A Missed 30th Birthday

Tomorrow would have been our son, John Leif’s, 30th birthday. Sadly, he is not here and we are not celebrating. Instead, we are remembering his life and honoring our son by sharing his story with a local recovery group.

In anticipation of our time with a group of 18 and over individuals, including parents or partners, who are trying to recover from a variety of drugs including alcohol, John and I discussed what we might possibly have to say that would be helpful.

We looked back at our journal and our upcoming memoir for options. And we asked a young friend who has been clean and sober for the past five years after over a decade of intense drug addiction. We all had the same idea: discuss shame and its role in addiction and recovery. Because the sense of shame that hangs like low black clouds gathering over our lives any time we as humans engage in something we know is not good for us – or others – is the ultimate loss of self-worth. As shame erodes the very core of our being, I believe it is the hardest obstacle (aside from the physical addiction) for addicted individuals to surmount in seeking recovery. Shame paralyzes us.

We began by sharing JL’s timeline of addiction and his death, showing some clips from his memorial video montage, and reading some excerpts from our upcoming memoir. We discussed the many mistakes we made and regrets we have, information that we did not know, advice we did not take. We discussed the role of genetic links in addiction and the importance of uncovering those family secrets so that we can be better prepared to openly discuss and warn our kids during those high-risk adolescent years.

And we discussed shame and guilt, the difference between them, and how to deal with both. Hazelden Betty Ford Recovery says their “fundamental addiction stigma-smashing strategy is to shine a light on people who are in recovery and expose the reality that people actually do recover from addiction; that it’s a chronic disease that can be successfully managed for life; and that it affects individuals who are every bit as moral, productive, intelligent, talented—and humanly flawed—as the next person.”

Our great hope and fervent desire is to shine a light and help bring encouragement to those battling addiction and alcoholism – to help them not feel “less than” but to know they are precious people who are fighting a disease. We were blessed at the acceptance we felt by the group and their receptivity to us sharing our story. One client said that, although she could not imagine losing a child like we did, she could encourage us that by our openness and empathy we will help save many other lives. Our hope and prayer is that sharing about JL’s death will bring life and wellness to all who hear.

Woman of Substances

In 1979, the novel A Woman of Substance was published. It was the first in a series of seven portraying the substances and schemes, the means and maneuvers of three generations of a retail empire. Being “a woman of substance” is considered a great compliment for a woman who aspires to be influential, a woman of power, a positive influence. 

In a clever spin on this phrase, journalist and author Jenny Valentish has written Woman of Substances. I picked it up last year while in Melbourne, Australia and I couldn’t put it down. Her narrative flair for relaying her personal experiences while presenting scientific findings on addictions of all  sorts is extremely engaging for women – and men.

Jenny’s nutshell:

A girl falls down a rabbit hole. She obeys every ‘drink me’, ‘eat me’ prompt and meets all sorts of freaky characters. Chaos ensues. Then she wakes up and exploits her position as a journalist to ask experts what that was all about.

Although it is not a memoir per se, her blatant honesty and self-deprecation about her past and her choices is revealing, while not glamorizing the depths to which her addictions took her. She interviewed 35 clinicians, counsellors, doctors and academics about their fields of expertise and shares her personal experiences of her up and down road to recovery and sobriety.

The chapters cover: The roles of temperament and impulsivity in addiction. Hitching adolescent identity to substances. Internalized misogyny as a contributing factor. The relationship between substance use, eating disorders and self-harm. Sexual assault and spiking. The impact of childhood trauma on the brain and behavior. Related foibles, such as gambling, theft, compulsive buying and compulsive sexual behavior. Self-medicating mental illness and PTSD. AA and other forms of treatment. The ways in which research and treatment is geared towards the male experience.

My husband, daughter, and I had the privilege of meeting with Jenny for lunch in Melbourne last week. She is as real in person as she is in print. We discussed current trends of drug addiction in Australia along with recovery and family help groups she is connected with.

What reviewers are saying:

“Raw, revealing, at times heartbreaking, but searingly honest and aimed to support anyone who is wondering if they will ever recover from addiction.”

“This book taught me things I wasn’t expecting about the landscape of substance use. You don’t have to be a spectacular comet of crazy like the young Valentish to find something of yourself in these pages. I can’t imagine there isn’t a young person, friend or parent who won’t get something important from reading this book.”

“Like a tour guide in a foreign land, Valentish waves a flag and provides a path back from the abyss. This is an enormously compelling, confronting and informative piece on addiction and recovery from a female perspective.”

Ultimately, Jenny show us that being a Woman of Substances keeps you from being influential, powerful, and a positive influence. As we told her, we are proud of her determination to truthfully relay her failures and her persistence in walking the uphill road to wellness and freedom. They will assure her place as a powerful and positive influence on this generation.

www.womanofsubstances.com

You can purchase Woman of Substances on Amazon or at your local bookseller.

No Magic Bullets

Last week here in Tucson, Arizona, some young people were together at a house using heroin. They were unaware it was laced with fentanyl. Friends ran to a nearby restaurant and flagged down police to help one person who was unresponsive from an overdose. He was revived with Narcan (naloxone). The officers were then taken to the house where six others had overdosed. One 19-yr old did not make it. Tucson Police all carry naloxone because they are usually the “first responders” to victims of overdose. Sadly, our Pima County Sheriff officers do not carry it – with the line of reasoning being that it is too costly for the training and they are not usually the first responders.

Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio, injectable or intranasal spray) was patented in 1961, and is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids by displacing them from the opioid receptor sites in the brain. Whereas an agonist causes an action, an antagonist blocks the action of the agonist. It has been used in hospital “code arrest” emergency situations for decades. It is being carried by emergency personnel and families of addicts because it can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications.

But it is not a magic bullet. Statistically, most opioid overdoses happen when the user is alone. By the time they are found, usually many hours later, it is too late for resuscitation. Another reason is that public safety experts are concerned, and rightly so, because addicts may be less motivated to find a way to quit using opioids since they can be revived. Their family and friends will also feel less anxiety and less concerned about urging their addict to get long term help. A recent news special interviewed several opiate addicts who had been revived multiple times with naloxone. One was an older man who is a “career addict”. He has no real desire to get clean and carries naloxone in case any of his friends need it. The other was a young woman who had overdosed and been revived several times and had finally gone through a recovery program and is clean and sober. She is very thankful for the times she did not die because finally, finally she was able to get to the point where she wanted to leave her miserable life of addiction and be free. But let’s remember: she needed a recovery program option. We cannot just turn those addicted to opioids back onto the streets after reviving them.

She is an example of the recent statistics that it takes on average 10-12 recovery attempts before an opiate addict can stay clean and sober long-term. Ten to twelve. It is a fact that relates to the addictive quality of opioids. For many of those addicted to opiates, those 10-12 attempts will never happen without overdoses and then being revived with naloxone. We, as a society, must be willing to offer this chance to those who are trapped by addiction to substances that have poured onto our streets and into our schools at an unprecedented rate. Our son went through several recovery programs and was at the point of really wanting to be free of his addiction. But without the needed medication, such as Suboxone, his last relapse proved fatal. He died of a heroin overdose at 25 yrs old – alone. There was no magic bullet for him.

Spring: New Life?

Spring is the season of regeneration, new life, hope. The time of year when the whole earth seems excited to be alive after being dormant all winter. For those who celebrate Easter, the season begins with introspection through prayer and repentance. As we reflect on our life and behaviors that are destructive to ourselves and our relationships, we hope to shed them like the husk of a seed when it is buried in the ground. We expectantly wait for the transformation that happens deep inside that will spring up as new life, like the sprout from a seed. Yet, as it pushes up through the crusty ground, the process of transformation is not without struggle.
This is what those who are living with addiction hope for when they go to AA meetings and enter recovery programs: as they surrender control, they’re hoping for a total change from agony and depression into a new life.

People, Places, Things is a play about addiction and wearing masks by British playwright Duncan MacMillan and director Jeremy Harren. It opened to rave reviews. In an interview with NPR the creators share that at the center of the play is the 12-step process. It shows that for those who have trouble with AA and surrendering to God perhaps it is easier to understand it as acknowledging that you can’t have control over life. We are all powerless over People, Places, Things. It is literally one day at a time. They visited a recovery center in London to get insights for the play. And as one of the actors said after witnessing the daily life-and-death struggle that addicts fight:

“One day at a time. And Life has to win every single day.
Death has to only win once.”

In Tracey Mitchell’s blog (http://traceyh415.blogspot.com/2018/03/) she shares about a young person she has been corresponding with since 2013 and the cycles of opioid addiction and attempted recovery he went through repeatedly. He voiced his utter frustration: “It’s so insane how this drug has taken hold over me.” Tracey heard from him a few more times and then nothing: “I don’t know all the details. I just know I could have written this story. This was my story. Except I did not die at 25. I didn’t need to worry about fentanyl (in the late 1990’s). I got off everything at 27. I consider myself lucky…No one should ever have to die alone like this.”

Yes, no one, especially a young person, should have to die having failed to experience a new beginning – after so much effort at turning over control and hoping for a normal life. But, with the purity of heroin in America having risen sharply in the last 15 years, and fentanyl now mixed in unbeknownst to users, the physical addiction is beyond comprehension. For those who are overdosing and dying in record numbers, they had no intention that their next use would be their last. This was what happened to our 25-yr-old son. Whatever he bought and used was more potent than what he was expecting and accustomed to. He died alone, with the needle still in his vein. Death only had to win once.

Prevention is the best way to stop these needless deaths. But once addiction to opioids has taken control, harm reduction with a solid 12-Step program is the best way to help addicts emerge from the darkness and be able to have a truly new life.