Friday, June 20, 2014

Siblings: A Comment That Deserves Its Own Post

I wrote about how addiction is a family disease and how it affects everyone it touches, including siblings. Tori over at "The Recoverying" Addict In My House" ask her son how his brothers addiction has affected him. She used my post "Break The Stigma IV - The Siblings" to provide him questions about his thoughts about his brothers addiction.

This is an important read for us parents. Addiction is a family disease but I know from experience that it becomes central in our thoughts and heart to save our addicted child's life and there are times we leave those other people to fend for themselves. No matter if we intend to or not.

1. Addiction is a family disease. We have all heard that but what really does it mean. How far does it go?

The standard answer is that addiction effects the entire family. But it's more complicated than that. Any decent mother or father gets severely affected by an addicts disease, same thing with a wife or husband. When it comes to brothers and sisters, a few different factors apply. The first and most important is how close the relationship is. In my case, my brother is 7 1/2 years older than me, so by the time I was 7 years old he was hanging out with the "thugs" (wannabe's) and didn't want anything to do with me, and I think the fact that we are not super close has helped me be less affected by it. If we were close, than I believe it would affect me more emotionally. What does effect me, and the second factor, is how they act around us. What makes his disease mine is having to listen to him scream at my mom, act aggressive towards me, and then come around 2 hours later begging for money that I know he won't pay back. The fact that I had to study for my final exams having to listen to "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" and my mom cry all day is what makes it my disease. Honestly, if he didn't live here, I don't think I would give his addiction another thought. 

2. Easily we as parents see how devastating it is to us...

Talking to other siblings and children of addicts, I've noted that there are really three reactions that can occur. Sadness, anger, and indifference. Sadness develops into depression, and these people may end up becoming addicts themselves. The sad children's grades drop as their siblings addiction consumes them, and they try to cope any way they can. Unfortunately, this can include self harm, drinking, and even their own drug use, creating a bloody cycle. When the children react angrily, it's usually from not coping at all with emotion. They become angry, may start fights at school or work depending on their age (don't forget this will always affect them), and in general have a negative outlook on life, not so much as sadness but still significant. Finally, they can react with indifference, which is what I do. They try not to think about their siblings addiction whenever possible, and when they do they don't really feel emotion. While this may seem like the best of the three, it's not. People who react with indifference can end up becoming withdrawn from their relative. Before you know it it's not your brother or sister its the guy or girl that lives in the same house or the person at Thanksgiving or the family reunion.  No difference between them and the cousin who lives two states away and you see twice a year. 

3. Unconditional love:

Unfortunately, I don't think that unconditional love is automatically instilled upon siblings. Unconditional love develops over time, just like a husband and a wife. Sure, stumbles are okay, but if a sibling sees more bad than good, this unconditional love may never come to fruition. My brother is always going to be my brother and I love him, but if things keep happening we won't be close at all. We are not really that close now. We're not going to be the brothers that go out for drinks once a week. He's not going to be Godfather to my kids. We'll probably only see each other on Thanksgiving and Christmas, because God knows he won't remember anything else. So to answer the question, unconditional love is possible between siblings, but it doesn't naturally appear the way it does with parents and children. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Break the Stigma IV - The Siblings

What happens when a brother or sister is addicted to drugs?

I'd love to hear from brothers and sisters. I only can write about what I observed in my family with our sons sisters.

Addiction is a family disease. We have all heard that but what really does it mean? How far does it go?

Easily we as parents see how devastating it is to us. This is our baby. Immediately we jump to fix it and be the savior. We all know how well that works. But what about the other kids? Older and younger, how are they dealing with this upset in their family?

Parents understand unconditional love. It's something a father and mother have that is impossible to explain. What about brothers and sisters? A sibling has a different perspective.

Both of our daughters were older than our son, one by 10 years and one by 2 years. Both with different family situations. Both with different reactions. Neither of them were right, neither of them were wrong in the way they handled the circumstances. As a parent I had to accept both of their decisions and reactions.

I'm leaving out a lot of the details but in summary our oldest daughter never left our sons side. The sister closest to Alex's age had a baby and made a choice she could not have an addict in her life, even if it was her brother. For a father it was hard to accept what they had decided but after a long time I came to realize that both were right in their decision.

Addiction is not just about an addicted child and a parents. It affects every person that loves the addicted person. This is a family disease.

Once our son entered recovery each person including me made amends in the family. It's not just the addicted that must recognize the current state as built by the past. Today love flourishes and all is well. There were no big apologies or explanations. In our family we are more a family of actions and prove it. Don't tell me what you're going to do, just do it. (I'm not stealing from Nike, they stole it from us)

Breaking the stigma is not about living in the past with all the hurts and pain. Breaking the stigma is standing up in the present and accepting ANYONE for who they are. Today is the day that matters most.

Break the belief and stigma that addicts are losers and will be forever. For some people, they cannot let go. But that is a problem they must live with, it is not a problem we all must suffer.

Be the light, not the darkness. Recognize in yourself that each of us have the power to bust the stigma of addiction and dispel the myths and untruths of what addiction has come to represent.

Loving Sisters

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Disease...You Give Yourself (stigma III)

Addiction, it's a disease you give yourself. When does the addict accept the responsibility for themselves and own up to that it is their fault they are addicted to drugs? No one forced the drugs on them. They chose to smoke that joint, they chose to take that pill, they chose to snort that line, they chose to jam a needle in their arm. Why is it societies problem? Why should I care?

We all know the arguments from those that start off with that very paragraph. Most times it does no good to quote the statistics so you appeal to logic. Many smokers get lung cancer or emphysema, no one doubts that lung cancer and emphysema are diseases and the medical community agrees smoking directly causes these diseases. Eating too much red meat and the wrong diet leads to heart disease. We even call that one a disease in it's name. Overweight, no exercise, improper diet leads to diabetes which in turn can cause blindness and amputations of extremities. There are countless injuries attributed to activities we do and we know those activities can lead to injuries. Sit and talk to runners and the discussion will eventually turn to the injuries they have or are suffering so they can run.

No one sits around and verbally beats up and chastises people with these diseases. Myself included, I have sent get well cards, delivered flowers, driven them to doctors appointments and cooked meals for them.

But the person that suffers from addiction is different. They deserve the stigma of ADDICT. Yep, in capital letters.

For myself I never used drugs. Not even when growing up. I had other vices. So it was very hard for me to accept the disease model and understand, why don't they just simply quit? In fact I freely admit it took me 5 years to understand. 5 long years of internal struggle with myself and struggle with my son on the outside.

Myself not using drugs at times still makes it hard to understand the, "Why start?" question. I assume there are as many answers to that question as their are drug addicts.

However, I do understand one thing. Teenagers do dumb stuff. I hope I can get agreement on that one thing by all. Teenagers have been doing dumb stuff since the beginning of time. I don't care how old you are or how conservative you are now, it is only by sheer luck you survived your teenage years.

Our teenage children do dumb things and some of them try drugs. Some of them put them down but some of them can't. For lack of a better way of saying it, switches are flipped in them that are not flipped in others. They become addicted because their brains are different and then their brain is about to become very different due to the chemicals. THIS IS THE DISEASE.

For those of you that never did anything dumb in your life, I'll accept your criticism and judgmental chastising. For the rest of us it's time to look at people suffering from addiction and alcoholism without a stigma. It is time to realize that there is a person inside there and without help and love that person will be forever trapped in their own prison. No matter what we do to them on the outside.

BREAK THE STIGMA. Change the dialogue. Nothing will get better until we do things different and change what we believe about addiction and those addicted.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Breaking The Stigma, Part II

This blog is about our struggles and what Darlene and I learned through parenting and addict. There are times I almost feel I have to go back in time and read old posts to remember.

It's easy to put it all behind me and forget. However, something pulls at me to remember and stand tall to break the stigma. I am drawn to stand up and show that parents can survive this too. I know every single parent reading this knows exactly what I mean. There are times you wonder about your own survival, mental and physical. "How much more can I take?"

Where there is life there is hope. I have something to share. Every parent has the same dream but dreams are exactly what they are called.

It is heartache, it is pain, it is work and I am not talking about what your addicted one is going through. I am talking about every single parent. We must work on ourselves every bit as hard as our child must work on themselves.

This is why you work must work so hard.
Our Son

Monday, June 2, 2014

Breaking The Stigma

You are not alone. Four simple words but being the parent of an addict is the loneliest and most desperate place I have ever been.

What I found out long into the process is that we feel lonely because we choose that place. There isn't something from on high that dictates this is our problem and others cannot be troubled. We choose this because not only of the stigma of addiction for our loved one but also the stigma of being the "parent of an addict." Over and over we replay their childhood, what could we have done different, what did we miss, if only.....

A parent playing those games with themselves makes for poor company to anyone but another parent suffering through the same trauma. Just because a person hasn't been in your shoes does not mean they do not have the capacity to support and love you.

A big part of our problem lies in the public stigma of addiction. Addiction still is perceived as a flaw in a persons character, not a disease as it is recognized by the medical community. Even today I hear people say that when we call addiction or alcoholism a disease that is nothing more than an excuse, cop-out or simply permission for an addict or alcoholic to use or drink, "I can't help myself, I have a disease."

To break the next barrier in developing treatment for our loved ones is to break the stigma.

Drugs are illegal. Many of the symptoms of the disease involve illegal behavior, stealing, dealing, driving while impaired. I am not saying make drugs legal. Now I understand that being addicted to drugs involves multiple levels of illegal activity and many times those activities are symptoms of the disease.

An addict must suffer the natural consequences of their illegal activities but there comes a time the "system" must recognize and deal with these symptoms in a different manner in which it does today. Current methods used in the criminal justice system has had minimal effect in our treatment of addicted individuals. "The War On Drugs" has turned into "The War On Addicts". Today we are doing the same thing that has been done for 50 years with the same miserable results. The strategies being employed by the justice system were developed before our children were even born and they still work just as poorly then as they do now.

From my point of view this is one of the root causes for the stigma surrounding addiction and alcoholism. This keeps us parents and society from standing up and demanding different treatment than what has been failing for so long.

I want to rid myself of the stigma. That is why I am public with my name and contact info.

I am the parent of a son that was addicted to drugs. Today he is clear and sober, a father, home owner and a contributing member of society. Your addicted child does not have to be clear and sober to stand up to the world and be proud of them and to show them they are loved.

We are proud loving parents.
We all should be proud loving parents.