Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The faith of a faithless man

My dad has always claimed to be an Atheist. I am not 100% convinced he is 100% an Atheist, but for the sake of arguement, we'll just roll with it.

When my sister went into treatment, my parents started going to Alanon meetings (meetings for friends and family members of addicts) for their own "treatment." Alanon walks people through the same 12 steps to recovery as AA and NA do. The first step is to admit that you are powerless. The second and third are as follows:

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

For an Atheist, believing there is a Higher Power is contrary to the core beliefs of Atheism. So it probably comes as no surprise that getting through the 2nd and 3rd steps was quite a challenging process for my dad, and one he fought and struggled with a lot. Finally, he came to define his Higher Power as nature and the universe, and in those times when he needs to reach out to his Higher Power, he "communes with nature," as he puts it. (This is also defined as surfing.)

A week ago, in light of my sister's first visit "home," I told my dad that I was worried and had been praying a lot that everything would work out. During my sister's visit there, I called at least once daily to check in on everything and make sure my sister was okay. Admittedly, I was a bit neurotic with worry. On the 2nd or 3rd day, my dad intercepted the phone before I could talk to my sister, and told me I was needlessly worried. I argued that it wasn't needless worry; she had relapsed countless times by going home, so based on history, I was feeling nervous.

He then told me, "Meg, I have faith in her. Everything will be fine."
"But Dad, we have trusted her in this situation before, and its always gone badly. How can you be so certain it will all be okay?"
"Because I have faith in her. I have faith in all my kids."

I have spent the past week thinking on this conversation, and have come to the realization that for a "faithless" man, my dad has far more faith than I do. I don't have blind faith in people. And probably my sister least of all. I have faith in God, but not in people. And even my faith in God is shaky at best a lot of the time. I came to the conclusion that having blind faith in a mortal person takes far more faith than believing in God, and that He has everything under control.
I've found it humbling, to say the least. And as far as we know, my dad was right. She is okay. (And I can put the phone down now.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Runaway train

During the height of my sister's first stint in rehab and first big relapse, Jeremy bought one of Jack Johnson's CD's. I fell in love with Jack's music and listened to the same songs over and over again. One of those songs, "Breakdown," kind of became like an anthem for that period of my life.

I hope this old train breaks down
Then I could take a walk around
And see what there is to see
And time is just a melody
All the people in the street
Walk as fast as their feet can take them
I just roll through town
And though my windows got a view
The frame im looking through
Seems to have no concern for now
So for now....

I need this here
Old train to breakdown
Oh please just
Let me please breakdown....

That is just the first verse and chorus, but it makes the point. I used to play that song at top volume when I was alone in the car and just cry my eyes out because that is what I wanted more than anything. I just wanted to feel like I could come up for some air.

When you are in high crisis mode, just trying to get from one moment to the next, and everything seems to be stuck on fast forward, there is nothing you want more than for the "train to break down." You just want off. You want out. You want to be able to see and feel and experience other things, but it consumes your whole life, your thoughts, your every breath, your every minute. It sucks the life right out of you. It really feels like life has become a runaway train that is going too fast, and you are too scared, to jump off of. You just feel like screaming at the top of your lungs, "STOP!!!!!!!!"

But you're along for the ride. You can't bail out, because its someone you love who paid for your ride. And though their life has taken you on a ride you never bought a ticket for, or would have chosen to in the first place, you're stuck there.

You eventually just resign yourself to making the best of it. And in time, you do find ways to cope. It does get easier. You wind your way through all these little "towns;" Angerville, Apathytown, Denial City, Despairopolis, and finally, you arrive in Acceptance. You still hate the train you're on, but you start to realize the food isn't as bad as you once thought it was, and the views are improving. It could be worse. You grow, you change, and at the end of the journey, you are a whole new you, having seen and experienced new places along the ride. You have gained a wisdom and a heart of understanding that supercedes anything you would have had, had you not been thrown on the train against your will. Sure, there are still days you just want the train to break down because its all a blur. But you learn how to appreciate the ride you're on for the good it produces. Its a wild ride, and not one I would recommend to anyone. (Take the train to Boston instead, its much more enjoyable!) But you see things and live things that change the whole shape of who you are.

For me, I believe its been for the better. I have arrived "older" and more worn than I ever would have imagined, and I don't think I am anywhere near my final destination yet, but I no longer hate the train, and I am along for the ride until the train finally stops. But for now, at least its slowed down enough for me to enjoy the people, places, faces, and experiences I encounter along the way. And for now, that's good enough.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Rehab isn't as the media portrays

I was watching the new 90210 yesterday. And while I am happy they shed light on the issue of teen drug addiction, their portrayal, in my opinion was way off. Adrianna (the character) was using, overdosed and almost died, went into rehab, tried to flee rehab, her friends took her back, she stayed and got better, and now is back into "normal" life, going to school again and dating Naveed, the friend who paid for her rehab, and now its all sunshine and roses. She's never tempted, blahbitty, blah.

Or there is the whole Lindsay Lohan approach that rehab is like a magical retreat one goes on; you're there for 30 - 90 days, and then poof, you're magically cured.

I think too many people out there think of rehab through the media's portrayal. I know I certainly did at first. But its not like that. Its not a cure-all. Life after addiction is never what it was before. Rehab doesn't fix everything. In fact, statistically speaking, most users relapse at some point after leaving rehab. The percentage of those who are truly "cured" is extremely small.

I think this limited and usually highly embellished exposure sets everyone up with false hope and expectations. I know it did that for me. My sister first went into rehab in September 2005. It was a 30-day program at a Seventh-Day Adventist-run rehab facility in the Napa Valley. I went to visit her about 3 weeks into the program for a family session, and it was eye opening. I realized then that they weren't all going to stay clean. Still, I figured my sister was one of them that was going to make it. She seemed to be taking it seriously, so I figured it was a done deal. She was intellectual enough to realize that using drugs is stupid and a worthless way to spend your life. I figured since she was smart enough, that staying clean was a given. She'd been to rehab so it was over, end of story. So imagine my heartache and sheer shock when I learned the following March that she had relapsed clear back in October! I was crushed, angry, and felt like a total fool.

Rehab takes work. Its a rehabilitation and restoration of every level; spiritual, emotional, physical, mental. If they aren't willing to put in the daily introspection, self-cleansing, and leg work to actually change their life, then its not going to happen. I thought through the love of me and my family, it was a done deal. Unfortuanately, it just doesn't work like that. Since then, she has relapsed countless times and been back into rehab twice. It wasn't until she almost died before going into rehab for the 3rd time, that she finally realized she had too much to lose. Still, like Adrianna, during the toughest point of rehab she tried to run away from the center. Its not all sunshine and roses. Rehab makes you deal with those parts of yourself that you hate and have spent so much time, energy, and money trying to self-medicate against.

My point is, rehab isn't a miracle. It isn't a retreat. It isn't fun. It isn't easy. And it isn't permanent. It is very hard work. It is dealing with the years of pain and heartache. It is deciding to live a better life. It is beating the statistical odds. And the statistics don't lie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why I am telling my story

Many people may not know this about me, but I have been fighting the day-to-day family battle of addiction and alcoholism with my sister. As of right now, she is 16 months clean off heroin and a little over 10 months sober. This is a huge feat - it is a point all of us were coming to terms with never seeing.

Anyone who thinks that the pain and struggle of addiction is limited to the addict, nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone in my family has felt the gut-wrenching pain of watching her slowly kill herself, wanting a better life for her. We have screamed, cried, prayed, and hoped our hearts out. We are still dealing with trusting her, and trusting our hearts to trust her and her recovery again. Its been a very, very long, hard, painful road.

My mom suggested once that I write a memoir-style book about addiction through the eyes of a sibling, because nothing like that (as far as we have been able to find) exists. My thoughts on my sister's addiction come in waves, and everyday a new "theme" emerges, so there is going to be no rhyme or reason to the order of my entires. But I thought just writing my thoughts about it when I can and in whatever jumbled order I can in a blog may be a good jumping-off point.

Since dealing with this and coming to a point of personal strength and triumph over the pain of all of it, I have decided it is part of my God-given purpose to offer our family's story to educate, minister to, heal, comfort, and offer hope and understanding to others, and to break down the stereotypes and shame that is often tied in with those living day-to-day with an addict. So I think in sharing my story, hopefully I can, in some small way, start the ball rolling on what I believe I was supposed to share with others. Life is about taking a bad situation and turning it into something good, and I am hoping through blogging about this, perhaps I can do just that. I know its heavy material and many people aren't really comfortable with it, but part of my goal, hopefully, is to make people rethink things about addiction and the family - all the ups and the downs, the whole process, with complete truth, honesty, and openness. I feel its my duty, and with that, I begin.