A Step Up, A Step Down – The Wobbly Road to Recovery

Step-ladder_stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1208202 by Kate Jewell

Step-ladder stile by Kate Jewell WikiCommons

My son is five and a half months clean, still going strong in recovery, but still struggling to acquire the basics in life, what so many of us take for granted: stable housing, stable income, stable relationships.

He lives in a metal shed, what his friend calls “his guest house.” It has a bed, a chair, a table, a refrigerator, and even a TV that plays two channels. Pretty comfy for a metal shed. But there’s no plumbing. No kitchen. No insulation. No heat or air conditioning.

He showers at a local gym. He cooks on a hot plate and microwave oven. He has a portable heater and fan.

It’s a step up, or a step down, depending on how you look at it. Before he moved here he was living in a motel room for $1350 a month. His shed is free, so he’s able to start saving money again, and get caught up in child support payments. So that’s a step up.

It’s a step down because—well—it’s a shed. And his girlfriend and son are no longer living with him. They’ve moved back to the shelter.

But he’s still working, still going to AA meetings with his sponsor, still going to the counseling required by his Prop 36 program, still taking Methadone, and still dating his new girlfriend. He even has been able to see his daughter a couple of times since I last posted here. He’s talked to a lawyer about getting visiting rights.

Life is good, considering he was at death’s door only seven months ago when I started this blog: having been kicked out of rehab, living on the street, two overdoses within a week of each other, and another on my bathroom floor around this time last year.

So I’m happy and hopeful, and more importantly, so is he.

Life is good on the wobbly road to recovery.

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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.

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.

“I Paint What I See” – Bearing Witness, One Face at a Time

Marc Clamage - Maxine

“I SEE YOU BUT DO YOU SEE ME?” Maxine by Marc Clamage:

Since my last post on bearing witness, I discovered another blogger who refuses to turn away by painting panhandlers he sees in Boston Harvard Square near his workplace.

Meet artist Marc Clamage.

He writes: “I used to hurry by them, but then I began to stop. Each face tells a story, I realized, and I would try to capture as many as I could through a series of oil paintings.”

Marc Clamage - Rosie and David

“Rosie and David” and pet guinea pig, by Marc Clamage

He’d noticed that there were more than usual, “younger, and more troubled,” and sometimes, even whole families begging on the streets.

Many of the people he encounters were simple passing through, and using panhandling as a way to supplement a low-wage job, or help pay the rent.

Others were homeless, and panhandling was their only source of income. Some were obviously disturbed, showing signs of drug addiction or mental illness. Some were sick, and dying.

Marc Clamage - Justin and Lauren (The Lovebirds)

“Newly Engaged, need Motel to Celebrate” Justin and Lauren (The Lovebirds) by Marc Clamage

He adds: “I do not ask the panhandlers to ‘pose”’ for me, but to carry on with their business. I pay each person $10, though I wish I could afford more, because they earn that small fee in the hour or two it takes me to paint them.

Over that time, we often get to talking, which has been a privilege and an education.

I’ve seen or heard many human dramas: the tragic love story of Gary and Whitney; squabbles over the best places to work; the mysterious figure everyone calls “The Rabbi,” stuffing $20 bills into cups and disappearing before anyone can see his face.

Marc Clamage - Gary

“Gary, Desert Storm Vet” by Marc Clamage

“I’ve witnessed a few instances of cruelty, but many more of thoughtfulness and generosity. And when I head home, I’m always struck by one thought: There but for the grace of God go the rest of us. Perhaps that’s why we find panhandlers so hard to look at.”

I was deeply touched by Marc’s paintings and by the stories of the people who posed for him. You can view more of his paintings and read the stories on his website “I Paint What I See“, or at his blog.

I also like what he says about how he paints:

“I paint what I see, only what I see, only with it right in front of me, only while I’m looking right at it. I do not work from photographs, or imagination, or memory, or even from sketches. I paint exclusively from life. The essence of representation is that every choice, every brushstroke must be made in direct response to the experience of visual reality.”

Marc Clamage - Whitney

“Whitney”, suffering from cancer, by Marc Clamage

To really “see” someone, the way an artist does, objectively, without judgement, and yet responding to what is seen, the pain, or loneliness, or confusion, or anger; to see and be seen like that, must be freeing, for both the painter, the one painted. And for the viewer as well.

To simply behold what we see–the good and bad and beautiful and ugly–without judgement, but with compassion and humility, is the essence of “bearing witness.” And it must have a healing effect.

Bernie Glassman in “Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace” wrote:

“In my view, we can’t heal ourselves or other people unless we bear witness. In the Zen Peacemaker Order we stress bearing witness to the wholeness of life, to every aspect of the situation that arises. So bearing witness to someone’s kidnapping, assaulting, and killing a child means being every element of the situation: being the young girl, with her fear, terror, hunger, and pain; being the girl’s mother, with her endless nights of grief and guilt; being the mother of the man who killed, torn between love for her son and the horror of his actions; being the families of both the killed and the killer, each with its respective pain, rage, horror, and shame; being the dark, silent cell where the girl was imprisoned; being the police officers who finally, under enormous pressure, caught the man; and being the jail cell holding the convicted man. It means being each and every element of this situation.”

To bear witness in that way must be the hardest, the most healing, and the most humbling thing we could ever do. And the most needed.

Elsewhere, Glassman writes: “When we bear witness, when we become the situation — homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death — the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out solutions ahead of time. . . . Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.”

More of Marc’s paintings follow. See if you see what he saw.

Marc Clamage - Colleen

“Colleen” by Marc Clamage. She died of exposure and a drug overdose.

 

Marc Clamage - Gideon

“Gideon” by Marc Clamage

 

Marc Clamage - Anthony

“Too Ugly to Prostitute, too Kind to Pimp” – Anthony, by Marc Clamage

 

Marc Clamage - maria

“Maria” by Marc Clamage

 

Marc Clamage - Laurel

“Laurel” by Marc Clamage. Here sign says she’s a mother of 4 and a victim of domestic violence. The flip side says, “I’m not a whore, asshole.”

 

Marc Clamage - Carrie

“Carrie” by Marc Clamage. Now clean and sober and off the street.