Archive for October, 2009

Dirty Fingernails

Posted on October 28, 2009. Filed under: addiction, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , |

I notice people’s hands.  I can vividly recall exactly what my grandfather’s hands and fingers looked like as he packed his pipe with loose tobacco from his worn, zippered leather pouch.  Even though my father’s veined hands, towards the end of his life, were mottled with purple bruises and nails yellowed/cracked –  they were still distinctly his – and so familiar to me. The shape of his fingers, hand movements and gestures, color and texture of the skin covering his hands, comprised an indelible print on my father’s profile page.  Details of family, friends, even acquaintances’ hands also seem to stick with me and become an important part of their personal profile in my memory bank.

And so, I guess, it would not be unusual for me to focus on my daughter’s hands.  Ever since she was a little girl, Hayley picked at her cuticles – until they were bleeding and swollen – and then some.  They were painful to look at. I vacillated between purposely not looking at them to avoid getting upset, and  carefully observing their condition, making a mental note as to her current stress/anxiety level – a type of barometer, I guess.  Occasionally, she grew her nails a bit and stopped picking the cuticles long enough so they would heal some; but usually, they were disgusting and painful to look at  – almost on the verge of self-mutilation, in my opinion.                                    .

Last spring, I noticed that Hayley’s fingernails were always dirty.  My god – yes, Hayley’s standard of hygiene was different than mine; but really, dirty fingernails?  After all, she wasn’t digging ditches or anything.  In retrospect, this was a red flag to Hayley’s downward spiral – and a sign/symptom of her ‘hard’ drug use. She was probably smoking crack at this point. I learned recently that in the process of cooking up crack (heating cocaine powder + baking soda + water in a spoon) to prepare for smoking, black soot forms on the underside of the spoon which gets under the nails, when handled, and is hard to remove.  And then, there is the undeniable fact that when you’re ensconced in the lifestyle of smoking crack cocaine, constantly high and on the prowl for your next hit, dirty fingernails are just not a priority.  I only found one reference to the link between smoking crack and dirty fingernails on the web.  Here is what one addict had to say:

I remember looking at my dirty fingernails from “fixing” my chore, and feeling disgust.

I definitely knew that Hayley’s dirty fingernails signified serious trouble.  But I had no idea how to confront her or what to do about it.  She was always so well defended and masterful at deflecting the issue “at hand” back to how unfair and unreasonable our suspicions and concerns were.  Basically, I think, I was intimidated by her, and unsure of myself.

My daughter’s dirty fingernails – – – this is just one of the many things I think about.

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Real Recovery

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Addiction Resources/Support, Treatment Centers | Tags: , , |

Here is a great article published recently on the Huffington Post: “The Real Road to Recovery: My Journey from Heroin Addiction to Helping to End the War on Drugs”, by a recovering heroin addict and journalist, Kathie Kane-Willis.

Also, this recent article in the New York Times about recovering addicts and their need for long-term suppport, is worth taking a look at.

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One Day At A Time

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , |

I had a horrible, very realistic dream last night about my daughter that has stuck with me all day.  The visuals of the “nightmare” and emotions it elicited are disturbing and familiar. Many of the scenes and details in this dream parallel real life with Hayley in recent years. Here’s the “dreamplay”:

Hayley and I are meeting, somewhere, on a trip – at a hotel for a family gathering, perhaps.  We all know she has been using heroin, and that just getting herself to this event will be a miracle. And true to form, Hayley arrives – in chaos and with drama – accompanied by an entourage of suitcases and a variety of smaller bags, rumpled clothing and assorted paraphernalia spilling out of broken zippers and stuffed pockets. As usual, no one comments on the bedlam of Hayley’s arrival or the energy she sucks out of the room.

She always carries a large, deep purse, whose contents seem mysterious and threatening.  She carefully guards its gaping mouth from our view. Although I’m glad to see her, I quickly slide in to my usual mode of interaction with her, heavy on suspicion sprinkled with careful tiptoeing around her manic behavior.  At some point, I think Hayley alludes to the fact that she is prostituting – – – and I think I detect a bit of a smirk.

A youngish, good looking gay man and family friend, Brent, works at the hotel and spends time with Hayley in her hotel room.  After a couple of days, I notice how terrible Hayley looks.  She was always a beautiful young girl and woman, with peaches-and-cream complexion, sparkling turquoise eyes, and full luscious lips.  Now, her gray, blotchy skin, yellowing, goopy eyes, mouth surrounded by sores, and thin, matted hair, are frightening – even sickening.  Now here’s an even more disturbing part of the dream. I whisper into Hayley’s ear, “Why don’t you just let me help you kill yourself right now instead of dragging it out, one day at a time? I’m here for you”.

When it was time to go home, we all said our goodbyes.  No one really knew where Hayley was going, or if she was capable of getting herself there.  After she left, I discovered Brent frantically sniffing a nasal spray bottle that Hayley had left behind.  “What’s in it”, I ask.  “Heroin”, he says.  “Don’t tell”, he adds.  “You know she has AIDS, don’t you?”  This statement slams into me as if I’ve been struck by a bullet.  I feel dizzy and short of breath.  I gasp for air.  Then, I am reeling with anger and disgust that my worst fear has been realized. I’m not only concerned about Hayley’s life expectancy and deteriorating quality of life, but also selfishly wondering if I’ll be expected to take care of her.  After all, I am her mother.

Yesterday, there were lots of real life cues that prompted this disturbing dream: on Oprah, women my age recently diagnosed with HIV after having unprotected sex while dating; a phone call from a friend whose son is gay, a drug addict, and HIV+, now showing signs of full blown AIDS; guilt about not trying to contact Hayley for the past several weeks; using nasal spray after my recent surgery for a deviated septum.

The most troubling aspect of this bad dream, however, is how real it seemed and felt – and plausible.  I harbor a lot of anger and resentment towards Hayley, coupled with a huge dose of guilt.  I know I failed her in some way.  After all, the evidence is incriminating:  my beautiful, smart, well- educated daughter, from a ‘privileged’ family, is a drug addict.  What did we give too much or not enough of?  And then, of course – there is my sinister-sounding offer to help her end her life.  Would this be an act of mercy, or more tragically, my narcissistic attempt to simply expunge a huge “problem” from my life?

One Day At a Time . . . Hayley is getting through life with heroin, killing her self a little bit each day – a sardonic twist to this AA slogan that emphasizes,  “We can only choose how we will respond today.”

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Excerpts from David Sheff’s book, “beautiful boy”, regarding parents of addicts

Posted on October 21, 2009. Filed under: AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

David Sheff is a writer whose books include Game Over, China Dawn, and All We Are Saying. His many articles and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Wired, Fortune and elsewhere.  His piece for the New York Times Magazine, “”My Addicted Son,” won many awards and led to the writing of this book.

View this brief video featuring David Sheff and his addict son, Nic.  Then, read excerpts below that I selected from Sheff’s book, beautiful boya father’s journey through his son’s addiction regarding the constant pain, anxiety, and vulnerability of  the addict’s family.

•Whatever the parental failings may be, it is almost inevitable that the addicts will recognize these vulnerable spots and take advantage of the parents.

“Addicts may have many complaints, including major and minor grievances from years past.  Some of their accusations may, in fact, have truth in them.  Families may well have caused pain for the addicts.  They may well have failed the addicts in some significant way.  (After all, what human relationship is perfect?)  But addicts bring up these problems not to clear the air or with the hope of healing old wounds.  They bring them up solely to induce guilt, a took with which they manipulate others in pursuit of their continued addiction.” p. 146  Beverly Conyers, Addict in the Family

•therapists say that parents of children on drugs often get a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome made worse by the recurring nature of addiction.  We pretend that everything is all right.  But we live with a time bomb.  It is debilitating to be dependent on another’s moods and decisions and actions – codependent on her well-being for ours.  p.228

•”Some of the times when Nic wasn’t all right it got so bad that I wanted to wipe out and delete and expunge every trace of him from my brain so that I would not have to worry about him anymore and I would not have to be disappointed by him and hurt by him and I would not have to blame myself and blame him and I would not longer have the relentless and haunting slide show of images of my lovely son, drugged, in the most sordid, horrible scenes imaginable.” p.241

•we are connected to our children, no matter what. . . the perpetual angst and humming anxiety and intermittent depression that comes with (Nic’s) addiction.  I don’t remember me before this.  I am accustomed to the way that joy can be fleeting and I can sometimes fall into a dark pit.  p.249

• . . . some of us come to a place where the good news is that our children are in jail. P.176

•Al-Anon’s 3 Cs:  “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you can’t cure it.”

•. . . it’s futile.  You cannot control an addict.  Family members’ moods become dependent on how the addict is doing.  People become obsessed.  There is no joy left in their life. p. 153

•(Nic) is absent, only his shell remains . . . I have lost him. . . I have been grieving for him since the drugs took over – grieving for the part of him that is missing. P.269

•” . . . people told me to give up on him, but I didn’t.  How does a mother give up on her son?  If I had, he wouldn’t be here now.  That’s a guarantee.  He would have died.  I called just to tell you this story.  Do not give up hope and do not give up on him.” P.276

• . . . it feels too risky to wait for him to “bottom out”. p.276

•”. . . I am not naïve enough to believe that any expert has the answer to our family’s problem.  Nor am I arrogant enough to think that I know the answer.  I will not blindly follow anyone’s advice, but I gather information and will weigh it and decide what, if anything, to do.  I know that no one know the answer to what is right for (Nic) or any other addict.  No one knows what will work.  No one know how many times. p.277

•Every call fed my growing obsession with the promise of reassurance that (Nic) was all aright or confirmation that her was not.  My addiction to his addiction has not served (Nic) or me or anyone around me.  (Nic’s) addiction became far more compelling than the rest of my life. p.305

•Parents of addicts learn to temper our hope even as we never completely lose hope.  However, we are terrified of optimism, fearful that it will be punished.  It is safer to shut down.  p. 305

•This realization impelled me to do whatever I could to get past my obsessive worry about (Nic).  I could not change (Nic), only me.  And so instead of focusing on (Nic’s) recovery, since then I have focused on mine.  (Al-Anon)  I learned that at some point, focusing on (Nic’s) perpetual crises became safer territory than focusing on myself.; p. 309

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Pretty Normal

Posted on October 19, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: , |

The next time I saw Hayley was almost a month later.  With the help of an acquaintance, Erik, she had gotten herself out of the drug house and was now staying in a cottage behind Erik’s parents’ house.  Erik was in his late 40’s, a longtime coke addict, and was temporarily living with his parents before entering yet another drug treatment program.

She had called me at 9:00 am on a Saturday morning to report that she was out of the drug house, safe, and would I try to get her in to a medical detox facility?  I, of course, jumped.

I’ve become a super sleuth.  I know that I could have had a successful career as an investigator of some sort.  Through a series of phone calls and answering machine clues, I figured out where she was.  To my shock, I knew these people!  I had played tennis with Erik’s mother, Helen, years ago.  I had had no idea that Helen and her family had been struggling through the hell of a child’s addiction as we batted the ball back and forth in the early 90’s.

When I eventually visited Hayley at Erik’s, she was covered in abscesses – her arms, hands, feet, and legs.  She had difficulty walking, and could only wear rubber flip flops on her swollen feet.  “It’s pretty normal for drug users to get abscesses”, she announced, once again.  Why does she say this, I wonder?  To shock me, or to somehow rationalize her current pathetic condition?  Is it some kind of prize? I contemplate how many abscesses will add up to a potentially fatal systemic septicemia.

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Posted on October 19, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , |

My daughter graduated from high school in 1997 and from college in 2001.  A few months ago, she graduated from “just” using coke and smoking crack to shooting heroin.

Hayley drank a little in high school and most likely smoked marijuana occasionally.  But there were no red flags indicating a dependency.  In college, I’m sure her alcohol and marijuana use increased when not limited by the confines of parental monitoring, but didn’t most kids’?  Honestly, I’m alarmed by the alcohol consumption and drinking patterns of many young adults; the excess seems to have become the norm. There weren’t any blatant incidents or indiscretions that we knew about during Hayley’s college years to cause concern.  She was on course to graduate with a B.A. in Politics with ~ a 3.2 gpa.  When the question of an eating disorder arose in the spring of her junior year while participating in a study abroad program in Italy, we scheduled appointments for her to see a therapist, physician, and nutritionist upon returning home in June.  All three professionals concluded that she most likely did not have a diagnosable eating disorder, and was probably just under a lot of stress during the Florence experience.  While in Italy, she had broken up with a serious boyfriend, hosted visits from 3 different groups of family members, and was juggling a full academic course load.  It made sense.

Hayley was eventually diagnosed with a serious eating disorder (bulimia) in 2002 and went to a residential treatment center in the midwest for about 45 days.  Since then, she has lived and worked here in her home town and gone through a series of jobs, financial crises, romantic relationships, friendships, and sporadic bursts of using a variety of drugs, always managing to convince us, and herself, that there was not a “problem”.

It appears that she used prescription painkillers whenever she could, and had access to a steady supply through her numerous bouts with root canals and irritable bowel syndrome, all probably resulting from her bulimia.   We discovered she was using cocaine in the spring of 2003, did a “mini-intervention” with the family and her boyfriend, and to her credit, she got herself off the coke.

But the chaos in her life continued – – – and now I’m wondering if she’s always had a substance abuse issue, and/or, is there some kind of underlying mental illness – is there a dual diagnosis?

Fast Forward:  A year ago, Hayley lost her last job and collected unemployment for many months.  She seemed depressed and did not keep in touch very regularly.  I sensed her downward spiral, but was never able to confirm or document it.  Hayley is a master manipulator and a gifted salesperson.  Most family members felt either helpless or were in denial about the seriousness of her mental state and life circumstances.  Last June, I discovered she had been evicted from her duplex and was living in a crack house.

After many days of trying to get in contact with her, I was able to convince her to come home.  She did – twice – and left both times.  Each time, she made an attempt to get herself in to treatment, but couldn’t make it through the waiting period required for admission. The few hours I had with her at home, we talked and went on walks, and I tried to make her feel loved and nurtured.  I was her cheerleader.  She was proud of the fact that she was the only one in the crack house not shooting heroin.  I pulled out every supportive slogan and statistic I could think of. Ultimately, Hayley went back to the cocoon of the crack house and the sordid living conditions there.  It was a refuge of some sort, I think, where she didn’t have to deal with the realities of trying to become an independent, productive adult.

Texting has been our only mode of communication. After not seeing her for almost a month, a friend suggested that I invite her to meet me someplace neutral, which she agreed to.  Due to her paranoia that I would “try something”, Hayley re-scheduled our meeting time and location many times.  Finally, we met and I saw her for the first time in weeks.

We met in Safeway’s parking lot and sat in my car. It was a hot August day, but she had on a long sleeved sweater and her right hand and arm were wrapped with an Ace bandage. She looked thin and pale, but had tried to appear pulled together with a little eye make-up and freshly washed hair.  She said, “I need a medical detox.”  I knew what that meant, but pretended I didn’t.  “Why”? I asked.  She looked at me, and couldn’t say it – so I did.  “You’re using heroin?”  “Yes”, she answered.  “How long?” I asked.  “A few weeks”, she responded.  I wanted to scream, “Are you fucking nuts? Why would you do this to yourself?  Was this some kind of initiation rite in to the crack house?”  Instead, there was silence – followed by my comment, “I knew when I saw your long sleeves.”  My worst fear had been realized.  It was there in front of me, yet I couldn’t believe it.  Apparently, she had graduated.

“I have a bad abscess”, she said, almost proudly, as if it were a merit badge.  “Wanna see it?”  I didn’t.  Why would I want to?  But she ceremoniously unwound the bandage to reveal a red, throbbing, swollen wrist.  “It’s pretty normal”, she said, “for drug users to get abscesses.”

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Traveling Abroad

Posted on October 18, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict, poems |

Traveling Abroad

She’s gone . . .
on the ultimate cultural
exchange program.
Total immersion.

She’s crossed over
to another world
with her passport of pain.

She has become fluent
in a new language,
and has forgotten her own.

We can’t seem
to understand her . . .
and need an interpreter.

She travels light,
with nothing but
fear and shame
as her companions.

When will her visa expire?
She doesn’t know,
we don’t know.

There is no itinerary.

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Today’s Pearls from AlAnon: Detachment With Love

Posted on October 18, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: |

I finally made it to my home AlAnon meeting this morning – hadn’t been since August 1st.  So much has happened since then – most notably, Hayley entering medical detox on August 24th at a hospital 170 miles away, then leaving AMA (against medical advice) 4 days later and talking a cab driver in to driving her back here, to our home town.  I’ve had no contact with her since then, except for this text on my birthday, October 6th:

Mom, happy birthday. I thought tom was the sixth. I know it could be better with all the stress and worry I am causing.  I am   ok.  I love  you so so    much and miss u.

In my AlAnon group, we read, study, and discuss AlAnon literature.  The book we’re currently reading from is Discovering Choices, and today’s chapter was entitled Detachment With Love. I really struggle with this concept – – – don’t feel I have good judgment, practice, or balance in achieving this slogan.  I tend to either do too much for my addict, or completely shut her off, in a punishing and self-protective way.  How does one detach with love?

In the Serenity Prayer, we ask the god of our understanding to . “. . grant us the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”  Here are some excerpts from  chapter nine that help me better understand and practice detachment with love:

Alcoholism (addiction) is an illness we cannot change. Detachment with love is an application of this basic lesson.  With it, we can let go of trying to change what is beyond our control without blaming ourselves or the person suffering from the illness.  It is possible to love the alcoholic (addict) without loving the disease.

. . . detachment with love doesn’t mean that we cease to care about another person.  It simply means that we let go of our attempts to change what is beyond our power to change.  There is great love in accepting the alcoholic (addict) as a person trapped in an overpowering illness.

Detachment with love means letting go of unreasonable expectations for ourselves.  We can continue to love people and care about them.  Hurting ourselves by persisting in negative and stressful speculation, however, is not proof that we’re helping ourselves or anyone else.

It’s not wrong to hope for a positive outcome, but we also have to accept the limits of what we can possibly know.  We don’t know for sure if the outcome we desperately pray for will prove to be the most beneficial result for ourselves or the alcoholic (addict).  We do know from experience that failure and frustration often turn out to be the first steps in a process that ultimately brings more positive results.  While there’s no guarantee that every negative will turn into a positive, there’s also no guarantee that things will turn out to be as bas as we fear.  We just don’t know what the long-term results will be. They are out of our control. It doesn’t make sense to focus all of our attention worrying about something that may never happen – or if it happens, to worry about the consequences will be. Detaching with love also means detaching from the outcome that we – from our limited perspective – think will be the best.

We know that we can’t predict or control the future.  Why are we so convinced that we know what will be best for everyone?  What basis do we have for being so certain about what the future will bring?  When we focus on a future we can’t know, we prevent ourselves from knowing the satisfactions that the present day could offer.

. . . we don’t have to have the answer to everything.  There is wisdom in doing nothing if we don’t know what to do.  We can find serenity by accepting what we can’t change.

Detachment doesn’t mean giving up on love.  It means opening the door to the joy, hope, love, and kindness that are available to us every day.  We can detach from old ways of thinking that make our day’s challenges appear to be unmanageable.

More pearls from the recovering addicts/alcoholics in my AlAnon group today:

•what someone says or doesn’t say to the addict is not going to change the outcome;  the addict, themselves, is the only one that can initiate true recovery.

•”victims” willingly participate

•If you can’t help someone you love, then help someone else.

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Perverse Relief

Posted on October 17, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: , |

There is a strange sort of perverse relief in knowing that my daughter is holed up somewhere, using heroin and keeping to herself.  She’s living with two guys who, I assume, are drug dealers.  I can make myself crazy speculating about how she supports her habit, her risk for infection and overdose, her desperate, guilt-ridden state of mind.  But also, for the first time in many years, I don’t have to worry about her power being turned off, whether or not she has money for gas in her car, is she going to work every day, does she remembers my 92 yo mother’s birthday, will she finally get a load of laundry done?  I don’t have to think about the chaos of her apartment and relationships, and whether or not she can make a life for herself as a responsible, productive, independent adult.  She is in another world, where the rules and standards are very different – and completely foreign to most of us.  Who knows – she may be thriving there.

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Years of constant worry.

Posted on October 15, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: |

I’ve had a knot in my stomach, worrying about my daughter for the last 12 or 13 years.  Something just wasn’t right.  Her chaos, lack of accountability, and irresponsibility weren’t just quirkiness or immaturity.  They were symptoms of substance abuse and dependency, and/or a personality disorder/mental illness.  I’ve always been anticipating that dreaded call – that she was in real trouble – in jail, the ER, even worse.  In reading over old journal entries from the past 10 or so years, I realize now that my daughter’s heroin use is probably the logical outcome of her constant struggle to cope with life.  I should have trusted my gut and not wavered in expressing my concern about her emotional/mental health.  I tend to catastrophize – was raised that way – – and have to constantly monitor my over-reacting to perceived crises.  This time, however, my entire family and therapist, were wrong, if that’s any consolation. It’s not.

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