For the Parents

mother-daughter-love-sunset-51953.jpegWhen Ashley was home, we talked about the number of clients and recovering addicts she knows who feel abandoned by their families. Family members who know their child is gripped by the tentacles of addiction and choose to ignore it and turn their backs as if by doing so will make it go away.  Or force their loved one to stop using.  I am telling you, “THAT WILL NOT WORK!”

What it will do is reinforce the addict’s feelings of worthlessness. It will not stop the desperate search for drugs, a time when they will go anywhere or do anything to get that next fix.  Lying, stealing, loving a drug more than anything else will not dissipate because they feel abandoned.  The tentacles will wrap themselves tighter and tighter around your child’s body until they feel there is no other way out but to shoot up in hopes of feeling some release.  The drug will make them feel like they have never felt before and each time that euphoria releases and the feelers start capturing their prey again.  That prey is your child.

Truest me, the very last thing I wanted to believe was that my child was an addict.  Images of homeless young women searching for drugs on the street, selling their bodies and soul for drugs played like a horror movie in my head. I only knew that the person Ash was on drugs was not really her.  It was almost as if she were possessed.  And she was.  When you know how much your child loves you and can still tell you that a drug can gain control so that their love is the drug, that is possession.

If you are thinking that by ignoring this, or telling your child, “If you loved me, you would not do this”, you are wrong.  They do love you. They will continue using it until they find help.

You can help.  Let your addict know that you love them no matter what.  You may not like the behaviors exhibited, you will cringe when you see their body wasting away until they look like death walking, and you willhate the fact that your thoughts go to planning their funeral.  But you will still love the person who is your child.  The child who you once could solve all problems for, the one who cuddled in your lap as you read stories, whose first day of school tore your heart out, and the bullies you wanted to throttle when they went after your child.

Love them.  Educate yourself.  Whether you do this online, in meetings, through books, talking to addicts, please educate yourself.  You are doing nothing to help your child by thinking this is a phase or it is not really a disease, it is a choice. Many will want to argue that it is a choice every time a needle is drawn and plunged.  I am telling you, that is not a choice made by your child but by the disease of addiction.

I have found that by visiting with recovering addicts and talking with Ashley have been the catalyst for me to research further.  Documentaries on the opioid crisis have convinced me we need to do something as a society to bite into the brain of this  octopus likeintruder much as we have with other diseases.

Parents, please.  Love them.  Support them in efforts for recovery.  Educate yourself.  Do not be ashamed of them.  Let your voices be heard.  It is difficult if you are a private person who does not want others to know or judge you or your child.  The empowerment I felt when I began stating that my child is an addict was the scariest.  It became so much easier from there to share and I have found nothing but support for my daughter, me, and my family.

Just had to get this off my mind.

Love you Ash.  Miss you.

 

 

A Little Catch Up

I needed a break. From the memories.  From having the past work its way back into my body and begin wreaking havoc.  That is what happens sometimes when blogging about such personal events.  Those hurdles we have gone through, dealt with, and moved on from, can come back with such force that it is challenging to let it go.

For me, it was remembering how tough it was on us when we moved to Virginia, but mostly how difficult it was for the kids.  I had no idea how hard it was going to be.  Some say that is because I live in a fantasy world but I think I just never could have foreseen some of what Ashley mentioned in her last blog.  It took years to get my family on an even footing and I always felt in the middle.  Much has changed since then but not the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about it.

Ashley brought up her stay in a mental hospital between her sophomore and junior years of high school.  She had been living in Colorado for a year and within weeks had wanted to come back to Virginia.  The hardest decision I had to make then was to tell her she had to stick out the school year.  My feeling was, if she came back home, things may go back exactly the way they had been.  I will never know if that was the right decision but it was my best one at the time.  Would things have been different?  Who knows?

Suicide notes?  I didn’t notice chunks of hair missing or signs of cutting.  Trying to strangle yourself with plastic bags? This was my daughter!  Those behaviors were so foreign to me that I never had a clue.  Plus, she hid it all so well. Ash tells me I would have had no way of knowing.  And I think, but I am her mom.  I should have known. Still working on that one but have come a long way.

Shortly after she was back from Colorado, her brother graduated.  She seemed fine.  Then I took her to our family doctor and he spent some time talking with her.  When I was ushered back into the room and told that Ash needed help right away, I was shocked.  There were so many things living inside her which she kept so well hidden.  But she had a plan.  Within the hour we were checking her in to the hospital.  A place where she would be watched and kept safe.  Where she could not hurt herself.

It is a blur.  I to return to the house to pick up her things.  Later that night, my husband and I dropped them off.  We were allowed to visit in the evening and she would be there for a week.  One of the things I do remember is she wanted us to bring her food.  So we did.  The staff felt she was anorexic but they would not let her have the food we brought.  She was not anorexic but she was tiny.

“My daughter is in a mental hospital.  She wanted to kill herself.  How can this happen to her?  What did I do wrong?  Was it because I moved them to Virginia? Why won’t they let her have the food? ” It was a week of little sleep, constant questioning, nauseous most of the time, and trying to put on as there was nothing amiss in my life.  Maybe one or two people knew.

The guilt, not knowing why, and the struggle to find peace within myself so I could help her haunted me every single minute.  I did not share this with many people.  Feeling it was my fault prompted me to think the judgements would be harsh.  I had no friends or family that I knew of who had this type of situation.   Even though I felt alone, I knew I had the strength to work through it and come out on the other side.  I had to do it.

She came home after the week and I felt that everything was so fragile.  I didn’t want to helicopter but I didn’t want to miss any signs that she could be heading down a dark dark place again.  That beast inside her head is not the person I birthed, raised and loved with all my heart.  We always said “I love you” to each other.  I blew good dreams into her head at night after we read The BFG. We sang and made up songs together.  Danced crazy dances whenever we felt like it.  We had fun.  We talked.  She was not the “perfect” child and had experiences I never had, but I saw no beast.

I would like to tell you that this was the only time she was in a psych hospital.  But I can’t.

So, I am just going to post this without going back and rereading and correcting and making better word and phrase choices because it has been so long.  Stream of consciousness is what we have here.  The next will definitely be about her next trip to a psych hospital.  Nobody wants their daughter to be in the place mine was.

On a happier note, Ashley was just here in Virginia for a ten day visit.  She said she had a magical time and so did we.  My daughter looks great physically and kept us laughing She was able to attend the wedding of a very dear friend of hers from high school and see many of her friends at the event.  There was more time for family this trip and I was a content and happy mom.

I love love love my recovering addict.

 

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?