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.

HELP THROUGH ADDICTION: WE ARE NOT ALONE

A mother wrote to me: When we learned that our 19-year-old son was addicted to heroin, I remember praying and searching for other parents who would truly understand. All I really wanted was to talk with another parent – especially a mother – who could really understand the brokenness in that special bond between a son and mother. Al-Anon meetings helped, and our good God led me to a meeting made up mostly of parents of addicted children. 

My reflection: Addiction floods us with emotion and confusion, and we want to command the addiction to go away, order it into the pit of the earth where it belongs. When I was lost in addiction’s grasp, other parents, who walked in my shoes, helped me find my way to sanity, serenity, and faith.  

Today’s Promise to consider: After an Al-Anon meeting, I wrote, “I found a peace that has eluded me. My soul quieted there, in the basement of a church. I heard such pain from others, and I listened intently to how they are struggling to survive. Maybe I can find strength and comfort in Al-Anon, and ultimately in myself.” Today, I will open myself and my story to other parents of addicted children. I know that I am not alone.

TWO SIDES OF ADDICTION: MOTHER AND SON

Not many people know that my son helps me with every post about addiction. I want to acknowledge his contributions over these many years.

Dr. MacAfee told me that, as a parent, I can speak about addiction, but that Jeff speaks from addiction. The difference is huge.

As a mom, I know only my walk, my suffering, and my desperate attempts to save my son during his fourteen-year journey. I learned that, for us, STAY CLOSE made all the difference.

Jeff knows his walk and how he found recovery. Only he knows his suffering. Only he knows his desperation. Only he knows what it feels like to live on the streets, be locked up in jails, and to lose all sense of dignity and hope.

Thanks, Jeff, for your help, support, compassion, and care all these years. Thanks for reaching out a hand to help others. Thanks for your service.

My son and I walk together today, but only he and his Higher Power found recovery.

To all recovering addicts, we need your voice in order to understand addiction. You inspire us.

BE SENSITIVE TO WHAT WE SAY

A friend of mine wrote: With addiction, we need to be cautious not to malign the reputation of our loved one by confessing their troubles, even when they cause us trouble. Although their behavior may sometimes be unacceptable, I recognize that they’re deep in the clutches of their disease.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I operated from a space of hurt, confusion, and anger. In that anger, I often said things that maligned his character and cut deep wounds. My friend’s words flooded me with memories, many I wish I could erase.

Today’s Promise to consider: These wise words hit me hard. How many times I didn’t protect my son with my speech. When my anger took hold, nothing good came from it. I’m so sorry, Jeff. Today, I stand tall for my son.

“They can make their lips say anything”

A friend told me that her partner often said these words above. Even through his depression and addiction, he was well aware that people said things to him that were insincere. There were times when a family member said, “I love you. I’m here for you,” but they never contacted him again.

My reflection: Toward the end of my son’s years in active addiction, I finally learned that his words were far less important than his behavior. Words come easily, especially to those enmeshed in addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” perennially rings true. Addicts lie in order to keep the fiction of their disease, “I’m OK, Mom. I haven’t used in a month.” For me, I often chose not to confront my son with the truth of what I thought. This only made me resentful, while allowing him to continue the charade. Today, I’ll speak my truth with love and compassion. I trust that he’ll do the same.