CAN A RECOVERING ADDICT BE DEFINED A SUCCESS?

A friend recently wrote to me and asked: Who is the most successful person you know or are connected to?

My reaction: The question was not easy one and my answer depended on how success was defined and, moreover, how it was measured. For my dad, a child of the depression, success was money. For others, it might be prestige, international recognition, or fame. For me, success is about living right, doing the next right thing, and dedicating ourselves to becoming better people. It’s about living the golden rule and trying every day to make the world a better place.

Today’s Promise to consider: Just as Virgil toured Dante through hell, the addicted person can find his or her way out of hell – the grasp of drugs and alcohol. My son battled to regain his life after a fourteen-year addiction and lives today – in business and with friends – with honesty and ethics. Do I consider him a success? Do I consider all those who have fought the good fight – whether they have won or not – a success? I answer with a resounding yes.

WHO HELPS OUR LOVED ONES FIND RECOVERY?

A friend of mine posted: Be careful judging that drug addict so harshly. He or she might just recover and be the one to show your very own child a way out.

My reflection: Our beloved Dr MacAfee once told me that when he testified in court for drug cases, the attorneys and judges regarded him distantly because he represented the addicted person. “Although,” he continued, “When their child was in trouble with drugs or alcohol, I was the first person they called.”

Today’s Promise to consider: The recovering addict is almost always best suited to help another suffering person. Who better knows the journey of addiction: the alienation, struggles, humiliation, and repeated failed attempts at sobriety? Today, I pray that all recovering persons reach out a hand to help another. Somebody did just that for my son, and I’ll be forever grateful.

 

 

 

CONVERSATIONS WITH OUR LOVED ONES IN RECOVERY

A mom wrote to me: My son is new to recovery, and I’m wondering if I can ask him all the questions that I have? Sometime I feel like I can’t say how I have been hurt, or how I feel, or how his addiction has affected our family. I don’t’ want to drive him away or make him feel more ashamed than he already feels.

My reflection: When Jeff read a draft of Stay Close, his response was, “You stripped me naked in this book.” I said, “But why didn’t you stop? Why did you continue to hurt all of us?” His eyes filled with tears and he said, “You wrote an entire book about addiction and you still don’t understand. I never wanted to hurt you. I tried to keep you to the side and out of the way. You’re my mom and I love you, but I’m an addict, Mom. I’m an addict.”

Today’s Promise to consider: With my son, a recovering heroin addict, HOW I asked the question was more important than what and when I asked. He was already beaten-up by the addiction and felt guilt and shame, so I needed to be gentle. Today, when we talk about the stormy years of his addiction, I ask questions calmly, without judgment, and in love.

THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

Melody Beattie wrote, Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Gratitude makes things right. 

My reflection: When Jeff was in active addiction, I didn’t feel grateful for much of anything. I wallowed in feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and anger as I asked, Why me? Why our family? I was stuck, immersed, and drowning in sadness and misery.

Today’s Promise to consider: Through the fourteen years of my son’s addiction, I finally learned that gratitude was the antidote to my despair. I began a practice of naming, every day, at least three things for which I was grateful. By scanning my life and identifying all that was good, hope awakened, and I became a more compassionate, person. Today and every day, I will be grateful because it softens my heart and opens the door to allow goodness in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DEMONIZATION OF ADDICTION

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote: Relatively few people respect the addictive condition as a legitimate life-threatening illness. Rather, there is disgust not only for addiction but for the addicts themselves. This disdain permeates society and emerges from within addicts, honing their stealth and duplicity and their self-hatred. This condition serves to permeate their malady even further.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee’s words confirm the stark truth of something my son said years ago, “Society loathes addicts and addicts loathe themselves.” At the beginning of Jeff’s addiction, I, too, suffered from lack of understanding the disease. Today, I know better.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a life-threatening illness claiming over 72,000 deaths in 2017, yet much of society disdains both the person suffering and their families. Granted that many people do horrendous things while under the influence, but instead of criminalization and demonization their condition needs early and prompt medical intervention. Today, I’ll face the addiction crisis and give my support through activism, sharing my story, helping others, and standing tall for what is right.

A DIVINE PAUSE: MAKING SPACE TO RESPOND AND TO HEAL

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Judy Brown wrote: “The Fire”
“… a fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.”

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt an urgency to respond quickly as if a delayed response would cause greater harm to him. What I learned was that when I took the time to pray for wisdom and think about my response, the results were better for all of us.

Today’s Promise to consider: A Divine Pause gifts us with the time and space that we often need to respond skillfully. Fire grows in the openings between the logs, music seeps into our being in the pauses between the notes, and our interior growth happens in the quiet of our soul. Today, I will take time to pause, pray, contemplate, and heal.

FINDING OURSELVES OUTSIDE OF ADDICTION

A mom, whose son is in recovery, wrote to me: So much has changed and I am very grateful, but the challenges remain.  I finally feel the weight of my own need to become healthy and whole. I have the time and space to do all the things one imagines self-actualization requires, and yet this freedom to be myself is the greatest challenge of all.

My reaction: When Jeff was in active addiction, my life revolved around the chaos of his illness. Rarely a night went by that I didn’t awaken with him on my mind or I’d toss and turn fearing ‘the’ phone call. During those years, I lost myself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Jeff’s early years of recovery should have given me peace, yet I struggled to find myself – and define myself – away from the turbulence of his addiction. Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s beloved addiction therapist, explained, “You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.” With time and prayer, along with writing and my support group, life came back into focus and I began to reemerge.

 

 

THE ‘BECOMING’ YEARS

A mother of a son in recovery wrote to me: I’m grateful for my son’s recovery, but sometimes I still find myself wondering why it took so long for him to get sober.  I know I should not ask why or wonder why, but it comes up. I’m working on opening up fully and embracing my ‘new’ son. It will take time.

My reflection: There are a myriad of questions with addiction, and I’ve asked many of them: Why did it take fourteen years of pain and heartbreak for Jeff to find his legs in recovery? Why did it take me so long to realize that he was addicted? Why did it take me so long to learn how best to stay close?

Today’s Promise to consider: Maybe there are no wasted years, but only learning years, ‘becoming’ years. Suffering brings new perspective and growth. The most important part is what we do from here. Today, when I’m with my sons, I will be honest, say with loving-kindness what is on my heart, listen harder and pray more. The learning years were then and they are now.

WALKING WITH VERSUS WALKING FOR

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

An Italian friend, whose brother is a recovering addict, wrote to me, “Perche ci hai insegnato ad abbracciarci senza stringerci,” which means that she and her family learned (from our book Stay Close, Stammi Vicino) how to walk with her brother and not for him; how to hug her brother but not squeeze him.

My reflection: Across the globe, addiction forces us to decide how best to help our loved one who is struggling with drugs or alcohol. I always wanted to make things better for my son, to make things easier. Often these attempts happened at the expense of my own and my family’s health. I would have sacrificed anything to stop the addiction for him. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to learn how to support my son without trying to take control of his recovery. Today, I will walk with my loved one, all the while recognizing and admitting that I cannot walk for him. I will give him space to direct his own program – in its victories and setbacks. I will stay close in hope, faith and prayer.

 

RELAPSE AND THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab – both inpatient and outpatient, in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and presently is trying the suboxone route with individual counseling.  My heart is broken, but I will find my courage. The words stagli vicino will be my mantra of hope.

My reflection: Relapse happens and happened often to my son. I learned more about relapse when my son wrote about a friend, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is terrifying to those of us who love someone who is suffering and also to the suffering person himself. As much as I fear the pain of relapse and the consequences for my son, I will stay close with hope and faith. Though Jeff is clean and living a healthy life, we know that relapse is a perpetual threat. It’s only with vigilance that it’s kept at bay. Today I’ll support my addict in his efforts to stay clean while giving him space to steer his own program.