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.

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