Observing the Pattern.

“I woke up twice last night. And not to go to the bathroom. My body was sweating, heart racing, my eyes impossibly open. Normal nightmare body response. Except this was not a typical nightmare. I wasn’t falling, or being chased, or recycling scary bits from a ridiculous movie. This was real. I saw Sarah running up to my car window proclaiming that she had been discharged from the hospital, and asking me to buy her some cigarettes, that “she’ll owe me one.” I was so happy to see her. And then it dawned on me that she had run. That she wasn’t going to accept any help. And I was filled with anger, and fear, and sadness and anger and fear and sadness – I was spinning, and sweating, and desperate. And she was tying a long pink lace on a fancy hightop sneaker.”

Just another dream. But it is uncanny how the subconscious pinpoints the most fearsome fact of substance abuse: that the addict appears ignorant to the danger they are courting. The family, however, sees the train wreck approaching. It’s a well worn cyclical pattern. First you note the restlessness, the mounting body tension and the explosive language. Then comes the quiet storm of evasiveness brought on by late nights, sickness and lies.

This is the worst part of living with an addict. Seeing all the signs that they apparently miss. I have heard it said that the addict is a “selfish person.” A “liar.” And “hopeless.”

Addicts definitely lie to cover their tracks for as long as possible. And they are selfish – to a degree. But it is hard to think of someone who is self destructive as truly “selfish.” Hopeless? – yes, it often does seem hopeless.

Putting all labels aside; how in God’s name can you help someone who does not think they are in trouble? Who will sweetly tie a pink shoelace while contemplating where to score their next hit?

I am convinced that the addict has to slow down long enough to recognize the internal rhythms of their own bodies and minds.  Not an easy process considering man’s natural tendency is to tread the well worn path – thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately the addicts behavior is so extreme. And the consequences of their behavior that much more obvious. What they really need is the space and time to redefine their relationship with their own patterned responses.

Insurance companies, in our experience, have offered ten days within which to make this lifestyle change.   Ten days!

There is Sadness.

Sadness pervades my every day. I suppose it’s natural to have a dip in your “happiness meter” when your child is a heroin addict. The sadness is like a low level hum in my body. Everyday things are different now. It’s hard to listen to other parents complain about the smallest of things; like disappointment in falling grades. It’s hard to enjoy a glass of wine when you know your child should not. Even previous hobbies, in my case art, become “diversions” (whereas before they set me free). It is hard sometimes to even smile.

It is better than what came before though – which was anxiety. Anxiety based on the false belief that it was up to me to solve my daughter’s problems. Or, at the very least, to put the magic elixir in her hands. Various attempts over the years include enrolling in four different schools within four years, aptitude testing, educational consultants and weekly guidance check-ins. Then came play therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, medication, psychological testing, behavior modification charts, hospitalizations, and family contracts. Then Department of Children and Family intervention, AA meetings, police arrests, court room visits, drug testing, probation, detoxes, rehabs, transitional service facilities, residential homes and sober homes.

I would do it all again. Of course I would. But I have learned to let go of the results. I have replaced my frustration with compassion. This, however, is where the sadness has seeped in.

Sadness because there is resignation. I can not fix this.  I was told this earlier at Al Anon: “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.” Now I know it to be true. The sick person must ultimately heal themselves.

Resignation and compassion…..better than anxiety and frustration.

And that’s all I can say about this today.

HL 3956 just passed. (Hallelujah … and what the hell?)

In Massachusetts we have a legal act called a “section 35” which allows a family member, or police officer, to involuntarily commit a substance abuser to a treatment facility for up to 30 days. We are fortunate to have such a process (as it is not available in many other states).

Getting a section 35 granted is not the easiest of propositions – and it should not be. You are, in essence, denying someone their civil liberty.  One must arrive in court armed with evidence that the person you seek to commit is of “immediate danger to themselves or others.”  If successful in convincing a judge of this fact, a warrant is then issued for the addict to appear in court.  To successfully win their commitment the petitioner must then best the addict’s court appointed attorney, and convince a doctor that harm is surely imminent.

I have done this four times. I am, I suppose, a seasoned section 35’er. I am also seasoned to the flaws in the system.

Four times my child was civilly committed. But only two times did she receive any treatment. Twice there were no treatment beds available at WATC, the state supported Women’s Addiction and Treatment Center. So my daughter was handcuffed and sent to MCI Framingham. MCI Framingham is the highest level security prison for women in Massachusetts. I watched as she was dragged from the courtroom, shoeless and shackled, screaming “Mom please don’t send me there…. they will not help me! Mom please!”

Lucky for me I was able to lock her pleas into a small little compartmentalized part of my brain. A part of my brain that has been built over the years to accommodate the unpleasant lies of addiction.

However, the addict isn’t the only one who lies.

At MCI my daughter was held with women who had plotted to kill their in-laws. Women who had strangled their children. Women who had stabbed their boyfriends. Women who had committed arson. Women who had committed insurance fraud. My daughter was not guilty of a criminal offense. But she was subject to roll calls, solitary confinement and body cavity searches.

Now here’s the thing – when men are sentenced to treatment and there are no available beds, they are sent to Bridgewater Correctional Institute. Bridgewater is a minimum security prison where addiction treatment is immediately provided and is similar to that received in a hospital.

What about Framingham? Did they provide equal access to treatment services ? No, they did not. The first three days of detox are spent in a single room with up to five other women. Detoxing from heroin includes severe diarrhea, hypertension, rapid heart rate, muscle spasms so large that you are often unable to stand, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and impaired respiration that makes you feel like you are underwater. Now experience all of these things together in their most extreme form. And don’t forget you are with five other suffering women. And one toilet. And a guard who doesn’t give a shit.

This is the beginning of the MCI Framingham “treatment” plan. And also the end of it. There is no counseling. There is no medication assistance (either with detoxing or maintenance). There isn’t even an AA group to attend. Women who are civilly committed for the purposes of having their substance abuse treated are incarcerated, ignored and discharged.

So the legislature finally addressed the issue in January 2016. The scramble is now on to increase the number of acceptable treatment beds. But there shouldn’t be a scramble. The ACLU won a successful lawsuit against the state a year earlier but no discernible progress had been made.

We are told the problem is solved. But is it?

If we fix the problem should we not ask why the problem existed in the first place? Lasting change can not occur if we do not question the conditions that allowed it to flourish.

Questions that keep me confounded include the disbelief, that in 2016, we still treat men with more respect than women. Or that the prison staff themselves, year after year, found the treatment of civilly committed women acceptable.  How could a judges remand for substance abuse treatment be blatantly disregarded? Are we unable to address injustice in our culture without the sword of the law? What happened to compassion? Why is a bucket and a cement floor okay?  Why?

Broken Things Have Value.

I have a set of flawless china. It is Lenox and it has a silver rim like a lucky cloud.

I also have a morning coffee cup. It’s crazed from being microwaved just a little bit too much.  There is a chip that serves as a reminder to not sip on that side. When the handle breaks I will, most likely, glue it back on.

Sentimental? Not really.

I have been thinking about broken things a lot lately. How my daughter’s journey has introduced me to the fractured and hidden members of our society. I have been inside too many psychiatric hospitals, too many jails, too many police stations, too many emergency rooms and too many detox centers. I have seen too many people cry.

But now I can hold these experiences in the palm of my hand like an old coffee cup. They are no longer things that happen to other people. And I can see that they have added value to my previously flawless life.

Three years ago I noted in my journal the incongruities that were becoming our norm:

“I had to pick my daughter up from an in-patient psych ward this morning. She looked just beautiful in a black tee shirt and old jeans. Her blonde hair hung in a long braid over one shoulder. I could barely see the bruise on her cheekbone. As she gathered her things to go she insisted on saying goodbye to Carl. She knocked on his door on her tippy toes, and said, “Carl come out.” “Carl, come out and say goodbye to me.” And she waited patiently. I was expecting a young boy…. but an old man came out. Wizened, beaten down, shuffling. She gave him a big, big hug. And I just didn’t know what to do with the feeling.”

Somedays I still don’t know what to do with all the feeling.  But I know I am the better for it.