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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.


MACAFEES’S WORDS OF WISDOM: You Get What You Tolerate

img_3932This is part of a series of monthly posts that reference many conversations with Dr. MacAfee. Thanks, Doc. 

A friend, who also loved Dr. MacAfee, and I remember when he told us both that you get what you tolerate. She and I both respected Dr. MacAfee’s years of wisdom in working with addicts and, at different times, both of us had been the recipients of our sons’ disruptive behavior, lies, manipulations or deep hurts. Dr. Mac told us to stay close, but not to allow ourselves to be abused. “Whatever behavior you tolerate,” he counseled, “will continue.”

My reflection: As my son’s addiction took over his life, his lies, manipulation and downright bad behavior became more pervasive. With every low, I thought, “This is his bottom,” and I rushed in to save him from the consequences of his actions. The more chaos I allowed myself to be subjected to, the worse things got. 

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents of addicts are known to sacrifice our own well being as we tolerate the intolerable. Firm boundaries are imperative for both our loved ones and ourselves. The consequences of the addict’s behavior must be his to bear. We reach out in love and stay close, but we must keep ourselves safe.

 


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.

 


“I’M NOT SURE WHAT RULES TO FOLLOW”

TM.3 (1)A mother wrote to me: Webster’s dictionary says, “Enabling: to make possible, practical, or easy.” How simple this sounds. Why would a parent want to make it easy for a child to destroy himself? My aunt said to me yesterday, ‘You need to have guidelines and discipline in your house.’ I just thought to myself: I would love to have that. I am a mom trying to raise three kids and one is an addict. I am not so sure what rules I am to follow.

My reflection: Dr. Terri Gorski says that society gives us no rules to follow with addiction. For me, I always ached to know the line between enabling and helping. The difference between the two seemed confusing and ambivalent. The hardest thing I’ve ever done as a mom was to get out of the way and allow my son to face the consequences of his addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents often want step-by-step instructions to help our child. The problem is that there are no silver bullet solutions to ensure our children will live a sober life. Today, I’ll step back and allow my son to contend with the results of his behavior, both good and bad. I will stay close, but out of the chaos of his addiction.


RELAPSE AND STAYING CLOSE

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A mother wrote to me: My eighteen-year-old son is dying in the next room. It started with severe headaches that became an every day occurrence. I took him to an internist who prescribed for him oxycontin. He became addicted in a matter of weeks. He lost thirty pounds, had black bags under his eyes, and did nothing but lay in his bed. We found a rehab center, but after two weeks he signed himself out. He is home now and trying so hard, but he is quickly losing faith as his body is turning against him again. I am so afraid that he will never get better and will die before my eyes.

My reflection: When relapses happened with my son, I thought that treatment centers were the answer; however, he never stayed very long and constantly walked out before his time was up. Their response was always the same, “We can’t keep him if he chooses to leave.” I, too, lived in constant fear that he would die.

Today’s Promise to consider: We want to save our children. It’s instinct. It’s what we do as parents. But drug addiction is powerful and it doesn’t let go easily. Today, if my son relapses and asks for help, I will steer him toward recovery and other recovering people, not necessarily with money, but with emotional support and love. I’ll stay close.

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