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NURTURE YOUR SOUL: ADDICTION AND THIS PANDEMIC

There are similarities between addiction and this pandemic. I find myself struggling with the familiar feelings of uncertainty and fear, so I talked with a friend about it. After the phone call, she wrote and gave me sensible advice, “Maybe it would be good if you took some time for yourself. Try and read a book to soothe your soul, cook, bake, meditate, or listen to music. Do whatever you can do to take care of yourself.  Remember Loving-Kindness goes both ways – to others and to ourselves.”

My reflection: All of us, who are living with or have lived with addiction, know well the feelings of distress, of waiting for the other shoe to drop, or of holding our breath when the phone rings at night. We also know how easy it is to overlook self-care when tensions run high.

Today’s Promise to consider: After living through an addiction, I’m no stranger to uncertainty or fear. Maybe this pandemic touches those same emotions that were once so fragile. Today, I will take steps to counteract suffering by practicing Loving-Kindness to myself. When we are happy, we are better for ourselves and others. Let us water those seeds that most support us.

 

 

 

RELAPSE REQUIRES COURAGE FOR ALL OF US

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 is presently trying the suboxone route with individual counseling. My heart is broken, but I will find my courage.

My reflection: Our suffering loved ones must learn to live in abstinence and that’s a new and scary place for them. They know how to occupy addiction, but sobriety requires skills that are foreign to them or skills they’ve long forgotten.

At one point Jeff wrote the following about a friend who relapsed, which helped me understand in a deeper way how complicated it is, “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 scares me as a mom, but I will remember that it’s also frightening for my loved one. I can’t fix my child’s addiction or fight his battles, but I can love him with distance. His goal is to learn to live in the solution. My goal is to have the courage to stay close.

LISTENING WITHOUT JUDGING

A mom wrote to me: I know we are not alone, but I hate answering questions about my children. In fact, I avoided a gathering at my mother’s house with some dear neighborhood friends because I didn’t want to be asked how my sons were doing and have to pretend all is well. My dad has passed and his dearest friend asked me how I was doing with my boys. I answered honestly, “Not the best.” He replied with kindness, “I’m sorry. I see you are struggling.” He understood and didn’t judge me. I am blessed to have shared a few minutes with him.

My reflection: The Big Book of AA says that addiction can only be defeated through rigorous honesty and the help of a power greater than ourselves. There were many times I lied about my son’s addiction and our family problems. After much time and even more failed attempts at hiding the truth, I finally decided to respond honestly. It wasn’t easy, but I released myself from worrying about what people thought of me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today I will listen to others without judging. I will respect their right to share their truth and I will be there for them, just as others were there for me. When I’m ready to answer questions about my child’s struggles, I will, but I won’t feel coerced into responding. I’ll listen to my gut and follow my heart. I will pray for wisdom.

WE ARE NOT ALONE: IN ADDICTION OR ANY CRISIS

La Vogalonga, Venice, Italy

My son wrote this about his first rehab center (he was nineteen years old): I was shocked that there were no feelings that were uniquely mine. I still owned the details, but there was a community of other people across all ages that used drugs as I did and faced issues similar to mine. On some level, everyone was dealing with the same types of broken relationships, legal issues, and personal shame. I remember being comforted by the commonalities.

My reflection: Addictions have many things in common and this is one reason why Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon work. Within the group, we see ourselves and hear our pain expressed by others. We learn that we’re not alone. My son found comfort in this, and so did I.

Today’s Promise to consider: In our trauma, we find solace with others. In our stories, we learn. Today, I will acknowledge the addiction and allow myself to get help from others. I must give myself the gift of learning from other’s pain. Even though I resisted attending Al-Anon and family group meetings for several years, they became my lifeline. They didn’t fix the addiction, but they helped me to fix myself. I learned that I was not alone.

 

SUFFERING: WE ALL SUFFER, BUT WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?

I once called our beloved Dr. MacAfee, my son’s addiction therapist, to talk about suffering: During the fourteen years of my son’s addiction, I suffered, as we all do when we see our child destroy himself and his life. At that time, I received an email from a mom in which she wrote, “You need to quit complaining about your suffering. You need to learn from it.” Although I understood the concept of learning from pain, I also felt confused and hurt. Was I not ‘allowed’ to talk about or feel the constant heartache? I needed help putting things together. 

Dr. MacAfee’s responded: “Life is suffering. Until we get this concept, we can’t move on. Although days are filled with many beautiful moments, suffering is part of life. The question is not how do we live without pain, but how do we allow that pain to transform us. Suffering can be redemptive, sculpting us into better people if we let it. The problem is when we get mired in our own suffering, and resist it, then it becomes nonproductive. Acceptance of pain allows it to pass through us.”

Today’s Promise to consider:  Addiction taught me that pain is both the cross and the resurrection. We all suffer, and no one is immune. Whether the pain we experience is part of the current pandemic, addiction, health issues, money problems, or a myriad of other heartaches, today I will allow it to flow through me. I will breathe deeply, not resist the hurt, and let the trauma help me to grow.

 

 

 

COURAGE: RECOVERING FROM ADDICTION TAKES A LOT OF IT

A dad wrote to me: Our children have to fight their addictions and win. We, as parents, will never know how hard their battles are or understand the strength they need. I think that anyone who has battled through addiction deserves a lot of credit.

My personal reaction: Dr MacAfee told me, “Addiction is loss.” Recovery, he said, offered my son the space to rediscover his identity and, in time, the real Jeff would emerge. This was a journey that Jeff would have to do alone. I came to realize the enormity of the fight that he had to face in order to win his battle against addiction.

I once told Jeff, “You have a lot of courage to do this again.” He paused and then said quietly, almost to himself, “Courage? That’s a word rarely used with people like me. Yeah, it takes courage.”

Today’s Promise to Consider: Words like strength, courage, and hope are seldom used in the same sentence with addicts. My son and I faced journeys of despair and self-discovery. We both needed courage as we made decisions that would lead to our health and wholeness. My son chose to fight his addiction. I chose to fight my fear. We each chose to change, and we each took action.

 

 

GRATITUDE IN THE FACE OF ADDICTION and CRISIS

A mother wrote to me: When I awake every morning and go to sleep every night I feel God’s presence in my life and the life of my child. My son is good today, but I know it’s one day at a time. Dealing with addiction takes courage, humility, and gratitude: Courage to stay close and to love our child; humility to remember that the addiction is strong and can come back at any time, especially when we least expect it; and gratitude for our daily blessings.

My reflection: Gratitude is powerful, but it can also be elusive. When my son was in active addiction, I was thankful for the very fact that he was still alive. My prayer each morning was, “Dear Lord, thank you for keeping him alive today.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Gratitude, for me, is part of a daily routine that requires deliberate effort. When despair takes over my soul, gratitude is my strongest antidote. This practice keeps me aware that, even though things are difficult, I still have much for which to be thankful. Today, let us dedicate time to our emotional wellness and remember the role gratitude plays in fortifying us.

HOW TO LIVE THROUGH ADDICTION and THIS HEALTH CRISIS

Henri Nouwen, priest, professor, and author of 39 books of the spiritual life, teaches that the great challenge in life is living through your wounds instead of thinking through them. For example, it’s better to cry than to worry, and it’s better to feel your wounds deeply than to intellectualize them. It is in our heart where we discover they will not destroy us.

My reflection: I analyze my thoughts. I write about them and talk them to death. When my son was in active addiction, I made myself sick with worry, had difficulty sleeping, and struggled throughout the day to remain present. I finally learned that thinking about and fighting my feelings just made them stronger.

Today’s Promise to consider: Pain is a part of life, but suffering is optional. Today, I will open my heart to my feelings of grief, and I will allow them to simply be with me. I will let them run their course and trust that they will pass in time. Today, I will pray the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.

WE ARE NOT ALONE

A mother wrote to me: Two of my three children are addicted to drugs and my life has been forever altered. The relationship between mother and addicted child is unique, but I know that that does not diminish the experiences of other family members. Through group work, I talked with another mother who just found out that her child is addicted. She is panicked, confused, and said that she feels isolated, alone, shamed, scared and angry. I realized that I am not alone.

My reflection: There are four S’s used with addiction: shame, secrets, silence and stigma. We feel as though we are drowning in our own emotions and we don’t know what to do. I kept the secret of my son’s addiction because I felt shame. In silence, the addiction grew. But when I reached out my hand for help, I realized I was not alone.

Today’s Promise: Together we can bring addiction out of the shadows where it can be healed. Our loved ones are fighting a powerful, terrifying force and, today, we will talk with other mothers and fathers and break the silence. In our pain, we will understand. In our stories, we will find hope. In our love, we will continue to believe.

THERE IS FEAR, BUT THERE IS ALSO TRUST … in this crisis and with addiction

Photo Credit: Ferdinando Risi

Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan living in Ireland, wrote:

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them…

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love….

Today’s Promise to consider: Trust and hope matter, now more than ever. A friend from Florence, Italy, wrote, “The canals in Venice are clearing and baby fish are visible; dolphins have reappeared at Trieste; and in Florence the air quality has drastically improved.”

Today, let us trust that, during these uncertain and dark days, there is goodness at work. Today, let us reach out to members of our support group. Today, let us remember that, all across the globe, we are not alone.