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APPLYING ADDICTION’S LESSONS TO LIFE 

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A personal reflection: As the holidays approach, I’m excited, but at times I also feel overwhelmed with problems (or potential problems). The holidays are supposed to be a glorious time of sparkling lights and good will toward men, but when disappointments inevitably come, I apply what I’ve learned at addiction’s feet: to keep my expectations in check, to breathe, to take one moment at a time, to allow others to make mistakes without the heaviness of judgment, and to stay close but out of the chaos. The holidays can easily be turned upside-down if I allow my negative emotions to get in the way.

My reflection: Addiction suffocates families, but it can also teach us about life, how to deal with suffering, and how to confront disappointments. For all the negative impacts this disease brings, there are also many valuable lessons.

Today’s Promise to consider: Let us join together to make this holiday season one of learning and tranquility, for us and our families. For those of us who love an addict, let’s take what we’ve learned from addiction and move forward, as best as possible, with faith, love, and serenity.

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THE CONFOUNDING NATURE OF ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

Dr. MacAfee told me, When families are in the throes of struggling with addiction, they do what they know best: They help and support the addict. Families, however, do not anticipate that the nature of addiction is one of exploitation, manipulation, and betrayal. Oftentimes, the addict exhausts and abuses a family’s resources and good will, leaving the family in a state of psychological and financial desperation. It is not only how addiction destroys the addict, but it is also how addictions destroys the family.

My reflection: When our children struggle, we move in to help; however, the addict exploits this natural act of love and protection. Quickly, the chase of the drug is overpowering. The addict loses himself, and we, the family, lose our loved one.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction takes the natural love of a family and smashes it into pieces. The lies and deceit – it’s what addiction does best. Today, I’ll stay close with love and compassion, but it’s imperative that I stay out of the chaos.

 

 


BOUNDARIES: FOR ALL OF US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me, It’s midnight and I’m struggling with a decision. My son is a heroin addict and homeless. He just called and asked if he could come home. I asked him if he was sober, he said yes. I don’t believe it. A week ago today, I rented him a hotel room and, when I went back the next morning to get him, I found syringes and weed in the room. Do I listen to my gut and turn him away? This is SO hard, but I don’t trust him. He lives a very destructive lifestyle and until that changes and, as hard as it would be, I feel like I need to tell him that until he’s been clean for at least 6 months, he can’t come home.

My reflection: This situation is tragic, but it is also common in families suffering with an addiction. I remember well an evening when our family was invited to a special event. I wanted Jeff to attend, but when he arrived he was covered in sweat and shaky. He told me that he hadn’t used any drugs for twenty-four hours so, according to him, he was sober. It was obvious that he was detoxing in an effort to be a part of the family. When I told him he couldn’t come to the event, he said, “I’m not a yo-yo. You told me I could come if I was sober. I’m sober.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Our addicted loved ones want to be close to home. They need the connection to those they love, and they need to know they are loved. As parents, however, we have the responsibility to be clear – to say what we mean and mean what we say. Boundaries keep us all safe and let people in our lives know what they can expect from us.

 


GRATEFUL – ONE DAY AT A TIME

Jeff, Granddad, Grams, Jeremy

Jeff, Iysa, Libby, Jeremy

A personal reflection: My worst days, the days I struggle to maintain equilibrium, are the days I forget to be grateful.

When Jeff was three-months old, he was admitted into Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital for an intestinal disorder, where he stayed for one month. I was a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and also teaching, so my mom helped as often as possible – she stayed with him and cared for him, as only a grandmother can. When I shared my worry (and exhaustion) with Mom, her response was always the same, “Pray prayers of thanksgiving. Praise the Lord for Jeff’s recovery, for his health. Sing. Just try.”

I thought she was crazy. Why would a young mother sing prayers of thanksgiving when her only child was in the hospital and extremely ill? But I did as I was told. I started to pray, to sing, and to thank God for Jeff’s recovery. Feelings of gratitude filled my spirit and I found that didn’t feel so desperate, or helpless. I felt that I could do something.

This lesson happened thirty-eight years ago and, even today, when I find myself struggling with disappointments and hardships, I know I need to find my gratitude – to be grateful for all I DO have, instead of weeping for what I don’t.

On this Thursday, my family and I wish you all a most Happy Thanksgiving. May we raise our voices high and honor the blessings in our lives.

 

 


ADDICTION CAN MAKE US STRONGER

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

After a conversation with my son about how families survive traumas, I thought about family dynamics. Addiction brings us to our knees – that’s true. But we do not have to collapse. We can stay strong. Every trauma to a family – not just addiction, but also infidelity, financial ruin, legal issues – severely tests us. We have a choice: we can either crumble (and sometimes we do) or we can gather ourselves up and push forward. My dad used to tell me, “Daughter, there is no quit.” Families suffering from addiction have the choice to quit, but we also have the choice to go forward with endurance. Addiction and other traumas can make us stronger. That’s the choice I’ve made.

My reflection: There is no perfect family. Family stuff is inevitably painful, messy, hard and hurtful. The quality of the family doesn’t depend on living a problem-free existence. It depends on how we overcome the hard issues.

Today’s Promise to consider: Family traumas happen, and every family has them. Addiction wants to suffocate us, but we can survive. We can use these challenges to strengthen our faith, set boundaries, and learn to communicate with compassion. Pain can be the bearer of many lessons.

 

 

 


“I DON’T WANT TO BREATHE MY FEAR INTO YOU”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

I talked with a dear friend, whose son is a recovering heroin addict, and I was moved by her words to her son. “I believe in you,” she told him, “Sure I’m afraid of what the future holds for you and our family, but I don’t want to breathe my fear into you. I want to give you hope.”

My reflection: There is a song lyric that I memorized years ago, “Fear can be catching worse than a cold.” Research indicates that emotions are ‘contagious,’ and that negative emotions transfer most easily. When my son was in active addiction, I’m sure he saw tension in my eyes more often than he saw peace or love.

Today’s Promise to consider: Our children can’t carry our anxieties, as well as their own. In early recovery, they face countless fears daily – how to get a job, how to pay rent, and how to go the next day without drugs. The last thing they need is to look in our eyes and see doubt. Today, I’ll not worry about tomorrow. I’ll pray, meditate, and find my serenity. Today, I’ll breathe hope into my son.

 


HOW SCIENCE IS UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF ADDICTION

The National Geographic Magazine, September, 2017, reports: “Scientists are challenging the view that addiction is a moral failing and researching treatments that could offer an exit from the cycle of desire, bingeing, and withdrawal that traps tens of millions of people. Addiction hijacks the brain’s neural pathways. By analyzing brain scans of recovering cocaine addicts, clinical neuroscientist Anna Rose Childress, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studies how subliminal drug cues excite the brain’s reward system and contribute to relapse.”

Written by Fran Smith, source: National Geographic

My reflection: No one knows whether the risk of becoming addicted is due to genetics, trauma, stress, or other factors, but science continues to support the fact that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. They are discovering how addiction changes the brain’s chemistry and how it must be retrained for long-term sobriety to take shape.

Today’s Promise to consider: Brain chemistry is altered with addiction – this has been proven by research. Addict’s brains are highjacked by the cycle of desire that drugs and alcohol create. With increased understanding, doctors are experimenting with ways of regaining chemical balance by using electromagnetic waves, medication, psychotherapy, support groups, even mindfulness training. The answer is not incarceration, but treatment.

 

 

 

 


“GREED TRUMPED COMPLIANCE. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT.”

The Washington Post, October 15, 2017: When you’re selling half a million pills to some pharmacy and you’re telling me that you don’t know what the rules are for a suspicious order?” said Geldhof, who is now working as a consultant to lawyers suing the (pharmaceutical) industry. “All we were looking for is a good-faith effort by these companies to do the right thing, and there was no good-faith effort. Greed always trumped compliance. It did every time. It was about money, and it’s as simple as that.” by Scott Highman and Lenny Bernstein 

My reflection: The Washington Post’s recent expose on the drug industry’s collusion with politicians to reduce regulations so opiates can flow more readily into the market is yet another glaring example of corruption and money reigning supreme. This is totally disgusting, unjustifiable and pathetic.

Today’s Promise to consider: When is enough, enough? How many kids have to die before our politicians and our society as a whole face the gravity of the situation of rising deaths by overdose. When will these young people get the help they need instead of being marginalized by those in power? MacAfee’s words ring in my ears, “Only when we take addiction out of the shadows and into the light can it be healed.” Kudos to the reporters who brought this story – out of the shadows and into the light.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/dea-drug-industry-congress/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.c50508dee7b4


“THE DEATHS JUST KEEP COMING”

A friend, who is a nurse practitioner in an intensive care unit, wrote to me, I had to tell another 20-year old that she was going to die. She had had three open-heart surgeries for endocarditis. She was denied a fourth. She continued to use IV heroin. Even as she died, she was seeking a high. The morphine wasn’t good enough; she wanted dilaudid. After I told her parents that she would not survive another surgery, she asked me if she was dying. I told her, “Yes, you are dying.” She took my hand and said, “Thank you.” She died the next day.

It is terrible and devastating and depressing. They just keep coming.

My reflection: I’m haunted by the girl’s relief at hearing she’s about to die – human life shaved of its vitality and hope, and at such a tender age. Life is not supposed to be like this.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, with 64,000 overdoses last year nationwide – a 22% increase over the previous year. Every 19 minutes someone dies. My son once told me, “An addict isn’t afraid to die. An addict is afraid to go the next day without drugs.” Today, we all must work harder to reach these children before they give up hope. With compassion and love, we must work within our communities to reverse the sweeping tides of deaths.

 

 


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.


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