All I want for Christmas is an orange jumpsuit

I used to think that my child’s arrest would be the worst possible thing ever. Talented and energetic enabler that I am, I gave that topic a lot of thought and even imagined that I could keep my kid out of jail.  Note to self:  as Al-Anon so wisely teaches us, we cannot control another person’s addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

Today, with the holidays and winter’s cold blasts at my doorstep, I have a very different perspective on jail time for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. Today, an orange jumpsuit and “three hots and a cot” might be the best gift imaginable for a chemically-dependent child (of any age) and family alike:

  • You’d know where your child is.
  • You’d know your phone wouldn’t be ringing with a desperate or dire phone call in the middle of the night.
  • You’d know you have a chance for a good night’s sleep.
  • You’d know he or she is sheltered and being fed.
  • You’d know he or she was not wandering the streets, a potential victim of assault or street drugs.
  • You know that your child is experiencing the consequences of his or her poor choices and dangerous decisions. And that can be an incentive to change.
  • You’d know (or you’d hope) the legal system would put in place some sanctions, like requiring your child to go to treatment.
  • You’d know that, at least temporarily, the balance of power has changed.  You’ve got some leverage on your side.
  • You know that you and your child have been given the gift of a brighter tomorrow.

Jail Visitation Rituals

Jail Visitation is a familiar setting.  I’ve been a visitor here often, and it spans many years.  The locations change, but the signs are the same.  This is where I go to see my son when his disease lands him there.  Over time, my visitation attitude has changed.  It used to be I would try to reason with him; tell him what I think he needs to hear, show disappointment because he’s not doing what I think he should be doing and chasing my dream that he will get it this time.  It’s too hard to keep working that angle with no benefit.  Eventually, my desires for my son’s recovery became no longer necessary to outwardly express them.  His incarceration is a result of drug addiction, period, end of story.  And when I accept that, my relationship with him is on neutral territory: he’s not on the hot seat, and I’m not the interrogator.  It’s this change in attitude that allows me to choose that visit, because jail visitation has many inconveniences.   I would inwardly fight the system with its unyielding rules for visitors.  Now I endure the rules and regulations about what I wear, what I carry in, and for those 30 minutes, I forfeit a day.  But it’s worth it because now I’m just a loving mom visiting my son. After I’m “admitted in” I embrace the 40 minute wait.  There is no reading material allowed and our chairs face a TV that is never turned on.  As other visitors file through I begin to get anxious about what to do with all that time sitting still waiting for the clock to turn to visit time.  There’s really nothing else but to twittle my thumbs.  Then I remember that I can invite my Higher Power in; asking for guidance on how I can be fully present with my son.  I can turn inward to prayer and meditation.   I have concerns, but I’m not consumed by them anymore.   I wish his situation will turn to better days, but I don’t dwell on the future too much.   And then the fastest 30 minutes of the day flashes by, and I’m grateful that I can visit my son and that he enjoys the time with me as well.

Another Mother’s worst nightmare – substance abuse leads to incarceration

She reached out in desperation – “my son’s been arrested and may go to prison!” When I met up with her I recognized the anguish and sleepless, ringed-worried-eyes, once worn myself. This is the look of a parent whose love for their drug addict child and powerlessness leaves them broken.

First there was the guilt – she missed the phone call from him. She had decided to go to the class she signed up for and, then there was regret – she should have stayed home! Martydom mixed with obsessive spurts of energy focused on detective work; late night internet research for arrest records and prisons. Soon she self-consumed into fearful isolation – projecting the worst outcomes. Driven to fuel the fears, news articles: “Life in solitary, Inmates Hunger Strike; Violent, predatory offenders” to name a few. Undeniably a drug addict turned to criminal activity to support his disease, but NOT this and NOT THERE! He is her child, her son – my son, your child, and our hearts break open – we want to rescue. I know this well, I have the T-shirt.

How could I help? What could I do? My co-dependent nature is to rescue and smooth over the fear and sadness because I feel unease in these situations…I wanted to say “it will all be OK!” But that’s not the truth, it might not be OK, so instead, I listened. How does one go from helplessness to powerlessness, the latter being a state of surrender & acceptance, fueled by trust versus fear? Was she ready? Would I be of help or further complicate matters? For me, it took hard work in my 12-Step Program of Al-Anon.

I shared my own experience of being frightened for my sons’ fate. Like when I read about the prison riot which made front page news. I immediately went to that scary place visualizing my son’s vulnerability in what I conjured up. A mother’s worst nightmare – my imagination ran wild! How I then turned it over to my God Box, realizing no amount of worry or fret was going to influence the outcome of this! I later learned he missed the riot because he “skipped” breakfast – all validating why I have to let go and let God! This was a change in the way I reacted to fears about the future and I was given positive feedback – projecting would no longer serve me, reaching out would.

I’m Just Mom

“If you break parole, expect the police to come knocking at your door. If you escape from prison, the police can break your door down!” These were factoids one son shared several years ago. It was on the heels of discussing his brother. Nothing specific mind you, but in generalities since neither he nor us had heard from him for months. We were wondering what would be the next event and while I was concerned about a relapse and his welfare, he was concerned about what could happen to us. “The parents are the first line of offense since our address is the last noted lived-at-location.”

True or not, I reminded my son that we have had plenty of experience with the police at our door. Though it has been several years 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. And for my loved ones, their disease took them way beyond any moral standards they grew up with – it was never about that. So, 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 get to respect their right to deal with life on the “outside” and not interfere or even begin to think I know what’s best.  Parole may be one of the many phases of recovery, I’m just mom.

Prison for Addicts?

This blog post is reprinted with permission from Bradley V. DeHaven, author and activist on the epidemic abuse of prescription drugs. He contributes with heartfelt expertise for Parent Pathway using his personal experience, strength and hope. For more information, this and other posts on addiction issues, visit his website, www.rxdrugaddict.com

As you know, I went undercover to bust a dealer to keep my son from prison. I didn’t believe then, and I still don’t believe now, that prison is the place for addicts. Murderers, yes. Even dealers, yes. Addicts? Addicts do illegal acts to feed their addiction. Like dealing, smuggling drugs into prison, prostitution, robbing liquor stores, etc. but it is all because they are addicts, so it’s a fine line.

Like my son, Michael Douglas’ son Cameron was busted for dealing (Cameron was dealing meth), and is an opiate addict. He just got more time added to his sentence for successfully having drugs smuggled into the minimum security prison where he was serving his term.

It’s not so strange that a drug addict would risk everything to get more drugs. He is an addict! He needs treatment for his addiction, which one source I read said they were holding him until after his testimony against a drug cartel. How does this make sense?

The Huffington Post, which is outwardly pro-drug decriminalization, featured an opinion piece written by a former addict who spent 12 years(of a 15 to life sentence)in a NY Prison for a first time non-violent drug offense. He, not surprisingly, writes that drug addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal offense.

I think addicts need professional treatment or nothing will change.

I have a whole mess of questions, and not a whole lot of definitive answers.

What do you think? Prison for drug addicts? I want to hear persuasive arguments.

 

What “The Big House” means to parents of addicts

This is an “encore” post from My Three Sunz

She reached out in desperation – “my son’s been arrested and may go to prison!” When I met up with her I recognized the anguish and sleepless, ringed-worried-eyes, once worn myself. This is the look of a parent whose love for their drug addict child and powerlessness leaves them broken.

First there was the guilt – she missed the phone call from him. She had decided to go to the class she signed up for and, then there was regret – she should have stayed home! Martydom mixed with obsessive spurts of energy focused on detective work; late night internet research for arrest records and prisons. Soon she self-consumed into fearful isolation – projecting the worst outcomes. Driven to fuel the fears, news articles: “Life in solitary, Inmates Hunger Strike; Violent, predatory offenders” to name a few. Undeniably a drug addict turned to criminal activity to support his disease, but NOT this and NOT THERE! He is her child, her son – my son, your child, and our hearts break open – we want to rescue. I know this well, I have the T-shirt.

How could I help? What could I do? My co-dependent nature is to rescue and smooth over the fear and sadness because I feel unease in these situations…I wanted to say “it will all be OK!” But that’s not the truth, it might not be OK, so instead, I listened. How does one go from helplessness to powerlessness, the latter being a state of surrender & acceptance, fueled by trust versus fear? Was she ready? Would I be of help or further complicate matters? For me, it took hard work in my 12-Step Program of Al-Anon.

I shared my own experience of being frightened for my sons’ fate. Like when I read about the prison riot which made front page news. I immediately went to that scary place visualizing my son’s vulnerability in what I conjured up. A mother’s worst nightmare – my imagination ran wild! How I then turned it over to my God Box, realizing no amount of worry or fret was going to influence the outcome of this! I later learned he missed the riot because he “skipped” breakfast – all validating why I have to let go and let God! This was a change in the way I reacted to fears about the future and I was given positive feedback – projecting would no longer serve me, reaching out would.

The Revolving Door of my Son’s Addiction

My son returned to prison for another parole violation. This is no surprise really; this State holds the nation’s highest recidivism rate. Substance-involved people have a hard time following rules and it is this reason most offenders go back to prison. According to the Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism – The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, April 2011 report, it’s not the commonly held belief that a new crime was committed. Parole requirements that often get broken are not complying with certain technical requirements and punishment is often a short term prison re-sentence.

I’m reminded of when he was in public school. Seemingly simple rules and class requirements were not so easy for him. He’d receive failing grades for not turning in homework and “detention” for not following the rules. With a private instructor, he’d succeed and demonstrate above average competency. Progression. My son’s disease has kept him in a revolving door for a long time.

I’m told addiction is an inside job and that’s understandable to me. I’m told recovery will be an inside job too and I hope my son is able to. One thing is certain, I’m not able to help him in the traditional sense. I have read, listened to and talked to many recovering addicts. Some have been in similar situations like my son. They overcame and turned their lives around. Their mothers were not part of their recovery story but for honorable mention if they had stopped their financial support and rescuing behavior. I’ve seen miracles and know that it is possible. This is the hope that a mother holds onto.  There’s another kind of hope I found; it’s the hope that I can accept my son for who he is and where he is and still find joy and happiness in my life.  He has a revolving door, not me.  I don’t have to go in and out of it anymore.

Healthy reactions to matters outside my control

I still experience strong emotions when people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) contact me about a status or question about one of my sons.  There’s a lot of collateral damage floating around out there and it pops up from time to time.  The reality is their drug addiction left untreated progressed to typical outcomes: irresponsibility, vagabond lifestyles, and, in some instances, drug related crime.  As a result, I’m left standing as the only viable source for information – apparently.  It’s been a few years since the extreme drama and the intensity and duration of the feelings I get may have decreased, but not entirely – I never know when something or someone can trigger a relapse.  I’m hard wired to default to a defensive position.  Knowing that, I have tools to use that are healthier.  Put simply, I quit taking it personally.

Just the other day 2 squad cars and uniformed officers approached my front door looking for my son who is currently incarcerated.  I don’t have control over that.  They came to my house and I have to “deal with them.” My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m momentarily fraught.  I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse and left untreated lead to stronger co-dependency behavior.

Today, I’m better at handling the “outside my control” matters. I’m able to distinguish what’s my business and more importantly, what’s not.  The feelings of “what will the neighbors think” are still there, but I know that what other people think of me is ALSO NOT MY BUSINESS.  The thoughts of “don’t you guys have computers to look someone up?” are still there.  But just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to tell them how to do their job!  It’s not my business!

Because of healthy boundaries, a strong program of recovery and a Higher Power in my life, I have learned that I can be respectful and guarded versus the sick, reactionary, raging co-dependent that I once was.  This is all about my own recovery from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.

Mental Illness and Addiction

I’ve often wondered how drug addiction and mental health tie together. Which comes first? Is the person self-medicating to alleviate a mental – social issue or does the young person experiment, get addicted and then have mental issues as a result? Regardless, my experience and observations are that mental health issues are key factors in my family where addiction surfaces. It’s not like there’s special consideration for mental illness. Take my son for example, when he is spinning: his cycle of relapse, incarceration, parole, and relapse is just what happens. He must be absent from the “rehabilitation and corrections” part of his imprisonment.

I recently read Lisa Long’s Blog Post, “Thinking the Unthinkable” prompted by the recent Connecticut school tragedy. She gives the reader a mother’s perspective raising a special needs child. Her snap shot of the day-in-the-life-of leaves me pondering why I relate so well to her story. Maybe it’s because I’m more open minded as a result of my own struggles with my children. Though very different from hers, my experience has a common denominator.  It’s possible that her story gave me something tangible in the face of such horror and tragedy.  Then again, she was able to bring to light many key points so eloquently: Prisons, mental illness, living in fear, needing help, needing to talk about mental health.  I appreciate her candor.  And when she boldly says “I am Adam Lanzas Mother” I am somehow compelled to affirm, “I am too.”

That’s the power of addiction

As agonizing as it is to read or hear about the awful conditions of incarceration, I’m always reminded of the powerlessness I have over it. I tend to relapse to old ways of thinking: “now he’ll get it! When he gets out this time…he will do everything possible to not go there again.” Then I’m instantly brought back to reality – I don’t decide on when “he gets it.”

I don’t know what it’s going to take for him to find recovery. Obviously, if prison was going to keep him sober or away from substance abuse, this blog would be a moot point.   Truth is,  no amount of memory and recall of his terrible ordeal during lock-up will keep him sober. Knowing the nature of the addiction cycle, it’s been documented that the addict’s mind will overpower him, minimizing past experiences and repercussions.  The allure and power of the drug will overtake all reason that there will be negative consequences.  In fact, taking that one drink or pill will diminish thoughts on negative outcomes.  That’s the power of addiction and relapse.

As a mother watching, this becomes easier to accept but doesn’t take away the worry. I continue to learn more about the disease and my own part in it. I’ve listened to many people in recovery and their stories are similar – they found recovery but not because of their mother. I pray that someday my son will choose recovery. I pray that he finds a solution and that I am able stay out of his way.  There’s power in recovery too.