FENTANYL TEST STRIPS: KEY TO SAVING LIVES

My son sent me this picture from a local coffee shop in Los Angeles. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 – 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl test strips can be used to detect the presence of fentanyl in a wide range of street drugs. You don’t need to be a medical professional to run the tests. The user simply dips the strip into water containing a small amount of drug residue and waits a few minutes for the result. The appearance of a single line signifies the presence of fentanyl, and two red lines signify its absence. The strips are inexpensive ($1 each), can be carried in a purse or wallet, and are an evidenced-based method of averting drug overdoses.

My reflection: Most fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths, according to the National Institutes of Health, are linked to fentanyl sold illegally for its opiate-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy  – with or without the user’s knowledge – to increase the drug’s impact, often to tragic effect.

Today’s Promise to consider: Overdose deaths involving Fentanyl have quadrupled. Street drugs are awash with it – sold alone as a powder or added to a wide range of other narcotics. The Fentanyl Test Strip Pilot Program was initiated in San Francisco in August 2017 in response to the rapid increase in Fentanyl deaths. What makes it so effective is that it puts control in users’ hands allowing them to test the toxicity of the drugs they’re about to ingest. Today, let’s not only pray that this program expands around the world, but let’s work to make the strips easily available and widely distributed. This can help save many, many lives.

 

 

AM I ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

A mom wrote to me: My son is two years sober, has his own place, has been at his same job for almost two years, and is managing his own money. His best friend, with whom he spends lots of time, just had surgery and has been given pain pills. Unfortunately this brings me to an old, scared place. I wonder if the pain pills tempt him? Do I ask him or just calm my inner self and thoughts? I never really know if talking or even asking would make him upset or be helpful? Am I allowed to ask about the elephant in the room or will that not be healthy for him? The fear is always there, isn’t it Libby?

My reflection: I know this place of fear, this ‘elephant in the room.’ 

Today’s Promise to consider: Maybe the fear of relapse is always in the back of our parent mind. I wonder if it’s in the back of our recovering loved ones’ minds, too? No matter how justified, our worry can’t be laid at the feet of our sons and daughters, who are working hard to stay the course, to live a good life, and to manage their own anxieties. It’s normal to be concerned about ‘what will be,’ but all we have is today. Let us stay close and trust our children. Sure, this is tough, and continued recovery isn’t guaranteed. We’ve been vigilant a long time, but maybe it’s time to put our fears aside and enjoy the present.

RELAPSE AND RECOVERY

A young man wrote to me: As a recovering addict, I know well that relapse happens. It took me many attempts to find sobriety. Each addict is unique in his or her own way, but for me I spent more than a decade avoiding the true problem – myself. Drugs filled the void inside me, an empty space of insecurity and anxiety (and sure a rebellious side when I was young). The road to recovery is a long one and the answer lies within the addict.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I threatened, cajoled, pleaded, and would have sold my soul for his recovery. But all my machinations were futile. My son had to find the answer inside himself, and for himself.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years of addiction’s trauma to accept that relapse happens. By the grace of God, my son survived his many relapses. Lots of families aren’t as fortunate. Throughout it all I was forced to admit that I didn’t have the ability to cure the addiction, fix it, or make it go away. I was powerless, and my son needed to find the answer inside himself.

ADDICTION: LIVING IN THE TRANCE OF FEAR 

Tara Brach writes: The emotion of fear often works overtime. Even when there is no immediate threat, our body may remain tight and on guard, our mind narrowed to focus on what might go wrong. When this happens, fear is no longer functioning to secure our survival. We are caught in the trance of fear and our moment-to-moment experience becomes bound in reactivity. We spend our time and energy defending our life rather than living it.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt fearful – both when he was on the streets and when he was in recovery. Would he make it this time? Would another relapse happen? Would he be arrested again? Would I get another dreaded phone call in the middle of the night? Would he live?

Today’s Promise to consider: Fear enters the very cells of our being, and we become anxious and reactive. Our minds race as we think about the possibilities of our child’s death or a life where they are permanently chained to drugs. Not only are we afraid, but so are our addicted loved ones. I know from my many conversations with those suffering from addiction’s grasp that they fear both living with and living without drugs. Craving, obsession, rejection, failure and shame conspire to keep them locked in place. Today, let us pray, find solidarity in our support groups, exercise, talk with a therapist – let us do whatever it takes to regain our lives. Would you share any helpful ways that you have found to deal with fear?

 

ONE RECOVERING ADDICT’S THOUGHTS ABOUT RELAPSE

 A mom wrote to me: I remember my son saying two things to me about relapse:
1) Relapse is part of recovery, but not an excuse for me to use again. If I do relapse, it is on me. 2) I am not “cured.’ I am an addict getting better, but the pilot light is always on.

 

After the death of my son, my advice to parents is to just keep loving your child, exactly where he is on this journey. Say I love you often. Accept that you are powerless except in prayer and mother love. You will never regret your kindness and firmness.

My reflection: It took me years to understand that relapse wasn’t my son’s attempt to betray me and our family, and it wasn’t his desire to hurt us, but it was just what it was – a lapse and then a relapse. Relapse wasn’t the time for me to say to him, “Ah, I caught you. You did it again,” but it was the time to say, “Fight. I believe in you. You CAN do it. You are loved.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying that while the addict is in recovery, their addiction is in the parking lot doing pushups, biding its time and getting ready to pounce. Today, let us recognize that recovery is a journey, sometimes with many hills and deep valleys. Let us have love and pride for those who are living in the solution, and compassion and hope for those who are struggling.

 

RELAPSE REQUIRES COURAGE FOR ALL OF US

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab (both inpatient and outpatient), in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and is presently trying the suboxone route with individual counseling. My heart is broken, but I will find my courage.

My reflection: Our suffering loved ones must learn to live in abstinence and that’s a new and scary place for them. They know how to occupy addiction, but sobriety requires skills that are foreign to them or skills they’ve long forgotten.

At one point Jeff wrote the following about a friend who relapsed, which helped me understand in a deeper way how complicated it is, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to Consider: Relapse scares me as a mom, but I will remember that it’s also frightening for my loved one. I can’t fix my child’s addiction or fight his battles, but I can love him with distance. His goal is to learn to live in the solution. My goal is to have the courage to stay close.

ADDICTION DEPLETES US, EMOTIONALLY, MENTALLY, AND FINANCIALLY

A mother wrote to me: My husband and I have bailed our son out of financial trouble for so long that we have nothing left. And it didn’t even help. I don’t know if we were trying to keep him from hitting rock bottom or trying to keep ourselves from hitting rock bottom. He was a brilliant, athletic, friendly, and respectful child, and we are a close supportive family. None of this makes sense.

My reflection: Every addiction story is filled with suffering, chaos, and trauma. At the end of my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I, too, was depleted.

Today’s Promise to consider: We bail out our children, over and over again. When our addicted loved one calls desperate for help, money is often what they want. In the end, money is not the answer. In the end, the solution is in the person, who must make the decision to change his life. It is his decision to get well, to do what it takes to remain clean, and to choose a different way of living. Today, I will stay close, but not allow the addiction to deplete me.

RELAPSE: THAT ‘MOTHER’ FEELING

A mom wrote to me: My son and I went to an AA meeting together, and I was delighted and proud that he allowed me to accompany him. His recovery is so important to me (maybe even more important to me than to him?), and I know he has relapsed several times. He’s not honest enough to tell me. I wish he were. I just sense that he has tripped along the way – just a feeling, that mother feeling.

My reflection: At the beginning of my son’s recovery, I wish I had understood more clearly that relapse happens and can happen often. I thought that when my son left treatment he was healed. Wrong. It was at those times that he needed more support than ever – and he needed honesty. Relapse isn’t about ‘catching’ the addict, but it is about everyone learning how to stay centered through life’s daily struggles.

Today’s Promise to consider: If I have the feeling my son has slipped, I pray that I’ll have the fortitude to talk compassionately with him as he battles for his life, again. Relapse is not moral failure; my son is an addict. Relapse, if handled well, can be one step closer to full recovery.

 

WE WANT TO BELIEVE THE STORIES THEY TELL

A mother wrote to me: I wanted to believe the stories of why my son needed money; I wanted to help. Time after time we gave him another chance; we wanted to believe he could do this. In time, he got out of his fourth rehab, did well for a year, and then relapsed. He was so much worse than ever before. I know I prolonged his addiction out of love. It’s true – I was an enabler, but I could not let go.

My reflection: The Big Book of AA makes a clear promise: If the person doesn’t achieve recovery, he or she will find “jails, institutions or death.” We want to believe our loved ones and the stories they tell – they’re our children and spouses and family members, who were once trustworthy and dependable. Addiction corrupts that.

Today’s Promise: While trust is essential, I must also remember that addiction distorts the truth. As Dr. MacAfee says, “There’s only room for one in an addiction.” My loved one must choose to fight, and I must get out of the way.

ADDICTION: WHEN MY SON WASN’T READY TO GET SOBER

My son wrote about his first recovery center: I was told that recovery required vigilance and a long-term commitment, that in order to stay sober I’d have to attend regular AA meetings and work with a sponsor. At the time I didn’t realize sobriety was an ongoing process. I wasn’t yet ready to do the work. Although my drug use was causing problems, it wasn’t devastating.

My reflection: My son saw the problems that drugs were causing, but he wrote that he wasn’t ready to do the work because the consequences of his using weren’t debilitating, yet. With an illness like cancer or diabetes, we must choose to fight and to do the work required to keep the illness under control, like eating well, taking medicine, or exercising. When I had cancer, I had to choose to fight it; when my son was in the throes of addiction, he also had to choose. He wasn’t ready.

Today’s Promise: Like treatment for any major illness, sobriety requires learning new behaviors. For the addict, attending AA meetings, working with a sponsor and cultivating a spiritual life are where it begins. My son had to choose to do this work. I couldn’t do it for him. In time, I learned how to stay close but out of the chaos of his addiction. I had to give him the dignity of his choices.