Light The Night Purple

We went. We walked. We lit the night. We froze a little and we listen to some fantastic speakers. Light The Night Purple put on by DanversCares was held on the grounds of our library last week. The program was the first of its kind for our community. A community that has startling numbers in terms of drug overdose and death, I learned. The Chief of Police gave us the number of heroin or fentanyl related overdoses and deaths since 2012. The number seems to be going in the wrong direction. 2016 has shown a rising trend, so that is really scary. Of course, as drugs become more available and drug suppliers find newer, scarier, less expensive ways to cut their supply and double their profit, deaths are going to happen.  It’s also this writers humble opinion that as long as we are treating a symptom and not the disease then it will continue to be a problem.

Addiction is a brain disease. A brain disease. A disease of the brain. That is a real thing. There is a part of the brain that does not work appropriately or at all. That is before someone begins using drugs. Not as a result of drug use. There is a reason I can drink a few beers tonight, and tomorrow have no desire to drink for another year and someone else has a drink and immediately knows they can’t stop drinking.  There is a reason I drank in high school and smoked pot and never became addicted to it. Twenty three years later I rarely drink. Ever. Two or three times a year which Smolinsky’s can attest too.  But my daughter began drinking and smoking pot and moved up the ladder until she reached the top of drug chain. Actually, bad example. Let’s say she climbed down the ladder until she reached hell. But either way, you are probably picking up what I’m dropping.  That isn’t luck. It’s not by willpower, trust that. If you saw me in a candy store you would know I have no willpower. It’s about science. Science doesn’t lie.

Once a person begins using drugs it is true that their brain changes. Brain development ceases or decreases in teens and young adults. Heroin causes drug-induced-surges of dopamine which leads to the brain lessening it’s response to pleasurable experiences. This causes the user to have a very difficult time reaching any sort of pleasurable state. Not just with drugs but eating good food, having sex, or anything the brain would relate to survival. In other words, the brain needs higher surges to feel pleasure and believes heroin is one of the necessary elements of survival along with food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.  Those long-term effects can happen quickly with heroin use. It takes the brain a much faster time to be accustomed to the surges in dopamine then it does to reverse it. The reversal for a 6 month user can take up to 2 years.  Imagine someone who was using for years and years and years? Not to mention the behavioral factors. The dopamine response will happen with things we associate with pleasure. So if I get a pleasurable response from my favorite food, Burgers, then I will have that surge when I see a juicy burger on a commercial, or in a magazine, or if I can smell someone grilling when I jog by at night. The same goes for drug use. When an addict is in the presence of someone they used with, or pass a placed they used to use, or needles at a physician office or lab, they will have a similar rush associated with drug use. Those cravings, those rushes are hard to break. The longer the use, the more stimuli a person will collect. More people to use with, more places to use at and very suddenly short-term use turns to long-term use turns to nearly impossible to overcome.  That is science.  That is not assumptions or guesses or speculation.

Programs like we went to last night educate people on the advances we have made in finding support and help for addicts. There was a speaker whose daughter has been clean 10 years and another gentleman who spoke of his own 7-year clean time. One of the things that he said was that addiction is isolating. Addicts isolate from friends and loved ones. That is true but it’s also isolating for the families. I know that I don’t want to go out only to run into people who I  see always posting on Facebook about how wonderful their stupid family is and all the stupid  colleges their kids got into with their stupid athletic and academic scholarships while I sit in a stupid emergency room trying to get my daughter into another stupid detox.  Yup, I would say it’s real isolating. And morale busting. Have you ever worked in a place where the morale hit an all time low and everyone hates each other, and stops working together, and would rather swallow monkey balls dipped in battery acid then talk to anyone at the water fountain? That is sort of what happens in a house with a child addict. The family has a hard time functioning because of guilt, and terror, and shame, and a whole host of emotions. It is not a morale booster to send your child a text in the morning asking if they are alive.  I think those messages are good to hear because the other thing that the speakers touched on was the shame. Parents don’t want anyone to know they are addicts. Addicts don’t want anyone to know they are addicts. In an effort to shield our children from judgment and critics we foolishly believe we are helping them when we hide their addiction. It only proves to further enable them to use, and does nothing to aid in recovery. But it often takes parents a long journey travelled to figure that out. For me, I was so focused on keeping her alive; I forgot to worry about people finding out. My resolve had been beaten down to nothing, fear becoming my primary feeling that I lost attention to her reputation as a person. And that sounds like a bad thing, but it isn’t. It was not really a good thing. It was a necessary thing. It was a necessary part of my healing. For me to be able to admit there was a problem, I had to reach a point where I must confess that I could not handle it on my own. I had to realize and acknowledge that her addiction was making my life unmanageable so others could help. Help me and her and our family.  A lot of time she doesn’t want help but we do. We got help. We had to or we would be dead ourselves.  The message of hope and help is an important one. I know I valued hearing that. I hope there was others in the crowd that also found some value in those words.

It was also hard to hear about their long-term recovery. The elusive long-term recovery. It can’t be bought, or borrowed, or stolen, or gifted. It can’t be wished for or packaged or wrapped or stuffed in a box to use at a later date. It has to be worked on and earned. And desired. Desired being the most important part. There must be a will to live. When the desire to live becomes stronger than the will to use, a person will find recovery.  But, that is none of my business.  Whether she can find the recovery I so want her to have, is really up to her and not any of my business. At 22-years old she is an adult. She may be my adult child but she is still a free woman responsible for herself.  I am responsible for myself and have the shared responsibility with my husband for our family.  That includes her to a certain degree, but there has to be limits. Limits are boundaries and they are good and necessary.

Overall the event was a great success as far as remembering those that have died or are still suffering from substance abuse. There were a lot of high school and younger kids there which made me happy because they are learning about prevention. I was proud that most of our clan was present and accounted for. The library looked great set up at the pavilion with all the purple bags lit up.










We had a lot of fun walking with Jay J and Cinderella as seen here:





And AC, OC, and SC:

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My friend Steen and Jared:

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Look at these two, OC and AC literally walk the same. Two peas in a pod.  Cray Cray.

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Lastly, Jay J gave Cinderella a piggy back ride to the car because a bird shit in her hair. Yes. Shit. In. Her. Hair. Just right out of the sky. Pooped on. How in the world does that happen? It was the shits. Also par for the course around here.



Next time the town has an event like this I hope we can double the attendance. If you are from the area, whether you have an addict in your life or not, programs like these need the support of the community to have success. Peg Sallage with DanversCares is doing remarkable things for our community and works very closely with Lahey Behavioral Health developing new programs and with the High School educating our young on healthy choices, drug abstinence and prevention. If you are looking for a way to help, reach out to her or visit the DanversCares website. As a mother with a child in active addiction, I can attest to the need and importance of these programs.  Coming together as a community is integral to preserving the fiber of Danvers.  Town Selectman, Police Officers, DanversCares Coalition and the members of the high school facility can all do their part, but it’s for not if the rest of us don’t get on board.


DanversCARES…… Do you?

After attending the Candlelight Vigil in Medford, I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from their community. And it sort of got me thinking of what support and drug-free programs Danvers has invested in. I wondered about whether Danvers Police carried Narcan, and what education is offered to the school systems and their parents. So, I googled it. I love google. I mean, you can literally google “what do carrots look like when they germinate” and get a million answers. I googled myself recently, and guess what, I have a blog! Who knew. Anyway, I was directed, via google, to DanversCARES. I have lived in Danvers basically my whole life, other than a small stint living in an extremely rural town in South West Nebraska, and I had no idea about DanversCARES.

DanversCARES is not just about a drug-free community. It is a partnership that encourages, educates and offers programing for youth and families to help make healthy decisions in many areas of life. This includes education on tobacco use, physical education, abstinence from steroids, as well as drug awareness. They partner with 12 organizations including Essex Agricultural and Technical School, DEEP, Danvers Public School, Peabody Institute Library of Danvers, Lahey Behavioral Health, North Shore Medical Center and the Danvers Police Department, just to name a few. If you click the link below, you can learn more about their programs, their resources and catch up on their blog.

A recently blog post was called Defy the Opi-Odds. It spoke of a course for Teens last summer that focused on Opioids, Overdose Prevention among other things. Last summer, I was neck deep in relapsing with JoDee so I’m not super surprised I didn’t know about it, but I am surprised I hadn’t heard much about the organization as a whole. So, I did what I always do when I don’t know something, I set out to educate myself. There is a tab labeled “contact”. By clicking that tab I found out about Peg Sallade. She is the Program Director. Her contact info was readily available so I emailed her. I introduced myself as a life-long resident of Danvers with a daughter that is a heroin addict and would like to become more involved in the organization, as well as learn more about it. Peg and I met on a Friday morning, after many emails back and forth to find a time that fit both of our schedules.

One of the things I learned is that DanversCARES and Peg specifically have a tough job educating the community. The thing about drug addiction is it is not seen as a community problem. I mean, from the community that is. The people involved with DanversCARES understand that it affects everyone whether you have an addict in your family or not. Drug addiction is typically related to higher crime rates, increased sudden death and lower continued education statistics. If your child is 5 h/she will be in high school someday. And that beautiful, wonderful, smiling, innocent child may make one poor choice that leads to another and another until suddenly; you are where I am, and wondering why. I think often another huge hurdle is reaching those in the community that don’t have young children, any children, or whose children are adults without children. Community is just that community. If any particular malady ails a community that means directly or indirectly it affects everyone. The rate of addiction is rising rapidly. It is also rising predominately in the young age group; 18-25 are most likely to over dose, but that doesn’t mean it ONLY affects those age groups. There are many families with adults/adult children suffering from addiction. My family is a good example. JoDee is an addict but I have two younger children that could definitely benefit, and maybe be helpful providing inside information to others in their or similar situations.

Maybe part of the struggle with getting the community to open up about drug use in our own neighborhoods is due to embarrassment. I can understand that. I didn’t get to the point that I was publishing blogs on the internet about our family overnight. This was a process. It took a lot of Al- Anon meetings, N/A meetings and near death experiences with JoDee for me to be so open. I, too, was embarrassed at first. Not just for JoDee and what it meant to be an addict, but as a parent. I know even now that people judge me, but I have learned people will judge me if I drive a big car, a small car, wear glasses, cut my hair short, wear pants too tight or too lose. I had to have my own come-to-Jesus meetings to evolve into someone who understands addiction. And not just understanding it, but learning that concentrating on being embarrassed is taking time away from looking at the bigger picture; helping my addict find peace of mind to begin recovery. Just as we take pride in our homes, and our lawns and whether or not the taxes will increase because we build a new school or save a funeral home, should we invest time in the future of the children of our community.

If you want to know more about DanversCARES, reach out to Peg. If you have a child suffering from addiction and you want to be part of program that can help bridge the gap in the community, reach out to Peg. If you think that you can’t offer anything to this program, but you are invested in a better tomorrow for Danvers as a whole, reach out to Peg. Let her know what programs you would like to see, give her ideas on how to attract the masses. Is there a subject you think would be beneficial? Let her know. If reaching out to Peg seems daunting, you can reach out to me. I have offered to speak at forums; I will do whatever she needs to help put an end to drug use in Danvers.. I told her that I would lead by example. While parading my family’s personal problems through the town like the Little League Parade is not something I look forward too, I also know that for anyone to understand the struggles of addiction, they need to have something tangible to attach it too. I don’t want another mother to suffer like I have. I don’t want another mother to lose a child to addiction or for any child, at any age, to lose their life because of addiction. DanversCARES is taking steps to help educated the community so we can successfully pave a cleaner future for everyone. Will you help us?



A Sunday to Remember

I mentioned in my last post that I was attending the Candlelight Vigil for those who lost their life to addiction last Sunday. I was really tired from a long week and a first treatment, and it was freezing out (I thought it was outside, thank Jesus twice over, it was not) so I had to muster up the energy to go. As stated, the entire Melanie/AC clan went (sans Jay J who had to complete an English essay so he indeed graduates and does not find himself murdered by me).  We had a big supper early and bundled up, preparing for the sad night ahead of us. I personally did not know any of the folks that had passed away, however, I have a good friend whose brother-in-law had and I was honored to meet his sister, who had come from Florida.  As soon as we got to the Medford City Hall I was overwhelmed with relief that we would be inside since it was 4 degrees outside and the wind was trying to blow us all to the Land of Oz.

Walking in the front door of the City Hall I was overwhelmed with a completely different emotion. The stairs were lined with brown paper lunch bags, all with an electronic candle inside, and with the name of someone whom had passed away. There were so many bags. It was impossible not to feel the grief hanging in the air, it was so tangible I felt like I could reach out to grab it.  It was so breathe taking, but that was only the beginning. As you ascended the stairs, to walk to the second floor, I was immediately taken by all the posters lining the landing. Family members and friends had made posters with pictures of those who had died. The love was evident as you looked at the pictures of young men and woman, and the grief was heavy. Lots of hugs, lots of tears, tissues everywhere. It was so agonizing to think all these lives were lost.

Not only was the amount of people  attending both heartbreaking and heartwarming, but so was some of the information I learned. The program yield several speakers, a narcan demonstration, a singer, a moment of silence, and a slide show that kept playing, with all the names and pictures if available, of those that had died. It started with the narcan demonstration which was done by a woman from the Cambridge Needle Exchange. The Cambridge Needle Exchange offers a wide arrangement of services including testing, case management, needle exchange, narcan training and kits. This was so interesting. She started by explaining what the Cambridge Needle Exchange was before begin instruction on how to use narcan. She began by describe the signs of overdose, and warning that people often throw someone overdosing into a cold shower or trying other home remedies but warned that those things are dangerous. She stated that the best thing to do it is call 911- and warned NOT to say the person was overdosing, but to only say that there is a person not breathing, as response times are not as quick when someone is overdosing. I found this shocking. I know that is probably naive of me. I always believed when people said no one wants to save an addict that was an exaggeration but here is a woman well educated in the field confirming my worst fears. She also reminded everyone about the Good Samaritan law so active users in the room or even in recovery would know that they would not be arrested if they called. And, she concluded by demonstrating how to administer narcan (a few side notes: 1. A person can’t overdose on narcan itself, either it works or it doesn’t 2. It does expire but that just means the farther away from the expiration date the less potent it is, if someone is OD’ing, use it!). I also found it disturbing that only some towns have police that carry narcan, that there is resistance from many towns to begin doing that, and there is a ton of red tape before it can even happen. I am going to look into this more before I speak to it, I want my own facts before I form an opinion.

There were several speakers, and all of them were fabulous. And touching, oh my god, the emotions were raw and so honest. I commend them for getting up to speak about such a tough subject. There were two young men whom are both in recovery that spoke about their time in active addiction. It was so difficult to listen to them speak of the lows they had reached, as I could only imagine JoDee being in a place of those same lows. But there was a few remarkable things I heard from those speeches. Things that I would be remiss should I not pass them on.  He remarked that the point of the vigil was to break the stigma or the brand of heroin addiction. To him, in his life, he suffered with restlessness and discontent most of his life. Using, to him, was getting well. Using made him feel whole. I have to believe that this is what it is like for so many addicts. I believe that JoDee is doing well because she has found medications that fill a void that do not require the use of heroin or other street drug. But she had resources to get that help. I can’t say the same for many. Many addicts never have a mental illness diagnoses, many addicts suffer with the trauma of sexual or physical abuse, and many addicts grow up in a hell that many of us will never know about. The one thing I heard loud and clear, and it was reiterated by the City Mayor, was substance abuse disorder is a disease not a life choice.  And, not everyone who does drugs is an addict. I might be able to smoke pot or drink a few times a year, and it never accounts to more than having fun and being a little reckless which remains harmless. I learned that there is a reason that for some it graduates, even if we don’t always know what that reason is. In a lot of cases, the addict may die taking it with them, or many they never know themselves.

One of the most truthful statements I heard that really related to me, the family member of an addict, came from a 14 year old girl. She said she is not an addict but addiction ruined her life. Her father died over a year ago. She was so strong. She spoke with force, with power, I was in awe. She summed up how many of us feel about our role as the family member of addict very clearly.  And she wasn’t the only one. The speaker that left no eye dry, that moved every single person in attendance, was the mother of two sons whom have both died of drug addiction. The statement that she was a childless mother made my knees buckle. Not just for her, and her pain, but because many times I have said I could easily be a daughterless mother.  She was living my worst nightmare. She is living many of our worst nightmares. She spoke about the reason she continues to go on (and I was thinking I don’t know if I could or would want too) was because that’s what her sons would want. They would want her to be alive, with her son’s children, trying to heal. Heal? How? And she says that every morning it takes her sometime after waking up to realize the nightmare is true, they are both gone.  It sounds like this has been such a long battle for her. She stated that one of her sons had as much clean time as not, which is how I felt about JoDee. The clean time seems to go buy very quickly, but the time we are trapped in active addiction seems to grab ahold of our lives and linger for a long time. A big reason for that, for me, is because when she completes a program, I am counting the days until the next relapse happens. Relapse is inevitable in addiction, but not for everyone. Some addicts never get a chance to relapse, and rarely, some addicts stay clean after a first attempt at recovery.

Something else that happened was confirmation of my own beliefs. For example, one of the speakers spoke of how he went into detox to detox from heroin and prescription pills. Once admitted he was loaded up by their standards, sometimes as bad as he was on the street. I can speak to that. On more than one occasion I have thought JoDee was more banged up inside than out. First of all, patients were cheeking meds, passing/trading/selling them to each other, smuggling drugs in and otherwise partaking in medications not prescribed to them. Then, they are doled out their medications that are prescribed to them for the purposes of helping curb side effects, withdrawals and cravings while detoxing. The amount and type of medication is based on the amount and type of drug the addict was using on the street. So JoDee typically is a heroin user so she was typically given suboxone. Many times I felt that she exaggerated the amount of heroin she was using per day to have the psychiatrist or other prescribing physician order a stronger dose for a longer period of time.  At a time she was on Leland Unit at Beverly Hospital, a former sponsor and I went to visit JoDee and we both felt JoDee was getting higher than anything else. And this was confirmed when she was moved to a step down unit where she really started to detox. The last time she went to detox in Danvers they gave her Librium which makes her a complete wackadoodle. She is completely disorientated to time and place, she is extremely combative and even more irrational than she normal is which is pretty effed up if you know her personally!  When we made the decision to section her to WATC it was in part because she had already derailed, and while in detox was psychotic in my opinion, and she walked out of the front door to seek more of whatever she could get. I was told they gave her Librium because she was smoking crack and that was protocol. I also believe it’s illegal to dry detox anyone which for some addictions I can understand (alcohol comes to mind, a person can die from the DT’s) but not from heroin or even crack. A person might feel like they are going to die, or even want too, but they won’t. Lord knows I have detoxed JoDee at home enough times to know. I don’t think we should be cruel, but to some extent it does feel like the way the current system works, the inmates are running the asylum. The entire system is based on the information from the patient, i.e. addict-whom is known, generally, for lying to get the fix they need-to determine what type of drug they are detoxing from and the amount the body may be dependent on.

Overall, I believe the system is broken. It needs to be stripped down and rebuilt. But how can we do that in the middle of a war? Our addicts need us now. Too many are dying- of all ages and genders (though it was shocking the male to female ratio… way more males). Once they are done with a detox system that isn’t fantastic, we send them out into the world, in the same geographical area they know how to score in, with a list of names, N/A meetings and programs. With a good luck and a high five. After making NUMEROUS rounds of calls for JoDee I can tell you I felt it would be easier to stick a needle in my arm than to get help. It was so frustrating. Good programs have waiting lists, bad programs have too many drug addicts just place holding to avoid jail time, psychiatrists have two month waiting lists and many N/A meetings end up like a high school dance- full of drama and spiked punch! I’m not knocking N/A, because I believe it has saved JoDee’s life, but I also think it has a lot of issues in-of-itself. However, how can I even wonder how that happens when the addicts attending are not given the full potential at recovery with the way the recovery system works now? Vicious cycle. Makes my head spin just thinking about it. I feel like we set people up to fail, are surprised when it happens, and then use it as justification to judge. Great system. However, I heard a lot of talk about new laws and new programs and a new horizon for our addicts. I am happy for that, and I need to find out how I can help.