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.

HC DrugFree's Take Back Day Was a Community Effort!

What a great day! Despite the gale-force winds in the morning, Drug Take Back Day on October 22nd seemed to go beautifully from my perspective…this was my first time to volunteer. Working full time, I haven’t found the time or energy to volunteer anywhere in quite a while, but I found myself at the Wilde Lake Village Center that Saturday, and I am happy I was there! It’s good to know that such an event exists…I finally know how to safely handle leftover meds & vitamins; plus, several members of my family are diabetic or take weekly shots for arthritis, and we’ve never know what to do with the plastic items and needles, other than throw them in the trash.

As a Howard County resident for over 30 years and a mother of two, I was extremely impressed with the entire process and proud that we offer such a public service. The teens who volunteered that day (for the entire 4 hours or more!) were my heroes…they were stationed around the village center to direct traffic towards the proper area, but they had NO shelter from the whipping wind that persisted for most of the time. A family came through to drop off their meds, then came back with a jug of Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate for the teens…I thought that was really sweet J.  Whenever asked, the teens said they were okay and didn’t need to be replaced; it warmed my heart to observe these young people offering their time and energy, and sticking with it!

But that wasn’t all. The energy, attitude, and commitment of the other adults who shared their time and expertise that day was contagious, and the camaraderie was a pleasant bonus…I enjoyed getting to know the others in between our duties.  I was also impressed by the array of community members who participated, from the police and DEA agent, to the physician, social worker and Board of Ed member. It was a good example of ‘a community effort’.

Once I knew I was going to volunteer that day, I checked in with neighbors and friends; I offered to bring their items if they couldn’t make it. To my surprise, most of them were already aware of HC Drug Free’s Drug Take Back Day…where have I been? Well, now I know J!

Howard County Adolescent Mental Health Symposium

As a Howard County parent who’s been active on the School Health Council (SHC), I attended the Howard County Adolescent Mental Health Symposium on Sept. 27, 2016.  The Symposium was organized by a committee (including Joan, HC DrugFree's Executive Director and Vice Chair of the School Health Council) following an SHC General Meeting that dealt with the problems of stress, anxiety, and depression among students.  Actually, it was an Atholton High School student member of the SHC who first recommended that we explore this problem.  So, last Spring, a panel of students shared their experiences with school-related stress, anxiety, and depression with a roomful of concerned adults—and this touched a nerve.

A panel of students spoke at yesterday’s Symposium, too—this time to a room full of public health, social service, and school system administrators.  The students represented many different high schools throughout our county.  I’ll relate some of their suggestions regarding what might help what appears to be an epidemic of stress affecting the health of our youth.  While not all are feasible, they are all worth considering.

Per our students, our schools should…

Focus on learning, not on tests

Cut down on homework

Give students breaks during school, to decompress

Have social workers in the schools to help students who are in crisis or need counseling, since counselors and psychiatrists are often busy and unavailable

Allow students to go outside, if they want, after lunch (to exercise or be in nature)

Allow for a school/life balance

Show teens the consequences of making bad choices (using drugs, etc.)

Help students identify sources of stress and develop good coping skills

Teach meditation and yoga (a student who said she was “forced” to do it said it really helped!)

Cater to each student’s needs (for instance, standing desks for those who have a hard time sitting for too long)

Teach life skills (how to do taxes, for instance)

Hold students accountable for their actions (parents included)

Help youth address problems at home

Also, a physician asked the students what physicians should do to help teens…

Ask teens how much sleep they got last night—that will tell physicians a lot about teens’ health and stress level

Have a private conversation with teens, without parents in the exam room

Form a trusting relationship

Don’t judge teens for bad decisions—instead, empathize

Help teen make a plan

Many people, adults included, end up self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol when dealing with stress, anxiety and/or depression in order to escape and feel “numb”.  Let’s check in with our kids and ask how it’s going.  Let’s help them find balance and make it okay to share their feelings.  Let’s help them avoid the trap of using negative, and often addictive, coping mechanisms to deal with their stress.

My Journey in Alanon

Though it was many years ago, I remember the moment vividly...the moment when I didn't just hear, but understood what it meant: "You can start your day over at any time." I felt a rush of relief, a release of fear and pressure, as if a heavy weight was lifted and replaced by deep peace. 

It was in this new-found freedom that a confidence took hold as I continued my journey in Alanon. I had been struggling with my husband's alcoholism, my desperate responses to it, the growing ugliness in my spirit and behavior. In Alanon, I learned to look at my part in a difficult situation, but perfectionism, anxiety and guilt over what I found overwhelmed me. But I kept going back to meetings, reading the supporting literature, picking up the phone to speak to others so as not to become isolated. Seeds were planted & my ears, heart & mind were slowly, steadily opening to receive the powerful wisdom of these several simple words: "You can start your day over at any time." 

I came to understand that nothing I had thought, said or done needed to maintain a strangle-hold on me, on my energy, time or emotional health. I could apologize for any harm I caused, I could pray for change and strength within me, I could take a step in another direction, I could do an anonymous good deed to get my attention off of myself...any/all of these could be done at any moment of any day to "start over".

A deep exhale, confidence in God's love and guidance, and the understanding that I can choose my responses...that's what I now use to start my day over whenever I need to. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for this incredible gift!

Students Fill Oriole Park at Camden Yards to Capacity!

By Carl Robertson, M.R.E., M.Div, Prevention Manager, The Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling. Carl Robertson is a parent, grandparent and prevention specialist who lives and works in Maryland.

How many students would it take to fill Camden Yards to capacity?

The capacity of the “Yard” is:  45,971 people.

Imagine if we could transport from across the State of Maryland just one group of adolescents 12-17 years of age to fill the “Yard” to capacity.  What a site that would be!  We can of course not only fill it to capacity but we would have young people standing outside as well. 

National data as well as Maryland data tells us that there are at least 47,000 to 50,000 adolescents in Maryland who are problem gamblers!  The National data consistently states that 4% to 6% of adolescents ages 12-17 years of age are burdened with this addictionGambling addiction equals and in some ways surpasses the other more widely known addictions: Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs.  For those who work with adults and adolescents the term:  ATOD+G describes behaviors that negatively impact their lives.

How is this possible that gambling is an addiction for adolescents 12-17 years of age?   We accept the data that indicates that in every high school class of 25 students – there is 1 problem gambler.  In that same classroom, there are 10-15% of other students who are At-Risk for developing a gambling addiction.  It is also reported that in every high school throughout the United States there is at least one student bookie.  Whenever a school plays their rival school in a sporting event a student is taking bets / wagers on the outcome of the sporting event.  And of course, we have heard plenty about Fantasy Sports, Internet Sports and even video gaming as ways for students to be engaged in gambling, betting and wagering.

I have heard from Parents and Teachers alike: “Are you telling me that I need to be worried about student gambling too?”   It is hard for parents and teachers alike to understand how gambling can be an issue for adolescents.  For adults gambling is seen as entertainment, enjoyment, fun!  And of course, for the majority of adults it is just that.  However, in Maryland we have at least 150,000 adults who are problem gamblers.  That is to say that in Maryland 3.4% of adults are problem gamblers – adults who gamble not for fun, entertainment or enjoyment but because they are addicted to the psychological and emotional ‘high’ they get just from thinking about gambling.

As a parent of a once high school daughter, I believed her to be mature, responsible and self-confident.  However, I would often make the mistake in believing that she possessed all of the abilities to make “adult like” decisions.  I even at times would say to her: “what were you thinking”.  What I meant was how could you make such an “un-adult like” decision.  Today, I understand that complete decision making skills and abilities are only finally developed around 22-24 years of age.

The Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling has a program developed to address adolescent gambling behaviors.  It is called Maryland Smart Choices.  If you are interested in learning more about the signs and resources associated with adolescent gambling go to:  www.mdproblemgambling.com

Guns, Alcohol, and Teens; Deadly Combination

Two teenagers were drinking in Chicopee, Massachusetts on a Saturday afternoon.  At least one of them was 15 years old.  Likely because of the alcohol, they ended up on the wrong front porch while looking for their friend.  The man inside ultimately shot the 15 year old in his stomach and he later died.

Drinking alcohol, particularly when you are under age, obviously puts you at risk.  Judgment, impulse control, and memory are frequently affected.  Driving after drinking is both risky and far too common.  Unplanned sexual activity, falls, fights, drowning, failing classes, and engaging in inappropriate behavior that result in arrests or expulsion can all be consequences of heavy drinking.

Unfortunately, the combination of guns and alcohol can be a deadly combination, even when those drinking don’t have a gun.  With too many people armed and ready to defend their property, a stupid mistake can be terminal.  When the drunk individual has access to a gun, however, the risk is exponential.  Alcohol is involved in over a quarter of all suicides, and alcohol has been linked to more homicides than all the other substances combined.  While guns are not always the weapon of choice, they are the most common and the most lethal.

As parents, we need to talk to our kids about the many risks that drinking pose.  Particularly drinking around guns.

Seniors Are at Special Risk with Opioid Medications

Many of us, when thinking about the risks of drug addiction, are mostly concerned about teens and youth rather than peers or our elders.  It is true that we have been experiencing a surge of heroin addiction in this country and that the average age of heroin abusers has typically been around 23.  However, prescription medications are another story.  Despite the fact that opioid medications were designed for short-term pain, they have been prescribed for many chronic conditions that afflict older Americans disproportionately.  Over time, a tolerance occurs, and more medication is required to combat the pain.  Older adults increased their E.R. visits by 78% from 2006 to 2012 due to drug misuse.  Nearly half of those visits were by people age 75 and older, while 53 percent were between the ages of 65 and 74.

Opioid medications are more addictive than previously thought—you can become physically dependent in as few as five days.  At that point, the pain that the opioid seems to help relieve may actually be withdrawal pain.  Older adults are less able to handle the effects of opioid medications physiologically.  Medicines accumulate more easily in a body where all the systems are slowing down due to age.  Senior citizens are often on several medications that can, and often do, interact with each other.  Any use of alcohol intensifies the effects of opioids. 

Opioid-related side effects are many, and might be missed by doctors and caregivers.  Possible red flags might include anxiety and depression, confusion and disorientation, and injuries.  Side effects can include falls, dizziness, headaches, sedation, severe constipation, and slow reaction times.  Elderly adults taking opioid painkillers have 4 times as many bone fractures, are 68% more likely to be hospitalized and are 87% more likely to die as those taking over the counter medication.

It is important to consider the risks before taking, or allowing loved ones to take, opioids.  While they may ease suffering at the end of life, or be useful for a short time following surgery, consider refusing them if they are recommended for any chronic pain.  A multifaceted approach to pain management, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and activity coaching, has been proven to be very successful.

A Giant Leap of Faith

As the mother of a son who will be a senior in high school next year, I’m already looking ahead to sending him off to college. Mixed in with the many class celebrations will be a college visits and applications. I’m looking forward to all the excitement and anticipation that this process involves…and am resigned to the stress and worry that goes along with it. 

A child going off to college is a huge step. An empty (or less full) nest for the parents and a major leap of independence for the student. I recall feeling as though I was at summer camp my entire Freshman year of college—the freedom was intoxicating. Good choices are not always made. As irrelevant as I’ve sometimes felt to my teenagers during their high school experience, I know that my influence will fully fade into the background during their college years.

The risks will be there. Will our children be prepared to handle them?  Now is the time to make sure they know what to expect to find, and help them fully understand the possible consequences of experimenting with various substances. I was able to find and download a lengthy review of the most common substance abuse threats to the health of college students at https: www.drugwatch.com/students/, where the information was last updated on May 18, 2016. 

Along with binge drinking and marijuana, parents should be aware of the popularity of Adderall, known as “the study drug” on campuses. It’s a prescription drug developed for treating ADHD, but is widely abused by students without this diagnosis because of a heightened sense of motivation, focus and concentration. When students take this drug without a medical reason, they can easily become addicted to and dependent on the drug. They are also at risk for many harmful side effects. 

Over-the-counter drugs, such as cold medicines, are also a big problem.  They don’t require a prescription, are inexpensive, so it’s an easy way to get high. They typically will chug an entire bottle of cold or cough medicine, or take a package of the medicine in pill form.  More than 12,000 people each year are treated for overdoses of non-prescription medications—especially cough syrups. Abuse can lead to addiction and severe side effects, including death and brain damage.

OxyContin, a narcotic pain reliever that is now considered the most abused prescription drug in the U.S., has been reported to be easier for college students to obtain than alcohol. Students don’t realize how quickly they can become addicted. Again, brain damage and death are two potential risks.

These are a few of the popular drugs that parents may not know much about. They are being used and abused on college campuses. Help your child prepare for the risks, as well as the rewards, of independence so there are no regrets.

Observations at Summer 2016 Concert

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I recently attended a local concert with a friend. As we walked towards the outdoor venue the couple in front of us shared a joint during the entire 15 minute walk, and made no attempt to hide it from 2 police officers directing traffic as they walked by. Once inside we joined friends on the lawn first down in front then later farther up the hill. Two things struck me as I sat enjoying the company of my friends. One was the number of young children wandering around our immediate area (toddlers up to about age 10), a little surprising for an 80’s English rock band with a slightly older demographic. The other surprising fact was the amount of marijuana around me. In our first spot on the lawn there were about 5 of 6 groups surrounding us (if you have ever seen a popular concert on the lawn you know how close you are to your neighbors). Every group was smoking despite some having small kids with them. About 30 minutes later we met up with a larger group of friends quite a distance away but also on the lawn and found the same scenario. Small kids surrounded by pot smoke.

Shortly before the show began we left the lawn and took our amazing 8TH row seats. At first I was relieved that the area seemed smoke free since I really don’t like the smell of it, especially after being surrounded by it for the past hour. But as soon as the show began the groups behind and on both sides of us lit up. The show, and the smoking, lasted for 3 hours. There were 3 tweens in front of us breathing it in the entire time and I thought of my own 14 year old daughter who has started to ask to go to concerts. I was glad that she wasn’t there with me.

Whether you believe pot should be legal (or not), whether you smoke it (or not), it is still illegal in Maryland. I was disappointed that the venue doesn’t enforce their own “no smoking” rules posted on their website. As a mom, I worried about the kids I saw at the show breathing it in for hours on end and even more so for the kids I saw on the lawn watching adults around them doing bong hits. Other than leaving the concert and being out hundreds of dollars in tickets or leaving their kids at home I’m not sure what parents can do. I’ve been to lots of concerts over the years and there has always been pot but I have never seen it as prevalent as I did at this show and I have never seen parents doing it in front of their kids. After speaking to friends who have had similar concert experiences at all types of concerts, I think it is safe to say that if you bring your kids to a concert you can expect for them to be exposed to drug use and second hand marijuana smoke, and when you attend you should know that chances are you’ll be sitting in the middle of it as well.

Daughter Attends Her First Concert

My 15-year old daughter went to her first concert recently.  It was to see Twenty One Pilots, her favorite band.  She went with friends, rather than us, and I admit to being more than a little nervous about what could happen.   My husband is a huge Grateful Dead fan, so the concerts I’ve attended have likely had more than the normal share of drugs.  And there have been overdoses leading to hospitalizations, arrests, and deaths over the years at concerts.   

I talked to her a lot about what she might see at the concert, and was not at all vague about what we expected her to do if she was offered alcohol or a drug.  She came back home many hours later very high, but on the music rather than a substance.  She reported that she’d seen several “stupid people” who ended up missing the concert because they’d gotten drunk and passed out, or were escorted out of the venue due to being caught using drugs.  I was pretty pleased that it had been a valuable learning experience for her.

My husband was the fourth of five children.  He has never been drunk or used an illegal substance.  He says that’s because he learned to avoid temptation early, after observing his older siblings’ painful experiences.  Much as children of alcoholics may learn from their parent’s poor example and avoid the pitfalls of alcohol, as opposed to following suit.  Our children will sometimes be in the presence of people using drugs and/or irresponsibly drinking.  Let’s encourage them to observe, in the manner of a scientist, the negative effects of alcohol and drug use.  And let’s hope that they learn from that.