Addiction, Stress and the Autoimmune System: The Physical Consequences on Parents and Families

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements,

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Today, June 29th, is World Scleroderma Day. Per the Mayo Clinic, “Scleroderma is a group of rare, chronic diseases that involve the hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues — the fibers that provide Tthe framework and support for your body. There is no cure, but symptoms can be treated easing the pain and discomfort.

In some people, Scleroderma affects only the skin. But in many people, Scleroderma also harms structures beyond the skin — such as blood vessels, internal organs and the digestive tract. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on which structures are affected.” The problem is with your immune system, which causes your body to make too much of the protein collagen. As a result, your skin gets thick and tight, and scars can form on your lungs and kidneys. Your blood vessels can thicken and not work the way they should leading to tissue damage and high blood pressure.

Scleroderma an autoimmune disease that often leads to, or is predicated by, other diseases such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, Lupus, and Raynaud’s, a disease which cuts the blood flow off to extremities in cool weather. Raynaud’s is symptom of Scleroderma. These conditions attack the immune system, all with many uncomfortable, painful and even life-threatening implications.

What does this have to do with addiction and recovery?

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Absolutely nothing and absolutely everything.

Autoimmune diseases are often stress-induced, and the physical and emotional consequences of addiction within the family – on a parent – can surface through such illnesses. It takes great courage to manage the painful physical symptoms and deterioration each day. We know because Carla is dealing with all of three of these extremely difficult conditions and has been for several years. Thanks to the care and concern of a very dear friend and coworker at school, she was able to seek help and get an early diagnosis.

If you see Carla in the grocery store, there is a good chance she will have gloves on because the cooler temperature turn her fingers grey and her toes purple. The gloves protect herself. In the winter, you’ll see her wearing them at school (yes, the fingers in this pic are hers). She focuses on healthy eating, exercise and enough sleep – a daily discipline and sacrifice, Carla works to manage each day the best she can.  But her journey is not easy. Carla’s body is turning on itself and things we take for granted, like trips to the dentist, reveal new, progressive and painful impacts. But for those of you who know Carla, she is resilient and courageous and approaches each day, one day at a time, and refuses to give up, or give in.

You’d probably never know Carla is struggling with these diseases because she is not one to complain. She’s a lot like her mother in that regard. She leans on those closest to her while she steadfastly manages her conditions, removing herself from the environmental or physical factors that trigger the painful elements of her diseases.  She spends more time thinking about her health leaving her with a certain level of uncertainty about her future. She is less social simply because she doesn’t feel well.  But she has an interior joy that is beautiful and contagious.

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Take Care of You

Many of you may be dealing with a chronic disease. Maybe it’s addiction or maybe you are that parent watching your child struggle with substance abuse. That worry, that pain, that emptiness can trigger autoimmune diseases and at this time, there are no real cures.

Are you caring for yourself?  What specific, daily actions do you take for your own emotional health and well-being? Is your diet nutritious and your physical exercise consistent?  Do you use silent walks, prayer, yoga or meditation to calm and center yourself?

Think of these things now through the pain and struggle. Keeping yourself healthy is important to your family unit and to the one affected by addiction. This will require great courage, discipline and sacrifice on your part. You might feel like giving up or don’t have the energy to focus on you. If anything, you share this need for internal fortitude, courage, sacrifice and letting go with your addicted family member.

Despite our best efforts to manage stress and stay healthy, the pain of watching a child or loved one struggle with addiction (or any other significant stressor) may result in an autoimmune disease. All you can do is what’s in your control by talking to your doctor, prioritizing yourself and getting the care you need to manage day-to-day. The rest we put in God’s hands.

Let’s all pause today and send prayers of strength and healing to those experiencing painful and stressful personal situations, and those battling chronic disease. Faith, love and prayer can be the greatest healer of all.

To understand more about this disease, please watch Living with Scleroderma or contact your healthcare professional.


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Dealing with Death

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements, Grief, Stigma, Support,

ThinkstockPhotos-544452156-640x213I am now writing this in a completely different vain than I intended.

Carla and I watched a movie last week called Wind River.  When we selected this movie, all we knew was that it was a murder mystery, which I love, and we both like Jeremy Renner who starred in the film.

There was a scene in the movie where Renner is speaking to a Dad who just found out his 18-year-old daughter had passed (we find out that Renner had lost his daughter three years earlier).  Renner talks to this Dad about what he will face.  As we listened, we were riveted as his words were so profound; clearly, this writer had lost a child because the feelings were articulated with a depth and emotion that could only come from knowing.

We knew we wanted to share those words with everyone, but today, we share them under different circumstances.  As I type this, it is literally 48 minutes after finding out that a friend had passed.  In some ways, more than a friend, a beacon of hope that I looked to as proof of our ability to win.  Kenny was two years in recovery and an amazing advocate for recovery.  Ken was an active participant with Family Matters, and his presence was a big reason why I wanted him on the Board at ROBBY’S.  I had been talking with Ken about recovery, future business ventures, and the long motorcycle rides we were going to take next year with Nolan.  We won’t get that chance because today, God called him home.

I spoke to my Dad who knew Kenny really well and he asked, “when will it end?”  I don’t know that answer, but I know it will as long as we continue to fight; continue to hope; continue to believe. I think Carla said it best – “we have to be stronger than the devil.”  Yes, we do, and we will be regardless of the pain. We will be stronger than the devil.

So, I’ll share the words with you, and maybe someone who reads them will find something in them that helps.

WIND RIVER –

RENNER CHARACTER: I’d like to tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t.  If there is any comfort…it’s getting used to the pain I suppose.

I went to a grief seminar in Casper (Wyoming). Did you know that?

I don’t know why.  I just wanted the bad to go away.  I wanted answers to questions that couldn’t be answered.  A Counselor came up to me after the seminar, sat down next to me and he said something that stuck with me.  I don’t know if it is what he said or how he said it.

He said I got some good news and I got some bad news.  The bad news is that you’re never going to be the same.  You’re never going to be whole, not ever again.  You lost your daughter, and nothing is ever going to replace that.  The good news is that as soon as you accept that and let yourself suffer, you’ll allow yourself to visit her in your mind.  You’ll remember all the love she gave; al the joy she knew.

The point is Martin, you can’t steer from the pain.  If you do, you rob yourself…you’ll rob yourself of every memory of her. Every last one.  From her first step to her last moment.  Just take the pain Martin. You hear me, just take it.  It’s the only way you’ll keep her with you.

End –

Well, we take the pain, we take it every day and we will continue to take it.

We will take the pain because we are stronger than the devil.

We will not lose hope, but run to it.

We will believe because to do anything less is to give in to darkness.

We will take the pain and it will not break us because we will stand strong together, and we will win.


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Time for Us all to Fly

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements,

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I was sitting in a business meeting and the following video was shown. It’s quick. I invite you to watch it now.

Time to Fly

I immediately had one of those WOW moments.  I loved the message, and even though this is a product endorsement, it is clearly much deeper than that.

So, for all of those struggling with this epidemic, watch the message, take it to heart, and BELIEVE.

You can fly.

No matter what those around you say about you (stigma).

No matter the odds facing you.

You can fly!

It starts with a choice – YOUR CHOICE.  It must be followed by action – doing all the right things, over and over again.  Is it easy? No. Will you fall?  Possibly.  Will others laugh at you, mock you, try to pull you back down to their level? Yes. But if you believe, if you are willing to endure, if you are not willing to accept no as an answer, you will fly and when you do, others will follow.

We believe in you, most certainly we do. God Bless.

ROBBY’S VOICE


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The Picture that will Never Be

Posted by Anne Browning, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements,

jaclyn nolanWe had a big month with Nolan being sworn is as a Police Officer.  We celebrate his accomplishment and his choice to serve and protect –  putting his life in harm’s way for others.  It was a very proud moment for all of us as we watched him in his dress blues, the gold striping on his sleeve, shoes shined to a mirror-like finish. He took his oath and then Mom pinned his badge on his chest. In one moment, a college graduate was now a Police Officer.

As I was driving to work a few days later, my mind wandered to another swearing in ceremony about seven years earlier. It was Robby’s ceremony when he was sworn into the United States Army right after basic training.  Again, we were so proud in his royal blue pants, navy jacket lined with brass buttons, shoes shined to a mirror-like finish.  His beret tilted on his head revealing the brow of a soldier.

Then it hit me. The picture that would never be.  The picture that would never be was that of the older brother, the example, the inspiration, dressed in that same Army dress uniform, only now more decorated, standing proudly next to the younger brother dressed in his Police dress uniform, newly adorned with that shiny silver badge.

One brother’s influence

Robby was Nolan’s inspiration.  Set to pursue business in college, I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday; “Dad…would you be upset if I did not pursue business?”  You see, Robby taught me to follow my dreams, and my dream is to go into law enforcement.”  And so it began.

The picture we of two brothers standing side-by-side, each in their respective dress uniforms will never be.    There are thousands of pictures we should have that we will never see. Reflections, reminders of family celebrations, accomplishments, moments meant to be perfect that are, and will always be, incomplete.  No matter how special, how jubilant, how joyful, there will always be that one thing missing.

So for me, I can only imagine the picture that should have been.  I can only imagine the pride of a brother that would have glowed in that moment.  I can see it, I can feel it, but I just can’t live it because it exists only in my mind where it will live as fiction forever.  So instead, I just wipe the tears from my cheeks, take a deep breath and wait for the next picture that will never be.

Ask yourself

What will it take?  What will it take for parents to do what is needed to make sure they never have to deal with that one picture; the picture that will never be?


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Learning to Hope through Cornerstone

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements, Grief, Robby's Voice, Tags:

I don’t like the word hope.hope

To me, when we hope, we give control to someone or something other than ourselves.  It’s a weak word. I prefer faith. Faith means I believe, I know it will happen.  It means I am in control.  It’s a strong word.

Then I learned about grief.  Not just any kind of grief, but the most devastating, heart wrenching, crippling kind of grief that exists.  The kind of grief that makes you wish for the end, your end. The kind of grief that is forever.  I learned about faith and I learned about hope.

I remember it clearly on that late Friday morning, October 21st, 2011.  We just returned from the high school where we told Jaclyn and Nolan about their brother. Where we ripped their world apart.  I stood in my house as it filled with people.  Family and friends. The support was amazing.  But it didn’t matter as nobody could help me.  I was broken, numb, confused.  I had no idea what to do.  How do you move, how do you recover, how do you live?  I had no answers, and worse, I knew in that moment that if I had no answers for myself, I had no capacity to help my family.

My faith in God did not waiver. My faith in myself was gone.  I was helpless.  I was hopeless.

Herein enters Hope

A year earlier, I had been introduced to Cornerstone of Hope  by a friend who did volunteer work for them (This is a story for a different day…a story about how God put all the pieces in place).  But I remembered.  After the funeral and things got quiet and life returned to normal for those that had carried us each day, we were left to face our life.  We would have to face all the firsts, and they were coming fast.  Halloween, Robby’s favorite day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, his birthday. All would be upon us within the first 60 days.  How do we do this?  I looked at my family and they looked to me; I had no answers for them.

Tattered, beaten, humbled, I turned, we turned to Cornerstone, and in that very dark moment, we saw a light.

Carla and I attended counseling together while Cornerstone sent counselors to the high school each week to meet with Nolan and Jaclyn.  We had been given a lifeline, an angel that would help us deal with what we were now in the middle of.  We survived the holidays.  Group counseling followed for all of us, and slowly but surely we started to walk forward, learning how to adapt to our new normal.

Mark and Christi Tripodi are the founders of Cornerstone of Hope.  They are selfless givers.  They are heroes that have built an organization that catches us in our darkest moments.  As we fall into the depths, they say we are here, we will catch you, we will hold you, and we will help you find the light in the absolute darkness.

Cornerstone of Hope saved us.

There is no other way to say it.  We continue to rely on what they taught us, and each year in December, we head back for the candle ceremony where we share tears and memories with others that have been lost in their loss, and saved by this group.

I hate the word hope, but I learned that in loss and in grief, it is all we have.  We are not in control. We don’t have all the answers and we are at our weakest.  My faith in God never wavered, but I needed hope.  I needed to count on someone else to do what I could not. I needed to hand control over to someone else.

At the lowest moment of my life, they were there.  They gave me hope and that hope turned back into faith… the belief that I could move forward. That I could live again…that I could find a new normal.

Cornerstone did for my family what I could not.  They were the rock for Carla, Jaclyn and Nolan.

They saved me, they saved my family, and they continue to be a cornerstone of our ability to move forward each day.  They are THE CORNERSTONE OF HOPE.


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