Sunday, November 3, 2013

Feeling broken

My son is so fragile, and that makes me feel fragile too. In fact, our entire family is in a very broken-down feeling state right now. It hurts my heart so very much, but I need to talk about it. I hope you won't mind lending a listening ear....

In August, we brought our oldest son (now 17 years old) back home after being away for 18 months. It didn't go well. In fact, we watched him crumble right in front of our very eyes, and it became evident after only 2 short weeks that we would have to return him to a place where he could live in a very structured and directed environment. Unfortunately, and as life often goes, I did not act quickly enough. Plus we had other forces involved, forces that come with names like Lawsuits and Settlement Agreements.

Finally, there was the proverbial Straw That Broke The Camel's Back in the form of a stiff lecture from Grandma, and my son did the only thing he could figure out to do; he left our home that evening and picked up with a small gang of homeless youth who "range around" in our town. We know this option would only lead to disaster for our fragile boy-man. His emotional development is about 10 years behind his peers. How can a boy-man who is 6'2" with an emotional development of a 7 year old hang on successfully with 19 and 20 year old misfits? So we did what was necessary, and reported him as a "red flag missing youth with a seizure disorder not taking his medication" to the police. It still took them 4 days to pick him up.

A trip to the ER found his heart rate to be at 30. Another night out with the homeless could have likely killed him. A cardiac work up points to a possible diagnosis of Marfin's Syndrome, a connectivity tissue disorder that affects the heart, and is something that needs to be ruled out before he can participate in sports or many other activities that we take for granted. But it's just one more thing to point my son in the direction of being "different" and "unfit" and in his fragile mind, "a big messy problem," and ultimately.... "worthless."

Our decision to immediately place him in a residential setting backfired, and he made an attempt on his life. I guess that wasn't our fault, but a problem with his placement, and it not meeting his needs. Nonetheless, the terrible thing happened. With new diagnoses adding up like the ingredients in a very complex recipe, our son has now crossed into the mentally challenged ranks of chronically depressed, liable, and suicidal with an icing of potential Marfan's Syndrome. I can't help but feel so deflated for him.

I have been walking my days side by side with God, and asking him to show me the way through this. 

It's really the only thing I can do right now.

The week ahead will bring meetings with therapists on how to help put my son back on track. It brings working day by day with our younger son, helping him to find a way out of the pain and anger he feels over what his older brother has done. It brings a meeting with the people who we faced in a court of law, and hopefully they will finally understand the depths of my son's pain and disability. And, late in the week, it brings a new court date to discuss some new mayhem my son caused during the short time he was home.

God, I'm holding on here. And I really need your guidance. And I hope you are listening....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Say NO to negativity, but YES to Batman

The other day, a family member said to me, "You know, it's really time for you to get a job. Enough with being an artist, working for yourself, etc. You need to get serious about what you are doing. It's time you get a real job." 

Uh, yeah. So, you know what I said? I said, 
"Your message and tone in your voice are negative. I deal with enough negativity in my life, and don't need you adding to the mix. So, until you can accept me for who I am and what I am doing, then I won't be able to talk with you." 
Then I hung up the phone. And, since then, I've been working on putting that nasty bugger of a conversation out of my head. 

It's been going just so-so.

I can't really expect someone who hasn't walked my path to understand the ins and outs of what our family has been going through. I can't ask someone to understand what it means to butt heads with so many factions of "the establishment" in the name of finding just one helpful path for your child. What do I say to someone who complains to me about the $100,000/year cost of putting their two bright children through college at the same time? Gee, the only words that come to my mind are, 
"You are so blessed." 
Wow, that money will only buy about 6.5 months of what my son's care costs. 

And that jab about "getting a real job"? What Real Job will let you spend sometimes 6 hours during the work day talking with the schools/therapists/lawyer who are helping you fend off villains attacking your very character in the name of your child's education? What about the 4 days it took me to compose the most compelling letter of my life to the CA Insurance Commissioner's office. That letter won a judgement against our insurance company to the tune of about $40,000.00. 

I wonder if a Real Job boss would understand the time, care, and necessity behind advocating for one's troubled child? Somehow, I doubt it.

For me, and for all you Moms and Dads, Aunts, or Uncles, Grandparents, or even Friend of the family, for all of us who are trying just as-fricken-hard-as-we-can to help those struggling teens, I applaud you, I applaud US. For without Us, there would be no advocating for these kids who just might get it figured out tomorrow. Who might make the right choice next week, when their brain matures just that much more. Who might make that decision to get it right this time. Sure, they might falter next time. But we are the ones to help them celebrate each step forward. And we are the ones who hold things together when they misstep, and the world turns upside down... Again. These teens need us to stand strong in their lives, to set boundaries, to model truth, value honesty, to be a guidepost towards figuring things out.

For me, I'm willing to put off that "getting a real job" for a while longer. My real job is right here, and I will work it.

Just call me Batwoman. I am so that. And more.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

When embracing being different is more than challenging

Detail, "Found my Root" by Val Hebert

"Embrace being different!" 

Even though we may try to give that message to our kids, at some point, being different is just no bueno to a teen. In fact, being different is so God-awful bad that they will just do anything to be a "fitter-inner," even though it may be to their own detriment and potentially ultimate destruction. It is the kid with the iron clad resilience of spirit that can stand up to peer pressure, call his or her own shots, and navigate those treacherous teenage waters. Thank God we don't have to relive those years again. They are rough.

We have taught our boys as best as we can to be resilient and rich in spirit. My two boys have pretty much had the same upbringing, but both have taken such different paths upon entering their teenaged years. I know now what I always suspected to be true, one who arrives in this world with a compromised systemic condition will not react to his world the same as a sibling who doesn't have the same situation. (My pregnancy with my firstborn son was extremely precarious, and I was on intravenous Terbutaline for the second half of the pregnancy) That, even though our son may seem "just fine" from the outside, what's going on on the inside of his brain is a whole different matter. As parents, we know when our kids need some extra help. I have never given up hope that we can get to the bottom of what his needs are, and find him the help he is entitled to. 

When matters of the brain are involved, the road gets very confusing, with lots of unknown kinks in the path. Also troubling is the lack of knowledge in the medical field. Think about it; if you have a problem with your heart, there are machines that can look into the heart, and doctors who can interpret test results and scans to learn what is wrong. With the brain, it's an entirely different matter. Very little is known about the inner working of the brain, and though research is on the upswing, it's still very slow going with regards to an unspecified brain injury.

My son is a bright, engaging young man. If you met him today you would not think anything is amiss. But there are some deep rooted problems going on down deep in his brain. When he was at Meridell Achievement Center last fall, and he had a QEEG brain scan, we finally learned he was having microscopic seizures in two areas of his brain. We learned the reason for his brain trauma was linked to the medication I was given during his pregnancy. The treatment he was prescribed made a huge difference in his world, and the way he could think and remember. A secondary medication helped his focus exponentially. Now, we are set to begin working with a new neuropsychologist, and will look for new information from a sleep study. I am thrilled that my son will soon be followed by a neurologist.

We are getting ready to bring my son home at the end of this month. He has been gone for 18 long months. Truly, his hardest work is still in front of him... returning to the place where things went so very bad. I am busier than ever making sure his return home is to a lifestyle, activities and home environment that are very different than the one he left. 

Wish us luck, and prayers. We will need it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Triggers + First trip home

Wow, it's been a long time since our son was home... 15.5 months, to be exact. In 2 days, he will fly into town, and step back into the city, town, and home he left so abruptly in the middle of the night, so long ago. The idea of returning home is beyond exciting to him, and we are thrilled he is finally making this trip home ... but you and I know it comes with it's own force of nature called "triggers."

Spending time with him where he's now living is something we cherish each month. Every time we see him, he is in a better place, physically and mentally. He is healthy, has matured by leaps and bounds, has grown taller by 2 inches from when he left, and has gained 50-yes, FIFTY pounds! And he is not fat, he's slim and trim, and gorgeous I might add-- ok, I'm his mom. It's just that he was a 6'1", 125 lb. drug addicted, junk food eating shadow when he left home so long ago. Now, he is taking good care of himself, eating healthy foods, plays sports, deals with his emotions in a healthy way, and talks with his family like we are people he values and wants to be with. 

Those dang triggers... we all have them. What is a trigger?, you might ask...

A "trigger" of addiction involves any stressor or high-risk situation that sparks a thought, feeling, or action to use drugs/alcohol. This spark, which is experienced as a temptation or desire to use, is called a "craving" or "urge". So, triggers can lead to cravings and urges to use.

Spending time with our son recently has found me stopping to pick up discarded cigarettes and put them in the trash (eew), alerting shop keepers to discarded 1/2 drunk glasses of beer, etc. I told our son that I will not always be able to clean sweep his triggers away for him. That he will need to find a way to manage these triggers on his own...

How does one successfully avoid triggers that can spark a possible relapse? That, as one of my Epic Moms so easily answers, can be summed up in three little words: 

People, Places and Things.

From While getting sober from drugs is an important first step, it’s only the beginning of the recovery process. Once sober, the brain needs time to recover and rebuild connections that have changed while addicted. During this time, drug cravings can be intense. You can support your continued sobriety by making a conscious effort to avoid people, places, and situations that trigger the urge to use:
  • Make a break from old drug buddies. Don’t make the mistake of hanging out with old friends who are still doing drugs. Surround yourself with people who support your sobriety, not those who tempt you to slip back into old, destructive habits.
  • Avoid parties, bars and clubs, even if you don’t have a problem with alcohol. Drinking lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, which can easily lead to relapse. Drugs are often readily available and the temptation to use can be overpowering. Also avoid any other environments and situations that you associate with drug use.
  • Be up front about your history of drug use when seeking medical treatment. If you need a medical or dental procedure done, be up front about your history and find a provider who will work with you in either prescribing alternatives or the absolute minimum medication necessary. You should never feel ashamed or humiliated about previous drug use or be denied medication for pain; if that happens, find another provider.
  • Use caution with prescription drugs. Stay away from prescription drugs with the potential for abuse or use only when necessary and with extreme caution. Drugs with a high abuse potential include painkillers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medication.

So, this weekend we are going to celebrate my son's return home, and help him successfully manage those dang triggers. We are going to keep him surrounded in care, and hold him up emotionally as he makes his first venture back on his home turf. And then, after only 28 hours, we are going to return him to his safe environment up north where he can process those freaking triggers, and make a plan on how best to manage them the next time he returns home. Which, I hope, will be very soon. Or, at least, when he is good and ready...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Getting In The Know: 420 Day

As parents, we need to know what's going on with our teens, what they are doing, and where their interests lie. It's about being a part of their lives, living in community with them, and making a daily choice to not live with them in ignorance. Even though they may want to tune us out, and demand their privacy, it's not healthy to let them get too far out of our sight... not yet, anyway.

Hindsight is 20/20. (God... how many times have I heard that?) Oh, that I could take back time, and do things differently...

So, my older son had all these signs and stickers that said "420"posted all over his room, skateboard, heck, everywhere... did I think it was important to know what 420 meant? I guess not. 

Heck, people, we have got to ask. (I know, it doesn't mean that they will tell us, right?) But still, just ask, because maybe they will.

Today, my younger son, who is doing incredibly well in his fight to stay away from drugs (read more here), asked me if he could "take a personal day" and not go to school. So, I asked why. And he told me it was the day before 420 day. What's that? I asked. "Really, Mom, you actually do not know about 420 day???" was his reply...

Uh, no, I don't.

Please tell me more...

First of all, let me tell you, my boys didn't always tell me these things. They were as secretive and covert as FBI agents, especially when it came to anything relating to drugs. It is a miracle in my book that we have crossed the threshold of truth. And now, they divulge things about drugs, their past, how they feel, what's going on with them... pretty much everything. Ahhh, well, except girl stuff that is. (Ok, I will give them that measure of privacy for now. When a serious girlfriend comes along, I will pry. I know I will. And, hopefully that threshold of established truth will allow them to feel comfortable in telling me about that too.)

From's Urban Legends
What 420 is, whether expressed in the form 4:20 (as a time of day), 4/20 (as a calendar date), or just the unadorned numeral (pronounced "four-twenty") is a universal, unofficial symbol for the use and appreciation for marijuana. In fact, 4/20, or April 20th, has come to be known in certain circles as "Marijuana Appreciation Day." Read more here.
I guess the main topic at school today was not a looming test, or what homework is due in whichever class, but instead the where, when, the why and the how of how to experience, and appreciate marijuana, and get flippin' high. Along with where the parties are going to be. Let me tell you, there are going to be par-tays.

So, yep, I let him stay home from school.

And I promised I'd take him to Disneyland. Maybe I'll buy him a condo too.
-just kidding...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Empowerment 101

Last Friday night marked a milestone in our family's fight against drugs. It was significant on so many levels. I'm going to try to relate the power behind what happened.

I have to preface by saying our town is a beautiful place to live, and it is considered to be one of America's finest cities. People move here because our town is safe, secluded, and it's a perfect town to raise a family. The schools are good (if your kid is Type A. Mine are think-outside-the-box types, but that's another story). Our climate is gorgeous, and the town's atmosphere is charming and welcoming.

What no one likes to admit is that there is a serious drug and alcohol problem in our town that is impacting our youth, and especially our teens. Drug and alcohol usage in our town is 7% higher than the California State average. In the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey (information about this survey can be viewed here), 43% of 11th graders in the greater San Diego area had used alcohol or other drugs with some form of regularity within the past 30 days. In our town, 50% of 11th graders had regularly used within the past 30 days. Okay, that means that out of every FOUR TEENS, ages 16-17 in high school, TWO are using drugs and/or alcohol with some form of regularity.

In fact, I have a quote from a person who is an administrator within our school system who said, "On any given day, over two thirds of high school boys come to school high, or get high during the school day." Now that is downright frightening.

My ninth grader knows about addiction, he's seen what hell his older brother has gone through trying to fight back and regain his life against the powerful pull of drugs. So, last Friday night, my ninth grader asked to "hang out" with friends, including one boy we know to have been mixed up with drugs. I warned my son against this kid, and reminded him that his ability to retain his privileges, including trips to visit his older brother, rely solely on his ability to remain sober and drug free. He told me he could cope with this, and proudly reported that his friend had been drug free for 7 months. (Um, okay, I'll believe it when I see it, I thought, but I kept this to myself...) We devised a 9-1-1 text plan, where he could text me at any moment to ask for help, and I would be there in a flash-minute to help him out of any jam. All he'd need to do was "call".

And, guess what, he did!

His friend, so NOT sober, arrived with a group of older guys, already rowdy drunk, and toting the proverbial backpack filled with bottles of booze, and who knows what else. (So typical in our town. Maybe in your town too...) My son felt things were going down in a bad way, so he sent out the good ol' 9-1-1. And, even though my husband and I were celebrating his birthday, I responded to that text in a flash minute, and gave my son the support and rescue he needed in order to keep that beautiful state of sobriety. It worked like a charm.

Afterwards, we talked about the struggle his friend has in front of him. Certainly, at age 14, he has already opened the Pandoras Box of addiction. His brain, instead of growing and maturing like nature intends, is putting a powerful robot in charge called "Addiction" which is hijacking his brain's development in the name of drug abuse. The most significant struggle this kid has is the force to stop using when everything around him remains the same. Since the pull to fit in and self medicate is so powerful with teens in our town... that "50% of 11th graders" bell is ringing in my ear... I feel certain my son's friend is slated to fail without significant parental intervention, and as long as he remains connected to his current "friends," and of course, is allowed to "hang out" in our "charming", yet drug infested town...

*** 4/20/13 UPDATE: Within less than one month, the aforementioned "friend" is now in juvie.... Apparently, he totally gave up the illusion he was sober, and went full tilt back into drug use. He was caught trying to break into a locked car to get a drug accessory, and was caught by the police. Very sad, and a very real reminder of the trauma drugs cause...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Walking towards recovery

We visited our son last weekend, and he is doing amazingly well. He looks great, seems incredibly healthy, and we saw no sign of depression. He took it upon himself to have a tearful confession with us, and to profusely apologize for his past actions. His words brought our whole family to tears. He is not particularly happy in his current program, but is doing what we ask;  putting one foot in front of the other each day, taking one day at a time, doing what he can to make the best use of his time, and working his program. When you are a reluctant teen, this is asking a lot.

He has been in treatment for one year, one month and one week. (and 3 days, he reminds me)

Statically speaking, the best chance of long term recovery for both the addict and the heavy user is 365 continuous days of sobriety, and 12-18 months is optimal. The brain, especially in males, is not finished developing until the age of 26 (female brain approximately 18 years). If a young person begins using drugs or alcohol before the age of 15, they are at far greater risk for addiction.  It is especially important to note the mean age for experimenting with drug/alcohol usage today is age 13.  Here is the reason why that sucks...

Drug use at a young age actually rewires the young brain for addiction. The longer we can delay our teens from drug or alcohol use of any kind, the greater the chance for full, healthy brain development. The brain develops kind of like a computer, where one task is mastered, and then it goes on to the next task and begins to master that. When drugs and/or alcohol are introduced (and/or trauma, which, when experienced during this critical developmental period, can rewire the brain in the same way exposure by drugs and alcohol does), brain development, particularly in the pleasure centers can actually shut down, the brain will rewire itself to only want more of the substance that gives it immediate pleasure (drugs/alcohol), thereby preventing the brain to develop continuously and normally

You may think of someone you know who has perhaps abused drugs or alcohol for a long time? How they may sometimes seem ... um, "inappropriate". Maybe ... all the time-? Yep, that's what I'm talking about.

Pleasure centers in the brain, when governed by drugs, attach all ability to find pleasure to the drug use. Things that made our kids happy before drug use, such as enjoying time with family and friends, playing games, enjoying time at the beach, etc... all these things soon become secondary to drug usage. A brain on drugs lights up, and seemingly, all the troubles in the world are easily solved. Coming off the high means a return of troubling situations, and the brain demands more of the drug. A vicious cycle  ensues, and pleasure, initially long lasting under the effects of the drug, becomes more and more elusive as the brain cries out for more of the drug. The brain is effectively telling the body the only way to find pleasure is to use drugs.

Each month we travel to visit our son, he is new to us. I'd like to say that he's renewed to his former glory, but last year, along with every prior year in his life, he had seizures going off in his brain and he couldn't think clearly. His former glory was always murky, questionable, tenuous, though we knew deep down he is is capable, loving and kind. Drug use and abuse just worsened the murkiness to the level of being intolerable, both for him, and us. Now, the son we see before us is this amazing, knowing, truthful, perceptive kid. He stuns us with all that he is. We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to bring him back from the brink of devastation. He has a life to live, and wants to move forward, living life on life's terms.

We are beyond thankful. We are beyond blessed that we have found 365 days where he could be removed from "life", allow his brain to heal, and introduce new ways for his brain to seek and find pleasure. God is good, so good...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How do you play a winning hand when you're not the one holding the cards?

... Here's guest blogger Morgan... telling it like it is in a "blended" home...

Maintaining control is something many people struggle with. Especially when it comes to your children. It’s one thing when your child becomes out of control, defies your rules and your authority, but what do you do when there is a third, or even a fourth, person in the picture? That’s our situation and to say that it’s hard would be the understatement of the year.

We have finally managed to get my stepson into a treatment facility. It’s not the one or the length we wanted, but we figured that any treatment was better than no treatment. We feel he needs a long term, residential treatment. His psychologist thinks he needs long term, residential treatment. The insurance company doesn’t. They think he needs a 3-week detox program, despite the fact that he’s most likely been clean for over a month. And since we are at the mercy of what the insurance company is willing to approve (we don’t have a money tree growing in our backyard), they are calling the shots. They are holding the cards on this one.

So now we are playing the waiting game, crossing our fingers that this child wakes up and this program, despite its brief length, has some effect on whatever it is that he is going through. We are hopeful that the doctors there too, will agree, that long term, residential care is what’s in this child’s best interest and we can simply transfer him there at the end of 21 days.

But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the insurance company still decides they know what’s best for this boy and send him home? If that’s the case, his father and I, we are still not the ones holding the cards. Mom is.

Just to refresh you, we have a blended family. My husband, myself, my stepson, and his mother and stepfather, whom with he currently lives. My husband and I are the evil disciplinarians, his mother is Glenda the good witch, queen of Disneyland.

So again, we are left feeling like the odd man out, powerless to have influence and help create change. It’s heart wrenching to see your children suffer and appear so lost, especially within themselves. But it’s even worse if you’re watching that from the sidelines, witnessing someone else essentially give them permission to take those wrong turns that ultimately lead to those bad decisions that have gotten him where he is today.

I know the “What if?” questions are futile and crazy-making, but its hard not to have them. What if mom thinks that going away, for however long, is going to “fix” him and when he returns home, he’ll be “normal”? How do you treat a “normal” kid? You give them freedom and the ability to make their own choices and decisions - ALL of the things that have aided in this child being where he is now - a drug treatment program.

I am very aware that we all play a part, that everyone has their role. What I need to continually remind myself of, however, is that’s all we can control - our own role, our own part. What all this really boils down to is fear. Uncertainty is scary, especially for those who like to be in control.  Currently, we wait, not knowing what will happen, unable to control the outcome. And when you’re talking about someone’s life, a child’s life - that is beyond scary. 

As Val has said previously, ...worrying, questioning, and relentless searching for answers has taken me nowhere good. It has hijacked my mind and shaken my resolve. AND - it’s exhausting! So I’m stopping. I cannot control the situation and therefore will accept the cards I am dealt. I will trust that in the end, whatever is meant to be, will be. I am responsible for me, and only me, and in this case, being out of control is a good thing.

Morgan: a gentle reminder from one control freak to another (Lol)... letting go of control is something we have to remind ourselves of constantly. Sometimes every hour on the hour, or even every 30 seconds... at least that's how it works for me. Hugs, girlfriend...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Getting in the know

She told me something I did not want to hear. She said, "He is beyond the help I can offer him, and I think we might be dealing with an addiction here." 

What??? No way. I said this to myself. I probably said something to that effect to her as well.

Then, I walked away from her. She obviously did NOT know what she was talking about. We would manage this, and we would be fine.

That lasted about a week. The managing and being fine. Then, "things" (as they tend to do in this situation) managed to get worse. Not greatly worse, but worse, nonetheless.

So, we signed our son up for IOP. We knew this was a step in the right direction. He wasn't exactly happy. The limits had been set. Things were going to get better now. 

The following week, they got worse. Gravely worse. Very quickly, things were spiraling out of control. All the sudden, we had lots of new things in our lives. Things like...
  1. Police activity for drug possession
  2. School suspension for both boys
  3. Possible expulsion for one
  4. General and exhausting watchfulness on the part of both parents
  5. Finding various drug paraphernalia hidden around the house
  6. Kids not listening to any house rule
  7. General mayhem touching every facet of our lives
  8. Me feeling like I was going crazy, one little piece at a time
  9. Boys living in a tent in the backyard, which was advised by our IOP counselor, the police, and our therapist
  10. The school reporting us to CPS... for our boys living in a tent
I guess, for me, this was the beginning of the end. The end of protecting my son in the name of being a managing mother. I found out this is called Enabling. The end of attempting to "look-the-other-way". This was a grave family problem, and something I had to face head on. The end of allowing other people to call the shots. I had to get real with what was happening to our family, and I had to do it quick.

I had to get in the know about dealing with this Ugly Elephant that had moved into our lives: addiction.

February 9th marks the one year anniversary that our son was removed from our home in the middle of the night, and sent into treatment for drug addiction. It is a bittersweet anniversary. For him, he is devastated that he's been away from home for a whole year, though he understands the reason why, and continues to work his program with determination so he can return home. For me, it is one year of him being drug free, and giving his brain a chance to heal, and regrow new brain tissue - one of the best chances of him making a full recovery from drug addiction. It is one year of us asking questions, and finding the necessary answers to get him the help he's so desperately needed. It is one year spent in putting our family back on the right track at home, healing our hearts from all the hurt that drugs caused, and knowing he is safe and getting help while living apart from us. 

Never have I faced as much resistance and rejection as I have in the last year, much of it within my own heart. Dealing with this bully called drug addiction has put a new spin on my life. I have reached deeply to find my way through this, both within myself, and to others who have walked this path. It hasn't been easy. I am now more educated about drug and alcohol addiction. I know more now about brain health. I know the necessary steps for dealing with a wayward teen. And, I am a more compassionate person than I was one year ago. It's taken me a year of learning, and soul searching, but I am happy to report that I am in the know now.

And it's right where I want to be.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Denial = Not my child

You are the adult, and you know that you are smarter than your teen. You have been there, and been "through it" so you know you will have the upper hand when the time is right. "He's too young to be experimenting with that." and, "My kids aren't like those other kids." "My kid doesn't do _______, we have always talked about staying away from __________ in our family!"

As adults, we have more things on our minds than our teens do. We have jobs, our car maintenance, get the dog to the vet, grocery shopping, clean house, etc... and that's just this morning. Your teen has one thing on his mind, and that is to push the limits you set, and get away with it. All the while making you look crazy in the process. Picture the look on your teens face... (wide eyed, you are cray cray!, who me?) while they lash out at you in every way, shape, form imaginable to tell you that you are SO messed up in thinking that way.

Their grades have fallen, their attitude is arrogant, and (s)he takes a "know-it-all" tone with everyone they come in contact with, including teachers and authority figures. They seem to have lost their motivation, for everything except their friends and social networking. They stay up late, ignoring any curfew you set, you are never quite sure when they went to bed. They sleep in late. You suspect they may have been sneaking out at night. You suspect they've been drinking, or worse. Are their eyes dilated? Are they acting funny??? You suspect you are going cray cray...

 Selections taken from Will Wooten's book, "Bring Your Teen Back From the Brink";
Parental denial of the problem is a very powerful tool that kids use to their advantage. You think this is a problem that will just go away because you tell them to stop. Somehow things just keep getting worse. Navigating normal teen behavior is challenging enough. Throw alcohol or drugs into the mix and you have a toxic combination that compounds the turmoil. Left unaddressed, it will leave your family in crisis for years to come.
If you suspect trouble with your teen that involves substance and/or alcohol abuse, the first thing you must do is stop living in denial. If you are doubtful, there is a strong possibility you have a reason to be suspicious. Listen to your gut (heart) on this, and take action before your teen can travel any further down this destructive path. Talk to a substance abuse counselor. Buy a book and get some concrete answers. Will's book is a great place to start. Buy it today and start finding some answers to the dark doubts that are swirling around in your head. You will absolutely not want to wait until tomorrow, to see what your teen will be up to next. I can guarantee one thing: it will not be pretty.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Ordered chaos

Before I was fully prepared for it, I found myself back in the thick of things... The release date was finally upon us and he was coming home. We took ourselves to the school office and he said he had to use the bathroom. After a few very long minutes, we searched, and realized he was nowhere to be found. He had never done this before, but he was back in his familiar territory, and he'd run. What now??? Days passed, and we finally located him. He was as sick as a dog. He'd been with his old "friends" and had been shooting up heroin. What the heck??? Heroin? He'd never done this before either. I sat up with a start, covered in sweat, and realized it had all been a dream. -A Horrible Dream, but thank God. It was only a dream...

How do we make our way through the chaos? How do we find order, and sanity when everything is turned upside-down? I am certain that, in a day or in a year, I will have a grave case of PTSD over what I am experiencing right now. What will get me through this? How will I be able to deal with situations, thoughts, and dreams that paralyze me with fear and worry?

As advised by the very Epic Honey Badger, Pernille Kraus, CAADAC RS;
"Once we take the focus off the out of control teen, we can get ordered chaos. As long as we are focusing on them, it's wrangling squirrels and reacting. When we pull back and focus on our own process, we get out of their tornado and can respond without emotion dictating the show."
How do we do that? "Pull back and focus on our own process" What is this and how do I do it?

All I know is that I am exhausted. All my worrying, questioning, and relentless searching for answers has taken me nowhere good. It has hijacked my mind and shaken my resolve. It makes it so I cannot focus, and am certain it is the thing that is in charge of my nightmares. And so today, finally, I realized I am done. In being done, I have said this:  
"Here God. I'll give this to you to deal with. Take it. I have no answers. It is all up to you. What will be, will be."
For I am flawed, full of self-doubt, fearful, impatient and anxious... as much as I would like to NOT be. I must find the courage to put one foot in front of the other in order to reach my goal, and the goals of our family. My faith will sustain me on this; my journey. And I will trust in God that He will see the good and truth in our actions, and will assure us that the ones who are doing us wrong will turn around, and do the right thing. I leave this in His hands, and trust it will all work out, as it rightfully will, in the end.

There are no answers. There is only Trust. Trust that He will help make order out of the chaos. Give the control away, and see how it feels. Today, the load is lifted off my shoulders. And that is a very good thing...

Friday, January 18, 2013

It's called FAPE and its Fair

Yesterday, in the news, and in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I was very happy to hear that President Obama has has called for a new initiative, which would need congressional approval, that would provide mental health first-aid training for teachers. It would also set up a referral system for children with mental health and behavioral problems. The president's plan centers largely on training teachers and others who work with children, teens and young adults to recognize mental illness as it's developing. There will also be a separate initiative that would bolster support for older teens and young adults — ages 16 to 25 — in need of help who can get lost in the tumble of college or a first job.

It is important to remember that the government and the teachers in your child's school district can only do so much. Perhaps training will help them to see patterns in development that may lead to tragedy. In my opinion, the people who really matter in this equation are the parents. As parents, we have more of an intuitive knowing of what's going on with our children, and we must stand up for their needs when their teachers won't or can't, or even refuse to help them.

Last year, when my then 15 year old son started down his path towards drug addiction, we were many years into the struggle with our school district attempting to get help for what we thought might be a learning disability. We started asking for help for him when he was in the second grade. The school put us off year after year, and said his problems were due to "poor nutrition, and that he needed brain boosting vitamins" or "He needed to sit up near the teachers desk so he could pay better attention to the lessons." Once in high school, and when he began to self medicate with drugs, it was easy for the school to say he had a drug problem, and he didn't qualify for aid.

We were certain that this was not the case, and that his problems had been in place for a very long time, and possibly since birth.

Here in the United States of America, each child is entitlted to have their special needs met. The Advocate you hire(d) can help explain what a FAPE, or Free Appropriate Public Education is, and exactly how it works. All qualified persons with disabilities within the jurisdiction of a school district are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education. The following is taken from a document published by the US Dept of Education, which you can also view by clicking here: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Free Appropriate Public Education for Students With Disabilities: Requirements Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Washington, D.C., 2010.
The ED Section 504 regulation defines a person with a disability as “any person who: (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.”
How Is A Free Education Defined?
Recipients operating federally funded programs must provide education and related services free of charge to students with disabilities and their parents or guardians. Provision of a free education is the provision of education and related services without cost to the person with a disability or his or her parents or guardians, except for fees equally imposed on nondisabled persons or their parents or guardians.If a recipient is unable to provide a free appropriate public education itself, the recipient may place a person with a disability in, or refer such person to, a program other than the one it operates.
Getting the necessary help for a child's disability is something that parents can achieve, and it is possible without spending buckets of money. Talk to a special education attorney, and find out what your rights are. If you don't know where to start, visit your state's Learning & Disabilities Association, who will likely have a referral system. Alternately, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) can also give you guidance. Go online and do some investigating. You can help your child. 

Time is of the essence, so go and do it NOW. Before something really bad happens. And if the Really Bad has already happened, as it did in our case, you can still get help. We finally learned our son was having microscopic brain seizures, which were caused by medication given in utero. So no amount of brain boosting vitamins or sitting near the teachers desk could have helped him do better in school. When the bottom fell out of our world, FAPE is what saved us, and helped us get the help for our son that he desperately needed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Aiding and abetting or making the "right," yet difficult decisions?

....Please welcome back guest blogger Morgan, who is in The Arena fighting for her stepson's life:

How far will you go to protect your children? Most parents would probably go to the ends of the earth and call it a no-brainer. But how do you protect your children when they are sick and addicted to drugs? I can tell you firsthand that it is not the same as protecting them when they are well.

An addict does not think clearly and does not process decision-making in the same manner as the rest of us. Decision making for an addict, particularly a teen addict, is rooted in manipulation and making sure that the result of their decision will benefit themselves in the end somehow, whether that equates to another hit, another pill, more time with friends, getting parents to leave them alone, etc. It's all self-serving and incredibly manipulative. Teen addicts are excellent telling people what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, often pitting mom against dad, and vice versa.

So how do you protect these children and shield them from the troubles of the world when in actuality, these children ARE some of the troubles of the world. I think it's only natural that a parent's initial instinct is to want to protect their child and keep them out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, for teen addicts, this protection is not actually what parents think it is. It's not protection at all. It's enabling. It's permitting. It's allowing. It's encouraging. It’s exactly what you think its not.

My stepson has been in drug treatment for a couple weeks now - a program that his father and I do not approve of but that his mother insisted he attend. A program in which he has already failed a drug test in these short two weeks. He also recently had his first day of secondary school, that he attends with the other addicts from his drug and alcohol program. In keeping with the excellent track record he's got going, he was arrested on his first day. One of the kids he met at the drug program gave him some prescription pills and rather than politely decline them (see decision-making in the paragraphs above), my stepson accepted pills and kept them on his person.

Since the school deals with these types of kids all day, everyday, one of the instructors suspected the initial kid was under the influence of something, and also that my stepson looked somehow involved - suspicious - which indeed, he was. On the way to the principal's office, my stepson panicked and was observed trying to toss the drugs into the bushes. The initial child who supplied the drugs is now being prosecuted under felony drug possession with intent to distribute. Not wanting to experience the same fate, my stepson told the school administrators, and the school police officer that he had no intentions of a) taking the drugs, or b) doing anything else with them. He went so far as to say that he really didn’t know why he took them, that perhaps he was afraid not to. Do you believe him? I don’t.

After school, his mother picked him up and they discussed the events of the day. If you recall, Disneyland mom is not one who's big on actions and reactions, rules or boundaries. My stepson told his mother that indeed, he had no intention of taking the drugs he was given, but rather, to sell them to someone else after school. Funny, that's not what he told the school. And beyond that, his mother asked no additional questions. So which story do you believe now? To whom is he telling the truth? His mother believes him.

So as a parent, what's the course of action here? What is the "right" thing to do? Do you accept your child's word at face value, despite what he's already told the school, despite the danger that either of his responses to the events of the day hold? Do you feel in your gut that something - *something* - just isn't right? Do you call the school to report your child's intent to distribute these drugs, and risk his fate to be the same as this other child - legal prosecution and possible remission to juvenile hall? WHAT. DO. YOU. DO?  

For me, for us - my husband and I - we made the difficult decision. The decision we felt was “right.” We called the school and reported the secondary story my stepson told, his intent to sell and distribute the drugs. We ASKED the officer to do whatever was in his power to see that our child was prosecuted under the law, and that if warranted, he be remanded to juvenile hall. And you want to know the truth? The decision we made really wasn’t all that difficult. Not anymore. The bottom line and moral of the story is that we fear for our child’s life and by doing nothing, by “protecting” him, what are we really doing except shielding him from truly experiencing the consequences of his actions. And it’s time he start doing that. Without it, he’ll never learn anything and he’ll never get well. So ask yourself next time you rush to protect your child - what are you really protecting them from?

Thank you, Morgan! Your story is powerful, and is a reminder of what so many of us have gone through with our own wayward teens. I am so proud of you and your husband for the choice you made. Many say that an addict won't face what they must do to change until they hit their "bottom" and have exhausted every avenue of help and/or rescue. "Raising his bottom" is what you are doing, in hopes that Z will get the message sooner than later, and can start making better choices for himself and his future. 
- Val

Monday, January 14, 2013

On Being Broken

How do we stop feeling "broken" so we can make a fresh start in life? Can we help those close to us find a way from breaking apart into little pieces, and falling through the cracks? How do we put on the brakes when our lives are careening out of control... like a runaway freight train? (ugh)

The following excerpt is taken from Broken, by William Cope Moyers.
"... I wonder how my life might have been different if my father had insisted I get professional help. He knew I was taking foolish risks, and he feared my life might be at stake. Was he hoping I would see the error of my ways and make an about-face on my own? He prayed I would say no to the risks associated with drugs, but I didn't know what risks he was talking about. I wasn't going to get hurt, and I was too young to die. 
"I don't blame my parents. What was true for them is still true today for a lot of parents because all the cutting-edge science and groundbreaking research about addiction can't still overcome the shame and stigma that prevents families from seeing what is directly in front of them. It's so much easier and more socially acceptable to talk about a "problem" than an "addiction", a "mistake" than a pattern of out-of-control behavior, a "defiant act" rather than a conduct that defies rationalization. When young people look healthy and relatively happy on the outside, how could they possibly be suffering from a chronic, progressive, inevitably fatal disease? If morals and values have been an integral part of their upbringing--If they come from a "good" family--aren't they protected against addiction and shouldn't they find the strength within themselves to turn their back on drugs? And when families do suspect something more than what they see, where do they turn for help? In my case, the legal system responded with the same "he's a good kid, it's just a mistake" rationalizations. Why argue with that?"
Kids might seem "too young" to be experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol, or there may be no outward signs of struggle, but you know something is amiss. Their attitude is different, they may not want to spend time with you, they become secretive. You stumble on a suspicious "what the heck is this?"when looking for something in their room. This is easy to chalk up to "growing pains," normal teen development, etc. The first sign of trouble might not be evident until there is a situation that has gotten your child in deep trouble at school, or within the community, or there has even been police involvement. As parents, one of the hardest things to grasp is the level of pain your child might be in, and what coping methods they are using to survive. If you suspect there are deep issues within your child that might put them at risk, it is important to take a simple intervention step to see if they are crying out for help.

What needs to happen next can be best described as all people concerned getting into the ring and facing this trouble head on. Now is when you find a counselor in your area who can recognize the signs of addiction, and can help determine whether this is a temporary glitch on the radar, or a more serious problem, such as a progressive drug addiction. Also, coming to terms with the fact that people who are troubled, and cracking apart at the seams, will need long term therapeutic help. These sorts of troubles are not resolved in one or two sessions, or one or two months.

Deep self introspection is the antidote to addiction.

Kids have difficulties facing their shame and guilt, and instead will spend all their time running away from those things that make them feel desperate. When they're hanging out with new kids you've never met (who refuse to look you in the eye), staying high, and isolating... these are all tools to keep their demons away. Facing demons head on is the only way towards salvation. Expecting that you can point them towards a helping path and they will walk it is a nice thought, but it's unlikely it will happen without strong guidance. Giving them the clear message you will not tolerate their drug/alcohol use, but you WILL help them find a way out of their fragile state with therapy and drug counseling. These are the first steps towards healing those cracks, and keeping them from breaking into little pieces.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Three Things I Know & One I Don't

Well, I won't be the first to say that life certainly gets rocky at times. Often when we least expect it.

So, I don't know what a panic attack feels like but I think I've been having them in the middle of the night. I wake up and my heart is beating like crazy. I don't think this is right. So this morning I had my husband help me change the flannel sheets off the bed thinking maybe I'm just getting too hot-?

Maybe my heart is just trying hard to figure out how to make our way through the storm of tomorrow...

What I do know is that disasters always look better in the daytime. That action and movement help draw you out of a stagnant place, even if you need to proceed slowly and take lots of deep breaths.  I know that there is always more than one way to look at a situation, so even if it looks like your world is caving in, it might look only half bad in the morning. And, I know that perseverance matters.

In giving ourselves the space for quietude, we can look at things differently. We can take a moment to not freak out, and come to center, where our world quiets down. And settle into the world of our current truth. Our Now.

In this moment, I am giving myself permission to do things differently, to embrace and walk arm in arm with my family, where in the past I would bury my head and hide. I am setting important boundaries, establishing important territorial lines, and barking at those who would harm my family like the proverbial pit bull.

Stay away, troubled seas, for you won't harm me!

Sailor Val

Monday, January 7, 2013

Meet EHB Morgan: From the Outside Looking In

Hi. I’m Morgan. Much like Val, I am also a mom in the “arena.” However, I am not a mom. Not technically, at least. I’m a stepmom.

Many of you reading will relate to that last statement in polarizing ways. For moms with biological children, you’ll agree - that I am, indeed, not a mom. While others of you, stepmothers (or fathers), will disagree and say that absolutely, YES, I am a mom, despite my child not being biologically my own.

My story is that I actively and consciously chose not to have children of my own and married a man with a son. My husband and I have been together since just after my stepson was born and we have experienced many childhood milestones together--first words, potty training and first days of school, just to name a few. We are, however, one of two families my stepson shares, as his biological mother is still very much in the picture, with another husband and other children.

I, myself, am a child of divorce, and have grown up with an incredibly blended family, including several stepparents and various stepbrothers and stepsisters. Recalling these milestones and reflecting back, I could never have imagined we would be where we are today. Today, my stepson is 15, and is addicted to drugs. This has been going on for nearly three years, escalating each day, each week, each month. He has been expelled from school and remanded to a secondary institution as well as a drug and alcohol program and community service. He is angry, defiant, disrespectful, and unmotivated. He is not the boy I knew and loved. He is not the boy I helped raise. I don’t know this boy. I don’t like this boy.

My stepson not only has two families, he has two families that are on opposite ends of the spectrum. His father and I are the bad cops, the disciplinarians, with clear rules and expectations. His mother is the good cop, or the Disneyland mom. She has no routines and enforces no rules, boundaries or limitations on her child’s behavior. To say this has created dischord between our two homes would be an understatement. We parent one way, she parents another. Or not at all. Can you guess in which home my stepson currently resides?

While I have chosen not to have children biologically, I have taken to this role acting as if this boy is my own, putting his needs before mine, constantly asking myself, “What is in this boy’s best interests?” But as a stepmom, those things are often disregarded, resulting in, “You don’t understand because you don’t have any children.” And yes, I’ve had people say that to me, on more than one occasion.

So this whole process of having a child going through such tremendous life struggles, is also a struggle for me. I feel a little bit like I’m on the outside looking in, peering into the depths of someone else’s life, unable to have an opinion or decision-making power. But I am older and wiser than this boy, having already navigated my way through rough waters. So despite his behaviors and those of his mother’s, which are slightly less than favorable toward me, I still have this child’s best interests at the forefront of my mind. While I may not like him right now, I do still love him. And I want him to recover, succeed, and grow into the enormous potential I know he has.

I have grown a lot through this process, even if my stepson and his mother have not. And thanks to some amazingly strong and resilient women, I continue to grow which each new day. Being a stepmom doesn’t make me any less of a parent simply because I didn’t birth this child. Even though our bond is not the same as the one he shares with his biological mother, I still consider him my son and it breaks my heart to watch him go through this.

Val is many steps ahead of me, both on this journey with her children and in learning how to process it for herself. My hope is to continue to learn from her and others like her and one day, provide the kind of support and strength she has provided me with to let others know that they are, in fact, not alone, and very much on the inside.

- Morgan

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Moms Unite in the Arena

Our hearts and minds share our mutual pain, and in knowing I stand beside you, and you me, we are one in this. Together, we can climb out of the darkness, find a way to stand tall, and in that, remain sane.

Tomorrow,  I welcome my first guest Mom blogger, who steps into the Arena with me. Morgan is one of my EHB Moms, and I hope the first of many to help shed light and compassion on the hard work we do right here, together.

x, Val