ADDICTION: THE JUXTAPOSITION OF ANGER AND LOVE

A mom wrote to me, I made this from your blog entry, The Two Sides of Addiction. The quote is a reminder to always love my addicted child and that I should never be ashamed because of it.

My reflection: I recently read a Facebook post from a mom stating how guilty she felt because she was furious with her heroin-addicted son. I understood well her internal conflict – the juxtaposing feelings of outrage and love. When my son was sick, I felt rage from the excruciating pain caused by the addiction, yet I still loved him dearly. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Bad, ugly, and hurtful behaviors are addiction’s trademarks, and they cut deeply into our hearts. Today, I’ll acknowledge the wide and conflicting range of feelings addiction generates. It’s OK to feel both anger and love.

WHAT DOES ‘LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD’ MEAN?

A mother wrote to me, ‘Letting go and letting God’ must have no strings attached, that is, any expectations of outcomes. Death is a very real outcome in our stories. I remember when a friend confronted me with this. Yes, it is terrifying, and I lived in fear and worry for many years, often reacting in unhealthy ways, trying to fix and control. When I realized nothing I did made my son’s situation any different and, in fact, often made things worse, I hit my bottom. I had to save myself. This did not mean I turned my back on my son. I talked with him often, but I stopped trying to determine if he was sober or if he was using. I realized that I was powerless over another human being, no matter what the situation.

My reflection: Although ‘Let go and let God’ was my mantra for years, I just couldn’t relinquish the thought that I could change my son. I was convinced that love was stronger than the pull of addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s natural that want to save our children. When they are suffering, we are quick to jump into the fire and rescue them. It took me fourteen years to admit that I was powerless over my son’s addiction. I fought the good fight, but in the end HE had to save himself. Today, I will stay close and love my child, but I will stay out of the chaos of his addiction.

ADDICTION AND RECOVERY: “MIRACLES HAPPENED WHEN I LET GO OF TRYING TO CHANGE AND CONTROL HIM.”

A mom wrote to me: When I hit MY bottom, began to put the focus on ME, and trust my Higher Power, I was finally able to release myself from fear and find true understanding and compassion for my son and myself. When I let go of trying to change and control him, when I granted him the dignity to face his disease on his own terms, it was then – slowly – the miracles began to unfold. Today he has a good job and the fog seems to be lifting, but I have absolutely no sense of what his lifestyle choices are or what tomorrow might bring. His recovery is his own. I cannot live my life based on him, how he looks, how he “seems.” We try to love him as is, right where he is.

My reflection: When I finally surrendered to my son’s addiction, when I finally let go of trying to fix the consequences of his chaos, and when I finally took my hands off the steering wheel of his life, Jeff made the decision to change.

Today’s Promise to consider: There is room for only one person in each addiction – and I am not that person. Today, I’ll concentrate on my own recovery. I’ll start this New Year by trusting my Higher Power, attending Al-Anon or family group meetings, renewing my commitment to working with a sponsor, and prioritizing my physical health. I’ll trust that a miracle will happen if I stay close, but get out of the way.

ADDICTION AND THE HOLIDAYS: “IT’S HARD TO CARRY ON”

A mom wrote to me: When people at work talk about their kids and grandkids, I feel myself die inside and hope they don’t ask me about mine because I feel such sadness, shame, and embarrassment. I know my husband and I can’t let our son’s choices dictate our happiness, but it’s so hard to carry on with everyday life when I’m screaming inside with sadness and worry. The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time, but I feel despair. 

My reflection: Addiction is full of shame, secrets, stigma and silence. I remember praying that no one would ask me about Jeff because I didn’t know what to say. I remember lying, “He’s fine. He’s working in Florida,” when in truth he was struggling and in yet another halfway house. I remember trying to feel happiness, but finding it impossible.

Today’s Promise to consider:  Addiction wants to strangle our joy, especially during the holiday season, but we have a choice: We can allow it to rob us and our families, or we can go forward for the rest of our loved ones who gather together. For today, I accept that life can be difficult and I pray that tomorrow will be better. For today, I am grateful for what I have. For today, I will do my best for my family.

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.