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.

THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

Melody Beattie wrote, Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. Gratitude makes things right. 

My reflection: When Jeff was in active addiction, I didn’t feel grateful for much of anything. I wallowed in feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and anger as I asked, Why me? Why our family? I was stuck, immersed, and drowning in sadness and misery.

Today’s Promise to consider: Through the fourteen years of my son’s addiction, I finally learned that gratitude was the antidote to my despair. I began a practice of naming, every day, at least three things for which I was grateful. By scanning my life and identifying all that was good, hope awakened, and I became a more compassionate, person. Today and every day, I will be grateful because it softens my heart and opens the door to allow goodness in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

PRECIOUS TIME

We are together. My children are with me this week, and everyday I renew my vow to cherish these moments together. It’s not often that I have all three so close – Jeff, Jeremy and Iysa – away from the demands of work and school and responsibilities. What a gift.

My reflection: The preciousness of time is underscored for me by the tragic consequences addiction deals so many of us. As the mother of adult sons, one of whom was sick for 14 years, I’m grateful they are healthy and living good lives. My prayer is that I remember to touch every good moment with them and hold it tight.

Today’s Promise to consider: The preciousness of time sounds like a mundane concept, but as I age the reality of passing time becomes real. With addiction it becomes even more real. For those of us whose children are safe and healthy today, let us deeply appreciate these times. And for those of us whose loved ones are not, may we remember the times when things were better and keep hope in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

BREAK YOUR HEART NO LONGER

Tara Brach, in her book Radical Acceptance, quotes an Indian master Bapuji, who writes:

My beloved child,

Break your heart no longer.

Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart.

You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality.

The time has come, your time

 

To live, to celebrate and to see the goodness that you are…

 

Let no one, no thing, no idea or ideal obstruct you

If one comes, even in he name of “Truth,” forgive it for its unknowing

Do not fight.

Let go.

And breathe – into the goodness that you are.

My reflection: I broke my own heart a million times over. When my son was in active addiction, I judged myself harshly and counted out all the ways I could have handled things differently. I fought with myself and anyone who judged my son. I refused to let go and let God.

Today’s Promise to consider: For many years, I was my own worst enemy. Addiction was determined to crush my soul and I allowed it to do just that. I was full of self-criticism and guilt until I realized that I was powerless. When I finally surrendered, learned how to find solace in prayer and began to trust the goodness that surrounded me, I got stronger.

 

 

STORIES OF RECOVERY ARE CRITICAL

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

A recovering addict wrote to me: My boyfriend and I got married! We are living happily with my stepdaughter. I’m so grateful that this is what God has in store for me after all those years of being lost. I guess you could say I’ve been in training for this exact moment all my life. “God only gives us what we can handle.”  He prepares us and every day it all makes more and more sense. I wonder if other people feel that way; that every moment leading up to the one right now is right where you should be, embrace it, take it all in, enjoy or don’t enjoy it but you’re right where you need to be. Only my clear mind can think that way. My sick alcoholic mind couldn’t think past the surface.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, part of me wanted to believe that everything would be fine while another part was terrified that he wouldn’t live another day. These stories of hope are critical reminders that recovery can and does happen.

Today’s Promise to consider: People break the chains of addiction every day and we need to celebrate their triumphs. It takes tremendous courage for an addicted person to change his or her life. Let us all stand together with encouragement and hope.

 

GRATITUDE: A DAILY ROUTINE

dsc01008A mother wrote to me: When I awake every morning and go to sleep every night I feel God’s presence in my life and the life of my child. He is good today, but I know it’s one day at a time. Dealing with addiction takes courage and humility and gratitude. Courage to stay close and to love our child, humility to remember that the addiction is strong and can come back at any time, especially when we least expect it, and gratitude for our daily blessings.

My reflection: Gratitude is powerful, but gratitude is tough to muster when things are at their worst. When my son was in active addiction, the only thing buoying my deep despair was gratitude that my son was still alive. My prayer each morning was, “Dear Lord, thank you for keeping him alive today.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Gratitude, for me, is part of a daily routine where I actively scan my life and call forward the various things, big and small, for which I’m thankful. This practice keeps me aware that, even though things are difficult, I’m still blessed. Prayer and gratitude keep me in a positive space.

DREAMS ABOUT ADDICTION                            

tm-lightSeveral years ago, I wrote in my journal: Last night, I dreamed about one of my favorite uncles who was always kind to me as a child. But in my dream he had lost his nose because of cocaine use. I awakened in tears with the image of my addicted son holding me while I was asking him, “Is this what you want for our family?”

My reflection: Worry found me, even in my dreams. During the days, I was able to squash my emotions and generally ignore them. I went to work and did what I always did: I smiled and acted as though everything was OK. However, at night my fears found me. My dreams are just dreams, but they carry crucial messages that I need to honor.

Today’s Promise to consider: My dreams were signals that I needed to protect myself from the chaos of my son’s addiction. Over the years, I’ve learned to be grateful for the thoughts that visit me at night. They help me to visualize my fears and respect my frailties.

LEARNING ABOUT RECOVERY

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Jeremy, Iysa, Libby, and Jeff

I wrote this passage three years after Jeff chose sobriety, My son’s growth is evident. He laughs more easily, he watches more calmly, he protects himself better. He knows where he hurts and he pays attention to what is coming. He’s more reflective, thoughtful, less impulsive, and more honest. He has good friends. Part of my son died with the addiction, but the son I know is alive. Suffice it to say that he is becoming a strong and caring man.

One year earlier, he told me, “When I awake in the morning, I know if it’s going to be a good day. Some mornings, I reach for a word and it’s like reaching into the fog. Other mornings, when I reach for a word, I pluck it easily out of the air.” He continued, “I’m frustrated that some days aren’t clear, but I guess it will take time. I need to be patient.”

My reflection: We often write about the pain and chaos of addiction, but it’s also important to learn about the process of recovery. My son’s words reminded me that we need to be gentle as our loved ones learn how to live in abstinence.

Today’s Promise to consider: I will be patient with my child’s journey as he learns how to live a life without drugs. Just like healing from any other disease, time takes time, and the process is often painstaking. The joy is in recovery, one day at a time.