Misconception #8: Relapse is failure

From my son, I learned: that relapse happens. It happened often with Jeff. There are countless examples of recovering addicts like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stay clean for years, relapse, and die. Drugs are powerful and addiction never rests. It bides its time and waits for the right moment to pounce.

My reflection: Through a dozen of my son’s relapses, I suffered. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I could/should be doing differently. Every relapse was a red, flashing light that blinded me with a sense of failure. It took me years to understand.

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is a gut-punch, instantly dashing hopes and optimism. But the reality is that relapse happens. Each time it did for Jeff, I felt guilt, anger, and betrayal…until one day Dr. MacAfee told me, “Relapse isn’t failure. It’s one step closer to recovery.” I still hold that thinking close in my work with addiction. It buoys me when I hear about recovering people losing their footing. It helps me keep hope alive.

 

Misconception #7: Life in sobriety is easy

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

From my son, I learned: that life in sobriety is one-day-at-a-time. Recovering addicts must learn to take risks and live with courage. When Jeff went back to work in sobriety at a PR firm, he felt like he was constantly walking on eggshells, one step away from being fired every day for the first year. He didn’t feel qualified, felt in over his head, but he tried his best and became a strong employee. When he moved on to start his own company, his boss thanked him for his important contributions.

My reflection: Jeff and I spoke to a group of recovering addicts at a treatment center and, after our presentation, a seventeen-year-old boy said to Jeff, “I can’t even skateboard to the same music I used to. When I do, I think immediately of drugs.” Jeff replied, “Yep, I had to re-learn everything when I got sober. I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery requires a ‘control-alt-delete’ on the old life. Addicts know well how to exist in their illness, but when they are sober, everything is new: social time with friends, a Saturday night date, and how to be a responsible employee. Learning to live in sobriety is not easy. I respect those who stay close to the program and commit to living a healthy life in recovery.

 

 

 

 

Misconception #6: Life in sobriety can’t compare to the incredible highs of drugs

From my son, I learned that sobriety comes to outweigh all the excitement – big weekends and bursts of pleasure – that drugs provide. He says that being clean lets a person build a life of substance rooted in real relationships with people who truly care about him, and a career he’s proud of. Life unfolds to be profoundly gratifying without drugs. Jeff says this was the biggest realization of all.

My reflection: I still have a hard time understanding the true power of drugs. The excitement, the party, and the high life that drugs provide are foreign to me.

 Today’s Promise to consider: The juxtaposition that drugs entail is still confounding to me. They are parallel worlds of ecstasy and agony. I’ve heard many addicts say that they couldn’t quit drugs because of the deep comfort they provide, but all I saw were the devastating effects they had on my son and family. There is so much to learn with addiction.

 

 

Misconception #5. Families must walk away from their addict

From my son, I learned that the knowledge that our family was waiting for him when he got healthy was an important part of his recovery. He knew that when he made the decision to live a sober life, we would be at his side. 

My reflection: Years ago, a recovering alcoholic at San Patrignano in Italy taught me the meaning of stagli vicino (stay close to him). He counseled me to stay close, but out of the chaos of my son’s addiction. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a family disease and we are all involved, hurt and traumatized. Through it all, family can be part of the healing, a part of the medicine of recovery, keeping in mind that boundaries are important for all of us. Every day signifies the right to choose again – and again.

 

MISCONCEPTION #4: ADDICTS DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ANYONE ELSE

From my son, I learned that many addicts hate themselves for the pain they are causing those they love. Recently, a young girl with a crystal meth addiction wrote to me, “My mom tries to help me, but I can’t talk with her. I’m afraid the stress will kill her. I can’t stand myself for hurting her.”

My reflection: When Jeff was in the deep throes of his addiction, I had a bilateral mastectomy. I was in the hospital only one night, and he slept in a chair next to my bed, reacting and awakening with my every move. Empathy for his mother was still alive in my chameleonic son and he was attentive and caring; he never left my side.

Today’s Promise to consider: Once the addiction is in charge, our loved ones are not. Using becomes a chase, a necessity, a way of life, but addicts, in a moment of clarity, know that they are hurting the people they love and they loathe themselves for it. Today, I will pray for my child’s recovery and continue to trust that my child’s humanity is alive under the drugs.

 

MISCONCEPTION #3: THE ADDICT CHOOSES TO STAY CLEAN FOR THOSE HE LOVES

From my son, I learned that as much as he loved his family, he had to choose sobriety for himself. Many of us, who love addicts, want to believe that the addict will change his ways for the family, a child, or another person. As a recovering person once told me, “Let’s face it. I had to decide whether I would live or die. I got clean for myself.”

My reflection: Several times I asked my son why he didn’t stop doing drugs when he saw all the damage addiction was spewing onto the family. He explained that he never wanted to hurt us, that he wanted desperately to keep us to the side, but that drugs are all powerful. Once he was locked in their grasp, he was overwhelmed with the hunt for more.

Today’s Promise to consider: One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that love wasn’t enough to save my son from addiction’s clutches. The disease takes the healthiest parts of love and smashes them into worry, helplessness and hopelessness. The reality is that addicts must choose to change for themselves. It’s the only way sobriety takes a lasting hold. Today, I’ll pray that my loved one makes the choice.

 

MISCONCEPTION #2: ADDICTS MUSCLE THEIR WAY TO SOBRIETY ALONE

Jeff and friend Jason

From my son, I learned: Recovering communities like Alcoholics Anonymous are a crucial part of recovery. There the addict finds people who know his journey and have walked in his shoes. As much as I wanted to help my son, I couldn’t understand all that he had lived. In groups like AA, they are sensitive to the nuances of this disease and the path out of it. They celebrate his successes and stand with him when he is in need.

My reflection: Much of the current research indicates that recovery is more successful when the addict is supported by people who understand his walk and who care about him and his daily struggle. As much as I wanted to be that person for my son, I couldn’t be.  

Today’s Promise to Consider: Fellowship with recovering addicts is often an essential part of a person’s journey to sobriety. We, as family members, can give them love and support, but people who know their walk provide community and understanding along the way. Today, I’ll encourage my loved one to attend AA, NA, or another support group. I, too, will attend a support group aimed at care for family members.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ADDICTION…that I learned from my son

Misconception #1. Addicts are weak and lack courage to face life.  It takes huge faith and fearlessness to live in sobriety. When I praised Jeff’s courage to try rehab again, he replied, “Courage. That’s not a word usually used with addicts.” But it does take courage. Every day, the recovering addict must make the choice to lead a new life unaided by the crutch of narcotics.

My reflection: A recovering addict told me that his father once said to him, “It takes guts to stop drugs. You just have to do it.” When he heard these words from his dad, he thought, “I’m not even strong enough to stop, so I might as well keep going. The power of drugs is just too great.” 

Today’s Promise to consider: Living in recovery takes more courage than I realized. Addicts have to decide every day to turn their back on a life they’ve grown deeply accustomed to and learn to do things differently – a complete 180-degree shift. Today, I’ll celebrate the milestones my addicted loved one reaches, and I’ll live in gratitude for the strength he shows in facing life, sober.

SIBLINGS NEED SUPPORT THROUGH ADDICTION

A sister of an addict wrote to me: My brother has been in and out of rehab for years. Mom constantly believed his lies. She’d send him money, bail him out, and let him live at home. He has alienated all of us siblings. He has a son, grandchildren, and he had such a good life in front of him. No matter how hard we tried and what we did, he just refuses to believe he has a problem. I try to help, but I don’t know what to do to help anyone anymore, especially my parents. It’s breaking my heart.

My reflection: Siblings often find themselves in the difficult space between their brother or sister and their parents. Loyalties are smashed, love is questioned, and chaos reigns.

Today’s Promise to consider: All family members suffer when addiction enters the home, but siblings are thrust into an especially conflicted place. They might be asked to be arbitrator, counselor, spy, anchor, or player in the drama, then at other times they are left to the side, in confusion. They love their brother or sister, but loathe the damage the addiction does to family. Today, I will listen to my non-addicted children. I will reach out and support them.

ADDICTION: WAR OR COMPASSION?

Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream, writes: 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.

My reflection: Tough love was the mantra-of-the-day when my son was in the deepest throes of his heroin addiction. People told me to kick him out of the house, cancel him from our lives, and to have an imaginary funeral for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: Shame, neglect, and ridicule often drive the addict deeper into his addiction. None of these negative behaviors ever helped my son get closer to health. Stay Close became our mantra, and this worked for us. War or Compassion? I choose compassion.