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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.


TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

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

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A dear friend of mine, the mother of a recovering addict, and someone close to Dr. Mac wrote to me recently: Dr. Mac talked to me about the idea that many family members think, If I just hurry up, work harder, do more, I can fix this problem. We talked about how addiction deeply wounds every family member and how the individual members need care. If the focus is solely on the addict, self care falls by the wayside. He encouraged me to take care of myself, not only for myself, but more importantly for my addicted son and my family.

My reflection: When my son was sick, self care came in at dead last. I worried for my addicted son, my younger son who is not an addict, my work and family. Since I was the mother, I felt selfish if I considered myself first or even second. For many years, my son was lost to the addiction, and so was I.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s essential that we take care of ourselves in the midst of addiction. A routine that promotes our personal wellness helps – Al-Anon or other family groups, walking or running, a spiritual practice, writing, or therapy. If we lose ourselves, who is left to help our loved ones? We need to be compassionate with ourselves.

 


THE EXTRAORDINARY PAIN OF ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Dr. MacAfee told me that the pain of addiction is the agony of being trapped. Using has become critically important because it answers every problem in their lives … until it doesn’t. The use is the solution until it becomes the problem. What was once an escape becomes a prison. The juxtaposition is baffling, and the addict literally has to fight for his life.

My reflection: During the early years of my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I thought that he could simply turn off his drug use. I told him to stop and expected it to happen. In time and with education, I learned that it would take my son great courage and tenacity to change his life.

Today’s Promise to consider: Drug use often starts as a party, until it becomes a prison. Once it takes over, our loved ones are caught up in a sandstorm, unable to see the impact their sickness has on those who care about them. Instead of derision and incarceration, they need love and compassion. They need support from communities like AA, from people who have walked in their shoes and are now living in the solution.

 

 


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.

 

 

 

 


ADDICTION AND THE HOLIDAYS

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

I wrote this in Stay Close: During the Christmas of 2006, when neither son came home for our large Italian family gatherings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends didn’t know what to do. My brothers didn’t know what to say. They didn’t even know whether to invite me to the festivities. The cousins were confused; could they ask about Jeff or would it be kinder to leave him out of the conversation?

My reflection: I remember well that Christmas Eve Mass when my older brother turned gently toward me and said, “Not sure I should ask, but how is Jeff?” I looked at him as tears welled in my eyes. He just nodded as we left the question float in the air.

Today’s Promise to consider: During the holidays, let us remember that addiction can severely isolate us. We might feel ashamed and lonely because our lives are not as joyful as we wish they would be. I will avoid this treacherous place by being compassionate with myself and my family. I will find serenity in honesty and prayer.

 


“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

 


GRATITUDE: A DAILY ROUTINE

dsc01008A mother wrote to me: When I awake every morning and go to sleep every night I feel God’s presence in my life and the life of my child. He is good today, but I know it’s one day at a time. Dealing with addiction takes courage and humility and gratitude. Courage to stay close and to love our child, humility to remember that the addiction is strong and can come back at any time, especially when we least expect it, and gratitude for our daily blessings.

My reflection: Gratitude is powerful, but gratitude is tough to muster when things are at their worst. When my son was in active addiction, the only thing buoying my deep despair was gratitude that my son was still alive. My prayer each morning was, “Dear Lord, thank you for keeping him alive today.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Gratitude, for me, is part of a daily routine where I actively scan my life and call forward the various things, big and small, for which I’m thankful. This practice keeps me aware that, even though things are difficult, I’m still blessed. Prayer and gratitude keep me in a positive space.


“I’M TIRED OF OTHERS JUDGING ME”

img_tm-1A mother wrote to me: I have seen firsthand the fallout caused by my son’s addiction. He has not progressed to harder substances, but legal troubles abound. He is currently facing a felony for a stupid bar fight between two drunk kids that he doesn’t even remember. I realize my son will do time in jail and that I can’t fix it. I’m not sure if helping him get legal representation is “enabling.” I’m tired of others judging me, and him.

My reflection: Where is the line between a helpful comment and harsh criticism? It’s easy for others to judge us and our choices. It’s easy to itemize what we should do or should have done differently. The reality is that most people, especially those without first-hand experience with addiction and alcoholism, have no idea of how deeply tricky is this disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a lonely journey, but I will walk this walk with my child and my family. Other people have many things to say, but I will find my help in Al-Anon, spirituality, and with professionals. I must stay strong and stay close.


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

 


FOUR YEARS: A MOTHER’S STORY OF HOPE

IMG_0351A mom wrote to me on facebook from 2012 – 2016: 

2012: My son had his first visit home on Thanksgiving. It was not good. When we told him that he wasn’t ready to live with his brother, he completely blew up and wouldn’t speak to us. He hasn’t called or texted or anything since then. It’s heartbreaking because I know he is hurting, but he has cut me off. I keep him close to my heart, but he doesn’t want to hear my voice or see me. When you look in your child’s dark and cold eyes and you know they feel unworthy of self love, it totally breaks your heart.

2014: My son celebrated 2 clean years Monday! He’s going to college in a few weeks…..living at home though.

2015: Yesterday, we were at the store looking for dress pants, shirts and ties, patterned socks and “pointy toe” shoes. He is headed back for sophomore year at a local university having finished on the Dean’s list. He is doing a summer internship with a legal company that works on regulatory shipping issues. When he was a small child, I envisioned him working in the legal field. I can’t help but smile!

2016: I wanted u to be the first to know. My son is 4 yrs clean, July 28! He’s going to law school!!! Still staying close!

Today’s Promise to consider: When our child is in the depths of addiction, it’s hard to have hope. Each day is a painful struggle and a reminder that he is alive under the drugs. This mother’s four-year notes tell the story of renewal and possibility. Where there is life, there is hope. I’ll continue to stay close.

 

 


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