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.

 

Misconception #8: Relapse is failure

From my son, I learned: that relapse happens. It happened often with Jeff. There are countless examples of recovering addicts like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stay clean for years, relapse, and die. Drugs are powerful and addiction never rests. It bides its time and waits for the right moment to pounce.

My reflection: Through a dozen of my son’s relapses, I suffered. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I could/should be doing differently. Every relapse was a red, flashing light that blinded me with a sense of failure. It took me years to understand.

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is a gut-punch, instantly dashing hopes and optimism. But the reality is that relapse happens. Each time it did for Jeff, I felt guilt, anger, and betrayal…until one day Dr. MacAfee told me, “Relapse isn’t failure. It’s one step closer to recovery.” I still hold that thinking close in my work with addiction. It buoys me when I hear about recovering people losing their footing. It helps me keep hope alive.

 

Misconception #5. Families must walk away from their addict

From my son, I learned that the knowledge that our family was waiting for him when he got healthy was an important part of his recovery. He knew that when he made the decision to live a sober life, we would be at his side. 

My reflection: Years ago, a recovering alcoholic at San Patrignano in Italy taught me the meaning of stagli vicino (stay close to him). He counseled me to stay close, but out of the chaos of my son’s addiction. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a family disease and we are all involved, hurt and traumatized. Through it all, family can be part of the healing, a part of the medicine of recovery, keeping in mind that boundaries are important for all of us. Every day signifies the right to choose again – and again.

 

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.

 

MISCONCEPTION #2: ADDICTS MUSCLE THEIR WAY TO SOBRIETY ALONE

Jeff and friend Jason

From my son, I learned: Recovering communities like Alcoholics Anonymous are a crucial part of recovery. There the addict finds people who know his journey and have walked in his shoes. As much as I wanted to help my son, I couldn’t understand all that he had lived. In groups like AA, they are sensitive to the nuances of this disease and the path out of it. They celebrate his successes and stand with him when he is in need.

My reflection: Much of the current research indicates that recovery is more successful when the addict is supported by people who understand his walk and who care about him and his daily struggle. As much as I wanted to be that person for my son, I couldn’t be.  

Today’s Promise to Consider: Fellowship with recovering addicts is often an essential part of a person’s journey to sobriety. We, as family members, can give them love and support, but people who know their walk provide community and understanding along the way. Today, I’ll encourage my loved one to attend AA, NA, or another support group. I, too, will attend a support group aimed at care for family members.

ADDICTION: WAR OR COMPASSION?

Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream, writes: When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

My reflection: Tough love was the mantra-of-the-day when my son was in the deepest throes of his heroin addiction. People told me to kick him out of the house, cancel him from our lives, and to have an imaginary funeral for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: Shame, neglect, and ridicule often drive the addict deeper into his addiction. None of these negative behaviors ever helped my son get closer to health. Stay Close became our mantra, and this worked for us. War or Compassion? I choose compassion.

“WE WANT TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS”

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A dad wrote to me: We as parents want desperately to solve our children’s problems.  After all, that’s what we have been trained to do since their birth. I think we fear the worst and don’t want to be held responsible, even if it’s only in our own minds.  The blame we would place on ourselves would be unbearable. Then, after years of experience, we know that the decision to recover can only be decided by the addicted. 

My reflection: The realization that I couldn’t save my son from addiction was the hardest lesson I had to learn, yet it was also the most essential for my well-being, and his. For years I was enmeshed in every twist and turn of my son’s sickness. This only enabled the addiction and kept me from being available to my family and myself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction happens. Blame, shame, stigma, and silence do nothing to help our loved ones or us. Today, I’ll stay close, but out of the chaos. As much as I want to stop the trauma, there is only room for one in the addiction.