Thursday, August 23, 2012

Heroes in Recovery guest blog post is live!

Today's the day my guest blog post for the Heroes in Recovery website went live. Here's the direct link to the post:

If you have a few minutes, please go read it. Share it on Facebook and Twitter. Comment on it. Rate it. Any way you can spread the word or give feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Since the guest blog post reveals my name, I guess my anonymity is gone for anyone who links to it from this blog. But I'm OK with that. The important thing is getting the word out and helping to break the stigma associated with addiction.

Thanks so much for your continued support.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Son #2 is heading north

We just received word today that our younger son (he's 16) was accepted into a wonderful therapeutic school in northern Michigan that specializes in teaching kids with ADD/ADHD. The last two years in public high school have been very difficult for him, even with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place. Yes, the school made certain accommodations for him; but he was still being taught in a mainstream classroom. And that type of learning didn't work for him.

The school he'll be attending this year is incredibly expensive. Even with a substantial amount of financial assistance, I'm not totally sure we'll be able to afford the tuition and board. But my wife and I are committed to getting our #2 son the best education possible. We don't want him to just skate by and barely pass in a public high school. We want educators who know how to teach ADHD kids to bring out the wealth of intelligence, creativity, and potential that lives inside our son.

After touring the school last week, our son said he thought going there could be "life changing" for him. My wife and I agree and are willing to make whatever sacrifices we have to in order to give him this opportunity. He'll be in a beautiful setting--right on the shores of Lake Michigan--and will be experiencing a unique, hands-on type of learning.

Gotta run now. We have to leave bright and early Friday morning to go up north, because we have to deliver our son to school on Saturday morning. That doesn't leave much time to shop for a boatload of things, pack, etc. This all happened so quickly. But we're so very glad it happened. (Although, as of Saturday afternoon my wife and I will be "empty nesters." That is going to be very strange.)

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." --Confucius

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Catching up

It's been a while since I've posted about my son, but in this instance, no news is good news. My son is doing quite well, staying clean, doing the things he's supposed to be doing at his sober living house, going to meetings, driving regularly (practicing so he can get his full-blown license), etc. He still doesn't have a regular full-time job, but he does occasionally work for the owner of his house, cleaning windows, painting, and doing other home maintenance work.

I've seen two major changes in my son since he's been back in Michigan. The first is increased self-esteem. This might sound silly to some, but my son actually posted a picture of himself smiling on his Facebook page the other night. When I saw it, I almost burst into tears. I think it's the first picture he's ever posted of himself where he has a smile on his face. To see it made me incredibly happy.

The other change I've seen in my son is maturity. Since returning from Georgia, my son seems to have matured quite a bit. I've mentioned it here before, but my son kind of got "stuck" emotionally at around age 15. This is not an uncommon thing among addicts. In fact, it's widely believed that a person's emotional age can indeed get stuck with drug use. Like this article says, "Emotional age is fluid and adjustable, unlike physical age which advances in a predictable way over time. People with drug and alcohol addiction often hold on to less mature ideas and behaviors that don’t enhance their life. When they use drugs and alcohol to cope with...problems, they stunt their emotional growth at that spot."

My son was stuck for a long time, but he seems to be learning how to handle adult situations better than he ever has before. He's also learning more about life in general. It feels like his emotional age is finally catching up with his chronological age. And believe me, that's a wonderful thing to see.

So that's my update. There have been a whole lot of other things going on in my life lately: Crazy stuff at work, my parents getting ready to move to a smaller apartment, refinancing a mortgage, looking for a new school for my younger son (who has ADHD issues), etc. Sure, things have been hectic and stressful, but I'm still doing my best to live in the moment and take things--and days--one at a time. Letting go of the resentment towards my dad has certainly helped set me free, too. I honestly never thought I'd be rid of that pain. A Facebook friend of mine posted a saying today that really said it all: "Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got."

Oh, one last thing: My guest blog post for the Heroes In Recovery website is now slated to go live this Thursday, August 23rd. I'm extremely excited about being "exposed" to a wider audience and will definitely share the link here when the post goes up.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shame on you, Mountain Dew

I stole the photo below from my son's Facebook page. He shared it along with the comment, "Srsly?"

This is just so wrong on so many levels. Very sad, I think. Mountain Dew is releasing a "Premium Malt Flavored," non-alcoholic version of its soda. (In case you aren't aware, Mountain Dew is very popular among kids.) I think it's safe to say that the can even looks like a beer can. Gee, this won't put young kids on the road to drinking alcoholic beverages at a young age, will it? I'm sorry, but this makes me sick. Shame on you, Mountain Dew.

I went to where they posted this photo on their Facebook page and left a negative comment about this new product. If you agree, I urge you to do the same. Here's the link to that page. I also plan on sending my opinion to PepsiCo, which is the company that owns the Mountain Dew brand. Here's a link to the Contact page at their website. They're going to get an earful from me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Better late than never

(Note: A version of this blog post appears on The Huffington Post's blog site as "Forgiving My Alcoholic Father: Better Late Than Never.")

Of all the blog posts I've sat down to write, this one might very well be the toughest. But I'm going to try and get through it. Ironically, this post has absolutely nothing to do with my son--who, by the way, seems to be doing fine right now. This post has to do with my 86-year-old father. I've mentioned my father in this blog a few times before, but I've never really discussed him in depth. So here's some background information.

For as long as I can remember, my father has been an alcoholic. Pretty much all of my childhood memories of him revolve around his drinking. I remember countless car rides where I was scared to death, wondering if I'd make it home alive because my dad was driving drunk. I remember running and hiding in my room when my dad came home from work because I knew that he would be drunk. I remember worrying that he would burn the house down when he passed out on the living room couch with a burning cigarette in his hand. (If I had a dollar for every time I tiptoed into the living room and very carefully took that cigarette out of his hand, I'd be rich.) I remember the multiple DUIs and the multiple parked cars he hit while driving drunk. (Thank God he never hurt anyone.) And I remember him calling me and asking me to come bail him out of jail after his last DUI (which I did).

I remember never being able to have friends sleep over at my house as a kid because of the potential embarrassment and humiliation I would feel if my dad came home drunk and passed out in the living room, snoring and gurgling and coughing like he did. I remember the time friends dropped me off at home late one night and we found my dad sitting in his car in the driveway. The driver's door was open, the car was running, and my dad had one leg out of the car. But he was passed out. I remember telling my friends that night that my dad must have been really tired from a long day at work. I don't know if they bought that explanation or not.

I remember being in restaurants and watching my dad down two or three Club Manhattans on the rocks before he even opened a menu. I remember one particular instance when my dad got into a shouting match with my mom at a restaurant. He actually stood up at the table and started yelling, creating quite a scene. My mom and I got up and left. We took a cab home.

I remember the giant bottles of Canadian Club whiskey my dad used to buy. And the office lamps he had them made into after they were empty. There was also the "OUT FOR A GLASS OF LUNCH" sign on his desk. And the fact that he spent a good portion of his work day--he owned his own business--at the bar down the street, where his secretary would call him if anything came up.

I remember when my wife-to-be had to move out of the place she was living in and I told her she should come live with me at my parents' house until we could find a place of our own. I was terrified at the notion of her living under the same roof as my dad, but I am very grateful that she understood and put up with it--and him--for several months.

I think you get the idea by now. In my mind, my father robbed me of my childhood, and even some of my early adulthood. We never really had a relationship. And over the years, what relationship we did have became more and more strained. For a long time, I hated my father. Hate is a strong word, but that is truly how I felt. I resented growing up without a father, even though I technically had one. I wouldn't want to talk to him or see him. The phone would ring, the Caller ID would show my dad's number, and I wouldn't answer. Or call him back. If I called my parents' house and my dad answered, I would often times hang up. That's how bad things were between us.

A lot of my resentment also stemmed from a period several years ago when my dad got sober for a while and got very active in Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, he never did anything about Steps Eight and Nine, which tell the alcoholic that they should make a list of all the people they have harmed, be willing to make amends to them all, and make direct amends to such people whenever possible. I never got any kind of apology from my father. Never. Ever. Even to this day.

I discussed my issues with my father many times with my therapist, my wife, other family members, and even a few friends. A lot of them told me that I should reach out to my father and try to repair the relationship, and that if I didn't I would regret it someday. But I just couldn't accept the suggestion that I should be the one to make the first move. After all, I did nothing wrong. My dad ruined my childhood and it was up to me to fix our relationship? That made no sense to me. (For the record, my therapist told me it was strictly up to me, and that I had to decide what to do based on how I felt.)

Fast forward to June of this year. My dad went to the Veteran's Hospital in Detroit for a routine check-up. They found some irregularities in his heartbeat and blood pressure and decided to keep him overnight for observation. To make a long story short, he ended up being in the hospital for a couple of weeks, during which time the doctors also detoxed him from alcohol. Unfortunately, while he was hospitalized my dad started suffering from dementia (possibly brought on by the detox). This was an incredibly sad development, and all I could think about was that I had probably missed my chance at any type of reconciliation. I was okay with that--I really didn't have much choice--but it still made me sad.

From the hospital, my dad went to an extended care facility for rehab and physical therapy. It was hard for me, but I went to visit him several times. He was "different" during these visits. Me, my wife, my siblings, and my mom all recognized this. He was a kinder, gentler person, and a soft side of his personality that we hadn't seen before--or at least in a very long time--came out. Even so, he would be having a normal conversation with us and then suddenly switch over to telling us some nonsensical story that he thought was real. My heart would break when this would happen. But we all just went along with it and accepted that things would be different now.

My dad spent four weeks at the extended care facility and when it was time for him to be released my mom asked me if I would help her get him home. I would do anything for my mom, so I agreed to help her. I also took my son with me, just in case I needed more help. To be honest, none of us really knew how physically able my dad would be; and my parents live in a second story flat. I had visions of possibly having to carry my father up the stairs, which I was more than willing to do if it was necessary.

To my surprise, though, when my son and I arrived at the facility, my dad was much more fit than I thought he would be. He could stand up and walk on his own, although the nurse made him ride out to the car in a wheelchair just to be safe.

When we arrived at my parents' house, my dad insisted on trying to get out of the car and up the stairs by himself. Amazingly, he was able to do just that. My son and I followed behind him as he negotiated the stairway. But he made it all the way without any problems. My mom even told him that he handled the stairs better than he did before he went into the hospital.

My dad sat down in "his spot" on the couch and my son and I went down to the car to get all of his  belongings. We brought everything upstairs and before we left I found the strength to actually sit down on the couch next to my dad. I told him I was glad he was feeling better and that he looked much better to me. This is where things get a little bizarre.

My father looked me in the eye and thanked me for helping him get home. "I can always count on you," he told me. "You're always around when I need you. I appreciate that." After hearing that, I stood up, gave my dad a big hug, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "I love you." And as I let go of him and moved away from him, I felt something very strange happen. It's impossible to describe exactly how it felt, but in that moment I could feel an incredible weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I felt all the resentment and hatred and negative feelings about my dad disappear. And suddenly, I was at peace.

Some of you reading that last paragraph might think I'm crazy. In fact, for a couple of days I thought I might be crazy. Which is why I waited to tell my wife what I had felt. I wanted to see if I still felt that way after some time had passed. And I did. So I eventually told my wife and sent an e-mail to my sisters and my mom. I told them that I was alright with everything now.

Forty-plus years of resentment and hatred towards my father, and it all disappeared in what my wife might describe as a "God moment." (By the way, it's just a coincidence that my dad's initials are G.O.D.) I never thought it would happen. Never. Ever. I always thought my dad would die and I would feel the resentment and hatred until the day I died. But that's all changed now. Better late than never.

"Make the call. Send the card. Bury the grudge." --Regina Brett (from her book Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Next stop: Heroes in Recovery

Just wanted to share some exciting news. I've been asked by an amazing organization called "Heroes in Recovery" to be a guest blogger on their website. Heroes in Recovery "celebrates the heroic efforts of those who seek the addiction and mental health help they need without feeling ashamed or isolated." Evidently, these folks follow my blog and like it. So they asked me to write a blog post for them.

I must say, getting asked to do this was quite humbling. When I started my blog, it was primarily just to have an outlet to share my feelings. I had been keeping a journal for quite some time, but having my thoughts collected in a Word document seemed strange. I decided to start blogging instead, on the off chance that maybe someone else might benefit from reading about my experiences as the parent of an addict. I figured if I could help just one person, it would be worth it. But I never expected something like this to happen.

Thanks so much to the wonderful people at Heroes in Recovery for giving me an opportunity. I am truly grateful. You can look for my guest blog sometime in late August, I believe. Or maybe September. (I guess the first thing I have to do is actually write the piece!) I hope I don't disappoint.

In the meantime, I urge you to pay a visit to Heroes in Recovery and check out their great site. They do truly fabulous things.

FYI, this is their launch video. Check it out, too.