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.

Rants and Rage and the Bright Rush of Wings

Archilochus_colubris_Illinois_(6155782912) Creative Commons Jeffrey W FlickrMost of the posts that I try to write for this blog disintegrate into dark rants and rages.

Rants against a society that fully recognizes how an epidemic of addiction is destroying our children, our families, whole neighborhoods and cities, filling our jails and prisons, and littering our streets and alleys with the living dead.

And yet, and yet, how this same society provides painfully few resources toward treatment and recovery. A son or daughter seeking a bed at a detox center is forced to wait months for something affordable, dole out thousands of dollars for a few short days, only to be turned out onto the street again when the stay is ended.

Rages against the fact that the few available programs designed to help recovering addicts will bankrupt most families, since the road to recovery, as all admit, includes multiple relapses. But instead of sticking with those who relapse, helping them when they most need support, these programs kick them out on the streets again. With no place to go, to start over again and again and again, with no end in sight.

Sometimes it helps to rant and rage. And sometimes it just creates a dark hole that sucks me ever deeper into despair.

That’s where I’ve been heading. What I’m resisting.

What helps is knowing that I’m not alone. That I’m not even worse off than most.

At least, I tell myself, my son was not gunned down in his first grade classroom by a half-crazed boy; he did not hang himself because he was cyber-bullied into thinking he was worthless; he was not hit by a drunk driver on his prom night; he was not blown up on the battlefield in a senseless war; he was not shot in a movie theater for texting his daughter; he was not lost somewhere over the Indian Ocean on a flight to Malaysia.

At least he was not sold into slavery as a boy in the Philippines; or forced to murder his family as a child-soldier in Somalia; or bombed by a wayward drone on his way to a wedding somewhere in the hills of Aden.

Somehow it helps putting personal suffering into perspective. None of us are free of suffering. Even if what makes us suffer is the suffering of others.

Suffering is not the point, we soon come to see. It’s not what matters most. It’s not what breathed life into us, what keeps us moving forward, or what makes our lives worthwhile—the lives of those we’ve lost, and the lives of those still here, and those still waiting to be born. We do well not to dwell on our personal sorrow any more than we must to move past it.

These willful rants and rages help no one. I can let the darkness suck me up and become another casualty. Or I can turn away from the darkness toward the light. I have that choice.

I can choose to honor the light in me and my son and all those who are struggling–all the fallen children, all the mourning mothers–rather than dwelling on the darkness that dishonors us all.

I can honor the light that lies at the edge of every shadow, that pierces the storm clouds, and melts the mist. The light that filters through tree leaves, and slants across the grass, and pricks the night sky, and rains down in moonlight on the dark meadow.

I can honor the light outside my window this very moment, this first day of Spring, where the hummingbirds dazzle the garden with a bright rush of wings–hovering and humming, everywhere, everywhere! When I stop, and look, and listen.Colibri-thalassinus-001-Creative Commons photo credit mdf

Kicking People out of Drug Addiction Programs – A Travesty!

Kicking%20ImageMy son was recently kicked out of a drug treatment program.  I can’t tell you how long and hard we had to work to even get him into the program.  But only two months after entering, they kicked him out, apparently for a relapse.

He begged them not to kick him out. “Give me any other kind of punishment to make me pay for my relapse, but please don’t kick me out!”

But out he went. He had no place to go, and the shame and fear and depression of having been kicked out overwhelmed him and he went downhill, losing his job. Soon he was living on the streets again.

They said he could come back in a week–if he tested clean!  How crazy is that!

By then he’d had two overdoses. Finally he was arrested–thank God!  He’s “safe” for a little while longer.

But I am so angry at those who claim to provide drug addiction “treatment.”  How could they do this to him? They kick him out for having the very condition he went there to get help for?

I don’t understand this system of “treatment.” They were supposed to treat his addiction, not kick him out for being being an addict! If he hadn’t wanted to be there, I could understand that. Maybe. But when he was still desperate to recover, when he still wanted “treatment,” how could they do that?

Am I crazy to think this was wrong???

I don’t think so.

Here’s a great article at WilliamWhitePapers.com on this very point, “Stop Kicking People Out of Addiction Programs.”

18% (288,000) of all persons admitted to specialized addiction treatment in the U.S. were administratively discharged (“kicked out”) prior to treatment completion.  Those persons whose treatment was terminated in this manner were often those with the most severe and complex addictions and the least natural recovery support resources–in short, those most in need of professional treatment.

The most frequent cause for administrative discharge (AD) over the past half century has been continued use of alcohol or other drugs during treatment in spite of threatened consequences, e.g., the central symptom of the disorder.  In our 2005 article, we argued that AD practices were flawed on both theoretical and practical grounds.

They go on to say:

AD practices in addiction treatment are unprecedented in the health care system.  For other chronic health care problems, symptom manifestation during treatment confirms or disconfirms the working diagnosis and provides feedback on the degree of effectiveness of the treatment methods being used.  In marked contrast, symptom manifestation in the addictions field results in blaming and expelling the patient.  It is contradictory to argue that addiction is a primary health care problem while we continue to treat its symptoms as bad behavior warranting punishment.

Expelling a client from addiction treatment for AOD use–a process that often involves thrusting the client back into drug-saturated social environments without provision for alternate care–makes as little sense as suspending adolescents from high school as a punishment for truancy.

The strategy should not be to destroy the last connecting tissue between the individual and pro-recovery social networks, but to further disengage the person from the culture of addiction and to work through the physiological, emotional, behavioral and characterological obstacles to recovery initiation, engagement, and maintenance.

You can read the rest of this excellent article HERE

This was not the first time my son was kicked out of a rehab or sober living home for relapse, and sometimes just for minor infractions, missing meetings, etc.  I understand the need for consequences for “bad behavior,” and the need to protect others in the program. But there’s got to be a better way to work through these set-backs than throwing them out on the street.

No wonder jails and prisons have become revolving doors for addicts.

I realize now that my sense of hopelessness for my son rests mostly on the fact that there is no real help out there for him, for the chronic addict. There is no structured, systematic support and treatment program for addicts, period.

And most of what is available–the sketchy, seriously flawed programs–are either too expensive, or have long, waiting lists for beds, or require patients to subscribe to a particular religion.

I feel like we live in the dark ages when it comes to treating drug addition. Everyone recognizes that addiction is a major health epidemic, and a national tragedy. But nothing is being done to help those who need it most–the chronic addict.

What’s wrong with us?

Thank God My Son’s in Jail

800px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USA  wiki commons Adam Jones PHdI’d been waiting for a call from the Coroner’s office when I found out that, instead of lying in a morgue somewhere, my son was “safe” in jail. For now. Thank God.

I’d like to say I was overjoyed with relief, but that lasted only a few moments. Then the anger and frustration and weariness descended, and I felt heavier than stone. Because the hope that had once kept the grief and fear from crushing me is slipping away. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get it back.

I remember the first time he’d gone to jail for a DUI charge 20 years ago (before he became a heroin addict) and how freaked out I was. I talked to a substance abuse counselor on the phone, and he told me to calm down. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a young man. He’ll be okay, he said.

And I learned through the years he was right. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to my son. Prison isn’t the worst thing, either. Sometimes they can be the best thing that can happen to him. Sometimes they can be a life saver, like now.

The last time I heard from he told me he didn’t think he had long to live. He’d had two overdoses the week before. One where he woke up in the hospital. The other where he woke up in a motel room. His companions had left him for dead after stealing the little he had (a bike and a backpack stuffed with dirty clothes) and even the shoes off his feet. He was barefoot when he called, using someone else’s phone. He’d lost his own weeks ago (again).

I begged him to get help, to go an NA meeting, go to a church, go to a detox facility, go to a shelter. But he was too embarrassed. He was covered in staff infections, he said, and he looked like a zombie.

I’d seen him that way before. I knew what he meant.

I begged him to go to an ER and get medication for the staff infection. Then I gave him the address and phone number of detox, and told him to get there. He said he would. But it didn’t sound like he meant it.

“Say it,” I told him. “Say it like you mean it.”

“Promise me,” I demanded. “If you don’t want to die, promise me.”

“I feel like I’m dead already,” he said. “Like I’m in Limbo, you know? Or purgatory. Everything seems so surreal, like I’m walking around in a nightmare.”

I thought about driving the 200 miles to get him and pack him in my car and bring him home. But I’d already just done that, only a few months earlier. And it hadn’t helped. He wasn’t safe, even at home anymore.  I’d picked him up off the streets so we could get him into a drug treatment program and brought him home, so he could make the daily calls you need to make while waiting for a bed. He sounded ready, optimistic.

“A few more days,” they told us. “A few more days and we’ll have a bed ready for you.”

The next morning I found him on the floor of the bathroom with a needle in his arm. He looked gray and lifeless. I called an ambulance and the medics revived him and took him to a hospital.

Two days later a bed finally opened up, and he got into the program. Then he got a job, and he got back in touch with his girlfriend and his baby girl. He sounded so happy. They applied for low-cost housing as a couple (she was also in recovery). They were going to make a life for their baby together. He came back home to pick up the rest of his clothes and books and surfboard. He looked healthy and happy.

“Okay, now’s the time. Now he’s going to make it,” I told myself.

Then a few weeks later I found out he’d relapsed. He was kicked out of the program. He lost his job. His girlfriend turned her back on him. He became homeless, strung out on the street (again).

And I was urging him to get into detox before the next overdose killed him.

“Call me,” I told him.  “As soon as you get into the hospital, or get to detox, call me so I know you’re safe.  You have to do one or the other,” I urged. “Today. Do it!  If you don’t want to die, do it.”

“I will,” he said, but he wouldn’t promise me. And it was just as well. He’d made and broken those kinds of promises before.

I hung up the phone and the tears came and wouldn’t stop falling. I’d given up hope, you see. I didn’t think he’d do any of the things I told him to do. And I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again.

How many OD’s can you have before you have your last? Has his luck run out?

Apparently not. I didn’t hear from him until a week later, from jail. He said he was stopped by the police the day after our conversation and arrested for outstanding warrants. Thank God.

But the relief, as welcome as it was, was short-lived. Because jail is a kind of limbo too. For him and me.

As soon as he gets out, the insanity will start up again. All the nearly overwhelming logistics of starting over again from scratch will begin (again). We’ve been through this a dozen times already: The mad scramble to find some place to live, to get a job, to buy a phone and a bike and clothes and all the other things he needs to live a normal life, after having just lost all those things, again and again and again.

Then will begin the anxious, nail-biting wait to see if this time, this time at last, he’ll stay clean long enough to turn his life around. Or if the struggle to regain all he had lost will take its toll (again).

Everything is twice as hard as it should be. And it’s so heartbreaking–trying to pump up the hope and optimism again and again, so we both don’t sink down under the weight of the knowing that his chance of making it this time is slim to none.

But he’s safe now, I remind myself. That’s good! I don’t have to jump when the phone or doorbell rings, fearful for the worst. I can relax. When he’s in jail have been the most peaceful times of my life during these last fifteen years. And the most hopeful: “Maybe now he’s hit rock-bottom,” I tell myself. “Maybe now he’ll turn his life around.”

But those days of optimism are past. I know better now.

So. Jail is as good as it gets these days. Not knowing where he is and waiting for the Coroner’s call, that’s bad. And worse than that, as I’ve imagined a hundred times, is getting the call. At least I’ve been spared that. For now.

Count yourself lucky, I tell myself. And I am.