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IT’S EASY TO JUDGE

Two days ago, I saw this painting by Alessandro Allori (circa 1577), and I was struck by the theme of judgment, with a history dating back to John 8:7. This post isn’t about religion. What it is about are the words, He that is without sin among you, let him cast a first stone at her. As I examined the painting, both the contrite face of the adulteress and the look of tenderness in Christ’s eyes moved me. I wondered if it is human nature that we so easily sit in judgment of others? Is it human nature for those who are healthy to marginalize those who are not? Is it human nature for those who have never suffered from an addiction to condemn those who have?

My reflection: Before my son endured a 14-year addiction, I’m sure that I, too, judged others dealing with addiction. We need to use our judgment to make good choices, of course, but we also need to fortify ourselves with education, an understanding of issues unfamiliar to us, a strong moral compass, and solid principles.

Today’s Promise to consider: We know the negative words used to describe addicts. However, for those of us who love someone battling this disease, we also know the courage it takes for them to change their lives. We see the physical pain they endure to put down the drug that takes away their pain. We know their hearts are good because they are our sons, our daughters, our husbands and wives. They are our loves.


WE ARE NOT ALONE

Photo credit: Davood Madadpoor

A daughter of addicted parents wrote to me: I still struggle with the pain of what it’s like to live with and love addicts. I still struggle with issues of anger and despair over all of the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ that circle around and around in my mind. But it is always cathartic to hear other people’s tales of their battles with this disease – whether they’re the addict or love someone who is.  It reminds me that I’m not alone.

My reflection: There are millions of us affected by this disease, either as addicts or those of us who love them. That’s why groups like AA and Al-Anon work. I found friendship and a lifeline in Al-Anon. In our mutual stories, I discovered compassion and support.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to forget that we are not alone. It’s easy to forget that many of us suffer from addiction’s grasp. Addiction is cloaked in shame, and the shame keeps us silent as we hold our family’s secret. Today, I will accept the help of others. In return, I will reach out my hand to help.

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WHEN IT’S YOUR PARENT

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A young woman wrote to me: Libby, something important struck me when I read this line you wrote last week – My child’s addiction is not against me. He is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living. If I replace “child” with “father,” this is the life lesson Jeff helped me learn. Whether he realizes it or not, it was one of the most impactful and life-altering realizations that helped me heal my relationship with my dad, when I started to look at his addiction as being trapped in a disease rather than a conscious choice of drugs over me/family.

My reflection: Addiction’s tentacles strangle all of us: children, brothers, sisters, parents, and loved ones. We, as a community, have an obligation to reach out our hands to all those impacted from the effects of this disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: Children of addicted parents, siblings of addicted children, and all those in pain because someone they love is addicted need our concerted support and understanding. As my friend wrote, “My father’s addiction is not against me. He is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living.” We need to take their suffering out of the shadows and into the light where it can be healed.


LOVE WILL NOT STOP AN ADDICTION

Photo credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son has a long history of addiction. He got arrested and we hired a lawyer, bailed him out, but he kept using and stealing. He got arrested again and bailed himself out. We knew he was close to dying so we asked the lawyer to have the judge put him back in jail. We told our son that we would not bail him out, that we loved him but would no longer let his addiction destroy the family. All the love in the world was not enough to make him stop. 

My reflection: All the love in the world will not stop an addict from using because addiction is the antithesis of love. Dr. MacAfee tells of a group therapy session when he asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “more.” MacAfee explained, “His answer was not an attempt at humor. Instead, the group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going. Substance drives the addict.”

Today’s Promise to consider: My child’s addiction is not against me. He is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living. I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will stay close and pray that my child decides to stop, for himself.

 


LET’S SHARE THE GOOD NEWS

Son Jeff, Libby, granddaughter Iysa, and son Jeremy

A mom wrote to me: I hesitate to share good news, yet I realize I don’t hesitate to share bad news. The reality is that both can change in an instant! My son called, and the conversation was positive and encouraging. He sounded good and he used the words happy. He apologized for his earlier outbursts of being spiteful, confused and angry. He said there is a bed available in the recovery house he wants to go to and they welcome him back. He is also considering an Intensive Outpatient Program. That, too, encourages me. On top of that, looks like he’ll be able to attend a family wedding in a sober state! He asked for prayer that he would take care of himself and trust God that it will be okay.

My reflection: When Jeff was deep into his addiction, I didn’t want to share any news – good or bad. Every moment was fleeting. Every action was up for grabs. Our lives were chaos.

Today’s Promise to consider: There are joyous moments when our addicted loved ones make good choices, say the words we’ve been waiting to hear, and choose to do the next right thing. We, as parents, know too well the heartache of the bad choices and the life of destruction, but the positive news is essential to share because it gives us hope.

 

 


SUFFERING CAN EMBITTER US OR ENNOBLE US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

The Dalai Lama says we actually feel more joy after we’ve succeeded in the face of opposition. Suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us. Much like muscle tone, it grows against resistance, so what is true physically is true spiritually as well. With acceptance, suffering can make us stronger.

My reflection: This proved true for both my son and me. Jeff once told me that after he left his final long-term rehab, his life was still in pieces – he had no job, no car, he was dealing with numerous legal issues, and he had to rebuild his life. In the face of those challenges, he slept on a friend’s couch, applied for jobs, and went to AA meetings. It was then that he realized that with faith in his higher power and hard work, success was possible.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all suffer at addiction’s hand, but suffering can lead us to greater inner strength and profound personal breakthroughs. The pain of addiction is often impossible to sidestep, so today I will accept it and move through it. I will not let suffering embitter me.

 

 

 


CHOOSING SERENITY

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

I once wrote, I need to quit hanging on my son’s cross. All my angst does nothing for him. If I made mistakes in the past, I need to let go. If some of my mistakes were fatal, I need to let go. I can do nothing but support him with my love and strength. My emotional weakness isn’t good for anyone, especially him. I pray he finds his courage. I pray I find mine.

My reflection: My weeping and my weakness didn’t help my son or me. It’s true that addiction can drive us to the point of unbearable sadness, but by losing my peace, I was of no help to myself and the other family members who depended on me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction wants to send me into a spiral of despair, but serenity is within my grasp. It’s up to me to choose it. Today, I’ll put my energy into hope and faith and health. Lord, Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

This is part of a series of monthly posts that reference many conversations with Dr. MacAfee. Thanks, Doc. 

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A dear friend of mine, the mother of a recovering addict, and someone close to Dr. Mac wrote to me recently: Dr. Mac talked to me about the idea that many family members think, If I just hurry up, work harder, do more, I can fix this problem. We talked about how addiction deeply wounds every family member and how the individual members need care. If the focus is solely on the addict, self care falls by the wayside. He encouraged me to take care of myself, not only for myself, but more importantly for my addicted son and my family.

My reflection: When my son was sick, self care came in at dead last. I worried for my addicted son, my younger son who is not an addict, my work and family. Since I was the mother, I felt selfish if I considered myself first or even second. For many years, my son was lost to the addiction, and so was I.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s essential that we take care of ourselves in the midst of addiction. A routine that promotes our personal wellness helps – Al-Anon or other family groups, walking or running, a spiritual practice, writing, or therapy. If we lose ourselves, who is left to help our loved ones? We need to be compassionate with ourselves.

 


THE EXTRAORDINARY PAIN OF ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Dr. MacAfee told me that the pain of addiction is the agony of being trapped. Using has become critically important because it answers every problem in their lives … until it doesn’t. The use is the solution until it becomes the problem. What was once an escape becomes a prison. The juxtaposition is baffling, and the addict literally has to fight for his life.

My reflection: During the early years of my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I thought that he could simply turn off his drug use. I told him to stop and expected it to happen. In time and with education, I learned that it would take my son great courage and tenacity to change his life.

Today’s Promise to consider: Drug use often starts as a party, until it becomes a prison. Once it takes over, our loved ones are caught up in a sandstorm, unable to see the impact their sickness has on those who care about them. Instead of derision and incarceration, they need love and compassion. They need support from communities like AA, from people who have walked in their shoes and are now living in the solution.

 

 


REACHING FOR THE RED BALLOON: A LESSON FROM MY DAD

Yesterday was the thirteen anniversary of my dad’s death. He was a tough, Italian man, who fought for his country, his family and those he loved. He learned from an early age how to work hard and achieve his dreams. The photo above is of an oil painting he said represented his life. After serving in World War 2, he worked on the docks in New York City and his dreams were like the red balloon, high above him and out of reach. Through grit and determination, he eventually caught his balloon, teaching me that hope and tenacity are critical in overcoming adversity. I needed this lesson when addiction entered our home and took over my son.

My reflection: This painting hangs in our foyer and is a steady reminder that dedication and determination are essential for those of us whose loved ones are battling active addiction. We can’t give up hope.

Today’s Promise to consider: The red balloon represents a healthy life for my addicted loved one. Addiction tries to rob us of our dreams, but I will remain hopeful and stay the course with love and determination. I will continue to reach for the red balloon, stay strong and pray.

 

 

 

 


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