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REACHING FOR THE RED BALLOON: A LESSON FROM MY DAD

Yesterday was the thirteen anniversary of my dad’s death. He was a tough, Italian man, who fought for his country, his family and those he loved. He learned from an early age how to work hard and achieve his dreams. The photo above is of an oil painting he said represented his life. After serving in World War 2, he worked on the docks in New York City and his dreams were like the red balloon, high above him and out of reach. Through grit and determination, he eventually caught his balloon, teaching me that hope and tenacity are critical in overcoming adversity. I needed this lesson when addiction entered our home and took over my son.

My reflection: This painting hangs in our foyer and is a steady reminder that dedication and determination are essential for those of us whose loved ones are battling active addiction. We can’t give up hope.

Today’s Promise to consider: The red balloon represents a healthy life for my addicted loved one. Addiction tries to rob us of our dreams, but I will remain hopeful and stay the course with love and determination. I will continue to reach for the red balloon, stay strong and pray.

 

 

 

 


HE IS MY SON

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A friend of mine wrote, I wish I wasn’t writing this. I wish I wasn’t qualified to speak about the heroin epidemic. I wish I wasn’t a member of a community no one really wants to be part of. But I am. I am the non-addict who knows all too well what it’s like to love a person who suffers from addiction. I know what it’s like to worry yourself sick, to cry yourself to sleep, to be confused, to be mentally and financially bankrupt, and to miss someone who is standing right in front of you. I know what it’s like to feel stigmatized, to be the parent-of-a-drug-addict, to have people think that my son is a loser, a waste, a junkie. I’m here to tell you he is not. He is my firstborn. My first love. My heart. My life. He is someone.

My reflection: I would have given my soul to spare my son from the pain of addiction, but I couldn’t. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Rich or poor, educated or not – it can take down any person. For every one addict, at least four others are caught in the trauma.

Today’s Promise to consider: As the mother of an addict, the unceasing pain can be unbearable. He suffers at the hand of addiction, and we, his family and all those who love him, also suffer. Today, I will stay close with compassion and love. I will pray. I will never give up hope. He is my son.

 


PRECIOUS TIME

We are together. My children are with me this week, and everyday I renew my vow to cherish these moments together. It’s not often that I have all three so close – Jeff, Jeremy and Iysa – away from the demands of work and school and responsibilities. What a gift.

My reflection: The preciousness of time is underscored for me by the tragic consequences addiction deals so many of us. As the mother of adult sons, one of whom was sick for 14 years, I’m grateful they are healthy and living good lives. My prayer is that I remember to touch every good moment with them and hold it tight.

Today’s Promise to consider: The preciousness of time sounds like a mundane concept, but as I age the reality of passing time becomes real. With addiction it becomes even more real. For those of us whose children are safe and healthy today, let us deeply appreciate these times. And for those of us whose loved ones are not, may we remember the times when things were better and keep hope in our hearts.

 

 

 

 


LET US PRAISE THEIR COURAGE

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Many of us have lost people we love to addiction. A 33-year-old friend, who had been clean for ten years, died this week. He lost a heroic battle, and I admired him for his determination to contribute to the community while he was sober. He helped other addicts find sobriety and got them into rehab, helped to open Comunità Cenacolo in Birmingham, Alabama, and worked at an orphanage in Mexico. He served at Mass, played with his nieces and nephews, was a wonderful son and brother, and was enrolled full time at the university with plans to become a nurse. He was to be married this fall. He inspired others, and he inspired me.

My reflection: I will honor this young man’s life. He did much to help others and to make life a better place. He was a beacon of hope and love, and he gave back. I am grateful for having known him.

Today’s Promise to consider: The precious lives that are lost to addiction will inspire me to recommit everyday to doing everything possible to help recovering addicts. We, as a society, need to stand together – strong and tall – so that people in all stages of recovery know they are not alone. Let us praise their courage to fight the good fight.

 

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HONORING OUR PAST

Last week, my granddaughter and I visited the deep south of Italy and the village of Rotondella, the land of my grandparents on my mother’s side. Illiterate immigrants, they labored in the fields, lived in one-room, and traversed the ocean to start a new life for their children in LaMerica. Ours is a typical immigrant story, and now Iysa is beginning to understand our past and the sacrifices that were made to provide a better life for each generation.

My reflection: Our history is one part of what defines us. It doesn’t determine who we are as adults, but it does open important insights about the people and places that created us.

Today’s Promise to consider: Honoring the past is important in many ways. In terms of addiction, our children can better confront their health challenges if they know their family’s history includes substance abuse. Additionally, it offers our children a sense of grounding, helps them to have compassion for others who have similar experiences, and creates vital connections to pieces of their past.

 


“SOMEHOW OUR LOVE ISN’T ENOUGH”

Brother Ted and family

A mother wrote to me: I have found strength in a very close Nar-Anon group and continue to attend meetings regularly.  My husband and I and my son’s sister are here for him when HE is ready to change. We know we can’t force him to change – we’ve tried. After three failed rehab attempts, we have nothing else to give him. Somehow our love isn’t enough.

My reflection: I learned that once the addiction is in charge, our children are not. They are under the drugs and using becomes a chase, a necessity, a way of life. I used to tell my son, “If you loved us, you’d stop,” but addiction takes the healthiest parts of love and smashes them into worry, helplessness and hopelessness.

Today’s Promise to consider: I used to think that love was enough to beat addiction down, but it isn’t. My son needed to make the decision to live a sober life. He once told me, “I love you and never wanted to hurt you. I tried to keep you out of the way and to the side, but I’m an addict, Mom. I’m an addict.”


“IT NEVER STOPS HURTING” 

Zander

A mom of a son who died of a drug overdose wrote to me: I feel the need to find a place to help this epidemic, to make a voice for us moms and dads who have lost our child to this horrible disease. I feel a need to say to the medical community that doctors must stop making it easy to get opiate meds, because they eventually lead young people to heroin where they get caught up in this highly addictive and deadly disease. I just don’t know where to go with this inner voice that wants to speak out on behalf of my beautiful son.

My reflection: My prayer is simple: may this entry bring comfort to another mom or dad, brother or sister.

Today’s Promise to consider: We must join our voices into the resounding chorus that clamors for help for our addicted loved ones. There can be no rest until those who are suffering get the help they need. The hurting never stops for those who have lost a child. We must all hold hands and walk together.

 


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.


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.


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