Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A former student of mine from a private Christian school, Reilly, Anne, wrote the following poem about her sister. Once again, it proves Heroin addiction does not care where you come from. I pray we can save our kids before more families suffer from the loss of a loved one. Sometimes the loss isn't death. Sometimes the loss happens while they are still alive. 

Dear Heroin,

You have come into my life so unexpectedly
Forcibly, carving a destructive path to my inner being 
Each and every step taking someone from me.
You have changed my whole family’s life, forever
My love for your Captivator is gone 
The person I called my best friend, my very own sister is gone
You own her now
She's different now
I look into her eyes and see nothing
Just a lifeless body of a girl
The joy and delight she once had has vanished
She happily gave that to you the first time she paid you attention, gave you her life and all
The sick part is you were always there when she would fall
You give her a high she describes as "out of this world"
She would do all for you, steal, kill, throw everything away
She puts you before friends, family and herself
She loves you more than anything else
You always know how to make her feel numb
Now I don't know her 
I can't recognize the girl with the tracks 
Bobbing in and out of consciousness, scratching until she has a bloody back
She will try to leave your grip, but you will punish her, vomiting, chills, labeling her dope sick.
After a while she fights and leaves you, really believing she's done
She'll tell everyone the fight against you is won
Until you pull her back and she starts again
Except this time you take her further to the end

-A sisterhood less sister

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Aaron Hakizimana wrote the following “hate poem.” We talked about the seeming paradox of individuals both loving and hating their addiction. On the one hand, they love the feeling the drug gives them, but they loathe everything it takes away from them. While they are chasing the high, they can feel both the love and the hate to an extreme. It controls them and strips everything away from them. It is a vicious cycle. Enjoy his powerful poem and let his words sink deep into your resolve to stay clean. 

I hate you.
I hate your alluring and seductive nature.
I hate your subtle whispers, both distracting and misleading.
Your voice, offensive to the ears, yet very tempting.
A mirage is all you are, we have given you meaning; 
where in reality you have none.
Never getting enough of you, we beg and beg for more.
Chasing your promises, convinced you will deliver.
So we idolized you.
Desperately seeking comfort in your soothing melody
Saying: “Surely it is you who satisfies my grief’’
And ‘’How could I ever abandon you.”
But oh! If only we knew.
Rather we are not certain.
But certainly, you do control us. Both enticing and manipulating us as you wish.
Hindering us from our very purpose, stripping us of our ambitions;
Flicking and swaying us left and right as you please
We have willingly become your flimsy instrument of choice.
Blindly submitting to your subtle objectives, an evil objective indeed.
Self-deprived and naive, what can one do but yield.
But not me.
No! Not anymore.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Opiate Orphan

Jemel has lived the life of an opiate orphan. Both his mother and father surrendered to the downward spiral of addiction in his formative years. His montage of memory includes endless attempts to talk to them, to make himself known, but they would rarely listen. Instead, their heads bobbed up and down as they watched the television screen. Invisibility became his superpower, but he wanted them to see him. He also remembers the embarrassment he felt when they came down the stairs naked. What parent does something like that? Remembering the days when they dragged him to the store so they could steal clothes and sell them on Jefferson Avenue still haunts him. Many memories still haunt him.  

Most his life, his parents served jail time for stealing. His father’s lies plagued Jemel. At the time of his father’s arrest, no one could tell him his dad was bad. After all, fathers are supposed to be heroes in the eyes of their children. It was something he had to learn as he became older and wiser about the lifestyle of an addict. Since finding money for the next fix is always on the mind of someone with a substance abuse, Jemel never carries cash when he is going to see his father. In fact, he rarely even answers the phone when his father calls these days. 

His mother’s addiction story carries a deep sadness for Jemel. She died when he turned 18. Although she was on the methadone program before her death, her years of drug abuse destroyed her body. Hepatitis C. was her demise. The doctors told his mom she would need a new liver, and they put her on the transplant list.  She had died before her name hit the top of the list. 

The day his mother died, she asked Jemel for a ride. He refused. “Something was different that fateful day,” Jemel says as he wipes the tears away with his sleeve. Her cough progressed into something horrific sounding.  Before long, she started talking to herself. Was she on drugs again? Jemel rushed to his grandmother’s room and told her they needed to call the hospital. Once her breathing became labored, they finally called the ambulance. When the EMTs carried her down the stairs, her frail body crushed Jemel’s heart. Her veins collapsed when they tried to run an IV, so they had to put the needle in her neck, a gruesome sight for a son to watch. Her look of madness crept into Jemel’s memory. To this day, his heart still doesn’t want to remember. 

After a short time in the ER, they wheeled his mother to the ICU. Pneumonia created the crazed monster he saw talking to herself. When the pneumonia was under control, in her last lucid moments, she wanted to see Jemel, but he refused. He didn’t want to see his mother attached to machines. He didn’t want to add to the countless memories plaguing him for years. Fear kept him locked within a protective shell he created for survival. Unfortunately, the next day she died. 

Her death hurt Jemel, and yet it didn’t. In some ways, she had died a long time ago. He eventually got over it. Now, he feels as if he has forgotten her. He has visited her grave twice, but it is without genuine emotion. All he feels when he looks at her stone is abandonment, his status of opioid orphan. Jemel admits that at times he feels a sense of responsibility. Maybe if he called the ambulance sooner, she would have lived. Even though it is hard for him to fathom why he feels this way, he feels a sense of relief. 

Jemel’s grandmother became a safe harbor for him. She raised him because of his parent’s jail time and addiction. She kept him on the straight and narrow. Drugs have never been a temptation for him. Jemel believes he is extremely independent because of his parental neglect. Addiction ruled his parent's world. It forced him to grow up fast, and now he is a man with goals and ambition. After he leaves Monroe Community College, he will attend Rochester Institute of Technology for a degree in Visual Communications. 

Sometimes, opiate orphans learn from their neglective parents the value of giving of yourself to another human being. Jemel’s goal is to be someone who truly cares for others, which is why he coaches wrestling for East Henrietta School District. Coaching changed him, and it has given him a sense of freedom after being locked under the shell of his own fears most of his life. Currently, he is training an autistic your man who is overweight. They work out together every weekend, and he encourages him to live a healthy lifestyle. The principal asked him if he would sit with him on the bus every day due to behavior issues. As a result, the young man started doing much better. Even though he never had his own, Jemel knows how to be a role model. 

Jemel has also experienced personal trials in life. He has Crohn’s disease, which has been debilitating at times. In December of 2015 into January of 2016, he spent three and a half weeks in the hospital. He went from 160 pounds to 96 pounds due to a flare-up of his disease. Now he helps kids in the hospital who are facing similar battles. He sits with those who are going through transfusions, and he also plays video games with them. 

Jemel comes from a family with the disease of addiction. His mom’s siblings were heroin addicts, and his mom’s brother owned a bar where he sold drugs. What is amazing about Jemel is his perseverance in spite of the obstacles on his journey to the man he is today. I always tell him he is the strongest man I know. He has weathered so many personal storms and is still willing to be a light shining in the darkness of our world. He has taken his orphan status and given back to others. I admire his tenacity, his integrity, and his beautiful soul.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I came to know Sharon Gingerich Stoltzfus‎ through Anthony’s Act, a Facebook group spreading addiction awareness. It has been a real eye-opener for me. Every day I read about the loss of a loved one or someone who is struggling to get clean. When I read Sharon’s story, I immediately understood her heart. We need to love our children unconditionally because we have been loved by our Heavenly Father the same way. I know when my son asked why we didn’t give up on him, we told him of our unconditional love. As I said it to him, it struck me to the core of my being as well. I am loved; therefore, I love in return.

Something else hit home when I read her piece. It is the constant worries about the what-ifs and the regrets we often feel. We wonder if we made too many mistakes while raising them or if the things we couldn’t control made them unmeaning sacrifice. 

Please read her words and share with people who are struggling with a loved one's addiction or their own. 

Dear Son,

I came to the prison today. They won't let me in of course. And there is no way over these high fortress walls. But they can't stop me from sitting outside. From watering the dandelions along the drive with my tears. For being as close to you as I'm allowed to get.

This prison may look like a castle from the outside. But how well I know that the lives of those within are far from a fairytale. I know you never thought you'd end up here. Never once believed that a succession of poor choices would lead to the situation you find yourself in.

You'll never know the agony I felt yesterday when you didn't come home, didn't return my many texts and calls. I was certain that you lay cold and stiff on a floor somewhere. I feared your addiction had played its final toll. Nearly 24 hours after you said goodbye and I finally learned that you were locked up in a cell, I wept tears of relief and gratefulness to know that you were alive and safe.

I stopped by your mother's grave on the way in today. The one who bore you with great labor pains. The one who loved you and never wanted to leave. I wasn't in your life then, when your world fell apart because of cancer when you were only nine. But I've seen your labor pains as you've struggled through the years to cope with your loss, to find joy and peace from the shards of your life. Too often you have turned to mind altering substances. And they change you into someone I don't recognize.
Your father's countenance is fallen, and his step is heavy. We struggle not to let the what-ifs consume our days. Yet the gnaw of regrets wakes us at night.

Our hearts may be heavy, heavy with the weight of your uncertain future. Your difficult journey that lies ahead. The consequences you face are not light. But our hearts are heavy with hope as well, hope that this time you will be brought to the foot of the cross. That you will in your desperation and despondency turn to your Savior, who waits with open and scarred arms. And our hearts are heavy with love for you, my son. Nothing you have done or ever could do can rip that away. We will continue to be here for you, to extend mercy and grace that mirrors our Heavenly Father to the best of our heartbroken ability.

Your life is like as spring time. This detour need not define you. You can find your dreams again and live them. We believe in you. We love you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Love an Addict

When I first read the following piece, I was reminded of Libby Cataldi's Memoir Stay Close. Knowing when to stay close and when to set your boundaries can be extremely difficult. The above meme by Sandy Swenson is from her memoir The Joey Song. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is struggling with what to do with a loved one who is an addict. It isn't a redemption story; however, it gives valuable and insightful advice on recognizing how you are equally as powerless as the addict and how easy you can enable their addiction and how not to enable them, which is the first step in finding your own path to wholeness and peace. Once you find it, you are better equipped to help them.

I love an ADDICT

I wish it wasn’t me who was writing this. I really wish it wasn’t. I wish I wasn’t handpicked because I have one of the “best handles” on this subject. I wish I wasn’t “qualified” to speak on the heroin epidemic that is a growing problem nationwide. I wish I wasn’t a member of a community no one really wants to be a part of. No one ever says to themselves while reading stuff like mine, “I wish I could relate to this."

But I am. I am the non-addict who knows all too well what it’s like to have an addict in the family.
I know what it’s like to worry yourself sick. To cry yourself to sleep. To stare at baby pictures & reminisce. To check on them while they sleep to make sure they are still breathing.

I know to watch out for pinhole pupils and subtle changes in behavior. To listen to them talk and make excuses and pile on lie after lie. I know what it’s like to pretend to believe them because you are just too mentally exhausted for an argument when you know they are lying straight to your face.

I know what it’s like to be confused all of the damn time; to see their potential, to know what they are throwing away.

I know what it’s like to want their recovery more than they do. To be the one doing research on rehabs and other outlets for recovery.

I know what it’s like to miss someone who is still standing right in front of you.

I know what it’s like to wonder if each unexpected phone call is “the” phone call. I know what it’s like to be hurt so bad and be made so sick that part of you wishes you would just get “the” phone call if nothing is going to change. You want that finality. You need the cycle to end. I know what it’s like to hate yourself for even allowing yourself to find relief in that horrible thought.

I know what it’s like to get the worst news of your life, and still walk into the grocery store and run your errands and smile at the cashier.

I know what it’s like to become a part-time detective. To snoop through drawers and texts. You know you are going to find something, and you look until you do just so you feel less crazy. So you can say to yourself, “I am not paranoid. This is happening again.”

I know what it’s like to have your mind clouded; to turn into a functioning zombie. I know what it’s like to be physically present at board meetings and dinner dates, but mentally gone.

I know what it’s like to stop caring about your own personal and professional life. My relationship took a backseat, Christ not even the backseat – I kicked him out of the car. I would show up to work not showered and with huge bags under my eyes. I would cry at my desk. Everything the outside world expected of me seemed frivolous if I couldn’t keep one of my most important people in my life out of harm’s way.

I know what it’s like to be really pissed off. Like, REALLY pissed the hell off. Between the sadness there is a lot of anger. I know what it’s like to feel guilty for being so mad, even knowing all you know about addiction. You are allowed to be angry. This is not the life you signed up for.

I know what it’s like to scour a bookshelf and not find what you are looking for because this illness is still so hard to talk about, let alone write about.

I know what it’s like to hear someone argue that addiction is not an illness, that it is a choice. I know all too well that feeling of heat rising in your face as they go on and on about something they know nothing about.

I know what it’s like to stop becoming angry with these people. They do not understand. They are lucky to not understand. I know what it is like to catch yourself wishing that you didn't understand either.

I know the difference between enabling and empowering. I know there is a fine line between the two and the difference can mean life or death. I know what it’s like to the feel the weight of each day on your shoulders trying to balance the two.

I have been through enough to know that things don’t just change for the worse overnight; they can change in a millisecond. In a blink of an eye. As quick as it takes two people to make a $10 exchange.

I know what it’s like to feel stigmatized. To be the “sister of a drug addict,” a “friend of a drug addict,” "the cousin of a drug addict,” “the daughter of a drug addict.” I know what it feels like to be handled with kid-gloves because no one outside of your toxic bubble knows what to say to help.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone who loves an addict today. One thing I know for sure is I am not alone.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Staying Sober: Stephanie's Story

Stephanie Lynntala Forrester is one of the strongest women I know. She has won some battles and lost others, but she keeps her head held high. Most of all, she is making a difference. She. Is. The. Change! She is fighting heroin addiction here in Rochester by fighting the stigma and making her voice heard. Stephanie lost her husband, Justin, a few months back from a heroin overdose. Her ability to keep her sobriety through one of the most difficult challenges in life,  the death of someone she loved so desperately, proves her strength.

On April 22, 2017, at 1:00 PM, there will be an Addiction Awareness Walk in Memory of Justin in Manhattan Square Park on Court Street. If you want to take up the sword with Stephanie and fight the addiction epidemic or if you want to help bring awareness to addiction in Rochester, let your voice be heard and join her in the park. We can’t bury our heads in the sand any longer. People are dying. EVERY DAY!  No one is listening, but if enough of our voices raise the cry for change, hopefully, we can make a difference.

If you want to view a touching video of Justin dancing with his daughter, click on the link below. I am sure it is one his daughter will remember on her wedding day.

Below is Stephanie’s story. Hear her beautiful heart, and absorb how much she has been through, yet she remains strong in her sobriety.

My name is. Stephanie (Neffy). I am 165 days sober today! My drug of choice is IV Heroin (but I'd do any and everything I could). I grew up with two amazing parents, Sharon & Leo Farnan, and an older sister, Erin Hoffman. I was adopted by them when I was 14 months old. I had my first daughter on December 10, 2002, and she passed away December 11, 2003. (Not from drug use).

I guess I'd say I was a functioning addict since I was in my mid-twenties. Cocaine, pills, and pot mainly back then, and I didn't need them, though I did abuse them. My Mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2007(still seems like yesterday). That's when I begin using pills more often.

I tried heroin for the first time in 2012; I remember getting into fights with my husband because he was shooting it, and I was only sniffing it. I was so mad he was shooting it. We ended up moving out to Fairport and living above his dad’s, and that's where I shot up heroin my first time. It was a downward spiral from that point. We ended up losing everything; our kids included because CPS got involved. We were sleeping in trap houses, abandoned houses, friend’s houses or wherever. Our world revolved around heroin and making moves to get that drug, etc. I tried going to Syracuse Behavioral Health for detox, but I left because it was in my city. It was too hard for me at that point being there to stay clean.

While waiting to get into Loyola, in Bath, NY, I started using again.  I went to Loyola twice. The first time I went, I was gone 18 days (not long enough because it takes a month to "break a habit"). I got out and stayed sober two weeks and relapsed with my husband. We got some crack and heroin on September 24th. We both shot up, and I remember"coming to" half on and half off the bed, same as Justin.  At that point, I knew we were going to end up dead. I reached out to a few people letting them know what was going on and that I relapsed again. For the next week,  I called every day to get into Loyola Recovery Foundation, and I got the call on October 7th that a bed was opening and I could go there October 9th.

My sister picked me up in the morning to take me to Loyola.   I told her we NEEDED to stop so I could get a suboxone so I wasn't sick on the way there and she bought what I was saying. Once we got to the city, we stopped, and I went and copped Heroin and Coke. I went into an alley and shot up. Walking through those doors this time was harder, but I wanted it so bad. I hated who I had become. I missed my kids. I missed my husband. I missed my friends. I  missed my family... I missed caring and feeling! It was hard, and I wanted to leave! I was going to miss Halloween with my kids, and thankfully I talked to my Dad and sister,  and they helped me look at it in a different way. I will never have to miss another one with them if I stuck with the program. So I stayed. I was there 36 days total including detox. I'm pretty sure if I had left when I wanted to, I wouldn't be here to share my story with you guys.

This is the quick version too! I didn't think I could get sober. I didn't think I was worth it, but released I am. When I got home, I moved in with my sister, and being sober I found out what it was like on the "other side" waiting for calls, worrying, etc... I received one I dreaded January 12, and I stayed sober through it... So like I said before I'm 165 days sober.  I fight for my sobriety every day. Things are finally falling into place. It's not easy, but anything worth doing never is. Is it?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

She's Not Just an Addict; She's My Mom

Recovery facilities often say, “Addiction is Not a Spectator Sport. Eventually, the Whole Family Gets to Play.” As a mom of an addict, I know first-hand the unimaginable pain, but when someone is a child of an addict, they find themselves loving a person who is incapable of building a healthy relationship because of their addiction. It is not that they don’t love the child; they simply don’t have the ability to love their drug of choice any less.
          Esther Mooney experienced the perils and pain of being a child of an addict. During my interview with her, I saw her capacity to look deep into her mother’s past to understand her addiction and to recognize the personal struggles plaguing her most of her own life because of her mother’s substance abuse.  
Unveiling the Past
          Imagine a parent abandoning her children in the jungles of Guam.  Esther’s mother experienced this horrific event, and her only source of protection was her older sister, who wasn’t much older than herself. A Mormon, missionary family with twelve children of their own, eventually saw these invisible children, adopted them, and brought them home to Washington state.  It’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they found safety within a loving, spiritual home. Unfortunately, they were not. Esther’s mother and sister experienced verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse while in the care of this supposedly upright and principled family.
          At the age of 15, her mother ran away to California. It was the beginning of her history of running. From Hawaii to New York, she moved from place to place trying to remain visible, yet as invisible as she was in the jungle.  It was also the start of her drug use and the long years of recovery and relapse.
The Elephant in the Room
          Esther’s mom used when she was pregnant. She used when she wasn’t. Eventually, they took her children away. During one of her longer times of recovery, she met and married Esther’s stepfather. Ironically, Esther’s mom began working as a secretary for drug and alcohol counseling at a local school. It’s ironic because she never quite had total control over her addiction.
          It is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when you have a parent with a substance abuse. It sits there staring at you in the face, and yet nobody wants to talk about it. In “Living with an Elephant: Growing up with Parental Substance Abuse,” Brynna Kroll developed the metaphor of the elephant in the room. She suggests the elephant becomes “a huge, significant, but secret presence which takes up a lot of space, uses considerable resources and requires a great deal of attention and the adjustment of those in its vicinity” (Kroll 132). When Esther was in tenth grade, her mother had rotator cuff surgery, and the doctor prescribed her Oxycontin for the pain. It started a six-month journey through the hell of addiction again. She left her husband. She chose to forget and walk away from her identity as a mother. She opted to nurture her addiction since she believed her children no longer needed nurturing. Kroll suggests that “the elephant can also obscure the child, rendering them ‘invisible’ to those whose job it is to care for them (132). It’s back to the idea of the invisible child. Addiction fights against normalcy and the child sits with the elephant waiting for the next shoe to drop, which is what happened with Esther. Even when her mother started recovery again, and they moved into an apartment, the appreciation of family did not last long. She left Esther alone at 14, not just for few hours; she left her to live alone so she could move in with her new boyfriend.
Esther's Struggle to Develop a Healthy Self
      After a six-month process, Esther was legally emancipated at 17 and graduated from high school.  Medaille College accepted her, and she thought everything was falling into place. She and her mother were starting to build a relationship again, but on Sept. 7, shortly after school started, her mother moved to Florida without even saying goodbye. While at Medaille, her mother’s abrupt departure along with a bad breakup with her boyfriend, sent Esther into a tailspin. She lived in the dorms but never went to class. The school wiped away her first semester from record due to her mental health, but she ended up messing up her second semester as well. Her coping mechanisms were never fully developed. She didn’t know how to live outside the confines of her mother's addiction.
          Esther became pregnant at 19 by a brother of a friend who lived in her house. They knew each other for four months and slept with each other only once. When pregnancy became the elephant in their apartment, he moved out. Esther shares with tears how she could no longer handle life and all its ups and downs, especially after developing a relationship with an abusive man she moved in with when her son was one month old. She felt like a stray dog who had been captured. She wasn’t crazy. She only acted like it. She attempted suicide and ended up with 18 stitches in her wrist.The visible scars remain today.
Powerless to Change the Addict
          Esther eventually worked on making her life better for her and her son. She met a man whom she has been with for six years now. She searched for her mom and eventually found her in jail. After her release, Esther bought her a ticket to New York and placed her in rehab. After receiving her eleven-month chip, she picked up where she left off with her drug of choice. Esther found her mom’s life consumed her own; she felt heavily involved in her mother’s sobriety and even did the 12-step program, while her mother chose to take her 12 steps backward. Esther believes she did not have the fundamentals to fight her battle. While Esther relied on her higher power, her mother didn’t even try. Esther didn’t have the heart to kick her out, but, admittedly, she hoped she would leave. She did.
          Her mother would take drugs to help her detox until her next fix. She put herself in a psyche ward at Strong for two and half weeks. She went to a domestic violence shelter for two and a half weeks. After she finished her programs, she simply left. Programs were like a band-aid for her, but she never truly healed.
Esther’s Hope
           Esther has overcome her fear of her mother’s substance abuse. She is numb to it after years of watching her mother’s descent into the abyss of addiction. It no longer consumes her. Esther recognizes how we only get one life. She prays when her mother leaves this earth someday, she will leave knowing she overcame her addiction, but for now, it is only a prayer.