This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Family update

I don't usually post info about the kids anymore, but someone requested it. So here goes.

Bear (21) - still in prison.

Might get out around Thanksgiving. If he does, then it's up to him, our state, and the state he's in, whether or not he can move back here. He changes his mind often. Plus, our state may not accept his parole.

Kitty(almost 20) - living at home with us.

Unfortunately beauty school didn't work out. We were told by a state agency that they would cover most of it and grant money would pay for the rest, but when Kitty came back from living with biofamily and we signed up for the school and found out that we/she would owe $14K in student loans! Since we were thinking this might just be a way to make money part-time (at most). It just was not feasible. As this was one of the major reasons we'd given to the biofamily for Kitty to come home, I think birthfamily feel lied to... frankly so did we!

It's "on my list" to go back to the state agency and get her signed up again so they can help her find a job, but I've been super busy, and quite frankly she's so much more stable when she's not under the stress she feels when she's working or in school that it's tempting to put it off as long as possible.

Bob (18) - super happy at college!

She's only 45 minutes away, so she comes home about once a month.

Ponito (16) - still at home.

He's struggling at school. We have no idea why. We've been "bugging" him for the last couple of years, trying to figure out what's going on. He's a very smart kid, but he's been failing classes. We finally started him with a therapist recently. There is a history of bipolar/ depression and ADHD in the family. I'm also wondering if there's some internet addiction, but Hubby and I totally disagree on this, or at least on how it should be handled. I finally wrote up an "agreement" that has very clear expectations for Ponito's game playing on his PS4.

Kanga (19) and Roo (5 months) - living here? It's not official yet, and may not happen, but one of Kitty's friends might be homeless soon.

We'd been angsting about what to do ever since Kitty asked. Honestly we really wanted to say NO(!!!), but felt we morally couldn't (who could put an infant out on the street?). One of our many concerns was what happens if the girl wants to stay forever?! I did do some research and found a local agency that offers residential care to young moms. If Kanga needs to leave (for whatever reason), it's good to have some options to give her.

In answer to my prayer, God gave me a great idea! Instead of putting Kanga in our spare bedroom (which shares a wall with our bedroom), we decided the girl could share Kitty's big bedroom. We told Kitty it's because Hubby sleeps lighter than a cat (which is true)! She doesn't need to know all the other reasons (including the fact that the kids not going to Grandma's every weekend has already put a crimp in date night ;) ).  

Some advantages to having the girls share a room:

  • Kanga is allegedly a neat freak. She'll either want to leave ASAP because of Kitty's disgusting room, make Kitty clean it, or clean it herself. Sounds good to me!
  • Kitty currently is not dating anyone, but living with a baby might make her think twice about accidentally getting pregnant in the future.
  • Kanga'll have chores just like everyone else. This might actually make things nicer around here since Kitty is awful about getting her chores done! 
  • We'll still have a guest room for when family comes to visit, whether Kanga has moved out or not.
  • Kanga probably won't want to live here at all because we have a lot of rules (she'd be expected to sign the Boarder Agreement), which means for one thing her "fiance" would not be allowed upstairs where the bedrooms are, or any other "inappropriate" behavior. We've always made it crystal clear that if you're not married, you don't get to share a room.

No idea what will happen. 

Hubby (50 next month) - Working a lot, but still lives here. lol

Hubby is still working contract (which he hates), and teaching scuba (which he loves, but is getting a little tired of). His Type 2 diabetes is now officially under control and he's lost quite a bit of weight (Mwowrr!). We just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary - and still in love. We've survived this!

Me (45 next month) - working 3-4 part-time jobs, which means I rarely sleep. I mostly telecommute so I usually work from home. Every time things slow down at one job, I change my focus to another and pick up a little extra work, but inevitably the job I thought was "quiet," suddenly revs up again. Plus, I'm still moderating a very active group for moms with attachment challenged children on FaceBook so I can't just walk away from FB when I need more hours in the day. The good news is that I've been dieting (doctor has been bugging me about my weight for a long time!) using and I've lost 15lbs since January 3rd. I feel a lot healthier! (Only 50+lbs to go!)

Currently my paying jobs are:
  •  20+ hrs a week working for a telecommunication company as Director of Operations - which means I do a little bit of everything.
  • 2-5+ hours a week designing a website and editing copy for a local attorney. Even got to do a little modeling for her website this week. When I saw the proofs I immediately went out and got my hair cut. Even photo shopping couldn't help it much. Now I LOVE my new do!
  • I have a local resale shop that "talked me into" designing repurposed, reconstructed, refashioned, recycled..., whatever you want to call it clothing for the online boutique they are designing.
  • I still do the occasional prom/ bridal dress alteration, and 'tis the season!
House (21 years) 

We've decided that when Ponito graduates (he's a sophomore in high school) we'll most likely sell our house. It is just too big. Not sure where we'll live yet. Probably won't go far as all my family is still here. Not sure if I posted here that my mom, "Grandma" passed away from ALS in September. I don't want to leave my (step)dad alone. 

This 20+ year old house needs a LOT of work to get it ready to go on the market. We're fixing it a little bit at a time. We finally got the kid's bathroom done (Bear had pulled the soap dish off the wall so many times we couldn't repair it anymore and the wall got water damaged so we couldn't use the tub at all any more). We hid the demolished wall behind a shower curtain. 
3+ years of 5 people sharing the master bath. Doable, but not fun!
Isn't it gorgeous?!
Not sure what the next project will be yet. Bob's tuition has jumped up quite a bit and she wants to do a semester abroad next Spring, so we'll probably take a break from major house repairs for awhile.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Let them eat Cake!

A friend of mine sent me this funny link called Nailed It full of Pinterest food fails. We've all seen those amazingly cute projects that we just have to try.

I personally love to make cakes for the kids, so I thought I'd share some of my successes and failures. First the biggest failure!

Bob tends to have ocean themed cakes for her summer birthday. One year she was really in to monkeys so we found an adorable cake of a monkey on an island (like this one). Rather than make the monkey out of edible playdoh, I thought I'd be creative and make it out of... tootsie rolls! They came in all different colors and could be rolled in to any shape I wanted. What I didn't count on was that they melted a little when they got warm. The palm tree melted too.

I also didn't count on the cake totally falling apart.

Melting Monkey
Crumbling Cake

Piece of Cake
Another ocean cake. This one had "water" made of blue Jello.

This under the sea Little Mermaid "cake" was actually made from Rice Krispies made with colored marshmallows divided into different colors. This cake ended up feeding almost 200! We took it to Bob's daycare since it hadn't been as popular as the chocolate cake at her party. The entire school had it for snack and then there was tons left over that the teachers took home. I think the whole school ate it two days in a row!

An Alice in Wonderland themed party. This was a teapot cake. Bob loved theme parties and I usually made elaborate costumes too.

Long story about why Bob always had two cakes, but here's two cakes from her "princess years." The ice cream cake in the background is made from sand castle molds (never used!) coated on the inside with melting chocolate then packed with ice cream. When it was time for cake, the molds were popped off and Voila! Of course I'm no expert and the chocolate wasn't thick enough in some places so this castle was more like "ruins," and you can see the raspberry sorbet through some of the cracks.
Time for another failure. This is supposed to Kitty's Elmo cake for her 16th birthday.

I had done so much better the year before. With Hedwig and Scabbers from Harry Potter (the cakes looked much cuter in real life!).

One I made for my nephew. He wanted a cake that looked like his leopard gecko! The gecko's chocolate chip spots spelled out his name on the gecko's tail.

Ponito got some cute cakes too! Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture before we'd already cut this poor Lego astronaut off at the knees.

One of my favorite cakes. I'd made dragon cakes before, but this one I think turned out well. Ponito asked for a dragon and red double decker bus cake?! Crazy kid. You can't really tell, but the dragon has rainbow wings made of fruit rollups.  His right claw and wing are resting on top of the bus. this is another one that looked better in real life than in the pictures.

I've made many other cakes over the years, but these were fun.

You can see another of my posts on my cakes.
Ponito's science project cake.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Consequences for Stealing - Community Service

FAIR Club Stealing Consequences - Community Service 

There are many reasons our kids lie and steal (see this post). I prefer not to have "standard" consequences for the kids behaviors out of concern that they might decide that the crime is worth doing the time, so I try to come up with logical consequences for each incident. That being said, in addition to other consequences, we do have one standard consequence for stealing or breaking someone else's things - they have to pay back double the value of the item.

Example 1: Bear took $11 out of Ponito's wallet (which he then hid, but Ponito did get it back). 
1. He will be required to do his brother's chores for 2 weeks (pays $10 if done well).
2. He will be required to give Ponito the remaining $12 from Bear’s saved allowance.
3. He will go back to carrying a see-thru backpack or no back pack at all.
4. He will not be allowed to carry a wallet.
5. He will continue to spend the night at Grandma's on Saturday night (something he's told me he doesn't like doing), but they will be more closely supervising him.
6. He will not be allowed to go to his own Sunday school. Instead he will have to go to church and adult Sunday school with Poppy.
7. His room will be searched regularly again (although I probably will not tell him this)
8. He will lose the "benefit of the doubt" if things are stolen or missing (I will not be telling Kitty this as I worry she will take advantage)
9. He is already not allowed to go places with his friends unless Hubby or I can be present, but he will be reminded that this definitely does not increase our trust
10. He will be in the FAIR Club until all money is paid back to Ponito.
11. If anything more comes to light at the school, or if there are future issues then he will no longer be allowed to ride home from the public high school on the regular bus, and could potentially lose his ability to attend the public high school (currently spends half his time at his special school)
12. This will definitely delay his being able to eat lunch at the public high school indefinitely, because there is a lot less supervision. He'll have to continue to eat lunch at his special school.

Community Service

When the amount owed is substantial, and allowance, selling personal items (if the child decides to sell something we only pay "garage sale prices."), savings, and extra chores around the house are not enough, one option is community service. This involves the child working for family and friends (who do not actually pay for the work).

This consequence isn’t really about the money. It is more about learning a lesson and restitution. We credited our son $3/hr for manual labor. Technically $3/hr is not a fair wage, but Bear has worked for less when he was doing lawn work (a price he negotiated himself). Mostly this is because he does not do jobs well, usually damages the tools, and rarely finishes or cleans up after himself (although he doesn't get credit until the job is done). The price per hour is based on the quality of work. If it were about money then he would get a job, get paid, and have to turn it over. The problem is that in our neighborhood some of our neighbors will pay $100 for just a few hours of work… whether it’s done well or not.  

Our son also requires adult supervision (usually line of sight) – which generally means that supervisor is being taken away from what they’d rather be doing and the service has to be coordinated to work with everyone’s schedule. When a parent is not available, we might use people who are aware of the child’s need for supervision and can provide it. He does not get a choice in who he helps, what he does, or when it gets done (that's not how it works in the real world and he's not really capable of organizing this anyway).

Example 2: Stolen alcohol. Bear drank most of a bottle of Hubby’s expensive liquor (and watered it down to hide the fact that he’d been drinking it), he owed double the cost of the bottle (plus other consequences for the lying). The liquor was $45 a bottle so he owes us $90. 

In the past Bear has incurred big debts and never paid it back. This is why I chose community service instead. He will be in the FAIR Club until his community service hours are done. Once the hours are assigned, he cannot use money obtained elsewhere to pay back the debt. He also cannot earn extra money (by doing extra chores or working for cash) until his debts are paid.

Positive motivation 

Double Dipping - I referred to Bear's consequences as community service to a neighbor that doesn't need to know all of his business (the parent of one of my friends), Bear perked up and (after I got off the phone) asked if it could count toward the community service he is supposed to do for ROTC. Bingo! I actually prefer he do this kind of service (in which I can oversee his supervision) over leaving him on campus after school to do who knows what with his friends. This also means he's "buying into" the project too.

Positive Reinforcement - Allow the child to actually earn something or do something he/she enjoys. Community service doesn't have to be hard labor. Bear has actually enjoyed some of the volunteer work we've signed him up for - which helps him get it done. 

Example 3: One summer to keep Bear busy, we signed the whole family up to volunteer at an equine therapy place. (This wasn't actually a community service consequence for Bear, but I think it would have been a good option.)  He got to walk next to the children with disabilities during their therapy (riding horses is a great therapy for many disabilities) to make sure they didn't fall off. It was active and he got to feel like a big shot (the kids thought he was cool and everyone praised him for being helpful). 

Example 4: Bear stole another MP3 player. Rather than just put him in the FAIR Club for the millionth time with the same old consequences, which have no impact on his stealing. We decided to try something new. He still had to pay for the stolen Zune (we didn't make it double since the item was worth over $100 and he'd never be able to pay that much ), but instead of the money going to the owner of the stolen item (we never located the owner so the Zune was donated through the school to needy kids) we decided to let him use the earned money to buy his own Zune.

  • If he owned a nice MP3 player, maybe he'd be less likely to steal someone else's.
  • It motivated him to finish his hours
  • It gave us something to take away if/when needed

 This actually had some success.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Integrity Study - The Game

As part of a FAIR Club assignment, we did a study on Integrity.
Integrity Study Day 1
Integrity Study Day 2
Integrity Study Day 3
Integrity Study Day 4
This was a game I created to practice what we learned about integrity.

The Integrity Game

1) Roll the number cube (die) and pick up a card. Read and answer the card aloud.
2) If the group decides you answered with integrity, then you can move the number of spaces on the die.
3) Two or more players can be on the same space.
4) Continue to play until someone reaches the finish, then see who will finish second, third, etc.

Integrity Cards:
  1. Your friend’s parents give him permission to be at your house.  He goes to the park instead.  He asks you to lie about his whereabouts if they call.
  2. You are alone in your classroom.  You are standing near the teacher’s reward box.  It would be so easy to grab that cool reward trinket you’ve been wanting.
  3. You buy a burger. The cashier is distracted and accidentally gives you too much change.
  4. A group of kids is picking on a kid you really don’t like.  They want you to join in.
  5. You have a really hard question on your homework.  You know you can just write the wrong answer and will be allowed to make corrections before it’s graded.
  6. Your friends dare you to ask out someone you don’t really like.  (You aren’t allowed to tell the person it’s a dare).
  7. You agree to sell your old MP3 player to a friend, and someone later offers you more money.
  8. A friend is wearing an expensive new outfit that she really likes, but you think is ugly and unflattering.  She asks you for your opinion.
  9. Your friend asks you to find out if a boy likes her.  He says he likes you better.  Your friend wants to know what he said.
  10. You left at home all the research for your rough draft which is due today and a big part of your grade.  You could copy something off the internet on the school computer and fix it later before turning in the final report. 
  11. You’re thirsty but have no money.  A friend offers you a Frappuchino (cold, sweet coffee drink), but it has caffeine and a lot of sugar.  Mom would never know.
  12. You’re at a party and find out there will be no adults there to supervise and some people are drinking.  Your friends want you to stay.
  13. It’s fun to tease your siblings and they tease you right back.  Mom tells you that one of your siblings is really upset by the teasing, even though they don’t say anything and they tease you back.
  14. You discover that if you stand next to a certain air vent you can hear your parents talking about you.  You really want to know what they are saying.
  15. Mom’s told you and your sibling to quit roughhousing, but you don’t and your sibling accidentally gets hurt.  Mom asks you what happened and you know you’ll get in trouble if you tell her you were roughhousing.  Your sibling says, "let’s not tell."
  16. A big, mean kid purposefully spits on you in the hallway between classes.  You want to yell and scream at the kid, but you know the kid could really hurt you.
  17. You’re pretty sure your teacher gave you a bad grade just because she doesn’t like you.  You think your parent’s won’t believe you, but they might let you get out of her class if you tell them you’re afraid of the teacher.
  18. You left a big mess in the kitchen but a sibling is going to get blamed for it.  The sibling always makes messes and never gets in trouble for them.  If you say nothing the sibling will finally get in trouble for making a mess.
  19. You really want some cookies, but there are only a few left.  Mom would say no, but if you don’t take them now there won’t be any more later.
  20. Everyone cusses and would think there is something wrong with you if you don’t.  You think they might stop being your friend if you’re a goody two shoes.
  21. It’s a holiday and you want to sleep in, but for some reason Mom says you have to get up early.  You could go back to sleep and say you didn’t hear your parent say it was time to get up.
  22. You know you can’t get out of doing your chores, but if you do a bad job maybe they won’t notice.  
  23. Dinner looks really gross.  Your parents ask why you’re not eating.
  24. A friend says something really mean about you to all your friends.  You know a secret about the friend that you could tell.
  25. A person tells you that you made a mistake and it reminds you of a really upsetting event in your past.  You want to yell and scream at the person in the past, but the person who criticized you is the only one there.
  26. A sibling may have told people at school about something private about you.  You’re so mad you want to hurt your sibling.
  27. You don’t feel good because you stayed up late reading.  There’s nothing really going on at school today so you probably wouldn’t miss anything if you stay home.
  28. A kid in special ed likes you and keeps putting notes in your locker telling you how great you are.  Your friends are teasing you about the notes and you want the kid to stop.
  29. You’re in a bad mood.  You want to tell everybody to leave you alone, but your sibling is in your face being silly and obnoxious.
  30. Your friend asks you to come over, but you know your parents won’t let you because you’re in trouble.  Your friend will want to know why you can’t come and will tell everyone if you say it’s because you’re in trouble.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Books and Methods Review - Stop Walking on Eggshells

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul Mason MSRandi Kreger
Do you feel manipulated, controlled, or lied to? Are you the focus of intense, violent, and irrational rages? Do you feel you are 'walking on eggshells' to avoid the next confrontation?

If the answer is 'yes,' someone you care about may have borderline personality disorder (BPD). Stop Walking on Eggshells has already helped nearly half a million people with friends and family members suffering from BPD understand this destructive disorder, set boundaries, and help their loved ones stop relying on dangerous BPD behaviors. This fully revised edition has been updated with the very latest BPD research and includes coping and communication skills you can use to stabilize your relationship with the BPD sufferer in your life. This compassionate guide will enable you to:

  • Make sense out of the chaos
  • Stand up for yourself and assert your needs
  • Defuse arguments and conflicts
  • Protect yourself and others from violent behavior
There is a part on using coping strategies for self-care, how to seek support and validation, how to seek out Internet help and community groups and above all how to keep a good sense of humor.  Taking care of yourself, detaching with love, taking your life back, not allowing yourself to be abused, taking the heat out of the situation by gently paraphrasing and reflexive listening, creating a safety plan for imminent self-mutilation, how to bolster your own self-identity and self-esteem, taking responsibility for your own behaviour and remembering that sometimes, “… splitting and other BPD behaviour can be catching.” ~PsychCentral Review
    Marythemom:  This is an excellent book written for family members of people with BPD, but I feel it can also help parents of RAD kids. I read an older edition, so my review might not be as accurate. The first half of the book explains how the person with BPD feels.  The second half addresses how to live with a person with BPD.  It is assumed that everyone is adults, and that we cannot change the person with BPD - treatment is their choice.  This book is NOT written to help the person with BPD.  It is how to cope as a sympathetic family member.  I plan to review some of the concepts from the second half of the book at a later date.

    Thursday, January 29, 2015

    Books and Methods Review - 99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane

    99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane by Brita St. Clair 

    This little book is full of wild ideas and hysterical humor to bring the laughter back into a home with an emotionally disturbed child. Need a good laugh? This book will do it! It includes lots of "one liners" and silly, fun ways to help parents avoid anger around tough topics. Written by a very experienced and loving Therapeutic Mom with years of success helping tough kids heal.

    A few examples:

    For kids that pee in their rooms - Sprinkle peas around the room at night or while the child is gone. When the child is awake or at home, you discover the peas, get a bowl to collect them and show your delight over the child growing peas by peeing. "I knew this would happen someday if you just peed enough peas were sure to grow." Make sure you have peas (clean ones please) that night for dinner. Those of us from the south especially like to use black-eyed peas.

    7. BUMMER
    One liner: "Bummer"

    This is commonly used by therapeutic parents working with unattached children and was not invented by me.

    Something fun to do with it though is to keep a tally sheet or put a sticker on your arm every time you say "Bummer." See how many times you can use this one liner in one day instead of getting into an argument. Don't explain what you are doing either. Your child will have to wonder why you are putting stickers on yourself.

    This reminds me of Behavior Bingo - 
    Behavior Bingo is something I heard about from somewhere on the web. As a way to cope with her children's behaviors, this mom started pretending that whenever her child did something annoying (like pitch a fit, or paint with poo, or call her a $%#*... she would sometimes act really excited like she'd gotten to put a marker on her imaginary bingo board. She didn't tell her kids what she was doing or why. Every now and then she would yell out Bingo! She usually thanked the child for the behavior (again without telling the child why), and rewarded herself in some way (got an ice cream or a margarita or whatever). She said it made her feel better, and confused the heck out of the child(ren).

    37. STUPID MOM
    When the child is acting like you are dumb or asking head hassling questions he knows the answers to, point at your forehead and say,"Does it say stupid here?" If he says yes, then say, "Well erase it quick, you don't want people thinking you have a stupid mom," or "Erase it, that's supposed to be our secret"

    Marythemom:  *****Quick, fun read.  I highly recommend it to help with the stress. 

    Here's some fun one-liners to help with your stress!

    Monday, January 26, 2015

    The Addictive Brain

    Finally an article that puts in to better words why my son has an "addictive brain." We've seen evidence of it for years, and knew it wasn't the drugs themselves, because the addiction shifted often and he could stop seemingly cold turkey (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, but also sugar, sex, adrenaline, chaos...).

    These addictions continued despite the fact that my son had a much better "cage." I believe this is for several reasons. One, he is missing the ability to make the "connection" mentioned in this article.

    "Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding.' A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.
    So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection."

    So my son remains "addicted." In part because his attachment issues - the (in)ability to make human connections - haven't really healed, but also because his Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder means he is stuck living in a "war zone" 24/7. He carries his old "cage" with him wherever he goes.

    The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and 

    It Is Not What You Think

    by Johann Hari - Author of 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs'

    It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned -- and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong -- and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.
    If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.
    I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.
    I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind -- what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can't stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.
    If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: "Drugs. Duh." It's not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That's what addiction means.
    One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments -- ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
    The advert explains: "Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It's called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you."
    But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
    In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
    The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
    At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was -- at the same time as the Rat Park experiment -- a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was "as common as chewing gum" among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.
    But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers -- according to the same study -- simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn't want the drug any more.
    Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It's not you. It's your cage.
    After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days -- if anything can hook you, it's that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can't recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is -- again -- striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)
    When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don't seem to make sense -- unless you take account of this new approach.
    Here's one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right -- it's the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them -- then it's obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.
    But here's the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.
    If you still believe -- as I used to -- that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander's theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.
    This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding.' A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.
    So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.
    When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn't shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me -- you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers' Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.
    But still, surely, I asked, there is some role for the chemicals? It turns out there is an experiment which gives us the answer to this in quite precise terms, which I learned about in Richard DeGrandpre's book The Cult of Pharmacology.
    Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism -- cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.
    But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That's not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that's still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.
    This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war -- which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool -- is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people's brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren't the driver of addiction -- if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction -- then this makes no sense.
    Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona -- 'Tent City' -- where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages ('The Hole') for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record -- guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.
    There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world -- and so leave behind their addictions.
    This isn't theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them -- to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.
    One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other's care.
    The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I'll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country's top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass -- and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal's example.
    This isn't only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster's -- "only connect." But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live -- constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.
    The writer George Monbiot has called this "the age of loneliness." We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander -- the creator of Rat Park -- told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery -- how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
    But this new evidence isn't just a challenge to us politically. It doesn't just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.
    Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows like Intervention -- tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won't stop should be shunned. It's the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction -- and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever -- to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can't.
    When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

    • The full story of Johann Hari's journey -- told through the stories of the people he met -- can be read in Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury. The book has been praised by everyone from Elton John to Glenn Greenwald to Naomi Klein. You can buy it at all good bookstores and read more at
    • Johann Hari will be talking about his book at 7pm at Politics and Prose in Washington DC on the 29th of January, 2015, at lunchtime at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on the 30th January, and in the evening at Red Emma's in Baltimore on the 4th February, 2015.
    • The full references and sources for all the information cited in this article can be found in the book's extensive end-notes.
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