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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.



The Next Journey, A New Direction

I’ve spent the last four years writing posts, creating a blog, doing a podcast, speaking at meetings, telling the story of my four sons, two who fell prey to substance abuse. I feel I’ve told the story, as a multitude of others, so many times that it no longer seems to change things in my mind. The number of overdoses and deaths has continued to rise with each of the four years. One son died and the other has been in active recovery for nearing four years. I am grateful that so many people, to include my recovering son, helped me gain some understanding of drug and alcohol addiction. I will continue to try and understand and offer help to those suffering from addiction as well as those who care so much.
I am a member of the elder generation (seventy-seven to be exact) and as most, aware that my time is limited to help, but it has moved to the top of my bucket list. I did a podcast titled “Journey to a Good Place”. That’s where I am. Believe me, I was far distant from any such place for so many years. Addiction to my own anger towards my first addicted son ate away anything that was decent in me. I found myself insensible and thought that it was all about choice. The second son’s addiction only increased this misery and anger.
I was fortunate that my higher power had me look into my second sons’ eyes as we turned him away to a distant detox facility and I found strength and a willingness and vowed not to see another son succumb to this disease. His eyes opened mine. I saw how lost he was and so young to deal with the challenge in front of him. I saw his brother’s battle for years only to end life itself.
I was so filled with anger that I never tried to search for answers. Reaching out was not on my agenda. His mom had no such weakness and sought help with a local NAR-ANON group. My initial instinct was to go with her to support her. This particular group cross-talked and the stories the first evening convinced me that I was not letting his mom go through this without me by her side. Here we learned each week more and more about addiction and what our role was in healing ourselves and in turn helped our son realize we loved him dearly and that the hard work for recovery was up to him to process for active recovery.
From this point I started my own recovery. I listened intently to people, sponsors, addicts, news articles, followed social media daily that dealt with success and failures. It became an obsession and I started my journal, where many of my posts originated from. I could sense the changes in my mind. I was experiencing the same feelings my son was going through. There was a physical, mental and emotional healing happening and I gained strength each day that I made the journey with this son.

I realized if I really opened my eyes and mind, that my son who died was fighting a battle that so many before and since lost. I accepted that substance abuse was a disease and as such required so much effort for healing and most importantly that love and support contribute to the healing rather than a give up attitude or a father who suffers from total misunderstanding. It becomes a matter of understanding drug and alcohol abuse is a disease much the same as any physical or mental illness and as such deserves love and support. You see the individual suffering no different than the youngest to oldest going through devastating diseases that exist throughout the world . Oppression only hampers any healing or success towards recovery.

For myself, I feel there is still some unexplained need for me to become more active in providing a service to those people and projects working directly with those suffering from substance abuse. There are many private, townships and state organizations who work daily in providing aid to those in need. I hope to satisfy this bucket item by contacting these organizations to see if there if there is some way I can help. There are positions like recovery coaches that can provide help if doing nothing more than making coffee for meetings. The point is they are taking an active role in helping and not talking about it. I needed to put my story for social media to examine and take away benefit if there was something there that helped. The next level for my own satisfaction now is to actively help in some manner. I do not see the heartbreaking stories going by the wayside nor the number of overdoses and deaths decreasing. One death from drugs or alcohol is unacceptable to anyone who has lost someone they love and cared for. This epidemic demands so much more help than exists today. Those of us directly affected by this disease, need to reach out to those fortunate enough to somehow escaped this social disaster, that their voices are needed as well. Together we need to seek every avenue possible to make certain we start seeing overdoses and deaths start decreasing and not increasing. This disease does not sit secretly from the public to see. It reveals itself each and every day to all those who look closely and realize the next victim may be someone you love dearly.

Lessons from Those Addicted

Over the years I’ve found that there is much to learn from the addict, especially those in active recovery. Having dealt with two sons fallen victim to substance abuse, one succumbed to the disease and the other nearing four years recovery, as a parent you search almost daily for explanation and some degree of understanding. To be sure as a society we still search for answers and all possible aid to reduce the suffering caused by this disease. The battle continues daily and at the same time victims mount up.

I myself have found from success and failure that recovery has a better chance where the real lessons come from those in active recovery and have experienced and know full well the hard work involved. They also know support is vital to the journey. If we as parents and those caring step back and realize as my recovering son says “if you’ve never been an addict, you’ll never fully understand” So what are we do? Are we to stand by and watch in pain? To me, my answer was to look in all direction for success stories and how they related to the paths of these two young victims. Information resides throughout social media on successful measures used by many in active recovery.

I decided to become deeply involved. I looked for stories, meetings, books and programs that would help. Before long I found answers to success and failure. I also learned quickly to be non-judgmental. I don’t believe any us who have never been involved with active addiction can do more than suggest. I listened carefully to both active and recovering addicts.

I’ve visited a good number of detox, rehab and sober living facilities over the years and found those actually operated by well-educated active recovery personnel seemed to have a higher success rate in dealing with addiction. Most of these facilities operate on a “been there, done that” program. They know the journey, the steps needed. They know that the entire body needs healing, emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.
You soon see the path is not a short time fix. My deceased son visited rehabs regularly. I say visited as they were short stints and he had no interest in truly reaching out. The programs were a weak attempt to detox, attend lectures, and explain dangers. The son in recovery spent thirty days in detox facility and eighteen months in rehab and sober living. He learned from counselors, therapists, residents in sober living and his own search for understanding the immense challenge in front of him. He established life-lines with his sponsor, recovering friends and the loved and support from his waiting family and friends at home. The burden of recovery fell on his shoulders and he knew it and was determined to make it through the first time (which he did).
At the same time, we need to heal ourselves. This journey is no easier than those suffering from substance abuse. As parents, family and friends we attempt to carry on our daily jobs without constant thoughts of those actually addicted. Again, a difficult task. As we reach out, just as the addict, we can find hope from those who are or have traveled the same path. It comes back to lessons learned for us as well as the addict.
In the case of substance abuse actual firsthand experience, with multiple years of recovery, seems the best guide, especially to those in early recovery. The same holds true for us. There are real life stories, meetings and people who know full well what you’re going through. At the same time, they do not judge but want to help you in any way possible. They will suggest rather than direct you as they know there is no single answer. When bumps in the road comes up that acts as a trigger to you or your addict, a list of contacts is available who are more than ready to give aid. Everyone concerned needs support to combat this battle. I would venture to say that when we become directly involved with substance abuse, we become “clients” ourselves seeking help.

Searching for Recovery

As a society, we stress and empathize the negativity associated with substance abuse. It goes without saying that almost if not all things dealing with addiction have pain and suffering for both the addict and those trying to help. We read and see throughout social media overdose, relapse and death daily. Pictures of beautiful young people before and after they fell prey to this dreadful disease show the physical damage. The stories and obituaries read of the mental and emotional stress to those who care.

Maybe we need to reach for the stories of recovery and the wonderful changes that occur as active addiction journeys toward active recovery. There are a multitude of stories of recovery and the happiness that evolved. The changes in lifestyle and quality of life are heartwarming and should give hope to those suffering. We need more spotlight on the benefits of recovery and maybe a bit less of the drawbacks and the grim future. Those suffering with substance abuse have little self-control in escaping without a great deal of support and help from those knowing the hard work that is required to cleanse one’s self. Our part as parents, spouses and friends is love and support. By support I’m not talking about enabling but rather encouragement, praise, and above all love even if at a distance. It is as important to those caring as it is to those addicted. Blaming yourself, anger and loss of hope have no value where addiction is involved.

There is more than enough information published today describing that substance disorders are a disease and as such need to be attacked in the same manner as any other deadly disease. Extensive research is taking place throughout the country to address this epidemic. It’s obvious that there is no single pill or treatment that will make this go away. As we find ourselves in a standby position, we can only reach out for help and support for ourselves and our addict. Joining support groups, whether the addict or those caring, will get help from lessons learned good and bad. It becomes a search for understanding of substance abuse. The more we learn, the better we are prepared to meet all the obstacles, end the chaos, and learn how to take back our lives.

Bumps in the road are frequent, especially in early recovery. If the one addicted has done the hard work involved by attending meetings, finding a sponsor, working the 12 steps, and associating with friends in active recovery, he or she has helpful tools to meet those bumps. Basically, for those of us caring, we can do the same. We need our own set of tools. We need to take baby steps in how we look and understand at addiction.

Both sides need to be prepared for a long and difficult journey. There are many recovery stories and we want to make every effort to be one of those stories.