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.

ON MOTHER’S DAY

I once asked Jeff a ‘mother’ question, not a great question, but I asked: “Didn’t you see how you were hurting yourself and the people who love you? Didn’t you want to stop all the chaos like arrests and near death? Jeff, why didn’t you stop?”

He looked at me, weary, and sighed, “You still don’t get it, do you? After writing this entire book, you still don’t understand that I never wanted to hurt you – I wanted to protect you from all of it, to keep you out of it and to the side. You’ve written about me at my worst, my most vulnerable, my most desperate. I’m an addict. I was addicted. An addict doesn’t want to hurt those he loves, but he can’t stop using drugs – oftentimes until death.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Addicts don’t want to hurt us – their mothers, fathers, brothers, or sisters. Drugs are powerful, and they take our addicted loved ones under, under into chaos and desperation. I will remember that addiction smashes love. Today, I’ll keep loving my child who is under the drugs.

“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.

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.

 

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.