Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy 24th birthday

My son turned 24 today. That might not seem like a big deal to some, but it is to me. Because for a while, not too many years ago, I wasn't sure if he'd make it to 20. The fact that he's 24, clean and sober, and gainfully employed...well, let's just say that I believe in miracles now.

Last night we celebrated his birthday with a casual dinner at our house. It was me and my wife, our son and his lovely girlfriend, and my mom. We had a great time. My, how things have changed over the last 17 months.

Happy birthday, son. I love you. Forever and ever, no matter what (as your brother would say). I'm so damn proud of how far you've come and I can't wait to see how far you'll go.

"Old man take a look at my life / Twenty-four and there's so much more..." --Neil Young

Monday, December 2, 2013

17 months

My son is 17 months clean and sober today.

If you are reading this and have a child who suffers from addiction, please don't ever give up hope.

Miracles can--and do--happen.

Keep the faith.

"Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty." --Brené Brown

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hello, December

Wow. Today is the first day of December and I'm still trying to figure out where the first 11 months of 2013 went. It amazes me how quickly time goes by these days. I think it's a symptom of old age.

My family had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It started out at 7:00am with us attending an Alcoholics Anonymous "Thanksgiving Gratitude Meeting." I'm so grateful that my son invited us to accompany him to this open meeting for the second year in a row. Words cannot express how moving this gathering was. A couple of hundred people in one room, a microphone being passed around, and everyone taking a minute to express their gratitude. There's really nothing like it.

Afterwards, we came home and I cooked a big Turkey Day meal that my mom and two of my siblings came over and shared with us. (In the interest of full disclosure, I cooked everything except the mashed potatoes. My wife is the mashed potatoes expert.)

I suppose now all of the attention shifts to Christmas, which will be here before we know it. I'm not sure how much gift-giving will take place in my family this year. Everyone seems to have enough "stuff." I think making charitable donations in honor of the people we care about might be the way to go. There are so many people out there who are more in need than we are.

It's funny. I remember making long Christmas lists when I was a kid. Going through the Sears catalog, looking at the toys and sports equipment, and neatly writing out everything I wanted to see under the tree on Christmas morning. Those are great memories and I remember the joy I felt just making those lists. It didn't really matter if I got everything I asked for. In fact, I never expected to. But the anticipation of getting just some of the things I wanted was so exhilarating.

Fast forward to this year. My Christmas list for 2013 will be exactly the same as my Christmas list for 2012: There will be nothing on it. For the second consecutive year, there isn't anything I want or need. My older son is clean and sober. My younger son is at a school that fits his needs. I have the most incredible wife in the world. My mom, who is 82 going on 52, is healthy and full of energy. My siblings are great. And our three cats, who are a huge part of the family, bring us such happiness.

I am grateful for all that I have in my life. A new TV, an iPad, or a new pair of gloves isn't going to make me any more grateful. Life isn't about how much stuff or money you have. It's about the people you have in your life and the love you have for each other. It's about what you do to help other people. It's about being yourself and not trying to live up to the expectations that other people and society in general have for you.

Try to remember that this holiday season and you might just feel a little bit more joy than usual.

Peace.

"Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are." --Marianne Williamson

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A to Z Gratitude List

I saw someone mention an A to Z Gratitude List online and thought to myself, Why not? With tomorrow being Thanksgiving and all, I thought this would be a good exercise. So, here we go...

A = Anne Lamott. Her writing inspires me. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. Her books are my owner's manuals for life.

B = Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, by David Sheff. I still consider this the best book I've ever read and the book that literally saved my life. When I read this book, my life was a mess. I had been taken over by my own son's addiction. Beautiful Boy made me realize that I had to stop being addicted to my son's addiction and start working on my own recovery.

C = Cats. Our three cats--Mickey, Ryan, and Elliott--bring so much joy into our lives. They are members of our family and there are no words to describe the therapeutic effect they have had on all of us.

D = Dad. We had an almost non-existent relationship for years, but I'm so glad that I was able to forgive him and reconnect with him during the last few months of his life. I miss him every day.

E = Edwards, Kathleen. Her music has been such a huge part of my life from the moment I heard her first record. They say that music is the healing force, and Kathleen Edwards's music has been there to help me and my wife through a lot of difficult and painful times, when we needed "A Soft Place to Land." To top it off, the woman has such a good soul. There have been other musicians who have helped us heal, too: Rickie Lee Jones, Jim Bryson, Matthew Ryan, Ryan Adams, Hannah Georgas, The Bergamot, and a few more. But Kathleen is at the top of the list.

F = Friends and Family. Despite what a lot of people may think, I'm kind of an introvert and don't have a lot of friends I hang out with. But I have some great ones, both locally and abroad. I also have so many incredible online friends, some of whom I've never even met. (Someday, people. Someday.) And what can I say about my family? Such support and compassion from all of them.

G = Grace. I have experienced grace to the nth degree over the last few years. "I do not understand the mystery of grace--only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us." --Anne Lamott

H = Hope. If it wasn't important to me, I wouldn't have the word tattooed on my left forearm. "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott

I = In-Laws. My wife's parents have been so helpful to us over the years. They are both so kind and generous. If it wasn't for their support and generosity, we probably wouldn't have the house we're living in. Or the car we're driving. Or pants. (Just kidding about the pants, but you get the idea.)

J = Josh. My younger son. He is such a bright spot in our lives. He's intelligent, funny, a great writer, and has a heart of gold. He's been through so much in his almost 18 years, including a lot of stuff he didn't sign up for. But he still manages to have a great attitude. And he still says, "I love you, dad," followed by his trademark phrase "Forever and ever. No matter what."

K = Kathy. My wife. The most amazing woman on the planet. My rock. My best friend. The glue that holds our family together. The girl I knew I wanted to marry from the first time I saw her. I am so lucky to have her. Twenty-five years of marriage and ready for twenty-five more.

L = Leelanau School. What can I say about the best high school on the planet? If it wasn't for the Leelanau School and its incredible teachers and staff, I don't know where my younger son would be right now. Finding this amazing school, which specializes in teaching kids with ADHD and other learning disabilities, has been such a blessing. (It doesn't hurt that it's located in one of the most beautiful spots in America either.)

M = Mom. My mom is also a pretty amazing woman. She's 82 going on 52 and has always been supportive of me. No matter what I do or what curve balls life throws at me, my mom is there to tell me it will all work out. And she's usually right.

N = Neighbors. This one sounds kind of simple, but we have such great neighbors. On both sides and across the street. Great neighbors are sometimes  few and far between. Trust me. We've had our share of horrible neighbors over the years. So it's really nice to have great ones.

O = Openness. I am so thankful that I've been able to go through my son's journey with an openness and transparency that allows me to share my experiences with others. Keeping my emotions bottled up inside would've eaten me alive.

P = Pizza. I love pizza. A lot. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life. I don't eat as much of it as I once did because I've been watching my calories more closely over the last few years, but I still love it. Pizza makes everything better.

Q = Quotes. I love inspirational quotes. I comb the Internet for them and highlight them in books that I read. I also post them on Facebook and Twitter and in my e-mail signature. Reading a good inspirational quote can help me get through a tough day or just make me think about life.

R = Recovery. My son's recovery is one of the greatest gifts I've been given. So is my own recovery. And my wife's recovery. And our family's recovery. We are living in the moment, one day at a time.

S = Sam. My older son. He's so smart, talented, and caring. I can't imagine going through everything he's gone through over the last eight years or so. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But I am so proud that he has come through it and is in recovery. He's one of the strongest "kids" I know. I'm so happy that he has a job and a girlfriend who is head-over-heels in love with him. He's come such a long way.

T = Treatment. If it hadn't been for the treatment my son received for his addiction, it's hard to say where he'd be right now. Treatment works. Maybe not for everybody and maybe not the first time, but it works. I'm grateful we had access to it and wish that everyone who wanted/needed treatment could get it without the issues that so often make the process so incredibly difficult.

U = Up North. The beauty of northern Michigan--"Up North" to Michiganders--is so stunning that unless you've seen it in person, you can't truly appreciate. To be able to get away to see such beauty on a regular basis makes me feel so fortunate. It's so great to have friends and family who live up there so that we can visit without breaking our budget. And the fact that my younger son goes to school up there? Icing on the cake.

V = Volunteering. Being able to volunteer for organizations like The Partnership at Drugfree.org, as part of their National Parent Network, allows me to feel like I'm giving back to the addiction/recovery community. I've developed a passion for helping others who are experiencing what I have experienced.

W = Writing. I know I'm not the best writer in the world, but writing is therapy for me. This blog has helped me so much over the last few years. Getting my "stuff" out into the open, knowing that maybe someone out there might benefit from reading what I've gone through. That's huge to me.

X = X-Ray Vision. Okay. So I don't really have x-ray vision. But I don't have a xylophone either. And I couldn't think of an "X" word that I'm grateful for.

Y = Yarn. My wife is a power knitter and crocheter. She gets such joy out of creating things from yarn. And she donates a huge percentage of what she makes to charity. There is yarn everywhere in our house: in closets, in drawers, in the freezer. But that's okay, because it gives my wife such pleasure.

Z = Zoloft. Interesting that the last thing on my gratitude list is a drug. But I suffered from major depression for many years and tried just about every anti-depressant out there. None of them worked. Until I tried Zoloft. I've been on it for a few years and it's really helped me.

The cats: Mickey, Ryan, and Elliott.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving is coming

As I lie in bed writing this blog post, Thanksgiving 2013 is still four days away. But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it a lot already. After all, my wife and I attended an amazing Thanksgiving Feast at our younger son's school this past Thursday. And we bought our way-too-big turkey at Trader Joe's yesterday. Today we'll make our final shopping list so we can start picking up the rest of the things we'll need to cook our own Thanksgiving feast on Thursday.

We will definitely be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in our house. Big time. You can count on that. And this is the second year in a row that the day will be just a little bit more meaningful for us. You can count on that, too. Because this will be the second consecutive Thanksgiving that our son will be clean and sober.

Unless you have had an addict child, there's no way you can feel what my wife and I feel these days. After years of living a nightmare almost every single day, and just going through the motions at holiday time, we are finally able to appreciate and give thanks. Not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.

Yes, Thanksgiving is still the fourth Thursday of November, just like it's always been (well, at least since Congress made it law in 1941). And you should get together with your families this week and celebrate the big day. But you should also remember to be grateful the other 364 days of the year, too. Despite what the calendar may say, every day should be Thanksgiving. Just because you're not eating turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie doesn't mean you can't give thanks for all the wonderful things in your life, no matter how small.

"Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back." --Anne Lamott (from her book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers) [Note: I know I have posted this quote before, but it is so meaningful to me I had to post it again.]

P.S. This will be my first Thanksgiving without my dad, who passed away in February. It will definitely be different. Despite the many years of pain he and his alcoholism caused me, I did make peace with him shortly before he passed, and I truly miss him now. A couple of weeks ago, I was outside raking leaves in the backyard, turned my head, and could've sworn I saw my dad standing there. (The mind works in mysterious ways.) Yesterday I spent the afternoon putting his Army patches and medals on display in a shadow box, which I will give to my mom today. I also put the Bible that was issued to my dad by the Army in October of 1944 in a special place. I am truly thankful that we reconciled before he left us.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Love this quote

From Anne Lamott's new book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair...

"When we try to see a damaged person as one of God's regular old customers, instead of a lost cause, it takes the pressure off everybody. We can then loosen our death grip on the person, which usually results in progress for everyone, also known in certain circles as grace."

Amen.

Thank you, Anne.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Goodbye to a four-wheeled friend

This past Monday I took our 2002 Pontiac Montana minivan in for service because the heater hadn't been working right for a week or so. When I turned the heat on, I'd get cold air. I discovered if I fiddled around with all the heater/fan controls like a little kid trying to break them, warm air would eventually start blowing. But then it would stop just as soon as it started. Not a good thing with winter approaching.

So I took the car--affectionately known as "Tony Montana"--to the dealership's service department and explained the funkiness that was going on with it. The service advisor said they'd check it out and give me a call. "Could be the thermostat," he told me. "Or something with the heater core. Or it could be the controls. It's hard to say."

As I walked home from the dealership, I had six blocks or so to start "running the numbers" in my head. Since I know absolutely nothing about cars, my "calculations" were anything but that. I was simply trying to answer the "How much is this going to cost me??" question. A hundred bucks? Two hundred? Three hundred? I really had no idea. I just didn't want it to be a big number because things are always tight financially in my world.

When I got home I Googled "Pontiac Montana heater core repair" and found some site that estimated the cost at about $600.00. Ouch. That was not what I wanted to see. But I remained cautiously optimistic and got my work day started while I awaited the call from the dealership.

A few hours later, I got that (as it turned out) dreaded call. You know it's bad when the service guy starts out the conversation with "I don't think any of these things are things you're gonna want to take care of." Ohhhhhhh, shit.

He then proceeded to tell me all of the "things" that were contributing to my heater not working properly. The radiator was leaking. The head gasket was leaking. The intake manifold was leaking. Something called a bypass tube was also just about shot. And, as a special bonus, whatever the power steering fluid runs through? That was leaking, too.

As the patient's diagnosis was recited to me over the phone, my heart sank. "This is it," I thought. "This is the end of this car." Mr. Goodwrench finally told me that he ran a rough estimate of what the repairs would cost and came up with something in the neighborhood of $4,000.00. "But it could be more," he added, because the car was old and deteriorating and once you get in there and start messing with stuff...well, then other stuff can break, too.

I was heartsick. I know: A car is just a car. But we got that minivan in December of 2001. Almost 12 years ago. It was a part of the family. It took us all over. To Florida and back for an awesome vacation. To the Little League Great Lakes Regional tournament in Indianapolis after my son's team won the Michigan state tournament. To my wife's family cottage in Canada many times. To New York several times, to visit my sister and for weddings. Hell, my younger son grew up in that car.

It was indeed like losing a member of the family. That car held sooo many memories. Including one of the worst memories of my life: When my wife and I drove our son to rehab while he was in the throes of heroin withdrawal. I'll never forget seeing him in the back seat, shivering, shaking, sweating, and moaning from the pain. It was all so surreal. (That is definitely one memory I hope will fade away someday.)

So after 12 years and 182,717 miles, Tony Montana was toast. I thanked the service advisor for the call, hung up the phone, let my wife know the bad news, and then called Volunteers of America to tell them I had a car to donate. Hopefully they can get some money out of it. After all, I just put a brand new set of tires on the car in August (ouch). At the very least, maybe they can sell the thing for parts and help some needy people out.

When they came to pick up the car last night, I got a little choked up. I watched the tow truck driver load Tony onto the flat bed and all the memories of my family's times in that car raced through my head again. Except that one. Oh, it tried to sneak in. But I wouldn't let it.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Change = Courage

One day last week I changed the signature on both of my personal e-mail accounts to a quote from Anne Lamott's book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers:

"If we stay where we are, where we're stuck, where we're comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you're dying. You're saying: Leave me alone; I don't mind this little rathole. It's warm and dry. Really, it's fine."

I added that quote as my e-mail signature because it spoke to me. For much of my life, I was a person who hated any kind of change and was afraid to take any risks. I was, as a dear friend of mine would say, a "settler," as opposed to a "pioneer."

Doing what was safe and the "sure thing" was nice and comfortable for me. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? I was a full-blown cheerleader for the status quo.

My son's addiction and depression changed me, though. When you discover that you're the parent of an addict, the status quo gets dumped in a blender and pureed like the squash soup I make every Thanksgiving.

When you're the parent of an addict, pretty much everything that was "normal" isn't anymore. And you realize you have to adapt and change; not just the way you live and the things you do, but the way you think, too. You have to step outside of your comfort zone, be willing to try new things, listen to advice from others, admit and accept that things you thought in the past might be totally wrong, and roll the dice once in a while. Goodbye, "settler." Hello, "pioneer."

Yes, I have been changed by my son's issues. But, believe it or not--as I've written before--it's been a change for the better. I am no longer "stuck" and am no longer a "victim" of comfort and safety. I can accept change, and little things that used to bother me so much--e.g., Is the air pressure in my car's four tires equal? Is the little scratch on that new CD I just bought going to make it skip someday?--don't bother me at all. (If you think those examples are ridiculous, I invite you to ask my wife how much I used to totally obsess over them.)

My son is 15-1/2 months clean and sober. It's been a long, difficult road; not only for him, but for me, my wife, and our younger son, too. But I am a better person because of my son's depression and addiction. I'm no longer a mushroom, living in the dark, with poop up to my chin.

By the way, a couple of days after I added that Anne Lamott quote to my e-mail signature, my amazing mother called me to talk about it. She said she had opened up her copy of Help, Thanks, Wow that morning and happened to turn to the exact page on which that quote appeared. She reminded me what the quote continued on to say:

"When nothing new can get in, that's death. When oxygen can't find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing--we had this all figured out, and now we don't.

"New is life."

Eight years ago, before my son's journey began, I would've read that entire quote and been so scared I probably would've run and hidden under my bed. But today? Those words--especially "New is life"--give me courage that I've never had before.

(Note: Anne Lamott quotes are Copyright © 2012 by Anne Lamott.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

15 months

This past Tuesday marked 15 months of sobriety for my son.

He is doing so well right now: clean and sober, working a lot of hours at a job he likes, living with a great woman he is totally in love with (and vice versa), and maturing more emotionally every day. It all makes me smile and tear up at the same time.

As I posted on Facebook the other day..."Today I can honestly say I am at peace with myself and my life. Just two years ago, I could never have envisioned where I am now." I am so incredibly grateful.

If you are the parent of an addict, don't ever give up. Good things can happen.

"The movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace." --Anne Lamott

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One day at a time x 1,826 = 5 years sober

Back in September of 2008, I sat in a family therapy session at Brighton Recovery Center with my son and my wife. My son was 18 at the time and in treatment for heroin addiction.

During that family session the therapist looked at me and strung together a 10-word sentence that would end up being some of the greatest advice anyone has ever given me. Advice that would change my life forever:

"Be the change you want to see in your son."

Her message? Don't tell your son not to self-medicate if you yourself are self-medicating with wine or beer or bourbon to take the edge off after a long day of work. Or when you're feeling stressed. Or just for "fun" on weekends. Or at parties. Etc.

Her words hit me like a ton of bricks. I would do anything to help my son in his recovery and quitting drinking seemed like a very small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.

Fast forward 1,826 days: Today I celebrate five years of sobriety.

Being sober has made me a better person. I am more in touch with reality. I've lost a lot of weight and am healthier. I've saved money. I'm happier. I feel much more positive than I ever have before. And--best of all--I've set an example not only for my older son, but for my younger son as well.

I thank that therapist at Brighton for changing my life. Sobriety is only as dull as you make it, people. Not drinking doesn't mean not living. In fact, life without alcohol is...

LIFE.

"We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be." --Anne Lamott

Monday, September 2, 2013

14

My son is 14 months clean and sober today.

Every day is a gift from God.

For those of you who have children battling addiction: I pray for all of you every day and night.

Keep your hope alive.

Don't give up.

Things can get better.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fighting another battle

I've found myself fighting another battle with another store that just doesn't seem to understand anything about prescription drug abuse. (Remember the Urban Outfitters fight?)

They are actually selling shirts that resemble football jerseys. Except instead of a player's name above the number on the back, they've emblazoned the shirts with "ADDERALL," "XANAX," and "VICODIN." They're charging $58.00 for a t-shirt and $98.00 for a sweatshirt.

I was going to post a photo of the shirts, but decided not to. I don't want to give them any more exposure than they've already had.

I have worked tirelessly over the last several days fighting against these ridiculous, sickening shirts and the store selling them.

After contacting the pharmaceutical companies that own the registered trademarks to Adderall, Xanax, and Vicodin, I am confident that legal action will be taking place. And that "big pharma" will prevail. (Crazy how I'm actually rooting for big pharma, isn't it?)

The store selling these shirts has no absolutely no clue what they're doing. It's so sad.

If you're on Facebook and want to help support my fight, please go to the page I created and "Like" and "Share" it. There is power in numbers.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FACEBOOK PAGE

Why am I fighting this fight? Because of messages like these three, which I received via the Facebook page I created:

"this [is] totally absurd.....and just plain wrong.....to glamorize drugs and drug abuse in any way is just evil. my daughter was addicted to vicodin and soma. her 31st birthday is in a few days...too bad she has been dead for 2 years leaving behind a then 5 year old daughter at the time. I am outraged!!!!"

"Thank you for this page. My stepson died of an overdose in 2011 and these shirts are absolutely horrendous. Not only did it take him away from us, but almost destroyed our marriage. It has been hard and we are just now starting to learn how to live with the pain. He had other substances as well as prescription drugs in his system. They should be ashamed of themselves."

"You are doing a wonderful thing with your page and your fight. I don't know you, but I truly appreciate what you are doing. My cousin passed 9/25/10 at 31 from prescription overdose. I know some people will never understand the fight that is in all of us that have loved ones that battle this disease. But please, keep up the great work. You are making a difference."

Enough said.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The poetry of Anis Mojgani

This is one of those blog posts that has absolutely nothing to do with my son's addiction or recovery; and everything to do with my recovery.

During my recovery I have had "help" from a few incredibly gifted and talented people. Most of these people are either authors (David Sheff, Anne Lamott) or musicians (Kathleen Edwards, Ryan AdamsMatthew Ryan, Jim Bryson, Hannah Georgas, The Bergamot, Rickie Lee Jones). Their works have had such a positive effect on me and my life and have helped me navigate my way through some very tumultuous times.

But there is also a poet who has moved me and helped me in ways I can't explain. His words and attitude on life speak to me like they are coming from some higher place. That poet is Anis Mojgani.

I first became aware of Anis's poetry when I saw this video of him performing his poem "Shake the Dust" as part of the To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) "Heavy and Light" tour:



I watched that performance over and over again. My mind was blown.

I then started watching every performance of Anis's that I could find online. I bought his books from Amazon. I started reading his blog. I became convinced that Anis Mojgani is a gift from God.

On Februay 13th of this year, me, my wife, and our younger son--who is big into poetry--went to the TWLOHA "Heavy and Light" show at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit. The whole show was great. Stories and music with a positive message, full of inspiration. "Songs, conversation, and hope." But the highlight for me was definitely Anis Mojgani's performances. Seeing him perform live made his poetry even more moving. It was breathtaking.

After the show, we had the pleasure of meeting Anis, who won back-to-back titles in the National Individual Poetry Slam in 2005 and 2006. Standing next to him I felt like I was in the presence of greatness. Because I was.


If you like poetry at all--or even if you don't think you do--I highly recommend that you check out the work of Anis Mojgani. There's no doubt that his words have made a difference in my life. Maybe they'll make a difference in yours, too.

Here's a great video of Anis performing several of his poems. Check it out. I think you'll like what you hear and see.



"So when the world knocks at your door, clutch the knob tightly and open on up. And run forward. Run forward as fast and as far as you must. Run into its widespread greeting arms with your hands outstretched before you, fingertips trembling though they may be." --Anis Mojgani, from "Shake the Dust" (from the book Songs from Under the River: Early & New Work, © 2013 by Anis Mojgani).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Four years and six days later

Four years and six days ago, I wrote a blog post entitled "I miss my son."

It was a poem of sorts, and I remember how it hurt like hell--and then some--to write it. I remember crying the whole time I was typing. It came from my heart, though, and I had to get it out.

Last night I revisited that post and cried again. But this time I cried tears of happiness.

The reasons for my happiness lie in this excerpt from that post:

Ask me what one thing I would wish for if given the chance.
It's such an easy question to answer:
I want my son back.

I want him to feel happiness.
I want him to feel at ease.
I want him to feel wanted.
I want him to feel like he belongs.
I want him to laugh.
I want him to love.
I want him to live.
I want him to be free of the demons that seem to haunt him.

I read that passage over and over and over again last night.

Then I realized: Four years and six days later...

My son feels happiness.
My son feels at ease.
My son feels wanted.
My son feels like he belongs.
My son laughs.
My son is in love.
My son is living.
My son appears to be free of the demons that haunted him.

And best of all?

I believe I have my son back.

"Don't give up, don't ever give up." --Jim Valvano

Monday, August 19, 2013

GUTS

During the last several years, I've read more books about addiction than I can remember. Scientific books, self-help books, memoirs, books about rehabs, etc. If there's a book out there about addiction, chances are I've read it. Or it's on a bookshelf waiting for me to read it because my wife and I have our own little addiction library at home.

The other day, on a day off from work, I finished reading one of the better memoirs I've read. In fact, I read the entire book in one sitting, which is unheard of for me. (I'm a pretty slow reader. I'm a perfectionist and I like to read slowly so I make sure I don't miss anything. It's a sickness, really.)

The book that had me hooked right from the Foreword--and made me spend most of my day off on the family room couch--is GUTS: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster by Kristen Johnston.


Johnston is an actress who is probably best known for her Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Sally Solomon in the late-'90s/early '00s comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun. She currently stars as Holly Franklin in the TV Land comedy The Exes. She's also a recovering addict.

GUTS is an incredibly honest, sobering (pun intended), and hilarious memoir. Hilarious in parts for sure, thanks to Johnston's wicked sense of self-deprecating humor. But the book is very serious, too. After all, addiction in and of itself isn't really funny.

One of the most serious and honest parts of the book takes place while Johnston is hospitalized in England on New Year's eve 2006:

"....I heard a loud bang. Because I'm from New York City, I almost ignored it, assuming it was just someone being murdered. Then, out of the corner of my eye, a burst of orange. I looked up from my bed out the window, and I saw the most glorious, enormous splashes of color lighting up the skyline. Fireworks! I could even hear the 'oohs' and the 'aahs' floating up from the celebrating crowd.

To this day I don't know exactly why, but for some mysterious reason, this was the moment that sanity finally chose to break through the madness that had held me in its iron grip for so many years. With no warning, I was struck by this thought:

There are people in that crowd who are looking at the same fireworks I am right this very second who are STONE COLD SOBER. There are people in that crowd who don't feel the need to touch the back pocket of their jeans constantly to make sure the six pills are still there. There are people in that crowd who are simply enjoying the spectacle, without wondering if they have one refill left at the pharmacy, or if they would have to call yet another doctor. There are people out there RIGHT NOW who are with their loved ones and are just happy to be alive.

Grief overwhelmed me. True, real sorrow not for me, but for finally seeing the truth of what I was. A selfish, self-serving, loathsome creature who did nothing to better the world. I finally truly felt the weight of all the pain I had caused, all the tears that had been wasted on me, all the gifts that had been given to me that I had just carelessly frittered away, and all of the thousands of hours I had spent obsessing about something as ridiculous, boring, and stupid as me. 

I don't want this life anymore, I thought. I can't bear who I've become."

---------------------------------------

That's some powerful stuff, isn't it?

So is this, which is my favorite passage from the book:

"I knew that I needed to start accepting that I was me--and I needed to do it pronto--because life, it is short. And the very notion of spending the rest of my life still desperately wishing I was anyone but me? Unacceptable."

Take it from me: GUTS is a book you'll start reading and won't be able to put down. And when you're finished with it, you'll admire the hell out of Kristen Johnston for putting her addiction, her life, and her soul "out there" for everyone to see. And for helping to break the stigma associated with addiction. ("I believe, without a doubt, that the shame and secrecy that shroud the disease are just as deadly as the disease itself," she says in the book's Epilogue.)

It should also be pointed out that Kristen has donated a portion of the book's proceeds to SLAM (Sobriety Learning And Motivation), a group she formed that is dedicated to starting the first sober high school in New York City/New York State. You can learn more about SLAM at SLAMNYC.org.



"Silence equals death.

I won't stay silent any longer.

I hope you won't either."


(Note: Excerpts from GUTS are © 2012 by Kristen Johnston. All rights reserved. You can follow Kristen on Twitter at @kjothesmartass; visit the GUTS website at http://www.gutsthebook.com/; or preview and buy the book--and read its terrific reviews--at Amazon.com.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Did I just say that?

"My son's addiction has made me a better person."

Wait, what?? Did I just say that???

Actually, no. I just typed that. But I did say it yesterday during a discussion with the headmaster of my younger son's school. And it was the first time I had ever said it to anyone. Including myself. It just came out.

And you know what? It's true.

First of all, let me be crystal clear: As I've said before, being the parent of an addict is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. It's not something you ever think about when you have kids.

My hopes and dreams for my older son were definitely in another "bucket." That bucket contained academic and athletic excellence, graduating from high school, going to college, graduating from college, etc., etc., etc. I imagine my dreams for him were the same dreams almost every parent has for their children.

But someone up above had other plans for my son...and for my wife and me.

When I first learned that addiction had overtaken my child, it was pretty much a nightmare. I thought it was a curse. The reason? Because I used to be one of "those people" who believed the stigma that is so frequently associated with addiction. I thought heroin addicts couldn't possibly come from a decent, middle-class, suburban family. I thought that a heroin addict wasn't a worthy member of society.

Boy, was I wrong. And I got educated in a hurry.

I will never say that my son's heroin addiction was a blessing. That would be a ridiculous statement. Certainly I would rather be living a more "normal" life, with memories of my son's high school and college graduations locked away in my mind instead of memories of dishonesty, stealing, heroin withdrawal, rehabs, and the like. That said, though, my son's addiction has turned out--to this point, anyway--to be far less of a curse than I initially thought it would be.

Being the parent of an addict has made me a more cognizant, sympathetic, empathetic, forgiving, caring, understanding, grateful person. It's made me appreciate the little things in life and made me more aware that I should live in the moment instead of worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. (One day at a time, right?)

This might sound kind of twisted to some people, but being the father of an addict has made the current me much kinder and gentler than the me that existed before my son's addiction. Not only am I more willing to help people, I want to help people. I want people who are going through experiences similar to those I went through to know that things can work out. There is no guarantee, of course. But there is hope.

I have also become passionate about working to help break the stigma associated with addiction and depression. I blog about it. I post on Facebook about it. I Tweet about it. I talk to people about it. Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone. 

People I know frequently tell me that they can't imagine how my wife and I have made it through all the stuff we've been through over the last several years. Well, if you would've told me eight years ago what was in store for me and my family, I probably would've said "Uncle" and told you I wouldn't be able to handle it. "No thanks. Give that to someone else, please."

But as I look back today, I was able to handle it. So was my wife. We were able to handle it together. As a team. And I believe that we are both better people because of it. I also believe our relationship with each other and with our children is stronger because of it. It took a while, for sure; but never giving up on our son--or on each other--has paid off.

We may have a few more gray hairs and be much poorer financially because of our son's addiction. But we are emotionally richer because of it. And that's not such a bad thing.

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." --Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, August 16, 2013

You can get through it

Happy Friday, people. This is just a re-post of something I wrote a while back that appeared a few different places online. It was published at the Heroes in Recovery website, and in the "Stories of Hope" section of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids' website. But in case you haven't seen it...

You Can Get Through It

My 23-year-old son first started using drugs when he was around 16. Suffering from severe depression and anxiety disorder, he attempted suicide by overdosing on anti-depressants and aspirin. Luckily, he survived that suicide attempt. But following that incident, his friends abandoned him, which put him into an even deeper depression. He turned to drugs and alcohol to help him feel "normal."

Over the years, he has used an assortment of drugs: marijuana, prescription meds, inhalants, cocaine, heroin and probably more. My wife and I first got him into rehab when his pot smoking became a habit. Thirty days later, he came home clean. But just days after that, he admitted to us that he had tried snorting heroin. I think at that point we realized our son had a problem that was much more serious than we initially thought.

In the time that followed, I quickly learned that addiction is a family disease that affects everyone in the household. It also turns your life upside down. The sweet and innocent child I once knew became a liar, a thief and a high school dropout. But he was my son, and I still loved him.

And at the same time, I hated him. I hated him for the stealing--money from me, money from my wife, money from his little brother, the family video game console and a video camera, all traded for drugs. And I hated him for the disruption he had brought to our home. The constant angry battles we had, which sometimes got physical, were horrible. I can’t even remember how many times I called the police to come and intervene, just so no one got hurt.

Life in our home was beyond a nightmare and I kept wondering how this had happened to us. Having an addict in the family wasn’t on my list of life goals. Yet here I was, caught in the middle of a living hell. Like most parents new to a child’s addiction problem, my wife and I tried to control our son in hopes that we could "fix" him. We would limit where he could go, lock up valuables and medications in a nice new safe and regularly drug test him. For quite a while, he passed those drug tests and everything was fine and dandy. Or so we thought.

One day, after passing his drug test, my son came to me crying and said, "Dad, I need help. I need to go to rehab." I was puzzled and asked him, "Why do you need to go to rehab? Your drug test was clean." It was at that point that he confessed to being addicted to heroin. So how was he passing all of those drug tests? He had a 20-ounce Mountain Dew bottle full of clean urine stashed in his closet. Every time we tested him, he used the clean urine. Boy, did I feel stupid. This parent-of-an-addict thing was definitely a learn-as-you-go experience.

We drove our son to rehab that day and I’ll never forget it. It was like watching a movie. My son was in the backseat of our minivan, lying down, shaking, shivering and crying. I was heartbroken. Of course, the whole rehab process was another nightmare. Rehab is not cheap, and even though I have decent health insurance, it still cost us a small fortune. Dealing with all the insurance company red tape was a challenge too. One of the biggest obstacles in getting treatment for a loved one suffering from addiction is the crap you have to go through with insurance, if you’re even lucky enough to have insurance. Our country needs to wake up and realize that addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. Getting help for it shouldn’t involve jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop.

My son only did two weeks in rehab before the insurance company said they wouldn’t cover any more time. Two weeks in rehab for a kid addicted to heroin? I knew that wasn’t enough time but I couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket. So my son came home. To no one’s surprise, it wasn’t long before he relapsed.

That was a little over three years ago. After that relapse, there were short periods of clean time, lots of therapy sessions, more relapses, boundaries that my wife and I set but didn’t keep and more mayhem. A little over a year ago, we discovered our son was using cocaine, and that was the final straw. My wife and I decided that we could no longer let our son’s addiction ruin our lives and the life of our younger son. We gave our son an ultimatum, just like we had given him ultimatums many times before. Except this time we were 100 percent serious and would NOT back down. We told him he could go back to rehab or leave the house.

I’m sure my son thought this time was like all the other times, and that my wife and I would cave. So he declined to go to rehab. He refused to leave the house, too, until we told him if he didn’t we would call the police to assist us in getting him to do so. He finally did leave, and stayed with a friend for a couple of days before trying to convince us to let him come home. We dug in our heels and told him no. At that point, he agreed to go to rehab.

This time we sent him to a rehab facility in Palm Springs, California, which is a long way from our home in Michigan. But this rehab stint (38 days, followed by a couple of months in a sober living house) seemed to be very good for our son. He did relapse while in California, though, and got kicked out of the sober living house. He asked to come home, but we told him if he came home to Michigan, he would have to move into a sober living house here. So he did.

A few sober living houses later, I feel like my son is finally in a good place. He’s been living in a sober living house not far from our home since early July of 2012. As I write this, he is approaching 10 months clean, which is the longest stretch of clean time he’s had since he first started using drugs. He recently got his first real job and has a new girlfriend who makes him happy. He also seems to be maturing as a person. It’s great to see the emergence of the intelligent young man I knew was inside that body all along.

I am hopeful he will continue on this path of recovery but I’m well aware that there could very well be bumps along that road. Nonetheless, I am incredibly proud of my son’s progress. He’s been through so much over the last several years and has not given up. I truly admire him for that. My wife and I have never given up on our son, either. We have detached ourselves from his problem so that we could move on with OUR lives and OUR recovery. But we will always be there for him with love and emotional support.

The most important thing I’ve learned through my son’s struggle with addiction is what they teach in Al-Anon and Nar-Anon: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it.” When you’re first faced with the addiction of a loved one, you tend to think exactly the opposite. It took years for me to finally figure out that the "Three C’s" are absolutely correct. And when I figured that out, a tremendous weight was lifted from me.

The other words that helped me start living my own life, without it being totally controlled by my son’s behavior, come from the best book I’ve ever read: David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. In that book is the following paragraph, which I find to be so profound:

"Like many in my straits, I became addicted to my son’s addiction. When it preoccupied me, even at the expense of my responsibilities to my wife and other children, I justified it. I thought, How can a parent not be consumed by his child’s life-or-death struggle? But I learned that my preoccupation with Nic didn’t help him and may have harmed him. Or maybe it was irrelevant to him. However, it surely harmed the rest of my family – and me. Along with this, I learned another lesson, a soul-shaking one: our children live or die with or without us. No matter what we do, no matter how we agonize or obsess, we cannot choose for our children whether they live or die. It is a devastating realization, but also liberating. I finally chose life for myself. I chose the perilous but essential path that allows me to accept that Nic will decide for himself how, and whether, he will live his life."

Again, it took me years to accept this. But I finally have. My son will live or die with or without me. When all is said and done, it’s his choice. Not mine. Like David Sheff said, it’s a devastating realization, but also liberating. And accepting it means that I have been able to move on to my recovery. Which is just as important, if not more important, than my son’s recovery. I also have a wife and younger son who deserve my attention, which they weren’t getting when I was consumed by my son’s addiction.

If you have just recently learned of a loved one’s addiction, please realize a couple of things. First of all, YOUR life and YOUR recovery are not to be ignored. It’s very easy to forget that, but please don’t. Seek out Al-Anon and/or Nar-Anon meetings in your area or online support groups. There’s no doubt that the support of others in similar situations is an invaluable resource.

Also, know that you are not alone. Anyone can be afflicted with this awful disease. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Yes, you will experience emotions like you never have before. And you will more than likely embark on the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. But you can get through it. Trust me. You can get through it. You will learn from experience and from others’ experiences. You will cry. You will mourn. You will wonder why the hell this is happening to you. You will love. And you will probably hate. You will experience a loss of trust. But you can get through it. One day at a time. Just like the addict.

You. Can. Get. Through. It.

----------------------------------------

Update: As of today my son has been clean and sober for 13 months and 2 weeks. He is employed and living with his girlfriend, her mom, and stepfather. And a couple of very cute chihuahuas.

Life is good.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

New tattoo

I got a new tattoo yesterday. It's on the inside of my left forearm--the same arm I have my son's first name tattooed on--and it's inspired by one of my favorite quotes from my favorite writer. I think you've seen the quote here before, but here it is again:

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." --Anne Lamott


Hope is a wonderful thing. And I am full of it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Facebook post

I belong to many addiction-related groups on Facebook. One in particular is incredibly emotional. It's a group for mothers of addicts, and most of the posts there are gut-wrenching. Mothers--and some fathers, too--posting about the struggles they are going through with their addict children. People whose kids are in dire straits. People whose kids are overdosing and being sentenced to jail time. And yes, people who have lost their child to addiction. My heart goes out to each and every one of these human beings.

On occasion, though, people post positive things in the group. Last night, for some reason, I decided that I would be one of those people. I posted this photo of my son...


...along with these words:

"My 23-year-old son: 13 months and 5 days clean and sober. Love him so much and am grateful for every day."

I felt a bit guilty for posting something positive, but I wanted people to know that things can change. I also wasn't sure how the post would be received. I mean, I didn't think anyone would criticize me for posting what I did. But I'm always a bit paranoid, so I wasn't sure what the reaction would be.

As it turns out, there was nothing but overwhelming love. As I type this post, 207 people have "Liked" my post and 39 people have made wonderful comments on it. I was pretty moved by it all.

After reading over all the comments this morning, I decided to leave a comment of my own. I thought I would share it here:

"Thank you for all your wonderful comments. I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to post this picture of my son and tell you how long he was sober. I know that so many people here are either still struggling with their child's addiction or, worse yet, have lost a child to addiction. In no way do I mean any disrespect towards those people. I just thought that my posting what I did would offer up some hope for people currently fighting the battle. Also, my son's sobriety doesn't mean my wife and I (yes, I'm a dad, not a mom) don't still struggle with our son's addiction. But we struggle less. And we have learned to put our lives and recovery high on our priority list. After all, the choice to get/stay sober can only be made by one person: the addict. We can't want it more than they do, although that was the case with my wife and I for many years. I am grateful every day that something 'clicked' for my son and that HE decided he was tired of being an addict. I also realize that it will be a lifelong issue for him. And I pray that he stays on the right path. If you would've asked me 5 years ago, I probably would've told you that I didn't think I'd EVER see my son stay sober for more than a month, let alone more than a year. But my wife and I never gave up hope. And, for what it's worth, the change occurred in our son after we finally set a boundary--you can no longer live in our house--and, more importantly, finally stuck to it. Almost a year in a sober living house did wonders for our son. When he finally decided he wanted to move out of the sober living house after 10 months of sobriety, he asked if he could come home. My wife and I stuck to our guns and said no. We did not want him to come home and fall into the same bad habits/routines he had before. So now he's living with his girlfriend and her mom and step-dad. And he's happy. And we're happy. And he's slowly but surely maturing into the 23-year-old man he is. I'm sorry for rambling, but I wanted to tell those whose kids are fighting the battle or have lost the battle that I pray for each and every one of you every day. Please do not burden yourself with guilt. Remember: You didn't cause your child's addiction, you can't cure it, and you can't control it. Remember to take care of YOURSELF. Lastly, never be ashamed, because you are not alone in dealing with this disease. I will end this lengthy post with a quote from my favorite writer, Anne Lamott. This quote inspires me every single day of my life: 'Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.' Peace and love to every single one of you. Feel free to reach out to me anytime if you'd like to chat."

If you read this blog, please pray--or whatever you do--for all the parents of addicted children out there. Being the parent of an addict is something that's unimaginable and can only really be understood if you are one. But trust me: We need all the positive thoughts and prayers we can get.

Peace.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My next guest blogger?

I've been thinking about this for a while now.

My Life As 3D has only had one guest blog post since I started it. That was from my wife, who just recently wrote something on my son's one-year sober anniversary date.

But the guest blogger I'd most like to see an appearance from is...my son. He's a great writer, but I don't know if he'd be willing to contribute or not.

Maybe in time I will ask him.

It could happen.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up."

It's been almost a month since I've posted anything here and I'm not sure why. Primarily, I think it's because things have continued to go well for my son, who is now coming up on 13 months clean and sober.

Thirteen months may not sound like a long time, but it wasn't that long ago that I was giddy if my son stayed clean for 13 days. For the parent of an addict in recovery, 13 months seems like an eternity. Personally, I still don't think I've gotten totally used to clean and sober being the "norm" for my son. But I am grateful beyond belief for every day. These days are gifts from God.

I also realize that my son will be working to stay clean for the rest of his life. His addiction isn't cured. He just has it under control. I know that today, or tomorrow, or three months from now, or three years from now things could change. But I don't worry about that like I used to. You have to live in the moment and concentrate on today. Like I've said before, the "one day at a time" adage doesn't apply only to the addict; it applies to his or her family and loved ones, too.

Although I am thrilled to death with my son's progress, I've also had some conflicting emotions lately. My son being clean and sober is an amazing thing. But I still feel for all the parents of addicts out there who are not experiencing what I am experiencing right not. I belong to many online groups for parents of addicts and see the pain and suffering that mothers and fathers are going through every day. These are parents whose children are still actively using. Some of these kids are living on the streets, some are in jail, some are overdosing. And some are dying.

I am all too familiar with the pain that a parent of an addict who is actively using feels. And my heart breaks for these parents. Granted, it was a long, hard road for my son--and our family--to get where we are today. But many of these other parents have been on longer, harder roads. Some have lost hope. Others struggle to get through each day. Again, I know that feeling. But I have been given a reprieve from it. At least for now.

If you read this blog, please take a moment out of your day to say a prayer--or whatever your equivalency of that is--for all of the parents and families of addicts who are still suffering; and for the addicts themselves.

Addiction sucks. It is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. It takes your loved one and changes them into someone you don't even know. It rips families apart, emotionally and financially. And it is physically and mentally exhausting for everyone associated with the addict.

Being the parent of an addict isn't something you ask for, just like being an addict isn't something addicts ask for. It just happens. And when it does, you deal with it the best you can. And you try to never lose hope.

Speaking of hope... A few weeks ago my wife and I were at the garden store buying a plant. At the cash register was a container of rocks with inspirational words etched into them. One of them said "hope." I picked it up and looked at it, saw the $3.98 price tag on it and thought that was too much money to pay for a rock.

A week later, something inside me told me I needed that rock. So I made a special trip back to the store, walked up to the register, was relieved to see that the "hope" rock was still there, and I bought it. Something about doing that made me feel better. The rock now sits on our dining room table as a constant reminder.


"Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up." --David Orr

--------------------------------------------------

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the party we had on July 6th to celebrate my son's one year of sobriety.

It was a great time. Very low-key, with just the right amount of people. It was great to see some people we hadn't seen in a long time. And to meet some of our son's friends for the first time.

We also had a local rock band called Destroy This Place play a set in our back yard. They were great and they were LOUD. But thankfully no neighbors complained or called the police. In fact, a couple of neighbors came by to check the band out.

The best part of the band's performance? For their last song--a cover of Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings"--they asked my son to come up and jam on the guitar. Which he did. And he loved every minute of it. The smile on his face made that perfectly clear.

A few days later, my son posted this on Facebook as his status update:

"On July 2nd, 2013, I celebrated one year clean and sober, and my life is beyond what I ever thought possible."


My son's 1-year coin.


Destroy This Place ripping it up in my back yard.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Guest blog post from my wife

Today is a special day. Our son has been sober for one year. It took a lot of years to get here. Addiction is not a quick fix, and the road to recovery tends to go in circles for a while before the lucky ones find their way out.

I feel incredibly blessed that our son has made it out of the maze and into the light. It is so wonderful to see him smile, hear him sing, and watch him get on with his life. He has a job and a beautiful girlfriend. He has fun with his friends doing things that young people enjoy: going to baseball games and concerts and eating out. 

When he was using, he spent a lot of time in the garage and a lot of time sleeping. He spent most of his time in the dark. I felt helpless and hopeless. When I walked into my first Al-Anon meeting I did not think anything or anyone could help me. Thankfully I was wrong. I learned how to live my life in the midst of craziness. It was not easy but I took little steps forward while our son seemed to be taking many steps backward. I didn’t want to leave him behind but soon realized that I couldn’t carry him with me. He had to follow his path and I had to follow mine. 

Today, after lots of small steps forward and many one-days-at-a-time, we can celebrate this wonderfully ordinary day.

--KCD

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smile

As my wife and I count down to our son's one-year sobriety anniversary (just a week to go!), it's great to hear other people say things that confirm the progress we have witnessed in our son.

Today a friend of ours--who helped our son very early on and still sees him from time to time--came over to borrow a card table because he was helping a friend put on an estate sale across the street. He told us to come over and take a walk through the house for a preview of the sale.

When my wife and I went across the street we started talking to our friend about our son and how far he's come. Our friend had nothing but praise for our son. Our friend's wife was also at the house and she, too, had nothing but wonderful things to say about our boy. She told us how much better he looks, how much more talkative he is, and how much he smiles now.

That last comment? The part about the smiling? That's the thing I took to be the ultimate compliment and it's something my wife and I have noticed, too. Our son seems so much happier these days. It sounds like such a little thing; but he actually smiles.

To an "ordinary" parent, a smiling child is probably something that's often taken for granted. But when you've been through what my wife and I have been through, seeing your child smile--and hearing other people talk about it--is something extraordinarily beautiful.

I am so happy and proud. And I've been smiling all night.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Celebrating sobriety

Today I am 1,748 days sober. For those of you who aren't good at math (like moi), that's 4 years, 9 months, and 14 days. Big deal, right? Not much cause for celebrating a crazy number like that. Plus, the main reason my wife and I gave up drinking was as an act of solidarity: "Be the change you want to see in your son" is what the family therapist at my son's rehab facility told us in September of 2008. That's all we needed to hear.

My wife and I have been sober for nearly five years, but we don't really celebrate the dates we stopped drinking. Oh, sure; when September 10th rolls around each year I recognize the fact that it's a milestone for me. But there's not any fanfare other than maybe a post on Facebook or something.

Enter my son, who is just over a week away from having one year of clean and sober time under his belt. One year. Wow. When I think about that I am literally moved to tears. My son has struggled with depression and addiction since he was 15. Actually, the whole family has struggled because addiction is a family disease. There may be only one addict, but the entire family--immediate and extended--is sucked into the throes of addiction.

As my son has piled up months of clean time, we have celebrated quietly. When the second of the month rolls around, my wife and I express gratitude and tell our son how proud we are of him. Our son marks his anniversary at his AA meeting and his pride and confidence grow. And we all move on, one day at a time.

But when July 2nd rolls around in just a few days, it's going to be different. It's going to be special. It will be one of the proudest moments of my life.

It wasn't too long ago that I wondered if my son would ever achieve a year of sobriety. When you're the parent of an addict in recovery, you certainly hope for the best. And while you don't necessarily expect the worst, you know that it's always a possibility. That's why my wife and I have worked so hard to learn to live in the moment and appreciate every day for what it is.

I don't know if there's a "protocol" for celebrating or not celebrating your son being clean and sober for a year. But I do know this: My wife and I are going to celebrate. In fact, we will be celebrating by throwing a party for our son on the Saturday following his milestone date.

We will have a small to medium gathering of our friends, family, and our son's friends at our house. We will serve pizza, salad, and dessert--birthday cake seems appropriate--along with water and soda. It will, of course, be an alcohol-free event.

There will also be a very loud and talented rock and roll band playing in our backyard. A friend of ours is in a band called Destroy This Place, and its members were all cool with coming to our house and playing to help celebrate this occasion. (My wife and I passed letters out to all of the residents on our block and the next block over to warn them about the party and the loud band. We've received nothing but positive responses so far...let's hope no one complains on the day of the party!)

My wife and I don't host parties very often. But this is one party we felt we needed to throw, to celebrate the efforts and glorious achievement of our son. It will be fun to spend time with family members and friends who have been so supportive over the years. Celebrating sobriety.

P.S. Our son also just landed a new job. He's working with a contractor who installs and finishes hardwood floors. So far he's enjoying the work, the money, and being trained by the owner. He's working full time and that's a blessing.

P.P.S. Here's the latest music video from Destroy This Place. Maybe if we're lucky, they'll bring the deer mask to the party!

Monday, June 17, 2013

A sweet victory over Urban Outfitters

As many of you know, I have been working my tail off for more than a month trying to get Urban Outfitters to pull prescription drug related merchandise that they were selling in their stores and on their website. (See my post Urban Outfitters: WTF???)

Countless e-mails to the CEO of the company, tons of Tweets, the creation of a Facebook page dedicated to the cause, a bevy of Facebook posts; that all paid off this past Friday, when Urban Outfitters announced that they were pulling the merchandise in question from their stores and website.

In the grand scheme of things, my role in this was very small. Much larger roles were served by The Partnership at Drugfree.org, several state attorneys general, and the American Association of Poison Control Centers. But I do feel like my efforts helped, and I am enjoying the sweet taste of victory.

Although the statement issued by Urban Outfitters was disappointing--saying that these products were "misinterpreted by people who are not our customers"--the most important thing to me is that the merchandise is no longer for sale at UO.

This just goes to show you what can happen when a group of people band together for a cause. I am very grateful that teens and young people--the demographic of Urban Outfitters--will no longer be exposed to these products that make light of the misuse of prescription drugs.

I'm also pretty sure that Urban Outfitters CEO Richard Hayne will not miss getting e-mail from me every day.

Father's Day postscript

Me and my boys on Father's Day. This truly is what life is all about.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

If I'm counting correctly, this is the fourth Father's Day post I've made on my blog over the years. The others were in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

If you want to go and revisit those, feel free. The 2009 and 2011 posts were pretty bleak, as I've always struggled with Father's Day. I can't help it. That's just the way it is when you grow up feeling like you don't really have a father.

Last year's post was more positive, primarily because I was feeling better about myself as a father. But I was still feeling bad due to the lack of a relationship between me and my father, who was in the hospital at the time.

This year, things are different: My dad is no longer with us. Even so, I am not struggling like I used to because I was able to forgive and reconnect with my dad for the last six months of his life. My only real regret? That he's not here today to hear me say "Happy Father's Day." If he were, and if I could say those words to him, I would actually mean them...for the first time in over 40 years.

It's funny how things work out. I went 40+ years despising Father's Day because I didn't want to make that phony phone call or give the obligatory card and gift because I felt like I had to. Today, I wish I could make that phone call and give that card and gift...because I want to.

But I am at peace today. And that's huge to me.

Last Father's Day, my older son was in Georgia living with a friend he met in rehab in Palm Springs. He seemed to be doing fine, but in hindsight he wasn't. I thank God that he realized this a couple weeks later and chose to come back to Michigan and move into a sober living house. A year later, he is more than 11 months clean and sober and inching closer to that one-year anniversary. I am so incredibly proud of him.

Last Father's Day, despite his struggles with ADHD, my younger son had just finished his sophomore year at our local public high school. A year later, he has just finished his junior year at a new school: The Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, Michigan. The school was great for him and I am so proud of what he accomplished there. He stepped outside his comfort zone and tried new things like drama and music and playing basketball. I hope he can go back in the fall for his senior year and graduate from this awesome school.

Last Father's Day, my wife and I were working on our recovery. We are still doing that and have come such a long way from where we were just a couple of years ago. Living in the moment, taking care of ourselves, doing things for us; we've finally learned how important those things are.

Last Father's Day, my mom sent me a pretty long e-mail filled with the beautiful things she's so good at saying. Today, her e-mail was shorter. But it still hit me right in the heart:

"HAPPY FATHER'S DAY to the BEST/GREATEST FATHER I know !!       XXXOOO  Mom"

This Father's Day is the best one ever. My wife and younger son are home. And my older son is coming over shortly. We will cook good food and be together, all of us having grown and matured over the past year.

Happy Father's Day. Life is good.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Trust and Gratitude

Trust

Those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning know that trust is one of the first things that withers and dies when you are the parent of an addict. As I wrote in October of 2009, in a post I titled "Dishonesty":

I often wonder if I will ever be able to totally trust my son again.

The problem isn't so much that the trust withers and dies. The problem is that once it dies you don't know if it will ever "grow back" again. Trust can be wiped out in a heartbeat; and can take years to redevelop. But I am happy to say that this weekend marks a major milestone for me as far as starting to trust my son again goes.

My wife and I traveled to northern Michigan this weekend to attend a few days of special events marking the end of the school year at the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, Michigan, where our younger son goes to school. (More about that later.) We have three cats, and whenever my wife and I travel we usually ask my mom to go to our house and feed the cats, clean out their litter boxes, etc. This requires her to visit our house twice a day.

Well, my mom had quite a bit going on this weekend. And although she's 82 going on 52, I decided to give her a break. How did I do that? I asked my son if he and his girlfriend wanted to stay at our house for the weekend and take care of the cats.

My wife and I discussed the idea beforehand and we both decided that we were ready to take this step. My son said yes, so he has been staying at our house since Thursday night. The thing that is strange to me--yet beautiful at the same time--is that I haven't worried about my house/cat sitters at all this weekend. Not even once.

My son has just over 11 months of sobriety in his back pocket. And it's been just over three-and-a-half years since that blog post I mentioned earlier, in which I included the joke: A drug addict will steal your wallet, then help you look for it.

Finally, I think, the trust is starting to grow back.

Gratitude

There are not enough words in the English language to express the gratitude I have felt this weekend.

My wife and I sent our younger son to the Leelanau School this year. Giving up on a highly acclaimed public high school and making the switch to a boarding school 300 miles away that specializes in teaching kids with ADHD was something that took courage; both for us and our son. It was also a challenge. The school is incredibly expensive and...well, let's just say we are not even close to being wealthy people. But we decided the sacrifices we needed to make were worth it. We wanted nothing more than for our son to succeed.

After a great first half of the school year, things started to go downhill a bit. Grades slipped and emotional issues reared their ugly heads. Besides ADHD, our younger son also suffers from depression. And depression started to kick his ass during winter term.

The end result was that the school asked our son to leave the dorms and become a day student. This meant that my wife had to go up north. Her and my son stayed with her parents, who luckily live about 45 minutes away from the school. And my wife had to drive our son to school and back. Every weekday. For about six weeks.

More sacrifices, for sure. Like my wife and I being apart from each other for all that time, except for two days in early May when she and my son came home for my Dad's memorial service. More expenses, too, because gas isn't cheap and driving 70+ miles round trip every school day for a month-and-a-half means our credit card took a huge hit.

But the last few days showed me that it was all worth it.

On Friday night our son was in the school play--"Just Another High School Play"--and had several major roles. And he killed it. The play is a comedy and our son--who has an incredible sense of humor and is quite funny--was totally in his comfort zone. My wife and I were so proud of his performance.

After the school play, our son hightailed it from the auditorium to the dining hall. There he participated in the school's music presentation by singing on two songs, including lead vocals on the opening number ("Jumper" by Third Eye Blind). He also played drums on one song. And you know what? He killed it again.

And oh, yeah...he passed all his final exams and classes, too.

I am so grateful for a number of things:

  • That I have a wife who is not only an amazing human being, but a dedicated mother as well. The commitment she made to help our son finish his junior year of high school was beyond heroic.
  • That our son was able to overcome some tough hardships and did what it took to succeed.
  • That a school like the Leelanau School exists at all. The students and staff at this school aren't just students and staff; they're a family. And with the help of this extended family, which truly cares about every one of its members, our son weathered the storm.
  • And finally, that our son was able to end the school year on such a positive note: Excelling in both the play and the musical performance. It was so moving to see strangers going up to my son and telling him how great he was in the play, and what a great singing voice he has.

It's been a great weekend. I'm so glad that trust and gratitude came along on the trip with me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Happy birthday, Dad

Today would've been my Dad's 87th birthday. I spent years and years dreading June 4th, knowing that I had to make that obligatory happy birthday phone call or appearance. When I did, it was never truly heartfelt. But if I had the chance today, it would be. I'm just glad I reconnected with him for the last six months of his life.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you and I miss you. See ya on the other side.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bucket List

Bucket List: A list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.

I've never made a "Bucket List" but I woke up this morning and thought seriously about doing so. Not today, but maybe sometime soon. (Maybe the first thing on said list should be to make the actual list.)

Then when I started thinking more about some of the things I would put on such a list I started crying. Crying because I realized I will probably never have the chance to do the stuff I want to do most. (Regarding the crying: I've been feeling very down the last several days. It's not necessarily depression; I'm just sad because I've been reminded lately about how much life can suck sometimes. Oh, wait...Maybe it is depression. In any case, there's been a lot of crying lately. But I believe that crying can be a positive thing. So it's all good.)

I'm not sure what the "rules" of creating a Bucket List are. Or if there even are any. Do you include things you'd really like to do even if you know there's no chance in hell they'll ever happen? I mean, I'd love to have Nigella Lawson over to my house for dinner and have her cook for me. But, realistically? I think the odds are pretty much against me on that one.

There are other things I'd love to do, though, that aren't really so ridiculous. They are things that probably wouldn't be so out of reach for "normal" people, but to me they seem totally impossible. Several of them have to do with traveling, and traveling costs money. Simple logic would tell you that no money = no traveling. So I don't have much hope for things like:
  • Travel Internationally. I would love to go to Europe. I'm almost 52 years old and the only foreign country I've ever been to is Canada. Nothing against Canada, because I truly love it. But I can drive there from my house in like 30 minutes. I want to experience more far away lands: France, Italy, England, Sweden, Australia.
  • Go On a Honeymoon. My wife and I didn't go on a honeymoon when we got married almost 25 years ago. Money was a factor even back then. I would love to be able to finally take my wife on the honeymoon she deserves. (Hey, maybe we should go to Australia!)
  • Take a Trip Across the United States: I've been to several states besides Michigan (where I live), but I've always wanted to take a trip across the country. I'd love to drive or take a train from Michigan to the West Coast, with many stops along the way. I want to see things like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, etc. This is a tricky one, though, because not only is money a factor...so is time. Taking enough time off work to do this trip properly just wouldn't be possible.
Anyway, I think you get the idea.

My wife and I are not living in poverty. So I can't really complain. (Although I guess, in a way, I am.) We have a roof over our heads, have food to eat, and have been able to scrape together enough money to get treatment for our sons' issues. That being said, addiction and depression and ADHD really chip away at a family's savings, even with health insurance.

When you have kids with mental health issues, your family is kind of like a family business. And as the owners of that family business, you're always the last ones to get paid. Your kids are the employees and they--actually their doctors, rehabs, hospitals, schools, etc.--are the first ones to get paid. What's left goes to the owners...after the overhead paid. It's a sacrifice you make because you love and care about your children. That's the bottom line.

On second thought, maybe I won't make a Bucket List. A Bucket List means looking ahead, beyond today. Over the last couple of years I've gotten so much better at living in the moment. Living life one day at a time. Not worrying about tomorrow, but focusing only on today. It seems that a Bucket List would go against that whole concept.

Maybe what I really need to do is make a daily list of things to do. Not work-related stuff and errands. But things that will improve my life, my family's life, or even the life of someone else. Then I can focus on accomplishing things I want to do...not before I die but before I go to bed. That seems more manageable to me. One day at a time. Live in the moment. Right?

So here's my tiny little list for today, Thursday, May 23rd, 2013:
  • Call my wife--who I haven't seen in almost two weeks during this latest stretch--and tell her I love her.
  • Call my youngest son--who is struggling with some issues right now--and tell him, "I love you. Forever and ever. No matter what." (That's sort of his "catch phrase.")
  • Call my oldest son and tell him I'm proud of him for being almost 11 months clean and sober. And not to stress out too much about finding a job because things will work out in the end.
  • Talk myself out of starting a "traditional" Bucket List.
One down, three to go.

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P.S. I completed all the items on today's list! I called my wife first (of course). I then called my oldest son, but he didn't pick up. So I left him a voice mail message. Last but not least, I called my youngest son. I told him, "I just called to tell you I love you. Forever and ever. No matter what." His response? "Is something wrong?" Made me laugh out loud. :)