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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.


A FATHER TAKES A STAND

A father of a recovering addict wrote to me, I wonder if we will ever outlive the scare of addiction. Our family had an incident during Christmas. My three children got into a discussion that became an argument. As tempers rose, my son’s former struggles with addiction were brought up. My son has been healthy for eight years and he is 25 years old, so he was really young at the time. I talked with my son and ensured him that the past is the past and that we have all made mistakes in our lives. For the girls, I made it extremely clear that the addiction incident will not cross their lips again or there will be severe consequences. I could imagine how he felt under attack for something that happened years ago.

My reflection: I, too, wonder if we will ever outlive the chains of addiction. If my recovering son had had a kidney disease, people would inquire compassionately about his health. But with the disease of addiction, some responses continue to range from those of suspicion (Is he still clean? How are you sure?), curiosity (How does he stay clean while working in the music field?), or contempt (He’s nothing but a drug addict. I remember.).

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovering addicts need safety and trust. They cannot continue to live their lives under the heaviness and scrutiny of all the mistakes they’ve made. They need an advocate, and I will stand firmly for my son and for all those who have the courage to live in sobriety.

 


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.

 

 

 

 


STORIES OF RECOVERY ARE CRITICAL

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

A recovering addict wrote to me: My boyfriend and I got married! We are living happily with my stepdaughter. I’m so grateful that this is what God has in store for me after all those years of being lost. I guess you could say I’ve been in training for this exact moment all my life. “God only gives us what we can handle.”  He prepares us and every day it all makes more and more sense. I wonder if other people feel that way; that every moment leading up to the one right now is right where you should be, embrace it, take it all in, enjoy or don’t enjoy it but you’re right where you need to be. Only my clear mind can think that way. My sick alcoholic mind couldn’t think past the surface.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, part of me wanted to believe that everything would be fine while another part was terrified that he wouldn’t live another day. These stories of hope are critical reminders that recovery can and does happen.

Today’s Promise to consider: People break the chains of addiction every day and we need to celebrate their triumphs. It takes tremendous courage for an addicted person to change his or her life. Let us all stand together with encouragement 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.

 

 


BREAKING THE CHAINS OF ADDICTION: FORGIVENESS

a24fa300-84d8-4c95-9e79-8f37db4ce106A friend called me and said, Addiction is the gift that keeps giving. Even when our addicted loved one is living a healthy life, resentments, past hurts and old patterns of behavior remain in our hearts and minds like the Ghost of Christmas Past. A word is spoken and the chains of the past rattle. I’m so tired of fighting the old feelings. How easy it is to fall back – not only for those of us who love the recovering addict, but for the addict himself. 

My reflection: Addiction does so much damage that, even when it’s gone or asleep, it continues to haunt us. I remember a phone conversation I had with my son when he was three years healthy. After a few minutes, I said, “You sound tired.” He responded in a hurt tone, “I know what you’re trying to say, Mom, but I’m fine. I haven’t relapsed, I’m simply tired.” I felt sad – sad for us both.

Today’s Promise to consider: I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but this year I set an intention for forgiveness, for all of us. We’ll never forget all the traumas of addiction, but we can learn to forgive. Before my mom died, she said, “I think forgiveness comes in waves.” Today I pray: Dear Lord, may the waves of forgiveness touch us all, one layer at a time, deeper and deeper.    


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.

 


HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS?

tm_1391-1A mom wrote to me: During the holidays, everything seems worse. My son is a smart 22-year-old, quiet and sensitive drug-addicted man. I’m clawing out of my skin. He lies and steals. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Everybody tells me to kick him out, but how can I do that when he has nowhere to go. How guilty would I feel if he died on the street?  Yet, when he continues to do drugs in our house with no regard for us, I can’t stand him.

My reflection: I remember being tormented by the continuing question, “What do I do now?” My son’s drug-addicted behavior in my home was intolerable, but the thought of kicking him out seemed impossible. During the holidays, decisions took on a new dimension: What do I do when family comes to visit? What do I say when people ask about him? How do I respond when people wish me Happy Holidays?

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is excruciating at every time of the year, but for me the holidays made everything worse. All the good cheer and sparkling lights were fine for others, but I was eager for the season to pass. During these times, it is imperative that I prioritize my emotional health by attending Al-Anon meetings, leaning on my support group and putting faith in my Higher Power.

 


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