Misconception #8: Relapse is failure

From my son, I learned: that relapse happens. It happened often with Jeff. There are countless examples of recovering addicts like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stay clean for years, relapse, and die. Drugs are powerful and addiction never rests. It bides its time and waits for the right moment to pounce.

My reflection: Through a dozen of my son’s relapses, I suffered. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I could/should be doing differently. Every relapse was a red, flashing light that blinded me with a sense of failure. It took me years to understand.

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is a gut-punch, instantly dashing hopes and optimism. But the reality is that relapse happens. Each time it did for Jeff, I felt guilt, anger, and betrayal…until one day Dr. MacAfee told me, “Relapse isn’t failure. It’s one step closer to recovery.” I still hold that thinking close in my work with addiction. It buoys me when I hear about recovering people losing their footing. It helps me keep hope alive.

 

RELAPSE IS FRIGHTENING, FOR ALL OF US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab – both inpatient and outpatient, in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and presently is trying the suboxone route with individual counseling.  My heart is broken, but I will find my courage. The words stagli vicino will be my mantra of hope.

My reflection:  Relapse happens and happened often to my son. I learned more about relapse when my son wrote about a friend, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is frightening for all of us – us as well as our addicted loved one. The addict knows how to live in addiction, but abstinence requires skills that are foreign to him. Today, I will keep hope alive for his return to wellness. Today, I will stay close but out of the chaos.

“I WORKED HARDER THAN HE DID”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me, I worked harder for my son’s recovery than he did and I always came up empty. When I finally let go and allowed him to feel the dignity of his triumphs and pain of his failures, things changed. Just for today he chooses recovery. So do I.

My reflection: This mom’s words resonated strongly with me because for many years I, too, worked harder for my son’s recovery than he did. When he was living on the streets and brushing his teeth at the Seven Eleven, I thought, “He has hit his bottom,” so I rushed in to get him into rehab. When he got arrested for the umpteenth time, I bailed him out and forced him into yet another rehab. Nothing changed.

Today’s Promise to consider: As much as I wanted to save my son, to rescue him from the consequences of his addiction, and to pick him up when he fell, none of my attempts helped. In the end, HE had to make the choice to change his life, and I had to make mine. There was only room for one person in his addiction and that didn’t include me.

BOUNDARIES: FOR ALL OF US

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mom wrote to me, It’s midnight and I’m struggling with a decision. My son is a heroin addict and homeless. He just called and asked if he could come home. I asked him if he was sober, he said yes. I don’t believe it. A week ago today, I rented him a hotel room and, when I went back the next morning to get him, I found syringes and weed in the room. Do I listen to my gut and turn him away? This is SO hard, but I don’t trust him. He lives a very destructive lifestyle and until that changes and, as hard as it would be, I feel like I need to tell him that until he’s been clean for at least 6 months, he can’t come home.

My reflection: This situation is tragic, but it is also common in families suffering with an addiction. I remember well an evening when our family was invited to a special event. I wanted Jeff to attend, but when he arrived he was covered in sweat and shaky. He told me that he hadn’t used any drugs for twenty-four hours so, according to him, he was sober. It was obvious that he was detoxing in an effort to be a part of the family. When I told him he couldn’t come to the event, he said, “I’m not a yo-yo. You told me I could come if I was sober. I’m sober.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Our addicted loved ones want to be close to home. They need the connection to those they love, and they need to know they are loved. As parents, however, we have the responsibility to be clear – to say what we mean and mean what we say. Boundaries keep us all safe and let people in our lives know what they can expect from us.

 

UNDERNEATH IT ALL, THEIR HUMANITY REMAINS

A young girl, suffering from a crystal meth addiction, wrote to me: I met the local drug dealer. It’s been 2 weeks and 2 days, and l have a meth addiction again. It has been 2 years, l think, or maybe 3, since l relapsed. I don’t remember.

I constantly hear voices and can’t leave the house in daylight. I am convinced everyone hates me. The voices tell me that they will kill me, or I’m ugly, or I’m disgusting or that l smell. Some days l have 8 showers and then the next day l get so scared it takes all day to have 1 shower. Most days, I don’t trust the water out of the tap.

I’ve never ever hung with a crowd so violent. Last night a guy pulled a knife on a house full of people. And it’s hard when l never know what’s real.

Thank you for listening to me as l have no one to talk to. I have my mom, but l don’t want her stressed out. I’m afraid the stress will kill her. My lifelong friends and family have nothing to do with me. My mom and cousin try, but l abuse them day and night. l don’t mean to.

It’s all getting worse by the day. I have to go as voices are bad, and l can’t think now.

My reflection: Even in the midst of writing this rambling and tragic message, this young girl is concerned about her mother, loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s easy to judge an addict as uncaring, selfish, and manipulative. While all of these might be true, as long as our children are alive, they still exist underneath the disease. Their empathy and humanity are still there, just buried deep within. In the face of this, I, too, will keep my empathy and humanity. I’ll continue to love my child, stay close but out of his chaos, and pray he chooses recovery.

KEEPING HOPE ALIVE THROUGH RELAPSE

A dad of a recovering daughter wrote to me, Relapse is sometimes harder than the initial experience of discovering your child is an addict. The hope you build one day – one hour – at a time as she was in recovery disintegrates into grains of despair. This time around, both of you are a little wiser at the game. In all that wisdom, though, the pain, the hurt, never eases. You feel the individual grains of hope in your hands, and you find faith in them. They are tired, weak, but as long as these grains exist so does your hope. 

My reflection: Relapse was a steady thief during my son’s fourteen-year addiction. Just when I thought he had changed his life and shown great fortitude in making healthy choices, the floor fell out and down he went. Over and over, relapse slapped us in the face. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Hope finds its strength in the heart, not the brain. With addiction, the events often spell disaster, and I found that only love could combat my despair. My younger son once asked, “Momma, how will you end the story about Jeff?” I admitted, “I don’t know, Jer. It’s not my story to end.” His answer was clear, “But that’s the point. We don’t know what will happen to Jeff, but no one can ever take away our hope. You have to end the story in hope.”

RETHINKING TREATMENT AND INCARCERATION 

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

A social worker wrote to me: I agree completely with the philosophy of Stay Close. I have learned to be very tolerant and understanding of the pain and choices made by young people in recovery. I believe that our society must develop a new paradigm in terms of treatment vs. incarceration. The American prison and juvenile justice systems have become a dead end for so many. I hope for a time when drug addiction and mental illness will be treated with the same compassion as any other disease.

My reflection: Incarceration seems to be our society’s first answer to addiction. Sure, locking up the addict gets him off the streets and might even save his life, and the lives of others – but the problem is that we’re putting people is jail who are ill. Addicts need help or else their sickness resumes when they later hit the streets.

Today’s Promise to consider: Every nineteen minutes, someone dies of drug overdose. This can’t continue. Our addicted loves ones need help and treatment. The problem is that THEY must choose to get help. We can’t force them into sobriety. I pray that our judicial systems become enlightened to the realities of this disease and develop new ways to steer our children toward the help they need.

 

CUNNING, BAFFLING AND POWERFUL

Photo credit: Audrey Melton

Terry Gorski writes, Addiction comes into our lives posing as a friend and then slowly grows into a monster that can destroy us.

(Terry Gorski, Straight Talk About Addiction)

My reflection: I was deluded by addiction. It entered our home and looked like a phase. I shrugged off my concerns with the thought my son’s behavior was normal because many teenagers smoked pot and drank beer. Surely, Jeff would grow out of it. Silently and rapidly, addiction grew fat, fed on our angst and misery and, in the end, mocked us with its strength and power.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. It’s crucial that we parents pay close attention to the signs of impending danger so that we can intervene early. We are part of the medicine that can heal this disease. Education and closeness are the keys.

 

SOMETIMES EVEN DEATH ISN’T A DETERRENT

A recovering addict told me: Dying didn’t matter. I couldn’t have been any worse off than I was, but I definitely didn’t fear death. If you die, that’s sort of a blessing. I was raised Catholic, but suicide didn’t scare me, didn’t scare me to be in limbo, or purgatory, or wherever you go. I don’t know, but I figured I had to stay here on earth and suffer for the shit I did to the people I hurt.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I would have sold my soul to know what it would take for him to put down the drugs and change his life. With each of his bottoms, I prayed for his salvation.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addicts are overwhelmed by the obsession to use – it often belies their own understanding. Sometimes even death isn’t a deterrent in the race for the drug. I pray that our loved ones choose life, but what will it take? I will stay close in love and hope.

“ADDICTION IS A CHRONIC BRAIN DISEASE, NOT A MORAL FAILING,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

vivek-murthyDr. Murthy recently wrote, I’m calling for a cultural change in how we think about addiction. For far too long, people have thought about addiction as a character flaw or moral failing. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and it’s one that we have to treat the way we would any other chronic illness: with skill, with compassion and with urgency.

My reflection: I had the good fortune of attending the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), 2016, in both Vienna and New York City. Jeff joined in New York and spoke about recovery from addiction. At both sessions, the world’s stance was clear: Addiction is a disease.

Today’s Promise to consider: As our medical community learns more about addiction, the worldview is changing in a fundamental way. For many of us, parents and family members, it can’t change fast enough. Our addicted loved ones have felt society’s scourge and loathing for too long. Today, I will help educate others, and I will pray for addiction treatment to meet the needs of the suffering.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/vivek-murthy-report-on-drugs-and-alcohol_us_582dce19e4b099512f812e9c

https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf