LIFE IN RECOVERY IS “FULL TO THE BRIM”

My son recently told me, The biggest realization for me came about one year in when it suddenly struck me that my life was full to the brim in a way I didn’t think possible in the absence of drugs and alcohol. Before I got clean, I saw sobriety as the end of good times and of the refuge I’d come to depend on. Just the opposite was true.

My reflection: I couldn’t understand how my son stayed in addiction for fourteen years. For as much as I tried to fix things, the solution was entirely outside of my control. I had to get out of the way. The answer was in Jeff.

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery happens and happens every day. Moreover, life in recovery can be full to the brim. People, who are suffering, will stay mired in the abyss of addiction until they decide to change. Today, I pray that all those shackled by addiction will give themselves a chance to participate in the magic of a recovered life.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

BOUNDARIES KEEP US SAFE 

An addiction counselor told me, My biggest challenge is helping clients establish boundaries with the addicts in their lives. Recently, a mother explained that her son, who is actively abusing drugs, lives with her while she cooks for him, cleans his room, and does his laundry. In order to help her take steps toward setting boundaries, I asked her, “Could you quit doing his laundry?” She did just that; however, the son screamed at her and accused her of not loving him. She immediately went back to doing his laundry and quit coming to sessions.

My reflection: When Jeff was in active addiction, I was consumed with worry and thought I could control his behavior. For instance, when he lost his cell phone, I bought him another one because I wanted to stay in touch with him. He was as elusive with the new phone as the old one, and my resentment grew.

Today’s Promise to consider: Boundaries keep us safe. Dr. MacAfee explained that my addicted son needed to know what I would and would not do. “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” MacAfee recommended. “Jeff must know that your parameters are clear. It’s essential for both of you.”

SAN PATRIGNANO: ONE PLACE WHERE PEOPLE FIND LONG-TERM RECOVERY

Two mothers of children who entered San Patrignano (Rimini, Italy) wrote to me:  

Her son entered three years ago: I really believe if I hadn’t read your book and found out about San Patrignano that my son would not be with us today. He was so into his addiction that I believe nothing short of a long-term rehab in another country would help him – we tried everything else over fourteen years.

Her daughter entered two months ago: We received a letter from our daughter and I feel like I can finally start to relax. She’s working in the laundry sector and is happy to be there. She’s met some lovely people and has totally surrendered. Needless to say hearing this news from her allows me to loosen up. I know she’s okay and will only get better day-by-day.

My reflection: Jeff refused to go to San Patrignano because a three-to-five year commitment is required. But I have seen miracles happen there. The community, started in 1978 by Vincenzo Muccioli, offers 50 different sectors of education to its 1,500 residents. The stay is free to the client, to their families, and to Italian tax payers, and has a documented recovery rate of 73 percent after three years of exiting the community (research conducted by the University of Bologna).

Today’s Promise to consider: There are many models and places for recovery, and San Patrignano is one. Today, I will educate myself about the various centers and options. I can’t force my loved one into treatment, but I can learn about and offer him choices to consider when he is ready.

WHO HELPS OUR LOVED ONES FIND RECOVERY?

A friend of mine posted: Be careful judging that drug addict so harshly. He or she might just recover and be the one to show your very own child a way out.

My reflection: Our beloved Dr MacAfee once told me that when he testified in court for drug cases, the attorneys and judges regarded him distantly because he represented the addicted person. “Although,” he continued, “When their child was in trouble with drugs or alcohol, I was the first person they called.”

Today’s Promise to consider: The recovering addict is almost always best suited to help another suffering person. Who better knows the journey of addiction: the alienation, struggles, humiliation, and repeated failed attempts at sobriety? Today, I pray that all recovering persons reach out a hand to help another. Somebody did just that for my son, and I’ll be forever grateful.

 

 

 

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.

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.