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Communication

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.

 


WE ARE NOT ALONE

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: I am learning to open my eyes to my son’s addiction and my place in it. Stay Close is what my intuition always told me. There are few resources for parents and most of them are written in a clinical fashion. A professional point of view serves a purpose, but in my most horrible moments of despair, when I feel most lost, I need to hear another mother’s voice to help me feel less alone.

My reflection: There are many families struggling with the same issues and that is why Al-Anon and other family groups help. There we can learn through conversations, shared experiences and literature how to approach the addict with better understanding. We also learn how to protect ourselves and other members of our families.

Today’s Promise: We are not alone, but we often feel alone. Addiction isolates us and we feel shameful and lost. Family groups like Al-Anon are a source of help. Today, I will reach out my hand in compassion and understanding. Today, I will accept help.

 


BOUNDARIES: SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY

A friend called and told me, I have to establish boundaries with this man I’m dating, but it’s really hard for me. I love him and he loves me, but his behavior with his friends is unacceptable. Recently, a group of us were having an afternoon at the seaside when out came white powder cut into lines on the back of their cell phones. I was deeply uncomfortable and told him. He apologized and, when we got back to his apartment, he flushed the drugs down the toilet. But this is the second time this has happened. What to do? How do I trust?

My reflection: Boundaries keep us safe – us and those we love. They draw a line in the sand between behavior that makes us vulnerable and behavior that aligns with our principles. Addiction, by its very nature, challenges our boundaries – it threw me into extremes, and I swung between yes and no, give and take, punishments and rewards. My mixed messages were confusing to my son, who needed boundaries as much as I did, and all the members of my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: I needed to establish boundaries when my son was in active addiction, and I continue to need them in all areas of my life. It is critical for me to define what is acceptable and what isn’t, and I must do so without guilt or ambivalence. Today, for the good of my son, my family and me, I will say what I mean and mean what I say. Moreover, I will follow through.

 


HONESTY IS IMPERATIVE

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

A client and friend of Dr. MacAfee, the mother of a recovering addict wrote to me: One of the most important lessons I learned from Dr MacAfee was to hold a mirror up to my son and reflect back to him, without anger or judgment, the honest truth of his behavior and actions. Dr. MacAfee encouraged me to be truthful at all times because without truth both of us would live in denial about what was really happening.

My reflection: I was never very good at honesty when my son was in active addiction. I walked on eggshells, trying diligently to avoid confrontations. This didn’t help my son, our family or me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction survives in lies, while sobriety thrives in honesty. The Big Book reiterates that point saying, sobriety is not possible without rigorous honesty. Today, I will find my courage and be honest with my addicted loved one, without judgment or anger, and with love and kindness. Neither of us needs another battle, but we both need truth.

 

 


“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.”

 


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.

 

 


WORDS ARE POWERFUL – BE MINDFUL OF WHAT WE SAY

Jeff wrote to me: There’s a principle in Buddhism called “right speech” which asks us to be mindful of the things we say, to not gossip or spread words that divide. It also reminds us that words can be carriers of peace and positivity. He continued with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, For A Future To Be Possible, “Our speech is powerful. It can be destructive and enlightening, idle gossip or compassionate communication. We are asked to be mindful and let our speech come from the heart.”

My reflection: I sadly remember the words I wrote in Stay Close:

“What was the most painful thing I’ve ever said to you?” I asked an older Jeff.

His answer was quick; he knew.

“When you and Dad picked me up from the police station after my arrest, you told me that you wished I weren’t your son.”

I was stunned into silence, rummaging through my brain trying to remember if I said those words. How could I have said those words?

“I’m sorry, Jeff; I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” What more was there to say? In anger, we parents say things we don’t mean, and our words pierce our children’s remembrance like a blade.

Today’s Promise to consider: Words are mighty. I’ve said things to both my sons that I wish I could erase. I’ve put thoughts into speech that have seemed to take on a life of their own and come true. Today, I will be mindful of what I say. My words will be positive and spoken from a compassionate heart.

 

 

 

 


“KEEP ON TELLING THEM YOU LOVE THEM AND MEAN IT.” 

DSC02457.JPGA mother wrote to me: I am working on the “loving with detachment” issue. I spend hours each day trying to look at where I went wrong as a parent or what I should have done differently. I’ve been to Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and private counseling, but the pain is always there. The best advice I ever received was from my pastor/counselor who told me to, “Keep on telling her you love her and mean it, because you’ll never regret those words.” 

My reflection: There is a Tibetan expression, “Even if the rope breaks nine times, we must splice it back together a tenth time. Even if ultimately we do fail, at least there will be no feelings of regret.”

Today’s Promise to consider: When my addicted love one is unlovable and certainly when he is at his worst, I will continue to tell him that I love him. I can’t fight his battles and I can’t change his life, but I can and will love the man who is under the drugs.

 

 


ADDICTION AND THE FAMILY’S SECURITY

jeff-bedroomAn Italian friend wrote to me: This disease of addiction does awful things to a family. I love my brother, but our situation is a mess, and I flip between gratitude that he is still alive and anger for all the chaos that continues. For our family, it inhibits our ability to plan for the future as we pay for medical treatments and try to build new relationships. Addiction even stifles dreams and personal ambitions because we decide, more or less consciously, that our priority is the healing of addicted loved ones.

My reflection: The family often gets mired in the addiction to the point where nothing else matters. I remember when Jeff was in his last treatment center where there was a young man, about 20 years of age, who had a sports scholarship to college. His dad was a Chemistry teacher and his mom taught third grade. They had taken a second mortgage on their home in order to afford the rehab center. Jeff later told me that when the young man returned to college, he relapsed.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy for families to drown in the tidal waves of addiction. We parents must be vigilant so we don’t fall into this abyss and jeopardize the security of our family. Other members need us. It’s imperative that we learn how to stay close, without compromising our future.


WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

img_0325The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes about the tender gravity of kindness:

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lied dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

My reflection: It’s easy to judge others, especially those who are addicts or alcoholics. There is plenty to disdain about their destructive behavior. Jeff once told me, “Society loathes addicts and addicts loathe themselves.” This sad dynamic needs to change. This poem reminds me that we are all human beings, interconnected, and we do our best to get through life.

Today’s Promise to consider: It is up to us, as individuals, to make room for the tender gift of kindness to all people. No one can make us feel kindly or compassionately toward another, but we all occupy this earth together. We hope that others show us kindness and compassion.

 


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