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

 

 

 

 

 

STAYING HUMBLE IN THE FACE OF ADDICTION

A mother wrote to me: My youngest daughter is 19. She started with alcohol at age 12 and ended up a heroin addict. After many false starts and years of fearing that ‘phone call’ when I would hear that she is dead, she finally is in an inpatient center. After completion, she wants to come home. I want her home, but I am also realistic that we are NOT out of the woods by a long shot. She is going to need help from someone who truly ‘gets it’ and is not family. Our family is still healing – we have a very long way to go.

My reaction: This mother writes with the wisdom of experience. It took me many years to understand the power of addiction and my own limits.

Today’s Promise to consider: We need to stay humble in the face of addiction because it lurks in the shadows, always taunting and bidding its time, gauging just the right moment when vulnerability is high and relapse is possible. Recovery happens, but there is no magic bullet. It takes determination, faith, and constant care. Our loved ones must work their own program, and we must stay grateful, and continue to hope.

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.