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“I DON’T WANT TO BREATHE MY FEAR INTO YOU”

I talked with a friend, whose son is suffering from substance abuse, and I was moved by her words to her son. “I believe in you,” she told him, “Sure I’m afraid of what the future holds for you and our family, but I don’t want to breathe my fear into you. I want to give you hope.”

My reflection: There is a song lyric that I memorized years ago, “Fear can be catching worse than a cold.” Research indicates that emotions are ‘contagious,’ and that negative emotions transfer most easily. When my son was in active addiction, I’m sure he saw tension in my eyes and heard anxiety in my voice, more often than he saw or heard peace or compassion.

Today’s Promise: It’s difficult for our suffering loved ones to carry our anxieties, as well as their own. When they are in the throes of their addiction, they are struggling with obsession, shame, and the chase of the drug. When they are in early recovery, they face countless fears daily – how to get a job, how to pay rent, and how to go the next day without drugs. Today, I’ll try to bolster my serenity and breathe hope into my loved one.

THOSE WHO HAVE WALKED-THE-WALK MAKE A DIFFERENCE 

A mom wrote to me: My son is miraculously almost a month sober thanks to some guardian angels in AA, who are showing him there is a better way. He has been to many rehabs, but never fully bought into the message of AA. This time he has been embraced by some very good people, and this has been the missing link all along. The program has done for him what no amount of love, effort, or money has been able to do before.

My reflection: My son was also in dozens of rehabs, half-way houses, and detox centers, and I’m sure they made some difference, like drops of water on a rock. But for fourteen years, he continued his decline into a life of drugs, ultimately heroin, until he was almost dead.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can love, cajole, weep for, and finance our loved ones as they suffer the consequences of their disease, but they are the ones who need to make the final decision to live in the solution. They have to want it and have the courage to fight for it. For my son, the good folks in AA made an undeniable difference. There he found his ‘angels,’ who understood his trauma and supported his many steps along the path to wellness. They had walked-the-walk, and they helped my son find his way out of the chaos of addiction’s grasp.

WALKING ‘WITH’ OR WALKING ‘FOR’

A friend wrote to me: The hardest thing of all for me is to see that we, families and friends, walk a different and separate path from those we love who suffer from the disease of addiction. How can we feel happiness or find peace when someone we love is in pain? We each have to answer that in our own way. I do not always follow this or do it with grace, but I keep trying.

My reflection: I went down the rabbit hole of grief with my son. As he suffered the ravaging consequences of his disease, so did I. As he fell deeper and deeper into addiction’s grasp, so did it. This didn’t help either of us. 

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s normal for us to feel deeply the pain of our suffering loved ones, but we can take this to the extreme and behave in ways that hurt family members, friends, and ourselves. Boundaries are difficult to maintain and they can be different for each of us, but we can’t allow addiction to swallow us whole. Let us meet our loved ones where they are. Let us pray for grace and wisdom.

LOVING WITHOUT RESCUING

A friend wrote to me: I think no one but an addict’s mother, family, and loved ones will ever truly understand how much courage, love, and suffering it takes to do nothing. Even staying close means the sacrifice of witnessing without taking the actions that blind love demands. How admirable and impossibly painful it is to love without attempting to rescue.

My reflection: When our children are young, we kiss their wounds and make things better. Addiction robs us of that ability, of that gift. As they get older, we can provide counsel and support.

Today’s Promise to consider: If love could have cured my son, he would have never suffered a fourteen-year heroin addiction. Sadly, love can’t eradicate an illness. Through that stretch of time, I stayed close and continued to love him, but I was powerless to change the course of his disease. The decision to live in the solution had to be made by him. Today, let us act with compassion. Let us find our boundary between loving and rescuing.

A TRAILER ANNOUNCING “THE WISDOM OF TRAUMA” featuring Dr. Gabor Maté

THE WISDOM OF TRAUMA is a seven-day series with Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, who is a renowned addiction expert. His seminal book In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts draws on science and real-life stories to posit that all addictions originate in trauma and emotional loss. He says that “all is not well” in our society as supported by the rising numbers of addictions, overdoses, suicides, mass shootings, and child abuse. He calls for a more compassionate approach toward the issues facing humanity, especially addiction.

My reflection: Gabor’s movie airs between June 8 – 14, but this trailer touched me deeply. I asked my son to watch it, and he responded, “Maté seems so earnest and dedicated. You can tell he’s driven by a higher calling.” 

Today’s Promise to consider: Education is key to understanding. Today, we have many quality resources, including cutting-edge research in the field of addiction, harm-reduction advances, and help from psychologists, counselors, and those in recovery. Maté emphasizes compassion when dealing with our suffering loved ones. Today, let us  bring the healing light of compassion to trauma and the wounded human soul.

LOVE WILL NOT STOP AN ADDICTION

A mother wrote to me: My son got arrested and we hired a lawyer, bailed him out, but he kept using and stealing. He got arrested again and bailed himself out. We knew he was dying so we asked the lawyer to have the judge put him back in jail. We told our son we would not bail him out, that we loved him but would no longer let his addiction destroy the family. All the love in the world was not enough to make him stop.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee once asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “More.” MacAfee explained, “His answer was not an attempt at humor. Instead, the group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going.”

Today’s Promise: My addicted loved one is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living. I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will Stay Close and pray that my suffering child makes the decision to ask for help and change his life.

UNDERNEATH IT ALL, THEIR HUMANITY REMAINS

A young girl, who relapsed with a crystal meth addiction, wrote to me: I am addicted again. It’s been two years since l relapsed. I am convinced everyone hates me. I constantly hear voices that tell me that they will kill me, I’m ugly, I’m disgusting or that l smell. Some days l have eight showers, and other days it takes all day to have one. Most days, I don’t trust the water out of the tap. I can’t talk with my mom – I’m afraid the stress will kill her. My lifelong friends and family have nothing to do with me. I abuse my mom day and night, and I hate myself for this.

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. She’s aware of the pain she’s causing and is remorseful, despite her ability to stop using.

Today’s Promise to consider: People suffering from the disease of addiction often act in uncaring, selfish, and manipulative ways. Under the haze of addiction, their behavior often belies their true nature, and their empathy and humanity seem nonexistent. But as long as they are alive, we must hold on to the fact that their core self exists underneath the disease. Today, I’ll continue to hope. I’ll continue to stand by my suffering loved one. I’ll stay close, but out of the chaos of her addiction.

SOMETIMES IT’S THE PAIN THAT SETS US FREE

A dad wrote to me: For ten years, I fought the chaos of addiction. With each relapse, I blamed both myself and my son. I was enmeshed in saving him and was convinced that I could. Eventually, the disease of addiction created so much pain in me that I could no longer deny the truth that recovery was HIS decision, his choice, and that I was powerless. I joined a 12-step program, educated myself, and sought out professional help. It takes great pain to set us free, but in our own recovery we find renewed strength, peace, and even serenity.

My reflection: I, too, fought the chaos of addiction. It took me fourteen years until I finally ‘let go and let God.’

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents don’t want our children to suffer. We want to protect them from pain, but sometimes it is the pain that sets us free. Many recovering people have told me that they made a decision to change their life when the consequences of their addiction became too heavy to bear. The same often happens to us.

WHEN IT’S YOUR PARENT, BROTHER, SISTER, OR FRIEND

by libbycataldi under family

A young woman wrote to me: Libby, something important struck me when I read this line you wrote  – ‘My child’s addiction is not against me. He is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living.’ If I replace child with father, this is one of the most impactful and life-altering realizations that helped me heal my relationship with my dad. I saw that he was trapped in a disease rather than deliberately choosing drugs over family.

My reflection: Addiction’s tentacles strangle all of us: children, brothers, sisters, parents, and loved ones. We, as a recovering community, have an obligation to reach out our hands to all those impacted from the effects of this disease.

Today’s Promise: Children of addicted parents, siblings of addicted children, and all those in pain need our support. Our loved ones are alive, under the drugs. My son once told me, “Society loathes addicts, and addicts loathe themselves.” Today, let us not take addiction personally. Let us face it with compassion and take it out of the shadows and into the light where it can be healed.

AM I ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

A mom wrote to me: My son is two years sober, has his own place, has been at his same job for almost two years, and is managing his own money. His best friend, with whom he spends lots of time, just had surgery and has been given pain pills. Unfortunately this brings me to an old, scared place. I wonder if the pain pills tempt him? Do I ask him or just calm my inner self and thoughts? I never really know if talking or even asking would make him upset or be helpful? Am I allowed to ask about the elephant in the room or will that not be healthy for him? The fear is always there, isn’t it Libby?

My reflection: I know this place of fear, this ‘elephant in the room.’ 

Today’s Promise to consider: Maybe the fear of relapse is always in the back of our parent mind. I wonder if it’s in the back of our recovering loved ones’ minds, too? No matter how justified, our worry can’t be laid at the feet of our sons and daughters, who are working hard to stay the course, to live a good life, and to manage their own anxieties. It’s normal to be concerned about ‘what will be,’ but all we have is today. Let us stay close and trust our children. Sure, this is tough, and continued recovery isn’t guaranteed. We’ve been vigilant a long time, but maybe it’s time to put our fears aside and enjoy the present.