Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Blog Post on Heroes in Recovery Page

If you read this blog you likely know that I'm working as a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery, a great organization that is helping to break the stigma associated with addiction, and teaching people that it's okay to seek treatment.

I wanted to let you know that I have a new blog post up on the Heroes in Recovery page. It was prompted by a couple of Facebook messages I received this past Monday morning.

Please click the link and read "Addiction Affects So Many More than Just the Addict."


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rappelling Down Buildings for Addiction: Shatterproof's Cool Fundraiser

A few posts back I mentioned the great organization called Shatterproof, which was started by Gary Mendell after his son Brian, who suffered from addiction, took his own life. Brian, according to Gary, was ashamed of who he was and didn't want to hurt his family anymore. He was yet another victim of the stigma associated with addiction.

Shatterproof (formerly Brian's Wish) believes that addiction is a disease that shatters lives, and that it's time to say, "ENOUGH!" They are "an unprecedented movement to decisively tackle the disease of addiction to alcohol and other drugs and bridge the enormous gap in addiction resources."

One of the great ways Shatterproof raises awareness and funds for its organization--and for the cause in general--is by hosting cool, fun events throughout the United States. This year, they are offering people the chance to rappel down the sides of buildings in more than 20 U.S. cities. Yes, you read that right. By supporting Shatterproof, you can be like Batman and Robin and rappel down a very tall building. And you don't even have to bring your own Bat Hook.

What you do have to do is some fundraising. If you register for one of the events at the Shatterproof site and get people to pledge at least $1,000.00 in donations, then everybody wins: Shatterproof gets much-needed funds to continue their great work; people who make a (tax-deductible) donation are made aware of the cause; and you get to walk down the side of a building...without going to jail!

Addiction advocacy is a strange bird. Although millions and millions of people in this country are affected by addiction--either because they have a substance abuse problem of their own or someone they love does--there are proportionately very few people working hard to break down the stigma and change things. Gary Mendell is one of those people.

Another one of those people is Dr. Herby Bell, host of the "Sober Conversations" podcast that I appeared on just a few weeks ago. Yesterday Herby's podcast with Gary Mendell went live and I must say it's a great listen. Gary talks about the addiction problem, what Shatterproof is doing to solve it, and his son Brian. It's an incredibly informative, emotional, eye-opening, and thought-provoking interview. You really need to hear it.

Today I give mad props to Gary Mendell. He is not only talking the talk, he is walking the walk; in a huge way. He is bound and determined. He is on a mission. He has set out to fulfill promises he made to his late son. And I have all the confidence in the world that he will succeed. My advice to addiction would be to get the hell out of Gary's way, because he's got the pedal to the metal and he's coming at you with a vengeance.

P.S. When I mentioned the rappelling events that Shatterproof is putting on to one of my dearest friends, Jennifer, she got so excited. She has been incredibly supportive of my entire family over the last several years, especially while my son was battling his addiction. Jennifer is like a sister to me and she has signed on to support Shatterproof and their event in San Antonio on March 19th. She's doing this for two reasons: 1.) To show support for not only my family, but for all the families out there who are affected by this disease. And 2.) Because she loves to live her life to the fullest and really wants to rappel down the side of the One International Centre building in San Antonio! So if you're reading this blog and would be willing to help Jennifer (and Shatterproof) out, a donation of just a few dollars would go a long way toward her reaching her goal. Just go to Jennifer's Shatterproof fundraising page and contribute whatever you'd like.

P.P.S. Here are a couple of YouTube videos that you should watch. The first one is Gary Mendell's speech at the Clinton Foundation's 2013 Health Matters Conference. The second video is...well, the second video speaks for itself. Please take a few minutes and watch them both.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness

Of all the behaviors human beings exhibit, I'm pretty sure kindness is my favorite. Doing something kind for someone benefits both parties. The person being kind feels good about themself. And, of course, the recipient of the kind act is happy and grateful.

I don't think kindness is practiced enough these days. In today's fast-paced world, people are constantly on the go or tethered to electronic devices; or both. Too often we are so focused on other things--or ourselves--that we forget how simple it is to make another human--a friend, a neighbor, or even a complete stranger--happy. We forget how easy it is to put a smile on someone else's face or make them feel just a little more special.

Random acts of kindness are even cooler. When you do something nice for someone when they aren't expecting it, it makes both people involved feel even better. Random acts of kindness are truly badass.

In the next 24 hours, try to perform at least one random act of kindness. Help someone in the grocery store parking lot load their groceries. Shovel your neighbor's snow. Pay for a stranger's cup of coffee at Starbucks. Cook a meal for an elderly person in the neighborhood. Or just smile at a complete stranger on the street and tell them to have a great day.

Get in the habit of offering the world a random act of kindness at least a couple times a week. It might sound crazy, but you'll help make this planet a happier place.

"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind." ― Henry James

Sunday, February 16, 2014

It's Who I Am

I've had a lot of different career-related thoughts running through my head the last couple of months. I've also had to make some decisions. Let me explain.

In mid-December I chose to leave my job at the company I had worked for for nearly 24 years. So I am currently unemployed and looking for work. In the meantime, I am thrilled to be working as a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery; continuing my role as a National Parent Partner with The Partnership at; and keeping on with my personal mission to help break the stigma associated with addiction and mental illness.

But the fact remains that I need a job. I need to keep a roof over my family's head, put food on the table, and be able to support my family. College is on the horizon for my younger son. (And maybe for my older son, too.) So a steady income and, ideally, medical benefits would be a great thing. I had those things at my old job, but I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and explore other avenues.

You see, at this stage of my life I want a job that I am truly passionate about. After spending a lot of years working just to get a paycheck, I think I owe it to myself to follow my heart now. As the poet Anaïs Nin wrote: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." I'm 52-years-old and I want out of that tight bud. I'm ready to blossom.

Personal satisfaction now has way more importance to me than money. Yes, I know I said earlier that a steady income would be a great thing. But I wouldn't care one bit if that income was less than I was making before, even if it meant having to move and getting rid of some possessions.

Educating people about addiction and depression, helping others whose lives are touched by those diseases, and breaking down barriers; these are the things that drive me today. This is my passion in life. I love doing it and I get great satisfaction from it. It's what gets me up in the morning and makes me feel like I'm making a difference.

In a perfect world, I would love to find a job that paid me to advocate for people who are affected by addiction/depression, help them get proper treatment, and the like. Unfortunately, my education is not in that field. So getting that "dream job" is far from a sure thing. It's probably even an unlikely thing. But I have faith and will keep searching for that proverbial needle in a haystack: a job I truly love.

Now, what happens if that dream job never materializes? Well, unless I choose to pursue my wife's dream of us living in a yurt on a big chunk of land somewhere--intriguing, yes, but probably not very practical--I will eventually have to get some kind of job. In fact, I've already applied for jobs at our local Trader Joe's and Costco. Not exactly the dream job, but being in both of those stores makes me happy. I'd like to think that working for either of them wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Oh, geez. I almost forgot the main reason for this post. The "It's Who I Am" part.

Since leaving my job in December, I've updated my LinkedIn page a few times. And, when doing so, I wondered if I should include my advocacy work in my LinkedIn profile. Why did I think twice about that? Because someone I worked with once told me that I should keep my son's addiction and my work in that area "separate" from my day job. They said that mentioning it would make a lot of people "uncomfortable" and that those people may look at me "differently."

When I heard that, I was shocked. But I guess it was just the stigma rearing its ugly head again. The cruel truth is that addiction does make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Regardless, I choose to let it all hang out. So on my LinkedIn page, you'll see my work related to addiction listed for all the world to see. You'll even see my blog posts about addiction and depression showing up in my status updates. Crazy, I know. But keeping quiet about something so incredibly important to me would go against everything I believe in. I would be contributing to the same stigma I'm working so hard to break.

If any prospective employers look at my LinkedIn profile and get scared off by my "stuff," so be it. It's who I am. Take it or leave it.

"Faith is the muscle you use when you decide to blast outside of your comfort zone and transform your life into something that's practically unrecognizable to you in your present reality. Faith smothers your fear of the unknown. Faith allows you to take risks. Faith is the stuff of 'leap and the net will appear.'" --Jen Sincero, from her book You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

True story.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Where Are the Dads?

I've been noticing something for quite a while and decided I'd blog about it today.

For several years I've had this father-of-an-addict blog and have been writing about my son's addiction and recovery journey. I've also been very involved in advocating for addicts and the recovery movement. And I belong to more Facebook groups dealing with addiction and recovery than you can probably imagine. Two of those groups are The Addict's Mom and The Addict's Dad.

As of this writing, here are the membership numbers for those two groups:

The Addict's Mom = 7,936
The Addict's Dad =      104

Seriously? Yup. Those are the numbers. The mom's group has more than 7,832 more members than the dad's group does.

It should be noted that these numbers are not necessarily indicative of how many moms and dads actually belong to each group.The reason is that both groups have members who are of the opposite sex. (Dads belong to the mom's group and vice versa.) But I think you get the idea.

These lopsided numbers have me wondering: Are mothers of addicts more passionate about the cause than fathers of addicts are? It sure seems like it.

The Addict's Mom group page on Facebook is constantly humming with activity: Mothers posting about the status of their addict son or daughter; asking for help from other mothers; opening up and venting about how frustrated, angry, and hurt they are; offering stories of hope; and, sadly, letting the community know that they've lost their loved one to drugs.

The Addict's Dad group page is different. Most of its activity is people posting links to articles and blog posts; photos with affirmations on them; etc. There is very little--if any--back and forth discussion among dads. You don't see status updates on addicts or venting or any of the more personal stuff you see every single day on The Addict's Mom page.

As a very compassionate and empathetic father, this troubles me a bit. Why are moms so open and willing to discuss their child's addiction while fathers, it would appear, are content to keep things to themselves?

Is it the whole "men should be tough and macho and not show their feelings" mentality? Are fathers more ashamed of their child's addiction than mothers are? I suppose it could be a combination of those things...and more.

If the disparity in the "Mom" and "Dad" Facebook numbers weren't enough, let me add this to the mix: The Addict's Mom also has a separate website that has over 20,000 members spread across the United States and 52 countries. Wow. That's saying something for the mothers of addicts and their passion about the subject. "The Addict's Mom: Sharing without Shame." That subtitle of the website says it all, I think.

I would be remiss if I ended this blog post without extending kudos to Barbara Theodosiou, the founder of The Addict's Mom; and Duana Wilkins and Kathy Frasier, the group's executive and regional directors. Both the Facebook page and the website are incredibly useful resources for anyone with a loved one going through the horror of addiction. It doesn't have to be your child, and you don't even have to be a mom. You just have to need a place to share your pain and help you heal. Believe me: The Addict's Mom is just that. If you haven't visited their pages, I urge you to do so.

I also want to point out that there are dads out there who are passionate and on fire when it comes to advocating for addicts and recovery. I know many of them. But there aren't enough. If you're a father of an addict, stand up for your son or daughter. Share your story on Facebook pages and websites. Doing so won't make you any less of a man. In fact, it might just make you feel better about yourself and lift a tremendous weight off of your shoulders.

Mothers and fathers of addicts are some of the most heroic people there are. We are all human beings and we should never be ashamed. Because none of us are alone.

P.S. I'd like to note that The Addict's Mom is a community sponsor for the Heroes in Recovery 6K race in South Florida on May 3rd. As a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery, I would like to thank The Addict's Mom group for their participation.

Friday, February 14, 2014

My First (Official) Blog Post for Heroes in Recovery

One of my responsibilities as a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery is contributing to their blog a couple times a month. So, in reality I guess I now sort of have two blogs. Or at least a little more than just this one blog. Which is fine with me, because the more we share, the more people may see something that might help or inspire them. Or make them feel less alone.

My first official blog post for HIR--I previously had a guest post appear on their blog--is called Parents Need Recovery Too. Please check it out. And if you don't mind rating it (using the little stars at the bottom of the post),  leaving a comment, or sharing it, I would really appreciate it.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

atTAcK addiction

"atTAcK addiction."

Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I see are those two words, printed in white on a light blue silicone bracelet I wear on my right wrist. I never take the bracelet off, so I see the words not only first thing in the morning but all day long.

Seeing "atTAcK addiction," spelled in its quirky little way, hundreds of times a day constantly reminds me of three things: 1.) Addiction kills and no one's immune from it. 2.) There are parents out there who are true heroes, so selfless that they are willing to use their own unthinkable tragedy to help others. And 3.) We need to fight and advocate for addicts and the disease of addiction every single day.

atTAcK addiction may drive my spell check crazy, but it's spelled the way it is for a reason. The capital T, A, and K stand for Tyler Armstrong Keister, who died from a heroin overdose on December 23, 2012. He was 24 years old. I never met Tyler, but everything I read about him indicates that he was a great kid. His story on the atTAcK addiction website describes him this way: "Tyler was a good athlete, smart, funny and witty, with a great sense of humor. Most importantly, he was a kind, compassionate and loving person."

Tyler played soccer, baseball, and football. He ran track and was a swimmer. He was very active in his church and school. A handsome and talented kid, Tyler was named class homecoming "Prince" three of his four years in high school. That doesn't sound like your stereotypical drug addict, does it? Yet there is a family out there whose life has an immeasurable hole in it. Because addiction kills and no one is immune from it.

So what does that family do after losing their beloved son to this horrible disease? They start an organization called atTAcK addiction. Their mission? "Through Tyler's tragic death from a drug overdose we hope to help young people realize the dangers of alcohol and drugs so that they, and their families, never have to experience the pain, tragedy, and loneliness that accompany addiction."

Tyler's amazing parents, Jeanne and Don Keister, along with his older brother and sister, are heroes. They could've been ashamed of Tyler's death and gone into hiding. I imagine a lot of families do just that after one of their own dies of a drug overdose. But the Keisters didn't do that. They took their horrible negative and reframed it into an incredible positive. They decided that they were going to educate others about addiction, help lead the fight against the disease, and work to break the stigma associated with it.

In addition to their website, the Keisters also have an atTAcK addiction Facebook page and a Twitter account. They have monthly meetings at Tyler's former high school, the Caravel Academy in Bear, Delaware. And they host events to help raise awareness about addiction.

The next big atTAcK addiction event is the inaugural atTAck addiction 5K race on Saturday, March 1st, in Old New Castle, Delaware. (March 1st is Tyler's birthday.) If you're into running or walking--or a combination of both--and you're not too far away, I encourage you to sign up and participate in this event, whose theme is "E-racing the Stigma." You can register for the race here. My wife and I will be attending, so maybe we'll see you there.

Besides the Keisters, there will be another hero at the race: Brad Spicer, a truly remarkable and inspirational man in recovery, who ran 7,000 miles in one year to raise awareness about addiction--after he had run 5,000 miles the year before! Yes, the amazing man behind Project Run 7000 will be leading the race.

And speaking of heroes, one last word about Tyler Keister. He was an organ donor and his heart, liver, and kidneys went to people in need and extended their lives.

Addiction discriminates against no one. The world needs to wake up and realize this and bring about change in the way people view and treat the disease and its victims. "That can't happen to me" too often turns into "I can't believe this is happening to me." We need to fight and advocate for addicts and the disease of addiction every single day. Every single day.

P.S. I should note that, along with Dave Humes and Liz Perkins--two other parents who lost their sons to addiction--the Keisters work with Gary Mendell. Gary also lost a son to addiction and started the phenomenal organization called Shatterproof. Shatterproof is "an unprecedented movement to decisively tackle the disease of addiction to alcohol and other drugs and bridge the enormous gap in addiction resources." You should definitely check out their website.

As Jeanne Keister told me, "Like Dave says, 'We, not I.'" Amen to that.

Tyler Armstrong Keister

Monday, February 10, 2014

Heroes in Recovery Summit Recap

I took a day off today after spending this past weekend at the Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate Summit in Nashville. (Disclaimer: When you're unemployed, every day is a day off. But I was extra lazy today.)

The three days I spent with my fellow lead advocates, our fearless leader, and the Foundations Recovery Network staff were incredibly rewarding. I learned a lot, met so many wonderfu people, and bonded with a great Heroes in Recovery team. Even though I was meeting these folks for the first time, the genuine camaraderie I felt was amazing.

Besides me, this year's team of lead advocates includes: a mother who lost her son to drugs; two women who are in long-term recovery; and an incredibly brave young woman who got sober as a teenager and has taken on the lead advocate the tender age of 20. (She's also running the Boston Marathon this year!)

Whether we were sitting in training, eating terrific food at one of several restaurants, doing yoga and meditation, or taking goofy photos of ourselves at our hotel, we all enjoyed each other's company. We have a great team and will definitely succeed at knocking down barriers and breaking the stigma associated with addiction and mental health issues.

A final note: One of my responsibilities as a Heroes in Recovery lead advocate is to collect stories from people about recovery, life, and hope. More than 600 people--including me--have shared their stories so far. (You can read the stories here.) These courageous stories serve as inspiration for others. Real stories by real people. What a great way to make people struggling with addiction realize that they are not alone.

If you would like to share your story of recovery, or the story of a family member or loved one, I would be absolutely thrilled. Please contact me through my blog--there's a contact form at the bottom right of this page--and I will walk you through the process.

Together, we can make a difference.

The 2014 Heroes in Recovery lead advocate team. (Photo by a very kind Courtyard by Marriott employee.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sitting Among Angels

It was almost two-and-a-half years ago that a new journey began for my son as he headed from Michigan to Palm Springs, California, for treatment at Michael's House, a facility run by Foundations Recovery Network.

In my blog post from August 23, 2011, I referred to the people at Foundations Recovery Network as "angels my wife and I didn't know existed."

Today in Nashville, as I started my training to be a lead advocate for Heroes in Recovery, I sat among some of those angels and listened to them talk about their passion: Helping millions of Americans who suffer from substance abuse issues get the treatment they need, while at the same time helping to break the stigma associated with addiction and mental health disorders.

It was a great day. And I'm sure tomorrow will be just as great.

"When you're surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible." --Howard Schultz

This incredibly beautiful old Victorian home is the Foundations Recovery Network building where the lead advocate training took place today.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Looking Back: February 5, 2007

I pulled this excerpt out of a long pre-blog journal entry I wrote exactly seven years ago. It relates to my son's depression and suicide attempt (which preceded his addiction). And how his friends at the time shunned him. And how painful it was, as a parent, to watch it all unfold.

February 5, 2007

As for [my son's] friends who have abandoned him: I wish I could sit down with them as a group and make them feel what [my son] feels. Make them feel what it’s like to have your best friends in the world just suddenly dump you. To have them make fun of you. To have them laugh at you. To have their parents say bad things about you. If they could actually feel that pain, maybe they’d realize how mean and cruel they’ve been (and are being). I give my son all the credit in the world. He’s hurting inside. But he’s taking it. As much as it hurts him, he’s standing in the line of fire and taking shots left and right. And he’s still standing. I have to admit: I don’t know if I could do what he’s doing right now. Maybe God’s plan is to put [my son] through this to make him a stronger, more resilient person. I love [my son] with all my heart. And it hurts me so much to see him go through this.

Depression is a disease. Like cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes. It affects perhaps the body's most important organ: the brain. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most stigmatized mental health issues in our society. But it doesn't have to be.

If someone you care about suffers from depression, don't be scared. It's not contagious. And don't turn your back on them. Be compassionate and love them with all your heart. Because they need that from you more than they ever have before.

"I am so demanding and difficult for my friends because I want to crumble and fall apart before them so that they will love me even though I am no fun, lying in bed, crying all the time, not moving. Depression is all about If you loved me you would." --Elizabeth Wurtzel, from the book Prozac Nation

One Day 'til Nashville

In about 24 hours I'll be heading to the airport to get on a plane to Nashville. This weekend is Training Summit Weekend for me and the other four lead advocates for the Heroes in Recovery movement.

I am super excited to finally meet the people from Heroes in Recovery and my fellow lead advocates tomorrow afternoon. And to participate in all day training sessions on Friday and Saturday. Not only does the agenda look very interesting, but we'll be having some lunches and dinners at what look to be some neat restaurants. (I love food, so that's a bonus.) Heck, I'll even be trying yoga for the first time in my life on Saturday afternoon!

Working to break the stigmas associated with addiction and mental illness is a passion of mine. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to do it with a group of people who are just as passionate about it as I am.

I can't wait 'til tomorrow!

"If you're not making someone else's life better, then you're wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better." --Will Smith

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wisdom Teeth Update and Thoughts on Philip Seymour Hoffman's Death

As you may have read in my recent blog post, my son went to the oral surgeon last Tuesday to have two wisdom teeth pulled. The big concern for everyone involved was whether or not he would be able to get through the pain of the surgery without an opioid pain reliever.

I am happy to report that he did. The first 24 hours were tough, and he did ask text my wife on a few occasions--okay...quite a few occasions--to let us know that he was in a lot of pain. We provided moral support, told him "You've got this" over and over, and remained confident that 800mg Motrin was all our son would need to manage the pain.

By Thursday, he was feeling better and even went back to work. No Vicodin required.

Not too long ago, a chance to get a legitimate prescription for Vicodin from an actual doctor would probably have been seen by my son as a golden opportunity. But not this time. He thought about it, fought through both the fear of pain and the actual pain itself, and avoided the opioids.

When you're the parent of an addict in recovery, you quietly rejoice when your child achieves little victories like this. Or when your child reaches recovery milestones, which my son did yesterday: 19 months clean and sober. Bravo, son.

But on the same day my wife and I were feeling so grateful for our son's 19 months, iconic actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York apartment, the victim of an apparent heroin overdose. Hoffman's death was a shock to many, especially because he had been clean for 23 years before relapsing and entering rehab again last year.

I mention Hoffman's death here for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it goes to show you that addiction is a lifelong disease. Hoffman had 23 years of clean time, relapsed last year, and went back into rehab. Yesterday, he lost his battle with the disease. Twenty-three years. That's almost as long as my son's been alive. Yet the disease reared its ugly head and Hoffman succumbed to it.

Secondly, the world should know that heroin addiction very often occurs as the result of prescription drug addiction. As David Sheff writes in this excellent piece on, "These days, most heroin addictions are preceded by addictions to prescription opiates like Oxycontin and Vicodin. These drugs can be hard to get and expensive compared with a cheaper opiate: heroin. If we can prevent prescription-medicine misuse, we can prevent many instances of heroin addiction."

Prevention. What a novel concept. If we work harder at prevention, and at the same time better the treatment given to addicts, perhaps future tragedies can be averted. Sheff goes on to say in his article, "If pain-medication abuse is effectively curtailed, so will the sharp rise in heroin addiction. If the treatment system adopts evidence-based practices, heroin addicts like Hoffman can be saved."

I believe that doctors need to stop prescribing addictive medications willy-nilly and contributing to the addiction problem. Nobody wants to become an addict. But when people are prescribed drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin in situations when maybe something non-addictive and less dangerous would work, we're putting a loaded gun in their hands. Not everyone will pull the trigger and become an addict. But many will.

As I celebrate my son's 19 months of sobriety, at the same time my heart aches for the family of Philip Seymour Hoffman and all the other families who have lost, or will lose, loved ones to addiction.

Perhaps Hoffman's death will raise awareness among the public and help break the stigma associated with drug addiction. Maybe drug addiction will stop being that taboo subject that gets swept under the rug by so many people. Maybe treatment will improve and drug use will decline. And maybe, just maybe, lives--both young and old--will be saved.

What a wonderful thing that would be.

"[The] stigma associated with drug use--the belief that bad kids use, good kids don't, and those with full-blown addiction are weak, dissolute, and pathetic--has contributed to the escalation of use and has hampered treatment more than any single other factor." --David Sheff, from his book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy