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Archive for June, 2009
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Co-Occurring Disorders
Monday, June 29th, 2009

We live in a society of excess, where street drugs are readily available, so it is not surprising that many teens experiment with drugs. However, more is known now about teenagers who are not only experimenting, but who are self-medicating because they have other disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Dealing with a child who has co-occurring disorders is of course even more difficult. If you are reading this blog, this already means your eyes are open and you’re taking steps to be fully informed.

For me the most challenging part of parenting has been that in my family, substance abuse has been intensified by co-occurring mental illness and a family history of genetic vulnerability. So much more is known now about the brain and chemical imbalances than when my husband and I and our children first began to experience the ravages of both in the early 1960s. Truly, we hadn’t a clue.

Months before my wedding, the man I was to marry, the star athlete and class president I had fallen in love with five years earlier in high school, climbed out onto the ledge of my mother’s fifth-floor New York City apartment, and in a state of drunken bravado, threatened to jump.

Off and on over our fourteen years together and the parenting of two children, he continued to go through episodic periods of binge drinking accompanied by wild behavior and threats of suicide. In 1977, when my children were eleven and thirteen, he did kill himself.

All through these episodes, we always thought of it as a problem with alcohol. It was not until his death, and when I finally sought professional help, that I realized that of course he had a mental illness, most likely a bipolar disorder.

And even though I was now much better informed, I still did not fully understand how vulnerable my children were. It was not until they reached their 20s that one of my children became willing to see his problems in terms of co-occurring disorders. The other son never sought help and ended his life at the age of 28.

When mental illness and suicide are part of a family’s history, the whole question of when to hang on and when to let go becomes much more complicated. Drawing the line when someone is in the midst of a psychotic break is more than a tough call.

Though it is important not to rush into labeling a difficult teenager, not to rush into medication as the answer, parents are wise to become informed about symptoms and seek counsel with highly qualified professionals who can keep an eye on what’s going on, especially if there is some family history of depression or manic behavior.

My husband’s father, a man who majored in psychology in college and was the director of a children’s home in a large city for many years — and who himself carefully monitored bouts of acute anxiety — revealed to me after my husband’s death that when he himself was a boy, he would come home from school hoping his mother had not stuck her head in the oven, as she had threatened to do before he and his sister had set out that morning.

I do not want to end on such a bleak note. Though I am reluctant to steal any more secrets from family members, I do want to say that my son has gone through a long period of recovery and is now, day by day, leading a productive, creative life.

Posted by Ginnah Howard  /  Filed under Co-Occurring Disorders, Family History, Warning Signs  /  Comments: more

Panicked: Our Child Was Living on the Streets
Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

My stepdaughter Katherine was living on the streets with her “meth family” — but we didn’t know where.

We spent countless days and nights waiting for the phone to ring, searching the streets of San Francisco for her whereabouts, seeking help from drug users, police, anyone who would listen to our plight. 

We were in a panic, wondering where she was, where she was sleeping, if she was eating, if she was alive — or if we were about to receive the dreaded call every parent fears. 

Trying to cope with our daily routines was almost unbearable as Katherine’s disappearance consumed us.  Yet we knew we had to stick together in order to rescue her.  We had to stay strong and did so by using these four approaches:

1. FORM A TEAM WITH YOUR SPOUSE/PARTNER:  I cannot tell you how hard it is as a step-mom to convince a biological parent that his child, who he’s known and loved since birth, needs serious, outside help.  But it’s so important that the couple is in absolute, total agreement before redirecting their efforts to saving the child’s life from an addiction.  So, the first thing to do is to form a team that is in total agreement of a) the addiction and b) the approach and methods to getting your child back.

2. STAY POSITIVE:  You have to give up the idea of being “super mom or dad” and trying to “fix” your child’s addiction as if it were a homework issue.  We had to turn over some of the parental instinct and control to a higher power.  This did not mean we gave up, but rather, we stayed optimistic, hoping this positive thinking would keep us sane. We were sure to reassure her friends — and any other possible points of contact — that we were not angry or bitter but simply there for her. 

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Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Dealing with an Addicted Child  /  Comments: more

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Someone asked me, “What has been the hardest part of sharing a story that has a lot of personal experience woven in?” My answer may be difficult to understand for someone who doesn’t write.

Once I get going on a novel, my own experience becomes material for me to use. As I said in a previous post, it is no longer “my story.” As in any novel, it must have what all good stories have: characters we believe in, dramatic tension, maybe some light that shines through for somebody at the close. A novel is usually a lot more ordered than our real lives. So I write, and to make it a good story, where I need to go next is pretty much intuitive: there are real events and imaginary ones that “come” to me, and I don’t differentiate. It’s like I’m building a house: I just haul over what I need next to try to keep the structure from falling down.

And maybe there’s another reason writers write as opposed to telling a support group the truth of their troubles as they see it: In a story, what has happened can be transformed into how it might happen. People still struggling in the writer’s real world can, in this invented story, make some small move that leads us all to believe recovery is possible. 

But — and here’s what turns out to be the hardest part, and maybe if I’d fully faced these consequences, I wouldn’t have written Night Navigation

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Posted by Ginnah Howard  /  Filed under Writing About Addiction  /  Comments: 0

The Rollercoaster of Helping an Addicted Child
Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

When you suspect your child is in trouble, one of the most difficult challenges is figuring out how to approach him or her.  Beyond dealing with their particular substance abuse, the big question is how to get them engaged and encouraged to accept treatment. 

Our first attempt at approaching my stepdaughter Katherine did not go well.  As a young adult, access to private information through the school was denied, while friends and acquaintances were never honest with us.  Our only recourse was to invade her personal space at home. 

We read through papers she left around, checked the trunk of her car and found ourselves investigating our own child.  This is not a pleasant undertaking but much needed. 

To this day, I firmly believe Katherine wanted to be helped as she left, in plain sight, writings regarding her usage as well as the failing school notice.  It was then that we decided to tell her that we were no longer paying for her college tuition. 

With this devastating information she left our home for her mother’s in Hawaii.  Ultimately, life in Hawaii took her further downward. 

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Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Recovery & Relapse, Treatment  /  Comments: more

The Perilous Pitfalls of Enabling Your Child
Friday, June 12th, 2009

Have we raised the most spoiled generation of children in the history of humanity? After ours, of course.

Certainly you need a new laptop, darling, yours is a month old.
Those jeans are pretty shabby after one wash and what, you can’t text Mars on your cell? Poor thing.

Bad enough when the teen has normal issues, but when they’re in the clutches of addiction, enabling takes on an entirely new and dangerous meaning: spoiled brat embarrassing you in the mall on a Saturday afternoon versus drug overdose in the emergency room on a Saturday night.

We’re all at the mercy of our own overpowering love, seizing upon the slightest progress as an epiphany — so the new friend has a tattoo of Satan on her forehead, least she has a nice smile — and rewarding that with slavish generosity.

And they know it. Addicts manipulate. Teenage addicts, off the charts. Worn out from this endless war, we appease those emotional terrorists in the bedroom down the hall. Maybe they will leave us alone if we only…

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Posted by Gary Morgenstein  /  Filed under Enabling  /  Comments: more

Two Voices
Friday, June 12th, 2009

There is a lot of personal experience woven into my novel, Night Navigation, but from the moment I started writing it, I worked to find a way to make the leap into “real” fiction; I did not want this to be “my story.” I wanted it to be the story of what was left of a family — an adult man, Mark Merrick, and Del, his mother — after the suicide of Mark’s father and brother.

The main way I chose to create a novel, rather than autobiography, was to move back and forth between the two voices of son and mother. By working in the point of view of a manic-depressive 37-seven year old man who was addicted to heroin, I was able to enter places I could never have gone if I had chosen to work in the “I” of memoir or spoken only in the voice of Del Merrick.

Also, strangely enough, Mark, the mostly imagined character, was much easier to create, while Del, who was a lot like me, tended to go on and on with all the backstory she thought essential, but which really just bogged things down.

Here’s an example of how differently each of these characters spoke to me when I sat alone and worked on reinventing their two worlds:

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Posted by Ginnah Howard  /  Filed under Writing About Addiction  /  Comments: 0

Katherine, the Early Years
Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

My stepdaughter Katherine’s high-school years were like most teenagers.  She was a good student, had great friends, acted in school plays, and sang in the chorus.  She was the center of laughter with a creative mind. 

We shared her excitement when the University of San Diego accepted her and we sent her off beaming with pride for what we thought would be some of the best years of her life.  We wanted to believe she was going to experience everything positive that comes from a college freshman’s first time away from home – dorm life, new friends and feelings of accomplishment. 

But at some point she deviated from the normal college experience and entered a fast-paced world of addiction and chaos. 

It began with hair variations (many colors), weight change and body piercing.  In the beginning these behaviors, by themselves, did not appear to be anything other than experiments with her new-found independence.  Her father and I were not happy with any of these decisions but we rationalized it as typical freshman behavior. Looking back on it now, it’s clear that these were early signs of her drug use.

On another visit we noticed bolder actions.  This time, not only was her hair an issue, but more body piercings were on display.  I will never forget the shock on her father’s face when he first saw her flashy tongue piercing and bright blue hair.  Katherine routinely asked for more food money because she was always running low.  She responded to the discussion of grades with resistance (we later found out that she was on academic probation.)

Visits home during the holidays became confrontational with new “friends” showing up at our door – we later discovered that she used her computer to network and meet dealers and meth users online.  The neon lights were flashing as we began to notice this new Katherine.

Posted by Linda Quirk  /  Filed under Warning Signs  /  Comments: 0


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