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CAN WE CONTROL OUR LOVED ONE’S ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My 24-year-old, heroin-addicted son is in jail. He has been using drugs since he was 14. Today, he asked me to help get him into a sober-house program. I told him that I would help him as long as he has no further involvement with his girlfriend. Even reading what I just wrote I see that I am still trying to control the outcome. I must detach with love and stay close. My next letter to him will be one of hope, love, and courage to move in the right direction and in a timeline that the court decides. 

My reflection: I, too, tried to curtail my son’s addiction by issuing ultimatums. It took years of pain for me to realize that I could control nothing. Although I wanted only health and healing for my son, my plan of action for Jeff was often counterproductive.

Today’s Promise to consider: I admit that I cannot control my child’s addiction, and I can’t dictate the rules the disease will follow. What I can control is my own behavior. Today, I will pray, go to support meetings, read addiction literature, and work with professionals. I will stay close with hope and allow my son the space to find the courage inside himself to fight against his addiction.

BREAKING THE DRAMA OF ADDICTION

Dr. MacAfee wrote: As addicts become increasingly drawn into addiction, their families get drawn into dysfunction. The common dynamic shows the family polarizing and moving into either/or thinking. The addict becomes the major focus for some family members. For others, the addict is a target for rejection, disdain, and fury.

My reflection: The drama of addiction took over our family’s life. The fear of watching my son fail was frightening, and I spent most of my time defending him to people who knew little about this disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: The pain and confusion of addiction became more manageable when I took the initial step to name and define what was going on. When I got honest and quit living in delusion, I became open to the help of Al-Anon and started to accept the wisdom of other recovering individuals. I also became transparent with our beloved addiction specialist. By taking addiction out of the shadows and bringing it into the light, I started to heal. So did my son.

“How do I get out of his way but stay close?”

A mom wrote to me: My son is in the thick of alcohol addiction. This last year has been particularly difficult with a third DUI and forced hospitalization. There have been some patches of clarity and health, but the battle rages. A few days ago I finally accepted the fact that my help, over all these years, was not helping and that I could no longer allow him to live with me. Is it possible to stay close if I withdraw my support of a place to live? How do I get out of his way but stay close?

My reflection: After fourteen years of addiction with my son, I changed my behavior: I didn’t give him money and didn’t allow him to live at home; however, I never stopped taking his phone calls and I continually reminded him that he was loved. I told him that once he was healthy again, home and family were waiting for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: We each must answer the title question for ourselves, but for me, I learned to stay close and, at the same time, allow my son to face the consequences of his addiction. As parents, we often turn ourselves inside-out in an effort to ‘fix’ our addicted children, until we realize that our help isn’t always helping. In some confounding way, when I got healthier so did my son.

 

Misconception #10. Spirituality isn’t central to sobriety  (and last in the series)

From my son, I learned: that his sobriety is rooted in his spiritual practice. Every morning he maintains a routine: he reads from a spiritual or philosophical text, stretches, meditates and prays. Today, his life is based on a set of principles and he must be honest with everyone he meets, including himself.  He says that he acknowledges his past and strives for a better tomorrow.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, he was spiritually bankrupt, self centered, dishonest, and isolated from family and those who love him. Naively, I thought that abstinence from substance equaled recovery, but I’ve learned that it’s so much more.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today, I will support my loved one as he works his program of recovery. My son wrote: Through all my years of cynicism and turbulence, I’ve seen with my own eyes something at work on this earth that’s bigger than I am big – good natured and unexplainable. It appeared when I looked for it. Abstinence helps the brain heal; spirituality helps heal the heart.

Misconception #9: Service is not an important part of recovery

From my son, I learned: Living in sobriety is about giving and receiving. Reaching out a hand to help another person strengthens both the addict and those he tries to help.

My reflection: When my son was in the midst of recovering, I was afraid that others would lead him off track and divert his attention. I thought it best if he spent time dedicated to self-care and to his personal recovery program. Fear drove me.

Today’s Promise to consider: True recovery is learning how to have healthy, meaningful relationships and how to interact with others, without drugs. Service – reaching out a hand and helping another person – gives the recovering addict a sense of purpose, an opportunity to regain a feeling of self worth, and a forum to engage the world in meaningful ways. Today, I will encourage my recovering loved one in his efforts to contribute. It is in giving that he receives.

 

 

Misconception #8: Relapse is failure

From my son, I learned: that relapse happens. It happened often with Jeff. There are countless examples of recovering addicts like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stay clean for years, relapse, and die. Drugs are powerful and addiction never rests. It bides its time and waits for the right moment to pounce.

My reflection: Through a dozen of my son’s relapses, I suffered. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I could/should be doing differently. Every relapse was a red, flashing light that blinded me with a sense of failure. It took me years to understand.

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is a gut-punch, instantly dashing hopes and optimism. But the reality is that relapse happens. Each time it did for Jeff, I felt guilt, anger, and betrayal…until one day Dr. MacAfee told me, “Relapse isn’t failure. It’s one step closer to recovery.” I still hold that thinking close in my work with addiction. It buoys me when I hear about recovering people losing their footing. It helps me keep hope alive.

 

Misconception #7: Life in sobriety is easy

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

From my son, I learned: that life in sobriety is one-day-at-a-time. Recovering addicts must learn to take risks and live with courage. When Jeff went back to work in sobriety at a PR firm, he felt like he was constantly walking on eggshells, one step away from being fired every day for the first year. He didn’t feel qualified, felt in over his head, but he tried his best and became a strong employee. When he moved on to start his own company, his boss thanked him for his important contributions.

My reflection: Jeff and I spoke to a group of recovering addicts at a treatment center and, after our presentation, a seventeen-year-old boy said to Jeff, “I can’t even skateboard to the same music I used to. When I do, I think immediately of drugs.” Jeff replied, “Yep, I had to re-learn everything when I got sober. I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery requires a ‘control-alt-delete’ on the old life. Addicts know well how to exist in their illness, but when they are sober, everything is new: social time with friends, a Saturday night date, and how to be a responsible employee. Learning to live in sobriety is not easy. I respect those who stay close to the program and commit to living a healthy life in recovery.

 

 

 

 

Misconception #6: Life in sobriety can’t compare to the incredible highs of drugs

From my son, I learned that sobriety comes to outweigh all the excitement – big weekends and bursts of pleasure – that drugs provide. He says that being clean lets a person build a life of substance rooted in real relationships with people who truly care about him, and a career he’s proud of. Life unfolds to be profoundly gratifying without drugs. Jeff says this was the biggest realization of all.

My reflection: I still have a hard time understanding the true power of drugs. The excitement, the party, and the high life that drugs provide are foreign to me.

 Today’s Promise to consider: The juxtaposition that drugs entail is still confounding to me. They are parallel worlds of ecstasy and agony. I’ve heard many addicts say that they couldn’t quit drugs because of the deep comfort they provide, but all I saw were the devastating effects they had on my son and family. There is so much to learn with addiction.

 

 

Misconception #5. Families must walk away from their addict

From my son, I learned that the knowledge that our family was waiting for him when he got healthy was an important part of his recovery. He knew that when he made the decision to live a sober life, we would be at his side. 

My reflection: Years ago, a recovering alcoholic at San Patrignano in Italy taught me the meaning of stagli vicino (stay close to him). He counseled me to stay close, but out of the chaos of my son’s addiction. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a family disease and we are all involved, hurt and traumatized. Through it all, family can be part of the healing, a part of the medicine of recovery, keeping in mind that boundaries are important for all of us. Every day signifies the right to choose again – and again.

 

MISCONCEPTION #4: ADDICTS DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ANYONE ELSE

From my son, I learned that many addicts hate themselves for the pain they are causing those they love. Recently, a young girl with a crystal meth addiction wrote to me, “My mom tries to help me, but I can’t talk with her. I’m afraid the stress will kill her. I can’t stand myself for hurting her.”

My reflection: When Jeff was in the deep throes of his addiction, I had a bilateral mastectomy. I was in the hospital only one night, and he slept in a chair next to my bed, reacting and awakening with my every move. Empathy for his mother was still alive in my chameleonic son and he was attentive and caring; he never left my side.

Today’s Promise to consider: Once the addiction is in charge, our loved ones are not. Using becomes a chase, a necessity, a way of life, but addicts, in a moment of clarity, know that they are hurting the people they love and they loathe themselves for it. Today, I will pray for my child’s recovery and continue to trust that my child’s humanity is alive under the drugs.