Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Note to Parents: WE Are Our Kids' Role Models

At the risk of sounding like a scrooge or a grinch--or maybe just a plain old killjoy--I've decided to go ahead and write this blog post.

Those of you who know me know that I'm on Facebook a lot. It's one of the primary ways I network with the recovery community and share my writing.

I've been on Facebook a long time, and there aren't a whole lot of things that bother me when it comes to what other people post on their pages. But one thing that has always bothered me is this:

Parents posting photos of themselves partying with alcohol.

I've seen several of these photos lately; maybe it's because the holiday season is upon us and people are hosting or attending Christmas parties. And while I understand that not everyone leads an alcohol-free life, as parents we should know that WE are the role models for our kids. What we do has a tremendous amount of influence on our children, whether we like it or not.

Sure, people will argue that they're adults and they have a right to do whatever they want. But I'm a firm believer in parenting by example. If your kids see your alcohol-related photos posted on Facebook, what kind of message do you think that sends to them?

In his terrific book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy, David Sheff writes:

“A study undertaken by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children of alcoholics were four times more likely than other kids to become alcoholics. Kids who have seen their parents drunk are five times more likely than kids who haven’t to get drunk one or more times a month.”

If you're the parent of a teen or tween, think twice about what you're posting on your own Facebook page. It's very likely that your child(ren) will see it, so use common sense. (That's what you tell your kids to do when it comes to Facebook, right??)

Bottom line: If you're out partying this holiday season--or any season, for that matter--it's probably not the best idea to post photos of your imbibing self on Facebook.

I will now step down from my soapbox.


"We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate." --Brigham Young

This may be an extreme example, but you get the idea, right?

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Better to Give Than to Receive

I woke up this morning, turned on the Internet, and came across a New York Times OpEd piece titled "Is It Bad Enough?" Written by food writer, author, and columnist Mark Bittman, the piece focuses on the current state or our country and the spontaneous protests that have been going on nationwide.

Bittman writes:

"The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined."

Those numbers were shocking to me. How can one family have more money than so many others? I'm all for the American Dream, but looking at those stats can certainly make one realize why the non-rich may feel at least a little bit slighted.

Earlier in the week, I read another eye-opening article about being a "have-not" in the United States. This one was on the website. Titled "Why People Stay Poor,"  it's actually an excerpt from Linda Tirado's book called Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America.

Tirado says:

"It is impossible to be good with money when you don’t have any. . . .When I have a few extra dollars to spend, I can’t afford to think about next month--my present day situation is generally too tight to allow me that luxury. I’ve got kids who are interested in their quality of life right now, not 10 years from now."

Tirado talks about how she once lost a truck that was towed because she couldn't afford to get it out of impound, and about how "It’s impossible to win, unless you are very lucky. For you to start to do better, something has to go right--and stay that way for long enough for you to get on your feet."

Reading those pieces from Torado and Bittman made me feel extremely fortunate. Which is strange, because just the day before I had posted this as my status update on Facebook:

"I kind of thought this to be the case, but I can now confirm based on experience: paying bills is way easier when you have an income!‪"

Looking back at that status update made me feel like a fool.

Yes, it's true that I have been unemployed for a year now. I've been doing some freelance work here and there, but I don't have a steady income by any means. That said, my wife works. And although her income is modest, we do have some money in the bank. The bottom line: We are far from being poor and are likely way better off than a very large number of Americans.

After I read the Bittman piece, I read part of it aloud to my wife. She was astonished by the statistics it quoted as well. Then she looked at me and said, "We should go to Kmart and pay off some people's layaways."

You have to pay a fee to use layaway. That seems unfair.
Paying off a complete stranger's layaway account is something my wife and I first did three years ago. Knowing that someone's holiday hinged on their coming up with enough money to free Christmas wish list items from a back room at their local Kmart was unsettling to us. So we went to Kmart, explained what we wanted to do, and went "shopping" in the layaway room for bundles of gifts we wanted to secretly pay for. We were "layaway angels" to three families that year.

Today, we did the same. Granted, things are way different for us this year. Three years ago, we were both working and things were pretty damn good. Today, only one of us is working. In fact, I applied for unemployment yesterday. But we are still blessed and do not want for much. Spending some money to brighten the Christmas of three less fortunate families just seemed like the right thing to do.

There was another article that caught my eye the other day.  It was a story in USA TODAY about a layaway angel who spent $20,000.00 to pay off every single layaway account--all 150 of them--at a Toys R Us store in Bellingham, Massachusetts.

My wife and I only spent one-tenth that much today, but the end result was the same: We made a difference in some people's lives this Christmas. Our hope is that the beneficiaries will realize that there are indeed still people in the world who care about others. Maybe someday they will remember what someone did for them and be inspired to pay it forward.

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." --Charles Dickens

(Note: This blog also appears at The Huffington Post blog site. Here is the direct link:

Looking through the shelves in the layaway room.
So many things to choose from.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I Think We'll Celebrate

Today is my son's 25th birthday.

When I woke up this morning and remembered that, I started to cry. Not because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed with happiness.

It you'd have asked me as recently as a few years ago, I would've told you that I wasn't sure my son would even make it to 25. Sure, I had hope. But addiction and depression can twist a person's life in ways that are totally unpredictable. I had no idea what loomed on the horizon for my son.

Four years ago today, on my son's 21st birthday, I wrote a blog post called "21 Years Later." In that post, I said:

"When you become a parent, nothing is guaranteed. You hope that your children are healthy and intelligent, and grow up to be fine adults. But if there are a few bumps in the road along the way--like addiction and depression--you have to improvise and ad lib to the best of your ability in order to help everyone--most importantly, your child--get through it. There's no owner's manual. It's like trying to figure out the most complicated computer software known to mankind just by sitting down and playing around with it. Trial and error. Over and over and over again."

Today I am grateful that we--me, my wife, and our beautiful boy--never stopped trying. Even though there were times we probably wanted to, we never gave up.

When our son comes over for dinner after work today, my wife and I will probably tell him (for the umpteenth time) how incredibly cold it was the night he was born. And how beautiful the full moon was that night. But more than that, we will tell him how much we love him. And how incredibly proud we are of him.

Today is my son's 25th birthday and his 893rd consecutive day of sobriety. I think we'll celebrate.


"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." --A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Catching Up

It's been a week since my last post, and some stuff has been going on. So I thought I'd stop by and give you an update.

First of all, I've had two new pieces published in the past week over at the Heroes in Recovery website.

The first piece is a blog post entitled "Being Transparent to Help Break the Stigma." It talks about how sharing my experiences with my sons addiction is therapeutic to me, and about how sharing helps bring addiction out of the shadows and into the light.

The second piece is a story I wrote in the aftermath of one of the best Thanksgivings ever. "The Greatest Gift I Could Ask For: My Son's Sobriety" let's people know what an amazing thing my son's recovery has been, and that they should never give up if they, or someone they love, are struggling with addiction.

I hope you'll take the time to read both pieces. And feel free to leave comments on them at the Heroes website. I always like to know what people think about the topics I write about.

The other stuff going on in my life has to do with facing the ugly reality of unemployment. Without going into detail, I was being compensated for a while (with health insurance), but that has now run out. I am doing some freelance work, and my wife is working; but having a major chunk of our household's cash flow disappear has been pretty eye-opening.

Here are some random thoughts that have kept popping into my head over the last week or so:

*Paying the bills is tough when you lose your largest, steadiest source of income. It's certainly a wake-up call, and things will no doubt be incredibly challenging for me and my family going forward.

*When your health insurance benefits go away, you realize how important they actually were to you. It was kind of easy to take them for granted. Now I'm trying to decide whether to go on COBRA for a while--at a cost of nearly $1,600.00 a month--or if I should just take the plunge directly into the world of Obamacare.

*Something else you take for granted when it's included in your employer's benefits package: life insurance. You cruise along for years with ridiculously affordable life insurance--again, taking it for granted--then all of a sudden it disappears. If you don't know this already, trying to find life insurance that won't break your bank account is a pain in the ass. Especially when you're in your fifties and have some minor health issues. My advice to younger folks out there who are blessed with having life insurance through their employer: Go buy some life insurance from another source while you can do so at a decent rate. It'll save you a lot of hassle later on.

*I need a job. So if you know someone who might know someone...

I guess that's about it for now. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and wish you a very happy holiday season. Remember to take time daily to be grateful for the little things in your life. Some of the greatest gifts we have in life are things we tend to take for granted. Live in the moment and appreciate everything each day brings you. There are no guarantees for tomorrow.

In the same vein, there's a fabulous quote in the new Anne Lamott book (Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace) that I've fallen in love with. This quote hit me so hard that I printed it out and hung it up on my dining room wall. And I've used it as "grace" for the last two dinner gatherings I've hosted with my entire family.

"Right this minute, we understand that this is all there is, so let's really be together."

Amen, Anne. I think that line sums up life perfectly.


P.S. Here are direct links to my newest pieces on the Heroes in Recovery site:

"Being Transparent to Help Break the Stigma":

"The Greatest Gift I Could Ask For: My Son's Sobriety":

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Held Hostage by a RX Drug: My Klonopin Nightmare

I'm breaking up with Klonopin.

Klonopin is the brand name of a drug that belongs to a group called benzodiazepines, or "benzos" for short. Benzos are psychotropic drugs used to treat a number of disorders, including anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms. Other brand name benzos include Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. (FYI: Rohypnol--widely known as "the date-rape drug," but not available legally in the United States--is also a benzodiazepine.)

These drugs are depressants/tranquilizers and work on the central nervous system by affecting chemicals in the brain. They are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. and are deemed to be effective for short-term use. Unfortunately, according to a story in The Boston Globe, "Doctors and patients say physicians often prescribe benzodiazepines with no discussion of the dangers and the drugs' declining effectiveness over time."

Welcome to my world.

Let me be clear about one thing: I've never abused Klonopin (generic name "clonazepam"). It was prescribed to me by my doctor, and I always followed the dosage instructions to the letter. But many people who take benzos for a long period of time become psychologically or physically dependent on them.

I am one of those people. My body became physically addicted to this awful drug.

I was first prescribed Klonopin by my (former) psychiatrist about nine years ago. My son was struggling with depression and addiction and it was adversely affecting our whole family. My anxiety level skyrocketed and sleeping was very difficult for me. My psychiatrist suggested I try Klonopin, and at that point in time I was open to trying anything that might help make me feel better. And it did.

Funny thing, though (not really): My doctor never told me that long-term use could be harmful.

My initial prescription had me taking a 0.5 mg Klonopin tablet five times a day, and I thought nothing of it. I figured my doctor knew what he was doing. After all, he kept refilling my prescription and never said anything about it.

A couple years later, though, I felt depressed and started seeing a therapist. When she found out how much Klonopin I was taking, she said I was "grossly overmedicated." She even suggested that my depression could be directly related to my Klonopin use.

That shocked me, and I decided I didn't want to take Klonopin anymore. One afternoon I went home and did something that turned out to be incredibly stupid: I flushed my remaining pills down the toilet and quit "cold turkey."

Big mistake.

The next morning, I felt like I was dying. I had chills, my head hurt, and my body was shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't even get out of bed. Naïvely, I thought I had come down with a bad case of the flu. But I eventually wondered about the possible connection between my symptoms and my having stopped taking Klonopin.

I had my wife call my psychiatrist to ask him if the two things could be related. He said they were, and that I never should've stopped taking my Klonopin cold turkey. It turns out that when you stop taking benzodiazepines suddenly, you risk a boatload of horrible symptoms, including anxiety, depression, dizziness, headaches, irritability, muscle spasms, nausea, heart palpitations, seizures, and tremors.

Funny thing, though (not really): My doctor had never mentioned that to me.

I got my Klonopin prescription refilled and felt better almost immediately after I started taking it again. I can't even begin to tell you how scary that was. This medication, which was prescribed to me like it was no big deal, had hijacked my body. That was incredibly frightening to me. I felt like Klonopin was holding me hostage. So much so, that after my "dopesick" experience I didn't even want to wean myself off of the drug. I was terrified that I'd go through withdrawal again.

I did some research online and learned that benzos can be quite nasty. They are also some of the hardest drugs--prescription or otherwise--to quit. I made the decision to slowly taper off my dosage. No matter how long it took, I had to get clonazepam out of my system.

I've been tapering my dosage for several years now. Yes, years. I've gone from taking five tablets a day to taking just a little more than half a tablet daily. In a few months, I plan on being completely Klonopin-free.

Recently I was pretty sick--physically and emotionally--for a couple of weeks. I knew it was related to the Klonopin tapering, but I fought through it. It wasn't unbearable and I was bound and determined to keep going. A huge part of my motivation was an article I read entitled "How Worried Should We Be About Benzos?" Among the things cited in that article is a new study published in The BMJ (originally called the British Medical Journal) "strongly linking 'benzos' to Alzheimer's Disease."

How horrifying.

Our society is drug crazy. Too many doctors prescribe too many medications willy-nilly, without warning their patients about side effects or long-term implications. And they don't seem to care that unsuspecting folks like me can end up in a place we never wanted to be because of it, even if we take the drug as prescribed.

I'm breaking up with Klonopin. And I can't wait until it's totally out of my life.

Postscript: As the father of a son in long-term recovery, this was a tough piece for me to write. It almost feels hypocritical, or like I'm "outing" myself. But I decided to tell my story to help educate others. If a doctor wants to prescribe a benzodiazepine for you, please discuss it with them at length. I don't want what happened to me to happen to you.


Evil stuff. Very, very evil stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Helping a Sibling Affected by Addiction Pay for College

Back in April, I wrote a blog post entitled "Of Lottery Winnings & Younger Siblings of Addicts." In a nutshell, that post talked about what I would do with the money if I ever won the lottery. And how I'd love to set up a foundation to help younger siblings of addicts.

In that post I wrote:

"Younger siblings of addicts are amazingly special people.

"Addiction is a family disease, and there's no doubt that it eats away at families in every way possible: emotionally, physically, financially. It affects everyone in the family, too: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles. But I don't think anyone is affected as much as younger siblings are, because they are so innocent and vulnerable. They really don't know what's going on with this person who means so much to them, or why it's happening."


"Unfortunately, an older sibling's addiction also has a negative financial impact on younger siblings. While trying to help an addicted child, parents burn through money like nobody's business. They spend thousands and thousands of dollars on rehab treatment, hospitals, therapy, intensive outpatient programs, sober living houses, special medications, etc. . . . By the time the younger sibling of an addict gets to the point where they need help financially, their parents are quite frequently tapped out. And, once again, the sibling--through no fault of their own--gets moved to the back burner, at least temporarily."

Well, I've decided that I'm not going to wait until I win the lottery to help.

Even though money is incredibly tight for my family right now, I feel a need to make a difference. Yes, I am unemployed and without much income. But I have some savings. And I have decided to dip into that money to help a younger sibling of an addict pay for college.

So here's the deal:

I'm putting up $500.00 of my own money to fund a scholarship of sorts for one younger sibling of someone who has suffered from addiction. I've also started a campaign on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe so that anyone who wants to contribute to this scholarship can do so. (I'd love to get the amount of the scholarship up to $1,000.00 or $2,000.00. Or even more if at all possible.)

I'm still working out details, but my thinking is that I'll officially announce the scholarship on my blog in the spring. I will create an application for people to fill out and email to me by a specific date. That application will require an essay that discusses how the applicant's life has been affected by their older sibling's addiction. I will review all the applications and essays. I will also enlist the help of a handful of connections from the addiction/recovery community. As a group, we will vote to determine who gets the scholarship. The recipient will be posted on my blog and their scholarship check will be made out to the college or university that they are attending.

All of this might sound like a crazy idea, but I'm a little crazy and this is something I really want to do. I've seen first-hand how addiction can affect an innocent sibling's life. This is my attempt to try and make a difference.

If you have any comments or suggestions, or if you'd like to help out in any way, get in touch with me through my blog. Or leave a comment below.

Here is the direct link to the GoFundMe campaign:


"No one has ever become poor by giving." --Anne Frank

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Two New Blog Posts Published Today

Just wanted to let you know that I had two new blog posts published elsewhere today.

The first one is my latest blog for Heroes in Recovery. It's entitled "Parent Collaboration: A Key to Dealing with an Addicted Child." It talks about how important it is for parents to be on the same page when dealing with their child's addiction.

The second one is my latest piece at The Huffington Post's blog site. This one is entitled "What Some Old Photos Revealed to Me About My Son's Depression, Addiction and Recovery," and is adapted from a post that first appeared here on my personal blog last month. It talks about the effect looking through some old photos of my son had on me.

Lastly, my Huffington Post blog "Bigger U.S. Health Crisis: Ebola or Addiction" was cited today in a Letter to the Editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I was flattered to see this and am grateful that even more people will now be hearing the message I've been working to get out for so long. My thanks to Janice Meinert of Shaler, Pennsylvania, for writing that letter.

All in all, quite a busy day. Here are direct links to the aforementioned pieces:

New Heroes in Recovery blog post:

New Huffington Post blog post:

Letter to the Editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

As always, please read, share, like, and comment. We need to keep spreading the word. :)