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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.

 

 

 


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.


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.

 

 


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