“LOVE AND DETACH…STAY CLOSE…SO HARD”

A mom wrote to me, My son was living at home, staying off drugs, working a job, and exercising, but he’s using again. He left our home today. With a heavy heart, I told him I loved him. This will be our last time of letting him live with us. Now, if he wants recovery, he needs to be the change. Love and detach…stay close…..so hard. We offered him treatment, but he’s not ready. My prayer is that he stays safe. God, give me the strength to accept this.

My reflection: Loving and detaching. I struggled with this dichotomy for years. How could I love my son and detach at the same time? But in the end, it was the blending of these two that made the difference in both my life and my son’s.

Today’s Promise to consider: Dealing with addiction is counterintuitive. It took me fourteen years of my son’s heroin addiction to learn to stay close, but out of the chaos. I answered his calls and texts, but I gave him no money or resources that would enable his behavior. I realized that living in sobriety could not be imposed on him.  He had to make the decision to change his life, while I needed to accept, surrender, and pray for strength, for both of us.

WHY MY CHILD?

A mother wrote to me: My husband and I were always with our kids, but it seems to me that the kids who were on their own did better. Many of our neighborhood children grew up with our kids, and they are all very successful. How did mine turn out to be addicted to drugs?

My reflection: Many times, I asked myself this same question, “Why my child?” Why our family? For years, I felt shame and guilt, until I learned that self-blame was unconstructive.

Today’s Promise to consider: The Big Book of AA states that drugs are ‘similar to an allergy.’ Some people have it; some people don’t. After years of trying to answer the question, Why my child?, I realized that the why didn’t matter. My son had it, and I had to educate myself. I became a student in the halls of Al-Anon, with Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, and with my son himself.  In time, I learned how to be compassionate, but with boundaries. For me, education was the key.

MY CHILD, YOU ARE BELOVED

A friend and mother, who has lived with the consequences of addiction, sent me this song: When I listened to it, I was deeply moved. It’s as if the song was written for our suffering loved ones:

You’ve owned your fear and all your self-loathing.  

You’ve owned the voices inside of your head.

You’ve owned the shame and reproach of your failure.

It’s time to own your belovedness.

 

You’ve owned your past and how it’s defined you.

You’ve owned everything everybody else says…

 

You’ve owned the mess you see in the mirror.

You’ve owned the lies that you’re just not enough.

You’ve been so blinded by all you’re comparing.

It’s time to own your belovedness.

 

Today’s Promise to consider: Our loved ones, who are suffering and have suffered from addiction’s grasp, have lived with feelings of self-loathing, shame, and reproach. What do they see when they look in the mirror? Do they see their value? Whether this song represents a heavenly father, a higher power, or a mother singing to her child, let us pray that all our children feel beloved.

 

THE PRISON OF ADDICTION

A mother wrote to me: My son walked out of his fourth rehab, and in November of last year my husband kicked him out of our house, again. I couldn’t help but mourn. His addiction has claimed him for five years. His drug addiction has had such a big impact on our lives. I want to see him whole and clean and well again, but it’s as if he’s in his own prison.

My reflection: Addiction affects all of us. Parents argue, siblings are confused and angry, and the addict is in his own world, chasing his next fix. Mothers cry until we have no tears left, and fathers watch helplessly, powerless to protect their families from the beast that is addiction. The entire family is immersed in sadness and trauma.

Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction thrives on chaos and pain. Not only does the immediate family suffer, but addiction spirals out to affect aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, and friends. As families, we are powerless to stop addiction, but we can remain faithful and compassionate, while maintaining boundaries to keep ourselves safe. Let us stay close to our loved ones and our support groups. Let us keep faith and hope alive.

SET AN INTENTION: DO NO HARM

From the Book of Joy: I asked the Dalai Lama what it was like to wake up with joy, and he shared his experience each morning: “I think if you are an intensely religious believer, as soon as you wake up, you thank God for another day. And you try to do God’s will. For a nontheist like myself, but who is Buddhist, as soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha’s teaching: the importance of kindness and compassion, wishing something good for others, or at least to reduce their suffering. Then I remember that everything is interrelated, so I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others.” 

My reflection: For years now the idea of loving-kindness has resonated with me, although when my son was in active addiction, this concept was not even on my radar. Every day was survival, a nonstop exercise in trying not to drown under the weight of all our problems.

Today’s Promise to considerKindness and compassion are lofty goals, especially when we’re battling the tidal waves of addiction in the family. Perhaps the best we can do some days is set an intention to ‘do no harm.’ For me, that requires constant presence of mind and body. My first reaction is not always a loving one, but if I’m able to observe my behavior against the criteria of whether it produces harm or not, I’m able to live without the regrets unskillful actions cause. And from there, I’m one step closer to the next rung of the ladder: loving-kindness.

LET’S PREPARE OUR HEARTS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Tara Brach, one of my favorite Buddhist practitioners, recently wrote, ‘While the holidays can be times of loving celebration, they can also highlight relational conflicts and challenges.’ Old patterns of behavior kick in, and we can get sabotaged by our own controlling natures. In her podcast, she offers ideas about how to bring loving kindness to ourselves and others. She posits, ‘We need to make space for us imperfect humans.’

My reflection: During my son’s many years of active addiction, I took no time to prepare my heart for the holidays. I was more like a train on an errant track, rushing to get through the holidays in one piece. Overwhelmed with emotions and fears, I plowed through each day.

Today’s Promise to consider: The holidays can be times of extreme stress for all families, and especially when addiction is involved. Let us prepare our hearts for the holidays and not place unreasonable expectations on ourselves or others. Life is limited and we aren’t guaranteed next year, so let’s make an intention – now and not in the New Year – to celebrate and be present for family and friends. As Tara says, ‘We are all imperfect. Let us connect with the gold inside us.’

Maya Angelou wrote:  

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,

People will forget what you did,

But people will never forget how you made them feel.

BOMBARD THE HEAVENS

A mother wrote to me: I wonder how many prayers we have lifted up as parents of addicted children? And how many prayers others have lifted up on our behalf in an effort to do something, anything to support our both tender and strong parent hearts. How many prayers are lifted up, especially during those times when there is no clear answer to, “What do I do?”

My reflection: When I was too beaten up by addiction’s blows even to pray, my mother prayed. I remember how she would tell me, “I put you on our church’s prayer list. My prayer group will flood the heavens for you and my grandson.” This gave me comfort and reminded me how much strength comes to us through those who never hesitate to ‘pray us along.’

Today’s Promise to consider: Whether I believe in the power of prayer or not, today I will send forth into the universe positive thoughts and energy for my loved one and all those who are suffering. I will bombard the heavens with requests for love and strength.

WHY DO WE FORGIVE?

Years ago, a young man told a story that I will never forget: When I was a child, I was sexually abused repeatedly by my uncle. Just saying these words makes my stomach ache and my ears burn. I hated him – he ruined my life and I’ve struggled with this all my life. When my father died, my uncle came to the viewing. When I looked at him, all I could see what a mangy, scared, grey and ugly dog. He didn’t speak to me, and I didn’t speak to him, but he knew that I knew what he had done all those years. I’m talking about it now because I have to. I have to let it go, let the anger and hatred go, for myself. It has to be an act of my will. I won’t forget what he did, but I have to forgive him so I can move forward with my life. I need to set myself free. 

My reaction: My heart ached as I listened to this young man, and my heart aches still today. The abuse is repulsive, and I haven’t been able to forget his sadness and despair. He will never erase the offense, but forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. I was humbled to be a witness to his decision to set himself free.

Today’s Promise to consider: There are traumas that debilitate us for a long time. The body remembers intense pain, and we harbor feelings of anger, sadness, shame, and confusion. But instead of being consumed by bitterness, forgiving those who hurt us allows us to feel a sense of serenity and liberty. Today, I will turn my will toward love. I will pray for a peace that sets me free.

 

“MY MOM WRAPPED HER ARMS AROUND ME”

A young man in recovery wrote to me: My mom told me that reading the book STAY CLOSE was very difficult for her, but that she recognized her own life throughout the story. When she told me this, our conversation was remarkable – the tone of her voice and the way she spoke to me. She seemed calm and, when I said something funny, she laughed. I cannot tell you how long it has been since my mother actually listened to my voice and listened to what I was saying. Something magical happened. She saw me as her son again. She looked me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, she was able to stop giving me one-armed, sideways hugs, and instead she wrapped both arms around me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

My reflection: When we open our hearts and listen deeply to our suffering loved ones, we make room for magic to happen. Stories about addiction often allow for that by reminding us that we’re part of a large and worldwide community of others who know our struggles and pain.

Today’s Promise: Those brave souls in recovery desperately want to ‘be seen’ by those they love. They need to feel a connection, especially with their families and, even more so, with their mothers. The young boy above eventually relapsed and passed away, but he left this earth knowing that his mom, “saw me as her son again.” God bless him.

 

 

LISTENING IS HELPFUL; JUDGING IS NOT

A mom wrote to me: My dad just passed, and my mother was having some dear neighborhood friends at her home after the service. I almost avoided the gathering because I didn’t want to be asked how my sons were doing and have to pretend all was well. I went and, while I was there, one of his dearest friends asked me how I was doing with my boys. I answered honestly, “Not the best.” He replied with kindness, “I’m sorry. I see you are struggling.” He understood and didn’t judge me. I was blessed to have shared a few minutes with him. 

My personal reaction: There were many times I lied about my son’s struggles and our family problems by responding, “We’re fine. Our family is in good shape.” After many years of embarrassment and shame, I finally decided to respond honestly.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s such a relief when we feel safe enough to share our feelings without fear of retribution or judgment. This is one of the reasons I find Al-Anon meetings sacred because people understand my heartache. Today, I will reciprocate that respect by listening to others with my total presence. We each have the right to respond to questions with our truths, and I will be there for them, just as others were there for me.