“They can make their lips say anything”

A friend told me that her partner often said these words above. Even through his depression and addiction, he was well aware that people said things to him that were insincere. There were times when a family member said, “I love you. I’m here for you,” but they never contacted him again.

My reflection: Toward the end of my son’s years in active addiction, I finally learned that his words were far less important than his behavior. Words come easily, especially to those enmeshed in addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” perennially rings true. Addicts lie in order to keep the fiction of their disease, “I’m OK, Mom. I haven’t used in a month.” For me, I often chose not to confront my son with the truth of what I thought. This only made me resentful, while allowing him to continue the charade. Today, I’ll speak my truth with love and compassion. I trust that he’ll do the same.

EARLY DRUG USE: ACT FAST AND DECISIVELY

A dad told me his story: When my son was a junior in high school, I got a phone call from the police that he was in the hospital. When my wife and I arrived, he was out of it, but he told me that he had taken pills given to him by two local guys. I went looking for them to figure out what type of pills my son had taken. They were seniors and, when I found them, they were totally disrespectful so I called a policeman to check their car where he found drugs. The parents of the kids were furious with me for getting their kids in trouble, but I figured maybe I had saved their lives. After that, my son was on a tight leash. He had to call me when he got to work, when he was leaving work, and when he went out anywhere. I also had him drug tested randomly for the next year. We addressed the problem with love and honesty, and he knew he had to earn our trust back.

My reflection: Jeff got into trouble with the police during his high school years, but my husband and I were quick to believe Jeff’s lies. He swore that he was the innocent bystander and had done nothing wrong. Even though the facts were clear, we wanted to believe him. Our denial paved the way to bigger problems. 

Today’s Promise to consider: With early drug use, we must act fast, and act decisively. Our children need boundaries, and they need to understand clearly what they can and cannot do. Sure, our kids will make mistakes, but we must explain without hesitation our concerns, and set concrete limits on their behavior while under our roofs. Once addictive patterns take hold, it’s often too late and we have little control. 

CONVERSATIONS WITH OUR LOVED ONES IN RECOVERY

A mom wrote to me: My son is new to recovery, and I’m wondering if I can ask him all the questions that I have? Sometime I feel like I can’t say how I have been hurt, or how I feel, or how his addiction has affected our family. I don’t’ want to drive him away or make him feel more ashamed than he already feels.

My reflection: When Jeff read a draft of Stay Close, his response was, “You stripped me naked in this book.” I said, “But why didn’t you stop? Why did you continue to hurt all of us?” His eyes filled with tears and he said, “You wrote an entire book about addiction and you still don’t understand. I never wanted to hurt you. I tried to keep you to the side and out of the way. You’re my mom and I love you, but I’m an addict, Mom. I’m an addict.”

Today’s Promise to consider: With my son, a recovering heroin addict, HOW I asked the question was more important than what and when I asked. He was already beaten-up by the addiction and felt guilt and shame, so I needed to be gentle. Today, when we talk about the stormy years of his addiction, I ask questions calmly, without judgment, and in love.

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 #2: ADDICTS MUSCLE THEIR WAY TO SOBRIETY ALONE

Jeff and friend Jason

From my son, I learned: Recovering communities like Alcoholics Anonymous are a crucial part of recovery. There the addict finds people who know his journey and have walked in his shoes. As much as I wanted to help my son, I couldn’t understand all that he had lived. In groups like AA, they are sensitive to the nuances of this disease and the path out of it. They celebrate his successes and stand with him when he is in need.

My reflection: Much of the current research indicates that recovery is more successful when the addict is supported by people who understand his walk and who care about him and his daily struggle. As much as I wanted to be that person for my son, I couldn’t be.  

Today’s Promise to Consider: Fellowship with recovering addicts is often an essential part of a person’s journey to sobriety. We, as family members, can give them love and support, but people who know their walk provide community and understanding along the way. Today, I’ll encourage my loved one to attend AA, NA, or another support group. I, too, will attend a support group aimed at care for family members.

SIBLINGS NEED SUPPORT THROUGH ADDICTION

A sister of an addict wrote to me: My brother has been in and out of rehab for years. Mom constantly believed his lies. She’d send him money, bail him out, and let him live at home. He has alienated all of us siblings. He has a son, grandchildren, and he had such a good life in front of him. No matter how hard we tried and what we did, he just refuses to believe he has a problem. I try to help, but I don’t know what to do to help anyone anymore, especially my parents. It’s breaking my heart.

My reflection: Siblings often find themselves in the difficult space between their brother or sister and their parents. Loyalties are smashed, love is questioned, and chaos reigns.

Today’s Promise to consider: All family members suffer when addiction enters the home, but siblings are thrust into an especially conflicted place. They might be asked to be arbitrator, counselor, spy, anchor, or player in the drama, then at other times they are left to the side, in confusion. They love their brother or sister, but loathe the damage the addiction does to family. Today, I will listen to my non-addicted children. I will reach out and support them.

“YOU LOVE YOUR DRUGS MORE THAN YOU LOVE US”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom, who is a recovering addict, wrote to me: I remember my mom saying to me when I was in the throes of my addiction as a teen, “You love your drugs more than you love us.” Well, yes, yes I did.  I was incapable of seeing anything else but my next high and I would stomp on anyone or anything in my way.

My reflection: It took me a long time to acknowledge the incredible hold drugs had on my son. I once asked Jeff, “Look at all the pain addiction caused. Why didn’t you ever stop?” He looked at me with deep sadness and said, “I never wanted to hurt you. In fact, I tired to keep you out of the way and to protect you. But I’m an addict, Mom.”

Today’s Promise to consider: My child’s addiction isn’t about me. It’s not above love between mother and child. It’s about the insatiable craving drugs create. If love could have broken the grasp addiction had on my son, he would have been healed. Today, I will open my heart to try to understand the chase of the high and the all consuming hunger for the next one.

EARLY INTERVENTION: EVERY MINUTE IS CRITICAL

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A father wrote to me: Addiction touches many of us. My oldest son was headed down that path. We feel very blessed to have discovered the problem early and much to his chagrin put him in treatment for eighteen months. Pretty hard on the family, but everyone seems to have benefitted in some way. He is now a productive member of society with a wife and child and very committed to his church.

My reflection: Does early intervention stop addiction? There is a body of research that indicates that a fast response is critical and, although it might not stop the addiction, it can bring up the bottom and possibly curtail the devastating effects of the disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: If I had the early years of my son’s 14-year addiction to do over again, I would have taken my head out of the sand, educated myself more thoroughly, talked openly with him and our family, and put him into a long-term rehab program as soon as possible. Jeff’s addiction was like a fire that was left unattended for too long and, before we acknowledged it, the entire forest was ablaze. With all the deaths happening today from drug overdoses, every minute is critical.

 

ADDICTS HELPING ADDICTS: “IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A recovering addict told me, In AA or in a recovering community, I was surrounded by people who had gone through what I had gone through. I trusted them. I don’t think doctors or psychologists ever helped me in the same way. Sure, experts have a place in recovery, but for me it was AA and the recovering community that made the biggest difference. I needed to hear from people who had been through it themselves. I needed to hear how they learned to live with their families and in society again. Trust is the first step to opening up, and I trusted those in community.

My reflection: I would have sold my soul if I could have helped my son when he was in active addiction. I dragged him from psychologist to psychiatrist to priest with the hope that someone could stem the tide of his use. Maybe some of these experts helped, but it wasn’t until my son met other recovering addicts that he made the decision to change his life.

Today’s Promise to considerPeople in pain respond best to others who have walked in their shoes – this is especially true for addicts. The overwhelming obsession that drugs incite is something non-addicts most often aren’t able to comprehend. Those of us who love them can ‘stay close’ with compassion, but real help often comes from within their community. Today, I’ll encourage my loved one to reach out for help in AA or another support group.

THE STRESS OF ADDICTION TAKES A TOLL

A dear friend, the mother of a recovering addict, recently wrote to me: I suffered greatly for ten long years with my son’s addiction. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was the importance of never loosing my voice to express my feelings, thoughts, and fears. I’ve also learned that that my body won’t be silenced either. If I waiver or loose focus on my personal self care, my body reacts (illness, rashes, digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, depression) and reminds me it has a voice too. I must continue to listen to my inner voice and stay balanced. It is essential for my health.

My reflection: The fact that our bodies react to stress is medically substantiated. Addiction brings incredible tension, especially to the family of the sick loved one. When my son was in active addiction, I plastered a smile on my face and went to work. I could fool some people, but I couldn’t fool my body. My health suffered.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction takes a hard toll on our spirit, mind, and body. The longer stress lasts, the more damaging it becomes. Those of us who love addicts often live with chronic tension. Today, I will pay attention when my body gives me signs and work on developing a specific program that helps me relieve stress: running, writing, taking to my support group, meditating, and praying. I must take care of myself.