ADDICTION AND COMPASSION, FOR ALL OF US

One of my favorite stories about compassion is told by Tara Brach. She writes: I often tell the story of a person walking in the woods and coming upon a little dog. The dog seems harmless, but when they reach out to pet the dog, it growls and lunges at them. The immediate response is fear and anger, but then they notice the dog has its leg caught in a trap and compassion begins to rise up in place of anger. Once we see how our own leg is in a trap and hold our experience with self-compassion, it becomes easier to see how others might be caught, too – causing suffering, because they are suffering.

My reflection: My son had his leg in the trap of addiction for fourteen years, and it took me about that many years to understand the depths of his suffering and the effects on our family.

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion for our addicted loved ones often doesn’t come easily. We get caught in the downward spiral of blame, hurt, and anger. Tara Brach says that acceptance and compassion are not about condoning, complacency, or resignation, but rather the courageous willingness to face reality as it is right now. Today, let us work to understand our addicted loved one’s pain so that we might find compassion for them, and for ourselves in the process.

HOW DO WE FORGIVE?

A dad wrote: I have worked so hard on forgiveness. I have prayed for His Spirit to grant me the gift of forgiveness. I must somehow still be resistant. I sometimes, in prayer, feel I have forgiven, then the past comes back to haunt me and the anger and remembrance of betrayal returns and I am back where I do not want to be. Share with me, how do you forgive and stay in forgiveness?

My reflection: The Big Book tells us that resentments are toxic in the lives of recovering addicts. I think that’s also true for those of us who loved them. Was I resentful and unforgiving when my son was in active addiction? Yes. Did I try to blame others for the pain addiction caused? Yes. Did my resentments help my son? No. Did it help my family? No. Did it help me? No.

Before my mother died, she said, “Forgiveness comes in waves.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I don’t have a personal process for forgiving, but I do know that the release of resentment is central to my wellbeing. It’s easy to ruminate on past hurts, but when I consider the pain and suffering of the other person, it’s sometimes easier to let go of my discomfort. As one mom wrote, “It’s anger that keeps us hostage.” If you have a successful process to forgive, please let us know. We can help each other.

NO MATTER HOW LONELY, YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Mary Oliver wrote: 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.            
 

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I suffocated in my aloneness. I trusted very few people, felt humiliated by all that was happening in our family’s chaotic life, and looked at other supposedly happy families with envy. Living in addiction’s grasp was the most isolated time of my life.

Today’s Promise to consider: When our families are battling addiction, we feel alone, desperate, and isolated. Poet Mary Oliver offers us an expansive idea of where we can find peace. If comfort doesn’t exist in another person or group, we can access nature’s bounty – both our physical environment and our spiritual selves. Today, let us open our spirits, walk in the woods, breathe sea air, feel the rhythm of the seasons, and find abundance in life, and in our own souls. We can feel lonely in a crowd, but we can feel whole in the natural world that surrounds us.

 

 

A NEW YEAR INTENTION: REFLECT AND RESET

by libbycataldi under Faith

When Jeff was new to recovery, he wrote: This is the first year that my New Year’s resolution is crystal clear: contribution. I need 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 New Year’s resolutions. I felt silly setting the intention to do something I knew I was likely to abandon after a few weeks; however, as I approach the year ahead, I’ve decided to follow Jeff’s lead. I’m making a commitment to take time each day to meditate, pray, and become more centered in myself and with my God. I’m confident this will 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, I do believe in setting intentions. In 2006, Jeff decided to contribute more to his community, and in 2021 I’m committing to meditate each day and to grow stronger in my spirituality. May we all decide to do something that will enrich our lives and the lives of others. Happy New Year!

CHRISTMAS AND ADDICTION: LET US FIND SOME PEACE

by libbycataldi under family

I remember well the Christmas when my son didn’t come home: During the holidays of 2006, when Jeff didn’t come home for our large Italian family gatherings, no one knew what to do or say. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends didn’t know whether to ask about my addicted son or whether it would be kinder to leave him out of the conversation. At Christmas Eve Mass, my older brother bent toward me and asked softly, “How’s Jeff?” I swelled with tears, tried to speak, but no words came. He nodded and turned toward the altar. I kept my head down and prayed.

My reflection: The holidays put the addict on center stage when the accumulated chaos of his or her life, and ours, is excruciatingly public. It is during these gatherings of joy that addiction mocks us most.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction can severely isolate us during this time of year. We come face-to-face, over and over again, with the reality that our lives are not as joyful as we wish they would be. Today, let us avoid this toxic place by being compassionate with ourselves, with others and our loved ones. Let us find serenity in honesty and prayer. Let us not allow addiction to rob us of our peace.

WE MUST BREAK THE STIGMA AND SHAME OF ADDICTION

A mom wrote to me: We must break the stigma and shame in order to bring addiction out of the shadows. We need to shine light into our deepest wounds in order to heal. Silence is violence against the truth. Love is the answer.

My reflection: Addiction thrives on pain and chaos. I spent fourteen years trapped in a pattern of fear, defending my heart, trying to protect my family, keeping the secret, and terrified that my son would die. Only when I quit ruminating and began to open up in my support group did the healing begin.  

Today’s Promise: The stigma and shame of addiction keep us locked in silence and secrets. Our minds work overtime as we create scenarios about what might happen because we hope that by anticipating the outcome we will be better prepared for the future. We must not allow ourselves to drown in this quicksand of worry. Our suffering loved ones are already trapped in darkness. Let us release ourselves from the grip of fear. Today, let us raise our voices in hope and love.

NEVER QUIT BELIEVING

A dad wrote to me: After 21 years of addiction, my son told me that during his darkest days he knew his family loved him and would welcome him back into the family when he decided to change his life. He told me that while he was working his 12 Steps, this knowledge – that home would stay close – is what gave him hope for the future. Never give up!

My reflection: My son once wrote to me, These last couple months have been trying – for both of us. Thank you for not giving up on me. You believe in me more that I believe in myself. You give me courage and strength.

 Today’s Promise to consider: Where there is life, there is hope. Let us never quit believing that recovery is possible. Addiction wants us to give up and give in. Let’s hold hands, work our own recovery program, and keep fighting the good fight. Let’s never quit believing.

BE A BEACON OF LIGHT FOR OUR CHILDREN

A mom wrote to me: Just as our children need to learn how to live in recovery, so do we. We can’t look back, and we must look forward. Using the tools we now have, let us be a beacon of light so our children know where we are when they’re ready.

My reflection: Placing a burning candle in the window is a tradition that dates back to colonial times as a sign that says you’re welcome here, we’re waiting for you.When my son was in active addiction, I wanted him to know that home was waiting for him when he was ready to live in the solution.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can be a beacon of light for our children. When they are drowning in the waves of addiction, they are lost to themselves and to us. Their life is focused on the chase of the high, and there is nothing but darkness. We can stand as a light that says, “When you are ready, your family and life are waiting for you.” We want our children to glow in the world, but maybe we need to teach them how by our example.

ON THIS THANKSGIVING: HARDSHIP AND HOPE

by libbycataldi under Hope

The Japanese Philosopher Diasaku Ikeda tells us: Hope is a flame that we nurture within our hearts. It may be sparked by someone else – by the encouraging words of a friend, relative, or mentor – but it must be fanned and kept burning through our own determination.

Diasaku Ikeda, “On Hardship and Hope.”

My reflection: The saying, “Where there is life, there is hope,” gave me great comfort when my son was in the throes of addiction, but I never thought about hope as a decision. I looked at hope as something that was good to have, like a lucky penny or a four-leaf clover. I struggled to see how we have agency in fostering hope. Nevertheless, in my own way, I held onto the belief that Jeff would find sobriety.

Today’s Promise to consider: With addiction, we are bombarded with negative emotions. People tell us to hope, but sometimes that feels like a dream that will never come true. Diasaku Ikeda reframes the concept, reminding us that hope is a choice. Instead of being paralyzed by despair, let us nurture our hearts with the flame of possibility. On this Thanksgiving, let us believe in the infinite opportunities that are available for both our children and ourselves. Let us hope and pray that our suffering loved ones come home.

NEVER GIVE UP

A mom wrote to me: I only know that to keep on loving is something one never regrets. I only know that hope and prayer work, even if prayers are not answered as we hope. I only know that finding a community can help us do more than survive. There we can find courage when we are most afraid, and there we can find a kind of grace and peace when we most need it.

My reflection: Addiction brings us to our knees, but we can (and must) find the strength to go forward. We have a choice: We can either crumble, and sometimes we do, or we can gather ourselves up and push forward. My dad used to tell me, “Daughter, with your children there is no quit.”

Today’s Promise to consider: There is no perfect family. Our closest relationships are inevitably painful, messy, and hard. The quality of family doesn’t hinge on living a problem-free existence, but rather on how we handle the tough issues. We can use these challenges to strengthen our faith, set boundaries, and learn to communicate with compassion and loving-kindness. Pain can be the bearer of many lessons.