ADDICTION: NO PLACE TO JUDGE 

A son of alcoholic parents wrote to me: My parents struggled with alcoholism for most of their adult lives. Alcohol was a curse on my family, but we learned to “stay close” and support one another. My parents were in pain. It is not our place to judge. 

My reflection: Addiction affects all of us: parents, sibling, child, cousin, teacher and coach. We all suffer, but many children, who live with addicted parents, carry scars from their earliest years, ones that can negatively affect relationships and last forever. I don’t know their walk, but I feel the heaviness of their pain.

Today’s Promise to consider: The young man who wrote to me grew up in a home where both his mom and dad battled alcoholism. Instead of ugliness and anger, he chooses to summon compassion. Not an easy approach to take, but today, let us all follow his example. No one has the right to judge how we should feel about our suffering loved ones.

GRATITUDE: WHAT YOU PRACTICE GETS STRONGER …even when dealing with addiction

Tara Brach, one of my favorite Buddhist practitioners, says: When we practice gratitude or sending well wishes to others, those are the neural pathways that deepen and flourish. We may very loyal to habits of anxiety and vigilance that evolved to ensure survival, but … we can undo this negativity bias by intentionally orienting in another direction.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, all my neural pathways seemed to be hardwired to thoughts of trauma, destruction, and negative outcomes. I worried constantly – would this be the call, would he live or not, would he ever get well? My mind marinated in fear.

Today’s Promise to consider: How are we able to feel gratitude when our loved ones are in addiction’s grasp? Brain research shows that negative thinking produces more negative thinking, and the cycle continues as it consumes us and our energies. Today, I will stop the cycle. I will identify the parts of my life for which I am grateful, and I will fight the negativity bias. Today, is Thanksgiving. It’s a good day to start.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours

 

 

 

 

 

FIGHTING ADDICTION TAKES COURAGE: THEIRS AND OURS

A mother wrote to me: My son goes to meetings, talks with his addiction counselor, and is working with his psychologist to help him with his anxiety. I’m hopeful because he is keeping his appointments and seems like, this time, he wants to change. Of course the other part of me keeps waiting for the hammer to fall, for him to slip. It’s hard to continue to fight for my recovery and to support him as he fights for his.

My reflection: Recovery is not easy – not for anyone. For us, we’ve been lied to and betrayed for so long that we expect something to go wrong. We’re afraid to hope again, because we’re terrified that our hope will be crushed. For our loved ones, they’re afraid – afraid of failing, afraid of the pain of detox, afraid of the shame, and overwhelmed with the challenge of rebuilding a new life.

Today’s Promise to consider: Courage is needed from everyone involved in fighting an addiction. Family systems have been broken and new ones must be rebuilt. It takes courage to hope again. It takes courage to believe again. Even though we might feel worn down, we must find our determination to go on. If we don’t, addiction wins.

STAY CLOSE THROUGH ADDICTION: ‘HE IS MY SON’

A mother wrote to me: My first-born son is an addict. He is 24, beautiful, smart, and the love of my life. He just received 60 days in jail and to be honest I am thrilled and relieved – at least he’ll be safe and sober for 60 days. Everyone tells me that I should give up on him, turn my back on him, and cut him out of my life. How does a mother do that? I love him unconditionally. My friends think that I am insane, crazy, but he is my son.

My reflection: I tried to cut my addicted son out of my life, but it never worked. I told him to forget the address, but when he called, my resolve crumbled and all I could do was pray that this phone call would be the one that led to recovery. Love for my son is in my DNA. I couldn’t give up on him.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to accept that I couldn’t change my son’s destructive behavior. In time, I learned how to stay close and continue to love him, while I disengaged from the chaos of his addiction. When he chose to fight for his sobriety, I stepped forward.

RELAPSE: THAT ‘MOTHER’ FEELING

A mom wrote to me: My son and I went to an AA meeting together, and I was delighted and proud that he allowed me to accompany him. His recovery is so important to me (maybe even more important to me than to him?), and I know he has relapsed several times. He’s not honest enough to tell me. I wish he were. I just sense that he has tripped along the way – just a feeling, that mother feeling.

My reflection: At the beginning of my son’s recovery, I wish I had understood more clearly that relapse happens and can happen often. I thought that when my son left treatment he was healed. Wrong. It was at those times that he needed more support than ever – and he needed honesty. Relapse isn’t about ‘catching’ the addict, but it is about everyone learning how to stay centered through life’s daily struggles.

Today’s Promise to consider: If I have the feeling my son has slipped, I pray that I’ll have the fortitude to talk compassionately with him as he battles for his life, again. Relapse is not moral failure; my son is an addict. Relapse, if handled well, can be one step closer to full recovery.

 

WHEN DOES RECOVERY HAPPEN?

A woman wrote to me: My younger sister is a recovering heroin addict. She is 25 years old and has been to 17 rehab centers, and never finished one program. Last year, she completed her time in jail (since she did not fulfill the requirements of rehab) and that seems to have made a difference for her.  She is recently married, pregnant and, as far as we can tell, sober.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, he bounced among rehabs, jails, hospitals, and detox centers. I never knew what to do – should I pay for another rehab that I knew he would walk out of as soon as he cleaned up, should I be grateful he was arrested and detained, should I do something – or nothing?

Today’s Promise to consider: There is not one definitive answer as to what makes a suffering person choose to change her life and stay sober. Did she hit her point of desperation? Is it time in jail, rehab programs, treatment centers, AA, professional help? Is it all of these things? The answer must be found in the addict herself. She must choose a different life, and we pray that she chooses before it is too late. We are powerless, but today we can and will stay close.

SUBSTANCE DRIVES THE ADDICT 

Our beloved Dr. MacAfee wrote, This is the simple fact: substance drives the addict. Families grow ever more dysfunctional and stressed as they try in vain to cope with the disease’s devastating impact, but most often they move into deeper levels of confusion and denial. While underestimating the severity of addiction, they are shocked and outraged and overreact believing that, somehow, they should have known from the start.

My reflection: It took me years to learn this truth: substance drives the addict. I, too, was shocked and outraged, and totally incredulous that I lived in denial for so long. How was it possible?

Today’s Promise to consider: Our loved ones, who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, chase their next fix. Their obsession has nothing to do with us, but it is about their love affair with the drug. It took me years to realize that my son didn’t want to hurt me or our family. He knew he was destroying himself, but he couldn’t stop, until the pain became overwhelming and he made the decision to change his life.

WITH ADDICTION, “I FOLLOWED MY HEART”

A dad wrote to me, I followed my heart, my natural parental instincts fueled by love. My twenty-one years of experience and education dealing with my son’s addiction have allowed me to forgive myself. What others consider as parent mistakes are simply necessary experiences that must be encountered in order to understand the disease and, therefore, to begin a successful journey to personal recovery, which will include the necessary tools to appropriately support the child’s recovery.

My reflection: For years, I beat myself up ruminating on all the mistakes I had made during my son’s fourteen-year addiction: I enabled, gave him money that he used for drugs, made countless excuses for his problematic behavior, and became so distracted that I failed to see the needs of my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: This dad writes that parent mistakes are necessary learning experiences. His words gave me another way of looking at my actions in the face of my son’s addiction. Compassion and forgiveness go both ways – to the addicts, but also to those of us who love them.

ONLY LOVE CAN GIVE A PARENT THE STRENGTH TO GO ON

A friend wrote to me: No mother is born equipped to fight a battle like addiction. Only love can give a parent the strength to go on. Feelings of guilt, weakness, and total confusion: I know these emotions very well. I also know that in the long run we can wear out. But in the end, each of us must fight our own battles. There is no path that works for all; there are no rules.

My reflection: I felt all these emotions: guilt for somehow ‘allowing’ addiction to take hold in my family, regret for not seeing the problem sooner, confusion as to what to do to help my addicted son and my younger son, who was affected by it, and deep grief at the chaotic lives we were living, all the while knowing I was powerless to rescue my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: There are no hard-and-fast rules to guide a parent when faced with her child’s addiction. I’ve learned that education, support groups, and insights from recovering addicts themselves are critical, but the final decisions must be ours – and ours alone. During my son’s fourteen-year illness, I made many mistakes, but I never let go of love and hope. They were the oxygen that gave me the strength to stay close and go on.

RECOVERY: STARTING LIFE OVER, WITH A MEMORY OF A LIFE BEFORE

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote, Learning to live drug free touches every facet of a recovering person’s life. He has to learn to laugh without using. He has to learn to “do today” without using. He has to learn to be intimate without using. There is no part of his existence untouched by his drug history. It is literally like starting his life over, yet with a memory of a life before.

My reflection: I remember well the day Jeff and I talked with a group of young recovering people, who were attending a sober living high school in Texas. One boy said, “I can’t listen to the same music as before. I have to find new music that I like.” Jeff responded, “I understand. When I got sober, I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion for recovering addicts is imperative. They have to relearn everything: ways to be social on a Saturday night, what to do on a date, and how to relate to themselves without the cloak of drugs and alcohol. As Dr. MacAfee writes, “It’s literally like starting life over, yet with a memory of a life before.” Today, I’ll remember the courage it takes for my loved one to begin anew.