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“I COULDN’T HELP HIM BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE”

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A mother wrote to me: My son died of a heroin overdose. I need to start to forgive myself for all the mistakes I made. I try to understand why he couldn’t just stop what he was doing to himself. It isn’t as simple as people want to make it. I live with the pain of not being able to help my son when he needed it, but I get up everyday and try to live my life the best I know how. I still feel that I hide from so many people who can’t understand what it was like to live with a son I loved and couldn’t help before it was too late.

My reflection: My father was a drill sergeant in the Marines and he used to point his finger at me and command, “Tell Jeff to stop, godammit. Tell him to stop.” I wish it were that simple.

Today’s Promise to consider: I found it impossible to force my son to quit using. Through a fourteen-year addiction, I discovered no clear answers, but I learned that my loved one had to choose to change his life. And for myself, I learned to stay close, pray and forgive.

 

 


BLAME ISN’T HELPFUL

Photo by Audrey Melton

A mother wrote to me: My son is a heroin addict. I stayed home and was a fulltime mom. When he was ten years old, I started homeschooling him and his siblings. Eventually when he was beginning the eleventh grade, he entered a Christian school that we thought would be a good move for him. I had no idea that there he would meet up with trouble: He entered a class that was named the “druggy class.” The rest is history, and the cycle of addiction began.

My reflection: I’ve spoken to various audiences about addiction and the number one question I’m asked is, “What do you think made your son a drug addict? Maybe it was your fault? You and your husband worked many hours. Admittedly neither of you saw the red flags.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It happens regardless of socio-economic status, college degrees or religious upbringing. It happens in churches, in schools, on good streets and bad. I won’t blame anyone or anything for my child’s addiction. It happened. What I will do is stay committed to my Al-Anon or family group, trust God and work to keep hope in my heart.


YOU’RE BRAVER THAN YOU BELIEVE

A former student, friend and now psychiatrist, sent this: 

If ever there is a tomorrow

When we’re not together

There is something you

Must always remember

You are braver than you believe

Stronger than you seem

And smarter than you think

 

But the most important thing is

Even if we are apart

I’ll always be with you

My reflection: The words above epitomize Stay Close, a way of saying to our addicted loved ones, “I love you and you can beat this thing. But you have to do it. I can’t do it for you. You are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem. Fight, son, fight.”

Today’s Promise to consider: We can’t force our loved ones to live a sober life, but we can Stay Close and continue to hope. Jeff once told me, “You believe in me more than I believe in myself. Please never quit believing, Mom.”

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BREAK YOUR HEART NO LONGER

Tara Brach, in her book Radical Acceptance, quotes an Indian master Bapuji, who writes:

My beloved child,

Break your heart no longer.

Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart.

You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality.

The time has come, your time

 

To live, to celebrate and to see the goodness that you are…

 

Let no one, no thing, no idea or ideal obstruct you

If one comes, even in he name of “Truth,” forgive it for its unknowing

Do not fight.

Let go.

And breathe – into the goodness that you are.

My reflection: I broke my own heart a million times over. When my son was in active addiction, I judged myself harshly and counted out all the ways I could have handled things differently. I fought with myself and anyone who judged my son. I refused to let go and let God.

Today’s Promise to consider: For many years, I was my own worst enemy. Addiction was determined to crush my soul and I allowed it to do just that. I was full of self-criticism and guilt until I realized that I was powerless. When I finally surrendered, learned how to find solace in prayer and began to trust the goodness that surrounded me, I got stronger.

 

 


SELF PRESERVATION

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

A dear friend of mine and Dr MacAfee’s told me: Dr MacAfee often reminded me of the importance of taking time for self care and time to nurture myself so that I could deal with everything going on within the family and still be true to myself. Addiction, he told me, is a family disease. As a mother, I tried to shoulder the load of destruction that addiction brought within my family. Addiction affects everyone in the family in different ways for years to come.

My reflection: Addiction takes over the family and leaves no hostages. It’s relentless in its hunger to destroy everyone. When Jeff was in active addiction, I tried to protect my family, but it was impossible. Addiction was far stronger than I was strong.

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion defined Dr. MacAfee. He had compassion for the addict and for the family. He helped me to learn how to Stay Close, but out of the chaos as I continued to love my suffering child. He taught me that self preservation wasn’t selfish, but essential.

 


THE POWER OF COMMUNITY IN RECOVERY

Jeff and I talked about what helps people stay in recovery and he said, Getting sober is just the beginning; learning to live in abstinence is the goal. As human beings, we have a hunger to be seen and to feel connected with those around us. And when we don’t, so often we use drugs to cover the feelings of loneliness – but drugs only isolate us even more. In time, we move further into addiction and further away from the people we love. In groups like AA, we find connections, people who know our walk and won’t judge us. They ‘see’ us, they celebrate our victories and they know how imperative fellowship is. These connections prove to us that we are not alone. 

My reflection: Family groups like AA and Al-Anon work. Not only do recovering addicts find a safe space to grow strong within a community of understanding peers, but we, parents, can find a similar environment in Al-Anon. The loving members of Al-Anon saved my sanity when my son’s addiction took me to my knees. There I found people who knew my pain. 

Today’s Promise to consider: The family groups of AA and Al-Anon prove to us that we are not alone. When we feel raw and wounded, it takes courage to reach out and allow ourselves to been ‘seen.’ Today, I will pray and hold out my hand in faith and vulnerability.


“MY MOM FINALLY SAW ME AS HER SON AGAIN”

A young man in recovery wrote to me: About two weeks after my mom finished reading your book, she and I had an unbelievable conversation. She told me that reading the book was very difficult for her at times, but that your story and her own life were strikingly similar. I think the reason that it was difficult for her had everything to do with the fact that she has never sought any kind of help or support outside of a couple of her friends.

What made the conversation with her remarkable was the tone in her voice and the way she spoke. She seemed calm and when I said something funny, she laughed. I cannot tell you how long it has been, since my mother actually listened to my voice and listened to what I was saying. I mean truly listened. Libby, I believe that you are the first person my mother has been able to relate to when it comes to my addiction and all of the pain our relationship has endured. Something magical happened when she read your book. She finally saw me as her son again. Something in what you wrote allowed her to look me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, be able to stop giving me one armed, sideways hugs, and instead wrap both arms around me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Today’s Promise to consider: Parents have a huge influence on our recovering children, even when they are adults. All people want to ‘be seen’ by those they love, but for addicts that need is imperative. Bobby’s last line says it all, “Something in what you wrote allowed her to look me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, be able to stop giving me one armed, sideways hugs, and instead wrap both arms around me.”

 


CUNNING, BAFFLING AND POWERFUL

Photo credit: Audrey Melton

Terry Gorski writes, Addiction comes into our lives posing as a friend and then slowly grows into a monster that can destroy us.

(Terry Gorski, Straight Talk About Addiction)

My reflection: I was deluded by addiction. It entered our home and looked like a phase. I shrugged off my concerns with the thought my son’s behavior was normal because many teenagers smoked pot and drank beer. Surely, Jeff would grow out of it. Silently and rapidly, addiction grew fat, fed on our angst and misery and, in the end, mocked us with its strength and power.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. It’s crucial that we parents pay close attention to the signs of impending danger so that we can intervene early. We are part of the medicine that can heal this disease. Education and closeness are the keys.

 

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DENIAL AND ADDICTION

A mother writes: Our daughter, both strikingly beautiful and musically gifted, signed a recording contract with an International music company at the age of fifteen. I traveled with her extensively and never had an idea what was going on right in my presence. At seventeen, she graduated a year early as valedictorian of a private school catering to performers. Unbeknownst to us, she was already addicted to cocaine when she left for university on a full music scholarship. I blamed her stuffy nose on allergies, and she gladly accepted the air cleaner I bought for her dorm room. We only learned of her addiction after a suicide attempt.

My reflection: We don’t see the addiction as it unfolds right before our eyes. This seems impossible, yet it happens every day to even the most vigilant parents. We see the dilated pupils, hear the stuffy nose and wonder where our child’s spirit and humor have gone. We want to think the best of them. We want to believe us when they tell us, “Mom, I’m fine. Please don’t worry. All is OK.”

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents want the best for our children. When we realize that we’ve been in denial, we often blame ourselves and feel betrayed, stupid or tricked. We’re not alone. Today, I will face the truth with love and move forward, one day at a time.

 

 


THE SHAME ISOLATES US

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

A dear friend of mine and Dr MacAfee’s, a mother of a recovering addict, wrote to me: Addiction within a family brings a thick cloak of shame to all. It surrounds and permeates us to our very core. We agonize over our loved one’s behavior, and we cringe over what people must be thinking of us. Addiction brings shame, and we isolate ourselves.

My reflection: When I had breast cancer, an army of women surrounded me with love and support, but when my son was in active addiction, many of these same friends didn’t know what to do or say. I was in deep pain and confusion, so I isolated. I let no one in.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today, I will share my story of addiction with those I trust or, if I am able, with a larger audience. There are others who know my pain, and the shared stories remind us that we’re not alone. I will go to Al-Anon meetings. I will reach out my hand. I will pray and find comfort. I refuse to continue to suffer alone.

 


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