We Must Embrace Harm Reduction – Time to Stop Incarcerating Sick People And Treat Them With Medically Sound Intervention

This past week I was privileged to be a guest on Talk Recovery Radio 100.5 Vancouver.  I hope you will take the time to listen to that interview.  It was streamed live on Talk Recovery’s Facebook as well as available on their podcast.

https://player.fm/series/talk-recovery-radio/june-ariano-jakes-author-of-addiction-a-mothers-story

 

As well,  I have now finished the Third Edition of Addiction: A Mother’s Story.  If you previously read the first or second editions of Addiction: A Mother’s Story you will find a third of the content repeated.  A third revised content and a third completely new content, with a focus on harm reduction.

Below you will find Chapter 66 of the Third Edition – I feel it falls in line with some of the discussion I shared on Talk Recovery Radio  – We Must Embrace Harm Reduction – Time to Stop Incarcerating Sick People And Treat Them With Medically Sound Intervention

I am sure that every one of you who has a loved one struggling with drug addiction and the resulting criminal activities will feel as passionately as I do about this subject.

Do we, as a society, keep doing what we have always done, or do we stop that revolving door and admit that what we have been doing is not working? It is not working now. It never worked in the past. And it won’t work in the future.

Our prisons, worldwide, are overflowing with people whose crimes are related to their drug addiction. Most of those people likely made that first moral choice to try potentially addictive drugs in their teen years or early twenties. And I believe it would be fairly safe to say that none of those who experimented with drugs ever expected to become addicted. Never expected to be that person who would lose everything.

Those are the years when every generation tends to take the biggest risks. In the case of drugs, not any one of our loved ones ever expected to become addicted to the drugs they were experimenting with. It was just supposed to be fun. It was just supposed to be a party.

And for some, it was just a party.

As I have previously said, it wasn’t that they were stronger or more determined. It wasn’t that they had willpower and our child didn’t. It wasn’t because they were born into a certain family or attended a certain school or lived in a certain area. None of that matters. It was simply because they did not have the disease of addiction, and our child did.

Many people will argue that it is a moral choice, not a disease. As you know by now, my feeling about addiction is that the very first time our loved one took a potentially addictive drug, they made a moral choice. They crossed that line. But once addiction raises its ugly head, it is a disease, albeit a disease with a choice. At any time, an addict can stop using their drug of choice, and the disease halts. They will always have that propensity, but they will have stopped their addiction in its tracks. Sounds simple enough.

Well, if it were that simple, we would not have hundreds of millions of people struggling with addictions so severe that they lose everything in life they love. Everything and everyone they care about for that next fix or that next drink.

Addiction is a disease, and as a society, we have to stop treating addicted people with punishment. Worldwide, countries are building more and bigger prisons to house all those people who have committed crimes to feed their addiction.

Now don’t get me wrong, I too believe that people should have to pay for crimes they commit. I am not saying they should not be held accountable. I am only saying that incarceration is not the long-term answer.

Instead of building more and bigger prisons, why are we not turning those resources around and providing places of help for those struggling with addiction.

We will never “punish” our way out of a health crisis. And that is exactly what addiction is. It is a health crisis of monumental proportions. Punishing very sick people for being sick makes about as much sense as spanking a child for hitting their sibling and then telling them “don’t hit.”

If nothing changes, nothing changes. It is as simple as that.

The average cost to incarcerate one person is $115,000 per year. I say the average cost because minimum-security prisons would be less, maximum- security prisons would be more.

What if our governments got smart and admitted what they clearly know: that the status quo is not working?

On average, 90% of imprisoned people are for one reason or another there for drug- or alcohol-related crimes—possession, robberies to support a drug habit, car thefts, home invasions, assaults, spousal abuse, prostitution to support a drug habit, DUIs, vehicular homicide while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, fraud, identity theft, credit-card theft, shoplifting. The list goes on and on. But the common denominator is that 90% of the imprisoned population is in for substance-abuse-related offences, and 70% of them are battling severe addictions.

We need places of help. We need places of hope. Punishing sick people for committing crime, without addressing the root cause does absolutely nothing to address their disease. If we help those struggling with their addiction, they won’t have that need to turn to criminal activity. The revolving door of the criminal justice system must end for those battling addiction.

From my many years of experience in the field of drug addiction, both with Nathan’s devastating addiction and with the work I do with those battling addictions, homelessness and mental illness, on the street, I have come to realize there are only two reasons people use drugs. Curiosity and pain.

People are naturally curious and that may well be what first brought your loved one to try an illegal substance. It may be as simple as that. And that curiosity led them down a path they could never had imagined in their worst nightmare and neither could you.

The second reason and this is more complex, is pain. I say this is more complex because we have many different types of pain. It may be physical pain. Like my son initially prescribed opiates because of a motor vehicle accident. And as he told me years later, “I loved the feeling I got from that medication”. It could be pain from a skiing or sports injury. A ruptured disc from lifting something the wrong way. Something that caused extreme physical pain and needed to be treated with an opiate.

Now I am not saying that everyone who takes an opiate loves it because that is not the case. When I had surgery and was given morphine, I hated the feeling and told the nurse I didn’t want it again. Clearly my physiology is different than Nathan’s. It left me very uncomfortable. It left him initially feeling relaxed, peaceful and warm. And that is the difference being someone with the disease of addiction and another without that disease.

It may be emotional pain, perhaps a sexual assault, maybe domestic violence, the death of a loved one, continuous bullying, seeing a traumatic event. Perhaps PTSD. An emotional pain that leaves you feeling broken or isolated and you found that taking that medication left over in the medicine cabinet when you got your wisdom teeth out, helped. You forgot for a while with its lulling affect. So many people are suffering in silence and we may not even be aware of it.

When addiction takes control of your life, and it does take control, it leaves the person addicted feeling helpless and hopeless. I will repeat it again, look into the eyes of someone struggling so severely with addiction and you will see sadness, pain, hurt and hopelessness.

Repeating the comment Nathan once said to me, after many years in his addiction, “I used to have hope, Mom, but I don’t anymore. I used to believe that things would change, but I don’t believe they will. I accept this is my life. I want it to be different. I just don’t know how to do that anymore”.

They are stuck.   We have to offer every bit of help we can. And help is there. But we need to make it readily and easily available. People struggling cannot go through hoop after hoop. They will give up. We have to meet people where they are at and provide them with the best possible treatment option, individualized care that works for them. Addiction treatment is not a “one size fits all” disease any more than any other chronic or potentially terminal disease is. An individual care plan must be established for people to achieve the best and safest results for themselves.

It is stunning to note that 80% of people struggling with the disease of addiction are not receiving treatment. That is staggering. We are failing people by keeping them isolated, stigmatized and living in shame.

We have to improve a person’s chance of success by normalizing their treatment. And what may be effective treatment for one person will not be effective for another.

Abstinence alone, when dealing with opioid use disorder rarely work long term. Statics are not in their favour. But we have medications available that have proven highly effective treating addiction. Highly effective. Science, not emotions should guide decisions around addiction and harm reduction. We need a continuum of care with evidence based, immediate access to treatment.

We have to make it easier for people struggling to access effective medication. Every doctor should be able and willing to prescribe it and  all pharmacies should have it available to fill those prescriptions. Not just in larger communities but in every community in every town and city everywhere. Because this issue is everywhere. Methadone, Methadose and buprenorphine (Suboxone) are highly effective in the treatment of opioid addiction. I see first hand how it gives those we love their lives back. These are life saving medications.

Far to many people take the attitude that you are just exchanging one drug for another. Or that you should be weaned off it as quickly as possible.

I disagree completely. And so does medical science. The facts are evident. These highly effective medications can stabilize the life of a very sick person. We would never stigmatized a diabetic for taking insulin or a person with arthritis taking anti-inflamatories, or someone with high blood pressure taking medication. Those are all chronic diseases. Then why do we treat those battling the disease of addiction with any less awareness, understanding or compassion. If taking a medication every day to stay healthy is wrong or a sign of weakness, then we are all wrong and we are all weak. Addiction is a disease that no one ever thought they would get. Absolutely no one. But they did. They made a decision at one point in their life and that decision gave birth to the disease of addiction in their life.

By the time a loved one struggling with addiction is ready for help, they may have been through considerable trauma. As I have said before, those people in the illegal drug trade are ruthless.

They may be struggling with the underlying causes as to their initial drug use. We have to, as a society, do everything we can to offer support, counseling, and understanding. This is not a quick fix. And we should not expect it to be. But help is available and should be much more easily assessable.

And what about those individuals that have tried everything available. They have gone through detox. They have gone to treatment facilities. They have been on Methadone and Methadose and Suboxone. But they cannot get on top of their addiction. That grip just will not let them go. Do we forget about them?

Absolutely not. And this is where we have to embrace other means of harm reduction. As I have previously said, this is not a “one size treatment fits all” disease. We have to think outside the box. It may not be popular. It may not be what many want to see happen. But it saves lives for those people who would otherwise never get a handle on their addiction. Specialized clinics that provide prescription heroin or hydro-morphine injections daily. Where a person struggling goes in a few times a day for their medication. They are no longer using toxic illegal drugs sold on the street. They are not overdosing. Crime goes down. They are seen thoughout the day by a nurse and they are able to stabilize their health and stabilize their life. And that is a very good thing. Like I said, many in society will not consider this a popular treatment but it is not them that is struggling every day just to make it through the day. We have to keep our minds open to effective possibilities. Popular or not. For some, this is the only option they have left. And for them it works.

Drug addiction is a chronic and deadly disease. If we keep incarcerating sick people, keep punishing them, without giving them the help and medical intervention they desperately need then the cycle continues. But if we offer treatment then we give each of those people the opportunity to break the chains of addiction holding them hostage.

Everyone wins every time a person struggling with the disease of addiction gets help. We then have another responsible adult in our community—contributing in a healthy manner.

Crime would go down astronomically. The costs of health care, emergency personnel, police, the courts, and all the other services related to substance abuse would decrease if members of our addicted population received the proper treatment.

Addiction is a disease. The status quo doesn’t work. It is time to rewrite some of our laws. Every day that we delay, more very sick people continue in the revolving door. And sadly, many die while our governments world wide are building more prisons.

We will always deal with the naysayers who believe we should simply lock up addicts and throw away the key. And that is absolutely ridiculous. Too often, though, people have stayed silent when their voices could have made a difference. We can’t stay silent any longer. The lives of our sons and daughters are depending on us. We need to speak up and let our politicians know that it’s time to see addiction for what it is: a disease that has far too many of our loved ones in its grip.

Until next time – take care of yourselves – talking care of yourself cannot be seen as a luxury – it is a necessity – remember in all the kayos of addiction, you count.  Be kind to yourselves.

Much love,

June

Smiling On The Outside, Crying On The Inside

So often those of true heartbreak survive simply by putting on a brave face and sending that message out to the world “I’m strong.  I’m okay. I am handling this. Things are fine.” And while we learn to do that simply as a survival technique and because sadly we may be the only one pulling on that end of the tug-of-war rope trying to rescue our loved one, inside we feel broken.

I call that “smiling on the outside, crying on the inside”.  I think as parents with loved ones addicted we can all relate to that.

This is something we have learned to do. Perhaps you grew up in a home where there was domestic violence. Perhaps you yourself grew up in a home where alcohol or drugs were an issue. You learned at a young age to put on “a brave face” for the outside world.

Maybe you were fortunate to be raised in a loving home with none of those issues and that happy face was just that, “happy”. It was real. There were no fears to deal with. But as a parent you have found yourself in the throws of your children’s struggle with drug or alcohol misuse.

You are trying everything you can to hold onto that lifeline, trying to pull your loved one back.

I think of people as a beautiful heavy yet fragile ceramic vase – if every time you walked by a beautiful vase and banged it with a parcel or your keys or your purse, eventually it starts to break down.  At first it is little scratches on the surface, eventually the vase starts to crack.  And then crumble.  We are like that.  Physically, emotionally, we need someone to “help us move that vase”, if that makes sense.

If it were a beautiful vase, we would ask a friend to come and help us move the vase to a place where it wouldn’t get so damaged.

We need to reach out as hurting people as well, to those we feel safe with.  To someone we trust. As a parent who is watching your teen or adult child struggling with addiction you have tried everything you possibly could. Yet often it feels like there is nothing you can do.  You have no power or control to change their behavior or circumstances.  And so we build these walls around us, those walls being the face others see, “I am just fine”, because we believe those walls can keep us safe where in reality those walls keep us trapped.

I don’t know if that makes sense to you but I think it probably does.  I hope it does.

We have to know who it is safe to “let down those walls” with.   One of the most important steps to take if someone you love is struggling with addiction is to find yourself a support system. A safe place to go where others understand your journey because they too have a loved one struggling. A place that validates your feelings.

Remember, what you are going through is not your fault. Often as Moms we feel “Mom guilt”. If you are a mother you know exactly what I mean. If our children are hurting or something has gone terribly wrong, like the rise of addiction, we blame ourselves. What did I do wrong? We have to remember we did not cause the addiction. We are not to blame. Addiction is a disease and unfortunately our loved ones took that initial step to try a substance never believing they would be held hostage to it. And that ultimately, that decision would hold you hostage. Your loved one hostage to the substance. You hostage to their behavior.  And sadly, our loved ones behaviors or decisions are not changed by our time frame!!

Your “vase” is full and it is heavy – but know you are not alone. Join a support network such as Parent’s Forever or find a NarAnon Support Group in your community. Or reach out to a friend who understands your journey because they to have walked it with a loved one.   Or feel free to get in touch with me anytime.  Even if it is just to vent about your day.  We all need someone to feel “safe” with.

Just remember you are not alone – even if you feel like you are, especially when you have no family around to help and support you.  When that load feel too heavy, that is when you reach out to those who truly care.  Put me on that list!!

Take care and be kind to yourself,

June

Those Suffering With Addiction And Homelessness And Their Treatment Within The Healthcare System

For all of us who have loved ones struggling with drug addiction or chronic alcoholism, as well as those of you who may work in the field of addiction, we are acutely aware that the treatment of those we love and care deeply for is not always the level of compassionate care we would hope our loved ones would receive.

Too often society looks at the behaviors related to one’s addiction instead of looking at the person suffering and struggling with that addiction.

My son recently recorded a presentation I gave to a group of first responders and ER nurses and I want to share that video with you.  (He probably should have edited out the part where I needed to find my glasses!! )   What can I say, it is organic, it is real!!

I believe many of you will relate to what I am saying in this video.  If you think it may help others better understand I hope you will consider sharing it with friends and family.  It is only when we let people “see” the person struggling, consider why, use compassion and kindness instead or vitriol, hear stories, can we hope to ease the stigma around addiction.  Erase the shame so often felt by those struggling.  Together we can – we are stronger together,

We are making progress but we have a very long way yet to go.  We cannot slow down.

You can watch this presentation on YouTube:

I hope each of you are taking the time to look after yourselves.  I know when those we love are suffering it is easy to get lost, putting yourself last.  Remember taking care of you is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

I hope this video will re-enforce what you already know.  That it will validate what you know to be true.

Take care and please keep in touch.  I truly care.

 

Much love,

June

Ask Why? There is Always A Reason

Through all the years of living, volunteering and working in the world of addiction, I have come to realize, there are only two reasons people try drugs.

  • Curiosity
  • Pain

Curiosity – that is easy to understand. We are naturally curious beings. We think we are invincible. Who ever thought curiosity could have such devastating consequences?

Physical pain. We all can identify with that. Sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents, surgeries, falls, wisdom teeth being removed. A doctor prescribes medication for pain. Sadly, for many, that initial treatment for pain, going unchecked, leads to a debilitating addiction to narcotics.

Emotional pain. Emotional pain is much more complex. Perhaps you are living in a home with domestic violence.   Husband/wife/parent comes home after work and starts drinking. The more he (she) drinks, the meaner he gets. Mom gets hit. The children stay in their bedroom scared. Feeling helpless.

Perhaps that emotional pain is the result of being sexually abused as a child. Or a sexual assault. Bullying. Being yelled at. Being made to feel you are not good enough or a disappointment. Loneliness. Isolation. Abandonment.

The reasons for emotional pain are vast. And emotional pain is generally created by someone you should have been able to feel safe with.

Young males, middle-aged men make up a hugely disproportionate percentage of the population struggling with addiction, untreated mental illness, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, death due to overdose and suicide.

The disparity in numbers is staggering. Men are not reaching out for the help they so desperately need and deserve. For too long we have heard the comments, “Be a big boy”. “Big boys don’t cry”. “Act like a man”. Far to many sons have been made to feel they are a disappointment to their fathers.

And what has been the result? They don’t talk. They bottle up the hurts, the fears, the abuses, the terror, the bullying, the sadness. But those feelings of despair don’t just disappear. They fill that child or young person with feelings of self-loathing, shame, guilt.

Men don’t share their feelings in the same way women do. As a man, when was the last time you told a friend or co-worker, you felt sad? You were depressed? You were struggling? Probably never.

So what happens all too frequently? Men self-medicate with alcohol or drugs and for a short period of time they feel better. The problems don’t go away though, they are just masked for a brief while. So men drink a little more, or use a little more and before long, they have completely lost control.

And that is a tragedy. We need to create an environment where men can feel safe being vulnerable. It is only when men begin to reach out and say, “I need help” can we hope to reduce the pain and trauma caused in childhood or in the teen/young adult years.

If we are to save the lives of those struggling, we have to ensure they feel heard. That their fears and trauma are validated. Where they are made to feel safe and cared about in a compassionate setting.

We are loosing far to many loved ones because of feelings of shame and the stigmas we place on abuses. We have to pull back the shades and treat the causes. We will continue to lose sons, brothers, fathers, friends to drug and alcohol abuse, to overdose and to suicide.

Show respect, kindness and compassion to everyone you meet. You walk in no one elses shoes. You do not know their story.

Just know, that behind every single person struggling with addiction, overdose, suicidal thoughts, there is a reason. And that reason is untreated pain. Pain that has never been exposed. As a society we must care enough to reach out and take that hand. See the person, not just the addiction. Listen to their story. They have one.

Be that person to someone, you wish someone had been for you.

Remember to take care of yourselves.

The Face In The Mirror

The past is the past – time to let it go!!

Far to often we stay stuck in the past.  What we did.   What we regret.  What we wish we had done differently.  We constantly beat ourselves up with “what if I had only….”.

That is a sentiment what keeps us stuck.  It keeps us regretting.  It keeps us in pain.  It keeps us in “blame” mode.

I know as parents our actions are with the very best of intentions.  We make decisions based on the information we have at that time.  We always have our loved ones best interests at heart.

And every decision you make as a parent is based on the deep unconditional love you have.  Whether that decision is to help, assist, enable, show frustration or anger.  Whether you say, “yes you can come back home”, or whether you say, “you have to leave” or “you can’t stay here because of your actions but when you are ready for help, I will always be here”.

Every decision you made, you made with the very best of intentions in mind.  Whether it was to help your adult child who is addicted with a place to stay or help protect your other children from the kayos of their siblings addiction and have to say,  “you can’t be here right now”.

Your decisions have always been based on the love you have and the information you had at that particular time.  Your decisions were also based on what was known about addiction at that particular time.

If your loved one was struggling when tough love was suggested and that is what you tried, you were trying your best.

If your loved one was struggling when drug use was considered a moral choice and you treated it as such, don’t blame yourself.  You were trying your best.

If your loved one was struggling with the concept of ‘they have to hit rock bottom’ and you thought that was the right thing to do, don’t blame yourself.  You were only trying whatever you thought could help get your loved one out of the bowels of addiction.

Today we have scientific and medical proof that addiction is a disease.  It is often a disease that runs in families – so there is a genetic component.  We also know that addiction can raise its ugly head when there is no family history.  No one can look at someone and say, “this person will become addicted”.   One day, and hopefully not far off, science and medicine will allow that awareness long before it can become an issue and hopefully be halted.  But that time is not yet here.  Soon hopefully.  But not today.

We know that the brains of those addicted are altered.  The damage is there. The part of the brain – the frontal lobe, responsible for decision making, choices, is the part of the brain deeply affected and permanently altered.  It has been compromised.

In my book Addiction: A Mother’s Story I quote Glenn A Hascall who brilliantly said, “The me in the mirror is not what I once was.  The me in the mirror is not the final word on who I will become.  The me in the mirror is simply a reflection of today”.

Whether you are the parent of a teen or adult child struggling with addiction.  Whether you are the person who is struggling with an addiction.  Whether you are a person who is in recovery.  Whether you are a sibling.  Whoever you are, however you reacted, whatever you did, this is a message for you.

Please go and get a mirror.  A handheld mirror if you have one and find a quiet place to sit.  Away from noise, bright lights, anything that might affect your peace and quiet time.  This will only take a few minutes.  Put everything else aside.  Just take a few minutes to spend with yourself.  And this is what I want you to do ……..

Sit quietly.  Hold up your mirror. You are not going to be checking your makeup or your hair.  You are not going to be checking for blemishes.  What I want you to do is look at your eyes.  Just your eyes.

Now say to yourself – whatever I have done in the past, whether is was with the best of intentions or not; whether it hurt or helped; whether decisions I made caused suffering unintentionally. All that is in the past.  I cannot change my decisions of the past.  They are past.  I have to live with those decisions and so do those who were affected.  But I will stop blaming myself, because that “me in the mirror is not who I once was”.  Everything I did was with the best of intentions.  If it was you  trying to help the child you loved so deeply or if you are  that person who struggled with that addiction.  Or if you continue to struggle.

Just remember, everything up to this very moment is in the past.  You can’t change a single thing.  It happened.  You felt the pain.  You suffered.  Perhaps you caused the pain.  None of that really matters any more.  Its done.  That  person is gone.  Stop obsessing because that will only lead to continued suffering, pain, sadness, depression.

Keep looking in the mirror.  But don’t think about tomorrow.  Tomorrow hasn’t come yet.  You will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.  Don’t ruin today, worrying about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will come tomorrow and whatever happens you will deal with it then.  Remember, today is not “the final word on who you will become”.  If you get too far ahead of yourself,  you only create anxiety.

Stay in the moment.  Stay in this moment.  Because this moment is who you are today.  Right now.  The “me in the mirror is a reflection of who I am today”.  And you can decide who that person will be.  And you can decide how you will act or react to anything today that comes up based on what you now know.

Whoever you decide “the me in the mirror” is today, let it be that person with information you maybe didn’t have before.  Let it be the person you are going to be kind to.  We have to be kind to ourselves.  When addiction has taken over the life of someone we love, we often blame ourselves. “Why didn’t I see this coming”? “What did I do wrong”?  Don’t go there.

And if you are the person who has struggled with addiction, be kind to yourself.  You have beat yourself up long enough.  The past is the past.  You aren’t there anymore.  The you “in the mirror” is who you are today.  And it is not “the final word on who you will become”.  You deserve help.  You deserve understanding.  You deserve treatment.  Reach out and get the help you need for this horrific disease that is holding you hostage so you are able to live the best life you can.

Remember – we all deserve peace in our lives.  But when we have someone we love addicted, peace is a distant memory and it is not something we can see ahead when right now everything is dark.

So look in that mirror and say to yourself, “The me in the mirror is not what I once was.  The me in the mirror is not the final word on who I will become.  The me in the mirror is simply a reflection of today”.

I wish you peace today.  Take care of yourself and remember you are not alone.  I truly care.

 

 

Mother’s Day ~ What Does It Mean To You

Mother’s Day has always been the most important day of the year to me.  Nothing in my life is more important than being a Mom.  Nothing ever has or ever will be.  That is who I am.  I am a Mom.

One thing Mother’s Day most certainly is, is an emotional day for everyone who is a Mom, has stepped up to be the Mom, is a Grandmother or aunt who stepped up to fill the Mom roll,  is a son or daughter who grieves for the Mom who has passed away or the son or daughter whose Mom simply walked away one day and never returned,  who is struggling with a severe addiction or mental illness and is just not able to be a presence in your life. 

You may be the Mom whose child for reasons you may never understand, choose to walk away.  Is not in your life. 

You may be the Mom whose son or daughter is struggling with the horrific disease of addiction and you are praying you will hear from him or her today.  At least you will know, this person you love so completely is still alive and there is still hope that change will happen.

You may be that Mom who is sitting by your child’s bedside in the ER because of an overdose last night, or visiting at a correctional institution because that is where your teen or adult child currently is.

You may be that Mom whose adult children are hundreds or thousands of miles away.

You may be that Mom who has tragically lost the child they so deeply love to drug or alcohol abuse.  Or to suicide because they could see no other way out.

Mother’s Day can bring the joy it was meant to bring – celebrating your Mom and being celebrated as someone’s Mom.

Sadly Mother’s Day is not a happy day for far to many people.

Mother’s Day can bring up memories you sometimes wish you could forget.  But memories don’t work that way.  That is why we call them memories.  The person grappling with the feelings of having been abandoned. “If she loved me why didn’t she just quit using heroin”?  “She cared more about the next fix than she cared about me”.

Sometimes we get another chance to make things right.  Sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes tomorrow is a good day and for far to many tomorrow just doesn’t come. And when you have a loved one who is in the depth of their addiction, that is always your greatest fear.

But one thing I know for sure, in spite of all the fears, all the kayos, all the drama, all the pain and all the heartbreak, the broken promises, the years and years of crying ourselves to sleep at night, one thing is certain: of all the hats we wear, the most important one of all is the Mom hat.

Nothing and no one will ever be able to remove that hat.  That is who I am.  That is who you are.  We are Moms.  Those old wedding vows, “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to death do us part”,  I think that should be the “Mom vow”.

As painful as a divorce can be, we can and do walk away.  I have.  But I would never, will never, ever walk away from my children.  Our children may for whatever reason make that choice, but I know that as Moms, nothing is more important than our children and their well-being.

To all the amazing women out there, the Moms, the Moms by choice, all those women who reach out and touch the lives of others, to my eldest daughter Kare,  who I swear was my Mom in another life because she has always looked out for me and had my back, even if she didn’t always agree with me, she has always been “My Person”.  I could not “do life” without her. To my daughters JJ and Bean who are Moms themselves, to my Mom who passed on to her next chapter on Boxing Day 1996 after struggling with ALS for two years.   I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day.

To all the Moms whose children continue the struggle with the disease of addiction and to those Moms who have so tragically lost their children to his horrific disease, I hope you are somehow able to find a peaceful place to go if even for awhile.

Last evening my youngest son Michael took me out for dinner.  He jokingly called me his “MAD” Mom And Dad.  Because for many of us Moms we have been in this struggle alone.  To all those Moms who do the impossible every single day I celebrate you. And to those men who have become the “MAD” to their children – “Happy MAD Day” to you as well. Sadly you are too frequently the exception not the norm.  Thank you.

To those of you who may question their  absentee mother’s reasons – just know it was never about you not being “good enough”.  You were perfect.  It was your Mom who was feeling broken and just unable to be there.  Know that.  Say it and remind yourself of that daily. You were perfect.

As women, as Mothers, together we are the change makers.  We must never stop standing up and speaking out to change laws and end the stigma around drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental illness.

To you all may your Mother’s Day be whatever you need it to be.  Always remember, you are not alone. We Moms are in this together.

 

 

To All Mothers Who Have A Teen Or Adult Child Struggling With Drug Addiction

Every single Mom I have ever met who has a child struggling with the disease of addiction,  will be able to relate to this powerful testimonial by Former WWE Westler, Marc Mero.  It is a powerful, honest and love filled testament to a mother’s love.   My grandson’s Mom came across it and sent it to me.  I know it will touch your heart as profoundly as it did mine.

This is a powerful story of unconditional love.

My son Nathan once said to me, “Mom you can’t understand me, just love me”.  The love I had for my son when he was deep in his addiction or taking a brief break over 23 years of hardcore heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and meth addiction, was always the same.  It was unconditional.  Of course he was more “likeable”  when he was not using, but my love for him never waivered.  It was constant.  It was real.  It was deep.  It was an unbreakable bond.

Extended family all to often completely walk away.  Siblings, who are so profoundly affected often say, “enough”.  Sibling truly are the “unseen” victims of a brother or sisters addiction.  And tragically, fathers all to often give up.  From my experience, it is the Moms who keep trying.  It is the Moms who never give up.  It is the Moms who maintain that unbreakable bond.  It is the Moms who keep encouraging and believing and loving, even when their child’s behavior is most unlovable.

This testimonial  could be for any one of the Mom’s who never gave up.  Who continue to love.  Whose love is unconditional always.

When our child is deep in their addiction, they have no idea of the co-lateral damage caused by their addiction.  They truly believe they are the only one who is being affected.  That is one of the false realities they live with.  But as we who love them know, our devastation is raw.  It is not until the drug use ends that the person who struggled with the addiction gains clarity.

Please watch this story and warning:  You will need a tissue.  This will touch your heart profoundly

 

As Moms, as parents, as families we must continue to stand up, speak out and advocate to end the stigma and shame around addiction, so those living in the shadows of addiction will reach out for help.  We have lost far to many to this horrific disease.  Thousands of lives lost every year.  Families completely devastated.  Societal  resources and first responders stretched to the max.

Take care of yourself and remember you are not alone, I truly care.

Is Harm Reduction The Same As Enabling?

There are many who believe that harm reduction is really just enabling.  To many they are adamant.  To others they see harm reduction as a absolute requirement in treating the disease of addiction.

After 27 years of experience, having a son who battled severe addiction to heroin, crack and meth, volunteering more than 12,000 hours in the Whalley area of Surrey with those struggling with addiction, homelessness and violence as well as working many years in a shelter in Whalley,  I have cared for, loved and lost far, far, far to many people who battled the disease of addiction.  And so, I have my own opinion on that.

I give approximately 60 presentations each year on addiction, homelessness and gang violence. All part of raising awareness.  Society looks at statistics and while these numbers are vitally important to know, what we must never forget, is statistics are far more than just a number.  They are lives.  Lives of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends,  lost because they battled an unforgiving disease.  The statistics represent lives of people who were deeply loved.  Who are mourned for everyday. Whose families are left devastated because that candle of hope has blown out.

And we can not forget those who are suffering every single day.  Those battling the disease of addiction are truly suffering.  The ‘party’ ended for them a long time ago.  They are not using for the “high” or the “low” – they are now using to just get through the hour, the day, the night. To stop the incredible pain. The nausea. The vomiting. The involuntary leg movements. The cold. The cramps. They feel isolated. Broken. Shame. They are lonely.

Are they responsible for where they are at?  Did they ultimately cause where their lives are at?  Yes, they made a choice.  Unfortunately many choices we make in life are made in the teen years and early twenties.  During a period when people take the most risks.

What no one ever thought was that choice would awaken a beast that would hold them hostage. That would devastate their lives.  That would devastate the lives of every person who loves them.

Addiction is a chronic and often terminal disease.  When addiction raises its ugly head it takes control and for far too many people suffering with the disease of addiction, they are not able to break free.  This is where harm reduction is paramount.

Harm reduction can take many forms – from needle exchanges to prevent the spread of disease, to overdose prevention sites and consumption sites that save lives every single day, to prescription of Methadose, Methadone and Suboxone which is an absolutely crucial component to so many in staying away from what was their drug of choice.  To  providing prescription morphine or heroin to those who have tried absolutely everything else but have not been able to stay the course.

We need to keep people alive if we are going to save lives.  If harm reduction methods save lives and the evidence is there, then we are not enabling.  We are saving lives.  Each day a person battling the disease of addiction lives,  is another day with the opportunity that they may reach out and ask for the help that will ultimately save their lives.

Every day that a person makes contact with someone in harm reduction, is an opportunity to build a relationship.  Build trust. Build a opportunity for that person struggling to reach out for help.

When we provide options, we provide possibilities.

To deny people life saving options, to deny people possible treatments is just plain wrong.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to be their best self.  Whatever that best self is.  And one person’s best self may well be a far cry from another person’s best self.  But we are all different.  Our needs are different.  Our circumstances are different.  Our up-bringing may have been different.  Trauma experienced. We have different needs.  No one size fits all in anything in life but especially in the treatment of a horrific disease.

What works for one person may not work for another.  But the most important thing is to never give up on that person struggling.  Remember they are sick.  You just never know when they may decide to reach out for help.  And it is in talking about addiction openly.  About ending the stigma around addiction as somehow being a moral failing.

Addiction is not a moral failing.  It is a horrific disease that sadly has far to many people in it’s grip.  Harm reduction is not enabling people.  Harm reduction is keeping people alive.  If we can keep people alive we are giving them the opportunity to access help.  To access services that may lead them in the direction of gaining control over their addiction.  Over their life.  For some this may mean embracing several components of harm reduction.  For others it may be embracing one.

When I hear someone has been kicked out of or removed from a treatment program because they used, I cannot understand that.  They are only confirming that they desperately need help.  So lets put more action in place for them.  Don’t kick them out.

If someone struggling with diabetes eats a piece of chocolate cake every day.  If someone with high blood pressure does not watch their diet and exercise.  If someone is in a car accident because they were speeding, do we deny any of those people the help they desperately need?  Of course not.  We have them work with a dietitian or a trainer.  We get that car accident victim transferred to the nearest ER for full on treatment.  We don’t say, “sorry, you brought this all on yourself.  You didn’t listen. Get out, you are on your own”.

We have to give people struggling with the disease of addiction to drugs and alcohol that same consideration.  We can’t just pick and choose what disease deserves treatment.  These are precious lives.  And we are loosing them every single day because too many people view those suffering with the disease of addiction somehow less worthy.  They are not. This is a disease.  History will judge how we treat our most vulnerable.  We must embrace harm reduction in all its forms until someone working in science lab in a hospital or university discovers what is needed to eliminate  or treat the disease of addiction in a way we don’t yet know of.  Until that time, harm reduction is not enabling.  Harm reduction is compassionate care for those are struggling and have not been able to climb out of that dark hole of addiction.

Until next time, take care.

 

My Friend “Paulie From Whalley” Would Have Celebrated His Birthday Today

Many years ago while out on some rounds in Whalley, the area of Surrey, B.C. with  a tremendous poverty rate, where there are huge numbers of people living in homelessness, batting hardcore drug addiction, chronic alcoholism, many with mental illness, all people struggling to just get through the day, I met Paul and Bill.  They were sitting in some tall grass, beside two old bicycles drinking some beer.

That meeting would lead to a lifelong friendship.  Bill always smiles and laughs.  He is the nicest, most gentle of men.  He suffered a brain injury many years ago.  “Paulie” as he was known to everyone close to him, had the bluest eyes and the kindest heart.   Both men struggled with severe and chronic alcoholism.  Both were the utmost gentlemen at all times.

They offered me a beer and were especially relieved when I told them I didn’t drink!!  And there began our friendship.

Paulie and Bill truly were “brothers of other Mothers”, as the saying goes,  and they always referred to me as their “Westcoast Mom”.  What an honour to be given that title.

Neither men had family in the west.  Their families were back east, two thousand miles away.  But they were each other’s brother.  And they had a close circle of friends who looked out for each other.  Most of their circle of friends, like themselves, struggled with chronic alcoholism and homelessness.  They all knew who would seizure first after sleeping.  The body’s reaction to not having alcohol.  And they made sure to look after each other.

I remember one time while at the Mission, Paulie ran in the door yelling for me, “Danny’s having a seizure, it’s a bad one”.  I called 911 while running to the tree they were all sitting under.  I knelt next to Danny, trying to keep him safe while he seizured and waited for the ambulance to arrive.

When I stood up one of my knees were wet.  I said, “I sure hope I just knelt in some spilled beer and not pee”.  At which Paulie said, “sorry Mom, but nobody spilled beer”!!! Oh great.  Just great, of course I just knealt in pee!!  So I went inside the Mission and scrubbed my pant leg and my leg and got back to work.  Welcome to our world.  And at that time, there was no place I would rather have been.

Paulie and Bill rode their old bicycles probably 30 to 40 km a day.  They followed the recycling trucks pickup days and stuck to that schedule.  They made their money collecting cans and bottles.  They didn’t ask for any handouts.  They made their own money. And that money paid for their alcohol for the day.  After years of doing this, they had homeowners and businesses that would regularly set aside the bottles in a bag just ready for  Paulie and Bill to pick up. Every day you could see them riding their bikes balancing several full bags of empty cans and bottles on their way to the bottle depot. They were wonderful recyclers.

Like many of their friends, they preferred to be outside in the spring and summer months.  But when the cold wet weather of fall and winter arrived they would often stay with us inside the shelter.

Paulie started coughing a lot in the winter of 2014/2015.  One day I found him slumped against a tree.  I asked him to come inside.  He said no he was just getting some rest.  I took him out a pillow and blanket and told him I was worried he had pneumonia.  He’d get it check he said.  Of course he didn’t and over the next couple of weeks he was clearly getting sicker.  One of the nurses at the sobering centre noticed it as well and told him to get it check or she wouldn’t let him stay (sometimes you have to use a loving threat to take care of someone when they won’t take care of themselves)!!  It worked.

Paulie did go to the doctor, was diagnosed with pneumonia and given antibiotics.  Only he didn’t improve.  He just got sicker.  Paulie was given x-rays and an ultrasound.  He had lung cancer and it appeared terminal.  He agreed to chemo-therapy but after the first round he decided it wasn’t for him.  He was so sick and his hair was starting to fall and he just decided no.  Paulie always wore his hair in a long ponytail. Since he was a kid. His ponytail and his bright blue eyes were what attracted the girls he would say!!

I made it my mission, that my friend Paulie was not going to die on the street.  And I wanted him to reconnect with his family.  It had been over twenty years he said since he had seen or talked to them.  I encouraged him to make that call.  I told him, as a Mom, I knew his Mom would be overjoyed to hear his voice. It did not matter how much time had passed.

He called his sister first.  We explained the situation to her and she agreed to go to their Mom’s the next day with their other sister and be there when he called back.   Paulie’s family, aside from being devastated to hear of his terminal cancer were overjoyed to hear from the brother and son who vanished from their lives two decades earlier.  They always worried they would one day get a call that he had died.  After all that time they never expected to hear his voice.   And a few months later his sisters came out to visit with him for a week and took him on some wonderful local adventures.  And they provided him with a cellphone so they could all stay in touch every day.  Paulie’s Mom was not well and was unable to travel but she was able to speak to her son every day with that phone.  Paulie and his family were now reunited and everyone of them took advantage of the time they had with each other.  This was a very loving family whose lives had often been hijacked because of his addiction to alcohol.  Paulie left, not because he didn’t love his family.  He left because he did.  Addiction for most carries a tremendous amount of shame.  And because of that sense of shame people struggling  with addictions often make the decision to stay away from those they truly love.

But Paulie and his family were now reunited and they spoke every day on that cellphone.

Every week I drove Paulie to his doctor’s appointments for checkups and got his prescriptions filled for morphine and for fentanyl patches.  I gave him just one day supply at a time so he would not be a target for anyone wanting his painkillers.  I also did not want to take the chance of him trading his morphine and fentanyl for alcohol.

When we finished our appointment each week with the doctor we made it a habit of going to the Dairy Queen.  Peanut Butter Parfait was a treat he remembered eating with his father as a child and it was like a walk down memory lane.

But now I had to get Paulie off the street – he was getting sicker and weaker and becoming more vulnerable to violence in his weakened condition.  For a couple of months he slept on the couch in the shelter.  But he needed to be in hospice.  I met with a wonderful lady named Michelle  Wright, a very kind and dedicated Social Worker who pulled out all the stops and did everything she could to help and together we made progress in getting Paulie into hospice.  The only problem was his drinking.  Paulie drank two litres of cheap sherry every day.  Hospice would agree to take him but he would have to get down to one litre  a day.  Over the next two months Paulie steadily decreased his intake.  Finally he was down to one litre a day and Michelle was able to arrange that bed in hospice for my dear friend Paulie.

Hospice agreed that Paulie could have one bottle of sherry a day. That they would dispense it to him throughout the day if I provided them with the bottle daily.  Paulie’s family agreed to pay for the sherry and cigarettes.  We had a solid arrangement and Paulie was accepted into hospice.  It was a warm, caring compassionate environment.

His first night there he was lying in his bed with this big fluffy comforter and pillows propping up his head, with his bottle of sherry beside him, a pack of cigarettes that he could be wheeled outside to smoke, a TV on the wall, and the control in his hand.  He was dying and yet he felt like a king.  He said, “June, if everyone on the strip knew how good this was, they would all want to get cancer”!!  That was Paulie – he could make the best out of any situation.

October 31st – Halloween was Paulie’s birthday.  Two years ago today he had his last birthday. He lived Just a few weeks longer.  Paulie’s addiction was so severe, that even in his last days, alcohol remained his focus.  That is what addiction is.  As so extremely sick as my dear friend was, his body, his mind, demanded alcohol.  It was a disease so severe he was never able to escape it. The last two days he used a sipper cup.  He really could no longer drink but it could slowly seep into his body.

That is addiction.  That is not a choice.  That is not a moral failing.  It is not a human flaw. Or a weakness of character. That is a disease. Addiction is one of the most unforgiving of diseases.   And until you watch addiction up close, it is hard to sometimes understand just how profound it is.

Paulie always called me his “West Coast Mom”.  He said I was the best friend he ever had. He asked me if I would promise to be there  holding his hand when he died so he would not be afraid.  I was privileged to be there with Paulie when he took his last breath.  He was not afraid.  He went peacefully.

 

 

 

Addiction Affects Everyone And Everyone Handles It Differently – Even Strangers In Traffic

For those of us who have or have had a loved one who struggles with addiction, we all know one thing, addiction affects everyone  touched by it and everyone handles it differently.

Within the family unit, dynamics drastically change and how could they not.  Life as we knew it changed and to survive a loved ones addiction we have to recognize our lives have been tragically altered.

But what about strangers?

The other day I was driving through Langley, B.C.   I was stopped at an intersection when a young woman, clearly in distress, was trying to maneuver her shopping cart,  piled high with bags,  off the curb.  The cart tipped to the side and  bags of bottles and cans fell out of the cart spilling onto the road.  Her anxiety level escalated and how could it not?

She scrambled into traffic in attempt to pick up the cans that rolled away.

I put on my flashers and threw my car in park.  One other driver did the same.  We quickly retrieved  the cans and bottles she had clearly spent all night collecting and returned them to her cart.

Two  men in a raised Ram truck honked their horn and yelled obscenities.  A few drivers used hand gestures while continuing on their way.  But the majority of the drivers sat patiently in their vehicles.  Most people find no satisfaction in judging a person battling the disease of addiction.  The tide is turning.

Even just a couple of years ago, those struggling with addiction were judged as morally weak.  Morally corrupt.  Someone people avoided at all costs.

It has taken a very long time, but thankfully society for the most part is beginning to recognize that addiction is not a moral failing.  Addiction is a horrific disease that affects the brain and every single thought and action of the person affected.  Those struggling with addiction are not having fun.  They are simply trying to survive.  The party for them ended a long time ago when addiction raised its ugly head.

What has caused the dramatic change in the way society looks at addiction?  Sadly it has been the dramatic rise in overdose deaths due to the entry of fentanyl in the drugs being sold.

When the rate of deaths of teen, young professionals, parents with young children began to rise, and it wasn’t only the “homeless junkie on the street corner” overdosing and dying,  society started to look at drug addiction differently.  To those of us who have a loved one addicted, our loved ones were never the “homeless junkie on the street corner”, they were our very loved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.  They were more than their addiction.  They were our beating heart and they were struggling every single day.

Tragically the number of deaths continue to rise.  Addiction can no longer be swept under the carpet as a dirty little secret within a family.  For too long many families suffered in silence afraid of the repercussions and stigma around addiction.

I was never one of those people.  I recognized very early on in my son’s struggle with addiction that he was battling a disease.  I called it a disease long before addiction and disease were used in the same sentence.  I recognized it was way bigger than any other disease I could imagine because it did not seem to present as a disease but rather a moral failing. But I knew my son was not morally weak.  I knew his heart.  I knew he was sick.

So today, thankfully much of society is looking at addiction differently.  But we still have a very long way to go.  Everyday our death rate is rising dramatically and families are left devastated, wondering what they should have done, what they could have done differently.  Thinking that somehow they had failed their loved one.

Addiction affects every single family member differently.

And clearly addiction affects society differently.   The “good old boys” in the Ram truck, honking their horn and yelling obscenities.  The people raising their fingers and driving over the pop cans and those who sat patiently in their cars aware that addiction had a once beautiful girl in its grip.  That the disheveled girl in front of them was someone’s daughter.  Was once a girl with hopes and dreams until addiction took hold and held her hostage. And so they waited while we picked up the bottles and cans and returned them to her cart.

Addiction affects everyone differently.  But be assured, the subject of addiction does affect everyone in one way or another.

We need all levels of government on board to address the drug crisis.  We need a dramatic change in how addiction is looked at and treated.  We need to embrace harm reduction full on.  We know harm reduction is the only way at this time.  Hopefully one day researchers and doctors who are working tirelessly, will find the cause and cure for those battling  addiction but that time has not yet come.   Lets all push for harm reduction.  Our loved ones deserve nothing less.  We deserve nothing less.  Society as a whole deserves nothing less.  Addiction is a disease.  Let us give those suffering with this unforgiving disease the kindness, compassion and respect they deserve.

Until next time my friend, take care of yourself.

Much love,

June