Monthly Archives: March 2016

When prison is part of the picture for a chemically-dependent child, Mom makes a change

“If he breaks parole, expect the police to come knocking at your door!” This factoid was presented to me by my son. It was on the heels of discussing his brother. Nothing specific, mind you, but in generalities since the one in question had gone “underground.” We were wondering what would be the next event and while I was concerned about this relapse, welfare and safety, my son was concerned about what could happen to us.

“The parents are the first line of offense for Parole Agents since our address is the last noted lived-at-location,” he added. True or not, I reminded him that we have had plenty of experience with the police at our door. Though it has been a while since the last uniformed visit, much has changed since then. For one, I no longer live in fear of authority. I’m not the one breaking any laws. I quickly learned that I did not have to invite anyone into my house regardless of what badge and what county they may be representing. I’ve learned a lot about addiction and my relation to it. I have to accept new frontiers as I continue to grow and trust in my Higher Power. At the same time, I must accept my son’s right to deal with life “inside or outside” the walls. I don’t need to interfere or even begin to think I know what’s best. Parole may be one of the many phases of recovery, who am I to say? This wasn’t always my attitude.  But I’m grateful for the people who take the recovery message to Hospitals and Institutions. It’s as if I have a feeling of resolve, knowing the message is being carried and the hope that maybe one day my son is willing and able to hear it.

Jane’s Journal: a new baseline for happiness

Jan'es JournalGuest blogger Jane is sharing her experience with us in “Jane’s Journal.” We embrace her insights and offer support to her and to all parents of beloved, chemically-dependent children.

While our son’s brain and body go through his first formal detox and rehab, my husband and I are also going through some fairly painful changes.  Our son’s brain and body miss the opiates.  Ours miss the relative ease and comfort of thinking our child is healthy, strong and productive.  As a previous blogger accurately related, it is a kind of family death, where you mourn the passing of the person you believed your child to be, hoped they would become.  Because the more you read, the more meetings you attend, and the further into this new world you go, the more it truly becomes like a death with not much in the way of statistics to comfort you.  But here’s what happened to us about 6 weeks in.

You come up with ways to keep functioning without constantly thinking, thinking, thinking.  You see the bright side, because your child could be dead, could be unreachable, could be anyplace with anyone and very unsafe.  If you have the resources to throw at the problem, you realize how lucky you are to have them.  If you have other children who have escaped for now, you thank god.

And then you stop waking up and wishing the nightmare was over.  You stop crying 3 or more times a day and instead cry only once. You learn who you can talk to, share with, and trust.  And you are eternally grateful for each and every one.  You also learn mind games and tricks to keep you focused on the positive.  When I feel my dark thoughts starting to spiral downward, I yank them back up by forcing my eyes to focus on the farthest thing in line of sight while aiming my most thoughts at that object.  Silly, but it works.  Brain re-wiring is not just for addicts.

Eventually you appreciate the days and moments with no bad news.  You become more resilient and learn that you must sleep, eat and exercise to keep healthy, if for no other reason than to set a good example to your child for what’s possible.  Even if he can’t see you and know of your efforts, you imagine he can feel them.  And you make lists of things you can do that prove that you’re actually still part of the human race, the good stuff– like going to movies (comedies, please), and gardening.  And you try to actually do them when you feel able.  But if you’re older parents like us, you also try to nap and recover the sleep lost at night.

Sure, you well up when you see that photo from their pre-addiction days, but now you can almost imagine your child going forward– a survivor—with a new sense of wonder, happiness and health.  All it takes is a lot of personalized practice and a day or two without bad news.  And this becomes your new baseline for happiness.

Claiming my Powerlessness as the Parent of an Addict/Alcohlic

super woman capeWhen our beloved addicts and alcoholics descend into the hellhole of chemical dependency, we are right by their sides.  We travel on parallel journeys through depression and anxiety, financial and legal chaos, shame and isolation, and the physical ravages of stress and sleeplessness. This is called a family disease for so many reasons:  it even feels contagious.

So much of what is written for the addict or alcoholic child applies to parents, too.  I picked up the must-read book Moments of Clarity again last night and was magnetically drawn to this passage by actress Kelli McGillis:  “There were many things keeping me from recovery.  One was the fact that I thought I could do it—I thought I could do everything by myself.  When I finally realize I had a problem, still l I thought, “I should be able to handle this.  I’ve handled all these tragic events in my life and I can handle this one, too.”

Although she was writing about her alcoholic self, she could have been writing about me.  That illusion of power explained much of my fevered pitch as I tried to fix my child.

Understanding that I cannot do this on my own – realizing that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable—was the key to the kingdom for me as I began to relinquish my illusory hold on my child’s sobriety.  Instead, I reached out for help from friends, counselors and a divine power much greater than me, and I began to claim my own recovery.

Parents United? If Mom and Dad don’t agree on parenting an addict

I doubt my husband and I carried a united front when problems started escalating in our family unit as a result of the drug use, abuse and addiction.    I can relate to stories of families that split apart due to strong opposing opinions, broken dreams, anger and frustration in the relationships.   Blame starts to take on a life of its own.

It seemed in my home, I was at times hesitant to bring attention, make a scene or confront the problem head on.  Then again, I was the one who was in the home, seeing the problems, finding the paraphernalia, answering the calls from teachers, neighbors or other parents.   It was if I was either in denial or tackling the issues head on.   But I don’t recall a shared vision of the seriousness of the problems in the beginning.  My husband would discipline if necessary (wait till your father gets home syndrome), go pick up the pieces of a totaled car, post bail or “man-handle” the recalcitrant teenager.  But he was also sensitive to my reactions and had growing concerns about his family.  At other times he would begin to lecture me on my parenting skills (in round about ways) and I would begin to resent his absence in the daily trauma-drama.  Those were the most difficult times in our relationship and it was a miracle we made it through.   But we did.  And it wasn’t because we are so clever or lucky.  We sought counseling and committed ourselves to get the help we needed and learn how to support our children whether in recovery or not.

Today we are united in what we will and will not allow (boundaries) when it comes to our own serenity and livelihood as a husband and wife, parents and as individuals.  We can discuss our feelings and concerns with issues that continue to challenge us and we are able to find a mutual ground before making a decision.  We have respect and accept each other’s opinions, even though we may not agree.   In a sense, we are now acting in a loving and kind way and we no longer have to lecture blame or scold. We have been through some troubling times like all the parents whose children fall prey to addiction.  We have also had amazing joy and happiness.  Not knowing what the future will bring, we can appreciate our life today and find solace that we may not have been united: we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.

Post-discovery: How do I help my son, the addict?

Jan'es JournalGuest blogger Jane is sharing her experience with us in “Jane’s Journal.” We embrace her insights and offer support to her and to all parents of beloved, chemically-dependent children.

In the age of the internet, almost anything you want to learn about addiction is out there. I found the experts’ phone numbers, email addresses and articles to teach me what I’d never known about opiate addiction. And I dug in.

The first person I speak with is a man with 30 years’ experience as an NA counselor. He is factual, brusque, and makes what I believe are condescending comments about my son and our relationship. He asks if my son was a loner, if he felt socially inept, if he had trouble making friends. No, no, no I say. He was a leader of his high school class, elected by teachers to a role of student responsibility over those younger, and was by any measure a well-adjusted person. Sure, he’d had his share of love disasters, and a best friend who betrayed him in middle school, but was he maladjusted? No. He said, “Mom, you know you can’t love away his disease,” and I remember thinking, do you think I’m an idiot? Of course I know I can’t love it away.

I ask him about the Vivatrol shot… isn’t it the way to go? Why wouldn’t anything that makes the transition to a drug-free life be good? Especially one that deadens the opiate receptors and makes getting high almost impossible? He says he’s not a fan of anything other than doing the hard work of recovery, and he suggests that rehab is where we should put our son. But our son has asked to recover with us at home, in rural New Jersey. So I thank this man with 30 years’ experience, and say to myself: We are going to throw everything at this and see what works. We can always get him to rehab later if nothing else works.

We are lucky that my husband owns his own business, so we come up with a plan that involves our son working a daily shift at one of his offices so he can restart a normal life with few real tasks but a definite daily schedule. He’s a nocturnal animal who can’t sleep at night but seems impossible to wake in the morning. While he’s withdrawing physically from the drugs, I buy him an electric blanket for his chills, prepare the healthiest meals I can concoct, and pump him up with every vitamin and mineral I can find to restore his depleted body. I find out the best herbs and supplements to cleanse and rebuild his body while we also find a local psychiatrist with great credentials.

I take our son to his first NA meeting and cry silent tears as we hear story after story of both success and failure, of lives restored and ruined, of pain and suffering previously unknown to me. I know my son will not share during this first meeting, and I don’t expect him to. But I am confident that this is the best place for him to learn about honesty and reality as it applies to addiction. Afterwards he agrees and we are both convinced this is an integral part of his future. I feel hope when he says that he is glad to go to NA meetings every day, that they really help. He goes to nightly meetings, and on weekends sometimes the day meetings as well. He gets a sponsor. We track his movements with a phone app. Every night when he returns from a meeting, he tells us stories, says he’s committed, and we congratulate him on One More Day Clean. He’s collecting the NA tokens. Things are looking up.

I take him to his first psychiatrist appointment and wait outside while they talk for an hour, then I go in. We talk about his willingness to become sober, the requirements for the monthly shot, which are that he goes to his weekly session and he stays clean until the shot arrives, and I ask the doctor if there’s any problem with the drugs he’s prescribing interacting with the vitamins and supplements I’ve been giving him. I sense condescension again as he says: “You can give him any vitamins you want, Mom, but they’ll only make YOU feel better.”

PS: I find out later that some of these supplements, like GABA and 5HTP, should never be taken with the drugs my son was prescribed. But it really doesn’t matter, because unbeknownst to me, our son is not taking any of his medications save the one for sleep. Why? Because he’s still using. But that’s another chapter. For now we are dealing with the fact that our Opiate Addict Son is a Consummate Liar.

Senate passes amendment that paves way for recovery resources

celebrate the new yearOn Wednesday, the Senate health committee passed a measure that would dramatically expand access to an essential part of opioid treatment.  The Huffington Post reports in full on this important development which is intended to help curb the nation’s raging heroin epidemic. Last year, the Huffington Post offered a thorough investigative piece on the opioid epidemic and the ineffectiveness of the U.S. drug treatment system.

The amendment, pushed by Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and passed unanimously, would increase access to buprenorphine (commonly sold as Suboxone) for opioid addicts. Public health experts report that buprenorphine plus counseling can give addicts one of the best chances at recovery.

Kudos to the Senate for listening to evidence-based medical wisdom, and kudos to the Huffington Post for their dogged and ongoing coverage of the most deadly public health issue facing our nation.

Walking away from your chemically-dependent child and the blame game

When a child is in the throes of addiction, Mom or Dad often becomes the punching bag, figuratively and sometimes even literally.  They yell at us when they get in trouble, they blame us for their mistakes. “It’s all your fault!” is a common refrain in the homes of addicts and alcoholics. As a very backhanded compliment, young addicts tend to lash out and blame the parent who is the safest, the softest, and the most tolerant.  They may also blame and attack the parent they feel they have disappointed the most, as that sense of failure creates overwhelming, explosive anxiety.

So what do you do when your child is imploding in your face?  While it’s natural to get defensive and leap right into a yelling match, instead just “spit out the hook,” as they say.  When your child rants and raves, just say “Oh” instead of defending your decisions or actions, or trying to reason with an unreasonable person.

It helps to have some tools at your fingertips to disengage. Learn how to say, “Oh” instead of trying to arm wrestle with an agitated child.  Learn that you don’t have to say anything at all.  Know that you don’t even need to be there. And your child loses the right to be in your presence if they become verbally or physically abusive.  It’s time to take care of ourselves, and maybe–just maybe–that will help turn their tide of anger and lashing out.

Practice saying “Oh” so that it comes naturally under pressure, or just walk away altogether.  You don’t need to stick around and take the abuse, which becomes like gasoline on a fire.  It is so hard to not take the bait, but it’s harder to stop the confrontation before it starts.

And remember, you didn’t cause the addiction, and you aren’t responsible for solving the problems the addict creates.

When the light bulb goes on – discovering your child is addicted

Jan'es JournalWe welcome a new guest blogger, Jane, who is sharing her experience with us in “Jane’s Journal.”  We embrace her insights and offer support to her and to all parents of beloved, chemically-dependent children.

When you find out your 25-year-old son is an opiate addict, some things—like his being out of work for a year– begin to make sense.

He’s been telling you by phone that he’s doing volunteer work, and that he’s interviewing for the “dream job” this time. He’s always “really close” to getting that job, but somehow the process goes on and on.  You continue to support him from miles away, and you tend to your youngest teenage child, your work, your aging parents, the cars that break down, the house that needs constant repair, and the myriad other things going on in life. Every time you talk to him, he’s optimistic. Things are really going well.

Finally he’s given an ultimatum end-date by his friends—those he’s sworn to secrecy– to admit to us he needs help.  He comes home from his Hoboken apartment on a Friday night, bouncing off the train with a weekend duffle, his radiant smile and attitude (as usual), and the plan to tell us….. maybe.

Next morning I find a package of Subz—the pills I learn are for opiate addiction—on the floor of the family room, just a short distance from our 16-year-old son, who is thrilled his big brother has come home for a visit.  I pick them up, go on the internet, and BOOM.  Just like that a new, horrible reality  is born. What I don’t fully realize as I prepare to tell my husband, is that our son is essentially gone, and an addict, essentially a stranger, has come home to us.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

- C.S. Lewis

Ten life-saving tips for parents of addicts and alcoholics

kindness of others along the journeyDid that title make you think you’d found the magic wand to saving your child?  Guess what?  You did.  If you get healthier, chances are that your child will reclaim his or her health, too. And most importantly, you’ll be healthier if you follow some or all of these suggestions. So please consider these important steps to take on your own road to recovery:

  • Find an Al-Anon meeting or Nar-Anon meeting near you (or online).  You’ll find support, perspective and camaraderie there.
  • Read Co-Dependent No More to learn how to sever the ties of co-dependency, which often plays a part in the family disease of substance abuse.
  • Develop a support system of friends, spiritual advisors, doctors, counselors, or anyone else who can help you stay afloat.
  • Learn everything you can about the brain disease of substance use disorder. It’s a disease, like cancer or diabetes. You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and things.  Nourish your soul.
  • It’s triage time. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Take care of your physical, financial and spiritual needs first.
  • Develop tools to “turn off” the obsessions about your child.  Whenever you begin to worry or dwell on your child (which does nothing but torture you), switch gears to a mantra like the Serenity Prayer or a simple affirmation of peace and hope.
  • Read the Open Letter from an Alcoholic.
  • Forgive yourself. What parent doesn’t want to be the best parent possible?  We all do the best with what we have, and we need to learn to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. Our imperfections did not make our children addicts or alcoholics. Parents – even imperfect ones – are not powerful enough to create a brain disease. So forgive yourself for being human and concentrate instead on creating a healthier future for yourself and your family.
  • Keep a gratitude journal, if only in your mind.  Start every morning by looking for something to be grateful for, and close each day with an acknowledgement of thanks for the goodness in that day. It’s there, somewhere; and if you look for it, you’ll find it. When the things we focus on change, we change.