From Junkie to Substance Use Disorder

Just look at him, he’s a Junkie!

What is the image that is conjured up?

For me, it’s a malnourished, dirty person, slumped over with used needles laying around him in the gutter of a city, side street. I grew up in the 70’s and this was what was portrayed on T.V. so this is my immediate thought image when someone says, “junkie.”  Maybe you too have the same picture going? This person is a derelict with no future and a menace to society. One might say; “Whatever happens to him, he’ll get what he deserves…”

She’s a drug addict!

What is the image now?

Maybe not so different; a run down house full of food and drink trash, a couple of people strung-out… jobless and pan handling… maybe a neglected child roaming around. While these scenario’s may be realistic in some situations, they are not necessarily the primary presentation in life these days.  Regardless, one might say, “Once an addict, always an addict“… as if that is the whole identity of this person.

I believe the reaction produced in the onlooker using one of these terms is one of disdain, disgust, and avoidance.

Words matter when we are talking about people who suffer with addiction. Terms like junkie, addict, user, or abuser have the tendency to draw negative images and thoughts about, and towards, the person afflicted. It fully places the blame of their condition on their behavior and lack of self control. Period.

I confess, when I found out my son was self-medicating and misusing drugs, I was hard pressed not to think of these images in regard to my own son.  How can this be! Not my son! Not my family!  The images and stigma attached to these words bred fear and denial and kept me from seeking help sooner, for him, and for me.

Even as I published the post, What it felt like to watch my Son become an Addict, I confess I used the term Addict to grab attention because it is the familiar and popular term used these days. And, because it is the term often used even by those who struggle with addiction themselves: “Hi my name is Bob and I am a recovering addict” – the mantra at every support group meeting. I stand corrected, the more I research and learn.

The words we use need to change with the knowledge we now have about the disease of addiction.

My son suffered from a chronic brain disorder and he misused drugs as a way to try and help himself through pain and suffering on a variety of levels. Genetically, he was also predisposed to this disease. All it took was one smoke, one drink, one snort, alongside his broken predisposed brain, and he was both lured and overpowered by the disease of addiction which kept him from being able to make wise choices, a lot of the time.

“My son suffers with substance use disorder

What is the image now?

I believe this creates the image of a person battling a medical condition and produces the reaction of compassion.

Stigmatizing words need to be eradicated; They injure the person afflicted with the disease of addiction with a sense, or identity, of worthlessness and can cripple the ability of the family and the afflicted to seek and receive help when it is most needed.

Change is hard. But, as a culture, we must do it in order to save lives!

Every life matters because each of us has been created by a merciful and loving God; all lives are worthy of compassion and kindness and care because we are His created children.

So I challenge you to love those who are afflicted with addiction,

have compassion on them and use terms that correctly describe their illness and suffering so that they may see themselves worthy of help and seek it;

that others may treat them with respect and dignity while helping them;

and that you dear reader,

may do everything in your power to spur them on towards healing and a better quality of life.

 

 

Athletes at Higher Risk for Addiction?

I had no idea and it was never even on my radar to think it.

Athletes potentially have a higher risk towards substance misuse and addiction than the average high school student.

 

He’s a BEAST!

was the exclamation of two football coaches as they watched my son leap over the hurdles for his first time ever. With no previous training in hurdles, he filled an empty slot at a meet and he powered over them like a bull with the agility of a gazelle.  He was recruited for the football team on the spot.

That’s my boy!

Caleb was an athlete who excelled, earning him status from awards won at the state level, in recognition being a co-captain on both wrestling and football teams, and with purpose leading as an example of determination with a never-give-up attitude, for his teammates. Sports was his identity. It was his true joy.  I am comforted in knowing that he experienced the highs of accomplishment and pleasure in his experience as an athlete; literally, they were the best years of his short life.

Little did I know, shortly thereafter, he began experimenting with marijuana during this time of his life.  With accomplishments come expectations and pressure to perform and work to surpass your own records. Beating your body into submission brings pain; no pain, no gain, as they say.  I am fairly confident that he occasionally used weed to reduce anxiety and ease the pain of sore muscles.

This is where it all began.

Fast forward two more years………..An injury, was re-injured, and then re-injured again; smashed and rammed on the footfall field and stretched and torqued on the wrestling mat; surgery became inevitable. Surgery provided opiates to manage the pain. While I cannot say that this opiate use was the cause of his downward spiral into addiction, it certainly exacerbated the course in more than just the obvious way.  More than self medicating for physical pain, my son was self medicating for emotional pain.  It is my firm belief, that the injury and surgery that prevented him from finishing his senior year of wrestling season, plummeted him into depression.  You see, when an accomplished athlete suddenly cannot engage with his sport anymore, his identity and purpose is suddenly stripped away. This secondary pain became primary to the path of substance misuse for Caleb.  

My athlete was certainly one of those at higher risk for addiction.

But, no one would know this looking on from the outside; the facade of bravado that dominates the athletic realm, masked the inner pain he endured. Coupled with a genetic predisposition, it was a perfect set-up to propel him toward substance abuse.

Addiction became a BEAST bigger than he could have thought possible; It overpowered him like a bull and stole up on him like a gazelle.

BEAST v.s  BEAST

…there could be only one winner as they battled to the death…

What could have altered this course for my son?

That is the proverbial cry of this grieving parent, and every parent, who has lost a child to substance use disorder.

Thoughts anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What it Felt like to Watch my Son become an Addict

Being the parent of a child who suffers with addiction is one of the worst kept secrets in America – and it shouldn’t be. The stigma that surrounds addiction is fed by silence and ignorance.  This is why I am sharing; We, as a culture need to cast off stigma and put on truth.  This is my story…

THIS IS WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO WATCH MY SON BECOME ADDICTED

The hardest secret I tried to keep was the fact my son was addicted to drugs. In fact, I tried to keep it a secret even from myself through denial.  My mind raced:

This cannot be happening! I mean, We are a good Christian family; I home schooled my son most of his life, I took him to every wholesome event available to teach him right morals and values, my son chose baptism, and he would not be so foolish as to do drugs – he’s smarter than that! He’s a good kid, an accomplished athlete, and well liked by many.  A little weed is one thing, most all kids try that at least once, but harder drugs…no way!

Siding with denial earned me a grade of three “F’s” — Fear, Frustration, and Failure.

Fear: the kind of fear that felt like a tornado in my gut, pretty much immobilized me. Twisting and gathering speed, it worked it’s way up my esophagus and out my mouth like a putrid vomit, denial imploded and I wailed, “This IS happening! My son is using drugs!”  Imagine a child waking up from a nightmare and not having anyone to run to for comfort – that is what I felt like – living a nightmare and not having anywhere to go and sob my terror to, and so, I stayed silent.

In reality… who can you go talk to about your kid using drugs without risking judgment or opening your door to the local authorities. 

STIGMA answered THAT question for me … NO ONE!

The trifecta aligned. Frustration and Failure followed Fear and I was consumed.  This was a problem that I could not fix. I became an impotent mother – helpless and powerless. Time confirmed that my son was becoming addicted; changes in his sleep cycles, moods, and patterns of elusive behavior formed.  Money went missing, curfews were dissed, and normal life skills became obviously more difficult for him.

I wept, “How did this happen!” I was really good at beating myself up; I thought, “I must have done something really, really wrong – worst mother of the world award, right here!”

Dread overwhelmed when I began to think about other people finding out: “What would they think of us?” – “What would the repercussions be?”

Anger mounted.

Shame percolated.

I was a wreck most every day on the inside, but on the outside, I was “normal” —  only a handful of people knew my turmoil and they were just as impotent as I.

Grief began here.

My heart broke, and stunned as if with a taser, I moaned in dismay with a guttural whisper,  “Where is my son, the one I used to know…?” 

THIS IS WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO WATCH MY SON BECOME ADDICTED

You need to know this because you need to understand the pain and suffering that a parent endures as their child, with a broken brain, is taken ill by this disease named addiction.  YOU have the power to help erase the STIGMA that pervades and prevents people  from getting the help they need, parents and the child alike.

I am doing my part:

I am putting myself out there, vulnerable in my loss and exposing my experience, for all to see and hear.

Will you do your part? 

I beg you to do these 3 things:

  1. IF you are turning a blind eye,… don’t, and instead become educated about the truth of addiction
  2. IF you have been quick to judge & shun, stop… individuals and families affected by addiction suffer enough
  3. Always, reach out in love and have compassion and be supportive in tangible ways… love can bear all things

If we work as a team to cast off stigma and put on truth,

HOPE will grow, and we can reach those among us who are suffering and ease their pain, and bring healing in better proportions!

 

 

No Addict wants to Be an Addict!

My son did not wake up one morning and say to himself, ” I think I will be an addict….”

Addiction is like a disease and no one decides to have a disease.

There are three common screams that rise up from the gut of someone caught by addiction:

I am scared.

I just want to be Normal!

Why Me?

Put those lines in any order, no one comes before the other.

I know, because my son, who died this past May from an accidental multi-drug intoxication overdose told me so.

“Why Me”

are words that vocalize the dumbfounded frustration – this wasn’t suppose to happen to me!  I am a good person.  I tried to live a good life.  I have plans and this wasn’t one of them!  My son was a dedicated athlete, co-captain of the football and wrestling teams;

“He was a good kid, a good role model for kids in school,” Edward Wyzik, the Belchertown High School football coach, said. 

His actions demonstrated character qualities that mattered and affected the people around him in a positive way; so I even scream, as the mom, why him!

 

“I just want to be normal!”

are words that my son cried out in fits of exasperation – Why did God make me this way? he cried.  Plagued with a predisposition genetically, he’d been caught by the beast of addiction in his attempts to self medicate a weary soul that just wanted to feel better and to feel normal.  Anxiety and depression complicated and added to his daily burden. This fight to “be normal & feel normal” propelled him to seek out the drugs that calmed him, gave him rest, escape, and allowed him to feel normal for a few hours.  His use of drugs helped him to cope with life, at first reasonably perhaps, as an occasional marijuana high, but the predisposition enticed him on to harder drugs for better relief of his inner turmoil.

 

“I am scared”

are some of the last words my son spoke from his heart – weeping, he relayed this emotion to a friend just a few days before he died.  Addicts have broken brains and are a people in need of help.  They are not dumb.  I believe, that this admission of emotion was the first time he was truly acknowledging the severity of his disease and the hold it had over him, and he was scared.

He was scared because NO ADDICT WANTS TO BE AN ADDICT. 

Unfortunately, in my sons state of fear he made poor choices due to the chemical brain changes that come with addiction, and I am convinced, he attempted to escape the fear of full relapse and tried to ease his painful predicament by trying a new drug – something he told me “he would never do“… heroin; cheaper and quicker than his usual drugs of choice.  The power of the disease of addiction is often more than the suffering person can handle and they are thrust into doing things they really don’t want to do, but are compelled to do, because of the deceptive power of drugs and the physiological marks of the disease.

 

These are things people need to know. Addicts are crying out; they want to be normal and they are afraid.

As a culture, we need to erase the stigma that says addicts are low-life’s with nothing good to offer society. We, as a culture need to remember that these people are someone’s son or daughter, 

they are people who had eyes and heart for a future, often times they are some of the gentlest souls in their peer groups because they are able to empathize with others who struggled in life.  They are individuals created by our heavenly Father who are worthy to be helped and loved with a love that does not judge, but seeks to fight the disease of addiction alongside them.

A line taken from the ShatterProof website, based out of New York:

“When a person with substance use disorder has internalized the negative stigma of the disease, it directly damages that person’s chances of recovery.4″

Final message today:

Get  rid of your preconceived misunderstandings about this disease of addiction and see the one addicted, as a person in need of encouragement, care, and love and do something that will speak to them and possibly reach their brokenness and give them the lift they may need to seek out recovery and stay in recovery.

We cannot fix and cure the disease of addiction for our loved ones, but we can certainly do better as a culture to give every good opportunity and HOPE for a healed & sober future for those who suffer with this brain disease called addiction.

 

My Son Died of an Overdose

Standing for almost two hours in a receiving line following the Memorial Service for my son, giving multiple hugs and shedding buckets of tears… the phrase I reiterated the most was,

“There just are no good words, so don’t even try.”

There are certain life events that cannot be touched with words because the depth of pain is visceral and beyond words.

“My son died of an overdose,” is one of those life events.

What words can follow that?

By all means, say to the grieving family, “I am sorry” – “I am here whenever you need me,” because we need to know people are standing with us in our pain.

Don’t say things like, “Time will heal” or “At least you have other children,” because time doesn’t “heal,” it may lessen the raw-ness, but our hearts will forever be broken…and while our other children are a blessing, not one of them is my son who just died.  Our lives have been permanently altered.

No.  There just are no good words, so don’t even try.

Instead, just be there without judgment.

You see, the pain we have been suffering did not start on the day my son died.  It started on the day we found out that our son was addicted to drugs.  It continued for the years that we hid in shame, and fear, because we did not want to be “that family” with “that kid,” knowing the stigma and judgment that would follow; and sadly, we did reap those jabs in various ways from time to time, as it became apparent to others outside the family that our son was using drugs.  We wept terribly as we scrambled to try and help him and figure out how to handle this disease that our son was now afflicted with.

Underneath the addiction, our son was a good person; kindhearted, funny, and creative. He was an encourage-er to others who struggled in life and he was a protector in that he sought to stick-up for the weaker one among the crowd.  This is the son we miss terribly.  This is the son we fought for and stood alongside through thick and thin.

I suggest that you replace any hint of judgment with love and compassion because addiction does not discriminate. Do not ever think, “this will never happen in my town, to my family – to my child…”  Because statistics and the reality of our culture right now says otherwise.  Sadly, I know.

So, are there any words to say?

Yes, I have words to say and I was given an opportunity to say them at a recent, local venue promoting AWARENESS & RECOVERY in my little town of Belchertown, Massachusetts this past weekend. I would be grateful if you would take the time to hear this message and to pass it along because these are the words that need to follow “My Son Died of an Overdose.”

Click on the preceding phrase, and turn your sound on to hear my words in a speech I gave.

“For (we) can do all things through Christ who gives (us) strength.” Philippians 4:13

Which came first? The Chicken or the egg?

Which came first? The Chicken or the egg?

A classic, arguable question that can be easily answered if one looks to the Word.  On the fifth day, God created “every winged bird according to its kind.” Genesis 1:21b. So, there you have it – he did not create all the eggs to hatch, but he created the winged bird first.

Who should reach out first when an offense has been made?

A tough question, but also easily answered if one looks to the Word.  Since the days following creation, God has been offended throughout history.  Yet, in love, He reached out with his Son, Jesus; John 3:16 explains – “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son…” – Why? So that all the offenders, of God the Father, could be forgiven and given the ability to go to heaven and have eternal life.  John 3:17 tells us what Jesus was NOT given for: with grace, “God did not send his Son into to the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.

God reached out first and that’s what we ought to do also…in love and in grace.

What kind of picture would humanity be in if God waited for the offenders (us) to reach out to him before he gave his only Son to die?  I know God would still be waiting, because we are naturally a stubborn people, and there would be no hope in this life. But no, and thank God, He did not wait.  HE LOVED US FIRST is what 1 John 4:19 tells us. Not because we deserved it, but because God is mercy.

“We love, because he first loved us.”

There you have it – We, who have been offended, must reach out first in love and in grace and offer continual love and mercy to the one who maybe doesn’t deserve it.

In this action, HOPE will prevail and relationships will be healed, as our broken humanity is healed through the blood & sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  May this New Year be a year of healing broken relationships:  between you and God, and between you and others, in love, grace, and mercy.

New Year Resolution: in HIS face!

 

CORAM  DEO

This is what I aim to stand on as far as a New Year resolution for 2018.

CORAM DEO = in the face of God; meaning ….. whatever I do,

  ….. whatever I say,

is in the face of God – done before Him in full view.

If I claim this one Latin phrase, all the change and goodness that I may desire for my life this coming New Year will then come forth.  If I consider every action & every word spoken is done with Jesus standing right before me, seeing and listening, cuz He is…omniscient and all… there is nowhere I can hide where He is not already there… then I hope that my choices of actions and words will be sifted out and carefully considered before I reveal them.

In essence – my goal is to please the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In this, I will hope to love as I have been loved, accept as I have been accepted, forgive as I have been forgiven, and get ready to be filled with the JOY & HOPE that will spring up!

Like Robin William’s once stood up proclaiming, Sieze the day!

 I stand up and say: CORAM DEO!

Will you join me?

I wish for each of you, a God Blessed New Year 2018 ahead!

 

 

I Seem to Have an Elephant Sitting on My Chest

 

I seem to have an elephant sitting on my chest – or so that’s what it feels like in my brain when I try to think what to say or write these days.

It has been months since I posted on this blog.

Does it even matter, I ask myself.

What do I have to say that hasn’t already been said?

Truth is: N O T H I N G.

Honestly, I began this venture of blogging because I wrote a book.  Forty-nine years of living and raising children and fighting the good fight, and then, I stayed up late for three months and wrote a book, and it was published three months later.  Not the usual progression, yet this is the way God paved the way for me and so, I had this book and I needed a platform (i.e. a place to connect with readers) to sell my book. Thus this site was born. I wrote, I sold some books and now, five years later,  I stumble around in my melancholy mind for words, like the proverbial writer who stares at the blank paper on a typewriter.

And, I mostly give my books away as an offering of help, from one to another.

Is this what God intended when he paved the way for me to be published?

The thing is, I am a bit of a hypocrite. My brain knows and imparts right information and advice, yet sometimes, I do not even live my own words. I have even been known to tell myself, Sheryl, you should read your own book; read your own blog; listen to your own lecture; take your own advice!

The problem is, that I forget; we forget. We are a forgetful people.

The word LOVE / the message of LOVE appears in the Bible between 300 to 500 times, depending on which version you read. I think God  knows for certain that we are a forgetful people; and so, He brings up topics over and over in different ways so that the message is eventually and hopefully heard.

And so, I fail.

Don’t we all?

I have forgotten that I am me, created by my heavenly Father, and loved.

Maybe what I have to say isn’t new.

Maybe posting on my blog doesn’t really mater.

But,

What matters is, that I share the Truth and Love of Jesus in whatever venue is available to me.

What venue has God has opened for you?

Join me in pushing that elephant off!

Stop staring at the proverbial blank page of life and opportunity before you and speak, share, and love others around you by proclaiming the Name of Jesus and His LOVE.

Dear reader, 

You are loved – today and always by a most loving and merciful Father.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

 

 

 

 

 

WORD – Part 5: Expect Two Things

As I said, my WORD for 2017 is: LIFE.

Living my WORD, is not easy.  It’s a bit like being a mother.

As a mother, I know that I am loved by my husband and children, and I certainly do “being love” 24/7, even when it doesn’t appear that way. Once a baby comes out of a mother’s womb, there is little room for the “I”… and forgiveness is a constant flowing gift, both sought after, and offered,

because mothers deal with a lot of messes.

So, what of the “E” in LIFE?

“E” is for Expect.

Expect two things.

ONE: Expect to stumble. 

We will be unlovable.

We will not want to love others.

We will be selfish.

We will hold grudges.

Right? This is realistic because we are perfectly imperfect humans. WE WILL STUMBLE as we live LIFE out.

The Psalmist knew this well and encourages us:“…though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.” Psalm 37:24

so…TWO: Expect to be upheld.

Upheld conjures up a cradle image to me, cupped hands holding a soggy baby bird that fell from the safety of the nest due to the storm.

That is what the LORD does for us. And we can expect this loving care from him: to be held with gentleness.

This WORD: LIFE seems to have gone full circle…

You are loved.

Be love to others.

Get rid of the “I” and give dangerously.

Be forgiven and forgive others.

Expect, to stumble and expect to be upheld…and loved….round and round we go in this WORD: LIFE!

Love is the thread through it all.

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There is always a song of Hope to be sung!

Have you read my published song of HOPE?

Towdah, A Cancer Survivor’s Song of Hope is available on Amazon, just click on this title. Towdah, addresses key issues universally prominent in any kind of trial, even though this is a telling of my journey through cancer.

Happy New Year 2017

WORD – Part 4: The “F” Word

And now the “F” word:

not four letters, but eleven.

Forgiveness.

***

LIFE.

Loved.

And being love.

“I”, giving dangerously.

and now, Forgiveness.

Receiving it, is freedom.  Offering it, fills up that life to the full.

elizaphotography-053

Forgiveness is like a pry bar, it looses the nails of guilt & shame.

Forgiveness is like a salve, it soothes the wounds.

Forgiveness is like duct tape, it binds the broken back together.

Forgiveness is like a key, it opens the door to healing.

Have you been forgiven and felt the gift of freedom deep inside your soul?

If you acknowledge the Christ as your Savior, you no doubt understand this freedom gift.  When asked, Jesus gives forgiveness both readily and abundantly; free of charge to us.  He has already paid for the price of forgiveness with his life.

Yes, receiving it, is freedom.

Offering it to others is the rest of the story.  Jesus even said that we are required to forgive others, for if we do not, we cannot receive forgiveness from him.

Why is that?

The freedom gift is not one we can keep to ourselves, it is meant to be a shared gift; once we have experienced it, we must freely share it with others.

I think perhaps, it is an example of giving dangerously.

How often should we offer forgiveness?

This exact question was presented to Jesus in the scriptures.

His answer? Forgive a lot…more than we would find easy or comfortable.

Moral of the story? Throw down the stones and hug. Hug and offer forgiveness when someone has wronged you. In this way, you will be healing to another

and to yourself, equally.

In the offering of forgiveness, you gain life to the full!