Friday, July 25, 2014

Greetings from Northern Michigan

I've been up in northern Michigan for the last few days, spending some time in my favorite place in the world. Visiting great friends, taking in beautiful sights, walking on the beach with my wife, even interviewing for a job; I've loved every minute of it. The stress just drains out of my body when I'm up here. It's like heaven.

Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of waking up and seeing an interview I did with Beth Wilson posted on her fine blog B Here Today. Beth chose to honor me as her "Recovery Carrier" for the month of July. As noted on Beth's site, "William White defines recovery carriers as 'people, usually in recovery, who make recovery infectious to those around them by their openness about their recovery experiences, their quality of life and character, and the compassion they exhibit for those still suffering.'" (www.williamwhitepapers.com, 2012)

Those are pretty lofty standards and I am humbled that someone believes I live up to them. As I mentioned on Facebook last night, "I'm a little surprised when people think I'm interesting enough to write about. I'm just a dad trying to make a difference." Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful to Beth for the opportunity to share my thoughts on her blog.

When Beth asked me what my favorite part of all the work I do is, I referenced this blog.

"My favorite part of the work I do is when someone takes the time to contact me to tell me that something I wrote helped them or just resonated with them in some way. For example, I got an email from someone who just happened to 'stumble across' my blog the other day. She’s the mother of six kids, five of whom are addicts to some degree. She opened up and shared with me, and then ended her email by saying, 'Thank you for sharing yourself and your journey in this forum. I look forward to reading more. It helps with my healing.' That right there is why I do what I do. To know I am helping other people is so gratifying to me.

So if you read my blog regularly, please keep doing so. And if you know someone out there who might be helped or comforted by what I write here, please share my blog with them. No one who is dealing with the addiction of a loved one is alone; and if there are people out there who feel like they are, they don't have to. Together,  maybe we can ease their burden a bit.

Peace.

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

Lake Michigan, from the beach in Leland, Michigan (7/24/14)

Monday, July 14, 2014

211 Days and Counting

Usually when I include a number of days/months/years in the title of one of my blog posts it correlates directly to my older son's sober time. Not today.

The 211 days I refer to in the title of this post is the number of days it's been since I've had a "real" job. My last day at the company I spent nearly 24 years with was December 15th, which seems like eons ago. Probably because it was eons ago.

Since December I've been looking for work here and there and keeping incredibly busy. I've kept up my efforts with two organizations that are near and dear to my heart: Heroes in Recovery and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids; I've continued to advocate for families that have children suffering from addiction, and for recovery; I've cooked meals for residents of a sober living house; I've voluntarily managed the social media accounts of the high school my younger son recently graduated from; and I've done a lot of thinking.

When you are out of work for seven months, you get hungry for a job. But while I am definitely "hungry" for work, I am not yet "starving" for it. Let me explain.

As I wrote in a post back in February (boy, that was a long time ago), personal satisfaction is now the main requirement for any job I consider. I want to do something I'm passionate about for an organization I'm passionate about; an organization that's making a difference in people's lives (preferably young peoples' lives). Walking back into the corporate world is not something that's high on my list right now. In fact, it's still not on my list at all. Been there, done that, not excited to do it again.

Of course, there's always a possibility that that might change. I may get to a point where I have no choice but to consider a job I'm qualified for but don't really want to do. That would be a bummer...but so would being homeless. Nevertheless, I'm going to hold out for as long as I can; and for as long as my incredibly supportive wife will allow it. (Seriously, she has been amazing throughout this entire journey, just like she has been throughout our entire 25+ years of marriage.)

What's that old Confucius saying that I've always laughed at in the past?

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." 

Right on, Confucius! In the last seven months or so I've gone from laughing at that saying to believing it might actually be possible. One thing's for sure: I'm going to try my damndest to make it happen.

As I sit here typing this post I'm wondering to myself if I might be committing "career suicide" by being so honest. That could be, but like that post I wrote back in February said, this is who I am. If you like it, fine. If not, that's fine, too. The most important thing is that I like who I am these days.

"Just keep moving forward and don't give a shit about what anybody thinks. Do what you have to do, for you." --Johnny Depp


Friday, July 11, 2014

"Now Citizens of the Land of the F***ed"

If you didn't know this about me already, I will tell you now that my favorite author, bar none, is Anne Lamott.

I "found" Anne Lamott and her writings about four years ago through my wife, who was a longtime fan.

This may sound silly, but I often times consider Anne to be my higher power (hence the first-name basis). Reading her stuff is like therapy for me. Her writing is so honest and thought-provoking, full of themes like hope, faith, grace, and spirituality. (She is the reason I have "HOPE" and "FAITH" tattooed on my arms.) She also has a wicked sense of humor. For me the connection to Anne is there on so many levels.

Recently I decided to re-read her books on my Kindle so I could refresh my memories of her work and highlight the many passages that are so meaningful to me.

This morning I was in the middle of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, reading the essay called "Barn Raising." In it Anne writes about some friends whose two-year-old child had been diagnosed nine months earlier with cystic fibrosis.

There is a passage in the essay that really resonated with me as the father of a child afflicted with addiction:

"Now out of the blue, the family has been plunged into an alternate world, a world where everyone's kid has a life-threatening illness. I know that sometimes these friends feel that they have been expelled from the ordinary world they lived in before and that they are now citizens of the Land of the Fucked."

I couldn't help but think how that passage likely rings true for so many parents who are experiencing a child's addiction.

"Expelled from the ordinary world they lived in before." 

"Now citizens of the Land of the Fucked."

I know that's pretty much how I felt when my son's addiction first presented. It was as if someone had toggled some master switch from "Ordinary Life" over to "Challenging Life" without my permission. Things in my life--my whole family's life--changed that quickly. All of the plans I had made in my mind for my son, all of the things I envisioned happening to him during his late teenage years and early adulthood, were now changing on the fly. ("Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," right?)

It took a while to adjust accordingly, but eventually I did. I won't lie: It's not easy changing your life's "itinerary" at the drop of a hat. But looking back, what choice did I really have? It was either adapt or die. Well, maybe not that drastic; but almost. I could either adjust to the new life that had been given to me or crumple myself up into the fetal position and wallow in self-pity. At some point, I chose to adapt, although I freely confess to spending a lot of time as a depressed adult "fetus" early on.

Parents of children who suffer from addiction are a special group. They're members of a "club" nobody wants to be a member of. In this case, membership doesn't really have any privileges. But I've found that the best approach is to accept your induction into the club and do the best you can.

While I may have indeed felt like the newest citizen of the "Land of the Fucked" initially, I now feel like I moved on to the "Land of the Challenged," then to the "Land Where You Truly Learn Unconditional Love."

Our children didn't become addicted because of anything we did. They became addicted because their brains are wired differently. Unlike most young people who may drink a beer or smoke a joint or snort a line of cocaine and not have their lives turned upside down because of it, our kids' brains behave differently. Once our kids experienced that first high, their brains started screaming, "Give me more! Give me more!"

The screaming was too loud to ignore. Our kids lost the power of choice and were overcome by the power of addiction. If I've said it once, I've said it ten thousand times: nobody wants to be an addict. It just happens. Our kids were part of a cruel game of "Russian Roulette," and they lost; and addiction was the bullet in the chamber.

Parents who are in the club know this. But until the whole world knows it, the stigma associated with addiction will continue to serve as a barrier for people trying to get the proper treatment they so desperately need.
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I admit that I am not a religious person. But I am a deeply spiritual person. I consider Anne Lamott's books to be my little owner's manuals for life. Her books are like--dare I say it?--my Bible. There's no question that her writings helped me cross over from an incredibly dark place into the light a few years ago. And for that I am forever grateful.

Peace.

P.S. Anne Lamott has been clean and sober for 28 years, and she calls it "The greatest miracle of my life."

"Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound." --Anne Lamott


My wife and I with Anne Lamott in May of 2012.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Of Teenagers, Parents, and Alcohol

My younger son, who turned 18 in January, was looking forward to going to a classmate's cottage in Ontario, Canada, this week to spend a few days with her, some of her friends, and some other kids he recently graduated with.

Being that at least one of the girl's parents (her mom) was going to be at the cottage, my wife and I were strongly considering letting our son go. At the risk of sounding prudish, the arrangements weren't ideal--the parental unit (or units) would be staying in the main cottage; the kids--three boys and three girls, ranging between the ages of 18 and 19--would be staying in a separate cabin on the property.

Nonetheless, we were leaning toward saying yes. But we wanted to know what the host family's stance was on alcohol. It's not that we don't trust our son--he's extremely trustworthy. We just have strong feelings about parents allowing teenagers--especially teenagers who aren't their own--drink alcohol freely while under their supervision. (In the interest of full disclosure, the legal drinking age in Ontario is 19; but not all of the kids invited on this trip are 19.)

Our son contacted the girl whose parents would be hosting the kids and she told him that her mom was "okay" with them drinking.

Ouch.

When my wife and I got that piece of information, we thought ever so briefly about still letting our son go. But after talking about it, we had to say no. Needless to say, we're not very high on our son's list of favorite people right now. And that's understandable. He was really looking forward to hanging with his friends on this little trip. Now dad and mom are putting the kibosh on it. So he's disappointed, which makes us disappointed.

Shortly after making the decision, I posted a Facebook status update that read:

I think it's a shame when parents of teenagers allow their kids to drink alcohol when they're around them. Just my $0.02, though. 

I think most people agreed with my post, but there was at least one detractor. So be it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

If you're the parent of an older child in long-term recovery from addiction (check), and addiction runs rampant in your family (check; on both sides of my family), I think you tend to be a little more cautious in a situation like this. Those two things definitely weighed heavily in our decision.

Another part of the decision lies in statistical evidence cited in David Sheff's book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy:

"Only one in twenty of those who start using after the age of twenty-one become addicted. The goal of prevention strategies should be preventing all use, but it's also valuable to delay use as long as possible. An older person who tries drugs [blogger's note: alcohol is a drug] is less likely to have problems with them, and any problems that do develop are usually less severe. Another compelling reason to postpone use is that drugs can lead to an earlier onset of psychological problems, including psychosis, in teenagers."

That right there seems to be as good a reason as any to try and delay your teenager's use of drugs or alcohol as long as possible.

I know there are some parents who will argue that they'd rather have their teens drinking under their supervision, or at home where it's safe. Sheff addresses this point in his book as well:

"Some parents allow their kids to drink or smoke [pot] as long as they do so 'responsibly.' Some tell their children that it's okay to drink or smoke pot in moderation but that they're not to use hard drugs. Some tell them it's alright to use as long as they don't get in a car with someone who's high. The parents agree to have parties in their houses because, as a mother who hosted a party where her children and their friends were allowed to drink beer and smoke pot said, 'At least I know where the kids are. They're safer at home.' But no matter what conditions they impose or rationalizations they make, these parents are sanctioning drug use and drinking. And there's another factor that parents should consider before they allow teenagers to drink or use drugs in their homes: It's illegal, and in many states parents who allow it can face prison sentences and fines. If a child at their house gets high and later has a car accident, the parents can be held responsible."

The arguments David Sheff makes in the paragraph above are, in my opinion, damn good ones. I honestly can't comprehend how a parent could host a party or gathering and let underage kids who aren't their own drink.

Sheff goes on to say:

"More faulty logic comes from parents who say things along the lines of 'I'd rather have them get used to drinking now, so they learn moderation. Otherwise, when they go off to college they'll go wild.' This ignores the research that has demonstrated that postponing use is safer. In addition, there's no evidence that kids who drink and use as teenagers will drink less when they're older. In fact, the opposite is true: Almost every adult who has a drug problem started using as a teenager....Of course, postponing use doesn't guarantee that teens won't use or won't develop drug problems later, but it greatly improves the odds that they won't."

I'm all for anything that "greatly improves the odds" of a teenager not developing a drug problem later on in life.

Those are the primary reasons for my wife and I saying no to the trip. But there are other reasons, too. We don't think the combination of young people drinking at a place right on the water is a good one. Add to this the fact that it's in a foreign country and there's just no way we were going to approve it.

Our son will be disappointed for a while, I'm sure. But hopefully he'll realize at some point that we made the decision we made because we care. He knows firsthand what our family has been through with his older brother, and he's aware that my wife and I are pretty educated when it comes to the whole drugs/alcohol/addiction thing. (Way more educated than the average parent, I would say.)

A parent's role is to make decisions regarding their child that they believe are in the child's best interest. It's not to be their child's friend and make the decisions they want you to make.

My wife and I believe we made the right decision. But what do you think? Are we being overprotective? Would you have let your 18-year-old go on this trip under the same circumstances? Do you think letting a teenager drink at home is okay? I'd be curious to hear your opinions. In the meantime...

Peace.

Update (2 hours later): I don't think our son is taking the decision too hard. A few minutes ago he emerged from the bathroom after having taken a shower, came over to me, gave me a hug, and said, "I love you, dad." :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

My latest blog post for the Heroes in Recovery website posted this afternoon. I invite you to read it and think seriously about heeding the advice I share.

Also, if you feel so inclined please consider rating the post by clicking on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th (always preferred) little star at the end of it; and/or leave a comment.

Here's a link to the post:  "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff"

Thanks for your continued support of my blog. If you're a fellow American, I wish you and yours a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend.

Peace.

"And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'" --Kurt Vonnegut, from his book A Man without a Country

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Two Years

My son is celebrating two years of sobriety today.

Recovery CAN and DOES happen.

I'm proud as hell of my boy. He's come so far and is enjoying his life--without drugs or alcohol.

I wish you could see the smile on my face right now. It's a smile beaming with gratitude...730 days in the making.

Peace.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Blog Post at Heroes in Recovery

A slightly modified version of an earlier blog post of mine has just been published over at the Heroes in Recovery website. If you get a chance, check it out. It's a very personal reflection about something that means a lot to me. One of those "aha" moments, if you will.

Here's the direct link to the post: A Reminder in My Pocket.

Peace.