovery Hub Blog

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

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

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

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The Game of Life

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.

Surprise!

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.)

Relief

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.

Interaction

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midwestern Mama

Gifts for Young Addicts – Pioneer Press (December 2011)

I find it helpful and healing to look back at past columns and journal entries.  Here’s one from a couple of years ago that ties in with the holiday season. 

A Real Mom: What gifts can you give a child with addiction?
R.M.
MinnMoms columnist
TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press
Posted:12/04/2011 05:33:03 PM CST
Without hesitating, parents are natural givers. It starts with the miraculous gift of life and continues with gifts of protection, encouragement,
sustenance, love, praise, boundaries, hope, strength and more.
We give our best without expectation for anything in return. All the while, we’re prone to questioning if we could do better or do more. It is
the unwritten code of parenting, the natural order, the way it is. Our parenting report card may not be perfect, but it’s all A’s for effort. It is
our heart that tells us if we’ve given well, if it’s good enough.
When our son was little, it was easy to give gifts that absolutely delighted him emotionally and materially. It showed in his face and in his
behavior.
During this season of giving, I’m at a loss what to give our 19-year-old son. Certainly there are things he needs – things we’d ordinarily give
him if he was not living a transient, unemployed, addicted lifestyle further exacerbated by deceit and denial. It’s far more complicated
because material gifts (clothes, food, money and housing) fall within the taboo category of enabling, the major no-no of addiction.
Instead, we give him our prayers daily – actually, multiple times day and night when I wake up at 3 a.m. and wonder if he’s warm and safe.
We give him our love. We give him our commitment to help. We give him our best wishes. We give him all we’ve got and we keep trying to
come up with something more, something better, something of affirmation and value.
We’re learning to give him the freedom and respect to live with the outcomes of addiction and mental health, to own his problems,
challenges and choices. This is the gift I understand in my mind but find difficult to reconcile with my heart.
There are other things we have given him that I wish we hadn’t, at least not for as long as we did. We gave him benefit of the doubt way too
many times. We gave him chances to change, only to be shortchanged by more of the same. We gave him a clean slate more times than
he’s aware, including paying off substantial debts with the idea that we don’t want a poor credit record to hurt him once he gets his life
together.
We also forgave him for all we went through the past few years because we finally realized that he didn’t do these things on purpose or to
us. A combination of drugs and mental health issues has influenced his actions and choices beyond his control.
We’ve made amends, too, by realizing he is emotionally starved for the comfort and joy that home and family represent. And while we can’t
give him our trust these days to live in our home, we do welcome him to visit, to curl up in a blanket by the fireplace, to play with his little
brother and to hold hands around the table in grace before sharing a home-cooked meal.
Emotional gifts are sustaining but often aren’t noticed or appreciated unless these are absent. Material gifts, however, can be just as
important because these are physical reminders, even symbols. And this is the season of material gifts, things wrapped up in paper with
ribbons and small notions that Santa puts in stockings.
I suggested he put together a Christmas list, so we’ll see if he does and whether there are items we can give with good conscience – items
we don’t think he’d sell or leave unused. The last couple of years, his opened presents would stay unused in a pile on his bedroom floor.
The idyllic mother image in my mind compels me to pile gifts under the tree that will magically trigger a transformation in him from despair to
delight, from pessimism to optimism, from stubborn to open minded, from addiction to recovery.
During the gift-opening frenzy, sadly, I know that we’ll keep an eye on any cash that his siblings or cousins receive from relatives because
our son has had sticky fingers. (Three times in the past year he stole his little brother’s wallet full of allowance he’d been saving for an iPod;
his older sister has had cash taken from her purse; and, this summer he stole money that his grandmother gave to his cousin for doing
chores around her house. Parents of addicts nod their heads, yep, it’s part and parcel.)
Any ideas what we should wrap up for him? I know we’ll give the gifts that keep on giving – love, commitment, hope – and probably some
socks, underwear, gloves, books and favorite candies.
With no job at present, he said he won’t be able to give presents this year. It’s nice that he wants to give, but we don’t expect anything nor
do we want something he picked up at the store.
The gift we want is a gift he’ll give himself – the gift of help, of sobriety and recovery, of health and happiness.
R.M. is a Twin Cities mother who will chronicle her family’s experiences with her son’s drug addiction as a guest columnist here.

Thanks for reading,

Midwestern Mama