Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Marking the Miles

For a long time, only in the Florida Keys had I known residents and travelers to give directions using the mile markers.  After visiting numerous times, I understood the need which was especially useful at night when the landmarks were virtually invisible.  

I-20 in Georgia changed for me in late 2010 when it became my daily commute.  Even when driving the portion of interstate from my parent's home in South Carolina to Atlanta over the course of many years, I only marked the exits.  After Augusta and Thomson, the exits were few and far between along with any gas stations.  If you forgot to get gas in Thomson, you had a very long stretch to the next station.  It was and still is a desolate patch of highway broken up only by exits ten miles apart and the low bridge crossing Lake Oconee.  Cell phone signal could be challenging, too.

Mile markers mean something to me from Augusta to Covington, Georgia.  For over five years, my husband had a similar commute and the mile markers quickly became part of our daily conversation.  "Where are you?" at the end of the work day would be answered with a number.  164 meant I had just got on the interstate and had a long way to finish my journey.  154 meant I had passed my husband's exit.  124 meant I was close to my exit and would be home shortly.  The responses he would give me could be a cause of concern.  "149" and "I hope I make it" meant he passed the gas station and hoped he could reach the next one in eleven miles.  We also communicated other important information.  "151" and "ouch" meant an accident.  "147" and "cop" meant a speed trap.

We still mark the miles even though his commute takes him to Atlanta.  He can mark the exits until he reaches Covington.  As he enters a similar no-man's land to mine, he reverts to the mile markers with "98, 105, 112" all meaning something on his drive back home.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Search

I struggled with writing about how to search for information electronically.  For me, the passwords were given voluntarily and the cell phone was owned and paid for by us.  If you do not own the devices and you don’t have permission, this is illegal.  

There are a lot of things that can be searched and a notebook and pen are tools that are necessary.  You also need a great deal of time and the mental strength to search with neutrality.  If you are too close to the situation or it’s too fresh, asking someone else to do this might be best.  We felt the need to understand just how deep the addiction ran and the parties involved.  The very basics are explored below and you can always asked an IT professional (either at work, socially or online) for additional help.

Cell Phones
It is really hard to delete text messages and software is available online for a low cost.  Once downloaded, it is very easy to retrieve the “deleted” messages.  Cell phones are also a great starting place to look through social media applications and email.  The passwords are typically saved so they aren’t needed to view.  Having the cell phone will also allow you to reset passwords because most alerts will go to text message or email.  Look in the settings and make a list of all email addresses and social media sites.  Look in the address book or contacts – if someone is hiding something the true name of the contact may be listed as something unexpected.  Keep in mind the IPhones are often set to backup to ICloud.  You may need to login in to ICloud from a computer and view what is there.

Email
Login to the email from a computer.  Each email is different in setup but they should all have commonalities.  Look in the deleted emails (trash).  Look in SPAM.  Search through the Sent emails.  There’s also options to look at all of the emails at once and there are search options.  If you are looking for emails to and from a certain person or company, search using those.  You can sort by date, attachment or To/From.  You can find passwords for some sites within the emails (like a welcome email or password reset). Make note of user names referenced in emails.  Look in the email settings for other recovery email addresses.  This is where the notebook comes in handy.  For every password, email, user name, or website you discover, write it down.  Save, Print or Forward emails to another account that you may wish to reference at a later time.  Delete any junk emails that are cluttering up the search.

Social Media
This is not just limited to Facebook, Myspace, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Flikr and countless dating sites.  There’s LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumbler, DeviantArt, and Youtube and many more.  It’s also not just limited to what is being posted or written in private messages.  Searching comments left by others or even the user ID you are searching is important, too.

Search Engines
Use a variety of search engines to look for information.  Use the person’s name or a known online user ID, state or city.  To exclude items in a search use a negative sign in front of the word to exclude.  To search for a specific word or phrase, use quotation marks at the beginning and the end.  To see what a web page (or profile page) looked like on a certain date in time, use the Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/). Peekyou can be great if the person you are searching is an active social media user.

A list of popular search engines
Google
Yahoo
Dogpile
DuckDuckGo
Bing
Ask
AOL
Webcrawler
Info

Other
DropBox is a free file sharing and storage site.  There are many more (Box, Google Drive, Minus, SkyDrive, SugarSync).  Photos, videos and other items could be stored online for easy access later.  Bank transactions can give insight (location, businesses frequented) and PayPal gave us a clear picture of how and where money was being spent including multiple small money requests asked of many family members on the same day.  This also showed us how the account was consistently overdrawn with same day visits to a gas station that only charged one dollar for the transaction before pulling the full amount a couple of days later.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Alone

Hollow
Promises unfulfilled
Maybe tomorrow
The silence will be stilled

Trauma
Summers long ago
Leave behind the drama
And bury them below

Counting
Hours, days, then years
Troubles surmounting
Realizing your worst fears

(Written August 2014)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Next Steps: Sober Living

Halfway Houses and Sober Living Houses are terms that are easily confused.  A Halfway House is generally a highly structured living facility that is often funded by the government.  Sober Living Houses are less structured and generally more expensive because they are funded by the residents of the house.  Some accept insurance but will usually be considered out-of-network.  Most sober living houses have fees/rent that range from $175 per week up to $30,000 per month for a more luxurious setting.  These houses are also usually a single gender facility.

From what I have personally experienced, rehab facilities and sober living houses are big business and it is important to ask the right questions to make sure that you are choosing the best place to continue on the road of recovery.  A sober living house can be crucial to a recovering addict post-rehab.  Sending the recovering addict immediately back into the world to figure things out can be overwhelming and could cause the person to go back to old familiar habits.  It is also essential to research the sober living facility to make sure that it is a good fit.  Making a wrong choice can be costly as many require deposits. 

The internet is full of slick websites and advertisements that are very appealing.  Even Pinterest has boards that have "pins" which link to halfway house and sober living facilities (https://www.pinterest.com/theryanwatson/halfway-house/). One site that I felt had some good information is  http://halfwayhouse.com/.  As much research that I have done, I have found that there isn’t a checklist of questions to ask when looking for a sober living house.  I have put together the following questions that I feel are important to ask when first looking at a house:



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Deductibles, Maximum out of Pockets, Insurance…Oh My!

Insurance is confusing and trying to find services for addiction that accepts insurance is complicated.  Oh sure, it’s accepted but typically is considered out-of-network which is more costly.  I educate my employees every year at open enrollment on how group insurance works and then I explain once again when they actually have to use it for something large and the bills start coming in.

With group insurance, there are “buckets” to fill.  The first bucket is the deductible bucket.  Typically expenses such as staying in the hospital, out-patient or in-patient surgeries, x-rays, MRI's and CAT scans start filling up this bucket.  Once this bucket is filled you are done paying for these things for the year.

The second bucket is your co-pay bucket.  Any doctor co-pays, prescription drug co-pays, urgent care co-pays fill this bucket.  Once the co-pay bucket is filled you are also done paying for these things for the year.

"Maximum out of Pocket" is the most you can be charged for during the year.  Most group plans go by the calendar year (January through December) but not all.  The Maximum out of Pocket is the deductible bucket plus the co-pay bucket added together.

Now, if you stay “in network”, your deductibles and co-pays are considerably less.  If you are “out of network” a lot of the time the deductibles are doubled.  Also, “in network” and “out of network” buckets are separate.  They do not combine.  So, if a facility accepts insurance, make sure you understand if they are filing the insurance in-network or out-of-network.  This has nothing to do with in-state or out-of-state.


Sometimes, calling your insurance company is a helpful first step as they can provide the names and contact information of facilities that are in the network.  Insurance is a complicated world and I believe it will continue to befuddle people for years to come.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Sleazy Side of Addiction

Things were disappearing all the time.  Small things at first.  Sometimes, days later, they would turn up in a most unexpected place.  For someone like me with a photographic memory, it was enough to drive me insane.  I started keeping things of value at work.  My stepson would blame his friends, yet continue to hang out with them.  He would blame his roommate for items missing from his apartment:  Kindle, I Pad, TV, even his clothing.  When the lease was up, he still insisted on living with the same person.  To me, it didn’t make sense.  There were two things that my husband and I never considered until much later:  his son was lying to us and his son was stealing from us.

My step-son became an expert at using PayPal for modern day check kiting.  Once money was in the account, he would frequent as many small gas stations as possible…the kind of places that only take a dollar from the account on the first day and then a day or two later take the full amount.  He was constantly overdrawing the account by a hundred dollars or more and my husband and I tried to get him to understand the basic math of money without ever realizing that all of this was done on purpose.  Since he also took gas from the lawnmower and had a habit of running out of gas on the side of the road, it became clear that what he was spending at gas stations had nothing to do with putting gas into his car.

As my husband and I became more vigilant at controlling money (we would drive his car to the gas station and fill it up, accompany him to the college bookstore to purchase books), my stepson became more bold and obvious in his thievery.  After a confrontation with him and deadbolts placed on our bedroom door, he treated the garage and shed as his own private store.  Power tools, fishing rods and even air conditioning units disappeared to the local pawn shops.  His own clothes and some of ours ended up at Plato’s Closet, a used clothing store.

Pawn shops are sleazy and reek of desperation, hopelessness and stolen goods.  The people who run them are well aware of this.  My husband would ask them why they would think that a twenty-something year-old would own women’s jewelry, expensive power tools or air conditioning units.  They had no answer.  Some stores put our stepson (and his friends) on a “do not do business with” list, others told us that when they saw the same items come back in over and over again, they wouldn't offer as much money on the pawn because they knew that my stepson was using the money for drugs.  This didn’t stop him; he just stole more or tried a new pawn shop.  A particularly nasty shop owner lied to us on my hidden camera I used to record our conversation.  In the state of Georgia, it is legal to secretly record someone as long as one of you gives consent.  I gave the consent and then I made sure there were long, awkward moments of silence in which the owner felt it necessary to ramble on, filling us in with additional information.  The owner clearly did not want us to file a report to the police and when he learned, probably due to another store patron who could see I was taping the conversation, that he was on film, he promptly called the parents of other friends who frequented that shop with my stepson.  

To have your items returned to you, the pawn slip is needed or the person who pawned them must be present with identification and the funds to buy your own items back.  You can file a police report against the person who took them and gain your items back without paying for them.  Some stores were happy to negotiate the fee to avoid the possibility of police involvement.  There were a few items that we received back on a multiple item pawn ticket that were not ours.

Further investigation revealed that my step son had stooped to frequenting plasma donation centers to earn additional money to fund his multiple addictions.  Conversations via email and other social media exposed his friends suggesting that he rifle through visiting family members purses to secure cash.  Not only could we not trust him, there didn’t appear to be a single childhood friend that wasn't involved on some level in our small town.


Our story isn't unique and I have discovered more people who have been through or are going through similar situations.  The lies and manipulation start small and build up over years until it is just too big for the addict to maintain.  It is very easy to look back and pinpoint events that should have clued you in.  It was also obvious for us that if more family members communicated with each other, some of the spending patterns could have been discovered years before.  But I firmly believe that you cannot change another person’s behavior.  You can only change your own and how you react to someone else.  The change must start with you.  Someone’s life depends on it. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Addiction...What Now?

I am posting this to provide help for anyone else going through similar situations with a family member.  This is the first in a series of postings which are in order of importance.

The text message from his friend informed us that my step son was once again in jail and my husband and I could bail him out in an hour.  The charges were driving on a suspended license and not maintaining his lane.  His friend lied to us when he returned the car keys, expressing his worry over my step son and that neither of them knew that his license had been suspended.  The lie was revealed when his friend, assuming we had posted bail, sent a message to my step son letting him know what he had said to us.  After retrieving and searching his car, bedroom and social media accounts, we chose to leave him in jail, buying us a week to make decisions.

My husband and I were in a rush to make choices in the first 72 hours.  We chose to leave his son in jail because we knew where he was and that was one less thing to worry about.  We searched the internet for drug rehab options and were overwhelmed.  I reached out to my employer’s drug free workplace provider and was given a lengthy list of rehabs in Georgia.  Just a list with phone numbers and addresses.  I was shocked to see how many were listed and started to make phone calls.

Action Items:
1.    Check your insurance company first.  They may have a list of centers.
2.    Most health insurance plans will only cover in-hospitalization detox.  This will be covered for only a few days until the patient is out of danger.  If an inpatient program is covered, it is only for 30 days.  You are not cured of anything in that short time period.
3.    Get a notebook and pen and keep it with you at all times.
4.    Anyone you speak with is a well-trained sales person and may even have a counseling background or is a recovered addict, too.  They will put you at ease, promise you that everything will be okay and sell you on their program.
5.    Can you afford to pay $15,000-50,000 in cash?  There are no payment plans.  Check with family members for help, credit cards, home equity lines of credit and look at loans from your 401k including medical hardship loans.
6.    Ask family and friends for help with the research.  This is the time for action, and you need all the help you can get.  If they make phone calls for you, provide them with the basics:  insurance card, date of birth and social security numbers.  Compile all research in your notebook.
7.    Check all reviews of any rehab center. Use the reviews on Google, Facebook, Better Business Bureau and call the police station in the town.
8.    All facilities have rules.  Find out what happens when rules are broken.
9.    If you can, tour the facility before selecting it.  If it’s too far away, start reaching out to family and friends in the area and ask them to tour it on your behalf.
10     Read “Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children” by Allison Bottke.
11.   Sleep. Eat.  Talk to others.  Attend Alanon.  It’s amazing how much addiction has touched others.  You are not alone.

Sampling of Centers We Contacted:
1.  Talbott Recovery Addiction Treatment Center in Atlanta.  Our insurance plan was not accepted.  The living quarters were separate from the treatment center.  Cost for a three-month in-patient treatment plan are $47,000.  Out-patient treatment is also available.
2.  Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center in Ball Ground, Georgia.  The 30-day program costs $22,750 discounted to $15,750 if you are considered self-pay.  The deposit is $10,000 and then the rest must be paid soon after.  They contract with a lending company which will allow for a monthly payment.
3.  Freedom Treatment Center in Albion, Michigan.  This is an in-patient onsite facility.  The cost for this is $15,000 for a three month program.  The program is based in Christian Science and uses sauna therapy to help with detox.
4.  Phoenix House (multiple Locations throughout the United States).  This is an in-patient onsite facility.  The cost is $15,000 for a three month program.  You can pay $5000 each month or pay $12,100 for all three months up front at a discount.  The fees are non refundable, however if the patient leaves, he can always return at a later date to finish out the program.  It is dorm style living and not coed.  Patients are either self-pay, insurance or mandated by the court system to attend as opposed to jail.  Keep in mind, your loved one’s behavior and addiction will land them in the legal system including jail so I don’t actually feel it’s a negative to be exposed to addicts who are already in that situation.  This facility has a 12-step program available to patients, daily AA meetings and an in-house nurse and psychiatrist.  Medication and the psychiatrist are separate costs.  The psychiatrist is $300/hour.


Once we made the decision, the rehab facility provided us a list of items that my step-son could bring.   We discussed the plans during visitor hours with him and told him we would bail him out in the morning and drive him to the facility.  The jail was listening to the conversation and shortly after we left, we received a phone call that they were releasing him on his own recognizance since we were taking him to rehab in the morning.  We immediately put his cell phone on suspend (lost/stolen) so that it wouldn’t work, removed the internet from the house and brought him home for a shower.  The next day, we drove him to the facility which was located six hours from our home.  He was willing to go but then again, he was all out of options with us.  This was the end of a 5+ year downward spiral that we could trace back to his junior year of high school.  At his point, he was a 23-year old adult with two bags of belonging and nowhere else to go.