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Recovery

RETHINKING TREATMENT AND INCARCERATION 

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A social worker wrote to me: I agree completely with the philosophy of Stay Close. I have learned to be very tolerant and understanding of the pain and choices made by young people in recovery. I believe that our society must develop a new paradigm in terms of treatment vs. incarceration. The American prison and juvenile justice systems have become a dead end for so many. I hope for a time when drug addiction and mental illness will be treated with the same compassion as any other disease.

My reflection: Incarceration seems to be our society’s first answer to addiction. Sure, locking up the addict gets him off the streets and might even save his life, and the lives of others – but the problem is that we’re putting people is jail who are ill. Addicts need help or else their sickness resumes when they later hit the streets.

Today’s Promise to consider: Every nineteen minutes, someone dies of drug overdose. This can’t continue. Our addicted loves ones need help and treatment. The problem is that THEY must choose to get help. We can’t force them into sobriety. I pray that our judicial systems become enlightened to the realities of this disease and develop new ways to steer our children toward the help they need.

 


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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A FATHER TAKES A STAND

A father of a recovering addict wrote to me, I wonder if we will ever outlive the scare of addiction. Our family had an incident during Christmas. My three children got into a discussion that became an argument. As tempers rose, my son’s former struggles with addiction were brought up. My son has been healthy for eight years and he is 25 years old, so he was really young at the time. I talked with my son and ensured him that the past is the past and that we have all made mistakes in our lives. For the girls, I made it extremely clear that the addiction incident will not cross their lips again or there will be severe consequences. I could imagine how he felt under attack for something that happened years ago.

My reflection: I, too, wonder if we will ever outlive the chains of addiction. If my recovering son had had a kidney disease, people would inquire compassionately about his health. But with the disease of addiction, some responses continue to range from those of suspicion (Is he still clean? How are you sure?), curiosity (How does he stay clean while working in the music field?), or contempt (He’s nothing but a drug addict. I remember.).

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovering addicts need safety and trust. They cannot continue to live their lives under the heaviness and scrutiny of all the mistakes they’ve made. They need an advocate, and I will stand firmly for my son and for all those who have the courage to live in sobriety.

 


“ADDICTION IS A CHRONIC BRAIN DISEASE, NOT A MORAL FAILING,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

vivek-murthyDr. Murthy recently wrote, I’m calling for a cultural change in how we think about addiction. For far too long, people have thought about addiction as a character flaw or moral failing. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and it’s one that we have to treat the way we would any other chronic illness: with skill, with compassion and with urgency.

My reflection: I had the good fortune of attending the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), 2016, in both Vienna and New York City. Jeff joined in New York and spoke about recovery from addiction. At both sessions, the world’s stance was clear: Addiction is a disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: As our medical community learns more about addiction, the worldview is changing in a fundamental way. For many of us, parents and family members, it can’t change fast enough. Our addicted loved ones have felt society’s scourge and loathing for too long. Today, I will help educate others, and I will pray for addiction treatment to meet the needs of the suffering.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/vivek-murthy-report-on-drugs-and-alcohol_us_582dce19e4b099512f812e9c

https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf

 


CHOICES: FOR ALL OF US

DSC01595.JPGFrom a recovering alcoholic: Stagli vicino, stay close, is I think very Italian or perhaps even Mediterranean, certainly not British. Whether a person stays close or not is really the choice of the person who wants to help the suffering addict. I know that there is nothing I can do to stop another person drinking or using unless he wants to quit. It is really as simple as that.

My reflection: It really is as simple as that. We cannot make our child quit using. Change must come from the person. When I had breast cancer, I had to choose to fight. The doctors offered their advice for the best course of treatment, but it was my decision to stay positive and committed to my wellbeing. Our children must choose recovery, and they must choose every day, just as we must choose to give them the space to reach that decision.

Today’s Promise to consider: With every cell of my body, I want to force my child to stop using drugs and alcohol. I want to demand it, command it and make sure it happens. But I can’t. I can only make choices for myself. I will stay close and pray he chooses sobriety, today and everyday, one day at a time.


MACAFEE’S WORDS OF WISDOM: Saints in the Making

doc_0802-1*This is the first in a series of monthly posts that will source my many conversations with Dr. MacAfee over the years. 

A friend, who works in a recovery center, wrote to me:  Thought I would share something really cool with you. I am sitting under a tree right now at an animal assisted therapy center outside of Denver. There are animals all around and ten of the guys from the treatment center. I just overheard, from a distance, one of my guys saying that addicts are saints in the making. How cool is it that Dr. MacAfee seems to be right here with us. I never met him, but those words that you shared in your book from him are really important. The guys do need to know that they are Saints in the Making!

My reflection: When my son was in rehab, Dr. MacAfee told me, “I’m honored to do this work. I believe that addicts are saints in the making.” As I left California, Jeff and Dr. MacAfee, I felt hopeful for my son’s recovery. I was grateful that Jeff had made the decision to live a sober life. I realized that we were both choosing. He was choosing sobriety. I was choosing to believe him and to live in the solution.

Today’s Promise to consider: Dr. MacAfee believed that addicts were saints in the making. He said that people in recovery often came back with fervor to live a sober life, to contribute and to make a difference. I have talked with many recovering addicts throughout the world, and I know that Dr. MacAfee was a wise man. Thanks, Doc.

 


RECOVERY HAPPENS: “NEVER GIVE UP”

TM_1696 (1)A friend of mine forwarded me a letter written by her son. He wrote: The moral of this story is: Never Give Up. Life is an absolutely terrifying phenomenon, but there is always hope hidden somewhere. On July 28, 2012, I remember sitting alone in a drug induced state, watching the sunrise and praying for a god to kill me. I prayed for no afterlife so the pain, the inner anguish, could finally end. This was the moment when I had an epiphany. I thought that instead of slowly watching myself die, I would give life a chance. I checked into rehab and I got clean. Turns out that was the easy part. Staying clean, that’s where shit gets real. I had to figure out who I was, better yet, who I am. The answer didn’t happen overnight. Hell, it’s still an ongoing process. I had to accept that I’m an awkward guy, a people pleaser who doesn’t want anyone to find out that I’m just an asshole with a big heart, and a nervous wreck who tries his best to remain calm. Then something magical happened: I realized that I wasn’t alone. One day I woke up and thought, “Holy damn, I can relate to other people without the use of drugs or alcohol, and they might even like me for who I am?!” And that was a beautiful thing. Life is a beautiful thing. I never thought I could make it to four years clean and sober. With the right attitude, essentially anything is possible.

My reflection: This young man calls out many important parts of the recovery process and delineates the numerous epiphanies that happen along the way. I often hear addicts talk about the rays of hope that enter when things are at their worst and the personal bottoms that ignite the gift of desperation where real change takes hold.

Today’s Promise to consider: This young man’s words remind us all that with addiction there is hope and that sobriety is possible. He discovered that life can be a beautiful thing. Our prayer is that all our suffering children fight for and embrace life in recovery.

 

 

 


LEARNING ABOUT RECOVERY

TM_Positano24 copy (1)

Jeremy, Iysa, Libby, and Jeff

I wrote this passage three years after Jeff chose sobriety, My son’s growth is evident. He laughs more easily, he watches more calmly, he protects himself better. He knows where he hurts and he pays attention to what is coming. He’s more reflective, thoughtful, less impulsive, and more honest. He has good friends. Part of my son died with the addiction, but the son I know is alive. Suffice it to say that he is becoming a strong and caring man.

One year earlier, he told me, “When I awake in the morning, I know if it’s going to be a good day. Some mornings, I reach for a word and it’s like reaching into the fog. Other mornings, when I reach for a word, I pluck it easily out of the air.” He continued, “I’m frustrated that some days aren’t clear, but I guess it will take time. I need to be patient.”

My reflection: We often write about the pain and chaos of addiction, but it’s also important to learn about the process of recovery. My son’s words reminded me that we need to be gentle as our loved ones learn how to live in abstinence.

Today’s Promise to consider: I will be patient with my child’s journey as he learns how to live a life without drugs. Just like healing from any other disease, time takes time, and the process is often painstaking. The joy is in recovery, one day at a time.

 

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REFLECTIONS FROM DR. MACAFEE

Dr. Patrick MacAfee and Jeff

With Dr. MacAfee’s death, I reviewed a few of my notes from our conversations. He said: In most family situations, we help and this is good. In addiction, help often becomes enabling which keeps the disease status quo. We don’t do this maliciously. We want to help, but without the right information we foster the sickness and get caught in the trap of manipulation. If the lies collapse and the fiction is eroded, breakthroughs usually occur, but they’re painful. That’s why we maintain the denial and don’t want to see the truth of what is happening. When we stop enabling, we give the addict a chance to shift. We need to get out of the way and stop intervening in the consequences. 

My reflection: I was the queen of enabling and denial. I didn’t want to see what was happening with my son, and I wanted to believe him when he told me that he wasn’t using drugs. At the end of fourteen years, I finally got out of the way. I told him that I loved him, but he had to fight for himself. All my efforts to save him only continued the devastating decline. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Dr. MacAfee taught me that we need to acknowledge the painful enormity of addiction, but we also need to get out of the way of its consequences. Today, I’ll continue to educate myself about this cunning disease. There’s only room for one in the addiction.

 

 

 

 

 


TEN YEARS OF SOBRIETY

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Photo Credit: Audrey Melton

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY SON JEFF

Today, on July 21, you celebrate ten years of sobriety. This is a huge feat, especially after having suffered a fourteen-year addiction. What would have happened if we had lost you? You faced the demons and came home to yourself and to us. Some research says that only 4% of heroin addicts live and stay well. This is a day to honor.

How far you have come in these past ten years. You pray and meditate, and you radiate serenity and peace. You’ve started a successful music label, and you are a businessman of integrity and strength. Spirituality is at the center of your life, and you inspire me with your hard-fought wisdom and good sense. You have suffered and you have risen.

It took courage, dedication and hard work to reach this day. I call this out because it’s important to do so. A person in active addiction once told me, “If Jeff can do it, so can I.” You give others hope. You give back. You work hard to make the world a better place.

Dad, Jeremy, Iysa and I join your many friends and relatives, who love you and wish you well. We’re proud of you, my son. Here’s to another ten years, one day at a time.

Love you, always and forever. I’ll stay close,

Mom

 


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