ADDICTION: WAR OR COMPASSION?

Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream, writes: When I returned from my long journey, I looked at my ex-boyfriend, in withdrawal, trembling on my spare bed, and I thought about him differently. For a century now, we have been singing war songs about addicts. It occurred to me as I wiped his brow, we should have been singing love songs to them all along.

My reflection: Tough love was the mantra-of-the-day when my son was in the deepest throes of his heroin addiction. People told me to kick him out of the house, cancel him from our lives, and to have an imaginary funeral for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: Shame, neglect, and ridicule often drive the addict deeper into his addiction. None of these negative behaviors ever helped my son get closer to health. Stay Close became our mantra, and this worked for us. War or Compassion? I choose compassion.

THE STRESS OF ADDICTION TAKES A TOLL

A dear friend, the mother of a recovering addict, recently wrote to me: I suffered greatly for ten long years with my son’s addiction. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was the importance of never loosing my voice to express my feelings, thoughts, and fears. I’ve also learned that that my body won’t be silenced either. If I waiver or loose focus on my personal self care, my body reacts (illness, rashes, digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, depression) and reminds me it has a voice too. I must continue to listen to my inner voice and stay balanced. It is essential for my health.

My reflection: The fact that our bodies react to stress is medically substantiated. Addiction brings incredible tension, especially to the family of the sick loved one. When my son was in active addiction, I plastered a smile on my face and went to work. I could fool some people, but I couldn’t fool my body. My health suffered.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction takes a hard toll on our spirit, mind, and body. The longer stress lasts, the more damaging it becomes. Those of us who love addicts often live with chronic tension. Today, I will pay attention when my body gives me signs and work on developing a specific program that helps me relieve stress: running, writing, taking to my support group, meditating, and praying. I must take care of myself.

 

“I WISH OTHER PEOPLE COULD UNDERSTAND WHAT OUR LIVES WERE LIKE”

Photo Credit: Davood Madadpoor

A mother wrote to me: My son was handsome, respectful, smart, athletic, and a funny young man. Unfortunately, at fifteen, he made a bad choice to experiment with drugs. His life and ours were never the same. He tried to get clean. In fact, he was clean for forty days before he died. I have been blessed with wonderful people in my life, but I know the average person looks down on people who do drugs. I wish other people could understand what our lives were like.

My reflection: Even with the recent public outcry about addiction, society often considers the addict an abyss of moral failure. Many people judge the addict’s family as non-caring, absent, abusive, or non-communicative. Those of us who have addicted children know that this illness doesn’t discriminate. Addiction happens in happy families and unhappy families.

A young addict once told me, “I was raised on a farm in Kansas. My mom and dad were always home, and my entire family worked together on the land. I was fully loved and my family was wonderful. I’m a heroin addict.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I realize that many people judge me when they hear that my son is a heroin addict. I understand that society might criticize me and hold me at fault, but these are the chains of addiction. Today, I will find strength in my support group and continue to love my child without regard for other’s opinions.

THE CONFOUNDING NATURE OF ADDICTION

Photo Credit: Mikele Roselli-Cecconi

Dr. MacAfee told me, When families are in the throes of struggling with addiction, they do what they know best: They help and support the addict. Families, however, do not anticipate that the nature of addiction is one of exploitation, manipulation, and betrayal. Oftentimes, the addict exhausts and abuses a family’s resources and good will, leaving the family in a state of psychological and financial desperation. It is not only how addiction destroys the addict, but it is also how addictions destroys the family.

My reflection: When our children struggle, we move in to help; however, the addict exploits this natural act of love and protection. Quickly, the chase of the drug is overpowering. The addict loses himself, and we, the family, lose our loved one.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction takes the natural love of a family and smashes it into pieces. The lies and deceit – it’s what addiction does best. Today, I’ll stay close with love and compassion, but it’s imperative that I stay out of the chaos.

 

 

DENIAL AND ADDICTION

A mother writes: Our daughter, both strikingly beautiful and musically gifted, signed a recording contract with an International music company at the age of fifteen. I traveled with her extensively and never had an idea what was going on right in my presence. At seventeen, she graduated a year early as valedictorian of a private school catering to performers. Unbeknownst to us, she was already addicted to cocaine when she left for university on a full music scholarship. I blamed her stuffy nose on allergies, and she gladly accepted the air cleaner I bought for her dorm room. We only learned of her addiction after a suicide attempt.

My reflection: We don’t see the addiction as it unfolds right before our eyes. This seems impossible, yet it happens every day to even the most vigilant parents. We see the dilated pupils, hear the stuffy nose and wonder where our child’s spirit and humor have gone. We want to think the best of them. We want to believe us when they tell us, “Mom, I’m fine. Please don’t worry. All is OK.”

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents want the best for our children. When we realize that we’ve been in denial, we often blame ourselves and feel betrayed, stupid or tricked. We’re not alone. Today, I will face the truth with love and move forward, one day at a time.

 

 

A FATHER TAKES A STAND

A father of a recovering addict wrote to me, I wonder if we will ever outlive the scare of addiction. Our family had an incident during Christmas. My three children got into a discussion that became an argument. As tempers rose, my son’s former struggles with addiction were brought up. My son has been healthy for eight years and he is 25 years old, so he was really young at the time. I talked with my son and ensured him that the past is the past and that we have all made mistakes in our lives. For the girls, I made it extremely clear that the addiction incident will not cross their lips again or there will be severe consequences. I could imagine how he felt under attack for something that happened years ago.

My reflection: I, too, wonder if we will ever outlive the chains of addiction. If my recovering son had had a kidney disease, people would inquire compassionately about his health. But with the disease of addiction, some responses continue to range from those of suspicion (Is he still clean? How are you sure?), curiosity (How does he stay clean while working in the music field?), or contempt (He’s nothing but a drug addict. I remember.).

Today’s Promise to consider: Recovering addicts need safety and trust. They cannot continue to live their lives under the heaviness and scrutiny of all the mistakes they’ve made. They need an advocate, and I will stand firmly for my son and for all those who have the courage to live in sobriety.

 

MACAFEE’S WORDS OF WISDOM: FIND YOUR VOICE

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

tm_3930-1A friend, who also loved Dr. MacAfee, shares what she learned from him: Losing my voice, silencing my most potent inner instincts left me living in fear, afraid to speak out, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt invisible, powerless, angry and unheard. Dr. MacAfee encouraged me to find my voice, speak out and be heard again.

My reflection: I, too, silenced my voice when Jeff was in active addiction. I walked on eggshells and worried about every word that came out of my mouth. Would my words anger him? Would we argue and have an ugly scene? Would he walk out and be lost, once again, to the streets. I shoved my words into my belly until I also got sick.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today, I will speak up. I will stop of the cycle of being worried sick and swallowing my voice. I will change the dynamic of this unhealthy touch-and-go dance between my addicted loved one and me. I will fight to keep myself balanced, respected and heard.

“I’M NOT SURE WHAT RULES TO FOLLOW”

TM.3 (1)A mother wrote to me: Webster’s dictionary says, “Enabling: to make possible, practical, or easy.” How simple this sounds. Why would a parent want to make it easy for a child to destroy himself? My aunt said to me yesterday, ‘You need to have guidelines and discipline in your house.’ I just thought to myself: I would love to have that. I am a mom trying to raise three kids and one is an addict. I am not so sure what rules I am to follow.

My reflection: Dr. Terri Gorski says that society gives us no rules to follow with addiction. For me, I always ached to know the line between enabling and helping. The difference between the two seemed confusing and ambivalent. The hardest thing I’ve ever done as a mom was to get out of the way and allow my son to face the consequences of his addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents often want step-by-step instructions to help our child. The problem is that there are no silver bullet solutions to ensure our children will live a sober life. Today, I’ll step back and allow my son to contend with the results of his behavior, both good and bad. I will stay close, but out of the chaos of his addiction.

THE SCARS REMAIN

jeff_italy_09The daughter of addicted parents wrote to me: I am the grown daughter of two addicts and know first-hand how truly cunning and powerful this disease is. It is a family illness and one with far-reaching and long-lasting implications. Even when the wounds have healed, the scars remain. 

My reflection: Addiction affects all of us who love addicts. How does a child of addicted parents make sense of the volatility, the selfishness, the continual crises and trauma? It takes courage. Courage to face the truth about the parents we love. Courage to fight our way out of the chaos. Courage to learn to live with the knowledge of what happened.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction leaves scars. Like every battle, deep wounds remain. Today, I will find the courage to learn from the addiction and all the trauma that my family and I suffered. I will protect myself, grow stronger and reach out my hand to help others.

HELPING OR ENABLING?

06-Jeff photo shoot 327

Photo credit: Mikele Roselli Cecconi

A mother wrote me to: My son is back in detox for the second time in less than four months. Hopefully this time he will also go through rehab and stay sober, but I don’t know. I pray that his journey will not be long and hard, but somehow I fear it may. I pray that I have the strength and knowledge to know the difference between helping my son and enabling him. 

My reflection: I was never very good at knowing where the line was between enabling and helping. Addiction forced me to make decisions that were difficult and, oftentimes, life threatening. In the end, I learned to stay close, but out of the way of the chaos. It’s an inexact science, but I found a way to love my son without being tossed around by the waves of his addiction.

Today’s Promise: I admit that I don’t always know how best to help my child, but I will continue to learn. I will not blame, accuse or berate. I will be an active participant in my support groups, stay close and trust God.