“Almost every time we are willing to tell a hard truth, we grow and deepen in presence, no matter the response. The energy that we previously locked up to maintain a false front is now freed to uplift and enliven us.”
Raphael Cushnir, from How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment
David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy: a Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction, is on the road these days, educating others about the disease of addiction. He is talking a lot about the danger of letting those with substance use disorder “hit rock bottom” before they or we seek help. In his new book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, he reveals his conviction that his son Nic would have died from his addiction if the family waited for him to hit rock bottom.
Elaborating on this idea in a powerful Huffington Post blog, Deputy Chief Clinical Officer of CRC Health Group Deni Carise explains, “The irony with this whole concept is that addiction is a chronic, treatable disease. We would have a hard time accepting that a person with any other chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma would actually need to “hit rock bottom” to have treatment for their condition be successful. Just like other chronic diseases, addiction has heritability and behavioral factors, it is treatable and the goal is self-management in the community. So why is the concept of hitting rock bottom only tolerated with addiction?”
Why do we wait for our loved ones to bottom out, rather than take action such as enlisting the law or setting boundaries that compel them to seek help? There are lots of reasons: shame, denial, hopelessness or helplessness, lack of money or resources, and the misguided belief that our loved ones need to hit bottom in order to truly want to get better.
Deni offers another possible explanation: “ While research and science indicate it to be true, many still have a hard time accepting addiction is a disease. They believe it is a choice and that we’re letting people off the hook for bad behavior by calling it a disease. For them, it’s a matter of letting an addict wallow in the despair they have created long enough until they are ready to ask for help.”
The powerful truth is that addiction is a disease that doesn’t get better by getting worse. Recovery that starts at the bottom may be recovery that doesn’t start at all.
When my kids were young one of the most enjoyable activities for them was going to the park. They would beg and plead for me to take them and then when it was time to leave they would beg and plead to stay ‘just one more ride on the swings…or slide…’ There really wasn’t anything better than spending the day at the park under the warm sun, listening to the kids laugh and play. Today I have a different view of parks. I think about what happens at parks when the sun sets and the families are tucked away in their homes. I know that you can buy drugs at just about any park. The dealers are lurking around waiting for a buyer. Sometimes it is someone they know; many times it is someone who just knows that the park is the place to go.
Today I learned of a park in a not too distant community that is now nick named ‘Pill Park’. It is the place that everyone knows they can go and buy illegal prescription drugs. I’ve heard of statistics that it takes a teenager 5 minutes to seek and buy drugs – hearing of Pill Park makes me believe this is most likely true. Although I’ve always known parks can be a place for troubled kids to hang out, this sounds like a whole new level of access for substance abuse. As a parent we want our kids to be able to ride their bikes to the park, play and come home as innocent as they left. It isn’t that simple yet I hang on to the hope that we as parents become savvy and aware to the extent that we can protect our children and grandchildren from the harms. I am fearful of the environment that kids are exposed to in our own neighborhoods. Education and awareness at a young age is vital to preventing more teens from falling into addiction.
“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. “
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
While cleaning out my office a while ago, I came across a dusty folder from 2007. It contained phone numbers of people who tried to help me and my son. I can barely see these kind souls through the hazy recollection of chaos and confusion. They were referrals from someone who knew someone who knew someone who had gone to rehab, or seen a certain counselor, or found a good 12-step program or interventionist.
I was utterly at the mercy of strangers. My child’s disintegration took place in fits and starts: one day all was well, the next day he was imploding, then perhaps he settled back into a relatively normal routine, or so it seemed. Along the way, I interviewed various counselors, school officials and doctors on the phone, trying to find one who would “stick.” They were all generous with their time, compassionate and earnest. I imagine many of them didn’t spot addiction as the root cause of the meltdown…or maybe they did and tried to tell me and I couldn’t hear it.
I found emails from school counselors who tried to steer him to classes where he could succeed….phone numbers of young men who were in recovery and willing to sponsor….the name of the interventionist who convinced him that detox was better than a life on the streets…a note I scribbled when his boss called my number “by mistake” to see why he was late for work. Looking back, I see that misdial as a subtle attempt to flag me that something was awry.
I never actually met any of these people, and they certainly have no idea how their kindness kept us from sinking entirely. The dusty folder that reminded me of me how important it is to reach out to others in big and little ways.
Dear readers, thank you for checking in and reading my blogs. They were my heartfelt experiences I went through struggling to understand this disease called addiction. They were my experiences struggling with my own addiction – THEM. In the years I’ve been posting, I’ve also been growing in my own life. I‘m more spiritually fit today. I’m learning to accept, to love and be loved and to listen without judgment. I’ve seen many other internet sites and resources for parents grow in a variety of formats. There were no such things readily available back when I was searching on-line. Back then, in the still of the night, when I could not sleep, I’d turn on the computer and search, desperately seeking the answers on how to stop my son’s drug problem. Worrying about tomorrow, fearing the worst.
I’m stepping down from blogging and older posts will be re-used for a time. If I could impart one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that I don’t have to do this deal by myself. No one should try to carry the burden of a sick child alone. Where there is fear, there is faith. Where there is anguish there is hope, where there is no end in sight, there is light. Take the necessary steps to get help for you; whether through your care provider, church or non-profits like the Al-Anon/Alateen Family Groups. The first step is deciding to find help. This is a WE disease. Everyone is affected. Best of Luck to you and your family- – My 3 Sunz
“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”
I was reflecting the other day on something that is perplexing and troubling. It’s perplexing because of the information I now have – which is the dangers of substance abuse for the developing adolescence brain and how troubling due to how many parents of pre-teens/teens do not understand the gravity of the situation. I know when my kids were young I had fears about them being taken by a strangers, getting hurt in a multitude of ways, falling ill by disease, the list goes on. But never on that list was the fear that they might use substances while in their adolescence and become addicted. Yet that is exactly what is happening to so many teens. What is now perplexing to me is why as parents we do not have a fear of this on the list along with all the other fears. It is so obvious now, but it took a tragic situation to happen in order for me to learn what I now know.
Anything bad happening to our children is extremely tragic. What I am proposing is that we talk about safeguarding our kids from our worst fears like child abduction. We keep a close eye on where they are going and who they are with when they are young. We try to keep them healthy with diet and exercise so we lower their risk of disease. We work hard to keep them safe from having an accident in our homes or outside our homes. Yet I don’t believe that we have grasped the true dangers of our young adults becoming addicted when they experiment with drugs. I know when I silently worried about my children; drug and alcohol addiction never crossed my mind. I believe it is because we don’t understand how the adolescent brain develops and how vulnerable it is until it has fully developed at the age of 25. All of this has been information that I am fully aware of now, but as a young parent it was not in my arsenal of understanding. I know I would have done things differently knowing what I do now. I also know that I am passionate about driving the awareness to other parents so they can help reduce the risks of their children becoming addicted in some way.
QUESTION: I just learned that my 37-year-old niece has been caught using drugs. I would like to know how I can support my sister-in-law, who is devastated. I don’t want to intrude, but I want her to know I am here for her. I don’t want to say the wrong things. Any suggestions for what I should or shouldn’t do or say?
EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: Your question reminds me of my own life when my own niece was on drugs a few years ago. I went to my sister and respectfully said, I am here to support you. How can I support you? Use the “I messages,”such as I am concerned about you and want to support you in whatever way you need, rather than You should be doing this or doing that. Be a good listener. Really try to hear how she is doing, and then respect and honor whatever she says. Maybe she wants phone support a few times a week, or maybe she wants some company at an Al-Anon meeting. Or maybe she just wants to be alone with her feelings.
I know it is really tough to just stand by, but sometimes our family and friends need their space. If she says she wants no support, then I would encourage you to respect this, and find some Al-Anon meetings you can attend to learn about the disease of addiction. That way, when she is ready for help, you will have the tools and knowledge to support her. The best way to be a loving sister-in-law is to be with her wherever she is and to be empathetic to the feelings she has, no matter what they might be.
EXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL: How fortunate for your sister in law to have such a loving and concerned family member. My best advice would be to just walk beside her without judgment and let her know you are there for her whether she wants to talk or just go to a movie and forget about it. It could be just the beginning of a long journey. You can also offer to attend an Al-Anon meeting with her if she feels like that would be something that would help her. She is lucky to have you in her life!
Sometimes the pain of watching our loved one implode due to their addiction seems more than we can bear. I remember when my loved oe was in the throes of addiction how I was in so much pain that I just wanted to dig a hole and crawl in. I daydreamed about just getting in my car and driving, not in any particular direction but just putting distance between me and the situation that caused so much pain. I talk to many parents who have kids who have gone from recreational experimentation to destruction addiction and one common denominator is the heart wrenching pain that we experience. It’s like a slow motion train wreck, you see it happening and yet it seems there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Even though we can’t seem to stop the oncoming train, we can focus on how we can take care of ourselves and begin to breathe again, and have a life. We can look at what we are grateful for and focus on other loved ones that many times don’t get the attention they deserve because the one with addiction is all consuming. We can look at how to better take care of ourselves whether it’s exercise or sleep or spending time with friends. The good news is that by taking care of ourselves it can sometimes have a positive effect on the one who is afflicted with addiction. It reminds me of a prayer that became a mantra for me, ‘God, Change nothing in my life, change me’. When we change ourselves, the world around benefits.