WE MUST BREAK THE STIGMA AND SHAME OF ADDICTION

A mom wrote to me: We must break the stigma and shame in order to bring addiction out of the shadows. We need to shine light into our deepest wounds in order to heal. Silence is violence against the truth. Love is the answer.

My reflection: Addiction thrives on pain and chaos. I spent fourteen years trapped in a pattern of fear, defending my heart, trying to protect my family, keeping the secret, and terrified that my son would die. Only when I quit ruminating and began to open up in my support group did the healing begin.  

Today’s Promise: The stigma and shame of addiction keep us locked in silence and secrets. Our minds work overtime as we create scenarios about what might happen because we hope that by anticipating the outcome we will be better prepared for the future. We must not allow ourselves to drown in this quicksand of worry. Our suffering loved ones are already trapped in darkness. Let us release ourselves from the grip of fear. Today, let us raise our voices in hope and love.

NEVER GIVE UP

A mom wrote to me: I only know that to keep on loving is something one never regrets. I only know that hope and prayer work, even if prayers are not answered as we hope. I only know that finding a community can help us do more than survive. There we can find courage when we are most afraid, and there we can find a kind of grace and peace when we most need it.

My reflection: Addiction brings us to our knees, but we can (and must) find the strength to go forward. We have a choice: We can either crumble, and sometimes we do, or we can gather ourselves up and push forward. My dad used to tell me, “Daughter, with your children there is no quit.”

Today’s Promise to consider: There is no perfect family. Our closest relationships are inevitably painful, messy, and hard. The quality of family doesn’t hinge on living a problem-free existence, but rather on how we handle the tough issues. We can use these challenges to strengthen our faith, set boundaries, and learn to communicate with compassion and loving-kindness. Pain can be the bearer of many lessons.

ADDICTION: THERE IS NO BLAME

A mother wrote to her son:

As ashamed as you are
I, too, feel the same
But you or myself
Are not the ones to blame

My reflection: For most of my son’s addictive years, I wanted to blame someone, even myself. One of the major tenets of Al-Anon is: You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it; you didn’t make him a drug addict.

Today’s Promise to consider: I wanted to blame someone, anyone for my son’s addiction, even me. I’ve worn the yoke of guilt for years; better my fault than my son’s. It took me fourteen years and continual heartbreaks to realize – and accept – that blame is counterproductive. Today, let us put negative emotions behind us and move forward with hope and faith.

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.