ADDICTION AND RECOVERY: HOW TO TRUST AGAIN

by libbycataldi under family

A mom wrote to me: I wrote to you a few years ago about my son’s addiction. As every parent, we barely functioned for almost three years. After his marriage of two years ended, he went to rehab and a halfway house for some time. Today, he has a good job, met a great girl and seems to be doing well. He just announced his engagement and even though things seem better, I worry. I know I should have a positive outlook, but the past haunts me. How do you ever begin to trust and live without fear?

My reflection: I once asked Dr MacAfee this same question, “How do I learn to trust again? The past trauma is hard to forget, and I worry what might happen in the future.” The good doctor answered, “Your feelings are normal. You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Trusting that a recovering loved one will stay well and not return to the chaos of addiction is difficult. Most of us have been deeply scarred by years of turbulence. Today, I’ll be gentle with myself. I’ll breathe, acknowledge my fear, and move toward releasing my worry. In doing so, I learn to live in the present. My loved one deserves this effort. So do I.

FEELING POWERLESS: ADDICTION AND LIFE

The pandemic, the continuing isolation, and the ever-present uncertainty have been increasingly difficult for me. Anxiety mounts, and I work to stay calm. I remember well these feelings of worry and concern. When my son was in active addiction, my mind was a whirlwind of thoughts of what could be and what I would do if the worst happened. This is a triggering place for me – a reminder that I need to take refuge in my spiritual practice.  

My reflection: I know well the feelings of stress that threaten to overtake me. I need to work to counteract these emotions. Addiction thrives on chaos.  

Today’s Promise to consider: When negative emotions engulf us, we need to implement the practices that are nourishing for our souls. For me, that means staying in gratitude, exercising (even when I don’t want to), writing, walking in nature, and meditating. We all have ‘go to’ routines that bring us some semblance of peace. Today, let us prioritize self care. Let us retrain our brain to stop ruminating, if even for a few minutes. Let us breathe and find our calm.

 

LOVE AND BOUNDARIES: A FINE LINE TO WALK

A mom wrote to me: When my son was little and struggled so much, I always seemed to be able to make it better. But addiction is not like that. The hard part for me was not staying close, but staying out of the chaos. And because the chaos of this disease is crazy making, it is so hard at times to not get sick from worry and fear. Depressed. Worn down.

Loving your child while learning about self-preservation and boundaries is so very hard. It is not natural to put oneself before a child, no matter how old, but giving in and giving money could have killed my son. Such a fine line to walk. Stay close means LOVE first, but stay out of the chaos. Take care of yourself. I send deepest prayers.

My reflection: During my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I struggled with the line between love and boundaries. When my son was in pain, of course I rushed in to help. It took me years to learn that my version of help wasn’t helping.

Today’s Promise to consider: The line between love and boundaries might be the most challenging part of addiction. We parents want to help; we want to make things better. The question is: Are we helping when we deny our children the need to face the consequences of their addiction? The answer to this question is individual. We each need to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves.

THE HEALING POWER OF STORY

Barry Lopez wrote: Remember on this one thing…The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.

My reflection: I needed to hear other parents tell their stories about addiction. I needed to hear about their suffering and heartaches, but also about their hope and love. That’s one of the main reasons why Al-Anon meetings were so important to me. 

Today’s Promise to consider: There are few things more comforting than a moving story. When I was at my lowest point with my son’s addiction chaos, the stories of other parents connected me to them and helped me to feel less alone. I listened intently to how they handled their sadness, hardships, and joys. Their words helped me to understand and think about my own experiences, often giving the courage to move forward. Let’s continue to share our stories of both pain and joy.

ADDICTION TAUGHT ME THAT ANSWERS AREN’T AS IMPORTANT AS LOVE

Recently, I was faced with a family issue that had nothing to do with addiction, but had everything to do with what I had learned through my son’s fourteen-year struggle with heroin. All the suffering and confusion of those addicted years taught me that I don’t need to give instant answers. I can take time to breathe, keep my wits about me, and stay close. Problems can be opportunities for learning, and I learned in spades that answers aren’t as important as love and hope. 

My reflection: During the early years of Jeff’s addiction, my typical response was frustration, blame and anger. It took me years to accept that I was powerless to control his behavior, but what I could manage was my response.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can learn many valuable lessons from the trauma of addiction. Through my son’s fourteen-year struggle, my biggest breakthrough arrived in two words: Stay Close. For me this meant that I didn’t have to jump every time he called with a problem, and I didn’t have to provide answers every time he demanded one, but I could stay close and out of the chaos of his life. Today, I use this Stay Close mantra with all my loved ones.

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.