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

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Yes! You DO Need an Advocate

For the life of me, did I ever think I would need a team of people to help me navigate our boys through their school years?  Absolutely not! <A-hem> Well, yes, apparently I do, and as I now know, I should have had these people on board since about day 1 of kindergarten....

What I learned today is that an IEP (which stands for Individual Education Plan - and assures your child is given an appropriate education for any disability they may have - our younger son is deaf in one ear) should be monitored with outside help from someone who knows and understands the laws and rights of people with disabilities. Now, you may already be a really smart person who can advocate for you/your child's rights and needs. But, unless you know the full scope of what is acceptable and appropriate for a person with disabilities, and specifically to their particular disability, it is best to NOT navigate these waters by oneself, ie. myself. Also, if you are a sweet person who wants everyone to live together in harmony (um, that would be me), that you'd better get yourself an Advocate, and Fast, like by tomorrow at 11:00 am. You can do a Google search for Educational Advocate, or can start asking everyone you know if they can recommend a good Advocate in your area. People will know, and they will talk your ear off for about 22 minutes telling you how valuable their Advocate is, I mean REALLY valuable, kind of like flowers to a honey bee sort of valuable...

Let's say your child does not have an IEP (our older son did not, and each time I tried to get him one, we were denied), then the Advocate can help point you in the direction for having your child tested to see if they do qualify. Your Advocate will review these test results to make sure they are interpreted correctly. Please Do NOT leave this up to your beloved school administrators. They often make mistakes, they may be inexperienced to correctly interpret the information, their testing methods may be outdated. They may try to cover up, or conveniently "bury" information that might be a very important indicator for necessary services. In the case of our older son, repeated errors (or maybe cover-ups-?) were made and our son, instead of getting the help he so desperately needed, turned to other methods to get help. Methods called drugs. Not good at all. Once his cries for help became loud enough, the school administration said it was a "drug problem" and they attempted to wash their hands of us.

As I look back on all we have been through, I realize that if we HAD hired an Advocate when our boys started school, then things that went gravely wrong could have been avoided. So, let me say this again, get yourself an Educational Advocate. It could literally be the difference between life and death for your child. It nearly was for ours.

If you are in the Southern California area and would like more information on our team (or even if you live elsewhere), please email me or leave me a comment, and I will help you find names, dates, and places that are appropriate for your situation. At the very least, I will help point you in the right direction, I promise.

x, Val

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is there such thing as an "Incident Free" family?

Source: via Wilma on Pinterest

The email began like this, "I realize that you may have some questions regarding the incident that took place with your student, and the consequences of that." All righty.... so, here I am once again, just shaking my head... asking question to the universe that go something like this...
  • So, why? WHY must we be the family with the kid that is involved in the "incident"?
  • Why is it so hard to do the right thing when you are a teen? 
  • Lots of other teens don't rock the boat like ours do... what's with that???
  • Does he NOT understand the consequences of his actions? 
This event was/is such a big deal to his future, it was expensive, and he had been so prepared to go with success. Once again, we have overprivileged him. When we WE learn??? Maybe this time. I hope this time. 

So, here we are again, faced with getting our ducks in a row. I swear, I am going to put those ducks on one tight leash... anything to keep those ducks in one straight line. God, give me strength. Please...

One thing I've learned is that I can't take situations like this to heart. I can feel embarrassed for myself and our family. But in reality, when all I want to do is crawl in a hole and curl up with a pillow over my head, I can't do it. I have learned that, even though that hole is comfortable in the moment, it gets more and more uncomfortable the longer I hide. <sigh> So, I have learned by now to put on my big girl pants, and seek out a friend/mate/non-judgemental family member to unload this latest set of indiscretions. Preferably someone who knows what this is all about, and can empathize with me. For once I do that, this big ol' nasty seems to not be quite so big, or so bad. And, even if it really is just that- Big and Bad, at least I know I have someone standing by my side with their emotional arm around me, and (sniff) I can do this... 

Yep, help me outta this hole, and get me those pants. I've got work to do!

I'm with you in this, friend...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Year of Possibilities

As we begin a new year, and look ahead to possibilities and change, 
I wish smooth sailing as we forge the waters ahead. 

With luck and love,
x, Val