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Courage

IT’S EASY TO JUDGE

Two days ago, I saw this painting by Alessandro Allori (circa 1577), and I was struck by the theme of judgment, with a history dating back to John 8:7. This post isn’t about religion. What it is about are the words, He that is without sin among you, let him cast a first stone at her. As I examined the painting, both the contrite face of the adulteress and the look of tenderness in Christ’s eyes moved me. I wondered if it is human nature that we so easily sit in judgment of others? Is it human nature for those who are healthy to marginalize those who are not? Is it human nature for those who have never suffered from an addiction to condemn those who have?

My reflection: Before my son endured a 14-year addiction, I’m sure that I, too, judged others dealing with addiction. We need to use our judgment to make good choices, of course, but we also need to fortify ourselves with education, an understanding of issues unfamiliar to us, a strong moral compass, and solid principles.

Today’s Promise to consider: We know the negative words used to describe addicts. However, for those of us who love someone battling this disease, we also know the courage it takes for them to change their lives. We see the physical pain they endure to put down the drug that takes away their pain. We know their hearts are good because they are our sons, our daughters, our husbands and wives. They are our loves.


WE ARE NOT ALONE

Photo credit: Davood Madadpoor

A daughter of addicted parents wrote to me: I still struggle with the pain of what it’s like to live with and love addicts. I still struggle with issues of anger and despair over all of the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ that circle around and around in my mind. But it is always cathartic to hear other people’s tales of their battles with this disease – whether they’re the addict or love someone who is.  It reminds me that I’m not alone.

My reflection: There are millions of us affected by this disease, either as addicts or those of us who love them. That’s why groups like AA and Al-Anon work. I found friendship and a lifeline in Al-Anon. In our mutual stories, I discovered compassion and support.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to forget that we are not alone. It’s easy to forget that many of us suffer from addiction’s grasp. Addiction is cloaked in shame, and the shame keeps us silent as we hold our family’s secret. Today, I will accept the help of others. In return, I will reach out my hand to help.

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LOVE WILL NOT STOP AN ADDICTION

Photo credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son has a long history of addiction. He got arrested and we hired a lawyer, bailed him out, but he kept using and stealing. He got arrested again and bailed himself out. We knew he was close to dying so we asked the lawyer to have the judge put him back in jail. We told our son that we would not bail him out, that we loved him but would no longer let his addiction destroy the family. All the love in the world was not enough to make him stop. 

My reflection: All the love in the world will not stop an addict from using because addiction is the antithesis of love. Dr. MacAfee tells of a group therapy session when he asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “more.” MacAfee explained, “His answer was not an attempt at humor. Instead, the group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going. Substance drives the addict.”

Today’s Promise to consider: My child’s addiction is not against me. He is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living. I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will stay close and pray that my child decides to stop, for himself.

 


SUFFERING CAN EMBITTER US OR ENNOBLE US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

The Dalai Lama says we actually feel more joy after we’ve succeeded in the face of opposition. Suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us. Much like muscle tone, it grows against resistance, so what is true physically is true spiritually as well. With acceptance, suffering can make us stronger.

My reflection: This proved true for both my son and me. Jeff once told me that after he left his final long-term rehab, his life was still in pieces – he had no job, no car, he was dealing with numerous legal issues, and he had to rebuild his life. In the face of those challenges, he slept on a friend’s couch, applied for jobs, and went to AA meetings. It was then that he realized that with faith in his higher power and hard work, success was possible.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all suffer at addiction’s hand, but suffering can lead us to greater inner strength and profound personal breakthroughs. The pain of addiction is often impossible to sidestep, so today I will accept it and move through it. I will not let suffering embitter me.

 

 

 


CHOOSING SERENITY

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

I once wrote, I need to quit hanging on my son’s cross. All my angst does nothing for him. If I made mistakes in the past, I need to let go. If some of my mistakes were fatal, I need to let go. I can do nothing but support him with my love and strength. My emotional weakness isn’t good for anyone, especially him. I pray he finds his courage. I pray I find mine.

My reflection: My weeping and my weakness didn’t help my son or me. It’s true that addiction can drive us to the point of unbearable sadness, but by losing my peace, I was of no help to myself and the other family members who depended on me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction wants to send me into a spiral of despair, but serenity is within my grasp. It’s up to me to choose it. Today, I’ll put my energy into hope and faith and health. Lord, Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


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.

 


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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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.

 


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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