Category Archives: Parenting

His name is Luke……

Image courtesy of chrisroll at

Image courtesy of chrisroll at

I was sent this very moving essay by a mother in Illinois. It moved me greatly. It is about her son Luke who is struggling with addiction.

“I am here to see my son Luke.
What is his number?
His name is Luke.
Mam, what is his number?
His name is Luke. Luke…Luke.
Lady, if you don’t give us his number, you will have to leave.
But his name is Luke………………
And his number is M164874”.

John Mayer has a song that says:

When you’re dreaming with a broken heart
The waking up is the hardest part
You roll outta bed and down on your knees
And for a moment you can hardly breathe

But I wasn’t dreaming…I was talking to the guards at Statesville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. Luke had barely turned 21. He was sentenced to two years in prison for criminal destruction to property over $300. His probation was revoked because he didn’t do what was mandated. They put a warrant out for his arrest. I remember the day he called to tell me was running because he couldn’t go back behind bars. He had spent two weeks in the county jail before his hearing, and he was like a trapped animal. I would visit him at the county and talk to him on a phone with glass in between us. Just like you see on TV folks. And I would put my hand on the glass and he would put his hand on the glass and I knew my heart was never going to beat the same. Luke has always been a free and creative spirit. When he told me that he was going to run, the fear took my breath away, but I also couldn’t tell him not to do it. We met on the sly for lunch a couple of times. I could have turned him in. I should have turned him in. Instead I would give him a hug and watch him walk away down an alley never sure if I would see him again. I knew he’d get caught, and he did.

Enter Statesville Prison in Joliet. Two hours drive there, two-hour visit, two hours drive back home. Every single week-end. They would call him up from his cell. His room was in a huge building at the end of a courtyard the length of a football field. I would hurry into the visiting room and go to the window so I could watch him walk across the courtyard. I watched every single step he took. My baby. And I would try to get my tears out before he entered the room. But I also knew that before he could enter that room, he would first have to go into the guard station to take down his pants, bend over, raise his balls. And after I left from the visit, he would again have to take down his pants to bend over, raise his balls.

He would call me non-stop during the week. Sometimes we’d only say a few words. But he needed to hear my voice and I needed to hear his. On my visits on the week-ends, the first time we talked and talked. But with each visit, the talking became strained….his world never changed, and it was difficult for me to talk about the world outside that he was missing.

I could purchase a card to get food out of a vending machine for Luke when I was visiting. I know it sounds so minor, but it was a major event and one of the things that would make me cry. Momma bear knowing that food was a comfort. Luke longed for the food…crappy microwave sandwiches and Mountain Dew and some chips. But half the time the card machine was broken or the vending machines were empty. And I would sit there and cry because it meant something, and Luke would look at me and say “Mom, don’t worry about it, just please don’t cry.

As time went on, I continued to be a mess on the inside. Some friends and family changed the subject if I mentioned his name. It was awkward to talk about my son being in prison. I became two different people…I went through my days as normally as I could, but I was also heart broken by his imprisonment and by the system. And I knew the importance of visiting each weekend, but it was SO difficult to get into my car and drive the long drive and endure the pain of seeing him in his prison jump suit, losing weight, and losing touch with the outside world. And Statesville…it’s like an Alcatraz in Illinois. Frightening.

So with each visit I became more and more agitated. The guards sitting at the front desk, watching every move we made in the visiting room while they sat there with their feet on the desk, eating food and tapping on the window if I got too close to Luke. It got to the point where I felt like the scene in Terms of Endearment when Shirley McClaine becomes a maniac when her daughter, dying of cancer, needs pain medicine. If you haven’t seen the movie, she screams at the nurses “I don’t see why she has to have this pain it’s time for her shot, do you understand? Do something…my daughter is in pain! Give her the shot, do you understand me? GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!! Just like that, I wanted to scream:


The Dalai Lama once said “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” I wish I could post that at the guard station at Statesville. But this isn’t about the prison system per se, it’s about the understanding of pain which is always trumped by love.

Where he is today:

That was in 2011-2012. Luke did really well the first year and a half out of prison. Fast forward to today, 2017. Luke is a mess. He is probably the worst I have ever seen him. He admits he is addicted to drugs and alcohol, so much so that without either in just a day’s time, he begins shaking and having withdrawal. He refuses to get the help he needs. He recently went for an involuntary evaluation prompted by the police, but within 4 hours he was released.

He has five felonies, two active. He also has two Orders of Protection against him. He will most likely be sentenced back to prison. That’s if it even gets that far….because, as in the past, he’ll run. He’s like a wild animal that can’t be caged. And if he does run, he will end up dead because he can’t keep doing the abuse over and over again to his body. And how will I know where he is? And how will I know if he is dying?

This was his latest text message to me from last week:

“You are fucking stupid.
You’re the worst mom ever.
Fuck you.
I hate that you’re my mom.
I hate you.

And an hour later:

“I don’t hate you.
I am going to kill myself.
I am going to kill Rachel.
I wish my son would die so you all know how it feels to miss someone.
Good-bye mom.
I’m going to fucking kill myself and you all have yourselves to blame.“

He is terrorizing every one that he loves. You are watching him terrorize himself. You take him for food because he is hungry. You drive around for hours listening to him talk, watch him cry, then watch the anger return, and you’re paralyzed when he pounds the dashboard, pounds his own head, and pulls at his hair. You give him a hug and he is filthy…that smell of alcohol, BO and cigarettes. And you actually go home and don’t want to take a shower because that disgusting smell is all you have of him.

Mental illness and drug abuse. I don’t even know how to begin to understand it. But it is the devil. I don’t know how to kill it. I don’t know how to help my son. I don’t know…and I am exhausted and terrified.

I attend a support group. I listen to similar stories. These complete strangers instantly become your life line. They tell their stories and it somehow gives you comfort that you aren’t alone. You cling to their every word. You hug, you cry, you exchange emails, you give fake smiles, and you tell each other that it will all be okay. And you walk out the door believing that.

For a moment. For a moment.

But then you get in your car to drive home, and the pain returns immediately. The fear returns. The hopelessness returns. You hear a siren and wonder where your son is. You get in bed and toss and turn. You fear your phone will ring in the middle of the night. You wake up the next day and he is the first thing that enters your mind.

Every once in a while you see him and he looks healthy and he is smiling. Or you get a nice text. And he tries to say something meaningful and thoughtful because he knows his own mom is afraid of him. And just when you are feeling calm, you get a text from the demons inside his head and the euphoria-hope-please dear God moment you had comes crashing down.

Shadow of Hand in jail by Sakhorn38 curtsy of

Shadow of Hand in jail by Sakhorn38 curtsy of

Lyrics from Hate Me by Blue October about a son singing to his mom so she will hate him and it will take her pain away.

“Hate me today
Hate me tomorrow
Hate me for all the things I didn’t do for you
Hate me in ways
Yeah, ways hard to swallow
Hate me so you can finally see what’s good for you.”

But it doesn’t work that way.

The pain never goes away.

And neither does the love.

The most terrifying post I’ve ever written…

I’ve missed you guys.
I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a while. There have been a lot of things going on and I haven’t had any time to give to my blog. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to tell you, I’d rather pretend that everything is ok, but it isn’t, and I need to be honest.
When I trained as a therapist I also worked as an intern at a local treatment center. I had about 3 years sober and was working with people who had been sober for a matter of days. When you are trying to string together a week of sobriety, you tend to look up to people who have more sober time than you (don’t worry, you get over it eventually). Somewhere in my training I had mistakenly assumed that I always had to be perfect in front of my clients. In that, I always had to have the right answer (I would trot out some trite recovery phrase that seemed to fit the situation and nod wisely) or, I could never lose my cool or, show that I was flustered, or unsure of myself, or god-forbid, scared. This became extremely suffocating and limiting very quickly and it was a huge relief to discover that congruence (counselor stock in trade) and authenticity were far greater tools than always pretending I, and my life, were perfect.

Which is why I want to tell you the truth about what is going on with me right now. I have been sober for 16 years and a half years and this is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. My youngest child has a health diagnosis that could be potentially devastating. It meant that we had to move house very quickly and are living in temporary accommodation until we find somewhere suitable. As you can imagine, dealing with all of this through the summer whilst managing two little children didn’t leave any time or, energy for blog posts.
My emotions have ranged from despair, to fury, to depression to numbness. I never thought about picking up a drink but I did think about self-harming. Which is new for me.
It was then that I realized I needed some help.
As a mother, I can burden any pain or suffering for my children, but I don’t know how to navigate life with a child who may have a catastrophic condition. I feel crushed by the weight of it and sick with fear.

But I will not be broken by it. I had such a feeling of relief when I booked an appointment with a therapist, I started exercising again and my mood lifted immediately. I joined a support group and now I don’t feel quiet so alone. Whatever is in our future now, my family needs me to be strong and stable and I can only do that when I get help and support. I hadn’t forgotten that, it was more like asking for help, meant I had to admit there was a problem and I wasn’t ready to do that. If I didn’t admit it, then maybe it would go away. But it hasn’t gone away and I know this isn’t something I can deal with on my own.

It is always my goal to remain authentic to you, and even though I have experience and real insight into recovery, I am not without my challenges too. No matter how long I am sober for, I can never forget that my greatest strength comes from admitting my pain and weakness. It’s only then I can go forward. If there were ever a time in my life that was going to drive me back to drink, it would be now. But that was never an option. What all my years of recovery have taught me, is that when my back is against the wall, I can only keep applying the tools that have always worked for me.
I’m not going to pretend everything is ok when it isn’t; I always did that when I was drinking and it was so lonely. I’m going to live in the feelings, admit them, and deal with them.
The only way over this, is through it.

The children I never should have had

IMG_0245When I had my first child over 4 years ago, I was fairly new to the USA and thousands of miles away from my support system. I was keen to meet other mothers who could help me navigate the travails of new motherhood. I pretty much went to every mother and baby group going and met some wonderful women.

You have a lot of questions when you become a mother for the first time. You are constantly panicking that you are doing ‘it wrong,’ and are going to inadvertently inflict some kind of lasting damage on your precious one.

These women reassured me.

They listened to my concerns and shared theirs. I realized there was no manual to motherhood and it is mostly trial and error.

At one group I attend, as a way of getting to know each other better, we each shared how we had met our husbands.

There were lots of cute and varied stores. A lot of people seemed to meet their partners in college. In fact most of the group was at least ten years younger than me.

I met my husband when I was 33, we married when I was 37 and I had my first child at 38 and my second at 42. I was a late starter and at least a decade behind everyone else. But it wasn’t, as many people often assume, because I couldn’t find the ‘one.’

It was because I’m a recovered drug addict and alcoholic.

When everyone else seemed to be describing how they married in their twenties, bought a house and started a family, I listened with awe and wonder.

When I was in my twenties I was binge drinking and using cocaine every weekend. I wasn’t fit to look after a goldfish and could barely scrape enough money to cover rent, let alone get my finances in order for someone to give me a mortgage.

I delayed any responsibility and pushed away anything that resembled commitment.

I was angry, frightened, lonely, confused and very, very lost.

How could I care for a baby when I could barely care for myself?

That life just seemed a million miles away for me, I really didn’t think it would be possible for me to have a loving relationship, yet alone a family.

Because, by rights I really should be dead now.

But I didn’t, and now I have the children that someone like me, never should have had.
I got a second chance.

Although I’m an incredibly late starter, these wondrous children were given to me when I was finally able to handle the responsibility.

I can’t possibly put into words how grateful I am that I didn’t miss this opportunity.

Getting clean and sober was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but raising children comes a very, very close second.

I’m late to the motherhood party and I have a lot to learn.

When I’m running around after my boisterous pre-schooler and baby, picking up after them and then collapsing into bed at 8.30pm I think back to my old life of partying all night and it seems like a dream now.

I am so different, I have changed so much that if I’d bumped into this older version of me 20 years ago, I would have stared with awe and wonder at how much I had my life ‘together.’

I am the person I always dreamed of being.

Motherhood has been the greatest journey for me. I spent years in therapy and have dedicated much time to personal growth so I could successfully overcome addiction. I didn’t think there was a corner of me left unexamined and yet motherhood has opened up a whole new area for me to explore.

By parenting my children I am able to reflect on my own childhood with greater depth and understanding. I am devouring every parenting book I can get my hands on so I can be the best mother I possibly can.

Alcoholism and addiction can be hereditary so I want to ensure that I do everything I can to protect my children from this fate.

When I got sober I trained to be come an addictions therapist and I’ve had the honor of working with many people suffering from addiction. From my work and my own experiences I’ve put together many theories about why some kids become addicts and some don’t.

This is the first time I’ve had to explore those theories in practice.

Based on all of my experiences, I truly believe that a strong attachment and emotional intelligence are two most important things I can give my children.

Learning how they can deal with and interpret their feelings is what I believe will enable them to understand themselves better. Taking care of their inner emotional world is the key to a successful, happy and balanced life. All of the things I didn’t learn until I got sober. Because the reason anyone uses drugs or alcohol abusively is to numb emotional and spiritual pain.

The most important thing I’ve learned is I have to demonstrate emotional intelligence. For me, sobriety is much more than just not drinking alcohol it’s about taking care of my emotional and spiritual life too. This is what I want to show my sons more than anything.

IMG_0363So, as exhausted, disorganized, and stressed as I feel on some days I can’t resent any of it. This life, this husband, these children that should never have been mine, are a gift I treasure above all things. In order to keep them, I have to ensure I’m taking all the steps necessary to stay sober. Because sobriety gave me my children and nothing is more important than that.

Are you a sober parent?

Me and my boys. Photo courtesy of Cassie McConkey photography

Me and my boys. Photo courtesy of Cassie McConkey photography

I wrote in a previous post that your biggest job when becoming a parent is managing your own fear. Nothing is more terrifying than holding your precious one for the first time and having the realization hit you that there are just so many ways to f**k this up. I came to parenting relatively late (38 when I had my first, 42 when I had my second) with over a decades worth of sobriety under my belt. I really though ‘I’ve got this.’
And I so haven’t.
I pour over parenting books trying to absorb their wisdom so I can manage my preschooler in a way that doesn’t permanently damage his self-esteem. I fret that our recent house move has made him overly anxious. I project into the future about what this will mean for him. And, I feel the cold dark fear in the pit of my belly when I hear of another parent who has lost their child to addiction.
Like all parents we are just muddling through trying to do the best we can. We are all just making it up as we go along.
However, I do feel there is perhaps an added dimension to parenting when you, yourself are in recovery. We have been down a path that we don’t want our kids to go down. We understand the emotional drivers that feed addiction and we all had experiences in our own families of origin, that we don’t want to repeat with our own kids.
My kids are (almost) 4, and 5 months and I’m really interested in learning how I can be the best sober parent possible. I’m interested in learning from people who have already raised kids in sobriety about what they taught them about drugs and alcohol. What did you tell them? How did you share your own story of recovery? What are your fears as your kids go off to college?

With this in mind I have started a new Facebook page where I’m going to share information on parenting that I think is pertinent to parents in recovery. I will also post blogs and interviews with other parents so we can share this information and support each other on this journey. If you are a sober parent and have some wisdom to impart I would love to hear from you. I want to start an interview series (similar to the Recovery Rocks) ones that asks questions specific to parenting. If you are interested in taking part or finding out more, please contact me though my contact page.

An interview with Matt and Amy Baumgardner

A little while ago I was asked to review an extraordinary book called: From this day forward, A love story of faith, love and forgiveness by Amy and Matt Baumgardner. I had interviewed Amy Baumgardner previously for my Recovery Rocks interview series. Amy just has one of those jaw-dropping stories of recovery. Her story is so extraordinary that she was featured on Oprah’ Life class with Iyanla Vanzant.

Amy Baumgardner with Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant

Amy Baumgardner with Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant

Amy lost all sight of what was important to her and her drinking took over, one day she packed her kids into the car and drove them whilst she was drunk. She hit a tree and the accident left her 5-year-old in a critical condition. This was the beginning of the end for Amy, finally realizing she had a problem she began the long painful and guilt-ridden task of getting sober. But how does a family recover from this? How does a husband forgive his wife for almost killing their child? How does a mother forgive herself? How can you repair a marriage with this kind of devastation and pain?
The answer is you can. Which is why Matt and Amy wrote their book, it documents the almost destruction of their marriage and family, and how through faith, love and forgiveness they managed to put it back together.
After reading their amazing book I had questions for Matt and Amy which they very kindly answered here:
1) What motivated you to write the book?
Amy: For me, healing! I needed to get my story out of me. When I was in rehab I remember grabbing anything that I could get my hands on to help me understand what was happening. I needed to hear the journey of other women, other mothers who had done the unimaginable and learn how they battled their addiction and guilt while living sober. I was desperate to have answers. After I was sober for about a year I decided that my story was exactly what I had been searching for so I felt I had an obligation, or a call to action to share it.

Matt: Amy was the one who made this idea of writing a book happen. She had begun journaling about the past several years after she came home from rehab. I figured, hey, if this keeps her happy, focused, and off of a bar stool, then I’m all for it. Amy would sit for hours just writing. It gave her something to fill her time with besides alcohol. Her journaling led to her beginning to blog and share some of our story on recovery/addiction-type websites. This led to blogging on Oprah’s website, which led to producers asking us to do the show. It was after the show, in our green-room that Oprah came back to thank us and chat for about 10 minutes. It was at that time that Oprah made the comment that our story should be made into a book. Amy always thought it would be neat to write a book, but I think the final nudge came from Oprah.

2) The book is very raw and honest, how hard was it to sit down and remember the past and get it on paper? Where you worried what other people would think?
Amy: In the beginning of my recovery I worried about what everyone thought. But the more time I had in recovery the more I wasn’t worried about what other people were going to think. I was more concerned about how my children would be treated by those who read the book and didn’t understand mine and Matt’s intention behind sharing our story. Throughout the entire process Matt and I both agreed that we needed to be as honest and direct about our story as possible. Otherwise, what was the point? Our intention was to give Hope to anyone who found themselves in a similar relationship and situation. We aspired to inspire others to tell the truth about their own relationships and how addiction may be affecting it.

Matt: It was difficult, yet therapeutic. It forced us to bring up and discuss some really difficult memories and events. However, looking back, that was a blessing. As a couple, we were forced to have some difficult conversations between the two of us, which in the end, has strengthened our marriage. Yes, initially I worried about what people would think, especially those in our town, my colleagues, our family/friends. However, that has faded. We have been pleasantly surprised with how supportive most have been. Amy gets positive comments from people all over the world now via social media.

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

3) One of the things about the book that really stood out for me is how honest you both were. I’m interested in why Matt decided to give his marriage another shot after Amy had put him through so much.

I wasn’t willing to give my marriage another shot in the beginning. Even though Amy had come home from rehab, I still had my mind made up. In my thinking, I had to keep my children safe from this “time-bomb” that would eventually cause greater harm. I didn’t think Amy had any chance of staying sober. So, I prepared for mine, and the children’s life without Amy. I had visited a divorce lawyer while Amy was in rehab and had discussed/given her all of the necessary info to file the paperwork for divorce. Having Amy living back at home after rehab was very cold. I didn’t speak to her and made sure I was home the least amount of time as possible. Looking back, that was a mistake I regret today. I really feel terrible about abandoning her at the time she probably needed the most support. I should have fought for my bride at that moment, but instead I let anger and fear blind me from what a supportive husband should have been doing. It took several months, but eventually I noticed small changes in Amy. Things like, rolling around of the floor tickling the kids, cooking a nice dinner for us, running/working out. These are all small things, but they were things that Amy had stopped doing during her drinking. In those days, if Amy was home, she was passed out in her bedroom recovering from a hangover. She would want to be left alone.

4) Amy – after your accident you tell of how you were almost shunned in your hometown, has that changed now people have seen you sober?

Amy: Yes and No. The greatest change has been my perception of the accident and my alcoholism. Because of this, I’m no longer affected by what others think of me. I imagine people can appreciate my sobriety and the years I have accumulated in recovery. Even my harshest critic can’t deny me that but for the most part I think the people are just on to the next train wreck, while others may be patiently waiting my derailment. I try to focus on Matt and the kids, always.

My mantra is “Living Sober is the Best Amends”.

5) How do you talk to your children about what happened?
Amy: We have been extremely open with our kids about my addiction, the accident, and the pathology of our family. We want our kids to hear the facts of our story from us. I have taken the time to rebuild trust with them and doing that meant having the patience to let them mature and understand just how serious the accident and my addiction are. They are still learning, they still have questions and Matt and I are continuously reassuring them that our family is intact.

Matt: Gavin and Madison are very aware of what happened. At the time of the accident they didn’t know why mommy ran off the road and into a tree. But, within a few days I told them. I probably told them in a way that I hoped would make them angry at their mommy, which in turn would make the pending divorce easier on them. Obviously, not one of my finer moments as a father. Since then, we have been very open with them about the effects of alcohol on an individual, what can happen, etc. Now, when I have conversations with them about Amy’s past drinking, I remind them about how proud they should be for their mommy. Madison seems to have held on to the memories of the accident the most, in fact, she will remind me if she sees me drinking a beer at a picnic/gathering that I have to drive later.

6) As your children get older what will you tell them about alcohol?

Amy: I talk to my kids about drinking. I let them know that there is definitely going to come a time in their lives where they feel they are mature enough to experiment. And that’s ok. What I don’t want, is them growing up knowing that Mommy had a problem and never understanding why. We talk about addiction and how they are just as susceptible as I was to becoming an alcoholic. It’s not meant to scare them, it’s meant to show them that it can and it does happen.

Matt: I sort of touched on this in the last question. I have explained to them that drinking alcohol as an adult is fine if done carefully. I don’t want the kids associating alcohol with “bad people”. I don’t want them seeing their grandfather, aunt, daddy, etc. enjoying a beverage and think they are doing something wrong. I do want them to realize that when they are old enough, they have a decision to make, however that decision must be made carefully and responsibly.

7) Amy – how did you start the process of forgiving yourself?
Amy: Forgiving myself took patience and time. The longer I had in recovery, the more I began to believe that what I had done was forgivable. For the longest time I held on to my guilt as a way to punish myself and prove to everyone around me that I was sorry for what I had done. After a while I learned to let go of the guilt. I learned that my past actions do not define who I am. I gradually began to view the accident as a positive. I was fortunate that my daughter survived, my marriage was back on track and that I was living sober one day at a time. I started to be grateful for all that was happening in my life around me, in that moment. I stopped looking at my past for validation that I was a horrible mother and wife and started looking at it as the stepping stool I needed to become the person I was created to be. I took the lesson and I applied what I learned to my life. This was how I was able to move forward and forgive myself.

8) Another thing that struck me about your book was how normal binge drinking was in your peer group and culture. Looking back do you think there could have been any information or intervention that would have helped you get help earlier?
Amy: I think I surrounded myself with a select group that was saturated with booze but I don’t think the direction of my life could have been any different regardless. The disease was dormant inside of me. Looking back, I can see that now.

9) What is your message to other families suffering from alcoholism?
Amy: Faith, Hope and Forgiveness are the three main elements to living a sober life. Recovery is an option and it can be obtained. Most importantly, it is possible to have the life you always imagined.

Matt: Ask for help. You have to realize that it may take a small army to support/help someone with an addiction. One person can’t help by themselves. That’s where I screwed up. I thought I could handle my wife’s problem on my own. I was embarrassed to let my parents, friends, etc. find out how much of a mess my family life had become. As I talked about in our book, there is no divorce on either side of my family, which includes seven aunt/uncle couples. So, I felt ashamed to possibly be the first husband in our family that couldn’t manage his own family. Again, looking back, big mistake. I let my ego get in the way of what needed to be done.

10) What does the future look like for both of you?
Amy: I am happy! I feel more alive and in love than ever. Matt and I have started a foundation called 4Give which helps advocate for families in recovery. We are working on our second book together. We are focused on our children and each other.

Matt: We have begun to speak publicly about our story at marriage conferences, treatment centers, etc. We have also started a non-profit, The 4 Give Foundation, that will help keep families, with addiction problems, intact. Money raised will go to fathers or mothers whom are fighting addiction and need additional funds to complete their rehab. Many insurance companies only cover a short amount of time of inpatient treatment. Through the 4 Give Foundation, we will select mothers/fathers, whom are married with children, and pay for the completion of their inpatient treatment. The future looks bright for us. It feels great to help others who are going through what we did. It is also a great way for the two of us to continually strengthen our marriage. We get to work on a common goal/project, which includes traveling and spending time together. Our goal is to build 4 Give into an internationally recognized non-profit foundation. We also look to continue to share our story of Faith, Hope, and Forgiveness with any person/couple whom are willing to listen and want to receive help in their struggle with addiction.

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

Matt and Amy Baumgardner

You can buy matt and Amy’s book on Barnes and Nobleand

A letter to my teenage self

Dear Veronica (age 16)

Where do I begin? There is so much I want you to know at this difficult age, will you listen? I know you are already searching, I know for sure you are hurting and looking for answers but I also know you are convinced you know everything you need to know…

Me age 16 on my last day of school

Me age 16 on my last day of school

If you could listen, the first thing I want to talk to you about is boys. Oh jeez…… girl, they are not the ‘solution’ you are looking for, please trust me when I tell you that. So many of your brain cells are going to be wasted thinking ‘does he like me? Why doesn’t he like me? What can I do to get him to like me? Will he leave me? How will I survive if he leaves me?’
This is a colossal waste of time and brainpower. If only I knew then, what I know now, how different my life could have been. The things I could have accomplished if I hadn’t always been worrying about what some random (who was rarely worthy of me) boy thought! I could have conquered the world with that wasted brainpower.
The other thing is, boys have no better idea of what they are doing then you do. I know it sometimes look like they do, but they are equally as frightened and insecure as you are. In short, don’t hitch your cart to a lunatic. Drive your own wagon.

As we are talking about boys we need to also talk about sex. There’s so much more to sex than always using protection. I mean, always use protection that’s important, but it’s also really important that you are in control of who and when you have sex. Don’t ever let yourself be coerced or forced into doing something you don’t want to do. Ever.
The most important thing to know, is having sex with someone won’t necessarily make them love you. If you love them in that moment (and sometimes it is a fleeting moment) and you want to have sex, then go for it. But don’t give up your sexuality to try and make someone love you, it won’t work. Work on the love first, and then the sex will be great. And by that I mean love yourself first. Love your glorious beautiful body, respect and cherish it. If you feel this way then you won’t ever expect less from your lovers.

As a young women I know how you look is pretty important to you. At different times in your life it may feel like it is the most important thing, but it really isn’t. We have created a culture that emphasizes the importance of external appearance above all else; we have also created impossible ideas of beauty that no woman can live up to. So my advice is don’t try. Everything about you is beautiful; you are already the right weight. Eat to nourish your body, balance your diet and eat what you enjoy. Don’t starve yourself; this is just another way to waste brain cells. You can’t conquer the world when you are hungry.

The next thing I would talk to you about is drugs and booze. Don’t roll your eyes. This is serious s**t. It’s true that alcohol and drugs can be a ton of fun. I know you have figured that part out already. But the part you don’t know is they come with a price, a very heavy price and you will be required, at some point to pay it.
The message you have been given by your culture is that alcohol = fun. I hate to say but you have been lied to. Alcohol can be an aid to having fun, but is not fun of itself. It’s the result not the objective. There are many vehicles to fun, but alcohol has convinced us, that it is the best and only one. This isn’t true. Look around you on an average Saturday night and ask yourself; are these people are having fun? I’m asking you to be brutally honest, because to use alcohol abusively and dress it up as fun takes a degree of self-dishonesty. Basically you have to lie to yourself. So the issue here is not how much you drink, but how much you lie to yourself.
You will learn over time that integrity is one of the most valuable things you possess, but to keep it you will need to practice brutal self-honesty. This is the price I am talking about. Being honest with ourselves can be hard.
A lot of the reason people use alcohol and drugs is not to just have ‘fun’ but to cope with how they feel. Substances can provide a brief reprieve from the darkness inside of ourselves. But my love, the darkness inside of you won’t be cured with drugs and booze; instead they will make it grow. I know they make you feel confident and able to be the person you think you want to be, but when we have substances motivating our actions we become a ‘false-self.’ We get lost, we lose who we are. If you are drinking to cope more than you are drinking to have fun then something’s wrong. If this is the case then please get help.

My final piece of advice is the most vital; strive to Live Your Truth above all else. There is really nothing more to know than this. There is no greater adventure than this. Living Your Truth is something only you can define. It may mean disappointing people around you, it may mean being alone for a while, it may mean going against the grain, it may mean you have to speak up, it may mean many things that seem frightening at first. But really, there is no other path in life. Trust me I’ve checked. What seems like a path will often be a dead-end. The challenge of Living Your Truth is facing your fears on a regular basis. Yeah I know, that bit sucks, but trust me it doesn’t suck half as much as walking a false path. Fears only grow out of control when we don’t know how to deal with fear. It really is a skill that can be leant at any time but the earlier the better. Like riding a bike, once you master it, it will come to you easily.
Don’t live your life according to other people’s expectations, Living Your Truth means being true to who you are and being true to that voice deep inside of you. The problem with alcohol, drugs and casual sex is they mask that voice so we can’t hear it. That voice is our guidance system, without it we get lost.
When we get lost or feel uncomfortable in our skins it’s because we are living an inauthentic life. I’m telling you this so if/when it happens you will recognize what’s going on and will know what to do.

Me age 41 with my 3 year old son

Me age 41 with my 3 year old son

These are the things I wished someone had told me when I was 15. These lessons are not optional, they are required and will have to be learnt eventually. When is up to you. But if you are not ready yet, then there is just one last thing I want you to take away and hold in your heart. You are a brave, sassy, intelligent, curious, creative, dynamic, awesome young women and I love you.

Veronica (age 41)

Drinking and ‘mocktails’

This story in the UK’s Guardian really stopped me in my tracks today. What shocked me is not that alcohol is served to parents at school events, but it’s taken them this long to figure out that this may not be the greatest example to kids. Some bright spark also had the idea that it would be fun to serve the kids ‘mocktails.’ How cute! Little fruity drinks with umbrellas in them so the kids can then pretend to be like Mummy and Daddy.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Talk about priming future consumers.
They should have got a vodka or beer company to sponsor the school sports day and be done with it.
The UK has a rampant binge-drinking problem that most people seem to still be in denial about. The criminal justice system, police and health care system are all united in their calls for urgent action to address this crisis. But the alcohol industry remains self-regulated and the government remains incapable of taking any decisive action. The general population is in complete denial about the difference between healthy responsible drinking and abusive drinking.
I would be deeply horrified to attend my kids event and find out they were serving ‘mocktails’ to them. I don’t feel school is an appropriate event to have alcohol at. I also don’t want my kid trained to drink alcohol as if this was a normal and inevitable part of adulthood. Why can’t sobriety be aspirational? I have no problem with adults drinking responsibly, but why should we be made to feel that not drinking alcohol for whatever reason is against the norm? Having alcohol in schools is indoctrination into the binge drinking culture.

I feel the current relationship the UK has with alcohol will look like a scene from Mad Men fifty years from now. In the 1960’s people smoked everywhere, pregnant women smoked openly and alcohol use in the office was normal. We just didn’t know any better.
What does everyone else think?

Heroin addiction, a mother’s story…

I’ve always wanted this blog to show all sides of addiction, including the stories from those affected by addiction. I’m honored to share with you today Kim’s story. Kim tragically lost her beautiful daughter Kayela to heroin addiction. Here she bravely tells her story.

Addiction doesn’t just affect the person using drugs it affects the whole family. I know because I lived through my daughter Kayela’s addiction to heroin.

We raise our children and its hard work, changing diapers and heating formula and lining up daycare, the first day of school and homework we don’t understand.
We care for them until they are ready to go off in the world and we can only hope that we did the right thing, made all the right choices.
On my daughters 18th birthday I gave her a gold angel wing with a card that I made, it said: ” I give you this wing and its only one wing not two, so you can find your way in life but keep both feet on the ground ”
My daughter is Kayela Faye Ayers and she passed away at the young age of 21.

She was a heroin addict.
I am her mother and this is my story.

Kayela (right) with her mother Kim

Kayela (right) with her mother Kim

If you think raising a child is hard work, then try watching that same child come in the house high or drunk and not being able to do anything to stop it.
Please don’t ever think ” It won’t happen to me ” because addiction can affect anyone. Once they take hold of that child, the same one we took to teacher conferences, that same child who you get that midnight call from the police department saying they have been arrested on drug charges, or a frantic person saying she stopped breathing and they took her to the hospital.

No one can imagine what a parent goes through when they hear these things unless you have been there.
My daughter started using heroin when she was 18, shortly after she went through some personal issues that involved putting a man in jail and then getting a beating because she did so.
That put her in the hospital with a head concussion and blackened eyes.
I pinpoint that moment because that’s when I saw a change in her and it was a violent change.
It’s hard to see these things and feel you can’t do anything about it. She hid it at first and I thought things were going great but deep inside she wasn’t ok. I don’t know how many times I look back and think, “If I only knew then what I know now, would it have mattered?”
I just don’t have that answer.
I spent a lot of nights crying, picturing her dead somewhere.
Kayela was under a Doctors care so I wanted to discuss with the doctor what was happening.
I called the doctor and told her that my daughter was abusing her meds and was using heroin, but the doctor told me she couldn’t discuss it with me. The doctor just kept filling her scripts.
After Kayela died they kept sending me bills for the prescription they had given her.

Kayela eventually agreed to go to Detox, but we could only get her admitted for 3 days and then there was nowhere for her to go after.

There was so much I didn’t know and I was so frightened. Kayela overdosed and her heart stopped, I naively though that would scare her into not using heroin. But I was wrong, she was back using as soon as she was released from hospital.
We tried to get her into rehab but we couldn’t get her a bed or they were too much money.
She became violent and there were many arguments and fights, as she got more and more desperate. My marriage to her stepfather fell apart because of the stress.
She finally got herself in a mess and was pulled over with heroin in her car and was arrested. She spent time in jail and upon release had to go to a halfway house. I think I slept more during that time then I had in so long, things were looking great and she was doing really well.
She was homesick and during her stay I bought a place for us to live for when she got out.
I painted and put carpet in her room to make it look the best I could. We were both excited.
Around April of 2012 she was able to come home but was on probation and had to attend AA every day. I often went to meetings with her.
Then she began to push me away again and began lashing out in anger. I tried to help her but she says I was nagging her and I needed to trust her. My head would spin because I wanted to trust her but part of me just couldn’t. I was always looking around her room and checking for signs of her using.
She wanted to go back to school, which I was really happy about. She was a smart girl so I wanted to do everything I could to help her. We got new clothes and school supplies, she seemed really happy.

One day I had to drive her to a store to return some clothing that didn’t fit.
It was only $25 and she said it was too small.
She came home and it was a quiet evening. I was watching TV with her sister and Kayela was upstairs sorting out her new stuff.
For some reason Kayela’s sister said I should check on her before I went to bed
I was always told to announce myself as I go upstairs so I called out ‘I’m coming up.’ Her light was on and as my head peaked over the top railing I saw her face down on the floor.
I screamed her name but she did not move. I ran over to her and when I felt her skin she was cold I yelled to her sister to call 911 “I think your sisters dead.” Her touch was cold and the color in her hand was grey.

The operator was asking me to do CPR but I didn’t know how to and I was scared I would hurt her. A couple of minutes passed and I heard sirens coming down the street. The next thing I knew the paramedics were there and they worked on her for over an hour. They took her to the hospital where they worked on her for another hour.
But she was gone.
In my gut I knew she was gone when I first found her face down in her bedroom.
I don’t remember much after that, it was a blur.
I blamed myself; I went through everything trying to think what I could have done differently, how I could have helped her.
Kayela’s addiction affected everyone, when she died a piece of me died with her that day.
You never get over loosing a child.
The only way I could live with the pain of loosing her was to try and help prevent other addicts suffering the same fate.

Kayela (right)

Kayela (right)

I tell my story wherever I can and took classes to become a Recovery Coach.
I don’t want anyone else to have to live with what I’m going through, the only way through this pain is to help others.
I miss Kayela every day; no mother should ever have to go through this. Yet drugs take more and more children everyday and we are still not doing enough to stop it.
Goodbye my beautiful angel.

Fight for your right to party

I’m writing this piece in response to Lizzie Deane’s blog post in The Guardian last week.

Image courtesy of maple at

Image courtesy of maple at

Lizzie, who is 16, set out her argument for teenagers earning responsibility by being granted certain freedoms. Particularly where alcohol is concerned. She argues that this could be done by allowing your teenager to throw a house party at your home where they could invite their friends, drink alcohol and get up to all the things that teenagers have been getting up to for decades.
Her main argument being that teenagers are going to do this anyway so why not let them do this in a supervised environment.

Lizzie argues that drunken teenage parties are an evitable teenage experience whether parents like it or not. So parents should be more reasonable in allowing their kids to throw them, and in the process teenagers will become more responsible from being trusted in this way.
Lizzie is right that as young people grow up they need to be trusted to behave as adults. Which in this case means getting drunk, throwing up and passing out because this is the adult behavior that has been modeled to them.

Image courtesy of hyena reality at

Image courtesy of hyena reality at

I was saddened and shocked when I read Lizzie’s piece. Shocked because I can’t believe I’ve become an adult who is disturbed by teenage drinking.
And no, I haven’t forgotten what its like.
I remember my teenager years more vividly than I would necessarily like to. I did attend many house parties (invited and uninvited) and even managed to throw a couple of my own.
Where they fun? I’m really not sure. They checked all the boxes that ‘fun’ with alcohol now seems to require. I was often sick, smoked too many ciggerettes, took some illegal substances I was offered and had sex with someone I’d just met. If that fits your description of fun, then yes I had fun.

I was saddened because by reading Lizzie’s post because I realized just how much her generation had been duped.

Duped, because they have been led to believe that not only was abusive alcohol use normal, it was also their right.
No wonder she’s fighting for it.

You see alcohol was never designed for adolescent bodies. Alcohol can cause alterations in the wiring of still developing adolescent brains. Alcohol particularly affects the part of the brain in adolescents that deals with risk and there is mounting evidence that alcohol causes much more damage to developing brains that we originally thought.
Newsflash: despite our cavalier love affair with alcohol it’s extremely dangerous and harmful, particularly to the young.
I know it’s hard to believe, surrounded as we are by a culture that adamantly asserts it’s right to drink destructively every chance it can get.
Lizzie is very naturally asserting her rights to behave in the same way she sees adults do.
I can’t blame her for that. I did exactly the same thing.
I’m also not trying to scare Lizzie and her generation into staying away from alcohol because they could become an alcoholic like I did. I know that not everyone who binge drinks as a teenager goes on to become alcoholic, even though the research is indicating that teenagers who binge drink have a high propensity to become one…

I’m really not arguing anything at all. I know there is no argument that will make sense to 16-year-old Lizzie regarding the nature of alcohol.
That ship has sailed.
She knows her rights as a British Citizen after all.

I really just want to apologies on behalf of the generation ahead of her.
You see, I was lied to also. I was never presented with an alternative to not drinking or even drinking moderately. Back in the 80’s in an age before Facebook and Smartphones binge drinking was already deeply imbedded in our culture and I too believed it was my fundamental right to do so.
I can remember feeling indignant by the vague warnings boring dull adults gave. They weren’t trying to stop me drinking; they were clearly trying to stop any fun happening. Even I knew at 16 that the vehicle to fun was alcohol.

I’m sorry that we have normalized abnormal drinking so effectively that teenagers now believe their rights are being denied and that they are being patronized if not given the chance to exercise responsible binge drinking (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
This is not about potential alcoholism it’s about the myths and lies that surround alcohol abuse that enable destructive and abusive drinking to continue whilst calling it something else entirely.
Throwing up in someone’s back yard, smashing up people’s houses, falling over, being groped by someone you’ve just met was never anything to aspire to and I’m so sorry that we have led you to believe it was.

I see in the comments section there is lots of support from adults along the ‘never did me any harm,’ or ‘we all turned out alright,’ variety and that’s the stuff I really challenge.
It really depends on what you clarify as harm or abuse. I believe we have so normalized the harm that happens to people when drunk that we no longer see it as anything to worry about. The young girl coerced into sex she’s not ready for yet, the young man who pisses himself when passed out drunk, the arrests, casual violence, abusive comments, vomit and piss that someone else cleans up
There are 50 shades of harm that we no longer even notice…
But they are classified as a ‘normal’ Saturday night out now.

Image courtesy of photostock at

Image courtesy of photostock at

Until we see what’s right in front of our eyes and call alcohol abuse what it really is then we have no right to expect teenagers to behave any differently.
And they will continue to fight for their right to party, just like most British Citizens.

Educating Rita by Ryder Ziebarth

One of my goals of this blog is to also tell some of the stories from the hidden victims of alcoholism and addiction. Particularly from the families effected by a loved ones drinking.

Ryder Ziebarth

Ryder Ziebarth

I met Ryder Ziebarth online and asked if she would guest post about her experiences as a mentor in the Alateen program. Ryder is also a 13 year alumni of the Al-anon program. As a freelance non-fiction writer she regularly contributes to the N magazine in Nantucket, the Nantucket Chronicle and has recently been published in The New York Time Metro Diary.
This is an incredibly moving piece and I’m honoured to share it with you…

One cold and black winter night, in a granite alcove of St. Elizabeth’s church, one of the youngest kids I mentor in an Alateen group seated around our big, round table said, “ I will never, ever, drink. Not one drop. It’s really, really bad for you. That’s what my dad and I know.”

This little girl’s mother, a graduate of six rehab centers, is still addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and her father is in an AA recovery program, just steps away from our door. Her new stepmother attends the Alanon program upstairs, and all three groups, the one I mentor being Alateen, meet at this church in north central New Jersey, every Sunday night, fifty two weeks of the year, even if Sunday falls on Christmas day, New Year’s Eve or Memorial Day weekend. Entire families attend separate meetings, and the majority of kids in my group have one or both parents or a sibling with them on most Sunday nights.

When I first met Rita, the little girl with the big proclamation that cold Sunday night three winters ago, she looked like she weighed no more than a breath of frosty air, with a head full of Shirley Temple, ginger colored curls drawn up with an unruly cockade of pink and purple ribbons. The heels of her pink sneakers lite up with blinking red lights as she walked, and her purple jeans had sprays of flowers across each pocket. That night, I think there were about twelve kids at the meeting– I remember squeezing around our big, 72”round table scattered with Alanon literature and program approved books.

“This is my stepdaughter,” a woman said, pushing Rita gently into the room, just before our meeting began.
“It’s her first time here. Her father and I thought this meeting might help her cope when she has to be with her mother—her alcoholic. She’s not too young is she?” she asked, scanning the tables of other, older kids.
“ No, she’s fine,” I said. But at barely age seven, she was the youngest child I’d ever had in the group. The stepmother said she’d be right upstairs if I needed her, and her father would be downstairs in AA.

“Sit next to me,” I said to this wisp of a child.
She replied that she would rather sit between two of the other kids, so I pushed the chair back in and started the meeting. We pass out our Alateen books and turned to page four. As we went around the table taking turns reading the twelve steps, sharing our first names, where we are from, and our age. Then we share stories about our previous week. We talk about school and upcoming tests, football scores and once in a while, a really bad situation currently happening in their alcoholic household.
It was Rita’s turn, and she introduced herself without hesitation.

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic at

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic at

“ I am new. My name is Rita. I was just seven, two weeks ago. My mother is an alcoholic- druggie and she snorts coke up her nose and I used to see her every other weekend with a social worker, but now I am not allowed to stay there again,’ and she flopped back into her chair, sighing dramatically while rolling her eyes. A few of the other kids nodded in solidarity.

“My mother’s boyfriend? I hate him. He is so gross and disgusting and mean? Last week? I was so mad at him, that I dropped the F-Bomb to get him away from me and my Mom’s dog,” she said pounding the table with both of her fists. All of us started, then laughed, and Rita laughed too. Feeling a sense power, she jumped out of her seat and laid both hands flat in front of her, leaning in toward the group. The back of her sneakers began to blink.

“I did!” she continued, “ I really did! He was beating my dog that was on the end of my bed with me and my yelling made him stop hitting her. But she was hurt bad and I ran out of my room and called 911 and the police came over and took her to the vet,” she said. “I was so glad I ratted him out, but boy was he mad. But my mother was madder for once, so he shut up,” she said, sitting down again into her chair.
“The dog’s O.K. now,” she added as a kind of happy ending.

Some of the kids looked a little stunned. Some of them laughed. Most of them could relate.
In addition to stints in rehab, Rita’s mother had been in and out of jail for drug possession. The divorce from Rita’s father had been contentious. The mother, in a coke fueled haze, fought for custody of Rita, which a wise judge denied her, instead granting once a month Saturday sleepovers with a social worker in tow for most of the visit. The mother’s current boyfriend had beaten Rita’s mother’s dog almost to death at the end of Rita’s bed on that visit, after the social worker went home. Rita’s mother, passed out on the sofa downstairs, hadn’t even heard him enter the house. The mother’s privileges of Saturday night sleepovers were promptly revoked.

“Are you staying with your Dad and stepmom now?” I asked her.
She shook her head empathically and her curls bobbed around her face.
“A social worker and me go see my mom every other Saturday. But I’m not talkin’ to her right now. I will, though next time. Now? I just sit there and watch her cry and yell at me, and then we leave. She needs a lesson taught to her.”
“ I hate my father, plain and simple. I haven’t talked to him in a month,” Savanna, a teen who travels an hour each way to make it to this meeting, says to Rita.
“ I don’t care if I ever speak to him again. He hates me, I hate him. It’s easy. And after the divorce is final, I never have to talk to him again because I am 16.”
“Oh I’ll talk to my mother again,” said Rita.
“ But when I do, she’ll be listening, or else.”
“Or else what?” Savanna asked her.
“Or else, she’ll lose me. I will never go back, and I know she would hate that.”

The Alateen kids bring an endless supply of anger and sadness, but also a remarkable abundance of acceptance of their situations, week after week. They feel safe in this room, a place where they can share the story of their lives with others who struggle with like issues. At every age, they reach out to each other with understanding and it never ceases to amaze me just how incredibly resilient and insightful they are.
“Who can share a slogan or step with Rita that might help her to understand what her mother might be going through right now? Or how to help herself get through the rough times?” I asked.
All twelve hands shot into the air.

Image courtesy of Vlado at

Image courtesy of Vlado at

Rita has been in our Alateen group, most Sunday evenings. She comes, clutching her book Courage to be me — Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home, the pages dog -eared, and paper clipped for reference.
“ I’m working the program, Mrs. Z.,” she said proudly one night, showing me the new book mark she made inscribed with the closing refrain we recite at the end of each meeting: Keep coming back, ‘cause it works when you work it. You’re worth it, so work it.

She laughs more often now then she cries; she volunteers and loves to lead meetings, and her strength and tenacity has been a source of awe and inspiration for those in the program, least of all me. Although her mother’s recovery is still on -going, Rita’s recovery is right on track. As she said in one of the meetings not long ago, this time on a bright and warm summer night,
“ I matter, too.”