I’ll Be Okay, Grandpa

Two days before my grandfather passed away, he asked me a question.

I was sitting next to his bed in the room at the rehabilitation facility where he’d been for the past two weeks; he’d taken a bad turn while fending for himself while my grandmother was recovering from hip replacement surgery.

The room was a nice one; somehow he’d lucked into the king’s suite at the end of the hall, wrapped around the corner of the building with large windows looking out over a tree-lined lawn that ran up to the road several yards away.  You could sit in that room and watch people drive, bike, run, and walk by all day long, and if you shut the door to block out the noise of the nurse’sIMG_4294 station with all its’ alarms and ringing phones, you’d almost forget where you were.

That’s precisely what we were doing, he in his bed and I in a chair with my feet propped up on the sill of the window.  A nurse had asked ten minutes earlier if he would like some ice cream, and his eyes had lit up as he replied “Oh yeah…”, so now he was happily digging into a cup of vanilla; his favorite flavor.

I felt myself drifting off to sleep in my chair (it had been an incredibly long couple of weeks), totally at peace beside one of my favorite men in the world, when he asked me the question I’ll never forget. Over my shoulder I heard: “Are you going to be okay, Meggy?”

He didn’t always call me by that nickname, but when he did, my heart would always melt.  I hated hearing it out of the mouth of just about anyone else, because most people made it sound patronizing – “Megeeeee” – like they were talking to a little child who was a bit slow.  But that’s not how he said it, so he was the only one in the world who I didn’t correct.

“Okay?” I replied, both startled by the question and more than just a little unclear about what he meant.  Turning around, I was somewhat startled by the look in his eyes as I found him staring back at me.  It was an all-knowing look, as though he were looking at me and right through me all at the same time, and for reasons I didn’t understand I felt goosebumps prickle over my skin in response.

“Yeah…are you going to be okay?”

Somehow, abruptly, I realized what he was asking me; the meaning spreading through me the way a wave spreads over a patch of sand on the beach.  283186_10100103663319786_218704_nAnd it filled me with sadness to understand he was asking if I would be alright after he was gone.  Sadness…and guilt, knowing I was the one of all his children and grandchildren who’d given the most cause for worry on that account.

In the blink of an eye I recalled how he’d come immediately to my side after I’d entered the Hazelden-Springbrook rehab facility for my thirty days of in-patient detox and treatment from opioid pill addiction.  Every Sunday, when visitors were allowed, he’d been there, dressed in his best with his hat matching his jacket and his jacket matching his tie and his tie matching his shoes, commenting on how good the food was in the dining hall.  And the one Sunday he’d not been well enough for the drive, he’d sent a letter with my grandmother to let me know how sorry he was to have missed it.

I recalled how he’d welcomed me into his home when the courts had briefly forbidden me from going home as they tried to determine whether or not my mother needed to be protected as my ‘victim’ as the prescriptions I’d been abusing had been written in her name.  It had taken ten days, several appeals by my mother, one long letter by my father to the judge ruling in the matter, and a court appearance to clear things up and let me go home, and until then, grandpa had made me bologna sandwiches every day for lunch and offered to make french toast every night (I only accepted that offer once, as I could tell grandma understandably wasn’t thrilled by the idea of French Toast ten nights in a row).

I’d struggled in ways no other member of our family had ever struggled, handed a felonious criminal record that I wouldn’t be able to shake for many years to come.  And I was embarrassed by it all, and horrifically ashamed too.  But he never made me feel unloved.

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All of that flashed through my mind as I looked at him, in the blink of an eye, and then I nodded my head slowly up and down.  “Yes, grandpa…I’m going to be okay.”  I spoke slowly…carefully…with reverence, knowing I was in a sense making a promise as much as I was reassuring him.

And my answer seemed to be all he needed, because the look faded from his eyes and he returned to his ice cream with a nod and a simple “Good”.

He died two days later, on a Thursday morning in May.

I’ve often thought about that moment since then.  I thought about it when life came crashing down and I ended up facing the courts a second time.  I thought about it during the brief period of time I was in jail; sobbing as I pictured his face and felt I’d let him down.  I thought about it every single time Randall would treat me badly and I’d allow it; seeing his kind blue eyes and hearing his voice – “I love you, Meggy…please be okay” – and feeling deep shame.

229213_918547636126_2469341_nUltimately as I sit here today, on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend reflecting, I have to admit I honestly have no idea what he would think of me now, knowing what’s happened and the turns my life has taken since I made him that promise.

On my bad days, I imagine him absolutely hating me for the stress and worry and financial strain I’ve put on the family because of the fallout of everything that happened due to my mistakes, vices, weaknesses, and poor choices.  I imagine him telling me how disappointed he is that I caused so much stress and worry for my grandmother in these last years of her life; the woman he adored and called his wife for over fifty years.

On my better days, I like to imagine it isn’t quite so bad.  I like to think perhaps from his position above us all he can see into my heart, and see I never meant to cause so much pain, and therefore at the worst feels incredible sorrow and compassion for what’s happened.

But I don’t know.

Some nights he comes to me in my dreams.  On my first night in jail, laying on a hard slab of a bed, shut away in a tiny little box and fighting back feelings of claustrophobia, when I thought surely I couldn’t keep going any more, I had a dream where he walked up and stood before me even as I was feeling pressed flat into the flooimg_3047r.  I remember looking up at him, sobbing and telling him I couldn’t do it any more, even as he extended me his hand and said, simply: “Get up, Meghann.”  And I remember other dreams, when I was in the middle of my relationship with Randall and things had become extremely ugly, where I’d be crying and calling out in the dark, and he’d come to me and hold me tight in his arms, rocking me back and forth and whispering in my ear how much he loved me.

I’d like to think that means he doesn’t hate me, but who knows?  It could also just be the delusions of a desperate subconscious.  I suppose that’s a question I simply won’t have an answer to until the day comes to meet my maker.

Until then, all I’m left with are memories.  Hundreds of beautiful memories…and one memory that brings me sorrow.

I’m sorry, grandpa; I’m so, so sorry for letting you down thus far with my choices.  I’m sorry things took such an awful turn.  But I hope it’s not too late for me to turn things around, and ultimately end up okay.

He died on a Thursday in May, and ultimately we had our service for him on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend; so I have extra reasons to think about him beyond the usual on this particular holiday weekend.  And it isn’t just him I’m thinking of today either; I’m

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My mother and grandmother, his wife and daughter.

also unsurprisingly thinking a lot about the concept of regret, but also about unconditional love and the unique bonds that exist between ourselves and certain people in our lives.

I’d like to think that those who love us in that special, unique way also understand that we are fallible human beings, and that even as we are pretty much guaranteed to make mistakes, we are also redeemable on the other side of our mistakes too.  That’s certainly how I view many of the people in my life……so it’s not impossible to imagine that there are others who view me that way too.

I’m hoping I haven’t let him down yet.  I’m hoping that – God willing – I have many, many years left to make everything right.  And the same is true for anyone else out there who has been struggling and feelings like the odds are stacked against them ever succeeding.  Barring some unforeseen event, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow, and for many tomorrows after that; so it’s not too late.  It’s never too late.  Not for me, and not for anyone else.  It’ll be alright.  You’ve got this, you really do.  And so do I.  It’s taken me a while…but at last, finally, things are looking up, and while I have absolutely no doubt I’ll make mistakes again – I haven’t stopped being human – overall I feel how strong I am, and how capable I am of absorbing mistakes now; learning from them, and continuing to move forward.  That is the gift life offers us at the end of a long line of bad decisions and devastating mistakes, if we’re open to receiving it.

So for the first time in several years, I again feel like I can say this with confidence: Yes, grandpa…I’ll be okay.

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at meghann@meghannandreassen.com

Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.

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This Is 30

I was having a conversation with my brother Keith over Christmas, and at one point he said something rather profound.  When talking about our lives – things we’ve learned, where we find ourselves now, and so forth – he remarked: “You know, I used to think once you reach a certain age as an adult, you’ve ‘arrived’ in life.  But now that I’m getting older, I’m realizing I don’t think we ever ‘arrive’.  There is no such thing.  We just keep moving forward all the time.  We’re always moving to the next thing.  The next goal.  It never stops.”

When he said this I instantly found myself applying the sentiment to my upcoming birthday; the big one.  The third decade.  Yes…on a Friday the 13th in January I’ll be turning thirty years old.  (And I’m not sure yet if it’s a good or bad omen to start a third decade on such a notoriously superstitious day.)  marilyn-imitation-photo

I thought about where I’d once envisioned myself being when I reached this milestone.  How once upon a time I’d imagined at thirty I’d own a home, be married to my soulmate, possibly have a child or two, and starting to make all kinds of money from my various ventures that were succeeding (writing novels, singing opera, and working on business/entrepreneurial ventures).

Lofty goals, as it now turns out.  And most of them not realized.  (Then again I also once thought thirty was “old”…and I now understand that isn’t true either.  So some unmet expectations are welcome.)

Instead of owning my own home, I’m currently living with my parents as I recover from an eviction that occurred as part of the end of an abusive relationship with a man my therapist is classifying as a Cluster-B Personality (sociopaths/narcissists/psychopaths).  Instead of married to my soulmate, well…I’m single, and at the moment downright terrified at the prospect of ever opening up my heart again.  So one could say I’m in the antarctic as far as finding a life partner right now; just me and the penguins, and they’re already paired off for winter.

I don’t even own a car; having sold my adorable little blue beetle about eighteen months ago, instead driving a car that belonged to Randall’s ex-girlfriend that she’d given to him (but still owed money on, so in essence I ended up having to take over the monthly payments…one more thing as I look back that I’m embarrassed about).  He ultimately drove that car into the ground; got into a few minor incidents (including one time where he decided to go ‘gliding’ around on icy roads and ended up colliding harshly with a curb), and ultimately it was determined all the damage meant the car had to be totaled.  His ex, Blanche, got out of the car payments, so her life was pretty damn good, and also got rid of the car; while I have nothing to show for that $600 payment each month other than a whole lot of anger and shame.

Not exactly anything I’m proud of so far.

Instead of confidently striding into my future, I often find myself questioning my abilities, my intelligence, and my talents (all courtesy of Randall, the abuser who managed to tear down almost every shred of self-respect and self-love I once had).  I find myself feeling afraid a lot, chasing the feeling of being safe even as it stays maddeningly out of reach.  I wake up in the middle of the night when I hear noises, worried Randall or his minions are breaking down the door to rob and violently harm us all (something he vowed he’d do by the end of our relationship).  Lots of fear.  Lots of shame.  Lots of emotions that aren’t necessarily rational, but they are definitely powerful and difficult to control.

In short, I don’t feel anywhere close to “an adult”.  I still at times feel like a lost, confused, scared child who simply yearns to feel safe and loved.

Still, that having been said, the one thing I do have at this point is a career that is blossoming beautifully.  It’s taken many years of hard work, earning my stripes through failures as much as successes; but I’m there now.  Working with Lasting Connections is a pure joy as it expands nationally, my personal success coaching with clients of my own is extremely fulfilling for my soul, and while I’ve had many moments in recent years where I close-up-meghann-andreassenexperienced abject poverty (bank accounts being closed down due to lengthy overdraft fees, eviction for non payment of rent, bills discharged to collections, hungry a time or two because the fridge was empty, you name it I experienced it), I’m moving away from that now in rapid fashion.  Speeding away is more accurate in fact.

I knew it would be that way; I knew there would come a moment when it would all click.  That’s just how it works in this industry.  Still, I almost didn’t make it; I almost threw in the towel many, many times, particularly after I was in a relationship with Randall, seeing as how he was constantly breathing down my neck about why I wasn’t getting big results yet, and ultimately saying I needed to walk away because according to his ‘expertise’ it was a business venture that was dead in the water.  (Read: The Myth Of The Overnight Success)

Thankfully, I was able to hang in there.  And now the checking account is healthy again, the savings account is no longer dry, and I am surrounded only by people who love and support me as I move toward the future.  No more leeches making themselves fat while leaving me dry.

So……it’s true, I’m not where I once thought I’d be when I turned thirty.  I’ve had a lot of failures in my life I didn’t anticipate all those years ago when I allowed myself to fantasize about my future.  I’m a convicted felon.  I’ve spent a little bit of time in jail.  I’ve made fairly big mistakes and left a few potholes in my wake.  I’ve allowed myself at times to be completely and utterly walked over by others; standing silently to the side as boundaries that meant a lot to me were blown to bits, instead of standing up and advocating for myself the way I deserved.

img_3864And love?  I guess as the song says, love hasn’t done right by me so far.  I gave my heart, my virginity, my everything to a man who ultimately proved himself unworthy in almost every way.  Right now I feel like all innocence and light has been stripped from me, and I just count myself lucky to be alive and able to move forward.  I won’t lie, I have days where I despair that I’ll ever find love; thinking perhaps I’m branded somehow as dirty or tainted by everything that happened.  And that saddens me; because I’m still also at my heart a deeply romantic person.  (I know…figure that one out.)

But as I often say to my clients, I’m trying to just put that to one side and keep marching forward.  If you can continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what is happening, that’s all that matters; because it’s when we move forward that good things can come into our lives.  Standing still doesn’t invite anything in.

So I’m endeavoring to do my best.

Besides, there’s a way to flip all those negative experiences on on their heads.  Instead of being something horrible or dark or twisted or embarrassing or shameful (as it sometimes is when I reflect), it can all be seen as something empowering.  Because I’m still here, despite everything that happened.  I have managed to find incredible success for myself despite being unfairly labeled as a felon, when so many others carrying that burden are unable to for one reason or another (and I do have to thank my wonderful family and friends for helping me pull it off).  I’ve stayed clean and sober despite the difficulties presented over the years, and only tripped up with one relapse along the way right at the end of my abusive relationship; but I hopped right back on the wagon afterward.  And in spite of the abuses suffered, and the shame I felt in my heart due to Randall’s actions and words, I still ultimately left him.  There are many in abusive relationships who never quite manage to get away, so that is something to be proud of.  All kindness and humanity hasn’t been taken out of me; I still overall am who I’ve always been…albeit a little battered, bruised, and perhaps a bit more cynical than I once was.

I can relate to people in ways I never used to be able to.  I’ve always been an extremely empathic person, but now it’s grown to a place where I’m able to truly offer comfort and help to not just friends and loved ones, but also to clients through my personal success coaching.  I understand addiction, and how it can take over your whole life whether you want it to or not.  I understand what it means to be depressed, to the point where even getting out of bed feels impossible.  I understand what it is to feel hopeless.  To feel lost.  To feel completely and utterly invisible and alone in a world that seems harsh and cruel.  I understand shame; and how you can say or do things that later you would give anything to erase from your life story.  The oppressive kind shame that can make looking someone in the eye next to impossible because you literally view yourself as “less than” whoever it is you’re talking to.  I understand the cutting sting of betrayal; the kind that is traumatic in the sense that you go to bed an entirely different group-photo-meghann-andreassenperson inhabiting a whole different world than when you woke up that morning.  I understand what it means to struggle to trust others, and to be suspicious.  I understand what it is to be overweight, and feel out of place or inadequate due to my dress size.  I know what it’s like to feel ugly; to hate what I see in the mirror.  I understand trauma, and the way it can haunt you and reach out and bite you when you least expect it.

And most important of all…I understand what it takes to pull out of these low points in life.  I’m able to offer my knowledge and help to others.  And I’ve also gained a new appreciation and love for myself that I never had before; my boundaries are firmly in place at this point and no one will ever get them to budge again.  That is a gift in and of itself.

So…thirty?  You may not look like what I thought you’d be, but that’s okay.  You’re actually looking pretty damn beautiful to me precisely as you are.  A shiny new decade to play with, that is free of abusers and jail sentences and trauma and pain.  A decade that can instead be celebrated as the time when I come into my own and truly start to live life the way I was meant to: empowered, wise, and confident.

This is me at thirty.  Let’s do this!

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

meghann andreassen

Let’s Talk Triggers

Today I was efficiently moving through my to-do list, sitting at my desk and occasionally thinking about what I’d be making for dinner and trying to recall the last time I’d taken my dog out, when my phone started vibrating on the desk.  Barely giving it a glance to see if it was someone I needed to pick up for, something in me froze when I looked at the screen and everything about the calm, just-another-day afternoon evaporated.

The number was unfamiliar, with an area code from the city where my abusive ex lives.  Possible coincidence, except I’d just changed my phone number a week earlier…so it was strange that I’d be getting any random calls yet.  I haven’t even called my various doctor’s offices or other vendors to give them my new number.  Hell, I haven’t even managed to pass out the new number to the majority of my family and friends!

So it was more than just a little unsettling to be receiving a call from an unfamiliar number from that city, of all places.

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My blood pressure spiked and my heart began thumping wildly in my chest, palms turning sweaty, and as I picked up the phone I realized my hands were trembling.  Taking the phone to my mother, I showed her the missed call and asking if she thought it was possible that he’d gotten my new number.  Though perhaps asking if it was possible was the wrong question…because I already knew it was.

Blanche, an older woman Randall had cheated on me with and then continued to inappropriately interact with for the duration of our time together, had long since proven courtesy of her job that she was able to pull up the current addresses and phone numbers of pretty much anyone very easily.  (I didn’t know exactly how she did it, but she worked in collections so I’m assuming given the nature of the industry it’s some tool they use to track down those who owe them money.)

It was something I’d seen him use her for many times, and whether it was kosher or not to use her job this way (I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question), she always seemed to do it willingly and quickly.  Whether it was tracking down a guy who’d stiffed him when buying weed, or reaching out to people he’d been in prison with, or by the end of our relationship vowing that he could find everyone I loved and do them great harm as payback for “ruining” his life……Blanche was always there to help Randall pull it off.

So yes, it was possible.

Better question to ask was if it was likely.  Logic suggested not; because that would mean Randall had Blanche basically looking up my name for new contact information on an almost daily basis…and I seriously doubt he’d be doing that at this point.  If he does any checking up on me at all, I imagine it’s only when he’s bored, and I’d guess he doesn’t ask Blanche to help because he won’t want her knowing he’s even doing it.  So no, it wasn’t likely.

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Likely or not though, I was now officially triggered.  Mind racing.  Heart pounding.  Feeling as though the walls were closing in around me.  Didn’t matter whether or not Randall was actually behind the call, because triggers are never logical, rational, or reasonable.

Seeing this, mom declared she’d call the number back from her phone and see who answered.  My stomach lurched at the thought, terrified for reasons I couldn’t even begin to explain…because really what she offered to do made complete sense.  That’s what you normally do if you want to know who just called you.

Ultimately she called the number four times, and each time the call dropped before it even rang.  Gradually the triggered reaction started to fade and I was able to go back to working through my to-do list…but now instead of thinking about what I’d have for dinner, my mind was haunted by memories and thoughts I didn’t want.  The anxiety had faded, but the pain had only just begun, and I know from experience that now I have to ride out the wave of haunting, painful memories until they run their course……which can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

(Mercifully this time it seems to be brief…even as I’m typing this, I’m feeling a thousand times better.)

The whole incident sparked the need to write out this post, however, as it reminded me of just how frustrating triggers can be.  Like unwanted guests at a party, they saunter into our minds and set off all kinds of mental and emotional alarm bells before walking out and leaving in their wake a steaming pile of stress and anxiety.  Just like what happened today.  They give no war999954_10101296211803066_1798528784_n-2ning – no precursor that they’re coming around the bend – and all you can do is take note, try to process it or, if you can’t yet, find a way to avoid it going forward.

But no matter what, it’s important to remember one thing: triggers aren’t your fault.  They aren’t a sign of weakness.  They just are.  And the strongest people are the ones who actually acknowledge them and deal with them appropriately, rather than pretending they don’t exist in order to appear “tough”.

Anyone can have triggers in their lives, even for seemingly mundane things.  They aren’t only born out of trauma and negativity.  If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, for example, an advertisement or a smell or a conversation about eating may trigger you into craving a food that’s not currently allowed on your diet.  If you lost a loved one, a smell or a sound or a sight might trigger you into remembering.

But while they don’t require trauma to get started…I have to acknowledge that the worst kinds of triggers usually have a traumatic backdrop.  Addicts, for example, understand triggers as the little gremlins that will sneak out and bite us if we’re being too complacent in our recovery; get us craving our drug of choice and potentially starting down the road of reckless behavior leading to a relapse.  It’s why in rehab about 80% of my time was spent focusing on triggers; identifying them, understanding them, and coming up with plans to cope with them.

So given all that, it’s no surprise to discover it’s also quite common among survivors of abusive relationships to have plenty of triggers from the trauma of it all.  But even so – even knowing this, and knowing I’m not alone in experiencing it – it still shocks me every time it happens.

The triggers dredge up all the intense emotions of that relationship, reminding me all over again that yes, it was real; I really went through that.  I really was abused.  I really was traumatized.  And that’s hard.  I haven’t yet fully come around to  accepting it as part of my personal history without additional feelings of shame or disappointment.  It’s a work in progress.meghann andreassen, girl with rose

It also pisses me off, because in a sense it makes me feel like Randall is still winning this game of cat and mouse he started between us; his little mental land mines still going off as planned and leaving me with the negative/painful reactions and feelings.  I don’t want him winning.  I don’t want him in my head.  And I know this is a common feeling for survivors of abuse, because I hear the same sentiments echoed over and over again by the women in my support groups/networks.

So by talking about it in a space like this – by processing the struggle openly – I hope to not only help my healing journey, but also encourage others to talk about their own triggers rather than being ashamed of them; accepting them for what they are so they don’t control the course of life ever after.  Because while the triggers themselves can’t be controlled, how we choose to cope with them can.

I’ve learned that for me, talking about it in the moment is helpful; gets it out of my head and allows others to help me brainstorm ways to feel better and move forward.  And then I’ve started keeping a list of all the triggers, simply because somehow writing them down gives me a goal: to start whittling that list down over time until ultimately I am healed enough to have very few triggers left.  Periodically I’ll review the list, and see if any of the triggers are gone.

So far I’ll be honest…I’m still primarily adding to the list, and have only removed one item.  But it’s a start.  And in the meantime, I accept the triggers…and all the emotions that come with them.  It’s part of the healing process, frustrating though it may be.  And having them doesn’t make you weak…it makes you human.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

meghann andreassen

The Other Side Of Addiction

A few days ago the Surgeon General made what many are calling a landmark statement in regards to addiction and the so-called War On Drugs.  He has said it is a disease, and should be treated as such, as opposed to treating it as a moral or character failing, throwing out statistics including the reality that the numbers of people struggling with addiction rival the numbers of those struggling with Diabetes in this country.  (You can read for yourself what was said by clicking here.)

And I have to be honest: as a recovering addict myself (my drug of choice is prescription opiates), I was unbelievably gratified to see this.

“For far too long, too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing,” the surgeon general said. “This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help.”

meghann andreassenIt’s true.

I know this is a touchy subject for many; sometimes as polarizing as discussions about abortion or gay marriage.  But as a recovering addict with a voice, I feel it’s my duty to speak out about my experiences and help give society a sense of the different faces of addiction; hopefully changing the view of addicts as nothing more than criminals who live in the cracks of society and can’t hold down a job or contribute anything of value.

When I finally got help for my addiction many years ago (September 29, 2008, to be exact), I went to a wonderful treatment center called Hazelden-Springbrook in Newberg, Oregon.  And would it surprise you to know that nearly every single woman I lived with for my thirty days there had Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees?  That they were overall what society would consider “white collar” and “respectable”?

Addiction is, as they teach in recovery, an equal opportunity disease.  It doesn’t care what race you are, what religion, or what socioeconomic class you belong to.  Anyone can fall prey to addiction…and it can begin innocently before spiraling out of control.  Like with me; I had a shoulder injury that caused me a lot of pain and ultimately stalled and then prematurely ended a competitive swimming career.  I had rotator cuff surgery, and then required daily opiate painkillers for six months afterward just to function (I’m not a baby, I have a high tolerance for pain…but those were the most painful months of my life).

I developed a tolerance, and had to be weaned off when it was finally time to go back to living a “normal” life.  I remember it vividly; how it took a while to relearn how to sleep without the added sedative effects of Percocet.  But ultimately I got there, and went about my life.  (Did you know that everyone will develop a physical tolerance/dependence on opiates if they take them daily for a long enough period of time?)

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself in college at the University of Oregon; somewhat depressed and feeling a little lost as I was changing degrees and not sure what I wanted out of life.  (Not an uncommon problem for college students.)  About that time, I’d taken up playing tennis with a friend for exercise, and it ultimately led to a moment when I partially dislocated that same right shoulder.

I called my orthopedist, and because I was the daughter of a physician (one of his colleagues), and because I’d been a patient for a long time, he didn’t make me come in immediately for an appointment; instead he called in a prescription for some Vicodin, and said I could come in the next time I was home from school.  That’s the moment when I started down what became a rapid descent.

That was March, and by September I was taking upwards of 35 pills a day to maintain and not go through withdrawals; doctor shopping and doing whatever necessary to get enough pills to sustain me through the day.  (I wasn’t street smart or savvy enough to know how to buy pills on the street, so instead of finding stronger medications I had to stick with what I knew and just try and get more and more of it.)

It wasn’t sustainable.  And as often happens, the law finally caught on and got involved.  I found myself literally racing home to my parents to avoid arrest when police visited the house I shared with roommates.meghann andreassen

I went cold turkey off the pills, and endured several days of horrendous physical withdrawals (that part of my experience detailed in this post).  I met with a defense attorney (never thought in a million years I’d need one of those), and then checked myself into rehab at Hazelden-Springbrook for a minimum of thirty days.

And so began my journey into sobriety.  But it really was just that: the beginning.

When I came out of rehab, I attempted to go back to living life.  Working.  Taking care of my grandfather, who was by then sick from rapidly progressing prostate cancer.  Overall putting one foot in front of the other.

The legal system is a slow moving machine, so I didn’t hear again from police until March, when the Eugene police department informed my attorney I was being offered what Lane County called their Drug Court program.  They offered this to many drug offenders, the idea being if a person successfully completed the program, they waived any misdemeanors or felonies from ever going on their record.

In this program I would meet a surprising mix of people; college students who’d gotten carried away with weed, women who’d had the unfortunate luck of stumbling across meth and getting addicted, alcoholics who’d had one DUI too many but otherwise had white collar jobs and educations, young people, old people, middle aged people…it really ran the gamut.

Because again: equal opportunity disease.

I willingly complied when offered this option, and started a nine month minimum outpatient treatment program.  I’d make the drive to Eugene three to four times a week from  Hillsboro for three hour meetings as well as random drug screens and court appointments with a judge.  The program had three phases; the first phase not surprisingly was the most intense.  But it was also the easiest to get out of; the only requirement was having a minimum of thirty days of clean drug tests and perfect attendance of all groups.  So I went to group meetings three times a week, went before the judge with a progress report once a week, and went in for my random UAs whenever my  number was called on the UA hotline…and sure enough, within about five weeks I was moved up to Phase Two, where I only had to meet in group twice a week, I was assigned a new UA number that wasn’t called as often for UAs, and I only had to go before the judge every two or three weeks.

Phase Two required people to work through a book very similar to the 12-Step program in AA and NA; taking accountability for your addiction and understanding the impact it’s had on your life.  Once completed, you were graduated to Phase Three, where you only had to attend group once a week and only saw the judge once every five weeks, and yes, got a new UA number again that was called even less often for random UAs.

But even as I was going through this program successfully, I learned that police in Hillsboro had decided they too wanted to pursue criminal charges against me, as I’d abused my medications while living in Washington County as well.  The difference was this county didn’t have nearly as tolerant or progressive a view of addiction as Lane County; and so instead of completing a rehab program, and in spite of the fact that by then I was already over a year clean and sober and was successfully completing a program in another county, I was ultimately forced to sign a plea agreement where I was saddled with two felonies; one count of identity theft (it’s considered “defrauding the pharmacy” when you abuse prescription medications), and one count of what they call tampering with drug records (which is because I was abusing prescriptions in a way that wasn’t prescribed by a physician).

I’ve had to overcomemeghann andreassen the stigma of those charges ever since.  People see Identity Theft and assume I must have done something truly awful, like swipe credit cards that didn’t belong to me or steal bank account numbers……but I wouldn’t know how to do that if my life depended on it.  All I did was “defraud” my health insurance by billing them for pain medications that I wasn’t taking “as prescribed”; and you know what?  I would have just paid full freight if I’d known it was a crime to do otherwise.  I wasn’t breaking that law on purpose.

Do you think potential employers or landlords give me a chance to explain?

Nope.

So there you have it: one county with a more tolerant view of addiction, and one county with a no-holds-barred, black and white view of addiction.  And I experienced them both, and had both impact my life, one for the better, one for the worse.

No surprise then that in my opinion what I experienced in Lane County was far, far superior in my opinion.  Not just for me, but for everyone; and not just because I’m some whiny bear who doesn’t want to be held accountable for my actions.  That program held people accountable, believe me (you ever stood before a judge when you’ve done wrong?).  But the difference is what I saw in Lane County was a system that really seemed to understand what addiction actually is; a judge who was tough when she had to be, but didn’t just throw people away if they relapsed.

I literally watched a woman go before the judge having tested positive for Meth for about the fifth time, and attempt to tell the judge that someone must have just slipped some Meth into her coffee without her knowing and that’s how it got into her UA……and instead of locking her up and throwing away the key, the judge ordered her put on the short list for a bed at the state-funded in-patient treatment facility.  Why?  Because the judge understands that lying is part of the disease; the judge understands that the person who lies to get their drugs isn’t the same as the person who lies simply for the sake of lying.  Same way the person who steals a tv to sell for money for their drugs isn’t the same as the person who steals the tv simply because they like how it looks in their own bedroom.

It’s NOT the same.

And yet in counties like Washington County, they treat them the same; slapping both scenarios with the same crimes and forever changing the course of their future lives.

When you’re addicted to a substance, something really does hijack your brain.  Whether you want it to or not.  I can’t tell you how many times I’d vow to myself I was done with pills, that that was the last time…only to do it all over again the next day.  It’s impossible to explain unless you’ve lived through it, but trust me: it is NOT a moral failing.  It’s a disease.  One that requires treatment and care and follow up in order to get better.  Jails and prisons and felonies don’t fix the problem in the slightest; and in fact it just attaches another layer of stigma and burden and shame to the addict trying to get better.  (Imagine if you were told tomorrow to quit smoking or else you’d be labeled a felon…I guarantee it would be harder to do than you realize.  Or how many people are morbidly obese and struggle to lose the weight even though they resolve to eat healthier every day, over and over and over again?  And how about the anorectic and bulimic women and men of the world, and how they insist every day that they look fat and unhealmeghann andreassenthy when in fact the rest of the world only sees skin and bones?  It’s all the same kind of thinking.)

Would it surprise you to also know that program in Lane County cost less than what they did to me in Washington County?  Because I was able to still work, and attended group therapy sessions with others, instead of being supervised individually on a weekly basis by probation officers.  I also didn’t go through several court appearances with DAs and judges and legal aids, which again costs money.  Plus I was still able to go out and get any job I wanted, because I didn’t have a criminal record; meaning I could work, earn money, and also pay my taxes back to society.  Whereas once you have a criminal record that becomes harder to do, and of course if you’re in PRISON then working and taking care of yourself is impossible.  (Not to mention the cost of incarcerating just one individual for a few months or a year…)

And think of all the jobs created for the drug and alcohol counselors needed for the Lane County program; now imagine every county in the nation having that program, and how many jobs THAT would create.

I’m not stupid; not every addict graduated that program successfully.  And I do believe you have to eventually draw a line; so of course I understood why ultimately some people failed and were thrown back onto the mercy of the general system where they ended up with felonies or prison time.  But there were a lot of people who DID graduate; people who could then move on with their lives with more knowledge and therefore be better equipped to handle what came next.

So I commend what the Surgeon General has said.  And I hope perhaps it can be the start of a change of perspective where addiction is concerned; to where society can shift into a view of compassion and tolerance for the addicts and alcoholics who still suffer out there.  Compassion for those who cannot, as Nancy Reagan once demanded, “Just say no”.

 

 


meghann andreassenMeghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  To learn more about her, or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.

meghann andreassen

Let Me Fall — Part I

On September 29, 2008, I made the decision to change my life. To end the dependency I’d developed on prescription painkillers, and get help.

Recently I dug out something I was asked to write while in treatment at Hazelden-Springbrook in Newberg, Oregon. I was given the assignment, during my final week (it was a total of four weeks I stayed there), to do a write up, in prose format, of what had led me to the center in the first place. All I was given was paper and pencil, and so I started to write.

This is what I came up with.

It turned out to not just be good therapy; it was also fun experimenting writing in first-person present tense. Something I’ve never done before. I enjoyed it.

Here’s the first part.  I’m sharing it for the addict out there who still suffers and wonders if there’s any hope.  Because I’m here to tell you that there IS hope.  You’ll be okay.  Sometimes we have to fall in order to rise up stronger than we were before.


 

“Meghann?  How are you feeling now?”  A hand touches me on my naked shoulder, and I hiss and recoil from it.

Immediately the hand is gone.

The weight of it is too much.  The warmth too much.  It’s all too much, because everything hurts.  Absolutely everything hurts.  I can’t breathe without gasping for air.  I can’t shift on the bed without whimpering in pain.  And I don’t dare open my mouth, lest I throw up again.

In this moment I am completely and utterly trapped, my body forcing me to lie down and take my punishment for what I’ve done to myself these last several months.meghann andreassen

“Meghann?”

The voice is back again, and this time I try to respond, tilting my head a few inches and no more.  It’s too heavy, and I’m too weak.  “Yeah?”  My voice cracks, and I feel the vibrations running up and down my throat, which is dry and in desperate need of water.  Of milk.  Of something that could soothe the tissues that I know must be scraped raw by now from all of my vomiting.

I swallow.

But that doesn’t seem to help much.

“How are you feeling now, sweetheart?”

It’s my father.  He’s been with me since this all started what feels like weeks ago.  And I want to reach for him.  I want him closer.  “I hurt, dad.”  I wince as I feel even more pain in my stomach.  It’s like a blow torch has been set off in the pit of my abdomen, and someone is trying to drill a hole straight through me to the other side.  The fire has been lancing at my insides for so long now I wonder if I can possibly survive another second.

Cringing, I feel my body’s desperation to move, and without even really realizing what I’m doing, I flip over violently from my left to my right side.

An involuntary movement.

Something my body has to do.

I can’t explain it, even as it is happening to me.

I think people call it some kind of a convulsion.

Not that it really matters what it is.  I do what my body demands; being put in my place over and over again as I’m shown just how powerless I am over this whole process.  All I can do is ride it out.

“Do you think you were able to keep down that last bit of antacid I gave you?”

I can see dad’s eyes right across from me.  He’s lowered himself to my level, and I’m peering straight through his glasses into an endless sea of brown.

I would do anything for those eyes.

For this man that I adore.

Especially right now.

Right now, knowing everything that I’ve done and everything that I’m asking of him to help me clean up my mess…right now I would do anything.

meghann andreassenWhich is why I hate having to tell him what I know he doesn’t want to hear; namely that the Prilosec didn’t stay down.  That I saw it come up into the blue bucket about twenty minutes ago, during one of the many moments when I’ve heaved all the contents of my stomach onto the floor in the last several hours.

Honestly, there’s not much left in my stomach to expel at this point.

Those two little pink pills were the first actual things I’d seen in a long time.

Which is why I know exactly what they were.

Why I know they didn’t do me one damn bit of good.

And as I tell him this, in a soft, painfully slow voice, I see him sigh and shake his head.  See the frustration that passes over his face.  The helpless bent of his shoulders.

And if I could cry at that moment, I know that I would.

But instead I just throw up again, leaning over the side of the bed as dad holds the bucket up close under my chin until the episode passes, his fingers stroking through my hair as I cough and sputter and rebel against the taste of bile in my mouth.

Finally my abdomen stops clenching, and I fall back, exhausted, onto the pillows and sheets, which are damp with sweat.

I’m chilled, but I know that in another moment I’ll be tearing the covers off of me as I start burning up all over again.

That’s how this dance seems determined to go.

Dad leaves to wash out the bucket for the thousandth time since all of this started, and when he returns, I’ve flipped over violently again onto my other side, so that now I’m facing away from him.

I want to stretch.

I want to curl up into myself.

I want to rend and tear my mother’s favorite white sheets into shreds.

I can’t seem to stop moving.

I find a position that feels blissfully perfect for all of two seconds, and then my body is forcing me to move again.  Spinning circles on the king-sized mattress.  Making a mess of everything.meghann andreassen

I’m good at that.

Making a mess of things.

Dad comes back again after what could have been minutes or hours…I have no idea which…and tells me that mom is on the phone.  That she wants to talk to me.

I’m afraid as he hands me the cordless device and puts it to my ear, though I don’t know if it’s that or something else that’s currently making my hands shake.

“Mom?”

She is crying on the other end, and it breaks my heart.

I don’t think I can stand it.

“Your life is over, Meghann!  Over!  Do you know that?  Do you know what you’ve done to yourself?”

I swallow, the feeling painful as my chapped, raw throat protests the clenching and unclenching of muscles, and try to speak.  “I know, mom…I know…”

“Is that all you have to say for yourself?”

“I-I’m sorry…I never-”

“You’ve ruined your life!  They’re going to arrest you, Meghann!  They’re going to come and throw you in jail like a common criminal, and you’ll never get to do anything again!  You’ll never finish school!  How could you do this to yourself?”

I know that my mother is just afraid, as are we all.

I know she’s just angry that she can’t be there to help me.

I know that she feels trapped and powerless, and is hating every minute of it.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a lance piercing straight through my heart with every single word that pours into my ear.  The ring of truth stinging like salt in a raw, gaping wound.

“Mom, please…”

I don’t know what I’m begging for exactly.  I just know I need her to stop.  So maybe I’m begging for mercy?  Begging for her to give my guilty conscience a rest?  Because God knows it’s had plenty of time to build up to this moment in the past several days.

Unfortunately, she has other plans.

meghann andreassenShe’s an unstoppable force now, and I just have to sit there and listen.  Sit there and listen, and know that it’s all my fault that we’ve arrived at this moment in time.  Know that I deserve it, whether I think I can stand it or not.

I have to stand it.

There is no other option.

“You fucking selfish bitch!” She rails at me, pulling out the big guns, and my heart shatters just a little more, leaving me to wonder if I’ll ever be able to pick up the pieces again.  “How could you do this to me?”

I want to tell her to stop making it all about her.

To say it has never been something I’ve consciously done against her.

But I can’t form the words.

Instead I drop the phone and throw up again, leaving dad to clean up two messes; my literal one in the bucket, and the far more complicated one on the phone with my mother.

He moves away for a moment, undoubtedly so I don’t have to hear exactly what he’s saying to her.  Not wanting to cause me any more pain than he can probably already see written plain as day on my face.

When he comes back, he’s trying to smile for my sake.  And I want his comfort.  Need it as much as I once needed the drugs now being expelled from my body with all the violence of a Category Five hurricane.

He reaches for me.

I yearn for the contact.

And then when I get it, I hiss again and recoil backwards, my skin immediately protesting the contact, and the process starts all over again.  I violently flip a few more times on the bed while dad watches, helpless, beside me.  And I know he wants to help.

That he’s desperate to make it all go away, partly because he’s a doctor trained to help people, and partly because I’m his baby girl.

I know this as surely as I know that I want desperately to die in this moment.  Because I don’t think I can stand it any more.  This pain.  This endless suffering.  The black hole that I see before me, threatening to consume my entire life in a matter of seconds.

I don’t want it any more.

I can’t stand it.

I want out.

Out of this all.

Help me…

I have no idea who I’m calling out to.  No idea what divine being I think will even bother to pay any attention, given the fact that I’ve never turned to anyone before.meghann andreassen, girl with rose

But it’s definitely true what they say; crisis can bring out the spiritual side in all of us.

“She’ll be okay, sweetheart,” dad is saying to me, trying to reassure me that mom will be okay again.  That she’s just hurt.  Upset.  Scared.

All these things I already know.

But I’m not sure I believe it, which is why I shake my head once from side to side before falling back onto my pillow.  “No…” I whisper the word, feeling the truth of that single syllable slam all the way to the marrow of my bones.

I’ve lost her.

She is gone.

My mother; my best friend and greatest support.  My biggest obstacle and greatest source of heartache.  The being I don’t want to live without.

I’ve lost her.

I’ve finally found what will drive her away.

I’m sure of it.

And it is that thought, more than the physical pain…the endless vomiting…the ants that seem determined to crawl over every inch of my skin…the sweating…the convulsions…it is that thought that matters most.  That thought that makes me think I want to die.

To just close my eyes and not have to worry about any of it, ever again.

I am alone.

“I can’t…I can’t do it…” I think of that moment on the bridge, only about a month ago, when I ran, terrified, from the bungee jump.  Saying those same words.  Feeling that same futile terror.

Only this time my cliff is in the form of a future that holds too much uncertainty.  Too many holes open for questions.

“I can’t…”

Help me…save me…

Suddenly I feel a hand again on my cheek, only this time, for one blissful moment, my skin seems to calm down, and I can stand to be touched.  I turn my eyes up towards my father, and he is there, smiling at me, and I know that I’m not alone.  That I have at least one ally still in my life.

For an instant, I feel just slightly better.  And unbidden the thought comes into my head: this too shall pass.

I repeat it like a mantra in my head, even as I once again shy away from dad’s fingers.  Once again require the bucket as I heave-ho over the side of the bed.

This too shall pass.

And hours – maybe days – later, I finally, mercifully drift off to sleep.