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Recovery Stories

I don’t think there’s s great need to discuss or describe the negative side of substance abuse. Social media and our own personal stories more than fill our minds with the horror and sadness resulting from active addiction. When we first become a part of the disease it is difficult to see much hope that the outcome will be good. Initially, we are lost on cause or solutions. We stumble around looking for answers and hoping that this whole thing is a nightmare and that we will wake up and no longer be there. Before we give up all hope, we might try and see that in fact, not is all lost.
There are so many stories of recovery where the one addicted as well as those connected in some way go on to have wonderful useful lives. Many go on to become educated useful men and women. The problem is that these successful stories are hidden beneath the daily headline’s resultant from the opioid epidemic and the lives lost. It appears the battle goes on and the outcome for your active addict is grim.
How can one find these successful achievements and the paths taken to move to the recovery world? As parents of addict children, we seek answers and understanding thru any means possible. It may be thru meetings, news articles, books, blogs, podcasts, etc. This is necessary to try and put some focus in our lives and help and help make rational decisions for the benefit of our addict and ourselves.
What I’ve found is that as we seek answers, we start to find stories of successful recovery. From my own standpoint in the beginning the successful stories were small in number. I still was exposed more to failure and relapse than recovery. After years of traveling the journey to recovery with my son and some of his close companions also active in addiction, I started to look at those grim stories from a different perspective. My thoughts no longer saw hopelessness but rather the collection of successful stories I had come across as I continued to try and understand substance abuse. As I would go to new avenues for learning, I found that searching topics on successful recovery rather that of the lost souls and failures, helped minimize despair. I also believe that as we got better, our son got better. There is a continuing search for answers to helping us to recovery in any way possible. We have found from our initial search for answers that one of the first steps mentioned may in fact be the most helpful. As you get better, the addict will follow. The anger and hurt right from the beginning take away from the goal to save our addict.  We need to understand we both have steps to follow for success. There are general beliefs on what one needs to do but unless we can focus on each of us getting better the journey will be difficult. Constant conflict adds nothing to solving the problem. Understanding and belief in recovery can only help those suffering.

Recharging Your Batteries

The business of substance abuse is not easily dismissed when it enters one’s life. Even when active recovery is achieved, there are moments that will come up that remind us of old behavior. You may have eased some of the stress through your efforts to learn about substance abuse whether through social media, research, meetings or some other avenue. Because this disease is a life long struggle, there may be times where one needs to return to those measures that provided help to cope with behavior dealt with during periods of active addiction. It’s difficult to shove aside all the chaos that surfaced throughout the struggle for you as well as the one suffering from the disease. Those in active recovery know full well that it is a life long struggle to be maintained. The same holds true for those of us that dealt with the heartache and stress due to someone we love and care about. There will be times when we need to revisit the tools that helped us with the struggle so that we can once again find trust in the user and peace in our own lives. It may be returning to a meeting to vent suspicions or as simple as reading an article that helped in your understanding of substance abuse. In some ways the idea of recharging your batteries goes hand in hand with avoiding the rabbit holes.

Behavioral issues are normally associated with children but I’ve seen in many cases with families discussing family members dealing with active addiction the problems continue into adulthood. Drugs to help depression, attention deficit, bipolar disorder and a host of other mental issues seem to be part of the path to sobriety. Attacking the drug of choice seems only part of approach. It’s no wonder substance abuse is a life long struggle, knowing all the elements involved. Regaining sobriety involves healing of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual parts of the body. I believe understanding the struggle for those suffering substance abuse will increase the chances of success for both the user and those of us trying to grasp our part in the healing process. Our part in the successful continued sobriety of the family member, or someone we care about is to monitor our feelings and if we seem doubtful at times to make an effort ensure ourselves these feelings will pass.

Jumping the Rabbit Hole

No matter the length of time of active recovery the reappearing “rabbit hole “never seems dormant. Just as the one struggling to maintain sobriety stays focused, those affected directly or indirectly must struggle throughout as well. The human and spiritual emotions have been severely damaged when substance abuse and mental disorders are introduced into our everyday lives. We are not prepared nor understand how to face this abrupt hurt from someone we love and care about. Years of love and care are as if they never existed. The first thought is that we can mend this hurt in some manner but before long we see we lack the tools needed. At this point, it’s seems best to take our own journey to saving any part of what was before this daemonic force entered into our lives.

Even with multiple years of active recovery on the part of the user, the reappearing “rabbit hole can surface from time to time. Over time the hole will become smaller but until then we have to avoid falling into the hole but rather find a means to jump over it. Even very minor events during the initial recovery can trigger thoughts of behavior as it was during active addiction. We are unguarded as everything is still in somewhat of a chaos based on the hardships and heartaches up to this point. After years of lies and failures it is easily seen how those caring so much may fear a return to active addiction.

I myself have a number of times started toward the “rabbit hole” without fully understanding just how easy it is to persuade yourself that failure is always present. Trust has always been difficult to regain in so many situations aside from addiction, but addiction seems to be much slower in terms of healing. I think we learn along with the one in recovery that complacency must be avoided at all cost. My son, having multiple years of active recovery is quick to point out that the battle will be there for him the rest of his life. As such, I must realize he knows this and as such I must accept that I must learn this as well. I need to see clearly his strength in acknowledging that he battles the “rabbit holes “each and every day. I must do the same. Several times over the years I’ve found myself, as a parent or spouse would, seeing what are sure triggers. The disagreements come out in our conversations and even so we end up with a ‘I love you”. I’ve found this last phrase has saved me from returning to doubt or disbelief. I go back after a few minutes and return to the conversation and apologize for my own failure to believe he is already so much stronger having fought this disease. He apologizes as well knowing we both are traveling together. As he has told me many times unless I was an actual addict I will never fully understand. I believe this completely. I’ve seen it so many times that chasing rabbits adds nothing to the path to sobriety.

I wish it was a simple task to jump the rabbit hole. It is not, but time and belief that your addict has much more knowledge of what addiction is and what pitfalls surround his or her daily living will become part of your own journey. The triggers presented to your active user or active recovering addict cannot be controlled by your thoughts. Prayers will always help but realizing the actual escape from the “rabbit hole” is the sole obligation of the user who has the tools needed. In recovery the user has hopefully been taught how to deal with the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual parts of these frail bodies.
Accepting and understanding how we react to things we cannot control and realizing you are a piece of the journey and your part is believing. The “rabbit holes” may never completely close but over time you may find you can jump many of them

What if the family, neighbors or my co-workers find out?

So many times at meetings concerned with addiction, new attendees state they are reluctant to disclose that their family member has fallen prey to substance abuse. Divulging this information is embarrassing and makes one feel like they did a poor job in raising a child or were the problem behind a spouse or relative. With all the burden and emotions, one carries with living with an active addict, they cannot fathom the idea of being criticized or judge as having contributed to the situation, even though in most cases they were never to blame. I’ve heard so many recovering addicts say that they alone were responsible. In fact, many say they had a wonderful childhood and never faulted their parents or family. It’s too bad that this feeling of guilt seems to immediately come in mind. If ever there is a need for support, matters of substance abuse certainly rise to the top. Even keeping parents on the same page can be difficult if one feels the other contributed to the problem. It cannot be stressed enough that support is a major step in the journey to sobriety.

Because my family had already traveled the journey to recovery and lost, we had no hesitation in speaking out to anyone asking that our son had fallen victim. No matter who it was, the family members, neighbors and co-workers, when questioned about how was our son, we immediately spoke up that he had become addicted to drugs. Because his battle started years before, there was not an abundant amount of resources or support as today due to the epidemic proportion throughout the country. Reluctance to speak up and reach out was more the choice. Today, I’ve found people immediately responded with sorrow, and sincere wishes that there was hope that he would be okay. Especially today, telling someone your son or daughter has fallen victim to drugs or alcohol, they know how serious the situation. Many have children themselves and because it has become so prevalent, there is a deep concern. They seem to join in the journey with you. They ask how he or she is doing, and hope he or she continues to continue to sobriety. They also want to know what steps you’ve taken. They want to collect as much firsthand information about addiction, knowing full well that their son or daughter may also become a victim. In a way it’s very helpful not only to you but to them as well to try and learn and understand all they can. Their concern and support help you. They contribute meaningful information they’ve found through social media or some actual happening in their own life. The more we can find out about this epidemic the better our understanding of what should we expect and how to deal with it.

In fact, I have found that most of those around you have some suspicion that there is a problem. You become reluctant to do the normal things you’ve done in the past. You’re quiet and avoid conversations with family and friends feeling that you might slip and let what you think is a secret come forth in the discussion. This addiction business consumes you day and night. It’s very difficult not show the stress involved with the daily heartache. If the one using drugs or alcohol or both as in many cases is in the house, things become even more evident. With the addict in the house the turmoil is consistent and takes its toll on those living with it. If the user has been sent away, in a facility or you have no idea where he or she is, the family and neighbors will no doubt ask about the absence. No matter how hard you try, the truth will eventually surface.

I’ve seen it again and again that people understand. They do not criticize or look down on you but rather sympathize with your situation. Most know full well that the next victim might be in their own family and most are grateful that they have escaped this tragedy. As no real answer has come forth as to why someone decides to choose this road or how to prevent it, we all realize the danger. There are steps that one can follow to make recovery successful but even those cannot guarantee active recovery and for how long. As long as this epidemic continues, there will be those that would rather bury the problem out of sight.

The bottom line or suggestion would be to be open about your crisis. It removes one more emotion you have to deal with. You have enough issues and in fact you may find your openness provides relief. Venting is essential to keep you from jumping overboard. Feedback can be helpful and if nothing more that understanding helps keep you focused. You’re not expected to rush out the door and tell the world you have a son or daughter that is using. The thought here is that there is benefit to sharing your troubles with others who care about you and yours. If they truly do care, they will be another source of support.

Apologizing- Steps 8 &9

It is apparent the stage of apologizing is very meaningful in the journey to sobriety to those who care dearly about the one addicted. Steps eight and nine address the issue clearly. It seems this is a condition those hurt need to hear to help their own healing. It’s as if that without a sincere apology for the hurt, recovery is still considered a work in progress.

Having spent much time with both sides of addiction listening and learning each time, attending meetings or having conversations with parents, loved one or those addicted certain points come up repeatedly. Steps eight and nine dealing with the apology seem ever present. Both sides have placed certain conditions to its meaning and how to deal with it. An apology seems simple enough to say you’re sorry but seems so difficult to express or accept from those hurt. There are certain qualifiers that seem associated again from both sides.

As example, those addicted must deal with the difficult part of the apology; namely, that you will not let it happen again. Statistics show that most abusers will fail in trying to regain sobriety, so when this happens many times unfortunately, those hurt cannot believe there is true sorrow. Unless the user feels confident in himself or herself that they can succeed in staying clean many will hesitate or put aside an apology. Relapse after relapse creates doubt in those who are truly sorry but know their weakness. They know there is still work to be done.

Substance abuse has no simple solution for any forward motion including sorrow. Self-esteem and shame enter the picture as well. I’ve been to NA meetings and heard those in active recovery explain that they were not ready yet. In many instances the user has apologized multiple times with every intention of mending his or her life but lacks the strength to reach out for help and continue this difficult journey. I have also met with users who are truly sorry but cannot for some reason say the words to those hurt. Admission that you hurt someone who loves and cares for you, would be admitting the inability understand or control one’s emotions. Self-esteem and shame appear to be the main culprits that hamper many people not only those addicted but most of us. It’s a human frailty. It takes a strong person to admit the hurt they caused and an equal amount to forgive.

Our son for whatever reason decided to pick his one-year anniversary to apologize to me. Some moments stick in your head and one can recall almost everything connected to that moment. I believe because I tried earnestly to gain knowledge of substance abuse throughout his first year of sobriety, the apology was meaningful. Many of the deflectors were not present in his journey. His older brother had succumbed to drugs and alcohol. There are guides to help one succeed in recovery. This was his first time through. He had a sponsor, home group and attended meetings regularly. He was a seeker, searching for his spiritual being. These things provide aid to both sides. The user feels more confident and those hurt see a serious attempt to mend one’s life. Knowing that the one with the substance abuse is following the aids suggested for active recovery is a benefit for all those involved.

On the last Sunday of the month, he and his sponsor’s home group celebrate the year and multiple years’ clean awards. The original plan was for us to be there for his actual one-year anniversary on the fourteenth of November. I was to present his pin. I’m not sure he understood about the anniversary meeting, when we made the reservations earlier this year. The actual pin was awarded by the home group, at the end of the month. We had made reservations to be there the actual anniversary date and had returned home before the actual ceremony.

Instead, his sponsor would present his award and then he was to speak to a packed audience on his one-year journey. He had rehearsed what he wanted to say with his sponsor several times before the meeting but his anxiety only increased.

He called the following day while I was grocery shopping. After an hour and half, I found my own emotions going rampant. He explained the evening’s activity and how he was in tears after listening to his sponsor talk about how he had become like a brother and even his sponsor teared as he spoke about meeting his parents. I’m listening to what he saying and found myself in the middle of the store tearing. It was obvious a night of heightened emotions. I explained I’m glad his sponsor, was there to present as I’m not sure I could have presented it myself without a breakdown. He felt I could have but it would have been different. His sponsor, who is usually more laid back would be that way when presenting and when he decided to take the serious approach, our son was caught off guard. He felt with the apology from me would have been that this is my son and I’m very proud. I would explain to the audience of having lost a son after eighteen years of addiction and how the son in active recovery gave me a second chance to understand and help him in his journey. This whole conversation was gut wrenching and I was becoming a mess in the aisle putting the frozen food back that had started to thaw.

We recently found a letter from my other son, who succumbed to drugs and alcohol. In the letter, he explains that when he was sober and could think clearly realized how much damage he has done to the family and how sorry he was for the hurt caused. This apology was sincere, written clearly (not his usual unreadable scrawl) and also very heartbreaking. Self-esteem was never his problem. He spent most of his life in and out of detox and rehab facilities as well as jail. Looking back now and having a better understanding of addiction, I see he meant well, was full of shame, but lacked the immense determination needed to fight this disease.

These are difficult situations and no doubt will continue as we continue the journey. There are good stories. My other son, now four year in active recovery, mentioned how his emotions heightened as a father presented his son with a twenty-five-year token. He could not describe the look and hugs between the two. It is definitely a journey for all concerned and the apology as well as forgiveness’s only make it more immense.

Many will never hear those word or relish those emotions. It’s a battle for both sides. Keeping love and understanding as part of the journey may enhance the chances.




Seeking Help and Understanding

How can we begin to deal with the substance abuse without some knowledge of what it is to those addicted and those affected? Right from the beginning two completely opposite emotions surface. The one suffering from addiction is stripped of the ability to reason good or bad from the using disorder. The drug or drugs of choice have become a necessity and as such a priority in the mind of the addict to do whatever to satisfy that need. “Whatever” encompasses a host of divisive actions with one thought in mind, to satisfy that need. These actions are executed without regard to consequences. The freedom of choice quickly disappeared after introduction of drugs and alcohol in the system. All the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental attributes that make us healthy are put aside while under the influence of substance abuse.

On the opposite side where caring and hope reign prominent, there is misunderstanding and confusion on how someone you’ve known and loved has become a total stranger. At what point did you misread the signs that your loved one was become actively addicted? You find yourself searching for answers and known make any sense. You consider your own actions over the years and how did they contribute to downfall of someone you love dearly. Those in active recovery in many cases rejoin the family or loved ones. They are also quick to say that the fault for their substance abuse in no way related to how they were brought up. They accept that the blame falls on their shoulders and the inability to reach out. They can with our understanding and support realize it is a disease and as such requires a host of steps to regain quality of life once more.

Our part as parents or those caring have an immense task in the journey to recovery. We need to provide love and support but from a different level. The challenge is to see clearly when the active addict is truly ready to seek help and needs more than the next fix. Relapse is a common result on the journey to recovery and as such you need to see earnest acceptance on the addict’s part that there is a process for success which will require steps that may involve, detox, a lengthy rehab, in patient/outpatient programs, possible medically assisted treatment, regular meetings, a sponsor and a total change in behavior. In many cases this acceptance only results after a serious event or what we like to call “rock bottom”.

Once we come to an understanding of what substance abuse is and how it destroys the ability to seek help on the part of the active addict as well as those caring, then we can move forward. When we are first confronted with the realization that someone, we care for dearly has fallen victim, we are faced with little knowledge or ability of what one can do.

Social media, news stories, TV and personal knowledge of someone you know has fallen victim only increases the fear of what waits ahead. One sees only doom and gloom. If we seek help through group meetings, researching the mass number of topics on the subject and most importantly realize the victim will need all the love and understanding possible to overcome this dreaded disease, we can hopefully move forward. Failures and relapse are common during recovery but there are many recovery stories to give strength to us to avoid becoming a statistic but rather a success story. Reading successful recovery stories helps guide us in the journey to save our addict and ourselves.

Anxiety- Carrying the Message

(This is an excerpt from my Journal dealing with substance disorder and the death of one son and recovery of another).

Sometime after speaking with a number of young people who suffered from substance abuse and were moving forward in active recovery, I was told that their sobriety and real recovery began only after they got a sponsor or that it mattered and they worked the steps honestly and thoroughly. They were now ready to carry the message. Part of carrying the message was the ability to speak with groups or individuals about addiction. Anxiety was another hurdle to becoming comfortable with yourself in expressing how they moved from active addiction to active recovery. They needed to feel self-confident that the message was meaningful.

Anxiety is excitement about a situation or thinking. As example for our son when going to class with “normals” (people not in recovery) as he calls them, he had a great deal of anxiety.  As he entered the building and headed for class it continued to build but after he got in the classroom, he was fine. In his mind this tells him “spiritually” he is where he belongs in recovery and will be fine. He has had numerous incidents where he was worried about his job, his health and whatever and would get sick at the stomach and knew he was not connected spiritually. He was not doing everything he needed to do as part of recovery. He had his sponsor who he talked with all the time but was not working the steps or attending all the meetings. His long hours made him want to sleep or rest so at times skipped meetings. He was working with sponsees and supposed to be teaching them and in fact was not doing what he was supposed to do himself.

Today, he explains things in such simple terms. I try to remember everything he tells me but I myself cannot explain feelings in a simple set of words where he seems to do it with little effort. He holds your attention, especially when you have a serious conversation with him. I can listen and easily see where he is at ease and as he says connected when speaking to groups or sponsees. He is comfortable where he is in his recovery. His bad anxiety results when he becomes lax and skips things, he knows he must do. When this happens, he knows he has to make adjustments to his lifestyle.

When you discuss any subjects concerned with addiction with our son, he is as many addicts are a walking book of knowledge with anything related to drugs and alcohol. It is amazing how they are keenly aware of the latest “stuff” on the street and the chemical components. Many times, the street dealers have no idea that the drugs such as heroin have been altered with other drugs. The mid-level dealers cut and distribute to the street dealers. He knows full well that when he was using regularly, he and his friends would seek out dealers having the doctored drugs that many times ended in overdose or death.

I’m not sure at what point but I believe soon after he arrived in Florida after detox, to start his recovery, he recognized that he needed to devote one hundred percent concentration if he was to be successful the first time through. It has become obvious he retained a great deal of what he saw, heard and read at meetings, intensive outpatient, from his sponsor and therapist. In conversation he cites specific quotes or information he has read or heard and how it relates to the subject of addiction and all things concerned. His mom and I are continually startled with all he has learned.

His mother and I will have phone conversations with him and try to relay to one another exactly what he said. We both have great difficulty in telling clearly what he talked about and how much better we felt after listening. If we had questions or concerns of his well-being they seem to disappear afterwards. I guess in a way, just as he left us with a teenage mindset, we ourselves still think of him the same way. To suddenly be speaking with a young clear-headed adult mystifies us but at the same time makes us feel confident that he will be okay. He no longer argues with our thinking or suggestion but rather rationalizes and understands our feelings.

Our leader of the NAR-ANON group has mentioned on several occasions that she hoped that at some point he may come back again to speak at the meeting.  Sometime after his first year clean, he came and spoke to the NAR-ANON group.  His mom and I were lost for words listening to him talk and answer questions. He response to this is very positive. He is very comfortable with discussing the subject. He seems relaxed when he speaks to groups. These past three years has given him belief in himself and it shows. Once again it goes back to his spiritual thinking in himself and confidence that he will be successful in regaining his life once more.

This November he will be four years clean.  He has made us very proud. I believe his story of recovery has given help to many people and to many of his friends who are presently dealing with drug addiction.

Initially I looked at him as a follower with no mind of his own. He in no way was a leader. This is my own failure as I never was a follower good or bad. I made my own decisions and accepted the outcome. Now I look at him and I see he is a leader. Drugs suppressed his ability to think for himself. Now that he has regained sobriety, he shows confidence and believes in himself and best of all is willing to lead others to a path back. This has been an education for us as well. Sending him off to college while still using would have been a total waste. He has learned more of real life and it’s up and downs during his journey than one could ever expect from continuing on to college. He would have most likely finished his education expecting the better things in life totally unprepared for hardships and daily struggles to survive in a world that can be very cruel at times. He knows the dark side of life. He has seen death and failure day after day on his journey. He has seen tears. He knows rejection. He accepts what he cannot do anything about. These things are not part of the education process. He has learned from the “school of hard knocks” as my father would tell me. This may be the more difficult way of learning but you are more apt not to repeat your mistakes.

Congratulations on your four-year clean anniversary son. You have proven to yourself that if one applies them self and is determined to become complete again spiritually, mentally and physically, you have succeeded. You have given yourself the ability to mature and realize all your dreams. Our hope is that God or your spiritual being continues to help you to become who you really are and how much you have to offer to those who need your strength.