Misbranded cannabis summit proves addiction recovery ‘experts’ in dark ages

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At least behavioral health professionals are making a feeble attempt to educate themselves.

And I’m so disgusted and triggered right now by the two #Cannabis17 presentations I watched, I won’t be watching any more.

But I at least wanted to wrap up my coverage, for however long it lasted. I would continue to watch if I was hearing anything new, but instead, I’m hearing discussions and comments that were resolved a few years back if not longer than that.

The conference appears to be an affirmation of arcane ideas that fuel ignorance-induced poor decision making with patients.

Read more: Why cannabis should be used to treat addiction

I got sober without a treatment center or AA, beyond the first 90 days and a meeting here and there after that. While I long have been appalled by what I saw and heard in AA and never would recommend it to anyone (or criticize those who do find relief there), I feel like I have truly given the behavioral health community a fair shot.

Boy, lol. They have a long, long, long way to go. I am beginning to think behavioral health is not really about helping people, but in fact, it’s all about money. Of course, that’s an old hat comment. But after four years as a reporter in the mainstream medical community, I believe it now more than ever.

So, it’s time for me to step aside and just start writing about, and advocating for, medical cannabis.

Read more: Medical establishment admits cannabis effective at treating nerve pain

I’m not saying that all behavioral health professionals and addiction treatment centers are bad. But, hey. They are fueling Pharma chemical-induced addiction every single day with their “maintenance therapies.”

In that context, the #Cannabis17 conference and some of the things being said there are beyond outrageous.

Recently, someone who I like very much who has struggled many years with addiction reached out to me. This person had just spent a whopping amount of money at a well-known chain of addiction treatment centers (none that I ever have written for, thank God).

Now, he’s still a heavy drinker and he’s broke. This person, who has not reached out in a very long time, wanted to share his entire story with me.

Sadly, I cut him off and then blocked him. He used to run with a crowd that is, shall we say, in the forefront of my PTSD-related triggers all last week and this week. I hope it is over soon, so I can move on with my life and try to re-establish personal relationships.

Read more: For many people with PTSD, CBD from cannabis offers great hope

I have been through hell and back and got sober in the middle of it. Then, I was pumped full of benzodiazepines, then relapsed after two and a half years.

Now, while nothing is perfect in light of what I have been through, I’m sober again. Nor were the relapses any sort of disastrous, end-of-world doomsday scenario, which is what AA would have made it out to be, causing many people to hate themselves and again start the drinking/drugging cycle.

Read more: How I got off benzos from 4 mg of Ativan per day

God, they have hurt so many people, yet all they do is toot, toot, toot about those they helped. Come on, AA. After 75-plus years, it’s time to admit you have a problem.

There are no statistics on people like myself who persevere through hard work and faith in God, not a hunger for belonging at the cost of their self-respect.

I remain hopeful about the future every single day, even when I don’t have the money for medical cannabis, which is most of the time these days.

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Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, had I known the person who reached out to me had planned on going to rehab, I would have told him to save his money and apply for a cannabis card.

I’m not saying that’s the solution for everyone. But for many people, traditional rehab would never work in a million years. Cannabis would.

Either behavioral health professionals and those who employ them can get with the times, start helping people, and maybe even find a super-hybrid of cannabis and psychotherapy that is a breakthrough treatment.

CBD and CBT, if you will.

Or, they can continue to lose customers who are tired of hearing their ancient rhetoric about cannabis.

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Here’s even more proof that the plant is a way out of addiction

Photo courtesy Pixabay

From the “About” page of my newly revamped website, DavidHeitz.com:

“I am an Illinois medical cannabis cardholder with the qualifying condition of chronic PTSD. Do not let anyone ever tell you that you are not really sober if you are using medical cannabis.”

I quietly made the change about two weeks ago, fully realizing that I probably can forget about any more great-paying work from rehab centers. I got into journalism to help people anyway, not get rich.

The next sentence likely sealed the deal that I won’t be getting any more work from members of the staid medical establishment.

“I believe addiction should be a qualifying condition for a marijuana card if deemed appropriate by a doctor. It goes without saying that federal laws about cannabis need to be abolished to align with science and the majority of the states.”

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I’m not worried. The mainstream medical establishment is on the wrong side of this issue. I have no doubt work will be forthcoming from more progressive medical sectors.

Consider a new survey by HelloMD. It shows almost EVERY opioid user surveyed in a study for the site agrees they can decrease their opioid use with cannabis, and that they would rather be medicating with the plant.

I have no doubt that the day is coming – perhaps it’s here already – where there will be rehab centers that discuss cannabis use as a path to sobriety.

This has been going on in AA chapters for decades, folks. Many have established pot dealers among their ranks. And many – way more than you would think – smoke their cannabis at home, keep it to themselves, and just go to their 12-step meetings with their mouths taped shut.

When your doctor says ‘The research just isn’t there’

Nobody likes making medical claims based largely on conjecture. And let me stress that I am not a doctor and my website is not intended to be a replacement for medical advice from a trained professional.

But when it comes to cannabis, we don’t have much choice. The federal government not only has resisted allowing clinical studies on cannabis, the studies that have been done only have used a few different types of plant. That’s because the feds require the weed used for research be grown in their garden at the University of Mississippi.

So today I report, with vigor, some anecdotal evidence I do not find surprising: According to a new study released last week by HelloMD, 80 percent of people surveyed found CBD “very” or “extremely” effective for treating their ailments. More than 40 percent reported that they have stopped using “traditional medications” in favor of cannabis, according to the HelloMD survey.

Read about my medicine cabinet shakeup: Bye-bye Xanax, hello medical cannabis (CBD)

When I got off benzodiazepines about two months ago after being on them for two years – 4 mg per day of Ativan in the height of it all – I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment. It felt so good, in fact, that it renewed my commitment to sobriety after falling off the wagon after 2 ½ years in January.

In July, I stopped drinking completely again after a spurt of relapses that lasted about five months. The relapses continued because my commitment to sobriety had waned. I was no longer making an effort nor did I feel the need to. With the cannabis, I feel an overall sense of hope again.

I have been through a lot. And I’m quite certain it’s not over yet.

Even more importantly than getting my sobriety back is the fact that I physically and mentally feel a hundred times better. The reason for this is that my Illinois medical cannabis card allows me, as a qualifying patient, to purchase flower, oil, sprays, topicals, patches, pills and edibles high in CBD content.

I can purchase anything I want at the dispensary, actually. You’re not actually written a prescription by a doctor, at least you don’t have to be. Responsible doctors who are acknowledging the powers of medical cannabis are doing that, however — when qualified — to help their patients make knowledgeable cannabis decisions.

The truth is, many doctors aren’t qualified to make recommendations about cannabis. And too many have no interest in learning about it. And that’s precisely why people are turning to HelloMD, where real doctors trained in medical cannabis can get you started on the qualification process – all right online.

It’s very cool.

Over the weekend I posted a video about dabbing CBD oil on candy to treat PTSD-related symptoms throughout the day. It was a huge hit, without a single derogatory or anti-cannabis comment.

Obviously, the secret is out.

CBD doesn’t make you ‘high’

CBD is not THC. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that makes a person “high.” But don’t fool yourself – THC has significant medical properties, too. While CBD keeps me calm, it won’t put me to sleep. An indica-dominant strain with high levels of THC and the right terpenes does (Lemon Skunk, Granddaddy Purple, Cuvee, Shangri-la, Starry Night).

CBD, however, is fast emerging the true doctor in the house when it comes to medical cannabis.

Read more: How medical cannabis is funding mental health services in Shelby County, Ill.

According to the HelloMD study, conducted by the Brightfield Group:

  • People who treat their illnesses with CBD spend less per month on medical cannabis than those who treat their medical conditions with THC-dominant strains. While the study references people getting by on as little as $80 per month, I’m not sure that’s applicable in states where medical cannabis is extremely expensive, like Illinois. In other states, like California, it may very well be the case that you can medicate for $100 per month or less.
  • More than half say their CBD products do a better job at treating their medical conditions than their Pharma scripts. Amen. All I take now is blood pressure medication.

What is CBD used for?

In addition to PTSD, which is my qualifying condition, CBD is used for:

  • Joint pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Chronic pain and severe pain
  • Arthritis
  • Nausea

What HelloMD has to say about its study

More than 1,400 people participated in the HelloMD survey.

“The latest publication from the National Academy of Sciences clearly refuted the ‘gateway drug’ theory that using marijuana can lead to opioid addiction, instead finding evidence of cannabis having multiple curative benefits,” Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer of HelloMD, said in a news release.

“Our study further substantiates this. Hopefully this will awaken the public, medical professionals and legislatures to this fact that cannabis is a safe, non-addictive product available to help fight the opioid epidemic,” he added.

Amanda Reiman, a PhD at the School of Social Welfare, Berkeley, led the study. “The treatment of pain has become a politicized business in the United States,” she bluntly explains in the news release. “The result has been the rapidly rising rate of opioid-related overdoses and dependence.”

When all is said and done, I have interviewed too many opioid addicts who got off the drugs with marijuana to continue to endorse opioid maintenance therapy as a long-term solution.

Reiman echoes exactly what I have heard, over and over and over again: “Patients have been telling us for decades that this practice is producing better outcomes than the use of opioid based medications. It’s past time for the medical profession to get over their reefer madness and start working with the medical cannabis movement and industry to slow down the destruction being caused by the over prescribing and overuse of opioids.”

Amen.

To check out HelloMD’s report for yourself, click here. 

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Chapter One: Dad and I reclaim the property

“Jeezus Christ! What the hell is going on!” I screamed to dad as I pulled up to the house, admittedly excited to be moving in despite the inevitable battles I innately knew were ahead. “You better not chop down that God damned tree!”

Undoubtedly, I had been out all night drinking the night before. I had been totally unemployed for a year, as checking in on dad had become too stressful and I was completely burnt out with my newspaper job.

Honestly, I had thought to myself more than once, “If you’re not going to report on things you know about that need to be reported because of personal relationships, you need to get out of the business.”

So that’s what I did.

Branches were falling from the maple tree out front of what was the family homestead until mom died. It had changed hands just twice when dad got it back, almost 30 years – three decades — to the day mom got rid of him.

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Dad and his best friend Jack Long dug up the tree down by the Mississippi River and transplanted it into the front yard when the room addition was built in 1976. I remember it grew very fast, and in a couple of years I was enjoying climbing it. Now I could not even reach the lowest branch if I wanted to. The tree is massive.

Dad had no intention of cutting down the tree. In retrospect, I’m sure he knew hiring a big crew to top that monster was not something I would make a priority, or possibly even be able to afford. He took care of certain things immediately.

Like re-siding the garage. The garage looked like hell when dad bought the house back for more than seven times the price he paid for it in 1963.

Dad and I had a wonderful first six months back in the family home.  He began to fall from the day we moved in. In fact, I found him lying on the floor when I moved in the day after he did.

He would fall out of the lawn chair in the front yard. My brother and I both thought maybe he did it on purpose to get neighbors to talk to him.

For me at least, it became apparent by the seventh month that was not the case, and something really, really frightening was going on with my dad. In fact, he had a horrible, extremely rare brain disease called frontotemporal degeneration, behavioral variant, also known as Pick’s Disease.

Learn more about the rare brain disease that killed my dad

My dad, who had saved my life so many times, soon would meet an unthinkable finale to half a lifetime of suffering.

In retrospect, some might argue not soon enough. And did.

About a year after dad and I moved in, dad was taken out by paramedics, never to return. He had chased me with a butcher knife and I had called the police, but only because I thought he was going to fall and spear himself. The night before, he had shoved towels and cooking utensils down the toilet.

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And as he was running through the house with the knife – remarkably without a walker, as though Lazarus had stopped by – smoke was pouring out of the kitchen wastepaper basket.

Once again, he had thrown a burning cigarette in it.

My poor cat, an incredibly spry 18 years old at the time, used to hide in the basement. Dad loved the cat and she ignored him, so he would cuss her. Later, I found out he was feeding her cookies when I was at the bar at night those first six months.

It would fast become a terribly exhausting, scary and frustrating situation. Dad would howl at the moon at night. He would wake me up and order me to go across the street to the church and turn their music down. There was no music.

This should not be surprising, as he was having many odd flashbacks in the house. In 1984, he walked across the street to the church once, interrupted service, and told the priest that someone needed to move their car so my brother could get his boat out of our back yard.

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I call my neighborhood Redneck Ritz.

It was incredibly surreal to be living with dad, in the very house I was brought home to from the hospital. The hospital right up the street, in fact.

The hospital has a helipad. As a kid, I always thought the helicopters touching down at the hospital were the coolest thing ever. That, and the airplanes flying overhead, so low if you squint it feels like you could touch them. The house still is directly in the flight pattern of Quad-City International Airport. Which is not a big deal, despite the “international” in its name. The Quad-Cities likes to be bigger than it is. Almost 30 members on the Rock Island County Board, after all, in a county of 130,000 or so people.

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I knew on move-in day that as profoundly bizarre that what dad had done might seem to some, it wasn’t at all strange to him. And by the end of the first week, it wasn’t strange to me either.

Dad, at age 72 and already with significant mobility challenges, incontinence and dementia, had purchased the family home he lost to my mother in their second 1984 divorce.

Yes, from each other. They married and divorced each other twice.

And I inherited half of the same house twice. It would have been a lot more economical had I kept it the first time I inherited it, when mom died, but as a 24-year-old living in Los Angeles in 1995 I was not about to move back to Rock Island, Ill.

I might have been on to something there. But we age, we make choices, and I chose the stability and the warmth of my family home, even if unspeakable things have transpired here. Not only in this house, but in the unspeakably corrupt community in which I live.

Lots and lots and lots of abuse.  I lived almost an entire life of abuse, and for many years resumed being a victim – and playing a victim – when I returned to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles to care for dad a decade prior.

Little did I know my real troubles would begin once I already had been a year on the straight and narrow path nobody ever thought I would find. Clean, sober, and laying naked on a concrete slab in solitary confinement in the Rock Island County Jail, held on no charges at all.

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Recovering meth addict, young mother navigate CPS systems to keep children

tough-love-dad

Editor’s note: This piece originally was published June 26, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

For some unfortunate addicts, rock bottom doesn’t come until they’re six feet under.

But for many, it comes when they lose what’s most important to them. Usually that’s not the car, or even the house. Often, rock bottom comes when someone loses their partner or spouse, or worse, their child.

“Tough Love” is a POV documentary about two parents fighting to regain custody of their children from Child Protective Services. One is the story of Hannah Siddique, a mother in New York City. The other, Patrick Brown, is a single dad in Seattle.

You can find out how to watch the movie, which aired on PBS as a POV documentary when this column originally was written, by clicking here.

Jill Murphy is a program supervisor for the King County Superior Court Family Treatment Program. Patrick joined the program April 21, 2011, after losing custody of his daughter Natalya. Patrick, a crystal meth addict, had his little girl taken from him after falling back into meth after four years of sobriety.

Patrick initially had turned in Natalya’s mother to Child Protective Services. He felt his daughter wasn’t being properly cared for. But then he relapsed himself, got arrested, and lost custody after he had won it back from the mother.

“You have to learn to manage your disease,” Murphy told Healthline. “There are going to be rough spots.”

For many, life and death when choosing addiction or recovery is a matter of timing. The same goes for what’s saved and what’s lost.

“Addiction can be insidious. You can lose so much of your life in such a quick period of time and not even realize it,” Murphy said.

In King County, Family Treatment Court is reserved for the most serious of addicts.

The road to getting Natalya back is at times heartbreaking for Patrick, and for the people in the film who are helping him do so. Just as things seem to be going right, word gets out that Patrick had imbibed again. The reason? Waking up and not being able to see his little girl on a holiday. It was just too much, he said, and he blew the rent money on “filet mignon and chardonnay.”

At times Patrick looks pretty rough, not so much in the scenes where he’s with Natalya, but in court. A couple of times, he almost seems doomed. The judge suggests he’s “self-sabotaging.”

The viewer is left riding a roller coaster as to feelings of whether Patrick should get Natalya back. The foster family no doubt loves her, and appear to be wonderful parents. The foster father even resembles Patrick physically.

In one poignant scene, Patrick’s lawyer reminds those holding Patrick’s fate – and indeed, Natalya’s – of the law. She points out that in no way has Patrick endangered Natalya. She suggests he is being held to a level of perfection that is not realistic for any parent.

Family Treatment Court is a voluntary program. Addicts are given a strong support network that includes an advocate, an attorney and other support. The subjects are tested for drugs and alcohol every two weeks.

“Parents in the system are able to have extra help,” Murphy said. “They enter treatment faster.”

The program’s success rate is about 60 percent.

The other parent in the film – Hannah – doesn’t have any apparent problems such as addiction. While she and her husband struggle financially, there never seems to be much doubt about whether Hannah and her husband can parent.

Hannah had lost her children several years’ prior at the age of 19. After removing the children from a verbally abusive father, she moved in with her mother. But at her young age, she would go out and leave the children alone with grandma. So she lost them.

In the film, she finds herself pregnant, with the system potentially threatening to take that baby as well. The hoops she must jump through offer a view of the New York City system that is in stark contrast to the King County system, which seems to go above and beyond to reunite Patrick and Natalya.

At times, it seems contributions by the father of the unborn child aren’t even taken into consideration.

Wang-Breal hopes her film underscores the importance of child welfare reform. “If you look at the way federal financing comes, the majority of funding is geared toward foster care and adoption. What if we had given these families preventive services? Child welfare reform is about trying to change the way federal financing works so that we can keep families together.”

I fell off the wagon during my vacation. Then I got right up and hopped back on.

wreck-bar

I fell off the wagon during my Florida vacation after almost three years of sobriety.

At a place called “The Wreck Bar,” no less. During a mermaid show.

And then I was interviewed by a pirate. With a news crew.

But nothing tragic happened. In fact, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I had a darned good time.

I was never “a wreck” during vacation. But I’m climbing right back on the wagon anyway.

Nothing terrible happened, but drinks Friday turned into drinks Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I had fun all three nights, but as it goes with us alcoholics, I progressively drank more each night. By Tuesday morning, it was obvious what was happening, as I had a hangover for the first time in almost three years.

My therapist had suggested I attend meetings while here. I’m not a huge fan of AA. They are a PTSD trigger for me (long story), so, in fact, I avoid them completely while at home. I did reach out to another person in recovery as soon as I got here, and had hoped to set up a time to attend an AA meeting with her, but I never heard back.

The morning after landing, I got up to go to breakfast downstairs in the hotel. The main restaurant is not open yet (the hotel has just been remodeled) and the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team had the smaller restaurant, in the lobby, exclusively to themselves the whole week.

So, that left the rest of us in the “Wreck Bar” for every meal unless we ate outside at the beach grill, and that closed every night at sundown, and did not open until 11 a.m. each day.

I knew I would have an urge for a beer, especially on vacation, in an oceanfront resort in Fort Lauderdale. I figured if the urge just got to be too much, I would have an O’Doul’s, although even those do contain tiny amounts of alcohol, despite the belief that they do not.

No O’Doul’s at the Wreck Bar.

Interviewed by a pirate – with a television crew — during the mermaid show

While live-broadcasting the world-famous mermaid show at the Wreck Bar on my Facebook page, I was having a grand time with the other guests. What the hell I thought, I’ll have a beer.

I mean, it’s a mermaid show. At the world-famous Wreck Bar.

But it gets better. Suddenly, a “news crew” approached me after the show ended. The next thing I knew I was being interviewed – by a man dressed as a pirate – about my opinion of the mermaids.

Oh dear.

It probably was obvious that I had had a few. So, I’m not even going to mention what “news” organization it was.

I could have just not told anyone I fell off the wagon after almost three years. But why would I conceal it? It’s a big part of the recovery experience. It happens. A lot. It’s rather incredible I went almost three years.

Writing about these issues is my livelihood (which is why some suggested I not say anything about it).

But that’s not how I roll. I believe in honesty and authenticity. If anything, maybe some people will find me easier to relate to now that I had a “relapse.”

I once had a colleague who had a gambling problem. So much so she trespassed herself from all the local casinos.

When she relapsed, she wrote about it. It was one of the best columns she ever has written, in my opinion.

I don’t always see eye to eye with this person. So, in a way, falling off the wagon, for me, was sort of a reminder that all of us have shared experiences in life.  It’s important to be authentic and to own your sh*t.

And to be kind. For it sounds cliché, but everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Life really is just too short. The world is not going to end because I “relapsed” on my Florida vacation, and it does not make me weak or a bad person. I’m not “going to die,” as some like to tell people who relapse, particularly if their form of recovery doesn’t jive with theirs.

Recovery is a personal journey. There is no one way for staying sober.

I wish I had not drank. Especially four nights in a row, even on vacation.

But I’m owning it. I know I’m an alcoholic. And I love myself way too much to slide back down that slope.

Uber snafu takes me to Laundromat instead of SMART Recovery meeting

Tonight, I tried to go to a SMART Recovery meeting. I had my first experience with Uber. It was a cluster, and I didn’t make the meeting. I ended up at a coin laundry instead. You can read all about that by clicking here.

The second Uber driver took me back to my hotel after the first driver took me to the right address, but in the wrong city. I was visibly upset about the snafu, though not necessarily with Uber. The driver explained how getting frustrated and upset over something I could not control would only upset me some more and cause me to drink even more.

That’s exactly right. Smart man.

So, when I got back to the hotel, I spoiled myself with snapper, went upstairs and gave thanks for this beautiful vacation, and went to bed. Sober. At 8 p.m. Much as I have done every night in the Quad-Cities beginning two and a half years ago.

Many people have not been able to relate to how I’ve maintained sobriety with what appeared to be relative ease.

Now I know it’s not as easy as it looks, and just how slippery the slope can be.

With that said, I’m even grateful for my “relapse” (hate, hate, hate that word). There’s nothing wrong with a wake-up call that could have ended up much, much worse than a hangover after four fun nights. But if I don’t stop now, my luck could run out.

I’m SMART enough to know that.

It’s the mother of all triggers; but it’s my courthouse, too. Why I’m there today

courthouse

Update: Court went well today and even seemed a bit amicable. I am ready to move on with my life. I appreciate everyone’s prayers and support during the past several years. God bless all of you for following my work. I hope it helps people. It certainly has been cathartic for me.

For people with PTSD, we must avoid “triggers.”

Triggers are people, places or things that can take us back to the traumatic events, or series of events, that led to our post-traumatic stress to begin with.

It’s why combat soldiers with PTSD don’t much care for fireworks, for example. For people who have been sexually assaulted, it may be the home of their assailant, or a hotel where they were assaulted that serve as a trigger. Simply driving past can immediately “trigger” symptoms of anxiety, fear, and rage.

For me, the Rock Island County Courthouse, pictured here, is the “mother of all triggers.” And I have avoided it entirely for the past 20 months or so, but today I am there, defending my right to what my father has left me in his estate.

I always say that I have “Caregiver PTSD,” and indeed that may be the title of the book I hope to write this year. My PTSD came as the result of several things related to caring for and advocating for my father, including:

A horrifying assault in the basement of my home the last time I ever took a drink, three years ago, this coming Memorial Day weekend. The assault was brought on after I began to post on Facebook that certain people were “murderers” for taking my dad off insulin when he still was eating five meals per day. That not only is inhumane, but it’s an offense a doctor could in theory lose their license over.

I was alerted to dad being taken off his insulin – in fact, I was told that all his meds were DC’d — by the former wellness director of the memory care facility where he lived. This did not jive with what my brother had told me earlier in the day, that the doctor had “doped dad up some more” (prescribed more medications) at the office visit that day.

So, when the memory care facility called to report dad collapsed during lunch and could not immediately be revived, I was suspicious, asked questions, and got answers. Then I downed some booze, massive amounts of booze, and the “murderer” posts began. Not to mention a phone call made to the doctor’s office. Dad was back on insulin the next day.

Read more: When a person with dementia goes on hospice, it doesn’t always mean they’re dying

Someone who I had every reason to trust showed up at my door when I began making the “murderer” posts on Facebook. He then took me to the basement, where the assault took place. This all has been reported to police, is on the books, and there’s a paper trail (or at least there should be) of this entire story.

Read more: Raped in 2007 and assaulted in 2014, I finally put down the bottle

Next, on the one-year anniversary of the above-described assault, when, while visiting my dad at the memory care facility (which had changed ownership since the insulin incident, and now was managed by what I can only describe as a vile and heartless woman), I thought I saw a “bad guy.” I had gone to police just a couple of days prior regarding some “bad guys” when a friend of mine’s body was pulled from the Mississippi River. I was on edge to begin with and thought people were following me on my walk to the facility that day. I even dialed 911 and also called the facility for help on my way there.

It’s not uncommon for people to exhibit paranoia, anxiety and fear around the time of PTSD anniversary dates. Did I “imagine” this guy was a bad guy, when in fact he simply might have been a maintenance man (as he was dressed as such)? I still don’t know the answer to that, and I may never know.

What I do know is that when I reported this “intruder,” the staff laughed at me, discredited me, and I started giving them a very loud piece of my mind. The next thing I knew, I was being stripped naked and thrown into a cell at the Rock Island County jail, a straightjacket thrown in behind me. The jail, staffed by thugs (including employees fired by a local bar for being lazy and/or drunk), mentally tortured me for two whole days while I was held there on no charges at all. That included one of the former bartenders from the tavern I frequented. The other one pretty much kept her mouth shut and answered questions honestly when asked by someone else who, in my opinion, had no business being inside that jail. I don’t care who she is. And I know what I heard.

Read more: Why Amber Ridge Memory Care kept me away from my dad, and how the state of Illinois reunited us

And all of this is very, very, very suspicious and not at all “conspiracy” to those who know the whole story, and by now, that includes many people. Will it all someday just go away? Just blow out to sea?

Returning to the courthouse with a sense of serenity

When I finally was “sprung” from jail by an officer associated with the agency I had relayed the initial “bad guy” information to, I was taken to the hospital (again, a place that forever will be a trigger, and I never will do business with again, even though they “forgave” the portion of my bill which insurance didn’t pay, and even apologized for how I was treated there, which is curious); and two days later, I had to go to the Rock Island County Courthouse and defend myself, pro se, against an order of protection filed by the wellness director of the memory care facility.

Read more: What really happened to me in the Rock Island County Jail? My tell all

Read more: What was the motive for what happened in the jail? My tell all, Part II

Mind you, my dad had nearly bled to death in his room from an unexplained injury two weeks prior to all of this (he told the hospice social worker, the ER doc and myself that he was struck by someone…’He got me!’ he said, and then started crying. Dad had gender dysphasia about three years prior to death (and total dysphasia the final months of his life) so a “he” often meant a “she,” but he frequently told me two workers in particular, one a man and one a woman, were rough with him).

The memory care facility nurse who called me at 5 a.m. was the one who said it appeared he had lie all night on the floor, given the size of the pool of blood, and reported that she herself had just come on duty. Rest assured I know who was on duty before her. Employees past and present have chirped like birdies.

I was hypervigilant every time I set foot in there, like any astute caregiver should be. But especially after that most recent incident, probably the third trip to the ER since he had gone in there 18 months prior. If you don’t police most elder care facilities, your resident gets substandard care. And that’s the truth. Period. Particularly in Rock Island County, where the incredibly incompetent Alternatives for the Older Adult is failing miserably in their assignment to protect our elderly.

So today I find myself at the Rock Island County Courthouse again, this time for a status hearing as it pertains to my father’s estate. By chance, it’s the exact same judge that I stood before for the order of protection, which was dismissed.

I have not seen my brother since a few weeks after my dad died. But my lawyer says it is imperative I attend the hearing or the estate could just drag on for months. It already has been 16 months as it is. And for the record, my brother and I did not end up in court (at least not initially) over a dispute between ourselves, but over a dispute with a third heir. My understanding is that my brother tried to resolve this at the last hearing, but apparently was given some poor advice that foiled this resolution, which I assume would have been amicable to all parties.

So, it will be good to see for my own eyes today what’s really going on, and to tell my side of the story, if asked.

I’m going to walk into that courthouse as if I own it, and with my head held high. As if were on assignment for the Quad-City Times, like the old days. I am going to remain calm and answer any questions the judge may have. And by the grace of God, my father’s estate will be closed, and this horrifying chapter of my life closed with it. (Although life has been bountiful with blessings during this hardship, too – my sobriety, career success, and more self-respect then I ever had had in my life. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy!)

I have changed banks, grocery stores, restaurants – I rarely do business in Rock Island, where I live, because the odds of running into someone who is a “trigger” is just far too high. This entire county is stocked with extremely dishonest people, many of whom are community leaders and who I have known my entire life, but who I now know to be — well, frauds — to use Mitt Romney’s famed word to describe Donald Trump.

How dad and I reclaimed the family home

I already have reclaimed my family home.

When I bought out my brother’s half of the home when we inherited it when dad died, he asked, “Why would you even want ‘The House of Hell?’”

He called it that with good reason. As kids, the police frequently were at our house. Mom and dad used to beat the crap out of each other. Mom once pinned dad to the floor in the living room and held a steak knife to his carotid artery. I went downstairs screaming and a friend of my brother’s ran upstairs and pulled mom off dad. I often wonder what happened to that guy. I liked him.

My dad did abuse my mother. Mentally, especially. We didn’t know then that he was a very sick man with a rare brain disease that caused him to behave the way he did. What a horrid death he experienced. Pick’s, which you can read more about by clicking here, is a terrible disease.

Dad lost the house to mom in their second divorce in 1984, when mom was given six months to live. She died in 1995. My brother and I inherited the house and sold it; dad bought it again almost 20 years later, five years ago this June.

Shortly after mom had dad evicted from the home via an order of protection, shortly before the divorce, she moved in a man she met at Sweetwater Tap. I didn’t like it. I caused lots of problems.

And then she threw me out.

I was working at least 25 hours per week at the Quad-City Times then, as a junior in high school, and being paid a freelance rate on top of my hourly rate to cover the cities of Milan and Silvis for them. So, for a teenager, I was making good money. I paid my cousin room and board and lived with her my senior year.

Despite everything that happened in this house, it’s mine now. Mine and my dad’s, even though he no longer is with us. I even feel healed about all that happened with mom, even sleeping in the same room where she perished.

So today I reclaim my trauma, I own it, and hopefully, we all move on. Tragic as parts of my life story has been, I lead a very blessed, very privileged life. I cannot forget that. Not today, not ever.

A methed up life turned boldly around: A gay man’s inspiring story of recovery

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This piece originally was published June 6, 2016, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission from Healthline. Christopher was a great interview and ought to serve as an inspiration to many, especially for his frankness in sharing his story. His story is not the least bit uncommon and is being played out right here in the Quad-Cities. What is described here is NOT a big-city phenomenon, in the least. I admire frankness. Best to you, Chris!

In the picture shown above, Christopher Interdonato believes he was near life’s end. Addicted to crystal meth, which he shot up, and barely surviving on the streets of Los Angeles as a sex worker, he got to a point where “I felt like I was dying. I could no longer move.”

The picture you see here nearly brings me to tears, not only because of the sad vulnerability expressed on the young man’s face, but because I once was addicted to meth, malnourished, unhealthy, desperate, hopeless about life, and certainly without even an ounce of self-respect. It’s impossible to get sober (or at least sustain sobriety) when you have no self-respect.

Interdonato lay there like that for a few days, his veins so collapsed doctors could not extract blood to get a diagnosis. When they finally did, Interdonato learned he had HIV.

While HIV is a manageable disease these days, there still is no cure, and you’re required to take pills for life (although long-lasting injectable forms of HIV treatment are in the works).

Read more: An injectable HIV treatment could be ready by next year

In a couple of weeks, Interdonato will celebrate two years sober. A far cry from what you see in this picture, he is strikingly handsome, healthy, and works as a house manager and case manager at a rehabilitation center. In August, he will go back to school full-time to become a certified alcohol and drug counselor.

How Interdonato ended up in the abyss

Interdonato moved to Los Angeles in 2011 after living a year in Orange County (the suburbs to the south) first. Ironically, that was the same trajectory I took when moving to Southern California after college in 1992.

Interdonato worked for the circus, Cirque du Soleil. But when his contract ended, he found himself in a frightening position – homeless on the streets of L.A.

Interdonato had tried meth once at a bathhouse in Seattle, but he didn’t like it. In fact, “I hated it at first. I stayed up so long.”

But like so many young men who find themselves homeless on Tinseltown’s streets, the drug’s hyper-stimulating side effects – the power to keep you up for days at a time – offered a bit of safety, the thought process often goes, as opposed to falling asleep in the big city. “I was in a city where I knew no one,” Interdonato said.

The other side effect? Intense sexual arousal that allows already virile young men to perform for hours and hours and hours and hours.

Read more: Hooking up to stay alive: The sexual exploitation of young men and boys

Interdonato says he doesn’t want to be portrayed a victim as it pertains to his days as a sex worker. “I was never forced into anything,” he said. “I made a conscience decision to do what I did to support the lifestyle I had. I never had sex for the drugs. I always had my own drugs. I sold the drugs, too.”

Read more: Six signs that you are ready to get sober

I asked him why, like many sex workers in Los Angeles, he didn’t just hustle the streets sober, and pocket even more of his money as opposed to spending it on drugs. “Prostitution is not something I can do if I’m not high,” he said. “So when the drug use stopped, for myself I was not able to continue doing it because I felt dirty.

“Part of getting sober for me was about my self-esteem. It wasn’t just about rebuilding my body. And today sex is not the only currency I haveI have more to offer than that.”

Meth a huge problem in gay mid America as well

Unfortunately, I understand Interdonato’s story all too well. While I always had a job and never had to hustle to survive, I left Los Angeles in 2000, and a second time (for good) in 2002, horrifically strung out on crystal meth.

When I returned to the Quad-Cities, meth again reared its head a few times. But as I always told people rather frankly, the meth here was crap compared to what I snorted (and smoked) in Los Angeles, so I never slipped way back down the slope. I did, however, abuse cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. I celebrated two years sober last month. (Editor’s note: It will be three years in May 2017).

And thank God I am sober, and very confident in my sobriety. If you can say, “I’m an alcoholic and an addict,” and know that you can never take another drink, never snort another line, you have won more than half the battle. And I know I am an alcoholic and addict. For me, using again isn’t an option.

So, I’m glad I left behind the party scene and the bar life when I did, as now the methamphetamine problem right here in the Quad-Cities, in mid-America, is as bad as it is in the urban gay meccas.

Headlines beginning in the spring of 2016 in the Quad-Cities illustrated this, so there’s no point of regurgitating it here. People still are talking about it. Indeed, eye-popping stories, and I suspect we will see more of them.

People are quick to point fingers at places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City as hedonistic harbors where young, gay men can go astray. But the Quad-Cities is not one bit different. In fact, I believe it’s worse, as there is a void in terms of affirming support services. Mental health services in the Quad-Cities are wildly substandard, particularly for those who do not have private insurance and/or belong to a minority group.

While the Los Angeles LGBT Center is known for civil rights advocacy and being front and center at flag-waving festivals, it also is a lifeline for people like Interdonato. It absolutely 100 percent supports and helps anyone who is struggling with a drug problem, homelessness, and HIV/AIDS. It is a world-class non-profit organization offering world-class services, including the Jeffrey Goodman ClinicCrystal Meth/Addiction Recovery Serviceslegal services, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Interdonato is living proof of the life-changing work that this amazing organization provides.

It’s why I’m covering AIDS LifeCycle this year for absolutely zero financial gain.

Interdonato said he already was familiar with the services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center even before his hospitalization and HIV diagnosis. He regularly went to the Center for HIV/STI screenings and post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, after he believed to have been exposed to HIV in the past.

“I represent that percentage of the population of our community…unfortunately, in the gay community there’s a high incidence of people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and there is a high incidence rate of contracting HIV as part of it,” Interdonato said. “That’s my reason for riding, besides for thanking the L.A. LGBT Center for getting my life on track, but by being an example of a sober young person in recovery, who is HIV-positive, and hopefully I can help someone by showing them you can be as low as you can get and it is possible to recover from drug addiction and live a healthy life. Even as an HIV-positive gay man.”

Why I briefly stopped writing about HIV, but will get back into it in 2017

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This is a column I have been thinking about writing for so, so long. What better way to clear the air on this subject than to make it my first piece of 2017?

A few days ago, I received a package from Gil Diaz at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He sent me the T-shirt and “Kleen Canteen” pictured with this piece. God bless you Gil, by the way, for thinking I can fit into a medium.

I served as one of the official journalists of AIDS LifeCycle the past two years, which was an awesome experience even though I was unable to do the ride, both years, due to outrageous, unbelievable-unless-you-live-here events in my personal life that coincided with the ride two years in a row.

I’m going to start posting some of my Healthline Contributors pieces on AIDS LifeCycle beginning tomorrow. Healthline Contributors recently went dark but Healthline gave me permission to re-post my work on my own site. Many thanks to Healthline.

My journalism career essentially was brought back from the dead in 2013 when I began writing for Healthline News, primarily about HIV. I had left the workplace at the end of 2010 to focus on taking care of my dad and myself. When dad went into the hospital, and then a nursing home, and then a memory care facility, I got back to work.

Writing about HIV, for me, was sort of like a duck to water. While I do not have HIV, I certainly once lived the life of someone at extremely high risk of infection. I also worked as executive news editor of The Advocate just as protease inhibitors came out and people with HIV, still alive today, were saying, “Damn! I never should have sold my life insurance policy to the viatical!” It was a positive turning point in the epidemic that continued in that direction of progress for many years, up until recently.

Which is depressing. But that’s not why I stopped writing about HIV. At least not directly.

Watch for more of the same science-based reports I used to write for Healthline

I have a new client, Vital Updates, and I know they want me to start writing more about scientific developments related to HIV. Here’s a piece I wrote just last week regarding people with HIV having double the heart attack risk. I encourage the HIV scientific community to start sending me news releases again.

Many things converged all at once that caused me to stop writing about HIV. I survived a horrifying assault the last night I ever took a drink, Memorial Day 2014. Around the anniversary date of that assault, something traumatic happened to me again. I have written about these things piecemeal rather extensively, and people in the HIV community who worked closely with me around the time that they happened know the details and hopefully understand. I apologize if I ever offended any of them, and I’m sure I probably did.

It all was so traumatic, that I have since “ghosted” anyone, anyplace, or anything that was part of my life when these horrific events went down, simply to avoid triggers. I have stopped short of moving because my dad did not leave me the family home, and I have not sunk a bunch of money into remodeling it, to just up and leave. I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere.

Even though most of the people, places and things in my life (I have changed grocery stores, banks, everything) had NOTHING to do with the traumatic event itself, PTSD doesn’t really differentiate when it comes to triggers. If they were a big part of your life when that bad stuff happened (and in the case of HIV, relate to the trauma in an unfortunate sense because it’s a topic you write about professionally) you must just step aside for a while and catch your breath to move past it.

And what happened to me did have a lot to do with HIV, as far as I’m concerned, even if I am not infected. I thought about getting into that a bit in this piece, but I’ll save that for a later date, if I ever feel comfortable writing about it at all.

Read more: After being raped in 2007 and assaulted in 2014, I finally put down the bottle

Then there is the matter of Danny Pintauro

When Danny Pintauro first told Oprah, and then went on The View, about contracting HIV while high on crystal meth, boy did I ever just want to hug him. I, too, had a RAGING crystal meth addiction when I lived in Los Angeles (and sadly, it’s ravaging the community where I live now, the Quad-Cities, my hometown, all these years later).

Suddenly, several of the bi-coastal gay opinionmakers emerged with fierce nastiness. They attacked Danny for taking personal responsibility for his addiction (he never said he was a “moral failure,” he simply took PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. This is what you’re supposed to do if you want to better yourself.)

BUT WORSE, so much worse, is that they began attacking him for saying he contracted HIV from oral sex. Let me tell you something: When you have bleeding, open, oral apthous ulcers, which you get from doing tons and tons of meth (particularly smoking it), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that hell yes you can get HIV from oral sex. These “activists” who blasted him and claimed otherwise were talking out their blowholes. Period!

I, too, had the oral apthous ulcers at one time in Los Angeles. I also had all the symptoms of acute HIV infection and ended up going to the doctor. The doctor was certain I was infected and even surmised I got it through oral sex because of the oral apthous ulcers and my sexual history of the previous month. Danny’s story rang true with me in every. Single. Way. The attack by the bi-coastal gay opinionmakers was unwarranted, irresponsible, and a bunch of poo. Period.

PrEP: A great tool for many, but causing problems, too

That brings me to PrEP, and the “sex positive” campaigns. From day one, I said that I DO NOT think Michael Weinstein is a “nut.” I think he believes what he says, and I understand where he is coming from, even if I don’t always agree with him.

What has happened since PrEP? STIs. THROUGH. THE ROOF. Truth. Period. Many gay men, particularly those already at elevated risk of HIV infection, don’t need encouragement in being promiscuous, especially with crystal meth raining down like confetti all over the U.S. I speak from experience. For many years, I was as promiscuous as they come. For me, it was about my drug and alcohol abuse more than anything else. Once I got sober, the promiscuous behavior just stopped. Because it’s not who I am.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that I am three years sober in May, but miracles do happen, and can happen for anyone who wants to change. There’s a lot of great help out there.

At the same time, the mantra of “impossible to transmit if undetectable” is dangerous, in my opinion, because it largely is based on the trust of your partner, who you may not know very well at all. Let’s face it, in the era of Grindr, Scruff, Craigslist, etc., many gay sexual encounters are with partners people don’t know a whole lot – if anything — about. And “impossible to transmit if undetectable” does not jive with what doctors have told me for years, which is that viral loads can blip. So, for the people who frequently use those platforms, PrEP probably is a good idea if they’re not using condoms (but who really wants a strain of potentially untreatable gonorrhea anyway?)

While even I at one time scoffed at Weinstein’s insistence that condoms shouldn’t be thrown out like the baby with the bath water, let’s face it. He has turned out to be right. I know that is very painful for many people!

I may be sexless and out of touch, but my experience is not unique

Admittedly, the issue of HIV doesn’t directly affect me right now as much as it has in the past. I have not had sex of any kind in over three years, and see nothing but a sexual desert on the current horizon. So admittedly, I am “out of touch.”

I realize that is not “normal” in the view of many gay men, or even healthy. Naturally I hope the “drought” doesn’t last forever, but when you don’t have anyone in your life who you want to have sex with, why would you have it?

Another point I want to make: I have heard numerous reports from people my age and older who told me they stopped using PrEP after suffering bone density loss and kidney problems. I can assure you, these are people who love sex, are not “prudes,” but felt the medication was doing more harm than good. It’s a personal choice.

Please read this excellent Los Angeles Times piece on Truvada if you never have. Outstanding reporting.

I want to end this way-too-long piece with this. Since I stopped writing about HIV, I have lost lots of followers to my Facebook page who used to follow me for HIV news. And that’s understandable. Yet I have more page likes than ever before, because now I write about other things, too.

Here’s my point, and why I fully intend to start writing about HIV more frequently: The stigma and the ignorance about the disease still is SO BAD, that when I do write about HIV these days, I lose page likes. Every. Single. Time.

For sure this piece will cost me plenty of followers. And that’s fine. I believe in authenticity, I still support every effort to encourage HIV testing, access to affordable treatment for all, and the realistic goal of ending the epidemic once and for all. I plan to continue to do my part in helping to accomplish that.

Research explains how my writing, not lots and lots of meetings, got me sober

 

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Originally published Aug. 19, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission. This piece had almost 8,000 page views on Contributors as of Dec. 3, 2016.

By David Heitz

My sobriety has left a lot of people speechless.

After all, I took my first sip in 1984 at the age of 14 and, off and on, drank heavily for 30 years. When I wasn’t drinking, I was in the throes of a crystal meth addiction. When I escaped the wickedness of meth, I ran right back into the arms of booze. For many years, cocaine was in the mix, too.

So how have I gotten sober? And has it really been as easy as I say it has been?

It has, and for me the key to getting sober hasn’t so much been a higher power, but for the first time in many years, having meaning in my life.

I got wind this week of some groundbreaking research published last year in the Journal of Social Service Research titled “Attachment Style, Spirituality, and Depressive Symptoms Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Naelys Diaz, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Florida Atlantic University, and colleagues studied a group of 77 people receiving substance abuse treatment at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches in Florida.

Read more: When is it time to thrown in the towel on AA, and what other options are there?

They found that those who reported having meaning in their life were less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than those who reported a perceived “closeness to God,” otherwise known as “a higher power” in 12-step programs.

People who report secure attachment styles – people with positive views of both themselves and others – long have been known to be at a lesser risk of depression. They are more likely to form trusting, intimate, emotional bonds with other people.

The Realities of Insecure Attachment Styles

But it is people with insecure attachment styles who are more at risk for substance abuse, and the depression that leads to relapse when trying to get sober. People with insecure attachment styles fall into three subcategories:

  1. Preoccupied. These people have a negative view of self, but a positive view of others. Their insecurity stems from feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and fear of abandonment by others.

I’ve been in this terrible place. It’s not a good place to be if you want to make good choices about who you hang out with, as opposed to hanging out with just anyone who will pay you some attention, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind.

  1. Dismissive. People with dismissive styles are likely to have a positive view of self, but still often have a negative view of others. I admittedly am trying to crawl out of this category and develop a secure attachment style.
  1. Fearful. People with fearful styles have negative views of both themselves and others. Their lack of personal worth coupled with expectations of abandonment interfere with the possibility of developing healthy intimate relationships.

Why Meaningful Lives Are Critical in Sobriety

So, if meaning in life is more important to the success of people battling substance abuse and depression (which often leads to relapse), why all the focus on God and a higher power?

“People need to find security in terms of their relationships,” Diaz said. “If they don’t find it with their relatives, they’re going to look for that sense of safety and community elsewhere. For people with an insecure attachment style, a relationship to God is the next best thing.”

The problem is that if the perceived relationship with God or a “higher power” isn’t enough to keep them wholly satisfied, it won’t ward off the depression that likely will lead to relapse.

I have more meaning in life than I’ve ever had. That’s because I feel like my health reporting truly makes a difference and helps people. I don’t have HIV or hepatitis C, for example, but I know that when I write about these topics it helps people not only who have these diseases, but who may be at risk for them. To me, that provides much more satisfaction than I ever got writing or editing stories in the newspaper about road work. I can say the same about how I feel regarding my reporting on elder care and caregiving.

In 12-step groups, they describe this sort of satisfaction from helping others as “service work.” It may come in the form of volunteering at a nursing home or a school, for example.

Second, the writing process for me is a form of creative expression, and those creative feelings just make me feel generally good – a fix, if you will. Others enjoy such creative benefits by cooking, gardening or building things, for example.

Read more: Renowned addiction writer says shaming doesn’t work, nor do 12-step programs for opioid addicts 

Third, living by myself, in a quiet neighborhood, and even working in solitude, gives me a feeling of peace and calmness that I never before have had the opportunity to experience.

 A Three-Pronged Path to Staying Sober

All of these things have helped create a sober David, and that’s no surprise, Diaz said.

Soon, Diaz will have a paper published in the Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work along with colleague Gail Horton outlining how service to others, moments of solitude and creative activities can help people find meaning in life and get them on the path to recovery, she said. They call this model the “three-leg stool.”

“AA works for many, many people,” Diaz stressed. “But some people have no relationship with God, or their relationship with God is hurting them at this point in time and needs to be addressed in treatment. In those cases (the relationship with God) can be more connected to the symptoms.”

Diaz said treatment centers need to work harder to foster creative activities (painting, drawing, writing, dancing, gardening), solitude (praying, meditating, walking a labyrinth) and service to others.

Is it really a surprise that people who have meaning in their life are less likely to be engulfed by drugs and alcohol?

For many people, sobriety needs to be about more than meetings.

 

Sibling v. Sibling: A Binding Caregiving Contract Can Keep Drama Out of Court

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Originally published July 11, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which is no longer live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

My father’s dementia has turned out to be the ugliest thing I ever experienced in my entire life.

Worse than my parents’ horrible marriage. Worse than my mother’s death when I was only 24. Worse than being physically and sexually assaulted.

Not only has dad’s cognitive decline been heartbreaking – seeing him act like a child, and in recent months, seeing him cry – but what the disease has done to my family relationships may be beyond repair.

I’m not alone. As crazy as my family’s story is – and I’ll spare you the chilling details – it’s a scenario being played out every day, coast to coast, family to family.

For example, take radio superstar Casey Kasem. His children battled Kasem’s wife so they could be in control of their dad’s care. Country crooner Glen Campbell’s children did the same thing.

The story can go something like this: Dad begins to decline in his senior years, sometimes sooner rather than later. At some point, one of the siblings decides to take it upon themselves to begin checking in on the parent. What may start out as a daily visit to dad turns into three daily visits to dad.

Along the way, the caregiving sibling eventually ends up quitting his or her job. He or she becomes completely dependent on dad … for everything … even for his or her own medications, which the father forgets about and ultimately stops paying for. The sibling develops health problems of all kinds, possibly including psychological problems and/or substance abuse.

Meanwhile, the other sibling knows nothing about the verbal abuse the caregiving sibling is enduring, or the fear of dad falling down the stairs, the countless times the caregiver has to pick dad up off the floor, the mopping up of urine and feces, constantly putting out fires (sometimes literally, in the case of the parent with dementia being a smoker), corralling dad back inside when he begins to go outside to mow the grass at 2 a.m. … the nightmare goes on and on. Later on, the uninvolved sibling may come to know it all was true, but doesn’t want to acknowledge that. He still believes it must have all been his brother’s fault.

Often, the caregiving sibling is not the sibling in charge of the parent’s affairs. So when disaster strikes and the parent ends up in a facility, the uninvolved sibling with power of attorney launches threat after threat after threat at the sibling who already has been beaten down for years by the parent.

The resentment on both ends runs so deep, the battles often become legal. The non-caregiving sibling in charge of affairs feels the other sibling got a “free ride” for years and years. Depending on how much he or she believes the caregiving sibling got out of the deal, the deeper the resentment is.

The sibling who did the caregiving all those years is left shaking his or her head, picking up the pieces of his or her own life. Meanwhile, the caregiving services that he or she provided for so many years for $12 a day, plus free housing for many of those years, now costs dad $150 per day, possibly more.

Diane Carbo is the founder of CaregiverRelief.com. Diane is a registered nurse with almost four decades of experience. She specializes in elder care, including dementia care, as well as making the peace among feuding families.

“Some are told they lived in the house for free and shouldn’t have any of the estate,” Carbo told NBC News for a story about dementia ripping families apart. “Others are taken to court.”

I had my own conversation with Carbo on Friday. I asked her, “Can anything be done to avoid a court battle, even when it’s to the point of police involvement and siblings not speaking?”

She said yes, and it’s called a binding caregiving contract. At some point, the siblings can sit down and decide who is going to do what to maximize the best care for the parent at the lowest cost. It may involve one sibling making regular visits to the nursing home, maybe twice a day, and when emergencies arise (which happens a lot), in exchange for payment or rent-free housing in the parent’s home.

She said the most important thing when placing a loved one in a facility is to make sure they are getting true medical care, and that the family is able to visit the loved one as much as possible. Regardless of where a parent ends up, the way to ensure quality care is to make frequent, surprise visits.

She warned against assisted-living facilities.

“Here’s the problem with assisted living. Family members think they have coverage with all the medical needs, that somebody is going to be there all the time if something happens. That’s not the case,” Carbo told me.

Carbo said stories of injured patients lying in a pool of blood for several hours before being found are not unheard of. Certified nursing assistants sitting in the break room eating Laffy Taffy, fighting amongst one another or screaming at their boyfriend on their cellphone while one or more residents lie sprawled out on the floor — that’s not so unusual either. “People think assisted living is the end all be all, because then a parent doesn’t have to go into an (even more expensive) nursing home,” she said. “What they don’t understand is, it’s the most dangerous type of setting for anybody. It’s a social model, not a medical model. The type of care you’re getting is somebody who works at Burger King giving you your medicine.”

Of course, some places aren’t really that bad. But others are worse.

And the truth is, the same goes with nursing homes. She recalled visiting someone at a nursing home in Philadelphia. When she got to the man’s room, there was no soap, no towels and no wash pan. “The situation was so appalling I called the nursing supervisor. Their comment was that it wasn’t their problem.’”

Looks can be very, very deceiving when it comes to elder facilities, Carbo warned. “I don’t care what the facility looks like. It may have the reputation of being the very best. But unseemly things go on, and it’s not always the best of care.”

Ultimately, sometimes the state steps in and takes control when siblings can’t get along and there is proof of neglect. “Eventually, the nursing home goes after the (patient’s) house, so it’s good to hold on to it as long as possible as opposed to selling it. Once it’s sold, the money is easy to get.”

Coming up: Caregivers in America often die even before the person they’re caring for, statistics show. That’s because they stop taking care of themselves.

(Photo courtesy of Diane Carbo)