WHEN OUR CHILDREN ARE IN THE THROES OF ADDICTION, IT’S HARD TO TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES…BUT WE MUST

A mom wrote to me: Logically I can convince myself I have to let go and not enable my son. I know I can’t do it for him. Then at a stoplight, in the grocery store, or just sitting having coffee, it overcomes me. My tears, my fears, my anger, but most of all my loneliness for my son and all the plans and dreams he/we had. How can I keep pretending day in and out that I am fine? I feel like I’m in the middle of everyone’s anger, blame, confusion, heartache, and loss. How can I be “normal,“ strong, full of faith and hope, and calm for everyone, including me, when I can’t stop crying? How do I keep my marriage and family strong and healthy, and the rest of my life under control, when I am so afraid for my son?

My reflection: This mom’s words hit me hard. How well I remember the tears, fears, anger, and loneliness. How well I remember grieving for the lost dreams and broken promises of a united family. How well I remember trying to be normal, strong, and full of faith and hope, while inside I was dying and overwhelmed with fear for my son.

Today’s Promise to consider: Parents suffer profoundly when our children are in addiction’s grasp. The need to protect them and save them is baked into the marrow of our bones. We try to be strong for our family, and we try to keep hope and faith alive, but it’s hard. I know I can’t fix my child or force him to change his life, but I also know that I can’t force myself not to feel. Today, I will be compassionate with myself. I will be patient with myself. I will pray, go to Al-Anon and family meetings, talk with others, reach out my hand – I will take care of myself.

 

ADDICTION: ‘YOU DIDN’T CAUSE IT, YOU CAN’T CONTROL IT, AND YOU CANNOT CURE IT.’

A mother wrote to me: Addiction is a humbling experience – it brings us to our knees – literally! All we can do is get down on those knees and ask God to take care of our addict, “Let Go and Let God.” We learned this the hard way because before we came to the ‘rooms’ we thought we could control it. I remember my first meeting when a wonderful lady put her arm around me and said, “You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you cannot cure it.” This was immediately a relief to me. Up until then I believed I had failed my son and carried so much guilt for his addiction.

My reflection: During many of the years of my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I thought it was my fault because I must have failed him. Thoughts plagued me, “I should have spent more time at home,” “I worked too much,” “I punished him instead of listening,” and “If I had interceded earlier, the addiction wouldn’t have taken root.”

Today’s Promise to consider: We often blame ourselves for our loved one’s addiction, convinced we’ve done something wrong. In the rooms of Al-Anon, we learn that we didn’t cause it, we can’t control it, and we cannot cure it, but that we can contribute to it. Today, I will give up my feelings of guilt. I will learn how to support my child as HE works to find sobriety and to live in the solution.

WHAT DOES ‘LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD’ MEAN?

A mother wrote to me, ‘Letting go and letting God’ must have no strings attached, that is, any expectations of outcomes. Death is a very real outcome in our stories. I remember when a friend confronted me with this. Yes, it is terrifying, and I lived in fear and worry for many years, often reacting in unhealthy ways, trying to fix and control. When I realized nothing I did made my son’s situation any different and, in fact, often made things worse, I hit my bottom. I had to save myself. This did not mean I turned my back on my son. I talked with him often, but I stopped trying to determine if he was sober or if he was using. I realized that I was powerless over another human being, no matter what the situation.

My reflection: Although ‘Let go and let God’ was my mantra for years, I just couldn’t relinquish the thought that I could change my son. I was convinced that love was stronger than the pull of addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s natural that want to save our children. When they are suffering, we are quick to jump into the fire and rescue them. It took me fourteen years to admit that I was powerless over my son’s addiction. I fought the good fight, but in the end HE had to save himself. Today, I will stay close and love my child, but I will stay out of the chaos of his addiction.

ADDICTION: NO PLACE TO JUDGE 

A son of alcoholic parents wrote to me: My parents struggled with alcoholism for most of their adult lives. Alcohol was a curse on my family, but we learned to “stay close” and support one another. My parents were in pain. It is not our place to judge. 

My reflection: Addiction affects all of us: parents, sibling, child, cousin, teacher and coach. We all suffer, but many children, who live with addicted parents, carry scars from their earliest years, ones that can negatively affect relationships and last forever. I don’t know their walk, but I feel the heaviness of their pain.

Today’s Promise to consider: The young man who wrote to me grew up in a home where both his mom and dad battled alcoholism. Instead of ugliness and anger, he chooses to summon compassion. Not an easy approach to take, but today, let us all follow his example. No one has the right to judge how we should feel about our suffering loved ones.

SUBSTANCE DRIVES THE ADDICT 

Our beloved Dr. MacAfee wrote, This is the simple fact: substance drives the addict. Families grow ever more dysfunctional and stressed as they try in vain to cope with the disease’s devastating impact, but most often they move into deeper levels of confusion and denial. While underestimating the severity of addiction, they are shocked and outraged and overreact believing that, somehow, they should have known from the start.

My reflection: It took me years to learn this truth: substance drives the addict. I, too, was shocked and outraged, and totally incredulous that I lived in denial for so long. How was it possible?

Today’s Promise to consider: Our loved ones, who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, chase their next fix. Their obsession has nothing to do with us, but it is about their love affair with the drug. It took me years to realize that my son didn’t want to hurt me or our family. He knew he was destroying himself, but he couldn’t stop, until the pain became overwhelming and he made the decision to change his life.

A PRAYER

This is my daily prayer: Dear Lord, Remove the veils so I might see what is really happening and not be intoxicated by my stories and my fears. 

– Written by Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute, adult education center, focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, and creativity.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I was rooted in stories and fears. If I didn’t hear from him, I fell prey to contriving horrendous situations that I could imagine happening. When I did hear from him, I constructed other sequences of foreboding times ahead. Bottom line is that I was never present, and never at peace.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction plunges us into despair as we construct stories in our heads. We fear the worst: jails, hospitals, and death. Today, I’ll work to get out of my head and out of my stories. I’ll pray for my loved one. I’ll pray for her safety and ultimate recovery.

NO MUD, NO LOTUS

Tara Brach, Buddhist teacher and clinical psychologist, explained the Buddhist saying No Mud, No Lotus: We wake up through the circumstances of our life, and the gift is that when it gets really hard you have to dig very, very deep into your being to find some sense of where love and peace and freedom are. Freedom is our capacity to be openhearted in the midst of whatever is unfolding.

My reflection: I am no stranger to the feeling of mud. When my son was in active addiction, I wrote in my journal: The sun is trying to bake the sadness right out of me. Work your magic, Sun. Bake me thoroughly so I am happy – like blue and yellow instead of gray and the color of mud. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is like being buried alive, struggling to breathe, and aching for the chaos to end. I now realize that addiction taught me to be a better, more compassionate woman and mother. The mud cleared when I took responsibility for my own life and freedom. I found peace through prayer, in Al-Anon meetings, and by reaching out a hand to help another. Today, I realize that out of the mud grew the lotus.

Tara Brach on Mindfulness, Psychotherapy and Awakening by Deb Kory

 

 

ADDICTION DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE

libbys familyA mother wrote to me: My son is 27, in a halfway house, and on the methadone program. I don’t know how it happened. He taught himself to program in Linux as an eighth-grade student, before Linux was available on the market. He read books with thousands of pages on Solaris and other programs. As a precocious young man, at 18 he worked as a programmer and systems administrator. His skill brought in huge paychecks, which quickly became paychecks to drug dealers. 

My reflection: Our children are bright and capable, they’ve been loved and cared for, yet something happens and they lose themselves to drugs. My son was a leader, captain of the soccer team, and an A student. Addiction didn’t care about any of this.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It happens in solid families and broken families, in educated families and in uneducated families. Often we as parents don’t see the problem coming because our children are scholars and athletes. They are “good kids” to the outside world. Today, I will accept that addiction doesn’t discriminate.

WHY ONE CHILD AND NOT THE OTHER?

A mother wrote to me: My life has been filled with my son’s arrests and multiple treatment attempts. My hope and trust have been shattered, rebuilt, and bounced around like a ping-pong ball. I have two sons who are such opposites, one brave and reckless, the other cautious and intellectual. I have volumes of photos of beautiful little boys dressed like superheroes: Zorro, Leonardo, Wolverine, Knights in Shining Armor, and Ghost Busters. My oldest son received a medal for the Dare Anti-Drug program best in class honors, yet went on to try all the drugs they warned against.

My reflection: How does one child become an addict and the other does not? Why does one child contract an illness while the other is unscathed? Why did I have cancer and my brother did not?

Today’s Promise:  There is a large body of research that identifies addiction an illness. It might be lying dormant from the time our child is born, like depression or diabetes, but when it’s activated the ramifications are serious. We look at the pictures of our children when they were young and innocent and we wonder why. Maybe what we’re really asking is what could we have done to stop it. Today, I accept that my child has a problem with substance abuse. I’ll continue to stay close, find solace in my support group and counselors, and pray he comes home to himself.

 

 

 

 

ADDICTION REMAINS MY MOST INFLUENTIAL TEACHER

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 – in the end – to keep my wits about me, to breathe, and to 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: Before and 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 any trauma. Through my son’s fourteen-year addiction, my biggest breakthrough arrived in two words: Stay Close. For me this meant to love Jeff unflinchingly, but stay out of the chaos of his life. Today, I use that mantra with all of my loved ones.