SAN PATRIGNANO: ONE PLACE WHERE PEOPLE FIND LONG-TERM RECOVERY

Two mothers of children who entered San Patrignano (Rimini, Italy) wrote to me:  

Her son entered three years ago: I really believe if I hadn’t read your book and found out about San Patrignano that my son would not be with us today. He was so into his addiction that I believe nothing short of a long-term rehab in another country would help him – we tried everything else over fourteen years.

Her daughter entered two months ago: We received a letter from our daughter and I feel like I can finally start to relax. She’s working in the laundry sector and is happy to be there. She’s met some lovely people and has totally surrendered. Needless to say hearing this news from her allows me to loosen up. I know she’s okay and will only get better day-by-day.

My reflection: Jeff refused to go to San Patrignano because a three-to-five year commitment is required. But I have seen miracles happen there. The community, started in 1978 by Vincenzo Muccioli, offers 50 different sectors of education to its 1,500 residents. The stay is free to the client, to their families, and to Italian tax payers, and has a documented recovery rate of 73 percent after three years of exiting the community (research conducted by the University of Bologna).

Today’s Promise to consider: There are many models and places for recovery, and San Patrignano is one. Today, I will educate myself about the various centers and options. I can’t force my loved one into treatment, but I can learn about and offer him choices to consider when he is ready.

EARLY DRUG USE: ACT FAST AND DECISIVELY

A dad told me his story: When my son was a junior in high school, I got a phone call from the police that he was in the hospital. When my wife and I arrived, he was out of it, but he told me that he had taken pills given to him by two local guys. I went looking for them to figure out what type of pills my son had taken. They were seniors and, when I found them, they were totally disrespectful so I called a policeman to check their car where he found drugs. The parents of the kids were furious with me for getting their kids in trouble, but I figured maybe I had saved their lives. After that, my son was on a tight leash. He had to call me when he got to work, when he was leaving work, and when he went out anywhere. I also had him drug tested randomly for the next year. We addressed the problem with love and honesty, and he knew he had to earn our trust back.

My reflection: Jeff got into trouble with the police during his high school years, but my husband and I were quick to believe Jeff’s lies. He swore that he was the innocent bystander and had done nothing wrong. Even though the facts were clear, we wanted to believe him. Our denial paved the way to bigger problems. 

Today’s Promise to consider: With early drug use, we must act fast, and act decisively. Our children need boundaries, and they need to understand clearly what they can and cannot do. Sure, our kids will make mistakes, but we must explain without hesitation our concerns, and set concrete limits on their behavior while under our roofs. Once addictive patterns take hold, it’s often too late and we have little control. 

THE NEW YEAR IS A CHANCE TO REFLECT AND RESET

When Jeff was new to recovery, he wrote, This is the first year that my New Year’s resolution was crystal clear: contribution. I need to do more for my community, to give back in bigger, more consistent ways – roll up my sleeves and offer my time and experience to the people around me. The Big Book says, “To keep what we have, we need to give it away.”

My reflection: For years, I scoffed at making New Year’s resolutions. I felt silly setting the intention to do something I knew I would abandon after a few weeks; however, I decided to follow Jeff’s lead and made a commitment to take time each day to read, meditate, pray, and become more centered in myself and with my God. I knew this would have a positive impact on myself and my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: Even though I may not be a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, this year I will try. Jeff will contribute more to his community, and I will do the same. I will grow stronger in my spirituality, reflect on what is important to me, and decide what I can do to enrich my life and the lives of others. Happy New Year!


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.


A DIVINE PAUSE: MAKING SPACE TO RESPOND AND TO HEAL

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Judy Brown wrote: “The Fire”
“… a fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.”

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt an urgency to respond quickly as if a delayed response would cause greater harm to him. What I learned was that when I took the time to pray for wisdom and think about my response, the results were better for all of us.

Today’s Promise to consider: A Divine Pause gifts us with the time and space that we often need to respond skillfully. Fire grows in the openings between the logs, music seeps into our being in the pauses between the notes, and our interior growth happens in the quiet of our soul. Today, I will take time to pause, pray, contemplate, and heal.

FINDING OURSELVES OUTSIDE OF ADDICTION

A mom, whose son is in recovery, wrote to me: So much has changed and I am very grateful, but the challenges remain.  I finally feel the weight of my own need to become healthy and whole. I have the time and space to do all the things one imagines self-actualization requires, and yet this freedom to be myself is the greatest challenge of all.

My reaction: When Jeff was in active addiction, my life revolved around the chaos of his illness. Rarely a night went by that I didn’t awaken with him on my mind or I’d toss and turn fearing ‘the’ phone call. During those years, I lost myself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Jeff’s early years of recovery should have given me peace, yet I struggled to find myself – and define myself – away from the turbulence of his addiction. Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s beloved addiction therapist, explained, “You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.” With time and prayer, along with writing and my support group, life came back into focus and I began to reemerge.

 

 

THE ‘BECOMING’ YEARS

A mother of a son in recovery wrote to me: I’m grateful for my son’s recovery, but sometimes I still find myself wondering why it took so long for him to get sober.  I know I should not ask why or wonder why, but it comes up. I’m working on opening up fully and embracing my ‘new’ son. It will take time.

My reflection: There are a myriad of questions with addiction, and I’ve asked many of them: Why did it take fourteen years of pain and heartbreak for Jeff to find his legs in recovery? Why did it take me so long to realize that he was addicted? Why did it take me so long to learn how best to stay close?

Today’s Promise to consider: Maybe there are no wasted years, but only learning years, ‘becoming’ years. Suffering brings new perspective and growth. The most important part is what we do from here. Today, when I’m with my sons, I will be honest, say with loving-kindness what is on my heart, listen harder and pray more. The learning years were then and they are now.

WALKING WITH VERSUS WALKING FOR

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

An Italian friend, whose brother is a recovering addict, wrote to me, “Perche ci hai insegnato ad abbracciarci senza stringerci,” which means that she and her family learned (from our book Stay Close, Stammi Vicino) how to walk with her brother and not for him; how to hug her brother but not squeeze him.

My reflection: Across the globe, addiction forces us to decide how best to help our loved one who is struggling with drugs or alcohol. I always wanted to make things better for my son, to make things easier. Often these attempts happened at the expense of my own and my family’s health. I would have sacrificed anything to stop the addiction for him. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to learn how to support my son without trying to take control of his recovery. Today, I will walk with my loved one, all the while recognizing and admitting that I cannot walk for him. I will give him space to direct his own program – in its victories and setbacks. I will stay close in hope, faith and prayer.

 

WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS WITH ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My son is in jail. He is only 18. I will not bail him out. I cry every night. He has not yet escalated to the harder drugs, but the criminal behavior is there. I hate that my son is in jail, hate that I cannot and will not bail him out, and hate what is coming down the road for him, but I know that this is the necessary action to be taken if he is to get on the road to recovery. I also know that he must be willing and we do not see that yet. I pray I’ve made the right decisions.

My reflection: Addiction gloats in our confusion and chaos. Do we bail out our children? Do we give them money to pay their bills? Do we cover the fee of yet another rehab center? There are no easy answers and we must make the decisions based on what we’ve learned, what professionals recommend, and what our hearts tell us.

Today’s Promise to consider: I accept that I don’t have all the answers about addiction, but today I will listen with an open heart to the help and advice of professionals, those in recovery, other parents, and my own good counsel. When I had breast cancer, I talked with three surgeons and each one offered differing recommendations. We each must make the decision that we think is best for our loved one and our family. I pray for wisdom.

 

 

“How do I get out of his way but stay close?”

A mom wrote to me: My son is in the thick of alcohol addiction. This last year has been particularly difficult with a third DUI and forced hospitalization. There have been some patches of clarity and health, but the battle rages. A few days ago I finally accepted the fact that my help, over all these years, was not helping and that I could no longer allow him to live with me. Is it possible to stay close if I withdraw my support of a place to live? How do I get out of his way but stay close?

My reflection: After fourteen years of addiction with my son, I changed my behavior: I didn’t give him money and didn’t allow him to live at home; however, I never stopped taking his phone calls and I continually reminded him that he was loved. I told him that once he was healthy again, home and family were waiting for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: We each must answer the title question for ourselves, but for me, I learned to stay close and, at the same time, allow my son to face the consequences of his addiction. As parents, we often turn ourselves inside-out in an effort to ‘fix’ our addicted children, until we realize that our help isn’t always helping. In some confounding way, when I got healthier so did my son.