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November 27, 2010

The Holidays One Day At A Time

The first couple of years after my son died from addiction I approached the holiday season with a debilitating mix of grief and fear.  The grief I expected because the loss of a child is considered, with good reason, the worst loss.  At times it was overwhelming...at others incapacitating...often it was unexpected but in the end I could always count on it being relentless.

The fear however I did not expect and for a while it puzzled me until I realized one day that the things I feared the most were my own memories.  Memories of what had been and what I had lost and would not have again.  Memories that once had been good seem to torture me the most while the bad memories  simply filled me with hatred.  And then there were of course the magical thinking memories that perhaps if I had done this or that I could have somehow prevented David's death or at least been there for him or my wife or my other son in a way that would ameliorate their suffering in some small way.

But I was most afraid of what those memories would do to me, the dark places they might take me and from whence I may not return.  A verital dungeon of memories whose bars were self-pity and denial made stronger by the alcohol and prescription drugs I self medicated with in a vain attempt to escape their clutches.  

But today, and for some years now, the holiday season no longer fills me with sadness and dread. I experience the joy and hope that the season was always meant to convey in large measure as a result of my recovery from my own disease of addiction. A recovery ancohored firmly in 12 step meetings and the fellowship that surround them.  I have learned from a wonderful sponsor, my friends in the rooms and most of all a beautiful and incredibly supportive wife (who works her own recovery program) that their is no escape from grief and fear...that it must be faced, recognized, understood and eventually embraced.  And by doing so acceptance and forgiveness can reign again where once there was only desolation. 

I have also learned that by embracing my fear and grief it has become a part of my soul where hope and joy also reside.  In my recovery today I know what I lost and the price I paid for it...but today I will not let it take a piece of my soul from me the way it did in the beginning.  Today it is a part of me and I am a stronger, kinder and more loving person because of it...now and forever....one day at a time.

November 27, 2010 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2010

The Inevitabilities of Addiction

One of the first things we learned when Dave was in treatment was that if left untreated, the disease of addiction leads to three inevitabilities: Jails, Institutions and Death.  We learned, tragically, that even when there is treatment this same triad of consequences can also occur.  In fact it wasn’t until Dave entered a treatment facility, (which for the uninitiated counts as an institution) that he began to run afoul of the legal system and added jails to his addiction portfolio.  He was arrested twice and was first Cell detained in the a County jail on charges of theft in four different jurisdictions in a two hour period.  His second arrest came not long after in another County for theft again which meant a brief stay at that county’s juvenile detention center.  His behavior at first was inexplicable to me for a young man who had everything he could ever want at his finger tips.  But it was only inexplicable until i looked deeper at his addiction profile.  From childhood he had always been a risk taker, always willing to try anything…do anything…just to say he’d done that”.  We learned that risk taking or thrill seeking is often an attribute of an addict or alcoholic and when the drugs are taken away in early recovery he sought an outlet for that thrill seeking behavior wherever he could find it.

 

Like many parents who first encounter the legal system I sought legal representation for Dave, telling myself I just wanted to be sure that he didn’t get caught up in a system that seems to me at the time to be unfair, inefficient and inconsistent.  So instead of allowing him to face the natural consequences of his actions I wrongly sought to prevent them, rescuing him from himself I thought and yet in doing I perpetuated his reliance on the certainty that Dad would not let bad things happen to him.

 

Today I feel somewhat differently about what I would and would not have done when DAve was arrested…but that is not to say we find totally palatable the current view the criminal justice system has about those who suffer from the disease of addiction and become ensnared in its tentacles. George Brenner of the Gallahue Mental Health Services in Indiana frequently shares his view of the current judicial state of affairs with regard to the treatment of the disease of addiction.

 

He says:

 The Emergency Rooms for this chronic illness are the arrestee processing center and holding cells

 The Detox facilities are the county jails

 The Waiting Rooms and chronic care follow up are the Probation Departments and the courts

 And finally the long term care or residential facilities are the Prisons.

 

For my part I do agree and believe, that until we can rid ourselves of the stigma that permeates all sections of our society regarding those who suffer from addiction we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past.  But let me assure you that I am not naive about my own son’s illness or the consequences that it brought to him and the consequences that have been visited upon the surviving members of his family which we will carry for the rest of our lives.  I usually don’t indulge myself in the luxury of magical thinking about him and play “what if games”.  I don’t do that because I know that once begun it is a downward spiral that only returns me to the darkness and hopelessness of those first days, weeks and months after his death.  But if he had survived that day and was me today…he might be doing well and moving on with his life....he  might be in recovery…or he might still be in treatment…it might be on the streets still using…he might be homeless....or he might be in prison.

But at least he would be alive.

November 23, 2010 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2010

A Gift of Purpose

By most standards I was living the best life.  I had two beautiful children, a wife I loved very much, and Kim_manlove_family[1] a secure and rewarding career.  I was an academic dean at the largest public urban university in the Midwest in a high profile position that suited me perfectly.  I had grown up a university brat, my father was a college professor.  So I liked the culture and I knew how to navigate it.  I loved my job.  It paid well.  It was safe.  It was well within my comfort zone and I had every intention to retire an academic.

Then on a beautiful day in June, nine years ago, my life changed forever.  My 16 year old son David, got up early that Saturday morning, mowed the yard, then asked if he could go swimming at a friends pool Images[9] not far from our home.  After swimming a while, David and his friend went a drugstore and brought an aerosol can of computer duster.  They returned to the pool and began to do what’s called “huffing,” inhaling the propellant from the can while underwater to intensify the high.  On the fourth try, David went into cardiac arrest and drowned in spite of the immediate efforts of his friends at the pool, the EMT’s who responded, and the doctors and nurses in the E.R.

 That day I became members of a club no parent ever wants to join.  I had suffered a violation of natural law – the one that says your kids are not supposed to die before you do.

 As a parent we tend to mark our children's lives by certain milestones.  High school graduation.  College.... marriage amd perhaps grandchildren.  Then many more, mostly joyful ones, follow.  But the Dave Brosuis death of my son became a defining moment in such a way that I now divide my and his life between the days before he died and after the days after.  And I can’t see anything from here on out eclipsing that division. I think all parents at some point, either consciously or unconsciously flirt with the thought of, What would I do if something happened to my child?  Often it’s brought on by someone else’s story.  And I did think about that before David died, because we had been dealing with his substance abuse for some time.  We had gotten him into to treatment for his drug and alcohol addiction and hoped that we had caught it "in time."

The day David died, the coroner took possession of his body and did an autopsy.  It revealed he was the picture of health.  There were no signs of alcohol or drugs in his body; that’s one of the attributes of death from huffing.  So I could easily have written it off as an accident.  But I knew he had died of inhalant abuse.  His addiction killed him in spite of all that his parents, his friends, and the treatment center-tried to do to prevent it.  I chose not to be silent about what had happened to him, and to make his death a lesson for others.  Since then, I’ve become deeply involved in substance abuse education, honoring David’s struggle with addiction by telling his story through presentations at schools, as well as through the Partnership at DrugFree.org

Another change:  Six years ago at age 52, I began to feel an internal struggle between my job at the university and my advocacy work, which was quickly becoming my passion.  I found that when I made a presentation, people would come up to me and say, “This happened to my daughter or son.  Somebody has to put a personal face on the disease of addiction.  Thank you for doing it.”  But I feared the risk of leaving the safety of academia.  I was torn between what I knew as a university administrator and what I felt as a father who lost a son to the powerful disease of addiction.  But in the end, I did it.  I left higher education after 26 years, and joined the treatment center where David had gotten help and now my passion is my life’s work.

 Also, over the past nine year, I have developed friendships with people who’ve suffered similar losses.  These are deep, abiding relationships that I never had before.  So David’s death has led me down paths I never wanted to be on, but now that I’m here, I want to travel them more than anything - anything – else.  I am where I am supposed to be, and that is an incredible feeling.  It’s a gift of a life of satisfaction and purpose. 

 A gift directly from my son. 

November 20, 2010 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 15, 2010

When did you realize your son had a problem with drugs?

People often ask us, "When did you first realize that your son had a serious drug problem?  Was it the first time he came home drunk, was it when the pipe fell out of his pants pocket, or the time he dropped acid, or was it that night he was so high on alcohol and marijuana that he threatened to slash his wrists?"

The truth is that David had a drug problem long before we his parents realized it.  Each of these incidents should not have been just a "warning sign" to us.  The truth is also that when any of these signs appear it is usually just the tip of the "iceberg".   Each one of these incidents should  have screamed an alarm that would have deafened us.  And yet we wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of fear and denial, which insulated us from his addiction and allowed it to fester until it's venom claimed our joy.  We should have noticed there was problem when he stopped doing the things he loved like playing baseball....when the transition from middle school to high school was not an easy one or when he stopped hanging out with friends at our house and began hanging out with new friends at their homes, 

In the end the answer to the question of when we first realized that our son had a drug problem is simply....Not Soon Enough.

November 15, 2010 at 07:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2010

Time Through The Lens of Recovery

Once I was able to see beyond our son’s struggle with substance abuse and the grief caused by his tragic death from addiction, a new form of understanding seemed to settle around me.  I began to view the world through a different lens than I had before.  A lens tinted by recovery, acceptance and forgiveness.

Had the landscape changed or was it me that was forever altered? 

Events that before would have seemed calamitous to me in the extreme, seemed less so…tempered by the loss of my beautiful boy Dave. 

 

Bars An early example of this new world view came one night when we met for the first time the parents with whom we were to begin a Parent Support Group at Fairbanks where Dave and I both received treatment for addiction.  As we were walking out of the room that first night I asked one of the Dad's how his son was doing…”oh he’s in prison right now and its hell for his mother and me”, was his reply,  “he’s 18 and has just been sentenced to 30 years, it doesn't get much worse than that”. 

 

I looked at him and without thinking quietly said…”You know, I would trade places with you in a heartbeat if it would mean I could have my Dave back....even if it meant him being in prison for 30 years”.

 

 Almost ten years later now...I think I still would.

November 10, 2010 at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2010

Sense out of Senselessness

Today I have come to understand that when one can begin to make sense out of the senseless that then and only then can we understand the true meaning and nature of hope

November 4, 2010 at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 02, 2010

Hopes and Dreams

Hopes As parents we have hopes and we have dreams for our children.  The dreams begin before they are  born when we may hope for a boy or a girl but certainly hope for a healthy child,  The dreams continue   through childhood when we hope for success in school, popularity among peers, athletic ability or musical talent.  In adolescence the dreams persist but on a grander scale as we hope that achievement in sports or academics will be indicators of success in life.  A scholarship, a high school diploma. admission to college all become the artificial benchmarks by which we measure our hopes and our dreams for our children.

But substance abuse can exact a heavy price on our dreams for our children.  It may delay them for a while, alter them irrevocably or destroy them, leaving us to mourn over what we thought was once witin our grasp.  We grieve the loss of what WE wanted for our children which in the end was not really totally within our power to control.  But with knowledge about the disease of addiction, and the understanding that with intervention and treatment there can be recovery, we can restore hope to our lives and recapture our dreams.  Those hopes and dreams may not be exactly what we had intended for our children, but in the end the only thing we can truly promise them is our unconditional love. 

November 2, 2010 at 10:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack