NARCAN: ONE MOTHER SAVED HER SON’S LIFE

A mom wrote to me: Two weeks ago, one of my worst nightmares occurred. My son, who had been ‘clean for 3 years,’ overdosed in my house. Luckily, his friend went to check on him, and found him down. I had Narcan in the house and, thankfully, it saved his life. I never heard him come into the house and never heard him drop to the floor. If his friend hadn’t checked on him, my son would be dead! I still cannot get the image of his face, blue and not breathing, out of my head. I thank God that I had Narcan in my home. Now, all of my family members carry it, even my son.

My reflection: This is a wake-up call to all of us. I asked my son, who is fourteen-years sober from a heroin addiction, if he thought it would be good for our family and all families to have Narcan on hand. His response was clear, “Yes, Narcan is a lifesaving tool and I think it’s important to have at the ready for families with a history of opiate addiction, no matter how long it’s been dormant.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse can happen, especially now with our loved ones facing an avalanche of modern stressors. With so many drugs laced with deadly Fentanyl, the chances of death loom even larger. Today, let us each think about having Narcan available in our homes. We never know what might happen, and we need to be prepared even when we think we won’t need it. Our quick response can save lives.

ADDICTION AND RECOVERY: “MIRACLES HAPPENED WHEN I LET GO OF TRYING TO CHANGE AND CONTROL HIM.”

A mom wrote to me: When I hit MY bottom, began to put the focus on ME, and trust my Higher Power, I was finally able to release myself from fear and find true understanding and compassion for my son and myself. When I let go of trying to change and control him, when I granted him the dignity to face his disease on his own terms, it was then – slowly – the miracles began to unfold. Today he has a good job and the fog seems to be lifting, but I have absolutely no sense of what his lifestyle choices are or what tomorrow might bring. His recovery is his own. I cannot live my life based on him, how he looks, how he “seems.” We try to love him as is, right where he is.

My reflection: When I finally surrendered to my son’s addiction, when I finally let go of trying to fix the consequences of his chaos, and when I finally took my hands off the steering wheel of his life, Jeff made the decision to change.

Today’s Promise to consider: There is room for only one person in each addiction – and I am not that person. Today, I’ll concentrate on my own recovery. I’ll start this New Year by trusting my Higher Power, attending Al-Anon or family group meetings, renewing my commitment to working with a sponsor, and prioritizing my physical health. I’ll trust that a miracle will happen if I stay close, but get out of the way.

FACING THE PAIN OF ADDICTION WITH THE ‘CANDLE LIGHT’ OF COMPASSION

Gabor Maté, Hungarian-born Canadian physician and author of the highly respected book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, posits that addiction is rooted in the pain of individual trauma and family history. He emphasizes that addiction must be met with compassion and quotes the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: “Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain, and that’s the reality with addiction.”

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee, my son’s beloved addiction therapist, said, “Shining a flashlight on Jeff and his addiction never helped. I had to work with him with candle light.” MacAfee knew that my son needed gentle understanding.

Today’s Promise to consider: Gabor Maté asserts that addiction is rooted in pain and compassion is needed to counter the suffering. Several years ago, I surveyed forty-one recovering people and asked them, “What made you choose recovery?” Thirty-eight said, “When I was ready to change, someone was there for me after all the destruction. Someone still loved me and had stayed close.” Today, let us stay close and join in prayer that our loved ones choose sobriety. We will be there.

WHEN DOES RECOVERY HAPPEN?

A woman wrote to me: My younger sister is a recovering heroin addict. She is 25 years old and has been to 17 rehab centers, and never finished one program. Last year, she completed her time in jail (since she did not fulfill the requirements of rehab) and that seems to have made a difference for her.  She is recently married, pregnant and, as far as we can tell, sober.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, he bounced among rehabs, jails, hospitals, and detox centers. I never knew what to do – should I pay for another rehab that I knew he would walk out of as soon as he cleaned up, should I be grateful he was arrested and detained, should I do something – or nothing?

Today’s Promise to consider: There is not one definitive answer as to what makes a suffering person choose to change her life and stay sober. Did she hit her point of desperation? Is it time in jail, rehab programs, treatment centers, AA, professional help? Is it all of these things? The answer must be found in the addict herself. She must choose a different life, and we pray that she chooses before it is too late. We are powerless, but today we can and will stay close.

RECOVERY: STARTING LIFE OVER, WITH A MEMORY OF A LIFE BEFORE

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote, Learning to live drug free touches every facet of a recovering person’s life. He has to learn to laugh without using. He has to learn to “do today” without using. He has to learn to be intimate without using. There is no part of his existence untouched by his drug history. It is literally like starting his life over, yet with a memory of a life before.

My reflection: I remember well the day Jeff and I talked with a group of young recovering people, who were attending a sober living high school in Texas. One boy said, “I can’t listen to the same music as before. I have to find new music that I like.” Jeff responded, “I understand. When I got sober, I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion for recovering addicts is imperative. They have to relearn everything: ways to be social on a Saturday night, what to do on a date, and how to relate to themselves without the cloak of drugs and alcohol. As Dr. MacAfee writes, “It’s literally like starting life over, yet with a memory of a life before.” Today, I’ll remember the courage it takes for my loved one to begin anew.

“I CAN’T FIX THIS”

A father wrote to me: Our son has a gambling addiction and after more than five years of heartache he has lost his wife, many jobs, stolen from everyone, and now faces legal issues. He has been to various treatment centers and resides today in a halfway house. As a father, I try to understand the pain my wife endures when her son, who could do no wrong, spirals out of control. I always felt it was my place to protect and fix things. I can’t fix this.

My reflectionBoth mothers and fathers suffer tremendously, but as this father writes, he felt his role in the family was to protect and fix problems. Most moms I talk with assume the role of rescuer. If our child is drowning, our first instinct is to jump into the water, pull them close to us, and swim to safety.

Today’s Promise to consider: Being a parent of a child who is suffering from drug addiction is counter-intuitive. How do we stay close to someone whose behavior is so destructive? How can we love our children who are causing themselves and those closest to them such pain? Today, I’ll pray for wisdom that we learn to accept that our children must choose sobriety for themselves.

WHAT IF? A RECOVERY MODEL DESIGNED BY A PERSON IN RECOVERY

A woman in recovery wrote to me: What if there was a place for recovering addicts to go to get their equilibrium back? It takes five years for the body to heal and stabilize into normal endocrine function after addiction. It takes two years for the brain to heal and for its natural hormones to start flowing regularly again. During this recovery time is when the addict is most vulnerable. So what if there was a place for addicts to go that allowed them to stay in a safe place while they get their memory and focus back and learn a new trade, or go back to school to get their degree and learn organization and responsibility again. The next three years are spent finishing their degree and re-entering the workforce giving half of what they earn to the program and save the other half to purchase a car and apartment when they finish the program. By the end of this five-year program they would be in full recovery. They’d have a job, a car, and a place to live. They would be productive citizens of society again. What if?

My reflection: This idea is similar to the San Patrignano model in Italy, where people stay three-to-five years in order to fully recover. The recovery rate at San Patrignano is 78% after three years of exiting the community.

Today’s Promise to consider: What if there were a recovery model that provided a safe place for recovering people to live for several years in order to get it right? A place that offered the time to learn a trade, save money, and even continue education, all within the safe haven of a recovery community. The idea posited by this young woman makes total sense. I’d love to see a treatment center adopt this approach or at least our medical community explore the concept with research. Something needs to change with the way we treat addiction. What if?

 

THE BRAIN ON DRUGS

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE recently published an article that reported: Addiction is a brain disease, “not a choice, not a personality flaw, not a moral failing,” said Dr. Jody Glance, an addiction specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Researchers have found that a key part of what makes opioid addiction so entrenched and difficult to quit is the way the drug changes the brain.

When you sense something pleasurable, the brain releases a natural chemical called dopamine that trains the body to remember, “I liked that, let’s do it again.” That’s the brain’s reward system, and opioids can hijack it by triggering a surge of dopamine larger than nature ever could. Repeated opioid use overloads circuits in multiple brain regions. At the same time, the brain gradually releases less dopamine in response to other things the person once found pleasurable. Eventually they seek more of the drug not to get high, but to avoid constantly feeling low.

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I didn’t know anything about the affect of opiates on the brain. It was all so new and overwhelming to me. He was prescribed medication, including methadone and buprenorphine, but he abused everything he came into contact with. Despite my best efforts to find good treatment for my son, I needed additional education and other options.

Today’s Promise to consider: Drug use is not a personal affront to those they love, but it is an addict in pursuit of dopamine stimulation  – and eventually, regulation. Brain research shows that addiction seizes the brain and sends the user down a path that’s out of his control. Today, I commit to continuing to educate myself about current addiction and recovery research. I pray for wisdom – for son, myself, and the therapeutic community.

 

STAYING HUMBLE IN THE FACE OF ADDICTION

A mother wrote to me: My youngest daughter is 19. She started with alcohol at age 12 and ended up a heroin addict. After many false starts and years of fearing that ‘phone call’ when I would hear that she is dead, she finally is in an inpatient center. After completion, she wants to come home. I want her home, but I am also realistic that we are NOT out of the woods by a long shot. She is going to need help from someone who truly ‘gets it’ and is not family. Our family is still healing – we have a very long way to go.

My reaction: This mother writes with the wisdom of experience. It took me many years to understand the power of addiction and my own limits.

Today’s Promise to consider: We need to stay humble in the face of addiction because it lurks in the shadows, always taunting and bidding its time, gauging just the right moment when vulnerability is high and relapse is possible. Recovery happens, but there is no magic bullet. It takes determination, faith, and constant care. Our loved ones must work their own program, and we must stay grateful, and continue to hope.

MIRACLES DO HAPPEN

A dad wrote: I spent weeks trying to find my addicted son. Eventually, I found him and my plan was to kidnap him and take him to safety. I did kidnap him – he looked like a prisoner from a concentration camp – but I didn’t take him to safety. Once I had him with me, I called my counselor who told me to release him immediately. I opened the rear doors to the van, and he stepped out, hugged me, and said, “I love you, Dad.” With tears in my eyes and a broken heart, I hugged him back, and told him I loved him, too. Then I watch him disappear into an apartment complex. I was sure I would never see him again. Today, he is six years clear and sober, a licensed electrician, and a true joy to be around. Miracles do happy. Never give you hope.

My reflection: I, too, thought I could ‘bring him to safety.’ It took me years to realize that the miracle had to come from Jeff, and his God.

Today’s Promise to consider: My son suffered a fourteen-year addiction, ending with him regularly shooting heroin into his neck and damaging the superficial vein system in his arms and legs. Today, he is almost thirteen years sober, productive, spiritual, and an inspiration to me and others. Miracles do happen. Never quit believing.