Thursday, September 29, 2011

37 days

Thirty-seven days ago, my son got on a plane and flew to Palm Springs to start treatment for his addiction and depression at Michael's House. Thirty-seven days later, he's clean and feeling better. That's pretty damn incredible.

In two days, he's being discharged from Michael's House and moving into a sober living house in Palm Springs, where's he's expected to be for at least 30 days. And in two weeks, I'm pretty sure that my wife, younger son, and I are heading to California to participate in the "Family Weekend" program at Michael's House. That's another big expense, but it's one way we can participate in the recovery of someone we love dearly. And you can't really put a price on that.

Thirty-seven days. Every one of them, one day at a time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I really hope this investment pays off

My wife and I are not wealthy people. Yes, we live in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States, but we are not wealthy. In fact, our income falls well below the median income for both individuals and families living in our community. We spent 16 years living in one of the smallest houses in our entire area (it was less than 900 sq. ft.) and only moved up to a bigger house about seven years ago. (A house that's now worth about half what we paid for it.) We desperately need a new car. Our two cars have a combined age of 24 years, and one of them is literally being held together with tape in certain places. We have much needed house repairs that we've put off for quite a while. You get the picture. Bottom line: Money has always been tight for us.

So yesterday, when we had to make a rather substantial payment to the treatment facility our son is in, it was tough. Insurance not covering our son's room and board because they think he's "medically stable" and capable of receiving the rest of his treatment on an outpatient basis is total bullshit. But there are lots of things that are total bullshit when it comes to insurance companies and substance abuse/mental health treatment. So we deal with it, bite the bullet, and pull out the credit card. (That's what credit cards are for, right?)

The payment we made yesterday was in addition to the initial payment we made when our son was admitted. And this most recent payment only brings us up-to-date through today. We'll still owe for more room and board after our son's residential treatment is completed. That's about another two weeks' worth of room and board. Then we'll get to pay his sober-living house rent for at least a month. And that isn't cheap, either.

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that addiction hurts people in different ways. The emotional damage this disease inflicts upon the loved ones of addicts is bad enough. But there is also a financial burden, even if you have health insurance. This is now the third time we've paid thousands of dollars for our son to go to rehab. And even though it's painful, and even though it totally fucks up our budget, and even though it will greatly affect our financial future, we continue to pay the money. Because we love our son and want him to get the help he needs.

That being said, this will probably be the last time we can afford to do this. Unless I win the lottery or something, I can't imagine being able to pull this off again. It's just not realistic. So I really hope this investment pays off.


UPDATE: My son's latest treatment plan is a compromise of sorts. Instead of staying two additional weeks in the residential treatment facility--as his therapist first recommended--he's agreed to stay one more week. (Hey...Less room and board!) After that, he will move into a sober-living house in Palm Springs for a month and do an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). After that month is up, my wife and I aren't sure what the next step will be. But we're trying not to think that far ahead right now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Some better news

Over the last few days, things have improved a bit with regards to my son's situation.

He called the day after he hung up on us and apologized for having done so. He also said he would stay in Palm Springs an additional two weeks--as recommended by his therapist--so he can do an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at Michael's House. He will be staying at Michael's House while doing the IOP, so that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, insurance won't cover any additional room and board for our son because he is now "medically stable." In fact, this stipulation kicked in several days ago. So for several days, we've been racking up room and board charges of $195.00 a day for our son. And we'll continue to do so for as long as he stays at Michael's House. We are not wealthy people, so this is definitely a financial strain for us. But our son's treatment is important to us, so we'll bite the bullet and figure out how to pay for this and the other charges our insurance company won't pay for. Maybe we'll have a bake sale or something. (Who wants to buy a few thousand brownies?)

One more thing: We talked to our son again last night and now he even says he'll "think about" staying in Palm Springs to do his transitioning into sober living. This is a small victory, although I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he decides he wants to move back to Michigan to do this. We shall see.

One day at a time. That really is the only way to tackle things like this.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Feeling Yourself Disintegrate"

Unfortunately, the other shoe is dropping with my son's situation. In a couple of different ways. First off, insurance isn't covering as much of his treatment as my wife and I were initially told they would, so it's kind of a financial nightmare at this point. In addition, our son called us last night and seems to have done a total about-face, saying he wants to come home on his discharge date (which is supposed to be 9/24), as opposed to staying out in Palm Springs to do his "transitioning."

His therapist called us and said he really wants our son to stay in residential treatment for an additional two weeks--which we'd have to pay for out of pocket--but that if he isn't on board, then we'd just be wasting our money. We're supposed to talk to our son tonight to try and figure everything out. If we can't get him to commit to staying in Palm Springs for additional treatment and his transitioning into a sober-living facility, I guess my wife and I will have to decide if we're ready to tell him that he'll be on his own out in California. That would seem to be the only other option, because we certainly don't intend to pay for him to fly home and put him back in a no-win situation, amongst people who are a negative influence and the dope houses that are just a short walk away.

So, after three weeks of relative calm, the stress is building again. Tonight's phone call ought to be interesting.

UPDATE: Our son called. We tried to explain to him that both his therapist and us want him to stay in Palm Springs longer, to get more treatment and more sobriety under his belt. He argued with us about it for about five minutes. Then he hung up on us.


On a brighter note, my wife and I took a wonderful four-day road trip to St. Louis this past weekend. Without kids. It was a trip to celebrate my 50th birthday and the purpose of the trip was to see two of our favorite musical acts: Kathleen Edwards and Bon Iver. In addition to being the opening act, Kathleen is also the girlfriend of Bon Iver's frontman, Justin Vernon. She has also become sort of a friend of ours. Our friendship developed from us having attended several of her shows over the years, talking to her after those shows, e-mailing back and forth, etc.

We had a great time, and the night was more like a religious experience than a concert. The highlight of Kathleen's set was her dedicating the last song to my wife and me. The song is a cover of the Flaming Lips' "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," which is a song about addiction. When my wife and I heard the dedication--which was a total surprise--we both cried. What a beautiful, thoughtful thing for Kathleen to do. It was also a total fluke that someone I knew at the show happened to capture the dedication and song on his camera phone. The video isn't great--he wasn't super close to the stage--but the audio is fine. You can see/hear for yourself below. You can also watch Bon Iver's performance of "Perth," the opening song of their set.

We also had the pleasure of going backstage after the concert and hanging out for a bit. Getting to meet Justin Vernon was pretty cool. He's an incredibly nice guy, and he signed a setlist for us, too (see photo below).

All in all, it was a very memorable night.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Three years sober

Three years ago today, while my son was in rehab for his heroin addiction, I gave up drinking.

"Be the change you want to see in your son." That's what the family therapist at the rehab facility told me.

So I made that commitment 1,095 days ago. I made a small change in my life to try and set a positive example for both my sons. As a father, it was the least I could do.

Sobriety is badass.

One day at a time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good things for my birthday

Today is my birthday. And for the second time in the last four birthdays, my son won't be here to help me celebrate because he's in rehab. But this time feels different. Very different. And that's a good thing.

My son called last night, and at the end of our conversation he wished me a happy birthday, saying he was sorry he couldn't be home for it. But I told him not to worry about that, and that him feeling better was the best birthday present I could possibly ask for. And that's the truth. Screw the material things. They're just things. But my son feeling better? That's really something. A good thing.

The kid still sounds great, too, although he admitted to being a little homesick. I'd say that's probably normal, because this is the longest he's ever been away from home, or away from family. And I'm sure he misses his cats (probably more than he misses us). But again, just like last Saturday, at no point during our conversation did he ask to come home. I think my son is in a very good place right now. And I think he realizes that, too. Another good thing.

My son might be absent from our house on my birthday, but he has an incredible presence in my heart. All good things considered, this might be my best birthday ever.


I'm 50 years old today. (Damn, that's old.) To celebrate, my wife and I are embarking on a four-day road trip/getaway. It starts tomorrow with a drive to suburban Chicago to see our nephew play in his high school football game. We'll spend the night at my wife's brother's house, then get up on Saturday morning and head to St. Louis for a couple of days. We're staying in a really cool hotel, and the big birthday celebration will be capped off by going to the Kathleen Edwards/Bon Iver concert at The Pageant in St. Louis on Sunday night. Good things, for sure.

I'm not positive--my memory is total crap because I'm so old--but I think this will be the longest trip without kids that my wife and I have taken in 22+ years of marriage. Let's hope we can stand each other for four days!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The best phone call ever?

My wife and I were having dinner with some friends at their house last night when my wife's cell phone rang. Because our son's therapist had told us that our son would probably call us this weekend, my wife excused herself to check her phone. When I heard her answer the call, then say, "It's great to hear your voice," I knew it was our son.

I stayed with our friends, sitting in the family room, while my wife talked to our son. The whole time I was sitting there, I was trying to continue carrying on a conversation with our friends while thoughts about my son and the phone call going on in the other room raced through my head. It was an anxious few minutes, for sure.

Eventually, my wife returned to the family room and handed her phone over to me. In the few seconds that elapsed between the time I took the phone from my wife and the time I said "Hello" to my son, I was even more anxious. I just didn't know what to expect to hear on the other end of the line.

When I finally started talking to my son, I was shocked. His voice sounded so different. He sounded refreshed and like a totally different person. We talked for several minutes and he told me several things that made me feel so hopeful:
  • He's doing well.

  • He's completely off the Suboxone he had been taking for nearly 3 years.

  • He really likes his therapist.

  • The treatment facility is really nice.

  • And, finally... He feels "normal."
That last one is a big one, for sure. It's something I haven't heard my son say in years. And it was so great to hear it.

My son and I wrapped up our phone call and my wife and I continued with our rare night out. There was no doubt we were feeling pretty good about things at that point.

Then, about halfway through dinner, I realized something that made me feel even better: At no point during the conversation with my son did he say anything negative. There was no "I hate this place" or "Get me out of here" or "I want to come home." This was the first "first phone call" from any rehab or hospital or three-quarter house my son has been in that didn't include him saying one of those things. He was totally positive throughout the entire call.

It was tough not hearing our son's voice for 11 days. But the phone call we got from him last night was well worth the wait. It was so amazing to hear him sound as good as he did. He really did sound like a totally different person. I know that might sound ridiculous, but it's the only way I can describe what I heard.

Obviously, my son is not "cured." In fact, he has a long way to go in his recovery, which will continue for the rest of his life. But the phone call from him last night was so incredibly uplifting. And it reassured my wife and I that he's in a good place, safe, clean and sober, and getting the help he needs.

That phone call last night? It might just be the best phone call I've ever gotten.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thank you to the angels

It's been 11 days since we put our son on a plane and sent him off to Michael's House Treatment Center in Palm Springs, California. It's something that had to happen. After a bizarre incident during our family vacation in northern Michigan, and some evidence of drug and alcohol use upon our return, my wife and I could see that things were spiraling out of control again for our son.

Prior to sending him to treatment, we finally gave him the ultimatum that we had previously failed to follow through on: either go to rehab or leave our house. After initially saying he'd go to rehab, our son slept a day away (literally a day; as in 24 hours), and then reneged, saying he could get clean on his own.

We told him that wasn't an option and that he would have to leave. He did leave, too, albeit reluctantly. He packed up a duffle bag and took off, on foot, for a friend's apartment. He asked for a ride (he doesn't drive), but we said no. He asked for some money, but we said no. It was hard to watch him leave with nothing, calling us names as he walked down the block. But as much as it hurt, for the first time in a long time we felt like we had taken control of OUR lives.

Our son was gone for a couple of days. He would text once in awhile to ask for money. Or to say he was hungry. Or that he needed cigarettes badly. But we stood our ground and told him his only option was to stay away or go to rehab. We had taken his house key, so we kept the doors locked, just in case he showed up back at the house. We weren't backing down. We had finally decided that enough was enough. Thankfully, a couple days later our son told us that he would go to treatment. So we let him come home.

While our son was gone, my wife and I had continued our search for a rehab facility, which had begun several days earlier when we first gave our son the ultimatum. For those of you who've never done it, finding a residential treatment center for your loved one is a little bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Only harder. Not only did we have to find a facility that was right for our son, but we had to find a facility that was insurance friendly. I know this might sound hard to believe, but insurance companies and substance abuse treatment don't really mix well.

We considered the place our son had gone to last time (Brighton Hospital, about an hour away), but they said our insurance company (still) didn't play nice with them. We also considered several other places scattered around the metro Detroit area and the state of Michigan. We even looked Hazelden in Minnesota, but insurance was an issue there as well. It was a total nightmare. My poor wife must've spent three straight days on the phone with rehab facilities, our insurance company, the HR rep at my job, and my son's therapist. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time online searching for places that could help our son. We needed to find somewhere to send him!

During this time, I had reached out to Ken Seeley, an interventionist who used to appear on the A&E TV show Intervention. Ken was my favorite interventionist on that show and I had friended him on Facebook a few years ago. I had even e-mailed him a year or so later when my son was struggling to see if he could help. At the time, he had me call a representative of his new company, Intervention 911, and we talked about possible treatment options for my son. Unfortunately, everything we talked about was just too expensive to consider.

This time I e-mailed Ken and asked him if he could recommend any treatment centers in Michigan that could help my son with his addiction and depression (known in the field as "co-occurring disorders"). Ken finally got back to me and told me that a place called Michael's House in Palm Springs, California, would be the perfect place for my son, and that I should call a gentleman with Foundations Recovery Network--the parent company of Michael's House and three other treatment centers. This man could help us, Ken said.

I was a bit surprised at Ken's e-mail. Palm Springs is 2,300 miles away, and after looking at Michael's House's website, I was pretty convinced that there was no way in hell we could send out son there. The cost would be a huge factor. But my wife and I decided to call the guy from Foundations Recovery Network (FRN) anyway, just to see what he had to say.

What transpired after that can only be described as some kind of miracle. Seriously. The guy at FRN was incredibly understanding and helpful. He knew exactly what we were going through and said that he could make treatment at Michael's House a reality for our son. Because of contracts FRN has with several insurance companies--including ours--the treatment at Michael's House could actually be affordable for us. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It was like we were put in touch with angels to guide us somewhere we'd never been before. FRN even talked to our insurance company and got confirmation that our son's treatment would indeed be covered. Not 100 percent, but to an extent that made the whole thing incredibly affordable for us.

After a couple of days of talking to our guardian angel at FRN, and waiting for a bed to open up at Michael's House, we got word that Tuesday, August 23rd--which was two days away--would be the day we'd be sending our son to Palm Springs.

The next hurdle, unfortunately, was finding a last-minute flight for him. Getting to Palm Springs isn't super easy to begin with, because their airport is so small. You have to take a flight to Phoenix or Salt Lake City or Denver, and then take a smaller plane to Palm Springs. I spent hours online looking at flight options and couldn't find one that worked. I was totally frustrated.

I sent our contact at FRN an e-mail to tell him I didn't know if we'd be able to get our son to Palm Springs on Tuesday. His response? "We have a great travel agent we work with. I'll get them on it right away." Again, it was like an angel was at work here. But it got even better. Our contact called my wife to tell her the travel agent could definitely get a flight for our son, and asked if we wanted them to book the flight for us. My wife said we had no problem with them booking the flight, but that the cost was a concern for us. (We didn't know if there would be a surcharge involved for getting a premium seat on a last-minute flight, or how much the flight would cost...or anything.) At that point, our FRN contact told my wife: "I talked to my boss and he said we can write the flight off." That's right. They were going to write the flight off. As in, they were going to pay for the flight. As in, flying our son to Palm Springs would cost us nothing. Not one penny.

I'm telling you, my wife and I were shocked. All of this was coming together like some kind of dream. The fact that there are people out there who want to help heal other people is so incredibly amazing. And we're so glad that we found them. It was like a tremendous weight had been lifted off our shoulders. And it felt like the first thing that had gone right for us in years. We cried, but this time we were crying tears of joy.

Our son arrived safely in Palm Springs late on Tuesday night, August 23rd. At the airport he was greeted by a representative of Michael's House, who transported him to the treatment center. Michael's House also called us--at about 1:45am our time--to let us know our son was safe and sound.

Eleven days later, my wife and I are happy to be hearing encouraging reports from our son's therapist at Michael's House. There were some bumps early on, but things seem to be going well now and we are cautiously optimistic. To know that our son is safe, in a treatment facility that specializes in co-occurring disorders, and in the hands of people who want to help him is such a wonderful feeling. It truly is.

Thank you to the angels who helped make this happen. You have no idea how appreciative we are.