Just keep swimming…..

This past June I asked the members who attend my Weight Watchers meetings to set a summer goal and asked them where they wanted to be when September arrived.  Goals help to keep us focused and give us something to strive for.  And summer can be a difficult time… routine changes, kids home, travel, visitors, hot days and so much more can make summer a challenge when on this journey of weight loss and improved health.  So I asked them what would make them feel successful this summer and set the goal.

And then I did what I asked them to do and I set a summer goal for myself as well.  This summer I wanted to focus on what would get me back on track, help me feel more in control and help me to continue improving my health….physically and mentally.

20180528_072329_HDR copyThis year we got a pool in our backyard… really we had an entire yard built for us, pool and so much more.  The pool has been my calm place, my meditative place, and my active space.  I love the water.  Our pool is 31 feet in length so that I could swim laps.  I love to swim the length of our pool over and over.  It is so soothing.

It was while I was in the pool that I decided on my summer goal—I would swim the length of our pool 100 times.  When I set the goal I was swimming 10 lengths and then pausing before doing another 10.  So, okay, goal set!  It may take me all summer….maybe into the first week of September, but I was going to do it.

A month into the summer I got up early one morning and swam 70 lengths of the pool… 70!  This was going to be easy to hit my summer goal.

And then I went back to 50 lengths.  It was hard to keep track of the laps in my head and starting out it sounded like a lot to do.  But I was still enjoying my swim time.

In July I joined a team to participate in another challenge that got me walking again and had me figuring out how many lengths in the pool I would need to do to swim a mile—170!  That was too many!  85 lengths for half a mile was more achievable and would help me get to my summer goal, so I started swimming a half mile in the mornings…. Not every morning, but some.  It felt good, but boy was I tired by the 85 length.

A quarter of a mile was more achievable for me, so that became my normal swim.  And then last week I checked in with my members to see how their summer goals were going…we were now in our last month of our summer goal.  And that is when I realized I still had not met my goal.  I had until the end of the month to achieve the goal of swimming 100 lengths of our pool… 3100 feet!

Yesterday I didn’t have a chance to get in the pool, so I decided last night that I would get up and swim early this morning and just add 5 lengths to my half mile for a total of 90.  Okay I could do that!  It was just another 5 beyond what I had already shown I could do.  And then by next weekend I could hit my goal.

This morning I got up early and stepped into the cool water in our pool.  I needed some way to keep track of these laps because 90 was a lot and I knew I would get lost in my thoughts.  And really, 90 seemed like way too much.  How would I do this?

Determined to do this swim, I grabbed 9 small rocks from our yard, 1 rock for every 10 lengths of the pool.  Okay, looking at the rocks, yes that seemed doable.  And I began to swim…. First 10 and a pause to move one rock to another area.

And I swam another 10, moving another rock.  Wow, this was easier than I thought.  I was focusing on 10 at a time and I didn’t need to count higher.  Each rock I moved meant I had done 10 and then I would say I could do another 10.  I kept going and before I knew it I had more rocks in the done pile than in the need to do pile.  That was motivating.

Finally, I moved that 9th rock!  Done.  But I could do 10 more to hit my goal.  I know I can…. So I did another 10.  100 laps, 3100 feet, more than half a mile!  I was so thrilled to have achieved a goal I had set for myself…..

And then I thought well, how many for a mile….. okay let’s see what I can do.  And I grabbed 7 more rocks, not really expecting to get to 170 lengths but I was going to go until I was too tired to go any farther…. And I swam, focusing on 10 at a time and moving a rock after every 10.  After moving 3 of those rocks, having now completed 130 lengths of my pool, my mind was telling me that I had already gone beyond my goal, did I really need to continue?

Yes, the mind is powerful and my mind, my doubts, were working to get me to stop, to be happy with what I had achieved.  I had reached my summer goal a week early and didn’t need to do more.  And yes, I was very happy with myself at that moment, but as I moved that 4th rock, I said, just 10 more….. and I kept going….. just 10 more…..

rocks 2And then I moved that last rock.  I had done it!  1 hour and 15 minutes after starting, I had completed 170 lengths in my pool and 1 mile!!  I DID IT!

Not only did I hit my summer goal, I crushed it!  I pushed through my thoughts of stopping and completed something I wasn’t sure I could do.  I kept going.  And it was because I broke the bigger goal into smaller goals.  Saying I was going to swim 100 laps seemed daunting, but 10…well that I could do.  And when I reached that 100, I was able to push myself outside that comfort zone beyond what I thought I could do and go farther, 10 lengths at a time.  Just 10.

Weight Watchers is about more than counting points and losing weight….so much more.  Because of Weight Watchers I have learned so many skills, changed habits, discovered just how much I can do, and found a belief in me that my younger self never dreamed was possible.  I am grateful for all that I have learned and continue to learn through my journey with Weight Watchers, becoming the best and healthiest version of me that I can be.

Setting goals keeps me motivated and gives me something to strive for.  And when the long-term goal seems too big or too far away or unreachable, setting a smaller goal makes it more achievable.  And that is what I did this morning, just 10 at a time and all those 10’s added up to a BIG 170!!  Reaching goals, well it feels AMAZING!  It gives me a boost in my confidence and has me feeling like I can take on anything and conquer it!  IT may take some time, I may not be perfect at it, but I will get there. One step at a time, one small goal at a time!

I will get there by taking that leap….. one small leap at a time!

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Today is the 102nd birthday of our National Park Service, so in celebration I thought I would share another one of our adventures to a National Park… Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

My husband has always been an adventurer and loves to explore near and far.  So when he said he wanted to take me on a day trip to some ruins he had researched, I thought, okay let’s go!

On Aug 11, 2013, we loaded the car and headed out early for another adventure.

entrance

The drive was long… 3 hours to get to Chaco.  And the last 16 miles of the drive was on a gravel road.  Yes, a gravel road.  This was an out-of-the-way, you REALLY want to go there, park.  And we wanted to see it.

Chaco Canyon was inhabited by the ancestors of the Hopi, Navajo and the New Mexico Pueblo Indians more than 1000 years ago.  The Chacoan people began using this canyon as a cultural center in the mid-800’s and for 300 hundred years it was inhabited.  There were many Great houses built by and for those who stayed here or just traveled through.  These Great Houses were used for ceremonies, storage, burial and hospitality among other things.  This valley was the cultural center for hundreds of miles.   

As we drove into the park, where the road was finally paved, I couldn’t help but wonder about those early people who lived here…. And how they lived.  This was such a harsh desert environment. 

Our first stop, as always, was the visitor center where we were able to see and learn a little more about these long ago people. 

We then drove further into the park, stopping at Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the Great Houses here in Chaco Canyon and it was impressive.  In its heyday, Pueblo Bonito had 500 rooms and 16 kivas (ceremonial rooms).  We were able to walk in and around the ruins, seeing for ourselves the incredible architecture of those ancient people who used sandstone to build their buildings and kivas and then held it all together with mud mortar.  Incredible!  And enough was still standing for us to see and imagine what a magnificent building this Pueblo must have been. 

We explored Pueblo Bonito for quite some time and then walked down to the next Great House, which was smaller.  This one, Kin Kietso, had at one time 100 rooms and 5 kivas.  It was easy to imagine the people wandering around here, socializing, trading and celebrating. 

After exploring the ruins, it was time to go on a hike…. To the top of the mesa above the ruins… where the park ranger said there was a great view of the canyon and the pueblo ruins.  And she was right.  But…

She didn’t tell us that the hike was so steep or that it was a trail from an ancient trail to the top.  Talk about fear of heights!  Of course, I had imagined the trail going up would be like most trails we had hiked in the past and be a path to follow, well maintained and though steep, fairly uneventful.  And then I saw this…. 

And I told my husband there was no trail.  Really, where was that trail?  It was just rocks with no safety holds…. Ummm…. We started up.  It started off okay, there was a path to follow and then…..

When you see huge rock walls with cracks in them, you ask yourself when will the day come that that rock sheers off (and I was just praying today was not that day)…. and never think that oh, yeah, lets hike through that crevice in the rock….what?  And that is where the trail took us.  When we got to that point we stopped for a minute (I needed to figure out how I was going to do it, as my heart was already racing and my head felt light from the height and knowing that one wrong step, one loose rock and there I would go, falling down the cliff-side…).  While I was gathering my courage, we were joined by a young father with his kids.  He was from the Laguna Pueblo and had brought his children here to show them their ancestral heritage.  Today, Chaco Canyon is a sacred site that is revered and honored by the Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and they often come to learn and connect with their ancestors.  And that is what this young father was doing with his children.  He told us a little about his life in the Laguna Pueblo and a little of his heritage and then the five of us finished the climb.  My husband and this young man helping me and the children up and over the rocks, through the tiny crevice and onto the top of the mesa.  At the top we said goodbye to this nice young family. 

mesa top trail down

And then I looked at my husband and said there is NO WAY I am going back down that path.  NO WAY!  I was still shaking and had to sit a minute to calm my trembling legs.  We had forgotten to bring the map with us but we remembered that the map in the visitor center showed that there was another way down at the other end of the mesa, which would mean a longer walk back to the car but that was okay because it would be on flat ground. 

We had each brought a bottle of water with us, I had my camera and there was a marked trail.  Did I mention this was August in New Mexico?  In the middle of the day?  On top of a mesa with no shade on a bright sunny day? 

Off we went.  I was determined to find less treacherous, less scary way off of this mesa top.

The views were absolutely spectacular.  We could see forever.  And looking down on the Great Houses allowed us to see just how enormous they really were and the amazing architecture.  The view was worth climbing up to the top for!

mesa top are we going down yetWe followed the path….. and followed the path….. and began to wonder when we might start going back down…. This was pretty flat.   And then we came to a spot where we started to descend, it was a little scary but nothing like the climb up…. And then the descent became gradual…. And then we started to go back up again?  What?  Okay, we should be going down by now….

By this point I was hot!  The sun was beating down on us.  I had finished my water.  My husband still had some of his.  Good thing!

We continued following the path until we found ourselves right back where we had started… right back to the spot where I said I would NOT go down.  Crap!  It was the ONLY path down from this mesa and I couldn’t stay up there…. We had just finished my husband’s water but there was more water in our car, waiting for us in the cooler.

I began to panic.  I was shaking.  I was petrified.  I knew how steep that path was and that one wrong step would mean certain death…. But I had no other choice.

So with my husband guiding me down, we began the descent.  And YES, it was just as frightening as I thought it would be.  I was holding back the tears.  DANG, that was a long way down. 

And then we made it.  I wanted to kiss the ground!  But we were hot, sunburned and thirsty. 

Back to our car for some cold water and a look at the map to see how we missed the way down on the other end…. Oh….. there was no other path down.  Had we known that we would not have hiked the mesa top and then we would have missed the views and the fun we had.  I am glad we didn’t know before we hiked.  

We did learn that day, though,  to always take a map with us and to carry more than one bottle of water each when hiking in the middle of the day, in the summer in the southwest.  That could have gone terribly wrong for us.  God was watching out for us that day!  

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is worth the many miles it takes to get there.  To see ruins from more than 1000 years ago and to imagine what life was like back then, and to see the harsh environment was worth every step taken on our hike.  After visiting Chaco Canyon and learning about the Chacoan culture I can’t help but admire the people that lived there over 1000 years ago, their creativity, their strength and their resilience in such a harsh environment. 

That summer day in August, 2013, we went on an adventure to learn about the past.  We drove 6 hours round trip and spent 4 hours walking through the ruins and hiking atop the mesa.  At the end of the day, after hiking 5+miles, 17,000+ steps and up 39 flights of stairs, this girl was VERY sore, exhausted and sunburned….. It was an AMAZING day! 

We would love to go back again and see this amazing cultural center and piece of our countries history.   But I think I will stay firmly down in the valley next time….been there, done that and I don’t need to do that climb again!

And we checked another National Park off our bucket list!

 

Paralyzing Fear

Anxiety….

I am sure I am not the only one who has felt anxious…you know that heart racing, butterflies in the tummy, sweating and sometimes nauseous feeling.  Yes, I think most people have experienced anxiety at some point in life.

My first real anxious moment that stuck with me was my first day on my very first job, at the age of 14.  I had applied to work as a maid in a hotel in the beach town my family lived in just a few months after losing my mom.  I was sitting there in the lobby area on my first day, surrounded by those who had worked there for some time and a couple of other new employees.  And I was nervous.  Really nervous.  My heart began racing, my body started shaking, and suddenly the world around me became a tunnel and started to fade….I was going to faint….that made me panic…. So I slowed my breathing, taking deep breaths and focused on one person…. And slowly, the world came back into focus and my heart slowed.  I was able to get through that moment of intense anxiety…

But not everyone can.

There have been many other moments in my life that have made me feel anxious.  And when anxiety inducing moments happen, I just push through it and breathe and I am okay.

But not everyone is.

I believed, like many believe, that anxiety was momentary, that it was a sign that I was stepping outside my comfort zone.  Pushing through and doing the thing that made a person anxious was the way to deal with it.

So when my young son (my first born) showed signs of being anxious, well I just encouraged him to push through it, take a deep breath and do it.  So many fits of anger and uncontrolled emotions filled his life when I tried to force him to “just do it”.

I didn’t realize the debilitating effect that anxiety had on some people.  On him.

If I knew then what I know now, how much different would my son’s life have been?  How much different would the life of my family have been?  How many fights would we have prevented?  How much stress would we have avoided?

Thinking back now and remembering, I can see those moments, the stress and the effects the anxiety had on my son…. I just didn’t know it all those years ago.  How could I?  No one I knew suffered, or maybe it was that no one talked about it.  We all were told to just “suck it up” and do it.  And that is why I am sharing today what I have learned and what may have been different had we known all those years ago what we know now.

So many times, my son fought going to school…. Oh the fights to get him to go when he was young, and the “mommy I am sick” moments were many.  So many times, he would drag his feet, often ending up in tears when we tried to get him to get moving for many events.  The times he would be sick to his stomach before having to perform in a band concert or speak to a group, go to school, go to the doctor, or when meeting someone new.  The hours, yes HOURS, of crying when he was too young to really verbalize is fears when going to bed.  Everyone told us to just put him in bed and let him cry… they didn’t know that the crying would not stop, for hours, not until I went in and sat with him, reassuring him that all was okay and promising to stay with him… then the crying stopped and he would finally sleep (for a bit anyway).  The difficulty he had with every move we made with the Air Force and the difficulty getting him to get out and join other kids in our new locations were moments of stress for him, often leading to emotional distress, an upset tummy and isolation.

So many times I missed the signs.

Because I didn’t know.

In October 2016 my son decided he was tired of the anxiety medicine and the addictive and dangerous side-effects, so he asked the doctor to titrate him down, slowly, until he was no longer taking the medicine.  He was sure that the anxiety wasn’t as bad as he thought and that it was the fear of the seizures when taken off the medicine that would cause the anxiety and panic attacks.  So he felt if he was weaned off the medicine, slowly, he could overcome the fears and then life would be easier.

It took a year to do.

The first week of October 2017 was the first time in over 13 years that my son was no longer taking the anxiety medication.  He was so proud of himself.  And he had hope for the future.

And then…

It became difficult.  The anxiety was coming every day, stronger each day.  The anxiety was real.  Not imagined.  Not created from a fear of not having his meds.

For the month of October 2017 into the first half of November 2017, we watched our son’s mental health deteriorate.  The anxiety was so debilitating that he could not look us in the eye.  He could not get out of bed.  He could not talk on the phone.  He could not shower.  He could not leave his room.  He could not sleep.

My son was fading away from us, sinking deeper and deeper into a hole.  He kept trying to explain to us what he was feeling, but it was so hard.  He couldn’t live in his own skin.

Here was my son, who had been through treatment, was not self-medicating and was off all mental health meds.

And we were losing him.

We were beyond frightened.

When he began to express to us that he now understood why some take their own lives…. Well, we knew we had to do something.  We had not been through all that we had been through to lose our son now.  Losing him was not an option!  Not when we finally had him back from the grip of drugs.

We got him in to see a psychiatrist who was hesitant to put him back on any medication, because he was an addict.  (and that will be part of my coming blog on the problems and difficulties and brokenness with our mental health system).  The Psychiatrist then asked my husband if he was worried about our son going back on the anxiety meds…. And my husband’s response was that he was more scared of what would happen to our son if he wasn’t put back on the medication.  And so they started our son back on his meds, just a much lower dose.

I never knew until that month and a half just how debilitating anxiety is for some in this world.  There is no “just getting through it” or “sucking it up”.  It is real.  It is a fear that is so deep that the person cannot move beyond it.  It keeps them isolated.  The fear paralyzes them.  And they cannot stop it.

I asked my son recently what it was like that month and a half, how he would describe it and here is what he said

“It was like I was collecting phobias.  I was constantly having a panic attack and everything around me became something to fear.  I would fear that spiders and bugs were going to attack me in my sleep so I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t leave my room for the fear that something would get me.  I couldn’t do anything to stop the panic.  Nothing!  I kept thinking I was going to have to live with this constant panic attack and kept fearing I would have to live in a hospital for the rest of my life.  I kept thinking it would never end so maybe it would be better to not live any longer.”

This breaks my heart.  This makes me realize just how debilitating anxiety disorder is.  I didn’t know.  I wish I had.  Maybe, just maybe, things would have been different….

That month and half in the fall of 2017, showed me what my son has been dealing with his entire life and has given me an understanding I did not have before.  An understanding that now has me being more patient with my son when it takes him a little longer to get moving, when he needs a moment to catch his breath, when he just can’t do it today.  I now understand and I am learning new ways to help him through it and to make it easier for him to do the things he needs to do, without the pressure from me…. Things I wish I had done when he was younger.  Maybe then he would have learned more of the coping skills he so desperately needs now.  Maybe then he would have felt supported.  Maybe then I could have provided a safe place for him to share his worries and learn to find strength in the midst of gripping fear.  Maybe, if I had known what I know now, we would have been able to get him the help he needed all those years ago….

Why share this now, when the medication is helping, when my son is doing well and having more good days than bad?  Because I wish that the generation before me and the generation before them had talked about mental health issues.  I wish earlier generations had shared what was happening in their families, instead of keeping it secret and keeping it “in the family”.  And I want to change that for future generations.  I want to keep talking and sharing our story, my son’s story, so that others know they are not alone.  So that the young parent who’s feeling alone and judged because their child has uncontrolled emotional outbursts in public and at home, knows that they ARE NOT alone.  Help is out there.  Support is out there.

If we keep talking we can change the life of so many before they get to the point my son did or before they are no longer with us and take their own life, as my friend did.

When you see someone struggling, or you know someone is dealing with a loved one who has a mental illness or addiction, or you see the young parent at their wits end because their child is on an emotional rollercoaster, reach out to them…. Let them know you care.  Let them know you understand and do not judge.  Let them know they are not alone.

Let’s go beyond previous generations and let’s change things for future generations by talking about mental illness, educating ourselves and supporting those who need our love and empathy.

I am taking the leap and continuing to share our story……

Will you take the leap with me?

Tough love to me is……

(This is long. I apologize for that.  But I couldn’t write this without the length.  This is what I have learned about tough love and what has worked for me.  Each of us has to find what works for us and define what “tough love” means to us.)

I have been asked a lot of questions over the years about what I have done when it comes to my son and how I did it.  And I have been given a lot of advice about how to handle everything….from advice that we should send our son to a military school when he was very young to recent advice that we should have no contact with my son at all…you know “tough love”.

And I have learned a lot about myself over the past few years and about my family.  I have had to question the things I believed about mental health illnesses and addiction.  I have had to challenge my beliefs about family and tough love.  I have had to adjust my thoughts and have had to really look inside me to see what is behind my decisions and actions, what really drives them.  I have learned that tough love can come in many forms.  It is not black and white…..there is gray area there too.   And I have learned that what works for one person, may not work for another.  And that means finding what works for me and for my family, while making adjustments to actions, thoughts and beliefs along the way.  Tough love to me, still means loving my child, unconditionally.  It means letting love and compassion rule, instead of anger.

It has taken me a long time to get here to this place of understanding and compassion.  Am I perfect at it? NO.  I continue to learn.  I continue to challenge myself to see things differently, to understand differently and to be compassionate toward my son, my family, strangers and myself.

So, how did I get here to where I am today?

A lot of soul-searching!  A lot of research!  A lot of talking to my husband and to myself!  And a lot of listening!

I started to question my thoughts and beliefs surrounding tough love and began searching for answers within me when my husband and I attended a parent support group for addicts one night in the midst of our son’s active addiction.  Our son was missing and had been gone for some time and I was looking for support from those who “got it” and would not judge.

This meeting was filled with parents from all walks of life and led by a man who lost his son to an overdose.  They would understand.  We were all their because we had a child, an adult child for most of us, who was an addict.  And tough love was the topic discussed most that night. Each parent took a turn sharing a little of their story and where they were at the moment.   We listened to the others share and listened to the advice the experienced parents had for those new to the group.  Every single parent there that night said that tough love was the only way…. Even after their kids entered treatment.  They told us how they refused calls and letters from their sons in jail, telling the kids that they were on their own to deal with their consequences and would not accept any communication from them.  Not ANY! And many would not accept communication from them even when they were out of jail and through treatment, telling their kids that they would not talk to them until they were succeeding in their own life.  Then they told us that they would not help their sons or daughters who were in treatment.  When it came time for their kids to transition out of in-patient treatment, the parents told us that they would not let the kids come home, instead they had to figure out where to live on their own.  The parents encouraged each other in their tough love and encouraged the newer parents to cut off ties with their addict children and to set boundaries that the kids had to follow, with no middle ground.  I got it.  We were there, having asked our son to move out of our house and not giving him any help while he was actively using….. yes, I got it!

I heard their words and the emotions behind them.  And what I heard from these parents was anger.  Anger with their child for becoming an addict.  Anger that their kids did this to them.  And they told a new mom to stop accepting calls from her daughter who was living on the streets and using drugs.  They told her to stop letting her come home to shower and stop buying her meals now and again.  They said that doing those things would keep her daughter in active addiction… the mother cried.  I cried.

I GOT their anger.  I felt that way too.  I was so angry with my son… and heartbroken… and scared….. and maybe this version of tough love worked for them and for their families…. But I couldn’t help but worry that anger controlling my choices was not the way to help my son….. that there had to be a middle ground that included love and compassion.  I realized much of how I reacted to my son was out of anger and I was tired of reacting in anger.

Though glad we went to the meeting and grateful for my new awareness, I knew as we left that this was not the support group I was looking for.

I started to realize some things at this point—

—that tough love means still loving my son while not actively participating in his addiction.  It means helping when I can and doing everything I possibly can to help him to be sober without abandonment and it means walking away without anger when I need to.

–that tough love also means that I am not responsible for my son’s addiction or his sobriety, something very hard for me to face and accept….but I was getting there.  Tough love means letting him be responsible but supporting and helping when I am needed.

–And it meant letting go of the anger.  Separating the anger from our support and love was important in our ability to help our son.

I was asked many times from well meaning “friends” and “family” why we would accept calls from our son when he was arrested and why we would pick him up from jail or even bail him out of jail.  Well, to set the record straight, most of the time when he was arrested he was released on his own, no bail needed.  And the majority of his arrests, we were never called.  He found his own way.  Some of his arrests we did not know about until the charges were filed and he was notified of those charges… talk about a shock to this mother’s heart!

But the two times we did post bond, I would do it again if I had to go back in time.  The first bond we posted was the last time he was arrested and the time that turned it all around for him and got him into treatment.  What if we had left him in jail?  What if we had told him he was on his own and refused calls from him?  What if we let anger continue to build and let the anger rule our actions?  I am not sure we would be where we are today.  We bailed him out on condition he seek treatment and he knew that if he were to use heroin or meth again, he would not be living in our home.  We had already made him move out and he had been living in his car at the time of his arrest.  So, I knew we could be tough.  We loved him unconditionally but we would not participate in his active addiction any longer.

The second time we bailed him out was after he had self-surrendered on a probation violation and his meds were withheld from him.  It was a decision we did not make lightly and one we would do again because it was his life that was at risk.  And he was clean at the time.  Why wouldn’t we continue what had been working and get him back home to continue treatment?

So yes, we bailed him out twice.  And yes I accepted calls from him when he was arrested.  I had to do everything in my power to help him get his life in control…. Because the guilt if I didn’t and we lost him would have been too great to bear.

You see, my son had a friend who was with him for months, living in my son’s car and staying with my son on couches when and wherever they could.  They were together when my son had been arrested in Yavapai county.  His friend was the one who answered my sons phone and told me he had been arrested and then released in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.  (I wrote about that experience here.)  When we finally made it north to pick up our son at the hospital, he asked if we could give this friend of his, a ride back too.  During the 2-hour drive back home, we talked with this young man.  He was a son, a brother and a father.  He grew up in another state and ended up out here with his ex-wife and kids.  He told us about his kids and how he hadn’t seen them in a while.  He told us that his parents would not accept calls from him, only letters.  And because he was homeless, they could not write to him. He hadn’t spoken to them in a couple of years.  He had gotten out of jail not too long before this.  And having no place to go, he was back living on the streets and back to drugs.  My heart broke for him and for his family as he told us his story.  He was such a sweet young man.

And I say was because 3 months after giving him a ride back here, he was found in an alley, dead from an overdose.

My son at the time was clean and getting help for his addiction.  And they had not seen each other since we had given him the ride back and dropped him off.  They had spoken a few times on the phone with my son encouraging him to get into treatment.  This young man even sent me and my husband a thank you message through Facebook.  He thanked us for our kindness and for loving Josh and helping him.  And he thanked us for giving Josh the hope of a life without drugs, just by being there for him, a hope he didn’t have.  My heart broke for him.

This young man’s death sent my son reeling….and me too.  This could have been my son….. And his friends death led my son into a relapse that eventually had him living in his car and the final arrests that would finally get him some help.

I often think about this friend of my sons and how things might have been different if he had had someone he could have turned to, someone who could have given him the chance at a sober life.  I saw messages his family posted on his Facebook page and each message had me in tears…. They expressed their guilt over not communicating with him and their guilt for not being there, just one time for him.  And they shared the anger that kept them from talking to him or helping him.  My heart broke for them.  I could feel through their messages how heartbroken they were and the regrets they had.  I KNEW I needed to do everything I could to help my son.

This young man’s story and tragic ending of his life, led my husband and I to be there that last arrest and post that bond.  Because we needed to know that we did EVERYTHING we possibly could do to help our son get better, to give him that chance at a sober life and then if he went back to the streets and if we lost him, at least we would know we did our best…. we tried everything…..

I have learned a lot about how I participated over the years in my son’s addiction, the excuses made, the reactions out of fear…. he was a master at finding the right words, the ones that would guilt me into doing what he wanted.  And how turning a blind eye and ignoring the signs, hoping against all hope that I was wrong in what I was seeing and making excuses for his behavior, only added to his ability to continue his active addiction.  And I realized that the buttons I pushed in him, through my anger and the reactions it created, were also ways I participated in his addiction and helped to keep him stuck, giving him the excuse he needed to continue his self-destructive behaviors.  Realizing my role helped me to challenge and change those thoughts and beliefs so that I could stop aiding his addiction and begin to help him recover.

I began to realize just what tough love was to me….

To me tough love doesn’t mean reacting in anger. 

To me tough love doesn’t mean punishing the addict. 

To me tough love doesn’t seek revenge. 

To me tough love simply means loving my son but not participating in his self-destructive behaviors. 

To me tough love means loving him unconditionally, but also loving myself enough to not let the addiction control me as well. 

To me tough love means setting boundaries that keep me from participating in his addiction, while still giving me the room in my heart for forgiveness and compassion.   

Tough love to me means reacting out of love and compassion rather than anger.

It took me a long time to get to this point.  I was far from perfect and still am far from perfect.  Sometimes turning a blind eye was easier than facing the truth.  And anger did rule things at times for me. Anger with my son for the lies and so much more.  Anger made some of my decisions when it came to dealing with my son.

But love and compassion took control.

Love and compassion was the driving force when we asked our son to leave our house and told him he could not live here until he was ready to get treatment.  Love and compassion led when he called wanting to come home to pick up some things and take a shower and we said he could.  Love and compassion ruled when after the shower and a hot home-cooked meal, we told him he could not stay the night, not unless he was ready to get into treatment.  Love and compassion took over and kept us from running after him as we watched our son leave in his car, not knowing when or if we would see him again.  And when he was finally ready to get help, love and compassion drove me as I searched for treatment options for him.  Love and compassion drive me now, as I continue to help him travel this recovery road, as I take him to all of his appointments, and as I work through the anger I still have.

Being a parent is NOT easy.  Being a parent with an addict son is NOT easy.  Being a parent and loving my child has NOT always been easy, but it IS easier today.

Unconditional love is the key.

My mom taught me to love unconditionally.  And I know that she is with me as I walk this walk and travel this unknown road.  And I know that God is with me, every step of the way.

This journey is still difficult.  This walk is not perfect.  I am not perfect.  And it is not about a one-size-fits-all way of dealing with our addicted loved ones.  We each need to find what works for us, define tough love for ourselves.  I am still learning and discovering and challenging my beliefs as I continue to become the best version of me that I can be and as I help my son, rather than hinder him, in becoming the best version of himself that he can be!

This journey has required quite the leap…. A leap of trust…. And a leap of faith.

What a difference a year makes

One year. What a different day today is.

One year ago today began with deep dread in the pit of my stomach. Would things go well? Would the judge see the improvements? Would my son be going back to jail, a jail where he would not receive his medicine?

One year ago today I was driving with my son to another county, north of us, and my husband, who is a teacher, had to be at work (it was the first day back for teachers). It was really hard for my husband to not be there with us and to wait for word from me on how the day went, not knowing if our son would be coming home with me.

The drive was long. The day was extremely difficult.

One year ago today, my son was granted his probation reinstatement. We were relieved! Still facing more charges in our county, but this case was done. Relief.

And here we are today, one year later.

One year later and my husband is back at work, some things don’t change. But instead of worrying about us and waiting for word from me on how things would go, he spent the day in training and thinking about and planning for the return of his students next week.

One year later and my son and I were in the car again this morning, only it was a short drive to the clinic and home. And then errands for me. Much different! Instead of dreading the day and worrying about my son I was planning meals and cleaning house and even found time to sign up for a 5k.

One year later and my son was not worrying about jail time… his only worry was whether or not the pool was warm enough or to warm. He was cleaning his room (YES! Miracles do happen!) And he was not stressed, looking forward to the day when he can finally move away and be on his own near his friends.

One year later and it is a much better day. My son is doing well. He is here at home, talking to us, and participating most of the time in our family.

Are things perfect? NOT AT ALL! But compared to where we were a year ago, today is a GREAT day! The sun is shining, I didn’t have to drive north, my son had a great conversation with me and is taking care of his cats today…. And he swam.

There are still tough days. But nothing compares to the difficulty of the year leading up to this day last year. Nothing compares to last summers nightmare or the years before.

I am ready to start sharing the lessons learned and will be writing about them over the next week and sharing here with all of you, in the hopes that sharing the lessons will help someone… anyone…. Just one.

But for today…. It is a good day!

And I am trying to stop the worry that was the base of every single day for years. I am trying to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop while holding my breath. And trying, really hard, to just appreciate and enjoy the days that are good and to find the good in the days that are a little harder. Because NOTHING these days is as hard as the past few years were. And my son is still here. Still clean. And getting help.

One year. What a difference a year makes!

Thank you, mama

Yesterday I went to an event that I almost didn’t go to…. But God made sure I went. Something inside me said I needed to go to hear what my friend had to say when she spoke to a group of women at a breakfast.  I now know it was one of those “God Winks”.

I am so glad I was there.

The emotions inside me. It was as if in those words my friend spoke, there was a message from my birth mother… a message of love.

Before finding my birth family, I had often thought about what I would ask and what I wanted them to know. And when I finally found them, I was able to do just that.

But with my birth mother I was not given the opportunity to ask the questions or to say what I wanted to say to her. She had passed away in 2007, just four years before I would find her siblings.

There have been times these past few years that I have been angry with my birth father, had he just given me the information I asked for about my birth mother, instead of denying our relationship, I would have found her before she passed away…. But the past cannot be changed. So, I have moved beyond the anger and forgiven him. My birth father did what he needed to do based on his own family situation and for that I cannot be angry with him or fault him. We all do what we need to do in the place we are at that moment. And when he finally acknowledged me and gave me the info I needed, I was finally able to find the answers I was seeking.

My birth mother had been searching for me. She never forgot about me and my sister. She loved us. And wanted to find us.

So yes, I have answers.

What I haven’t been able to do, what I have been denied is being able to say to her the things I have longed to say my entire life….

And yesterday I realized I needed to do it, even if it was through written word…. Written to her but for me.

So here, is what I want to say to my birth mother today—

birth mom and meDear mama,

I have always known I was adopted and I have always wondered about you. Where were you? Were you okay?

But mostly I wanted to be able to tell you, that I understand.

I am a parent now and even though I am not sure anything would have made me give up my boys, I understand now the tough decision you made. And that you made that decision out of love for us.

For years I didn’t understand…. couldn’t comprehend how you could have dropped us off at Social Services and told the social worker you didn’t want us…. And then wouldn’t say good-bye to us. Now I understand. It must have been incredibly painful for you to leave your babies in a stranger’s hands. The pain must have been great. Your courage in doing what you believed was best for us was incredible. I admire your courage.

You did what you thought would give us the best life and safest life. I admire you for that. Thank you for loving us enough to realize that in that moment of your life you could not guarantee us that safety.

And I want you to know that yes, I have the best life. I am married to my high school sweetheart, a man who takes great care of me. And I have two wonderful boys who are now grown men. Being a mother has been my greatest blessing.

My life wasn’t always easy, but I did have a mother who loved me unconditionally. She held me when I was hurt and scared, she comforted me, she made a big deal out of every birthday and made sure I knew right from wrong. My mom made sure I knew I was loved and wanted. And my mom gave me a foundation in faith that has carried me through the toughest times.

I want you to know that I thought of you often and wondered. Every year on my birthday, I looked up at the stars and wondered if you were thinking of me too. I now know you were.

I want to thank you for giving me a foundation of love my first three years of life. A foundation I know helped to form who I am today. I know you loved me. And I loved you.

You were my first mom, my birth mom. And you gave me a wonderful gift of this life I have now. I don’t know what life would have been like if you had not given me up for adoption.  But I do know that the life I have now with the man I married and the children I love with all of my being, I would not have any of this without that decision you made all those many years ago.

A decision you made out of a deep love for your children.

I want you to know I hold no anger or bitterness. I would not change anything, other than to have found you sooner so I could say all of this to you in person.

And I look forward to the day when we are reunited in heaven. I know you are there with my mom and the two of you are sharing stories and that she is thanking you for the gifts you gave her in her two daughters.

I forgive you!  I love you!

Thank you mama!

 

Fathers Day

Today is Fathers Day. A day to remember and honor Fathers everywhere.

I didn’t have the greatest examples for a father. My birth father walked out when I was a year old, leaving my mother, who was pregnant at the time, and me. My first experience with trust and fatherly love. And my adoptive father, well…. abandonment, abuse…. not a great example. My second experience in my young life with trust and fatherly love. Neither of those men showed me what a father was supposed to be and both taught me to distrust men.

You know that Kelly Clarkson song, “Piece by Piece”? I don’t know how, but she knew what my life was like and she sang that song as if it was meant for me, too. I know sadly, that many others can relate as well.

I had friends with dads who were good men, but I still didn’t trust them…. And I still didn’t believe that I would ever find that man who would be a good dad….

Until I married my husband and saw him with our firstborn.

My husband and I were just kids ourselves when we became parents. We were scared. I did not understand that saying “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad”, until that moment that I saw him hold our oldest son, tears in his eyes, and then five years later when he held our youngest son with tears in his eyes. Yes, my husband was that someone special.

He showed me what a dad should be, could be, and was.

My husband was a career Air Force man and yes, the Air Force had to come first. He was deployed, sent far from us for trainings, worked long hours… yet he still managed to show our boys just how much he loved them!

When he was away from home he would send postcards and letters just for our boys, letting them know what adventures he was having and how much he missed them and loved them. He called just to talk to them and when email came about, he would send them notes in emails. Our boys knew their dad loved them, even from far away.

Then there were the nights when he would put our oldest to bed, while I was taking care of our youngest. He would read to him, but more often than not he would climb onto our oldest son’s top bunk with him and they would look at the map of the world hanging on his wall and discuss geography. And then when our youngest was old enough, he would read to both boys before they went to bed. Precious time spent between a father and his sons.

My husband was always finding ways to exercise our boys’ minds… through history, traveling places, and math games on long road trips. He taught them both to do math in their head, quickly (man, I could never keep up with the three of them) and the boys soaked it all in, loving those times with their dad. As the boys grew, he would have deep conversations with them about everything and anything. I loved to sit and listen to their conversations, even when they were way out of my understanding. Watching them interact filled my heart with such joy.

He taught them to love the outdoors and traveling, spending hours planning amazing adventures for our family from the weekend camping trips to the multi-week road trips. He taught them both to skip rocks and the three of them skipped rocks in multiple countries and many states. Adventures were found everywhere he took our boys.

My husband spent many weekend afternoons taking the boys to movies, playing catch with them, reading with them and creating things with them. He coached their baseball teams when the Air Force had him home for the season. He attended their games, school programs and listened to their many hours of musical practice. He took them four-wheeling in the hills when we lived in South Dakota and planned fun things to do with the kids when I took off on my mother’s weekend getaways, NEVER saying or feeling like it was a chore to spend time with our boys.

My husband showed me and my boys that dads stay… that dads hug…. that dads are tough and soft…. that dads love unconditionally!

Was he perfect at parenting? No, but who is? My husband was the best dad I could have ever asked for. So today, I honor the man he is, and the dad he is.

My husband showed me through his actions that a man can be a dad, that a dad is involved with his kids, loves them unconditionally, and never leaves. And he showed me, that a dad builds his children up rather than tearing them down.

He has been the rock in our family, supporting each of us at our times of need. He has dropped everything and flown to see our boys when they needed him.

There are many times I wish that I had had a dad like him…….. and I am so grateful that my boys have had him as their dad.

I thank God every day for this man! And I am now and forever will be in awe of the dad my husband is!

I took the leap and trusted this man and I could not have asked for a better parenting partner or dad for my boys!

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