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.

CAN WE CONTROL OUR LOVED ONE’S ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My 24-year-old, heroin-addicted son is in jail. He has been using drugs since he was 14. Today, he asked me to help get him into a sober-house program. I told him that I would help him as long as he has no further involvement with his girlfriend. Even reading what I just wrote I see that I am still trying to control the outcome. I must detach with love and stay close. My next letter to him will be one of hope, love, and courage to move in the right direction and in a timeline that the court decides. 

My reflection: I, too, tried to curtail my son’s addiction by issuing ultimatums. It took years of pain for me to realize that I could control nothing. Although I wanted only health and healing for my son, my plan of action for Jeff was often counterproductive.

Today’s Promise to consider: I admit that I cannot control my child’s addiction, and I can’t dictate the rules the disease will follow. What I can control is my own behavior. Today, I will pray, go to support meetings, read addiction literature, and work with professionals. I will stay close with hope and allow my son the space to find the courage inside himself to fight against his addiction.

MISCONCEPTION #4: ADDICTS DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT ANYONE ELSE

From my son, I learned that many addicts hate themselves for the pain they are causing those they love. Recently, a young girl with a crystal meth addiction wrote to me, “My mom tries to help me, but I can’t talk with her. I’m afraid the stress will kill her. I can’t stand myself for hurting her.”

My reflection: When Jeff was in the deep throes of his addiction, I had a bilateral mastectomy. I was in the hospital only one night, and he slept in a chair next to my bed, reacting and awakening with my every move. Empathy for his mother was still alive in my chameleonic son and he was attentive and caring; he never left my side.

Today’s Promise to consider: Once the addiction is in charge, our loved ones are not. Using becomes a chase, a necessity, a way of life, but addicts, in a moment of clarity, know that they are hurting the people they love and they loathe themselves for it. Today, I will pray for my child’s recovery and continue to trust that my child’s humanity is alive under the drugs.

 

MISCONCEPTION #3: THE ADDICT CHOOSES TO STAY CLEAN FOR THOSE HE LOVES

From my son, I learned that as much as he loved his family, he had to choose sobriety for himself. Many of us, who love addicts, want to believe that the addict will change his ways for the family, a child, or another person. As a recovering person once told me, “Let’s face it. I had to decide whether I would live or die. I got clean for myself.”

My reflection: Several times I asked my son why he didn’t stop doing drugs when he saw all the damage addiction was spewing onto the family. He explained that he never wanted to hurt us, that he wanted desperately to keep us to the side, but that drugs are all powerful. Once he was locked in their grasp, he was overwhelmed with the hunt for more.

Today’s Promise to consider: One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that love wasn’t enough to save my son from addiction’s clutches. The disease takes the healthiest parts of love and smashes them into worry, helplessness and hopelessness. The reality is that addicts must choose to change for themselves. It’s the only way sobriety takes a lasting hold. Today, I’ll pray that my loved one makes the choice.

 

WHEN WILL HE CHANGE HIS LIFE?

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me: My son is addicted to drugs. After four years of enabling and one forced rehab, my son made the choice between living with us or dealing and using weed on a constant basis. He no longer lives with us at age 18. He dropped out of high school, refuses to hold a legal job and has constantly betrayed us with lies, verbal abuse and stealing. Our only offer of help is 90 days in a residential treatment center when he is ready to change his life.

My reflection: When my son was 18, I made him leave the house because of his drug use. He wrote, “The party was in full swing. At eighteen, life was fresh and raucous and racing, and besides some minor arrests and fistfights, serous consequences were rare.” He didn’t choose recovery until many years later.

Today’s Promise: We all have choices to make, and most arrive in their own time. It’s excruciating to watch our children destroy their lives, but until they surrender to their addiction and reach a genuine hand out for help, there is no real change. The best I can do is to stay close to my son and enforce my own boundaries.

THE PRISON OF FEAR

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Rumi, a 13th century poet, was quoted by Tara Brach at the end of her guided meditation:

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

My reflection: I lived in the prison of fear for many years. Fourteen years with my son’s addiction, but there were other years where I feared my parent’s wrath, my family’s disintegration, and the loss of my own health to cancer.

Today’s Promise to consider: Sometimes fear can be healthy because it signals oncoming danger, but it often can be crippling and suffocating. Addiction feeds on this dread. “What if my child dies?” “What if my child is sleeping on the streets in the freezing weather?” Fear is normal, but it amplifies itself and grows bigger and bigger. Today, I’ll face my fears, call them by name, and cultivate constructive ways of dealing with them.

“TEMPTATION IS A BITCH”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, wrote in Time Magazine: Temptation is a bitch. All my life, I’ve gone through periods of horrific anxiety…that squeezes my brain in an icy grip…a bottomless pit of fear. Ouch. Man, drugs fixed all that in a flash. Once you’ve opened the door to drug use, it’s always there, seducing you. Perfectly sane people become addicted and end up dead.

My reflection: Drug overdoses kill more than 64,000 people each year and are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. The latest research from the Center for Disease Control estimates that overdoses will increase by 30% in 2017. These dire statistics point to the high price of succumbing to temptation for addicts.

Today’s Promise to consider: Temptation is everywhere – whether it’s sweets, extra sleep, shopping, or narcotics. Recovering addicts have worked hard to distance themselves from the deadly seduction of drugs. Today, I’ll reach out my hand with compassion to all those who are fighting the ravaging temptation of drugs in order to survive another day.

 

HIS HUMANITY WAS IN CONSTANT CONFLICT WITH HIS ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A recovering addict wrote to me: Libby, I was a good friend and fellow drug user with your son. I’ve been clean for three years. Your son was one of the few truly decent addicts I ever met, meaning that he had a kind side that most addicts had already destroyed within themselves. He actually CARED about what his drug use was doing to you, his brother and his dad. I remember when your father died and you had cancer. He drove over to my apartment and we talked late into the night. But after that, we went out and copped more drugs, came back, used, and he called into work and faked sick.

My reflection: Jeff and I have talked a lot about those years when my father died and I had cancer. He tried his addicted-best to be present during those times. His words held the truth, “I never wanted to hurt you, Mom. I love you. But I’m an addict.” Jeff’s humanity and love were in constant conflict with his illness.

Today’s Promise: My son tells me that addicts, even those who can’t mouth the words, despise the destruction they are causing, but they simply can’t imagine a life without drugs. Today, I will not feel guilt, regret, or shame. Today, I will live in hope and faith that my child comes home to us and to himself.

 

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.

SUFFERING CAN EMBITTER US OR ENNOBLE US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

The Dalai Lama says we actually feel more joy after we’ve succeeded in the face of opposition. Suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us. Much like muscle tone, it grows against resistance, so what is true physically is true spiritually as well. With acceptance, suffering can make us stronger.

My reflection: This proved true for both my son and me. Jeff once told me that after he left his final long-term rehab, his life was still in pieces – he had no job, no car, he was dealing with numerous legal issues, and he had to rebuild his life. In the face of those challenges, he slept on a friend’s couch, applied for jobs, and went to AA meetings. It was then that he realized that with faith in his higher power and hard work, success was possible.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all suffer at addiction’s hand, but suffering can lead us to greater inner strength and profound personal breakthroughs. The pain of addiction is often impossible to sidestep, so today I will accept it and move through it. I will not let suffering embitter me.