THE DEMONIZATION OF ADDICTION

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote: Relatively few people respect the addictive condition as a legitimate life-threatening illness. Rather, there is disgust not only for addiction but for the addicts themselves. This disdain permeates society and emerges from within addicts, honing their stealth and duplicity and their self-hatred. This condition serves to permeate their malady even further.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee’s words confirm the stark truth of something my son said years ago, “Society loathes addicts and addicts loathe themselves.” At the beginning of Jeff’s addiction, I, too, suffered from lack of understanding the disease. Today, I know better.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a life-threatening illness claiming over 72,000 deaths in 2017, yet much of society disdains both the person suffering and their families. Granted that many people do horrendous things while under the influence, but instead of criminalization and demonization their condition needs early and prompt medical intervention. Today, I’ll face the addiction crisis and give my support through activism, sharing my story, helping others, and standing tall for what is right.

WALKING WITH VERSUS WALKING FOR

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

An Italian friend, whose brother is a recovering addict, wrote to me, “Perche ci hai insegnato ad abbracciarci senza stringerci,” which means that she and her family learned (from our book Stay Close, Stammi Vicino) how to walk with her brother and not for him; how to hug her brother but not squeeze him.

My reflection: Across the globe, addiction forces us to decide how best to help our loved one who is struggling with drugs or alcohol. I always wanted to make things better for my son, to make things easier. Often these attempts happened at the expense of my own and my family’s health. I would have sacrificed anything to stop the addiction for him. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to learn how to support my son without trying to take control of his recovery. Today, I will walk with my loved one, all the while recognizing and admitting that I cannot walk for him. I will give him space to direct his own program – in its victories and setbacks. I will stay close in hope, faith and prayer.

 

RELAPSE AND THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab – both inpatient and outpatient, in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and presently is trying the suboxone route with individual counseling.  My heart is broken, but I will find my courage. The words stagli vicino will be my mantra of hope.

My reflection: Relapse happens and happened often to my son. I learned more about relapse when my son wrote about a friend, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is terrifying to those of us who love someone who is suffering and also to the suffering person himself. As much as I fear the pain of relapse and the consequences for my son, I will stay close with hope and faith. Though Jeff is clean and living a healthy life, we know that relapse is a perpetual threat. It’s only with vigilance that it’s kept at bay. Today I’ll support my addict in his efforts to stay clean while giving him space to steer his own program.

WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS WITH ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My son is in jail. He is only 18. I will not bail him out. I cry every night. He has not yet escalated to the harder drugs, but the criminal behavior is there. I hate that my son is in jail, hate that I cannot and will not bail him out, and hate what is coming down the road for him, but I know that this is the necessary action to be taken if he is to get on the road to recovery. I also know that he must be willing and we do not see that yet. I pray I’ve made the right decisions.

My reflection: Addiction gloats in our confusion and chaos. Do we bail out our children? Do we give them money to pay their bills? Do we cover the fee of yet another rehab center? There are no easy answers and we must make the decisions based on what we’ve learned, what professionals recommend, and what our hearts tell us.

Today’s Promise to consider: I accept that I don’t have all the answers about addiction, but today I will listen with an open heart to the help and advice of professionals, those in recovery, other parents, and my own good counsel. When I had breast cancer, I talked with three surgeons and each one offered differing recommendations. We each must make the decision that we think is best for our loved one and our family. I pray for wisdom.

 

 

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 #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 #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.