Sunday, December 20, 2020

If you think addiction is a moral weakness, read this. If you are struggling with addiction, read this. If you know someone struggling with addiction, read this.

I have struggled so much figuring out how to start this post. I usually only blog when I feel compelled, and I have felt this way for several days - on this particular topic. But I just haven't been able to wrap my head around what I wanted to say. Until now.

Scrolling through Facebook on this lazy Sunday morning, I came upon an article in our local newspaper written by one of the few local reporters left in our town, Phil Luciano. He's known as a no-bullshit type of guy who at times can be considered "controversial" in this conservative town. I've always respected him and his writing, but today that respect rose to new levels as he gave justice to a topic that many would shy away from. 

Let me also say that I have the utmost of admiration and respect for the parents in this article, and there are no words of comfort I can offer them other than my heart breaks for you, as it has broken for so many.

On November 17, two bright lights in this world were extinguished due to addiction. Normally, deaths like this would be treated as "two more overdoses" and left as a statistic and short obituary minus the cause of death, leaving people to speculate and sadly, judge. 

The parents of Chase Bennett and Annabelle Rodgers did just the opposite. In what has to be unfathomable grief, they chose to speak up and educate an audience that to me spans threefold:

  1. Those who may have otherwise sat silently in judgment of these young people and their families;
  2. Those who find themselves in the "club no one wants to be in," which is anyone who has a loved one who detrimentally uses drugs, whether or not they have accepted their loved ones as having an addiction or not;
  3. Those who may see themselves in Chase and Annabelle - those who are in active addiction and want to stop - but don't know how. 

Please take the time to read this:

Agony of addiction: While grieving the deaths of their children, parents offer hope and help to others

In the article, Phi writes, "Still awash in grief, they hope that by sharing their stories, they can help addicts and their families avoid the agony that long has racked their lives. They hope the legacies for Chase and Annabelle lie in hope and help for others."

No matter what your thoughts are on addiction (and what you consider "addiction"), I encourage you to read Phil's article. The parents of Chase and Annabelle are anybody's parents. They loved their children fiercely and saw their light, their joy and their promise. They saw - and acknowledged - that their children struggled with the use of drugs but that didn't change their love for them. I am SURE they were faced with judgment, as were Chase and Annabelle. Because the only way you can even begin to understand addiction is if you are touched by it. It takes changing your behavior, your thought process, your reactions, what you say, what you do, how you live - everything about what you thought you knew about, well, EVERYTHING. It's life changing, and at times, devastating. 

I could fill 100 blogs with my thoughts on overcoming the stigma of addiction. The only thing I want to say here is, if you haven't been touched by it, don't judge. Don't offer advice on a subject you know nothing about. Don't vocalize what you would have done, or what that parent or that child should have done. You have no fucking idea. If you are sitting there thinking that all addicts are weak, or that their addictions are completely their own fault or that of their parents, or that "your child" would NEVER do that, sit the fuck down and listen up. If you want to learn about what addiction really is and what people go through as a result of the disease - and yes, it is a disease - then ask for a guest pass into the club no one wants to be in and listen for a while. I assure you that what you are thinking now and what you will think then will change dramatically. 

If Phil's article doesn't give you some awareness of and empathy for the disease of addiction, then Chase Bennett's obituary should, which is a brutally honest and heart wrenching summary of the light he was on this earth and the darkness that ended his life with the flip of a switch. 

If you read nothing else, read this: 

"He [Chase] will always be remembered for his kind heart, willingness to always help anybody in need, beautiful smile and his love of life. For a few months recently, he had been sober and seemed to be on the road to recovery. During this time, the family was fortunate to have spent some quality time with the real Chase (the person he was before addiction took him from us). 

"As his parents, we will miss him with every fiber of our beings, but also as his parents, we will no longer have to witness his pain or worry about this day coming as we have for so many years because it's here, and it will leave an empty place in our hearts forever. Our only solace is that he is now free from the struggles that haunted him, and he can now forever rest in peace. We loved Chase more than life itself, but that love could not protect him. If a parent's love could fix addiction, it would have been eradicated years ago. The grief of this loss is infinite to us. And now, so is he.

The disease of addiction is merciless. It is up to us to open our minds and hearts to those who are still suffering from this disease that is killing our children and shattering families. The family hopes that Chase's passing won't be in vain and that someone's life can be spared from this tragedy. If you or anyone you know suffers from this disease, please know you're not alone, and help is always available."

If you know someone who you believe has a drug problem, or if you yourself are using drugs and want to stop, I promise there is help out there, but it's not obvious. Unfortunately, you have to hunt for it. But there are advocates out there - professionals and simply people like me who can and want to help you when you're ready. There are local, anonymous meetings you can attend - whether you are using drugs or are a loved one of someone using drugs. These are judgment-free zones to find acceptance, understanding, help and love. One of the hardest things to do is walk through that door for the first time, but once you did, you've taken the first step. And there are 12

In addition, there are resources, no matter where you live. There are actually people out there who dedicate their lives to helping families and loved ones facing drug addiction find the help they need - even if it's just someone to listen. 

I've listed some resources below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. If this is overwhelming to you - whether you are in need of help for your own drug use or a family member of someone using drugs - please feel free to reach out to me and I will help you navigate in any way I can. 

If you are the loved one of someone with alcohol or drug problems: 

Families Anonymous (FA)
Families Anonymous is for those relatives and friends of those who suffer from a current, suspected or former problem of substance abuse or related behavioral problem. In our meetings, we learn how we can stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution. We can learn to find peace and serenity by practicing the FA program, even in the midst of the chaos and insanity.

Peoria meetings are currently on hold due to COVID-19, but you can find a directory of online, face-to-face meetings here. If you're interested in the Peoria meeting, contact me

Al-Anon
Al-Anon is for loved ones of those with a drug or alcohol problem. Again, though the emphasis is on alcohol, the journey is the same no matter what the drug, and all are welcome. In Al-Anon and Alateen, members share their own experience, strength and hope with each other. You will meet others who share your feelings and frustrations, if not your exact situation. We come together to learn a better way of life, to find happiness whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not. Find a meeting near you, either in-person or online. 


If you need help with your own drug abuse:

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
While their site describes AA as "an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem," many attend no matter what their drug issue. There are meetings literally every hour of every day; some in-person, some online. Here's a list of Peoria-area meetings, or find one where you live.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
Narcotics Anonymous offers recovery to addicts around the world. We focus on the disease of addiction rather than any particular drug. Our message is broad enough to attract addicts from any social class or nationality. When new members come to meetings, our sole interest is in their desire for freedom from active addiction and how we can be of help. Find a meeting near you, either in-person or online.

SMART Recovery
12 Steps not for you? SMART Recovery is a global community of people and families working together to resolve addictive problems. In our free group discussion meetings, participants learn from one another using a self-empowering approach based on the most current science of recovery.

American Addiction Centers (recovery.org)
Recovery.org supports and provides resources for the recovery lifestyle, including pre-treatment, treatment, aftercare, and potential relapse. Recovery from a substance use disorder is not a short-term goal—it is a life-long process.

To find treatment:

Therapeutic Consultants
If you are looking for a treatment facility for a loved one (either under or over 18), I would suggest enlisting the help of a therapeutic consultant. They are basically the "realtors" of the treatment world, and, based on an assessment, insurance/price point and resources, recommend the type of treatment and facilities. Here is a list of TCs but take note, you don't have to hire one in your city or even state. Personally, I highly recommend One Oak Therapeutic Consulting

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA has a Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance use/addiction and/or mental health problems. Click here for helpline info or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSP)
The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs serves as an advocate and resource for innovative organizations which devote themselves to society’s need for the effective care and education of struggling young people and their families.

Other resources:

Addiction Guide
More resources, including blogs, forums, mobile apps and more

God bless the families of Chase and Annabelle, and all the others who have lost loved ones to the disease of addiction. It's time to stop the stigma, stop the glorification of drugs and start expending more effort and funding on the resources to help addicts and their families. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Letting Go (Or, The Story of Earl E. Bird)

A few weeks ago, I opened my front door to find a baby bird standing on my porch, his big, blinking eyes just staring up at me. 

He didn’t appear to be selling anything, so I slowly opened the door and stepped outside. He didn’t move. I sat down on the steps next to him. Again, no movement. Just those big, blinking eyes. I reached out to touch him and he seemed OK with that. I gently picked him up to see if he was injured and again, he didn’t protest. 

I assumed, since he kept fluttering his wings but not going anywhere, that he had attempted to fly the coop but wasn’t quite ready. Had it been earlier in the day, I probably would have left him alone in the hopes that momma bird would be back to give him some direction, but it was getting dark and I was afraid he would end up being some night creature’s dinner.

Earl loved watching The Office.
Earl enjoying "The Office"
I enlisted the help of my son and his girlfriend (who named him Earl – they said it was after some music artist but I called him Earl E. Bird) and, not knowing what else to do, fed him some worm pieces we dug up in the garden. We discovered he was Cedar Waxwing fledgling, which is a pretty social bird, as evidenced by how he hopped from our hands to our shoulders without batting an eyelash (if birds have eyelashes). I looked up how to care for such a bird and we borrowed a cage and figured we’d let him chill with us for the night.

I worried about Earl all night. When I woke up the next morning, I went downstairs (where he was safely away from our dog and cat), wondering if he would still be alive. Much to my relief, he seemed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and hopped right on my finger when I opened the cage door. 

I sat there with Earl for a while, letting him perch on my shoulder and occasionally make feeble attempts to fly. I knew I had to put him back outside in the hopes that either mom would come by to get him or he would figure out the flying thing on his own. 

We went out to the porch and as I placed him down, he looked at me with those big, blinking eyes and started squawking. It made my heart hurt a little, but I went inside to see if he’d be able to fend for himself. As he squawked and squawked, I was reminded of the time I attempted to let my firstborn “cry it out,” and wondered how long I’d last before I went out to “rescue” him. 

Suddenly, the squawking was met with a response – several, in fact. After about 30 minutes, I looked out and, though I could still hear Earl, he was no longer on the porch. I went outside and looked up in the tree in my yard and there he sat, in a nest, squawking away. Baby bird could fly – at least a little! Relieved but a little sad, I considered that my time with Earl, though short and sweet, was over. 

Later that afternoon, I was working in the yard and heard a familiar squawk. I looked over at a little flagpole I have staked in the ground and there he sat with those big, blinking eyes. I said, “Well, hello, Earl!” and went over to see if 1) it was indeed Earl, and 2) he would fly away. He didn’t move. I held out my hand and he hopped onto it and started squawking again. I wondered if I should just take him back inside – put him back in the cage where he would be safe from anything that might hurt this sweet little fledgling. 

But I knew I couldn’t do that, as much as I wanted to. I knew he didn’t belong with me, and he didn’t belong in a cage. As much as I worried about him, it was time for him to figure out how to fly and explore the big, bad world out there all on his own. 

I raised my hand up to the tree and he hopped onto one of the branches. Before I knew it, he was clumsily fluttering higher and higher, squawking all the way. 

This may seem like a silly story about a bird named Earl. But it struck me how this one day kind of sums up being a mom. When you first see your kid and his big, blinking eyes, all you want to do is protect him – forever. You feed him and nurture him and find out everything you can about caring for him. Then one day, you realize you have to let him go – and it’s excruciating. You wonder if he’s ready. You wonder if anyone will be there to help him along the way. You wonder if you did enough to prepare him for the real world. You’re not sure it’s time, even if he thinks it’s time. He can barely fly – how will he survive? But it’s not really up to you. 

So you let him go. He might leave the nest on his own. He might fall out and need a little extra help from someone else. He may come back, like Earl did, unsure of what to do next and wanting for some additional comfort from “mom.” And as much as you want to take him in again and protect him from the dangers of the big, bad world, you know you can’t. Baby bird has to learn to fly – and whether he figures it out or not is no longer up to you. 

I had an amazing friend who passed away in 2018 after an incredibly courageous fight with breast cancer. Her favorite movie was “The Shawshank Redemption”. When Earl flew away for the last time, I thought of her favorite quote and how true it is right now in my momma heart:

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more gray and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

Miss you, Earl, and both my baby birds. It brought me great joy to help you learn to fly, but now it's up to you to soar.


Saturday, August 1, 2020

Parents: Don't Let Your Kids See You Sweat (and Other COVID-19 Related Back-to-School Thoughts)

I’m just going to get this out there: I feel so grateful that my last kid graduated from high school this year.

Because, wow. What a cluster.

Elementary, middle and high schools with a standard school year are preparing to open their doors to students in a few short weeks. Or not open their doors. Or open their doors on certain days. Or open their doors only part of the day. Or open their doors on certain days for part of the day.

See what I mean?

In my opinion, school districts are faced with an impossible task: find a viable solution in their little corner of the world when the rest of the nation is still floundering around trying to figure out what to do.

This is a no-win situation – for students, for teachers, for parents.

I’ve seen a lot of harsh responses between parents and school districts and especially parents versus parents. Some parents have extremely strong opinions around sending their children back to school or not – and some can be pretty disrespectful to anyone who disagrees with their position.

I get it. There’s camp, “We have to keep on living our lives.” There’s camp, “We need to be cautious because the numbers keep rising for whatever reason.” Then there’s camp, “I have no idea what to do.”

OK, campers. I realize this is a BIG DEAL – deciding what’s best for your child as districts announce their plans for the school year.

But you know what’s an even bigger deal?

How you react to your kids about it.

Think about it. These kids got yanked out of school last March. Anything they were involved in – a sport, a club, an after-school activity, a group project – gone. Socializing for the most part stopped. You all huddled in your houses – together – listening to the news and the CDC and the local governors and that awful excuse of a man who pretends to be president. (Sorry, I can't help myself.)

So, think about how you’ve felt the past six months. The anxiety. The worry. The confusion. The indecisiveness.

Guess what? Your kids have all that, too. And they’re just kids. On top of the “normal” things they have to deal with, like homework and part-time jobs and puberty and relationships and peer pressure and hormones and their siblings and their parents and all the other stuff that comes with being a kid, the world came and dumped a fucking pandemic on them.

Guys, they’re watching you. Just like in the beginning of this thing when we looked to the CDC or the medical community or the federal government or SOMEONE to tell us what was going on, how it was going to be fixed and that we were all going to be OK, our kids are looking to us for the same thing.

Now, we don't have those answers. We still don't really know what’s going on (even if you think you do, let's face it, you don’t). We don’t know if, how and when it’s going to be “fixed” and we don’t know that we’re all going to be OK.

But we can’t push all that onto our kids. They’re probably getting 10,000 different stories from 10,000 different sources on their phones or computers. Their brains aren’t developed enough to even comprehend how to feel about something that none of us have experienced in this lifetime.

What I’m saying is, just try not to project your fear and uncertainty on to your kids. Whatever you decide to do this school year, make that decision as positive as you can in their eyes. If you’re debating with another parent or with your spouse, do it in private. As concerned as we all may be, it’s time to put our big girl and boy panties on and be the role models for our kids.

And while you’re monitoring every cough, sneeze and sore throat your kids will inevitably come home with, keep a very close eye on their mental state. This is not your mother’s school environment anymore – it’s tough in there – and we just piled on masks that hide all facial expressions, social distancing that is the antithesis of kids and washing and sanitizing which we all know that even on the best day isn’t up to par.

Watch for signs of mood changes. Anxiety. Depression. It can be subtle. Sleeping and eating habits might change. Your child may be isolating more in their rooms (if they didn’t do so already.) Younger kids might lash out more often than usual. Not want to go to school. Have a lot of stomach aches. Here's some good information about it, or if you're anti-CDC, try this one.

If I could change anything about schools today, I’d wave a magic wand and add additional qualified counselors – like therapist counselors. A safe place for kids to go when they’re feeling overwhelmed or just not right. In my opinion, you can’t throw a pandemic on top of what they already have to deal with and assume they’ll just “adapt.” We're gonna need a little help here.

Parents vs. Parents: try to put your differences of opinions aside and do what's best for you and your family - and make the best out of it that you can. Just as we are all looking to leadership in our country (whatever that looks like) for reassurance and answers, your kids are looking at you. Try to be that calm they're going to so desperately need in the inevitable storm ahead.