Comfort is deadly to the addict! Consider the eagle….

eagle

First, let me explain some background. I have been hearing from people messaging me yesterday and today about others that have died via drug overdose. Almost all occurred in the comfort of the family home. It is extremely difficult to convince an addict to go to treatment or to remain in treatment if allowed to live at home. Comfort is the enemy of the addict’s recovery. They have to get uncomfortable to get the help they desperately need.

We can learn a most powerful lesson from the nesting of the eagle. I have heard the story of the way the mother eagle handles the nest and not sure if it true or legend but regardless, it’s a great analogy. So here it is.

In preparation of laying her eggs, the mother eagle builds her nest. First she puts a solid first layer of thorns, sharp sticks and branches. Then she puts in layers of softness with feathers, fur from animals she killed for food, etc. She lays her eggs and when the babies or fledglings (not sure exactly what they are called) hatch, they have a very soft and comfortable nest. As the babies grow and get stronger, she begins to “stir the nest” a little and remove some of the soft comfortable padding. She does this until the nest is very uncomfortable and even unbearable. The mother does this as she instinctively knows that the young eagles will not take the “leap” or “launch” to test their wings and grow strong and learn how to fly/soar. So, the young eagles make their way to the edge of the nest, high on a cliff. They are so uncomfortable in their nest at this point that they are willing to take this “leap” and learn to fly.

Ok, now transferring this story to helping those suffering from the disease of addiction. The addict will not seek help or be willing to get the kind of help needed to enter into full recovery if “the nest” is too comfortable.

Ok, so let’s establish some background information that is accepted by the professional community; 1. Addicts are pain avoidant 2. Addicts hate change 3. To grow, it is important to get out of a “comfort zone” 4. Addicts own “best thinking” got them to where they are not self-sufficient and have not “launched” 5. “Home rehab” never works 6. You can’t help your own because of the FOG (fear, obligation & guilt) which clouds family members’ vision. 7. Addicts need connection within a recovering community along with those who understand and are trained in the field of addiction treatment 8. Lies fuel addiction, therefore there is no such thing as an “honest addict” who is active in their addiction.

I mean, really, think of the choice these addicts are facing. On one hand, he would chose going to rehab, which entails possibly painful withdrawal, loss of certain “freedoms” (such as phone, car, etc.) and having to root up painful faulty core beliefs (which lead to their thoughts, which lead to emotions such as shame, grief, loneliness, which lead to their behavior such as self- medicating) which lead them to the deadly disease of addiction. Or they could remain home in a comfortable setting and not having the discomfort of getting better. Is that really a choice for someone who has a disease of the brain and is not using rational or logical thinking or wisdom?

Or how many times do parents, with good intentions, usurp or ignore advice from trained professionals and instead listen to the addict (whose own best thinking got them to rehab, jail or a failure to launch) whose brain is healing from addiction. These addicts need to be protected from themselves by removing the choice to return home. I have heard countless parents saying they were allowing their son to come home because “it is better than the street and I am afraid they are going to die”. I know that in my recent experience that none of these overdoses happened “on the street” but instead happened in colleges (despite professional advice that their son was not ready to return to school) or the comfort of the family home which gives a false security that the addict is protected.

I have wanted to post this before but didn’t want to hurt any parent who may have lost a loved one while doing the best they could do at the time. This is not in any way blaming as I have been guilty of enabling an addict while sincerely believing that I was “helping” them. The reason I have now decided to post this is that I can keep my silence no longer. My heart is broken and I do not want to again witness families losing their son or daughter. If this helps bring clarity to one person and gets one addict the help they need, then I can handle whatever criticism comes my way. I love each and every family and I do know it is very hard to see clearly especially when asked to do what feels very unnatural at the time. These families are some of the most honorable and wonderful people I know. I am not assigning blame or shame. I am just sharing my knowledge, experience, and observations with hope it may save a life or prevent another family from going through this nightmare.

– Kim Castro Owens, MSCM, MAC, CAADC, CACII, MATC, CCS

 

The Entitlement Trap

EntitlementA while back I was working at our main facility when a client came in to ask if he could go to the gym with a couple other guys. The problem was that he had been rated “red,” the most restricted status at ROI, based on his behavior level. The other guys going were “green,” the least restricted status, given when they have achieved a level of trustworthiness. The rule was that a client
 had to be rated at least a “blue,” the middle status, and he had to be accompanied by a “green” to go to the gym. In an effort to make an “emotional deposit” with this red client, I agreed to make an exception one time. That was a decision that I came to regret a couple days later. That same client became indignant when another staff member stuck to the rules and did not let him go to the gym without a staff member.

The client said, “Well, Kim made an exception before and let me go” The staff member called me and put me on speaker as I reminded the client that I had made an “exception this one time” and we were now sticking to the rules as usual. Instead of becoming grateful for that one time exception, he stormed off, calling me a couple of choice words. He felt entitled to a special privilege without in any way earning it. That is when I stopped giving special privileges for any reason, as there was no emotional pay off for either the addict or for me, the one granting the exception. The unearned privilege fed into his feeling
 of entitlement, an all too common characteristic of addicts as well as society as a whole.

Like parents, we as professionals have to constantly guard against falling into the trap of entitlement like this one that had developed long before the young man came to ROI.

Entitlement: a mistaken belief.

Entitlement is a mistaken belief that the world owes you something because you are you, the special child for whom everything should go right.

Historically, people had a lot of children to have help on the farm or in the family business. The kids saw the connection between their work and the food on the table. Nobody ate if the whole family didn’t pitch in and help. They learned that things don’t go right by themselves; they had to contribute, and even then there was adversity, and so they were grateful for what they had. Today, by contrast, we seem to have children in order to serve them for the rest of our lives. Our current society is a culture of entitlement. Many of today’s parents feed into the culture of entitlement, especially in affluent families.

Every one of our beloved children is special to us from birth. However, with all these special children in the world, ours are no more special than anyone else’s children and they do not deserve special treatment just from having been born. When we give them things they haven’t earned, when we treat them so special that the rules of common decency don’t apply to them, we don’t let them grow up. The world will never treat them like mom and dad have. When we “over-special” them, we set them up for failure.

“Affluenza”

One of the ways parents foster entitlement is by giving their children money, privileges, and material things without an understanding of how those things were earned or acquired. Those who have 
the most resources often give too much to their kids and expect too little—too little effort, too little responsibility, and too little gratitude in return. The kids begin to think they have been given so much because they deserve it and it is owed to them. The fact that they have not often experienced limits also contributes to their feeling of entitlement. Moreover, affluent parents have the money and clout to help the young substance abuser escape the natural consequences of his irresponsible behavior.

As a consequence of entitlement, when an individual chooses to abuse substances and it begins to cause him problems, he does not see himself at fault. Instead, he wonders, Why is the world not satisfying me? Why are they not making it easier for me?

That behavior includes, for example, the “what’s mine
 is mine and what’s yours is mine too” behavior. Kids who have gone through their parents’ drawers and pocketbooks taking cash and items to sell for drugs are the ones who protest the loudest that their privacy has been invaded when their parents search their drawers for evidence. The passion of their indignation itself is a sign of unwarranted entitlement.

The victim mentality is the bedfellow of entitlement. Feeling hurt, acting slighted, and declaring himself treated unfairly comes from a habitual mindset of people who feel entitled. Then they seek out friends or other family members who, by failing to challenge the faulty premise of the rationalization, make them feel justified in their complaint. This pattern is especially common in cases of divorce. The child’s social network leads him to feel he is owed something to make up for not having both parents in the same household. Therefore, believing that he has been victimized, he concludes he is entitled to restitution. Challenging the faulty premise of victimization will invariably be met with emotionally charged resistance.

It doesn’t do any good to fuss at a guy for his attitude of entitlement; he will only think we are being mean to him and complains to whoever will listen that we are treating him badly. That is his pattern, and he clings to it. Instead we need to replace this pattern by fostering gratitude in any way we can.

Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement; therefore, cultivating gratitude is the main avenue out of his faulty mindset. First we model the behavior we want him to learn by expressing our own gratitude. Then we teach him to do the same. When he can express his appreciation, we ask him to express it to the appropriate person.

When we see one of our guys express appreciation for something someone did for him, we rejoice. “When he finds that gratitude feels better than entitlement, he is on the road to recovery. He begins to thank a person who did something for him as if were a gift, not his due. He helps somebody else who needs it. He makes an effort to be cheerful and friendly. He is brave enough to admit he has done something wrong. He doesn’t ask for something special for himself that the others didn’t get. He is willing to do what we ask of him: change his outlook and attitude; accept responsibility; and, do the hard work (internal and external). In these ways, his privileges and compliments become validly earned and deserved. He in turn becomes a model for other young men who come to Recovery Outfitters.”

Kim Castro Owens, MSCM, MAC, CAADC, CACII, MATC, CCS

Executive Director

Spring Workshop Update: Success!

This Spring Family Workshop was yet another amazing time of connection, growth, and education. We covered topics ranging from the disease of addiction to art therapy to conflict management in our educational lectures.  The families were given the opportunity to begin repairing past trauma through their participation in encounters for healing and our amends circle. Hopefully this will mark the beginning of a healing journey for these families and they will continue to make strides toward repairing the wounds of the past.  To watch the feelings of anticipation and apprehension transform into curiosity and openness is always rewarding, continuing to affirm that we are assisting in their growth.  We will be forever grateful we have been given the opportunity to contribute to positive change in the lives of these families.

Kim Castro, MSCM, CAADC, CACII

Executive Director

Codependence 102

Hope“The only help you should give an active addict is professional treatment. Any other answer arises from your own addiction to codependence,” I said in my article entitled “Codependence 101.” Today I want to answer the question: Why do so many of us have this addiction to helping those who can and should help themselves?

We all help our children. We tie their shoes, run their bath water, and hold their hand when crossing the street. It’s necessary and it’s negligent not to do so, it makes us feel good to help and to teach. We are liked, loved, admired, and rewarded. Why should we not want to continue? If our child no longer needs us we may wonder, what we are here for. Healthy parents learn to take pleasure in their children’s independence and successes apart from them, to focus on their own life goals, and the activities that bring them satisfaction.

That begs the question: from what circumstance does your own addiction to codependence arise?

Codependence is passed on from generation to generation. If someone in your family, especially a parent, was emotionally unavailable to you as a child, you will be inclined to find people to fix throughout adulthood in order to rewrite your childhood. You may marry them, give birth to them, or adopt them. Parents tend to be most codependent with the emotionally unavailable person, which may be the problem child or the addict, who will be further crippled by codependence with the parents. Codependent patterns likely began during childhood and increase in severity though active addiction.

Helping or controlling?

Fixing people by helping them is a way of controlling them, by making them do right, your way. When the one you’re fixing/helping/enabling caters to you enough, as the controller you think that’s good, but the one you “help” usually gets angry about the control. If the addict breaks away or acts out, it causes you emotional pain. You think it’s still up to you to fix everything. The enabler typically feels worse about the addict’s behavior than the addict. This doesn’t stop the controller from trying to fix the addict because the controller is addicted to emotional pain; it is all he/she knows. The need to control is therefore a symptom of codependence.

Over praising, over rewarding

Perhaps a parent grew up with no acknowledgement of their good behavior and achievements. That parent may give a child with whom they are becoming codependent too much praise or reward for very minor achievements or for behaving well. Codependent parents are making up for not getting enough emotional support from their own parents. Moreover, our society reinforces excessive praise. For example, when every child in an activity is given a trophy, they are rewarded for the mere act of showing up instead of aiming for excellence.

A child learns to distinguish very early the difference between a realistic, moderate response and bullshit praise. For example, my six-year-old daughter Chloe recently gave me a painting she’d done that was mediocre at best for her ability. I acknowledged it with a slight “uh huh.”

 

“Do you like it?” she asked.

I replied, “It’s okay, but it’s not your best.”

“You can’t say that,” she complained.

“I just did,” I said.

 

She smiled slyly as if she’d been testing me, then went and painted a wonderful painting, demonstrating the talent she inherited from her grandmother as well as her own diligence. I praised this painting because she had earned it by doing her best.

If your children have behaved particularly well, better than expected, you might say, “I’ve enjoyed this afternoon with you because you have been so polite and we have gotten along so well together. I think it’s time to stop for frozen custard on the way home. How would you like that?” That is reinforcing good behavior. Remember that intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than regular and expected reward. If the children were demanding or begging that you stop for frozen custard and arguing or cajoling when you hesitate, if you give in, that’s enabling and reinforcing bad behavior. If they say, “But “Mom/Grandmom/Uncle Charlie always gets us custard,” and you cave because you don’t want to be the bad guy, but you feel manipulated, that is enabling. On the other hand, if it’s your idea and you take pleasure in doing something occasionally for the children, you can be reasonably sure it’s healthy rewarding, not enabling. Giving our children too much and doing too much for them sets up a troublesome pattern.

A parent who has been through hell with an addict child will be so thrilled with even the slightest sign of civility in recovery that he/she may praise or reward every minor gesture of politeness far beyond the response she gives to her non-addict children for their ordinary courtesy.

We at ROI are also tempted to over praise because we too are thrilled with progress, but when we overdo it, our guys bring us up short. Our guys will say, “You act like I’m so great, but I’m not.” Or “Bullshit, you tell me I’m great for everything.” Kids don’t trust us when we over praise. They won’t know when we acknowledge their acts of true greatness, and that is a great loss.

Overprotecting

Many of our parents have been through trauma of some kind and they are trying to save their families from that degree of pain; they are trying to provide safety. These are worthy goals of course, but they can go too far. Some parents won’t ever let a child be scared or disappointed. They rush to console, distract, or compensate for every misfortune or loss. Without some experience of fear or disappointment, how can he handle life?

When your child is an addict, the choice between protecting and overprotecting may involve much more serious decisions than whether to rush over and pick him up when he scraped his knee. One of the most heart wrenching decisions arises when your addict is arrested. Do you get a lawyer to bail him out immediately? Is that enabling? Don’t rush to him. It’s okay to get him out the first time, hoping the shock of the arrest will be a turning point, but leave him long enough to sober up and face reality for a few hours or overnight. There is danger in leaving him in jail too long and also not long enough.

Then do you hire a lawyer to fight charges he deserves? Yes. The legal system is by nature punitive and not rehabilitative. The arrest record or label of felon lasts a lifetime. So you hire a lawyer to win him a choice of treatment or jail. As long as he is wiling to get treatment, get him legal help to give him the chance to work for his recovery.

Drawing the Line

The question of where to draw the line arises again when an addict in recovery continues unhealthy behavior or dependence, especially with an underlying mental illness. He may have been diagnosed as bipolar or borderline personality disorder. Then the family thinks the addict is off drugs but cannot do better because of his dual diagnosis. Maybe, maybe not. Drug addiction mimics mental illness. You cannot tell if a brain is normal until sobriety has been maintained for a couple of years. Even if there is a dual diagnosis, with treatment and without the enabling of negative behaviors, an addict can at least improve, if not achieve normalcy. Setting appropriate boundaries and expectations of independent behavior as well as guarding against unhealthy enabling are always important practices for families of addicts to learn and practice.

We have guys here at ROI who have been given too much help throughout their addiction, which has enabled them to stay in active addiction, and we have families that will have to be very careful not to return to codependence in their young man’s recovery.

Kim Castro Owens, MSCM, MAC, CAADC, CACII, MATC, CCS

Executive Director

Codependence 101

trg-image00000009Does this sound familiar? Your son who abuses drugs and is living (who knows where) calls and says he was kicked out of his place and he doesn’t have anything to eat, money for food, and needs your help. Would you feed him and let him spend a few nights with you?

But then you think of how hungry he is and how you just cannot let people starve on the street. You think how he might be reduced to stealing some food or money because he’s hungry and wouldn’t it be better if you at least met his basic needs for a few days. Maybe you could even persuade him to get treatment if he were right there in front of you. You even do a quick cost benefit analysis thinking that it is not fair for his friend or friend’s family to have to support him. He is not their responsibility. You also start thinking of how he will cause less pain to others if he doesn’t have to steal.

So you say, well, okay but just three nights and you must not be using or bring drugs into my house. So he comes.

Whether or not he surreptitiously brings or uses a substance in your house, those three days are three days longer that he is going to go without committing to sobriety. Why should he? His bed is soft and his belly is full. He is probably using in your house anyway; how else could he go three days sober? When he goes, he may take your heirloom necklace with him. That is normal behavior for an addict.

The only help you should give an active addict is professional treatment. Any other answer arises from your own addiction to codependence. Treatment cannot be done at home. I have never seen coerced “home rehab” work. The only way they will change is when the consequences of their behavior are painful enough.

The beginning of giving up your own codependent behavior depends on recognizing it, accepting that you have a codependent role, educating yourself about it, committing to change, and maintaining your own recovery. No easy challenge.

Recognizing It

The behavior that signals codependence is enabling. How are you to know the difference between enabling and helping? You are enabling if you are doing things your child/friend/relative, the other half of the “co” in “codependent, can or should do for themself. You are enabling when you put another’s needs and interests before your own. When you impoverish yourself to give another financial viability. When you figuratively starve yourself to feed another. When you make excuses for him. When you live in anxiety and chaos to assure the other doesn’t face the anxiety and chaos that are consequences of their own behavior. When you drop everything you are doing to attend to or fix a mess that you did not create, that is enabling.

The feelings that signal codependence are anger and resentment toward the other person you are helping, or the denial of your anger and resentment and subsequent passive aggressive behavior. Feeling manipulated is a big signal of codependence. Feeling like you “have” to do something instead of “wanting” to do something. Ask yourself these questions.

  • Do I feel manipulated?
  • Am I angry that I have to do this?
  • Is the addict pushing the “urgency” of the situation?
  • Can or should he be doing this for himself?
  • Am I doing this only because I have done it for another sibling and am feeling that I’m not being fair if I don’t treat them the same?
  • Does the addict not accept my “no” for an answer? Is his anger the result of “no”?
  • Am I afraid of his reaction if I say “no”?
  • Do I feel beaten down, that I just don’t have the energy to fight and that giving in is the only way out?
  • Does the addict show signs of entitlement rather than gratitude

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, to give in would be enabling. If you answered yes to two of these, you are most likely enabling, three or more yes answers is a definite sign that you are indeed enabling. Write these questions down and keep them in your wallet to pull out at any given moment until you are able to naturally identify your own enabling behavior.

Whether or not to provide a car to your young addict is a good example of the choice between enabling and helping. Maybe you provided a car for your daughter so she could go back and forth to college; now your son wants one so he can go back and forth to school as well, but you know he goes back and forth to Marietta Street to buy drugs and is skipping classes. You say you won’t give him a car because he is using drugs, but he denies using or he says he’s using because you give his sister more and he feels second best, if you would just treat him equally, he’d stop using. You feel guilty, so you provide him a car, but are angry that you are being manipulated. You are aware that if he were going to his classes and not doing drugs, you’d be happy to get him a car. Your anger and feelings of being manipulated are signs that you are enabling. Moreover if you cannot afford to provide a car, you can be certain that you’re enabling because you’re harming yourself to save someone else.

When he is in treatment

Once your young man is at ROI and clean, the issue of enabling by no means disappears. He may be behaving badly here with us and is suffering the consequences, so he calls you to take him home. This frequently happens when he’s been in treatment for about three weeks. You don’t want to bring him home, but he persuades you that we are mistreating him and not helping, or that he already “gets” the recovery thing and you are just wasting money; so you take him back home where he soon is creating chaos in your life again. Both you and your son have relapsed. You were relieved when you left him with us, but you’re so accustomed to living in pain that you don’t know how to live without it. Or you are so hopeful with great expectations and promises of the perfect relationship as described in detail by your son.

After treatment, maintaining recovery

Perhaps you now are the parent of a young person who has recently finished treatment, is asking to move in with you, to have a car or for other help. What then? Isn’t that a different case? Yes, it’s different, subtle, more complicated, but it’s still important that you handle it well and that you not relapse in your own recovery from codependence. The best way to handle it: reread his discharge plan summary or call his counselor from ROI and ask for direction. Usually, we like to see how they handle a car while they are with us and other potential triggers such as a cell phone, when they reach a certain level.

Frequently, a young addict comes home to live with you in recovery because he can’t manage on his own. He can’t—that’s the key—not because he doesn’t want to get a job or he doesn’t want to manage the money he gets from a job or he isn’t willing to live in less luxurious surroundings. He can’t support himself because he has six remaining months of probation and no job skills. He needs to be in school or training, along with a part time job. He is, like all addicts, in danger of relapse. Relapse begins in the mind and addictive behavior before it actually involves substances. Because of the long term enabling you may have done during his using years, his addictive behavior is not necessarily using drugs, but using you.

First, if they are 18 or older, it is always better for them not to return home because of the regression that often follows a return home. While they were with us, they did their own laundry, daily chores, woke themselves up (if they were at the CARES level), etc. This is not to say that you should not help them while they are living away from home. They are probably not able to be completely independent, but more interdependent. Again, follow discharge plan and advice from the clinical team at ROI.

However, if your child is a legal minor, it’s a different story. It is good to set boundaries up front, upon his return home, boundaries about respecting your privacy and time, his use of your supplies, your car, and your computer. You may even have a written agreement or contract. It might require that he be actively looking for a job or be in school, that he not use your computer or that he do his own laundry. Come to an agreement that will allow you to feel comfortable living with him. Set up clear expectations using a “carrot and stick” approach. Notice when you feel tempted to help him by letting him cross a boundary or not keep up his end of the agreement, even in small ways because they soon grow. When your gut says you are doing something you’re not willing to do, you are likely enabling.

On the other hand, suppose your son is spending an hour on the bus to get to a downtown university and is actively applying for a part time job and is limited in where he can work by transportation needs, that is, he is taking care of himself and doing the right things but is having difficulty. You think it would make his school go much better if he had a car to get around in. You can afford it, so you offer him the use of a car. It’s your idea, he’s not manipulating, and it makes you feel good instead of angry. You are not putting his needs over your own; you are helping instead of enabling.

When your addict in recovery loses his money or his keys once and can’t get home, you go and get him. You hope he would do the same for you. When he loses his money or keys the second time, you ask how it happened and how he can prevent the same thing from happening again and you may offer suggestions; you may or may not come get him depending on your needs. When he loses his money the third time, you say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. What are you going to do?” He asks, “Will you to come get me?” You say, “I have been there and done that and now have other plans, but I hope you find a way home.” You add, “See you when you get here”, and hang up. What can he do, you fret? He can get a ride from a friend, or he can walk. He can spend the night in a shelter near the university or on a sofa at a friend’s house, whatever it takes. Every addict is resourceful; he has the ability to figure it out. It’s not your duty to figure it out for him. You must not save him from the consequences of his carelessness.

Or you take your addict to school on your way to work. But he always gets up late and is in the shower when it’s time for you to leave. You’ve been late to work once because of this, but don’t let it happen again. Tell him you are leaving at 7:45 a.m. whether he’s ready or not and then you leave at 7:45 regardless. It hurts you and keeps you from your own responsible job performance when you wait for him because he needs a ride. Once he misses a ride, he may get up earlier the next morning. Waking a kid up every day and going back two or three times to get him up, yelling at him through the shower curtain to hurry up, handing him a bagel in the car is driving you nuts and you are still late to work. That is unhealthy, enabling behavior.

Remember, the only time a person changes his behavior is when the consequences are painful enough that he’d prefer to change. So let him fall.

Cycling

A common long-term pattern occurs after families do stop enabling and the recovering addict improves. As an ill-conceived reward or because of their own codependence, the family slips back into doing things for him that he could and should do for himself. He then regresses more and the family tries to stop enabling again by withdrawing help or setting up a boundary. The addict complains, ”Just when I am trying harder you pull the rug out from under me.” You may think that’s true, you cave and he slips into old behavior. When things get really bad, you curb your enabling, he behaves better, and you relax the boundaries, and he cycles down once again.

Because resisting enabling behavior is very hard, it is very helpful, even mandatory, that you go to Families Anonymous, Al-Anon, or Narcanon meetings to keep you strong in your own recovery from codependence.

 

Kim Castro Owens, MSCM, MAC, CAADC, CACII, MATC, CCS

Executive Director

Michael’s Honesty

Basically Honest

Twenty-eighth in a series of success stories of alumni.

Michael S. is 16. So how can his life be a success story already? By setting out early on the wrong path, being brave or wise enough to ask for help early, and being willing to engage in group therapeutic experiences even though he feared revealing himself to others.

Having completed Recovery Outfitters treatment program and living on his own with others in recovery, he’s still a student at Avner Bush Academy, our accredited high school. He’s a senior already with only three more classes to go. He’s on target to get his diploma at 17.

Michael started on the wrong path early by experimenting with the family alcohol supply at about nine or ten years old. “Alcohol is just part of my family,” he says. At age 11, he took up smoking without his mother’s knowledge, so pot was the easy next step. He asked his 16-year-old brother to get him some pot when he was twelve. Then, after surgery on his little finger, Michael was given Lortab for pain. The second surgery to remove a metal pin from his finger was followed by another round of Lortab, which took him further into the use of mind-altering substances. He says he didn’t like the Lortab; on an empty stomach it almost made him sick. “But I liked the way it took me out of my mind, so I forced it down. I’d tell my mother my finger hurt and she’d let me have another pill. It would take me away from life issues.”

Life Issues

After Michael’s parents had divorced when he was four, he saw his father every other week. He remembers how he and his father and brother would spend their time together playing outside all day. Soon after his divorce, his father remarried and a few years later was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was removed and returned again and again. In one year he had twelve surgeries. He and his wife moved to Pennsylvania to her parents’ house so she could better care for him and also hold a job. Michael last saw him in December 2007. The day after he died on March 10, 2008, Michael’s mother called the distraught widow and was told not to call there ever again. So Michael and his family didn’t get to go to his father’s
funeral in Rhode Island, and Michael didn’t have a chance to fully feel his father’s death and to grieve. This became a lingering issue for Michael, one he could not easily resolve.

Another life issue troubling Michael was depression. In eighth grade, he says, “I’d been telling my mom I needed help but she didn’t catch on then.” By ninth grade, “I didn’t actually want to kill myself,” he says, “but if I did die, I’d be cool with that.”

One day he and his mother got into an argument when he was coming down from pot. He was edgy and ran off. Three hours later he came back and continued the argument, ending by threatening to kill himself. His mother quickly arranged an evaluation for him at Ridgeview Hospital. At the hospital, Michael didn’t hold back. He spilled everything, repeating that he wanted to kill himself. He was immediately admitted. “That was cool,” Michael recalls, “because I could get away from my mom.”

Still another issue got in Michael’s way. He disliked revealing himself or being close to someone. “I had trust issues and safety issues. It was a struggle to let people get close. If I got close, they moved away or I did something to end it.“

And so entering the hospital environment was stressful for Michael. “I got there during visitors’ hours,” he recalls. “Other kids were sitting at tables with their families. I never liked being the new person. I never liked people and having to interact.” So entering a program where he had to interact and reveal himself was hard. However, he says that during the time he was at Ridgeview he improved his relationship with his mother and brother.

Michael’s willingness to go into Ridgeview had to do with his depression. In his mind, he didn’t have a drug problem. Michael saw drugs and alcohol as a treatment for his issues, not the problem. “One reason I thought I didn’t have a problem was that, when I ran out of Lortab, I was cool with that. I just drank and smoked. I’ve had ecstasy and cocaine put in front of me and I said, ‘No. I’m good.’ I thought because I said ‘No’ a few times, I didn’t have a drug problem.” Of course, at Ridgeview he got sober. In fact, his sober birthday is the day he went into Ridgeview. His treatment for suicidal thoughts and then the 30-day treatment for drug abuse totaled 56 days.

The day he got out was Halloween 2008. He went trick or treating with his brother and friends and then to a party where there was drinking and pot smoking. He did not participate. “I’d been getting a little of a conscience back and begun to care about people. My mom just paid for my stay at Ridgeview and drinking would upset her. And now I don’t want
to waste all the work I’ve done in recovery or all she has done for me.”

Even so, Michael didn’t feel he was ready to go it alone, so again he had the wisdom to ask for help. Shortly before he was released from the program, he told his mother and the staff that he needed long-term treatment and was given our brochure.

He had mixed feelings about coming here. “I wanted to stay sober but I was not looking forward to doing all I’d have to do, meeting people, revealing myself,” he said. “I hated being the new boy again.”

When he visited, he liked the home-like atmosphere and the absence of locked doors; he also found the guys super friendly. When then-resident Bruce said to him, “See you next week,” Michael felt a little bit of his guard come down.

At intake, when he said he wanted to come, Kim Seymour, ROI’s Executive Director, had to overlook his young age. Only one other boy so young had been treated here, but he became a success story, too. One more issue Michael had to confront soon after he enrolled: he disliked school. It was boring and he didn’t think it was important. But at 14, he was too young for a job, and he was required to do something constructive to move forward. He is a kinesthetic learner who needs hands-on instruction, which is far from what is provided in a typical classroom. His grades had not been terrible back home, but he’d become the class clown and was sent to the resource room in the Special Education program for having “a bad attitude.” He did better in that smaller environment with more individual attention. Now it seemed Avner Bush Academy would be just right for him.

He points out, for example, that learning geometry with former Avner Bush teacher Chris Appleton was a hands-on experience. Michael and another student, with Chris’s guidance, designed and built the picnic table that sits on the grass by the school. They discussed angles and parallel lines, then they measured, cut, and fitted it all together. “I didn’t know building a table was so complicated,” Michael says. Now that he has only three courses left to go—American government,
physical science, and precalculus—he is less interested in finding something intriguing or hands-on about these classes. Selfdiscipline has taken over. “I don’t like school, but I’ve gained a tolerance for it. This close to graduation, I’m just going to roll through it.” He thinks he might like to go to college, “one with a lot of internships,” to get a CAC (Certified Addiction Counselor). He thinks maybe he’ll become a policeman or a mechanic, something that he can do hands-on especially if it’s outdoors. At 17, he’ll have plenty of time to explore job options.

Turning Points

Michael was in treatment here for a total of 16 months, first in the primary residential program, then in CARES, the more independent living program. In treatment Michael faced each of his life issues that he had masked in the past by using.

His issue with revealing himself and allowing closeness had to be faced early on. Michael credits our psychomotor or experiential therapy sessions to work out grief and anger for a great deal of his long-term recovery. “The first one was an anger structure. That got me closer to the guys. It was the first time I cried in front of people I barely knew. Then being
closer to the guys helped me do the next one.”

Another turning point occurred,” Michael recalls, when “I was stalled out on everything. My step work had stopped, and I was not doing well in school.” Our staff concluded he needed to face his emotions about his father’s death and express them more directly. Kim, ROI’s Executive Director, decided to take him to Rhode Island to visit his father’s grave. “My mother couldn’t afford to send me on this trip, but she said I should ask my grandparents for the money. So I did and they said yes.” This was another instance of Michael’s willingness to ask for and receive help, interactions that in themselves
are therapeutic. The trip was even more so.

“On the way up, I felt nervous. I’d been to the cemetery before with my father to visit my grandfather’s grave, but I’d never seen his own. When I saw it, I was speechless. I just couldn’t believe it when he died—until I went up there. It hadn’t set in with me that I’d never see him again. Seeing his grave brought tears, for sure. It filled a hole inside me. I thought, okay, it’s true. It was a big relief.” Michael left a stone on his father’s grave, as is the Jewish tradition, a sign he’d visited and honored his father.

After that, he says he felt “a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I started doing better in school. I finally finished Step Four. It all began to fall into place. That hole was filled; there was no use to drag it on. I let go.”

Many people think that treatment for addiction is just about abstinence. Abstinence, however, is just a part of recovery. Asking for help, facing personal issues, being honest, becoming a person of integrity—these are all inherent in recovery at ROI, as Michael has learned so early in life.

“I’m past impulse use. One thing I’ve learned is, when I have a problem, to go to every single staff member and tell them all that’s bothering me. I’m basically honest ever since I came here.”

That is why Michael S. is a success story at 16.
Letitia Sweitzer, MEd

ROI Newsletter Archives


The Outfitters Post Summer 2011
The Outfitters Post Winter 2011
The Outfitters Post Summer 2010
The Outfitters Post Spring 2010

Our Programs

Recovery Outfitters offers five programs for young men addicted to drugs and alcohol. Hallmarks of success have been identified and thoroughly integrated into ROI’s treatment programs. Each program is designed to address different levels of need. Together they take young addicts from long term residential treatment through a learning and healing process to a point where they may realistically expect to live sober and fulfilling lives in the real world.

Success Stories

Michael’s Honesty – Michael S. is 16. So how can his life be a success story already? By setting out early on the wrong path, being brave or wise enough to ask for help early, and being willing to engage in group therapeutic experiences even though he feared revealing himself to others.

Many people think that treatment for addiction is just about abstinence. Abstinence, however, is just a part of recovery. Asking for help, facing personal issues, being honest, becoming a person of integrity—these are all inherent in recovery at Recovery Outfitters, as Michael has learned so early in life.

Having completed Recovery Outfitter’s treatment program and living on his own with others in recovery, he’s still a student at Avner Bush Academy, our accredited high school. He’s a senior already with only three more classes to go. He’s on target to get his diploma at 17. That is why Michael S. is a success story at 16.[Read More…]

Sam’s Trail – Three things resonate with Sam W.: the great outdoors, music, and the community of his peers. These three have been a part of his using days and these three must be a part of his recovery. A recovering addict must have a passion to take the place of the drug obsession he has left behind.

“I did a lot of character building at ROI House and good family work. I have stayed sober since I left because of AA. If you go to AA enough, you will find people you relate to and who help you stay sober. My family relationships are a lot better now. I feel grateful to have a good relationship with my sister. We hang out a lot and have had a good summer together. I’m happy with my life now.” That last line, “I’m happy with my life now,” is all the success anyone needs at Sam’s age. The future looks bright.[Read More…]

Randy’s Journey – In the five years after Randy W. left Serenity House in 1997, he lived by three guidelines: When things are going well, I can handle using drugs. When things are going badly, I need to use drugs. When in doubt, buy a ticket to somewhere else.

Randy used heroin or cocaine to change his mood; he hopped a plane or train to change his country. His pattern of escape led him to London, Prague, Bangkok, and Bombay. He found his grandmother’s girlhood home in Hungary, taught English in Istanbul, surfed in Indonesia, explored the Himalayas, picked plums in Australia, and studied chess under a Grandmaster in Russia. These are a few of the countries where he was (relatively) sober. He left each country because of boredom, loneliness or depression and went to another. “I was always thinking about myself. But now I think about other people and want to help them… [Read More…]

Ski trip for ROI House Residents

Ski Trip

Ski Trip

ROI House residents enjoyed 4 action packed days at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia, skiing and snowboarding. The guys along with ROI house staff made the drive up to Snowshoe on February 8th. It was a long drive but everyone enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the way. Adventurous recreation is just one of the many therapies Recovery Outfitters employs in our treatment model.

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