Addiction is NOT a Choice

“Choose to get clean.”

“I have no sympathy, just another rich bitch on drugs.”

“This is not a disease, it’s a choice.”

These are just three of the MILLIONS of comments that echo this sentiment about Demi Lavato.  No, Demi did not begin the conversation, hers is just the latest celebrity overdose to reignite the debate that addiction is not a disease, but a choice.   This argument has been fought bitterly on both sides from the outset of the creation of the diagnosis.  For the record, whether you agree or not, the American Psychological Association categorizes substance abuse as a disease, it can be found in the DSM, the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual- the bible of mental health disorders- right along with Depression and Social Anxiety Disorder.

I can appreciate the debate, the misconception that it is, indeed, a choice.  However, unless you, yourself are an addict and/or alcoholic, you absolutely cannot understand the feeling of enslavement that comes along with having this disease.  How can you? Every day, you do have choice.  You choose whether to have that glass of wine with dinner, or not to.  You choose to share that joint at a concert with friends, or not to.  Alcoholics and addicts simply do not have that choice.  We are powerless to the substance.  I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, no one, NO ONE, wakes up one day and thinks, “Hey, I would just love to be a slave to alcohol or illicit drugs.”  Honestly, logic would dictate that if we had the choice, we wouldn’t continue along such a significantly destructive path. A path of obliteration, filled with lies and horror, shame and disgust, and an eternally present, indescribable fear.  Why would anyone want to feel like shit about themselves day in and day out?  If we could simply put the drink or drug down, why would we choose not to?

No, it’s not a choice, it’s simply a fact.  This is how we were born, before we even took our first steps, tried that first taste of mashed bananas, or uttered our first words; we were addicts.  We have no more choice over this part of our genetic makeup than we do our hair or eye color.

Now this is when the naysayer comes in and says something like, “It was your choice to try alcohol and/or drugs to begin with.”  Well, yes, you got me there*…  However, what you don’t understand is that this is a sneaky and progressive disease.  Apart from heroin, which is a beast of a different nature, no one is instantaneously addicted to the substance itself.  No, it’s subtler than that, it’s so much more sly and underhanded.  First, we become addicted to the feeling of emotional relief and comfort that it gives us.  With that very first sip, snort, or inhale a switch in our brain is flipped and suddenly we feel “normal” for the very first time.  Just like that, life is suddenly manageable.  All the challenges that we don’t have successful coping skills for melt away, and we finally feel like we belong in our own skin.  Our bodies relax and the feeling of emotional freedom that we have unknowingly craved pins us up against a wall.  This is who we are supposed to be, how we were meant to feel!  Finally!

Then we want that feeling again, and again, and then again, until eventually we can’t live without it.  At this point, it’s too late; we are in over our heads with alcohol and/or substances and we don’t know how to stop.  Then, one day, what used to work no longer does, because now you have tolerance, and your search for that relief intensifies.

Finally, your brain stops producing its own happy makers.  The dopamine and serotonin that once pumped, plentiful and bounteous, has slowed to a trickle, and without your substance, you can no long achieve any state of emotional regulation.  You have no choice; you either use, or you fall so hard you are not sure you will ever be able to get up again.

This descent may take months, years, or even decades.  However, once you’re there, the shame and fear take over.  You yourself wonder how you let it get this far.  You fear that there is no way to live without this substance and you are now stuck in this vicious world called addiction.  Even when you “hit bottom” and you decide to get help, you’re unprepared for how much worse it gets before it gets better.  The only way your body knows how to live is with that substance, and now, you must learn to live without it.  The disease begins to talk to you, like the devil on your shoulder.  It reminds you of all the good times, while it completely buries away all the horrid times.

I know that this is a break from my normal blogging subject matter.  However, as someone in recovery, but who also works as a mental health counselor with people seeking treatment, I think it’s worth the departure.  Two-thirds of families in the U.S. have been touched by addiction.  Many who need help do not seek it because they are told that it is their choice to be this way.  It is not.

*Unless you were prescribed pain killers by your doctor and you had no idea that you would soon become addicted to opioids- then the choice was made by someone else.

addiction-recovery

Another School Year With ADHD

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As Man eagerly climbed the staircase of the bus for the last ride of his second-grade year, I let out a deep sigh of relief.  A year’s worth of emotion flooded out of me as I waved at his smiling face through the window while the bus drove away.  He disappeared down the street on his way to his last day of school and I burst into tears.  We had made it through another year of school and he was still a happy, sweet, and eager boy.

Second grade had been a success.  More than a success, he had thrived.  And suddenly I felt all the inner strength, fear, anxiety, worry, and anticipation that had slowly gathered inside of me over the last 180 days pour out at the end of my driveway while my dog looked on in wonder.  She walked over and licked the tears from my face, as she could feel the massive release of tension oozing out of me in that moment as well.

I don’t think I had realized just how much I was holding my breath every day until those doors closed behind him.  I don’t think I understood how much of my worry got on this bus with him and rode to school each morning until I knew that it was his last ride.  For my own survival, I had compartmentalized my fear and anxiety into the furthest recesses of my heart.  It was always there behind every beat, but I had refused to let it drive its rhythm.

My goal for Man every year (and I suspect this is the goal for many parents) is to just get him from point A to point B, from the beginning to the end, happily.  While I do push his studies and, of course, want him to thrive academically every year, my overarching goal is simple—his happiness and self-esteem.  I am of the belief that it doesn’t matter how smart he is or how well he did on that spelling or math test; if he isn’t happy and he doesn’t feel good about himself, then none of that matters.  His intelligence is static, it will always be there, ready for action, but it will be useless if we must first fight through depression and poor self-esteem.

Kids like Man are at constant risk for depression.  It’s not because they are born with a chemical imbalance (though some might be), it’s because their day-to-day academic and social environment isn’t designed for them.  For better or worse, I have accepted that his school setting is one we must live with and make work for us.  He, and others like him, will always be the round pegs trying to fit into the square holes.  It doesn’t matter what district in what state we live in, the laws of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have not yet caught up with the social, emotional, educational, and executive functioning needs of the diagnosis of ADHD.  As I wrote about in my post Your Child is Too Smart for an IEP, he does not qualify for an IEP anymore and because he is doing well enough academically (the law states you must be two standard deviations below the norm), we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if we pushed for them to pay for a program that caters more to his executive functioning and emotional needs.

So here we are, stuck making each new year work for us.  We take the social, emotional, and academic demands of each grade and face them head on.  We design and implement new strategies to fit that new year, and so far, that has been working.  He is still a happy little boy.  But with that comes extreme fear and anxiety—what if next year it doesn’t work?   I feel my ability to protect him slipping out of my grip with each passing year.  As he gets older, he grows to understand more about himself and the world around him.  As he climbs through the grades, he sees more clearly both his differences and his similarities.  As the years go on, he begins to ask more questions about these differences and how they have come to be.  And this makes me worry.

 For right now, for today, he loves himself.

For right now, for today, he thinks his group of friends is simply the best—and so do I!

For right now, for today, he thinks he is smart as a whip—and he is!

For right now, for today, he thinks his choices in extracurricular activities are sublime—and they are!

For right now, for today, he is a happy little boy—and I will work to keep it that way with each passing year.

bus

Growing Up Divorced

My earliest childhood memories are not of vacations, splashing in waves as the sun cascades over my family.  I can’t see any images of where we spent each holiday or participated in activities we all enjoyed on a Saturday afternoon.  Even when I look back at pictures of fishing trips and boating excursions, evidence that these family events did take place, the smile is missing on my dad’s face, his thick mustache covering a stiff upper lip.  I look closer and recognize the vacant expressions mirrored on all of our faces.

I remember the fighting, the yelling and the anger. I remember my brother, aged seven – only three and a half years older than me – holding me on the front path outside our house as I sobbed because I was scared.  If I allow it, I can still hear their arguing voices in the night behind closed doors; they think we are asleep, but we are not.  There is emptiness inside, not a single feeling of familial harmony, love and togetherness.  I never developed a sense that my home was a safe place, a comfort zone, a place where nothing could harm me.  Until I had children of my own, I had no idea of the profoundness of the effect it had on me.

The unhappiness my parents felt in marriage only fueled the flames of an epically long and painful divorce process.   Thankfully they got divorced when I was five and my brother was eight.  I say thankfully because I do not believe in staying together just for the children.  That’s right; you heard me, if you are not happy and are constantly fighting, or worse just completely ignoring each other, you will not only live a lifetime of unhappiness but you will teach your children that it’s okay to live that way too.  No, if you have tried everything (counseling, etc.), it’s better to part ways and attempt to rebuild on your own.  Show them strength and resilience, give them a chance to possibly see you truly love again and to understand how wonderful and magical marriage can be.

With that having been said, the actual divorce and the years that follow will, without a doubt, be extremely difficult on the entire family. You will not be able to protect your children from everything, but you can make it easier on them.  The unhappiness my parents felt in marriage only fueled the flames of a long and painful divorce process and it took a lifelong toll.

I am not a psychologist or a counselor; I can only speak from personal experience.

Always remember they are still children.  It doesn’t matter if they are six or 16; children have not reached a level of emotional development to cope with certain aspects of the divorce.  Encourage them to talk to someone that is not you or your ex-partner.  It does not have to be a mental health professional; it can be a teacher, a priest/rabbi, a coach, anyone they are willing to open up to.  Being able to talk about their feelings with someone who is completely neutral, whose sole purpose is to just listen to them can be very helpful.

Put your feelings aside.  There is a time and place to show your rage and dislike of your ex, but that place is not in front of your children.   No matter what went down between you, all your kids know is that they still want a mom and a dad.  As parents it is your job to make sure that you keep at least an unbiased attitude towards each other as the children develop new and equal relationships with both of you.   Remember, at one time you chose this person to be the mother/father of your children, you cannot take that away.

You don’t have to be friends, just friendly.  It’s important to see each other briefly every once in a while if only to make sure that major life events, such as bar/bat mitzvah’s, sweet 16’s, or weddings are not the first place you have laid eyes on each other in a decade or two.  These are not the types of occasions you want ruined with awkward interactions.  It doesn’t have to be dinner and drinks, just a quick hello during pick up/drop off of the kids every now and then.

Don’t bad mouth the other in front of them.  The fact that mom and dad no longer love each other or live together is confusing enough.  “If they don’t love each other, do they still love me?” is a common thought. Allow children to express feelings and share stories about your ex without any negative commentary; keep the comments to yourself and let them out to a friend later.  All children want a healthy relationship with each parent; you should not get in the way of that.

Never put them in the middle.  Though this directly involves your children, your divorce is something that is taking place strictly between you and your ex.

Though there are aspects of the divorce that remain difficult even today (think kids’ birthday parties), eventually I made my peace and learned to cope.   I found my happiness, as a teen through friendships and through being a band geek, and eventually even with my family.  Now as an adult, my husband and my children fill me with more joy then I ever thought possible.

In many ways I thank my parents daily. They were the best parents they could have been given the circumstances.  They showed me how to be strong during some very difficult times.  I also learned lot about the home that I wanted to create for my children; a home filled with giggles, love, hugs, affection, acceptance, support, honesty and understanding.

 

I love how much they love each other.

I love how much they love each other.

This is Necessary??

“We didn’t have that when you were a baby and you turned out just fine!” 

This is a sentiment consistently uttered from the lips of all of Man’s grandparents.  I often think, yes, I’m fine, but could I have been better??  Could I have been a neurosurgeon or a rocket scientist if my mom had had access to some of these fancy new products???

There is an endless list of products and gadgets that did not exist when we were babies. Go back one more generation and the list of baby innovations multiplies yet again. Some of these inventions are fantastic, like the car seat and disposable diapers.   However, there are so many others that cause me to wonder, “Is this necessary??”

Dapple and other organic soaps:  I understand not wanting to wash your baby’s bottles and utensils with regular dish soap; somehow the thought of coating baby’s food receptacles with harmful chemicals sounds scary (and that is what advertisers bank on when they create ads for these products).  But our parents did it, and so did their parents before them (I mean, our grandparents lived in a time when the percentage of Lye in soap, a poison, outweighed all of the other chemicals).  Clean is clean, right??  Wrong!!  Clean is apparently only clean if the invisible filmy residue left on the dishes is an organic one. 

Aquaphor:  Aquaphor is just very expensive, fancy Vaseline… enough said!!

Video Baby Monitors:  I am among the many of us who is guilty of constantly staring at the baby through the video monitor. (Actually I just did, and silently cursed Man who is not yet asleep. Mommy needs to work Man; go to sleep… Damn, I just did it again!).  What did moms do before video?  Sometimes we stay over at the grandparents’ and there is only an audio monitor. It drives me insane.  I can’t tell if the noise I hear is Man standing in his Pack-and-Play and absolutely refusing a nap or if he’s “fuzzing” his blanket talking himself to sleep.  I know if I go in to check he will never nap.  I am trying to break my monitor addiction—I don’t use at night anymore, but I still hear it calling to me.

Baby Einstein:  I am all for kids’ television being more educational.  But I seem to recall watching a ton of Thunder Cats, Rainbow Bright, My Little Pony, and good old Disney when I was a kid.  Can’t television sometimes just be television?  Even Sesame Street has changed since I was a kid. I hear that Cookie Monster is now Veggie Monster…this is necessary??  I believe in instilling good eating habits and educating our children, but did we have to kill off the Cookie Monster?

The Baby Bullet and other fancy food-making products:  I was taken in too at first, but this one is just a plain old scam. Do you have a food processor? Then I’ll let you in on a secret…they do the same thing! Man ate purees for about two months. I steamed the fruits and veggies in a pot and sent them through the food processor—just as easy as using the bullet and it made twice as much to store and freeze.  Did I really need this product? 

And as a side note, do the fruits and veggies that I cook really need to be organic (like my dish soap)??  Pesticides shmesticides, I know I wouldn’t be too upset if Man grew lets say a third arm or something.  The more hands for him to pick up all of those non organic pieces of dirt from the floor and eat them with! 

Shit, I just looked at the video monitor again!  ARG!

They

Who are they really? 

You know — the proverbial “they” — doctors, lawyers, friends, family…experts! Whether you are a parent, a chef, a designer, or a sanitation worker, it seems that they are always there to dole out their pearls of advice.  So do we listen to them, follow what they say? Do we dismiss it like a teenager does parental advice?  How do we trust that they are right? Frankly, I don’t have the answer for you.

Before I gave birth to Man I had no idea how to take care of a baby.  Unless you are a member of the Duggar family and have about 20 little brothers and sisters, chances are you probably didn’t know much either… But they do!

From the minute Man popped out, breast-feeding was a problem.  Without getting into too many details, everything seemed difficult—from my ability to give to his ability to take.  They seemed to have all of the answers.  Nurses, doctors, lactation specialists, professional basketball players—EVERYONE had advice, most of if unsolicited, and all of it delivered in hushed tones, quoting the proverbial theyThey say if you put him on the bottle he will never want to breast-feed.  They say you can finger-feed him breast milk until he is strong enough to suck (I found this advice particularly daunting).  They say that you should just feed him formula from the bottle because he can’t go this long without food.  They say the best formula is… My head was spinning; I had no idea which they I should be listening to.  Instead of giving me comfort, all this wisdom actually made me feel terrible, scared, and more anxious about being a new mom than I already was.

Sleep was another source of suffering for my husband and I.  They said that you should stop swaddling your baby at three months.  Man loved his swaddle; when we finally forced him off of it at four months (because they said we had to) it set off a chain of events that resulted in three months of sleepless hell.  Obviously they were wrong!  He was a joy until the moment we stopped swaddling him! I began to look for more books on how to help solve Man’s sleep problem, but of course they had strong opinions on what books I should read.  And of course, each new book I read would offer completely contradictory advice to the previous one, and they had me confused yet again.

They say Man should always sleep on his stomach; then they say he should always sleep on his back.  Um, he moves in his sleep, how do I have control over this?  They say he should get a bath every other day, and then they say it should really be only twice a week.  He is a MESS every evening—sticky, dirty, sometimes covered in dog hair—how am I supposed to ignore this and not bathe him?  No peanut butter until after his first birthday; no juice, only water.  Until about a week ago he HATED water but isn’t hydration the key? If I need to spike four ounces of water with a half-ounce of juice, I’m okay with that. 

They say a lot of things, and in the end I don’t think they know what they are talking about.  The only one I realty trust is myself. I know Man better than anyone.  Guess what else they say? It’s impolite to give unsolicited advice. 

What do they tell you??

FEH! A Good Alternative to No

“Feh (interj.): Indicates disapproval or displeasure: Feh, don’t touch that dirty thing.

This Yiddish word was emblazoned into my brain at a very early age; my mother said it constantly so my brother and I would not put random non-food items into our mouths.  She even claims that it was my brother’s first word… she must have said it a lot!! 

As you can see by the definition, it is the perfect, most concise way to say, “Don’t even think of putting that gross piece of  **** in your mouth!!!!”  I mean it’s even an “interjection”, an exclamation by definition; “The part of speech that usually expresses emotion and is capable of standing alone.”  Yes, when said with the correct prosidy it can stop Man’s hand in midair on the way to his mouth.  Of course, that doesn’t mean he finds a way to sneak it in his mouth a minute later.   I can see it now, Man with a piece of dog food in his mouth… “FEH!”  Man with the dog’s chew toy in his mouth… “FEH!”  Man with the dog’s tail in his mouth… “FEH!” You see where I’m going with this.

It’s better than saying, “NO!”  Don’t the “experts” say we should use terms like “danger, stop, and hot” to stop our little ones from getting into trouble?  This helps to give discipline a more positive spin.  Saying “no” too much appears to be bad for the long term mental health of the child (and to give him one more thing to complain about in therapy sessions).  I can understand why: “No” is a powerful term; it is absolute.  Isn’t it better to teach our children the reason why we might say no, as opposed to just giving the command and expecting them to follow it without question?  I know when I was a kid if I heard “No” it really meant, “let’s do it anyway and in a bigger and more audacious manner!!!”

Hang on. Gotta go. Man’s licking the bottom of the birdcage. FEH!

Share some of your alternatives to, “NO”!

ManVsDixie

The Approach
 

Man: "Maybe Disi will play with me?" Dixie: "Ugh, this little human thing again..."

 
 
 
The Immediate Rejection
Man: “Please play with me Disi!!” Dixie: “Get away from me, thing!!!”
 
 
 
The Final Insult 

Man: "Are you really licking your butt instead of playing with me? I don't even do that." Dixie: "Just doing a little maintenance."