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 (http://playitsafeoceancity.com/)  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.

Alcoholism Addicition

My name is Beth and I HATE labels. But I want to use them in the hope that I can change your perception about some of them.

I started life as a DAUGHTER of wonderful, intelligent, creative, resourceful and supportive parents.

I am a SISTER with two siblings.

I am a WIFE. Married to a funny, smart, patient man for over 25 years.

I am a MOTHER to two exceptional children, different but equally loved even though they liked to ask that question “If the house was burning down and you could only save one of us, who would you save?”  Of course being a “trophy’s for everyone” kind of mom, I always made up a story about saving them both…..and the dogs.

I was a BUSINESS OWNER and EMPLOYER who ran a successful consulting group for many years.

I am the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of an education non-profit serving low-income families in Baltimore.

I am a FITNESS INSTRUCTOR.

And I am an ALCOHOLIC who recently celebrated 11 years of SOBRIETY.

We say we are IN RECOVERY but the other term we could use is IN REMISSION.

This is an important distinction because the AMA categorizes addiction as a disease and relapse is often part of having a disease.

But I want you to think for just a moment about your reaction to this label. Would you hire me if you knew this about me? Could I babysit or drive your children somewhere? Alone? Would you trust me?

Although many who know me don’t KNOW I am THAT. I hid it pretty well from others. But eventually I could not hide it from myself so I got help from a therapist who SUGGESTED I might try a 12 Step program.

I did and is has worked for me.

Addiction is a complex disease. The most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal.

As a society, there is a stigma about the labels ALCOHOLIC, ADDICT, IN RECOVERY, SOBER. But WHY?

We share funny stories about “Having one too many?” Don’t get me wrong.  MOST of you who have “One too many” aren’t suffering from the disease of alcoholism.  We have 10 too many! Every night!

I chose to share who I am in this context to change perceptions about what WE look like and WHO we are.

People who are RECOVERING are taking responsibility for their disease. RECOVERY is about getting well, finding ways to support ourselves in not drinking or using and living healthy, productive lives.

And If can reach JUST ONE person seeking help for themselves or a loved one, it will be worth owning this label.

There are 40 million who have a substance abuse problem so what can we do to help?

Educate our children and the medical community to understand that care should be taken when taking or prescribing pain medication. Over 80% of heroin users start with opiates they were prescribed for pain.

Advocate for IMMEDIATE TREATMENT. If we go to the ER with a broken leg, they don’t tell us to come back for xrays and a cast in a week.

This is usually the case with addiction and often the window of opportunity you have when an addict is willing to get help closes quickly.

AND

Talk about it….. in ways that help people understand the issues.

Facilitate connections for people seeking treatment. With over 23 million Americans in recovery, there are many willing to share their experience, strength and hope with those struggling with addiction.

Several national organizations are working to solve these problems.

Facing Addiction held its launch in DC with a concert headlined by Stephen Tyler and Sheryl Crow and works to change policy in the areas of prevention, early intervention, treatment, recovery, and research.

As part of their campaign, celebrities, authors and politicians in recovery “came out” to help dispel the stigma surrounding this disease - it doesn’t discriminate.

After you read this, know I am happy to speak to anyone about what has worked for me and other members of my family who are currently in recovery. And for any of you who don’t want to talk to me because it is hard to reach out, find a 12 Step meeting in your area. 

For alcoholics and addicts AA or NA.

http://www.baltimoreaa.org/

https://www.baltoareana.org/

For parents, friends, partners, spouses or brothers and sisters, ALANON.

http://www.alanon-maryland.org/

Here in Howard County there are several meetings EACH DAY! 

Today, I own my label and celebrate recovery.

Beth

To contact Beth, email her at beth@hcdrugfree.org.

Flattered

I must say, it is flattering to be offered a job or a promotion. Or just to have someone say, “I thought of you for this because you'd be great at it.” My before Al-Anon self was highly attracted to such nuggets of praise. I would often take on jobs or tasks because they were offered to me and I thought I had to do it. I would often end up over taxed and get sick or resentful.

I found myself on the receiving end of such a compliment recently. A friend of an Al-Anon friend of mine could use some help. “I thought of you,” my friend said, “because you are so good at self care and you are compassionate.” The irony of this is that I have gotten a lot better with my self care and that means that I do not so readily accept jobs or opportunities that I am offered any more. Now, I carefully consider what I will take on and say no when it's in my best interest.

As it stands right now, I am very busy with several commitments already, and I think I need to be a little more available for my parents, who are getting older and need more support. So while I am flattered to be considered someone who would make a great helper, I am aware that I cannot take on any more jobs at this time. Being good at self care for me today means making sure I have time to do my daily reading of Al-Anon literature, connect with Al-Anon friends, and have quiet time to connect with my Higher Power, in addition to getting exercise, eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep. I am also aware that I can say “no, thank you” without feeling guilty or responsible for fixing the situation. If I feel the slight tug of people pleasing behaviors sneaking into my thinking, I can turn everyone over to my Higher Power and pray for them.

 

Local Tragedy and What We Each Can Do

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

Here’s the story:

·         January 30th, 1:00 AM, Rt 103, Howard County -- Biik Chong, 26, is killed when his car is T-boned by a vehicle driven by Natalia Diaz-Valle, 18. Diaz-Valle, who may have been drinking, fails to stop at a red light while traveling 70 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. The accident occurs as she is trying to evade a pursuing Maryland State trooper. A passenger in her car is charged with illegal possession of more than 120 Xanax pills. 

Here’s some good news:

·         In 2014, according to Maryland transportation officials, traffic fatalities in our state hit a 66-year low: 442 deaths on the road, compared with 872 in 1968. This decades-long decline includes a substantial drop in fatalities related to drunken and impaired driving.

And here’s some bad:

·         In each of the past five years, police in the state have made more than 20,000 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol. In 2014, someone was killed as a result of impaired driving every 66 hours in Maryland — 30 percent of the year's traffic deaths.

The fact that more people aren’t killed on our roads can be attributed to federal, state and local initiatives to enhance highway safety over the course of decades — including enforcement initiatives to pull drunken drivers off the roads.

But the sobering truth is that – despite Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn’s laudable and hopeful goal of reaching zero deaths – alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities remain a serious national problem.

Saving lives starts at home. Every one of us needs to play an active role in this effort. As a Howard County parent, take the basic steps to keep our young people alive, safe from the devastating impact of uncontrolled drug and alcohol use:

·         Lock up your controlled substances – pain killers, anxiety medications – if you still need them for a health or mental health problem

·         Use safe methods to discard the leftover pills when you don’t need them anymore

·         Talk to your kids about sharing prescription drugs with friends – it’s a felony that can result in jail time and a lifetime criminal record

·         Educate yourself and your children about the harm that can come from careless use of illegal drugs, alcohol and prescription substances

·         Give your kids “safe outs” – ways to exit social situations where they are uncomfortable because of drug and alcohol use

·         And most importantly: talk to and watch your kids – if you think they are getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol, act sooner rather than later to GET THEM PROFESSIONAL HELP.

As we saw again on January 30th, drugs and alcohol can be unforgiving. The consequences of our not acting assertively to control inappropriate substance use are tragic. Do your part to keep our children alive.

A Remembrance and a Call for Responsibility

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

None of us who live in Howard County want to recall that January day three years ago when Darion Marcus Aguilar pulled the trigger on his shotgun, killing two Mall employees - Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson - and then turned the gun on himself.

Aguilar was 19, Johnson, 25, and Benlolo, 21, with a 2 year old son.

None of us want to remember the moment of shock and horror when we first heard the news, the pain we felt as our thoughts turned to the families of the dead; or the sickening realization that - had the time or place been altered just ever so slightly - one of our own children could have been among those taken by violence.

And least of all, none of us want to return to that tragic day in our minds and wonder:  Could I have stopped this from happening? To even pose the question fills us instantly with an indignant anger: I wasn't there, I didn't purchase the gun, I didn't pull the trigger.

All of this is true.  And yet, in some very real sense, we were all there. 

We all raised these children - for even as young adults, they are still very much all our children and all of our responsibilities.

We all tolerated the gaps in treatment in our mental health system that kept Mr. Aguilar from quickly obtaining the care he desperately needed to quiet the angry voices in his head.

We all accepted that the gun laws were an adequate balance between second amendment rights and safeguarding the health of our communities.

And sadly, we all suffered from these deaths - certainly the three families of those who died suffered the most - but our quality of life, the depth of our trust and respect for one another, the sense that our communities can provide our children with the safety and caring needed for them to grow into healthy, confident people-all of this was compromised. All of us died a little bit that day.

But what lessons have we learned from this tragic event?  In three years, we have seen our country become a land divided, where open hatred and anger is now tolerated, where - no matter where we fall on the political divide - we feel less understood and less safe than we have in decades. Respect for those of different opinions has eroded.  Healthy, honest conversation leading to good solutions for difficult problems seems to have taken a back seat to accusations and false news.  Even in Howard County - a community that we take pride in viewing as tolerant of diversity - we have had multiple instances of open racism.  How can we possibly prevent these tragedies from occurring again if this is how we now relate to one another?

None of us want to remember, none of us want to take responsibility for what happened three years ago. (And pointing the finger at Mr. Aguilar - as accurate as it may be on some level -- is a knee-jerk response that oversimplifies a complex set of social problems.) But we must remember, and we must ask - everyone one of us, in every community across America:  What could I have done differently - what can I now do differently - to stop this carnage, to heal this nation?

We lost three promising lives that day, lives that - with the right care, the right support, the right love - could have blossomed into adulthood and added to the rich fabric of our community. We owe it to these three young people, to their families, to our children still alive, to remember what happened, to ask the hard questions and to do the right things.

"And what are the right things?", we may well ask. Aguilar was a young man with a mental illness who needed treatment and who purchased a gun legally in Maryland.  Johnson was in recovery from substance abuse. Benlolo was a single mother of a 2 year old. 

See how you can become active in the improvement of mental health and substance abuse care in Howard County and in Maryland.  Rather than having just an opinion about gun control, take some time to intelligently investigate the complexity of the issues, and volunteer to do political work that fits with your perceptions. Look into how you can support single mothers in Howard County with your money or your time.

And above all, listen. Hear the stories of your neighbors across the county, whatever their race or religion or economic level or education. Find ways to bridge the divides among us. Let us listen, let us remember, let us become involved so we can offer one another a greater sense of love and compassion. We must, if we are to stay alive.

 

Things I Cannot Change

I've often heard in the rooms of Al Anon that you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. It is a phrase that has rolled through my mind since I had an unpleasant conversation with my sister just over a week ago. Growing up in an alcoholic home lead me to assume a lot responsibility that wasn't mine. As the oldest sibling, I often took care of my brother and sister or at least looked out for them. I vividly remember thinking as a young girl that my parents didn't know what they were doing when it came to raising us. I've since made peace with the fact that they did the best they could during those drinking years, as I did.

My sister lives out west now and recently bought a house and had plans to get married to her long time boyfriend. I was very happy for her to finally seem to be happy. So when she called, I thought it was just a, “ How are you doing?” call. But, she proceeded to tell me that she actually had eloped with her boyfriend. Last May. Her original plan had been to get married at an exotic destination wedding location in May of 2017, and host a celebration for the family in June. I was shocked. Then disappointed. Then angry. Then sad. I wasn't able to tell her at the time how her news made feel, I will do that when I'm feeling more grounded. It took me several days, a couple meetings and conversations with my Al Anon friends to begin to make peace with her news.

I am feeling less sucker punched and more accepting of her choices. They are not choices I would make, especially keeping a wedding a secret for seven months, but she is on her own path. It is not up to me to judge her or scold her. My responsibility is to accept this “thing I cannot change,” take care of myself, process the pain and sadness I felt, and pray to my higher power for the “courage to change the things I can change and the wisdom to know the difference,” as it says in the Serenity Prayer.

Today's Gift: Self Care for the Holidays

Self care can be especially difficult around the holidays for me and, as evidenced by the sharings of those at a recent Al Anon meeting, for many Al Anons. For me, holidays dredge up memories, both good and bad; elicit expectations about just about every aspect of the holidays; and trigger my perfectionism, which for the most part I have quelled or released in my daily life with the help of my higher power. I also find myself over scheduling or adding too many to do's to my to do list. I have found that coming into this holiday season, I am a little off.

Maybe it's a slight depression about the world we live in. Or maybe it's feeling disconnected to my family/siblings after a year of getting in a couple of happy visits to see a lot family I hadn't seen in years. Or it could stem from a recent disappointment with a sister. Whatever the reason, I've learned in Al Anon to acknowledge my feelings, even when I'm not sure where they are coming from.

In the past, before Al Anon, I was a “human doer” not human being. I was so focused on everyone and everything outside myself, I didn't have time to feel or check in with myself. I would go, go, go until I crashed by either having an angry outburst or getting very sick. That way of life, while I may chuckle to myself and say, what's wrong with that?!,“ I know it is not living a healthy, full life.  

So, taking time to read my daily Al Anon readings, taking time to go to meetings and even extra meetings, and staying in touch with Al Anon friends is really helping me keep my Al Anon coat of armor strong. Well, stronger, anyway. 

One of the tools I was reminded of at a recent meeting was doing what is known as "bookending.” That is, making a call to your sponsor or an Al Anon friend before an interaction or event, and then calling that person after. It is a great tool for getting clarity, developing strategies to deal with the interaction, and strengthening my Al Anon armor. And, for me it helps me to not beat myself up if things didn't go well or to acknowledge my growth if it did go well.

Another good tool helping me take care of myself this season is allowing myself to feel nurtured by even the littlest pause in a busy day or small thing I do for myself. Getting myself to my exercise classes and having a healthy lunch are filling me with positive me time. And while I'm showing myself compassion, I am also trying to remember to show others compassion, because it's holiday time for them as well.

My Holiday Hope

As I sit and think about the approaching holidays I can only be grateful for the people who came into my life at a time when I needed them the most. My children were both suffering from addictions and I was searching for a way to help them. When I first found Al Anon I thought “This will be my answer, I will learn how to fix them”. I went to my first meeting and listened to others share their stories. Surprisingly many of them sounded so much like mine. I kept coming just knowing that one day I would find the magic answer and slowly that answer appeared. However it was not in the form I expected. Instead I learned that the person I needed to change was not my children but me. I began the very slow process of accepting what is and finding a way to manage my own life because that was the only way I could help my children.

I continued to listen and share my thoughts and feelings and read the literature. At first I began to accept the ideas and thoughts in my head but it took a long time before I could believe them in my heart and soul. Even then I would fall back into old ways of thinking and reacting but I learned how to catch myself and not stay in that negative place that stole my happiness.

I say these things because my youngest son died from alcohol addiction 5 years ago and if not for the things I learned in those rooms I would not be the mostly happy and content person that I am today. I will always miss my son and wish he could have lived a longer and happier life. But good can come from pain and sorrow. I believe that my son would not want me to be sad, that he would want me to live a happy life and I try to do that for both of us. As hard as it is to accept, the choices he made were his and all I could do was love him and be there for him. The knowledge that he knew that gives some comfort to me.

These are some of the things I have learned. Happiness is a choice not a reaction to outside circumstance. What others think of me is not my business. It does no good to worry about things beyond my control. It is not my job to fix others.

My hope is that others who are suffering with sorrow and feelings of helplessness will find a path that helps. 

Moments of Joy

I love the holiday season and its traditions. Though my favorite time of year is Spring, there is something comforting and cozy about the change from lighter clothes to sweat shirts and scarves, from last days at the beach or pool and back-to-school shopping, to pumpkins, then turkey dinner, followed by Christmas carols and menorahs. The smells, tastes, sights and sounds call me away for a moment from whatever pressures might pull on me. I am truly grateful for the respite and try to take in as much as I can, because the heavier things of life remain, despite the season.

I found myself praying this morning for 2 young adults…I pray for them often. I asked for healing, for encouragement, for forgiveness in their hearts, for no depression or anxiety TODAY, NOW!!!  Sometimes I get tired and discouraged with how long I have been praying these same prayers for these same two people. Because I care so deeply for them, some days I am the one who needs prayers for these same things as I fight my own mental and spiritual battle. It is difficult to watch people I care about suffer, both from things that are not their fault, and things that they have done or not done which enhance their difficulties.

But fortunately, I have come a long way in my own journey. Now, when I become overwhelmed by their circumstances or my concern for them, I usually end up simply praying or meditating, “God, your will be done”. Once I read in a story that your will be done is the “prayer that never fails”. I liked that…it is now where I often go. I know for me, that prayer usually brings me to a place of peace and relief.

This morning, as I ran through the litany of things I wanted for them, it hit me: what I truly want for each of them, what I want for me, for everyone, is JOY…that sense of peace, hope, wellbeing, no matter the circumstances.

Somewhere I heard these definitions: Happiness is temporal; it depends on what is happening right now, on circumstances being what I want them to be. Joy depends on nothing temporal, nothing being the way I want it, but rather on a sense of peace, a peace that passes our human understanding, on the assurance in my spirit that God is there, that I am loved and cared for no matter what the circumstances, that my loved ones are, too.

Even if I were not a believing person, I know that joy is available to me…it can come from the decision to look at all things from the point of goodness, for in almost everything there is at least a thread of goodness. When I focus on the goodness, rather than what I don’t like/don’t want/don’t think is right, I usually feel better; and when I feel better, my entire being - my outlook, my responses and reactions, my physical body- has a chance to breathe.

If I were to take a slow deep breath, maybe several, I cannot help but feel calmer. When I am calm, I can think more clearly and I feel the effects of stress lessen…when I seek to find the goodness, the results are as if I have taken several deep breaths…then often what I notice is the joy. May many moments of every day be spent in joy!

The 50+ Crowd Spreading the Word about Medication Storage, Disposal and More

Though new to HC DrugFree and the 50 PLUS EXPO, I quickly saw the value of our presence at the expo this year. I wondered if many seniors would even bother to stop at the HC DrugFree booth, or if they would simply ‘compare themselves out’ (that is think, “This doesn’t apply to me because I don’t have a drug problem & my children are grown.”). But to my delight and surprise, many attendees spent ample time at our booth and found issues of importance to them.

We discussed the need to lock up medications (especially prescription pain medications), to help reduce the opportunity and availability of these drugs to anyone other than their intended patient. Even if the senior wasn’t on any prescription meds (and we met several…yeah!), they were concerned about the issue and glad to hear of HC DrugFree’s focus.

Our semi-annual Drug Take Back Days were another frequent topic, as seniors either learned about it for the first time, or shared that they just participated in our October 22nd event. Many attendees thanked us for the medicine lock boxes they received at our April 30th Drug Take Back Day, which they appreciate and use regularly. We encouraged everyone to start collecting items for our spring event, date to be determined by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Given that the purpose of HC DrugFree is education and prevention of substance misuse and abuse, what better way to ‘spread the word’ than to include and recruit the seniors in our community to understand the facts of clean and sober living and HC DrugFree’s mission and goals?!  The stereotype of an isolated senior, alone in their apartment, might be the reality for some citizens in Howard County, but my guess is that many of our seniors are living active, vibrant lives, filled with a lifetime of connections and opportunities to influence others.

I am grateful for the opportunity we had during the 50+ EXPO to engage with this wise, concerned abd interactive segment of our community. They can be an invaluable resource as HC DrugFree continues its mission.

Last thought: One veteran of the EXPO looked around at the milling crowd, most of whom carried shopping bags filled with literature and items from each booth, and referred to it as, “Trick-or-Treating for Seniors!”.  Maybe we can follow his example and look for the humor and joy of every day, no matter what obstacles we might face. I’ll wager he learned that from a lifetime of practice.