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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.

 

 

 

 


THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH: SUFFERING

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

The Dalai Lama says, The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is filled with suffering, and the first step to finding peace is to accept that pain and sadness are inescapable for all humans. From there, we can offset suffering by behaving in ways that create wellbeing. (summarized from The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, Avery, 2016)

My reflection: When Jeff was in active addiction, I often cried out against God. Why my son? Why so many years? Why the constant relapses and suffering for all of us? I wanted joy in my life and resisted pain instead of finding ways to accept it and instill peace.

Today’s Promise to consider: Suffering is as much a part of life as is joy. We all have fear, stress, anxiety and anger, and pain visits all people, not just those considered “troubled.” The problem is not the suffering, but how I react to it. Today, I will open my heart to acceptance and compassion – for myself and others.

 

 

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DRUG DEATHS IN AMERICA

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

New York Times, June 5, 2017: Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. (Josh Katz, Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever)

My reflection: Heroin is the cause of many overdoses, but numbers of deaths are increasing due to heroin laced with the illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Worse yet, there is now a substance called carfentanil that is used to tranquilize large animals like elephants and is 1,000 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.  

Today’s Promise to consider: The opioid epidemic is claiming young lives and it seems unstoppable. We must all join hands to educate our loved ones. Children need open and honest forums to talk about their experiences and to learn about the massive dangers of drugs. We must stay close, help our loved ones in need to find good recovery centers, work with legislators on stronger health care, and pray.

 


UNDERNEATH IT ALL, THEIR HUMANITY REMAINS

A young girl, suffering from a crystal meth addiction, wrote to me: I met the local drug dealer. It’s been 2 weeks and 2 days, and l have a meth addiction again. It has been 2 years, l think, or maybe 3, since l relapsed. I don’t remember.

I constantly hear voices and can’t leave the house in daylight. I am convinced everyone hates me. The voices tell me that they will kill me, or I’m ugly, or I’m disgusting or that l smell. Some days l have 8 showers and then the next day l get so scared it takes all day to have 1 shower. Most days, I don’t trust the water out of the tap.

I’ve never ever hung with a crowd so violent. Last night a guy pulled a knife on a house full of people. And it’s hard when l never know what’s real.

Thank you for listening to me as l have no one to talk to. I have my mom, but l don’t want her stressed out. I’m afraid the stress will kill her. My lifelong friends and family have nothing to do with me. My mom and cousin try, but l abuse them day and night. l don’t mean to.

It’s all getting worse by the day. I have to go as voices are bad, and l can’t think now.

My reflection: Even in the midst of writing this rambling and tragic message, this young girl is concerned about her mother, loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to judge an addict as uncaring, selfish, and manipulative. While all of these might be true, as long as our children are alive, they still exist underneath the disease. Their empathy and humanity are still there, just buried deep within. In the face of this, I, too, will keep my empathy and humanity. I’ll continue to love my child, stay close but out of his chaos, and pray he chooses 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.

 


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.

 


SOMETIMES EVEN DEATH ISN’T A DETERRENT

A recovering addict told me: Dying didn’t matter. I couldn’t have been any worse off than I was, but I definitely didn’t fear death. If you die, that’s sort of a blessing. I was raised Catholic, but suicide didn’t scare me, didn’t scare me to be in limbo, or purgatory, or wherever you go. I don’t know, but I figured I had to stay here on earth and suffer for the shit I did to the people I hurt.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I would have sold my soul to know what it would take for him to put down the drugs and change his life. With each of his bottoms, I prayed for his salvation.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addicts are overwhelmed by the obsession to use – it often belies their own understanding. Sometimes even death isn’t a deterrent in the race for the drug. I pray that our loved ones choose life, but what will it take? I will stay close in love and hope.


MACAFEE’S WORDS OF WISDOM: STOP TRYING TO MANAGE THE CHAOS

img_3931This 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: I used to think that if I could just work harder and do more for my addicted loved one, I could fix the problem. Dr. MacAfee taught me that my attempts to manage the chaos enabled my son to continue his self-destruction. Don’t get me wrong…things were still deteriorating, but at a much slower pace. Once I stopped managing his chaos, he lasted three days. It was shocking. It still is.

My reflection: I used to think my job as a mom was to fix my children’s problems. With addiction, most of what I thought I knew wasn’t right or didn’t work. Like my friend, I finally learned that I had to get out of the way of my son’s consequences.

Today’s Promise to consider: As parents, we can’t manage the chaos in our addicted loved one’s life. Our impulse to make things better for him is a good one, but in the face of addiction it becomes counterproductive. Moreover, when I put myself in charge of my son’s addiction, this gave him the time and opportunity to continue his destructive way of life. When I finally learned to stay close but out of the chaos, he took control.


“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.


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