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.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Breaking the Silence and Changing the System

Breaking the Silence
I am breaking the silence because silence is my lie. I lie to myself. I lie to others. I don’t want to carry the mantle of shame, so I am breaking the stigma of heroin addiction one day at a time. I am breaking it because I have been in the trenches with my son. I keep hearing the lie that using heroin is a choice. Sure. Maybe the first time one decides to put the needle in their arm or to snort it is a choice. After the second or third high, it takes over the brain. It creates a hostage crisis. IT. IS. NOT. A. CHOICE. IT is a bondage. It is an incarceration, and there is no Get Out of Jail Free card.
          The only choice, and it is a hard one, is to get clean. But herein lies the problem and why so many addicts are dying on city streets, in suburban homes, and on college campuses. The system is failing the addict who may be trying to get clean. They often find themselves fighting a losing battle, one that may eventually cost them their life. Here are some of the issues:
-         Insurance companies won’t cover rehab if you start detoxing on your own. When I called United Health Care after my son’s relapse, their counselor told me my son had to tough it out, be strong.
-         Rehab facilities don’t answer phones during the holidays. I didn’t know drug addiction went on vacation. We called Syracuse Behavioral Health five times on New Year's Eve and New Year’s Day, and they never returned our calls. I wrote an email four days later, only to have them write back how they tried to call us. Not true! There is no evidence of their calls on our cell phones.
-         The first time my son wanted to get clean, I took him to Strong Memorial Hospital. They sent him home two hours later with a list of possible outpatient rehab facilities. It was Memorial Weekend, and I had to watch my son go through withdrawal for four days before I was able to get him into Conifer Outpatient Rehab. At Conifer, his drug counselor told him he should have bought Suboxone on the street. WHAT? I recently met a man whose son went to Highland Hospital because he wanted to get clean, and he was in the worst possible shape. They released him when he was out of danger and let him walk back out on the street with no one monitoring his well-being. Two hours later, he died of a heroin overdose with the Highland Hospital bracelet still on his wrist.
-         The Good Samaritan Law is not working. These policies supposedly protect overdose victims and the caller from being prosecuted for possession of paraphernalia, minor drug possession, and being under the influence. Unfortunately, people still fear and do not trust the legal system and for a good reason. I know someone who spent six months in jail for drug paraphernalia when her boyfriend overdosed in her bedroom. If people are afraid to call, addicts are going to continue to die.
Make the System Take Notice
In the Rochester area, several individuals are trying to make a change. They are taking up their sword and shield and fighting the stigma of addiction and spreading awareness through their actions. They are making addicts and their families realize they are not alone. Their actions may seem small, but they are getting noticed. They are making a difference. They are the change.
-         Rocco Stagnitto, with a group of 40 volunteers went to a place he calls “Holy Ground,” the very place where his son died of an overdose last Fall.  They cleaned up dirty needles and other drug paraphernalia. His story is going viral, and he has been on several local news channels. He is starting a revolution, which is exactly what we need to stop the heroin deaths in our city.
-         Cathy Warren stands on a street corner with a picture of her son who died of an overdose and talks to addicts and their loved ones. She has also been in the news.
-         Stephanie Lynntalya Forrester whose husband recently died of an overdose started the Facebook page “Justice Let's Rise and Fight.” She is having an awareness walk in April at Manhattan Square Park.
What You Can Do  
There are countless ways to make a change as individuals, but one problem that needs addressing is an evaluation of our treatment programs. They need to be beneficial not touchy-feely child’s play.  I don’t know how making a collage heals addiction. The day my son was asked to make one, he left the program. Going to college and taking drug counseling doesn’t make you an automatic authority on alcohol and substance abuse. You need to listen, pay attention, and observe an addict. Get into their shoes and walk around in them for a while. I am not saying to go out and use, but seek to understand their plight. It isn’t an easy road. I learned so much about addiction just by sitting with my son and listening to his stories, his anxieties, and his dreams.
          We need to increase funding for substance abuse treatment. The “Anthony’s Act” suggests the Affordable Health Care Act be amended to provide care for addicts for a minimum of 90 days, or if necessary, up to one year in a treatment facility. If you go to Choopersguide.com/content/contact-congress.html, there is a letter you can write to your state senator to request changes in funding.
          Close down the known drug houses and increase police presence in areas of the city where cars line up to buy their drugs. One Fairport police officer said there were too many dealers on the street to stop drug trafficking. One at a time, just one at a time and you may save a life.
          If you are a recovering addict, pull someone out of the miry clay of their addiction by sharing your story. Show them it is possible to get clean. Get them help. Loved ones, share your stories as well. When you have lost someone to drug addiction, it can be the hardest thing you have ever done. However, if you do, you may save a life.
          Finally, if you want to see a change, BE THE CHANGE! Let’s fight addiction one day at a time.