What do the 12-steps mean to addicts and their loved ones?

Letting GoGuest blogger David Greenspan is a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute . He’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than in helping still struggling alcoholics.

The twelve-steps are an often misunderstood part of recovery from substance abuse. AA and NA in general seem to be portrayed differently every time they appear in the media and that’s just the meeting aspect. Never mind the meat and potatoes of step work and spiritual growth.With that in mind, I’d like to clear up some misconceptions about what the twelve-steps are, how they operate, and what to expect if you have a loved one who’s embarking on an “anonymous” journey.

Before we go on, though, it’s important to note that part of twelve-step fellowships is the practice of anonymity. I’m sharing my experience out of a desire to help and shed light on the often mysterious nature of these fellowships. That being said, I don’t identify as a member of any twelve-step group publically and never will. Rather, I’m simply a man who’s found a spiritual solution to the disease of addiction.

The 12-Steps & Addicts

What do the twelve-steps mean to addicts? That answer is both simple and incredibly complicated. At their most basic, the twelve-steps offer a way for addicts and alcoholics to stop abusing substance and begin to live “normal” lives. It’s important here to make the distinction between an addict/alcoholic and a heavy drinker/drugger. An addict is someone who suffers from the disease of addiction and an alcoholic is someone who suffers from the disease of alcoholism. These are three-part diseases – they affect their suffers on mental, physical, and spiritual levels.

There’s the mental obsession. This is a thought that becomes, as the name suggests, an overwhelming obsession. It crowds out all else in the addict’s mind until they succumb to it and pick up a drug.

At this point, the physical allergy kicks in. This is perhaps the least understood facet of the disease model of addiction. This allergy, also known in recovery as the physical craving, has something to do with how addicts’ bodies process drugs and alcohol. Instead of processing it normally, our bodies react differently.  The how and why aren’t important to me. What’s important are the results. Once taking a drug or drink, I am physically unable to stop. Once I start, I won’t stop until something blocks me from my “medicine.” This could be an arrest, a trip to rehab, or simply being broke and unable to obtain any drugs.

Finally, there’s the spiritual malady. This is comprised of all the crap that makes drugs and alcohol attractive in the first place. Things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, worry, ego, anger, self-pity, and various other “character defects” (as they’re called in twelve-step fellowships).

So, someone who suffers from the disease of addiction isn’t merely a heavy partier or out of control. They’re suffering from a deadly combination of physical, mental, and spiritual symptoms. The result is around the clock drug or alcohol abuse and all the heartbreak that comes with it.

What do the twelve-steps mean? They mean freedom from this cocktail of suffering. They mean freedom from the tyranny of drugs and booze. They mean the ability to be a free man.

This is accomplished through doing the steps in order and with a sponsor who has a sponsor. It requires admitting we’re powerless over chemicals and that our lives, with our without drugs, are unmanageable. It means saying that maybe something greater than ourselves can help us. It means taking a look at our resentments, fears, sexual conduct, and people we’ve harmed.

It means sharing all the above with another human being. It means recognizing and coming to terms with our character defects. It means making amends to those people we’ve hurt (and making amends isn’t merely a mumbled apology – it’s correcting a past wrong through changed actions).

It means taking inventory of ourselves on a continual basis. It means correcting the new mistakes that are sure to pop up. It means praying, meditating, and seeking a greater and more personal spiritual connection. It means helping other addicts and alcoholics.

Most importantly, it means replacing old ideas, behaviors, and principles with new ones. It means changing everything about ourselves in order to live a life of serenity and (mostly) happiness.

Sounds hard, right? It is, but it’s 100 times better than the alternative – drinking and drugging ourselves to death and hurting everyone we come into contact with.

The 12-Steps & the Family

I don’t have as much experience on what the twelve-steps mean to the family of addicts and alcoholics. In fact, I have no experience with that part of recovery. I’ve had family members abuse drugs and alcohol, but never close enough family to warrant going to Al-Anon or another “family fellowship” and seeking their help. Call me hardheaded, but I simply haven’t found it necessary.

You know what? I pray that I never find it necessary. My heart goes out to the parents, siblings, significant others, and loved ones of addicts. I can’t imagine what we put you through. Probably the best way I can attempt to explain, and this is just that – an attempt, what the twelve-steps mean to the family is through relating an experience I had with my own mom.

After being sober for a few years, I’d regained the trust of my family. Although I lived many states away, we’d talk regularly and I was invited to all major family functions. This restored trust and communication was sacred to me. It was something I never thought would return.

Still, not everything was rosy. I noticed that whenever I was home, my mom would keep her purse close to her. When she went upstairs to go to sleep, she’d take it with her. Old habits die hard, I suppose. So, on a particular visit, I was taken aback when I wandered into the living room at night and saw her purse sitting on the floor by the table. This was the spot she kept it in when I was growing up. This was the spot I hadn’t seen it in in years.

I almost broke down and cried right there. It was a watershed moment for me. I finally knew my parents had forgiven me completely. I finally knew I was their son again. I’ve had some amazing experiences in sobriety. I’ve graduated college with honors. I’ve received awards. I’ve gotten (and kept!) good jobs. Still, none of them compare to seeing my mom’s purse that night.

What do the twelve-steps do for the family? They give them their children back. It’s as simple as that.





What really happens in rehab for addiction or alcoholism?

Photo of woman speaking to a counselor. This is a guest post from David Greenspan, a writer and media specialist for Lighthouse Recovery Institute . He’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than in helping still struggling alcoholics.

I’ve been to more than my fair share of rehabs. While, in the past, you’d have been hard pressed to get me to admit that, I say it today with ease. Why? Why do I take pride in the fact that I’m a man in long-term recovery? Simple – it gives me the opportunity to help others. Helping others takes the form of, more often than not, working with men who want to get sober. I share my experience, strength, and hope with in the hopes that, in the future, they’ll do the same for someone else.

Today, though, I’d like to share some of my experience with the parents of addicts and alcoholics out there. I know my parents were at their wit’s end for years. I managed to find every possible way to manipulate and hurt them.Thankfully, I’ve been able to make up for that behavior over the past seven years. Our relationship is wonderful today. I count my mother and father as two of my best friends. So, with helping parents in mind, I figured I’d give you all a breakdown of what a day in rehab looks like. Remember, though, there are many different types of rehab. I’ve only experienced the “Florida Model” ones. So, your child’s experience may be different. It’s a scary to think about sending your kid off to a treatment center. Hopefully this will make things just a little bit more manageable!

Morning Meditation

The BHTs would wake us up around 6:30 each morning. Immediately, before eating or brushing our teeth, the community would have a morning meditation. We were usually segmented by gender. Males would meet in one apartment and females in another. One patient would read from a twelve-step focused meditation book. Something like “Daily Reflections” or “As Bill Sees It.” After the reading, we’d go around and say our goal for the day. We’d then end with a prayer. This was a great way to affect a positive start to an otherwise challenging day!

The Clinical Day

We’d arrive at the clinical offices around 8am and immediately have our “caseload” group. This is a group led by your primary therapist. It’s made up of their entire caseload, usually between five and ten patients. After caseload, there’d be a smoke break. Speaking for myself, these smoke breaks were invaluable! They gave me a way to decompress after an hour or longer of intense therapy. We’d then have two more groups for the day. The topics and make up of each group varied. There were large groups where the entire community attended. There were small groups made up of only two or three patients at a time.Regardless of the size, these groups would cover recovery oriented topics like relapse prevention, gender-specific issues, co-occurring disorders, family therapy, life skills training, and the like. After these groups, we’d usually be taken to the gym or a park. Much like those smoke breaks, these outings were crucial. They let me feel “normal” again, if only for an hour at a time.

Twelve-Step Meetings at Night

At night, we’d attend in-house or off property twelve-step meetings. These ranged from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to groups like Overeaters Anonymous and Codependency Anonymous. I loved the twelve-step meetings. They gave me a view of what sobriety and recovery looked like after treatment. They gave me a view of what long-term, sustained sobriety looked like. You were usually required to get a sponsor and sober supports at these meetings. While it’s a bit strange to me that a rehab would require twelve-step participation, reaching out to other alcoholics and addicts was incredibly vital to my recovery. In fact, I credit my recovery more to the work I did on myself in a twelve-step fellowship than to rehab and therapy. Don’t get me wrong, the clinical groups were lifesaving and gave me great insight in why I drank and drugged in the first place. Still, treatment only lasts for so long. Afterwards, it’s the connections I made in the rooms of recovery that kept me sober.

After the meetings, we’d return back to “campus” and have some downtime. Around 11pm, we’d have to return to our apartments and call it a night. During this time, shooting the breeze with my roommates, I made some amazing friendships.

Bonus: Unbreakable Friendships

While these friendships aren’t part of any schedule in treatment, they’re important. The men and women I met while in rehab understood me in a way no one else ever had. There was always someone to talk to. If you couldn’t sleep, you could wake up your roommate and talk about the struggles of early-recovery. If a particular group was too intense, you could go outside and find a peer to talk to. It’s amazing what a friendly face and word or two of understanding can do for your mood. It’s funny, I went to my last treatment center over seven years ago. We had a small community, probably around thirty men and women. Of those thirty, I’m still in contact with around twenty of them. Not all of them are sober. Some are able to manage controlled drinking. Some are back in the depths of addiction. We stay in contact though. We help each other when no one else is available. We survived treatment together and that engenders a lifelong bond.  I went to the wedding of one of my treatment peers last year. It was a surreal experience. Years ago, I watched as he crumbled and cried in front of the rehab community. That day, I watched as he stood in front of his family, friends, and God and took his marriage vows.

It’s amazing what recovery does for a person!




Let’s get physical! Learn how exercise energizes early recovery

parallel path of recovery from addiction and co-dependencyThis is a guest post from John Perry, co-founder of Clean & Sober Recovery Services in Orangevale, California

Who knew the trifecta of benefits for early recovery that you get when you ramp up your cardio workout?  Here are three very compelling reasons to work cardio into your workout:

  • Cardio activates natural “happy” chemicals called endocannabinoids that latch on to the same brain receptors as THC.
  • Cardio boosts levels of brain-derived neutrotrophic factor, which enhances the growth of brain cells in the part of the brain involved with mood. Get fit, get happy.…could it be more simple than that??
  • And when a pot smoker begins burning fat via aerobic exercise, it burns off THC stored in body fat and releases it into the bloodstream, taking the edge off withdrawal.

“Take a hike” takes on a whole new meaning for those in early recovery. Learn what science teaches us about how workouts can work wonders.


Forewarned is forearmed: little-known causes of relapse

5820 Chestnut Ave Orangevale-small-003-21-003-666x444-72dpiThis is a guest post from John Perry, a co-founder of Clean & Sober Recovery Services located near Sacramento, California.

It’s an indescribable relief when a loved one enters treatment where they can gain the skills and tools of recovery. And while we know that treatment offers the choice of life free from drugs or alcohol, it’s important to understand that addiction is a chronic, lifetime disease that doesn’t simply go away. For example, here are some little-known vulnerabilities that persist after treatment:

Sometimes people think, “Pills were my problem, but I can still have a glass of wine.” It doesn’t work that way: Substance use disorder is a brain disease, and people who have become dependent upon alcohol or other drugs cannot take any mood-or mind-altering substances.

A relapse can be triggered by substances that aren’t even on the radar screen. The hidden wine in the fish sauce can set the wheels of relapse in motion, even though the person in recovery didn’t want it or even notice it.

It’s essential to be vigilant during and after medical treatment. For example, the anti-inflammatory medication Tramadol is not universally known as a danger to those in recovery. Tramadol is in a class of medications called opiate agonists, and only a few states classify it as a narcotic. Still, it is often dispensed in ERs and it can trigger a relapse.

You and your dentist might not notice that the mouthwash used routinely in the dentist’s office contains alcohol. Double-check the ingredients in mouthwash and all over-the-counter meds, and make sure your medical and dental charts are marked to indicate that you can’t have alcohol or other addictive medications.

We’ve designed our treatment program to help our residents understand and avoid relapse so they can join 23 million Americans in long-term recovery. Here’s to their health – and yours.

John Perry, Co-Founder, Clean & Sober Recovery Services, Inc.

The Professional’s Perspective: Why do people become addicted?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from Ricki Townsend , a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

It’s important to understand that those who become chemically-dependent upon alcohol or other drugs had more vulnerable brains than the “Average Joe” before they even began drinking or using. In my practice, I am often aware that some or all of these factors are playing a part in the development of substance use or abuse:

  • Genetics: People who have a strong history of family substance use disorder often share the same genetic vulnerability to addiction as their family members.
  • Trauma: The ACE study demonstrated that children who are exposed to trauma (e.g., poverty, violence, disease) are more likely to develop 40-plus chronic diseases – including substance use disorder – than those who weren’t exposed to trauma. This is because early childhood trauma fundamentally changes the way the brain works structurally, hormonally and in other ways. For this reason, I prefer to use the term “addictive neurology” rather than “addictive personality.” Viewing substance use disorder through this lens often helps families find forgiveness for their loved one’s transgressions. Leaving blame behind can help point the whole family in the direction of healing and recovery.
  • Mental health issues: People who experience mental health issues like depression, anxiety disorder or bi-polar disorder may find that self-medication Brightens their day, gives them confidence or stabilizes their moods. Essentially, they become dependent upon drugs or alcohol to feel “normal.”
  • Environment: parents who drink irresponsibly or abuse drugs, family anger and shaming, bullying in school, peer pressure to “party”…I’ve seen all of these take their toll. The home environment is particularly critical. Consider the home where a child is raised in a loving, firm and watchful way, where communication is valued and mental health issues are noted and cared for. That child will face life’s challenges with life skills, support and guidance. Contrast this scenario with the child who is raised with guilt or shame – or not even noticed – and whose parents mask their own problems with drugs or alcohol. That child is more likely to self-medicate and navigate life with drugs or alcohol as the rudder.

As we know, life is not a straight line, and a person can take many different paths. Let’s all make wise, healthy and informed choices along the way.


The Professional’s Perspective: Who relapses, and why?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThe Professional’s Perspective is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

Relapse is often described as a part of alcoholism and addiction, but relapse isn’t inevitable. Still, people often worry about the possibility that their loved ones will slip back into drug or alcohol use. And while you cannot control your loved one’s decision to use drugs or alcohol, you can control your own tendency to fall back into “the bad old days” of worry, enabling and co-dependency.

A critical first step in your relapse prevention is to learn about enabling so that you don’t fall into the trap of “If they are happy and safe, then I will be happy and safe.” This is particularly important if you are the parent of a young person in treatment.

It would also be empowering for you to find a good family counselor and learn how to create and keep healthy boundaries. Taking those steps puts you in much better shape to prevent relapse – yours or your loved one’s – or to deal with itconstructively, if it does in fact happen.

My clients who fear the possibility of a loved one’s relapse often wonder about the warning signs. Here are some possible signs that a relapse is “building,” with the first three being the ones I see most often in the first year of recovery:
• Complacency
• Grandiosity
• Not attending Recovery meetings
• Dishonesty
• Hanging with old friends who were users
• Not working with a sponsor
• Making major changes in the first year, such as moving to a new town or starting a new relationship

As we look at our loved ones in recovery, we also need to take a good look at ourselves because family members can relapse, too. The following are the most common symptoms of impending relapse for those of us who deeply love our chemically-dependent children, spouses, parents or siblings:
• Focusing on the loved one to the point that it puts our own health at risk.
• Refusing to believe that our loved ones have a problem with drugs or alcohol (AKA “denial”).
• Covering up the messes – financial or legal problems, for example – and keeping secrets.
• Worrying, feeling constantly stressed and walking on eggshells.
• Having a hard time defining where “they” end and “I” begin.
• Yelling and making empty threats about boundaries that we cannot or will not enforce.

At the end of the day, avoiding relapse requires everyone to change: the person who has substance use disorder and those who love him or her.

Ricki Townsend is a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

The Professional’s Perspective: Is my loved one addicted? addict?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThe Professional’s Perspective is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

People often tell me about a loved one’s drinking or drug use, and then they want me to tell them if their loved one is an addict or alcoholic. I would respectfully suggest they can answer that question themselves by asking several other questions:

  • How is drinking or drug use impacting the loved one’s life? How is it impacting others?
  • How is their health? Their job? Their schoolwork? Their family relationships?
  • Have they developed new friendships and left old friendships behind? How’s that working?
  • Do they have legal problems associated with drug or alcohol use?
  • What is their attitude about their lives? Angry? Sad? Argumentative?

When you consider these questions, write down your thoughts – positive and negative – on paper. That can give you perspective and provide support as you objectively assess just how well life is working for your loved one.

And here’s the question I get most often of all: Why don’t they just stop drinking (or drugging)? It’s because addiction/alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It is considered a brain disease, rather than a disease of character or will power.

Addiction/alcoholism is characterized by the inability to stop drinking or using drugs in spite of negative consequences like job loss, DUIs and family issues. It is a physical disease, NOT a disease of character or willpower. And it’s a disease that cannot simply be “loved away”

Without treatment or involvement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can lead to disability, premature death or involvement in illegal activities and incarceration.

Through treatment, people can learn to live healthy lives free of alcohol and other drugs. They can reclaim their lives, their families, their work and their health. And that’s the best answer of all.

Ricki Townsend is a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

Seven Powerful Ways to Find your Sunshine Again

Cathy TaughinbaughCathy Taughinbaugh is a guest blogger and a Recovery Coach working with parents of addicted children. Find her at CathyTaughinbaugh.com.

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell
Are you feeling overwhelmed because of your child’s drug abuse?

When we take the time to get the support we need, our outlook can feel so much brighter no matter what our children choose to do with their lives.

I’ve found an Al-Anon parent meeting that works for me. We often laugh at our meetings, which may seem strange to you. I’ve discover that if you don’t laugh and seek joy, you remain in that well of despair.

To listen, to talk and to learn how you can live a peaceful and serene life even if your child chooses a life of chaos is immeasurable.

Many come to meetings with paper and pencil in hand ready to write down all the things that will fix their addicted child. They are surprised when their paper is blank and they have nothing to write down. There are no easy answers.

Support groups, such as Al-Anon will not fix your child, but they will help you handle the emotional toll of addiction.

We can offer treatment, and there is always hope that our kids will take us up on our offer. Our addicted child may make the decision that they want to make a change.

It is excruciating, but this is their personal journey. We want to control their progress, but they will cross the bridge to recovery when they are ready.

What can you do in the meantime?

You can work on yourself. You can take steps to ensure that you will remain healthy and find some joy.

Here are some ideas on how to let the sunshine back in your life when you are feeling overwhelmed by addiction:

1) Attend a Parent’s Support Meeting.

Finding a parent’s support group that works for you may take some work, but it is a wonderful way to interact with other parents who have experienced addiction with their children. You will realize you are not alone. You can share and listen openly without feelings of shame. Al-Anon meetings are easy to find in every city, but there are others types of parent groups that may better fit your needs.

2) Exercise

Even taking a walk on a regular basis can do wonders for relieving the stress of dealing with addiction. When you find an exercise plan that works for you and make it a regular part of your week. You will begin to feel better, stronger and more hopeful. Your focus will begin to change.

3) Talk to a Professional

If you are feeling excessively stressed, a counselor trained in addiction, can help to relieve your anxiety about your situation. An objective opinion can be a welcome help on even a short term basis. Just knowing you have someone to call if you need to can make a big difference. Get the support you need early on. Don’t wait until you are emotionally exhausted. Ask others for referrals and find someone you feel comfortable with.

4) Find Some Quiet Time

Sit quietly for a few moments each day. Find a comfortable spot in your home. Sit on a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Let your thoughts float by and don’t judge them. It will help to center your thoughts, and give you a chance to stop and focus on your breath. Your mind will welcome the short break. You will begin to access your inner thoughts. Sitting each day each day helps to make us feel happier. Try it and see if you don’t feel some relief.

5) Treat Yourself Well

Going to a movie, or getting together with friends can add a little fun in your life. It will make you feel better. Just the simple act of bringing in beautiful flowers can give you something to smile about. Take care of yourself and give yourself the loving care that you deserve. Don’t do it just once. Make it a regular part of your life. Treat yourself well and you will realize the benefits.

6) Write Down Your Feelings

Writing each day is a soothing way to express our feelings and get our thoughts down on paper. Find three things to be grateful for each day and write them down. Write about something positive that has happened in your life. You may find that making a goal of writing three pages a day gives you a clear starting and stopping point. Of course, you can add more when you feel the need.

7) Let Go of Trying to Control Your Child’s Disease

When you surrender and realize that your child’s addiction is out of your control, a huge burden is released. We realize that we cannot solve our children’s problems. We can love them, and we can support them in healthy ways. When our children take responsibility for their lives, they become stronger. They will become the person they were meant to be.

Find your sunshine again. You can have that good day you’ve been missing, one day at a time.

Cathy Taughinbaugh is a former teacher and mother of a crystal meth addict in recovery. She writes on addiction, recovery and treatment at CathyTaughinbaugh.com. You can also follow her on Facebook at Treatment Talk and twitter @treatmenttalk.

Jane’s Journal…the closing chapter on a son’s addiction

Baby boy socksThis is the final entry of a series that started almost a year ago, when our 24-year-old son came home from his Hoboken, NJ apartment to tell us he was a heroin addict.  Our journey with him became this journal, where I have documented as honestly as possible the events and emotions we experienced.  Writing here helped me drain the wounds and reach out to others in pain, which became for me the essence of learning what I needed to know to move forward.  Thank you to Parent Pathway for that opportunity.

Here we are, less than a year later, with a story of hope and renewal. Today we are on another side– ever-grateful for, ever-aware of the miracles available in the recovery community, where those with the experience, expertise, heart and spirit of healing are waiting to assist.  We’ve met so many angels along the way, each appearing at the right time, in the right way, offering wisdom and one more opportunity.  We are at the beginning of a new life with our son, a Heroin Addict– who by his own admission will ALWAYS be in recovery. And finally we’re at a place where that’s fine with us.

September was the month our son returned from Florida, the graduate of a 6-month program in a regimented halfway house, where rules were the rule, a full-time job was expected, and residents were tested weekly for all substances. The smallest infraction– like improper disposal of a cigarette butt– meant immediate loss of residency and any monies paid.  The owner of the house was a no-nonsense recovering alcoholic with a huge heart but no patience for excuses and manipulation. To him, recovery is a vocation, not a vacation; and if a resident isn’t sufficiently committed to recovery, there’s always another who’s perhaps more serious.  Under his roof our son relearned the simplest life patterns: how to find and work a basic job, how to get up early, keep his room clean, respect himself and others. 

Our son was not the only one who benefitted from this arrangement.  In so many ways this stage was crucial to OUR healing as well.  It gave us distance from the daily worry, the inspection of his person, the suspicion of his whereabouts. It gave us badly needed respite from the intensity of his physical presence in our home.  With two other children and a large extended family to think about, the hard reality was that he may not be successful, that he may take us all down the rabbit hole of addiction with him.  Seeing my husband, already stressed to the breaking point from his job, unable to sleep and barely function, I knew I may have to make a very difficult choice.  But to me the whole has always been more important than the piece.  Loving one’s child does not mean giving them all unconditionally, and I was not willing to sacrifice the entire family for our son’s addiction.  Imagining the worst-case scenario, I said to our son that should he not succeed at staying clean, in Florida he would at least have warmth on the streets.  And God knows I meant it.  At least I thought I did.  Thankfully, this threat was never tested.

As his stay in Florida came to an end, my husband and I were both thrilled and excruciatingly anxious. We’d just begun to live our own lives again, sleep again, feel somewhat normal again, but now what?   Our son had done well in Florida, but would he continue?  What would he do next?  What job would he find? Who would hire him?  Would something at home trigger a relapse?  Could we survive it? There was nothing to do but employ the “One Day at a Time” strategy and shut out the rest.  We had no choice but to trust once again– in him, in ourselves, in the healing force that had already brought him and us so far.

It’s hard to describe the love and joy, the hope and tension of having our son back home.  We weren’t sure where the journey would take us all next, but we all knew what had worked thus far.  We discussed house rules and expectations. We enjoyed meals together and simple conversation. We occasionally delved into the pain of the past, and the possible reasons for it, but only in the continuing effort to heal as a family, not to rehash the events or dig too deep.  Our son made NA meetings his first priority, going to sometimes two in a day and also volunteering for institutional service at hospitals and rehab centers to talk about his experiences. His belief in the NA program was total.

After a few weeks of mainly meetings, we began to worry about his recovery because we knew his self-worth was linked to work.  But once again, through NA he met those who would vouch for his commitment to recovery and ultimately help him find that work.  He eventually explained to us that he hoped to get a job at the same facility where he’d done his detox and rehab; that this was a career he could imagine himself in, where his recovery was not exactly part of the job but absolutely enhanced by it.  Helping others was his new goal and part of his recovery equation.  We talked about the emotions and stress of such a job, but he made a clear distinction between his own recovery and the recoveries of others:  His recovery was achieved though working the steps of NA; theirs was up to them.

In October our son officially became the first former patient to be hired by the facility where he was once treated.  He gladly accepted the overnight hours that were available and ironically became a vampire again, rising at dinnertime, going to a meeting at 7:30 and work at 11 pm.  Now, while his father and I are on our first cup of coffee, he comes in the door at 7:30 am, exhausted but completely at peace.  His life makes sense, and so does ours, because everything supports his recovery, his growth, and ours.  We listen to a few stories from his night and then he’s off to bed.

While our journey is not one I would recommend or minimize, it is with relief and tremendous gratefulness that I share what has become a “happy ending.” Every day we see that he is healing and growing, and so are we.  He has found his purpose and place, where for now he is healthy and safe, productive and part of something greater than himself.  Apparently this is where he was meant to be.

What our son credits most for his recovery is NA. The members he met in the group near our home–the ones he first met and bonded with–were those he entrusted to guide him first to detox and then through rehab. In Florida, NA meetings were a requirement–one he was actually happy to honor, knowing the honesty and real-life experience available there were what he needed most.  With NA to guide him, he gained strength and power over his addiction with every day, every meeting. He found his spirit there, let his ego go, relied on others and the healing force within him to help make each day a positive choice and opportunity.  “Just for today” is the mantra he lives by.

While there really is no such thing in addiction as the “happy ending,” here’s what I definitely know:   We are extremely lucky. Our son’s experience is not the norm, but it reveals some things about addiction that are true for all.  These are the things that I would classify as such.

1)      The addict must know the problem is real and must want it to end, must want and accept the wisdom of those who have gone before and trust in their direction. Those people should be part of a 12-step program, and NA is the best of those.

2)      The addict must detox before his brain can begin to heal and detangle. Talking sense to an active addict is impossible.

3)      Detox followed by intensive rehab that includes psychological and behavioral therapy is very important.  There must be no drug substitute for the opiate, because another addiction will be the result.  There is absolutely no substitute for being clean. Any mind-altering substance is a threat to sobriety.

4)      The addict must find their spiritual self and learn to have a dialogue with and trust in that self.

5)      The addict needs structure, support, discipline and honesty to rebuild his life, with an emphasis on moving forward incrementally, within reason.  Understanding, healthy expectation, love and patience are all necessary, but also the occasional stern reminder that respectful cohabitation is all about exchange.

 End notes on the our experience:

  • Our son became an addict as an adult, and I’ve come to realize this was a huge advantage to his clearing hurdles in recovery.  Listening to parents in NarAnon meetings, it became clear that age is a monumental factor.  Explaining future life to a clean teenager is a challenge; expecting an addicted teen to comprehend the future or understand the reasons to get and stay clean is not just hampered by immaturity and hormones, it is absolutely obscured by the addiction itself.  There is no reference point. Recovery for a teen presents many more problems than what we encountered, and their parents are at least twice as challenged.
  • The particular practices of the addict are also a factor. Length of addiction and method of addiction are all part of the problem.  As our son has pointed out, use of a needle takes addiction to another level, so we were beyond lucky that he chose his nose and not his vein.

My prayer as I close Jane’s Journal and we embark on the year 2017 is that all of you reading this will find your own version of closure and some semblance of serenity.  I also pray this is the year scientists discover a drug-free way to cure addictions of all kinds, once and for all, investigating the addiction where it begins, in the brain.  Until then I am part of this group always, wishing the same wishes and praying the same prayers.

Thank you,


Looking at 2017 through a drug-free window…you might be surprised

bright closeup picture of magic twinkles on female handsThis is a guest post from John Perry, co-founder of Clean & Sober Recovery Services in Orangevale, California.

What could 2017 look like without alcohol or other drugs? Let me count the ways…

No more harm to self or others. Fewer fights. No more trips to the pawn shop to retrieve family jewelry. Fewer trips to the ER. Fewer trips to jail, the courthouse or prison. Fewer car accidents, or accidents in general. No more covering up to Grandma, Grandpa and friends. Less self-hatred. Less sorrow and disappointment. Fewer broken marriages. Fewer lost jobs. Fewer disability claims. Less domestic violence.  Less child abuse. Fewer secrets.

More confidence. More joy. Healthier, happier marriages and families. More honesty. More love. More success at work or school. Healthier bodies and better mental health. More energy. More introspection and insight. More patience. More happiness. More serenity. Improved finances. Wiser decisions at work and at home. More opportunities. Stronger marriages. Better parenting. More presence at holidays, birthdays, graduations. More showing up for life. More future to embrace.

Treatment works.  Make 2017 your year, and claim the gifts of recovery.