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November 26, 2008

Living In A Parallel Universe

When you have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one, especially a child to addiction, holidays are especially painful.  And so it is this year as the annual "season of gratitude" approaches with its mixture of secular and religious fetes. As one might imagine I hated this season for many years after David's death. In addition to Thanksgiving, Christmas and, New Years...Dave's birthday is the 11th of December making the final two months of the calendar a treacherous emotional field sown with land mines of grief and remembrance. The passage of time, of course has not diminished the sense of loss but it has also given me the gift of perspective.  Perspective that allows me to approach this season with a little less grief and a little more acceptance each year.

It is certainly the same for the hundreds of thousands of families with loved ones that struggle with addiction, who grieve the loss of dreams while yearning for hope as their family members continue their journeys sometimes in and sometime out of recovery. Ours is a different reality which sometimes feels like we live in a parallel universe to families who are not touched by substance abuse the way we are. And yet I have come to believe that neither of us can say one is luckier than the other.

Today, because of my son's death from addiction and my own odyssey through recovery I am a better husband, a better father, a better boss and co-worker and a better friend. I will always be an alcoholic just like I will always be the father of a son who died and yet my life has richness to it that I could never have imagined or would have achieved had I continued to reside in that other universe.

November 26, 2008 at 11:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2008

Addiction Treatment in America - A System Of Care That Doesn't - Part II

A couple of months ago my wife woke me in the middle of the night complaining of chest pains and difficulty breathing.  After several calls to her sister, an ER nurse for many years, I dialed 911 and an ambulance arrived within minutes to whisk us off to the hospital.  As the EMT's wheeled her gurney into the emergency room I noticed a young adult male lying in a fetal position and alone two rooms down from where we ended up.  Over the next three hours my wife went through a battery of procedures and tests ordered by the attending physician which in the end determined that her condition was not life threatening.  She was given a couple of prescriptions, a referral to schedule an appointment with a specialist and discharged into my care. 

As we left the ER at 4:00 AM to head back to the comfort of our home armed now with the tools we needed to hopefully address my wife's medical condition, I noticed the young man I had seen earlier in the evening was still in the same room; still huddled up in the same fetal position and still alone.  I asked one of the nurses what his story was...and with a tired look in her eyes she said...

"Just a drunk that we're letting sleep it off....that's all we can do." 

November 11, 2008 at 11:16 AM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2008

Election Day 2008

The incredible excitement and the inescapable historic nature of this past election night reminded me that it was not long ago that I hated election day.  It never had anything to do with the politics, the candidates, issues of the day or the long lines at the polling stations.  My distaste for the first Tuesdays in May and November was simply rooted in the fact that in the State of Indiana the sale of alcohol is prohibited on those days until 6:00 PM.  A relic from the Prohibition era when saloons sometimes served as polling stations,  Indiana is only one of four States that still clings tenaciously to it's temperance traditions.  
As a closet alcoholic for more than two decades, Election Day was such an incredible inconvience to me, one for which I was perennially unprepared and resented each year.  But today with the help of my higher power and 12 Step programs I can look forward to exercising my patriotic right and celebrate the democratic process without being restless, irritable and discontent. 
Today I look forward to election day and that is just another gift of recovery.

November 10, 2008 at 10:08 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 04, 2008

Addiction Treatment in America - A System Of Care That Doesn't

Carlie walked into my office with a perplexed look on her face.  She has worked with me for sometime now and knows from past experience that not all my calls are work related....work that I get paid a salary for that is.   She handed me a piece of paper and said "I just took this message off my voice mail from a treatment center who referred this woman to you...it sounds like she needs help."  I was confused by the message since I am more often the one doing the referring of people to treatment centers.  But when I returned the call I quickly understood that this was the kind of contact my wife and I have received frequently since the death of our son David from the disease of addiction in 2001.

The call for help came from a family who had heard about our work since Dave's death, were now confronting their daughter's escalating addiction and a treatment system of care that seemed disjointed, confusing, extremely difficult to decode and to navigate.  They were a family like us, well educated and affluent, who never thought this would happen to them.  Like us they spent some time trying to deal with things themselves and then realized they needed "professional" help. Yet when they entered this new arena of substance abuse treatment they found they didn't understand the syntax, the answers they received or the questions they needed to ask. What they needed was a translator, a guide or perhaps a sponsor...someone to help demystify the process for them; that is how they ended up contacting us. 

For most health threatening issues the public health model, or system of care, works pretty well.  Individuals with health problems enter these systems via their primary care physician, a psychological specialist, an immediate care facility or in extreme cases through the emergency room of a hospital.  From there a well established system of medical specialists takes over to guide the patient through a prescribed regiment of treatment more often than not underwritten by insurance that covers some portion of the cost.

Unfortunately those who require treatment for a substance abuse disorder do not enjoy a similar cohesive and coherent system of care.  Many health care professional from doctors to emergency room personnel demonstrate an appalling lack of knowledge about the disease of addiction or the treatment it requires.   Most health insurance companies provide meager coverage at best and many private not-for-profit treatment facilities require up-front down payments ranging from $6,000 to $15,000.  To say that our system of care for the treatment of addiction is broken would seem to indicate that we had a system that worked at some point.  In my view we never had one that worked and the one we have right now still needs an incredible amount of work.

Which brings me back to the family who found their way to us.  Their call led to several more conversations, an invitation to meet with us at our home that was gratefully accepted where the translation and interpretation began.  Their daugther just completed two weeks of in-patient treatment and is now on to the next chapter of her recovery. 

We are still on-call for them and will be there for them for as long as they or anyone else needs us.

November 4, 2008 at 07:30 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 02, 2008

Adolescents Finding Recovery

I finally groped my way into recovery at the age of  51.  I started using when I was 15 which means I spent 36 years chasing what I thought were the feelings of peacefulness and serenity alcohol and drugs brought me.  36 years before I realized that it was all a lie, false promises from a false God I had worshiped for over three decades.  And while the program of Alcoholics Anonymous teaches us that if we work hard at recovery we will not regret the past...nor wish to shut the door on it, there are times that I wish that it has not taken me so long to get sick and tired of being sick and tired. 

If you have read any of my previous entries you will know that I am fond of speaking of the truths that I have learned along this circuitous rocky road of recovery.  Prominent among there are that while I shrank back at age 51 when I was told I could not drink the rest of my life I cannot begin to appreciate how difficult, scary and intimidating the concept of total abstinence from drugs and alcohol is for an adolescent or young adult.  The road to sustained recovery is an arduous one for everyone but for young people it is especially so.  They exist in a culture of excessive consumption in which they define themselves by their relationships with peers.  Acceptance by others and being comfortable in ones own skin are most often the cornerstones of identity and for many use and abuse of alcohol and drugs is the fast-track to "fitting in".

When our son David was first in treatment we learned that alcoholics and addicts are surrounded by a cluster of  family and friends who directly or indirectly enable that person's using behavior.  Adults who suffer from the disease of addiction usually have anywhere from 5-10 people who make up this cluster of "enabler's".  For adolescents and young adults there can be upwards of 25 to 35 people who enable them. So when a counselor or 12 Step sponsor tells a young person that one of the key components of  sustaining recovery is to change "people...places and things" it's no wonder that despair and fear can follow.  Alcoholics Anonymous' one size fits all philosophy designed by middle aged, white males has done little to help.  Perhaps  AA would do well to take a chapter from their Al-Anon brothers and sisters and consider a program similar to Al-Ateen to make 12 step recovery more accessible to young people.

Still the good news is that thousand of adolescents and young adults do find recovery everyday through treatment and 12 step recovery programs despite the appalling lack of treatment facilities throughout the United States and continuing discrimination by health insurance providers. I never cease to be filled with admiration for the young person who finds their way into recovery no matter what the path.  One of the common laments of men and women in the rooms of AA, NA, or CA is..."I wish I could have found recovery when I was younger."

So when I see a young person tentatively and reluctantly enter a treatment center or a 12 step meeting I feel hope and promise for their own recovery...hope and promise for the thousands who haven't made it yet...and hope and promise in the knowledge that if they do find recovery in their youth they will enjoy many more years of recovery than I will have the chance to experience in the time that I have left. 

November 2, 2008 at 11:39 AM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack