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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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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A Book As A Bridge

Posted on July 14, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , |

My dear friend, Donna, is an avid reader.  She’s my ‘go to’ person for personal reviews of the best, most recent literature.  Some of you have undoubtedly read Donna’s comments on my blog posts.  Her words are always insightful, wise, balanced, authentic, and full of compassion.  I met Donna almost 8 years ago in Al-Anon.  Both of us were there for similar reasons – we each had  a daughter with a serious eating disorder.  Donna has since become one of my most trusted, cherished friends.

Years ago, I had read and loved Anne Lamott’s book:  Bird By Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life. And so, when Lamott’s latest book, Imperfect Birds, was released and reviewed recently, my interest was piqued.

However, I just haven’t had the time to read much lately, and since Donna had just finished Imperfect Birds, I asked her to jot down a few thoughts about the book.  

First, here is the New York Times ‘official’ review of that book:

If the novel has a fault, it’s that it almost works too hard, insisting on doing a little too much of our thinking for us. Occasionally I craved a bit more space, the room to slow down and analyze things for myself, to sweat toward my own, perhaps more ambiguous, conclusions. If I didn’t know Lamott was herself a recovering alcoholic, I think I would have guessed it. Just occasionally, all the supportive hugging and talk of higher powers made me want to pull back.

But Lamott nearly always tempers her understandable evangelism with honesty and humor. Laughter redeems this book, and so does the fact that it’s ultimately not just a novel about deception and drugs but about the great big bloody battle of love and sorrow that is parenthood. When James and Elizabeth discover that their daughter has been cheating them all along, with her urine tests and her lies, James moans that “the hits just keep on coming.” I doubt there’s a parent anywhere who wouldn’t respond to that.

And here is Donna’s review of the book – note the similarities to the NYTimes review:

IMPERFECT BIRDS, Anne Lamott’s newest book, is the story of a California family, Elizabeth, James and Rosie.  Elizabeth, the mom, is a recovering alcoholic – pretty fearful and insecure and extremely protective and loving.  James is her second husband and Rosie’s step-father.  Her first husband died when Rosie was little.  Elizabeth has been married to James for quite awhile and he has been a partner in raising Rosie.  Rosie is 17 and the book begins during the summer before her senior year in high school.  Rosie is athletic, beautiful, and smart (straight A student in AP classes).  Elizabeth and James are not blind to the drinking and sex that Rosie and her friends engage in, but they struggle with trying to figure out what to do.  It turns out that Rosie has a much, much bigger problem with alcohol and drugs than they could even imagine.  The clues are everywhere, but Rosie is adept at manipulating and lying, having done it for years and Elizabeth is desperate not to see the truth.  There is a lot of enabling and constant denial.  This struggle of getting caught and wiggling out of any consequences goes on in the book for quite a long time.  I found myself thinking “OK, I get the scenario – when is something big going to happen?  Let’s move along!”  Something big finally does happen and the last part of the book and the ending were much more satisfying to me.  We are left with hope that treatment will help Rosie, although we are given no definite answers.  Very real-life, I thought.  Lamott’s humor is excellent and it saved the book for me.  In my own experience with an adolescent child with an addiction, I just could not summon up the courage or skill to use humor to cope.  I think it is an important strategy and I have a lot of admiration for people who can laugh at life’s worst moments and help me to laugh.  Lamott does this so well.  I found out after I read the book, that Lamott also wrote two other pieces of fiction about this same family (Rosie’s younger years, I believe).  In her non-fiction, Lamott describes her own difficult growing up years, and her struggles with being a single parent to her son.  It felt likely that IMPERFECT BIRDS was partly memoir.  Lamott exhibited a lot of knowledge about addictive behavior.  She  communicated well the feel of the struggles of both parent and child when the hard, hard work of growing up is made worse by addiction.  This is worth the time to read, but I think Lamott is at her best when she writes non-fiction.

Yes – some of you may want to read Imperfect Birds, with its up-close-and-personal look at a family struggling with addiction.  But Donna’s addendum to her book review, was even more pertinent:

One more thought about books….my daughter is an avid reader and I have found that we can (often) discuss very difficult subjects by talking about books we’ve read.  It is sometimes clear to me (and probably to her too, she isn’t dumb!) that, at a deep level, we are actually talking about ourselves or family members or friends or experiences, although on the surface we are discussing a book.  Same goes for movies.  It has allowed us to share opinions and feelings at times, without such a big risk.  I am careful about passing along a book or movie suggestion if I know that my motives are manipulative.  For example, I hesitated to recommend the movie “Crazy Heart” to her, thinking the message would be too obvious.  However, when she was visiting a week ago, she picked up the CD soundtrack that was laying around and I asked if she’d seen the movie.  She said “no”.  Without pushing it, I said how much I’d liked it.  Anyway….it’s just another value of books.  In addition to educating ourselves and reducing our ignorance, it can be an avenue of communication.

So true.  I found the movie, Crazy Heart to be one of the best movies about alcohol I’ve seen.

And so – use a book, a TV program, and/or a movie to start a conversation – with a spouse, a child, any one with whom you need a ‘safe’ arena in which to discuss ‘prickly’ topics.

Donna also noted that as parents, we’re led to believe that if our kids are good students, and involved in sports, school, and community activities, that they’re somehow protected from the disease of addiction.  We both now know that this is not necessarily true.

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Advocacy

Posted on July 8, 2010. Filed under: AlAnon, Intervention, Parent of an Addict, Treatment Centers, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

I’m baaaaack!  I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging.  I’ve been busy supervising/managing a bedroom/bath remodel project, spending 5 days with family over the Fourth of July, tending to my 93 yo mother who lives two hours away, doing a bit of contract work, and – well –  living my life.  As Hayley continues to progress in her recovery program, I’ve decided to shift my focus.  I want to educate myself, as much as I can, on addiction issues as they impact our health care system, what role they have, if any, in the development of a national public health care policy, and examine/debate current approaches to dealing with drug addiction in our society.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to write about the topic of advocacy and how we, as a society, can more effectively and compassionately ‘treat’ drug addicts.  One of the best sites I’ve run across, as a comprehensive resource for both general and drug specific information about addiction, book reviews, advocacy ideas and links for more humane/compassionate treatment of drug addicts, and reporting on and monitoring the ‘pulse’ of our society in regards to illicit drug use, is Bill Ford’s blog, Dad On Fire. “This web log is inspired from my own experiences with my alcohol and substance abuse early in life and my current struggles with my own children who have or are currently suffering from the ravages of substance abuse.” Bill’s focus is raising public awareness about the damaging economic, social, and personal effects that drug addiction has on our society and the urgent need for solutions.

Bill Ford is a Tucson resident and Architect by profession. He is available for interviews and has become a local encyclopedia of information regarding the damages and costs of substance abuse on the family and on the community.  If you’re short on time, Bill’s blog could be a “one-stop-shopping” site for drug addiction resources, provocative conversation, and new perspectives.

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a fascinating interview on National Public Radio, “Tackling America’s Drug Addiction” with Joseph Califano, founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Califano talked about the appetite for drugs in the U.S. and what’s being done to curb it.  Here are a few interesting bytes and shocking stats:

•The U.S. comprises 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs.

NORRIS: Let me ask you about the war on drugs right now. The current administration is trying to focus on a balance between interdiction and treatment: drug courts, for instance, followed by mandatory treatment, things like that.

Will that shrink the domestic market for drugs – since when you’re talking about treatment, there are so many issues surrounding access to treatment?

Mr. CALIFANO: You’re absolutely right. The rhetoric of the administration is good, but the dollars haven’t changed. We’re still putting roughly two-thirds into interdiction and enforcement, and one-third into treatment and prevention. Interestingly, when President Nixon started the war on drugs, his first budget was two-thirds for prevention and treatment, and one-third for interdiction.

The drug courts are great. We’ve analyzed them at our center. They work. And the prison population is important because 65 percent of the people in prison meet the medical criteria for drug or alcohol abuse and addiction. Thats a wonderful – in a sense, a captive audience. But we don’t provide much treatment for them.

NORRIS: Is the U.S. serious enough about the war on drugs?

Mr. CALIFANO: No, we’re not. I’ll tell you – we’re not serious. The government is not serious enough. You can barely hear any of the leaders in the government talk about it. The medical profession is not serious enough. The public-health profession is not serious enough.

Click on the interview title  to read or listen to the entire thought-provoking interview.

On a more personal note regarding advocacy, my deep gratitude to Tom, at Recovery Help Desk.  His words, . . . enabling recovery requires action . . . inspired me to ‘give it a shot’ and make a valiant effort to try to get my heroin addict daughter in to a treatment program.  As of today, Hayley has been clean and sober for 60 days, and is embracing her recovery with passion and commitment.  I believe that, for 31 year old Hayley, the timing was right, along with a few other critical factors.  However, when I recently asked her if she could have found help on her own, she said “no”.  She needed a ‘hand up’ out of her deep, dark hole.  I encourage others to trust their intuition and facilitate your addict’s desire to change their lives and seek recovery.

An Aside: Wow!  Almost 21,000 views of my blog since September 2009.  And what’s with this – 565 views in one day, on Monday, April 26, 2010.  Was it in response to my Take A Seat post on April 25th?  Don’t know – but I’m fascinated by who stops by this blog, what they’re looking for, what they find helpful, and how I can help them feel not so alone.  A heartfelt thank you to all of my blogger friends, fans, ‘regulars’, and all who leave comments.  I’ve learned so much from you , and am am inspired by your own stories. Your support has been instrumental in sustaining my hope, humility, humor, and SANITY over the past year. I am eternally grateful.

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Prayer Box

Posted on June 7, 2010. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , |

In the middle of April, a few days after I had met Hayley on her birthday, an old, dear artist friend, Margaret, spent a couple of days with me.  She had lived here many years ago, and was in town for a gallery opening of her most recent work.  She stayed with me for two days/nights.  It was wonderful to reconnect with her and I felt very comfortable sharing Hayley’s tragic story of addiction with her. Margaret is not only a gifted artist, but also an RN and a trained art therapist.  She is an experienced and compassionate professional and friend, who has helped many people deal with chronic and terminal illnesses, and traumatic experiences.

Margaret  brought me several gifts  – a beautiful azalea topiary, a bottle of wine with a braided, hand-woven ribbon ‘bracelet’ adorning it, a tiny cut glass bud vase from a recent trip to her native England, and – – – a little round box that she had lovingly decorated.  A week or two later, after reading a post on one of my favorite blogs, 37 Days, I decided that this beautiful, handmade box, would become my PRAYER BOX.

That very day, I started to write people’s names on slips of paper and put them in to my prayer box:  Rob, Heather, Sam, Carrie, Angela, Beth, Daniela, Jeff, Faye and family, etc.  I keep this Prayer Box on the window sill above my kitchen sink.  It’s one of the first things I see every morning.  The names inside are safe there, and I regularly look at them to remind me of why that person needs my prayers and positive thoughts.  This tangible and sacred vessel that contains my very own collection of people I care about and who are in need of my focused  thoughts and positive karma, is a reminder to: get out of myself, be grateful for what I have, share what I have to give, and  – – – be humbled by all of you out there who are struggling, in pain, fighting the good fight, yet still able and willing to encourage others.

Please let me know if you would like me to put a name in to my prayer box.  I would be honored to do so.  I know that many of you have prayed and are praying for me and Hayley – and want you to know that I will do the same for you. Thank you. 

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“. . . And ‘Justice’ For All”.

Posted on May 17, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Treatment Centers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

I spent last week Cleaning Up Her Messes, just a fraction of the devastation left behind after my heroin addict daughter left for treatment in southern California.

Hayley had a court date on Friday, May 14th, for violating probation – and, since she is now in California after our intervention of sorts, she would not be able to appear.  In April 2009, Hayley officially entered the ‘criminal’ justice system when she served 4 days in jail for a minor (misdemeanor) shoplifting offense that had been committed the previous July (2008).  We, her family, knew nothing about this crime – she apparently decided to handle it on her own, the result being that finally, more than 10 months after the crime had been committed, she was sentenced to 4 days in jail and two years of probation.  I happen to think that carrying the shame, uncertainty, fear, and anxiety of this pending sentencing for 10 months, along with losing her job, dog, and a variety of other factors, coalesced in to the ‘perfect storm’ of escalating drug use and her eventual heroin/crack addiction.  (I really should qualify this by adding that for at least the last ten years, Hayley’s poor choices and chemical dependency on something, were building towards this eventuality.)

Apparently, last fall, a warrant for her arrest was issued for probation violation since she hadn’t kept her probation appointments for several months. Last fall, on a routine traffic violation stop, a check was run on all the car’s passengers, and Hayley’s arrest warrant was discovered.  She was arrested on the spot and taken to jail.  And, I guess her drug ‘buddies’, primarily her drug dealer/boyfriend Bill, posted bond for her and she was released after about 12 hours.  I’m still not absolutely clear about how bail bonds work, but here’s a little help from Wikipedia:

Traditionally, bail is some form of property deposited or pledged to a court to persuade it to release a suspect from jail, on the understanding that the suspect will return for trial or forfeit the bail (and possibly be brought up on charges of the crime of failure to appear). In some cases bail money may be returned at the end of the trial, if all court appearances are made, no matter whether the person is found guilty or not guilty of the crime accused. If a bondsman is used and a surety bond has been obtained, the fee for that bond is the fee for the insurance policy purchased and is not refundable.

I think that Hayley’s bail bond was for $3,000, which usually represents 10% of the bail that was set (so, $30,000?) and probably $300 – 500 was paid to the bondsman to secure the bond by Bill, the drug dealer. I’m guessing this.  More co-dependence built between Hayley and Bill.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you will recall that the morning Hayley and I were to leave town to go to the airport, the bail bondsman, Javier, revoked her bail bond (via phone instructions) and his ‘thug’ commenced to march Hayley across the street to jail.  This was a potential disaster. After intense, furious pleading with the 350 pound ‘thug’, I was able to speak to Javier on ‘thug’s’ cell phone, agree to sign a promissory note for $3,000, and leave a $500 check as a deposit.  Hayley and I were finally able to get on the road . . . literally, to recovery.

Last week I spent days getting letters written, documentation from Safe Harbor that Hayley was enrolled as a patient there, and then delivering these packets of info to all the necessary parties: public defender, prosecuting attorney, probation officer, and bail bondsmen.  Hayley’s PO, Freida, was very helpful and sympathetic and made a call to the prosecutor to let them know I’d be delivering important information regarding Hayley’s case.  And the bail bondsman, Javier, and my new best friend, was surprisingly cordial, knowledgeable, empathetic, and willing to help advocate for Hayley.  Of course, he had $3,000 at stake.

Javier told me to show up at court on Friday a half hour early – that he would meet me there and look over who the assigned prosecutor and judge were to be and then know more what to expect and exactly how to proceed. At 1:15 pm, Javier still hadn’t arrived, so I called him.  He was ‘running late’, but promised to be there in ten minutes – and, he was.

There were probably 25 or more cases to be heard that day. Other than the judge and attorneys, I was the only person there in a blazer and khakis – shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, and tattoos prevailed.

Javier sat in the court room with me for over an hour.  After showing him the letter I wrote on behalf of Hayley, he seemed impressed and asked who wrote it for me.  “I wrote it”, I said.  Yeah – I can write – wanna hire me?

When Hayley’s name was finally called, I stepped up to the table and chair beside the public defender, whom I had never met. She did, indeed, have the material in hand that I had dropped off, as did the prosecuting attorney.  When the defense attorney told the judge that the defendant’s mother was there, representing her daughter, the judge sounded a bit perturbed as he commented, “ . . . highly unusual . . .”  Yikes.  After I fumbled over a few words (did I actually say, Your Honor, as I had intended, or did I forget, and that’s why he cut me off?), and the prosecutor and defense attorney mumbled a few words to each other (as I’m frantically trying to interject important considerations that they hadn’t addressed), the judge, along with the prosecutor, agreed to a 45 day continuance – until July 9th, when the case would be revisited.  In the mean time, the treatment center would need to send every one reports on Hayley’s progress.  At this point, I didn’t know what my role was, whether or not I was to appear again in court on July 9th, what, even, was the attorney’s name who was ‘representing’ my daughter?  This all transpired in less than a minute, with random whisperings amongst the three of us, on the spot, in front of an impatient judge.

What do most people do who are facing some kind of criminal charge, unable to afford a lawyer, and no one to really advocate on their behalf? It’s mind-boggling – and disturbing – and frightening.  The answer, of course, is that ‘justice’ is served, along with privilege – on the same tray.

On Monday, I guess I’ll follow-up with all of this – get the name of the court-appointed attorney, arrange for the treatment center to send reports regularly, update Hayley’s probation officer, yadayadayada.  I’m not sure I trust everyone to actually receive and keep track of the required info – so, should I hand deliver  it to all parties?  I guess my paranoia would be quelled a bit if I did.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to not assume – – – anything.  And, do the work for these people – make it as easy as possible for them – they don’t have the time or resources to properly do it themselves.  It’s sad, but true.

And Javier and I – well, we will stay in touch.  I really like this guy, believe it or not – and I am important to him, since I’m the one who will eventually have to pay Hayley’s $3,000 bond, if necessary.

And now, some news about Hayley in detox.  Hayley’s dad, Brad, and his wife, Jill, stopped in to visit Hayley on Friday.  They had just returned from a cruise that had docked near where Hayley was located. When they arrived at the detox facility, Hayley was lying on the couch and needed help getting up.  Her feet and legs were very swollen, and she was in a lot of pain.  I hate imagining her physical condition, and what she must look like.  Brad suggested she get some exercise – primarily walking, to help the edema. However, the detox facility can’t really arrange for this.  Hayley seemed grateful to be there, and was looking forward to getting to the actual treatment facility.  She asked for a new pair of glasses – that she really needed them to read and watch TV – that she was getting headaches.  Of course, she has lost or broken probably six new pairs of glasses over the last several years.  I, on the other hand,  still have my first pair from the 7th grade!  What’s reasonable? What do we freely give Hayley now, and what should she work for/towards – – – earn?

Thanks to all my ‘fans’ for your comments, encouragement, and support.  As usual, Dawn, as devil’s advocate, keeps me wondering and questioning whether or not I’m enabling my daughter vs giving her a ‘hand up’.  This dilemma is constant, and there never seems to be a satisfying answer.  I am really trying to not do for my daughter what she can do for herself.  However, my rationale for decision-making often revolves around the fact that Hayley doesn’t seem capable of much right now – and definitely suffers from arrested/distorted development regarding basic adult life management skills.  How much of this is due to chemical dependence, brain chemistry, genetics, underlying mental illness, enabling by family members, and/or the red dye in the multi-vitamins she chewed as a toddler? Who knows?  Will it all ever get sorted out, fixed, undone, re-done?  I can get overwhelmed by it all.  Right now, I’m practicing trusting myself – and trying to maintain a shred of hope in what seems to be an almost impossible mire of obstacles to recovery.

Please know how much your comments help navigate this winding road to serenity.  There appears to be no distinct map – so your ‘sign posts’ of encouragement and support keep me from getting totally lost.  Thank you.

P.S.  I’m hoping to catch up next week with those of you whose blogs I follow.

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Cleaning Up Her Messes

Posted on May 14, 2010. Filed under: Intervention, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Even though Hayley left for treatment on Saturday, things haven’t slowed down.  I returned from Seattle  around 5:30 pm on Saturday and proceeded to dispose of everything Hayley had brought with her at 5:30 am Saturday morning to my house, from her life at the crack house.  I dumped all of her clothes, which I had never seen before, in to my garbage can, stacked the mystery paperback books into the Goodwill bag, and knocked on my neighbor’s door, a retired surgeon and long time friend, to deliver the pouch of dirty needles for proper disposal.  There – one major mess taken care of. 

On Sunday morning, I got back in my car to drive two hours to visit my 92 yo mother for Mother’s Day.  We had a nice family brunch with my brother, his wife, and  a couple of close family friends, I planted my mom’s planters on her deck, then jumped back in the car to head back home.  WHEW!  At this point, I was still operating on an adrenalin high.

At home, now, I’m beginning to dare to contemplate my life without visualizing my daughter’s bare, perverse, life-threatening existence at the crack house, whose metal roof I can see from my kitchen window.  I’m forcing myself to not react to the sirens I hear at night – – – and think the worst. For right now – just for today – I don’t need to agonize over whether or not my daughter will be headed to jail, the ER, or, the morgue.

However – because we took Hayley out of state, and she had a scheduled court date for violating probation on Friday, May 14th, I’m in ‘deep shit’.  Or, in reality, Hayley is in deep shit.  Last Saturday, when I was trying to get Hayley to SeaTac airport to fly to the treatment center in California, I signed a $3,000 Promissory Note in order to prevent Hayley from being taken to jail.  Un-beknownst to me, Hayley had a bail bond posted from a previous arrest last fall for violating probation.

Monday,  I typed up a letter explaining why we, our family, conducted an “emergency intervention” with Hayley – that we were afraid for her personal safety and decided to quickly remove her from our small city and get her to a treatment center that could address her multiple issues of:  poly-substance abuse, a serious eating disorder, ‘trauma’ issues, and a possible underlying mental illness diagnosis.  I also requested and received a letter from the treatment center documenting that Hayley was an enrolled patient there, and that they would not recommend Hayley traveling for up to a year.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I delivered these letters to Hayley’s court-appointed defense attorney (who is overworked, back-logged, and could care less), her probation officer, and the prosecuting attorney.  I also visited Hayley’s bail bondsmen, Javier, who told me that he knew and liked Hayley, that she was a unique case,  and . . . he would go to court with me on Friday to advocate for her.  Holy Cow. This bail bondsman does not fit my stereo type and has turned out to be a good resource for me.

I received this recent mini-report from a staff member at the treatment center, on Hayley’s progress at the detox facility:

I went to see Hayley today in detox.  She is doing pretty well – sick, obviously, as you know from the detox. But her spirits are quite high – grateful to be here and can’t wait to get to the treatment center house.  I told her I would bring her some healthier snacks later this week.  Apparently, they only have things to nibble on that are unhealthy and she is afraid of her eating disorder getting the best of her.  Beautiful daughter you have.  I very much look forward to working with you all.

I called the detox facility today, to check on Hayley’s progress.  It’s day # 5 for her.  Last August, while in a medical detox facility in an inner-urban hospital in the Seattle area, Hayley walked out after 41/2 days, AMA (against medical advice).  So – – – I’m nervous. Hayley could walk out of the detox facility where she is, right now, at any time.  Today, Edie, a staff member at the detox facility, reported to me that Hayley was doing ‘ok’, that she was currently outside, in the sun, braiding another patient’s hair.  She said that Hayley was experiencing a lot of deep muscle and bone pain, typical of heroin withdrawal – and that she was scheduled for release to the Safe Harbor treatment center on May 20th or 21st.

My daughter has a low pain threshold.  She’s always whining that something hurts.  A drug counselor recently told me that heroin addicts are known for their whining about their physical ailments.  Who knows how much physical  pain Hayley is truly experiencing – or how much is being ‘used’ to manipulate the situation.

I heard this on NPR today: ‘Stupid’ has a gravitational force that will pull you right in. This comment was in reference to the Greek economy, and the lack of discipline required for long-term change.  It prompted me to think about Hayley, and my hope that she not take the path of least resistance; however, I also realize that she will most likely take the easiest path.  This is scary, because the ’easiest’ path, is not necessarily the ‘best’ path.

When my older son, Jake, remarked that Hayley’s basic personality was difficult and annoying, prior to her heroin addiction, I agreed – and immediately felt so overwhelmed.  A long time friend of Hayley’s sent me this message:

Peggy, Your strength is amazing!  Having grown up knowing Hayley and your family, and being her friend, closer at times than others, these stories seems surreal to me.  I did send her a text prior to her going and she replied as well, sounding positive and admitting that she missed her family so much and “couldn’t live this way anymore…”  All good signs of getting on her way.

One thing stood out to me about your conversation with Jake, and how she had those behaviors even before she was on heroin…something to think about – – – before she was on heroin she was still an addict and chemically dependent to some sort of drug.  (Alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, prescription meds, etc. etc.)  I’m not sure that she has not lived a lengthy period of time as an adult without being influenced by some sort of drug.  She has yet to develop the personality and coping skills that “typically” take place as an adult, whatever’ typical’ means, right?  She is probably stuck in her adolescent/addict mind frame…

As Jake said, your work is done.  The rest is up to her.  All we can do is love her.  You’ve given her the roots, Peggy, and have dried her wings, now she has to be the one to allow herself to soar.  I hope you find peace.  I hope and pray that Hayley does too.

Thanks, dear sweet Anna, who courageously reached out to both me, and my heroin addict daughter. Anna texted Hayley right before she left for treatment – and I know it helped nudge Hayley forward.

I  also want to acknowledge a friend of Hayley’s, whom I really don’t know, personally.  Apparently, Todd has known Hayley over the last 8 years, through a variety of friends/connections. Recently, Todd discovered my blog, and was shocked to learn of Hayley’s heroin/serious drug addiction.  Two weeks ago, Todd decided to call Hayley and talk to her.  For some miraculous reason, Hayley’s phone was “on”, and she picked up Todd’s phone call.  Hayley told me on our drive to SeaTac Airport last Saturday, that Todd’s phone call to her a couple of weeks ago, meant a great deal – and contributed to her shift towards getting help for herself. Thanks, Todd – for your determination to reach out to Hayley.  Your words to her, that she had traveled down the road as far as she could go, had an impact.

Tomorrow, on Friday, I will go to court, on behalf of my daughter.  The judge could decide to show no mercy, and require me to pay the $3,000 bond, extradite my daughter from California, and put her in jail. Surely, the intent of the court is to get this client the help that she needs – – – and deserves?  Hayley is in treatment right now;  however, I am not assuming that the court, whose job seems to be punitively based, will show us any compassion or give us a break.

Just for today, when I hear sirens at night, I don’t immediately go in to  cold sweats and nightmarish images. I know that my daughter is currently safe and scheduled to enter treatment where she will have the opportunity to re-invent herself.

Cleaning up our children’s messes – isn’t that what mothers do?

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Take a Seat

Posted on April 25, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Today I attended my regular home Al-Anon meeting, and was reminded of why I keep going back. I find such comfort, support, fellowship, and hope in that room.  Hearing other people’s comments/stories never fails to put my own life in to perspective.  And I always learn something new about either myself, or my situation.

If you have never attended an Al-Anon meeting, I encourage you to give it a try. There is most likely an Al-Anon meeting every day (or evening) of the week in your own community.  I suggest you try at least 5 different meetings to find one that feels right.  Different groups have different styles and personalities. My group is a parent focus group, although anyone can attend.  I originally started attending Al-Anon back in 2002, when my daughter, Hayley, was diagnosed with a serious eating disorder.  She was 23 years old, had graduated from college, and was living/working in California. Al-Anon is truly for any one whose life has been affected by any kind of addiction. The most important principle of Al-Anon is anonymity.  First names only are used, and you can be assured that what is said in the room, stays there. Feeling free to truly say what is in your heart and mind, with out fear of judgment, is incredibly comforting, helpful, and freeing.  AND – every single person in the room is there for the same reason you are – to learn how to cope with the devastation of addiction in the family.  And in the process, you  learn how to take care of yourself and be happy, and to acquire tools for strengthening and gaining balance in all relationships, in spite of what your “qualifier” is doing or not doing.

Taking life one day at a time has proven essential in both AA and in Al-Anon’s program of recovery for family members whose life has been adversely affected by addiction.  The Serenity Prayer is timeless and applicable to  all aspects of life:

For me, coming to realize and believe the three “Cs” is a constant work in process:  I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.  And, learning how to love and support without enabling is, again, something that I need a lot of help with.

Today’s reminder in my daily Al-Anon meditation reading was this (paraphrased):

When something isn’t working the way I think it should, I need to slow down and reassess the situation. The answer I seek may be staring me in the face, but sometimes I have to let go of what I’m doing before I can see it. Forced solutions usually don’t work.  “Easy Does It” is an Al-Anon slogan that reminds us that we may not have all the answers today. This is not a failure, only a reality. It is not always our job to solve every problem. Or, maybe we are trying to take on something that is not our responsibility. Sometimes even doing nothing can be far more productive than taking a random action or forcing a solution. If we adopt a kinder, more relaxed attitude, we may be able to see the situation more clearly and act more appropriately.

I have often felt soooo anxious, that I  have to do something in regards to my daughter.  But through AlAnon, I have started to practice just letting things unfold – to pause before I act – to step back and take my time before jumping in.

Professional interventionist and star of the new TLC show, Addicted, Kristina Wandzilak, wrote a post on her blog, The Kristina Chronicles, called Take a Seat. The premise of this post applies not only to suffering addicts, but to their family members, as well.  AA, NA, and Al-Anon are all free, accessible any day of the week, and are a safe place to find help, comfort, and hope.

There are some things about Al-Anon that I can’t quite align myself with – but in general, I have learned to “ . . . take what I want and leave the rest”.  It works for me.  And so, I encourage you to take a seat at an Al-Anon meeting, and see what you think.

(You also might want to pick up the book How Al-Anon Works, an easy to read book that is full of wisdom and one that you can read over and over again – a manual for life, really) 

P.S. I also highly recommend Kristina Wandzilak’s compelling memoir, The Lost Years.    

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A Piece of the Puzzle

Posted on April 21, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I was flabbergasted to learn that Hayley called my 92 yo mother a week or so ago. I’m not sure what it meant – but I have to think that this was some kind of step towards something. However, I’ve learned not to make too much of almost any/every thing. I don’t really know the full details of the conversation, and never will. However, within a few days of Hayley’s and my meeting on her 31st birthday, she must have felt guilty/moved enough to call her elderly and failing grandmother. My mother hasn’t seen or heard from Hayley since her 30th birthday dinner/party more than a year ago.

My mother is very tricky territory.  I’ve come to learn and realize how narcissistic she is. She can be very cruel, mean, and full of blame – really, quite emotionally abusive.

For several months I had tried to keep Hayley’s ‘situation’ from my mother, but it became way too hard and was just too much work.  I didn’t want my mother to know about Hayley for very selfish reasons – to protect myself, as well as Hayley, from my mother’s projected anxiety, wrath, and blame game. During this past year of dealing with Hayley’s ‘hard’ addictions, my mother has said the cruelest things to me – like, “Your daughter hates you” (then why am I the one she calls and stays in touch with?); “The reason Hayley is so screwed up is because you made her take ballet lessons as a little girl”; “Maybe it would be better if we would just find her floating in the river”; “I’d like to come down there and talk to Hayley and straighten her out – she won’t talk to you”; and, “You’ve lost her, you know. Start grieving.”  These are just a few of the bombs she dropped.

Two weeks ago on Hayley’s birthday, my mother called me in the evening.  She didn’t bother to ask how I was doing, or to offer any comfort or support, such as “I know today must have been difficult for you, Peg.”  When she asked if I’d heard from Hayley and I told her that I had actually met with her, she didn’t believe me, then insisted that Hayley hates me and wondered how I was able to arrange the meeting.

My mother is clinically narcissistic – she aggrandizes, exaggerates, turns everything back to herself, and is also committed to finding someone to hold responsible for anything that goes wrong. She, herself, at age 92, is still a deeply wounded child of an alcoholic mother.  I’ve learned only bits and pieces about my mother’s childhood, but know that it was filled with shame, guilt, fear, and anxiety.  She grew up in a small town in Minnesota where her mother’s alcoholism was difficult to hide, let alone treat in any way. When Mom was about 7 hears old, her 5 yo sister was killed by a drunk driver as she played in the front yard/on the street median in front of their house. And when my mom was almost 15 yo, her younger sister was born. Her parents divorced a few years later and her dad, my grandfather, took the baby sister with him to Duluth to live with his Danish immigrants parents,  So, my mother never really had much of a childhood and left home as soon as she could at age 17. In fact, after Mom left for college, she came home for a visit one weekend and found her mother passed out on the couch, and her baby sister no where to be found. Baby sister was hanging out at the neighbors’, and this frightening incident was forever, indelibly emblazoned in to my mother’s persona. It was at that point that my beloved grandfather moved to Duluth, taking his toddler daughter with him.

My mom essentially had no contact with her mother after that, except at the funeral of her (my mother’s)  younger brother, killed in action during WWII.  I’ve learned that she received a phone call, in her early 30s, after marrying and having two children, learning of her mother’s death. My grandmother never met me or my brother – in fact, I didn’t even know she existed.

With 8 years of therapy and AlAnon meetings under my belt, I know that my mother has transferred all the guilt, shame, anger, and anxiety about her mother over to Hayley. Hayley’s addiction has stirred up all sorts of buried, repressed feelings and issues in my mother.  And, I know enough about my mother’s need to cope and her lack of skills in this area, to forgive her for the way she treats me and her granddaughter.

While on this journey of addiction with my daughter, I have inadvertently learned a lot about my mother and the impact her mother’s alcoholism had in shaping who she became and is, today. And, I’ve developed a lot more compassion for and understanding of why she is the way she is.  I also greatly admire my mother’s  spunk, and strength, and determination to carry on with her life, in spite of her compromised childhood. She, unfortunately, didn’t ever have the resources or tools to deal with the fallout of her mother’s alcoholism and, as a result, her nurturing skills and interpersonal relationships suffered greatly.

For the past 8 years, I have been trying to sort out, identify, and understand three generations of mother/daughter relationships in our family.  I need to do this work.  I am convinced that armed with a better understanding of these systemic family dynamics, I can break the problematic, toxic relationship cycle in our family.  I’m going to give it my best shot.

My mom is 92 years old – living independently 2 hours away from my brother and me, still driving, active in the community, playing golf and bridge.  And, I love her now more than I ever did as a child or young adult – because I better understand the devastating effects addiction can have on a family.  I am grateful to my daughter for opening the door – and leading the way.

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“Not Ready”

Posted on April 20, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Today, my heart is heavy.  My chest feels a throbbing ache deep inside that is crushing.  All day long, I have spontaneously broken down in to wracking sobs that convulse my entire body.

Two weeks ago, when I met with my daughter on her 31st b-day, I guardedly allowed myself to feel a glimmer of hope. We hadn’t seen each other in over seven months, yet talked in a relaxed, uncensored way with humor and compassion. I was able to tell her some things I thought were important, and she shared some details of her life that were honest and informative.  All in all, I felt good about our meeting – and reconnected.  I think Hayley also felt that love and connection which, I had hoped, were reminders of the possibility of a more ‘normal’ life.

Last night, however, I heard from my ex-husband’s wife, Jill, who was in town for a few days to visit her family.  She told me that she and Hayley had been texting for a week or so prior to her visit, and that they were planning on getting together so Jill could deliver a belated birthday present.  Jill went on to say that late Sunday afternoon, Hayley called her asking where she was.  When Jill answered that she was at Safeway, Hayley responded with, “I’ll be there in 2 minutes.”  Jill was immediately caught off guard, not anticipating this spontaneous get together, and not knowing quite what to do.  And then, Hayley appeared.  She looked terrible – big bruise on her forehead, scabs on her head, dirty/torn clothing.  Two guys had driven her to Safeway and were waiting for her in their car. Hayley was obviously in bad shape.  She asked Jill for money – was dope sick – desperate.

Jill did not give Hayley any money, but gave her the birthday gift bag from her and Brad – a dress, sandals, earrings, books, a Walmart gift card. The entire encounter lasted about 10 minutes.  Jill did ask Hayley, “Why did you leave medical detox last August?”  And Hayley replied, “I just wasn’t ready.”  And when Jill asked Hayley about the bruise on her forehead, Hayley said that she and Paula, the other woman living in the crack house, had gotten in to a fight.  “What about?” asked Jill.  “We have the same boyfriend”, answered Hayley.

This boyfriend is Bill, the drug dealer, owner of the crack house, older (45-47 yo), a fat, disgusting guy in failing health who wears only his boxer shorts all day. I saw him on our local TV news about a month ago when the crack house was raided by federal agents and he was being led out of the house, in hand cuffs.  Bill was the one who got my daughter hooked on heroin and has porno running 24/7 on the crack house TV.  Get the picture? Depravity at its best (or worst, depending on which direction your scale runs).  This is what my daughter’s life has become. I can hardly fathom or process this reality.  Is there anything Hayley would not do for a fix? I am both repulsed and devastated by the entire scenario.

Today, Hayley texted Jill to thank her for all the great birthday gifts (“. . . the dress is adorable, and I was down to my last pair of earrings . . . “).  Is she fucking serious?  I’m sure that every thing in that birthday bag was sold for some kind of drug to get herself through the night. It’s just so pathetic. And after this birthday thank you text, Hayley proceeded to harass Jill throughout the day, asking to get together again.  She also asked Jill for a $100 loan – “ . . . just until I get my unemployment check tomorrow – and by the way, could you give me a ride to get my check cashed?  I promise I’ll pay you back tomorrow.”

This evening, Jill texted me that Hayley had called her 11 times within 30 minutes.  Jill didn’t respond. Her grandmother just happened to die while she’s been here in town, and Jill has her hands full with family matters.  However, Jill is very susceptible to Hayley’s manipulations . . . and Hayley knows it.

Jill has said  that her heart is breaking – and that she (Jill) feels so guilty about Hayley’s current situation. Yeah – I know about that. I feel it, too. I definitely feel that I failed my daughter in some way as a mother – and Jill’s ‘place’ in our family was the result of an affair with my ex-husband. Her role in my daughter’s life during some crucial developmental years, was – – – well, damaging, in my opinion – unintentional, yet still, inappropriate and confusing for Hayley.

For the first few years, beginning when Hayley was a senior in high school, Jill tried to be best friends with her (after all, she’s only 13 or 14 years older), subtly undermining my role as parent/mother. Whenever Hayley came home during college, if I tried to set some boundaries – or even asked Hayley to pick up after herself, she (Hayley) would storm out the door saying, “Fine – I’ll just move over to Dad’s.”  Hayley was masterful at  manipulating the three of us and triangulating all the adult/child relationships. We never quite knew the truth about anything since we, the adults, rarely spoke to each other to compare notes or corroborate stories.

Brad was essentially intimidated by Hayley, and also was adept at practicing his lifelong habit of avoiding conflict at all costs. Once again, guilt oozed in to and filled the space that should have been reserved for some critical, coordinated parenting.  Brad and Jill both felt very guilty about breaking up two entire families which then bled in to their relaxed parenting style.  Hayley, at age 17, was caught in the middle – not yet an adult, yet beyond the reach of any consistent parental guidance..  In fact, the major area of  conflict in Brad’s and my marriage was always our opposite parenting styles – he was excessively passive and could never say “no”, and consequently, I was probably too controlling.

So – I was feeling very blue all day – but had previously planned on going to our community hospital this afternoon, where Hayley has used the ER multiple times, and speak to their ER social worker – which I did.  I asked the hospital social worker if there was a way to “flag” my daughter’s chart – so that the next time she went to the ER, a social worker would be called to counsel her?.  Yes, there is such a system, the social worker advised me.  I gave him some background info on Hayley, which he entered in to her chart.  And, he is developing a social work plan for Hayley, to be initiated the next time she makes an ER visit.  Finally, I felt as if I was doing something.

Next, I visited the hospital’s business office, where  I asked for a private meeting..  I told “Melissa”, the hospital’s account representative, that my daughter was a heroin addict, essentially homeless, and not willing to get help for herself for fear of being arrested and sent to prison.  We then proceeded to discuss the barriers to getting help and some strategies for overcoming them.

I had intended on paying Hayley’s $320 ER bill from funds that I was holding for her from the sale of her beater car last summer.  As I summarized Hayley’s situation in “Melissa’s” office, I burst in to tears. Melissa tenderly grabbed both my hands and said, “I understand”, she said.  “Not that long ago, I was where your daughter is today. There’s hope.  I’m a living example of that.”

Melissa went on to say, “I think your daughter qualifies for the hospital’s charity program.  I’m going to forgive all her bills from the last few years”.  I was shocked at this sudden, unexpected elimination of my daughter’s hospital bills – and yet, there it was – a gift to “start over”.

I know that Hayley will most likely be nudged towards recovery by some random stranger versus a family member. “Melissa”, at our community hospital’s business office, offered to speak to Hayley and could be “the one”. Or, could it be the social worker that will be called the next time Hayley goes to the ER? I don’t know – but right now, and maybe forever, Hayley’s “not ready”.         

ADDENDUM: Although Jill’s and my relationship started out very rocky due to the circumstances of my ex-husband’s affair with her, over the years I became less threatened by her and began to realize that she was actually an ally in regards to my daughter. She never intentionally tried to come between Hayley and me – and often, in fact, could get through to Hayley in a way that neither Brad or I could.  And, last June, I experienced a complete transformation in how I felt about Jill.  When we first learned that Hayley was living in the crack house and had been evicted from her apartment, Brad and I “bought” some time (one month’s rent) so I could clear out and salvage what I could. (Brad and Jill live in California.) It was so traumatizing for me to sort through the chaos and filth  of my daughter’s apartment, that after a few days, I just couldn’t deal with it any more. I took out mostly personal things: sentimental family artifacts, art work, five years of unopened mail, photos, school mementos,  hand knit sweaters (from me and my mom), etc – Hayley’s personal history and anything that I thought she could use to start her life over.   There was still a ton of junk left and Jill, who happened to be in town visiting family that weekend, offered to finish it up- and she did.  She and her oldest daughter emptied the entire apartment, sending truckloads to the dump and Goodwill.  No one else in the family showed up to help with this, except for Jill and for that, I am eternally grateful. (see Unlikely Friends and Neighbors)

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