Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Aftermath of Addiction: Getting Used to Normalcy in Life

(Note: This blog post was originally published on The Fix's website on January 19, 2015.)

Parents of addicts live precarious lives. I know, because I’ve been there. My 25-year-old son started using drugs at around age 15 and struggled with addiction for nearly 8 years. In a quest to feel “normal,” he tried to alleviate his severe depression by self-medicating, using drugs like marijuana, Klonopin, “Spice,” cocaine, and, ultimately, heroin.

Needless to say, those years were a tumultuous period for my wife, my younger son, and me. When there’s an addict in the family, day-to-day life becomes a challenge, emotionally, physically, and financially. Addiction is the family disease that shows up uninvited on your doorstep one day and takes everyone in the house hostage. You have no choice in the matter.

When addiction came calling, everyday life in my home went from being normal to being anything but. I lost trust in my son. He stole from me and did things I never could’ve imagined. As bad as daily life was, holidays were even worse. What once were relaxing, joyous occasions turned into potential nightmares. My entire family would walk around on eggshells, wondering not if, but when the shit would hit the fan. I went from eagerly anticipating holidays to downright loathing them.

Fast forward to today.

After a long journey, my son is now two-and-a-half years clean, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He finally has the things he longed for when he was using: an amazing girlfriend, a steady job with benefits, and his driver’s license. My wife and I often wondered if things would ever get to this point, but we never gave up hope. We loved and supported our son unconditionally, and now, much to our delight, he’s living a pretty normal life.

And here’s the kicker: So are we.

The surprising thing about living a normal life, after so many years of not doing so, is that it’s kind of hard to get used to. I never would’ve thought that would be the case, but it’s true. While our son was getting high, my wife and I got used to living in a tornado of chaos. To us, that became normal. When that tornado finally stopped, the silence was deafening. It was like we had been dropped into a whole new world.

It was only natural that we would approach our new normal lifestyle with a bit of trepidation at first. After all, our son had had small stints of sobriety over the years, but none of them stuck. This time, though, things were different. When our son got clean on July 2, 2012, he was more determined than ever. Sober days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years.
Slowly, normalcy began to creep back into our lives.

I really noticed how eerily normal our lives had become during this past holiday season, the third in a row with a clean and sober son. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas were the best that I could remember. The family was together, things were calm and laid back, and there was absolutely no drama. Then I remembered: It was the same the year before, too.

Wow. Normal had been right under my nose for more than a year, and I hadn’t even realized it.

If you look in a dictionary, you will see “normal” simply defined as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” But I have other definitions.

Normal is being able to trust my son implicitly. Normal is having my son stop by the house, just to say hello. Normal is having my son and his girlfriend spend their day off of work taking my younger son out to lunch and to a movie. Normal is not having to worry about whether the phone’s going to ring in the middle of the night with bad news on the other end. Normal is being able to give my son money and not wondering if he’s going to put it up his nose. Normal is seeing my son mature into the wonderful young man I always knew he could be. Normal is hearing my son say “Thanks for everything,” and knowing that he means it from the bottom of his heart.

But best of all, normal is having my son say “I love you, dad,” and hugging me so tightly that I think I might break. And then turning around before he walks out the door and giving me another hug, just because he wants to.

Normal is pretty damn amazing. And I’m getting more and more used to it every day.

Recently I was looking through the personal blog I’ve been writing for the last six-plus years. (I like to say that I look back not to see how bad things were, but to see how far we’ve come.) In my entry for January 12, 2010, I wrote:

Two questions popped into my head [today] and wouldn't leave. They are actually questions I've been asking myself a lot lately:

1. Will I ever be able to trust my son again?

2. Will my son and I ever have a good relationship again?

Those are incredibly huge questions for a father to ask himself about his 20-year-old son, and it hurts me to have to ask them all the time. But I really don't know the long-term answer to either one. Right now, the only answer I can give for either question is, "I hope so."

I am so incredibly grateful that today the answer to both of those questions is a resounding  “Yes.”

"Grace means suddenly you're in a different universe from the one where you were stuck, and there was absolutely no way for you to get there on your own. When it happens, you really have to pinch yourself." --Anne Lamott

Friday, February 27, 2015

Taking a "Walk" Down the Side of a Tall Building for Addiction Awareness

I wrote about Shatterproof and their Shatterproof Challenge just over a year ago. (See "Rappelling Down Buildings for Addiction: Shatterproof's Cool Fundraiser.") In a nutshell, Gary Mendell's fabulous organization raises money by staging rappelling events around the country. Sign up, raise $1,000.00 or more, and you get to be like a superhero and "walk" down the side of a tall building (while connected to a safe rig, of course). The best part? All the money raised helps Shatterproof continue their goal of "protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease."

When I wrote about this last year, a dear friend took the challenge and ended up rappelling down the side of a building in Dallas. She did it, in part, to honor my son. I still get choked up when I think about that.

This year, I've decided to take the challenge myself. I am doing it not only to honor my son and his recovery, but in memory of all the people who weren't as lucky as my son. The Tylers, Erikas, Zoes, Brians, Henrys, Gregs, Kacies, and Sarahs of the world. Addiction is an insidious disease and so many families have been shattered by the ultimate tragedy of losing a child, sibling, cousin, niece/nephew, husband/wife, etc.

So this summer--August 6th to be exact--I will be in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, to rappel down the side of the Westin Hotel. I think it's 22 stories, so it should be fun. To be totally honest, I'm not a big fan of heights, so maybe it'll be even more fun than I'm expecting. But it's for a great cause and it's another way I can raise awareness and help kick addiction's ass.

I'm officially registered for the Cleveland event. Now I need to raise $1,000.00 from people who think this cause is a good one. That's where you all come in.

If you read this blog, I'm pretty sure you've been touched by addiction in some way. If that's the case, I hope you'll consider contributing to Shatterproof and helping me reach my $1,000.00 goal. I would be incredibly appreciative, and you would benefit by knowing that you're making a difference. You'll also more than likely get to see photos of me on the side of a building, hanging on for dear life and scared shitless. So it's a win all the way around!

Here is a direct link to my fundraising page at the Shatterproof website:

Every little donation will help, even if it's a dollar or two. (FYI, Shatterproof is a qualified 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.)

By the way... If anyone wants to sign up for the Shatterproof Challenge and join me for the Cleveland event, or rappel down a building in another U.S. city, you should check out Shatterproof's events page at this link:

Thanks for reading about my upcoming summer adventure. And if you decide to make a donation, a great big "thank you" and my undying gratitude goes out to you in advance.


P.S. Here's a video about the Shatterproof Challenge. Pretty badass, huh?

I have a date with this building on August 6th. I can't wait!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Of Destiny, Heroes, and Brave Women

"Destiny is real. And she's not mild-mannered. She will come around and hit you in the face and knock you over and before you know what hit you, you're naked--stripped of everything you thought you knew and everything you thought you didn't know--and there you are! A bloody nose, bruises all over you, and naked. And it's the most beautiful thing." --C. JoyBell C.

I'm sitting at a desk in a hotel room in Brentwood, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. I am mentally (mostly) and physically (somewhat) exhausted, but I had to pull out my MacBook and write a little bit about the Heroes in Recovery lead advocate summit that I participated in over the last few days.

Like C. JoyBell C. writes, destiny is indeed real. And I believe that destiny is the thing that not only brought all seven of this year's lead advocates to Heroes in Recovery, but also to this specific group of lead advocates. Stuff happens for a reason. Just deal with it.

This year's winter lead advocate summit was different than last year's for a few major reasons. First of all, I am no longer a Heroes in Recovery "rookie." Last year, as excited as I was to be working for such an amazing movement, I was equally scared. I had no idea if I was going to be any good at advocacy on an organized level. When Heroes invited me to come back and do it all over again this year, I was so grateful.

The 2015 group of advocates is also different. In addition to three returning "veterans," our team has four first-timers, all of whom are fantastic human beings. It's so cool how you can spend only a couple of days with people and just know that they are special and share your passion to help others. They all have stories--doesn't everyone?--and, like me, the plot line of their stories plopped them down in "The Volunteer State" (apropos?) and handed them a mission: Help break the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness, and make people realize that it's okay to seek treatment and recovery.

But the biggest change in this year's winter summit involved a single event that we all participated in.

Saturday evening, the Heroes in Recovery advocates headed to downtown Nashville to serve dinner to the residents of The Next Door, a nonprofit residential addiction treatment facility for women. In addition to their residential program, The Next Door also offers partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, outpatient, and residential transition programs. In other words, they do everything they possibly can to help women 18 and older find recovery and get their lives back on track. They even offer affordable housing in the form of permanent apartment living for women and their children, with onsite recovery services.

The Next Door's mission reads: "With an evidence-based approach to clinical treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, our mission is to address the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of women in crisis, equipping them for lives of wholeness and hope."

What a beautiful statement. And what an incredible place.

I was almost moved to tears when the residents and lead advocates all stood in a circle, held hands, and prayed before the meal. And while we were serving dinner to these brave women, I couldn't help but see the hopefulness and gratitude in their eyes. These ladies, some of whom had come to The Next Door right from prison, were taking a giant step toward recovery, and I was, at that moment, right there in the middle of it. It was one of the most humbling things I have ever experienced.

As I stood behind the food counter, wearing plastic gloves and using tongs to place sausage on multiple dinner plates, I was also engulfed by an enormous wave of gratitude. Seeing so many women just beginning their journey to recovery made me appreciate even more the journey that my son and my entire family has been on. We may have gone through hell, but we came out on the other side.

Not surprisingly, volunteering at The Next Door made me think of one of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes: "Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides....When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back."


I am looking forward to a productive and successful year with the 2015 Heroes in Recovery lead advocate team. I can't wait to get down to business with Susanne, Hillary, Marta, Lisa, Bo, B., and, of course, our inspirational leader, Heidi.

But, to be totally honest, what I'm most looking forward to right now is flying back to Michigan and reuniting with my wife, younger son, three cats.


Heroes in Recovery lead advocates at work.
Ready to serve dinner at The Next Door.

The aftermath of an excellent post-volunteering sushi dinner.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why I Do What I Do

I'm writing this post in a hotel room in Nashville, where I'm participating in a lead advocate summit for Heroes in Recovery. It's so exciting to be together with my fellow lead advocates for the weekend, and to see some familiar old faces along with some wonderful new faces. As a team, we will work hard in 2015 to help break the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness.

Before I turn in for the night, I wanted to share with you an email I received through my blog this morning. I can think of no better example of why I do what I do than this email, which is being published here with the permission of the sender. My passion in life is helping people who are struggling because of addiction; especially parents who are on a journey similar to the one I've been on.

This is why I do what I do:

Dear DDD,

It took me just two days to consume your incredible poignant blog, starting in the middle (landing spot from googling “Michael’s House Family Program”) and continuing to read beginning to end, smiling and crying from post to post as I identified with the cruel emotional roller coaster of addiction.

Today, my beautiful first born daughter begins her first full day at Michael's House, her first rehab experience, in hopes of finding treatment she needs to (someday) regain control of her life.

I think the thing I love the most about your writing is how openly you express hope and the crushing disappointment, as we try to keep these paradoxical emotions together in a heart, full of love for our child. A thing your blog has helped me develop is a little more peace with the path as I try, a day at a time (or even an hour at a time) to let go. I cry a lot … sometimes randomly, and thank you for sharing so often during his active addiction that you did too. Each time you confessed to crying I would cry again reading about you crying. It's this strange valve that seems to turn on or off of its own volition, when you love an addict.

My daughter just turned 21. Her path into drug use began (best I can mark) her freshman year in college initially as some experimentation, but then more so as she was trying to cope with the stress of fitting in, stress of being away from home (she did not like summer camp), and meeting the demands of her school work. When she came home that Christmas break, she saw a well regarded psychiatrist for depression and anxiety (not previously diagnosed). He gave her a cocktail of medications including Xanax, shockingly prescribed "nightly for sleep" and "as needed" for the past two years. At this exact moment, she’s going through benzo detox, along with alcohol and cocaine and I’m trying not to think about her suffering.

One of the more shocking aspects of my journey has been how little influence a parent (particularly a parent not paying her medical bills) has to either guide their child's medical path, or even obtain information about their "legal age" child's care. The situation, protected by privacy laws, tied my hands such that as I saw the danger in her situation unfolding, nothing I tried affected more responsible care for her. I sent letters a year ago October, and again this past November to her psychiatrist (and her father who was paying for the drugs and the psychiatrist) that went virtually ignored. I suppose it has been another intense lesson in letting go my attempt to control. I do not blame her father, like all of us he is on his own journey and wanted to believe the best. And the circumstance gave me a crash course in all I can do is try not to "enable" her use –even when those boundaries have nearly destroyed my relationship with her for the anger she has felt toward me at this . . . and, wait until enough happened in her life that she herself could ask for help.

But thank you so very much for sharing your journey so openly, the happy and the sad, the joy and the grief, tears, frustration and above all, perspective. . . . it inspires me and helps temper my expectations with even more patience, and love, as I realize each day she is alive presents hope and the very best thing I can do is keep working my own program.

Thank you again for the smiles and tears . . . so proud of your family and the hope you all represent. God bless you.


Yup. That's exactly why I do what I do. And why I will keep on doing it.


"Language allows us to reach out to people, to touch them with our innermost fears, hopes, disappointments, victories. To reach out to people we’ll never meet. It’s the greatest legacy you could ever leave your children or your loved ones: The history of how you felt." --Simon Van Booy

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Best Addiction Recovery Blogs for 2015

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that it was listed last year as one of the 55 Top Addiction Recovery Blogs for 2014 by Cathy Taughinbaugh, who is an amazing parent/life/recovery coach. (I wrote about the list last January in a post called "I'm Number 55!")

Well, Cathy has been busy again this year, and she just posted her new list of 75 Amazing Addiction Recovery Blogs 2015 over on her website. I am incredibly honored to be on this year's list (at number 58), in the company of so many terrific blogs, several of which are written by people I consider my friends.

In addition, the Heroes in Recovery blog--which I have been contributing to for the past year--checked in at number 28 on the list. That, too, is quite an honor.

As Cathy states on her blog, "The purpose of this list is to have an easy way for you to check out the information that so many bloggers have created to be another voice spreading the word about recovery and resources."

Every single one of the 75 blogs on Cathy's list are important, as is any blog about addiction and recovery...even if it's not on the list. These blogs are written by people who are passionate about recovery and helping others. People who speak from the heart, whose goal is to share information and experiences that may help or comfort others who are struggling. And to take the stigma associated with addiction back behind the wood shed and kick its ass.

Please go to Cathy Taughinbaugh's website--which is full of amazing resources and tools--and check out the blogs on the list. If you are going through a difficult time with addiction--either your own or a loved one's--you may find solace in something someone else has written. If nothing else, you will surely discover that you are not alone.

"Just knowing you're not alone is often enough to kindle hope amid tragic circumstances." --Richelle E. Goodrich

Monday, February 16, 2015

Turning Scabs into Jewelry

Anyone reading this who actually knows me would probably confirm that I'm a little bit different. My sense of humor is not exactly "normal," I sometimes (frequently?) act 30 to 40 years younger than my actual age, and I couldn't care less about a lot of things people I know really care about. Etc., etc., etc.

Yes, I'm different. Maybe even a little bizarre.

Even so, the fact that I saved both of my sons' belly button scabs--more scientifically known as "umbilical cord stumps"--after they fell off apparently isn't that strange. A simple Google search for "save umbilical cord stump" yields more results than you might think. One of those results is a blog post titled "How to Preserve Umbilical Cords" on a website called ModernMom (whose CEO is actress/dancer/model/TV personality Brooke Burke).

In that blog, ModernMom suggests:

"Save just the umbilical cord stump, if you do not want to save the entire umbilical cord. . . .Make a keepsake out of the cord that means something to you. Options include mounting it in a shadow box with photos of your newborn or placing it in the baby book or scrapbook. Some people choose to keep the cord in a special box or satchel."

First of all, let me just say that saving your baby's entire umbilical cord is even odder than saving just the scab. People really save the entire umbilical cord?? Geez, maybe I'm not so crazy after all.

On the other hand, I don't think there are a whole lot of people out there who saved their children's dried up navel scabs and then decided to have them turned into a piece of jewelry. So maybe I am a little "off."

When I saved the my older son's belly button scab a little over 25 years ago, I really didn't know what I'd do with it. When it fell off, I felt like throwing it away wasn't the right thing to do. So I stuck it in an empty prescription bottle and stuck it in a cabinet.

Six years later, my second son was born, his umbilical cord stump fell off, and my thinking was the same: I couldn't throw it away. Into the prescription bottle with his brother's scab it went.

Those precious little scabs sat in that bottle in a cabinet for years and years. They had no purpose. They were just there. When we moved ten years ago, the scabs moved with us. They were part of the family.

A few years ago, I decided those stumps deserved a new life. I got this crazy idea to have them gold-plated and turned into a pair of earrings for my wife. I thought my idea was a good one, but I knew that it was maybe a tad on the grotesque side. So much so that I felt uncomfortable walking into a jewelry store with my little bottle of human DNA to ask, "Hey, can you make earrings out of these?"

The safer alternative was to email jewelers with my idea. That way, they could say no and I wouldn't have to be humiliated in person.

Over the course of a few days, I probably emailed a dozen or more jewelers with my idea. Not surprisingly, I didn't hear from most of them. And the few I did hear from just offered a polite, "I'm sorry. We can't do that for you."


I had forgotten all about my idea until right before this past Christmas. I was doing some rearranging of the contents of my kitchen cabinets and came across that little prescription bottle. And when I did, a light bulb went off.

Matthew Hoffmann and Kris Keller at Ten Fine Jewelry & Design (in Ann Arbor, Michigan)--the jewelers who had recently taken my wife's engagement ring and wedding band and created a brand new, stunning 25th anniversary ring out of them--were just the guys to create something out of my sons' belly button scabs!

I immediately sat down at my computer and cranked out an email to them. With the subject line "Crazy, crazy jewelry idea," the email described my idea as "very bizarre--and maybe creepy." I ended my email by saying "Nobody I approached years ago would even consider my request. But I'm thinking you guys might just be the ones to do this. If it's even possible. If you think I'm crazy let me know."

Lo and behold, it only took about a half hour for Kris at Ten Fine to reply: "I love it! We will be able to make something from those. Let's talk after the first of January and make a plan!"


So my wife and I took the goods on a field trip to Ann Arbor in early January. After some joking around with Matthew and Kris--after all, this was the first time they'd ever had someone ask them to make jewelry out of scabs--Matthew sketched a little drawing of a pendant he was envisioning: Belly button scabs cast in white gold, the incorporation of each of the boys' birthstones, etc.

I can't even explain how excited I was that this was actually happening after all these years. My wife and I gave Matthew and Kris carte blanche on the design, knowing that they'd come up with another one-of-a-kind creation that we'd love.

Fast forward to this past Saturday, which just happened to be Valentine's Day.

My wife and I went to Ten Fine Jewelry to pick up the newest member of our family. And when Matthew opened up the box and showed us the pendant, our jaws dropped open. It was absolutely amazing, and far beyond anything I could've ever imagined back in the day when I first got my crazy idea.

That crazy idea turned out to be a damn good one.

We are certainly not the first people to have belly button scabs turned into jewelry. In fact, there's even a blog post out there from last December titled Trend Alert: Don’t Throw Away Baby’s Dried-Up Belly Button, Turn It Into a Necklace. Who knew? But even though we're not the first, I know my wife's new pendant is truly unique.

Many thanks to Matthew Hoffmann and Kris Keller for taking two scabs and turning my crazy idea into reality. They are true wizards when it comes to making badass jewelry. (Check out the before and after photos below.)

They cut the umbilical cord, give you a slap on the ass, and presto! you're out in the world, adrift, a ship without a rudder." --Henry Miller

BEFORE: My younger son's scab is on top; my older boys' is on the bottom.
Pretty gross, huh?

AFTER: Again, younger son on top, older son on the bottom.
The birthstones are a Cambodian blue zircon (December) and a Rhodolite
garnet (January). Not so gross, huh?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Facebook Conversation That Tugged at My Heart


It's an emotion that any imperfect human being feels from time to time. You first experienced it as a child, maybe after you accidentally broke something and didn't come clean about it with your mom or dad. Or when you were told you could have two cookies, but you took three anyway.

You screw up, you feel guilty. It's human nature. But if you grow up to be the parent of a child afflicted with addiction, at some point you'll likely feel guilt like you've never felt it before. In fact, the guilt can overtake you and be downright crippling.

I've written about guilt before. In a blog post from February of 2011, I wrote:

"Guilt eats me up inside on a regular basis. Usually the guilt is associated with the feeling that I'm somehow responsible for how my son is. That he's a severely depressed addict because of something I did or didn't do as a parent, or because of my genes. I know I shouldn't feel guilty. I've had professionals tell me that, have heard it in meetings, and have read it umpteen times. If it were my brother or sister or neighbor or mother or father or friend or wife who was a severely depressed addict, I don't think I'd feel this guilt. But as a parent, it's hard not to feel guilty. At least it is for me."

It took a lot of years, but I finally got over the constant guilt I used to feel. I'd like to say I've gotten over all of the guilt I've felt over the years, but I'd be lying if I did. The truth is, guilt sneaks up behind me, out of the blue, and bites me in the ass every once in a while. Not necessarily guilt about being responsible for my son's depression and addiction, but guilt about how I handled things.

Which brings me (finally) to the subject of this blog: a Facebook Messenger conversation I had with my son yesterday afternoon. The conversation was about a new TV he and his girlfriend just bought for their new apartment. But all of a sudden, I felt compelled to write:

"Sorry for yelling at you over the years. I was wrong. Just want you to know that." 

Now, I've apologized to my son many times over the last few years. But, like I said, sometimes the guilt emerges out of the blue and I just have to deal with it. Yesterday, while my son and I were discussing a television, was one of those times.

The part of the conversation that tugged at my heart was my son's reply to my apology:

"Hey. The yelling was well deserved. I was an idiot. Thank you for helping to get me back on track. I love you dad."

When I read that, I smiled. And I teared up. And I thanked my lucky stars that things are how they are today, both in my world and my son's; and, especially, where the two intersect.

While the yelling I subjected my son to may have been deserved, I've come to realize that it was wrong. In my new and improved mind, I know that anger never helps a situation. It's just a reaction to fear. And Lord knows, as the parent of an addicted child I was scared shitless.

So my guilty feelings are under control for now, at least as they relate to my son and me. But there's still the little incident with the car that I have to 'fess up to my mom about. I think 35 years of carrying that guilt around is long enough.


"There's no problem so awful, that you can't add some guilt to it and make it even worse." --Calvin, from Bill Watterson's The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin speaks the truth.