Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"Autumn is the mellow season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits." ~ Samuel Butler

Fall is the gentle season. Wherever we are on this Earth that the Great Creator has provided, especially if we reside in a temperate band, Fall is Nature's chance to take a long breath after the summer's onslaught. This is Nature's preparation time.

Fall knows not what it is preparing for. It simply knows it has a duty to be that brilliantly vibrant transitional lead up to who knows what - a brutal or forgivingly mild winter.

We can learn a lot from Fall.

Summer, with its oppressive days (and nights depending on where you live) is my favorite time of year.  As a pool owner I would like the outdoor temperature to be 100 degrees (Fahrenheit!) every summer day. I can relish the swelter as long as I know there is that cool-water refuge at my behest.

But I do welcome Fall as it slowly appears. Even the Earth, tilting, shielding itself from the direct bombardment of a nuclear star we call the Sun knows it needs a respite sometimes.

We all do.

As I write this we are just days away from the Fall Equinox of 2014. Even ahead of the equalization of days and nights - the nights soon to overtake the days - the air is cooling, breezes out of the north are gentle, rains ahead of the big day have been steady, sustained, sustaining.

The Earth is preparing, but for what?

As I mentioned, we can learn a lot from Fall. I also said Fall is a gentle season, but not to be characterized as listless or stagnant. Soon, Fall will burst forth with firework colors that mesmerize the eye, final harvests and a determined, methodical preparation for winter.

The Earth is preparing to breathe.

So what can we as parents of children who have lost their way learn from Fall?

We can be gentle with ourselves. We can learn to breathe, take care of ourselves and prepare for the good, as well as the undesirable. We can have our moments of unabashed joyful, burstful explosions honoring ourselves as ourselves. We can celebrate harvests of our talents we've held onto, held back, for too long. We can share the bounty we've found along our recovery pathways.

We can take a break from oppression by taking life in, embracing it, not by running from it. Fall teaches us to take that breath, to be good to and see the good in ourselves. We can shower ourselves with the sustaining love we may not have experienced for a while.

When a St. Martin's summer rolls in bringing with it the not unexpected warmer comfort during our preparation we cannot be fooled or diverted as we continue our journeys during this powerfully different autumnal stage. This is our time, not our son's or daughter's who brought us to recovery. This is our time to be a bit selfish with our energies. It is a time to reflect but not disappear.

There will be challenges ahead. There will be roads, valleys, hillsides and chasms to conquer along our way.

But perhaps not today.

Perhaps today we can revel in the progress we've made, let our colors fly, display our talents and passions in one huge life harvest while allowing ourselves the gift of introspection about where we've been and where we're going.

We've come a long way. That last month, year or even decade was like a hot, oppressive summer but we made it through.

Breathe a little. We deserve it.

We can learn a lot from Fall!

… keep coming back

"And I rose, In rainy autumn, And walked abroad in a shower of all my days." ~ Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Outside Our Journeys - Against All Odds

"We have the best government that money can buy." ~ Mark Twain
Recently, one of our network news local affiliates reported a story both shocking and not totally unexpected.

A sting operation partially funded by a county drug and alcohol awareness coalition and conducted by that county's law enforcement agency revealed that 34 percent of retail establishments tested sold alcohol to minors. This sting, as with others funded by local law enforcement elsewhere was done by the book. There was no coercion or pressure. The underage (actually youthful-looking legal-age plants) were either sold the liquor or were refused. The plants were wired - everything documented.

And that is where everything stopped. There was no follow up, no fines or citations, no liquor license suspensions.

It became apparent that the great State of Missouri has neither the funding nor the inclination to enforce a law put on the books for a specific reason. As guardian of what its citizens hold dear the state has decided that curbing, or at least impeding underage drinking isn't important.

I was first introduced to this story by a few friends who are part of the coalition involved in the sting. As a parent of a child struggling with addiction and a friend to many of you who are in similar situations I was absolutely floored. I was at work when I received the email with its accompanying news feed. "Oh my God," were the words I voiced, loud enough for anyone who might be walking by my office to hear.

Fortunately there was nobody within earshot of my proclamation although this was something I would have gladly shared with my colleagues.

What does it mean to those affected by addiction that the guardians of social mandates are either too busy, overextended or underfunded to support what we as citizens feel is important? Do we throw our hands up in despair and abandon our journeys? Are we all fighting some sort of quixotic crusade to maintain sanity in spite of states' inability or disinclination to enforce existing laws, or, many state legislatures' insistence on legalizing controlled substances?

Sometimes it may seem as though we are losing our minds. Sometimes it may seem like we're alone on our journeys.

Well, we're not, and … we're not. It is important to remember that the journey we are on is ours, not our children's and certainly not a journey travelled with state agencies.

It is also important to note that the social media comments to this story began with shock and support of the efforts of local law enforcement, then deteriorated into calls for parents to "clean house" and "control" their kids.

That is simply not the point. Control we know doesn't work and certainly has no effect, especially with the tacit consent of states to allow underage drinking and hence other substance abuse. This is about the information an adolescent requires for its developing brain to draw seemingly logical conclusions:
If the vendors don't care, and the police don't care (they do, but have no real enforcement authority over the vendors) and the state doesn't care, then alcohol must be okay! And have you heard they're thinking about legalizing pot!
This all contributes to the seeming inability of adolescents to heed warnings about underage drinking while recent states-sponsored legalization of marijuana convinces kids that pot "isn't that bad."

It is okay to become incensed, dismayed and angry by all of this as long as we transform these feelings into a catalyst for voicing our displeasure to local politicians. We can have measured and impassioned discussions with friends and let them know how we feel. Our personal stake in this game can amplify the dialogue.

We must guard against having our journeys diverted by the ineptitude of government. Our pathways cannot be blocked by issues outside our journeys. We can maintain our new-found levels of serenity at all costs continuing to grow and improve ourselves. We can use experience gained during our journeys to coolly insert facts and real-world life experience into interaction with friends, family, our children who brought us to recovery and those who did not. We can add a calmness to the discussion.

We can refuse to contribute to discussions of the absurd. We can be gentle voices of experience and continue on our recovery journeys.

And as we grow so may our children.

And perhaps, possibly, our elected officials.

But don't hold your breath!

… keep coming back

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Islands of Guilt

"If I had ever been here before I would probably know what to do. Don't you?" ~ David Crosby - "Deja vu"

"We should have noticed the change in behavior."

"We should have sent him to wilderness camp sooner."

"We should never have sent her to wilderness camp."

"If only I had been around more."

"If only I had hovered less."

"I was too tough on her."

"I was too easy on him."

We've all experienced second thoughts and reservations, would-haves, should-haves and could-haves, the perfect vision that hindsight predicts in vivid detail our children's spiral into addiction.

How could we have not seen it? We're a good family. We created a loving household for our children.

Why, how, did we let this happen?

We create islands of guilt for ourselves, surprisingly comfortable locales where we can justify feeling less-than about ourselves.

The origins of the word GUILT are unclear. The Old English gylt meaning "crime, sin, fault, fine," has no traceable transitional words to what we now consider the meaning of its modern progeny. It is a word that seems to have emerged out of the necessities of cultural mores and expectations. Perhaps they didn't have time for such wasteful pursuits as guilt in the 11th and 12th centuries - probably not! Perhaps neither do we as parents of children who have journeyed to addiction.

We are in uncharted territory. While there are books like What To Expect The First Year and What To Expect The Second Year, there are no similar publications titled, What to Expect When Your Adolescent Spirals In The Vortex Of  Substance Abuse Or Other Addictions.

If we had ever been here before, we would probably know what to do!

Fortunately there are voices and guides out there who have experienced the pain of watching sons and daughters succumb to addiction. Unfortunately guilt prevents these voices to be heard. Guilt keeps us locked in despair. Guilt keeps us isolated and catatonic. Guilt is a roadblock across the path of our recovery journeys. We may as well be castaways on an island thousands of miles away from rescue.

Most importantly this guilt is unfounded.

We can pick apart the minutia of each minute, every day, month and year of our children's upbringing and pour wave upon wave of guilt upon ourselves until we are isolated on our self-made islands, apart, alone, angry, helpless and doomed. On these islands there is little hope of escape. The tides of guilt that brought us to this island are simply too damn strong.

Addiction is a disease. Guilt felt as a result of our son's or daughter's addictions is like feeling guilty about a child who has contracted a disease. Parents in the throes of combating afflictions such as childhood leukemia rise to the occasion. They model life, not death. They become beacons of hope and encouragement.

As parents of addicts we can live our lives and be that same beacon of hope to our addicted children while keeping in mind only they can find the cure to their disease. Guilt will only inhibit this process, keeping us stalemated on the island, isolated from our addicted children, family, friends and ourselves.

The islands of guilt to which we can so easily travel inhibit our progress along our pathways to recovery. These can be comfortable places. While there, we are divorced from our lives wallowing in eddies of self pity at the expense of seeking what is out there for us to experience.

And often, the addict is right there with us, wallowing with no where to go but exactly where she is, where he has been. We are both stuck in a quicksand of addiction. When we as parents stop struggling with the guilt we can feel the hold our child's addiction has on us loosening. We can break free and move on with our lives.

If we remember the origin of the word gylt - crime, sin, fault, fine - we can avoid or even escape the island. There is no crime here, no sin, we did not cause this, and there is no penalty to impose. We can cease blaming ourselves for a disease that has captured our children. We can love the addict while hating the addiction.

There are dugout canoes awaiting us. Our pathways to recovery are just over the horizon.

Start paddling.

… keep coming back

"And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." ~ Paul Simon "I Am A Rock"