ADDICTION: ‘YOU DIDN’T CAUSE IT, YOU CAN’T CONTROL IT, AND YOU CANNOT CURE IT.’

A mother wrote to me: Addiction is a humbling experience – it brings us to our knees – literally! All we can do is get down on those knees and ask God to take care of our addict, “Let Go and Let God.” We learned this the hard way because before we came to the ‘rooms’ we thought we could control it. I remember my first meeting when a wonderful lady put her arm around me and said, “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you cannot cure it.” This was immediately a relief to me. Up until then I believed I had failed my son and carried so much guilt for his addiction.

My reflection: During many of the years of my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I thought it was my fault because I must have failed him. Thoughts plagued me, “I should have spent more time at home,” “I worked too much,” “I punished him instead of listening,” and “If I had interceded earlier, the addiction wouldn’t have taken root.”

Today’s Promise to consider: We often blame ourselves for our loved one’s addiction, convinced we’ve done something wrong. In the rooms of Al-Anon, we learn that we didn’t cause it, we can’t control it, and we cannot cure it, but that we can contribute to it. Today, I will give up my feelings of guilt. I will learn how to support my child as HE works to find sobriety and to live in the solution.

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 AND THE HOLIDAYS

I wrote this in Stay CloseDuring the Christmas of 2006, when neither son came home for our large Italian family gatherings, the grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends didn’t know what to do. My brothers didn’t know what to say. They didn’t even know whether to invite me to the festivities or not. The cousins were confused: Could they ask about Jeff or would it be kinder to leave him out of the conversation?

My reflection: I remember well that Christmas Eve Mass when my older brother turned gently toward me and said, “Not sure I should ask but – how’s Jeff?” As I looked at him, my eyes welled with tears. I opened my mouth to respond, but I was unable to say a word. He just nodded and we both turned forward. The question floated in the air.

Today’s Promise to consider: During the holidays, let us remember that addiction can severely isolate us. We might feel ashamed and lonely because our lives are not as joyful as we wish they would be. I will avoid this treacherous place by being compassionate with myself and my family. I will find serenity in honesty and prayer.

ADDICTION: NO PLACE TO JUDGE 

A son of alcoholic parents wrote to me: My parents struggled with alcoholism for most of their adult lives. Alcohol was a curse on my family, but we learned to “stay close” and support one another. My parents were in pain. It is not our place to judge. 

My reflection: Addiction affects all of us: parents, sibling, child, cousin, teacher and coach. We all suffer, but many children, who live with addicted parents, carry scars from their earliest years, ones that can negatively affect relationships and last forever. I don’t know their walk, but I feel the heaviness of their pain.

Today’s Promise to consider: The young man who wrote to me grew up in a home where both his mom and dad battled alcoholism. Instead of ugliness and anger, he chooses to summon compassion. Not an easy approach to take, but today, let us all follow his example. No one has the right to judge how we should feel about our suffering loved ones.

GRATITUDE: WHAT YOU PRACTICE GETS STRONGER …even when dealing with addiction

Tara Brach, one of my favorite Buddhist practitioners, says: When we practice gratitude or sending well wishes to others, those are the neural pathways that deepen and flourish. We may very loyal to habits of anxiety and vigilance that evolved to ensure survival, but … we can undo this negativity bias by intentionally orienting in another direction.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, all my neural pathways seemed to be hardwired to thoughts of trauma, destruction, and negative outcomes. I worried constantly – would this be the call, would he live or not, would he ever get well? My mind marinated in fear.

Today’s Promise to consider: How are we able to feel gratitude when our loved ones are in addiction’s grasp? Brain research shows that negative thinking produces more negative thinking, and the cycle continues as it consumes us and our energies. Today, I will stop the cycle. I will identify the parts of my life for which I am grateful, and I will fight the negativity bias. Today, is Thanksgiving. It’s a good day to start.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours

 

 

 

 

 

FIGHTING ADDICTION TAKES COURAGE: THEIRS AND OURS

A mother wrote to me: My son goes to meetings, talks with his addiction counselor, and is working with his psychologist to help him with his anxiety. I’m hopeful because he is keeping his appointments and seems like, this time, he wants to change. Of course the other part of me keeps waiting for the hammer to fall, for him to slip. It’s hard to continue to fight for my recovery and to support him as he fights for his.

My reflection: Recovery is not easy – not for anyone. For us, we’ve been lied to and betrayed for so long that we expect something to go wrong. We’re afraid to hope again, because we’re terrified that our hope will be crushed. For our loved ones, they’re afraid – afraid of failing, afraid of the pain of detox, afraid of the shame, and overwhelmed with the challenge of rebuilding a new life.

Today’s Promise to consider: Courage is needed from everyone involved in fighting an addiction. Family systems have been broken and new ones must be rebuilt. It takes courage to hope again. It takes courage to believe again. Even though we might feel worn down, we must find our determination to go on. If we don’t, addiction wins.

RELAPSE: THAT ‘MOTHER’ FEELING

A mom wrote to me: My son and I went to an AA meeting together, and I was delighted and proud that he allowed me to accompany him. His recovery is so important to me (maybe even more important to me than to him?), and I know he has relapsed several times. He’s not honest enough to tell me. I wish he were. I just sense that he has tripped along the way – just a feeling, that mother feeling.

My reflection: At the beginning of my son’s recovery, I wish I had understood more clearly that relapse happens and can happen often. I thought that when my son left treatment he was healed. Wrong. It was at those times that he needed more support than ever – and he needed honesty. Relapse isn’t about ‘catching’ the addict, but it is about everyone learning how to stay centered through life’s daily struggles.

Today’s Promise to consider: If I have the feeling my son has slipped, I pray that I’ll have the fortitude to talk compassionately with him as he battles for his life, again. Relapse is not moral failure; my son is an addict. Relapse, if handled well, can be one step closer to full recovery.

 

WHEN DOES RECOVERY HAPPEN?

A woman wrote to me: My younger sister is a recovering heroin addict. She is 25 years old and has been to 17 rehab centers, and never finished one program. Last year, she completed her time in jail (since she did not fulfill the requirements of rehab) and that seems to have made a difference for her.  She is recently married, pregnant and, as far as we can tell, sober.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, he bounced among rehabs, jails, hospitals, and detox centers. I never knew what to do – should I pay for another rehab that I knew he would walk out of as soon as he cleaned up, should I be grateful he was arrested and detained, should I do something – or nothing?

Today’s Promise to consider: There is not one definitive answer as to what makes a suffering person choose to change her life and stay sober. Did she hit her point of desperation? Is it time in jail, rehab programs, treatment centers, AA, professional help? Is it all of these things? The answer must be found in the addict herself. She must choose a different life, and we pray that she chooses before it is too late. We are powerless, but today we can and will stay close.

SUBSTANCE DRIVES THE ADDICT 

Our beloved Dr. MacAfee wrote, This is the simple fact: substance drives the addict. Families grow ever more dysfunctional and stressed as they try in vain to cope with the disease’s devastating impact, but most often they move into deeper levels of confusion and denial. While underestimating the severity of addiction, they are shocked and outraged and overreact believing that, somehow, they should have known from the start.

My reflection: It took me years to learn this truth: substance drives the addict. I, too, was shocked and outraged, and totally incredulous that I lived in denial for so long. How was it possible?

Today’s Promise to consider: Our loved ones, who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, chase their next fix. Their obsession has nothing to do with us, but it is about their love affair with the drug. It took me years to realize that my son didn’t want to hurt me or our family. He knew he was destroying himself, but he couldn’t stop, until the pain became overwhelming and he made the decision to change his life.

WITH ADDICTION, “I FOLLOWED MY HEART”

A dad wrote to me, I followed my heart, my natural parental instincts fueled by love. My twenty-one years of experience and education dealing with my son’s addiction have allowed me to forgive myself. What others consider as parent mistakes are simply necessary experiences that must be encountered in order to understand the disease and, therefore, to begin a successful journey to personal recovery, which will include the necessary tools to appropriately support the child’s recovery.

My reflection: For years, I beat myself up ruminating on all the mistakes I had made during my son’s fourteen-year addiction: I enabled, gave him money that he used for drugs, made countless excuses for his problematic behavior, and became so distracted that I failed to see the needs of my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: This dad writes that parent mistakes are necessary learning experiences. His words gave me another way of looking at my actions in the face of my son’s addiction. Compassion and forgiveness go both ways – to the addicts, but also to those of us who love them.