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SOMETIMES IT FEELS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO STAY CLOSE

A mom wrote to me: We’ve corresponded a few times over the course of a lot of years as my son wandered through the maze of his addiction and I followed along, hanging onto his shirt tail trying to keep him safe. Of course, that didn’t work. I know more about addiction now than I ever wanted to know. He’s five years clean this week. He’s living on his own, paying his bills, and working in the same job the whole time. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m filled with gratitude for today.  He has thanked me for not giving up on him, even when it was almost impossible to stay close.  

My reflection: I, too, hung onto my son’s shirt tail as I tried to keep him safe, and I, too, found that it didn’t work.

Today’s Promise to consider: When we are feeling battered by the consequences of addiction’s grasp on our children, it’s hard to stay close but out of the chaos. During my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I struggled tremendously with this concept. It wasn’t until I visited the Florence, Italy, office of San Patrignano that it started to make sense. A recovering man’s words hit me hard: “Love your son, don’t abandon him, but don’t give him money for anything – not his cell phone, not his car, nothing.” It was never easy to follow this advice, but I did. And, just as this mother, I stayed close, but with boundaries.

 

THE PRISON OF ADDICTION

A mother wrote to me: My son walked out of his fourth rehab, and in November of last year my husband kicked him out of our house, again. I couldn’t help but mourn. His addiction has claimed him for five years. His drug addiction has had such a big impact on our lives. I want to see him whole and clean and well again, but it’s as if he’s in his own prison.

My reflection: Addiction affects all of us. Parents argue, siblings are confused and angry, and the addict is in his own world, chasing his next fix. Mothers cry until we have no tears left, and fathers watch helplessly, powerless to protect their families from the beast that is addiction. The entire family is immersed in sadness and trauma.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction thrives on chaos and pain. Not only does the immediate family suffer, but addiction spirals out to affect aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, and friends. As families, we are powerless to stop addiction, but we can remain faithful and compassionate, while maintaining boundaries to keep ourselves safe. Let us stay close to our loved ones and our support groups. Let us keep faith and hope alive.

FAMILIES ARE A CRITICAL PART OF RECOVERY

From my son, I learned that an important part of his recovery was the knowledge that our family was waiting for him when he chose health. He knew that when he made the decision to live a sober life, we would be at his side. 

My reflection: A wonderful man was the director of San Patrignano, a recovering community, in Florence, Italy. He taught me the meaning of stagli vicino (stay close to him). He counseled me to stay close to my son, but out of the chaos of his addiction. 

Today’s Promise to consider: There was a time when the standard advice to parents of children suffering from substance abuse was Tough Love. While there are some aspects of merit to this thought, in Italy I learned a more effective approach for our family: Stay Close. Don’t abandon your child, but stay out of the chaos of his addiction. By staying close but out of the turbulence, my son knew my boundaries, yet he also felt connected. He knew he was not alone in his battle. Through addiction’s trauma, family can be part of the medicine of recovery.

WHEN DOES THE FEAR GO AWAY?

A mother wrote to me: My daughter struggled with addiction issues for over ten years. Today, she has risen from the ashes and is doing well. I still hold my breath a bit when I don’t hear from her regularly, but each time she reaches back out she is stronger than before. She has been fully sober for almost three years. I cannot say that the inner voice of fear doesn’t call to me, but most days, most hours, and most minutes, I rejoice with her and enjoy this beautiful time of sobriety.

My reaction: Fear is a powerful force. When my son was in active addiction, I lived in constant worry. When he changed his life and started to live in health, I thought the fear would go away, but it continued. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Trusting that our 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 trauma. I once asked Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, when the fear would go away, and he said, “Your feelings are normal. You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.”

 

I WORKED HARDER FOR MY SON’S RECOVERY THAN HE DID

A mom wrote to me, I worked harder for my son’s recovery than he did, and I always came up empty. When I finally let go and allowed him to feel the dignity of his triumphs and pain of his failures, things changed. Just for today he chooses recovery. So do I.

My reflection: This mom’s words resonated strongly with me because for many years I, too, worked harder for my son’s recovery than he did. When he was living on the streets and brushing his teeth at the Seven Eleven, I thought, “He has hit his bottom,” so I rushed to get him into rehab. When he got arrested for the umpteenth time, I bailed him out and forced him into yet another treatment center. Nothing changed.

Today’s Promise to consider: As much as I wanted to save my son, to rescue him from the consequences of his addiction, and to pick him up when he fell, none of my attempts helped. In the end, HE had to make the choice to change his life, and I had to make mine. There was only room for one person in his addiction and that didn’t include me.

“THERE IS ABSOLUTELY HOPE”

Brian Mann, NPR, interviewed Drs. John Kelly and David Eddie (Harvard University), who resoundingly stated that there is hope of recovery. They noted that more than 9% of the population live in recovery, and 75% of people who suffer from substance-use disorder eventually recover. Kelly added, “I think it kind of goes against our cultural perception that people never get better. We are literally surrounded by people who are in recovery.” Research suggests that people don’t just survive, but they go forward and thrive. Eddie explained, “They end up achieving things they wouldn’t have achieved if they hadn’t gone through the hell of addiction. So, there is absolutely hope.”

My reflection: My son’s addiction lasted 14 years. During that siege, there was little research available to suggest that most people recover. All I knew was that my son was sick, and I was desperate. 

Today’s Promise to consider: There is burgeoning research about substance-use disorder and recovery. We know that addiction is hard to treat. We also know that we need additional and continuing research. This article from NPR states that five or more relapses are often the norm and that it takes eight years or more to achieve long-term remission. If our loved ones can stay alive long enough, the research says that eventually the majority recover. Let’s keep hope alive.

THE MOB WITHIN THE HEART: CONFLICTING FEELINGS ABOUT THOSE WE LOVE

by libbycataldi under family

I’m currently listening to a course on mindfulness called, “Cloud Sangha,” where Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, authors and Buddhist practitioners, offer daily 10-minute training sessions. In one session, Jack talked about the conflicting feelings we might harbor with those we love. We can feel love, care, anxiety, resentment, tenderness, attachment, frustration, and compassion, all at the same time. In a single morning, we can experience a whole variety of strong feelings and emotions. Emily Dickinson calls these the “mob within the heart.”

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction – and even in my daily life today – I am awash with emotions, often about the same person or event. Love, resentment, joy, anxiety, care, anger, and betrayal can exist in me, all at the same time.

Today’s Promise to consider: We, who love those with substance abuse problems, feel deep love for our children, yet we often also feel betrayed, tricked, abused, and hurt. For the longest time, I couldn’t jive these conflicting feelings. How could I love my son, yet feel such anger at him? I realize now that these conflicting feelings – the mob within the heart (Emily Dickinson) – are normal. They make us human. Being human can hurt.

LOVE WILL NOT STOP AN ADDICTION

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

My reflection: All the love in the world will not stop an addict from using because addiction is the antithesis of love. Dr. MacAfee tells of a group therapy session when he asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “more.” MacAfee explained, “The group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going. Substance drives the addict.”

Today’s Promise: Our children are trapped in the disease of addiction and, although it doesn’t always look like it, they loathe the life they are living. Today, I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will stay close and pray that my child decides to stop, for himself. I will continue to love him through it all, by remaining close, but out of the chaos.

ADDICTION: THE GREAT TEACHER

A mom of a son in recovery wrote to me: I’ve learned to be understanding and not angry. I’ve learned to be forgiving and not disappointed. I’ve learned to be loving and not frustrated. I’ve learned to be patient and not anxious. The disease of addiction has to run its course. Our children find recovery in their own way and in their own time.

My reflection: I didn’t want to learn anything from addiction. I hated it and just wanted it to go away. I spent most of my days being angry, disappointed, heartbroken, and anxious.

Today’s Promise to consider: Some of the things I’ve learned from my son’s fourteen years in the miasma of addiction and his fifteen years on the other side of it are: *Al-Anon, AA, and family groups work. There’s immense power in community. *Educating myself was crucial. The more I understood about the disease of addiction, the more skillful my responses became. *My son’s addiction was not mine to solve, but his. The choice of sobriety rested with him. *Stay Close, but out of the chaos became a road map for me and gave me some semblance of peace, while giving my son the space to find recovery in his own way and in his own time.

SET AN INTENTION: DO NO HARM

From the Book of Joy: I asked the Dalai Lama what it was like to wake up with joy, and he shared his experience each morning: “I think if you are an intensely religious believer, as soon as you wake up, you thank God for another day. And you try to do God’s will. For a nontheist like myself, but who is Buddhist, as soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha’s teaching: the importance of kindness and compassion, wishing something good for others, or at least to reduce their suffering. Then I remember that everything is interrelated, so I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others.” 

My reflection: For years now the idea of loving-kindness has resonated with me, although when my son was in active addiction, this concept was not even on my radar. Every day was survival, a nonstop exercise in trying not to drown under the weight of all our problems.

Today’s Promise to considerKindness and compassion are lofty goals, especially when we’re battling the tidal waves of addiction in the family. Perhaps the best we can do some days is set an intention to ‘do no harm.’ For me, that requires constant presence of mind and body. My first reaction is not always a loving one, but if I’m able to observe my behavior against the criteria of whether it produces harm or not, I’m able to live without the regrets unskillful actions cause. And from there, I’m one step closer to the next rung of the ladder: loving-kindness.