Annie Highwater talks about her new book “Unhooked”… A mother’s story of unhitching from the roller coaster of her son’s addiction.
You have to live in the day. I have to, at some point, trust that things are going to work out one way or another, and as long as there’s breath, there’s hope.
Highlights from the Podcast
Tell Us a Little Bit About Yourself
I am from a big, happy, dysfunctional family in the mid-west. I am a mom; my son was injured as an athlete, and prescribed a medication, and that’s pretty much what started our journey through this. When it was happening with us, it wasn’t as commonly in the public and the news, as it is now. I didn’t really have a lot of places to turn to unburden or get ideas from, or even just to say, “This madness is happening. What’s going on; how do I handle it? How do I not handle it?” I went on this journey of some-what gorging on information, and researching, and some-what stalking pharmacists and court therapists, and police officers I knew just for information about how to handle it, and what I was dealing with, and pretty much brought be through to this part of our journey where we are on separate paths of recovery doing quite well.
How Much Did You Know About Addiction Beforehand?
I knew I was experiencing it; I didn’t know a lot of terminology. A lot of things I just thought were maybe personality issues, or bad behavior, or excuse making, I didn’t understand that it was addictive issues until I started doing the research and getting more informed in handling it within my own home. When I started, I knew a court counselor, we became really good friends. She counseled families, she would take me to workshops, and take me in with her credentials, and I would learn substance abuse, and what’s trending, and things like that. I started recognizing, that wasn’t just a bad day with my mom, that was typical textbook addict behavior.
I started noticing some of those things on a much lower level with him, were prevalent in the home. We had an atmosphere of, it seems like it became two moods. Either extremely agitated and irritable, and snapping at everything, which has never been his personality, or overly excited and what I started calling the opiate chatter, where it’s over excited, over talking, dry mouth, and those shifts. I was aware of all of them from my mom, but it hadn’t been really said out loud and articulated in a professional way.
When Did You Know You Needed Help?
I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of treatment, or local rehabs, or treatment facilities outside of the state. I started trying to handle it myself. So I started thinking, “Okay, I know I’m not his enabler, and I know about those issues, so I will be the exact opposite, and I’m going to be the some-what Erin Brockovich, fork-tongued, consequence enforcer, rock-bottom-pusher type of mom.” I started trying to do all of those things alone. I handled it alone for a long time, it was probably a year or so before we even decided that treatment was probably the only way, eventually.
It wasn’t getting any better, and it seemed like it was getting, he was looking worse, feeling worse, acting worse. I mean, over 18 by this time, so there’s not a lot, you don’t have as many options when somebody’s a minor, or not a minor any longer. The conflict was just … It was not our normal anyways, so it’s particularly upsetting if you have a peaceful environment, but it was so off the charts, unexpected, relentless unending, that it was just unbearable. When it come to that point, and on top of things missing and all the behavior invites, we were like, something has to be done.
How Did You Pay For Treatment?
Insurance covered a lot but I wrote a check for the remainder.
How Long Was Your Son in Treatment?
Not long enough. I don’t know if everyone agrees, but I believe in extended care. I believe it takes a while. He was there 14 days, and then they wanted him to do, what I believe is called IOP which is the outpatient. After 14 days, which to me, you’re coming out of a frenzy behavior, it’s all traumatic. Your family’s traumatized, and you’re traumatized. You’ve become an evil clone of yourself, so 14 days for me, I was kind of scared that it wasn’t long enough.
He came home that weekend, and relapsed that day. He went back that Monday for IOP direct test, and I said, “There’s no way he spent this weekend sober, I could tell by his personality.” They tested him and said, “Leave him here for another two weeks,” so I checked him back in.
The morning he went back in, he was just in the worst mood, and I said something’s wrong, all these signs. He had gone to a meeting, but he was gone for three hours beyond when it ended, things like that. Nothing added up, and you know not only is it a gut feeling, but signs present when something’s going on. By that Monday, I was just always on him. I wasn’t ever suspicious or really in the dark, I was so familiar with it all. I know this is going on; I know you went and used, I’m going to have them test. We just argued the whole way there. By the time we got there, he had been in such a bully mood, that one of the therapists pulled me aside and said, “The more he’s arguing and spending in attacking you, the more he’s probably back into it.”
I never forgot that because it seemed like the more somebody’s hyper-spinning, and creating fires to distract from himself, you know what you’re dealing with, at least for the most part. They tested him, and they kept him that day. He was there for another 14 days, and then came back home.
When he came back home, it was kind of a honeymoon phase where he went through … He went to meetings, and he was really trying hard, and changing things, and then it was just a couple of months before we were back at it again. Every time we would cycle again, it would be worse.
He bounced around for about the next three or four years between my home, his grandmother’s home, his father’s home; it’s about an hour away. How do we handle this, this is what’s going on, what I’m seeing, and then he would stay at a friend’s house and he kind of burnt a bridge everywhere he went. Then finally, he sent himself to California, so that’s how he ended up in recovery now, but we went through about four years of a total nightmare.
There would be glimpses of sobriety, and glimpses … It was a learning process for us, as well, every time because you believe it. I remember thinking, the first he went into the treatment center, “This is over now,” you think it’s over. I meet with families every Tuesday just to share my story and kind of give hope. They’ll come in and say, “Well, now that they’re in treatment, we don’t have to deal with it anymore.” That’s just normally not the case. Normally, you’re going to go through it a couple of times, if not many.
Who’s Idea was it to Seek Treatment in California?
Finally, at one point, nobody could take him in any longer, and he was kind of destructive everywhere he went. He ended up sleeping in a dugout where he had hit grand slams and home-runs, and set records as a child. He ended up sleeping there for about three nights, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. When he was sleeping in a car, I would pull up and say, “Is this what you wanted for your life? Is this awesome?” Because I was still trying to, thinking that I could control it by forcing the consequences and since I wasn’t enabling, this is going to work. None of it worked, and finally I was like, “I can’t do any of this with you anymore. I can’t watch it either,” so I intentionally planned to go out of town when that was going. He took what money he had left, and all of his things, and booked a flight to Southern California and checked himself into recovery.
He relapsed out there, and I remember when he relapsed out there thinking I was kind of devastated because I thought, “Again? I thought it was over!” For some reason, arrogantly, I almost felt like I was to credit for him going there and getting well, and now this was proof that none of my tactics worked. We had to like, kind of start all over from the beginning. Your recovery’s yours, and mine is mine, and then he ended up at a different treatment center, and I just didn’t trust anybody by then, to not be somewhat fooled by him.
He was at that Treatment Center for 1 Year and now he works at a Treatment Center. He had a couple of setbacks, but honestly at this point, I know how long he’s been going, and how well he’s been doing, but I try to, on purpose, not even pay attention to that since my well-being was so wrapped up in his well-being. I was dependent on if he was doing well.
How has your relationship with your son changed now that he’s sober?
Well, it’s a lot healthier and we don’t have those conflict issues, but I always say, “There’s no Utopia when somebody enters recovery.” Somebody had put it to me a really great way that, “If you take a drunk horse thief home, and they sober up on your couch, what are you left with?” You know.
You’re left with a sober horse thief, so you still have those issues to work through. We can still lock horns from time to time, and you’re still dealing with some post-stress, so sometimes that can be triggered if I see behavior patterns. Then he has to remind me, I’m not motivated by that, and that’s not what I’m calling for. Then I have to remember he’s an adult, and I can’t pounce on him, or be a detective, I have to pursue my own peace.
Tell Us About the Book “Unhooked”
Unhooked, about unhitching from the roller coaster because somebody had put it to me that it’s almost like a baby mobile, and when the addicted person moves, everyone moves with them. That’s pretty much exactly how life went. It’s about unhooking, unhitching from the madness of it. Sometimes you’re good and into the ride before you realize, “Okay, I got to step out of this.” Sometimes he’ll call with issues going on, and I immediately get into panic mode and I want to triage his problems, or I want to triage his delusions, and I have to step back and say, “Okay, I’m stepping out of that.”
Is there anything else that you want to share with families or people struggling with addiction?
Sure, one thing I just always say is, “You have to live in the day.” As much as I couldn’t run beside every car my son was in, and make sure he didn’t get killed, or injured in a car accident, I couldn’t do anything to make sure he didn’t get injured or killed by drug use or anything involved with it. I have to live it within the day, and just remember, I’m not the Higher Power. I have to, at some point, trust that things are going to work out one way or another, and that as long as there’s breath, there’s hope.