Time to Claim Victory over addiction? I think Not!

It is such an interesting time when certain recovery milestones begin to occur. In the early days of my daughters recovery I would put on such a celebration at the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 90 day chip, then the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 30 day chip, the…you get the picture. I would put such fanfare on these early recovery milestones because I wanted all the hope that came with it.  You would have thought I was the one getting the chip! It’s easy to look back on this and while I think it’s great to celebrate the milestones of recovery, we also need to keep it in perspective. Nevertheless, my daughter is a few months away from 6 years clean and sober – and honestly, I’m not sure I would be any less proud if she’d just gotten her college diploma! It’s been a long journey and it did not come easily.
So is it time to claim victory over addiction? I hardly think so, but it is time to celebrate and sit back and relish the healing and recovery. She has become responsible, performing well in her job, going to college, paying her bills, making good choices. These are all wonderful things to celebrate. Yet I know how illusive addiction can be – it’s like cancer, it’s in remission, healing has taken place and a clean bill of health is declared. Yet, it can reoccur when unmanaged and turn life upside down in a moment. I do not dwell on this possibility, for today I will rejoice in my daughter’s recovery and the healing that has taken place in our family.

Therapy dogs add a new dimension to recovery for patients and parents alike

codependent dogThere’s a new tool with a heartbeat for our beloved addicts and alcoholics in some treatment centers: therapy dogs. Recovery from chemical dependency is tough and lonely work, and people in inpatient recovery centers often miss the encouragement, companionship and support of their canine companions. Learn how the Betty Ford Center brings unconditional love home in the form of wet noses, kisses and wagging tails that signal better days ahead. “To have this big furry red creature love them unconditionally without judgment….is healing for the patients in a way we could not have foreseen,” reports one staff member at the Betty Ford Center.

The therapy dogs help people connect with emotions, give the residents something to touch and love, keep people from leaving the facility against medical advice, and encourage and cheer everyone in sight. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered for residents and their families. Watch this brief and heartwarming video to snag some of that sunshine for yourself.

 

 

If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again, and again and again

Making progress with recoveryHow many times did my daughter relapse before she committed to living a clean and sober life?   I don’t know the answer to that question and I bet if I asked my daughter, she would be hard pressed to know the accurate answer – I’m guessing her answer would be ‘a lot!’  I remember early in the journey when I was very naïve about addiction and thought when she went into a 28 day rehab, ‘finally she will be okay!’  Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long journey of trials and tribulations.  Not only for my daughter to overcome her addiction but also for myself to overcome my addiction to my daughter!  That’s how my codependency manifested itself, like an addiction to my daughter and her every move.  What is she doing?  Is she safe?  Where is she?  Will she call?  The questions and worry in my mind played over and over again like the obsession that it had become.  I distinctly remember one of her counselors telling me, ‘she’ll start getting better when you stop enabling her.’  Huh?  Excuse me…I’m not giving her the drugs!

But when I finally internalized what she was telling me, it became clear that I did not the power to control what my daughter did, I did play a key part in making it easy for her to continue in her addiction.  When I started taking away the comforts and started holding her accountable for her actions instead of bailing her out, she started making progress.  Not because of me but because she had to make difficult choices.  One of the biggest turning points was when I made an agreement with her that I would pay for her sober living rent but nothing else.  She had a job so she would have to budget her money for food and other necessities.  She didn’t like it at first, but over time her self-esteem soared as she took responsibility for her life.  It was so gratifying to watch.  Having a job and responsibilities is very healing for those in recovery.

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!

 

 

 

My obsession with (fill in the blanks) affects all my children

There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time.   The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow.  I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other.  The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus.  So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions.  I wondered which role my children fell into.

Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease.   It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.

Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.

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.


When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all.  He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.

This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease.  I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes,  I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.

Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended.  Parents discover grieving  is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton.  First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.

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.

Should we expect Relapse when our loved ones get Rehabilitation for chemical dependency?

When my son entered a 12-Step rehabilitation program after 19 months of using, I was naively thinking 30 days and he’d be back to normal. There was just no way he would use again, it was such a waste of his young years, and surely he saw this. Well, not only did he relapse WHILE in rehab, he subsequently relapsed many times over. I heard others say that with recovery comes relapse. This helped me accept unfavorable outcomes and not be so disappointed, angry or resentful. Later someone shared that relapse expectations can be dangerous and that perhaps I should not expect it or justify it. Think about the addict who may rationalize as do I: “Craig has relapsed a bunch of times before he made it, so what if I have a drink or two.”

What is minimized is that the last time Sabrina relapsed, she went into a coma and never came back; the last time James relapsed, his drug induced high for 3 days left a trail of armed robbery and arrest. The last time Joe relapsed, he hit a pedestrian while driving under the influence, and Sally? She nearly died from insulin shock, no longer in touch with her blood sugar monitoring.

Having this brought to my attention changed my behavior and attitude towards expecting relapse.  Addiction is a deadly serious disease and any attempts to smooth things over, allow or assist the addict to justify relapse while in my sphere of influence cannot be tolerated.  I will not expect it, but I can learn to accept it.  And with love and prayer, a program of recovery from co-dependency, I have faith that a Power, greater than me, will guide us all toward a program of recovery.

Kindness and support for parents of addicts and alcoholics

kindness of others along the journeyWhile cleaning out my office this week, I came across a dusty folder from 2007.  It contained phone numbers of people who tried to help me and my son get help.  I can barely see these kind souls through the hazy recollection of chaos and confusion.  They were referrals from someone who knew someone who knew someone who had gone to rehab, or seen a certain counselor, or found a good 12-step program or interventionist.

I was utterly at the mercy of strangers.  My child’s disintegration took place in fits and starts:  one day all was well, the next day he was imploding, then perhaps he settled back into a relatively normal routine, or so it seemed.  Along the way, I interviewed various counselors, school officials and doctors on the phone, trying to find one who would “stick.”  They were all generous with their time, compassionate and earnest.  I imagine many of them didn’t spot addiction as the root cause of the meltdown…or maybe they did and tried to tell me and I couldn’t hear it.

I found emails from school counselors who tried to steer him to classes where he could succeed….phone numbers of young men who were in recovery and willing to sponsor….the name of the interventionist who convinced him that detox was better than a life on the streets…a note I scribbled when his boss called my number “by mistake” to see why he was late for work.  Looking back, I see that misdial as a subtle attempt to flag me that something was awry.

I never actually met any of these people, and they certainly have no idea how their kindness kept us from sinking entirely. The dusty folder that reminded me of them also reminds me how important it is to reach out to others in big and little ways.