Participated in HC DrugFree's Drug Take Back Day Event

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 91 Americans die from an opioid-related overdose every day. Now, that average has increased to 115 Americans a day. This is a national crisis that has serious, lasting effects on our society’s public health, as well as our social and economic welfare.

To combat the misuse of and addiction to opioids, last year IMPAQ International’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee launched an initiative focused on this epidemic. As a part of this initiative, each of IMPAQ’s five offices and a remote staff representative selected a local, opioid-related charity to support. IMPAQ’s Columbia, MD office chose to support HCDrugFree and participated in HC DrugFree’s Drug Take Back Day for the first time in October.

The Drug Take Back Day was very successful despite the cold and rainy weather. We are proud to say that HC DrugFree’s site collected 776.3 lbs of medication and 18 bins of sharps!

Drug Take Back Day: Positively Positive Volunteers!

While the weather was far less than ideal, HC DrugFree’s most recent Drug Take Back Day turned out to be terrific!

Even while out in the cold, wet, breezy atmosphere of the October 27 medication and sharps drive-thru collection in the Wilde Lake Village Center parking lot, I knew the weather could have been far worse; for those 4 hours the rain could have fallen harder, the wind could have been really whipping, and the temperature could have been even more unseasonably cold. At first, I wanted to give up and go home, but a spark of gratitude danced around inside my head as I realized the weather conditions were going to be bearable and I experienced more than 85 of us working together…working to keep our community safe...working to maybe save one family from the pain of drug use by their child.

Wow, more than 85 of us working as a team!

What impressed me the most and helped keep up my own spirits in “an attitude of gratitude” was the positive energy of everyone. There were many members of HC DrugFree’s Teen Advisory Council; students and parents from county high, middle and elementary schools; and adults from local businesses. I still cannot get over their toughness, their willingness to hold their posts with smiling face, their dedication. I even had several interesting conversations with some truly joyful people. I couldn’t help but feel good about what we all were doing and how positively it was being done. Volunteers didn’t have to be there or could have left early; however, many stayed for more than 4 hours to help with set up and clean up.

I admit there is much that can bring discouragement to my mind and heart these days.  But that rainy Saturday in October, which gathered volunteers together to serve our community, brought me hope, encouragement, and joy. Despite my wet feet, the day was truly terrific and I can’t wait for the Spring collection!

Another Thankful Parent

My son and several friends were going out drinking for Cinco de Mayo. They said they were going to be safe because they were going to take the train from our town just 3 short stops to a village that had many bars and restaurants where young folks were celebrating the holiday.

After many hours of partying in one crowded bar after another, my son wasn’t feeling well and went outside for some air. Once he got outside, something came over him and he felt he had to go home. He saw a cab, got it and went home without even telling his friends. Hours later, the rest of the boys realized they had missed the last train home. There were too many of them to fit in one cab and they didn’t have enough money for 2 cabs. In their thoughtless, impulsive condition they decided two boys would take a cab back to one of the boy’s houses and take his father’s Denali SUV and come back and pick up the others.

Once all the boys were in car, they started home. The road down which most of them lived is very winding. The boy driving was going probably over 90 miles an hour when he hit a curb. The car rolled over a few times, hit another curb and rolled end over end until it was jettisoned up into the second story of a house with the roof of the car slammed into a second story bedroom and the front of the car facing the ground.

The three boys in the back seat were thrown from the car. One had a bad gash in his head requiring many stitches. Another ruptured his spleen. The third landed on a fence, broke bones, damaged organs and almost died. He had planned to be a firefighter like his father. That would never happen. The two boys in the front seat got out of the car into the second floor bedroom with only minor cuts and bruises. Luckily no one in the house was injured. If my son had been in the car, he or one of the other boys would have been in the way back and likely that boy would have been killed.

Recovery Month from An Aunt's View

My nephew, Ryan, and his girlfriend, Lauren, met on the streets of Dallas, Texas where both were homeless and shooting up heroin whenever they could get it. They were two attractive, blonde, privileged kids from upper middle class homes--bright and well-educated. Their parents and extended families loved them deeply, but could not tolerate their behavior.

Like many in their situation, Ryan and Lauren sometimes committed petty crimes to support their habits. After a time, they were arrested and both were sentenced to Detox and Rehab. Still together, they attended a very expensive and lengthy program, paid for by their parents. It was my nephew’s third, and his girlfriend’s second, attempt to become clean and sober. The program lasted for several months, and used the most current, evidence-based interventions, as well as a 12-step Program, to help their clients achieve life-long sobriety. Exercise, a healthy diet, individual and group therapy, and vocational training were all included. At the end of their inpatient stay, both transitioned to a half-way house in another Texas town, where they lived with other recovering addicts.

It’s at this point that their stories diverged. Lauren realized that she was pregnant and my nephew was the father. Now that she had the responsibility for a life other than her own, her resolve to remain clean outweighed the pull of her addiction. After completing her stay at the half-way house, Lauren enrolled in college. She reunited with her family, developed a supportive group of friends, and regularly attended church, as well as 12-step programs.

My nephew, on the other hand, succumbed to the temptations of the streets once again. After another arrest for burglary, a judge gave him one last chance for recovery before jail time. His desperate mother, in debt after the last recovery program, found a free recovery program run by an evangelical minister in the western part of the state. He spent a year and a half living with the minister, his wife, and their two children, along with other addicted youth.  It was bare bones. They pretty much lived on rice and beans, and made wooden crosses to sell at strip malls. My nephew had attended Catholic Church services during his youth, but was never particularly religious. At this point in his life, though, he found strength by reading the bible and attending evangelical services. Ryan reunited with Lauren and their baby is now a three year old boy, thriving with parents who love him.

A Parent's Love and Hard Work - Her Encouragement to YOU

"As a parent of a young man in Recovery, I can say with confidence that it feels good to have hope again. There were times when it was all we could do as parents to face the day, knowing that our son was in the fight of his life. But with love, encouragement and some really hard work on all of our parts, we have hope again. 

It has not been easy, and there were bumps in the road and stumbles along the way, but we are here to say there is help and there is hope. Stay strong, reach out to others in the community who have walked this path. We all have different stories, sewn together with the same thread - love. Together, we are one giant quilt of love and testimony to the value of every human life. #wedorecover  Written by the parent of a young adult in recovery.   

Howard County Story of Hope and Possibilities

"Listen, nothing in life is ever perfect. Nothing ever goes as we want it to. So is life in Recovery. It is filled with ups and downs, emotions crawling to the surface that used to be numb, buried. Anyway you see it, Recovery is a journey. It's a struggle to fight each day but the fight is worth it! They say addicts face three things; institutions, jail, death. But each day in Recovery, there is a choice. Life. A life beyond measure, a life full of possibilities, all you have to do is take it moment by moment, day by day." Written by a man in Recovery.

During Recovery Month, be sure to share your story of recovery and hope with us so we can share it with the Howard County community. Posts will remain anonymous. 

A Parent's Back to School Thoughts

Like so many of you, my family has been focused on the end-of-summer rites of passage…back to school shopping, first day of school photos, life revving  up into high gear again. Buses and car pools, PTA meetings, after-school activities, the list goes on.

Kids and parents alike are both excited and stressed. For those transitioning from elementary to middle, middle to high school, high school to college, or even just to a new school, the stress can easily outweigh the excitement. With change comes risk. Will our child make friends quickly? Will those friends be positive influences on them?

There are no guarantees. So we, the parents, anxiously watch from the sidelines. Hoping our kids will share their day at school with us. Hoping they’ll let us know if they’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed. Hoping we’ll be able to tell if anything is going wrong in their lives. Sometimes we see signs that they’re struggling. Sometimes we don’t. After all, we’re going a million miles an hour, too, and many children have perfected the art of the one-word response.

Our conversations too often focus on the necessary…have you done your homework, do you have your lunch, what time is Back-to-School Night, etc.  It can take time and effort to have a deeper conversation with them about less mundane matters.

I’m trying to be more mindful of my interactions with my children. I’m hoping to be the one they’ll turn to if they need help or if they feel tempted to experiment, or self-medicate, with drugs or alcohol. Change is hard and I am aware that my kids may feel the internal pressure to achieve even if my husband and I aren’t pressuring them. The best I can do - the best we can do - is to keep the lines of communication open and let them know that we are in their corner. No matter what.

May all our children flourish during this coming school year.

Grateful Mom because Son Didn't Need Oxy

(To HC DrugFree staff)

Remember, I emailed you about my son and wondering whether to give him the oxycodone for wisdom teeth removal? Well....I did NOT even fill the prescription for oxycodone. He did fine with Motrin 600 mg and Tylenol. He said he did not even think he needed the oxycodone. When I told the dentist of my plan to not give it to him, he was not pleased with me. He strongly encouraged me to give him at least one (oxycodone) as soon as he got home from the procedure, but I did not.  I am glad that I stuck to my guns. Turns out he didn't need it and we didn't even have to go anywhere near it. I found it interesting that the dentist encouraged the one pill when he got home, but he gave me a prescription for 12 pills. He said this was because the procedure was on a Friday and it would see him through the weekend - 4 pills per day! Wow!  Anyway, he informed me that the media has grossly inflated the stories about drug abuse getting started with these types of procedures/injuries. He claimed that it is not as bad as it seems. Luckily, thanks to you, I know better. Did not take one oxycodone and I am so happy about that!

A grateful Howard County mom to 3 teenage boys

Courage for an Ongoing Struggle

Wow…I just read the blog, “Setting Realistic Expectations for Struggling to Launch Adults” by Dr. Rick Silver. I am exhausted. This issue is my story. I have been stressing and struggling for years to understand, accept and assist my young adult, first to become what I thought he should/could be, then what I hoped he might be, now…who knows what he is to become and how or even IF I am to take part.

I don’t know the answers as I sit here today typing and it really frustrates me and makes me ANGRY! I am so very sad and tired and discouraged. But if I apply the tools I have learned over the years from Al-Anon, my faith community, and wise counsel, I know to step back and take a breath…I know there is a wealth of knowledge and help in this blog, but I will not access it if I am panicked or perturbed.

I will make a copy, read and re-read it, highlight some parts and make several notes. I will probably pray to understand how this applies to our family and then talk to a few people who know our situation and understand. I will sit with the fact that I chose to access the website and found this resource…my acknowledgment will lead me to the basic foundation of my life, which is GRATITUDE. I know in a state of gratitude, I will be more at peace, more able to access the wisdom, hope and tools offered. I know this because this is how it works in my life…if I take a step back, I will find the grace and gratitude, then I can proceed to do my footwork. Whew…I feel better already and gratefully look forward to the help at hand.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Struggling to Launch Adults

The blog post below was submitted by Dr. Rick Silver, Founder and Director of The THRIVE Center, located in Columbia:

The mother of a 20 year old patient had spent an hour with me in my office, explaining the details of her son’s developmental challenges over the past decade.

“I’m hoping you can tell us what’s wrong and what to do about it. He was always moody and has had rageful episodes since he was little. He doesn’t work, doesn’t go to school, has a limited number of real friends, and smokes a lot of weed. I just want him to act his age, to be responsible like his peers. That’s not unreasonable, is it?”

This mom was clearly struggling to find an answer for a son that did not fit the mold of a typical young adult – and had never fit the mold of a typical kid growing up. 

Whatever this young man might become – with the right support and treatment – he was not yet capable of mustering the cognitive and emotional skills needed to be successful as a young adult.  As painfully apparent as this might have been to me, the mom still held on to an image of her son as capable but willful:  if he only tried, he could make it, just like his peers.  Like many frustrated parents, she was taking a page from the Nike play book, hoping that “Just Do It” was a workable strategy for him.

Letting go of who we desperately want our children to be, of what we dreamed they would become, is one of the most difficult tasks for parents at this stage -- when children transition into young adulthood.  Given all the uncertainty inherent in raising a child, our dreams serve an important psychological function, providing us with a sense of hope, of direction, of stability.  Dreams keep us energized through the trials and tribulations of childhood, and are our guideposts for the future.

To see those dreams become hazy and unclear, to feel them fall apart, can be an experience that parents find frightening.  In the face of forces beyond our control, we begin to feel powerless, and may react by blaming our children for what they are not doing – and in reality, cannot yet do.  As we seek to control what cannot be controlled, we become angry – and the tension in the family mounts to unbearable levels.  We feel ourselves running out of patience, out of resources – and even begin to wonder what it means to continue to love this troubled child – or if we really do love them.

In our heart of hearts, we know we will continue to love our children no matter what happens, to support them no matter what it takes.  But in the face of these overwhelming challenges, how do we find the path that will help them heal and learn the requisite skills of adult life?

We must begin by looking not at our children, but by looking inward.  As we review the evidence about our child’s capabilities and limitations, we must begin to ask:  Am I setting realistic expectations for this stage in their life?  Do I need to bring it down a few notches, back off a bit?  Can I begin to accept that – even thought they might not be able to do what I think they should do right now – they are still capable of change, of learning?

Taking a term from dialectical behavior therapy, we must radically accept the reality of our child’s life:  they are who they are, and moving them towards a healthier outcome will not be hastened by overly harsh control or excessive demands beyond their current capabilities.  We cannot allay our fears by forcing them into the mold that we want for them.  We cannot reconstruct our dreams for them by grabbing hold of their steering wheel and trying to dictate their destiny.

This process of letting go has several steps that parents typically go through.  First, we must get clear and accurate information about who they are – how their brains work, how their psyches shape their choices and behavior.  We can do this in several ways:

1.    Neuropsychological testing, which helps define the cognitive and emotional strengths and weaknesses of our child

2.    A good diagnostic workup from a psychiatrist or psychologist, who can pull together the testing information and clinical observations to begin to answer the question of why your child is stuck; and

3.    Reading books and articles about the specific conditions that our child is dealing with – and how it is usually treated.

Second, we need to do our own emotional work – grieving the loss of the child we wanted and expected, and learning to accept the child who is actually before us.  In addition to this emotional work, we need to explore more practical themes: 

1.    What role do we need to play as parents of an atypical kid transitioning to adulthood?;

2.    How do we best communicate with them?  What is the line between responsibly encouraging them and stepping back so they can grow into their own skins?; and

3.    What are realistic expectations for them – who might they become, what limitations might continue to exist throughout their lives, and how long will it take to help them get to where they need to go?

Finally, we need to seek care from practitioners who understand this transition into young adulthood and the challenges that arise with atypical kids.  Treatment may include – although it is not limited to -- such modalities as:

1.    Medication Management – with a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner;

2.    Executive Function (ADHD) Coaching, to help them better organize their lives, stay on task and complete projects successfully;

3.    Individual Therapy with a psychologist, social worker or licensed counselor, to help deal with the emotional issues that inevitably exist for the atypical kid;

4.    Family Therapy/ Parent Support – to explore how family interactions and communications can better support the journey of the young adult to health; and

5.    Substance abuse or video addictions treatment

Social skills support, life skills training, self-care training and emotional self-regulation approaches often come into play with this population.

The journey to reach autonomy and agency for the struggling to launch young adult is a long, difficult one -- for kid and parents alike.  Although it is never easy or fast, it can be made far more bearable if we begin by setting realistic expectations based on clear data regarding our child’s capabilities and limitations.  With that information, we can be more patient and compassionate as our children work to do their best.  And together with them, we can forge a path that ultimately leads to successful independence. 

A Family's Struggle

When most of your life has been affected by addiction, you might feel somewhat prepared for anything that comes along.  From the young age of 10 I had to endure a chronic alcoholic father who lied, manipulated, stole, cheated, did whatever he had to do to get that drink.  He had a Jekyll/Hyde personality. Life for a child of an addict is turbulent, scary, and full of unknowns, a continuous emotional and physical battle. 

As a child living in this environment you become either a victim or a survivor.  Even the survivor is a victim to some degree.  I believe I am a survivor only because I had to protect my younger siblings.  They looked to me to hide them when things were scary, to step in when the physical fighting became intense.  You are forced to grow up fast.   I do not meet the characteristics of a “Daughter of an Alcoholic,” however, my younger sister does.  My younger brother is, at the age of 60, still fighting his demons.  My older brother managed his alcoholism throughout his life, but with consequences.

I hold many titles, Daughter of an Addict, Sister of an Addict, Friend of an Addict, but then comes the most devastating and heart wrenching title of Mother of an Addict.  Blindsided over 2 years ago when the word ‘heroin’ entered my world, the floor fell out from under me, every part of my being ached, I was at a complete loss.  My child, the youngest of 3, a fun-loving, carefree, beautiful little girl, allowed herself to enter a world that she would never be able to detach herself from completely.  This is where my story really begins….

Yes, I could write a book. For now, I will do my best to put the events of the past 2+ years into a short story.  There is no true way to put into words what a mother endures when faced with this life-changing event.  It is no different than trying to understand what the addict endures.  It’s quite impossible.  Friends want to be there, family members stand together to offer as much support as possible, therapists, rehabs, Alanon, the list goes on.  So many people in your life want to offer help, however, as a mom, you are truly alone in this battle both emotionally and physically. It is with you 24/7.

My daughter’s struggle is probably not much different than many other young people out there that have fallen victim to the disease.  She went away to college, met the “man of her dreams,” and dropped out to marry him, and her life from that point spiraled out of control.  Little did we know that he was an addict.  Since she lived out of state, we did not see the decline until it was too late.  The person coming home to visit was not my girl.  Everything about her was different.  At this point it was figuring out what to do, and it was the beginning of the struggle.

While having to work through all of the emotions at the same time as determining the logistics of how to proceed, it was a trying time to say the least.  After months of lies, manipulation, stealing, and getting to the truth as to what was really happening, it was our time to decide, our time to act.  My daughter had 2 choices: go to rehab with family support, or walk through the door and out of our lives.  It was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do in my life.  But taking this hardline approach forces the addict to step back and realize the destruction they are causing to themselves and their families.  At this point, it must be their decision to either get the help that they need or to continue down a deadly path and lose their family forever.  I only knew this because of having watched my mother enable both my father and brother for so long in their addiction.  Fortunately, our daughter chose to get help.  

Now what? Where do you turn for help? Who can you call? Who can you trust for reliable, honest information? You are sending your child away to someplace you just Googled, gambling that it will be the right move.  You are speaking to a sales person who appears to be compassionate; however, you know they really just want to make that sale.  You want your loved one somewhere quickly so that you do not find them passed out or dead from overdose.  It is a nightmare and one that you will not wake up from anytime soon.  

After researching and finding what we thought would be the right place for her, my daughter went to rehab in Florida.  Eighteen months clean and sober, then she relapsed.  Nowhere along the way did I read or hear that relapse is part of recovery until it happened.  That is how this journey works. You don’t know what is coming around the corner. You don’t know who or what to trust.  It is trial and error because there is really no one to turn to for truly honest answers. The system has failed not just the addicts, but the loved ones of addicts trying our best to save our children. 

During this relapse, our girl came home.  We were not aware of the relapse until she was back under our roof and we began to see the familiar signs of drug use.  She landed a good job and seemed to be on a good track, but odd behaviors were presenting themselves.  Then the ball dropped.  Just before Christmas of 2016 we received a call from the police. She had been arrested for stealing, and drug paraphernalia was found in her car.  The roller coaster ride was starting all over again.

This time around, over 2 years later, nothing really changed.  Here I was again looking for options.  I had confiscated all of the drugs that she had hidden, took the car keys away, and hid everything and anything she could use to get money or drugs.  She was on lockdown until we came to a solution.  She was violent, she was hateful, she was destructive. Once again, the demons had invaded her body and soul.

After many calls and conversations, we gave her the option to get on a plane and go to a dual recovery center in Georgia.  They would work with the underlying emotional issues while also providing treatment for drug use.  I told her I did not like this person and she was not welcome in my life.  My heart ached for her, but I was fighting demons again, and I was not letting them win.  She made the right decision once again and is now 6 months clean and sober, living in California with a terrific support system and working in a Sober Living environment.  

Is it the end of the journey? I can only hope and pray, but I will never let my guard down.  Throughout this journey my husband and I have exhausted ourselves financially, mentally, and physically.  We were fortunate enough to provide financial support to our daughter, but it has been crippling to our retirement.  There have been windows of time when we can come up for air, and we hope that we can keep our heads above water, but we know that we need to be on guard in the case that an unexpected event does occur.

We have lost our little girl, but the person I see now is stronger.  She seems more confident and sure of her future.  She has let go of her past and the people that were instrumental in her downfall.  My hope is that she will take this horrific experience and turn it into something good, not just for herself, but for others who struggle with addiction.  She has the experience (though unfortunately) to assist others in their battle with this disease.  For the rest of her life she must learn balance, to resist the temptations that will always be front and center, and to constantly fight and suppress the urges to re-enter the evil world of drug use.  

Mom is always by her side to help her fight this battle, but I will never again allow the demons to enter my world.  Addiction is a selfish disease.  It will rob you of everything you hold dear. It will tear out your heart and leave you empty if you let it.  The fight is real, it is intense, it is forever. I am a survivor once again, and I refuse to let this disease win.

Planning My Next "Mental Vacation"

I recently turned my calendar to August. This action usually causes a deep sigh as I realize that Summer is more than half over…Ahhhh! School will be starting soon, my “Hey, it’s Summer!” excuse will quickly become invalid, and the time for “buckling down” will be at hand.

I wonder if I can slow the pace of these passing days? Maybe not in a temporal sense, but can I seek to create some moments of carefree living, relaxation, peace and joy? My answer is “Yes,” and I am reminded that I am the one responsible to bring these things into my life. Gratefully, I have learned that if something is my responsibility, that is terrific news…because that is something I can influence (such as what I choose to dwell on, how I handle and express my feelings, how I respond to people or situations).

In the past, I have wasted many hours trying to control other people, other places, other things. Today my efforts are focused more often on what I can do to take better care of myself and my responsibilities…then I can be of service to others as well. One of my needs right now is to enjoy the refreshment of the remaining Summer days and to seek serenity (the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled), despite some troubling and ongoing family concerns.  

As I plan my approach, I am reminded of my Dad’s encouragement to take a “mental vacation.” His favorite example of this is to get lost in a good book for a short time each day. Other options are to engage in something creative (I have always loved to color so I bought one of those “grown up” coloring books!), to get out into the air and sun for a bit, or maybe to walk gently or briskly even if I am tired.

Whatever the option, the idea is to choose to center my attention not on pressures or concerns but rather on something that nourishes me, maybe stills my mind. This “mental vacation” usually leaves me feeling relaxed and energized at the same time, similar to how I feel after a swim in cool water. I will take several mental vacations as Summer winds down and then plan to continue this habit to help me navigate the daily challenges of Back-To-School.

Awareness, Acceptance and Action

This weekend I was at a live performance with a friend. In the past, this friend fell asleep during plays and concerts we attended. He sometimes snored. I was the one who poked him awake so his snoring did not disturb other patrons. He fell asleep this time as well. His head dipped way down into his lap. I noticed myself feeling embarrassed about his behavior. Obviously, there’s more for me to learn about “You are not a reflection of me.” OK. So, first came awareness of my embarrassment, and then I asked my Higher Power (HP) for help. And then came his snore, and my poke. The snoring stopped. As I sat there with unrest still inside me, a new question came to mind. It was, “What can I do differently next time?” For I learn in program that ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.’ I kept the focus on myself and received help from my HP. “What is it that you want, what is it that you need, and what is it that you can do differently?” A promise of the Al-Anon program was then given to me: I intuitively knew how to handle a situation that baffled me. I could go to plays and concerts with a different friend! Or accept that this friend will likely fall asleep and snore at some point during the performance.  I had choices. What a breakthrough! Thank you Al-Anon, HP, and my recovery friends. I’ll keep coming back - and hope that you do, too!

A Cup of Cold Water

Thinking about Summer’s arrival recently and my excitement for our annual family vacation, I wondered how others might be feeling. Perhaps some anticipation of time off and a trip? Perhaps a little apprehension if there was a change in schedule? Maybe hopes for “family time” or concerns about too much togetherness? Thoughts of lazy days by the pool, or mixed feelings about a first or last child heading off to college in the Fall, or possibly concerns about not having enough money to make any dreams come true?

For me, the joy of Summer is highlighted by our annual trip to Maine, along with extra opportunities to socialize and connect with people. I love to entertain friends and family at my home, but I also enjoy interacting with people that I do not know. With the often-disagreeable state of affairs in our country lately, I find it encouraging and refreshing to find ways to reach out to others I encounter throughout the day. With these thoughts in mind, I was touched by the sermon at a neighboring church I visited on Sunday. With permission, some excerpts follow:

“One of my life-long dreams came true less than three years ago.  [We] bought a refrigerator with an external ice and water dispenser!  This has been my dream since childhood. It all started when my neighbors, the Sickles family, installed a “newfangled” refrigerator when we were in elementary school.  You could get a drink of water from the outside of that refrigerator.  It was the best thing we had ever experienced! 

The four kids in our neighborhood played on the Sickles’ porch all summer long.  And of course, we got thirsty a lot!  Mrs. Sickles welcomed us to have all the drinks we wanted, but she had one rule.  Don’t bang the screen door as we came in and out. [As Mrs. Sickles demonstrated, we are taught] that we are to show compassionate hospitality to one another… [and it is] to be extended out into the world as well.  In the longstanding Judeo-Christian tradition, hospitality is to be offered in ever widening circles until it reaches strangers as well as companions and loved ones…Disciples and strangers alike are to be treated with the compassionate hospitality that represents God’s own welcome to each and every person.

What does it mean in our world today to offer a cup of cold water? How do we provide compassionate welcome to others?

In anticipation of preaching on this passage, I decided to pay attention and listen for examples of ways in our world that people offer a cup of cold water to others.  I discovered far more examples than I could ever tell you about in the next few minutes.  But I have two I’d like to share with you, hoping that these stories will prompt you to think about how you can share compassionate hospitality with others. 

In an article written for The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot tells what happened when two parents overdosed on heroine at their daughter’s middle school soft ball practice.  It was the first evening of practice in a very small town near Martinsburg, West Virginia.  Many parents had gathered in the stands to watch their daughters practice. Paramedics were called when two parents were lying on the ground, unconscious, several yards apart.  The scene turned chaotic very quickly.  The couple’s daughter was behind the chain-link fence being comforted by her friends.  Their younger children were running between the parents, crying and screaming, “Wake up, wake up!” When the paramedics began to administer Narcan, a drug designed to save lives during an overdose, some of the parents said, “Why are doing that? Just let them lay there.”

Talbot’s article entitled, The Addicts Next Door,” emphasizes that the drug epidemic is found in all types of neighborhoods.  People respond to this crisis in different ways.  Some are uncaring and judgmental. Others strive learn more about the people and the addiction and work to provide the help that is needed to turn lives around. 

Narcan can be the 2017 version of a cup of cold water.  Making sure that treatment facilities are available and affordable in all communities is another version of a cup of cold water.

A second story I’d like to share with you appeared on the NBC Nightly News last Wednesday evening.  It is the story of an eleven-year-old boy named Bishop Curry.  Some time ago, Bishop’s young neighbor died when a parent accidentally left her in a hot car.  Bishop met his neighbors and understood their grief and their hope that this would never happen to any other children.  So, Bishop, whose father works for Toyota, went to work on a design for a device that could be installed on a car seat.  It has a sensor connected to a phone app that will let the parents know that the child has been left behind and it blows cold air on the child until they are rescued.  Bishop and his family are currently working on a patent for this devise.  I encourage you to look up Bishop Curry on the internet and watch his story. Bishop saw a need.  He is working to bring a cup of cold water that will save the lives of young children.

A cup of cold water can be a powerful thing…Our calling is to provide compassion and hospitality for others…[to] meet our neighbors where they are rather than waiting for them to come around to being just like us. [This]…kind of hospitality isn’t sitting at home….or church…or civic organizations waiting for others to “show up.”  No, it means going outside of our comfort zones and learning to appreciate others for who they are.  Compassionate hospitality means seeing other people through God’s eyes.

I leave you today with a challenge for this week:  Look and listen for concrete examples of people offering hospitality and a cup of cold water to others. And I urge you to offer God’s grace when you see your neighbor in need.  Amen.” 

Bucket List Challenge - Summer 2017

Summertime is finally here and the kids are out of school! Now that they won’t be in school during the day, they will be searching for new activates to occupy their free time. HC DrugFree posted some examples of fun activities for kids to do this summer (which can be found in the teen blog). Many of the items on the list are family-friendly and promote family bonding throughout the summer. Whether your family is staying local, has vacations planned or is just going with the flow this summer, a bucket list can help make you and your kids more accountable for summer goals.

Other things going on this summer:

HC DrugFree plans to offer Teen Tuesdays later this summer. This is open for kids going into 8th grade through twelfth grade. Any recently graduated high school seniors or college students home for the summer are welcome as well. Contact HC DrugFree staff for more information.

Slipping through the Cracks: Stories from the Front Lines of the Opioid Crisis

Written by Thomas E. Price, HS Secretary and published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Summary: Secretary Price will be publishing a series of blog posts about his national opioids listening tour. This is the first of the series.

Americans who have followed the opioid crisis plaguing our land know that this is a scourge of unprecedented scale. But it’s not until you get out there to talk to people who have lived this crisis, as a team from HHS has been able to do this week, starting with a trip to Michigan and West Virginia on Tuesday, that you can really grasp its enormity.

When you hear or read some of the more harrowing stories from this epidemic, like one person overdosing multiple times in a day, it is easy to think they are extreme examples, maybe even a little exaggerated. But on the ground, you quickly find out they are not. This epidemic really is that horrible.

On a beautiful Tuesday morning in Lansing, Michigan, we heard from a range of people who have been on the front lines: the governor and lieutenant governor; the deputy chief of the state police; a state senator who’s a recovering alcoholic; a local pharmacist; an emergency room physician; and two parents whose own homes have been struck by the crisis—Linda Davis, a district court judge who has become an advocate for connecting those in the criminal justice system to the treatment they need, and Mike Hirst, who founded a nonprofit after his son passed away from an overdose in 2011.

Judge Davis cited the lifesaving work Michigan has done to expand access to overdose reversing drugs—one of HHS’s five priorities for fighting the opioid epidemic—and how she knows people who are alive today because of the work done in her state.

But she was right to say that is far from enough. We heard multiple stories of people overdosing on an opioid, receiving an overdose reversing-drug, being discharged from the hospital, and then going on to overdose again the same day. In one case, three young people who lived in the same house all overdosed in the same day, and were all saved with overdose reversers. Later that day, all three of them overdosed again, and one of them did not survive.

Several years ago, the crisis struck home when Judge Davis’s high school aged daughter began using heroin. Knowing she might lose her daughter to addiction, Judge Davis said, was the most devastating feeling she’s ever known.

Her daughter was able to get the help she needed to begin the road to recovery, but hundreds of thousands of Americans today are not. That’s why expanding access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, is another of HHS’s five strategies for combating this epidemic.

At the same listening session, one physician laid out a heartbreaking example of the kind of gap we need to fill.

Just last week, she had seen a 24-year-old woman who was struggling with cravings and withdrawal. In the time she had with her patient, she had no way to get her the medication she needed or connect her with recovery services. All she could do was point her patient toward other resources and wish her luck. What’s needed, she said, is a better system for connecting people at key moments—after an overdose, or in the moment they decide to seek help—to comprehensive help.

We heard similar concerns later that afternoon, after our plane touched down through the clouds at Charleston, West Virginia’s mountaintop airport. As part of the listening tour, we stopped at a fire station on the west side of the capital city.

While we were chatting with the first responders, learning about their practices for administering overdose-reversing drugs, an emergency call came over the radio. An unconscious man had been found under a bridge in town. He had likely overdosed, they said, and they would be heading to one of maybe four calls they get for overdoses just at that one fire station each day. Just as we were standing there, another life may have been snuffed out by this epidemic.

It is not uncommon for Charleston’s first responders, like the authorities in Michigan, to revive people from overdoses more than once in the same day. Part of the reason this happens, they said, is the same issue we heard raised by the physician in Michigan. There are not enough options for treatment and recovery services and they are not readily available when people might be looking for them, which sadly is often at the emergency room or in a jail cell.

Coming home from this trip, we’re dedicated to figuring out what the federal government can do to empower local governments and communities to close this gap—to make sure no one is slipping through the cracks. We were lucky to be joined by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump. As Kellyanne pointed out, determining the right federal role for tricky issues like access to treatment will be the work of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Back in Michigan, we also heard from State Rep. Joe Bellino, who is a person in recovery himself and now a leader on substance abuse issues.

What we’re dealing with isn’t your uncle’s alcoholism, he said, which almost feels like an understatement. This is a drug crisis without precedent in American history that is stealing lives of our brothers and sisters every day.

We’re grateful for the people of West Virginia and Michigan who shared their stories with us, and who are working to turn the tide against this crisis. After what we saw and heard on Tuesday, we at HHS are that much more dedicated to helping them succeed.

Minding My Business

I had to laugh when I noticed the lengths I was going to to mind my own business this morning. My son just graduated from college and is back home. I'm thrilled he is here but he doesn't have a job or internship lined up for this summer yet. Once upon a time, before Al Anon and, honestly, up until pretty recently, I would have been all over this issue. I would have been quietly fretting and wishing I could magically make great things happen for him. And I would have made suggestions and put myself in the middle of his pursuit of employment. I am not in that place now, thankfully. I am focusing on my life and my “business." I am more feeling like "I know things will work out the way they are meant to work out,” today.

He had two phone/Skype interviews this morning, and he set himself up at the kitchen table. I promptly headed upstairs and turned the TV on (which I rarely do in the morning), started a load of laundry in the washing machine, and closed all the doors, so I couldn't possibly, even accidentally, hear what is going on down there. As I turned on the fan as I was about to jump in the shower it hit me: I am doing a superb job of making sure I stay out of his business. It reminded me of a great quote I heard at a meeting this week…“There are only two kinds of business - My business and none of my business.” This helpful and humorous slogan is just what I need to continue to keep the focus on myself.

Ocean City Beach Patrol Urges Graduates (and Others) to be Beach Smart

The blog post below was submitted by Ms. Kelly Keefe, Ocean City Beach Patrol and Howard County Public School System teacher:

This might come as a surprise to you, but one of the most important skills a lifeguard uses is the scan. They are constantly scanning their area and the water in front of them for signs of danger. Their area includes a 360 degree area around their stand not only in the front but also in the back to the dune line. This is the time of the year when trouble could be festering behind their stands. It's what some refer to as the "June Bugs". It's a tradition thousands of graduates participate in each year; the trek to Ocean City to enjoy their new-found freedom. The typical graduates are full of confidence, and feel immune to any dangers, they sometimes allow the excitement of the atmosphere to impede their judgment enough to get them into trouble. When we get a warm sunny day, the water temperatures are inviting. If you add a town full of celebrating graduates to the mix, the lifeguards have their work cut out for them.

At no other time of year do we see more teenagers chase each other down the beach and into the ocean only to end up diving into shallow water. The more experienced among them dive shallow and usually do not suffer any consequences of this risky behavior. The less fortunate will spend the rest of their vacation trying to explain the scabs on their forehead and nose. The really unfortunate will not be able to run, dive, or walk ever again. While beach patrol members respond to spinal injuries every year, none are more tragic than those that occur when young people are injured from diving into shallow water. It is not their age so much, but the fact that these injuries are so preventable that makes them particularly tragic.

Beach patrol "Rule Number One" is: Keep your feet in the sand until the lifeguard's in the stand. "Rule Number Two" is: Check the water depth with your feet, not your head. Our ocean water is not as clear as pool water, and we don't have the depth printed along the edge in big black numbers like it is at the local swim club.

While lifeguards try to stop accidents before they happen, even whistle blasts sometimes don't catch the attention of those who are horsing around and chasing each other. Surf rescue technicians are often left cringing in their stands, hoping that those who just dove into the foot-deep water will pop up unscathed. This is usually followed by what we call an impromptu beach safety presentation (EDU - the semaphore abbreviation for education) as the closest lifeguard explains the dangers of their actions. While 40 percent of spinal injuries occurring in the surf are caused by people diving into shallow water, the majority result from body surfers and body boarders riding waves that are breaking too close to shore. We encourage people to keep their arms stretched out in front of them when body surfing, and to avoid riding waves that are breaking close to the sandbar or beach. We hope that everyone who visits our beach will enjoy many happy, healthy returns.

An additional factor that has a major influence on risky behavior both on the beach and throughout Ocean City is the addition of alcohol to celebrating teenagers. These recent graduates have worked their entire school careers to achieve this new found freedom, and we do not want that freedom to end in Ocean City. Graduates, remember to 'Play it Safe!'


Sobriety is Divine

Sobriety is divine not only for the alcoholic, but also for the alcoholic’s family.  Alcoholism is a debilitating disease, but unfortunately many of us have been impacted by it.  My husband was an alcoholic and it destroyed him.   His name was Sahil and he was a kind, calm, patient, and intelligent man.  He enjoyed traveling, reading, collecting pens and loved electronics.  He taught me to be patient, brave, daring, and confident.   He believed in me and that meant the world to me.  He loved me with all his heart and I was blessed to be loved like that. Alcoholism is not easy for the alcoholic or the alcoholic’s family to live with. 

Educate yourself about Alcoholism: The sayings “Ignorance is bliss” and “Knowledge is power” are very true and it’s essential to find a right balance between the two when it comes to alcoholism.  Knowing about the disease is necessary in order to prepare yourself to make informed decisions and what to expect - but at the same time, don’t get too involved in the alcoholic’s life.  It’s very important to learn about the disease because it provides us with an insight on how to handle situations with our qualifier whether they are health related or daily interactions.  It’s not necessary for us to monitor every move of the alcoholic.  Stay away from how much liquor is consumed, whether the alcoholic made it to work or his/her appointments, who he/she is meeting with.  All that does is cause us more stress and the focus becomes on the alcoholic and our life revolves around the alcoholic.  We need to focus on ourselves and take it one day at a time.  All this is easier said than done, but I found that when I stopped focusing on my qualifier, I found peace.

Support System: It’s extremely important for the alcoholic and the alcoholic’s family to have a support system around them.  While the alcoholic might not be interested in doing that since he/she are in denial , the family members should try to build a good support system around them.   I was born in India and moved to the US in the early 80’s when I was in elementary school.  My parents and my sister were aware of Sahil’s drinking and were always there for me.   Our social circle mostly consisted of Indian couples and even though everyone was aware Sahil had a drinking problem, no one would address it.  I also had friends from college and work who I was closer to, but we didn’t see each often because we all lived too far.   But I talked to them often and was a lot more open with them. I started confiding in some of my friends about Sahil’s drinking.  It was a big relief because I could finally talk to someone outside of my family and it made me feel normal.  There’s a big stigma attached with addiction in every culture, especially in the Indian culture.  The Indian culture is all about hiding your problems and keeping appearances.  While addiction is not easy to talk about in any culture, American or Indian, the Indian culture makes it even harder.  I remember attending the parties and feeling so embarrassed and alone.  The feeling of isolation would come over me especially when I was at the Indian parties.  That feeling carried on most of the time with me during my husband’s alcoholism, but especially around people I couldn’t be open with.  I am not saying that I wanted to address this issue with everyone, but I was tired of pretending and feeling alone.  I remember going to the parties and wondering if anyone else was in the same situation as me and was just too afraid to talk about it.  I so wished we could have opened up to each other and helped each other through this difficult situation.

Perception of Addicts and Their Family Members: There should be no shame in loving an addict; I wish I could erase the taboo attached with loving an addict.  While the addicts are responsible for their choices and their lifestyle, they deserve to be loved.  No one gets up in the morning and decides to be an addict.  Who wants to drink all day and night, make a fool out of themselves, lose their jobs and relationships, and damage their health.  It’s true having a drink is the addict’s choice and quitting is the addict’s choice too, but the disease plays a role in it as well.  I was angry with Sahil for not being able to quit drinking, but I finally got to a stage of acceptance.  It brought me peace; of course at the bottom of my heart I still wished he would quit, but I realized it just wasn’t going to happen.  Most addicts lie, manipulate situations, and are very selfish, but they are capable of loving people.  Not only that, I always believed Sahil loved me and I felt loved even when other people felt otherwise.  Sahil was a man who lost his way in life and never found it back.

Many people feel that alcoholics are horrible people and drink because they enjoy drinking. While that might be true, most alcoholics drink to escape the pain they carry around with them and to avoid dealing with emotions.  So many times I talked to Sahil about why he drank and encouraged him to go for therapy and enter rehab, but he refused.  He was in extreme pain and I felt his pain; I so wanted to change that but there was nothing I could do but pray. 

Another perception that’s skewed is about the family members staying with the alcoholics.  Some of us choose to stay with them not because we are weak, but because that’s what works for us.  I tried separating from my husband a couple of times, but I returned back to him.  Even though I knew that leaving was probably the better choice for me and there was nothing I could do to stop my husband’s drinking, I just couldn’t leave.  A lot of people felt I was weak for staying, but eventually realized it was what I needed to do. 

Support Groups: It’s very beneficial for the alcoholic to attend AA because it provides support for an addict since it is safe.  Al Anon and Al Teen are equally beneficial for the family members for the same reasons.  Sahil unwillingly attended very few AA meetings, his main concern was that he didn’t want to quit drinking, so why should he go.  I told him that he doesn’t have to even want to quit, just attend the meetings for support, but he refused.  I started attending AL Anon and found it to be very useful.  It was so nice to be able to open up about my qualifier and say whatever was on my mind.  I knew I could talk about Sahil without anyone freaking about what he had done or how I had reacted.  The biggest thing I learned through Al Anon was that it’s ok to ask for help and to not feel ashamed about it.  The other thing I learned was that I should not feel ashamed about loving Sahil.  Yes, Sahil was an addict, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good person and didn’t deserve to be loved.  I got a sponsor and connected with other people there who provided me great advice and support.  It was huge to be able to go to Al Anon and be able to relate to other people who understood me.  There was lot of empathy and support there and a lot of positivity.   For me, getting a sponsor was the key.  She guided me when I asked for advice,  was always there whenever I needed her, and more than anything never made me feel like I had messed up.  Her understanding and compassion helped me tremendously through this difficult time.

Sahil and I were married for about 13 1/2 years.  He was hospitalized multiple times for pancreatitis, and also became a diabetic.  He lost about 35 pounds due to diabetes and malnourishment. Sahil was small in size to begin with and never had much of an appetite.  He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 95 pounds.  During the last couple of years we were married, Sahil was hospitalized numerous times.  He was hospitalized for pneumonia, low sugar, high sugar, seizures, Diabetic Ketoacidosis, Electrolytes imbalance, and alcohol withdrawals.  The last time he was in the hospital he suffered from Lactic Acidiosis and went into cardiac arrest a couple of times.  In the end, we decided for DNR.  Sahil passed away peacefully and I was grateful and heartbroken at the same time.  I was thrilled that Sahil was not an alcoholic and alcohol didn’t have any control on him anymore.  But I was sad of the life that Sahil and I were robbed of.  In the end, Sahil wasn’t working, spending most of his time in bed, hurting physically and mentally.  Sahil wasn’t living, he just existed.  The hardest part was watching him go through anxiety and alcohol withdrawals.  He was suffering and I was suffering.  I truly believe sobriety is divine and some people are lucky to find it on earth, but Sahil needed to be with God to find his sobriety and for that I am extremely grateful.


Helping Your Teen Stay Safe during Senior Week at the Beach

The blog post below was submitted by Dr. Rick Silver, Founder and Director of The THRIVE Center, located in Columbia:

As these cold, rainy days of winter linger, we are all dreaming of 70-degree weather and weekends spent outdoors.  And if you have a student graduating high school, you are already discussing the teenage version of getting-back-to-nature – the annual ritual known as Senior Week at the beach.

Although accepted as inevitable by many parents, a child’s participation in this event still needs to be approached thoughtfully.  While true that most teens return from their revelries relatively unscathed, risks exists – death, serious injuries, rapes and arrests are all woven into the 25 year history of Maryland’s Senior Week.

Here are some tips about how to approach the discussions with your child around Senior Week, with a focus on how to inform and guide them in engaging in safe behaviors and good decision making.

1.    Attendance is NOT a given – Despite parents often feeling pressured by their teens to permit them to go to Senior Week, sending your child off for a week of unsupervised fun-in-the-sun – with easy availability of alcohol and drugs -- needs to be carefully thought through.  

Ask yourself:  Do I trust my child to make the best possible decisions to stay safe?  If the answer is not a clear “yes”, then expect them to stay home, and help them find alternate ways to celebrate their well-earned first step into adulthood. 

Better yet, start early:  if you are a parent for whom the notion of blessing a week at the beach for your still-vulnerable youngster brings feelings of dread, make it clear -- as they move through high school -- that graduation will be celebrated close to home, not at the beach.

Remember: the risks of illicit alcohol and drug use are frightening and in many cases, irreversible.  Protect your child.

2.    Offer the possibility of an alcohol- and drug-free trip -- Ocean City, Md., has a Play It Safe program (  that provides access to free concerts, laser tag and other activities, as well as a free wristband which lets you use the bus system for a week, at no charge.

3.   Realistically speaking, Beach Week is first and foremost a setup for underage drinking -- If you are inclined to permit your child to go, take seriously your decision that you are condoning (abetting?) underage drinking.  These are intentionally strong words to call attention to the perspective that this parental choice should not be taken lightly. 

While some parents might view underage alcohol use as an inevitable rite of passage, this does not absolve us of the responsibility for guiding our children on how to enjoy themselves appropriately without increasing risk.

Underage drinking remains a serious public health problem, with consequences such as aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence, and deaths. A government study showed that alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 4,358 young people under age 21 each year, including:

·         1,580 deaths from motor vehicle crashes

·         1,269 from homicides

·         245 from alcohol poisoning, falls, burns, and drowning

·         492 from suicides

So remind your children:

·         No drinking and driving

·         Always have a designated driver

·         Know your limits and your body – pace yourself, never drink on an empty belly, know your inner signals for when to stop, stay hydrated

·         Never put your open drink down at a party

·         Never go to a social event without a buddy who has your back

·         If you get in a difficult situation and want to leave, call a friend, call an Uber, call a parent

4.    Never go off by yourself -- Even when sober, young women are subject to threats to their safety and lives – particularly in a setting where boundaries are loose, the good times are rolling, and even the most careful teen is surrounded by peers with bad judgment and possibly worse intent.

Remind them:  Always have a support system with you.  Make sure that you and your friends have each other’s backs, and that you have discussed a way of getting help FAST if someone gets into trouble.

5.  Know the signs of alcohol toxicity and drug overdose -- Alert eyes save lives.  Get on-line with your teen and review the signs that an intoxicated friend is in trouble physically and mentally.  Make sure that they know when and how to call for help.

6.    Use your camera carefully -- While your teen will be avidly recording every aspect of their Senior Week adventures for years of fond memories, they must remember:  what happens in Ocean City does NOT stay in Ocean City – especially if it has been posted on the internet.  So tell your child:  don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a future employer to see on Facebook.  Don’t post anything that you think might result in cyberbullying.

As parents, we experience a sense of gratification when our children reach beyond their current limits.  But in addition to great joys, adulthood offers great risks.  If your child is going to Beach Week, do your part as a parent to help make their experience a fond memory.  Our graduating seniors still need our wisdom to be safe and successful as they reach for the next rung in the ladder to independence.