WHEN THE SADNESS IS IMPOSSIBLE TO HIDE

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me: Sometimes I feel like I am just too hard to be around because the sadness is impossible to hide.

My reflection: When addiction takes over our lives, our sadness can be overwhelming. When Jeff was in active addiction, my family didn’t know whether to ask about him or not. My older brother once asked me, “How’s Jeff?” I looked at him with eyes swelled with tears. He nodded and said nothing more. 

Today’s Promise to consider: When I felt suffocated in sadness by addiction, fighting my feelings never helped. I had to accept my deep sense of loss and call it by name. I found comfort by attending Al-Anon meetings. I wrote daily, exercised, and prayed. And I also had to accept that there were times I could just be sad.

THE PRISON OF FEAR

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Rumi, a 13th century poet, was quoted by Tara Brach at the end of her guided meditation:

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

My reflection: I lived in the prison of fear for many years. Fourteen years with my son’s addiction, but there were other years where I feared my parent’s wrath, my family’s disintegration, and the loss of my own health to cancer.

Today’s Promise to consider: Sometimes fear can be healthy because it signals oncoming danger, but it often can be crippling and suffocating. Addiction feeds on this dread. “What if my child dies?” “What if my child is sleeping on the streets in the freezing weather?” Fear is normal, but it amplifies itself and grows bigger and bigger. Today, I’ll face my fears, call them by name, and cultivate constructive ways of dealing with them.

NO ONE TO BLAME

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son was a star athlete in high school and at age seventeen he began his downward spiral into this insidious disease. I taught in the school district that he attended so it was doubly hard. I got calls just about every day from the RN to take him for a drug test. He would fall asleep in class or didn’t even show up for school. I blamed myself – his dad and I had separated before this nightmare began so I assumed he took drugs to medicate himself or to use as a band-aid.

My reflection: We parents often blame ourselves for our child’s addiction. We think that it must be our fault. Addiction is a nightmare and we want someone to accept responsibility for the sadness. The bottom line is that no amount of blame will break addiction’s grasp on my addicted loved one or our family.

Today’s Promise to consider: Most experts agree that addiction is an illness. Our family is affected by an addiction. Who is to blame? Today, I will point a finger at no one. I will accept what is. I will find support in the rooms of Al-Anon and in my higher power. I will go forward, one step at a time.

SUPERMAN WITH KRYPTONITE AROUND HIS NECK

A sister of an addict wrote to me: My heart bleeds for my mother. My brother’s addiction, his emotional battles, problems, and heartache hurt her terribly. Mom needs to know that she’s not alone. She needs to find her hope again. This has been her life’s battle. I wish I could bottle the son she once had and give him back to her. God knows I’ve tried, but sadly I’m not magic. There is nothing more than I want for her but for her to have her son back. And for me to have my brother back.

My reflection: Addiction is a family disease, and we all suffer. My younger son, Jeremy, once told me, “I tried my best to help take care of Jeff, but I was powerless. Jeff was like Superman with kryptonite around his neck.”

Today’s Promise: As the mother of an addicted child, I have the responsibility to take care of all my children. I will tell them that the addiction is not their fault, or their responsibility. No one can fix it, except the addict. We are powerless in the face of addiction. Today, I will listen to their concerns with love and support. Today I will be present for the important people in my life.

BETTER TOGETHER: A NEW WEBSITE

In 2010, we developed the Stay Close website and blog. We started with a small team of three dedicated people who believed that we could make a difference and bring hope to others who were facing addiction’s chaos. Jeff and I wrote weekly meditations, and Aamir Syed brought our vision to technological life. Mikele Roselli-Cecconi’s photos offered a visual interpretation of addiction.

This week, the first Thursday in 2018, we’re sharing with you a new site. Two creative women, sisters Maria and Carolina Usbeck, worked tenaciously to create a new digital presence for the website and blog. Jeff and Aamir helped along the way, while Davood Madadpoor, a talented street photographer in Florence, contributed many outstanding shots.

I thank all these people: Aamir, Carolina, Maria, Mikele, Davood and my son, Jeff. Our team invites you to take a look at the new site. Let us know what you think.

My reflection: There is power in a good and diverse team. Others bring talents, strengths, insights, and creativity that are unique to them. With addiction, the power of community is essential. I learned my greatest lessons in the rooms of Al-Anon, in conversations with another mother of an addicted child, or when listening to a recovering addict. I need others to help me. I think we all do.

 

WE ARE NOT ALONE

Photo credit: Davood Madadpoor

A daughter of addicted parents wrote to me: I still struggle with the pain of what it’s like to live with and love addicts. I still struggle with issues of anger and despair over all of the ‘what if’s’ and ‘what could have been’s’ that circle around and around in my mind. But it is always cathartic to hear other people’s tales of their battles with this disease – whether they’re the addict or love someone who is.  It reminds me that I’m not alone.

My reflection: There are millions of us affected by this disease, either as addicts or those of us who love them. That’s why groups like AA and Al-Anon work. I found friendship and a lifeline in Al-Anon. In our mutual stories, I discovered compassion and support.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to forget that we are not alone. It’s easy to forget that many of us suffer from addiction’s grasp. Addiction is cloaked in shame, and the shame keeps us silent as we hold our family’s secret. Today, I will accept the help of others. In return, I will reach out my hand to help.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

This is part of a series of monthly posts that reference many conversations with Dr. MacAfee. Thanks, Doc. 

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A dear friend of mine, the mother of a recovering addict, and someone close to Dr. Mac wrote to me recently: Dr. Mac talked to me about the idea that many family members think, If I just hurry up, work harder, do more, I can fix this problem. We talked about how addiction deeply wounds every family member and how the individual members need care. If the focus is solely on the addict, self care falls by the wayside. He encouraged me to take care of myself, not only for myself, but more importantly for my addicted son and my family.

My reflection: When my son was sick, self care came in at dead last. I worried for my addicted son, my younger son who is not an addict, my work and family. Since I was the mother, I felt selfish if I considered myself first or even second. For many years, my son was lost to the addiction, and so was I.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s essential that we take care of ourselves in the midst of addiction. A routine that promotes our personal wellness helps – Al-Anon or other family groups, walking or running, a spiritual practice, writing, or therapy. If we lose ourselves, who is left to help our loved ones? We need to be compassionate with ourselves.

 

THE EXTRAORDINARY PAIN OF ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Dr. MacAfee told me that the pain of addiction is the agony of being trapped. Using has become critically important because it answers every problem in their lives … until it doesn’t. The use is the solution until it becomes the problem. What was once an escape becomes a prison. The juxtaposition is baffling, and the addict literally has to fight for his life.

My reflection: During the early years of my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I thought that he could simply turn off his drug use. I told him to stop and expected it to happen. In time and with education, I learned that it would take my son great courage and tenacity to change his life.

Today’s Promise to consider: Drug use often starts as a party, until it becomes a prison. Once it takes over, our loved ones are caught up in a sandstorm, unable to see the impact their sickness has on those who care about them. Instead of derision and incarceration, they need love and compassion. They need support from communities like AA, from people who have walked in their shoes and are now living in the solution.

 

 

WORDS ARE POWERFUL – BE MINDFUL OF WHAT WE SAY

Jeff wrote to me: There’s a principle in Buddhism called “right speech” which asks us to be mindful of the things we say, to not gossip or spread words that divide. It also reminds us that words can be carriers of peace and positivity. He continued with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, For A Future To Be Possible, “Our speech is powerful. It can be destructive and enlightening, idle gossip or compassionate communication. We are asked to be mindful and let our speech come from the heart.”

My reflection: I sadly remember the words I wrote in Stay Close:

“What was the most painful thing I’ve ever said to you?” I asked an older Jeff.

His answer was quick; he knew.

“When you and Dad picked me up from the police station after my arrest, you told me that you wished I weren’t your son.”

I was stunned into silence, rummaging through my brain trying to remember if I said those words. How could I have said those words?

“I’m sorry, Jeff; I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” What more was there to say? In anger, we parents say things we don’t mean, and our words pierce our children’s remembrance like a blade.

Today’s Promise to consider: Words are mighty. I’ve said things to both my sons that I wish I could erase. I’ve put thoughts into speech that have seemed to take on a life of their own and come true. Today, I will be mindful of what I say. My words will be positive and spoken from a compassionate heart.

 

 

 

 

ADDICTION AND THE HOLIDAYS

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

Uncle Jeff and Niece Iysa

I wrote this in Stay Close: During the Christmas of 2006, when neither son came home for our large Italian family gatherings, 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. 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 is Jeff?” I looked at him as tears welled in my eyes. He just nodded as we left the question float 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.