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THREE OUT OF THREE: ADDICTION DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE  

A mother wrote to me: I have three children all touched by addiction: A daughter who is doing well in an extended-care program, a son who has been in and out of several rehabs and is currently in jail, and another child who was recently arrested while in a drunken rage for fighting. We are a “normal” family, kids raised in the Church with both parents who were very involved and loving. 

My reflection: How much pain must a parent carry? This mother reminds us that addiction is a disease. It happens in all types of families – spiritual or not, loving or not, and supportive or not. It is an illness and, maybe, no other explanation is necessary.

Today’s Promise to consider: Society often stereotypes those suffering from addiction as coming from neglectful, broken, uneducated, or economically disadvantaged families. Society is wrong. Addiction touches people regardless of wealth, religious affiliation, or family solidarity. Today, let us reach out a hand to another. Let us bring addiction out of the shadows. Society might be mistaken, but we know better.

 

IT’S EASY TO JUDGE…UNTIL ADDICTION ENTERS YOUR HOME

Dr. MacAfee once told me: I was often called into court to be an expert witness about addiction. My goal was not to defend anyone, but to share my knowledge and years of experience about the disease and treatment. Usually the judges and attorneys regarded me distantly, even hostilely. But when their child or loved one was in trouble with drugs or alcohol, I was the first person they called.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt judged by others, probably because I judged myself harshly for somehow ‘allowing’ addiction to enter our home. Since then, I’ve learned that our brains make involuntary, non-conscious criticisms of people before we even process who they are or what they look like. Judgment is an automatic reflex.

Today’s Promise to consider: Our brains are hard wired to make fast and effortless judgments. It’s one of the ways we keep ourselves safe, but it also can give us faulty information. Those who suffer from addiction are often automatically judged in the most negative of ways, even when the ‘judger’ knows nothing about the situation. We, who love those who suffer, are often the recipients of unsolicited critiques. Today, let us give the gift to others of not judging. Let us try to harness our brain’s automatic reaction. Let us lead with compassion.

DOES OUR RECOVERY AFFECT THEIR RECOVERY?

A dad wrote to me: I sincerely believe that finding my own personal recovery allowed my son to find his own.

This dad’s comment is complimented by Beverly Conyers, who wrote in MomPowerIn the process of taking better care of my own life, my relationship with my daughter gradually improved. And when conflict with me was no longer a convenient excuse for her problems, she was left face-to-face with the consequences of her own choices. That was the beginning of her recovery. 

My reflection: For years, my son’s recovery seemed to be more important to me than it was to him, especially at the beginning, when he lived as he wanted while I immersed myself in fixing his problems. I needed to let go. He needed to confront the consequences of his lifestyle.

Today’s Promise to consider: Is it possible that by taking care of ourselves and working on our own wellness that our suffering loved ones will, eventually, do the same? Is it possible that by establishing firm boundaries that our loved ones will respect our stance? Is it possible that by staying close but out of the chaos of their addiction that our loved ones might decide to take control of their lives? For many of us, the answers are yes.

ADDICTION: LIVING IN THE TRANCE OF FEAR 

Tara Brach writes: The emotion of fear often works overtime. Even when there is no immediate threat, our body may remain tight and on guard, our mind narrowed to focus on what might go wrong. When this happens, fear is no longer functioning to secure our survival. We are caught in the trance of fear and our moment-to-moment experience becomes bound in reactivity. We spend our time and energy defending our life rather than living it.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt fearful – both when he was on the streets and when he was in recovery. Would he make it this time? Would another relapse happen? Would he be arrested again? Would I get another dreaded phone call in the middle of the night? Would he live?

Today’s Promise to consider: Fear enters the very cells of our being, and we become anxious and reactive. Our minds race as we think about the possibilities of our child’s death or a life where they are permanently chained to drugs. Not only are we afraid, but so are our addicted loved ones. I know from my many conversations with those suffering from addiction’s grasp that they fear both living with and living without drugs. Craving, obsession, rejection, failure and shame conspire to keep them locked in place. Today, let us pray, find solidarity in our support groups, exercise, talk with a therapist – let us do whatever it takes to regain our lives. Would you share any helpful ways that you have found to deal with fear?

 

“SOMEONE I LOVED ONCE GAVE ME A BOX FULL OF DARKNESS” …  ADDICTION

The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

My reflection: The words ‘love’ and ‘darkness’ are usually contradictory. Most often love is associated with words of light, but shadows take over our world when addiction enters our family.

Today’s Promise to consider: My son, a recovering heroin addict, once gave me a box full of darkness. The poet Mary Oliver was correct that it took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. The suffering taught me compassion; the sleepless nights taught me to appreciate the sunlight; the near deaths taught me to cherish every breath; and the loneliness taught me to reach out my hand to another. No one wants an addiction, no one wants darkness, but with love we can learn to open our hearts to receive the gifts it offers.

 

ADDICTION THRIVES ON FEAR

Dr. MacAfee wrote, The addiction story is a microcosm of isolation, fear, terror, confusion, and secrecy turned inward on itself in a never-ending litany of questions: “what went wrong?” “who is to blame?” “why can’t you stop?” and “why are you doing this to us?”  This drama is far more prevalent than most people realize, until addiction enters our homes and becomes a part of our own stories.

My reflection: Fear is a powerful force. When my son was in active addiction, I lived in fear. It did me no good and, moreover, my health and family suffered as I lived the daily trauma of anxiety. Only when I surrendered, stayed close, but out of the chaos, and acted out of love did addiction’s grasp begin to lose its hold on me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Fear exacerbates addiction, but it also exacerbates our fear of the pandemic, contagion, protests on the streets, gun violence, and a myriad of issues happening today. Fear can either mobilize us into action, or it can take over and paralyze us. Today, let us meet fear with courage, with strength, and with a resolve to accept what is and to move forward with hope. Love conquers fear.

 

ATM OPIOID-DISPENSING KIOSKS

NCBI (The National Center for Biotechnology Information) reports that for safer drug supply there is a technology that can ‘dispense and monitor medications for opioid users. The My Safe machine is a biometric storage locker where people can pick up their prescribed medications.’ Wired magazine interviewed Dr. Mark Tyndall, a Harvard-trained doctor of infectious disease and epidemiology in Vancouver, who believes, “It’s the synthetic drugs – mainly fentanyl – that are cheaper, more potent, and easier to traffic. These substances have turned the drug supply toxic.” These machines allow pre-approved drug users to receive a prescription from their doctors to access safer opioids using a biometric scan of the veins in their hands. In just the last few years, dozens of ATM opioid-dispensing ATMS have opened from Vancouver to Toronto.

 

Discussion: This new harm reduction effort is part of a Canadian pilot program, and I am both intrigued and conflicted. I am intrigued because the war on drugs has not worked, overdose deaths are soaring, fentanyl is flooding the streets, and harm-reduction initiatives have been shown to save lives. I am also conflicted because this idea seems radical; however, needle exchange and injection sites seemed radical to me, too, when they were first introduced. Dr. Mark Tyndall believes that, “Criminalization is just a way to institutionalize stigma. Making drugs illegal does nothing to stop people from using them.” It is his belief the vending machines will help save lives.

 

For today, let us keep an open mind, educate ourselves, and learn about new harm-reduction initiatives. As for ATM opioid-dispensing kiosks, I’m still undecided, but I am committed to learning more.

 

 

 

 

ADDICTION THRIVES IN THE DARKNESS

A recovering alcoholic wrote to me: The illness of alcoholism thrives in the dark and isolating world of silence. Let the light in and the glimmer of hope be seen. We say in AA that ‘we are as sick as our secrets.’ We are lucky to be able to talk freely to our fellow members and this helps us manage to keep the darkness at bay.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I kept the silence for many years, allowing shame, guilt, and fear of judgment isolate me. I finally learned that the only way to fight addiction is to bring it into the open. When I was young, we didn’t talk about abortion or homosexuality or even breast cancer. Today, conversations about these topics bring us closer to understanding.

Today’s Promise to consider: Only by lifting addiction out of the shadows and into the light can we truly confront it. Today, let us learn about the disease, participate in support groups, and talk with professionals, other parents, and those courageous souls in recovery. In our pain, we will bond. In our stories, we will find hope. In our love, we will continue to believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADDICTION WANTS TO CONTROL OUR BEHAVIOR. DON’T LET IT.

My son said to me:  I heard an Al-Anon quote that I really liked: I’m not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my first action. To me, this means that the mind will react as it does. I don’t have control over its racing thoughts, but I do have control over my behavior in response to them.

My reflection: This saying reminded me of my son’s many years in active addiction when I felt compelled to respond immediately. When he’d call and make demands for money or to be bailed out of jail, I felt a grip in my heart to answer on the spot. It took me years to realize that even though my mind went into overdrive, I could give myself the dignity of time before making a decision.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction wants attention and our immediate response. It thrives on fear, chaos and disruption, but we don’t have to comply. When our minds begin to race with confusion, I will take the time to breathe and pray before I act. Today, I won’t allow addiction to dictate my behavior.

 

HOPE IS THE LIGHT THAT LETS LOVE IN

A mom wrote this poem:

Let us see
there is always hope
for healing
that light appears
in the
deepest darkest
night
let hope
love
kindness
lead us
may we
never give up
the fight
for it is a fight
to keep hope alive
but hoping on
is the only way
we who love
our struggling ones
survive.

 

What I wrote in Stay Close: Our ending is in the present, in Jeff’s day-to-day choosing of sobriety. Can there be celebration in the every day, in the commonplace events and rhythms of everyday life? For us, for all the families of addicts, for the addict himself, we think yes. Jeff finds hope in his daily choice of sobriety because each choice, one day at a time, signifies that he earns the right to choose again – and again, and again. There’s freedom in choice. This story is not a promise for tomorrow, but a celebration of today. Our story ends in hope because it ends in beginning.

“Never quit believing, OK, Momma?”

“I won’t quit believing, Jeff.”

Never.