April Showers Bring May Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Dealing With the Hole in the Soul

Posted on July 22, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , |

David Sheff, in his book, beautiful boy . . . a father’s journey through his son’s addiction, notes that:

. . . the bitterest irony of sobriety – the reward for your hard work in recovery, is that you come headlong into the pain that you were trying to get away from with drugs. (p.229)

Today, Hayley has been drug free for 75 days.  By most standards, this is considered early sobriety.  Her head is relatively clear, her body is physically healing, and she’s reached a point in her recovery program where she is beginning to think about and plan what comes next:  a job, transition in to a sober living house, and basically, learning how to live a substance-free, responsible and productive life.  On top of all that, she has begun to take a look at the financial and legal messes she needs to untangle and sort through:  getting her suspended driver’s license reinstated, paying off municipal court and probation fees and fines, meeting her probation requirements while  living out of state, paying down some of her debt, and managing some chronic health issues while not having any health insurance.

I get overwhelmed with anxiety just thinking about all that Hayley has to face and ‘undo’.  And then, I go from 0 to 60 mph, worrying about all these consequences of Hayley’s addictions stacked on top of the hard work she is doing to maintain sobriety.  My biggest fear, of course, is RELAPSE.

Drugs and alcohol are often used to numb anxiety and depression.  And, now that Hayley is substance-free, how will she deal with these emotions that drove her to use in the first place?

David Sheff’s son, Nic, says that . . .  the work he’s doing in treatment isn’t about finding excuses for his debauchery or his craziness and it isn’t about blaming anyone.  It is about healing.  His therapists have told him that he has to work through whatever it is that causes him to harm himself, to put himself in danger, to turn from those friends who love him, to lash out at his parents and others who love him, to lash out at himself, mostly at himself, to try to destroy himself.  He is an addict, but why?  Besides the luck of the gene-pool draw, what is it?  They want him to face it all so he can heal and move forward. (p.301)

Click here for more excerpts from beautiful boy that I thought were helpful and interesting.

Yes, Hayley is healing.  And yes, I’m a worry wart.  Hayley remarked recently that she can get overwhelmed with all that she faces.  But she also added that  she is learning to take “one day at a time”, and that it might also work for me.  I remember when taking “one day at a time” for her meant trying to score enough heroin to get her through a day without getting dope sick. For me it meant, for one more day, my daughter is alive.

It appears that Hayley has surrendered to the 12 step program and is deferring to the experienced staff members at Safe Harbor.  She told me that a few days ago, she had mentioned to her case-worker that she might want to go to a beautiful sober living house owned by a friend of her sponsor’s.  Velvet, founder and owner of Safe Harbor, said to her:  Hayley – look me straight in the eye.  No.  No, that would not be a good idea.  You need to live in a sober living house affiliated with and close to Safe Harbor, where you will have the support and resources you’ll need to maintain your sobriety. And Hayley responded with, OK.  You know best. This conversation totally blew me away.  I don’t think I’ve EVER witnessed or heard Hayley respond in this manner.

Next week, I fly to California to visit Hayley.  We’re both very excited to spend a few days together.  She’s anxious to show me ‘her world’ at Safe Harbor, meet her friends, staff members, her sponsor.  Hayley, her therapist,  case-worker, and I will all meet on Friday for a couple of hours.  I’m thinking about what questions to ask and what topics to raise.  These are a few, and I welcome any suggestions:

•Hayley – what can I do to support your recovery? What does that look like and feel like to you?

•Is there anything you want to talk about that would help your recovery in some way?

•When you said you’ve never felt comfortable in your own body, what does that mean, feel like?

•What have you learned in recovery that you didn’t know before?

I will try to be on my best behavior and not ask some of the blunt, stereotypical questions I really want to ask – like:

•when did it all go so wrong for you?

•how long have you been substance dependent?

•when did you start using and why?

•why did you jump to using IV heroin last summer?

•what was it like living in that crack house?

•can you get all the awful stuff out of your head? . . . yadayadayada

I know, I know.  Now I need to focus on my own recovery, not my daughter’s.  I’m trying.

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A Perfect Storm

Posted on April 3, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Yesterday, on April 2nd, it snowed for several hours with white out/blizzard conditions.  This was unusual and must have resulted from a number of variables converging to create just the right conditions for a spring blizzard – the “perfect storm”.

Exactly one year ago, there was another type of “perfect storm.” My daughter, Hayley, was turning 30 years old and I had a birthday party/celebration for her. I didn’t think any of her current “friends” would be organizing any kind of party for her – so, I felt I needed to. I knew that this birthday was a big one for her, and that she was struggling. She hadn’t worked since the previous October and was receiving unemployment with no good job prospects on the horizon.  She seemed to be having a really hard time paying her bills – but then, she always was in some kind of financial crisis. Her dad had moved away to California in January with his relatively new, much younger wife, Jill.  Hayley and her boyfriend of almost four years had broken up months before, and he was now seriously involved with another young woman. Hayley’s “checking-in” phone calls to me became much more sporadic and we weren’t getting together as often.  I had a huge sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, but “stuffed” it. Whenever I asked Hayley if she was ok, or wanted to talk, she said she was fine – to “get off her back”.  I felt this family gathering, in honor of her 30th birthday, was important – a genuine display of our love and support for her.

I invited the few friends I knew of Hayley’s (just 2) and flew her younger brother, Brian, home from California.  Her older brother, Jake, and his family came – wife, Megan, and 2 and 4 yo darling children, Luke and Lucy – and, I drove 2 hours to pick up my 91 yo mother so she could be with us.

The family all gathered on Saturday around noon, had lunch, then decided to take a hike through the river canyon, a short distance away. It was a beautiful day, spring flowers were beginning to bloom, and we had a few hours before the dinner guests would be arriving. To our amazement, Hayley announced that she couldn’t go on the hike with us, that she had “errands” to run.  Huh?  We were shocked. Hadn’t we all come together to celebrate her birthday – and now, she was telling us she had to run errands?  The whole purpose of the weekend was to spend time together with Hayley, and it had taken a fair amount of planning and effort to do so. Nevertheless, we shrugged off Hayley’s quirky behavior, which we had become accustomed to over the years. She was always finding excuses not to participate fully in family activities.  And, she was notoriously disorganized – perhaps she needed to pay some bills?  (she had no checking account or debit card – they’ve caused huge financial problems in the past. She carries wads of cash around to pay bills for which she has to get a money order and then make a delivery in person, in a car that barely works and is usually out of gas – talk about making things hard for yourself.)  Still – we couldn’t quite believe it.

The dinner party was festive and wonderful, and Hayley seemed thrilled that we were all there to ceremoniously launch her in to her thirties. Everyone dispersed around 10:00 pm, with Hayley going home to her apartment.  The plan was for the family  to convene the next morning for breakfast at 10:00 am, after which Megan was going to cut and highlight Hayley’s hair before they (Jake and family) headed back home over the mountains.

Ten o’clock came, and went. As did 11:00 am, 12:00 noon – and no sign of Hayley.  We all were waiting to eat, and finally went ahead without her. We  tried to call her on her cell phone, with no luck.  Finally, at ~12:45 pm, Hayley called to say she had “overslept” and was not at her apartment and didn’t have her car.  This seemed so odd – and troubling, on this birthday weekend we had planned for her. Things spiraled down from there.  At lunch on Monday with my mother, Brian, and Hayley, I learned that Hayley’s power and water had been turned off in her apartment.  She was couch surfing at night with friends, she said, and was at her apartment during the day. Her grandmother took her birthday shopping after lunch at Target – supposedly to buy thngs that Hayley might need for a new job.  What ended up in the bag seemed seemed totally inappropriate to me.  And when we stopped at Costco to buy Hayley much needed house/toiletry supplies, she decided to stay in the car – and was sobbing.  I thought it was due to the 30th birthday milestone, with no job, boyfriend, overdue bills, etc.

Later in the month, after not seeing Hayley since the birthday party, she called me to report that she would be going to jail for 4 days for a shop lifting offense (her third) from the previous summer.  She sounded pissed – at me, of all things!  She said that I didn’t sound “supportive”.  Apparently, her shoplifting offense stemmed from a “beer switching” attempt at a grocery store, where you put more expensive beer in to a different brand carton and check out, paying less than was due. However, cameras in the beer aisle videotaped her doing the beer switching.  Hayley never told us about this charge – and had apparently been trying to deal with it on her own for ~ 9 months. That week of her birthday, she was in court for several mornings to receive her sentencing, which was the real reason behind her sobbing when we were together in the afternoons.  And, I later learned, when cleaning out her apartment after she was evicted in June, that the” errand” she ran on her birthday party afternoon, was to a dentist to get a prescription for hydrocodone.

I’m emotional and kinda shaky this weekend.  Hayley’s 30th birthday party was exactly one year ago.  This has been a year from hell watching my daughter lose everything and slide in to crack, cocaine, and finally, heroin addiction – a variety of circumstances and choices coming together to culminate in . . . “the perfect storm”.  And next Tuesday, Hayley will turn 31 years old. What’s in the forecast? Even Willard Scott or Al Broker can’t reliably predict.

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Night Navigation

Posted on November 6, 2009. Filed under: addiction, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , |

I just finished a wonderful first novel by Ginnah Howard, Night Navigation. The characters, language, personal dilemmas, the emotional roller-coaster of addicts and their families, all were hauntingly familiar.  It’s obvious that Howard has had personal experience navigating the landscape of addiction and mental illness.

The book opens with Del giving her 37 year-old bipolar son, Mark, a ride to a medical de-tox facility for heroin addiction. “Through the four seasons, Night Navigation takes us into the deranged, darkly humorous world of the addict – from break-your-arm dealers to boot-camp rehabs to Rumi-quoting NA Sponsors.  Al-Anon tells Del to “let go”;  NAMI tells her to “hang on”.  Mark cannot find a way to live in this world; Del cannot stop trying to rescue him.  And yet, during this long year’s night, through relapse and despair, there are flare-ups of hope as Mark and Del fitfully, painfully try to steer toward the light.”

Told in the alternating voices of an addict and his mother, this riveting novel adds new depth to our compassion for and understanding of addiction, parents and their troubled children.  I identified with Del’s desperate attempts to save her sons: “She always gave them warm clothing:  long underwear, mittens, hats – this jacket  – hoping somehow to shelter them from their chaotic lives”. P.155  And this:  “She puts her feet up on the stool and rocks a little.  Even when he came toward her, looking so not like himself, she saw in his eyes the child who sat in his yellow sleepers on the edge of his bed, reading his Richard Scarry book by the light from the hall, circling with a blue crayon all the words he knew.  Year later he said to her, Sometimes I circled a few I didn’t know.  She still has dreams where she picks up the phone and he says, Mom, it’s Aaron”.  p. 157

This book is not only beautifully written; but the revealing glimpses it gives us into the world and psyche of a struggling addict, mental illness, and depression, contributed to my growing knowledge base and a better understanding of what my daughter must be experiencing.

Here’s a little prayer that I’m told, is a favorite of the Dalai Lama’s and is a favorite of my Buddhist friend, Donna:

And now, as long as space endures.
As long as there are beings to be found.
May I also endure
To wipe away the sorrows of the world.

This book helped ease my sorrow, a bit.  Thanks, Ginnah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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