Lighting Candles of Hope

Candles by Andrew Smithson Creative CommonsI created this blog earlier this year at a low point in my life. I’d given up believing my son would survive his addiction. I did not expect him to live much longer. I had lost hope.

When you lose hope, you lose everything.

But in reaching out to others, I found the support I needed to regain that lost hope. I found others struggling just as hard as I was–those who struggled with loved ones still deep in addiction, those whose loved ones had struggled and survived, and those whose loved ones had struggled and lost.

Many I found  here, readers of my blog who left comments and messages of support and understanding, who shared their stories, and their loved ones’ stories. They gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to keep fighting and keep hoping.

Many were recovering and recovered addicts, and they were especially dear to me because I heard my son’s voice in their stories, their struggles, and their triumphs.

Many I found in the movement called “The Addict’s Mom” (TAM), an organization whose members are the mothers of addicts who, like me, are struggling with the terror of addiction and how it tears families apart. I feel such a kinship with these women. They are my sisters-in-arms.

September is National Recovery Month, And TAM is launching a “Lights of Hope” Campaign.  They ask everyone on September 1 to light three candles:

  • One for an addict currently using
  • One for an addict in recovery
  • One for an addict who is gone but forever loved and remembered

I hope you will join me in lighting these candles of hope. For all the moms and their loved ones.

Thank you.

To learn more about TAM and other events planned in September, visit their website at http://addictsmom.com/

Celebrating 90 Days Strong Amid Trials & Tribulation

athlete 450px-JacobyhaieMy son celebrated ninety days clean this week.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of him, especially when the past several weeks have been so rough. Not only had he been picked up on an old warrant, survived ten days in jail, and suffered through methadone withdrawals, but when he was released, he found out he’d lost his housing, his job, and the friendship and trust of his sponsor.

He couldn’t understand it. He hadn’t relapsed. He hadn’t done anything wrong. But here he was jobless and homeless again, and without the support of the sponsor he’d so depended upon. Why was this happening?

The housing problem was especially difficult. The shelter where he’d been staying had promised to help him financially secure permanent housing, but now that was gone. His sponsor was angry that he had returned to the methadone clinic, instead of using his time in jail to get off it completely. And without a job, he didn’t have the means to live at all.

The one bright spot in all this was that a woman who had befriended him before going into jail was still there when he got out, still believing in him, and wanting to help. And during those first few difficult weeks they became closer, became a couple.

I was wary of this at first. Everything I had read and come to believe said that recovering addicts should not become involved in relationships until they had a year or more of sobriety behind them. I could not see this ending well, for her, or for him.

But I seriously wonder now if he would be celebrating 90 days clean if she hadn’t been there to help him through those last few difficult weeks. While it seemed that everyone else had given up on him and pulled the rug out from beneath his feet, she stayed and gave him steady encouragement.

More than that, she helped him through what has been a huge relapse trigger—the kind of devouring  loneliness that eats you alive. Over and over again, he has told me, the loneliness is the worst thing. The thing that gets him every time. That is so unbearable only a needle in his arm gives him release.

So, as unwise as a new relationship may be this early in his recovery, I am grateful to her, and happy for him.

His housing situation is still marginal. He sleeps in cars, or motel rooms when he has money, or at campsites. But his sponsor has returned, and he’s working again. He’s going to meetings, and he’s testing clean. And he and his new friend are looking for a place together.

I still don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know if their relationship will last. I don’t know what it might do to him if it doesn’t.

But this is the way it is. This is what he has to work with on his road to recovery. We never know what challenges or gifts life will drop at our feet. We just have to make the most of what we are given.

So I’m hopeful. And so is my son. We’re both extremely grateful, and reassured, that after being severely tested, he’s still 90 days strong.

On Loving an Addicted Child

Mother and children Lange-MigrantMother02

Migrant Mother (1936) by Dorothea Lang

I found this poem on a Facebook site for mothers of addicted children. It spoke to me and I wanted to share it with you. Many thanks to Jacqui for allowing me to do so.

Untangling the Knots of Addiction – Two Steps Forward, One Back

Knots of addiction Naga182 public domainYou’d think once someone decided, “I’m done with addiction! I’m turning my life around,” it would be all uphill from there. Because that’s the biggie. All of us mothers and lovers of addicts are waiting for that golden moment, when the sun breaks through the darkness, scatters the clouds, and shines down upon us.

But it’s usually not like that. For every two steps forward on the road to recovery, there’s one (or more!) step backward, as our loved one begins to untangle himself from all the knots caused by a life of addiction. It’s not just a matter of giving up his substance of choice and staying clean and sober. It’s that, which is hard enough, and so much more.

It’s about trying to create a new life out of the rubble of the old. A life spent in and out of jails and rehab and living on the streets leaves a trail of destruction behind you, as well as a tangle of legal problems, a pile of debt, bad credit, failing health, and broken relationships. Often you lack a car or a home or a job. And you lack the decent clothes and resume and character references needed to smooth the way toward getting what you lack.

Often there’s outstanding warrants, court fines, and back child support payments to take care of. There’s a mouthful of decay, a diseased liver, and undiagnosed mental issues to deal with. And years of bad habits to undo.

Worst of all is the lack of self-confidence and self-esteem needed to move forward when so much is weighing you down, or dragging you backward.

It takes tremendous courage, willpower, faith, humility and plain old-fashioned guts and grit to even wrap one’s mind around all this, let alone force yourself to walk out on that dance-floor and begin all the contorted moves needed to unravel those tangles. Especially while everyone you know and love, and many who hate you, stand by and wait and watch.

Two days after I wrote my last post about my son’s 60 days clean, he was picked up on an outstanding warrant from a neighboring county and jailed. This time was especially hard because he was taking high daily doses of methadone from the clinic, and withdrawals from that are the worst.

On the other hand, this warrant had been an axe hanging over his head ready to drop. And now he could finally take care of it and put it behind him. And he did. He spent 10 days in jail and then was released back into his Prop 36 program, with the promise to transfer his case to this county. A huge relief.

He managed to hang on to his old job too while he was gone, but he lost his spot in the shelter where he was staying. He’s living in a friend’s van now and saving up to get his own place.

All’s well that ends well, so they say, and this ended better than we’d hoped.

But it’s a reminder that he’s still untangling himself from the mess he created while deep into addiction. And we must all be patient as he slow-dances his way free.

Sixty Days Clean: Perseverance on a Long & Winding Road

Big Sur winding trailMy son and I were texting each other yesterday and his ended with this:

PS – I got 60 days clean today. xxoo

Sixty days clean. A postscript.

So many emotions swirling around in my mind: joy, pride, tenderness, hope, fear.

We’ve been here before so many times. Two months, Three months. Four months. Each time I think: This is the beginning of forever. The dragon is finally slain.

Only it wasn’t.

So. Sixty days. Not very long when we consider all that is past and all that is to come.

Still, I feel hopeful, thankful, blessed. There’s much to celebrate, regardless of the outcome. Sixty-five days ago I had thought I had lost him forever.

So in that spirit I am celebrating what feels, emotionally, like a huge milestone. Even though rationally, I know this is only the tiniest beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong journey.

And I remind myself:

“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
― Oliver Goldsmith

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”
― Margaret Thatcher

“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.”
― James A. Michener

Perseverance (and faith) is what we need to sustain us on our long journeys.

Given that, I’ve choreographed some thoughts to encourage us on the long and winding road.

A Speech on Perseverance (and Faith) Told in Quotations

“I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops. The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.”
― Jeanette WintersonWhy Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”
― Madeleine AlbrightMadam Secretary: A Memoir

“The doing of something productive regardless of the outcome is an act of faith. The doing of a small something when a large something is too much for us is perhaps especially an act of faith. Faith means going forward by whatever means we can.”
― Julia CameronFinding Water: The Art of Perseverance

“If we walk far enough,” says Dorothy, “we shall sometime come to someplace.”
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
― Nelson Mandela

“We’re all going to keep fighting, Harry. You know that?”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.”
― Isak Dinesen

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”
― Winston Churchill

“Sure I am this day . . .  that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.”
― Winston Churchill

“Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.”
― John Quincy Adams

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit

 

The Art of War – 30 Days Clean and Counting

Samurai 1024px-Kusunoki_masashige“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” Sun Tzu

I found this quote on another blog about addiction (thank you, Blue) and shared it with my son.

He’s doing well–over 30 days clean and counting–but he’s nervous. And so am I.

He’s had these good stretches before. We know they can dissolve in a minute. They usually don’t last much past 2 or 3 months at most. He’s had longer stretches of doing well, but those have been few and far between during his fifteen years of addiction.

So far he’s doing all the right things, everything he can at this stage to put his life back together.

The methadone he gets daily from a clinic has helped him a lot. Its helped keep him from having the intense, uncontrollable cravings that come not only from his addiction to heroin, but from the depression and despair he feels on his worse days. That make him want to give up.

But the methadone makes him itchy and seem high sometimes. So that’s been a problem when he was looking for work.

Fortunately, he has a great sponsor, a local business man, who’s taken him under his wing, and he’s working for him now. They attend a lot of meeting together, the “hardcore” AA meetings, he tells me, attended old-timers who are serious about their recovery. Not like the NA meetings he’s attended in the past, where so many junkies straight from jail, who aren’t committed end up. (Like himself once.)

He’s living at a small shelter now that doesn’t just house the homeless, but has a program and caseworkers and helps residents transition into traditional housing. If he stays there for three months and remains clean (they test residents), they will help him find an apartment even pay for his first and last months of rent. In the meantime, his case worker supplies him with bus passes and clothes vouchers at local thrift stores, and pays for his monthly phone bill.

He’s created a small community of support at the shelter too. It houses families with young kids he plays with, and older people who grandma him. I met one of the grandmas’ he hangs out with. They meet at a park each afternoon and he walks her back to the shelter to protect her from the young punks who like to give her a hard time.

He’s also signed up for a trial membership in a local gym where he goes daily, working out, lifting weights, swimming and taking yoga classes. Physical exercise has always helped him to stay focused and feel healthy and strong and motivated. And now with his new job he’ll be able to keep it going.

We try to meet once a week to do something fun and “normal,” nothing related to his recovery, but just to enjoy each other’s company. So far we’ve gone to farmers markets and art shows, and shopping for underwear and bathing suits. We top it off with yummy bowls of Cold Stone ice cream.

But he’s nervous. When things are going well he starts to worry. He’s warned his sponsor that he’s due for a relapse soon. It usually cycles in after two or three months of doing well.

That’s why I shared the Sun Tzu quote with him. The enemy is not only the heroin and the addiction it causes, but the fear and depression and despair as well. Its attack can come at any time. He needs to stay alert, to know it’s coming, and to prepare for it.

How does he do this?

By analyzing the why and how and where and when of its attacks. Knowing how it sneaks up, what disguises it wears, what weapons it uses. And being ready for it.

By making himself unassailable on all fronts, no matter how fast, and unexpected, and deadly its attack may be.

That’s what I tell him. And I tell myself that too.

Because we’re in this together. It’s his fight. I can’t do that for him. But if he falls, then it becomes my fight too. My fight against the disappointment, the depression and despair and fear.

I have to prepare myself too.

He’s Home. Now What?

Cc photo Kevin Steel on flickr-28912555-original

Creative Commons photo by Kevin Steel

My son was released from jail last week, much sooner than either of us had expected. I wasn’t ready for this. I’ve been doing so much reading and research on addiction and recovery since his last overdose, hoping by now to have mapped out some course for moving forward.

But I have nothing. No clue what to do.

The more I read, the more confusing it becomes, the less decisive I feel, and the more hopeless it seems, at least for finding a clear-cut path to recovery.  At best the path seems murky, fraught with pitfalls, forking out in a dozen directions.

What I’ve learned is this: There is no clear-cut path to recovery for the addict and his family. Every addiction is different and so is every recovery. Outpatient programs, it appears, can work as well as residential rehabs.  And some addicts recover miraculously “on their own” with no program, no treatment, not even a “come to God” moment.

Abstention isn’t always on the road to recovery either. Some never stop using, they just learn to manage it better, learn to moderate and weave their drug use into a productive life. NA and AA while helpful for some can be harmful for others. The only definitive answer I could find was that Suboxane, a drug that blocks opoids and eases craving, is the safest and sanest path to recovery for heroin addicts. Yet its use is almost unanimously frowned upon by most of the “affordable” and state-funded programs.

The only thing I know for sure is that we can not afford the kind of science-based long-term residential rehab program I had hoped to find. We’re stuck with that cluster of worn-out, already-tried, faith-based, less-expensive options. The ones that treat addiction not as a disease but as a moral failing and treat addicts as weak-minded losers who need a huge dose of “tough-love” (translate stern lectures and a cold back) and “humility (translate debasement).  The kind of programs that kick you out if you relapse, or miss meetings, or commit other minor violations. Or they send you to county jail for the same mistakes if you happen to be “on probation.” The kind that prohibit Suboxane.

That’s where my son has ended up (again), on probation and mandated to a Prop 36 program: a well-intentioned program that is completely lacking any scientific or medicine-based or therapeutic style of treatment. Mostly it consists of group meetings, a few films, once a month one-on-one counseling, random testing, and weekly visits to court where he will sit for long hours on wooden benches waiting for his two-minutes before the judge, who will either say “good boy,” or “need a little time-out in jail.” This “treatment” didn’t work the first two times he was in Prop, but hey, maybe it will this time.

So no, I’m not hopeful.

The only hopeful thing I had going was knowing that at least he’s coming home clean and sober, optimistic and enthusiastic, ready to make a fresh start.

But no. That wasn’t to be either.

When I picked him up at the bus station I had the uneasy suspicion that he was already using, or maybe he’d never stopped. Maybe he was using the whole time he was in jail. Maybe the packets of extra food and coffee that I purchased for him because he “was starving” went toward drugs.

Or maybe, like so many times when he was released, someone saw him walking down the road toward the bus stop with his little paper sack and, identifying him as a kindred spirit (they’d done time, they knew how it felt to get out), they pulled over, offered him a ride, shared their stash. Their good deed for the day.

Maybe I should have picked him up from jail rather than making him catch the bus to where we live. Maybe.

So many maybe’s. The only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing for sure.

And when it comes to addiction, no one else does either.