Drugs or us…you decide!

Parents, can you remember the first time your child told you what they wanted to be when they grow up?  “Mommy, when I get big, I want to be an astronaut!” Maybe a doctor, maybe a fireman? How many parents can recall their child’s dream of being a drug addict?  No one?  Right!  Because no one, not one person, ever dreams or hopes that this is where their life could ever take them. 

In 2016, the CDC noted that 719 Philadelphia’s died of an overdose. The following year, it was reported that 70, 200 people in the United States died of an overdose.  That is more than Lincoln Financial Stadium holds! This numbers worsens each year.  And, sadly, no one has any ‘real’ plan on how to combat this epidemic.  Sure, there are task forces, but if we are all being honest, their efforts are falling short. Everyone believes it is the other person, other agencies, someone else’s responsibility. But there is not one single way that is working.  Our loved ones continue to die, and that count is climbing.  So, what do we do?  I say let’s fight!

In writing my blogs, I try to be very careful not to tell anyone else’s stories, but to tell you the perspective of how certain topics effected MY life.  Addiction was this horrible asshole that lived in my home since my earliest memory.  I come from a very large family where the age span is vast.  I had a brother 10 years older than me, so by 5-6 years old, I was introduced to the harsh reality of serious drug addiction and the bizarre drugs of the 70’s.  People tell stories about my oldest brother being a really great guy who would do anything for anyone.  Unfortunately, I had never met that version of him.  My earliest memory of him was a time, when all my mind could comprehend was that he was mean and horrible.  Imagine being in the first or second grade and asking your brother to pass a knife and he throws the knife across the table with such force it cuts your ear. I am sure it was just a minor flesh wound, but at that age I thought he cut my ear off!   My next memory was not too soon after. In our home, the girl’s bedroom had 2 sets of bunk beds with trundle beds next to them that you could pop down and push underneath the bottom bunk.  I recall my brother storming into the room for no reason and coming for me as I sat on the top bunk.  Unprovoked, he yanked me by my arm and I free fell onto the unelevated trundle bed. Immediately I could feel that all of the oxygen was sucked out of my body.  I remember him continuing to pull me up by my arm screaming “GET THE FUCK UP” while my knees were curled into my stomach and I gasped for air.  Although I felt like I was dying, however, it was simply my first experience of having the wind knocked out of me.  I never really cared for him after that point.  And I believe that was the first time I began to develop an intolerance for addiction.

I would like to tell you a story that goes on to say that my brother got help and we all lived happily ever after. I would like to tell you that I changed my opinion of my brother and we are now very close, but that is not the truth either.   My brothers’ drug and alcohol use coupled with his nastiness continued to escalate.  There were days of complete chaos.  There were days of my mom crying and my dad screaming. Remarkably, no one ever “talked” about it. It was a ghost that just existed. I would also like to tell you that the other 9 siblings had learned a valuable lesson from this experience and steered clear of drugs and alcohol abuse, but that was not our reality either.  Addiction effected more of my siblings which created a whirlwind of stress and disappointment for my parents, and a feeling of deep resentment from me.  I became so bitter that I said horrible, damaging things to my siblings while they were in crisis. I didn’t mean any of those things.  I just hated the impact addiction made on a life, that I was already struggling with, seem so much worse.

Just as a child never dreams of growing up to be an addict, parents never dream their child will be part of that dark world either. But, sadly, it happens.  It happens to the rich, the poor, the popular, unpopular, the beautiful, the ugly, the prom queen, the dork, the child,the parent.  Addiction does not discriminate!  As the epidemic has worse addiction as a disease, but not everyone feels that is the RIGHT label.  There is a stigma that surrounds addiction.   There are many parents that do not feel addiction and medical illness should be in the same category.  I have heard, “My child had a brain tumor, they didn’t have a choice” and/ or “an addict CHOOSES to do drugs.”   That last statement is true; children are making bad CHOICES, but I would never dream they are choosing the addiction. That is the disease…where the brain and the body develop a constant need.  At the end of the day, parents who have lost a child to a medical illness, as well as, an addiction are left devastated and empty. Don’t think you feel or see a difference in how society perceives this?  Think about it.   Have you heard it in the voice of others?  “How did he die…cancer…ugh, that’s horrible!”  “How did she die…an overdose…Oh.” That prejudice is there. No one wants to say it out loud, but it exists, and we need to do a better job as a society to change that.  The reality is they are both a loss of a life, and THAT fact alone is horrible!

Growing up living and loathing addiction, I was never ever going to let my children do drugs.  I was in their shit all day every day.  Nothing was sacred or private.  I have talked about in an earlier blog of how I eavesdropped and followed my kids to make sure that they would never do drugs.    My private, prep school children had no opportunity to experiment with drugs because I kept them involved in sports and other extracurricular activities.  And I was too mindful of a parent, too strict, too involved to ever let addiction rears its ugly head in my family.  I did everything the media and books said to do.  I was on my high horse, feeling so sorry for and praying for friends’ children.  I had my head so far up my own ass that I never saw that addiction snuck into my home in the middle of the night and stole MY baby.

My daughter was not a discipline problem.  She was not breaking curfew, talking back, nor stealing or lying.  I did not see the stereotyped warning signs. She was an athlete, an honor student at a private academy, National Honor Society officer, she was taking 12 college credits in high school while working 2 jobs.  She was the role model daughter with a secret $3000+ a month drug habit.  How and why my daughter made the decision to use drugs is not my story to tell, how we as a family chose to handle it is.

During my daughter’s final months of her senior year of high school, her drug use was brought to light.  And honestly, I was not the one to see it.  Another parent, a stranger knocked at my door to tell me that she was going to lose her daughter to addiction, and she didn’t want it to happen to another parent.  This stranger told me my daughter was using drugs!  I was floored.  My daughter denied the problem, saying she had a fight with the woman’s daughter, and this was all a lie.   Not long after this, she was off to living away at college. My daughter spent one year leaving in the dorms before she returned to living with me.  I finally started to see signs of trouble on my own.  In the tradition of an addict’s behaviors, she denied my allegations, lied, and initiated a deflecting strategy to throw me off.  At times she was successful and at times, although I didn’t really believe her, I desperately wanted to. DENIAL! She was the recipient of a President’s scholarship at Drexel University with a 4.0 GPA and working 2 jobs so what I suspected and what I saw were out of balance with each other.  It was out of balance until her car was repossessed, TWICE.  The first time I believed her story of being busy, falling behind on sending the payments, etc.  By the second time, I was armed with drug test.  POSITIVE…POSITIVE FOR A SLUE OF THINGS!!

Unsure of where to even begin, I reached out to people who have been living decades clean and helping others.  Once I told them what was going on, they sprang into action.  A facility for detox was set up for my daughter and my brother allowed her to live with him to help her daily.  She didn’t initially return to living with me because, honestly, I could not and did not want to handle it.  It was the coward’s way out and just another way to not have to face it. Given how I felt about addiction, it was like being severely burnt by a fire and then suddenly, a flame was in front of me and I was horrified.   After a few weeks, she was doing what she was supposed to be doing on the road to recovery, so she returned to living with me.  I found myself telling family and friends she was doing well over time, but my heart knew otherwise.  Now that my eyes were open to it, I could sense her deceit every time she spoke.  I would ride her over my suspicions and, as a result, she became more withdrawn from spending any time with me. 

When my sister first entered recovery, I remember her identifying the dysfunctional family members that supported her addiction. Some play the Enabler.  I thought I recalled my sister saying I was a Saboteur, but that is someone who is jealous of all the attention the addict gets and that was clearly not me.  If anything, I tended to be Apathetic, the person who didn’t see the addiction as their problem and didn’t want to help.  Not that any of these roles are good, I resented the stress and chaos addiction created and I just wanted to be free of it.  Perhaps if my first experience with addiction as a 5-year-old wasn’t so damaging and fearful to me, I would have been able to show more empathy and support for my other siblings and others.  It’s not a good excuse, I know.  I can only assume I developed it as a protective mechanism as a child and it morphed into an intolerant and avoidant behavior as an adult.  And here I was, in my 40’s playing the same role. But this time it was different. I had to fight for someone I loved more than myself, so I needed to change immediately and quickly.   I became desperate!

One Saturday afternoon, my daughter left the house to run errands.  I went out as well.  When I returned, there was a letter on my vanity that said, “Mom, I am so sorry for what I have put you through.  I hate myself.”  I almost died.  All I could think of was that she was going to kill herself.  I have been there myself and sensed the despair in those words.  I kept calling her phone until she finally answered, and she sobbed explaining what transpired that day.  After being exhausted from days of no sleep from drug use, she fell asleep driving and went head on with another driver.  Thankfully, she was traveling at a very low speed on a side street and no one was injured.  As the officer pulled up to the scene, she broke down.   She handed him the pills she had and explained she had an addiction.  That was it.  Jail, loss of job, never being able to get a student loan to finish college, ruined!  But, shockingly, that was not what happened.  This police officer told her that everyone gets a second chance at life and that day was hers.  I was furious.  I wanted her arrested, I wanted her off the streets.  I was losing the battle.  She clearly liked drugs more than me.  I had no leverage, no knowledge of how to get her back, no hope she would ever live through this.  I urged her to come home to talk to me right away.  Immediately after I hung up, I talked to my husband who was just back from a year’s deployment in Afghanistan and asked him if he would help me do something.  I explained that I knew I was asking a lot and I was ok to leave if he couldn’t do this with me.  She was not his daughter and he was reentering civilian life after returning from a war zone. He didn’t need the stress.  But he agreed.  This sweet loving man agreed.  So, we waited for her to come home.

My daughter arrived home and was given 2 choices.  “You need to choose now.  You need to choose to get clean under my conditions and live by every one of them, or we need to say our goodbyes today because you will die from this, and I want to say goodbye now while I can.”  They were the hardest sentences I ever uttered.  The words came out like razor blades.  I could feel my heart breaking.  As she cried, she said “Ok”.  I said, “Ok what?”  She said, “I will go where you want me to go.”

The last rehab she was in for detox was disappointing to me.  I know that belief will cause some controversy, but she went in with an addiction to certain opioids and was introduced to different ones. Those drugs kept her right in the game in my opinion.  No, this time, there would be no rehab to “ease” her out of this.  She was going to be owned by my husband and me.  She was going to detox cold turkey at home under our supervision.  I was going to withdraw her from Drexel University  and she had to attend her college classes on line at Temple University under our supervision.  I was going to inform her employer of what was going on to protect her under their Human Resource policy, but also to open their eyes to watch her when she was not under my direct supervision.  Her phone was to be turned over to me immediately and I was changing the number, wiping out all contacts and disabling all of her social media accounts.  We were opening a joint bank account and I was going to monitor every cent in and out to make sure all was accounted for.  She was not permitted to have any cash.  I would buy her cigarettes each week and gift cards for 1 Dunkin Donut Coffee each day.  She had 20 Minutes to get to work and she had to call me from an office phone the second she got there.  She had to call me at the time she walked out the door from the same office phone and had 20 minutes to get back home.  She was going to be drug tested randomly for months.  The only time she was allowed out of my presence was to go to work or go to meetings.  That was it.  And I would release all of these restrictions if and when I felt she was ready, not the other way around.  I was floored that she still said yes, so we put our plan in motion. 

The first week was brutal as she detoxed.  She was so sick.  She vomited, had the chills, leg pains, insomnia, sweats.  I had to keep calling people to make sure she was not going to die during this.  We googled and found natural remedies to get through all the withdraw symptoms, things like Magnesium oil for the leg cramps.  By week number 3, she was physically able to get up and return to work.  People have said to me over the years that WE were so amazing for doing this for HER.  That is a completely inaccurate statement of what happened.  My husband and I held our ground, sure.  But she did the work.  She was ready. SHE did this for HERSELF.  I needed to get her to the other side; past the withdraw to remember what her life was like.  I felt confident that if she remembered what it was like, that she would want to stay there, and she did. During her recovery, she said that any time she thought of doing drugs again, which was often in the beginning, she remembered how sick she was during the withdraw and that fear kept her from relapsing.   My daughter has been on this side of her addiction for 6 years, 2 months and counting.  Her rationale to addiction, road traveled, and mountain climbed is hers to share at her meetings.  But nothing in life seems too hard to me anymore after watching her battle through and continue to win, one day at a time.

What worked for us is not for everyone and could very well be carried out the same exact way and still not work for someone else.  We had no idea what we were doing, but I had no choice to fight as hard as I could for her in order to not lose her. She was ready and we were lucky.  The first and most important step for me was that I had to accept the problem and come at it head on, despite the roles I played in addiction with my sibling in the past.  Whether you play the role of the Guilty Party, Redeemer, Inside person, Denier, Saboteur, Enabler, Clueless, or Apathetic it is never too late to change.  Be the Acknowledger, Be the Fighter, Be the Advocate!!!! Drug control alone is not working, police enforcement alone is not working, rehabilitation centers alone are not working, family and friend intervention alone is not working.  None of these are working for every addict by themselves, but if we work together, use the best of all systems, fight for our kids and loved ones, then maybe one day it will work for everyone.  And I feel strongly that our country needs to look at non chemical ways to handle rehabilitation.  Drugs of any sort are damaging to the addictive personality. We need to advocate for change and collaboration. Don’t give up!  Persevere Bitches!

Choosing your Death Date

Do you know the exact day you will die?  The exact minute?  Under what circumstance?  In 2017, 47,000 American’s knew.  That was an average of 123 people per day.   These were the people who had nothing left to give this life: No energy to inhale or exhale one more time and no desire to see the sun rise or set another day.  These were the ones who were in so much pain and darkness that the unknown state of death, was the more optimal choice than the certain hell they were living.  These are the one who decided to end their pain and sorrow once and for all. They were the 47,000 people who committed suicide in the year 2017.  It is predicted that worldwide in 2020, someone will commit suicide every 23 seconds. These are the latest statistics I found using google. Those numbers are DEVASTATING!

I couldn’t find any statistics for December 2010.  That time frame was very important to me.  That was the time I chose as MY death day.  That was the Thursday I woke up and thought, ‘You Win!  All of you horrible, sick, judgmental, lying assholes win!  I am out.’  My letter would read.  “This is what happens when you Fuck with people.  May my death haunt your conscience for the rest of your life.  But as for me, I am free!”  It would be addressed to no one in particular, but those who would read it or got news of it would have known exactly who it was intended for and what it meant. 

You will hear people say that a person who commits suicide is a coward and/or selfish.  If I handed you a gun and told you to point it at yourself and pull the trigger, would you deem that a cowardice act? No friggen way in hell.  You have to have some serious balls to do something so horrible and tragic.  And let me tell you something else.  The place you are in to make that decision is so utterly dark and cold that not even the hand of those who love you deeply, nor the hand of God can reach that place to pull you out.  That place is empty, callous and ever so implausibly lonely.  The decision is not selfish, it is the epitome of despair so intense that you can no longer see or feel those around you, let alone understand how YOU being set free could ever impact THEM.   So, I personally do not agree with that stereotype.

I also do not buy into the rationale of Depression being the ultimate cause. If you know me, really know me, you know that I am a very upbeat, happy go lucky, fun loving person.  Not at all the person who would take their life.  I am the token life of the party, right?  So, it doesn’t make sense that depression would the sole cause for this act of desperation, would it?  I was not depressed, not at all.  I was heartbroken.  I felt betrayed.  I was lied to.  I was threatened.  I was bullied.  My pain was so intense, I swear to you, on my death date, I must have said to myself a million times, “Breath in, Breath out, Breath in, Breath out.”  It was no longer automatic, and I was so very tired and exhausted.  I recently spoke to someone who shared with me that he had a death date and wrote a letter.  He too shared that he was not depressed, just heart sick like me.  I never met anyone else who went down this frightening path, a path where the thought of living was so much more painful than the thought of dying and yet was still here.  Can you imagine escaping a feeling of such agony in the final moments?

I had a plan, one that I thought was a good plan. They say that people who have a plan are the most dangerous because they are the most serious.  It was not the first one I came up with, because that first one could have caused injury to someone else, so I came up with a second one.  I was clear enough to know that I needed to end my pain and but not take anyone else with me.  And when I left my house that night, nothing else mattered to me. I felt that I was already dying, suffocating in my very own life, and as I headed towards my destination something changed drastically…I had this overwhelming feeling that my son needed me to protect him. Ironically, my friend, shared how his plan was very real, vivid, and in process as well.  And then he repeatedly heard the words, “I need you” on the other side of his door, and he was stopped in his tracks too.  TO BE NEEDED!  Ugh.

A good amount of humankind are horrible, terrible people.  This is a very sad but true statement.  People will lie, cheat, steal, and wound another individual with very little regard to what it can do to that person.  It is all done to serve their own ego.  I read that a person’s ego can be one of the worst poisons and can actually be lethal.  I cannot agree with this more, if not lethal to them, most certainly to someone else.  Ego is what causes people to be self-serving and arrogant.  Think about the coworker who sabotages you to get the promotion or win the bosses favor.  Fucking Brown Nosers!  Or the spouse who lies and cheats.  The person who talks behind your back so that you can be the favorite friend in that group. The rapist, murderer, embezzler. I can go on.  It is all done to serve that person’s ego.    All of these terrible things are done to serve one person’s self esteem or importance.  The egotistical person has no regard for the repercussion on those hurt in their path in order to fulfill their own need, as long as it is filled.  It is this type of person that can push a person right to the edge and for a good amount of those 47,000 people who chose their death date in 2017, this type of person can literally push them off the edge and send them plummeting to their death.  Dear Lord, get some help immediately if I just described you!

In recent years, you have heard more and more about the parent who will seek legal means to bring charges against their child’s bully after the child has committed suicide.  AFTER!  After is the key word.  What the hell are we doing BEFORE? What happened to the morals of humans?  I was raised on some pretty simple principles:

  • If you don’t have something nice to say, you say nothing at all
  • Keep your hands to yourself
  • Be honest 
  • Be kind
  • Help others
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t Lie

In my situation, every principle I was raised on, everything I listed above was destroyed. Mostly by one person, but in all honesty, almost every person I loved and cherished had in some way broke one of these rules at the same exact time. I don’t think it was done to hurt me intentionally, but it was done.  So, we cannot continue to look at a person who commits suicide as depressed and therefore something in THEM is broken that caused them to end their life.  In many situations, people like me are not broken at all in terms of their psychological well being, but rather broken by the world and people around them because humanity has regressed in its standards.    

I can remember a nun in my catholic grade school describing how we use the words, “I’m sorry”.  She said, “If you hit Jesus in the head with a baseball bat and then said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ and then you hit him again? Do you think he would believe you are sorry?”  Probably not, right?  And if you are kissing your wife/ husband goodnight and saying you love them, while you are screwing around with someone else, you can’t possibly really love them.  You do understand that right?  It is no different if you get angry and call someone fat or ugly.  I love the saying that “Words hit harder than fists!” No truer words have been spoken. I have mentioned before that the hardest things to get over in an abusive relationship are the words, not the bruises.  The cuts and bruises heal within days, those words…ugh, they ring in your ears, head, and heart for a lifetime.  These inconsistencies in life that occur, in order to serve one’s own ego, are truly destroying others sense of EXISTENCE!!

I believe strongly that we need to mean what we say and say what we mean.  If I am your friend, you can count on me.  I may tell you things that you need to hear that may be painful but  I honestly will not tell you to hurt you.  I am trying to save you from the hurt and humiliation that is already swirling around you.  I will never say it behind your back.  If I tell you I love you, then I do…more than those words can ever communicate. And, if I tell you that you have hurt me, and I no longer trust you?  You can rest assure that our relationship is over and although I may miss you, I will never look back. 

Things and people in my life devastated and shattered me so completely, that I chose my death day.  I chose it despite my Catholic upbringing that I will burn in hell for eternity and I chose it despite the Buddhist confidence that if I do this in one life, I will do it many more lives to come. I chose it to end my pain and to set myself free.  I was not saved by the words I love you, because at that time of my life,they meant nothing to me.  They were said so freely and irresponsibly that they felt no different than if you told me to go fuck myself. 

Once again, what stopped ME in my tracks was to be NEEDED.  My son needed me to be around to protect him from one of the biggest things I was trying to escape.  My son needed me to be here to teach him all the principles that he has to live by in order to not hurt others.  My son needed me to teach him to ride a bike, tie his shoes, spell his name.  I was needed.  My friend was NEEDED, he had no idea how much at that time and thankfully, he is still here and now he understands why.  Perhaps, if everyone thought that they were needed, they would find value in their life again and they would take a different course.  Maybe we should tell each other that we NEED one other more often and why.  My husband and I have a thing…its sort of a silly thing but its OUR thing.  We don’t do it as often as the traditional I love you, but when we do, it melts my heart.  Our thing is this…. I love you; I need you; I worship you; I cherish you; I adore you and I cannot live without you.  To know that I am needed and to know that my existence is so important to someone else has changed my life. Horrible people and events will continue to exist, but perhaps being needed can change your life or the life of someone you love today!  The short of it is this, we need to continue Persevere Bitches! No Matter What!

Please, if you find yourself feeling so desperate in life, know that there is someone who needs you.  Don’t give up. Please seek help:  http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/