WITH ADDICTION, HOW DO WE TRANSFORM DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION, AND ANXIETY?

A dad wrote: Through my son’s addiction, I learned to be forgiving and not disappointed, I learned to be loving and not frustrated, I learned to be patient and not anxious. Our children find recovery in their own way and in their own time.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I never quit loving him, but I certainly was disappointed and anxious. I was also cloaked in deep fear and worry. I’m sure my son felt my emotions and, probably, registered them as rejection.

Today’s Promise to consider: We want our children to be safe, healthy, and happy, but addiction overwhelms with fear, disappointment, and frustration. The father who wrote learned how to transform his negative feelings into gestures of love, forgiveness, and patience. Isn’t that what all our children deserve, especially those who are suffering from the disease of addiction? As hard as it can be, today and tomorrow, and tomorrow again, let us choose love.

 

 

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.

 

I TRIED EVERYTHING, AND THEN I SURRENDERED

A mom wrote to me: I tried everything humanly possible to save my son. And then I let go. I have so much love and gratitude for the peace I am now experiencing. I have no illusions for tomorrow. I went to three funerals of young people in ten days.

My reflection: I, too, tried countless ways to stop my son’s addiction. I dragged him to therapists, forced him into treatment centers, paid his bills, and tracked him down whenever he couldn’t be found. After fourteen years of attempting to control my son’s disease, I was forced to surrender.

Today’s Promise to consider: When I finally acknowledged that the power to stop my son’s addiction was outside my control, I was able to let go with love. As sobering as it was to admit my powerlessness, it was crucial for me to realize that no matter how much of myself I poured into his illness, the choice to stop was his alone.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.