ADDICTION CAN MAKE US STRONGER 

My son and I had a conversation about how families survive trauma, particularly with addiction: The dynamics around addiction are complicated and personal to each family. Addiction brings us to our knees, but we don’t have to collapse. Every family trauma – including things like infidelity, financial ruin, legal issues, and death – severely tests us. We have a choice: we can either crumble (which is sometimes the best response in moments of deep pain), or we can gather ourselves up, lean into our community, and push forward. My dad used to tell me, “Daughter, with your children there is no quit.” Families suffering from addiction have the choice to quit, but we also have the choice to prevail. Addiction and other traumas can make us stronger.

My reflection: There is no perfect family. Relationships are inevitably messy, hard, and hurtful. Pain is a bearer of many lessons.

Today’s Promise to consider: Family traumas happen, and every family has them. Addiction is particularly difficult because it wants to suffocate us and take our loved ones away from us, and themselves. But we can survive. We can use these challenges to strengthen our faith, set boundaries, and learn to communicate with compassion. The quality of the family doesn’t depend on living a problem-free existence. It depends on how we navigate life’s many hard issues.

 

THE HEALING POWER OF STORY

Barry Lopez wrote: Remember on this one thing…The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.

My reflection: I needed to hear other parents tell their stories about addiction. I needed to hear about their suffering and heartaches, but also about their hope and love. That’s one of the main reasons why Al-Anon meetings were so important to me. 

Today’s Promise to consider: There are few things more comforting than a moving story. When I was at my lowest point with my son’s addiction chaos, the stories of other parents connected me to them and helped me to feel less alone. I listened intently to how they handled their sadness, hardships, and joys. Their words helped me to understand and think about my own experiences, often giving the courage to move forward. Let’s continue to share our stories of both pain and joy.

ADDICTION TAUGHT ME THAT ANSWERS AREN’T AS IMPORTANT AS LOVE

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 that I don’t need to give instant answers. I can take time to breathe, keep my wits about me, and 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: 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 the trauma of addiction. Through my son’s fourteen-year struggle, my biggest breakthrough arrived in two words: Stay Close. For me this meant that I didn’t have to jump every time he called with a problem, and I didn’t have to provide answers every time he demanded one, but I could stay close and out of the chaos of his life. Today, I use this Stay Close mantra with all my loved ones.

WE ARE NOT ALONE

A mother wrote to me:I’ve found strength in a very close Nar-Anon group and continue to attend meetings regularly. My husband, my son’s sister, and I are here for him when HE is ready to change. We know we can’t force him to change – we’ve tried. After three failed rehab attempts, we have nothing else to give him, only love.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee says that addiction takes the healthiest parts of love and smashes them into worry, helplessness, and hopelessness. Waiting for our addicted child to return to us is like walking through hell, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering just as we are.

Today’s Promise: In family groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, we discover that we are not alone. We find other families who understand our pain, heartache, and powerlessness. Today, let us not isolate ourselves. Let us take the step to accept help from other parents who know our pain. Today, we’ll reach out our hand and trust that someone will reach back.

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.

 

AL-ANON AND FAMILY SUPPORT GROUPS: WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER

Family and friends

A mother wrote to me: I’ve been to many Al-Anon meetings and they were all terrible experiences. I came away feeling worse and even more hopeless. I know it takes a good fit, but I’ve never found one. Maybe I’m too old for the BS. I have no faith in therapy. I went to a counselor myself and it was a waste of time. A person’s mind is his own and no one else can do anything about it. 

My reflection: I went to three Al-Anon meetings before I found one where I felt comfortable. During the first two, I wept, buried my head in my lap, and never said a word. I left those meetings confused and defeated.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction wants to keep us consumed with feelings of shame and stigma, while it flourishes in the silence. When I finally found my home group, I knew I was surrounded by support and compassion, and I was safe to be vulnerable. Al-Anon became my lifeline. Continuing to reach out a hand for help takes courage, but today, I’ll remember that we’re stronger together.

 

MANIPULATIVE BEHAVIOR IS PART OF ADDICTION

A young woman in recovery told me: I played my mother and grandmother against each other. For example, when I had a fight with one, I’d go to the other. It’s not nice to say, but I used them. I recognized the moment they were weak, and I saw clearly how I could use their love for me to my advantage. It was totally deliberate and this helped keep my addiction alive. I’m sorry for it now.

My reflection: Those in active addiction will do anything to keep using. If my son couldn’t get what he wanted from me, there were many others – family and non-family members – to whom he would go for help. His manipulations and stories were smart, creative, and effective.

Today’s Promise to consider: People suffering from addiction live a life of desperation and deceit. The user will do anything to prop up her addiction. As a result, manipulation of family and friends is common, and those who love addicts are frequently betrayed in the process. Today, I’ll open my eyes and recognize the behaviors. I’ll communicate honestly with those in my loved one’s circle and work with them to establish firm boundaries.

JUST KEEP LOVING

Just keep loving is all I want to say. Even when it seems impossible. Loving yourself enough to know the boundaries to keep and loving our children enough to know when to let go. Hope always and ever. Love is the first response.

My reflection: Through my son’s fourteen-year addiction, there were times when I did not want to keep loving – him or myself. Loving was too painful because when you love someone, you’re compelled to fix and help. I was totally powerless against the addiction. And how could I love myself, when my son was spiraling downward?

Today’s Promise to consider: I learned through Jeff’s long-term addiction that I could love my son – the one who was still alive and under the drugs – while hating the addiction. This dichotomy provided the mental and heart boundaries that allowed me to see the son I would never quit loving, while also acknowledging the consequences of his addiction.

THE BRAIN ON DRUGS

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE recently published an article that reported: Addiction is a brain disease, “not a choice, not a personality flaw, not a moral failing,” said Dr. Jody Glance, an addiction specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Researchers have found that a key part of what makes opioid addiction so entrenched and difficult to quit is the way the drug changes the brain.

When you sense something pleasurable, the brain releases a natural chemical called dopamine that trains the body to remember, “I liked that, let’s do it again.” That’s the brain’s reward system, and opioids can hijack it by triggering a surge of dopamine larger than nature ever could. Repeated opioid use overloads circuits in multiple brain regions. At the same time, the brain gradually releases less dopamine in response to other things the person once found pleasurable. Eventually they seek more of the drug not to get high, but to avoid constantly feeling low.

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I didn’t know anything about the affect of opiates on the brain. It was all so new and overwhelming to me. He was prescribed medication, including methadone and buprenorphine, but he abused everything he came into contact with. Despite my best efforts to find good treatment for my son, I needed additional education and other options.

Today’s Promise to consider: Drug use is not a personal affront to those they love, but it is an addict in pursuit of dopamine stimulation  – and eventually, regulation. Brain research shows that addiction seizes the brain and sends the user down a path that’s out of his control. Today, I commit to continuing to educate myself about current addiction and recovery research. I pray for wisdom – for son, myself, and the therapeutic community.

 

WE WANT TO BELIEVE THE STORIES THEY TELL

A mother wrote to me: I wanted to believe the stories of why my son needed money; I wanted to help. Time after time we gave him another chance; we wanted to believe he could do this. In time, he got out of his fourth rehab, did well for a year, and then relapsed. He was so much worse than ever before. I know I prolonged his addiction out of love. It’s true – I was an enabler, but I could not let go.

My reflection: The Big Book of AA makes a clear promise: If the person doesn’t achieve recovery, he or she will find “jails, institutions or death.” We want to believe our loved ones and the stories they tell – they’re our children and spouses and family members, who were once trustworthy and dependable. Addiction corrupts that.

Today’s Promise: While trust is essential, I must also remember that addiction distorts the truth. As Dr. MacAfee says, “There’s only room for one in an addiction.” My loved one must choose to fight, and I must get out of the way.