Universal Coverage

Posted on November 8, 2011. Filed under: AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Recovery | Tags: , , |

She was euphoric when she called.  The treatment center where she works full time was finally offering her health insurance.  She was feeling a huge sense of relief and accomplishment – that she could now pull herself back from teetering on that precarious cliff edge of no healthcare coverage – where any medical emergency, let alone the preventative and routine healthcare visits she needs, could plunge her down in to an abyss of lifetime debt – and yet another deep, dark hole to climb out of.  Making just $11.00/hr is really not enough to fully support herself – although, she has been making a valiant effort to do so.  And, for some reason, up to now, her employer hadn’t either been pressed to offer health insurance – or Hayley didn’t qualify in some way.

Mom, would you please send my birth certificate?  I’ll send it right back to you.

 This important piece of paper has been in my safe for her entire life, and I felt a bit nervous letting go of it.  Yes, my 32 yo daughter, who has been in recovery from heroin addiction for ~ 18 months, should probably have this personal legal document in her possession – – – and keep track of it. But her track record regarding these kinds of things, is abysmal.  (Come to think of it, I also have my two adult sons’ birth certificates in my safe.  Is this just something that mothers do?)

However, I sent it – certified mail, so it could be tracked.  My confidence in the US Postal Service is sketchy, at best.  And due to increased national security and immigration politics/issues, the process for replacing an original birth certificate these days is a herculean task that requires a lot of time, documentation, and persistence.  There was a deadline pending for Hayley to choose a specific health care plan and get all the application paperwork in – and nothing could be processed without the birth certificate.

I did a somewhat restrained/succinct version of encouraging her to carefully research the coverage and details of the insurance plans – and was proud of myself for not offering to do it for her!  I figured that since she called to ‘chat’ about the pending health insurance, she was looking for my input, right?

After a week to ten days had passed, and she still hadn’t received the birth certificate, I settled in to a funk.  I bounced between anger and panic – mad at the inept/bureaucratic government and postal service, at Hayley for not allowing enough time for snafus, and anxious that this delay would result in Hayley not being able to get the health insurance she so desperately needs.  To top it off, I had misplaced the certified mail receipt, so had no way of tracking the envelope.  Now, I was also mad at myself.

A couple of days ago, Hayley called to say:

The good news is, I finally received the envelope with my birth certificate.  Thanks, Mom.  And the bad news is, (I held my breath!!!!!) I guess my place of employment isn’t offering health insurance.  After I turned in all my paper work, they announced that there weren’t enough employees interested in participating (?) at our small facility – but that maybe I could apply for a job at one of the other, larger treatment houses in the complex where they do offer health insurance.

 In the discussion that followed, there were glimpses of Hayley’s all too familiar indignant and entitled attitudes from years past:  They can’t do that!  I listened and tried to be as encouraging and supportive as I could.  But, I also couldn’t help myself from giving her a dose of reality:

Make a case for yourself, Hayley.  Ask for what you want/deserve – in writing.  Remind them what a valuable employee you are and what skills you bring to their treatment center and program.  And do a little research about California State Law and what small businesses are required to provide to their employees.

 I don’t have time for all of that, Mom, she whined.

 And I responded with:

Join the club, Honey – and real life.  Most working people have a myriad of responsibilities they need to tend to on their days/time off.  It’s hard, I know. But your health is at stake and it looks like it will take some homework to follow up on this.  And be careful how you approach your employer. Document all your requests, comments, and questions.  If you threaten them in any way, that they aren’t following the law regarding health insurance for employees, they could decide to terminate you based on some subjective ‘poor job performance’ evaluation. And the reality is, there are probably 20 other young women standing in line to take your job.

She didn’t like hearing this.  She truly has no idea how much time and follow-up it takes to check billing statements, call and talk to health insurance companies about benefits, monitor and track all the details of life that crop up on a daily business.

I know I probably said too much in our phone conversation.  The boundary between being a parent/ adviser and supporting recovery is fuzzy – for me, at least. I try to ration the amount and frequency of some basic ‘independent adult living’ knowledge that I dispense, which I don’t think Hayley ever acquired.  You know what they say – that a drug addict’s emotional/social/cognitive development is essentially arrested back to when they started using and abusing substances.  For Hayley, I figure that is 10 to 15 years ago.  Plus, her brain chemistry has been changed – maybe forever – and who knows in what ways?

 I’m trying to not be so afraid to speak the truth to Hayley – fearing that it could trigger a relapse.  She’s had a history of being overwhelmed by life – and then numbing herself in order to cope – or push aside – or not deal with things. I want to nurture some confidence in herself – that she can handle these ups and downs, challenges, surprises of life;  that it takes some work and follow-through to make things happen; and that it’s ok to feel frustrated and/or not know exactly what to do.

The truth is, I’m struggling with recovery, too – maybe even as much as Hayley.  My drug of choice is worry – obsession with things over which I really have no control. I come by it honestly.  My 94 year old mother is still actively ‘using’ worry to frame every conversation and choice she makes. Worry is at the center of who and how she defines herself.  Is that what kind of life I want? Allowing obsessive worrying to rob me of the joy of today – and all the things I have to be grateful for?

I heard at an Al-Anon meeting last night that “Worry” is, in reality, a prayer to make something you don’t want, happen.  Huh?  After thinking about this for a long time, I got it.  If I constantly worry about what could happen or the ‘worst-case scenario’, I am expending so much energy and thought towards that negative outcome, who knows – could I unintentionally tip the balance in that direction?  My younger son, Brian, is convinced that what we send out in to the universe – our positive and negative thoughts, have power and a determining effect on what actually happens.

And so, right now – and for as long as I can, just today, I am sending out strength – and hope – and love to whomever needs it and will let themselves feel it – along with all the other sh*t floating around.  We’re all in this together.     

 

 

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Taking the Plunge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Compass of Pleasure

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

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

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

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

Here are some thought-provoking excerpts from the interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linden goes on to say in his interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            –regular prayer/meditation

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

            –support groups and a structured recovery program, like AA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finding Home

Posted on June 22, 2011. Filed under: Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Treatment Centers | Tags: , , , |

My daughter, Hayley, has been in recovery from heroin/crack cocaine (and anything else she could get her hands on) addiction for a little over a year.  As I recounted in my last blog post, One Year, she has come a very long way.  It’s a bloody miracle.  After a harrowing escape plan to extricate her from the crack house where she was living, she spent 12 days in a medical detox facility, 90+ days at a small residential women’s treatment center, then moved to one of their sober living houses close by.  After about 5 months, she was encouraged and invited to move into an apartment with two other younger women in recovery, all ‘graduates’ of the Safe Harbor Treatment Center program.  I visited her last month to celebrate her One Year of sobriety, and was impressed (or shall we say, ‘blown away’?) by what I saw. The apartment was well furnished (by her roommates), clean, orderly, and located in a very secure complex/compound with lovely grounds.  Hayley had her own bedroom – had even bought a bed, dresser, and bedside table.  She was working full time at the treatment center, but only earning $11.00/hour.  She was proud of the fact that she had been able to ‘make it’ on her own, without asking either me or her dad for money.  Yet, things are very tight, financially, and don’t allow for any extras – including medical/dental expenses, car repairs, random, unplanned-for expenses, etc.

And now, after just getting really settled and in to a routine, her two roommates are moving, and Hayley needs to find another place to live.

There are complicating factors: she can’t financially afford an apartment on her own (the family of one of her roommates has been ‘helping’ with their rent); her credit score/record is so miserable, she could never sign/co-sign a lease; and, she has a dog – a darling dog, mind you, who brings Hayley so much joy and affection – – – but, is also a liability.

Hayley has known this was coming for a month or so – and has been diligently looking for potential roommates.  She has cycled through quite a few possibilities, with all of them falling through due to one reason or another.  And with the deadline looming on June 25th, I’m getting nervous.  She’s stressed, too.  She called last week to give me a lengthy update on the roommate and apartment choices that were left.  And the one she’s settled on, isn’t ideal, which she acknowledges; yet, she feels it will ‘do’ until next fall when her preferred roommate choice, Kristin, will be ready to move to an apartment.

Here’s the plan:  Hayley met a very nice ‘older’ guy in her apartment complex who has a little dog with whom Hayley’s dog, Bear, likes to play.  This ‘Guy’ (don’t even know his name), is moving to a 2 bedroom apartment within the same complex, and offered to rent Hayley the second bedroom.  She figures that this will be a temporary arrangement, until she can find a more ideal and permanent situation. Hayley has seen his current apartment – and says it’s well appointed and clean/neat.  The ‘Guy’ would love to have Hayley’s dog around on a regular basis for his dog to play with.  Hayley has discussed preliminary details with the ‘Guy’ – letting him know she has a serious boyfriend, setting clear boundaries, discussing expectations, etc.  There’s internet service there, but still, her rent will be a little more than what she’s now paying.  The ‘Guy’ has a cleaning person every couple of weeks – so Hayley offered to do the cleaning, for a slight reduction in rent.  (YIKES!  Her ‘clean’ standards are very different from mine!  Will she actually be able to do this?  Sounds iffy, to me)

The ‘Guy’, is also asking for a $500 deposit to cement the deal.  Hayley indicated she would need help with this, which has already created a dilemma for me regarding ‘enabling’.

Of course, a million red flags go up, for me.

•is this guy really a pervert who will try to take advantage of/hit on my daughter?

•does he have some weird habits/quirks that Hayley will find out about only after moving in?

•is he honest and a good person, and someone who is just trying to help out some one in need?

•is this guy in recovery, himself?  Or, will there be alcohol, at the very least, around?

                                                    JUST WHAT IS THIS GUY’S STORY?

 

And why am I so suspicious? Hayley’s past history with choosing roommates hasn’t been especially stellar.  She’s always been able to convincingly rationalize why she’s moving in with so-and-so – and almost always, it has proven to be a disaster.

And, to further complicate matters, this new apartment won’t be ready for move-in until July 15th, which means Hayley will have to pack up and store her things in a friend’s garage, and ‘couch surf’ at friends’ for three weeks.

Can any of this work?  Of course, I have no control over any of it, and need to just let it all go.  I did pose some questions to Hayley for her to consider – which she did not take offense to, and seemed to have already thought of them.

I do  believe there is a difference in enabling addiction and enabling recovery.  In fact, I prefer to use the term, supporting  recovery.  If I give Hayley the $500 for the room deposit, I’m sure I’ll never see it again.  I would need to give it “for fun and for free”, to quote an Al-Anon slogan.  I’m glad that she’s not just automatically moving in with her boyfriend, Rob. And – – – I guess anything is better than the crack house, right?

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One Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mother’s Day Gift

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

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

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

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

May 2, 2010 “Getting Well:

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

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

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

(click here to read more)

May 6, 2010:  Ready, Set, . . . Go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hangover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recovery Helpdesk

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

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

Peggy,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

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

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


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PTSD – Hers and Mine

Posted on March 6, 2011. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict, Treatment Centers, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

My daughter has been in recovery from heroin addiction for ten months now. Within the last two months, she has acquired her driver’s license, bought a car, begun working full time, and moved out of her sober living house and into an apartment with two other women in recovery. Did I mention that she has a ‘boyfriend’ that’s ten years younger?  (Does that make her a ‘cougar’?)  “Rob” is in recovery, himself, and is a personal trainer at her gym. He seems crazy about her – and she feels the same way about him. They both quit smoking, together, over a month ago.

When I spoke with Hayley a few days ago, she mentioned that she’s been having ‘using’ dreams.  She assured me that this is ‘normal’ for someone in recovery, approaching his/her’s one-year sobriety ‘birthday’.  Yet, these dreams are disturbing – both to her, and to me.  I could tell that in her voice – and  in her next breath, that she was working very hard at trying to reassure me – and, most likely herself, that these were typical of the dreams recovering addicts have.

Yet, I’m skeptical of anything my daughter calls normal. It’s all relative, isn’t it? It hasn’t been that long since she explained to me how ‘normal’ it was for heroin addicts to get abscesses.  And now, I’m wondering if dreaming about shooting up is a preliminary step towards her actually using again – and, of course, the BIG ‘R’ relapse.

Please don’t tell me that ‘relapse is a part of recovery’.  I’ve heard that adage many times, especially at Al-Anon/AA meetings. When an alcoholic relapses, the consequences don’t seem quite as dire as when a heroin addict relapses. The immediate addictive nature of heroin, illicit activity and connections to acquire the drug, paraphernalia required, exposure to chronic, life-threatening disease with just one needle poke, and threat of arrest, all accumulate into making heroin relapse a very different beast from alcohol relapse, in my opinion, although the end result can be just as devastating.  Yeah – I know – here I go again, escalating from a dream to the nightmare of reality.  It’s my “M-O”

Why did Hayley feel it was necessary to tell me about her dreams?  Was she just being transparent, and honestly answering my question of “How are you”?  Was she needing reassurance and support, or something more?  Is she not really working her program? Should she be talking to her sponsor about such dreams? How serious is this?

I’ve been wondering, lately, if I’m suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).  I can easily travel from 0 to 60 within milliseconds, ramping up my anxiety, fear, and sense of doom when I encounter certain ‘triggers’. I still get a cold chill down my spine when I hear a siren’s wail.  When I open up our local newspaper, I still expect to see my daughter’s mug shot there, in the Crime Stoppers box that posts names and photos of individuals wanted for arrest.  When I drive past certain streets, parking lots, houses, hotels/motels, restaurants, I look carefully, half expecting to get a glimpse of Hayley or one of her drug dealers.  I have flashes of very disturbing images of my daughter injecting herself and the depraved, sordid living conditions of the crack houses where she lived for a year and a half.  I can see her abscesses and track marks on her arms, legs, feet, and breasts, and scenes of her physical and sexual abuse – all throbbing in my head – and get almost sick to my stomach.  Will I ever be free of these disturbing images?

Although support groups, like Al-Anon, help family members of alcoholics and drug addicts recover from the effects of the disease, it’s really not enough for me.  I feel emotionally scarred.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at my daughter again, the way I did prior to her life in the drug world.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you’ve seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death. People with PTSD often internalize the event and re-experience the trauma again and again in at least one of several ways. They may have frightening dreams and memories of the event, feel as though they are going through the experience again (flashbacks), or become upset during anniversaries of the event.  In effect, they are not only traumatized during the “activating” event, but every time something triggers a memory of the event. A traumatic event is an experience that causes physical, emotional, psychological distress, or harm and is perceived and experienced as a threat to one’s safety or to the stability of one’s world.

Here’s a quick definition of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from Wikipedia:

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma.[1][2][3] This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one’s own or someone else’s physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,[1] overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope. As an effect of psychological trauma, PTSD is less frequent and more enduring than the more commonly seen acute stress response. Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal – such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, and hypervigilance. Formal diagnostic criteria (both DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10) require that the symptoms last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.[1]

And, a more comprehensive review of the disorder and a more credible resource, can be found at the government’s National Institute of Health (NIH) website.

The irony of PTSD, as I’m applying it to an addict in recovery – and to family members who suffer from the effects of the addiction, is that alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, and drug abuse, are all side-effects, symptoms, and complications from the disorder.  Yes – a drug addict in recovery can suffer from PTSD and be triggered to use drugs again!  The proverbial dog chasing its tail.

Here are the typical symptoms, treatment, and complications of PTSD, from the NIH:

Symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories:

1. Repeated “reliving” of the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity

  • Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be happening again and again
  • Recurrent distressing memories of the event
  • Repeated dreams of the event
  • Physical reactions to situations that remind you of the traumatic event

2. Avoidance

  • Emotional “numbing,” or feeling as though you don’t care about anything
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Lack of interest in normal activities
  • Less expression of moods
  • Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind you of the event
  • Sense of having no future

3. Arousal

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exaggerated response to things that startle you
  • Excess awareness (hypervigilance)
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Sleeping difficulties

You also might feel a sense of guilt about the event (including “survivor guilt”), and the following symptoms, which are typical of anxiety, stress, and tension:

  • Agitation, or excitability
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Feeling your heart beat in your chest (palpitations)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Paleness

Signs and Tests:

There are no tests that can be done to diagnose PTSD. The diagnosis is made based on a certain set of symptoms that continue after you’ve had extreme trauma. Your doctor will do psychiatric and physical exams to rule out other illnesses.

Treatment:

Treatment aims to reduce symptoms by encouraging you to recall the event, express your feelings, and gain some sense of control over the experience. In some cases, expressing grief helps to complete the necessary mourning process. Support groups, where people who have had similar experiences can share their feelings, are helpful.

People with PTSD may need to treat depression, alcohol or substance abuse, or related medical conditions before addressing symptoms of PTSD. Behavioral therapy is used to treat avoidance symptoms. This can include being exposed to the object that triggers your symptoms until you become used to it and no longer avoid it (called graded exposure and flooding).

Medicines that act on the nervous system can help reduce anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD. Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac), can be effective in treating PTSD.

A number of other medicines used for mental health disorders may be prescribed. A doctor should monitor you if you take these drugs, because they can have side effects. Sedatives can help with sleep disturbance. Anti-anxiety medicines may be useful, but some types, such as benzodiazepines, can be addictive.

Support Groups

You can find more information about post-traumatic stress disorder and coping with a national tragedy from the American Psychiatric Association — www.psych.org.

Expectations (prognosis):

The best outcome, or prognosis, depends on how soon the symptoms develop after the trauma, and on how quickly you get diagnosed and treated.

Complications:

The most well known cases of PTSD are seen in war veterans. However, PTSD is not only caused by war. Any significant traumatic event or a series of traumas over time can lead to symptoms of PTSD. Some common causes are:

  • Child or domestic abuse
  • Living in a war zone or extremely dangerous neighborhood
  • Sexual Assault
  • Violent Attack
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Witnessing a violent death such as a homicide

When I Googled “PTSD in Drug Addiction”, it directed me to this website and a treatment option offered at some drug addiction treatment centers:  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). (NOTE: This site was informative, but I think it is sponsored by the Promises treatment centers that offer EMDR – just be aware that this is NOT an unbiased, clinically researched site.)  I seem to remember that EMDR was listed as a treatment option at Hayley’s treatment center, Safe Harbor, but she never received it.  However, I think that NOW, with Hayley well in to recovery, perhaps she could benefit from such specific treatment for PTSD.  Dunno.  I’m going to do more research.

Yes, I worry about Hayley suffering from PTSD and it becoming a trigger for relapse.  And, I wonder if I, too, am experiencing a version of PTSD and need to find a way to re-process and cope with the trauma of my beautiful daughter becoming a heroin addict.  Yeah – I know I do.

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Recovery – Hers and Mine

Posted on February 21, 2011. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

I apologize for having been gone so long. I’ve had other personal/writing projects in the works, as well as tending to my 93 year old mother’s increasing needs and care. And with Hayley now in recovery, there isn’t as much high drama to report on and vent about.  The reality is, however, I need to focus on my own recovery from my daughter’s addiction, more than ever.  And, I struggle with that process.  More on that, later.

First, a Hayley Update:

Hayley has now been clean and sober for nine months. During that time, she was in medical detox for 12 days, then completed a 120 day residential drug treatment program, then moved to a sober living house for 5 months, recently acquired a California driver’s license, bought a car, started working at the treatment center from which she ‘graduated’, and just moved in to an apartment with two other women in recovery.  So far, so good.  It’s a lot.  These milestones in her recovery are all very encouraging, and I’m so proud of her hard work and commitment to sobriety.  It’s almost difficult to comprehend – and fully embrace.  I’m very aware of the enormous amount of financial support that was required to facilitate her recovery – and that NOW, with that financial tether mostly severed, the real work of genuine, lasting recovery begins.  Hayley has just begun to deal with the reality of managing her own time, money, impulses, and recovery program.  Unfortunately, getting sober didn’t automatically reverse or eliminate many personal issues/traits that eventually led to her descent in to drug addiction.  So, I’m somewhat guarded – and trying to just take one day at a time.

To those of you new to my blog, Hayley was a heroin/crack cocaine addict (or anything else she could get her hands on) – and was living a high-risk, dangerous life of depravity and desperation in a series of crack houses. She became a serious drug addict at the age of 30, after years of ‘dabbling’ with a variety of substances, from alcohol, to pot, to prescription painkillers, et al.   As a beautiful, well-educated young woman from a family of ‘privilege’ who had been given/earned a variety of enviable opportunities throughout her life, Hayley defied the stereotypical drug addict profile and predictor statistics.  Yet, there she was, less than a year ago, with only two possible outcomes if she continued doing what she was doing: death or jail.  She came close to both.

I want to offer hope to those of you in desperate need of good news, information, and help for your own situation. First, if you haven’t already, you can read about the harrowing events in the months and days leading up to Hayley’s dramatic turnaround and walking away, with our family’s help, from the world of addiction. My January through May 9th 2010 posts chronicle the timeline leading up to my daughter’s recovery.  Timing, luck, synchronicity, opportunity, higher powers and who-knows-what-else, all converged to create the perfect storm for Hayley’s decision to change her life.  I am grateful beyond words, humbled, and still mystified by this bloody miracle.  There is no magic formula for such a positive outcome.  However, there is support and help for you to get through what you thought you never could .

I understand that when trying to cope and deal with a child’s life-threatening illness, you gather as much information as you can, and don’t rule out anything.  And, of course, addiction is an illness. I encourage you to reference and visit the sites I’ve listed to the right of this post.  They can provide you with important resources, information, and the emotional support you need to soldier through the roller coaster of addiction:

Addiction Recovery Blogs are written by those currently in recovery themselves. They have walked the talk and know more about addiction and recovery than any professional ‘expert’.  Their perspective and insight is of particular help to me right now, and a credible source of experience, strength, and hope. Professional interventionist, author of The Lost Years, and recovering alcoholic/crack cocaine addict, Kristina Wandzilak, just came out with a new blog worth visiting: Sober and Shameless. And, I highly recommend Guinevere Gets Sober. “Guinevere” is recovering from a prescription painkiller addiction, is a mother, wife, and eloquent writer. Actually, I don’t mean to necessarily single out any one of these blogs.  All those listed are worth visiting/reading.  They offer hope and a realistic glimpse of the daily struggles a recovering addict faces.  I find myself wanting to learn more about addiction, especially from the addict’s perspective.  These blogs help.

Addiction Resources will give you a variety of good, practical information about the signs and symptoms of addiction, definitions of terms and drug language, descriptions of drug paraphernalia, treatment options, and more.  Become educated about what you’re dealing with.

Favorite Blogs list some good blogs by other parents who are struggling with addiction in their family, where you can get a wide range of perspectives and scenarios, and, perhaps, not feel so alone.  The ‘community’ of other desperate parents, dealing with their child’s addiction, is such an important resource.  Even though my daughter is now in recovery, I still like to visit these sites and take the time to give any words of support that I can.  I so appreciated viewers responding to my own posts that were usually written in despair and in the midst of a crisis.  Their support would often keep me going through, what I thought, were impossibly painful and frightening circumstances.  I also learned through these blog posts, that many situations were worse than my own. It helped keep things in perspective for me.

•Inspiration For Living your Best Life: blogs that don’t necessarily deal with addiction, but will lift you up and inspire you to live your best life.  I make an effort to go to these sites regularly, to help keep the focus on myself rather than my recovering addict, and expand my knowledge on how to be my best self.

My Own Recovery

Trying to take one day at a time and keep my focus on changing the things I can, is a process and takes time – it is and will most likely be, a lifetime of work.  I am trying to recover from my obsession with what my daughter is or is not doing. The daily vigilance and monitoring become a nasty habit.  There is a fine line between enabling and truly helping.  It is incredibly hard not to interfere with the natural consequences of my daughter’s choices.  And, I will continue to seek out the help and support I need to stay within my own hula hoop.  We cannot climb up a rope that is attached only to our own belt. William Ernest Hocking 

Right now, I feel that I’m taking a break and stepping back from almost 10 years of constant worry and anxiety.  I am slowly shifting my focus – and working on not letting my daughter’s life take over my own.  It’s time to face my own demons and create the life I want for myself.  Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop. Ovid

This from Al-Anon’s Courage to Change:  . . . I was busy projecting a horrible outcome to my loved one’s crisis and dreading the ways in which the consequences might affect me.  The slogan, “One Day at a Time” reminds me that, in spite of my fears, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Why am I leaping into the future?   Perhaps I’ve given my feelings no room to exist.  Part of me gambles that by worrying in advance, bad news will be easier to face if it comes.  But worrying will not protect me from the future.  It will just keep me from living here and now.  “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow; it only saps today of its strength.” A.J. Cronin

Will I ever overcome the effects of my daughter’s addiction?  Anger, resentment, and fear are my demons.  Can I accept the reality of my life? When I try to control a situation by making suggestions, asking prodding questions, and feel the compulsion to comment, I am losing my focus and need to put my energy back where it belongs –  on myself. We should have much peace if we would not busy ourselves with the sayings and doings of others. Thomas a Kempis

I still struggle with accepting that I am just as powerless over my daughter’s  recovery, as I was over her drug addiction. Trying to” let go and let God” and break the cycle of my addiction to worry and fear, is difficult – it becomes a convenient distraction from focusing on my own life and what I need to be working on:  my own actions, behavior, motives, and relationships.  Am I afraid to live life for myself? We’ll see.  In the meantime, I will  try to stay in the present – it’s really all I have.

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