ADDICTION: A PRAYER THAT THE GODS STAY CLOSE 

Richard Selzer, surgeon, wrote: I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.”

All at once, I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

– Richard Selzer, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the art of surgery, Simon and Schuster, 1976

Today’s Promise to consider: Our suffering loved ones need healing and, oftentimes, that comes from forces other than parents. Through the grace of the gods, certain people enter their lives, and make a difference. For my son that person was Dr. Patrick MacAfee, an addiction therapist, who with angel wings touched Jeff’s soul. I thank God every day for our beloved MacAfee, and I pray that all suffering people are graced with someone just like him.

 

 

TWO SIDES OF ADDICTION: MOTHER AND SON

Not many people know that my son helps me with every post about addiction. I want to acknowledge his contributions over these many years.

Dr. MacAfee told me that, as a parent, I can speak about addiction, but that Jeff speaks from addiction. The difference is huge.

As a mom, I know only my walk, my suffering, and my desperate attempts to save my son during his fourteen-year journey. I learned that, for us, STAY CLOSE made all the difference.

Jeff knows his walk and how he found recovery. Only he knows his suffering. Only he knows his desperation. Only he knows what it feels like to live on the streets, be locked up in jails, and to lose all sense of dignity and hope.

Thanks, Jeff, for your help, support, compassion, and care all these years. Thanks for reaching out a hand to help others. Thanks for your service.

My son and I walk together today, but only he and his Higher Power found recovery.

To all recovering addicts, we need your voice in order to understand addiction. You inspire us.

A STEP TOWARD RECOVERY

Our beloved Dr. MacAfee said: For the addict, an opening to recovery appears when the pain of maintaining the fiction becomes greater than the pleasure the drugs provide.

My reflection: The Big Book calls this moment, “The Gift of Desperation.” When my son was in active addiction, I thought that I could gauge when these breaks occurred in his life, when the pain had reached critical junctures, and when he would be open to professional help. I never could.

Today’s Promise to consider: Dr. MacAfee’s words proved true with my son, who told me that he chose sobriety when the consequences of his addiction outweighed the solace he got from drugs. For Jeff, his fourteen-year addiction took him to the crossroads of continuing drugs or dying. I thank God every day that he chose recovery, and I pray for all those who continue to suffer.

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.”

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.

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.

OFFER THE ADDICT ROADS TO RECOVERY

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote: Allowing addicts to stand accountable for their behavior and consequences is difficult for families in the beginning; staying close and out of the way is often reported as feeling “unnatural.” However, complaining, threatening, and hand wringing rarely succeeds. Staying close to the addict and out of the way of the insanity is encouraged. For families dealing with active addicts, I recommend offering them roads to recovery, not more money or bailouts. Watching a loved one who’s failing is terrifying, but enabling them to avoid the consequences of their actions only prolongs the sickness.

My reflection: Our family did a whole lot of ‘complaining, threatening, and hand wringing.’ As Dr. MacAfee mentions, these never worked with our son. It wasn’t until Jeff had to face the natural consequences of his addiction that he made a decision to change his life.

Today’s Promise to consider: I can’t force my addicted loved one into health, but I can allow him to face the repercussions of his addiction. For fourteen years I feared Jeff would die – the single most horrifying outcome for any parent – but in the end I could only offer roads to recovery, continue to love him, and pray for a better future.

 

 

“GREED TRUMPED COMPLIANCE. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT.”

The Washington Post, October 15, 2017: When you’re selling half a million pills to some pharmacy and you’re telling me that you don’t know what the rules are for a suspicious order?” said Geldhof, who is now working as a consultant to lawyers suing the (pharmaceutical) industry. “All we were looking for is a good-faith effort by these companies to do the right thing, and there was no good-faith effort. Greed always trumped compliance. It did every time. It was about money, and it’s as simple as that.” by Scott Highman and Lenny Bernstein 

My reflection: The Washington Post’s recent expose on the drug industry’s collusion with politicians to reduce regulations so opiates can flow more readily into the market is yet another glaring example of corruption and money reigning supreme. This is totally disgusting, unjustifiable and pathetic.

Today’s Promise to consider: When is enough, enough? How many kids have to die before our politicians and our society as a whole face the gravity of the situation of rising deaths by overdose. When will these young people get the help they need instead of being marginalized by those in power? MacAfee’s words ring in my ears, “Only when we take addiction out of the shadows and into the light can it be healed.” Kudos to the reporters who brought this story – out of the shadows and into the light.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/investigations/dea-drug-industry-congress/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.c50508dee7b4

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

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

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A dear friend of mine, the mother of a recovering addict, and someone close to Dr. Mac wrote to me recently: Dr. Mac talked to me about the idea that many family members think, If I just hurry up, work harder, do more, I can fix this problem. We talked about how addiction deeply wounds every family member and how the individual members need care. If the focus is solely on the addict, self care falls by the wayside. He encouraged me to take care of myself, not only for myself, but more importantly for my addicted son and my family.

My reflection: When my son was sick, self care came in at dead last. I worried for my addicted son, my younger son who is not an addict, my work and family. Since I was the mother, I felt selfish if I considered myself first or even second. For many years, my son was lost to the addiction, and so was I.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s essential that we take care of ourselves in the midst of addiction. A routine that promotes our personal wellness helps – Al-Anon or other family groups, walking or running, a spiritual practice, writing, or therapy. If we lose ourselves, who is left to help our loved ones? We need to be compassionate with ourselves.

 

DR. MACAFEE: TELL THE TRUTH, LIVE THIS DAY, AND DECIDE NOT TO USE

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

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Dr. MacAfee said, For recovering people, let’s go back to some basic pieces: tell the truth, live only this day and decide this day not to use. That’s one heck of a premise. That’s a profound world trio. It sounds amazingly simple, but it’s very, very difficult. To be in recovery, you see your own unfolding, you’re aware of it. You’re always looking to be more and to live a better way.

My reflection: Truth is the defining characteristic of recovery. The Big Book of AA says that recovery can only be found in rigorous honesty. This is essential for the recovering addict, and I found it to be essential for me, too.

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery is based in truth – being honest with ourselves and with others. Dr. MacAfee helped me to understand that recovery is bigger than not using. Real recovery means living in transparency, being present each day, and consciously trying to make good decisions, one day at a time.