Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Getting Real-- Dealing with Substance Abuse in Families. Advice for Coping and Healing.

   Getting Real--Dealing With Substance Abuse in Children & Families

   I have written in past blogs about problems that have touched my life, and the life of my family.
No use trying to sweep it under the rug now. Matter of fact I refuse to do that.  AA has a sobriety saying "You're only as sick as your secrets."  That is true for families and codependents as well as
addicts and alcoholics.   We are finally in a great place after many years of struggle.  Our son and daughter in law are clean, sober, recovered, maintaining sobriety, healthy, and their son returned to them.   I give God the credit for the miracle of recovery. I give thanks and honor to the family, friends, social workers, law enforcement officers, court officials, who have helped us along the way.
Thanks for the support, prayers, encouragement, acceptance, and the endurance to stay the course.

   I am writing this blog for several purposes.  One is that I personally do not feel it is right to cry out
to others in crisis, then fail to share the joy of answers and progress.  You should always come to those people later and share gratitude, updates of a positive nature with them.  This is supporting your own support system! It brings hope and goodness to all.   Another reason is to avoid the secrets, lies, stigma of substance abuse in families.  Today there is hardly a family or person who has not been touched by addiction or alcoholism in some form.   No sense being ashamed or hiding it.  I also do not want to glamorize it or make it seem "normal".  It is neither of those things.  A final reason is to
provide practical advice and planning options for those who may encounter situations like what we have faced.  I refuse to let the lessons we've learned be wasted.

The Beginning of Addiction--When It All Starts

   Our son was around fifteen when he began using drugs. It began with smoking pot which to him was "not a big deal." It is in fact a very big deal for a kid that age or younger to start using marijuana.
It leads to stunted emotional development. It results in actual physical changes in the brain that will have to be overcome later once and if they ever quit.  It is worse depending upon the age of the child, their size and weight, the amount used and the amount of times it is used.  One time now and then use is not going to produce as many harmful effects as daily or more than once daily use. 
For our son marijuana was a definite gate way to other, harder drugs later.  

      As a parent if you have a gut instinct that something is not right please heed that inner voice.
You are the parent.  The child is living under your roof. Do not feel bad about "invading privacy". 
Do room searches, Check on them to see if they are really where they say they are.  Keep up with their friends and the friends parents!   Check cell phones.  Check vehicles.  Check computer communications.  Check gaming systems.  X Box and some game systems can be used to communicate online.  Our son's X Box had a secret compartment in the back we did not know about.
It was where he kept his stash of weed.   Lastly drug test them randomly and regularly if you find out
they are using.  It is not real expensive to drug test and it is a deterrent. It helped for a number of years to staunch the behavior.   

     Really find out not only who their friends are and what they are about.. check up on their friends parents too.  We had a kid Jared ran around with whose living situation was very poverty stricken.  I foolishly refused to judge them based upon their finances.  It is wrong to be prejudiced against people because of their poverty.   The problem here was that they were in poverty because the parents were bad human beings.  I did not REALLY know who they were.   The dad was a pot grower and drug dealer.  Both of those parents put on the appearance of being very nice people. Once we were not around they were permitting our kid and theirs to smoke pot in their presence because they were 
users and dealers themselves.   If the situation looks funky............ keep your kid out of there.
Believe yourself when the sketch factor is up there.. your kid doesn't need to be in that home.
Another seemingly very nice and supportive man and woman were addicts themselves.  Users and dealers. The dad was a fence for stolen goods.  It doesn't matter how it seems on the surface. 
Check around and find out from people you really trust if the parents and kids are what they seem to be.   Even with all that said and done you may still get snookered.  

   Love your kid.  Don't give up on them.  We kept Jared from getting too messed up from age fifteen until he turned eighteen.   Get help and support for yourself starting now.  Get involved in Nar Anon, Al Anon, Celebrate Recovery or some twelve step support group for the family.   Work the  twelve steps daily.  Pray and ask for prayer from others. Encourage your child or require your child to go to such meetings as NA, AA, Celebrate Recovery and things that give them the tools to get and stay clean.  They may not like it, but you are not there to be popular.  They may also not really avail themselves of it, but it is free and it cannot do
any harm.  Be careful to avoid NA and AA groups which have a high percentage of people attending who are required to do so by the law!  Chances are those folks are not serious at all about recovery and are only doing so to stay out of jail.  Do your homework before taking your kid to those. You may be taking them into a situation where they are just getting additional tips to become a better addict.  
Progression into Harder Drugs

    Our son graduated with honors.  He scoped out colleges and trade schools. We were very supportive. He was holding down a job part time while going to school.  We had gotten him involved in a recovery program and a church basketball program.  He got really into Young Life which was great.   He was on a waiting list for a trade school for auto body repair.  He started a good job at a local grocery store while he waited to start school.  During this time period he went from bad to worse. He was working with a friend from high school who ended up leading him further down the road into more serious addiction.   He ended up on pain pills and really really liked them.  Reader's Digest condensed version he went from marijuana to pain pills, to whatever he could get his hands on, to black tar heroin before it was all over.

      He was dealing drugs to support his habit.  He lost his job. He had a series of wrecks.
He was having regular run ins with the law.  It got so bad I was afraid to shut my eyes with him in the house.  We had to eventually kick him out.  I was so stressed out by this point I could not lay down and shut my eyes without waking up screaming.  My hair was falling out by the fist full.  I went for counseling. I got to the doctor. I got on medication for a diagnosis of depression.  It turned out not to be depression and the medicine and the doctors and counselors were not helping me.
I had PTSD just like some Vietnam vets I had cared for.    I had one of them tell me what was wrong with me and he had more sensible advice and help than my doctor.  I got into Al Anon.
I found a supportive group of women who really helped me. God sent lots of different and unexpected people my way to help me recover.  I worked for a long time on my own codependency.
I fought back from my craziness but it took a long time to get right.  We tried moving him to
Virginia to live with family because of death threats toward him and our family by his associates.

      It seemed for awhile to help.  It was not better.  Finally we just moved him home again.
I enrolled him in rehab at the Life Center at Galax.  He went and started rehab there.
It was good for him and good for us.  He transitioned from there to a halfway house program in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was marvelous.  He was healthy. He was functioning.  We were healthy as a family again.  Prayers were answered.  Little by little over a course of two years Jared lost his sobriety.   The difference this time?  We were not the same two parents who started down this road with him.   Now we were two stronger, more resilient, resourceful parents with a united front.
My mom was amazing in all this.  She has been my rock through the entire ordeal. I thank God for her love, support and wisdom.

          The Long Haul --Relapse as Part of Recovery

   We knew Jared surely was not clean and sober any longer.   He could not hold down a job. He
looked sickly.  He was living with roomies that were just awful.  They were nearly as bad as him.
We went over to the house where he was living to visit him.  He was not home, yet his car was there.
I walked around that dark, depressing house. I looked out on the back deck and saw trash bags waist deep covering the entire thing.  We talked that day and got real honest. He had been using heroin.
He had gotten to the point where he knew he could not continue.  He got off the stuff and into a suboxone clinic.   He had a friend take him to the clinic that morning for his dose.   He was already admitting he had a bad problem. He was ready to come home to us.  We were ready to bring him home.   No more anger. No more resentment. No judgement or criticism.  Just love and acceptance.
He could not come home with us that day. He would have to work out the logistics of how to transfer
his care from the clinic in Asheville to the one in Knoxville.   A few days before Christmas he moved home.   He was very sick. We were downhearted over the setback, but this time we had a grasp on the fact that relapse is part of recovery. It happens.  The good news was that he wanted help and was willing to come home and get sober again.   A setback like this doesn't mean everything you've done up til now was for nothing.  Don't give up. Don't despair.  Get up and try again.

      Jared & I attended a Celebrate Recovery meeting .. a new Christian based twelve step program
at the Methodist church.  We went to a meeting and he got a white chip.  He told me he had something to show me.  He rolled up his sleeve and showed me his arm.  He had a horrible abscess.
I was still working as a nurse in a big hospital at the time so I knew what I was seeing. I also knew what it meant was coming for him.   Yet God is good and He had given me the tools and the peace I needed to cope with it.  I never batted an eye. I just said "Son, we've got to go to the emergency room now to get you treated."  I knew he'd be admitted and he was.  They did the surgery that night to drain the abscess. They were wonderfully compassionate and caring.  They did not judge him or mistreat him the way I'd seen some nurses do in the facility where I worked.  They were an example of Christlike love and care.   Say what you want about Blount Memorial Hospital but they were awesome too him and to me.   Our pastor Rev. Tom Waring was right there the next day.  He was
as supportive and encouraging as he could be.  Jared loves him and so do we.  His guidance and wisdom helped a bunch for all of us.   Little did I know that two days later I'd be hospitalized myself in the same facility.

Don't Hang onto Things That Hurt You

  God had put it on my heart more than a year earlier that I needed to leave my current job. Yet I was 
still there. Still holding on.  Afraid to let go.    It is unwise to work in a trauma center caring for a patient population where a high percentage of them are substance abusers if you are dealing with an addict in your personal life.  It took having my head blown up by Miller Fisher syndrome to get my attention. I was hospitalized with an illness that could have killed me. It could have left me with serious and lasting deficits.  Yet I recovered thanks to God's healing power.  
I was ready to be obedient now.  I prayed and asked God to please help me learn the lessons He was teaching me the first time. I asked Him to help me not to struggle against it anymore. He heard my prayer and answered.  Long story short I got out of the hospital, but had it not been for Jared being at home working on his own recovery from illness and addiction...... I'd not have been able to be discharged home. I'd have had to go into a nursing home type facility for rehab until I was better able to care for myself.  I could not drive. I could barely walk.   Yet here I was with this sweet son of mine caring for me very tenderly.  I needed him. He needed me. He was inspired to work harder at sobriety because he was needed!   I did go back to work in time and stayed in a different position same facility for five months.  I quit when I knew it was absolutely time. I could not get out of there fast enough.
Being out of that environment was more healing for me and  my family than I could ever have imagined.   I did not realize the extent it had harmed me until long time later when I got healthier. 
I got some perspective on the true nature of it in my body, soul and emotions.  Just as the substance abuser needs to get rid of the drugs.. I needed to get rid of a noxious stimulus in my own life.

                    Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Any Worse

   I spent a lot of time with that "waiting for the other shoe to drop" feeling.  Once I had gotten rid of
my job and become a full time homemaker I lost some of that. I also lost much of that feeling of constant worry once Jared got sober again.   He met the woman who would become my daughter in law.  It was a God thing for sure and we all knew it. This was good. She was a recovering addict
herself with some sobriety under her belt at this point.  Just about the time I let go of that feeling of constant dread and anticipation of the next bad thing....... the next bad thing did show up on our door step.   I knew Jared looked bad when he was hospitalized, but he had an abscess. He also was on suboxone which can itself give the patient a strange pallor.   He was jaundiced.  A few weeks after his hospital visit he was informed he had Hepatitis C.   He told me and he also told me there was a cure for it.   It used to be more or less a death sentence. It was not a matter of IF but WHEN.
Now there are meds that can not only heal the damage but totally cure the patient!

     The total cost of the cure we figured would come in at $90,000.  Now I'm not working and neither is this kid. He has insurance, but it was not going to cover the cost of the drug.   I was devastated at first trying to figure how we were going to save him?  I did a lot more praying.  God is faithful to answer.  Our insurance company rep told me what steps to take to get the medicine.  I followed her instructions. Jared's gastroenterologist was very helpful in knowing how to navigate the waters of Big Pharma.   Blount Discount Pharmacy out on Hall Road moved Heaven and Earth to get the medicine for him at a greatly reduced cost.  We ended up paying about $600 out of pocket.   The makers of the drug while they charge a high fee are willing to sell it for less and eventually give some of it away for free.  He was cured! Viral load 0.   With the help of the Lord we had overcome another hurdle.

Hold On.. This is Gonna Hurt Like Hell

     It is not always a wise move for two addicts to marry, but marry they did!   We loved our 
daughter-in-law dearly.   We were proud of them and could see they clearly loved each other and were meant to be together.    They got their own home.   I prayed that because of all the things they had dealt with that they would not try to have children.  I just could not see that it would be a good thing.  I felt sure it would be disastrous.  At some point a year or so into their marriage they did
get pregnant though.  What I did not know then was that they were both still going to a suboxone clinic to stay clean.   They were not 'clean" and sober by working the steps.  I was not happy about
the use of the suboxone to stay off street drugs, but the alternative was worse. I was not going to sweat it.      The trouble I knew was coming was that now you've got a pregnant mom on this stuff.
That means you can't go off it during the pregnancy without risking a miscarriage or still birth.
It also means that you're going to have a baby in NICU detoxing once it is born.  It means Child Protective Services is going to be up in your business for a spell.  It is not going to be pleasant.
I had worked NICU and IMCN with drug babies so I knew what to expect.   I also knew Lydia was taking the least subutex she could get by with.   She was doing this deliberately so it improved the baby's chances of a shorter detox.   

   June 4, 2016 Gabriel came into the world.  He was beautiful and healthy and perfect.   A few days after his birth she was discharged home and he went to Childrens Hospital NICU to detox.   I was at that hospital nearly every day to hold him.  I think I missed two days out of two weeks.  He went through the shakes and spitting up.  No seizures though.  He was nowhere near as bad as some babies I'd cared for in his withdrawals.  Child services was indeed called and we were all involved in this process of trying to ensure this baby would be safe at home with his parents.  For any grandparent who has ever gone through this I'm preaching to the choir.  If you thought that the pain it caused you to have your own child addicted was bad.... the pain of knowing an innocent grandchild is affected by this mess is far worse. The position addicted children put their parents in when they reproduce is 
exquisitely painful.  They have you over the proverbial barrel.  You are going to love this child. 
What they do not count on though is that your focus in worrying about them is now gone. 
You love them, but you cannot fix them and you know it.  The child however did not have a choice in this and you are going to do whatever it takes to care for that baby.  

     They successfully completed their probationary period at home with the baby.
They were both still going to the clinic to stay sober. Using suboxone to stay off the street drugs supposedly.   At some point after the three months CPS was involved both me and Lydia's mom began to strongly suspect something was wrong in the home.   No proof.  Baby seems ok, but
both grandmas instincts are firing off warnings.  We both spent a lot of time caring for Gabriel
because we were fearful for his safety and care.   I had a feeling  something was coming. I just wasn't sure what.  Jared came to pick the child up one evening and was staggering in my living room.
He was so impaired he could barely walk.  I told him he would drive that baby home in his car over my dead body.   I went to put on shoes and grab my purse to take them both home.   I had called Lydia and knew she was home and was straight.   He had too much to drink and got behind the wheel.
I was livid.   The next day I prayed about it and called Child Protective Services.  I did not want to, but I had no choice.  CPS views grandparents or family members who know there is a problem but don't report it or lie to cover it up to be worse than the parents who are messing up.  I could not see that I had any choice but to call.  I was not going to lie. Given a choice between seeing my grandson taken out of the home and given into foster care versus seeing him killed in a drunk driving accident guess which one I'm going to choose every single time?  I went through a period after that of being told I was "out of Gabriel's life forever".  I thought I would die of grief.   It did not last long. About a day thankfully.  It was just another flavor of pain.

              Alternatives to Calling Child Protective Services Yourself? 

   Prior to all this coming to a head I had talked to wise women who had been down this road before.
Two of my daughter's co workers had dealt with this successfully and have been a fantastic support system for me.   I pray for them daily.  I was advised to go ahead like they did and have a plan in place already.  I asked Jared & Lydia to sign temporary custody of Gabriel over to me and Kenny.
I did not want to take him away from them. I just did not want CPS involved. It was so scary to me.
I viewed them as the enemy or going to take our baby away.  They were too drugged out to think rationally and refused to do it.   I don't know why I expected rational,logical thought from two persons who were incapable of it at that time.    If you can get your adult child to do this... do it!
Then if they feel like they are going to mess up....... they can bring you the child and no social services involved.   If they get straightened out again you can give the child back.  This was my plan, but it was not in the cards.  

          I had been informed by someone I trusted deeply do NOT call child protective services yourself.   Speak to your area's trusted deputies or police officers. Tell them discreetly what you suspect is going on.  They'll watch the home closely.   If the parents are messing up they'll get caught.  CPS will be called,but you won't be the bad guy for having done it.    If the parents are mad at you they can tell social services they don't want you to have contact with the child so you don't want to piss them off.   Let someone else do the dirty work.  They don't care to do it. Then you're free and clear to care for your grandchild without a guilty conscience or anger from your adult child addicts.

       I did a lot more praying and watching and so did Nana Debbie.   God answered prayers too.
There are accounts in the Old Testament of the Bible where God caused Israel's enemies to become confused and fight one another or destroy themselves.   God has a great sense of humor.  I think its a bit on the dark side like mine. One night at 2 a.m.  both parents were so drugged out of their heads on something..... they more or less called the law on themselves because they were hallucinating. They believed they saw a man with a rifle outside their house fixing to shoot them.   The deputies responded and I got a call to come get Gabe.   I told the deputy who responded he had that child's future in his hands and he knew what he had to do.  I told him he'd best do the right thing consequences aside.   I was prepared for whatever came after.   He did put in the report and it was back to Child Protective Services involvement.  Now they're going to be up in our business wearing jackboots.  I spent a good deal of time the next day crying.

Dealing with Child Protective Services and Shared Custody 

    The day after the incident I was called to bring the baby in and come to see CPS worker at her office.  She wanted to see that the baby was ok. She wanted to hear from me what went on.
I spent that day very shaken, upset, and crying. I had the feeling of doom that Gabriel might be lost to  our family.   The case worker reassured me and reminded me of something I needed to hear.  She told me that no matter what the outcome was the child was not lost to me.  He was not lost to the grandparents period. We would continue to be in his life regardless of the choices of the parents.
They could either get clean and sober and win their baby back, or continue to mess up.  Little by little I came to understand they really are not the enemy.   I knew it intellectually, but my heart had to catch up.  I wanted custody of Gabe.    She advised me that I did not know what I was getting into.
She said she believed shared custody was the best thing for him.   Legally there is no such thing as shared custody for a child that young.   On paper one set of grandparents or the other will be the legal guardians.  Once papers are in place you can divvy up the duties however you need to.  She told us we were going to need all parties involved to keep it from overwhelming us.  I argued about it and did not believe her, but she was right.  Having plenty of help is way better!  It gives one set of grandparents a chance to rest and recuperate.  No one wants to be a mom again at 52, but it happens.

    Do not lie to CPS. Do not fear them.  They truly do want the best for the child and the family.
Their ultimate goal is to return the child to the parents care.  Kids do better with their natural parents involved.  They know you're not their real mom or dad.   They are not going to want you the way they long for their own biological parents.  We have had some fantastic bonds formed with these folks.  They don't do it because of the money. They do it because it is a calling and an important one.
Gabriel is now back with his parents. They have put on healthy weight. They are off everything.  They are totally clean, sober and substance free.  No alcohol either!   They have turned out to be
one of the best sets of parents you ever saw.  It has been a 180° turn around. I thank the Lord for it.
It has to feel great to social services to finally see a case where things ended on a positive note.

The Ending--True and Lasting Recovery 

    What happens when the addict or alcoholic in your life finally gets clean and sober?
It is different for everyone.  Some family members with unresolved codependency issues will
have unrealistic expectations of the addict, the alcoholic or the family.   When the expectations are not met they become angry and start blaming others.    Some family members enjoy feeling
"sainted" for having such a cross to bear.  Once the addict or alcoholic gets well they are angry
because they are no longer viewed as saintly or pious, dutiful.  They have been using the family problems of addiction to cover for their own failings.  Once they can't do that they can become
resentful.   Don't let that be you. You have to learn to adjust to the new "normal" and enjoy life again.

    I am having to adjust to being a grandmother again and not "mama".  I am doing fine and making
the most of this time.  I tell people there is no pleasing me.  I cannot get much done with Gabriel here, but when he is not here I miss him and want him here.   It will take time for me to stop feeling
this way.   I never let go of my hobbies and interests, but I did let myself focus intently on my responsibilities parenting a baby.  I am finding my way again. Gradually I will lose that "lost" sense.
What am I forgetting to do?  Where is Gabe?  Oh that's right.. he is not here. He's back at his home.
I am going back to my life, but it is not going to be my former life.  This one is better than ever.
I don't have to worry or wonder anymore if Gabriel is truly safe and cared for. He is.  I will lose that sense of being duty bound, but knowing me it will be a little while before it goes away.  I am a care giver and it is just my nature.  I am trying to be sure not to "borrow trouble" and allow myself to
fall into old anxieties.   So far so good.  I am realizing that my kids now have jobs to go to.  They are making healthy choices about activities they want to be involved in. They are going to church where they choose.  They have their own healthy, vibrant life to live.   I'm happy about that. I don't have the sense of wanting to control them, but I do have to remind myself not to be surprised or interfere when
they have plans.  

       I had to work hard on recovering from co-dependency.   I will always have to make sure I don't go back to being that way.  One reason is for my own health and sanity.  The other reason is for the health, sanity and sobriety of the addicts.   My unresolved co-dependency could potentially be the very thing that sets them up for a relapse!  I have to work on me!

   One tool to maintain my own recovery is to continue to pray. I need to attend support meetings such as Celebrate Recovery   Another is to continue to work the Twelve Steps.   I  need to keep in mind the words of the Serenity Prayer.  I will continue to maintain my hobbies and activities that bring me enjoyment.  Such things are important to the family members health.  They are what Stephen King calls "hedges against the night". It is out of a passage from his book Duma Key.   The main character in the story has been through a hellish life experience and very nearly died and nearly lost his mind.
His psychiatrist tells him he needs" hedges against the night" . These are things that bring us joy
and do not depend upon others.   It helps keep out the "night" of depression and despair. This is also true for the addict.  They need to use their free time to develop some hobbies and interests if they do not have any.  If they do have them they need to set aside time for them.  Depression and despair are unpleasant emotions that can overwhelm.  This could trigger a relapse.

         On the topic of emotions being a trigger :There were two things the court required Jared & Lydia to do that turned out to be excellent. 1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions.  It helps you learn to process and teaches coping strategies for dealing with emotions. ALL emotions but especially the negative ones that cause distress.  2.  They had to attend parenting classes. The bonds formed with the instructor and the other parents was very supportive and positive.  It truly did help.
All of it helped.

      Remember that while long term sobriety is the goal relapse can happen.  Don't allow yourself
to get caught up in thinking if it occurs that this is it. We're done for. It's all over with now baby blue.
Relapse may just be a brief bump in the road. The sooner the addict or alcoholic reverses course and does something positive to cope with it the better.   If you are maintaining your meetings and steps you won't be overwhelmed if relapse comes.  The top ten most common triggers for relapse into drug or alcohol use are:

1. HALT-- hungry, angry, lonely, tired.  Do not allow yourself to become too much of any one of these.

2. Emotions--perceived negative emotions help return the user to that intolerable state in their life
that lead to use to begin with.

3.Stress-- loss of job, divorce or romantic relationship break up, death in the family,  increased responsibilities, health problems.

4.Overconfidence. Thinking it can't happen to me.  Be confident, but remain humble and do the work.

5.Mental or physical illness surgery, injury and use of prescription pain killers even for legitimate reasons must be done very carefully and options weighed. Seeking alternatives to opioid pain killers is wise if it can be avoided.

6. Social isolation-- failure or reluctance to reach out or connect with others.

7. Sex and relationships-- sometimes it is best to wait to get into one for the first year of sobriety.
In our family's case it was too late for that.  They were already married with a child toward the end!

8.Getting a new job or promotion-- even positive changes can be triggers.

9. Remembering and glamorizing past times of use.  Major red flag here.  Get to a meeting ASAP.
Talk to a sponsor as soon as possible. ( I have personally set a boundary that I will not listen to talk about drug use even from the past. )  Now that they are healthy, clean and sober it is never discussed!

10. Social situations like parties or hanging around places or old friends where drugs or alcohol are available.    
Few Last Words of Advice

   Thanks to all the people in my life and the life of my family who have supported us staunchly during what has been the most hellish time of my life.   I love you all for it and I am thankful for you, for God's gift of recovery.   I would not wish any of this upon my worst enemy.  No one should have to go through this.  Reality is that our county is regrettably number one in the nation for drug use and open child welfare cases because of it.   I pray for our county to become the one with the LEAST drug use.  

        Parents one of the things that I had to come to terms with is that it was quite possible Jared
was never going to get well. I had to make up my mind that I was going to be okay regardless of
what he chose to do.   I had to come to terms with the reality that he might well overdose and die.
I started praying way back there that God would send him to the bottom fast so he could turn around
and start back up.  Don't hold back the hands of God. Be careful what you pray for.  Pray for HIS will and you won't ever go wrong.  

     Narcan is the antidote for overdose.  There is a wonderful movement in this country to make it widely available to fire, ems, law enforcement, or even to family members like me who have an addict in the home.   I realize drug use and abuse is a personal choice to start with, but I do not see the good in allowing a bad decision to be a final decision.  I plan to talk to my pharmacist about
purchasing some and training me on the kits.  I hope I never need it. Look into it if you are in a place where this could happen in your life or home.   You'll be glad you did.

           If you have a child who is driving and you have given them a vehicle and they are
getting behind the wheel impaired...... make certain that car is not titled in your name.
I had a fellow I knew whose daughter was impaired on opiates and wrecked.  She killed her
boyfriend and another woman and injured someone else.   He had the car in HIS name.  The insurance pay out was not enough to cover the cost of the civil suit lodged against him .  He ended up having to refinance his house to pay for it.   Here he is retired and having to pay a second mortgage!
I learned from his mistake.  I made sure Jared's vehicles were in his name.  Just because you have
car insurance doesn't mean you are covered.

     I watched this Ted Talk video by Johann Hari ,and it really enlightened me.
Take fifteen minutes and watch it.  It costs a fortune to go to a TED talk, but these are free.
You will be shocked at the statistics and your mind blown at the revolutionary way the country of
Portugal is coping with addiction.   Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

     Once you've watched this video think about ways you can become more "Portugese" in your thinking and dealing with the addict in your life.  Love and social connection and strong bonds
to society, family, friends are a huge part of bringing healing about.  Bringing about the desired
and hoped for changes.   Give them what we all want. Love, Acceptance. Support.
It doesn't cost anything to do those things.   Until we change our attitudes we are not going to see
results.    I know it because every thing we went through during this last phase worked on those
principles!  We forged strong social bonds in caring for Gabriel as a team. As a family!
You better believe that was part of causing Jared and Lydia to come round.  I can tell you from personal experience what this man is proposing is both true and effective!

           I  once heard from Jack Canfield that in a survey of many near death experience
survivors they were asked two common questions by a Higher Power.  1. What have you done to increase your wisdom.  2. What have you done to increase your capacity to love.  I know
that what I have been through and what we have been through as a family has done both those things. Teaching us to love the unlovely in one another.  Teaching acceptance.  Teaching about life.
If that isn't increasing wisdom I don't know what is.

     I cannot fix your life for you if you are dealing with this. I wish I could.  I can be a listening ear.
I can pray for you.  I can love you. I can sit with you if you live relatively close.
you can reach my by email dkoogler@gmail.com


Friday, May 5, 2017

Black Mountain Loop Hike--Exploring Cumberland County

Close up of Pink Lady Slipper bloom

Black Mountain Loop Hike--Exploring Cumberland County 

Dana Koogler

Friday April 28, 2017

Black Mountain Tennessee Pix

    I had been saying for a long time I wanted to get up to Black Mountain to hike solo.  
The reason was that while there one Spring with Kenny I found loads of wildflowers.  I wanted to go back by myself so I could spend as much time as I wanted wandering around taking pictures.  We did make it back last Spring, but it was with the entire family.  It was not the day to go ambling around taking loads of wildflower pictures.  We had fun, but had to get the kids back to civilization at a decent time and feed them.   I did not see a lot of the previous wildflowers, but since I did not have time to really look I was not surprised.  I got up on what was supposed to be a pretty day to carry out my plans.   I got an early start so I could have all day to explore.    

       I got there around 9 a.m. central time.   I saw only one other car in the parking lot. 
I stopped wherever I pleased on the drive up the mountain to take flower pictures.  I started seeing Carolina pinks along the edges of the road.   They were eye catching hot pink.  I later saw some 
deep purple dwarf larkspur.  I also saw lots of yellow trillium.  
yellow trillium was common
Also saw lots of purple dwarf larkspur

Carolina pinks were plentiful

    I studied the banks along the road on the way up the mountain. I drove very slowly. I had found a spot along there in the past where I saw fairy bells, and so many beautiful trilliums. I had planned on parking the jeep at the nearest pull off and wading around the mountainside just taking pictures of flowers.   I was disappointed to see that the stuff I found on the previous trip were not there.  
It appears that a mowing and weed clearing operation has destroyed those flowers.  I have a feeling that unless they quit mowing that area these flowers are finished permanently.    It was very disappointing.  I understand some brush clearing must be done, but there is no way the small wildflower plants are going to be getting mixed up in the power lines.   They need to find some way to leave them alone. I finally got to the parking area and stopped. I gathered my gear leaving my camera out hanging round my neck. I knew I'd need it very soon.   

A piece of the Cumberland Trail atop Black Mountain.

Two pink lady slippers. I saw lots of these today, but they are only getting going! 

   It was such a sunny, cool day.  The sky was blue and the breeze fresh from the rain.   It felt good to be outdoors.   I decided to leave the main trail and go round to the rocks first.   I started seeing other pretty and interesting things.  The rocks themselves are fascinating in their size, shape and texture.  
Lots of cinnamon ferns sprung up along the trail near the spring house and between the rocks.  Cinnamon Ferns are some of my very favorites.   Lots of history here atop this mountain. Two home sites exist with their chimneys still standing and parts of the walls.  The spring house constructed of rock is a neat addition.   I also saw pinkster azalea blooming.  
Chimney and ruins #2
 Pinkster azalea
Historic spring house
Home site and chimney #1

   I wandered around the old home sites first and the rocks. I had some memories come back to me 
of things long forgotten.  I recalled a guy from the past who used to take his daughters here to this place to learn to climb and rappel.  It would make an excellent place for it.  I wonder if folks are still doing that here from time to time?   We used to be big into the climbing thing, but not for a long time.
I remembered there being cinnamon ferns here, but I didn't know how many!  Lots of them. They are beautiful and my favorite fern species.  I cannot help thinking about how the landscape might have looked thousands of years ago or even further back.  It would have been something to behold the time when the Cumberland Plateau was an island in the midst of a sea.  

Row of cinnamon ferns at the base of one of the rocks
Massive rock in the Spring sunshine.  Love those new green leaves. They are dazzling!
View out among the boulders.

    I reversed course and went to the actual trail and hiked out to the south overlook. I had not encountered a soul up here so far.  I wondered where the person was who owned the other car? They had arrived just ahead of me.  I saw them pass me as I was pulled off the road taking pictures.  I never saw or heard them all day.   The view from the overlook was clear and breath taking as usual.  It is 
a grand stand view out across Grassy Cove.  Grassy Cove is one of North America's most notable sinkholes.   It comes in at around 5 miles of surface area.  All the streams that drain it go subterranean before they leave the cove.  The state of Tennessee now owns Devil Step Hollow and cave to the west.  It is where the underground water from the streams of Grassy Cove comes back out.  They did not even need to do a dye test to figure this out? Why?  Long ago the farmers in the area could tell when the folks in Grassy Cove were harvesting corn because the shucks would come floating out of the stream at Devil Step Hollow Cave. It is only open once a month at this time. We were fortunate to catch it open and go on a guided hike in the past.  I hope in the future they open it more often.
I'd love to do more exploring there especially for wildflowers.  Today sitting here at this overlook
under clear skies with the breeze blowing and listening to the birds sing was a little slice of Heaven.
I watched as the buzzards soared near the overlook.  They are scavengers, but in the air they look graceful.   The breeze was pretty stiff and I was glad I had on a jacket.  I soaked up all I wanted of the beauty and mosied on to see what else I could find.  


View from the South Overlook across Grassy Cove and toward Brady mountain.
Click the link to watch the video South Overlook Video

    I rejoined the trail and continued the loop hike. I went out to where the Cumberland Trail departs and heads toward Windlass Cave.  I hiked down the steps constructed between those massive boulders.  They are the size of rooms or houses!  It is always impressive to me. They are beautiful in their own right.  They are adorned by moss, lichens, ferns and various wildflowers.  It was apparent that some of the wildflowers were not yet blooming while others were finished.   I was a little disappointed in the amount and type of wildflowers here. The ground among the boulders was filled with mayapples in bloom. They smelled sweet!  I took in all the various holes and crevices of the rocks.  I turned on my GPS unit and had it tracking me to "Black Mountain Rocks".  Before I knew it I was like Brer' Rabbit in de briar patch.. his laffin' place.   I was getting clawed up by blackberry briars.  I was also not able to see my feet in some spots thanks to the underbrush.  The ground was extremely rock with holes and soft spots. The GPS said I had another 527 feet of this.  I decided I was not going to risk getting snake bit and I was not willing to get clawed up over it.  I'd pick a better time. I need to wait til it is cold and the snakes are asleep and the briars and brush are dead for the season.   Work smarter.. not harder.   I turned around and went to complete the loop hike.

Down the steps between the rocks!
You walk right under this boulder covered in the prettiest deep green moss and ferns!

      I  continued the loop hike. It is very flat with hardly any elevation change.  I passed the big weather station up top.  I had hiked this before, but it was long ago. It really is pretty.  Ferns and yellow trilliums grew everywhere. I saw more pink lady slippers.  I saw yellow birch in quite a few areas here atop the mountain.  Black Mountain is a quirky place. You can find mention of the population of "disjunct northern species " here on this mountain. One of which is yellow birch.
Another that is mentioned is the Showy lady slipper.  I have read that back decades ago they existed here, but I have also read more recent publications that state experts feel it may be extirpated at the site.  Apparently it has not been found here in a long while. I have read in an individual's blog and
on a campground website the same words about the yellow birch and Showy Lady Slippers.
It reads identically so it seems to me neither of those sources of information is credible. I'd say they are parroting back things they've read elsewhere.  I wish they were right for I'd love to find it here.
I have looked several times without any luck.   Yellow birch trees grow from Canada all the way down into North Georgia.  The further south you go the less of it you see.   We have hiked to high elevation streams in the Great Smoky Mountains and seen these trees a plenty.  While hiking to Upper Ramsey's cascade we saw loads of them. It was so wet up there the  yellow birch trees had water running out the ends of their branches!  I've never seen that before nor since.
Yellow birch tree bark and photo below is the leaves.

  I remembered there should be an overlook on the back of the loop.  It was not long until I came to it.  The forest on this side of the mountain is very beautiful.  It is deep and green and filled with bird songs.  The view is not open here because the trees are still standing and it is only a partial glimpse into the valley below.  The up side to that is that the birds sing more sweetly because they are nearer.
Their homes are all around you.  Looking out through the forest at the valley below from this vantage is like looking at an old post card.  The soft subtle tones of the earth, sky, vegetation are easy on the eyes.  The setting is soothing to the ears and senses in general.   I passed great patches of velvet green moss. I passed amazing fins of rock jutting from the mountain side. I also saw a geocache!  I entered my name in the log book which has been going continously since 2001.  I did not take any objects out, but I did put something in.   Fun!  
Back side of the loop trail on Black Mountain
 carpet of moss on the rocks around the North Overlook

Two fins of rock just down over the mountainside.  

Geocache found near the overlook! 

View from the North Overlook.  Click the link to see the video and hear the bird songs!

    I enjoyed the quiet of the overlook and finally pulled myself away to finish my hike. I completed the loop hike and leisurely strolled back to the jeep.  I saw a few other wildflowers on the way. A few fire pinks, golden alexanders, and a little bit of blue phlox.

Fire pink

Glade phlox <br />
Phlox bifida spp stellaria


   Back at the jeep I still saw only the one vehicle aside from mine.   I had brought lunch with me, but was too excited to eat right now.  Instead I got a sip of something to drink and started driving down the mountain very slowly.  I continued to scan the banks as I went in hopes of seeing the fairy bells I'd been treated to years before.  I never did find them. Yes, I CAN identify wildflowers going down the road at 35 mph. Shoot, I can ID them going down the interstate at 70 mph depending upon the plant!   I did see one cluster of great white trilliums hanging on way up a steep slope.  I will give it some thought and decide if I am giving up on this area for good botanically or if I am just taking a hiatus.  It frustrates me to try to gauge when stuff blooms here.  I come one year and it is too early. I come another year and I'm too late for other things.  I believe if I do come back to botanize here I will make it a study area and visit monthly from mid March through September.  

      Down at the bottom of the mountain I decided I'd get back on I-40 and drive round to Westel Road.  I wanted to check on some things there in the area.  I was not in the mood to go to Ozone Falls today. I had other stuff I wanted to do.   Instead I took a back road and went round to see Umbrella Rock and Fall Branch.   
I first saw Chris Oliver's photos of Umbrella Rock and wanted to visit.  I am glad I did, but my pictures are nowhere near as good!
Umbrella Rock sits right by the road.   It is covered in ferns on top!

Above and below..Fall Branch toward the bridge and upstream toward the cascades.  What a lovely spot!  Umbrella magnolias hung across the stream and yellow butterflies flitted.  The forest here is deep and dark hemlocks.

Below is a video of Fall Branch. The color of the water is that aquamarine that I love!

    I did not hang around Fall Branch long.  I saw lots of posted signs and began to be uneasy.  I was not sure if they pertained to the entire property or if it was just the land on the far side of the stream?
Once I saw them I decided I'd best move on until I knew more about the situation.  I did not see anyone out while back in there to stop to ask.  It is a residential area and I was uneasy being alone.
I did some more checking once I got home and I will tell you what I found out in another blog entry soon to come.

        I wanted to go back round to where we used to ride the four wheeler.  I had not been there in three years.  I had such fond memories of good times there with Kenny. I believed I could find it and walk back there.   I did find it back Dogwood Road, but once again I encountered posted signs.
I did not remember if these had been here before or not?  I was committed now and had no choice but to continue to the road's end so I could at least find a spot to turn around.  Once at the end of the road I could see tracks and it was apparent someone is going back there in a four wheeler.  I decided to chance it and just walk down the dirt track into the woods.  I walked down the red dirt road with water trickling everywhere.   I hoped I'd see wildflowers. I did see lots of dwarf crested iris, but nothing else.   The forest was still pretty.  I came to a nice little stream under the deep gloom of hemlocks.  It hit me then that my memory of the trail was sketchy at best.  I realized it was probably quite a lot further back in the woods to where I'd seen all the good lady slipper orchids in the past.
I turned around and went back.  I enjoyed the peace of the forest. I never saw a soul back here today.
 Stream crossing. I loved all the colorful pebbles along the bottom.
 Dwarf Crested Iris
 Hemlock woods.. we'd better look while we can for they are ailing.
Below is a short video of the creek in the woods. It is "quiet" except for the sloshing of my boots as I tromp through the stream at one point.  

  I hiked back to the jeep and stowed my backpack. I was tired and happy. I had the drive home to face so I decided to get going before getting hung up in rush hour traffic.  I'd had a pretty good day and did not want anything to harsh my mellow.  I already had plans to return here with Kenny as soon as possible.   It did not take anything to convince him we needed to go back.  Lots left to explore!