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.

 

 

HELP THROUGH ADDICTION: WE ARE NOT ALONE

A mother wrote to me: When we learned that our 19-year-old son was addicted to heroin, I remember praying and searching for other parents who would truly understand. All I really wanted was to talk with another parent – especially a mother – who could really understand the brokenness in that special bond between a son and mother. Al-Anon meetings helped, and our good God led me to a meeting made up mostly of parents of addicted children. 

My reflection: Addiction floods us with emotion and confusion, and we want to command the addiction to go away, order it into the pit of the earth where it belongs. When I was lost in addiction’s grasp, other parents, who walked in my shoes, helped me find my way to sanity, serenity, and faith.  

Today’s Promise to consider: After an Al-Anon meeting, I wrote, “I found a peace that has eluded me. My soul quieted there, in the basement of a church. I heard such pain from others, and I listened intently to how they are struggling to survive. Maybe I can find strength and comfort in Al-Anon, and ultimately in myself.” Today, I will open myself and my story to other parents of addicted children. I know that I am not alone.

ADDICTION HARMS: HURT PEOPLE, HURT PEOPLE

A mom wrote to me: Sometimes, during this nineteen-year journey with my son, it is difficult to see the bridges he continues to burn and how “Hurt People Hurt People.” I will always show him love . . .the one consistency.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, he was forever in pursuit of the next high and in need of the comfort that drugs provided. He was in addiction’s grasp, and he had no ability to think about the hurt that he caused his family, or himself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Suffering people in the clutches of addiction hurt others as a result of their own inner turmoil, distress, and drug use. Today, I will do my best to respond to my child’s pain with compassion and love. If I must keep my distance, I will, but I won’t reply with anger or disgust. As the Dalia Lama said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

 

THE STORY OF THE GOOD WOLF, BAD WOLF – WHICH DO YOU FEED?

At a spiritual retreat, I heard this story: An old man told his grandson, “My son, there is an endless battle that goes on inside all of us. It is between two wolves. One wolf is bad – he is anger, envy, regret, greed, arrogance, resentment, lies, superiority and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man answered, “The one you feed.”

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, the bad wolf inside me grew. I fed him heaping helpings of anger, sadness, regrets, and resentments. Addiction makes it easy for us to stoke the worst parts of ourselves.

Today’s Promise to consider: Negative feelings help the bad wolf to grow fat and mock us with his defiance and rage. It took me fourteen years at addiction’s feet to learn that only through kindness, prayer, and love could I fortify myself and allow the good wolf to become strong.

 

 

 

NO MUD, NO LOTUS

Tara Brach, Buddhist teacher and clinical psychologist, explained the Buddhist saying No Mud, No Lotus: We wake up through the circumstances of our life, and the gift is that when it gets really hard you have to dig very, very deep into your being to find some sense of where love and peace and freedom are. Freedom is our capacity to be openhearted in the midst of whatever is unfolding.

My reflection: I am no stranger to the feeling of mud. When my son was in active addiction, I wrote in my journal: The sun is trying to bake the sadness right out of me. Work your magic, Sun. Bake me thoroughly so I am happy – like blue and yellow instead of gray and the color of mud. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is like being buried alive, struggling to breathe, and aching for the chaos to end. I now realize that addiction taught me to be a better, more compassionate woman and mother. The mud cleared when I took responsibility for my own life and freedom. I found peace through prayer, in Al-Anon meetings, and by reaching out a hand to help another. Today, I realize that out of the mud grew the lotus.

Tara Brach on Mindfulness, Psychotherapy and Awakening by Deb Kory

 

 

THOSE WHO ARE RECOVERING: LEARNING TO LIVE IN ABSTINENCE

A mother wrote to me: My son is a recovering alcoholic, but he doesn’t know how to live in recovery. Sure, he knows that he can’t drink or hang out at parties, but it’s tough for him. He was used to having drinks with his brothers and friends. When they were young, my husband and I had parties where there was drinking. Now I wish I had never drunk in front of my kids. We are a big football family, so I don’t have to tell you what Sundays are like around this town. Very hard for a recovering addict.

My reflection: How do addicts learn to live in abstinence? Dr. MacAfee says this is the essential question.

Today’s Promise to consider: We know a lot about addiction, but we don’t know much about how addicts learn to live in sobriety. My experience is that AA and NA gave Jeff a recipe for living that underscored accountability, faith and contribution. Simultaneously, Al-Anon provided me a community of people who helped me prioritize self care. Today, I will support those I love with compassion and understanding as they relearn how to live life. This includes me.

STEADY AND PERSISTENT HOPE

by libbycataldi under Faith, Hope

A young man explained when he decided to change his life: I remember when I hit bottom: I was drunk, high, and sitting in my car in a field looking at a silver handgun that my older brother gave me for protection since he was just involved in a large drug deal that went bad a couple days before. It would have been so easy that night to pull the trigger and put an end to things, but I was not strong enough. I thought about it many times but I could not do it. I was so close. I was so tired. But I knew someone still believed in me.

My reflection: The young man who told me this story said that the person who believed in him was the mother of a close friend. Despite how tired and broken he felt by his addiction, this mother’s steady and persistent hope became his lifeline.

Today’s Promise: For those suffering from addiction, the knowledge that someone still believes in them can make a difference. When they are without hope, the feeling that someone, somewhere, hasn’t given up on them offers strength. Today, I’ll stay close to those I love, but I must stay out of the chaos of their choices. I will pray and believe that in time they’ll make the decision to come home.

ADDICTION REMAINS MY MOST INFLUENTIAL TEACHER

Recently, I was faced with a family issue that had nothing to do with addiction, but had everything to do with what I had learned through my son’s fourteen-year struggle with heroin. All the suffering and confusion of those addicted years taught me – in the end – to keep my wits about me, to breathe, and to stay close. Problems can be opportunities for learning, and I learned in spades that answers aren’t as important as love and hope. 

My reflection: Before and during the early years of Jeff’s addiction, my typical response was frustration, blame and anger. It took me years to accept that I was powerless to control his behavior, but what I could manage was my response.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can learn many valuable lessons from any trauma. Through my son’s fourteen-year addiction, my biggest breakthrough arrived in two words: Stay Close. For me this meant to love Jeff unflinchingly, but stay out of the chaos of his life. Today, I use that mantra with all of my loved ones.

CHRISTMAS: DON’T LET ADDICTION ROB YOU OF YOUR PEACE

I remember well the Christmas when my son didn’t come home: During the holidays of 2006, when Jeff didn’t come home for our large Italian family gatherings, no one knew what to do or say. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends didn’t know whether to ask about my addicted son or whether it would kinder to leave him out of the conversation. At Christmas Eve Mass, my older brother bent toward me and asked softly, “How’s Jeff?” I swelled with tears, tried to speak, but no words came. He nodded and turned toward the altar. I kept my head down and prayed.

My reflection: The holidays put the addict on center stage when the accumulated chaos of his or her life, and ours, is excruciatingly public. It is during these gatherings of joy that addiction mocks us most.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction can severely isolate us this time of year. We come face-to-face, over and over again, with the reality that our lives are not as joyful as Hallmark’s greeting cards tell us they should be. I will avoid this toxic place by being compassionate with myself, with others and my loved ones. I will find my serenity in honesty and prayer. I will not allow addiction to rob me of my peace.


CAN A RECOVERING ADDICT BE DEFINED A SUCCESS?

A friend recently wrote to me and asked: Who is the most successful person you know or are connected to?

My reaction: The question was not easy one and my answer depended on how success was defined and, moreover, how it was measured. For my dad, a child of the depression, success was money. For others, it might be prestige, international recognition, or fame. For me, success is about living right, doing the next right thing, and dedicating ourselves to becoming better people. It’s about living the golden rule and trying every day to make the world a better place.

Today’s Promise to consider: Just as Virgil toured Dante through hell, the addicted person can find his or her way out of hell – the grasp of drugs and alcohol. My son battled to regain his life after a fourteen-year addiction and lives today – in business and with friends – with honesty and ethics. Do I consider him a success? Do I consider all those who have fought the good fight – whether they have won or not – a success? I answer with a resounding yes.