Parent of an Addict
I 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 stones 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.
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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. 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:
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?
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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A Merry Christmas Eve to all my readers. This is a difficult time of year. For inspiration and hopefully, comfort, I’ve included today’s post from one of my favorite authors/bloggers, Dr. Brene Brown. Her blog, Ordinary Courage, explores vulnerability, authenticity, and the journey towards leading, what she calls, a wholehearted life. We need to practice self care – you know, the concept of placing the oxygen mask on yourself first in an emergency so you can then help others? I encourage you to visit Dr. Brown’s blog. It reminds me to keep trying to live my own best life. Take care of yourselves.
Finding Magic in the Mess:
The holidays are a perfectionism minefield. My expectations always need radical reality-checking this time of year and that normally comes in the form of a total meltdown. The good news is that I often have a lot more fun on the backside of my breakdown when I start letting go and leaning into the crazy.
As I think about my own life and reflect upon what many of the people around me are going through this Christmas, it’s clear that struggle doesn’t take off for the holidays. The gremlins don’t go on vacation. Checks bounce, chemotherapy appointments are scheduled, relationships keep unravelling, being alone feels even lonelier, and the “never enoughs” are in full swing.
As I prepare to spend the next week with my big, wonderful, crazy family, I’ve decided to find my holiday magic in the mess; to practice love and gratitude with the special group of folks who keep showing up and loving me, not despite my vulnerabilities, but because of them.
Wishing you a blessed mess and a Wholehearted 2012! Dr. Brene Brown
She was euphoric when she called. The treatment center where she works full time was finally offering her health insurance. She was feeling a huge sense of relief and accomplishment – that she could now pull herself back from teetering on that precarious cliff edge of no healthcare coverage – where any medical emergency, let alone the preventative and routine healthcare visits she needs, could plunge her down in to an abyss of lifetime debt – and yet another deep, dark hole to climb out of. Making just $11.00/hr is really not enough to fully support herself – although, she has been making a valiant effort to do so. And, for some reason, up to now, her employer hadn’t either been pressed to offer health insurance – or Hayley didn’t qualify in some way.
Mom, would you please send my birth certificate? I’ll send it right back to you.
This important piece of paper has been in my safe for her entire life, and I felt a bit nervous letting go of it. Yes, my 32 yo daughter, who has been in recovery from heroin addiction for ~ 18 months, should probably have this personal legal document in her possession – – – and keep track of it. But her track record regarding these kinds of things, is abysmal. (Come to think of it, I also have my two adult sons’ birth certificates in my safe. Is this just something that mothers do?)
However, I sent it – certified mail, so it could be tracked. My confidence in the US Postal Service is sketchy, at best. And due to increased national security and immigration politics/issues, the process for replacing an original birth certificate these days is a herculean task that requires a lot of time, documentation, and persistence. There was a deadline pending for Hayley to choose a specific health care plan and get all the application paperwork in – and nothing could be processed without the birth certificate.
I did a somewhat restrained/succinct version of encouraging her to carefully research the coverage and details of the insurance plans – and was proud of myself for not offering to do it for her! I figured that since she called to ‘chat’ about the pending health insurance, she was looking for my input, right?
After a week to ten days had passed, and she still hadn’t received the birth certificate, I settled in to a funk. I bounced between anger and panic – mad at the inept/bureaucratic government and postal service, at Hayley for not allowing enough time for snafus, and anxious that this delay would result in Hayley not being able to get the health insurance she so desperately needs. To top it off, I had misplaced the certified mail receipt, so had no way of tracking the envelope. Now, I was also mad at myself.
A couple of days ago, Hayley called to say:
The good news is, I finally received the envelope with my birth certificate. Thanks, Mom. And the bad news is, (I held my breath!!!!!) I guess my place of employment isn’t offering health insurance. After I turned in all my paper work, they announced that there weren’t enough employees interested in participating (?) at our small facility – but that maybe I could apply for a job at one of the other, larger treatment houses in the complex where they do offer health insurance.
In the discussion that followed, there were glimpses of Hayley’s all too familiar indignant and entitled attitudes from years past: They can’t do that! I listened and tried to be as encouraging and supportive as I could. But, I also couldn’t help myself from giving her a dose of reality:
Make a case for yourself, Hayley. Ask for what you want/deserve – in writing. Remind them what a valuable employee you are and what skills you bring to their treatment center and program. And do a little research about California State Law and what small businesses are required to provide to their employees.
I don’t have time for all of that, Mom, she whined.
And I responded with:
Join the club, Honey – and real life. Most working people have a myriad of responsibilities they need to tend to on their days/time off. It’s hard, I know. But your health is at stake and it looks like it will take some homework to follow up on this. And be careful how you approach your employer. Document all your requests, comments, and questions. If you threaten them in any way, that they aren’t following the law regarding health insurance for employees, they could decide to terminate you based on some subjective ‘poor job performance’ evaluation. And the reality is, there are probably 20 other young women standing in line to take your job.
She didn’t like hearing this. She truly has no idea how much time and follow-up it takes to check billing statements, call and talk to health insurance companies about benefits, monitor and track all the details of life that crop up on a daily business.
I know I probably said too much in our phone conversation. The boundary between being a parent/ adviser and supporting recovery is fuzzy – for me, at least. I try to ration the amount and frequency of some basic ‘independent adult living’ knowledge that I dispense, which I don’t think Hayley ever acquired. You know what they say – that a drug addict’s emotional/social/cognitive development is essentially arrested back to when they started using and abusing substances. For Hayley, I figure that is 10 to 15 years ago. Plus, her brain chemistry has been changed – maybe forever – and who knows in what ways?
I’m trying to not be so afraid to speak the truth to Hayley – fearing that it could trigger a relapse. She’s had a history of being overwhelmed by life – and then numbing herself in order to cope – or push aside – or not deal with things. I want to nurture some confidence in herself – that she can handle these ups and downs, challenges, surprises of life; that it takes some work and follow-through to make things happen; and that it’s ok to feel frustrated and/or not know exactly what to do.
The truth is, I’m struggling with recovery, too – maybe even as much as Hayley. My drug of choice is worry – obsession with things over which I really have no control. I come by it honestly. My 94 year old mother is still actively ‘using’ worry to frame every conversation and choice she makes. Worry is at the center of who and how she defines herself. Is that what kind of life I want? Allowing obsessive worrying to rob me of the joy of today – and all the things I have to be grateful for?
I heard at an Al-Anon meeting last night that “Worry” is, in reality, a prayer to make something you don’t want, happen. Huh? After thinking about this for a long time, I got it. If I constantly worry about what could happen or the ‘worst-case scenario’, I am expending so much energy and thought towards that negative outcome, who knows – could I unintentionally tip the balance in that direction? My younger son, Brian, is convinced that what we send out in to the universe – our positive and negative thoughts, have power and a determining effect on what actually happens.
And so, right now – and for as long as I can, just today, I am sending out strength – and hope – and love to whomever needs it and will let themselves feel it – along with all the other sh*t floating around. We’re all in this together.
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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.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 17 so far )
And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round,
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came,
And go round and round and round in the circle game.
This Joanie Mitchell song, “The Circle Game” is a favorite of mine. I’ve listened to it since the early 70s. My daughter, Hayley, sang it for talent shows and various stage performances throughout high school. I wrote a poem about her beautiful, lilting voice and its eventual deafening silence called “Laryngitis”. You see – – – she lost her voice to drug addiction.
I live in a rich agricultural valley known as the “fruit bowl of the nation”. On both sides of my road are apple, pear, peach, and cherry orchards. From spring through fall, something is always in bloom, pollinating, growing, ripening, and/or being picked. Even winter’s hush and muffled silence are noticeable, as the bare trees rest and replenish themselves before warmer days invite them to begin again. The seasons come and go and shape my days. The cycle of life, so relentless and visible around me, continues on – with or without me.
I walk or run with my dog past this rich tapestry of change every day. It never fails to amaze and humble me – and today was no different. I was awestruck at how much the young green apples had grown and changed in color in just 24 hours. And, it occurred to me that this is the third crop of apples since my daughter became a heroin addict.
I quickly flashed back to August 2009, two years ago at this very time – on this same walk and route. Then, I was numb with the recent news that my beautiful, talented, well-educated thirty-year old daughter was injecting heroin in to her veins and living in a crack house. How was this possible? I felt desperate, and nauseous, and guilty. Why hadn’t I seen this coming? What could I have done to prevent such a horrific existence? What should I do? How could I rescue her? She was trapped, right – there against her will? She didn’t want to be a drug addict, did she? I could hardly feel my legs moving.
I started this blog in September of 2009, “helplessly hoping” to connect with other parents of heroin addicts. I needed some place/way to vent my deepest fears and anguish, share information, and get some emotional support – some experience, strength, and hope, in order to function – maybe even to survive this nightmare of my child’s addiction.
Those early posts are so raw and frightening, I have trouble reading them now.
Last year at this time, as I passed those very same apple trees, I felt a little lighter. I wasn’t holding myself so tightly. My breath came a little easier. The sky seemed bluer and the orchard scents slightly sweeter. My daughter was in recovery and had been drug free for a little over two months. The events leading up to May 9th, 2010 had been harrowing and had taken a huge toll on my family, my body, and my psyche. And yet, a year ago August, I allowed myself to feel a tiny shred of hope. I knew it was too soon to skip, and jump, and relax. But there was something to hang on to.
And now, just this morning, I ran past those very same trees. The apples look the same as in years past, but are different, of course. They aren’t the same apples as last year, or the year before. They will never be the same, and never will I. I have seen, and felt, and imagined things I never thought possible in the last two+ years.
Hayley was just home for 4 ½ days. She’s been clean and sober now for 15 months. We spent a long weekend at our summer lake cabin – a nostalgic gathering place for four generations of family members. My 94 year old mother was with us, as well as Hayley’s brother, Jake, and his family. Hayley hadn’t been there for many years. She was relaxed and engaged – and after three days, decided she needed a meeting. And on Sunday morning, she took herself to the closest AA meeting she could find. “You know how when you need a meeting”, she said, after returning home, “and you go and hear exactly what you needed to hear?” Well, yes, I do know about that. That has also been my experience with Al-Anon meetings.
I still hold my breath. I’ll never fully relax and feel confident about Hayley’s sobriety. But running past those orchards today, I felt some acceptance – and a healthier detachment from my daughter’s addiction and recovery.
And the seasons, they go ’round and ’round.
If you are a parent of a heroin addict, feeling helpless and hopeless, visit some of my earlier posts, particularly those leading up to my daughter walking away from the crack house and her desperate, dangerous drug addict lifestyle. As long as your ‘child’ is alive, there is hope:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
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 Good. Linden 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:
–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?
My daughter, Hayley, has been in recovery from heroin/crack cocaine (and anything else she could get her hands on) addiction for a little over a year. As I recounted in my last blog post, One Year, she has come a very long way. It’s a bloody miracle. After a harrowing escape plan to extricate her from the crack house where she was living, she spent 12 days in a medical detox facility, 90+ days at a small residential women’s treatment center, then moved to one of their sober living houses close by. After about 5 months, she was encouraged and invited to move into an apartment with two other younger women in recovery, all ‘graduates’ of the Safe Harbor Treatment Center program. I visited her last month to celebrate her One Year of sobriety, and was impressed (or shall we say, ‘blown away’?) by what I saw. The apartment was well furnished (by her roommates), clean, orderly, and located in a very secure complex/compound with lovely grounds. Hayley had her own bedroom – had even bought a bed, dresser, and bedside table. She was working full time at the treatment center, but only earning $11.00/hour. She was proud of the fact that she had been able to ‘make it’ on her own, without asking either me or her dad for money. Yet, things are very tight, financially, and don’t allow for any extras – including medical/dental expenses, car repairs, random, unplanned-for expenses, etc.
And now, after just getting really settled and in to a routine, her two roommates are moving, and Hayley needs to find another place to live.
There are complicating factors: she can’t financially afford an apartment on her own (the family of one of her roommates has been ‘helping’ with their rent); her credit score/record is so miserable, she could never sign/co-sign a lease; and, she has a dog – a darling dog, mind you, who brings Hayley so much joy and affection – – – but, is also a liability.
Hayley has known this was coming for a month or so – and has been diligently looking for potential roommates. She has cycled through quite a few possibilities, with all of them falling through due to one reason or another. And with the deadline looming on June 25th, I’m getting nervous. She’s stressed, too. She called last week to give me a lengthy update on the roommate and apartment choices that were left. And the one she’s settled on, isn’t ideal, which she acknowledges; yet, she feels it will ‘do’ until next fall when her preferred roommate choice, Kristin, will be ready to move to an apartment.
Here’s the plan: Hayley met a very nice ‘older’ guy in her apartment complex who has a little dog with whom Hayley’s dog, Bear, likes to play. This ‘Guy’ (don’t even know his name), is moving to a 2 bedroom apartment within the same complex, and offered to rent Hayley the second bedroom. She figures that this will be a temporary arrangement, until she can find a more ideal and permanent situation. Hayley has seen his current apartment – and says it’s well appointed and clean/neat. The ‘Guy’ would love to have Hayley’s dog around on a regular basis for his dog to play with. Hayley has discussed preliminary details with the ‘Guy’ – letting him know she has a serious boyfriend, setting clear boundaries, discussing expectations, etc. There’s internet service there, but still, her rent will be a little more than what she’s now paying. The ‘Guy’ has a cleaning person every couple of weeks – so Hayley offered to do the cleaning, for a slight reduction in rent. (YIKES! Her ‘clean’ standards are very different from mine! Will she actually be able to do this? Sounds iffy, to me)
The ‘Guy’, is also asking for a $500 deposit to cement the deal. Hayley indicated she would need help with this, which has already created a dilemma for me regarding ‘enabling’.
•is this guy really a pervert who will try to take advantage of/hit on my daughter?
•does he have some weird habits/quirks that Hayley will find out about only after moving in?
•is he honest and a good person, and someone who is just trying to help out some one in need?
•is this guy in recovery, himself? Or, will there be alcohol, at the very least, around?
JUST WHAT IS THIS GUY’S STORY?
And why am I so suspicious? Hayley’s past history with choosing roommates hasn’t been especially stellar. She’s always been able to convincingly rationalize why she’s moving in with so-and-so – and almost always, it has proven to be a disaster.
And, to further complicate matters, this new apartment won’t be ready for move-in until July 15th, which means Hayley will have to pack up and store her things in a friend’s garage, and ‘couch surf’ at friends’ for three weeks.
Can any of this work? Of course, I have no control over any of it, and need to just let it all go. I did pose some questions to Hayley for her to consider – which she did not take offense to, and seemed to have already thought of them.
I do believe there is a difference in enabling addiction and enabling recovery. In fact, I prefer to use the term, supporting recovery. If I give Hayley the $500 for the room deposit, I’m sure I’ll never see it again. I would need to give it “for fun and for free”, to quote an Al-Anon slogan. I’m glad that she’s not just automatically moving in with her boyfriend, Rob. And – – – I guess anything is better than the crack house, right?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
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 Change: As 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.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
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