RAYS OF RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF ADDICTION

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

My reflection: Was I resilient through my son’s fourteen-year addiction? Did I withstand adversity and bounce back from the chaos? Did I have an ‘inner light’ that shone through the darkness? For most of those years, the answer is NO, but for the last six months of his journey, the answer is YES.

Today’s Promise to consider: When events in our lives are going smoothly, it’s easy to sparkle and shine, but when things become chaotic and dark, it’s a challenge to keep our emotions steady. Prayer, faith, and hope can help us withstand the barrage of suffering. With addiction and every trauma, let us try our best to dig deep into our spirits to find a light from within. For me, the concept “Stay Close, but out of the chaos” made all the difference and provided a framework to be resilient.

 

 

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.

 

“I DON’T WANT TO BREATHE MY FEAR INTO YOU”

I talked with a friend, whose son is suffering from substance abuse, and I was moved by her words to her son. “I believe in you,” she told him, “Sure I’m afraid of what the future holds for you and our family, but I don’t want to breathe my fear into you. I want to give you hope.”

My reflection: There is a song lyric that I memorized years ago, “Fear can be catching worse than a cold.” Research indicates that emotions are ‘contagious,’ and that negative emotions transfer most easily. When my son was in active addiction, I’m sure he saw tension in my eyes and heard anxiety in my voice, more often than he saw or heard peace or compassion.

Today’s Promise: It’s difficult for our suffering loved ones to carry our anxieties, as well as their own. When they are in the throes of their addiction, they are struggling with obsession, shame, and the chase of the drug. When they are in early recovery, they face countless fears daily – how to get a job, how to pay rent, and how to go the next day without drugs. Today, I’ll try to bolster my serenity and breathe hope into my loved one.

LOVING WITHOUT RESCUING

A friend wrote to me: I think no one but an addict’s mother, family, and loved ones will ever truly understand how much courage, love, and suffering it takes to do nothing. Even staying close means the sacrifice of witnessing without taking the actions that blind love demands. How admirable and impossibly painful it is to love without attempting to rescue.

My reflection: When our children are young, we kiss their wounds and make things better. Addiction robs us of that ability, of that gift. As they get older, we can provide counsel and support.

Today’s Promise to consider: If love could have cured my son, he would have never suffered a fourteen-year heroin addiction. Sadly, love can’t eradicate an illness. Through that stretch of time, I stayed close and continued to love him, but I was powerless to change the course of his disease. The decision to live in the solution had to be made by him. Today, let us act with compassion. Let us find our boundary between loving and rescuing.

A TRAILER ANNOUNCING “THE WISDOM OF TRAUMA” featuring Dr. Gabor Maté

THE WISDOM OF TRAUMA is a seven-day series with Dr. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, who is a renowned addiction expert. His seminal book In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts draws on science and real-life stories to posit that all addictions originate in trauma and emotional loss. He says that “all is not well” in our society as supported by the rising numbers of addictions, overdoses, suicides, mass shootings, and child abuse. He calls for a more compassionate approach toward the issues facing humanity, especially addiction.

My reflection: Gabor’s movie airs between June 8 – 14, but this trailer touched me deeply. I asked my son to watch it, and he responded, “Maté seems so earnest and dedicated. You can tell he’s driven by a higher calling.” 

Today’s Promise to consider: Education is key to understanding. Today, we have many quality resources, including cutting-edge research in the field of addiction, harm-reduction advances, and help from psychologists, counselors, and those in recovery. Maté emphasizes compassion when dealing with our suffering loved ones. Today, let us  bring the healing light of compassion to trauma and the wounded human soul.

LOVE WILL NOT STOP AN ADDICTION

A mother wrote to me: My son got arrested and we hired a lawyer, bailed him out, but he kept using and stealing. He got arrested again and bailed himself out. We knew he was dying so we asked the lawyer to have the judge put him back in jail. We told our son we would not bail him out, that we loved him but would no longer let his addiction destroy the family. All the love in the world was not enough to make him stop.

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee once asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “More.” MacAfee explained, “His answer was not an attempt at humor. Instead, the group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going.”

Today’s Promise: My addicted loved one is trapped in the disease and, although it doesn’t always look like it, he loathes the life he is living. I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will Stay Close and pray that my suffering child makes the decision to ask for help and change his life.

UNDERNEATH IT ALL, THEIR HUMANITY REMAINS

A young girl, who relapsed with a crystal meth addiction, wrote to me: I am addicted again. It’s been two years since l relapsed. I am convinced everyone hates me. I constantly hear voices that tell me that they will kill me, I’m ugly, I’m disgusting or that l smell. Some days l have eight showers, and other days it takes all day to have one. Most days, I don’t trust the water out of the tap. I can’t talk with my mom – I’m afraid the stress will kill her. My lifelong friends and family have nothing to do with me. I abuse my mom day and night, and I hate myself for this.

My reflection: Even in the midst of writing this rambling and tragic message, this young girl is concerned about her mother, loves her, and doesn’t want to hurt her. She’s aware of the pain she’s causing and is remorseful, despite her ability to stop using.

Today’s Promise to consider: People suffering from the disease of addiction often act in uncaring, selfish, and manipulative ways. Under the haze of addiction, their behavior often belies their true nature, and their empathy and humanity seem nonexistent. But as long as they are alive, we must hold on to the fact that their core self exists underneath the disease. Today, I’ll continue to hope. I’ll continue to stand by my suffering loved one. I’ll stay close, but out of the chaos of her addiction.

THEY NEED SOMEONE TO BELIEVE IN THEM

A mom wrote to me, As I type this, our son just started methadone treatment, and our daughter is in a 28-day treatment program after being released from detox. I have to admit that I think it’s unfair that both our children are drug addicts, but I never lose faith. I keep praying for them to get well. It has been a nightmare of epic proportions and my husband and I are so very tired of living all that comes with dealing with addicted children. We just want them to get better and be able to lead healthy and productive lives.

My reflection: This mom is correct that addiction is a nightmare of epic proportions. I remember well the depression, the ache, and the suffering that our family endured during Jeff’s illness. I remember praying to find the silver bullet that would cure my son and stop the addiction. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.

Today’s Promise to consider: We all need someone to believe in us. Living in the solution takes monumental faith, courage, and determination from us and our suffering loved ones. While they try to find their way home to themselves, they need to lean on someone else’s strength. Positivity is a super power – one we can transmit. My son once asked me, “Never quit believing, OK, Mom?” I answered, “I won’t quit believing. Never.”

 

FEELING POWERLESS: ADDICTION AND LIFE

The pandemic, the continuing isolation, and the ever-present uncertainty have been increasingly difficult for me. Anxiety mounts, and I work to stay calm. I remember well these feelings of worry and concern. When my son was in active addiction, my mind was a whirlwind of thoughts of what could be and what I would do if the worst happened. This is a triggering place for me – a reminder that I need to take refuge in my spiritual practice.  

My reflection: I know well the feelings of stress that threaten to overtake me. I need to work to counteract these emotions. Addiction thrives on chaos.  

Today’s Promise to consider: When negative emotions engulf us, we need to implement the practices that are nourishing for our souls. For me, that means staying in gratitude, exercising (even when I don’t want to), writing, walking in nature, and meditating. We all have ‘go to’ routines that bring us some semblance of peace. Today, let us prioritize self care. Let us retrain our brain to stop ruminating, if even for a few minutes. Let us breathe and find our calm.

 

LOVE AND BOUNDARIES: A FINE LINE TO WALK

A mom wrote to me: When my son was little and struggled so much, I always seemed to be able to make it better. But addiction is not like that. The hard part for me was not staying close, but staying out of the chaos. And because the chaos of this disease is crazy making, it is so hard at times to not get sick from worry and fear. Depressed. Worn down.

Loving your child while learning about self-preservation and boundaries is so very hard. It is not natural to put oneself before a child, no matter how old, but giving in and giving money could have killed my son. Such a fine line to walk. Stay close means LOVE first, but stay out of the chaos. Take care of yourself. I send deepest prayers.

My reflection: During my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I struggled with the line between love and boundaries. When my son was in pain, of course I rushed in to help. It took me years to learn that my version of help wasn’t helping.

Today’s Promise to consider: The line between love and boundaries might be the most challenging part of addiction. We parents want to help; we want to make things better. The question is: Are we helping when we deny our children the need to face the consequences of their addiction? The answer to this question is individual. We each need to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves.