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SELF PRESERVATION

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 told me: Dr MacAfee often reminded me of the importance of taking time for self care and time to nurture myself so that I could deal with everything going on within the family and still be true to myself. Addiction, he told me, is a family disease. As a mother, I tried to shoulder the load of destruction that addiction brought within my family. Addiction affects everyone in the family in different ways for years to come.

My reflection: Addiction takes over the family and leaves no hostages. It’s relentless in its hunger to destroy everyone. When Jeff was in active addiction, I tried to protect my family, but it was impossible. Addiction was far stronger than I was strong.

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion defined Dr. MacAfee. He had compassion for the addict and for the family. He helped me to learn how to Stay Close, but out of the chaos as I continued to love my suffering child. He taught me that self preservation wasn’t selfish, but essential.

 


ADDICTION IS A FAMILY DISEASE

jer and jeffThe sister of a brother, who died of addiction, wrote to me: We lost our brother to a drug overdose at the age of 50. We went though a lot and we always thought he was better and clean. Our parents died years ago and they did everything possible to help him. They lived a frugal existence because they could never deny him help. Do you call that enabling? I don’t know anymore. It was a long, long struggle and now my brother is at peace.

My reflection: What is enabling and what does it look like in a family? We parents see things one way and the siblings see things differently. I don’t believe there are definitive answers, but I think communication and learning are critical. We need to work to keep communication open among all family members and try to understand genuinely their pain. In the end, we must make the decisions that we think are best for our child. As Terry Gorski says, “Society gives us no rules when dealing with addiction.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I will respect the feelings of all the members of my family and try to recognize their points of view. Today, I will listen to their concerns calmly and not become defensive. I will admit that I don’t have all the answers and will explain that I am trying to do what I think is right.

 

 

 


A HUMAN BEING NOT A HUMAN DOING

Photo Credit: Audrey Melton

Photo Credit: Audrey Melton

A friend, whose brother is in recovery, wrote to me: We are living on a roller coaster with my brother. After two years of rehab, we see very little progress with him compared to other guys who started the program at the same time. Recently, I read a quote by Kurt Vonnegut that made a difference to me, “I am a human being, not a human doing.” It went straight to my heart and my mind as I thought about my brother’s addiction. We are all humans in an ongoing process of learning and failure. We aren’t our achievements and above all, our life is almost never linear.

My reflection: It’s easy to blame the addict for his failures, since his actions affect so many people. But the human condition is one of living and learning and making mistakes along the way. The prayer is that we learn from them and move toward health.

Today’s Promise to consider: Throughout the course of Jeff’s fourteen-year addiction, the keyword for me became compassion. Many days, compassion was impossible to muster, but as Kurt Vonnegut’s quote tells us, we are human beings – in our victories and in our failings. Today, I accept that I am human and so is my son.

 

 


ENABLING: PART 3

Jeff, Jeremy and iysa with Dad/Granddad

Jeff, Jeremy and iysa with Dad/Granddad

A dad wrote to me, Fixing a child’s problems very seldom if ever works. Life is not really different from addiction. If a child never suffers consequences he/she never learns how to make better decisions. If we remove the consequence, we encourage the negative behavior because there is no negative effect to their action.

My response: This dad’s words ring true in a clear and direct way. He expands the idea of enabling out of addiction and into life. I think he’s correct. We all learn from the natural consequences of our actions.

Today’s Promise to consider: Helping a child grow into a mature adult requires him to face the logical and natural results of his actions. Whether I am dealing with an addiction or not, I will love my child and stay close emotionally. I will support his good choices and allow him to confront the consequences of the negative experiences.

 

 

 


FROM ROME WITH LOVE: CHAPTER FIVE

RomeAn Italian college student, who lives in Rome, wrote to me. She is the sister of an addict:  I want to share with you a poem I love. I’ve read it many times and each time I hope my brother, too, will arrive at the “Fifth Chapter.”

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, by Portia Nelson

I:  I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost … I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.

II:  I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place, but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

III:  I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

IV:  I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

V:  I walk down another street.

My thoughts: We are responsible for making the choice to get ourselves out of the hole of addiction or despair. No one can make this decision for us. It is a singular and personal choice.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today I will fortify myself by joining hands with others. I will break the bonds of isolation and fear that feed addiction. I’ll reach out my hand, pray and continue to believe. I will walk down another street.

 

 

 


SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: NO WORDS

A mom wrote to me: Yesterday was an unimaginable horror. It’s difficult to forget the constant thrumming in the background of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut. How does a parent mourn the killing of his or her child; how does a nation mourn the killing of twenty little children and six adults?

Today I will stop and offer prayers. I will honor, in some way, the twenty baby lives and six adult lives lost. This tremendous suffering is impossible to hold and I find it hard to breathe. There are no words sufficient to wrap my head and heart around the overwhelming grief. There are no words to ease the pain.


VOICES OF RECOVERY, PART 4

Brothers

A recovering addict wrote to me: Addiction seems to be the epidemic of our world today destroying not only the addict, but also everyone around him. I read about Jeremy’s pain and frustration, and see my little brother’s hurt and inner battle. But the message is still hope. We are not alone. Ironic that a disease that is afflicting millions of people is a disease that isolates us. It does this because the one true defense, the true power against addiction, is standing together, walking together and holding each other as we trip and stumble.

My thought: These words strike me as true. Dr. MacAfee says it another way, “Only by taking addiction out of the darkness where it does its best work and into the light can it be healed.” Addiction thrives by isolating the addict and his family. If the addict keeps the secret, he keeps the addiction. Only by standing together in honesty, holding hands and working together, can we fight this disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: I will not keep the secret of addiction. I will not isolate myself in shame, stigma and silence. I will fight against addiction for my loved one and myself.

 

 


NEVER GIVING UP HOPE

Jeremy asked me (May, 2009): “How will you end the story about Jeff?”

I admitted, “I don’t know, Jer. It’s not my story to end.”

His answer was clear, “But that’s the point. We don’t know what will happen to Jeff, but no one can ever take away our hope. You have to end the story in hope.”

And we did.

My reaction today: Jeremy was wise. In the midst of Jeff’s fight against his addiction, Jeremy, the younger brother, knew that we could never give up hope. He held tightly to this even when my resolve faltered. Jeremy helped me to be strong.

Today’s Promise to consider: Jeff is healthy today and our family is deeply grateful. We are humble as we continue to learn and grow each day. Jeremy taught me that hope is a powerful source of strength.

 

 

 


QUIET LOVE

A mother wrote me an email message. This is part of it: I still grieve my lost son. I’m grateful that he is sober, but I don’t know this son, not really. Although he seems gentle and kind, he keeps me somewhat at arm’s length and I suspect he doesn’t know what to do with “Mom” who he is getting to know again. Some days the loss of “family” as I have defined it in my own head is overwhelming…other days, I can feel optimistic about our new beginning as a family. I need to be patient with myself.

My personal reflection on the passage offering my thoughts today: Jeff talked with a group of young recovering addicts ages fourteen to eighteen. One boy said, “I can’t even listen to the same music I used to. It brings back memories and I sometimes feel the urge to use when I hear it.” Jeff replied, “Yeah, I get it. When I got sober, I didn’t even know what color I liked. I had to learn what I was about without drugs. I had to get to know me.”

When he said this, I realized that we all have to get to know each other again. After fourteen years of drug addiction, Jeff changed, Jeremy changed and so did I. Dr. MacAfee told me, “Just stay quiet with Jeff. He’ll feel your quiet support and he’ll take the time he needs to do what he needs to do to be true to himself.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I’ll be patient with my loved one and with myself. We are growing and changing. I’ll stand quietly with him, next to him and love him through to truth.


LIVING FORWARD

Pappa Jeremy and Iysabella Carmela

A friend wrote a poem about hope and this is part of it: Looking far behind, Will never help you find what’s true…Because you can’t relive it, Or somehow try to give it, Another shot. Although you’d like to rearrange it, The truth is you can’t change it; It’s done. Good-bye. Not what you’d hoped, Or wanted…So start revising hopes and dreams, To fit what is, not what it seems…You can leave the past behind you now, And say instead a quiet vow, To make your future wish come true, By being strong, By being you.

My personal reflection on the message of the poem offering my thoughts today: When our children or loved ones suffer, we suffer. I was filled with guilt and beat myself up with questions like, “What could I have done differently? How could I have saved my son and my family from this tragedy of addiction?”

The lines above seem true to me. I can’t change our past: It’s done – Good-bye. I admit that it isn’t what I had hoped for or prayed for. But as Jeff wrote, “Addiction has changed my life, made me a different person, and in many respects my life is richer because I was forced to confront myself or die. My past is my past and I can’t turn this path around or change the footsteps that follow me. Drugs were my life, but drugs left me empty.”

For my family and me, we must continue to look to the future and be strong. I must be strong for my sons. It’s the best gift I can give them. It’s is the best gift I can give myself.

Today’s Promise for us to consider: Today I won’t look back in the rearview mirror. I’ll give myself the permission to leave the past behind and to look forward with hope.


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