Back in 2011, when our son Steven first went down to Florida for treatment for drug addiction, my husband and I attended two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with him.  Having been our first experience attending a meeting of this kind, we were both taken aback by first the amount of people in attendance.  We were shocked to see the room filled with about 200 people.  The second eye opening experience we had was how many young, mostly white, males were in attendance.  That weekend, we drove by many other meeting sights, visibly clear by the amount of people standing outside a church or meeting hall smoking cigarettes before they went in.  Back then, it was so difficult to listen to the stories these kids told and realizing that our son was no different.

This past weekend, we were down in Florida to attend our son’s graduation from college. We once again accompanied him to a meeting, but this time it took on a whole different meaning.  We noticed how much pride he takes in his sobriety and “working his program.”  He presently has four kids he sponsors and as of right now, they are all doing well. This time we attended what he calls his “home group.”  This meeting is held every Monday night in Light House Point, Florida.  It is a men’s meeting, however, I was allowed to come this one night.  The room was filled with about 50 men ranging in age anywhere from 19 to 70. It started off the same way most meetings do, with a collection.  The members are asked to donate whatever they can in order to cover the costs of conducting the meeting.  The chairperson is in charge of starting the meeting and introducing the speaker.  This particular night Steven was asked to speak.  While we have heard him speak once before, we couldn’t help but notice how eloquent of a speaker he has become.  He told his story, but the focus was not so much on his addiction, but more about his sobriety and how important that has become in his life.  Since we were there, he talked mostly about the support he has received over the years from both of us

After Steven spoke, his sponsor got up and spoke about Steven.  He talked about his journey through sobriety and how far he has come in the past three and a half years having graduated from college, securing a job, and mentoring many people, both at home and in Florida, along the way. Steven’s sponsor is 59 years old and they have a closer relationship then he has with anyone his age.

As all meetings do, they end with the Lord’s Prayer, and the Serenity Prayer.  We had the opportunity to speak with many of the people who attend this meeting on a regular basis.  Each one of them took the time to tell us about Steven’s success and how proud they were of how far he has come.

What a different feeling from that first meeting we attended.  We went from surrendering our son to a group of people and trusting that they would take care of him, to seeing how he has grown a part of a community that has embraced him as their own.

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/03/04/the-rate-of-heroin-overdose-deaths-has-nearly-tripled-in-just-three-years/?postshare=5001425573337621

Opioid abuse and overdose deaths have reached crisis proportions in the United States. Deaths from opioid painkillers now exceed all other drug overdose deaths, and we are seeing increases in heroin use and increased deaths from heroin as people addicted to painkillers transition to this cheaper, more potent street drug. More must be done to confront the opioid crisis head-on.

According to the Journal of Addiction, prescription drug misuse has increased significantly in the U.S. in the past decade and is most prevalent among young adults 18 to 25 years of age. Prescription opioids, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, are the most frequently misused class of prescription drug among young adults. Prescription opioids are a particularly important public health concern since opioid misuse is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including injection drug use drug, dependence , and fatal overdose. They usually start off by ingesting the pills, and ultimately move to chewing, snorting, smoking and then injecting intravenously. The later methods increase the potency of the opiates and provide a greater high.  The quantity of prescription opioids and number of refills prescribed to adolescents should be carefully considered and closely monitored to reduce subsequent nonmedical use of leftover medication.”  In the 1960s, the typical user was an inner-city teenager, whose habit started with heroin. Now heroin users in America are more likely to be white suburban men and women in their 20s who get hooked on prescription opiates and then turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get.

In July 2014, the CDC reported that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for pain killers in a single year—enough for every U.S. adult to have a bottle of pills. Painkillers and heroin both come from the opioid poppy, but heroin is considerably less expensive than painkillers and, while it’s illegal, it does not require a prescription.

How is this OK???

http://theweek.com/articles/541564/how-american-opiate-epidemic-started-by-pharmaceutical-company

Back in the mid-nineties, my brother was a pharmaceutical sales rep for Perdue Pharmaceuticals.  While I may not remember the exact year, I do remember the night he came over and asked me to edit a report he needed for work.  I agreed, but told him I needed him to sit with me as I may make grammatical changes that may in fact change the meaning of his report.  Since I was not familiar with the science of pharmaceuticals, I needed him to translate.  After we went through the report line by line, I distinctly remember saying to him, “Man Chris, this shit is dangerous.” I quickly realized how addictive it was because as an opiate base, it was like morphine.  I was well aware of what morphine was because that is what they gave to our mother when she was dying.  The report ended with a quick questionnaire for the doctors prescribing it to give to their patients.  The three questions I can remember were:

  • Do you smoke? If so how much?
  • Do you drink? If so how much?
  • Do you have an addictive personality?

I remember saying to him at the time, “This is a joke!  No one who smokes or drinks excessively tells the truth about how much they smoke or drink.  And very few people will admit they have an addictive personality, especially if they are trying to hide it.”

I never forgot that interaction, but at the time all I took away from it was that I would never let a doctor prescribe OxyContin to me.  How prophetic that it came back to take over my family’s life just a few years later.

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/atlantic/heroin-addiction-killed-weymouth-man-and-his-parents-are-telling/article_fbf32592-d010-11e4-b6b7-176577ec6254.html#.VQ66qkpYVIA.facebook

Too many parents are living the same story that Bonnie and Douglas Yearsley are living.  These kids are all described as “good kids.”  They are loyal, kind, have big hearts, I could go on and on, and yet somehow they become entangled in a drug that they can’t control.  It takes over their brains and hijacks them so that nothing else matters.  The more and more I read, the harder it is to comprehend. Thier son Andrew became addicted because he was initially prescribed pain medication for an ear infection! How can we accept that?

According to a January 2014 article by Consumer Reports “America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. About 45 people a day, more than 16,600 people a year, die from overdoses of the drugs, including methadonemorphine, and oxycodone(OxyContin) and hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen (Lortab and Vicodin). And for every death, more than 30 others are admitted to the emergency room.”

Why is this happening? Because “Prescriptions for the drugs have climbed 300 percent in the last decade or so. In fact, Vicodin and other hydrocodone-combination painkillers are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S.”

Manage pain without drugs (From Consumer Reports, January 2014)

Studies show that nondrug treatments, including exercise, lifestyle adjustments, behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and massage—can significantly reduce pain and increase the ability to function. So much so that some people with mild and even moderate chronic pain manage well without taking any medications regularly.

Here are some options that can help, depending on your kind of pain.

▪ Back pain. Staying physically active often helps. Acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, and yoga, might work, too.

▪ Headaches. Cutting back on alcohol and avoiding foods that set off your headaches might help, as can controlling stress with meditation, relaxation therapy, or other means. Exercise can also help.

▪ Osteoarthritis. Low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking, and yoga, can ease pain and improve function. But it’s best to avoid high-impact activities, such as running or tennis, which might aggravate your symptoms.

▪ Fibromyalgia. Regular exercise can help reduce pain and fatigue. Other options to consider include cognitive behavioral therapy—a type of psycho-therapy—meditation, and tai chi, which is a form of exercise involving slow, gentle movements combined with deep breathing.

I had sent Tom a list of questions via email, so he was prepared for what I would ask him. We tried to conduct the interview last night via FaceTime or Skype, but his Internet connection was sketchy and kept going out.  I ended up just calling him and we spoke by phone. I started with the questions I had sent him, but soon into it, he just started telling me his story. Even though I have never met Tom, he seemed very comfortable with me. There was a sense of familiarity with him.  I felt like I knew him.  He was very similar to many of the kids I have come in contact with.  He was polite, well-spoken and very honest.  In fact he kept apologizing for some of the stories he was telling me, as if he was apologizing to his own mother.

Tom was born and raised in South Jersey.  His parents are both from the Gloucester County area so he has heavy ties to his community.  Mom and Dad have been married for over 25 years, and he has two younger siblings: one sister and one brother.

Tom described his childhood as very good.  He was happy.  Tom was smart, did well in school and was a gifted athlete.  He excelled in ice hockey rather quickly and the family spotlight seemed to be on him.  That spotlight, however, came with a lot of pressure. While both parents supported him athletically, it was his dad who was most involved.  Dad was the one who traveled with him and came to most of his games, but he also “chewed out the left ear” on the way home.  Tom didn’t feel like he ever lived up to Dad’s expectations in hockey. He describes his relationship with Dad as good, except when he started using.  Dad was the one who issued the discipline and there was a lot of head butting, disappointment, and arguing.

His relationship with Mom was always good.  She was a stay at home mom until he was about ten. Of his two parents, she was more nurturing and played ‘good cop’ more often than not.  He said Mom and Dad were not on the same page at all, and it was easier for him to manipulate Mom.

There are addiction issues on both sides of his family; however it was something they did not talk about.  They believed in keeping their business private.

For the next hour I then asked Tom to tell me his story. He took his first drink when he was on a family vacation at the age of twelve, but it wasn’t until he was a freshman in high school when he really started drinking.  Superbowl Sunday that year was first time Tom got drunk.

Throughout the conversation, Tom did most of the talking and I just listened.  It was somewhat difficult for me because so much of what he was saying was familiar to my own experience in dealing with my son’s addiction.  I had a hard time reliving those memories.

On the other hand, I felt like it was very cathartic for Tom. He was able to tell his story and he knew he wouldn’t be judged.  It also provided a time line for him, which may be helpful as he moves forward in his recovery.

Fieldnotes number 2

Posted: April 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

Photographs 

No pictures were allowed to be taken in the room.20150415_143225 20150415_143246 (1)

Transcription

Most who came in looked around for an empty seat and quickly sat down, perhaps hoping no one would notice them.  Some came in and greeted those they knew with a hug or a handshake.  You could hear some of the conversations, mostly about the weather finally breaking or how the Phillies did in the recent series with the Nationals.  As 7:00 approached, a very spirited woman who seemed to be in her mid forties, asked everyone to take a seat.  She began the meeting by explaining that we were all here to support one another who are dealing with addiction in any “way, shape, or form.”  This was not an AA, NA or Al-Anon meeting; it had no real qualifications.  It was just a support group for people who needed help dealing with addiction in any way.  She went on to say, “You may be here because you are a co-dependent.  You may be here because you are an addict in long term recovery.  You may be here because you are an addict who is recently in recovery.  You may be here because you are afraid a loved one is in trouble and need direction.  Whatever reason you have decided to join us tonight, stay.  We have a place for you.”

The facilitator sat within the circle and asked everyone to share why they came.  She started with a woman sitting to her right. With her head down and voice quivering, she told the group her name and said she was here because her 20 year old daughter had just entered rehab for the third time. Her daughter had completed detox and after three days in treatment, she wanted to come home.  She was looking for strength to say no and not fall into the trap that she had been in many times before which is believing that this time her daughter could do it on her own. The woman sitting next to her grabbed her hand and handed her a tissue.  I don’t think they knew each other, but the physical support was welcomed by this woman who started crying a little harder. The stories continued around the room. Many were parents who were dealing with their sons and daughters and the varying degrees of addiction and recovery.  Some people had more than one child who was struggling with addiction and the weariness was evident by their tired faces, weak voices and the look of defeat in their body language. There were some people there who were in recovery with 3 months clean, 18 months clean, 3 years clean, and one gentleman who was celebrating 25 years of sobriety.  They were the beacons of hope for so many who were beaten down by the role of codependency. Sharing took about  forty minutes as some people shared a little more than others.

Once everyone had their turn to speak, a young man in his early thirties dressed in jeans, a crisp long sleeve white Polo t-shirt, and bright multicolored Nike sneakers was introduced as this night’s speaker.  His short cut blonde hair, blue eyes and infectious smile lit up the room. He introduced himself, “Hi I’m Mike (this is not his real name). I am an addict and alcoholic in long term recovery and just celebrated 4 years clean and sober March 30th.”  Everyone applauded.  He was sitting next to his father who looked like an older version of his son.  His smile showed both the pride he had as well as the pain he suffered at the same time.  Mike went on to tell his story of how he started, as most kids do, with drinking beer and smoking pot. He was a three sport athlete and a pretty good student, but he loved to party.  Mike’s story is like so many others, but it seemed to give comfort to the many people who came into this room tonight perhaps not knowing what they were looking for.  For some you could actually see the looks on their faces change from defeat to hopeful.  It was if Mike could make it, so could their son or daughter, mother or father, husband or wife, or even themselves. At 8:25 the facilitator started to wrap up the meeting. She was vigilant about respecting everyone’s time.  She thanked everyone for sharing and we applauded Mike, and his dad, one last time.  The group then all got up and formed a circle inside the chairs. One by one people started to reach for each other’s hands. The meeting ended with everyone reciting the Serenity Prayer.

Scene

I entered the room I had been in so many times before with a much different perspective.  As the president of the school’s athletic association, I conducted monthly meetings, fall and spring sports registrations, and team pictures in that same room for over ten years.  Since it was often occupied by boisterous children, it was always filled with energy.  However tonight it felt as if I had entered this room for the first time. I was surprised at how nervous I was as I tentatively walked in pushing my husband from behind to lead the way. It was a much different scene from what I was used to.  Instead of a room full of ramy kids trying to be corralled by their parents, the room was rather serene with a quiet hum. The room’s portable wall was open so that the side by side ministry rooms were connected making one big long room. There were 75 chairs set up on the perimeter of the room forming a circle, and 56 were filled. Behind the circle to the far end of the room, long rectangular tables were set up with pamphlets containing information about treatment centers, support groups, and articles documenting the latest progress in the fight against drug addiction.

 Reflection

Coming to this meeting was very difficult for me.  I had been to an Al-Anon meeting about 5 years ago and had to leave.  All I heard were horror stories.  I left there thinking, How does this help anyone?  It gives you absolutely no hope for a positive outcome. Therefore the thought of going to another support group had me worried because right now things were pretty good, and the last thing I want to hear is a story about a kid who had four or five years sober and relapsed. However this meeting was quite different. Sure there were stories of heartbreak, but there seemed to be more stories of success, albeit small successes, but success none the less.  I don’t know, maybe the last time I went to a meeting I wasn’t ready for it, but I certainly looked at it from a much different perspective.  Last time I felt no one understood what we were going through. But this time was different.  Maybe because I was more open to participating nd being a part of it. In Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes it states,  “As inscriptions, fieldnotes are products of and reflect conventions for transforming witnessed events, persons, and places into words on paper. In part, this transformation involves inevitable processes of selection; the ethnographer writes about certain things and thereby necessarily “leaves out” others. But more significantly, descriptive fieldnotes also inevitably present or frame objects in particular ways, “missing” other ways that events might have been presented or framed.” Now five years later, I know too many people who know exactly what we were going through.  I guess I needed to see it with new eyes.

I have arranged an online interview with an addict in recovery.  He is 25 years old and from South Jersey, however he is currently living in a sober living environment in South Florida.   I am not using his real name because of the stigma that is associated with drug addiction.  While he does not necessarily hide from his addiction, he is fearful people could use it against him when trying to get a job.  Even though that type of discrimination is illegal, we all know it happens.

I will be sending him a list of questions to start off with. After that we will talk on the phone. My focus is to chronicle his journey and how he got started. Below are some questions I will send to him, but most of the interview will be in a conversational style when we talk via phone.

  • Tell me a little bit about you as a child.  What was it like for you growing up?
  • Where did you go to school? If you don’t want to mention the name, how would you describe it?
  • What are some activities you participated in?
  • What level of education did your parents have?
  • How many siblings do you have?
  • How were they affected by your drug use?
  • Did your parents talk to you about drugs?
  • When was the first time you drank?
  • When was the first time you did any kind of drugs?  What was it?
  • Who were you with?
  • How did it progress?
  • What are some of the consequences you faced as a result of your drug use?
  • When did you realize you were an addict?
  • How much clean time do you have?
  • How do you deal with the daily struggle to stay clean?