Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Joys of Recovery

Almost three weeks ago, on May 9, my brother and best friend, David, married the love of his life at a beautiful wedding at our church.  David and my new sister-in-law, Carley, tied the knot in the afternoon and had an amazing reception in the evening, giving me one of the best memories of my life.

I, along with my oldest brother, Andy, was the Best Man and gave a speech at the reception, during which I couldn’t help but shed several tears.  There I was, a recovering heroin addict, giving a speech as the Best Man of a wedding party for a brother that supported me through all of my addiction.  It was an overwhelming experience in many ways.  For one, I felt a little unworthy, because there was a period of seven years where I was anything but “best” and put a lot of hurt in my brother’s life.  However, I was so proud of him and Carley, and even though I didn’t necessarily feel I deserved it, I was more than happy to be bestowed the honor.

But there was also a big part of me that was feeling very grateful.  Grateful that I am now able to participate in weddings and feel important in my loved one’s lives.  Two or three years ago, there’s no way I could have been there in body and spirit, but I was, and that is what recovery can do.

Recovery is a special thing.  It adds a new layer to life and gives most people a whole new outlook.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost as if people who are in recovery sometimes enjoy life more than most people.  I believe the reason for that is due to the fact that we have been through hell, we have witnessed and experienced the horrors and evil this world offers, and so we can appreciate even the simpler things a lot more.

It is really a miracle.  I am still oftentimes amazed at how much I can enjoy life and take pride in being a law-abiding citizen that contributes to society and my community.  Three years ago, I had no hope to even stay sober, let alone ENJOY sobriety.  For so long I just knew that if I were ever able to get and stay clean that I would be a walking zombie.  There was no such thing as pleasure or enjoyment without the influence of opiates on my brain.

Even in active addiction, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have been proud of my brother’s wedding.  Active addiction doesn’t mean you can’t love people, but it does prevent the ability to fully participate in family events and to be able to take delight in them without drugs or booze.  That’s the difference time staying clean and working on one’s self can make for an addict.  Recovery can literally transform a homeless heroin addict into a sober, life functioning citizen that people like to be around.

I hope that anyone reading this blog can realize the power of recovery and God through my personal story.  Recovery is not all flowers and sunshine; there are days where I want to crawl in a hole and hide.  There are going to be battles and times that seem like it will be impossible to get through another hour without getting high, but trust me, the good times and gratefulness heavily outweigh the negatives.

Standing up in front of a large crowd, not able to hold back tears and looking at my brother and his new wife, I realized how beautiful life is.  And once I handed the microphone back over and sat down, I then realized how far I’ve come and how amazing God truly is.  Recovery, even for the most hardcore using addicts and alcoholics, can and does happen.  And if and when it does happen, lives are changed, families are restored, and the ability to enjoy life kicks in.  Recovery works.

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Athletes And Drugs

Written by Alyssa Craig

The world of athletics, both on a collegiate level and a professional level, is familiar with the stereotypes and realities of drug use. The extent to which drugs are used depends on a variety of factors and the reasons drug use begins can also vary. As drug use is dangerous for anyone, but especially those in a highly competitive environment, use can escalate in order to keep up with competition.

Athletes are known in the media for their use of performance enhancement drugs (including but not limited to anabolic steroids, stimulants, human growth hormone, and supplements), but many also take part in recreational drug and alcohol use as well. The most commonly used drugs among athletes as a whole are marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol.

Risk Factors

There are many factors that can lead to drug use among athletes, some of the most common include:

  • The desire to keep up with competitors taking drugs.

  • A will to do anything to win.

  • Pressure from outside sources to be better. This can include those close to them, as well as their surrounding community.

  • Financial rewards for high performance.

  • Media pressures to perform well.

  • A belief that drugs will enhance performance.

Some of these factors are not proven truths (such as the belief in a drug’s performance enhancement abilities), but the key is realizing these are all “truths” believed by the athlete. In reality, drugs actually cause an imbalanced performance with consequences such as those listed here. So whether or not the reason for starting is a reality, the effects are all real and pose physical, emotional, and psychological threats.

Physical Threats: These dangers vary widely depending on the drug being used; however, as a general overview, each category presents commonly associated dangers.

  • Diuretics: dehydration, hypotension, muscle cramps, and electrolyte imbalance

  • Opioids: increased risk of further injury, dependence, drowsiness, mental clouding, respiratory depression, and hypotension

  • Beta-Blockers: Depression, bronchospasm, and fatigue

  • Performance enhancing: hypertension, angina, vomiting, abdominal pain, cerebral hemorrhage, dyspepsia, cardiac damage, acne, behavioral changes, cardiomyopathy, ovarian cysts, dependence, and death

Emotional and Psychological Threats: The use of certain drugs in athletes has been shown to create rage, violence, and/or depression in the user. These can quickly escalate and put the individual in a dangerous situation, both for themselves and those around them.

Current Statistics

From the college athletes to professionals, the statistics on drug use range with progress being seen in some areas and digression in others. There are even certain patterns that can be seen between drug use and certain sports as well. A study of student-athletes conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 2014 revealed the following findings:

  • Excessive drinking is down. Since 2005, it has dropped from 63% to 44% for males and from 41% to 33% for females. 80% of those surveyed reported alcohol use in the past year.

  • Student athletes are less likely to engage in social drug use than other college students.

  • Self-reported substance abuse is the highest among Division III athletes. In fact, marijuana use has increased for Division III institutions while Division I and Division II saw a decrease in marijuana use.

  • Drug use is generally higher for male student athletes than female student athletes.

  • Men’s lacrosse players report higher drug use than other sports, while men’s basketball players report much lower drug use than other sports.

  • Chewing tobacco abuse is still high especially in men in ice hockey, baseball, lacrosse, and wrestling, with one third to one half of players reporting use.

  • 60% believe drug testing should continue and involve penalties.

  • 80% support drug testing for pro/Olympic athletes while 60% support it for student-athletes.

On a professional level, doping has been an acknowledged problem in sports since the 1960s. For Olympic athletes, 0.49% of summer Olympic athletes from 1968-2008 and 0.28% of winter Olympic athletes from 1968-2010 failed drug testing.

Facing the Problem

All of these numbers show a need to continually address drug use in athletics and actions are being taken. Leagues and Associations across the country deter use with testing and discipline, provide some evaluation and treatment, and discourage use. Treatment facilities are available to all who are willing to submit to removing themselves from the problem. Some of the main challenges faced are monitoring drug use, as most of the drugs are not prescribed, and helping athletes change their views of what is necessary for success. With proper education to athletes, continued testing, and discipline that discourages this behavior, perhaps the general trend of drug use in athletes can continue to decline.

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Area County First To Give Deputies Narcan

Since Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law in November that gives police officers the ability to carry Naloxone, not many law enforcement agencies have been able to take advantage yet. However, an area sheriff’s office is now one of the first departments to give Naloxone, a heroin/opiate overdose antidote also known as Narcan, to their deputies.

The Eaton County Sheriff’s department is the first department in the Lansing area to train and equip it’s deputies with the drug that has already saved countless lives across the country.  The training was in February and they started carrying Narcan in their patrol cars a month ago.

This is great news for substance abusers and their families.  The bill also allows family members or loved ones of known addicts to get a prescription from a doctor to carry the drug in case of an overdose.  More departments are looking into giving Narcan to their officers, but training is mandatory and the costs to purchase the drug are rising.

In my opinion, Narcan is a potential life saver that gives addicts who abuse heroin and prescription pills another shot if they overdose.  In Ingham County, 28 people died from drug overdoses last year and there have already been 8 overdose deaths this year, according to a report published in the Lansing State Journal last week.  Those numbers are rising fast, as the 28 overdose deaths in 2014 compares to just five in all of 2010.

Critics of the drug say it enables drug addicts to use drugs thinking they have a safety net and that it’s not getting to the root cause of treating addiction.  However, the ability to save lives is just too much to pass up in my eyes.  Pilot projects in other states with similar measures have shown enormous success and I am excited for other local law enforcement agencies to train their officers and see the results.

There are groups in the area looking into the best and most cost effective ways of helping local law enforcement agencies train and start carrying Narcan.  Two groups that I serve on advisory boards for, Families Against Narcotics and the Mason Capital Area Prescription Drug Task Force, are in the process of advocating for Narcan to be used more, but like I said earlier, it is not a simple task, due to training and money.

I am confident, though, that in the coming year we will see several other police departments take advantage of the new law, and when that happens, lives will be saved.  Once an overdose victim is revived from Narcan, it’s up to them to get the help they need and take advantage of another shot at life.  But the ability to give them another chance is a huge victory for this state, and one that should be celebrated.

Building A Life After Rehab

By Alyssa Craig

Starting a new life after rehab can be difficult and overwhelming. Use the suggestions below to help you navigate your way to a better life.

Housing

Where you live will play a big role in creating an environment that will either be beneficial or detrimental to your recovery. Take some time to evaluation your home, neighborhood, and the people that will be surrounding you. If any of these situations will be harmful to your recovery and pose a threat to staying clean, it will be necessary to move to a new location. Find a home in a new neighborhood or community that will be supportive. One great way to do this is to live in a home with others who are also recovering from addiction. You will be able to support one another and also be able to empathize with each other.

Employment

Work will play an important role in life after rehab as it provides a place to stay well occupied and offers the opportunity to be productive. Just as the home environment should be supportive, the workplace should be too. If your previous job had people or situations that perpetuated your substance abuse, find a new job. Low stress jobs will be best, as stress can be a major trigger for relapse.

As you hunt for a job, keep a positive attitude. Job hunting is difficult for everyone (not just those in recovery) and it can sometimes take quite a while to find a good fit. As suggested in this article, be wary of labeling yourself as “unsuccessful” when the job hunt gets difficult. Keep it up and you will find what you need.

Family Dynamics

Addiction is something that weighs heavily on not only the person suffering from it, but also their family members. After coming home from rehab, there will likely be work needed to rebuild healthy family relationships. Family therapy is a great way to do this and can help each family member address how the addiction has affected them.

Family members will likely be a huge source of support during this time, so it is important to strive for complete honesty and open communication. If you find you have family members still engaging in behavior that is harmful to you, or who you feel don’t support your sober lifestyle, it is just as acceptable to distance yourself from them as necessary.

Support Groups

Building a network of support around you as you build your new life will be incredibly important. One great way to do this is with support groups, as you can obtain answers to questions you may still have about addiction as you navigate recovery. You will have access to others going through similar difficulties and receive council on how to work through your challenges. Many twelve step programs also offer the opportunity to take advantage of a sponsor. This person will be someone with more experience in recovery and can offer support and assistance. You can also check with your rehab center, as many will keep in touch even after a client leaves to give some of this needed support.

Social Networks

The people you choose to have in your life will probably be one of the biggest changes you will need to instigate. You will quickly find those who you thought were friends before are not true friends and do not have your best interests in mind. Find sober friends and build stable relationships with them. This means letting go of those who could pose a threat to relapse. In terms of romantic relationships, hold off on pursuing a new one for at least one year after rehab.

Nutrition and Exercise

Addiction is incredibly destructive to the physical body, as an addict has been giving priority to the substance abuse, rather than to their health. Creating healthy habits will help your body to continue to heal through the recovery process. Eat as nutritiously as possible. Getting the body the nutrients it needs is the priority. Follow the basic FDA nutrition guidelines, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Giving your body the fuel it needs to heal itself is the key.

Exercise is a not only a great coping mechanism, but it can also help to reduce cravings and decrease the risk of relapse due to the release of dopamine in the brain. Find ways to be active each day whether this is going to the gym, taking a yoga class, running around the neighborhood, or even simply going for a walk each night.

Summary

Addiction and recovery are difficult and there will be many differences between your life before rehab and your life afterward. It is important to not take on too many responsibilities at once, as this will only lead to feeling overwhelmed. Cut yourself some slack and little by little, you can build a brilliant new life for yourself.

Sharing My Story At Mason High School

Mason Speech Pic

Two weeks ago, I experienced what I consider a milestone in my recovery and a chance for me to give back to my community.  I, along with my recovery coach, Phil Pavona, spoke at Mason High School and shared my story of heroin addiction and recovery.  This not only gave me the opportunity to live out my passion of telling my story so other people don’t have to go through what I did, but it allowed me to speak at the high school I attended.

Mason High School has over 1000 students, all of which Phil and I spoke to broken up in three different groups.  I was so nervous in the days leading up to the school forum but prayed that God would calm me down once I was handed the microphone.  That is exactly what happened.  In fact, out of the several high school I have spoken at, this was the most relaxed I have been during a speech.

Everything went as planned and it played out as best as I could have imagined.  The students were very attentive and seemed to really focus and get our message.  There had to have been at least a total of 25 to 30 students come up to me at different times individually and thank me for coming or to tell me they were impacted by my story.

Another cool part about this was the many teachers that approached me, as well.  Several of my former teachers talked to me and were very appreciative and touched, and many teachers that weren’t at the school when I attended Mason also talked to me.  The teacher involvement and feedback really touched me because I was a troublemaker in school.  To be able to go back and tell them my story and try to help their students was not only (hopefully) helpful to them, but it was therapeutic for me.

My personal recovery is strengthened by sharing my story to others, especially youth.  My life passion is to try to help others not go down the same road I did.  If hearing my story helps a kid not make the same choices I did, then my past was not in vain.

Each time I speak at a high school I pretty much give the same message and story line.  I start out talking about getting into marijuana and alcohol, then go into explaining how I made the jump to prescription meds, such as Adderall, Vicodin, and eventually Oxycontin.  Lastly, I share how heroin came next in my life because it was cheaper than a prescription pill habit and was more readily available and potent.

The response and feedback I received from the students, teachers, and community about my speech at Mason gave me an overwhelming sense of pride in the town I grew up in.  To be so welcomed and accepted through my recovery from drugs in the city I call home is such a joyous and gracious feeling.  I couldn’t be more happy to say I’m from Mason and hopefully, maybe even one of those kids that heard my story won’t go down the same road as I did as a result of hearing my story.