THE DEMONIZATION OF ADDICTION

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote: Relatively few people respect the addictive condition as a legitimate life-threatening illness. Rather, there is disgust not only for addiction but for the addicts themselves. This disdain permeates society and emerges from within addicts, honing their stealth and duplicity and their self-hatred. This condition serves to permeate their malady even further.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee’s words confirm the stark truth of something my son said years ago, “Society loathes addicts and addicts loathe themselves.” At the beginning of Jeff’s addiction, I, too, suffered from lack of understanding the disease. Today, I know better.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is a life-threatening illness claiming over 72,000 deaths in 2017, yet much of society disdains both the person suffering and their families. Granted that many people do horrendous things while under the influence, but instead of criminalization and demonization their condition needs early and prompt medical intervention. Today, I’ll face the addiction crisis and give my support through activism, sharing my story, helping others, and standing tall for what is right.

Misconception #7: Life in sobriety is easy

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

From my son, I learned: that life in sobriety is one-day-at-a-time. Recovering addicts must learn to take risks and live with courage. When Jeff went back to work in sobriety at a PR firm, he felt like he was constantly walking on eggshells, one step away from being fired every day for the first year. He didn’t feel qualified, felt in over his head, but he tried his best and became a strong employee. When he moved on to start his own company, his boss thanked him for his important contributions.

My reflection: Jeff and I spoke to a group of recovering addicts at a treatment center and, after our presentation, a seventeen-year-old boy said to Jeff, “I can’t even skateboard to the same music I used to. When I do, I think immediately of drugs.” Jeff replied, “Yep, I had to re-learn everything when I got sober. I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery requires a ‘control-alt-delete’ on the old life. Addicts know well how to exist in their illness, but when they are sober, everything is new: social time with friends, a Saturday night date, and how to be a responsible employee. Learning to live in sobriety is not easy. I respect those who stay close to the program and commit to living a healthy life in recovery.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

WHEN WILL HE CHANGE HIS LIFE?

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me: My son is addicted to drugs. After four years of enabling and one forced rehab, my son made the choice between living with us or dealing and using weed on a constant basis. He no longer lives with us at age 18. He dropped out of high school, refuses to hold a legal job and has constantly betrayed us with lies, verbal abuse and stealing. Our only offer of help is 90 days in a residential treatment center when he is ready to change his life.

My reflection: When my son was 18, I made him leave the house because of his drug use. He wrote, “The party was in full swing. At eighteen, life was fresh and raucous and racing, and besides some minor arrests and fistfights, serous consequences were rare.” He didn’t choose recovery until many years later.

Today’s Promise: We all have choices to make, and most arrive in their own time. It’s excruciating to watch our children destroy their lives, but until they surrender to their addiction and reach a genuine hand out for help, there is no real change. The best I can do is to stay close to my son and enforce my own boundaries.

“LOVE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE”

During the homily at Easter Sunday Mass, Father Scott said, “Love makes the difference.” He talked about faith, hope and love, and wanted us to hear the message that, even as Jesus confronted death, it was His love for us that made the difference.

My reflection: Father Scott’s words reminded me that with my own children it was love that made the difference when we faced addiction. Love couldn’t save my son his fourteen-year journey and love couldn’t save my younger son the suffering that addiction spew, but in the end it was love that made the difference in helping us stay close and begin to heal.

Today’s Promise to consider: Through all the trauma that addiction brings, we parents make some good decisions and some others that might not be the best. Through it all, the most important part is that our children know we love them. Today, I’ll continue to love my child who is alive and under the drugs. I’ll stay close, but out of the chaos of his addiction.

GRATEFUL – ONE DAY AT A TIME

Jeff, Granddad, Grams, Jeremy

A personal reflection: My worst days, the days I struggle to maintain equilibrium, are the days I forget to be grateful.

When Jeff was three-months old, he was admitted into Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital for an intestinal disorder, where he stayed for one month. I was a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and also teaching, so my mom helped as often as possible – she stayed with him and cared for him, as only a grandmother can. When I shared my worry (and exhaustion) with Mom, her response was always the same, “Pray prayers of thanksgiving. Praise the Lord for Jeff’s recovery, for his health. Sing. Just try.”

 

Jeff, Iysa, Libby, Jeremy

I thought she was crazy. Why would a young mother sing prayers of thanksgiving when her only child was in the hospital and extremely ill? But I did as I was told. I started to pray, to sing, and to thank God for Jeff’s recovery. Feelings of gratitude filled my spirit and I found that didn’t feel so desperate, or helpless. I felt that I could do something.

This lesson happened thirty-eight years ago and, even today, when I find myself struggling with disappointments and hardships, I know I need to find my gratitude – to be grateful for all I DO have, instead of weeping for what I don’t.

On this Thursday, my family and I wish you all a most Happy Thanksgiving. May we raise our voices high and honor the blessings in our lives.

 

LET’S SHARE THE GOOD NEWS

Son Jeff, Libby, granddaughter Iysa, and son Jeremy

A mom wrote to me: I hesitate to share good news, yet I realize I don’t hesitate to share bad news. The reality is that both can change in an instant! My son called, and the conversation was positive and encouraging. He sounded good and he used the words happy. He apologized for his earlier outbursts of being spiteful, confused and angry. He said there is a bed available in the recovery house he wants to go to and they welcome him back. He is also considering an Intensive Outpatient Program. That, too, encourages me. On top of that, looks like he’ll be able to attend a family wedding in a sober state! He asked for prayer that he would take care of himself and trust God that it will be okay.

My reflection: When Jeff was deep into his addiction, I didn’t want to share any news – good or bad. Every moment was fleeting. Every action was up for grabs. Our lives were chaos.

Today’s Promise to consider: There are joyous moments when our addicted loved ones make good choices, say the words we’ve been waiting to hear, and choose to do the next right thing. We, as parents, know too well the heartache of the bad choices and the life of destruction, but the positive news is essential to share because it gives us hope.

 

 

HE IS MY SON

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A friend of mine wrote, I wish I wasn’t writing this. I wish I wasn’t qualified to speak about the heroin epidemic. I wish I wasn’t a member of a community no one really wants to be part of. But I am. I am the non-addict who knows all too well what it’s like to love a person who suffers from addiction. I know what it’s like to worry yourself sick, to cry yourself to sleep, to be confused, to be mentally and financially bankrupt, and to miss someone who is standing right in front of you. I know what it’s like to feel stigmatized, to be the parent-of-a-drug-addict, to have people think that my son is a loser, a waste, a junkie. I’m here to tell you he is not. He is my firstborn. My first love. My heart. My life. He is someone.

My reflection: I would have given my soul to spare my son from the pain of addiction, but I couldn’t. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Rich or poor, educated or not – it can take down any person. For every one addict, at least four others are caught in the trauma.

Today’s Promise to consider: As the mother of an addict, the unceasing pain can be unbearable. He suffers at the hand of addiction, and we, his family and all those who love him, also suffer. Today, I will stay close with compassion and love. I will pray. I will never give up hope. He is my son.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

“SOMEHOW OUR LOVE ISN’T ENOUGH”

Brother Ted and family

A mother wrote to me: I have found strength in a very close Nar-Anon group and continue to attend meetings regularly.  My husband and I and my son’s sister are here for him when HE is ready to change. We know we can’t force him to change – we’ve tried. After three failed rehab attempts, we have nothing else to give him. Somehow our love isn’t enough.

My reflection: I learned that once the addiction is in charge, our children are not. They are under the drugs and using becomes a chase, a necessity, a way of life. I used to tell my son, “If you loved us, you’d stop,” but addiction takes the healthiest parts of love and smashes them into worry, helplessness and hopelessness.

Today’s Promise to consider: I used to think that love was enough to beat addiction down, but it isn’t. My son needed to make the decision to live a sober life. He once told me, “I love you and never wanted to hurt you. I tried to keep you out of the way and to the side, but I’m an addict, Mom. I’m an addict.”