IN THE MIDST OF ADDICTION: DON’T JUMP INTO THE QUICKSAND

Felix Scardino, LCSW, a friend of mine wrote: Take care of yourself while you try to understand that you cannot support another person unless you keep your own footing. The following analogy helps me: It will not serve either of us if I jump into quicksand with a person to save him. I’ll best help the person if I stand strong and throw him or her a rope. To care for myself I might need to take a break from listening or even choose not to be with another if their problems overwhelm me.

My reflection: It took me fourteen-years to learn how to live this advice. At my first Al-Anon meeting, I heard these words, but they made no sense to me. How could I take care of myself when my son was dying? In time, I learned how to Stay Close, but out of the chaos.

Today’s Promise to consider: Many of us have thrown ourselves into the fire as we try to help our addicted loved ones. When we lose ourselves, we are of no help to our families, our children, or ourselves. Today, I’ll take care of myself so that I am able to take care of others.

 

BE SENSITIVE TO WHAT WE SAY

A friend of mine wrote: With addiction, we need to be cautious not to malign the reputation of our loved one by confessing their troubles, even when they cause us trouble. Although their behavior may sometimes be unacceptable, I recognize that they’re deep in the clutches of their disease.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I operated from a space of hurt, confusion, and anger. In that anger, I often said things that maligned his character and cut deep wounds. My friend’s words flooded me with memories, many I wish I could erase.

Today’s Promise to consider: These wise words hit me hard. How many times I didn’t protect my son with my speech. When my anger took hold, nothing good came from it. I’m so sorry, Jeff. Today, I stand tall for my son.

WE ARE NOT ALONE

A daughter of addicted parents wrote to me: I still struggle with the pain of what it’s like to live with and love addicts. I still struggle with issues of anger and despair over all of the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ that circle around and around in my mind. But it is always cathartic to hear other people’s tales of their battles with this disease – whether they’re the addict or love someone who is.  It reminds me that I’m not alone.

My reflection: There are millions of us affected by this disease, either directly as addicts or those of us who love them. That’s why groups like AA and Al-Anon work. There, I found friendship and a lifeline. In our stories, I found compassion and support. I found that I was not alone.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to isolate and sink into deep suffering when facing addiction. It took me years before I finally sought help in Al-Anon. My ego got in the way. I didn’t want people to know about my family’s problem, and I didn’t want to break my silence. Today, I will accept the help of others. In return, I will reach out my hand to help. No one has to be alone.

 

“They can make their lips say anything”

A friend told me that her partner often said these words above. Even through his depression and addiction, he was well aware that people said things to him that were insincere. There were times when a family member said, “I love you. I’m here for you,” but they never contacted him again.

My reflection: Toward the end of my son’s years in active addiction, I finally learned that his words were far less important than his behavior. Words come easily, especially to those enmeshed in addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” perennially rings true. Addicts lie in order to keep the fiction of their disease, “I’m OK, Mom. I haven’t used in a month.” For me, I often chose not to confront my son with the truth of what I thought. This only made me resentful, while allowing him to continue the charade. Today, I’ll speak my truth with love and compassion. I trust that he’ll do the same.

ADDICTION DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE

libbys familyA mother wrote to me: My son is 27, in a halfway house, and on the methadone program. I don’t know how it happened. He taught himself to program in Linux as an eighth-grade student, before Linux was available on the market. He read books with thousands of pages on Solaris and other programs. As a precocious young man, at 18 he worked as a programmer and systems administrator. His skill brought in huge paychecks, which quickly became paychecks to drug dealers. 

My reflection: Our children are bright and capable, they’ve been loved and cared for, yet something happens and they lose themselves to drugs. My son was a leader, captain of the soccer team, and an A student. Addiction didn’t care about any of this.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It happens in solid families and broken families, in educated families and in uneducated families. Often we as parents don’t see the problem coming because our children are scholars and athletes. They are “good kids” to the outside world. Today, I will accept that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

WHY ONE CHILD AND NOT THE OTHER?

A mother wrote to me: My life has been filled with my son’s arrests and multiple treatment attempts. My hope and trust have been shattered, rebuilt, and bounced around like a ping-pong ball. I have two sons who are such opposites, one brave and reckless, the other cautious and intellectual. I have volumes of photos of beautiful little boys dressed like superheroes: Zorro, Leonardo, Wolverine, Knights in Shining Armor, and Ghost Busters. My oldest son received a medal for the Dare Anti-Drug program best in class honors, yet went on to try all the drugs they warned against.

My reflection: How does one child become an addict and the other does not? Why does one child contract an illness while the other is unscathed? Why did I have cancer and my brother did not?

Today’s Promise:  There is a large body of research that identifies addiction an illness. It might be lying dormant from the time our child is born, like depression or diabetes, but when it’s activated the ramifications are serious. We look at the pictures of our children when they were young and innocent and we wonder why. Maybe what we’re really asking is what could we have done to stop it. Today, I accept that my child has a problem with substance abuse. I’ll continue to stay close, find solace in my support group and counselors, and pray he comes home to himself.

 

 

 

 

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.