Monday, January 27, 2014

Parents Take Care (Part 2 of 2)

 A little more than a year after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown Connecticut a local television station in St. Louis sent a reporter to a suburban high school under the guise of a story on school safety. The reporter entered unimpeded. The high school attempted to confirm the reporter's identity but the station refused to confirm or deny this for the administrators. The school went on immediate lock down. This ratings grab drastically missed the lessons learned at Sandy Hook. December 2012 had been a hard year's end for the nation. It had been an equally hard time for parents. I wrote these words shortly after the news onslaught that came out of New England following the events that transpired on December 14, 2012.




Then it struck me …

Until as a nation we stop politicizing, demonizing and alienating those with varying degrees of mental illness that often leads to substance abuse, suicide and tragedy like we witnessed in Newtown, we'll continue in this spiral of anger, ignorance and self loathing that often drives these at-risk kids. And until we include the names of the troubled in our prayers, until pastors, rabbis, monks, mullahs and gurus recite the names of these damaged protagonists when reciting the names of the "killed or injured souls" from each of these events, we'll know we have not changed as a nation.

It is worth repeating that mental illness is not a character flaw that reflects negatively on the individual, his or her family or even our culture. Mental illness should be aggressively examined, dealt with and treated just as any disease.

When was the last time you engaged in a conversation about a hyperglycemic acquaintance and uttered the word "diabetes" in hushed tones?

Our national conversation needs to change at a grass-roots level. A teen with OCD (like my son) who literally paces in the aisle during class shouldn't be treated like a leper, banished to the Principal's office for dismissal from school for the day. His or her condition should be addressed. At the very least, the student can be sent instead to a counselor (or crisis counselor if your school district is progressive enough to even fund the position). These counselors are expert at partnering with families and local mental health professionals for the well-being of the child.

The conversation needs to be taken away from the politicians and news media and brought back to the communities where anger, innuendo, partisanship and blame can be, if we want it,  replaced by love, caring and real information.

We can continue averting our eyes from the real issues, or, replace the current conversation with one that embraces these kids with love, compassionate attention and empowerment. It's really a simple decision. It simply needs to start somewhere, in every community. Possibly with you?

keep coming back

"But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian's daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?"   ~ Mark Twain's Autobiography






Monday, January 20, 2014

Parents Take Care (Part 1)


 A little more than a year after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown Connecticut a local television station in St. Louis sent a reporter to a suburban high school under the guise of a story on school safety. The reporter entered unimpeded. The high school attempted to confirm the reporter's identity but the station refused to confirm or deny this for the administrators. The school went on immediate lock down. This ratings grab drastically missed the lessons learned at Sandy Hook. December 2012 had been a hard year's end for the nation. It had been an equally hard time for parents. I wrote these words shortly after the news onslaught that came out of New England following the events that transpired on December 14, 2012.



The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has provided us with horrors born of a tormented mind. There has been graphic reporting of the carnage carried out on kindergartners, and we've been witness to interviews with 5 year olds. There have been petitions to pray for the families of Newtown with constant reminders of how much of the reporting we should allow our young children to view.

Lost in all the media hysteria is any admonition to parents to look after their own psychological and physical well being. Those of us in parental recover often return to the analogy of the adult with small children on a jetliner experiencing extreme turbulence and loss in cabin pressure. When the masks drop we are instructed to first attend to ourselves, then to our children. This is equally important as our nation collectively heals this gaping wound that has been torn through us as we strive to help our children make sense of a senseless occurrence. 

Nothing will improve, nothing will be healed until adults put aside anger, finger pointing shock and outrage to turn a gentler eye to the epidemic of at-risk kids in our nation. What transpired in Newtown was a worst-case tragedy played out by a boy whose mental illness was clearly not addressed. Our at-risk kids often turn to addiction, violence, suicide or isolation. Until we perceive mental illness as a disease rather than a character flaw, or family or social embarrassment these types of occurrences are likely to be repeated - see Sparks Nevada October 2013, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 2014

These results will manifest in numerous forms and will go largely unreported by the media as preteens and teens turn to alcohol and drugs to self medicate, or become so self loathing that they end their own lives or the lives of others.

Anger Manifested

I attempt to exercise at least three times a week. I have mixed success achieving this goal. I typically end each session with 30 to 45 minutes on an elliptical that kicks my butt as I listen to my own mix of iTunes - currently it's my holiday mix of eclectic and sometimes bizarre and hard to find seasonal pieces. This elliptical is situated in the back row of the aerobic area, behind a row of other less punishing low impact machines that are situated behind those awful treadmills. All this forms a section paralleled by a line of flat screen TVs for the viewing enjoyment of the masochistic members of this fitness club. 

It's a strange irony that the screen in my immediate line of sight has been designated as the Fox News Network screen. I am somewhat left leaning and generally don't watch any more news than I require as I have determined that the news in its current form is BADFORTHESOUL! Although I cannot hear what the talking heads are saying, the words are close captioned and the expressions on the faces of the commentators are often angry and contorted. Not unlike, I concede, CNN, a few screens down television row, with its more left leaning take on the news that is just as unpalatable to this "lefty" as FNN!

One day soon after the December 2012 events, I worked through the hellish first 15 minutes of my 45 minute ordeal and couldn't help but notice the discussion that a panel of pundits was engaged in regarding the carnage at Sandy Hook. What I was able to conclude through the time-delayed subtitles scrawling across the screen was unbridled anger coupled with finger pointing, outrage and innuendos regarding Adam Lanza, his mother and extended family. These experts discussed the amorality of the acts that took place on that Friday morning. (I am certain, at the same time competing commentators at CNN were throwing accusations at the NRA, Republicans and "righties" in general for not locking up EVERY gun in this great nation, along with their owners, as a solution to this problem.)

Then it struck me … 

… to be continued.

… keep coming back


Friday, January 17, 2014

Bright Sunshiny Day

I enjoy writing at Starbucks, The Mud House and Kaldi's Coffeehouse here in St. Louis. These cafes as with many coffeehouses across the country, have become modern town squares, marketplaces where people visit in planned and unplanned liaisons for business and pleasure. It has become a place where humans can converge for minutes or hours in a cacophony of souls where economic standing doesn't matter - if you don't mind paying $4.50 for a latte.

I don't, pay $4.50 that is. I'm a give me a coffee and keep it coming guy!

This morning before I go into work I have a lot on my mind with the ebbs and flows of life, work, and kids mostly, ebbing. This happens too often to me as a parent of an addicted child. As I begin writing my daily gratitudes the song "I Can See Clearly Now" written and first performed by Johnny Nash comes over the cafe speakers. As I listen, the words to the song become part of my gratitudes, this new version, true to its roots, sung by Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole helps with my ebbs. 

My outlook brightens, my breathing, more measured. I take the time to let the lyric sink in. If this sounds too "New Age" for you (guys!) too bad. A little bit of OM - look it up - can go a long way when you're ebbing. So I Googled the lyric and began writing it down:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone  
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright sunshiny day

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright sunshiny day

Look all around, there's nothing but blue skies
Look straight ahead, there's nothing but blue skies

I can see clearly now the rain is gone  
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright sunshiny day
It's gonna be a bright sunshiny day
BRI Ri Ri RIGHT
Bright, bright, bright, bright sunshiny day

Oh Yeah!

It's gonna be a bright sunshiny day

Give fifteen minutes as a gift to yourself and write these lyrics down somewhere that is easily accessible, in a journal, notebook, digital or analog. Remember to breathe while you do. You'll find it is good juju for the ebbs in life. 

Oh Yeah!

… keep coming back




Monday, January 6, 2014

The Journey of Parents in Recovery

We're all in various stages of recovery, some of us days in, some of us years, some decades into the journey. This journey has fits and starts and detours. It is a never-ending mystery tour with challenges, joys, victories, failures, surprise destinations and compelling players.

And this journey we are all embarked upon is a gift, a gift presented to us by our addicted children.

My journey, as with the odysseys of many of you, began even before I realized I had taken any first small steps. My road was paved with denial, anger, sadness, more denial and constant contention. There was no sure footing. My inclination to control everything became the dominant aspect of my personalty. My goal was to prevent my son's eventual downfall, no matter the cost to me, my family and others who cared about me. My behavior did nothing to prevent my perceptions from becoming reality. Slippery slopes became rain-soaked hillsides like those in movies where the hero slides helplessly as he flees his antagonist.

My antagonists were fear, depression, anxiety, anger and pain that daily stalked me through the darkness and dangers of my own self-imposed tropical forest. My son's pursuers, many the same as mine, were emboldened by the pot and prescription drugs he chose as self medication for his anxieties. His demons, as with the demons of any addict, were more merciless and relentless than mine could ever be. 

I became a controller, a rager, manipulator. I was feared in my household and wanted it that way. I became my own self-fulfilling prophesy of a person blind to his own futility and pathos. 

I will admit that I am and have always been a HUGE Star Trek fan. In a 1989 episode of a The Next Generation episode ("Time Squared"), the Enterprise is caught in an energy vortex, a sort of interstellar quicksand with seemingly no escape. The ship is not the first to have been caught in the snare. The captain and crew realize they should have known better than to have been so entrapped. Even at maximum "warp", the Enterprise cannot pull away. Every effort applied to free the ship only tightens the votex' hold, threatening to tear the Federation's flagship apart.

It's not until the counter intuitive decision is made to surrender to the vortex and plunge headlong into its center that the ship is released and once again free to "explore strange new worlds."

Twenty years or so later this message was lost to me as I watched my son in his own downward spiral. I was fighting against HIS vortex. I was tearing myself apart.

That was then and this is MY now. As I look out the window on a cold January late afternoon, I notice a slight reddish hue in the far Western sky that is a stark contrast to the newly fallen foot of snow and record low temperatures outside. Years ago, trapped under the relentless canopy of my self created jungle, my own heart of darkness, I would never have been able to notice this beauty - too busy fleeing my pursuers to notice any light, any life outside the shadows.

At some point, just a few years ago I came to the realization that I had been beaten by my son's addictions. I had been captured, tortured and beaten by those relentless pursuers. I had no choice but to surrender, to trust in something. I plunged into my own vortex of sadness, shame, anger and fear, and found myself on a new course. My destination is unknown but thick with the optimism of hope. There are still hillsides to navigate, but now these are less steep, more sloping than those from my former self-imposed jungle. Now there are plateaus and the occasional mountain peak from which I can survey just how far I've journeyed and how far I've yet to travel. 

The roads ahead are often obscured, sometimes by bright sunshine, sometimes by fog, mist and rainfall, and far-off new jungle canopies. I no longer even bother to lay in any specific courses. So much have I learned, and so much do I have ahead of me to learn. I know and I hope that most of the time, somehow, I, and the son who has brought me to these places will be fine. 

This TRUST thing will be discussed in future posts … believe me!

For now, "trust" that I bring only my experience and those of multitude of parents who have shared their stories over these past few years. It is an ongoing dauntingly exhilarating journey - worth every anguish.

… keep coming back.