Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Forever and ever...no matter what."

When you have a child, there's no guarantee that comes out of the womb with them. Certainly no guarantee that your offspring will be a perfect child. After all, nobody's perfect, right? As long as your baby comes out breathing, with 10 fingers and 10 toes, you're thrilled to death. You have no way to predict the future, so you live in that moment; that incredible, amazing, unforgettable moment.

As your child gets older, they achieve milestones that give you a better idea of how they're developing. Your child rolls over for the first time: check. Your child starts mumbling words in a language you can almost understand: check. Your child takes their first steps: check. And so on, and so on, and so on.

It's not until later in their life that other things may show up. Things like learning disabilities, mental illness, addiction. Or even a combination of those things. Obviously, any of those things are not things you would have requested if you had had the opportunity to place an order for the "perfect" child. And you certainly wouldn't have chosen the "combo platter."

But you know what? We don't order our children off a menu. We don't get to say "yea" or "nay" to certain attributes. It's a roll of the dice, and--for the most part--God determines what attributes our children will have. Our job as parents is to raise our children in spite of any imperfections they may have. That's what parenting is all about.

Some people, for whatever reasons, have children who will have hardly any problems growing up. Sometimes the biggest problem the parents of these children have is deciding which Ivy League school to send them to. Or helping them decide between medical school or law school.

Other people, though, have children who are a bit more challenging. But these parents aren't any lesser parents than those with the "normal" kids. It's just that God has given them a slightly more complicated task. This is the group my wife and I fall into.

I have no idea why my boys have had the issues they've had. Depression, anxiety, addiction, ADHD...they are all influenced by genetics, at least to some degree. So there's that. But maybe God just gave us these wonderful boys and their little flaws because he knew my wife and I would have the strength and courage and patience and perseverance to guide them on their journey. A journey that would certainly be a little bumpier than most.

If you would've asked me 23 years ago if I thought I could make it through what I've been through so far as a parent, I would've said, "Hell no!" and ran away screaming. Yet, here I am. It's cliche, for sure, but they say God doesn't give you anything more than you can handle. Maybe that's the truth. Maybe that's why my wife and I were chosen to parent these amazing boys.

As I write this blog post, one of my boys is just days away from being 10 months clean and sober. He's upstairs, sleeping in his old bed, in his old room. He spent last night here because he has to work today and the only time he could get a ride from his girlfriend's house to this side of town was last night. He's actually thinking ahead about these things and it's all good.

At the same time, my other boy is up north and is struggling a bit. My wife is up there with him, being the incredible mother that she is and doing everything she can to help him get through some issues.

In the grand scheme of things, despite what my wife have been through with our sons we've had it pretty easy. Our boys are not severely handicapped; they do not have a terminal illness; they are bright, intelligent kids who just need to deal with some things other kids don't have to deal with. Most importantly, though, they are alive and working their way through life, even if it's a bit of a struggle. Not every parent can say that about their kids. So I consider ourselves lucky.

Living in the moment is really the only way to deal with the issues my wife and I have had to deal with as parents. Sometimes it's incredibly difficult. Yesterday I had several crying episodes and struggled to get through a hectic workday. Sadly, there is no magic "PAUSE" button in life. You can't just push a button, wait until your problems are resolved or until you feel better, and then push the button again and resume your normal day-to-day activities. You just keep going, a day at a time. Or an hour at a time. Sometimes even a minute at a time.

Somewhere in all of this I have this crazy theory that maybe all of the difficulties my boys have had to go through early on in their lives will make them stronger later in life. Both of my boys are definitely late bloomers. I hope that someday they will both bloom like indescribably beautiful and fragrant roses on the most gorgeous of summer days. And that my wife and I are there to see and smell those beautiful flowers.

I love my boys more than life itself. Unconditionally. Like my younger son likes to say, "Forever and ever...no matter what."

"I don't remember who said this, but there really are places in the heart you don't even know exist until you love a child." --Anne Lamott

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Two nights

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my son moved into his girlfriend's parents' house the other day.

On Sunday I went to the sober living house with him and helped him pack up his possessions. (Observation: He sure accumulated a lot of stuff over the 10 months he was there!) We then brought his things to our house and sorted out what was going with him and what would be stored at our house. Then my wife took him out to his new temporary home.

Everyone felt good about the whole situation. The two best parts of the day? 1.) The sober living house owner wasn't around when we were there, so there wasn't any kind of confrontation or lecture from him. And 2.) On the drive back from the sober living house my son thanked me for helping him (always nice to hear unsolicited thank-yous!).

Then later Sunday night, my wife got a text from our son. He asked if he could possibly stay at our house on Monday and Tuesday nights. When my wife told me this, I immediately thought, "WTF?" She explained that the reasoning behind the question was this: Our son was scheduled to work 3:00pm to 8:00pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, and he wasn't sure if he'd be able to get a ride to work. Given that the store he works at is less than a mile from our house, staying with us would be much more convenient.

I have to admit that the question came as a big shock to me. Just days earlier my wife and I had agonized over a decision and agreed not to let our son come back home. Now he was asking to come and stay with us. Sure, it would only be for two nights...but still.

After discussing it for a while, my wife and I actually made the crazy decision to say yes. (I know. Probably not what you expected.)

I won't go into too much detail, but we couldn't be happier with the choice we made. For the two nights and two days he was here, our son was a different person than we were used to having around. He was calm, pleasant, helpful, and had conversations with us. Hell, he even sat and watched TV with us! And both nights he was here, he went to bed at a normal time. Even more amazing? He got up by 10:00am both days. Back in the day, he would've been up 'til 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and slept until 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening. He has definitely changed. And matured.

When he got off work last night and came by to get his stuff so he could go back to his girlfriend's house, I actually felt a little sad. It was really great having our son back in the house for two nights. About 20 minutes after he left, I turned to my wife and actually said, "I miss him."

I still think the decision we made to not let our son move back into our house was the right one. But I will say that I remain open to having him stay here on occasion if he needs to. It was a joy to have him around, even if it was just for a couple of nights/days. The growth we saw was amazing.

Two nights: Not much time in the grand scheme of things, but enough time to see that our son appears to be on the right path. Here's hoping it continues.

P.S. For a while now I've been thinking about having my lovely wife do a guest blog post. She is such a wonderful human being and, without a doubt, my "rock." Honestly, I don't know where I would be today without her in my life. If you all would like to see a guest blog from this incredible lady, let me know by leaving a comment. It might help me convince her to do it!

Monday, April 22, 2013

These words spoke to me

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I very frequently post quotes that resonate with me.

I don't often post those quotes here, but I read something this morning that really made me think. I'm not sure why, but these words truly spoke to me. So I decided to share them: 

"How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be." --Elizabeth Lesser (from her book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Yes, I have another son

Although this blog is about my experiences with my oldest son, you may or may not know that I also have a younger son. He's 17 and a junior in high school.

He's such a great kid, but he suffers from ADHD and has some trouble learning. 

To make a long story short, he goes to a special boarding school in northern Michigan that specializes in teaching kids with ADHD. This was his first year there and it's made an incredible difference in his world.

The school is expensive. Very expensive. But it's worth every penny. And even though we get a generous amount of financial aid from the school, it's still a huge struggle for us to pay the tuition. To be frank, our finances have been depleted over the years by the cost of treatment for our older son: Multiple rehabs, hospital stays, therapy, assistance with sober living rent, etc.

After thinking about it long and hard, I started a fundraising page at GoFundMe to try and raise some money to help offset the tuition costs for next year. My family's dream is to see our younger son go back to this life-changing school next year and graduate. Our older son dropped out of high school because of his issues, so we didn't get to see him graduate. (He did, however, get his GED in his first rehab.) So this would really be something special for us.

I will only post this in this blog once. If you happen to have a few extra dollars you can spare, we would greatly appreciate any donation. Maybe skip Starbucks one day and donate $5.00. Or if you donate more, you might get a special something from me and/or my wife (who is a fantastic knitter and crocheter).

You can read the entire "story" at the link below. 

I apologize if anyone is offended by this post. I'm just doing what I can to help a kid who's endured a lot over the last several years. Being the parent of an addict is tough. Being the little brother of an addict might even be tougher.

Peace. And if you happen to be friends with Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, feel free to pass the link along. ;)


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Another update

Boy, it's been a long couple of days. But here's the latest update...

My wife and I heard about another blow up "Jack"--the sober living house owner--had with some of the guys in the house today. Thankfully, our son wasn't involved because he wasn't there at the time. I also confirmed--direct from the horse's mouth--that Jack did indeed call our son a "motherfucker" and a "junkie" the other day when he woke him up to ask him where his rent money was. He also told him, "You're worth nothing to me."

Now I'm all for being tough on people, but I also believe that you can cross a line while you're doing it. And my wife and I are of the opinion that Jack crossed that line and that the sober living house has become a toxic environment for our son.

IMPORTANT NOTE: My wife and I may be completely wrong. But we have to trust our gut on this one. If God ends up showing us that we were wrong, we will be the first to admit it and will deal with whatever the consequences are at that time. Right now, though, my wife and I both believe that our son should leave the sober living house.

That said, we are not letting him move home. He will be moving in with his girlfriend and her family for the time being, until he and his buddies can find a place of their own.

While my wife and I are still a bit apprehensive about this arrangement, I will say that we are very grateful our son has a place to go that isn't our home. And we are especially grateful that his girlfriend's family is willing to take him into their home.

For what it's worth--and because some people have asked--my son's girlfriend doesn't drink or do drugs. She never has. So she is a good influence on him. She has also told him that if he uses again, she will "walk away" from him. So that's a motivating factor for my son as well.

(Another tidbit of information: The girlfriend's brother is a recovering addict, too. So the family is familiar with our son's situation.)

Like I've said before, there's no owner's manual for this stuff. You learn on the fly. You trust God, you trust your gut, and you hope for the best. Sometimes it's trial and error. Hopefully this decision won't fall into the error category. Because Lord knows we're trying.

So tomorrow I will go to the sober living house with my son and help him pack his stuff into our van. Then he and his girlfriend will drive it out to her house. And another chapter in my son's life will begin.

Please pray for us all.

Where things stand

The question about whether or not my son will move out of his sober living house has not yet been resolved. But I'm 99.99 percent sure that the question about whether or not he will move back home has been resolved. My wife and I think that it's just not the best idea.

It turns out that it's just not the money situation that has my son wanting to move out. He is also having some conflicts with "Jack" (not his real name), the man who owns and runs the sober living house. Evidently a couple of the guys from the house have "gone out" again (i.e., used again) and now Jack is in drill sergeant mode, getting in people's faces, yelling, and saying some pretty hurtful things to at least some of the residents; my son included. Not a good situation, especially when I know my son doesn't react well to that kind of treatment.

On Thursday night, my wife and I sat down with our son and his sponsor to talk about things. Earlier that day, I found out that our son is interested in moving back home for only a month or so (until he and a couple of buddies can find a place to move into together). We all spoke our piece at our little meeting. My final opinion was that I don't think it's a good idea for our son to move back home, especially if it's only for "a month or so." I told him if he's only talking about a month, then I think his best option would be to stick it out at Jack's house until he and his friends find a place of their own. I don't want to risk straining our relationship or having him fall back into bad habits because he wants to be somewhere else for 30 days. And, to be honest, I also worry that 30 days may turn into 40 days, 50 days, two months, etc.

Of course that's not the answer my son wanted to hear. But his sponsor and my wife and I told him to take some time to think about it. In the end, my son got pretty angry and left in a huff.

Yesterday I spoke to Jack on the phone for about an hour. We talked about the issues at hand and I do feel that he genuinely cares about my son. He's concerned that things have gotten too lax in his house and he's starting to enforce things more. I think that sudden change has confused my son a bit.

Jack wants to have a talk with my son and said that he's willing to give in a little if my son is willing to give in a little: get up a little earlier, go to more meetings, not sit around the house all day on the days he doesn't work, etc.

My wife and I let our son know about this and strongly suggested that he take the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jack. We told him to have his sponsor sit in on the conversation so there would be a "mediator" there to prevent any arguments or shouting (FYI: Jack and my son both are pretty good yellers). Whether or not my son will go forward with our suggestion remains to be seen. I can lead a horse to water, but I can't make him drink. And my horse is pretty damn stubborn.

This morning my wife got a text message from our son--he rarely actually calls; it's all about texting with him--saying that he wants to come by before he goes to work this afternoon and talk about what's next. He's now saying that he can move into his girlfriend's house--which is her parents' house--for the time being. But that we have to say that it's okay.

I'm not sure that that would be the right move for him. And I feel sort of guilty for it even being an option. I know my son thinks we're against him. The other day he told us, "other families want to help me more than you do." That's not really true. It's just that another family is willing to let him move in with them while we are not. My wife and I don't want to jeopardize the serenity we've found over the last 10 months or so. Selfish? Maybe. But we have lives, too. Our recovery is important, too. We're both 51 years old (gack!) and have endured some pretty rough times over the last several years. I think we deserve to move on with our lives.

Getting back to our son possibly moving into his girlfriend's house...

While we don't think it's the best move for him right now, we think it's better than him moving back home. (I know. That sounds selfish, too.) If he's dead set on leaving Jack's house, then I guess his girlfriend's house is the best option on the table right now. Our son is 23 and can make that decision for himself. We can offer our opinions, but he certainly doesn't have to agree with them or do what we suggest.

I guess we'll see what happens later today.

I also wanted to share something very personal here. (I'm all about transparency!) Very late last night I was thinking about the whole situation (it's very hard not to). That prompted me to send the following message to my son via Facebook. I'm not sure if it will have any impact, but here it is:

I would hope that you would call Jack and set up a time to talk to him. He told me today he would like to come to a truce with you. Contrary to what you might think, he *does* care about you. You just don't see it. You know how you had so many issues with me and mom over the years because of stuff we did? Stuff you thought meant we didn't like you? Well, think of the stuff Jack's doing as being similar to that. I know it's hard. I know you're pissed off at him. I know you want to leave that house. But right now, until you can get a place of your own with some buddies, it's someplace for you to stay. I honestly believe that you coming back here for a month would be risky for all of us. I just think it could possibly strain our relationships...and I'm not sure I want to take that chance.

My advice: Talk to Jack...calmly. If it would help--and it probably would--ask your sponsor to sit in on the talk. See if you can come to an agreement. Jack said he's willing to give in a little if you're willing to give in a little. Maybe it means going to a couple more meetings. Maybe it means biting your lip when you feel like snapping back at Jack. Maybe it means working the program harder. Maybe it means getting up a little earlier and getting out and doing something on days when you're not working (like looking for a job with more hours). You're always going to have to do things you don't want to do in life. Trust me. I do it every day. Every. Single. Day.

I think sucking it up a bit and having a place to stay until you're ready to move out is better than leaving in a huff and not knowing where to go. Why not challenge yourself? Try to be the "model citizen" at Jack's house. Follow all the rules, even if they're not being enforced. Set an example for the other guys. Show him--and yourself--that you can do it. Because I *know* you can do it.

I love you, [name withheld]. I know you don't like certain decisions I make. And I know that sometimes you think I'm against you. But I'm really not. Every single decision I make and action I take is always with your best interests in mind. Maybe someday, if you're a parent, you'll realize that mom and I have only been trying to help you. Because we love you and care about you. And we want you to live up to the unlimited potential you have.



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Time to do some thinking

My son is talking about wanting to move out of his sober living house. Without going into too much detail as to why, I will say that much of it has to do with the fact that pretty much all of the money he earns at his job goes towards his rent, with my wife and I subsidizing the rest.

Eventually, my son and two other guys he lives with want to get an apartment together. But until that can happen my son wants to--and this is very difficult for me to type--

move back home.

This isn't something I was expecting to have to think about, but it's out there now and so I am thinking about it. Not necessarily thinking about saying yes. At least not right now. Right now I am just thinking.

My wife and I had agreed that we wouldn't even think about letting our son move back home until he had at least a year of clean and sober time under his belt. (Right now, he's coming up on the 10-month mark.)  So there's that to consider.

I'm also not sure if I want to go back to having our son live in our house. It may sound totally selfish, but life for me and my wife has been so much more pleasant and stress-free since he moved out last July. Of course, up until that time we had been living with an active drug user. Now he's in recovery. So there's that to consider.

To be totally honest, there are probably a hundred different things to consider. But because this kind of came out of the blue, I wasn't prepared to start considering any of them. And I'm not sure if I'm even ready to do so.

My wife and I will have to sit down and talk about this, both by ourselves and with our son. For now we've told him to sit tight and keep doing what he's doing.

Meanwhile, I guess it's time to do some thinking.

P.S. I'm curious. Is there anyone who reads this blog who is the parent of an addict in recovery who lives with them? If so, how do you feel about the situation? And did you allow your child to move back into your house after you had originally kicked him or her out? Feel free to give me feedback in a comment. I would really appreciate it.

P.P.S. I'm thinking having my son move back in with us is not the best idea in the world. I feel like my wife and I would be going back on a boundary we set, and we did that a number of times in the past to less than stellar results.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why have I kept this stuff?

My wife is out of town tonight, spending the night at her parents' house in northern Michigan after driving our younger son back up to school after a two-week spring break. So I've been putzing around the house, cleaning a little, organizing a little, and what have you.

While I was putting some papers into the safe in our bedroom--the safe we bought to lock up all our medications and valuables in while our older son was living at home--I came across a Ziploc bag of "stuff." What kind of stuff? This kind of stuff:

These are just some of the things I "collected" while my son was living with us. Most of this stuff was found right before he moved out; after I started going through his room, his guitar bag, backpack, etc. (Yes, parents of addicts do engage in their own little "scavenger hunts" from time to time.)

I'm sure I missed out on a lot of other finds over the years. I mean, I was naïve--clueless, really--for so long. As I've said before, being the parent of an addict doesn't come with an instruction manual. You learn as you go along.

In any case, the stuff I keep in that Ziploc bag in the safe includes: tiny little plastic packets that used to contain heroin; a CO2 (carbon dioxide) cartridge used for huffing; a dollar bill through which cocaine was snorted; a "one-hitter" stealth marijuana pipe that looks like a cigarette; empty incense and potpourri packages; and even the phone number of one my son's old drug dealers (which I got by pressing "redial" on our home phone after I overheard him making a call one night).

So the question is: Why have I kept this stuff? And the answer is: I don't know.

Part of me thinks I've kept it to remember the struggles our family has been through. And the struggles my son has been through. That might sound kind of crazy and sick, but I'm being totally honest. It's almost like it's a "negative trophy." Not a trophy you'd want to display on a shelf, mind you, but a trophy nonetheless. A memento that symbolizes a part of our lives.

I also think I've kept these things in case I can use them to educate someone. Perhaps a teenager or a parent.

I'm sure some people might find it incredibly bizarre that I've hung on to things that bring back such terrible memories. Those people are certainly entitled to their opinions. But although this "stuff" conjures up memories of an awful, not-too-distant past, it also serves as a reminder of how far my son has come. (He's coming up on 10 months clean and sober.) And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

I'm sure I'll throw the Ziploc bag and its contents out someday. But for now? It's back in the safe.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Survivor's guilt...and heroic parents

(Note: A version of this blog post appears on The Huffington Post's blog site as "Addiction: Survivor's Guilt and Heroic Parents.")

Can you suffer from "survivor's guilt" even if you are not the actual survivor? That's the question I've been asking myself lately.

Over the past few months, through my blog, Facebook, and my work with The Partnership at Drugfree.org, I've come into contact with many parents of addicts who have lost their children to drug addiction. Their kids were good kids--just like mine--who weren't as lucky as mine. And their parents are good parents--just like my wife and me--who weren't as lucky us.

When I look back over the last 7+ years, there's no question that what my wife and I went through with our son was a horrific nightmare. But it's nothing like the nightmare of losing a child. Not even close. Let's face it: my son and my family have suffered greatly; emotionally, physically, and financially. Our lives were turned upside down by addiction. That being said, though, our son is going on 10 months clean and sober. And he's alive. He has survived.

I have to say, when I think about that I am overjoyed. But at the same time, I feel some guilt. I wonder why it is that our son is finally--at least for now--on the right path. And I wonder why other parents have to suffer the horrible experience of having to bury their child because of this devastating disease called addiction.

I cannot even imagine what losing a child to drugs would be like. I have thought about it often. For a while, I was terrified that it might happen to me. And I'll admit that it's still something I think about when I allow my mind to wander out of the moment. I try to put myself in those parents' shoes and wonder what they feel. I wonder what I would feel. But the truth is, no matter what I think it would feel like...it must be a hundred times worse. Maybe a thousand times worse. Maybe a million.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

I must say, many of the parents who I've encountered recently--the ones who have lost a child to addiction--are some of the most incredible parents and human beings I have ever come across. Despite experiencing the worst thing a parent could possibly experience, they are fighting to help prevent other families from having to experience what they have.

They are putting themselves "out there," raising awareness and taking action against drugs and addiction. They are working hard to turn their tragedy into a positive thing for others. I can't even begin to describe what tremendous courage that takes. These people who have lost a child to drugs are making a difference. They are real life heroes and they are to be commended.

Here are a just a few links to websites created by some of these parents. I urge you to visit these sites, read their stories, and support their causes. If you have or know of a similar website, let me know. Leave me a comment with the URL and I will add it to the list.

atTAcK addiction
Dedicated to Tyler Armstrong Keister

Shatterproof (formerly Brian's Wish)
Dedicated to Brian Mendell

Gregg's Gift
Dedicated to Gregg Grossman

Henry's Fund
Dedicated to Henry Louis Granju

Kacie's Cause
Dedicated to Kacie Erin Rumford

Tyler's Light
Dedicated to Tyler Campbell

Zoe's Story
Dedicated to Zoe Kellner

In Loving Memory of Jon Morelli

Jake Koenigsdorf Foundation

the harris project
Dedicated to Harris Marquesano

I will leave you with two videos. The first, "She'll Never Come Home," was posted by Kacie Rumford's father. It's silent. But it's powerful. Please take a couple minutes out of your day to watch it.

The second is "Henry's Story," about Henry Granju. It's a longer video, but well worth the 28 or so minutes required to watch it. It shows what can happen to a teenager who starts experimenting with drugs.

"It can happen to any kid."