ADDICTION DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE

libbys familyA mother wrote to me: My son is 27, in a halfway house, and on the methadone program. I don’t know how it happened. He taught himself to program in Linux as an eighth-grade student, before Linux was available on the market. He read books with thousands of pages on Solaris and other programs. As a precocious young man, at 18 he worked as a programmer and systems administrator. His skill brought in huge paychecks, which quickly became paychecks to drug dealers. 

My reflection: Our children are bright and capable, they’ve been loved and cared for, yet something happens and they lose themselves to drugs. My son was a leader, captain of the soccer team, and an A student. Addiction didn’t care about any of this.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It happens in solid families and broken families, in educated families and in uneducated families. Often we as parents don’t see the problem coming because our children are scholars and athletes. They are “good kids” to the outside world. Today, I will accept that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

WHY ONE CHILD AND NOT THE OTHER?

A mother wrote to me: My life has been filled with my son’s arrests and multiple treatment attempts. My hope and trust have been shattered, rebuilt, and bounced around like a ping-pong ball. I have two sons who are such opposites, one brave and reckless, the other cautious and intellectual. I have volumes of photos of beautiful little boys dressed like superheroes: Zorro, Leonardo, Wolverine, Knights in Shining Armor, and Ghost Busters. My oldest son received a medal for the Dare Anti-Drug program best in class honors, yet went on to try all the drugs they warned against.

My reflection: How does one child become an addict and the other does not? Why does one child contract an illness while the other is unscathed? Why did I have cancer and my brother did not?

Today’s Promise:  There is a large body of research that identifies addiction an illness. It might be lying dormant from the time our child is born, like depression or diabetes, but when it’s activated the ramifications are serious. We look at the pictures of our children when they were young and innocent and we wonder why. Maybe what we’re really asking is what could we have done to stop it. Today, I accept that my child has a problem with substance abuse. I’ll continue to stay close, find solace in my support group and counselors, and pray he comes home to himself.

 

 

 

 

ADDICTION REMAINS MY MOST INFLUENTIAL TEACHER

Recently, I was faced with a family issue that had nothing to do with addiction, but had everything to do with what I had learned through my son’s fourteen-year struggle with heroin. All the suffering and confusion of those addicted years taught me – in the end – to keep my wits about me, to breathe, and to stay close. Problems can be opportunities for learning, and I learned in spades that answers aren’t as important as love and hope. 

My reflection: Before and during the early years of Jeff’s addiction, my typical response was frustration, blame and anger. It took me years to accept that I was powerless to control his behavior, but what I could manage was my response.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can learn many valuable lessons from any trauma. Through my son’s fourteen-year addiction, my biggest breakthrough arrived in two words: Stay Close. For me this meant to love Jeff unflinchingly, but stay out of the chaos of his life. Today, I use that mantra with all of my loved ones.

FINDING OURSELVES OUTSIDE OF ADDICTION

A mom, whose son is in recovery, wrote to me: So much has changed and I am very grateful, but the challenges remain.  I finally feel the weight of my own need to become healthy and whole. I have the time and space to do all the things one imagines self-actualization requires, and yet this freedom to be myself is the greatest challenge of all.

My reaction: When Jeff was in active addiction, my life revolved around the chaos of his illness. Rarely a night went by that I didn’t awaken with him on my mind or I’d toss and turn fearing ‘the’ phone call. During those years, I lost myself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Jeff’s early years of recovery should have given me peace, yet I struggled to find myself – and define myself – away from the turbulence of his addiction. Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s beloved addiction therapist, explained, “You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.” With time and prayer, along with writing and my support group, life came back into focus and I began to reemerge.

 

 

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.

“WE WANT TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS”

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A dad wrote to me: We as parents want desperately to solve our children’s problems.  After all, that’s what we have been trained to do since their birth. I think we fear the worst and don’t want to be held responsible, even if it’s only in our own minds.  The blame we would place on ourselves would be unbearable. Then, after years of experience, we know that the decision to recover can only be decided by the addicted. 

My reflection: The realization that I couldn’t save my son from addiction was the hardest lesson I had to learn, yet it was also the most essential for my well-being, and his. For years I was enmeshed in every twist and turn of my son’s sickness. This only enabled the addiction and kept me from being available to my family and myself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction happens. Blame, shame, stigma, and silence do nothing to help our loved ones or us. Today, I’ll stay close, but out of the chaos. As much as I want to stop the trauma, there is only room for one in the addiction.

WHEN THE SADNESS IS IMPOSSIBLE TO HIDE

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me: Sometimes I feel like I am just too hard to be around because the sadness is impossible to hide.

My reflection: When addiction takes over our lives, our sadness can be overwhelming. When Jeff was in active addiction, my family didn’t know whether to ask about him or not. My older brother once asked me, “How’s Jeff?” I looked at him with eyes swelled with tears. He nodded and said nothing more. 

Today’s Promise to consider: When I felt suffocated in sadness by addiction, fighting my feelings never helped. I had to accept my deep sense of loss and call it by name. I found comfort by attending Al-Anon meetings. I wrote daily, exercised, and prayed. And I also had to accept that there were times I could just be sad.

“IT IS A LIFE THING, THIS RECOVERY”

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A mom, who is also a recovering addict, wrote to me: I was that teenage girl who did horrible things and stole from my parents. I got sober, finally, and my life got much, much better. I married and have two wonderful girls. Life was awesome. Then I had surgery, and guess what??? I got back on that roller coaster of lies, addiction, and betrayals simply from taking pain pills post-op. It is a life thing, this recovery. I was fortunate; I made it back before I lost everything.

My reflection: Fear drove me as a parent. When my son was in active addiction, I feared he would die, and when he was in recovery, I feared he would relapse. Addiction does crazy things to us.

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery is life’s work for the addict. My son once told me that addiction is like a lion in a cage just waiting to get out. Our recovering loved ones must choose everyday to live in abstinence and to do the things recovery requires of them. I pray that all recovering addicts choose well, today.

 

 

A FATHER ASKS, “WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A father wrote to me: I have three sons. Two out of three have an addiction, and I have been dealing with this for six years with the oldest and five years with the youngest. I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I try not to enable and am getting better. I write short stories about their lives and how their addictions have affected them and everyone else, but I can never seem to gather my thoughts fully in order to complete anything. Maybe it’s because I am always on my guard.

My reflection: As parents of addicted loved ones, we are forever on guard and our attention is scattered. Our lives become torturous and we find it almost impossible to concentrate on anything other than our child’s chaos. Even when they are clean and sober, we remain vigilant, watching and listening for any pattern of old – something that will give us a clue that our addict is using again. Every day is clouded with our fears and worries.

Today’s Promise to consider: Too often we make our children’s addictions personal and ask ourselves what are we doing wrong: are our boundaries not strong enough, are we enabling, should we step in with financial help, why one child and not the other? The questions are endless. Today, I’ll stop allowing addiction to beat me up. I’ll pray, reach out to my support group, and prioritize my spiritual program. I’ll remember that I’m not alone.

 

 

NO ONE TO BLAME

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son was a star athlete in high school and at age seventeen he began his downward spiral into this insidious disease. I taught in the school district that he attended so it was doubly hard. I got calls just about every day from the RN to take him for a drug test. He would fall asleep in class or didn’t even show up for school. I blamed myself – his dad and I had separated before this nightmare began so I assumed he took drugs to medicate himself or to use as a band-aid.

My reflection: We parents often blame ourselves for our child’s addiction. We think that it must be our fault. Addiction is a nightmare and we want someone to accept responsibility for the sadness. The bottom line is that no amount of blame will break addiction’s grasp on my addicted loved one or our family.

Today’s Promise to consider: Most experts agree that addiction is an illness. Our family is affected by an addiction. Who is to blame? Today, I will point a finger at no one. I will accept what is. I will find support in the rooms of Al-Anon and in my higher power. I will go forward, one step at a time.