SHAIR 96: “Unhooked: A Mother's Story" with Annie Highwater, Unhitching from her Son’s Addiction

Annie Highwater joins us today on The SHAIR Podcast. Annie is the author of Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction. This memoir follows the experiences of one mother who started her own life in a neglected home and came to realize how those experiences both helped and hindered the hardest, most heartbreaking, yet illuminating changes of her life, her son’s addiction to opiates.

“I am the mother of an addict. I’m in recovery as much as my addicted son is in recovery.”

Annie learns to understand that her own dysfunctional family upbringing influences her reactions. She is a fighter, never gives up, and digs deep into her past’s successful and unsuccessful strategies, including finding several treatment centers, the good and the disappointing ones. She sets boundaries, enlists resources, and finally moves through her life with determination and acceptance.

As the country struggles to address the issues of the rampant epidemic of opiate abuse and addiction, this story is especially relevant in helping us all understand the personal challenges facing parents and family members and how family dynamics both help and hinder the recovery process.

Unhooked is a short read designed to help families in recovery and open up conversations.

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Omar:  Annie, take us into your normal daily routine, including recovery.

Annie:  Well I tend to be a little obsessive with wellness so I get up extra early and follow a ritual every day. I like to start the day kind of setting intentions and meditating or prayer, whatever. I have a lemon water that I prepare with, I like to take vitamins and do certain things just to begin my day healthy and positive.

Omar:  Do you have a routine, like a recovery routine, that you follow in Nar-Anon or Al-Anon. I’m not too familiar with some of these co-dependent type programs. Tell us a little bit about that.

Annie:  I do go to Nar-Anon and I don’t know that I have a routine so much as I just kind of turn to it as needed. I guess that would be part of my meditation in the morning and I have some daily readings and things like that.

Omar:  One of the questions that I like to ask, is how you maintain your spiritual condition, the practices that you actually do in the mornings?

Annie:  That would be the setting of intentions. I like to spend about 20 minutes meditating. I walk my dog every morning, it’s kind of our routine, it’s about a half-mile circle, I kind of give thanks for the day and pray for protection for people that I care about, and set a positive mindset and kind of start the day with gratitude and peace, being positive, and counting on it being a productive day. Then I come back in, I work from home, so I prepare myself as if I’m going into an office that way, on a really positive note. I have this thing I call the 90 second rule and I apply it when stress seems to surge. If I have an unruly client or somebody with a demand or rude, and I’m set to temper that, I will take my dog out and just pull away long enough to go through my thoughts and my ritual and then come back in, and then address it. Then begin my day.

I used to just hit the ground running or, if I was dealing with one of those moments and it had me surging at 80% and above adrenaline I would just go with it. Now I try to be more mindful and intentional about those things.

Omar:  Tell us a little bit about what prompted you to write this book.

Annie:  I had written a couple of articles about our story and it spawned from that. My decision to write it was because when we were going through it, it all began about eight or nine years ago, I really didn’t have anyone to talk to. I felt really isolated. I felt really alone and you feel ashamed because there’s stigma and then, this is my child. I didn’t have a lot of peers to turn to, or people in our social realm, so I had to go outside that. I talked to a pharmacist pretty frequently and a police officer I knew was informed, and people who were experts in the field. What I call the experts, which would be addicts themselves or family members. I had to seek those out and I didn’t really have anybody guiding me what to do or not do. I wanted to write my experience of what worked and what absolutely did not work or serve me well. I kind of wrote it for that reason.

I wrote it for what I didn’t have, kind of what I was looking for. All the knowledge that I gained. I had a stack of journals that I wrote everything I learned in those. I just put it all together and I wanted to kind of create a textbook experience that’s definitions and guidance, along with our true story.

Omar:  How do you categorize the difference between the smart love and the tough love?

Annie:  Well, because sometimes you don’t have to be vicious. You know what I mean? Sometimes I would get vicious … Well, in the beginning I thought it was moral or intelligence and I would say, “How can you be so stupid? I didn’t raise you to be stupid. Why would you do this again? It’s just stupid”. So that, to me, kind of represented tough love too, that hard knocks approach.

Omar:  Do you have any favorite books that you would recommend to our, in this case, it would be our parents or our loved ones that are listening out there that have an addict that’s suffering? Tell us about your book and tell us some other resources that they can go to that have helped you out.

Annie:  I love the SESH Book, which I bought from Nar-Anon. That’s a daily story of somebody that’s dealing with it. I relate to something in it and I get something out of it every day. I look forward to that in the mornings.

Omar:  It’s called the what?

Annie:  The SESH Book, that’s Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope. It’s a blue book that you can get from Nar-Anon.

Omar:  Oh, I love it.

Annie:  Yeah, it’s wonderful and I get something from it every day. In fact, I was always, you know, calling him the storm, or an El Nino, because it’s their evil twin when they’re basically off and running in the addiction. It’s not even the same person. I study whatever adversity we’re going though. I studied the eye of the storm and that is the calmest place within any storm. It’s the calmest, quietest place. I had read in the SESH Book that this woman had said, someone at a Nar-Anon meeting recommend she draw a circle around her feet and remember that’s what you have to always come back to. You can affect and influence to a point what’s outside that circle. Not to a controlling point, but to affect and influence. But you always have to come back to what’s inside that circle and that’s what you have to work on and that’s all you can control. That’s the eye of the storm.

Omar:  Beautiful. I love it.

Annie:  I love that too. That’s from the SESH Book. I like Barbara Johnson, “Where Does a Mother Go to Resign”, “What to do When Your Child Breaks Your Heart”, things like that. She puts some humor into it too so that you can kind of … You know, you’ve got to have some comic relief in the midst of what I call, “morbid despair”.

Omar:  What is the best suggestion you have ever received?

Annie:  Get support and get informed. Those were the two things. Get support and get informed. That’s why I kept those notebooks and I met with people. I would take people to lunch that I had known had had an experience. They were harder to find back then, but I would go see my local pharmacist or whoever, and tell me everything that I’m dealing with. Get educated and get informed. Even if you just have to spend hours on Google. Find out as much as you can about what you’re dealing with so that you know how to prepare and how to deal so you’re not just blindly led by happenstance right into the crazy. Then you’re not as likely to be manipulated.

Omar:  Absolutely. Speaking of which, at what point did you have a spiritual awakening, that A-HAH moment in recovery when you accepted you were powerless over your child’s drug addiction, but for the first time had developed hope that you could recover?

Annie:  I would say when he relapsed, out in California, because it was such a jolt and a shock, and I realized he’s that far, by virtue of his age and distance, none of my detective work or my protection, or anything I can come up with is going to matter. Then it was kind of like, that is when I felt it too, not only am I powerless in the sense of concept, I am literally, completely powerless. Cut off at the knees in this situation. That is when I started thinking, I’m so obsessed with his well-being, even from a distance, I can’t put a plan together to fly to him every time I suspect something, or follow him in an airplane. We’re across the country from each other. That is when I started thinking, I’ve got to deal with some of this post-traumatic stress that’s coming up and being triggered. Then I started attending meetings and doing research for my own recovery, which had never even occurred to me.

Then I started feeling better. It was like, I can go to a movie and not feel like I have to keep glancing at my phone or have that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I can have lunch with my sister or one of my friends and hear what they’re saying without just seeing their lips moving and thinking about what’s going on with him. I started slowly getting better.

Omar:  What it sounds like, is that you lived in this perpetual state of guilt, this perpetual state of worry, this perpetual state of fear.

Annie:  Yes, torment fear. I call it the trifecta. It’s like a race running. I call it the trifecta of the triple A. You constantly feel afraid, ashamed, and alone. That cycles over and over. There’s something that triggers fear and you feel ashamed and embarrassed and isolated and you feel completely alone. I wrestle this constantly.

Omar:  Beautiful. I love it. My final question to you is, if you could give our listeners, our loved ones of drug addicts, only one suggestion, or, multiple suggestions actually, what would they be?

Annie:  I meet with families every week in a treatment center and I always have the same advice: Get informed, like I said. Build a safe support team, join a group, find a meeting. Make sure it’s safe, not people that are going to give you the blank stare or be horrified by what you’re dealing with, but find something safe. You know, you always have that situation where somebody is like, “oh, you know, my son’s a brain surgeon now and my daughter’s a senator, and how are you?” And you just want to run through the wall. Make sure you put yourself in safe situations, follow a recovery plan. I love the three C’s that you get from Narc-Anon, where you know that you keep coming back to the fact that you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it. Those things can repeat. I come back to that word I didn’t cause it.

Not only do I feel like I didn’t cause it from his beginning use, but if he was gonna relapse? My conversations with him, you know sometimes he would say, “don’t put pressure on me or stress me out” and then I’d have to feel like I was tip-toeing around him. But then I would think, there’s a lot of people that live down the street from a drug dealer and stress isn’t making them go use again. I can’t look at it like I have to be terrified I’m going to cause you to relapse. You have to come back to that or you’re gonna go nuts.

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE NEWCOMER

“Get informed… Build a safe support team, join a group, find a meeting. Make sure it’s safe…”

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Thanks again for your SHAIR, Annie! We SHAIR our stories every Tuesday so subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher Radio!

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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.