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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. . . But A Molecule’s Difference

Posted on December 8, 2010. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Intervention, Parent of an Addict, The Bottom, Treatment Centers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

One of my favorite blog readers, Nora, who also has a blog of her own, Works Aside, recently left this message regarding her sister, Hannah, who is a heroin addict:

Last night, my family and I found out that Hannah is in a bad place. Despite telling us all she has been clean since she left rehab in April she actually been using heroin since then. Her ex-boyfriend Dave rang my mum to tell her she had just been to his house to ask for money. We are back where we started. The shock. The turmoil. The pain. The fear. Even though this isn’t the first time we’ve had news like this, it slaps you right between the eyes.

Your last post, Waiting For Bill was incredibly poignant to read because last night my parents asked me what they should do.  Everyone says “do nothing” –  but how can they? Is there anything you can suggest we do? We don’t know where she is what state she is in, etc. Should we at least try and find her?

That, of course, is always the $64,000 question and the family’s painful dilemma.  There’s a lot of debate around what to do and not do –  and, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘right’ or simple answer. So, in response to Nora’s burning questions and passionate plea for help, I can only recount my own daughter’s road to recovery and hope there will be some relevance to her/your own situation.  This is just one ‘case study’, one story of recovery.  Please take what you want and leave the rest.

A year ago at this time, I was as desperate as Nora.  My college-educated, 31 year old daughter, Hayley, had been living in a crack house for about seven months, using heroin, crack cocaine, and anything else she could get her hands on.  I knew where she was, but had little contact with her.  After she walked out of medical de-tox AMA (against medical advice) in August 2009 and returned to her abusive, sordid drug addict lifestyle, we, as a family, decided to take the “hands-off” approach.  We had gone to extreme lengths to get her to a medical detox facility a couple of hundred miles away (there are none where we live) in response to her call for help.  After de-toxing, the plan was for her to go to a reputable women’s treatment center near by.  But after 4 days in the de-tox facility, she ran, and talked a cab driver in to driving her 175 miles back to her old life.  

We were stunned.  It hadn’t occurred to us that after courageously extricating herself from the crack house and deciding to get clean, she would give up, part way through detox.  After that failed attempt to get Hayley in to recovery, we/I had virtually no contact with her for five long months.  I nearly drove myself nuts thinking about and envisioning how she was living, what she was doing to herself, and what she might be capable of in order to procure her drugs. I was a wreck, valiantly trying to just hang on to my own life and sanity.  Al-Anon meetings helped, I saw a therapist, and started writing this blog.  Still, I felt devastated and hopeless, and found myself thinking more about preparing myself for my daughter’s funeral, rather than her recovery.

I must say, that after a few months, it became easier to compartmentalize and detach.  This was mostly a coping mechanism, based on fear and complete despair.  The logistics of trying to do a formal intervention and ‘rescue’ seemed impossible.  Plus, most family members had been so badly ‘burned’ by Hayley walking away from de-tox, they were not especially interested in having any further contact with her.  “Let her find her own way to recovery”, was the unified front we all adopted.

Around January, after Brian, Hayley’s younger brother, had not been able to reach her by text, my ‘mother lion’ instinct kicked in.  I realized that I needed to do something. Was she even alive?  Although a professional drug counselor had advised me to cut off all contact with Hayley so she could feel the full consequences of her choices, I had reached my saturation point – my bottom. I needed to hear from and see my daughter.  The scale had tipped – one tiny atom had changed valence and upset the ‘balance’. 

In early March, the ‘perfect storm’ began to gather and gain force.  On March 4th, I was headed to Seattle to hear David Sheff, author of beautiful boy, and his recovering addict son,  Nic Sheff, speak. In re-reading my notes from beautiful boy, I was inspired to try to call my daughter and “break the ice” of her shame/guilt-driven isolation.  That, combined with a serendipitous series of events and Hayley’s pending 31st birthday in April, pushed me to action.  I was determined to be with my daughter on her birthday, to remind her of who she still was and how much we all loved her.  My daughter was going to die if I didn’t intervene in some way.  She had never been through drug rehab and I felt strongly that she deserved a chance to get sober.  I knew she couldn’t do it on her own – and that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to help her.

Some of you may be familiar with blogger, Dawn (DHAM).  A while ago, Dawn sent me this excerpt from a recovering addict’s blog:

I was zombie like–running on automatic. Addicts don’t desire financial ruin, loss of self respect, ruining good relationships with family or friends, or spending time in jail/prison.  Those are all just consequences of being an addict. People w/o addictions generally make their decisions based on their conscious motivations.  An example, normal people get jobs so they can pay bills and support their families.  For me as an addict, my decisions were made based on an impulsive, physiological drive for drugs.  Every decision I made in life was centered around my drug addiction.  The only reason I got a job was so I could pay for my drugs.  If it was a choice between paying bills and copping a bag, the bag would always win.  If I had a choice between eating a meal and drugs—-drugs.

Self control was non existent for me.  My probation officer told me if I failed another piss test at one point I’d go to prison for five years.  So for two weeks I’d quit using 3 days before I saw my probation officer.  Then the lack of self-control took over me.  During my 3 days of not using, I’d continually obsess over the drug, and despite the potential consequences of 5 years in prison, the drug would win.

The drug came before everything in my life.  The high was more important than my family, my friends, money, food, water, my health, my future, my own life. Consequences never even crossed my mind like they do for ‘normal’ people.  I needed it.  I lived it.  I breathed it.  It became me…

And, my now recovering daughter, would add:  . . . it got to the point where I wasn’t using heroin to get high –  I needed it in order to not become violently ill . . . to “stay well’.

Back to the story.  I had an advantage at that point.  I had seen on the news that the crack house had been busted by federal agents and Hayley’s drug-dealer boyfriend was arrested.  As a consequence, her ‘easy’ drug supply had been seriously interrupted. I received a text from her after the crack house raid that she was ‘ok’, still at the crack house, (now boarded up with no power), and living with Paula, the tough, ‘professional’ junkie and crack house ‘operations manager’, whose fierce competition with Hayley for drug dealer Bill’s attention and favor, often led to violence.  Hayley had no money for food, let alone drugs.  I was afraid of what she might do in order to “stay well”.  I knew that Paula shoplifted at Wal-Mart regularly, and who knew what else, to generate cash flow. Hayley was most likely desperate enough to overcome her shame and guilt and agree to see me on her birthday to perhaps ‘score’ some merchandise that could be sold for drugs.  In fact, that is exactly what happened.  Soon after the crack house bust, I received a text from Hayley asking if I could meet her to deliver her quarterly stock dividend check (a couple of hundred dollars).  I jumped at the invitation and told her we’d meet on her birthday, a week later.  That would give me time to investigate some treatment centers, develop a plan,  and gather her Birthday Gifts.

After that first meeting with Hayley in months  (Yes, She’s Still in There . . .), I continued to stay in contact with her.  I took her grocery shopping and on a few other errands.  Each time we were together, it was easier and not so awkward. She began to talk more and revealed disturbing details of her life. We laughed about silly, mundane things.  I brought her some make-up samples, shampoo, and underwear – and was gradually able to introduce the possibility of treatment, the facilities I had researched,  how/when it could all happen.  She was interested yet, at the same time, terrified – especially of the de-toxing process.  On one of our visits together, I called “Lloyd”, the security guard and groundsman I had been in contact with at the small, all women’s 6 bed detox house we were considering.  Lloyd reassured Hayley – his voice was gentle, and confident, and full of hope for her.  He, too, had been where she was – and spoke her language.

But after each visit with her over the course of a few weeks, I would drop her back off at the abandoned crack house and just pray that we could get her to treatment before she OD’ed.  That month of contact (combined with  other serendipitous events and phone calls from other family members and a couple of random ‘normie’ friends) built a foundation that seemed to be the tipping point. 

These words, from Mr. SponsorPants, are particularly insightful:

Sometimes I think there is but a molecule’s difference between helping and enabling . . . between hope and expectation . . . between faith and fantasy . . . and further more, sometimes all the clever slogans in the world can’t help you discern when one slips into the other.

Hayley has now been clean and sober since last May 9th.  It’s a bloody miracle.  Our family’s journey through hell and out the other side is just one story – and it’s not the end of the story. We all know that Hayley’s sobriety is one day at a time. How/why  Hayley embraced recovery at that particular time, when the option was offered to her,  is still not completely clear.  Ultimately, it is the addict that needs to want to change his/her life – I know that.  Yet, it’s not always that simple.  The addict is often incapable of taking steps towards change on their own – even if they fiercely want to.  In my mind, the clock was ticking – it was a “dice-throw” as to whether or not Hayley could get herself out of her drug addict lifestyle before it killed her.  

There are some things, I think,  that seemed to help Hayley walk away from drug addiction and get on the long and winding road to sobriety.  More importantly, these things helped me stay sane and take charge of my own recovery – the only real control I have.   (Thanks to Guinevere Gets Sober for her words: “. . . be present and have low expectations . . .”)  I hope you can find something here that brings you a molecule of hope and possibility:

•Be Present: stay in contact with the addict – but not excessively. It will help narrow the gap between the ‘normal’/real world and the addict’s crazy, dangerous drug life.  Today, Hayley says that it was easier to compartmentalize and ‘forget’ about family and ‘normal’ life than it was to stay in contact and connected. In her case, the less contact we had with her, the further down she spiraled, in to the deep, dark abyss of addiction.  The shame, guilt, and fear of her situation were overwhelming to her – and paralyzing.  In order to cope, she isolated.  Her drug user ‘friends’ and ‘roommates’ became her family –  one that didn’t judge her and accepted her for who she was – right at that moment.  Even though they stole from one another and often couldn’t trust each other, they also shared what they had (food, drugs, fringe-y lifestyle)  and ‘covered’ for each other.  They all had a lot in common, and lived for the moment.

After Hayley walked out of medical detox in August 2009, our family essentially washed our hands of her.  This was her first experience in medical detox, and she was then scheduled to go to a woman’s treatment center in Seattle.  I just learned that after almost 5 days of de-toxing, with the worst behind her as far as physical withdrawal symptoms, she was ‘sober’ enough to actually feel her own anxiety and fear.  She just couldn’t face going to treatment.  That unknown seemed too overwhelming to her, whereas going back to using heroin and its accompanying life style, was something she knew, was familiar with, in a ‘community’, of sorts. She had earned a place there.  A sense of belonging is  a very seductive reason to re-join and/or become a part of any group, as evidenced by the abundance of gangs in our society.  The ‘disenfranchised’ are welcomed.

Kristina Wandzilak, in her blog, The Kristina Chronicles, had this to say regarding “Fear and the Addict”:

How much is fear responsible for a person’s descent into addiction and inability to retrieve him or herself from it? Addicts, in general, are fear-based individuals. I’m not sure that fear has a lot to do with the manifestation of the disease, per se, but once we’re in it, fear keeps us from getting better.

We’re afraid of what will happen to us. We’re afraid of success, of failure, of living and of dying. We’re afraid to try to get better. It can feel easier to be resigned to a life of addiction than to live a different, sober life. Sobriety changes everything.

Through some of Hayley’s ‘friends of friends’ and acquaintances, I became ‘educated’ about the underbelly of our ‘fair’ city.  I salvaged and saved every scrap of paper with a phone number or name on it that I found in her apartment when she was evicted. I spoke with drug counselors, our two community hospitals’ social workers and ER staffs, and found a ‘mole’ within the drug community who was willing to give me periodic reports on Hayley’s condition.  I found out where all the crack houses were and dropped off letters to her – and, a Christmas present from her grandmother.  I discovered that texting was  a more non-threatening and reliable way to reach Hayley and get a response.  (However, usually her own cell phone was out of minutes or not charged -so she was dependent on her ‘friends” phones, who often exercised their power over her by refusing to pass on messages, etc.)  When I did hear from Hayley, I noted the phone number and kept it on file.  The bottom line was that Hayley always knew how to reach me and other family members.  But, she seldom initiated the contact herself. When I increased contact with her in March and April (2010), it helped  break through that barrier of shame and guilt on Hayley’s part, and of helplessness on mine.  Being with her reminded her of some things – that she had choices, that she was loved, that it wasn’t too late to change her life.

One caveat: if you’ve tried to ‘help’ your addict multiple times and it just hasn’t worked, you may need to step back and let him/her come to you – in their own time and on their own terms.  You do need to protect yourself from the roller coaster of the addiction drama – it can suck you in and eventually use you up.

•Have a Plan (but not an outcome): Do some legwork and research in to possible treatment facilities and options. What type of treatment center would be best – short (28 days) or long term (90 days or longer)? all female or co-ed? 12 step based program? post treatment options? medical detoxing prior to treatment – and if so, how and where?, etc.  Hayley was very fearful of the detoxing process.  It was a huge barrier for her. During the last few months of her drug use, she was constantly dope sick.  She didn’t have the money/means to reliably maintain her habit. Being dope sick was so unpleasant and withdrawal so horrible, that she would have never agreed to detox without medical supervision and palliative drugs to get her through the worst of it.

And, I guess, consider an intervention.  The kind and degree of intervention can be tailored to your situation.  We used a professional interventionist, Kristina Wandzilak, as a consultant rather than as an actual interventionist.  She advised us regarding good long-term treatment centers of which she had personal knowledge.   She served as a non-biased facilitator/mediator during two conference calls involving our entire family, as we expressed our individual  concerns and fears. We all had our own diverse opinions about what we should do or not do and Kristina skillfully acknowledged and managed them all. And, there are so many treatment centers out there, it’s difficult to know which ones are truly effective.  They all look good on the internet and sound great on the phone.  The recovery industry has become huge, and is ‘big business’, with little regulation.  It helps to get professional expertise and experience in choosing a reputable program.  Getting Kristina involved was the best $450 we ever spent.

Go to this blog post to read about our family’s debate/discussion regarding an intervention with Hayley. Another post,  Al-Anon vs Intervention, also discusses this controversial topic.

Hayley said that knowing there was a treatment plan in place was an incentive and helped make it become a real possibility.  She would get immediately overwhelmed at the thought of needing to initiate the process herself.  Just filling out the necessary paperwork required to receive treatment through the state seemed impossible. She was so ashamed – and was such a prisoner of her addiction cycle and physiological dependence on the drugs, that she could really only think a couple of hours ahead – and that focus was always on how to get her next fix.

•Timing is Everything: and often something over which you have no control.  Hayley was a college graduate and started using heroin at age 30.  Addiction is a progressive disease – and Hayley began with seemingly innocuous pot smoking and some alcohol use in high school/college.  In 2002, having graduated the year before from a small liberal arts college, she was diagnosed with a serious eating disorder (bulimia).  As a result of her ED, she developed some chronic dental issues and irritable bowel syndrome that lead to legitimate prescription pain killer use and, of course, eventual abuse.  And, it all compounded to the point of moving through and using cocaine, methadone, smoking crack and ultimately, shooting heroin.  After almost a year of living in a crack house, going to the ER multiple times to treat abscesses and GI problems, having her unemployment checks discontinued resulting in no source of legitimate income, getting beat up and abused, being dope sick almost every day, there were few options left. However, she told me recently, that she had resigned herself to being a junkie for the rest of her life, and dying a junkie. She couldn’t see any way out.  And then, Bill, her drug dealer/boyfriend, started ‘messing with’ her blankie, which she has always had since she was a baby.  Bill started hiding it and threatening to burn it to sadistically tease and control Hayley.  That was the final straw, Hayley later recalled – but all of these factors collided with each other and accumulated into a critical mass that ultimately resulted in Hayley walking away from her life as a drug addict. And, at age 31, she was finally realizing that she didn’t have time to f*ck around. 

•Keep Expectations Low (but keep trying): one small step can shift the balance; one atom moving into a different orbit may make the difference for bigger changes down the road.  Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and failure.  We have no way of knowing when an addict is ready to recover – or what small things can have a significant impact in shifting an addict’s desire/ability to get and/or receive help.  Just don’t ever give up.

•Get Support and Work a Recovery Program For Yourself: I started going to the anonymous fellowship of Al-Anon over 8 years ago when Hayley’s eating disorder was first diagnosed.  I am still learning how to shift the focus from Hayley to myself and be happy in spite of what Hayley is doing or not doing.  To have such a safe place to find help – – – and hope, has been crucial in traveling down this road of drug addiction with my daughter that I didn’t choose, or know how to navigate.  I’ve learned that if I apply the Traditions and Principles of Al-Anon to my life and relationships, serenity is possible (I’ve gotten a glimpse of it) and there are no hopeless situations. I invite you to Take a Seat.

Seek out true friends who don’t judge and want to listen – who rarely offer advice, and only when asked.  I have discovered some  Unlikely Friends and Neighbors whose compassion and support have been so incredibly comforting – and often, a pleasant surprise.   Journaling, blogging, reading Al-Anon and addiction  literature and good recovery blogs, all add to your body of knowledge about addiction.  They can calm your mind, ease some frustration and guilt, and give you hope.  All these resources helped me feel not so alone, for which I am grateful.  See my BlogRoll and Recovery Blogs in the far right column, for reference.  And, a Gratitude Journal helps to regularly think about, remember, and write down the things and people in your life you are thankful for.  It’s a bit of a diversion tactic that helps to get your self out of your own misery for a while – and focus on what is good and positive in your life.

And finally, try to be of service to someone else who is in pain due to or struggling with addiction.  This may be as simple as setting up chairs at an Al-Anon meeting, reading and commenting on blog posts, calling a friend who needs support and encouragement, giving someone your full attention and truly listening to them.

•Luck, Serendipity, a Higher Power, God: they all play a part that is impossible to predict or control.  I don’t discount any of these and try to remain open to their presence.  I will say that as of May 9, 2010, I do believe in miracles. And, I’ve learned that it helps to let go and turn some of the burden of worry and despair, over to a higher power. I’m still working on this.

So, Nora – I know this has gone on far too long and that I’ve left some things out.  I don’t pretend to know what to tell you to do regarding Hannah.  But, I do know that there is always hope, that YOU can find serenity, and that miracles do happen.  One tiny molecule can make all the difference in the world.

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Waiting For Bill

Posted on November 8, 2010. Filed under: 12 Step Recovery Program, addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , |

Hayley was just home for a few days to take care of a probation violation charge, and we had the unexpected opportunity to spend quite a bit of time together. The Prosecutor ended up sentencing Hayley to one day in jail – and because she already had credit for one day served when she was arrested over a year ago, her case was dismissed. Instead of spending 2 – 3 days in jail, my daughter spent Friday through Monday with me.

GULP! This was Hayley’s first time home, sober. Last May 8th, we, her family, orchestrated an elaborate intervention/rescue plan that culminated in Hayley going to an all women’s long-term treatment center in southern California, Safe Harbor. After seeing Hayley on her birthday, April 6th, it became apparent that she wanted to change her life. But as an active heroin addict, she was incapable of doing anything about it on her own. The words of Tom, at Recovery Help Desk, still resonate:

Voices in the “tough love, anything-you-do-to-‘help’-is-enabling-addiction, let them hit rock bottom” crowd tend to shout the loudest. But parents should know that the scientific research is on the side of the experts who say that early intervention is better than waiting for someone to hit bottom, and that enabling recovery requires action.

I realized that I had hit rock bottom and could no longer stand on the sidelines as my daughter played Russian Roulette with her life. As of May 9, 2010, my daughter has been on the road to recovery and working hard to maintain her sobriety. It’s a bloody miracle. And yes, I do now believe in miracles. The actual “rescue” was on Saturday, May 8th , the day before Mother’s Day. That day, I was scheduled to pick Hayley up at the crack house at 8:30 am. We had to be ‘on the road’ by 9:00 am in order to get her to the airport on time in Seattle and off to the treatment center. She was cooperative – but there were so many variables. At 5:30 am that day, my phone rang. It was Hayley, sobbing hysterically. “Mom, please come get me, right now”. That scene was a nightmare, and it was a miracle I was able to extricate my daughter from the cloying grip of her drug dealer/’boyfriend’, Bill. That relationship was so incredibly complex and convoluted, it seemed impenetrable. But, on that day, Hayley did walk away.

I assumed that Hayley had used right up until I picked her up that morning.  (actually, I had naively considered that perhaps she had begun to ‘cut back’ on her heroin use, in anticipation of going to treatment) I had packed a new bag with all new clothes, a new backpack with toiletries, and a new purse, with a new wallet, personal essentials, etc. Everything was clean, and new, and fresh. I knew what was in each one of those bags.  When I picked Hayley up at 5:30 am, I took her to my house to shower and dress for the trip. I dumped everything she had with her directly in to the garbage, and handed her the beginnings of her new life.

Hayley just told me that that day, on our way to Seattle, she ‘used’ one last time, in a bathroom stop about 30 miles from the airport. How was that possible? How did I not know? Why would she risk everything when there was so much at stake? My vision of her shooting up in the Starbuck’s bathroom stall, with mothers and young children going in and out, makes me sick – and is another harsh reminder of the power of addiction. If you think that love, or personal physical risk, or guilt, or virtually anything can compete with a craving and syringe, you’re woefully mistaken.

Although my daughter made good decisions and worked her recovery program while she was ‘home’, it was still difficult.  As we drove past seemingly mundane locales – parking lots, motels, convenience/grocery stores, Hayley would comment and divulge creepy details of her drug life. It was both fascinating and repulsive. I won’t be able to look at/pass by those places in the same neutral way as before. They’ve now become contaminated.

If I was ever going to write a book, said Hayley, I’d call it, “Waiting For Bill”. The last few months I was always dope sick, changing locations frequently, and waiting for Bill to bring me something – to ‘get me well’. Bill was Hayley’s “boyfriend”/dope dealer. He was in his mid/late 40’s, fat, in poor health, and facing years in prison. According to Hayley, he did have a heart, of sorts – when he wasn’t verbally/physically abusing her and other vulnerable parasites in their circle. Apparently, he ‘supported’ quite a few addicts.

When Hayley talked about “. . . waiting for Bill . . . “, you know what immediately came to my mind? Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous – a very different Bill, although both Bills suffered from the disease of addiction. Since Hayley has so positively responded to AA’s 12 step recovery program, I’m thinking that Waiting For Bill is the perfect title for a book about Hayley’s recovery.  She was, in fact, waiting for Bill Wilson to lead her down the path of sobriety. 

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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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Beautiful Child

Posted on February 6, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Parent of an Addict, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

David Sheff and his son, Nic, will be speaking in Seattle on March 4th at Town Hall.  I’ve got a ticket to attend this talk – and am excited to see David and Nic in person.  I have been a fan of David Sheff and his book, beautiful boy, since reading it last summer.

beautiful boy: a father’s journey through his son’s addiction, by David Sheff

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.

This book is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional roller-coaster of loving a child who seems beyond help. It contains a lot of good information about meth addiction and brain chemistry, treatment programs, and the parent/addicted child relationship.  The personal story of David Sheff and his son, Nic, is touching and heartbreaking.  Nic has ultimately written a book of his own, Tweak.  I also heard that he has relapsed multiple times, even after the success of his book.  This, the sad reality of drug addiction’s powerful pull.  However,  Nic’s story is also one of hope, in that I’ve come to realize that relapse is actually a part of recovery, and does not have to be considered a failure in the addict’s journey towards long term sobriety.

Here are some excerpts from that book regarding addiction:

•”There’s evidence that people who become addicted, once they begin using, have a type of compulsion that cannot be easily stopped or controlled.  They cannot just stop on their own or they would.  No one wants to be an addict.  The drug takes a person over.  The drug, not a person’s rational mind, is in control”.  p. 150

•”with practice, addicts become flawlessly gifted liars, and this coincides with parents’ increasing susceptibility to their lies”.

•”A using addict cannot trust his own brain – it lies, it says, ‘You can have one drink, a joint, a single line, just one.’” p.261

•”Only Satan himself could have deigned a disease that has self-deception as a symptom, so that its victims deny they are afflicted, and will not seek treatment, and will vilify those on the outside who see what’s happening.” p.263

•” . . . thankful that of all the fatal disease my (son) might have gotten, he got one for which there is this little sliver of hope that if he surrenders, he’ll survive.”  Thomas Lynch  p.272

•” . . . in mortal combat with addiction, a parent wishes for a catastrophe to befall his (child).  I wish for a catastrophe, but one that is contained.  It must be harsh enough to bring him to his knees, to humble him, but mild enough so that he can, with heroic effort and the good that I know is inside him, recover, because anything short of that will not be enough for him to save himself.”  P.274

•(Nic):”I had to hit bottom when there was no one and nothing and I had lost everything and everyone.  That’s what it takes.  You have to be alone, broke, desolate, and desperate.” P.279

•” . . . recovery, like addiction itself, is a long and complex process. Families should never give up hope for recovery – for recovery can and does happen every day.  Nor should they stop living their own lives while they wait for that miracle of recovery to occur.”

Here are 8 pages of pearls from that book that spoke to me in some way.  They are categorized under:  Parents of Addicts, Addiction, Recovery, Treatment Programs/info.   There’s a good list of  addiction resources referenced in this book and detailed by David Sheff on his website.

In re-reading my notes from beautiful boy, I was inspired to try to call my daughter and “break the ice” of her shame/guilt-driven “ice-olation”.  I haven’t seen or spoken to her since last August.  We’ve texted just twice since then.  And, even though a professional drug counselor advised me to cut off all contact with Hayley, so she could feel the full consequences of her choices, I’ve reached my saturation point.  I need to hear my daughter’s voice.  My “ex-druggie” contact, Eric, advised that I call her from a phone # she won’t recognize, and maybe she would answer. She seems to just have access to a certain cell phone # once in a while. If I speak to her, I’m merely going to tell her I love her and  . . . and, what?  That’s the big question.  I need a script to keep my boundaries in tact. I know I can’t slip in any kind of directive or ultimatum in to the conversation.  Essentially, I want to connect with Hayley, in a non-judgmental way, to remind her of us – her family – and that we are missing her and waiting for her to once again be part of our lives.  She needs to have a reason to even want to try to re-enter society, our lives, the real world.

I’m internally hounded by the fact that shame is a huge barrier that can keep addicts using and isolated in their own world.  So, I want to try to diffuse that impediment, as best I can.  I know that by calling Hayley,  I’m opening the door for communication that I may not even want. I’m trying to sort out what I want to do vs what I feel I should do.  It’s not all that simple.  Yes, I want to hear from my daughter periodically, that she’s alive.  No, I don’t want her in my life until she takes some steps, on her own, towards help and recovery.  Is that conditional love, or just taking care of myself and protecting myself from Hayley’s manipulation and “I’m gonna” talk?  In the end, however, Hayley will  always be my beautiful child.  And so, I will never give up.

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Posted on January 1, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , |

My younger son, Brian (25) is home for two weeks over the holidays.  He is a strong, gentle spirit who has always been the “glue” of the family.  He faithfully practices daily meditation and is intentional in the way he lives his life.  He’s a committed vegetarian, has not drunk alcohol or ‘smoked’ now for over a year.  He graduated from Stanford and is a successful documentary filmmaker.  He truly believes that positive thought, love, and ‘cosmic energy’ can bring peace to the world as well as to individual lives, including his sister’s.  I haven’t the heart to burst his bubble and talk to him about the reality and power of addiction – how the brain receptors physically change and the deep craving dominates any logic, will power, or rational thinking.

A few days ago, Brian caught a glimpse of an email I sent to a friend, saying that I had lost all hope of Hayley ever recovering.  He sent me this:

Mom, don’t say you don’t have hope.  Even if you feel discouraged.
Always have hope.  Anything is possible.

It’s important that we as a family create that space in our minds for the outcome we want, without being attached to the actual outcome.

Just a post or two ago, I had claimed that I was going to try to be more positive and hopeful.  And yet, deep down, it’s not what I truly believed or felt.  I have detached from Hayley to the point of thinking of her as dead.  I was being painfully honest with Brian when he asked me if I truly had given up on Hayley.  When I said yes, that I thought of my daughter, as I once knew her, as ‘gone’, he was devastated.  He said he was so disappointed in me – – – that I must try to always remember the essence of Hayley – of who she still is deep inside.  He reminded me that if Hayley knew or felt that I/we had given up on her, what incentive would there ever be for her to even try to recover?  Brian also was adamant that our negative thoughts do have a deleterious effect on the recipient of those thoughts.

I’ve been getting through my days by detaching emotionally from Hayley.  It’s easier than loving her.  I thought I had found a solution to being consumed by the pain, guilt, and tragedy of Hayley’s addiction. I still think about her constantly and her sordid lifestyle – but it’s so disgusting and revolting to me, I’ve erected a shield of protection – a barrier to feeling any tenderness or compassion towards her.  It’s just too painful to love her and hope for her return to a ‘normal’ life.  In fact, for at least the last ten years, I don’t really have many positive memories of Hayley.  There were always crises, dramas, disappointments, and anxiety.  So, I’ve been conditioned, I guess.  If I don’t expect (or hope for) any thing, I won’t be let down – – – again.

And then, Brian reminded me that a life without hope is truly not worth living – that there is always the possibility of anything – even recovery.  And that our thoughts can actually have an affect, either positive or negative, on those we love or come in contact with.  Hmmmmmm – – – I’m going to consider this – and try to find my way towards regaining some hope – if not for myself, or for Hayley, then for Brian.  I promised him.

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From Breastmilk to Heroin

Posted on November 20, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , |

I was deliberate and intentional in raising Hayley – wanting her to have every opportunity in life.  I had an all natural childbirth with Hayley weighing in at 8 ½ pounds.  She took to the breast immediately, and was a vigorous nurser.  And although she was ‘colicky’ the first three months of her life with lots of gastric distress and refusing a pacifier or artificial nipple of any kind, she gained weight well and eventually outgrew her fussiness.  I nursed her for ~ 18 months and she didn’t sleep through the night until she was weaned.  She was a beautiful, delightful baby, who idolized her older brother, Brian.

What better start can you give a child?  I thought I had protected her health and future with breast milk, homemade baby food, no sugar or artificial preservatives/additives until she was almost 4. She was loved, and held, and read to.

Hayley later blamed her so-called ‘oral fixation’ on me – biting her nails and cuticles, smoking, maybe even her eating disorder, who knows?  A mother is always to blame, isn’t she?

So when and where did it go so wrong?  I thought I was being a good mother, but there was obviously some thing Hayley needed that she wasn’t getting.  Who knew?

I had a tortured dream last night that I was kidnapped by heroin addicts and was forced to watch them inject themselves.  Strangely, Hayley was not amongst the group – and, as revolting as they were, I was drawn to ‘these people’.  They showed me a certain level of kindness and compassion – as if I were ‘family’ – yet also seemed to find some perverse pleasure in shocking me.  I was terrified that they would make me shoot heroin myself, and my life would instantly change.  I also was afraid that I would stick myself with one of their carelessly tossed needles and become infected with hepatitis or HIV. I eventually escaped in the night, barefoot, and had to find my way home – miles away, and in an unfamiliar setting.

Babies – their innocence, potential, future . . . nothing is for certain, although I thought I could stack the odds.

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Posted on November 13, 2009. Filed under: Parent of an Addict | Tags: , |

My daughter won’t let us know where she’s living in town.  She’s afraid I’ll call the police and have her arrested.  There is a warrant out for her arrest for violating probation, and at times, I’ve thought that jail could be an effective treatment program.  It’s free, and Hayley couldn’t walk out of it.    I know she doesn’t go out and is a ‘prisoner’ in her current living situation, worried that she’ll run in to someone she knows.  She’s ashamed and embarrassed.  She told our mutual friend, Erik, that she wants to see me, but is afraid to have me see her.  I’m sure that must mean she doesn’t look very good.

Last June, when I learned that Hayley was living in a crack house, I decided to ratchet up the security level at my house.  I disengaged the manual ‘open’ button on my driveway gate, re-located the emergency front door house key, put giant padlocks on the side yard and deck gates.  When I left town, I pulled down all the window shades, kept the radio on, hid my jewelry and computer, put strategic lights on timers. I didn’t really think that Hayley would try to break in to my house, but I worried about her ‘junkie’ friends.  I’ve since relaxed a bit – at least when I’m at home.  But I still worry when I go out of town.

The Stigma – yes – I am beginning to feel the stigma of my daughter’s drug life and poor choices.  My paranoia is that friends I meet on the street probably think:  “What must have gone on in that family to cause that beautiful girl to become a drug addict?”  Or, I’ll smile, and say hello, or be out and about, trying desperately to go on living my life – and acquaintances/friends might think I’m calloused, don’t care, am skimming the surface of emotional life. However, I guess that one of the many good things about small towns:  the small talk – chitchat outside the post office or grocery store, never stumbles into inquiries like, And how are your kids doing?  Everybody already knows.

After almost six months, I am just now able to go a couple of hours without thinking of Hayley and her sordid life.  I can catch myself feeling guilty for laughing, or having a good time with friends.  And every time I hear a siren, I wonder if my daughter is being arrested somewhere.

Paranoia – hers, mine – it’s driving us both crazy.

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One Day At A Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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