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. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Row

A few years before my father retired, he decided that more exercise was in order.  He’d already tried a gym membership numerous times, he had already discovered a mummified squirrel in his golf club bag a few years before and the rusty 1980's stationary bike was moldering in a back corner of the garage.  My father felt that a rowing machine was the golden ticket to healthy living.  He placed it in the center of the family room and avidly used it for several weeks.  For the next few years, the rowing machine became a source of contention between my parents.  My father insisted he was still using it and my mother would point to the laundry she had placed on the machine’s seat months before.  Dad would eventually move the laundry and mom would show him layers of dust.

Mom put the rowing machine in the back of my truck for my garage sale.  No one wanted it even when I marked the sales tag down to “Free”.  My father finally noticed that it wasn't in the center of the living room anymore and demanded that I return the stolen property.  I returned it but placed it in the garage, much to my father’s chagrin.  He wanted it back in the house.  “Bring it inside then,” I told him curtly.  He never did and several years in his garage/woodworking shop added saw dust to its charm.

The day my mother had been waiting for over many years had finally arrived.  My father decided to do some spring cleaning in the garage with the help of the English Boy.  My father declared that the rowing machine was broken and it could be hauled to the dump.  My mother was so excited.  The English Boy pulled the rowing machine into the driveway and polished it with a bottle of Lemon Pledge and a dust rag.  He then gave it a test row and declared it to be in perfect working condition.  My father was unwilling to give up the shiny, nearly new again piece of equipment.  The English Boy, ever helpful, put the rowing machine on their newly landscaped front yard and rowed, quite expertly, for the entire neighborhood to see, the garage sale price tag still dangling from a string.  I believe my father finally won the row.

Monday, October 6, 2014


You've asked me many times
Do you know what you're doing?
I'm unsure and hesitant.

Is this the start of something new
or the end of a beautiful mistake?
I'm directionally challenged.

Lost in a sea of emotions
Drowning in an ocean of thoughts
Loneliness overwhelms me.

My sails are battered and torn
Am I able to withstand the storm?
Questions left unanswered
My life has been tampered
But is it to the point of no return
Or have we crossed that line?

So now I ask you the same
Do you know what you're doing?
Why are you so confident?

Is this your redemption
for your past mistakes?
Why are you sure I'm the one?

Lost between your past and future
Drowning in two places in time
My lifestyle overwhelms you.

My sails are battered and torn
Am I able to withstand the storm?
Questions left unanswered
My life has been tampered
But is it to the point of no return
Or have we crossed that line?


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Commodore Perry Elementary School

My most memorable friendships were forged on the playground of Commodore Perry Elementary School in Mahwah, New Jersey.  It was a time when kindergarten wasn’t mandatory and only lasted a half day.  The playground seemed enormous and was divided into sections:  the black-top, knee scraping hop-scotch area, the swing set, slide and jungle gym region, and the field for kickball, racing and other sports.

Boys had cooties and reveled in flinging earthworms that seemed numerous on the asphalt after a hard spring rain.  Hop-scotch would entertain us for the duration of our allotted playtime and I had my first experience of shoe envy when Kim could stomp a lion-shaped sole pattern into the dirt with her new lace-up shoes.  Nike was years away from being cool, but having a pair of Kangaroo sneakers with the tiny zipper pouch on the side earned you instant celebrity status.  The girls would plan our outfits ahead of time if the play of the next day was the gleaming silver jungle gym, hexagon in shape with promises of danger.  Dresses could only be worn if shorts were underneath.  The only girl who didn’t seem to care was Becky.  Second grade brought a newcomer to our group, whose parents just returned from a missionary trip.  Jennifer was blonde and exotic with her tales of travel to places like Africa.  We would spend time along the back fence of the field picking buttercups and holding them beneath each others’ chins to see who liked butter.

One day, the teachers decided that the boys and girls could no longer play with each other, perhaps due to a worm flinging session gone awry, and play time was divided in half with the playground divided between the field and the other areas.  At half-time, a whistle would sound and we would dutifully switch sides.  The girls field time was spent with “Mother May I”, “Red Rover, Red Rover”, “Red Light, Green Light” and “Octopus, octopus, by the sea, octopus, octopus you can’t catch me!”

I have forgotten a lot of things over the years but it is true that you never forget the kids you grew up with, the childhood games you played and a time that still seems within reach.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Battle of Wishes

For the past several years, the Englishman and I have engaged in a battle with the dandelions in our yard.  In the beginning, there were more dandelions than grass and wrestling the stubborn weed from the earth created large, reddish-brown circles in the yard with barely there glimpses of green.  We filled buckets and bags with nothing but weeds and after a seemingly successful day of warfare, we awoke to bright yellow blossoms darting across the yard, oblivious to the carnage of the previous day.

Last year, my mother joined the ranks and she and I crawled across the front yard, pulling the roots with a screw driver and other specialty tools.  We talked, pulled, and crept until the sun disappeared and our buckets overflowed with thick roots, leaves and dandelion heads.

Spring in Georgia has arrived and our yard is absent of the yellow heads.  The adult in me is glad that the battle is over and we have emerged triumphantly.  My childhood memories are still vivid and I mourn the loss of flower chains and the sticky yellow residue left behind on tiny fingertips.  I miss the joy of carefully plucking a dandelion with the soft feathery seeds and gently blowing my wishes into the wind.  And on occasion, I long for a time when Winnie the Pooh wisdom said it best:  “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them”.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Spinning a Yarn

Mom and I were in Virginia, house sitting and kid sitting for my friend who was travelling in Australia.  It was February and Virginia was cold.  Snow and bits of ice still gripped the frozen ground and I was unprepared for the weather.  My grandmother always nagged me and my sister to wear our hats in the winter when we lived in Pennsylvania.  We ignored her.  Hat hair was unattractive and would interfere with our big 80’s hair.  Her words of wisdom came back to me as we wandered through Wal-Mart and I passed a display of $3.98 knitted hats.

Mom swatted my hand as I reached for a pink one.  “I can crochet one for you in an hour,” she declared.  “Don’t buy that junk!”

Back to the house, mom pulled out her crochet hook, pink yarn and located the one-hour hat pattern on her I Pad.  She rocked slowly in the wooden rocking chair, creaking the floorboards beneath her.   With the snow slowly falling outside the window, it was a cozy scene.

An hour passed by quickly, and Mom’s language became just as colorful as the yarn she had on her hook.  She would start the pattern, and then take it apart.  She watched the video over and over on her I Pad.  Four hours into the project, she became so desperate she made me watch the video in spite of my complete inability to crochet.

The long weekend was finally over and after we put the kids on the bus to school, Mom and I headed South for home with me driving the entire way.  Mom was still working on my one-hour hat.

I finally received my hat in May.