Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”.  He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing!  I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts!  Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time.  My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”

Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening.  Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation.  I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.

Locked Up, Covered Up or Sobered Up – Three eventual outcomes of drug and alcohol addiction

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)In the journey of addiction there are only 3 outcomes for those who stay in their drug and/or alcohol addiction. They will eventually end up in jail, ‘locked up’, due to their substance abuse and all of the desperation that it causes and poor judgment that accompanies their using. Second, they could end up ‘covered up’ which is where their addiction leads to death. Death comes in many forms for those in addiction – car crashes driving under the influence, overdose of drugs sometimes on accident, other times on purpose, their body could just give up due to all of the harsh effects of continuous drugs and alcohol. As a parent these are devastating situations. Certainly losing a child to a prison or jail sentence is heart breaking. And losing your child to death is incomprehensible.
The last option and the one that we all carry hope for is that our loved ones will ‘sober up’. Of the three eventual outcomes, we pray endlessly that our loved ones will find recovery. We all wish there was a magic formula that would cure our kids and make them whole again. There isn’t an easy answer, but there are resources along the way. I have found that gaining as much knowledge about addiction as I can so that I can understand the disease will help me to know what I’m up against. I can also attend support group meetings (Al-anon) with other parents to help weather the storm with those who understand. And I can to be positive without being naïve about the realities of the situation. I will envision ‘sobered up’ as the outcome for my loved one and everyone who struggles with the disease of addiction.

Mad Libs revisited for parents of addicts and alcoholics

I’ve heard yet again that a friend’s child is in jail for burglary.  She had been stealing from the neighbors to pay for her heroin. The story is so painfully familiar that it reminds me of the fill-in-the-blanks booklets called “Mad Libs” that my kids used to love when young.

Each Mad Lib involves a story that you customize to make “yours.”  I’ve given you some options so you can create your own version of the young person’s substance abuse saga.  Or feel free to improvise; God knows there is certainly enough raw material out there to claim. Here we go:

”My son/daughter is now in rehab/jail/prison/the hospital/the morgue for shoplifting/burglary/armed robbery/an overdose/drunk driving.  This is the first/second/third/felony/overdose/car accident.

I can’t believe that this is happening to me/my family/our child.  He/she was a great kid/much loved child/honest, joyous person/good student. I had no idea that marijuana was addictive/teens are shooting heroin//alcohol kills kids.  How can this happen to us!? Drug addiction/alcoholism only happens to negligent parents/bad kids/sociopaths/anyone but my child.”

At the end of the day,  millions of American families can tell the same sad story. It’s ironic how the stories sound pretty much the same, with only some minor variations. And  it’s not funny at all that more Americans died last year from drugs or alcohol than from car accidents.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could close the book on those sad tales by helping our children understand what is at stake with that first drug or drink??

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.

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,

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.


Homecoming for parents of addicts or alcoholics

The million-collar question:  What do you do when your child comes home from rehab, jail or prison?  That very thought can unleash a torrent of anxiety and fear, not to mention launch the real and practical challenge of where they are going to live.

Having our son move home after rehab was not an option for us. Our home was a virtual minefield of triggers for all of us. A bedroom window opening, the clink of a cabinet shutting, the whirl of the bathroom fan all shoved me back into the hellish days of using and abusing. I knew our home was full of triggers for him, too, and we weren’t about to tempt fate if we could avoid it.  So he graduated from rehab and moved directly to a “transitional living” home that provided the structure of recovery:  random drug checks, curfews, required 12-step meetings. After several months there to cement his foundation of recovery, he moved to a sober living house that provided less structure for roommates in recovery.  They needed to stay sober, or they were out on their butts.  That’s what we called a “natural consequence” when our children were little.

Similar resources exist in every community.  Start with your local social services office, police department, Salvation Army, Teen Challenge or drug and alcohol counselors.  Or use the SAHMSA data base to locate local resources who can guide you.

If your child HAS to come home, make it a different home than the one he or she left. Change things up, rearrange the furniture, paint the walls. Remove the things you know to be triggers, such as the alcohol in the liquor cabinet and pills in the medicine cabinet. ParentPathway Expert Ricki Townsend recommends that you don’t consume alcohol in front of your child for the first year.  Admittedly, that may disrupt family celebrations,  but why tempt the genie out of the bottle??

Most of all, change yourself.  Have a strong foundation for your own recovery.  Understand that unhealthy boundaries and enabling may have been a part of your past, and resolve not to let them erode your future. Define your “rules of engagement” early in the game.  Sit down and have a loving conversation with your child about how you will invite them to be present in your life in a healthy way. Put him or her back in the driver’s seat of their own lives. Treat your child as a strong, capable adult, and convey that you have confidence in his or her ability to succeed.  Know what you willing and unwilling to do, and make that clear to your loved one.  Gas money to find a job?  How about a bus pass instead.  Money for food?  Only until they find a job.  Hold tight to your own recovery, and give your loved ones a compelling reason to hold onto theirs.

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.

Old Behaviors Disrupt my Serenity

I read that humility means having an attitude of honesty and simplicity along with a mindset of being teachable. This seems like a trait I’d like to possess more, especially in light of having loved ones in their addiction. There have been circumstances where I see my own humility. It seems to show up when I have a negative reaction to something. I ask my Higher Power, “What’s my part in this?” I most always get an answer (sometimes the answer is there but I ignore it). This is an opportunity to recognize my shortcomings and turn them back over to His care. My serenity is restored. I’m willing to listen. I am willing to learn.

One day during the holidays I was outside on our back deck. While outside, my son had called from prison and I missed the call. If you don’t pick up, they can’t leave a voice-mail. Often they lose their turn for that day. I immediately went into ANGER for having missed the call. What was I doing outside? Why did I have to do that? Then I went into blame, I blamed the dogs who were whining to go out…then I blamed my relative for having her dogs at my house and me having to “dog-sit” them. I was getting irrational yet my emotions were very strong. My part? If I were to be honest, I’d have to admit I wanted to go outside and pull a few weeds in the beautiful rare sunshine we were having. The dogs were just the excuse. My sponsor would say “life goes on – you can’t wait or live your life with expectations from someone else.” My son will call again when he is able and I will receive his call when I am able. And this is exactly what happened. Upon reflection, I realized how sad I was to have missed his call and I was able to feel that sorrow but not have it dominate the rest of my day. Old behaviors pop up and I’m reminded how easily I can relapse.  With a program of recovery, I have tools to help me rebound.  I turn my old behaviors into moments of humility and my serenity is restored.

On Cameron Douglas and Prison for Addicts

Cameron Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, is serving an extended sentence for drug distribution and heroin possession. He is 33 years old and began injecting heroin daily in his mid 20s. He has not received treatment in prison, and according to this NY Times Article on 5/21/12, “is a textbook example of someone suffering from untreated opioid dependence [for whom] more prison time would do nothing to solve his underlying problems.”

Treating any illness or disease with punishment is not the answer.  Sure there are plenty of examples where drug dealers should be in prison.  Especially when violence is involved.  Still, if someone turns to violence or drug dealing or prostitution to feed an addiction there should be medical treatment as part of their reform.

The State of California spent a lot of time and money to change their name from “The California Department of Corrections” to add ” . . and Rehabilitation” to the end.  It appears that all they did was change the name.  What changed behind the walls?

According to the CDCR website, on June 1st of this year, “Twenty-seven inmates from California State Prison-Solano today received certifications that will eventually enable them to counsel other inmates in addiction treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse.” This is something; a start.

The State Prison Corcoran is supposed to work with substance abuse treatment, but it would appear that the availability of this is spotty and the success of these programs is uncertain. Opportunities for rehabilitation are primarily voluntary programs the prisoners can choose to join.

From what I hear, getting drugs in prison is easier than getting a steak.  The Times article about Douglas explained that Douglas got his incarceration duration extended because people inside the prison supplied him drugs and he was caught with them. Heroin. Suboxone.

Addicts have an illness and to put things in perspective, think about what a cancer patient might do to obtain life saving drugs if they were denied.  Would you sell your body to survive?  When someone is deeply addicted, they have lost control of the ability to “just say no” and all you need to do is watch the withdrawal video of my son to understand that the drug addiction is controlling the body.

No addict ever said, “Hey, I’ll smoke that joint; snort that line; or take that pill and if I’m really good at it I’ll be addicted and robbing a liquor store within the year.”

These people have a medical condition that is being ignored, and this is what has motivated a group of physicians to file a brief on behalf of Douglas.

Prison systems could cut costs dramatically and reduce the rate of return offenders if they took the word “Rehabilitation” seriously and segregated addicts into treatment centers that were secure without the need to put them in the general population of murderers and rapists.

Rehabilitate or Incarcerate? Perhaps a combination of both for addicts who have broken the law is the answer because either we treat the wound or we pour salt in it.

 This post was reprinted with permission from Bradley V. DeHaven, author and activist on the epidemic abuse of prescription drugs.   Mr. DeHaven contributes heartfelt experience strength and hope as a Parent Pathway expert.

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.