“I CAN’T FIX THIS”

A father wrote to me: Our son has a gambling addiction and after more than five years of heartache he has lost his wife, many jobs, stolen from everyone, and now faces legal issues. He has been to various treatment centers and resides today in a halfway house. As a father, I try to understand the pain my wife endures when her son, who could do no wrong, spirals out of control. I always felt it was my place to protect and fix things. I can’t fix this.

My reflectionBoth mothers and fathers suffer tremendously, but as this father writes, he felt his role in the family was to protect and fix problems. Most moms I talk with assume the role of rescuer. If our child is drowning, our first instinct is to jump into the water, pull them close to us, and swim to safety.

Today’s Promise to consider: Being a parent of a child who is suffering from drug addiction is counter-intuitive. How do we stay close to someone whose behavior is so destructive? How can we love our children who are causing themselves and those closest to them such pain? Today, I’ll pray for wisdom that we learn to accept that our children must choose sobriety for themselves.

WHAT IF? A RECOVERY MODEL DESIGNED BY A PERSON IN RECOVERY

A woman in recovery wrote to me: What if there was a place for recovering addicts to go to get their equilibrium back? It takes five years for the body to heal and stabilize into normal endocrine function after addiction. It takes two years for the brain to heal and for its natural hormones to start flowing regularly again. During this recovery time is when the addict is most vulnerable. So what if there was a place for addicts to go that allowed them to stay in a safe place while they get their memory and focus back and learn a new trade, or go back to school to get their degree and learn organization and responsibility again. The next three years are spent finishing their degree and re-entering the workforce giving half of what they earn to the program and save the other half to purchase a car and apartment when they finish the program. By the end of this five-year program they would be in full recovery. They’d have a job, a car, and a place to live. They would be productive citizens of society again. What if?

My reflection: This idea is similar to the San Patrignano model in Italy, where people stay three-to-five years in order to fully recover. The recovery rate at San Patrignano is 78% after three years of exiting the community.

Today’s Promise to consider: What if there were a recovery model that provided a safe place for recovering people to live for several years in order to get it right? A place that offered the time to learn a trade, save money, and even continue education, all within the safe haven of a recovery community. The idea posited by this young woman makes total sense. I’d love to see a treatment center adopt this approach or at least our medical community explore the concept with research. Something needs to change with the way we treat addiction. What if?

 

THE BRAIN ON DRUGS

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE recently published an article that reported: Addiction is a brain disease, “not a choice, not a personality flaw, not a moral failing,” said Dr. Jody Glance, an addiction specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Researchers have found that a key part of what makes opioid addiction so entrenched and difficult to quit is the way the drug changes the brain.

When you sense something pleasurable, the brain releases a natural chemical called dopamine that trains the body to remember, “I liked that, let’s do it again.” That’s the brain’s reward system, and opioids can hijack it by triggering a surge of dopamine larger than nature ever could. Repeated opioid use overloads circuits in multiple brain regions. At the same time, the brain gradually releases less dopamine in response to other things the person once found pleasurable. Eventually they seek more of the drug not to get high, but to avoid constantly feeling low.

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I didn’t know anything about the affect of opiates on the brain. It was all so new and overwhelming to me. He was prescribed medication, including methadone and buprenorphine, but he abused everything he came into contact with. Despite my best efforts to find good treatment for my son, I needed additional education and other options.

Today’s Promise to consider: Drug use is not a personal affront to those they love, but it is an addict in pursuit of dopamine stimulation  – and eventually, regulation. Brain research shows that addiction seizes the brain and sends the user down a path that’s out of his control. Today, I commit to continuing to educate myself about current addiction and recovery research. I pray for wisdom – for son, myself, and the therapeutic community.

 

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.

MIRACLES DO HAPPEN

A dad wrote: I spent weeks trying to find my addicted son. Eventually, I found him and my plan was to kidnap him and take him to safety. I did kidnap him – he looked like a prisoner from a concentration camp – but I didn’t take him to safety. Once I had him with me, I called my counselor who told me to release him immediately. I opened the rear doors to the van, and he stepped out, hugged me, and said, “I love you, Dad.” With tears in my eyes and a broken heart, I hugged him back, and told him I loved him, too. Then I watch him disappear into an apartment complex. I was sure I would never see him again. Today, he is six years clear and sober, a licensed electrician, and a true joy to be around. Miracles do happy. Never give you hope.

My reflection: I, too, thought I could ‘bring him to safety.’ It took me years to realize that the miracle had to come from Jeff, and his God.

Today’s Promise to consider: My son suffered a fourteen-year addiction, ending with him regularly shooting heroin into his neck and damaging the superficial vein system in his arms and legs. Today, he is almost thirteen years sober, productive, spiritual, and an inspiration to me and others. Miracles do happen. Never quit believing.

 

CRACKS LET THE LIGHT IN

Leonard Cohen wrote:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

My reflection: With addiction, perfect offerings are few, but in the imperfections we can find gold. The light that shines through the cracks can help our loved ones rise out of the ashes of pain and suffering to become different people – stronger, honest, spiritual, and self aware.

Today’s Promise to consider: Our lives have cracks, especially those who have suffered addiction, but it is through the cracks that the softest light gets in. Resurrection happens in that light. Learning happens in that light. Confrontation happens in that light. And healing happens in that light. Let us ring the bell for the light of recovery.

 

 

 

“I LEARNED TO LET GO WITH LOVE”

A mother wrote to me: I bailed him out and fixed it all. I finally went to Families Anonymous and Nar-Anon and realized I didn’t cause the addiction and I can’t change it – only my son can do that and, by enabling so much, I was doing him more harm than good. 

He was arrested again and remained in jail for three weeks, no one to bail him out. He worked on his own with a public defender to get accepted into drug court in lieu of jail. He now goes to meetings, is drug tested, and meets with the judge. I learned that I needed to let go with love.

My reflection: I have spoken with many young people all over the world and they have told me, “It’s not my parent’s fault. Drugs are powerful, more powerful than you can imagine. I needed to make the choice to stop. When the consequences of my addiction got to be more than I could handle, I made the decision for myself.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I will never quit believing in my loved one who is suffering, but I need to get out of the way and allow her to come to sobriety on her terms. When she’s ready for recovery, I will help. Otherwise, I’ll stay close and wait for her to make the decision of health – not for me, but for herself.

 

 

A STEP TOWARD RECOVERY

Our beloved Dr. MacAfee said: For the addict, an opening to recovery appears when the pain of maintaining the fiction becomes greater than the pleasure the drugs provide.

My reflection: The Big Book calls this moment, “The Gift of Desperation.” When my son was in active addiction, I thought that I could gauge when these breaks occurred in his life, when the pain had reached critical junctures, and when he would be open to professional help. I never could.

Today’s Promise to consider: Dr. MacAfee’s words proved true with my son, who told me that he chose sobriety when the consequences of his addiction outweighed the solace he got from drugs. For Jeff, his fourteen-year addiction took him to the crossroads of continuing drugs or dying. I thank God every day that he chose recovery, and I pray for all those who continue to suffer.

FINDING PEACE WITH ADDICTION: “I KICKED OUT THE LADIES IN THE ATTIC” 

A friend and mom of adult children, who battle addiction, wrote to me: Today I stay out of my kids’ business. I work a wonderful 12-step program, have a sponsor, and am a sponsor. Today my God is first in my life and I start every morning by asking, “What is Your will for me today?” I can hear my God talk to me clearly because I kicked out the ladies in the attic.

My reflection:  “I kicked out the ladies in the attic,” reminds me of the Buddhist term ‘monkey mind,’ which means restless, unsettled, confused, and cluttered. When my son was in active addiction, I needed to kick out the ladies in the attic. They did nothing but conjure problems that might occur and remind me of past resentments.

Today’s Promise to consider: I cannot control the actions of my suffering loved one, but I can control my anxious thoughts. My constant mental machinations help no one – not my addicted child or me. I will work my program, talk with others who understand addiction, exercise, meditate – I will do whatever it takes to stop the incessant chattering of “the ladies in the attic.”

THOSE WHO ARE RECOVERING: LEARNING TO LIVE IN ABSTINENCE

A mother wrote to me: My son is a recovering alcoholic, but he doesn’t know how to live in recovery. Sure, he knows that he can’t drink or hang out at parties, but it’s tough for him. He was used to having drinks with his brothers and friends. When they were young, my husband and I had parties where there was drinking. Now I wish I had never drunk in front of my kids. We are a big football family, so I don’t have to tell you what Sundays are like around this town. Very hard for a recovering addict.

My reflection: How do addicts learn to live in abstinence? Dr. MacAfee says this is the essential question.

Today’s Promise to consider: We know a lot about addiction, but we don’t know much about how addicts learn to live in sobriety. My experience is that AA and NA gave Jeff a recipe for living that underscored accountability, faith and contribution. Simultaneously, Al-Anon provided me a community of people who helped me prioritize self care. Today, I will support those I love with compassion and understanding as they relearn how to live life. This includes me.