addiction

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Posted on June 15, 2013. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Recovery | Tags: , , , , |

calendarI haven’t posted for over a year now, but have intended to many times.  I started a new job in February 2012 that requires a lot of writing – not a great excuse, but I guess I’ll try it.  An even better one is that my almost 96 yo mother is at the end of her life and on Hospice. Whatever the reasons for my absence here, thanks to those of you who are still hang’in with me. I do still have a lot to learn, work out, and explore.  If you’re new to this blog, I invite you to look back at where my drug addict daughter and our family were 4 years ago at this time – and how far we’ve come.

Initially, this blog was a place for me to vent and share my despair as the mother of a heroin addict.  I felt “Helplessly hopeless” and overwhelmed.  I was numb with disbelief, anxiety, and crazy worry over my brilliant, beautiful, well-educated 30 year-old daughter’s life choices. Don’t most parents breathe a sigh of relief when their child successfully graduates from college and begins her own adult life?

Hayley’s drug addiction was a slow erosion that occurred over a period of about 10 years after college. It happened so insidiously, it was almost imperceptible – like the constant flow of water smoothing stonesriverrocks over the course of time, or a river gradually changing course after a millennium of steadily wearing away the riverbank.

My daughter Hayley, a 34-year old former heroin/crack/everything addict, has been in recovery now for over 3 years.  If there ever was evidence of a miracle, she is it.  It’s not all smooth sailing – and she’s still fairly early in her recovery.  However, I am so grateful to be able to share her story of experience, strength, and hope.

Today, Hayley works at a wonderful treatment center in southern California and recently referred one of her ‘clients’/patients and her mother to this blog for comfort and support.

“Mom”, she began. “Why haven’t you updated your blog for so long?” Of course, this fact has haunted me for over 14 months now, and has become one of those nagging, burdensome undone tasks over which I constantly beat myself up.

And then she continued, breaking in to a sob:

“Ya know, Mom – I’ve never really read your blog.  But after  suggesting to my client’s family that they might benefit from reading it, I thought I better check it out more carefully.  After work yesterday, I stayed up almost all night reading through the nightmare of my addicted life.  I had no idea that I was that screwed up and caused you and the family so much worry and pain.  I knew it on a somewhat suppressed, in-the-past-foggy level; but to actually read   your words detailing the particulars of my frightening, dangerous, and sordid life 4 years ago, made it all so visceral.  I’m not sure I was ready to read about it and resurrect those horrible images until now. Can you ever forgive me? Will I ever be able to fully repair my relationship with Jake? (her older brother)”

Both Hayley and I are in recovery from her addiction.  I’ve been at it longer than she.  We both actively work a ‘program’ – she goes to AA, has a sponsor, and now even sponsors others who are new to recovery.  I go to Al-Anon and limp along at a snail’s pace, learning how to take one day at a time, live in the present, let go, and maintain healthier relationships.  We both have a lot of work to do – and will, for the rest of our lives. There is no end point to recovery, no diploma.  It’s an ongoing commitment and winding path full of triggers that tempt relapse.  You have to work every day to stay ‘sober’ – which in my case,  means staying inside my own hula hoop, and getting ‘clean’ from my addiction to worry.

Yes, it’s very painful and almost surreal to read those early posts – particularly from September 2009, when I started this blog, to May 8, 2010, when Hayley ‘walked away’ from her life of addiction. The months, weeks, days, and even hours leading up to that event were harrowing. It’s a miracle she didn’t die.  Writing about it helped me get through it – – – I couldn’t have written a more horrifying screenplay.

I heard this Pearl at Al-Anon today: For true healing to occur, we must abandon all hope of a better past.  We’ll never forget the past, but we cannot change it. We acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on.

hulahoop

 

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April Showers Bring May Flowers

Posted on April 5, 2012. Filed under: addiction, Intervention, Parent of an Addict, Recovery, The Bottom | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

My daughter’s birthday is today.  She is 33 years old.  She’s living in southern California and working at a small, private women’s drug/alcohol treatment center. She has a wonderful ‘boyfriend’, a darling dog, and recently moved in to an apartment of her own.  She’s healthy and happy and a consistent source of love and support to me.  I just sent her five large boxes of household items that I had been storing – things I had salvaged from the nightmare of her apartment from which she had been evicted almost three years ago.

Soon, on May 9th, Hayley, will celebrate two years of sobriety.

 This time of year prompts such a jumble of conflicting emotions for me.  The trees and plants are budding with new life – so full of hope and promise.  Spring is here as manifested by Mother Nature’s relentless cycle of new beginnings. With a symphony of birds chirping, the greening of lawns and surrounding hills, trees leafing out, buds and blossoms everywhere, it’s hard not to feel renewed and optimistic – even buoyant. 

However, three years ago, all that changed – and this particular time of year took on a very different mood –  a different kind of feeling – a sort of pallor.  Despite the loveliness and allure of the season, it will forever be tempered by the grim reminder of what could have been.

In 2009, when my daughter turned 30, I threw her a birthday party in a desperate attempt to cheer her up and show her how much we, her family, loved her.  There were mostly family members and a few close friends  who had gathered for the weekend. Hayley had been unemployed for almost nine months – and seemed increasingly depressed, remote, and ‘unavailable’, punctuated with episodes of erratic/bizarre behavior.  On the Saturday afternoon before her birthday dinner, we had planned a family hike.  Hayley ‘begged off’, claiming she had some important errands to run.  Huh?  We had all come together, many from out of town/state, to be with her on this milestone birthday.   However, over the years, we had become so accustomed to Hayley’s ‘flakiness’ and narcissism, that we shrugged off her ‘lame’ excuse, determined to spend quality time together on the hike, in spite of her absence.

The birthday dinner went well – it was so wonderful to have everyone together – including my 91 year old mother. The next morning, however, Hayley didn’t show up for the family brunch we had planned.  She finally arrived ~ 1:00 pm – late, disheveled and spacey. I was very upset and suspicious – but focused my attention on smoothing things over for my elderly mother’s benefit, who is a professional worry-wort.

Many months later, I learned that Hayley had spent Saturday afternoon at a dentist’s office, getting prescription painkillers.  And after the family birthday dinner, she had used a variety of drugs, crashed/overslept at a friend’s apartment, and couldn’t remember where her car was the next morning.

Two years ago at this exact same time, amidst the riot and rejuvenation of spring, I was almost paralyzed with despair, fear, and overwhelming gloom.

My daughter was now an active heroin addict, living a very abusive, risky, dangerous lifestyle in a crack house.  Her likely life outcomes had boiled down to a few grim options: untimely death by overdose, violence, infection or, going to jail.

Here’s an excerpt from a post during that time to give you some context:

I’m getting ready to meet with my daughter for the first time in seven months.  In June 2009, I had learned that Hayley had become a heroin/crack cocaine addict and was living in a crack house.  A couple of months later (August 2009), she had reached out and asked for help – specifically, would I get her in to a medical detox facility?  She had managed to get herself out of the crack house and had found a safe place to stay for a few days.   She was dope sick, covered with abscesses, and desperate for help.  Of course, I donned my ‘supermom cape’, and whirled in to action. 

The logistics of quickly getting Hayley in to a medical detox facility were complicated, since there was no such facility here, in our small-ish city, and no available beds in the detox facilities 150 miles away.  We needed to first get her on antibiotics to treat the abscesses, before any facility would take her (MRSA risk). And, I procured some hydrocodone for her, to try to keep her off the heroin and away from the crack house. After 72 hours of constant phone calls and involved paperwork, and buying food and clothes for my daughter, and checking in on her, and trying to keep her hopeful and moving forward, and not using heroin (this was my fantasy, as it turned out), a bed finally became available at midnight, and I drove Hayley three hours to the detox facility.  The plan was, after detoxing for ~ 5 days, Hayley would go directly to a women’s treatment center 50 miles away.  However, after 4 days in detox, Hayley walked out AMA (against medical advice) and talked a taxi drive in to driving her the 150 miles back to our town – and her drug life.  One of the many ironies in this chain of events, was that the crack house wouldn’t take her back!  Can you imagine? This is a whole story, in and of itself. 

 We decided as a family, at that point, to pull back and let Hayley really hit “bottom” –  to let her feel the full impact of her life choices, hoping that this approach would jolt her in to seeking recovery on her own.  She’s smart.  She’s resourceful, and I truly believed that she knew where to go to get help for herself.

 And so, for the next 7 – 8 months, we had little to no contact with her – just an occasional text, since the failed treatment attempt.  During that time, I was desperate with fear and worry, and felt overwhelmed with helplessness. However, after about 5 months of not speaking to or seeing her, I had reached some kind of “tipping point”, and decided to try to contact her. It all started with a text, then a phone call, and then a few more, culminating in my determination to actually see my daughter on her birthday in April.  We had re-established enough of a connection to build the foundation of trust and desire necessary for our eventual birthday meeting.  I was convinced that Hayley’s life was at stake and time was running out –  that I needed to make one last valiant attempt to help her get the help she needed to change her life.  If I could appeal to her and tell her, face to face, how much I loved her – – – and that we, her family, would help her get the help she needed when she was ready, maybe it would make a difference. I had to try.

 My reaching out to Hayley was influenced, in part, by Tom, a drug counselor at the  Recovery Helpdesk blog, who made a good case for challenging the notion of  Hitting Bottom– that . . . 

” . . . an opiate dependent person does not have full exercise of their free will.  Their free will is compromised.” And, ” Opiate dependence is powerful enough and the opiate dependent person’s free will is compromised enough, that waiting for the person to “hit bottom” can mean the person goes on to experience HIV infection, Hepatitis C infection, unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, loss of child custody, loss of family relationships, risk of violence, or worse.”

It was uncomfortable to read this, because it challenged our family’s position that Hayley needed to feel enough pain before seeking help, which was what most professionals/groups/literature advocated.  Leaving Hayley alone for 7 months hadn’t really had the effect we had hoped for – she just seemed to spiral further down in to the deep dark hole of addiction and become more entrenched in her risky lifestyle.  And from what I could tell, she was getting more desperate – dope sick almost every day, no money for drugs, let alone food.  I was driving myself crazy contemplating how my daughter might be getting her drugs.

My post, Birthday Gifts, gives you the details of my preparation for this crucial meeting with my heroin addict daughter on her birthday, two years ago.  And Yes . . . She’s Still in There is the account of the actual meeting.

Thinking back to that time is still very painful – and a frightening reminder of how close we came to losing our daughter completely.  But, it also is a powerful testament to hope – and miracles –  and how the most desperate circumstances can change.

There are so many variables that affect an addict’s recovery – timing being one of them. Apparently, for Hayley, the combination of our birthday meeting, followed by a crucial/random phone call from an acquaintance, subsequent phone calls and texts from family members, and other serendipity events –  all came together in to a powerful vortex that started to draw her in – and remind her of the ‘normal’ world and life she had left;  that there was a possibility of a different kind of existence; and maybe she could accept help.  Who knew, or could predict, that these somewhat arbitrary events could converge in to the powerful push my daughter needed to walk away from her life of addiction.

A phrase of drug counselor Tom’s, at Recovery Deskhelp, kept running through my head: that taking action to enable recovery is very different from enabling the addict’s drug use.  I was convinced that my daughter was incapable of getting the help she wanted or needed – that navigating the complicated labyrinth of getting herself into a detox/treatment center, was too overwhelming – and I was right.  I am grateful to Tom for articulating what I felt in my gut – and for his strong voice in advocating harm reduction and a wide range of recovery options for drug addicts.

Tom’s post at Recoverydesk, Tough Love Delays Recovery For Heroin Addicts,  is especially relevant to this discussion and his view that “enabling” and “tough love” are the two “black and white” extremes – both of which can be harmful to the drug addict’s recovery.  There’s a lot of gray area in between that is sensible and reasonable and should be considered.    http://www.recoveryhelpdesk.com/

I ended my post, Open For Business, a little over two years ago, with this:

Hayley’s birthday is a little over a week away.  She’ll be 31 years old.  What do I get her for her birthday?  What does one buy, wrap up, and deliver to their heroin-addicted child?  I know, I know – love, encouragement, hope – – – and recovery, are what she needs most.  At this point, I just don’t know how to give and get those gifts to her.

I guess my point in recounting all of this is, to never give up – that as long as ‘your’ drug addict is still alive, there is hope for recovery.  My daughter is living proof of this miracle.  And today – this year – this April 6th, I am reveling in the hope, promise, and wonder of spring . . . and recovery.

 

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Two Zeros Minus One

Posted on February 16, 2012. Filed under: addiction, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , |

Two Zeros Minus One.

 Charlie Zero is dead –  and yes, that was his real name. He was only 44 years old. His funeral was today at one of the local cemeteries and I briefly considered attending. I would have loved to have seen who was there – make eye contact with a few of them, some of the other heroin addicts who had been a part of my daughter’s world for awhile. And given the opportunity, maybe I would have let them know that Hayley would soon be celebrating her 2 year clean and sober “birthday”.  My intent would not have been to flaunt Hayley’s recovery – but to let them know it was possible – that there was hope – maybe even for one or all of them.

I had noticed Charlie Zero’s obituary in the newspaper a couple of days ago.  He looked about 13 in the picture – sweet, innocent smile, shaggy hair, a normal looking middle school-aged kid.  I’m sure his mother treasured that photo.

When Hayley was actively using hard drugs in 2009-10, she lived with the Zero Brothers, Charlie and Brad, for about 9 months – in their ‘crack house’. At one time, the term “crack house” was used to describe an old, often abandoned or burnt-out building, often in an inner-city neighborhood where drug dealers and drug users would buy, sell, produce, and use illegal drugs, including, but not limited to, crack cocaine.[1][2][3]  However, during my daughter’s darkest months as a heroin addict, I learned that in my own community, although crack houses might look slightly run down, they could also easily blend in with the rest of the neighborhood – and look fairly ‘normal’. Over time, I’ve also learned that a subtle give-away for a drug house is that all the windows are always covered, with curtains tightly drawn day and night, summer, fall, winter, spring.

The Zero house was a decent looking prefab house on my route to Costco.  Once I learned that Hayley was living there, I would periodically drive by it.  It was where Hayley landed after walking out of detox back in August 2009.  Her drug dealer boyfriend, Bill, and his entourage, wouldn’t take her back at their crack house, which was amazing to me – essentially, she was kicked out of a “crack house” – didn’t know that was possible.

I called Hayley to tell her the news of Charlie Zero’s death.  She said that she prays for those brothers every day – that Charlie was a diabetic – and, well, since heroin is cut with sugar, Charlie was always in some kind of diabetic crisis.  “It was only a matter of time”, she said, “before he either died, or ended up in jail.”

I drove slowly past their house yesterday, after reading Charlie’s obituary. I was familiar with the house.  It was where my 94 yo mother sent Hayley a Christmas present, containing a warm winter coat. It was where I picked her up at 5:30 am on May 8th, 2010, to go to treatment. It was where she said goodbye to her drug dealer boyfriend, Bill, out on the front steps of the house.

There were a lot of cars parked in front.  I couldn’t help but think about Charlie’s grieving family.  No parent wants his/her child to grow up to be a drug addict/dealer.  And no child, for that matter, aspires to be a drug dealer.

There was a time when, like most other people, I looked upon drug dealers with scorn and disgust.  Now, however – I view them differently.  Whereas I don’t condone their activities, I also know that most of them are doing what they feel they need to do to survive.  Almost all of them are drug addicts themselves – and becoming a drug dealer is the next ‘logical’ step to support a habit.  I have a great deal of empathy and pity for them.  They’re stuck in and have no power over their addiction.

According to Hayley, the Zero Brothers were ‘ok’ guys.  They didn’t physically abuse her – and Hayley enjoyed chatting with their elderly father when he came by for a visit.

It’s painful to re-read my early blog posts.  I was so desperate and helpless then – and didn’t know very much about drug addiction.  Here are a few short ones that give you an idea about where I was 2+ years ago, when Hayley was actively using.

An excerpt from:  Choosing Happiness:  12/9/09

This morning before my Al-Anon meeting, I read in the paper that 80 people had been rounded up and arrested on drug charges by the police – for distribution, use, illegal activity. Now, when I read these front page headlines, I wonder if my daughter is one of those junkies arrested in a drug raid?  My physical therapist was lamenting to me about those who use and abuse the health care system, with no insurance, no job or intent to work, drug addicts –  parasites on our society. I agreed with him, but also wanted to shout:  “And my daughter is one of these people.  They are so desperate, and sick with addiction and other mental disorders.  They can’t help it.”  Or, can they?  I have an entirely new take on health care reform.  No, I don’t want to indulge drug addicts/my daughter in services that she should be paying for herself. But, damn it – how can she get the health care she needs – treatment for her abscesses, her irritable bowel syndrome, her root canals – when she’s a heroin addict and doesn’t work, can’t register with the DSHS system because she’s afraid she’ll be arrested, etc.  It’s overwhelming, and I can’t think about it.

Sirens, and health reform debates, and newspaper headlines about drug busts – – – I have a whole new take on it all.

This post from October 5, 2009:

 Detach or Hang On

It’s getting cold.  All of Hayley’s warm clothes and jackets are here, hanging in my closet.  Al-Anon tells me to detach.  A close personal friend, who is an addiction counselor, tells me that I’m working harder than my daughter is.  He says that if I continue to text and communicate with her, I’m enabling her – allowing her to still straddle both worlds.  Other resources tell me to “hang on”, and never give up on my daughter.  Always let her know I love her and believe in her.

So, what do I do?  I haven’t seen my daughter since Monday, August 24th, when I drove 31/2 hours to take her to medical detox.  Four days later, she walked out of detox AMA (against medical advice), and talked a cab driver in to driving her the 170 miles back to her “home” town.  The crack house where she had been living didn’t want her back.  Can you believe that?  So where she landed, I didn’t know – – – and didn’t care, at that point.  $6,000 down the drain (4 days of medical detox), agonizing hours of making elaborate arrangements for her detox and subsequent treatment program, all vaporized.

I have since learned that Hayley is now living in town with two coke dealers – who are “decent” guys, believe it or not.  Should I text her and try to meet her somewhere and deliver some warm clothes?  Should I maintain my most recent “hands off” approach so she really feels the isolation and consequences of her decision to reject “help”?

There are as many “experts” and friends/colleagues who expound opposite points of view regarding contact or no contact with Hayley.  But in the end – – – I am her mother.  I miss her and worry about her.  There is a huge hole in my heart when I think about her so far away, yet so close.  Does she just sit in her “friends’” house all day, nodding off, watching mindless TV, smoking cigarettes, planning her next fix?  Does she remember it’s my birthday tomorrow?

One more:

 Perverse Relief:  posted 10/16/09

 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 remember it’s my 92 yo mother’s birthday, will she finally get a load of laundry done?

If you, too, are struggling with the issue of detachment, here’s some help:  Today’s Pearls From Al-Anon: Detachment With Love

WE, my daughter and I, have come a long way in the last two years. And no matter where she’s been, or where she’s going, I will always love her – perhaps even more now, as we walk down the winding road of our own recoveries, alone and together.

 Today, as a mother, I mourn the death of Charles Andrew Zero, and who he was at age 13 –  and who he might have become.

 

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Taking the Plunge

Posted on October 16, 2011. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Recovery | Tags: , , , |

I haven’t posted now in almost two months.  I’m not sure why I’ve been procrastinating.  It seems I let almost any thing distract me from sitting down and putting words to ‘paper’.  And now, it’s like a black cloud hovering over me.  I seem to have hit some kind of wall.  The longer I wait to write, the more I think about it and the harder it is to actually do it.

Yes, it’s true.  I don’t feel as compelled to write as when I started this blog over two years ago.  Then, we had cut off contact with our heroin addict daughter, Hayley, who was spiraling deeper and deeper in to the underworld of addiction and an escalating risky lifestyle.  I was desperate – and felt hopeless.  I used this blog as a forum to vent and share the emotional devastation that comes with a child’s addiction, learn more about opioid drugs and share information, give to and receive support from other parents in the same dubious ‘club’ that no one asked to be a member of, and essentially, record Hayley’s eventual demise.

Today, Hayley has been ‘clean’ and sober for ~ 18 months.  I still consider it a miracle. I still hold my breath.  I am in recovery myself from her addiction and have a long ways to go until I can ‘let go’ of certain triggers and the need to control outcomes .  Al-Anon and meditation help.  I’ve come to realize that I will be in recovery for the rest of my life.

Hayley is sober, working full time at her treatment center, and trying to make a new life for herself at age 32 – but, there is still plenty to write about.  I’m constantly learning more about addiction, neuroscience and brain chemistry breakthroughs, reading books about compulsive/obsessive behavior, articles debating the “addiction-is-a-disease” issue, and important principles of long-lasting recovery.  I read several blogs written by recovering addicts/alcoholics (guineveregetssober is a favorite), searching, I guess, for the ‘secret’ to life long sobriety. I’m sure these are all symptoms of my ingrained fear and continued need to ‘fix’ Hayley for good.  I know.

This ongoing struggle to lovingly detach from my daughter’s life choices – yet support her recovery, is a challenge.  She works full time in the treatment center community, but only earns $11.00/hr – not exactly a sustainable living wage, especially in southern California where the cost of living is high.  She has no health/dental insurance, yet has ongoing health issues that need to be monitored as well as lots of restorative dental work to be done.  Thus far, my 94 yo mother and I have been taking care of her dental bills, a couple hundred dollars a month.  There is a prioritized schedule of what needs to be done when, if she wants to ‘save’ her teeth.

I started collecting social security a year ago – and also refinanced my house so that I have lower monthly mortgage payments.  So, since last May, I’ve put a few hundred dollars into Hayley’s account every month to ‘help’.  I’ve told her that this will not necessarily be a regular occurence – that she shouldn’t count on it. I don’t want her to spend it before she has it. I consider this money to be ‘extra’ in my budget, so it’s not really impacting my lifestyle.  And if I want to ‘help’ another one of my children (as happened this month), then that ‘extra’ money will be diverted to their account.  So – does this money, going in to Hayley’s account, constitute ‘enabling’?  That’s a topic for future conversation.  However, I do think there’s a difference between enabling addiction and supporting recovery.  I believe I’m supporting Hayley’s recovery.

I have received so much heartfelt empathy and support from readers over the last two years, that I feel a certain obligation to ‘give back’ – and offer Hayley’s story as a pinpoint of hope – encouragement to parents and family members who felt the same way I did 2 years ago – desperate, and sick, and overwhelmed with grief, anger, bewilderment.  As I mentioned, I’ve started several posts, but just haven’t gone back to finish them and pull the trigger.

And so, until I get a full-fledged post finished and ‘up’ for you to read, here are a few provocative tidbits from my stash that shouted out at me. Unfortunately, I don’t have a record of where they all came from:

•Drug use and high-risk drinking are self-imposed, but no one consciously decides when they’re young that they want to grow up to be a drug addict.

•Drug use seems, in my opinion, to be the symptom of something – and then becomes the disease. 

•Sometimes we enable, and support, and intervene purely because it helps us to feel better – even though, in reality, it most often doesn’t do shit: I pray for those that are sick and suffering and ask that God hold them and give them hope. That is about all that I can do.  from Pam’s blog Sobriety is Exhausting. It is a good statement about letting go and how powerless we are over what others do.

“It really doesn’t matter sweet precious normies……do what you are comfortable with. Spend all your money trying to help or spend none of your money. Take their calls or don’t take their calls. Pay for their apartment or give them your home. Disown them or clutch them tight. All your pain is about you….saying this with love. Your fear of (just) wanting them to be healthy and happy and sane. Since none of this is within your power to give them, then do what makes you able to sleep at night, do what makes life bearable for you. Your addict/alcoholic is doing what makes life bearable for them……aren’t we all?”  (sorry – don’t know where I got this although I believe it was from an addict’s blog)

I’m hoping this preliminary ‘toe-back-in-the-water’ is the nudge to jump back in again.  Thanks, dear readers, for your patience.

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The Compass of Pleasure

Posted on July 7, 2011. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

While driving in my car a week or so ago, I heard a fascinating interview on NPR (National Public Radio) of David Linden about his new book: The Compass of Pleasure: Why Some Things Feel So GoodLinden is a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

What does it really mean for the brain to experience pleasure? That’s the question neuro-scientist David Linden asks in his new book The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. In it, he traces the origins of pleasure in the human brain and how and why we become addicted to certain food, chemicals and behaviors.

When Linden spoke with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross, he explained that the scientific definition of addiction is actually rooted in the brain’s inability to experience pleasure. I urge you to listen to David Linden’s interview and read the transcript.  I learned so much about the pleasure circuitry of the brain, and how simple ‘likes’ become full blown addictions.

Here are some thought-provoking excerpts from the interview:

 In reference to addiction: we now can better understand addiction from a brain neuroscience perspective.

•While most people are able to achieve a certain degree of pleasure with only moderate indulgence, those with blunted dopamine systems (addicts) are driven to overdo it. Linden explains, “In order to get to that same set point of pleasure that others would get to easily — maybe with two drinks at the bar and a laugh with friends —(an addict/alcoholic) . . . needs six drinks at the bar to get the same thing.”

•Drug (or any kind of addictive substance/behavior) addicts are not motivated to ‘use’ because they get more pleasure – but because they get less pleasure; their sense of pleasure/relief is blunted;  their dopamine center is defective to an extent – and is not the same as ‘normies’.  In order to experience the same level of pleasure as ‘normies’, they need more;  and they build a tolerance level more quickly.  They were born this way; just as a diabetic was born not being to handle normal sugar loads.

Linden explained that the scientific definition of addiction is actually rooted in the brain’s inability to experience pleasure. Liking becomes wanting which becomes needing, just to function, to not experience feeling physically ill, to be able to face the day like a more normal person.

“What I’m seeking here in The Compass of Pleasure is a different type of understanding — one less nuanced, perhaps, but more fundamental: a cross-cultural biological expla­nation. In this book I will argue that most experiences in our lives that we find transcendent — whether illicit vices or socially sanc­tioned ritual and social practices as diverse as exercise, meditative prayer, or even charitable giving — activate an anatomically and biochemically defined pleasure circuit in the brain. Shopping, or­gasm, learning, highly caloric foods, gambling, prayer, dancing ’til you drop, and playing on the Internet: they all evoke neural signals that converge on a small group of interconnected brain areas called the medial forebrain pleasure circuit. It is in these tiny clumps of neurons that human pleasure is felt. This intrinsic pleasure circuitry can also be co-opted by artificial activators like cocaine or nicotine or heroin or alcohol. Evolution has, in effect, hardwired us to catch a pleasure buzz from a wide variety of ex­periences from crack to cannabis, from meditation to masturba­tion, from Bordeaux to beef.”

I struggle a bit with the disease model of addiction.  I keep looking for what it was that caused my daughter, Hayley, to become a heroin addict at age 31.  Did I, as her mother and we, as her parents, not give her enough of something – or too much of something else? What signs along the way did we miss as she was growing up? Did the trauma of her father’s and my divorce when she was 17 contribute to her serious drug addiction? Or was it a gradual building of life stress factors that culminated in the ‘choice’ to smoke crack cocaine or inject heroin in to her veins?  Was it inevitable – and she was genetically predisposed to addictive behavior, as evidenced by her eating disorder at age 20, smoking, and gradual onset of substance abuse?

Linden goes on to say in his interview:

•Any one of us could be an addict at any time. Addiction is not fundamentally a moral failing — it’s not a disease of weak-willed losers. Understanding the biology of the pleasure circuit helps us better understand and treat addiction, Linden says. It is important to realize that our pleasure circuits are the result of a combination of genetics, stress and life experience, beginning as early as in the womb.

I found this next tidbit rather surprising, as did my daughter, a smoker (she’s trying to quit – and has gone for up to 30 days without smoking) and recovering heroin addict:

•30 % of those who first inject heroin, become addicted, whereas 80% of those who start smoking become addicted to nicotine.  With heroin, there is a large immediate reward – that will satiate the user for up to 12 hours, depending on the dose. The”high” of heroin is considered to be “intermittent” because there is usually a period of several hours between doses –  similar to eating a big steak and being sated until the next meal.

However, nicotine is actually more addictive due to the use process.  With smoking, there are small reliable rewards that are more constant – liking cutting up a steak into 200 bite-sized pieces.  There is almost a constant infusion of nicotine in to the system which creates a more addictive type of learning.

And here, again, is what seems to be a partial answer to my question of how/why my daughter became a heroin addict:

 Addiction may be ~ 40% genetic involving a defect in brain chemistry; but the rest is life experience and most importantly stress. “There are variants in genes that turn down the function of dopamine signaling within the pleasure circuit,” Linden explains. For people who carry these gene variants, their muted dopamine systems lead to blunted pleasure circuits, which in turn affects their pleasure-seeking activities”, he says.

 Now there is a biological explanation for addiction, which can have profound implications for addicts trying to stay clean; stress often is THE determining factor for use and relapse.  However, behavioral strategies to reduce stress, such as those listed below, can be quite effective in preventing relapse:

            –regular prayer/meditation

            –exercise; pleasurable physical activities, like playing with or even petting a pet

            –support groups and a structured recovery program, like AA

This is all very interesting – and terrifying.  Will my daughter ever be able to deal with the ‘normal’ stresses of life – the peaks and valleys of work, personal relationships, health issues – of LIFE?

Unfortunately, with addiction, there are permanent physiological changes in neurons of the pleasure center; the brain has been rewired and is forever changed, which means that an addict will always be an addict and will need to deliberately work at staying sober.

Linden maintains that “Addiction is not fundamentally a moral failing — it’s not a disease of weak-willed losers. When you look at the biology, the only model of addiction that makes sense is a disease-based model, and the only attitude towards addicts that makes sense is one of compassion.”

Now, with new developments in the field of neuroscience and new knowledge about the role brain chemistry plays in the disease of addiction, will we, as a society, be able to change our attitudes about drug addicts – and convert the stigma, guilt, blame, and shame to compassion? Shouldn’t our country adopt policies based on the public health aspect of drug addiction – and effective treatment/support programs for addicts versus our current more punitive approach?  Proper/effective treatment of drug addiction and alcoholism should be declared one of our most acute and chronic public health issues with resources appropriated accordingly.  Ultimately, our country could be saving billions of dollars now dedicated to law enforcement, legal/court costs, incarceration, and the social/health services and issues funneled towards drug addicts.

I don’t really know how we can accomplish this and shift the culture’s paradigm from punishment to treatment of drug addiction. It’s not a simple ‘fix’, obviously.  And with the increasing numbers of drug addicts, who may have children themselves, we potentially face a growing pool of genetically pre-disposed people to addiction, draining our educational, legal, health care, social services systems and work force.

What are your thoughts on how neuroscience is changing our view of and approach to dealing with drug addiction – not only from a personal perspective (as the parent of a drug addict/alcoholic) but also as a citizen of this country, with its limited financial resources and global priorities?

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One Year

Posted on June 6, 2011. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Treatment Centers | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I arrived in Southern California on Sunday, May 8th – Mother’s Day. Monday, May 9th, was my daughter’s One Year ‘birthday’ – a full year of being clean, sober, and actively working a recovery program.  Being able to celebrate Hayley’s One Year of sobriety with her, in person, was my Mother’s Day gift to myself – and one I will always treasure. I had knit and felted a large bag for her – similar to one that I had given her years ago, and that she had loved.  That bag was so trashed and permeated with smoke when Hayley left for treatment a year ago, I threw it out.  I had sewn into this new bag, an inscription commemorating the One Year date and a heartfelt message.  It had been a labor of love.

I hadn’t seen Hayley since last October – and although I knew she was doing well, I was still a bit anxious.  I retrieved my bag from the baggage claim at the airport and waited outside for her to pick me up.  I couldn’t help but flash back to the last four years or so – – – when Hayley’s drug use and desperate lifestyle had escalated to the point where she had sold her car – and didn’t drive at all.  Her driver’s license had been suspended and there was a warrant out for her arrest for probation violation.  I dreaded opening our local newspaper every day – I was certain I’d eventually see her name and mug shot in the Crimestopper’s  column.

As part of her recovery during this last year, Hayley appeared in court to take care of some outstanding traffic and probation violations, rectified the messy suspended driver’s license business, acquired a California driver’s license and, recently, bought herself a used car with what was left in the investment fund my parents had given her as a child.  She was so proud of the fact that she had conscientiously shopped for this car on her own – and had bought it from a used car lot run by two brothers, in recovery themselves.  Their common bond sealed the deal – and she trusted them.  Privately, I wasn’t so sure she was ready for the responsibility of a car.

And then, there she was, driving up in her ‘new’ car to greet me.   The reality of it all was staggering.  We hugged, and kissed, and gabbed nonstop as we drove to her apartment, a few miles away.  She seemed comfortable and careful behind the wheel, even in California highway traffic and despite the fact she hadn’t driven for 3 – 4 years prior.  She freely shared so much in those first 15 minutes – wanted me to know everything.  And, she was so excited to show me the apartment she was sharing with two younger women in recovery.  As we approached, I was surprised at how nice it seemed.  It was in a gated and very secure complex with lovely grounds.  The apartment itself had been well furnished by her roommates and Hayley’s bedroom was neat and orderly.  That was a big one for me.  For the five years she had lived in a little duplex in our hometown, Hayley never let any of us visit.  We knew her living space was a disaster – that she had always had trouble organizing and keeping track of things.  We knew she could get overwhelmed – but eventually chalked up her unwillingness to let any of us in to her house to shame, embarrassment, maybe even ADD – – – and yes, with a big dose of our own denial thrown in.  Hayley and I have subsequently talked about the chaos in which she lived.  She is very forthcoming in acknowledging all the above – and the fact that the crazy disorder of her apartment was a barrier, of sorts, to the outside world – a legitimate excuse to isolate as she was spiraling downwards in to the dark abyss of addiction.

Two years ago, when I had to move everything out of that place after Hayley had been evicted and was living in a crack house, I thought I’d entered a war zone.  I actually felt physically and emotionally assaulted by the filth, chaos, garbage, and clutter.  (Back To Square One) I discovered a drawer where Hayley had stashed almost 4 years of unopened mail.  All of it was bad news – overdrawn bank statements, collection agency letters, failure to appear (in court) notices, pawn shop records, traffic violation notices, etc.  It was astonishing – not only that she had these kinds of long term, serious financial problems and legal issues – but that she had actually saved all of the notices of such. Her way of ‘coping’ had been to throw the evidence into a drawer and try not to think about it – and by not opening any of the envelopes, she could pretend it all didn’t exist.  Yet, why did she keep it? In her own pathetic way and with some twisted reasoning, I think she was trying to be as responsible as she knew how at the time –  by keeping it all together, in one place.  Yeah, it’s difficult to comprehend.

With the help of a dear friend, I was able to retrieve a few things from Hayley’s apartment that I thought were meaningful and worth saving – a wool sweater I had knit her in high school, all her photos from childhood through college, her Cuisinart, original artwork by her younger brother, a handmade quilt, family keepsakes.  Many of those things are now carefully packed away in boxes, stored in my basement.  One day, when Hayley is more permanently settled, I’ll send whatever she wants.  I’m glad that I was able to preserve a little of her personal history from before the heavy drug use years.  She deserves that.

Back to the present: as we stood in Hayley’s room at the California apartment, I was both glad and sad – so happy that she has a clean, safe place to live – and sad, that at age 32, she has to completely start her life over.  My daughter is 32 years old and doesn’t possess much of anything.  Although she did get a dresser and bed for herself when she moved in to this apartment, she could never fully furnish one on her own.  And at one time, she did have everything to make a comfortable home for herself, but lost it all to drugs.  It breaks my heart – and, yet, I have to remind myself that it’s just stuff  – that the most important thing Hayley now owns, is her sobriety.  And as long as she maintains that, the rest will come.

Hayley also has a dog – a 6 month old Shih Tzu/Yorkie puppy, named Bear. She has had three similar dogs over the last few years and lost them all, in one way or another, to drug use.  I know how much she loves dogs – and what they provide for her – a lot of comfort and affection – and relief from the stress and pressures of life.  She has repeatedly told me that her dogs literally saved her life in the last few years.  However, a dog is also a huge responsibility, can be expensive to care for, and limits housing and work options.  She reluctantly told me about the dog a couple of months, knowing I would eventually find out about him – and that I would most likely disapprove of this unnecessary encumbrance.  But – I tried to be positive and not allow this darling little bundle of fur to serve as another trigger of anxiety and worry for myself.  Is this dog a diversion from the hard, daily work of recovery where Hayley’s attention should be focused?  Or, is he a valuable source of love and companionship during this vulnerable time?  We’ll see.

Basically, my daughter and I spent the four days we had together sunning and talking by my hotel pool, going on long walks along the beach, out to dinner with some of her friends in recovery, and doing a little shopping.  May 9th, the day after I arrived, was her actual One Year ‘birthday’.  A little before 7:00 pm, we picked up her boyfriend, Rob, who has been in recovery for over two years, and went to a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting.  It was huge – and full of people Hayley knew. A van and SUV  full of girls/women from the treatment center where Hayely works, arrived for the meeting.  Everyone in the room was eating candy, a common trait for recovering heroin addicts – and most smoked (outside, before/after the meeting. Hayley and Rob were both trying to quit smoking, again, and as of today, they haven’t smoked in about 6 weeks.)  It was a good meeting – and Hayley spoke, tearfully telling the group that that day was her One Year birthday– and that her mom, me, was there to celebrate with her.  She said, “My mom was the one person who never gave up on me, and I’m so grateful.”  I, of course, sobbed with emotion.  I also said a few words – and after the meeting, many young people came up to hug me and said they were glad I was there – that they missed their family and hoped they could one day share such a special day with their parents.  I was so touched, and honored to be amongst so many courageous people, working hard to maintain their sobriety.

After the NA meeting, Hayley, Rob and I went out for a lovely dinner where I was able to get to know Rob better.  He’s a lot younger than Hayley, but is a wonderful young man – deeply committed to his sobriety and recovery program, a very hard worker, and  crazy about my daughter.  They support each other in many ways, so – – – I guess it’s good, right?

On Tuesday afternoon, Hayley, Rob, and I walked along the beach to a street fair in Huntington Beach, just one-mile from my hotel.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and we had fun browsing through the vendors’ stalls on Main Street.  We arrived back at my hotel ~ 4:00 pm.  Rob left and Hayley and I leisurely showered and dressed for the gathering/dinner that night with friends, to celebrate Hayley’s One Year.  It was then that Hayley couldn’t find her phone.  We tried to call Rob to see if he had it – no answer.  We had to make a choice – either go back to the street fair to try to find Hayley’s phone  (since we were afraid that most of the vendors would be gone the next day, with no way of tracking who/where they were) – or, go to the celebratory gathering where we were due in thirty minutes.  Hayley was certain that Rob must have her phone.  I was sure he didn’t.  I remembered that Rob had carefully emptied our things out of his backpack before leaving that afternoon.  I tried not to over-react – but internally, I quickly accelerated in to panic mode.  If she had left her phone at the street fair, how would we ever recover it?  And if it was lost for good, how would we/she communicate while I was visiting?  I was leaving the next day – should I try to buy her a new phone before I left, if necessary?  Would there be time? Would that be enabling?

I admit, I almost let this incident ruin my entire trip.  We ultimately went to her One Year dinner with about 8 of her friends in recovery.  When Hayley announced that I was stressed out about the lost phone, one guest gently said, “Come on – it’s just a phone.  Let’s celebrate Hayley’s hard work and new life.”  I tried – but still was obsessing about the lost phone.  After dinner, I called her phone number many times, hoping someone would pick up.  Then I texted this message:  This is a lost phone.  If you have it, please call me at ———-. THAT, I thought, was a genius move on my part.  I didn’t sleep much that night, fretting about what to do.  Mostly, I was trying to figure out my role.  Should I help Hayley get a new phone the next day, or not?  She had virtually no money – was barely scraping by, earning just $11/hour at the treatment center where she worked full time. I read some pearls from my Al-Anon Courage to Change book and decided to try to Let Go And Let God – that I really didn’t have any control over the situation and to have a little faith that it would all work out.

And then, at 8:30 am the next morning, my cell phone rang. The woman’s voice on the other end said, “We found this phone at our beach apparel store.  Does it belong to someone you know”.  You can imagine my ecstatic relief.  When I picked up the phone an hour or so later at the beach shop, I was sooooo grateful to this honest young woman/clerk, who had found Hayley’s phone – and had decided to call the number of the last phone  call received.  That was me!  And no, she had not seen the clever text I had sent about the lost phone.  So – three big lessons:  I’m not such a smarty pants afterall; AND, things often do work out, as they’re meant to.  ( I wonder if I would have felt this way if the phone had remained lost?) AND, here is the most important one of all, as quoted from Al-Anon’s book, Courage To ChangeAs wonderful as it is to see a loved one find sobriety, it often presents a whole new set of challenges.  After all the years of waiting, many of us are dismayed when sobriety does not bring the happily-ever-after ending we’ve awaited.  . . . problems that we always attributed to alcohol or drugs may persist, even though the ‘use’ has stopped.   I came to the realization that Hayley will probably always be misplacing her cell phone, or her car keys, or whatever – that sobriety doesn’t necessarily change basic personality traits or behavior patterns.  And, I cannot rescue my daughter from natural  consequences resulting from how she lives her life.

Hayley picked me up at about noon that day.  I checked out of the hotel and we ran a few errands.  My plane didn’t leave until 7:30 pm that night.  Hayley works the 4:00 pm – midnight shift at the treatment center and the plan was for me to go to work with her for a couple of hours and then she’d take me to the airport. We arrived at Safe Harbor‘s Capella House, where Hayley had been a ‘patient’ just nine months before. (A Safe Harbor)

She is a trusted and valued member of the treatment center’s staff – and she is so good at what she does!   She supervises and monitors twenty women at Capella – and counsels them, mentors them, problem solves with them.  She’s got the frigg’in keys to the meds cabinet, for crying out loud!  Yes, she dispenses their medications!   She also has become the designated staff person to pick up an especially difficult new patient at the airport.  Hayley is the first person that a troubled/angry/frightened addict encounters on her path towards recovery.  Her ability to calm down and reassure an agitated newcomer, is respected and appreciated.  I was totally in awe of my daughter and how she conducted herself at work – and  I couldn’t believe that I was there to witness it.

Working at the treatment center is a wonderful opportunity for Hayley – and is a healthy, supportive environment for her right now as she builds some confidence and life skills.  However, the reality is that she only earns $11.00/hr.  It’s not a sustainable living wage, especially in southern California.  Yet, Hayley  hasn’t asked for any help and takes pride in being able to make a ‘go’ of it, thusfar.  I don’t know how this is possible.  There’s certainly no cushion for any unbudgeted expenses that arise.  She has no health insurance, needs thousands of dollars of dental work to preserve her teeth, needs regular blood testing to monitor a chronic health condition, will need to keep her car serviced, and insured, etc.  How will she be able to manage all of this?  Will these daunting financial pressures trigger a relapse?

And there I go, AGAIN.  I am future-tripping in to the dangerous land of “What-Ifs”. And when I do that, I rob myself of the joy of today – and lose sight of how far my daughter has come in one year’s time.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, I, too, am in recovery –  from my daughter’s addiction.  And I still have so much to learn, and so far to go.

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Mother’s Day Gift

Posted on May 4, 2011. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, Intervention, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Next Sunday, on Mother’s Day, I will fly to southern California to be with my 32 year old daughter, Hayley, and celebrate her one year clean and sober ‘birthday/anniversary’.  I can hardly believe this milestone.  It is truly a miracle. A year ago at this time, my daughter was very close to death, in my opinion.  She was an active heroin addict, living a very abusive, risky, dangerous lifestyle in a crack house.  Her likely life outcomes had boiled down to an untimely death by overdose, violence, infection or, going to jail.

I’ve always reveled in the first week of May with all its warmth, new growth, beauty and fragrance.  EVERYTHING  is in bloom – from forsythia to tulips to lilacs to all the thousands of fruit trees in our valley – apple, pear, apricot, peach, cherry, plum.  (After all, we are the “Fruit Bowl of the Nation”.)  However, when I think back to this time a year ago, I can still viscerally feel the fear, panic, desperation, and helplessness that filled my days as we counted down to our ‘rescue’ attempt, on Saturday, May 8th, and getting my daughter out of the crack house and in to treatment.  We didn’t know if it work, or if it would be in time. And so, this time of year has now taken on a different kind of feeling and pallor.  Despite the loveliness and allure of the season, it will also forever be a grim reminder of what could have been.

Here are a few excerpts from my blog posts during that week a year ago, leading up to Hayley’s ‘escape’ from the crack house and her desperate/dangerous life of addiction.  Click on the post name to read the full post:

May 2, 2010 “Getting Well:

Over this past week, Hayley announced she was ready for treatment. She said she is tired of being ‘sick’ – as in ‘dope sick’, which translates to: “I can’t easily get my drugs any more and don’t want to go through withdrawal every day.”

Friday, Hayley called me and asked if I would take her to DSHS (state welfare office), to apply for food stamps and the state-funded drug treatment program.  (I hadn’t seen or talked to her since her birthday, on April 6th.  And, as you may recall, I hadn’t seen her, prior to that meeting, since last August.)  I told her I would, fixed a peanut butter sandwich for her, and picked her up at the crack house.  She looked terrible –thin and pale with over-sized men’s slippers on her swollen, abscessed feet, dirty clothes, and a hat pulled down over ½ her face.  An overall gray pallor had washed over her – every part of her was faded.  It was difficult to just look at her, let alone, be with her. 

“I should be a phlebotemist”, she quipped, as we drove. “I’m really good at finding veins, especially on other people,” she proudly announced, and then showed me her red, throbbing foot where she had not had any luck that morning. And the irony here is, that professionally, I was well known for my phlebotomy skills.  She added, “Yeah, I’ve often said that I wish my mom were here.”  Some type of weird chortle/sound bubbled up and out of my throat.

(click here to read more)

May 6, 2010:  Ready, Set, . . . Go!

My daughter says she is “ready” to go to treatment. And so, after a very intense and frenzied 10 days or so, we are “set”.  Now, we just have to “go”.

Waiting for the “go” is the hard part.  There’s way too much time from now until Saturday morning at 9:00 am when I’m scheduled to pick Hayley up at the crack house, drive 3 hours to the airport, and send her off.  Will she truly be ready?

We have definitely reached a major milestone.  A couple of weeks ago, after virtually no contact with Hayley for ~ eight months, I decided that she might never get herself to treatment, and needed a “hand up”. If the heroin and other drugs didn’t kill her, the dangerous lifestyle would.  She has never been to a drug treatment program, and I felt she deserved a chance – – – to change her life, to get clean and sober. I know how her brain works – and understand her anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.  Since seeing her on her birthday, April 6th, she has been saying to friends and some family members that she wants to go to treatment. In reality, I suspected that her shift in attitude was due to her drug supply being seriously interrupted.  After the crack house was raided a couple of months ago, she no longer had easy access to her drugs.  Whatever . . . in order to be able to live with myself and know that I had done everything possible to help my daughter, I decided to take this “ball” of opportunity, and run with it. (click here to read more)

May 8th finally arrived – and after weeks of planning, and with much drama and harrowing, unpredictable events leading up to our actual departure, Hayley did get on the plane to California, with her brother as chaperone, to detox and treatment.  This next post could have been named, “Mission Accomplished“. There were so many factors outside of our control that could have derailed the intricate rescue plan .  In fact, many things did go wrong – but many went right. Moments before getting in to the car to drive to the airport three hours away, Hayley was “arrested” by a bail bondsman’s scary-looking  ‘strong man’ and marched across the street to jail.  I considered all sorts of desperate measures in those few panicked minutes – – – you can read all about it in the full post.  Here’s an excerpt:

May 10, 2010:  AND . . . She’s Off And Running

The “rescue”/departure plan was intricate and tightly scheduled.  We needed to be on the road by 9:00 am Saturday morning in order to connect with her brothers,  Brian and Jake, and then make the plane flight at 2:30 pm.  I was a nervous wreck.  So much could go wrong.

There was just a bit too much time between Thursday and Saturday, in my opinion, to be able to successfully pull this mission off – too much time for Hayley to change her mind, to OD, to have the plan sabotaged in some way by her drug addict ‘family’.  On Friday afternoon, I tried to call Hayley to just check in, and got a message from Paula’s phone that it could no longer receive messages.  I went ballistic – – – my mind catapulted to the worst-case scenario in a millisecond.

Finally, after many phone calls, Paula did pick up – and handed her phone over to Hayley.  “I’m fine, Mom”, Hayley chirped.  I burst in to tears.  “When I couldn’t reach you, Hayley, I thought the worst.  I’ll pick you up at 8:45 am.  Be ready. And if you need or want me to pick you up anytime earlier, just call.”

Friday afternoon and evening flew by, with all my packing and organizing for Hayley.  There were lots of details – and, I was in my highest level of obsessive-compulsive mode.  It was getting closer – – – a chance for Hayley.

I went to bed and was amazed to actually fall asleep.  And then, at 5:30 am on Saturday morning, the phone rang.  I bolted upright in a daze, my heart pounding out of my chest.  “Can you come get me”, Hayley sobbed.  I didn’t know what was wrong – or what I’d find when I arrived, but I quickly dressed and flew out the door. (read the rest of the scary details here)

 

For about an hour on Saturday, I was with my three children – all of us together at the same time, on the same team, to get Hayley help and out of the risky lifestyle she had been living in for over a year. It was a miracle – – – and the best Mother’s Day present imaginable.  However, now comes the waiting.  Will she stick it out? Can she schmooze her way through a team of professionals like she did in 2002 at the eating disorder treatment center? Who and what has she become?  Can you “undo” ways of thinking and behaving?

P.S.  I drove back home from delivering Hayley to my sons, yesterday, and this morning got back in my car and drove two hours to spend Mother’s Day with my 92 yo mother.  At around 1:00 pm at brunch, my phone rang.  It was the detox center, and my heart sank.  “Hi – – – this is Megan at First House Detox”, she said.  “Normally, phone calls aren’t allowed, but I have your daughter here and she wants to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.”  I was thrilled to hear Hayley’s voice. She sounded good.  Her message to me was sweet and sincere.  She seemed pleased that she had slept so long that now, it was time for her first suboxone dose.  Hmmmmmm.  That phone call was testimony to Hayley’s incredible persuasion skills.  I just hope that the treatment center staff is up to dealing with them. 

 Now, here I am, getting myself ready to visit Hayley and her new life in southern California. Almost a year ago, she spent 12 days in medical detox, 120 days in a small, all-women’s long term treatment center, has totally embraced and is working a 12 step recovery program, lived in a sober living house for 5 months, bought a used car, moved to an apartment with two other young women in recovery, and is working full time at the treatment center from which she ‘graduated’.  Now she picks up clients at the airport and supervises/counsels addicts in recovery. Hayley has become a trusted staff member at the treatment center. Still, it’s “one day at a time”.

On Sunday evening, May 8th, Hayley, with a few good friends and myself, will participate in the “Watch”, a ritualized party, of sorts, held during the last couple of hours leading up to the recovering addict’s one year ‘birthday’.  We will gather to celebrate and support Hayley’s sobriety as the clock ticks toward midnight and May 9th – her actual anniversary date.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day.

On Mother’s Day, one year ago, my daughter began her journey to recovery.  It was the first day in probably 15 years that she didn’t chew, swallow, inhale, snort, drink, smoke, or inject a chemical substance that altered her consciousness in some way.  What a gift – not only to ME, but to herself, as well.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ME . . . AND TO ALL OF YOU MOMS OUT THERE!

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One Year Ago . . .

Posted on April 6, 2011. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, Intervention, Parent of an Addict, The Bottom, Treatment Centers, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I just spoke with my daughter, Hayley, who has been in recovery from heroin/crack/alcohol addiction since last May 9th.  Tomorrow, April 6th, is her 32nd birthday.  She called to tell me that she had just had a wonderful dinner with her older brother, Jake, and his wife, Megan, who were in southern California attending a business meeting.  “It was so good seeing them,” she said – and “I really do miss my family so much.”  She went on to say that she had also re-connected with her original AA sponsor, Brooke –  which was a ‘big deal’ in a number of ways.  Hayley had let this relationship slip over the past few months and, hence, hadn’t been actively working through the 12 steps of her recovery program.  Having a good sponsor, with whom you relate, is  a wonderful resource in recovery: for general advice, a cheerleader when you need comfort and/or support, someone to hold you accountable and check in with.  Hayley  realized that she needed to ‘make amends’ to Brooke – and re-establish this important sponsee-sponsor relationship.  And apparently, she pushed aside her ego and called Brooke.  They met yesterday, and Hayley said it felt really good – that she will try to do things differently this time.

All of this was very good news for me, on the eve of my daughter’s birthday.  And, I couldn’t help but think back to a year ago at this time, when circumstances were very different, and I was getting ready to meet with my daughter for the first time in seven months.  In June 2009, I had learned that Hayley had become a heroin/crack cocaine addict and was living in a crack house.  A couple of months later (August 2009), she had reached out and asked for help – specifically, would I get her in to a medical detox facility?  She had managed to get herself out of the crack house and had found a safe place to stay for a few days.   She was dope sick, covered with abscesses, and desperate for help.  Of course, I donned my ‘supermom cape’, and whirled in to action. 

The logistics of quickly getting Hayley in to a medical detox facility were complicated, since there was no such facility here, in our small-ish city, and no available beds in the detox facilities 150 miles away.  We needed to first get her on antibiotics to treat the abscesses, before any facility would take her (MRSA risk). And, I procured some hydrocodone for her, to try to keep her off the heroin and away from the crack house. After 72 hours of constant phone calls and involved paperwork, and buying food and clothes for my daughter, and checking in on her, and trying to keep her hopeful and moving forward, and not using heroin (this was my fantasy, as it turned out), a bed finally became available at midnight, and I drove Hayley three hours to the detox facility.  The plan was, after detoxing for ~ 5 days, Hayley would go directly to a women’s treatment center 50 miles away.  However, after 4 days in detox, Hayley walked out AMA (against medical advice) and talked a taxi drive in to driving her the 150 miles back to our town – and her drug life.  One of the many ironies in this chain of events, was that the crack house wouldn’t take her back!  Can you imagine? This is a whole story, in and of itself. 

We decided as a family, at that point, to pull back and let Hayley really hit “bottom” –  to let her feel the full impact of her life choices, hoping that this approach would jolt her in to seeking recovery on her own.  She’s smart.  She’s resourceful, and I truly believed that she knew where to go to get help for herself.

And so, for the next 7 – 8 months, we had little to no contact with her – just an occasional text, since the failed treatment attempt.  During that time, I was desperate with fear and worry, and felt overwhelmed with helplessness. However, after about 5 months of not speaking to or seeing her, I had reached some kind of “tipping point”, and decided to try to contact her. It all started with a text, then a phone call, and then a few more, culminating in my determination to actually see my daughter on her birthday in April.  We had re-established enough of a connection to build the foundation of trust and desire necessary for our eventual birthday meeting.  I was convinced that Hayley’s life was at stake and time was running out –  that I needed to make one last valiant attempt to help her get the help she needed to change her life.  If I could appeal to her and tell her, face to face, how much I loved her – – – and that we, her family, would help her get the help she needed when she was ready, maybe it would make a difference. I had to try.

My reaching out to Hayley was influenced, in part, by Tom, a drug counselor at the  Recovery Helpdesk blog, who made a good case for challenging the notion of  Hitting Bottom– that ” . . . an opiate dependent person does not have full exercise of their free will.  Their free will is compromised.” And, ” Opiate dependence is powerful enough and the opiate dependent person’s free will is compromised enough, that waiting for the person to “hit bottom” can mean the person goes on to experience HIV infection, Hepatitis C infection, unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, loss of child custody, loss of family relationships, risk of violence, or worse.”

It was uncomfortable to read this, because it challenged our family’s position that Hayley needed to feel enough pain before seeking help, which was what most professionals/groups/literature advocated.  Leaving Hayley alone for 7 months hadn’t really had the effect we had hoped for – she just seemed to spiral further down in to the deep dark hole of addiction and become more entrenched in her risky lifestyle.  And from what I could tell, she was getting more desperate – dope sick almost every day, no money for drugs, let alone food.  I was driving myself crazy contemplating how my daughter might be getting her drugs.

My post, Birthday Gifts, gives you the details of my preparation for this crucial meeting with my heroin addict daughter.  And Yes . . . She’s Still in There is the account of the actual meeting.

Thinking back to this time a year ago, is still very painful – and a frightening reminder of how close we came to losing our daughter completely.  But, it also is a powerful testament to hope – and miracles –  and how the most desperate circumstances can change.

There are so many variables that affect an addict’s recovery – timing being one of them. Apparently, for Hayley, the combination of our birthday meeting, followed by a crucial/random phone call from an acquaintance, subsequent phone calls and texts from family members, and other serendipity events –  all came together in to a powerful vortex that started to draw her in – and remind her of the ‘normal’ world and life she had left;  that there was a possibility of a different kind of life; and maybe she could accept help.  Escalating physical abuse at the crack house was the final straw – and when her dope dealer ‘boyfriend’, Bill, confiscated her “blankie” and threatened to burn it, the switch flipped.  Who knew, or could predict, that these somewhat arbitrary events could converge in to the powerful push my daughter needed to walk away from her life of addiction.

A phrase of drug counselor Tom’s, at Recovery Deskhelp, kept running through my head: that taking action to enable recovery is very different than enabling the addict’s drug use.  I was convinced that my daughter was incapable of getting the help she wanted or needed – that navigating the complicated labyrinth of getting herself into a detox/treatment center, was too overwhelming – and I was right.  I am grateful to Tom for articulating what I felt in my gut – and for his strong voice in advocating harm reduction and a wide range of recovery options for drug addicts.

Tom’s most recent post at Recoverydesk, Tough Love Delays Recovery For Heroin Addicts,  is especially relevant to this discussion and his view that “enabling” and “tough love” are the two “black and white” extremes – both of which can be harmful to the drug addict’s recovery.  There’s a lot of gray area in between that is sensible and reasonable and should be considered.   

I ended my post, Open For Business, a little over a year ago, with this:

Hayley’s birthday is a little over a week away.  She’ll be 31 years old.  What do I get her for her birthday?  What does one buy, wrap up, and deliver to their heroin-addicted child?  I know, I know – love, encouragement, hope – – – and recovery, are what she needs most.  At this point, I just don’t know how to give and get those gifts to her.

I guess my point in recounting all of this is, to never give upthat as long as ‘your’ drug addict is still alive, there is hope for recovery.  My daughter is living proof of this miracle.

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Hangover

Posted on March 28, 2011. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , |

This morning I feel like I have a horrible hangover – only it’s not due to drinking too much alcohol last night, but from an intense few days of catastrophic anxiety and “mind-tripping”.  I made myself crazy – almost sick, when I couldn’t get a hold of my daughter for 3 days.  Her cell phone voice mailbox was full, and after a while, I started imagining all the worst-case scenarios – from lying in a gutter with a needle in her arm to ‘merely’ losing her phone – which was, in my mind, not so benign, but the first tell-tale sign that she was likely on the road to relapse.

It started a few days ago, when I received a phone call from my financial adviser at a local brokerage firm where my daughter, Hayley, had recently opened an account. She sold some stock that had been given to her almost 25 years ago, in order to buy a car.  There were a few thousand dollars left over in stock that “Mike” is now managing.  He’s been trying to reach Hayley for a week or so to follow-up with some important paperwork. Mike wondered if there was another phone number he could use to reach her, since her voice mailbox was full and couldn’t receive any more messages.

Almost ten days ago when I finally got through to Hayley after receiving the same automated message, she had promised me that she would clear out her message box.  I HATE it when I call Hayley, and if she doesn’t pick up, I can’t even leave a message. It not only aggravates the hell out of me – it also sends me in to a ‘catastrophic’ orbit.  When she was using drugs, it was the norm – and due to, I thought, her chaotic lifestyle. But now, after being in recovery for eleven months, I don’t understand why she doesn’t tend to this detail of life.  Why would anyone let so many phone messages back up until the phone can’t handle any more?  What if there was a family emergency and I needed to reach her? What if a potential employer was returning a phone call? What if, what if, what if . . . ?

I texted Hayley, sent her emails and messages on Facebook – and even sent a Facebook message to her boyfriend, asking if she was ok.  It took Hayley almost three days to call me and say, “Mom – relax – I’m fine”.  I was definitely relieved to hear from her – but also had to work hard at keeping my rage in check.  When I asked her why it had taken so long to get back to me, she gave some feeble excuse about “not feeling like it”, or being too busy, etc.  And then I quietly asked, “Do you think you were being just a little mean in not letting me know you were ok?”  She did acknowledge, rather begrudgingly, that she was being insensitive and yes, a little mean, in not responding sooner.

When we hung up, I was mad at myself for being so distraught the last few days and letting my anxiety spiral out of control.  And, I was mad at Hayley, for being so irresponsible and insensitive, given her history.  But this incident also triggered a huge reality check for me.  It forced me to acknowledge several things:

•that getting sober didn’t necessarily change some of my daughter’s innate personality quirks, priorities, and personal style

•that I have no control over my daughter and what she does or doesn’t do

•that my ideas about how to live/organize one’s life, are not universal truths

•that I have a long ways to go in my own recovery process

I’m working on Step One of AA’s 12 steps with my Al-Anon sponsor:  We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or any addiction) – that our lives had become unmanageable.

My life becomes unmanageable when I get obsessed with worry over things I can’t control – namely, my daughter’s addiction, recovery, and personal style,  to name a few.  I shake my head in amazement when Hayley makes choices that seem to make her life harder – unnecessarily, in my opinion.  My Al-Anon sponsor made me write down 5 times:  Hayley’s life is none of my business. She pointed out that I want other people to change to make my own life more comfortable.  And then she asked, “Where is Peggy”?  Who am I and what do I care about when I’m not obsessed with my daughter’s life? That is what needs to be my focus, is authentically/legitimately my business, and will be my ongoing personal work and journey.

I read somewhere that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.  We need to learn to accept that pain as a part of life – then move on. Al-Anon helps me to accept what is.  I don’t have to like the reality, only accept it for what it is.  When I accept everything as it is, I tend to be reasonably serene. When I spend my time wishing things were different, I know that serenity has lost its priority. While I’m responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind. (Courage To Change)

Part of the acceptance process is grieving and loss – the loss of what I wanted for my daughter and expected of her: becoming an independent, productive adult; trust; a reciprocal and satisfying relationship; help and support when I need it; the last ten years of life together.  Acknowledging that my dreams of what my daughter’s life would be were not, or ever would be, the reality; and allowing myself to actually feel that loss, brings freedom, I’m told – freedom from fear and resulting in the simple joy of living fully in the present moment. I can intellectually believe this is what I need to do – but living it is another thing.  It will be a constant challenge for me.  Al-Anon’s slogan of “Progress, not perfection”, keeps me going, One Day At A Time.

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Recovery Helpdesk

Posted on March 27, 2011. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , |

My last post was a request from Tom, at Recovery Helpdesk, to recruit participants for his Recovery Moms Survey. I have found Tom’s blog, Recovery Helpdesk, to be a great resource for information about opiate addiction and recovery. (Opiates include heroin and pain killers like OxyContin.) As the mother of a heroin addict (who is now, thankfully, in recovery), I searched frantically to find accurate information about heroin addiction and how/where to get help.  Recovery Helpdesk was one of the places I ‘landed’, and I visit this site often.  Tom is a professional drug counselor, and his postings are always very informative, passionate, and sometimes, provocative. There seems to be a lot of controversy and debate surrounding the use of medication-assisted treatment programs for opiate addicts.  Many 12 Step Recovery Programs don’t approve of their use – and insist that addicts are merely substituting one drug for another, and are not in ‘true’ recovery.  Since Tom is an advocate for the use of suboxone and methadone as possible treatment options for opiate addiction, I wondered about how he came to feel so strongly.  Was he in recovery himself and using suboxone/methadone?  I asked him these questions, and here was his response: (with Tom’s permission)

Peggy,

Thanks for posting about the survey!  I am a professional drug counselor, and I supervise a specialized program (which I started over 10 years ago) for people who are opiate dependent at a large mental health and drug treatment non-profit.  I’m not personally in recovery.  I do have what I experience as a “calling” to work with people who are opiate dependent.  I also have a public health perspective in my work, and previously worked on public health initiatives both for non-profits and the government.  I think this is another reason I have a different perspective in my view of addiction.  I see addiction and recovery in health terms (separate from the debate over the “disease mode” of addiction, it’s clear that addiction and recovery affect personal and public health).

The funny thing about the medication-assisted treatment issue is that I don’t see myself as an “advocate” of these treatments.  I see myself as an advocate for people who are opiate dependent and their families, but not of any particular treatment.

In my own work with clients, my focus is on helping clients recognize their full range of recovery supports/treatment options and helping them figure out when and how the various supports work together to create a solid recovery plan.

I had the experience of working in a state with no methadone and pre-Suboxone.  Then the town I work in became the site for one of the Suboxone clinical trials.  And eventually, we also got a methadone clinic, and Suboxone was FDA approved.  So I kind of got to see the contrast between before and after medication-assisted treatment became available as part of the menu of options.  It was a big difference.  So I very much recognize the value of these treatments.  That’s one reason I think I’m perceived as an “advocate” for methadone and Suboxone (because I am very clear that they are valuable options).

The other reason is because I talk about these options a lot.  But to me this is in reaction to the huge amount of negativity about these options coming from some treatment providers, self-help groups and even some people living with opiate dependence.  I feel like I have to provide a lot of info to counter the stigma/misinformation just to get people to consider the option.

In my own work, we educate people about all of the options, help them understand the pros and cons of each and when each is more useful and less useful, help people identify and remove barriers including psychological barriers related to stigma and barriers related to holding on to myths or misinformation.  This is something I think is lacking for a lot of people –they don’t have someone knowledgeable to explore all options with.  Instead, they encounter a series of treatment providers each focused on the treatment they happen to provide.

Hope this helps clarify.  I really should do a post on this because I think a lot of people probably have the same perceptions/questions.

Tom

I guess I need to add my own disclaimer here, that I don’t necessarily support or endorse the use of suboxone and methadone as preferred treatment protocols – but that they are options in a wide range of treatment plans and can be used when indicated and recommended by licensed professionals.

I encourage you to visit Tom’s site and explore all the information that he has gathered there, to better help all of us affected by the disease of addiction. And, with the intent of providing a balance of information, here’s another perspective on the use of suboxone as a ‘maintenance’ drug for recovery, from Dr. Steven Scanlan, in an interview on one of my favorite recovery blogs, Guinevere Gets Sober. Steven Scanlan, M.D. is board-certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. In his practice, Palm Beach Outpatient Detox (PBOD), on the Florida coast, he has detoxed more than a thousand patients off many drugs, including alcohol, benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, etc.), and sleep aids. But his specialty is opiate detox.  Dr. Scanlan is a recovering drug addict, himself.  Read about why he thinks suboxone is an amazing detox tool, but a monster maintenance drug.

I hope you can find some useful and helpful information at Recovery Helpdesk, as well as other recovery sites I’ve listed to the right.


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