APPLYING ADDICTION’S LESSONS TO LIFE 

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A personal reflection: As the holidays approach, I’m excited, but at times I also feel overwhelmed with problems (or potential problems). The holidays are supposed to be a glorious time of sparkling lights and good will toward men, but when disappointments inevitably come, I apply what I’ve learned at addiction’s feet: to keep my expectations in check, to breathe, to take one moment at a time, to allow others to make mistakes without the heaviness of judgment, and to stay close but out of the chaos. The holidays can easily be turned upside-down if I allow my negative emotions to get in the way.

My reflection: Addiction suffocates families, but it can also teach us about life, how to deal with suffering, and how to confront disappointments. For all the negative impacts this disease brings, there are also many valuable lessons.

Today’s Promise to consider: Let us join together to make this holiday season one of learning and tranquility, for us and our families. For those of us who love an addict, let’s take what we’ve learned from addiction and move forward, as best as possible, with faith, love, and serenity.

GRATEFUL – ONE DAY AT A TIME

Jeff, Granddad, Grams, Jeremy

A personal reflection: My worst days, the days I struggle to maintain equilibrium, are the days I forget to be grateful.

When Jeff was three-months old, he was admitted into Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital for an intestinal disorder, where he stayed for one month. I was a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and also teaching, so my mom helped as often as possible – she stayed with him and cared for him, as only a grandmother can. When I shared my worry (and exhaustion) with Mom, her response was always the same, “Pray prayers of thanksgiving. Praise the Lord for Jeff’s recovery, for his health. Sing. Just try.”

 

Jeff, Iysa, Libby, Jeremy

I thought she was crazy. Why would a young mother sing prayers of thanksgiving when her only child was in the hospital and extremely ill? But I did as I was told. I started to pray, to sing, and to thank God for Jeff’s recovery. Feelings of gratitude filled my spirit and I found that didn’t feel so desperate, or helpless. I felt that I could do something.

This lesson happened thirty-eight years ago and, even today, when I find myself struggling with disappointments and hardships, I know I need to find my gratitude – to be grateful for all I DO have, instead of weeping for what I don’t.

On this Thursday, my family and I wish you all a most Happy Thanksgiving. May we raise our voices high and honor the blessings in our lives.

 

HOW SCIENCE IS UNLOCKING THE SECRETS OF ADDICTION

 

The National Geographic Magazine, September, 2017, reports: “Scientists are challenging the view that addiction is a moral failing and researching treatments that could offer an exit from the cycle of desire, bingeing, and withdrawal that traps tens of millions of people. Addiction hijacks the brain’s neural pathways. By analyzing brain scans of recovering cocaine addicts, clinical neuroscientist Anna Rose Childress, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, studies how subliminal drug cues excite the brain’s reward system and contribute to relapse.”

Written by Fran Smith, source: National Geographic

My reflection: No one knows whether the risk of becoming addicted is due to genetics, trauma, stress, or other factors, but science continues to support the fact that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. They are discovering how addiction changes the brain’s chemistry and how it must be retrained for long-term sobriety to take shape.

Today’s Promise to consider: Brain chemistry is altered with addiction – this has been proven by research. Addict’s brains are highjacked by the cycle of desire that drugs and alcohol create. With increased understanding, doctors are experimenting with ways of regaining chemical balance by using electromagnetic waves, medication, psychotherapy, support groups, even mindfulness training. The answer is not incarceration, but treatment.

 

HONORING OUR PAST

Last week, my granddaughter and I visited the deep south of Italy and the village of Rotondella, the land of my grandparents on my mother’s side. Illiterate immigrants, they labored in the fields, lived in one-room, and traversed the ocean to start a new life for their children in LaMerica. Ours is a typical immigrant story, and now Iysa is beginning to understand our past and the sacrifices that were made to provide a better life for each generation.

My reflection: Our history is one part of what defines us. It doesn’t determine who we are as adults, but it does open important insights about the people and places that created us.

Today’s Promise to consider: Honoring the past is important in many ways. In terms of addiction, our children can better confront their health challenges if they know their family’s history includes substance abuse. Additionally, it offers our children a sense of grounding, helps them to have compassion for others who have similar experiences, and creates vital connections to pieces of their past.

 

WE ARE NOT ALONE

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: I am learning to open my eyes to my son’s addiction and my place in it. Stay Close is what my intuition always told me. There are few resources for parents and most of them are written in a clinical fashion. A professional point of view serves a purpose, but in my most horrible moments of despair, when I feel most lost, I need to hear another mother’s voice to help me feel less alone.

My reflection: There are many families struggling with the same issues and that is why Al-Anon and other family groups help. There we can learn through conversations, shared experiences and literature how to approach the addict with better understanding. We also learn how to protect ourselves and other members of our families.

Today’s Promise: We are not alone, but we often feel alone. Addiction isolates us and we feel shameful and lost. Family groups like Al-Anon are a source of help. Today, I will reach out my hand in compassion and understanding. Today, I will accept help.

 

DRUG DEATHS IN AMERICA

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

New York Times, June 5, 2017: Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. (Josh Katz, Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever)

My reflection: Heroin is the cause of many overdoses, but numbers of deaths are increasing due to heroin laced with the illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Worse yet, there is now a substance called carfentanil that is used to tranquilize large animals like elephants and is 1,000 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.  

Today’s Promise to consider: The opioid epidemic is claiming young lives and it seems unstoppable. We must all join hands to educate our loved ones. Children need open and honest forums to talk about their experiences and to learn about the massive dangers of drugs. We must stay close, help our loved ones in need to find good recovery centers, work with legislators on stronger health care, and pray.

 

BOUNDARIES: SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY

A friend called and told me, I have to establish boundaries with this man I’m dating, but it’s really hard for me. I love him and he loves me, but his behavior with his friends is unacceptable. Recently, a group of us were having an afternoon at the seaside when out came white powder cut into lines on the back of their cell phones. I was deeply uncomfortable and told him. He apologized and, when we got back to his apartment, he flushed the drugs down the toilet. But this is the second time this has happened. What to do? How do I trust?

My reflection: Boundaries keep us safe – us and those we love. They draw a line in the sand between behavior that makes us vulnerable and behavior that aligns with our principles. Addiction, by its very nature, challenges our boundaries – it threw me into extremes, and I swung between yes and no, give and take, punishments and rewards. My mixed messages were confusing to my son, who needed boundaries as much as I did, and all the members of my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: I needed to establish boundaries when my son was in active addiction, and I continue to need them in all areas of my life. It is critical for me to define what is acceptable and what isn’t, and I must do so without guilt or ambivalence. Today, for the good of my son, my family and me, I will say what I mean and mean what I say. Moreover, I will follow through.

 

RETHINKING TREATMENT AND INCARCERATION 

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A social worker wrote to me: I agree completely with the philosophy of Stay Close. I have learned to be very tolerant and understanding of the pain and choices made by young people in recovery. I believe that our society must develop a new paradigm in terms of treatment vs. incarceration. The American prison and juvenile justice systems have become a dead end for so many. I hope for a time when drug addiction and mental illness will be treated with the same compassion as any other disease.

My reflection: Incarceration seems to be our society’s first answer to addiction. Sure, locking up the addict gets him off the streets and might even save his life, and the lives of others – but the problem is that we’re putting people is jail who are ill. Addicts need help or else their sickness resumes when they later hit the streets.

Today’s Promise to consider: Every nineteen minutes, someone dies of drug overdose. This can’t continue. Our addicted loves ones need help and treatment. The problem is that THEY must choose to get help. We can’t force them into sobriety. I pray that our judicial systems become enlightened to the realities of this disease and develop new ways to steer our children toward the help they need.

 

HONESTY IS IMPERATIVE

This is part of a series of monthly posts that reference many conversations with Dr. MacAfee. Thanks, Doc. 

A client and friend of Dr. MacAfee, the mother of a recovering addict wrote to me: One of the most important lessons I learned from Dr MacAfee was to hold a mirror up to my son and reflect back to him, without anger or judgment, the honest truth of his behavior and actions. Dr. MacAfee encouraged me to be truthful at all times because without truth both of us would live in denial about what was really happening.

My reflection: I was never very good at honesty when my son was in active addiction. I walked on eggshells, trying diligently to avoid confrontations. This didn’t help my son, our family or me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction survives in lies, while sobriety thrives in honesty. The Big Book reiterates that point saying, sobriety is not possible without rigorous honesty. Today, I will find my courage and be honest with my addicted loved one, without judgment or anger, and with love and kindness. Neither of us needs another battle, but we both need truth.

 

 

“MY MOM FINALLY SAW ME AS HER SON AGAIN”

A young man in recovery wrote to me: About two weeks after my mom finished reading your book, she and I had an unbelievable conversation. She told me that reading the book was very difficult for her at times, but that your story and her own life were strikingly similar. I think the reason that it was difficult for her had everything to do with the fact that she has never sought any kind of help or support outside of a couple of her friends.

What made the conversation with her remarkable was the tone in her voice and the way she spoke. She seemed calm and when I said something funny, she laughed. I cannot tell you how long it has been, since my mother actually listened to my voice and listened to what I was saying. I mean truly listened. Libby, I believe that you are the first person my mother has been able to relate to when it comes to my addiction and all of the pain our relationship has endured. Something magical happened when she read your book. She finally saw me as her son again. Something in what you wrote allowed her to look me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, be able to stop giving me one armed, sideways hugs, and instead wrap both arms around me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Today’s Promise to consider: Parents have a huge influence on our recovering children, even when they are adults. All people want to ‘be seen’ by those they love, but for addicts that need is imperative. Bobby’s last line says it all, “Something in what you wrote allowed her to look me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, be able to stop giving me one armed, sideways hugs, and instead wrap both arms around me.”