Friday, April 29, 2016

Welcome to Michigan, Skywood Recovery!

Every year 23 million people suffer from addiction and mental health issues. Unfortunately, only 3 million of those people seek help. There are many reasons why people don't ask for help--stigma is probably the most common one--but when they finally do reach out, we have to have effective facilities to provide treatment for them. And we have to have enough beds.

Foundations Recovery Network (FRN), a leader in state-of-the-art treatment facilities for co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders, is working hard to help as many people as it can. The company recently opened its fifth location: Skywood Recovery in Augusta, Michigan. Located on the sprawling grounds of a former golf and conference resort, Skywood held its grand opening celebration on Thursday, April 28th, and my wife and I were thrilled to be able to attend.

As a lifelong Michigander, I'm excited to have Skywood setting up shop in my state. It's good to know that there will be another quality rehab option available, not only to people who live in Michigan, but to residents of the Midwest and beyond. I can tell you from personal experience that there's nothing more frustrating than trying to get a loved one into treatment and being told "There are no beds available." So it's nice to know that when Skywood is finished with their remodeling, they will have the capacity to house and treat 100 patients.

Augusta is a little village (population less than 1,000) that sits halfway between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. The beauty of the scenery surrounding it is pure Michigan, and Skywood's 300 tranquil acres provide an incredibly relaxing environment. Just being on campus makes you feel like you are one with nature and puts you at ease. All this natural beauty will be an integral part of the Skywood patient experience. In fact, Skywood is working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to return much of its land back to its original state, so it will become even more beautiful in the years to come.


As awesome as the woodlands around Skywood may be, the treatment delivered by the highly qualified staff is even better. Led by CEO Adam Marion and clinical director Lori Ryland, the people at Skywood treat addiction and mental health issues simultaneously using a patient-centered approach. That approach includes:
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Holistic therapies (yoga, massage, acupuncture, art therapy, adventure therapy, equine therapy)
Good nutrition also plays a key role in recovery, and Skywood's executive chef and his staff create delicious, balanced meals that help patients' bodies start healing immediately. Better nutrition equals better physical health, which means more strength to do the work of recovery. (Note: If the patients' food is anything like the food my wife and I tasted at the grand opening--and I'm sure it will be--they are in for a treat!)

Skywood is an impressive treatment center, for sure. They offer all of the building blocks required for someone to establish a solid foundation for long-term, sustainable recovery.


My family's first experience with Foundations Recovery Network was almost five years ago when my son spent 38 days at Michael's House, the FRN rehab facility in Palm Springs, California. It's no secret that the treatment and care he received there was instrumental in him beating his addiction to heroin. The family program at Michael's House--which my wife, younger son, and I all attended--was invaluable, too, because addiction is a family disease and the whole family needs to work on recovery. (Skywood will also have a family program.)

Foundations Recovery Network truly cares about helping people who are struggling. Their evidence-based, integrated treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders works. I know, because I've witnessed it. I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am that they now have a fabulous new treatment facility in my home state.

Welcome to Michigan, Skywood Recovery!

"Addiction and mental health are still highly misunderstood, so it's important that Skywood Recovery is a safe place where people can heal." --Adam Marion, Skywood CEO

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Goodbye, Prince

Today I am devastated by the loss of my favorite musical artist of all time.

Prince's music changed my life the first time I heard "Soft and Wet" from his first album back in 1978. I became an instant fan of his musical genius and put up with some grief because of it early on because, let's face it, Prince was a bit different.

The first time I saw him perform live, in Ann Arbor in 1982, my future wife was in the audience. We didn't know each other at the time, but later on it would be just another wonderful thing that we had in common.

When I took my first real job in 1982, I actually had a Prince "shrine" in my cubicle. People would raise their eyebrows a little when they saw it, and some joked about it. "Who's Prince?" they would ask me. Two years later, when Purple Rain took the world by storm, I had the last laugh.

The best concert I've ever seen will always be Prince, The Time, and Vanity 6 at Masonic Auditorium in Detroit on December 2, 1982. Sitting in the third row, I witnessed something beyond spectacular that night, and I'll never forget it.

Through the years, Prince's records were the soundtrack of my life. I still think Sign O' the Times is one of the best albums ever recorded. And I'll be damned if Prince's B-sides weren't consistently better than most artists' A-sides.

The man was a great songwriter, a great musician, a great performer, a rebel, an enigma, and one of the most unique artists my generation--or any other--will ever know.

I've only cried twice in my life upon hearing about the death of a celebrity. The first time was on April 1, 1984, when I heard that Marvin Gaye had passed. The second time was today.

Goodbye, Prince. Nothing compares 2 U.


Friday, April 1, 2016

2016 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest

Welcome to the official announcement of the 2nd annual(?) My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest.

I wasn't sure this contest would happen again this year, and yet here we are. Sure, last year's version was a big success, with 30 kids submitting essays and 2 kids walking away with scholarships totaling $1,750.00. But finances have been tight in my family for a while now--not having a full-time job for more than two years will do that--so putting up money to seed another scholarship fund this year was kind of iffy. In the end, though, as I wrote back in October, my wife Kathy and I decided to go ahead and do it. Because siblings matter.

Our goal this year was to meet or exceed the monetary value of the scholarships we awarded the first time around, and I'm super happy to say that we did that. My wife and I put up $500.00 of our own money and some very generous people kicked in another another $1,550.00 via our YouCaring campaign. The end result?

This year we'll be awarding a $1,500.00 scholarship to the contest winner and a $550.00 scholarship to the runner-up.

Here are the key dates you need to know about this year's contest:
  • Deadline for essays/entries: 7/1/16
  • Judging deadline for essays: 7/31/16
  • Winner notified/announced: Week of 8/1/16

The topic for the essay contest is:

“How has your sibling’s addiction impacted you and what are your dreams for your future?”

Last year's contest produced some amazing essays, a few of which marked the first time the author had ever written about the effect their sibling's addiction has had on them. I have to say, that was one of the most satisfying things about the whole experience: Giving young people a chance to tell their stories and shifting the focus off of their addicted sibling for just a little bit. Writing can be so cathartic, so maybe we helped some young people find some relief even if they didn't win any money.

This year's contest will be judged by a group of people who know a thing or two about addiction and writing. In addition to myself and my wife, these fine folks will be judging the essay submissions:

Jeff Jay
Jeff is a clinical interventionist, educator, and author who has been in recovery from addiction since October of 1981. He and his wife Debra run Love First, a private practice that provides interventions, recovery mentoring, and professional training. A former clinician with the Hazelden Foundation and Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center, Jeff co-authored the best-selling book Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention with his wife. His latest book is Navigating Grace: A Solo Voyage of Survival and Redemption.

Jeanne Keister
Jeanne and her husband Don lost their son Tyler to addiction on December 23, 2012. Since then, they have worked wonders to help break the stigma associated with addiction and evoke legislative changes through their organization atTAcK addiction. Their goal? To help young people realize the dangers of alcohol and drugs so that they and their families never have to experience the pain, tragedy, and loneliness that accompany addiction.

Hannah Miller
Hannah is an incredible young person in recovery who has committed her life to helping others struggling with addiction. She shared her story, "Nine Lives," with Heroes in Recovery back in December of 2014. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan's Master of Social Work program, Hannah is a therapist at Dawn Farm, an addiction treatment center in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Munchie Morgan
Munchie is a fabulous writer who lost her younger sister to an addiction-related suicide just over two years ago. She has shared her story on the Heroes in Recovery site, too. You can read it here: "My Sister Sarah." Munchie started the Facebook group "Someone Else's Sarah" to help bring awareness to addiction and suicide. She also writes a blog for a treatment facility.

Anne Slease
Anne has been a teacher for more than 20 years and became a mental health advocate and author after witnessing firsthand the rippling effects of mental illness and addiction in her home. Her older son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 18, but he denied it, self-medicating with alcohol and drugs instead. Ultimately, he was incarcerated and spent almost 3 years behind bars. Anne has written a novel, A Brother's Oath, a fictionalized account of the devastation her younger son faced while watching his older brother's mental health and behavior deteriorate. She also writes a blog called "Still Hopeful Mom."

Cathy Taughinbaugh
A Certified Parent Coach, Cathy has been working with parents since 2010. After discovering drug and alcohol use was an issue with her children, she found that connecting with others was a way to share tools and strategies that could help parents lessen the pain of their child’s substance use. Through personal coaching, articles, a support group, resources, and various ebooks, Cathy's goal is to offer inspiration to others facing the same or similar challenges in their lives. You can visit her website at: http://cathytaughinbaugh.com 

(Actress Kristen Johnston, author of the brutally honest and funny addiction memoir Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, was a judge last year, but isn't sure if her schedule will allow her to participate this time. She's asked me to contact her closer to the judging period to see what her availability is. I'm really hoping she'll be able to do it.)

So there you have it.

If you know a college student who has been impacted by their sibling's addiction, and they are attending college in the fall, please share this blog with them. Maybe they'll be interested in taking a shot at this scholarship contest. All the information they need to apply/enter--requirements, rules, deadlines, etc.--should be contained in the documents below.

NOTE: These links are to Google Docs.

2016 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Rules

2016 My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest: Application/Entry Form

If you have any questions about the scholarship, or if you have any problems with the documents, please contact me at:

siblingscholarship@gmail.com

I can't wait to give away some money in August. And who knows? Maybe we'll do it again next year, too.

Peace. And good luck. And remember...

#SiblingsMatter

--Dean

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories." --Anne Lamott


Saturday, March 26, 2016

THIS Is Why You Should Help the Sibling of An Addict Pay for College

As most of you already know, my wife and I started a small college scholarship last year to help siblings of addicts pay for college. We did it because we experienced firsthand how addiction can upset the balance in a family--and the balance in a family's checkbook.

Siblings of people struggling with addiction can get pushed aside while their family deals with a brother's or sister's disease. Believe me: It's not something that's done intentionally. It just happens.

The scholarship essay contest Kathy and I created was something we came up with to show that siblings matter. We wanted to give those siblings a voice, have them write about how they've been affected by addiction, and reward a couple of them with some money to help pay their college tuition.

We gave away a total of $1,700.00 last year--$1,200.00 to the winner and $500.00 to the runner-up. Our goal this year is to at least match that amount, and, hopefully, exceed it. As I write this blog post, our YouCaring.com campaign for the scholarship fund stands at $1,585.00, so we're getting close. But we're only actively seeking contributions for five more days, so time is running out.

If anyone needs a reason to make a small donation, I offer up this testimony from a 17-year-old girl in Montana. She sent me a message via Facebook last night after she read my Heroes In Recovery blog entitled "Siblings and the Ripple Effect of Addiction." Here's what she wrote:

"Hi, I don't know if messaging you will help. Or if it's even worth it to send this. I read your blog on the ripple effect and how it affects siblings of addicts. I haven't found something that has ever actually explained how I feel with my sister being an addict until I read that. So much of what happened to your younger son is happening to me. I don't know why I'm messaging. I don't know if I want to talk or if I want to write about my experience. I guess it just feels nice knowing that people understand how I feel. I guess I'm more trying to say thank you for writing that because it helped me realize that it's okay to feel forgotten and pushed outta the family. It's normal but thank you for writing that. I hope you know it does help. It doesn't exactly make me feel like everything is okay now but it does help."

That message is exactly why Kathy and I are doing the scholarship contest again this year. And it's why you should take a couple of minutes and make a contribution--any contribution--to the scholarship fund before the end of the month.

Kathy and I believe that it shouldn't be okay for siblings to "feel forgotten and pushed outta the family." They deserve so much more than that.

#SiblingsMatter

You can make a contribution to the My Life as 3D Scholarship Fund at this link:

https://www.youcaring.com/college-students-affected-by-a-sibling-s-addiction-453759

Thanks for listening.

Peace.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Update: 2016-17 College Scholarship Essay Contest

Back in October, I wrote that my wife and I had decided to go ahead with our My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest again this year. (For those who don't already know, this is a contest that awards scholarships to college students who have been affected by a sibling's addiction. We awarded two scholarships last year.)

I'll be completely honest: We almost didn't do it, because money's pretty tight on our end right now. More than two years after leaving my publishing job to pursue other interests, I still haven't found a full-time job. So putting up $500.00 as seed money for this year's scholarship wasn't easy. But we received so many emails from students asking if there was going to be another contest that we just had to do it.

Sometimes you have to make decisions based on what's in your heart instead of what's in your wallet.  

I started a crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring in mid-October to raise additional money for the scholarship(s) and so far generous donors have contributed an extra $635.00 to the cause. Our total scholarship funds as I write this post are $1,135.00, which is great. I hope people will keep donating so we can reach the $3,000.00 goal. (Honestly, even $2,000.00 would be fabulous.) By all means, feel free to share the YouCaring link--https://www.youcaring.com/college-students-affected-by-a-sibling-s-addiction-453759--with anyone you think might be interested in contributing, even if it's just a few dollars. Every little bit helps.

Here are the key dates we've established for this year's contest:

  • Deadline for essays/entries: 7/1/16
  • Judging deadline for essays: 7/31/16
  • Winner notified/announced: Week of 8/1/16

I'm also in the process of assembling the panel of judges. I'm very pleased to announce that Jeff Jay, a nationally known clinical interventionist, educator, and author, has agreed to judge essays this year. Jeff and his wife, Debra, wrote the best-selling book Love First: A Family's Guide to Intervention. Jeff also has a new memoir out called Navigating Grace: A Solo Voyage of Survival and Redemption

So that's my update. More details for this year's contest will be shared in the next couple of months. In the meantime, spread the word. We had 30 students enter last year's contest. Maybe this year we'll get even more.

Peace.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Passing on Hope to Others

Ten years or so ago, when I first discovered that my son had issues with addiction, I was devastated. I didn't want anything to do with the world of addiction and recovery. I just wanted the whole situation to go away. Little did I know that a decade later I would find myself right in the middle of that world, doing whatever I can to help others.

It's amazing how adversity or tragedy can spark a passion inside of us. You see it all the time. Like people who lose a loved one to gun violence and then pour themselves into advocating for better gun laws. That's not something those people planned on doing; instead, it became something they had to do.

As I wrote in a blog post back in October, I didn't choose this work, it chose me. Lord knows, I don't do it for money. I do it for people and families who are struggling, because I want them to know that things can work out okay. I do it because, in their darkest moments, people need hope. They need to know that things can get better.

I do it for people like Mark.

Back in early January, I received an email from Mark. I don't know Mark, but he told me about his struggles with alcohol, and I replied to him. Today, Mark emailed me again with an update.

With Mark's permission, I'm sharing our email exchange with you. By doing so, maybe we can, in Mark's words, "Pass on the hope to others."

Peace.

**********

Email from Mark to me on January 2, 2016:

Dean, 

My name is Mark. Today once again I know I need to make a change but fear I can't. You see I've been in recovery since 2003. I have relapsed several times and I'm afraid to tell my family. My wife told me if I ever drank again she would leave me. I have three beautiful daughters. I'm afraid of losing them also. I was a leader in a faith based recovery group. I feel I have let all of those people down. I have a business that is collapsing around me. I work in the oilfield and it is hard times right now for that kind of business. All of these things and more are wearing me down. I know I need to tell my family about drinking again but I don't even know where to start. I'm not sure why I'm sending you an email. I've been reading stories on Heroes in Recovery and your name keeps popping up. What hurts me the most is how I enjoyed helping others. Telling my story. Now I feel like a hypocrite and feel like I can never get that back. I have to make a change and I need to do it now. Any words of encouragement or ideas that might help I would greatly appreciate it. 

Sincerely,

Mark


My reply to Mark on January 3, 2016:

Mark,

I'm sorry you're struggling, but I'm glad you reached out.

I know you want to quit drinking, because you took the time to contact me and tell me. Maybe you've relapsed a few times lately, but you recognize that you have a problem. And you want to attack that problem again. So, yes...Here you go again. But you know what? Sobriety can take a lot of practice because it's a learned behavior. It takes constant practice, and with learned behaviors we learn by failing. And we learn to be and do better from our mistakes. The relapses are NOT what define us. It's how we react to the relapses. So pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get back on the recovery road.

Make a commitment to not drink for today. Or even for the next hour or minute if smaller chunks of time make it a little easier. And do your best to keep doing the next right thing. If you mix willingness with hope enough times, sobriety can happen. You know that, because you were sober for a long time. The fact that you've slipped up doesn't make you a failure, Mark. Or a hypocrite. It just means that you're human. Because humans make mistakes. I think your wife and daughters would understand that, assuming you are willing to bust your ass to get back on the right track. If you're willing to do that, I think your family will support you. And you know what? You can still help others by sharing your story. Because the truth about addiction and recovery is this: Someone's story doesn't necessarily end when they stop drinking or taking drugs. Recovery is not a destination, but a journey. And there are oftentimes bumps in the road on that journey. Part of the "story" is how you deal with those bumps.

By getting sober again you can show people that it's possible to falter and still get back on the right path. You can possibly be even more inspirational to those people than you've already been. So my recommendation is to get yourself back on your feet and start working hard to get back to sobriety. Do whatever you have to, Mark. Meetings, counseling, outpatient treatment, etc. Just don't sit there feeling sorry for yourself. Take some action to get back to where you've been. Show yourself that you are stronger than the alcohol. I know you can do it, my friend. Just go forward, be brave, and keep the faith.

Sending you peace, hugs, and positive, sober vibes.

--Dean


Email from Mark to me on February 4, 2016:

Dean,

I wanted to give you a update on how I've been doing since you sent me this email.

I have been clean and sober now since 1/2/16. Thank you so much for the email you sent me. It was full of encouragement, strength and hope.

My sponsor wanted me to give my testimony last Friday at our meeting (Celebrate Recovery). I was reluctant of course fooling myself that others would judge me. I had a couple of weeks to think about. During this time my heart was very heavy knowing that I didn't think I could get up on the altar and talk. To me it is a sacred place and how was I going to go up there and still be hiding my relapse from my wife and daughters.

Thursday came (the day before I was set to speak) and I knew either I had to back out or tell my wife. I prayed everyday for a year for God to give me the courage to do this. I always had a excuse not to. Now it was time. We watched a little television as we usually do before bed. She was ready to go to sleep but I knew this was the time. I shut off the tv and told her I had something to tell her. It just came out.

I was fully prepared to pack my bags, hopefully kiss my girls goodbye and leave. That's not at all what happened. She let me talk. She told me she was sad and disappointed but would stand by my side just like she had always done. What a weight off my shoulders!

Why did she not kick me out as she promised so many years ago? Only God knows the answer to that. I really do not know how lucky I am to have a wonderful wife like I have. One by one I told my daughters the next day. They all took it the same way as their mother.

Disappointed but encouraged me to get back on track.

So here I am the next day. The day of my talk.The day my business will be closing.The price of fuel has forced me to do so. I have had a small oilfield delivery service( hot shot) for the past 6 1/2 years and I just couldn't make ends meet any longer. That night I was speaking at church, giving my testimony and touch on the subject of insanity and then sanity. I had planned this day out a couple of months ok. I didn't figure on coming out the other side certainly not giving my testimony and being sober. This was the case though. My words came out clear and spot on. God was there every step of the way. This day did not happen by accident. How blessed I was and lucky to be where I'm at today!

Today I'm looking for a job after 11 years working in one way or another for myself. Bill collectors calling everyday and the same stress that has been there but what's different is I have a new beginning. I'm going to my meetings. Making my calls. Feeding the homeless on the weekends and praying that God will let me be his hands and feet everyday. I'm not doing these things for a pat on the back or for someone to say "great job" I'm doing them to stay sober. To come back stronger than I ever was.

I'm taking it one day at a time, hour by hour, minute by minute and second by second. I just wanted to let you know that taking the time to email me back and give me your words of encouragement made a difference in my life. Thank you my friend and may God bless you and your family.

Mark



"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Unbroken Brain": A New, Forward-Thinking Book on Addiction

(Note: This book review also appears on The Huffington Post Books site under the same title.)


As a recovery advocate and the father of someone in long-term recovery, I've read more books about addiction than I can count. When my son first started struggling with drugs, I made a vow to educate myself as much as I possibly could. Knowledge is power, and I wanted to know everything about addiction. I still do. So I read about it. A lot. And I can honestly say that Maia Szalavitz's Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction is one of the best books I've ever read on the subject.

Maia Szalavitz is a fabulous writer who has penned a wonderful, very forward-thinking book about addiction. She introduces us to some new theories about addiction, several of which may have people re-examining the way they've thought about one of the most prevalent and deadliest problems in America today.

Szalavitz sets out to show that addiction isn't a choice or moral failing. "But it's not a chronic, progressive brain disease like Alzheimer's, either," she notes. "Instead, addiction is a developmental disorder--a problem involving timing and learning, more similar to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia than it is to mumps or cancer." Yes, Szalavitz is blazing new trails here.

The author contends that "addiction doesn't just happen to people because they come across a particular chemical and begin taking it regularly. It is learned and has a history rooted in their individual, social, and cultural development." She adds that the addicted brain is not "broken," as many other researchers and writers have suggested. Instead, she says, the addicted brain has "simply undergone a different course of development....addiction is what you might call a wiring difference, not necessarily a destruction of tissue."

Looking at addiction as a learning disorder may seem strange to some, but Szalavitz states that doing so "allows us to answer many previously perplexing questions." And in Unbroken Brain, Szalavitz--who is 25+ years in recovery from cocaine and heroin addiction herself--tells us how learning is a part of every aspect of addiction, oftentimes drawing upon her personal experience to illustrate her points.

There are so many interesting and thought-provoking topics covered in this book. From the problems associated with waiting for someone to hit "rock bottom" to the myth of the addictive personality; and from the issues surrounding 12-step programs to why harm reduction isn't a bad thing. ("Harm reduction recognizes [the] social and learned components of addiction. It 'meets people where they're at,' and it teaches them how to improve their lives, whether or not they want to become abstinent." Amen to that.)

If you or someone you love has been touched by addiction, or if you're just interested in this fascinating subject, I cannot recommend Unbroken Brain highly enough. This book contains a wealth of information, but Maia Szalavitz presents it in an organized manner while writing in a clear and understandable voice. Trust me: You will not be bombarded with a bunch of scientific language that you don't understand. 

Szalavitz writes in the introduction, "Only by learning what addiction is--and is not--can we begin to find better ways of overcoming it. And only by understanding addicted people as individuals and treating them with compassion can we learn better and far more effective ways to reduce the harm associated with drugs." That is definitely the approach we should be taking with addiction. Hopefully, Maia Szalavitz's innovative new book will be the catalyst for some positive change.