Predisposed

When I was nine years old both of my parents remarried. The summer before fifth grade my brother, my mom, myself and my stepdad all moved to Virginia from Colorado.  My brother and I left behind our father with his wife and her two children.  It was a hard move on everyone.

The beginning of fifth grade is the first time I remember consciously lying to my mom. What had happened prior to that is I had started to break rules I didn’t know were rules. Like, leaving the refrigerator door open for too long. Or closing the garage door too hard. Or putting my feet up on the couch. These were all new things brought in with my stepfather. Rules that I didn’t know  were rules until I got in trouble. So, at one point when I was asked if I had done something I generally would just lie because I didn’t know if I had broken a rule or not. This behavior kept me safe from confrontation or getting in to trouble that was lurking behind every step that I made. When I would go to my dad’s house I had to do the same thing. You see, what was absolutely not acceptable at one house was absolutely fine at another house. Or vice versa.  Adjusting to new parents and what made them tick- in addition to completely different lifestyles within each home- it was…difficult, to say the least. I walked on eggshells until I learned if I just lied when I was asked about things I could make my ground a little more solid.

I used to journal A LOT. I found one from fifth grade that had a map of my moms house in it. Every room was labelled and I had written a suicide note right behind the map, along with where they could find my body. That girl who wrote the note-she had started to control me. When nobody was looking I was often crying. I started self-harming in sixth grade (I was pulling chunks of my hair out or burning myself with candle wax) and I didn’t tell anyone. Not a friend or a parent or a teacher. I wasn’t sure if I would get in to trouble and it helped me feel in control. I eventually moved on to cutting and even asphyxiation. Yes, asphyxiation. I would try to strangle myself with plastic bags. I often woke up passed out and covered in sweat-one time vomit.

At some point I started doing things I KNEW were wrong and had become skilled at lying. I broke rules and acted out to feel…something…anything other than the anxiety and depression that had moved in to my heart.  By freshman year of high school I attempted to kill myself the first time (which has been discussed in a previous post).  By the end of my sophomore year of high school I went to my first mental hospital.

Sixteen years old and in a psych ward. And for the first time in YEARS I felt like I belonged. There were other girls there just like me. So, naturally, I assumed that was exactly where I belonged-locked up with other crazy people. When I was released only one of my friends knew where I had been. I didn’t dare tell anyone else. I was so confused and ashamed and I had already been bullied at that high school…can you imagine what kids would say??   Kara-if you’re reading this-thank you!  Thank you for NEVER judging me-to this day-and keeping such a big secret.  One of many, ha!  You have been one of my best friends in this life and people like you are so rare.  Your friendship saved my life! Arnie loves you.

Although I was put on antidepressants after the hospital (and numerous times the last twenty years), my thinking didn’t change. I still felt alone and scared and anxious.

Around my junior year is when I started drinking or smoking pot somewhat consistently. I had found that I didn’t feel like I wanted to die when I was drunk or high. Drugs and alcohol saved my life. No doubt. They kept me from killing myself.

The thing is, my brother grew up in the same exact environment. He didn’t become a liar. He didn’t cope with things by getting high. He certainly didn’t want to kill himself. This, I believe, is the predisposition.  Because I have the most incredible family and I didn’t go through much more than any other child of divorce.  So, why am I like this?

I don’t think like other people!  We addicts have a processing problem that gets solved by drinking or using. The problem is that the drugs cease to work and eventually we end up with the same terrible thoughts (but amplified by about a thousand) along with the obsession that eventually the drugs will work again.

At this point in my life I have been locked in a psychiatric ward twice. The last one being only eighteen months ago. WARNING: If you have any inclination that you’re an addict/alcoholic or have depression DO NOT TAKE BIRTH CONTROL without extensive research and consultation. The possibility of a full mental breakdown is greatly increased.

My parents didn’t make me like this. My thoughts did. I do believe that many events triggered my addiction-losing Brett being the main one. But, nothing made me like this. I don’t think so. I think I was born a bit more sensitive than most. I think I am painfully aware of everything around me and have had to find a way to live life without letting the negativity drown me.

Even writing these posts my brain is yelling at me. It says,”STOP! They’re all going to see you now!”  And the other part of me wants to go deeper and tell you everything. Down to the details of how those hospitals smell and all the stories of the people I met. I want to take you into the corners of every dark part of my life and put light on to them. But I am scared. As an addict my whole life has been a secret, in one form or another.

So, you if you have an addict in your life, please, I beg you, try to understand that they have a monster living in their head. It tells them they’re worthless and stupid and a failure. It tells them to be ashamed of all their thoughts and the monster never goes to sleep. He is awake even when we’re not-doing pushups in our brain-gearing up.  The meanest things I’ve ever been called are the ones that come from the beast inside my head.  And I used go to any length to kill him.

 

addicts humansAshley is thinking about writing of having a predisposition to addiction.  This is something I have thought quite a bit about over the years.  I think like many parents of addicts I spent many nights and days consumed with wondering if I could have prevented any of this.  I questioned my parenting, decisions I made, and what signs did I miss.  It is not unusual for a parent to begin blaming themselves for a child’s addiction.

My first thoughts were going back to when I remarried and moved my children to Virginia from Colorado.  Their dad was in Colorado and at the time was having his own struggles.  While I knew the move away from friends who had become family, their dad, and the life we had created there, I had never expected it to be as difficult as it was.  I will just say it was a very rough ride.  Through those years I wondered if I had made the right decision and if the difficulty of those years contributed in any way to her addiction. Ashley acted out in ways I had never seen before and did things I could not believe, some of which I found out much later.

Ash will write more about how she feels she has a predisposition to addiction and it has taken me some time to come to understand it.  My time at Family Week at the Betty Ford Clinic (now  Hazelden Betty Ford) was where my education really began. Before that, I was experiencing a lot of guilt, shame, and felt lost. My son and I were there about three weeks into Ashley’s first stint at rehab.  The message was that we did not cause this and we could not control it.  We had to learn the difference between enabling and disabling.  Out of that whole week, there is one moment I remember the best.  I wish I had written the exact exchange down but I was so stunned and shocked by what had happened, I don’t think I remembered it that well at the time.  But I do know the main gist of it.

A little background is necessary.  When Ashley was in the ICU after the fire, it was a few days before we knew she would live.  We were never asked if she should be taken off any of the life support she was on.  After months in the hospital and rehabilitation, there were so many issues with which we had to deal.  There was not only the pain management and physical rehab, there was the loss of Brett.

I had moved to Charlottesville for over a year to help Ash get back on her feet, literally.  There was one night in particular when she had been out with friends and had too much to drink on top of her medication.  She was still in a wheelchair at this point.  During the evening there had been a very unpleasant encounter with a guy she had known in Northern Virginia which set her off.  I was woken by her friend, who had brought her home, and rushed outside to find her splayed on the ground crying and screaming to let her go…she wanted to be with Brett.  It was awful.  I never would have thought to see my child in so much pain and to this day, it is so distressing to remember the horror and pain in her screams and on her face.  Somehow we got her into the apartment, her friends left, and she ranted and screamed throughout the apartment for three hours starting at around 1:00AM.  I followed her around as she threw things, including herself,   on the floor. Repeatedly.  This was especially scary because she still could barely walk and I cannot even find the words to describe the vision of her throwing herself down, or into a wall, and the attempts to get back on her feet.   All she wanted was to be with Brett.  Finally, I told her she had to stop or I would have to call 911.  After all that time and all that pain just spilling out of her, she stopped, looked at me, and said, “Can we do wound care now?”

Fast forward to being in a one on one meeting with our addict at Betty Ford.  There was a small group of us sitting in a circle comprised of family member and addict.  Each of us was to sit in the middle of the circle facing our addict and express our feelings.  No one outside the circle was to talk.  Ashley proceeded to tell me how angry she was with me for allowing her to live.  She was so angry that I felt as though she hated me.  Why didn’t I allow them to let her die?  My daughter did not want to be here.

This was not the daughter I knew.  Ashley had rarely ever raised her voice to me.  The night before she, her brother, and I had been out to dinner and had a fun evening.  I never expected to see and hear the things she was saying.  Absolutely shocked.  I was sobbing.  I heard someone in the group say, “Poor Kathy.”

All I remember after that is my crying, telling Ashley how much I loved her and that letting her go had never even come up as an option.  I was so sick.  When everyone left the room, the counselor asked me to stay.  He knew how difficult (that is actually an understatement) that had been. He also reminded me that every day she was here, there was hope.  I have clung to his statement since that day.

I know I have gone off track here but that’s how it is when trying to write from the heart and just let the thoughts come.

I would encourage any parent of an addict to attend a Family Week if your loved one is in rehab.  This is just one of the events that week that changed my life, led me to taking better care of myself physically and mentally, which made me better able to support Ashley.  Yes, there were times when I enabled.  Yes, there were instances where I made excuses for her because of my ignorance. And yes, I became depressed and at a loss as to where to find answers.

I am learning so much and have a long way to go.  Two nights ago, I attended a talk by Sam Quinones who authored the book, Dreamland, about the beginnings of the opiate epidemic in America.  It was quite interesting how pharmaceutical companies marketed opiate painkillers as nonaddictive and how a Nayarit, a small town in Mexico, developed a system of retailing heroin like a pizza delivery service.

There is a class I am taking about the science of addiction and what happens in the addict’s brains as well as an article in National Geographic on the science of addiction.  These are such a small portion of the materials out there available to us to become more educated and I have read many others.  Memoirs.  Biographies.  Autobiographies.  Studies.  News reports.

This all makes for some interesting discussions with Ash.  She just sent me an article from the LA Times on over the counter painkillers treating painful injuries just as well as opioids.  I am sure there will be those who disagree but the more we discover, the more we educate ourselves, the better we can help our loved ones.

I apologize for going off track.  Hopefully, I have written something that helps someone.

This mom loves her recovering addict.

An Open Letter to My Daughter

Visit with Ashley

Love this picture! So her.

Dear Ashley,

When I read your posts, I am always struck by your honesty and willingness to put out in the world what your struggles, and that of many suffering addiction, have been through.  Your last posting on “Heroin” was particularly poignant and you know this because I texted you immediately upon reading it.

It was your opening sentence.  “The first time I ever did heroin I was nineteen years old.”  I was at rehearsal for the radio show and wandered away so I could be alone and read what you had written.  All I could hear in my head was, “She was nineteen.  Nineteen.  How did I not know??”

No matter how many times we talk, no matter how many times we discuss how much you were able to hide from me, and no matter how grounded I can feel most of the time, the question never completely stops haunting me.  I texted you immediately.

ME:  “19 huh?  I remember you telling me not long before I learned you did heroin, (which was in your late 20’s to my knowledge), how proud you were you had never done it. And you had.  Ha!  Next blog by momma.  Love you.”

  ASH: “I think I was referring to never having shot heroin.  Honestly, I don’t think it was an intentional lie.”

  ME: “May not have been.  Interestingly, I took it as you had never done it and felt relief.  Oh, the things we learn!”

I felt relief because at that point, was it four or five years now, I thought if she had not done heroin there was hope in a way I had not yet felt.  For some reason, if you had not done heroin, maybe things were bad but not so bad there was no chance of a full recovery.  You see, I was, and still am, learning about addiction.

Often we talk before posting.  Not to change the substance of our posts but to make sure we have grammar and thoughts completed.  We had not had the opportunity to do that on this one so my reactions were raw and I don’t think that was a bad thing.  It was just a bit different.

It made me think again about recovery centers and sober living homes… how I thought you were safe when there but I suppose you were only as safe as you allowed yourself to be.  I also thought you were safe when you went to meetings.  I thought you were safe in high school when I took you to mandated drug counseling and was part of those sessions.  My naivete is so glaring now.  Those have turned out to be some of the “best” places for people to find the drugs they crave.

The time at the beach when you found your boyfriend unresponsive still can haunt me.  I liked him.  Still do and am extremely happy for him and his family as to how well he is doing in recovery now.  Yet when I think of how you were screaming for help and people were standing by watching, not helping, it still turns my stomach.  Your being met at the hospital with hostility and cruelty is not one I fault anyone for but it makes me wonder about the manner in which the ER dealt with this particular crisis.  I know addicts are people who break our hearts over and over and I also know the addict is not the child I raised.  My child is a very different creature when on drugs.

I have known for awhile about your stealing from work.  That phone conversation was another heart stopper.  We were talking about your making amends and about the meeting you were having with your former employers.  I was stunned at how much money you had stolen.  Absolutely stunned.  I am the person who remembers, at about 4 or 5 years of age,  taking a piece of bubblegum from a store.  The guilt was so awful, even at that age, that I remember sneaking it back into the store.  I could not fathom stealing so much for any reason.  You see, I was still learning about the difference between you, my daughter, and you, the addict.

Terrifying to know that when you told them about the theft, you could have been arrested and sent to jail.  Terrified but also proud you were doing what was necessary for your recovery and being ready to take responsibility for your actions.  But still terrified at the thought of you in jail.  Or should I be saying prison?  That was a boatload of money.  To this day, I am aware of how fortunate you were that your act was met with forgiveness.

Over the years, I have learned that to be a supportive parent to you, I have to take care of myself. I still have a husband, son, daughter-in-law, family, friends and interests which I need in my life.  If I don’t work at remaining whole, I can’t be here for you.

Now with the attention on the opioid crisis, I feel we are a team.  Our goal is to tell our story as honestly as we can.  To help others in their struggles as individuals with an addiction and those of us who love those people. We are trying to find our place, to make our voices heard somewhere so that the stigma of addiction can be eradicated.  We are together in wanting our loved ones to walk out into the light of day not ashamed that this is happening in our families and to our friends. It is nothing of which to be ashamed.

I am so very proud of you.  You have an inner strength that I always knew you possessed but you never seemed aware of it.  You are now.  You are always willing to share your personal struggles with others who may be detoxing, recovering, and relapsing as well as people I have asked you to contact.  You have been willing to write or talk to parents who need to see through the eyes of a recovering addict what their sons and daughters may be experiencing.

We may be just a very tiny piece of this but at least we are present.  As Glennon Melton Doyle always says, we are showing up.

I love you.

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heroin

The first time I ever did heroin I was nineteen years old. I was living in a house with my boyfriend and his band and all the band members significant others. I believe there were eleven of us in a 5-bedroom house. It was a blast! We had parties we had shows and we had drugs. At one point the drummer of the band allowed a homeless man to sleep on our couch in exchange for little baggies of China White heroin. I was appalled at the idea of this. However, not too appalled to avoid trying it.  The first time  I snorted a line I remember laying down on my bed afterwards. I felt like a frog slowly swimming through warm water. I felt like I could do anything and everything all at once while doing nothing at all. I snorted a couple lines here and there for about two weeks. One day my boyfriend at the time and I decided to flush all that we had left down the toilet. We did not want to get addicted. That was the first time I did heroin.

The second time was nearly ten years later…in rehab. A friend of mine snuck black tar heroin up onto the mountain where our treatment center was. She taught me how to smoke it off of tin foil with a pen and a lighter. I wasn’t very good at it and she was a bit frustrated; I kept on sucking it up into the pen. However, the effect was the same and I knew I liked it.

A couple months later when I was at sober living with many peers I had met through treatment (my friends and roommates).  A group of them relapsed on heroin. Although I didn’t want to do it I felt like I should want to do it because after all, I’m an addict.  It’s hard to explain and I know it sounds crazy.  I bullied them into sharing with me. I smoked heroin with my friend for about a week and a half. One day my boyfriend at the time, who I had met in treatment, had called me and told me he knew what I was doing and to pick some up for him.  He was very aggressive. I was almost scared. He talked me through how to purchase needles at a drugstore. And he yelled at me when I tried to back out.  So, I did what he asked. I never wanted to disappoint him.  If I am being honest, I would have disappointed myself-I knew I wanted to try it probably as much as he wanted to do it again.  That night my boyfriend, my friend and I all gathered in his truck and he shot me up for my first time. I immediately leaned out of the car and vomited. And this proceeded for the next nine hours.  I was puking uncontrollably. My friend and my boyfriend were fine and actually did two more shots each. I, however, was so sick. The crux of the situation is, between puking, I was super stretchy. I could do the splits for the first time since I was 10. I could do a back walkover for the first time since the fire. I felt Euphoria between the nausea. And although I hated the puking, I loved the high.

The next morning, however, boyfriend and I knew we had made a mistake. We met in his truck at 6 a.m. to go throw the rest of our dope into the ocean.   When we got there he said he wanted to just do one more shot because he felt sick. And the thought of doing one more shot made me sick so, I left and set up on the beach. He was supposed to be right behind me but didn’t show up. I started to get angry and when I called he wasn’t answering his phone.  I angrily started storming back to his truck. When I got to him I opened the passenger door and saw that he was blue. He was covered in sweat but wasn’t sweating anymore. His eyes were wide open but he wasn’t blinking. And his chest was not moving. I started screaming for help. Immediately, I called 911. They directed me to pull him out the side of the truck and lay him flat and then walked me through CPR. It was not easy for me to pull the six-foot-one, 140 lb man out of a truck. But I don’t even remember struggling with it. I was sobbing as I performed CPR waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Eventually one of the people JUST STANDING BY WATCHING walked up and put his hand on my back and told me to calm down and to just let go. Luckily, I didn’t. Paramedics showed up and resuscitated him with a Narcan shot. I rode in the front seat of the ambulance where I was met with hostility and cruelty I didn’t understand at the time.  Now I regrettably can not fault them for it. We addicts are, as I’ve said before, heartbreaking people. I stayed with him at the hospital.  I had to call his mother and tell her what had happened. The fear in her voice scared me more than the overdose itself. It was so raw. A few hours later he went to jail.

One would think this would be enough to stop me. I thought it would be enough to stop me. But, 60 days later he got kicked out of his house (he had moved back in with his parents after the overdose). They had found out he had relapsed again.   I was at his house when this was happening and I tried to convince him to go to a meeting with me. I tried to bully him into not picking up again.  I threatened that I would leave him, I threatened to that I would never speak to him again, I threatened to call the cops on him. He didn’tcare.  Rather than be alone and sober I chose to use with him that night. I used it as an excuse to call my disease out of hiding.

I got kicked out of my sober living the very next morning. The two of us got a room at the seediest, shadiest, dirtiest motel in Costa Mesa, California.  He and I ended up finding a small room to rent with a crazy family and were living together for nine months. At one point he convinced me to start stealing from my work. At first I was scared and thought it was a terrible idea. Eventually I felt like I had to…for us. We were too sick to work without it and had to pay for rent and, drugs…some food. I supported the two of us that whole nine months while he stole from me and spent my money on heroin.  And I let him.  The money that I actually earned and money that I stole all went to drugs. About $1 400 a week.

It was a toxic love. He would cry and yell at me in order to get to me to lie to his parents. Lying to my parents, for some reason, seemed simple. Lying to his, for some reason, seemed like the worst thing in the world to do.

One morning he stole everything we had left and went to work; I tried to chase him down in his truck. That same day when I was on my way to work my cat died. I immediately went and got more drugs. And instead of staying home and comforting me that night he left me to go get drugs of his own.

Most of that nine months we were telling our parents we were clean. Occasionally our parents would speak to each other and we would do the best we could to cover our tracks. Eventually, he ended up having to go back to rehab or go to jail for the arrest due to his overdose. At this point, although I was sad to see him go, I was so relieved. He had started to take Ambien and drive on it.  He had started to threaten to kill himself. On top of the heroin. On top of stealing from me.

There were many nights when we would hold each other and cry ourselves to sleep so desperate to stop. I was covered in track marks and my hands were swollen up like I had been attacked by a swarm of bees.

Although he may sound like a terrible person-he wasn’t. He was so sick. WE were SO sick. Not just physically but, mentally and spiritually.  In all earnestness, I am the reason we kept using. We would have both sought help long before we did if it wasn’t for me. I enabled him more than I enabled  myself. I almost killed him with my enabling.

Which is exactly what our families do. His parents kicking him out was incredibly brave and led to his eventual desperation. As was the case for me. Every time people try and help us with money or a roof over our head, we will usually take advantage of it. It will usually make us much worse. Dip us down deeper into the darkness.

That boyfriend has been clean and sober now for almost SIX years!!  And I made an amends to the job I stole from-I told them everything and asked them how to make it right. And they were more gracious and forgiving than I deserved. I even received a long hug.  I also made amends to that boyfriends parents. He and I are bonded for life and though we have been broken up for nearly a year and a half (after years of trying to make it work and my relapses) he is one of my best friends. For life. We had to nearly die together in order to live separately.

Our parents were willing to do whatever it took to save us. Even if it broke their hearts.

Through the Eyes of a Recovering Addict to a Mom on a Roller Coaster

Recently, Ash and I were asked for guidance from a mom whose son had her on an emotional roller coaster.  Since the mom reached out to us privately, I responded privately.

The other half of it is Ashley’s response as this whole blog is a team effort to help from both perspectives.  I thought Ashley’s words would be particularly helpful to any of you struggling with enabling and supporting.

 I have been gone and out-of-state, also two thousand miles away, for nearly my whole addiction. I will try and keep this very simple. If you want to help him you will leave him alone. If he reaches out to you be loving but be firm with him. Once I knew my parents would no longer catch me when I was falling I was forced to try and catch myself. Once that failed I was forced to ask for real help. Make sense? Things might get worse before they get better. They may never get better. But, like my mom said, that is a hard reality of this. It is so possible I could get loaded and never come back. And I mean that in a mental capacity or physical capacity, any capacity. I do know for a fact I have not seen one addict recover that hasn’t been desperate. I can also pretty much guarantee you that anytime you call him a name he’s already call himself that and much worse. So, as infuriating as addicts may be, try to quell your anger with him. It is definitely not helping. There has been one time in my addiction where I thought my mom thought as little of me is I did and it…well…it was not good. If you are giving him money, cut it off. Most likely it is not going for what he says it is for. If he calls you when drunk, says mean or inappropriate things, tell him how much you love him and hang up. I can’t imagine how hard that would be. I don’t know how my mother did it. But it saved our family. And it saved me. And I’ve seen it save a bunch of other addicts. Let him know you’re not giving up on him. Mom likes to say, “I’ll do anything to support you and your recovery, nothing for your addiction but, I’ll always be here for you.” Going to jail or prison might be the best thing for him. Unfortunately, it tends to be sometimes the only thing that will wake people up. Sometimes it makes them worse. EVERYTHING DEPENDS OM HIM AND HIS DESIRE AND WILLINGNESS TO CHANGE. He needs to handle his consequences on his own. If you are always there to help him, he will never learn how to help himself.

Parenting and Loving An Adult Addict

 

I was asked what advice I might have for the parents of an addict from the addict’s sister.There have been books written about this and I will try to put some general thoughts together here.  I thought about this quite a bit for the ten days I was on vacation as I don’t take any of this lightly and can only give my views as to what I feel I have learned through others and our experiences.

My first thought is that this adult addict is definitely taking advantage of the parents and is being enabled.  I believe that loving our children does not include enabling, it means keeping them accountable.  Understand that this can be a very difficult assessment to make.  Am I enabling or am I supporting?

To me, enabling is giving the addict money when asked for it.  Have I fallen for that one?  I sure have and in my ignorance of how bad this disease is, I gave money when I probably should not have.  I wonder how many times did I give money thinking it was for food, rent, or other necessities when it was actually used to buy drugs.  These are some of the instances where I would now caution a parent against giving money.

This includes paying for a car, car insurance, and gas.  Remember that an addict may use a car to get drugs.  We may think we are helping our child get to a job or to meetings.   As far as the job goes, Ashley found that when all else failed, public transportation took her anywhere she needed to go as did her feet.  It may not always be the most desirable means for getting from one place to another and sometimes it took her hours to get somewhere which, by car, would have been much quicker.

We want our addicts to have a cell phone so they can communicate with us.  I believe we fell into that trap too.  When our kids are using, it does not matter if they have a phone or not.  Most likely, they will be avoiding our calls but will use that phone to contact someone for drugs.

Money for rent, utilities or a hotel.  I don’t want my daughter on the street.  I remember watching a woman pushing a grocery cart full of all her belongings along a sidewalk in California.  I thought that if things did not change, that could be Ash.  There was a time when she and the young man she was with stayed at a very run down hotel.  She did not realize that they were homeless.  After all, they had a place to stay.  I think of her every single time we are feeding the homeless through the FACETS program.  I can see her face on each woman lined up to receive a decent meal, knowing that could be her.

While I have never been asked to bail Ashley out of jail, I would not do it.  In the past, when I knew what was going on, I made her take the consequences.  When she was in eighth grade, she came home from school and said some kid had lit a cigarette on the bus.  I am sure I told her that was a stupid thing to do.  The kid had a lighter, a cigarette, and was brazen enough to light it up on the bus???  So imagine the phone conversation the next morning.  The principal from the middle school called and told me what had happened.  I replied I knew as Ashley had told me about it.  Then she hit me with it.  The student who lit the cigarette on the bus was Ashley.  I was shocked.  I was angry.  I had been duped.  Ashley was suspended from school for a couple days.  She thought it would be mornings to sleep in, watch tv, and read books.  Not.  Even. Close.  I took time from my teaching job to be home, had her up and following the very same routine she would follow at school, complete with work.

When Ash did try and come home to live, I told her she would have to have a job,  pay rent and submit to random drug testing as well as attend meetings. My thought was, and still is, if she was not going to be responsible I may very well come home and find she had overdosed or was dead.  I would not trust that an addict would live rent free in their parents’ home without bringing drugs in and getting high.  I realize there may be exceptions if the addict is in recovery, but then part of that recovery would be to get a job and pay rent.  She did find work but every single job ended with some excuse.  Not enough hours.  The manager was disparaging a worker and Ashley stood up for the worker and was fired.  She could not find anything.  Then was when I found the empty bottle of wine, what I thought was black heroin on a mirror and the positive on the drug test I had sent in.  It was at that point I told her she had to leave.

If you have read previous blogs, that was when Ash said I saved her life.  I did my best to support and love her without enabling her.  Her recovery is up to her.  Sometimes we have to let go to get our children back.  None of it is easy.  It is heartbreaking and often terrifying.

So, I would encourage the parents of this addict to reach out for help from others.  There are groups online that have been helpful, like The Addicts Mom and The Addicts Dad.  The Chris Atwood Foundation.  Are there any friends or family members they would listen to who could let them know that their addict is most likely heading for an overdose or worse? Would they ever consider a family support group or has there been one offered from the treatment centers he has been in? There is nothing more important to an addict than the drug.  He will lie, cheat, and steal to support his habit.  I have read too many memoirs now from parents of addicts and addicts themselves to believe it to be otherwise.

I am sure Ashley will respond to this.  Maybe parents need to hear it directly from another addict.

For today, my recovering addict just arrived at work.  She is still here.  Still helping.  Love her.

Death

The first time I knew somebody outside of my family to die was in my 10th grade of high school. I was in school in Colorado and my best friend from Virginia called me.  She told me our friend Jennifer had died of a brain aneurysm. I hadn’t been very close to Jennifer; I sang with her in a couple choirs, sat next to her in a couple classes. I had known her since the 6th grade. I couldn’t understand how somebody so young could die. It’s hard to wrap your brain around. After all, we were only fifteen.

Then, right after graduating high school, my friend Emily was killed in a car accident. Visions of standing alone at her funeral still haunt me. I wasn’t sure how to mourn. Again, she and I had not been particularly close. However, we had many good conversations and the last one had been only a month before. Dealing with her death was confusing and difficult. After all, we were only nineteen. Her death was a result of a fatal car accident when a semi-truck didn’t slow down in time.

The next death came ten days after I turned twenty-three. My friend Carl had frozen to death, essentially, in his yard. I still don’t know all the details of his death. I found out Christmas Day when we were about to sit down for dinner and I was in Colorado visiting my dad. I found out through Facebook. This one hit hard. I had been Carl’s manager at a pub and he had been my cook. We had spent countless hours next to each other working, laughing and having drinks together. I considered him one of my best friends. I loved him very much. His death rocked my very core. At his funeral, his mother softly stroked his curly brown hair. He didn’t look real. None of it seemed real. After all, we were only twenty-three. Every time I went out after that Brett and I would toast our first drink to Carl.  Every place we would go-I could remember a time I had been there with Carl. Although it was difficult, it was like he was with us. He was everywhere because we had gone everywhere.

Then Brett died. A death that has forever altered my life. The loss of someone so important to me that my entire existence has literally been shifted. His lack of presence is overwhelmingly apparent. Every. Single. Day. He had just turned 25. I was only a few months into being 24 years old.

I went to treatment for the first time a few years later, approximately four years later. I was in treatment for one-hundred and twenty days. My last ten days there I was in group with a kid named Ian. Ian had been clean for a little over a month and was homeless.  Some strings were pulled and he was able to check into treatment. He was battling severe depression and wondering where he fit into this world. Six days after I left treatment I heard that Ian hung himself. I couldn’t believe it. When you’re in the same group with somebody, have the same counselor as somebody, you share everything with each other. I knew this kid. I knew his spirit and his heart and they were good. So desperate to escape this crippling addiction that he hung himself. How could this be? He had just turned eighteen a month prior. Hardlyy eighteen years old and already consumed with such sadness it snuffed out his ability and desire to survive this life.

I also had group with a young man named Colby.  right before checking into treatment he had been in the same room when his best friend shot himself in the head. He was sitting on the same couch with him.  Literal feet away from him. When he went back to his small southern town in Georgia we were all scared for him. His whole family used. Well, the family he was close to. The rest of them had started to keep their distance. Colby thought it would be okay to drink and eventually ended up using hard drugs again. I do not know how Colby died. Was it an overdose? A car accident? I don’t know. I just know he is gone. I have a picture of myself and a couple other people from treatment that time. He is in the picture in the back with that big gorgeous bright smile and that long blonde hair. I think Colby was 19. Maybe 20. He was my friend.

Then there is Sean. Sean got drunk after leaving treatment. I believe he’d been out for a while… maybe even over a year. But, he got drunk and wrapped his car around a tree. Dead. Twenty-five and dead. Sean was sweet, gentle, funny. I met him my first time in treatment, as well. He immediately came up to me and introduced himself; plopped right down at my side. I didn’t feel alone when I met Sean. I was so scared and it was a gift not to feel alone. He gave me that gift and he is dead.

Sweet, funny, tenacious Erin.  Erin and I were in the same home group together. We went to a meeting together every day. I loved her. She was sassy. She was super intelligent. She’s the only other human I’ve met with a Shel Silverstein tattoo. We would do medicine cards together. We would talk about literature together. She would make fun of me for reading the Fifty Shades books. Erin was a twin. There is a woman walking around right now who has lost her other half. Literally. That half is gone. Erin overdosed on heroin. I believe she was 24. And not that it really matters but, she was absolutely beautiful. Everywhere. Her outsides and her insides. All of it. She was one of those rare people who sparkles.

And now, here is the last year. A client I had named Helen was 19 and she overdosed and died. She didn’t think she had a problem and left treatment. She lived in boxes on the street. Literally. She said she preferred to be homeless and took care of the older people. She was clever and brave and innocently naive.

And then there is Nicole; she was 21 and she overdosed and died. She was eccentric and sensitive and beautiful.

A client I had named Ben was 19? 20? 21? I don’t know. I know he is dead. He overdosed.  Ben was shy and inquisitive and loyal.  Ben was a good kid and had a heart of gold. Gentle Ben. I get choked up every time I think of him or see his picture or run in to his best friend.

And then there is Todd. The young man my mom mentioned. We’re not sure but we think he might have killed himself. He had literally been out of treatment for one week. I’ve known him for months. He was an intelligent, energetic, thoughtful man.

Those are just the last year! Not even a full year, even. Since January!

This is my life. It is sad. It is hard. It is heartbreaking. And it has become completely normal. Normal and tragic. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to hearing that one of my people is dead. And we die every day. These are just the ones I remember. That may sound terrible, but I know there are more. I know it. And everyday I get on Facebook- I see somebody with a ‘Rest in Peace’ post. Everyday in my group of friends another friend is dying. Thousands of us are dying every day.  Luckily, we usually have each other. The funeral of an addict is a sight to behold. We show up for each other. In life and in death.

I have heard things you could not even imagine. People who have been nearly beaten to death, women who have lived a life filled with rape and unspeakable violence. I have a friend who, when she was a toddler, was hit over the head with a sledgehammer by her father. That same father shot her mother in the head and left them both for dead. This friend just lost her only daughter to the court system. She is considered unfit to raise a child due to her brain damage and history of addiction. Her child is gone and it is a closed adoption. She will most likely never see that little girl again. If she does see her, she certainly won’t be little anymore. That is just one tiny story in an infinite mess. And it is a mess. We addicts are messy people. We are often like an atomic bomb, going off and obliterating everything around us. For every one of those people, my friends, my clients, whom have died there is an entire tribe missing one of their humans.

I have given CPR to two people, watched countless people  have seizures from alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal and, visited eight people comatose in the hospital. All drug-related.

Every morning when I wake up….every time I say goodbye to someone when leaving a meeting…every time someone leaves treatment…I ALWAYS wonder, who is next? Who will I be mourning next?  Or, will they be mourning me? Because I could be next. I can always be next.  I am them and they are me.

And we are dying.

Thoughts

I mentioned before how Ash has experienced more deaths from overdoses than I have encountered in my lifetime.  Our phone conversation yesterday was about the most recent one.  A young man who had a wife and child and had gone through rehab three times. The third time he left because his insurance would not cover any further treatment.  His wife had left him, he was still trying, and now he’s gone.  I cannot imagine what it is like for Ash.  I know she puts her heart and soul into helping others in their recoveries.  I have experienced how her clients, fellow employees, and those in AA respond to her.  She has a gift but she cannot save them all.  It is a daily challenge for her.

She is in a good place now, mentally and physically.  Despite the last couple of weeks, events which could have triggered a relapse, she seems to have gathered strength.  Her confidence has bloomed and she is seeing herself more as others see her.  

Last night I watched the documentary, HEROIN(E) on Netflix.  It was a look at the opioid epidemic in Huntington,WVA.  I kept thinking about the conversations Ash and I have had about treatment and believe me, she knows much more about it than me.   Huntington has quite a team fighting for addicts and their recovery.  Some may find it difficult to watch.  There was one segment of a team laying a young woman who had overdosed on a stretcher.  Her face was blurred but she looked so much like Ash, hair, body type.  I concentrated more on what the judge at their drug court, the firemen, EMS, and police were doing to help.  Amazing.

Some, but not all, were homeless.  I had asked Ash on my last trip if she had ever overdosed.  I thought I was ready to hear her answer as she never mentioned it nor had I asked.  I think I just always knew.  While she had never been hospitalized, she did have a couple of close calls. That led to the discussion of relapse always a possibility.  I was enlightened a bit more as to her time outside the gay bar and how she set up camp in the alley behind the building.  So difficult to imagine this.  It breaks my heart.  I wasn’t there.  She said the only thing that kept her from making a “Homeless, need money for food” sign was her pride.  We all have seen the homeless with the signs and wonder if the money would go for food or drugs.  I think that money given to her would possibly have gone for drugs.  They are more important to an addict than food.

Another startling statement during my trip was when Ash was stopped at a light, looked over at me and said, “You have good veins,Mom.”   Seeing the look on my face, she educated me on how she notices those things now.  She also cannot understand how I can be her mom, pour a glass of wine, and not finish it.  Some of my friends may not believe it, but yes, it happens often.  Ash said addicts have to drink the whole bottle.  I knew that but not that our veins are a source of envy.

In the Netflix show, a woman who has been trying to rescue people from the streets for years, asked a young woman what the craving was like.  Her reply was wanting that next high would be what the woman might feel if she could kiss Jesus.

Ash and I have some topics listed to write about from middle school on.  I am curious as to what you might want to know, especially those of you who are living the nightmare of an addict in the family.  We have good times and are always hopeful, but believe me, I know it can be a parent’s, spouse’s, friend’s, child’s and sibling’s worst nightmare.

I love my recovering addict.  What can we do to help with yours?

California is Too Far Away for This Mom!

 

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As the mother of a recovering addict, one thing is clear.  There is always the chance for a relapse.  I can never allow myself to believe that this is over and she will never relapse.  I can hope for that.  I can pray for that.  Yet to internalize it and believe it is not what the parent of an addict can do.  Addicts are very honest about this whether they have thirty days, thirty months, or thirty years.  There is always that chance.

My visit to California was treasured mother/daughter bonding time.  We rented a small cottage set in the midst of beautiful landscaping, koi ponds, and scattered seating areas around the property.  Our days were spent talking, watching a couple of movies, cooking dinner together, attending an AA meeting, and playing mini golf in 100 degree heat.  Anything to make us feel somewhat normal.

Ash had asked me if I wanted to meet a guy she had been seeing for about two months.  She had been very secretive about him as she tried to figure out if it was going anywhere.  Ash had shared with me what he had been telling her and it was obvious she was feeling adored and loved. I always am game for meeting anyone in Ashley’s life and he seemed to be on board with their relationship.  We had a nice dinner together.  Later, he texted her that he now had two favorite women in his life.

We talked about it over my remaining days and I was holding back any type of judgment.  Yes, he was newly in recovery and that was not the best sign.  One of Ashley’s past relationships was with a young man she had met during her first trip to rehab.  They did well in group meetings together and their talking eventually spilled over into a relationship that lasted for about seven years, off and on.  I met him a few times and did like him.  My biggest fear was they both entangled themselves without having at least a year clean.  I read quite a bit about addicts in relationships together and had no idea how this would end.  Some find that they keep each other sober, others use together. As I told them once, they could support each other or kill each other.  And kill each other with their addiction is what they almost did.  He introduced her to heroin.  I am not exactly happy about that but I don’t blame him.  That is what addicts do.  She made the decision to do it and if it had not been him, it most likely would have been someone else. I am thankful that he has about four years clean at present and I will always wish him well.

I do remember having dinner with them both one night and stated that I would hope if one of them used, the other would leave.  I was so far away that it was hard to know what was going on.  Days would go by and I would barely hear from Ashley.  When I did, she was on her way to work or she had to talk quickly because she was doing something else.  Not hearing much from her had always been a warning sign.

I mention this because I saw how this relationship had affected her.  One night I had a call from her and instantly knew she was not doing well.  She and the guy had broken up and she said, “I just want to kill myself.”  I was on a plane the next day.

So, when Ashley called and started telling me the story of what had happened with this guy, you may guess my reaction.  Nausea, heart pounding, staying as calm as I could while attempting to get a read on how she was.

She was hurt…again.  It made me sick when she explained what happened and how he treated the woman he had been living with and how he reacted when confronted.  I was worried for my daughter and the other young woman.  I could relate to it because something like this had happened to me.  It is extremely difficult to understand how someone a person loves and trusts can be so deceitful.  Believe me, there are human beings who are very capable of that and no, a person does not always see through it.  It is not even in our being to treat another that way, how can we see such ugliness?

I knew after talking for awhile that Ashley was okay.  I felt 99% confident she would not go out and get high or drunk.  She was angry as well as hurt.  I heard a strength coming from her that I had not heard before.  I am encouraged by the Warrior she has become and the way she and the other woman have bonded.  They are going to wear t-shirts, one saying Team Ashley and the other saying Team__.

I hate it when she is hurt.  I think she has had enough hurt.  I am so proud she can see he was not worthy of her.

I also was able to hear Ashley be the keynote speaker at an AA meeting.  I am always humbled at these meetings and do enjoy going and meeting her people.  She was humorous and so very very honest in her talk. (I am glad I was aware of almost all she said.  It would have been difficult to listen to otherwise and it still made me cry.) She wanted to give hope to those listening to her.

Ash is still processing all that happened.  I am seeing a young woman who has learned much about taking care of herself and what she needs to do when confronted with a situation that could put her back on the streets again.

We all have our struggles.  Many of you are dealing with the hurricanes, a loved one with cancer, Parkinsons, or any number of diseases, death, divorce, so many trials and we are all in this together.  No one person’s struggle is to be taken lightly or dismissed.  I see the love and support Ash receives from her postings and that shows me that she is indeed the beautiful soul I know.  She will give that love and support right back to you, no matter what.  She may be a recovering addict but recovering addicts are absolutely beautiful human beings.

Love my recovering addict.  She is here today and there continues to be hope.

Sick

The last three days I’ve been processing a very confusing and unbelievable situation.

I started dating somebody a couple months ago. I was incredibly trepidatious at first. My eagerness to love and to trust do not coincide. Though I want to find someone else to live my life with I’m also extremely cautious due to past relationships. This man, however, told me to give him the benefit of the doubt. He told me he didn’t know what had happened to me that made me so untrusting but it was really sad and he would never hurt me. He told me to give my heart to him and he would hold it gently in his hands. He told me he had been cheated on and would never do that to somebody because he knows how that feels. I eventually opened up to him and told him more than I’ve told anyone since Brett died.

The way this man looked at me flipped my world inside out. He would gaze into my eyes for literal minutes at a time with a huge smile on his face. My mom flew out to visit last week and I asked him if he wanted to meet her. I told him meeting my mom is a really big deal to me so don’t go into this decision lightly. If you do meet her it means to me that you’re all in, so think hard about it. He immediately answered asking me- what time should I be there?

He met my mother and I for dinner and we had a lovely time! Everybody was laughing and he experienced fondue for the first time. When we left the restaurant he and I walked alone for a minute to say goodbye and he told me with a serious look on his face and all the sincerity in his heart, “I miss you already.” Which is something he often did; we would hang out all day and after he would leave he would call me 20 minutes later and tell me how much he miss me already. I felt like I was living in a dream.  I dared to think I had been lucky enough to find another incredible man.

I had been hesitant to talk about it with my friends and family. I got my hopes up in the past and they had been swiftly shot down. But this was the real deal. This was love.

Mind you he is an addict in recovery.  He had been going through some personal stuff that was very intense and heavy to carry.  Naturally,  I was very worried that he was going to do something stupid and perhaps get loaded (as addicts it is so hard to see that drugs will make things worse despite all our previous endeavours into that abyss). We were supposed to hang out Wednesday night and he never showed up and his phone went straight to voicemail. By 5 on Thursday I was frantic. He doesn’t use social media because his ex-girlfriend had hacked into all the accounts. So I decided to go on the page he doesn’t use on Facebook and find the brother that he lives with. I planned on messaging his brother to see if he had heard anything from him. While looking for his brothers profile I saw a picture with a woman and him in it. I knew it was the ex-girlfriend because he showed me her page once and “how crazy she was because she won’t take down the pictures of us.”  My stomach turned-this picture looked super recent. His beard and hair turns and length it currently is. I debated for half an hour. Am I crazy??  This couldn’t be recent. He loves me.

I was desperate for any information on his whereabouts, though. So I messaged her.  Essentially I told her who I was and asked her if she knew what was going on and if perhaps wouldn’t mind talking to me. I told her he and I had been dating and I sent her a picture of the two of us together that past Friday from when we had dinner with my mother.

She promptly replied back: We have been living together for the last year. He is my boyfriend. I have a promise ring from him. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind calling me and a little while later after some quick questions between the two of us  I got a phone call through Messenger on the FaceTime.

He was standing a few feet in front if her and walked away as she followed. At one point he turned around and squinted and looked at the phone and said who is that? She replied, it’s your girlfriend. He again turned and walked away refusing to look at either of us.  Refusing to acknowledge either of us! She followed him around the house while we both spoke to him and he again turned around.  I was shaking violently and crying. I told him I had been so worried that he was in trouble or had perhaps gotten high.  So. Fucking. Worried. She said in front of him “he did in fact get high and is actually high right now.” I didn’t even recognize the man looking through the phone at me. His demeanor was dark and his face had lost all its shimmer. He started cursing at her to give him his keys.

“Look at what you did. She’s crying and you don’t even care!?”  He managed to take the phone and again raised his voice to her, cursing. At which time I had to hang up because I vomited. I got physically sick. I immediately regretted hanging up, worried that something bad would happen to her. I messaged her after trying to call back and eventually about ten minutes later she messaged me back- he was gone. She had kicked him out.

At this point she and I have been speaking almost non-stop for the past 72 hours. Everything I knew about this sweet, charismatic, kind, playful, affectionate, romantic, loving, gentle, and attentive man…all had been a lie Literally every detail he had told me about himself was not true. He told me he was struggling to get out of debt because she had stolen his credit card. He told me he lived with his brother (he even invited me over-knowing I wouldn’t want to risk driving my car that far due to a check engine light). Every detail he told me about his family life was a lie. Every detail about his working life was a lie. Every detail about his past relationships was a lie. He told me he had never dated somebody with kids because he didn’t want to get too attached to them if it didn’t work and because he wanted kids of his own. turns out he’d been living with his girlfriend AND her child for over a year. And the girlfriend before her had children as well. He had a secret phone which he spoke to me on. He made certain I knew his security code which I said was unnecessary.  He said he was an open book and wanted me to know that.

Part of his story was he had relapsed a couple months before and told me it was because he caught his ex (this woman who I’ve been speaking to…the woman he lived with) selling her body. The reality is he has been getting loaded for months and months and she had been supporting him financially and emotionally to try and help him have a life.

Most of the time when he was with me he would tell her he was with his sponsor or a friend who needed help. When he was with her he would tell me he was in meetings or picking up a day of extra work or with his brother trying to re-establish a healthy relationship (because, after all, they lived together).

How do I describe what this feels like? In such a short time he wrapped his teeth around my heart and sunk them in…deep. I trusted him more than I’ve trusted anyone in ten years. He told me I was the most amazing and beautiful and strong woman he had ever met. And for once hearing those words meant something.

When she confronted him he initially lied about it. Said I was crazy and that I’m a drug addict. Then he blamed HER for putting my sobriety at risk by doing this.  Now, after talking to her for so many hours there is no way that we can deny the truth of the situation.

I feel like I have been emotionally and physically raped. This sick human wriggled and manipulated  his way into my heart and into my body. he waited for weeks until I felt safe to let him do more than hold my hand or kiss me. He was patient and calculating.  This man who knows me better than almost anyone…this man who I knew nothing about.

We hear, in recovery, a term ‘some are sicker than others.’  This is the sickest thing I’ve ever heard of. The way he treated me, the way he spoke to me, the way he listened to me, and the way he looked at me; they were all a bit of magic. Well, he is a magician alright. Armed with a hat full of illusions and deceit and the best tricks I’ve ever seen.

Neither of us had any clue and both of us were fully convinced he was absolutely, positively, unshakably, head over heels in love with both us.  She spent a year of her life sleeping next to this man.  A year giving her heart freely while he blindfolded reality and danced with other partners.

And do you know what? Despite the horrible heartache and the inability to breathe sometimes-I am so grateful! Twelve step programs, other alcoholics and addicts, and working a program have allowed me to build a beautiful life!  And I have created an impossible to break bond with this woman. Without her the last few days I think this would have turned out quite different. Instead of tearing each other apart and down we have listened to each other and shared our broken hearts with one another and spoke in great honesty about our relationship with the same man.  And it is is so painful.

This soulless creature has created even stronger Warriors out of us. Although our hearts are in pieces, our lives can build to even greater empires of strength and love and courage.

I let a relationship in the past tear me down, break me, and send me spiraling. That was yet another man not worthy of my light.

To my new friend, the “other woman,”, the newest brick to  my Pillar of Strength:  You are beautiful.   You have probably saved my life-giving me a place to fall with your soft heart.  You have a kindness and a propensity to help even in your most betrayed of times.  I love you. Because you and I are capable of that. We are capable of anything.  I’m on your team.