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.

LIFE IN RECOVERY IS “FULL TO THE BRIM”

My son recently told me, The biggest realization for me came about one year in when it suddenly struck me that my life was full to the brim in a way I didn’t think possible in the absence of drugs and alcohol. Before I got clean, I saw sobriety as the end of good times and of the refuge I’d come to depend on. Just the opposite was true.

My reflection: I couldn’t understand how my son stayed in addiction for fourteen years. For as much as I tried to fix things, the solution was entirely outside of my control. I had to get out of the way. The answer was in Jeff.

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovery happens and happens every day. Moreover, life in recovery can be full to the brim. People, who are suffering, will stay mired in the abyss of addiction until they decide to change. Today, I pray that all those shackled by addiction will give themselves a chance to participate in the magic of a recovered life.

 

 

 

 

SAN PATRIGNANO: ONE PLACE WHERE PEOPLE FIND LONG-TERM RECOVERY

Two mothers of children who entered San Patrignano (Rimini, Italy) wrote to me:  

Her son entered three years ago: I really believe if I hadn’t read your book and found out about San Patrignano that my son would not be with us today. He was so into his addiction that I believe nothing short of a long-term rehab in another country would help him – we tried everything else over fourteen years.

Her daughter entered two months ago: We received a letter from our daughter and I feel like I can finally start to relax. She’s working in the laundry sector and is happy to be there. She’s met some lovely people and has totally surrendered. Needless to say hearing this news from her allows me to loosen up. I know she’s okay and will only get better day-by-day.

My reflection: Jeff refused to go to San Patrignano because a three-to-five year commitment is required. But I have seen miracles happen there. The community, started in 1978 by Vincenzo Muccioli, offers 50 different sectors of education to its 1,500 residents. The stay is free to the client, to their families, and to Italian tax payers, and has a documented recovery rate of 73 percent after three years of exiting the community (research conducted by the University of Bologna).

Today’s Promise to consider: There are many models and places for recovery, and San Patrignano is one. Today, I will educate myself about the various centers and options. I can’t force my loved one into treatment, but I can learn about and offer him choices to consider when he is ready.

ADDICTION: WHEN MY SON WASN’T READY TO GET SOBER

My son wrote about his first recovery center: I was told that recovery required vigilance and a long-term commitment, that in order to stay sober I’d have to attend regular AA meetings and work with a sponsor. At the time I didn’t realize sobriety was an ongoing process. I wasn’t yet ready to do the work. Although my drug use was causing problems, it wasn’t devastating.

My reflection: My son saw the problems that drugs were causing, but he wrote that he wasn’t ready to do the work because the consequences of his using weren’t debilitating, yet. With an illness like cancer or diabetes, we must choose to fight and to do the work required to keep the illness under control, like eating well, taking medicine, or exercising. When I had cancer, I had to choose to fight it; when my son was in the throes of addiction, he also had to choose. He wasn’t ready.

Today’s Promise: Like treatment for any major illness, sobriety requires learning new behaviors. For the addict, attending AA meetings, working with a sponsor and cultivating a spiritual life are where it begins. My son had to choose to do this work. I couldn’t do it for him. In time, I learned how to stay close but out of the chaos of his addiction. I had to give him the dignity of his choices. 

 

THE NEW YEAR IS A CHANCE TO REFLECT AND RESET

When Jeff was new to recovery, he wrote, This is the first year that my New Year’s resolution was crystal clear: contribution. I need to do more for my community, to give back in bigger, more consistent ways – roll up my sleeves and offer my time and experience to the people around me. The Big Book says, “To keep what we have, we need to give it away.”

My reflection: For years, I scoffed at making New Year’s resolutions. I felt silly setting the intention to do something I knew I would abandon after a few weeks; however, I decided to follow Jeff’s lead and made a commitment to take time each day to read, meditate, pray, and become more centered in myself and with my God. I knew this would have a positive impact on myself and my family.

Today’s Promise to consider: Even though I may not be a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, this year I will try. Jeff will contribute more to his community, and I will do the same. I will grow stronger in my spirituality, reflect on what is important to me, and decide what I can do to enrich my life and the lives of others. Happy New Year!


WHO HELPS OUR LOVED ONES FIND RECOVERY?

A friend of mine posted: Be careful judging that drug addict so harshly. He or she might just recover and be the one to show your very own child a way out.

My reflection: Our beloved Dr MacAfee once told me that when he testified in court for drug cases, the attorneys and judges regarded him distantly because he represented the addicted person. “Although,” he continued, “When their child was in trouble with drugs or alcohol, I was the first person they called.”

Today’s Promise to consider: The recovering addict is almost always best suited to help another suffering person. Who better knows the journey of addiction: the alienation, struggles, humiliation, and repeated failed attempts at sobriety? Today, I pray that all recovering persons reach out a hand to help another. Somebody did just that for my son, and I’ll be forever grateful.

 

 

 

A DIVINE PAUSE: MAKING SPACE TO RESPOND AND TO HEAL

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

Judy Brown wrote: “The Fire”
“… a fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.”

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt an urgency to respond quickly as if a delayed response would cause greater harm to him. What I learned was that when I took the time to pray for wisdom and think about my response, the results were better for all of us.

Today’s Promise to consider: A Divine Pause gifts us with the time and space that we often need to respond skillfully. Fire grows in the openings between the logs, music seeps into our being in the pauses between the notes, and our interior growth happens in the quiet of our soul. Today, I will take time to pause, pray, contemplate, and heal.

FINDING OURSELVES OUTSIDE OF ADDICTION

A mom, whose son is in recovery, wrote to me: So much has changed and I am very grateful, but the challenges remain.  I finally feel the weight of my own need to become healthy and whole. I have the time and space to do all the things one imagines self-actualization requires, and yet this freedom to be myself is the greatest challenge of all.

My reaction: When Jeff was in active addiction, my life revolved around the chaos of his illness. Rarely a night went by that I didn’t awaken with him on my mind or I’d toss and turn fearing ‘the’ phone call. During those years, I lost myself.

Today’s Promise to consider: Jeff’s early years of recovery should have given me peace, yet I struggled to find myself – and define myself – away from the turbulence of his addiction. Dr. MacAfee, Jeff’s beloved addiction therapist, explained, “You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.” With time and prayer, along with writing and my support group, life came back into focus and I began to reemerge.

 

 

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.

WALKING WITH VERSUS WALKING FOR

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

An Italian friend, whose brother is a recovering addict, wrote to me, “Perche ci hai insegnato ad abbracciarci senza stringerci,” which means that she and her family learned (from our book Stay Close, Stammi Vicino) how to walk with her brother and not for him; how to hug her brother but not squeeze him.

My reflection: Across the globe, addiction forces us to decide how best to help our loved one who is struggling with drugs or alcohol. I always wanted to make things better for my son, to make things easier. Often these attempts happened at the expense of my own and my family’s health. I would have sacrificed anything to stop the addiction for him. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to learn how to support my son without trying to take control of his recovery. Today, I will walk with my loved one, all the while recognizing and admitting that I cannot walk for him. I will give him space to direct his own program – in its victories and setbacks. I will stay close in hope, faith and prayer.