Clear Understanding, Hope and Help: Depression in Teens

I just read an excellent article that very clearly lays out the aspects of an adolescent’s life that can lead to minor or major depression and the hope and help available. In my teen years I was fortunate to escape anxiety and depression, but I have danced with both as an adult and I feel compassion for any young person today who is dealing with the same mental/emotional conditions. Gratefully, a lifetime of spiritual, interpersonal, and professional support has given me the tools to navigate life with joy and success. But I worry about the kids.

As the normal day-to-day demands of school, work and relationships couple with the many changes and pressures during adolescence, it is not surprising that teens often struggle with feeling down, discouraged, rejected, or stressed. Unlike when I was young, long before the internet and social media, the positive and negative influences of these outlets on teens add an extra layer of demand on their mental and physical health. I believe that often teens (and adults, too!) are not even aware of how easily and thoroughly they are influenced by the multitude of media outlets and their constant presence in our lives.

The following quote from their article, “Depression In Teens” by Mental Health America summarizes it well and certain phrases definitely spoke to me: “Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things ‘never go their way.’ They feel ‘stressed out’ and confused. To make matters worse, teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends and society. Teens need adult guidance more than ever to understand all the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing.”

This article gave me hope for the teens out there who may struggle with depression - hope that there are clear paths to understanding and helping anyone in need. I encourage you to read, share, and talk about the full article on adolescent depression. To find this article with the following topics, click here.

Dealing with Adolescent Pressures

Recognizing Adolescent Depression

Treating Adolescent Depression

Facing the Danger of Teen Suicide

Recognizing the Warning Signs

Helping Suicidal Teens

Looking to the Future

Other Resources:

A Family’s Recovery Journey

My recovery journey began about 32 years ago.  My 14-year-old son led me into action.  He was skipping school and not obeying the rules of our home. I was reacting like a crazed mother. Mainly, I was worried sick about his actions and knowing that he was using substances. I was afraid for his life.

After trying many avenues to get him help we decided to put him in a rehab program for juveniles. This program was very strict and used a family disease approach. I promised, during a conference with counselors at the rehab facility, that I would not drink any alcohol and all alcohol would be removed from the house. A week after I made that promise I drank wine with dinner to the point that I was drunk. I woke up the next morning with such remorse and a realization that I had broken my promise. I had been learning about the disease of alcohol addiction at the parent education programs. I remember hearing “if you think you have a problem with alcohol, you do.” This question never comes up for someone without a problem (a normal drinker).

I went to an AA meeting a couple of days later and announced my name, that I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I I wanted to stop drinking and had heard it works for people in AA.  They laughed at me but I was told after the meeting that if I don’t have a problem it would be a piece of cake for me. The third tradition was pointed out to me: “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking”. I had the desire and about 3 months later after attending meetings I realized that I also had the disease. I broke through the denial and realized that I didn’t drink normally. I’ve not had a drink since that first meeting and my life is beyond my wildest dreams. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. I had to work through the steps with a sponsor, go to meetings, read lots of literature, and commit myself to being a better person by doing the right things.

My life has not been without challenges. My husband died of lung cancer about 3 years into my sobriety. The child that was sent to rehab struggled with his addiction and ended up in jail from actions taken while drunk. Then he was killed in a traffic accident when he was 23 years old (even though he had no substances in his body at the time).  The most amazing thing is that I didn’t take a drink during all that pain. I was surrounded and carried through by supportive friends, family, and a faith in God that is unending. I am thankful that I found a new way to live and grateful for the son who started the process for this new way of life. His life had purpose and our whole family is better because he lived. 

Not My Kid

Not my kid, not my kid. How many times have I said that in my head and out loud. When the truth was, it is my kid. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a nurse and a mother of a heroin addict. This journey was fast and furious starting with marijuana at age 14 and ending with IV heroin by age 17. I remember early in my nursing career in the ICU caring for overdose patients. The frustration and eventual disdain over IV addicts who we called “repeat offenders”. Fast forward 20 years and here I am — my son is a heroin addict. Throughout his journey, our journey my mantra changed, “At least he’s not doing (fill in the blank).” Unfortunately, it took only 3 short years to get to the point of serious heroin addiction that I ran out of “at least he’s not doing…”

I had my head in the sand for a year before I realized this wasn’t going away and he needed me to be strong - I needed me to be strong. I turned to the internet and forced myself to become versed in the ways and means of drugs and addiction. From webMD to signing up for HC DrugFree. I used Urban Slang to help me understand the acronyms and jargon surrounding drugs and teens. Eventually I started going to Naranon meetings at Shepard Pratt Hospital in Ellicott City on Monday nights at 8 pm where I met a group of courageous, non-judgmental parents and spouses. A gentleman there introduced me to the “3 C’s of addiction: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it”. I would like to add a fourth C - you can’t change it - only the addict can. I finally started opening up about my son’s addiction and found people who were in the same boat or knew of someone whether family or friends who were also addicted. I am not alone.

A nightmare came true when my son OD’d and landed in the ICU where I worked.  My embarrassment was palpable. It was at this point I decided to get certified to administer and carry Narcan. I attended a one hour free class at the Howard County Health Department on addiction and administering nasal Narcan to an overdose victim. At the end of this class I received a kit containing two doses of nasal Narcan, a barrier mask for rescue breathing (opioids can cause respiratory depression or severe slowing of breathing), a treatment reference card and a card allowing me to obtain Narcan at the pharmacy counter for 2 years whenever I needed it, without a prescription, at low cost. I used that Narcan to revive my son 5 times in one year. He even carried it himself once in case he needed to revive a friend or vice versa.

Four rehabs later and sending him to live across the country, my son is now shy of 2 years heroin-free. Is this the end of my story? Sadly no, he struggles every day with mental illness and keeping his addiction at bay. I continue to love my son and tell him every chance I get how proud of him I am of his sobriety. I emphasize that I will always support him in his recovery but no longer in his addiction.


Local Parent Urges Attendance at Senior Week Program

Last night I attended my first Senior Week: Staying Safe in OC program. When it concluded, all I could think about was that every family that goes near a beach needs to hear this valuable information! While the focus is to keep high school seniors safe as they celebrate their “rite of passage,” there were so many important issues discussed that are beneficial to anyone who plans a visit…and I definitely wouldn’t send my senior off to the beach without this program under our belt.

I know about rip currents and have always had a healthy respect for the ocean, but I didn’t know exactly how to handle the currents or that people have suffocated in holes in the sand at Ocean City. During my own Senior Week adventure (long ago) we didn’t have a clue about lease agreements and how to protect ourselves or the headaches that misbehavior could cause our parents. Luckily, I was a rule follower, so I didn’t get into trouble; but I had no idea how tight the laws are in Ocean City on a variety of issues.

I haven’t been able to brush off what I heard last night and just say, “Oh, no big deal, all will be fine.” I am truly grateful to HC DrugFree and Howard High School for presenting this program. We are extremely blessed in this community to have access to resources from the OC Police Department and Beach Patrol. Someone is doing something right…thank you very much from a very grateful parent!


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.