HOW DO WE FORGIVE?

A dad wrote: I have worked so hard on forgiveness. I have prayed for His Spirit to grant me the gift of forgiveness. I must somehow still be resistant. I sometimes, in prayer, feel I have forgiven, then the past comes back to haunt me and the anger and remembrance of betrayal returns and I am back where I do not want to be. Share with me, how do you forgive and stay in forgiveness?

My reflection: The Big Book tells us that resentments are toxic in the lives of recovering addicts. I think that’s also true for those of us who loved them. Was I resentful and unforgiving when my son was in active addiction? Yes. Did I try to blame others for the pain addiction caused? Yes. Did my resentments help my son? No. Did it help my family? No. Did it help me? No.

Before my mother died, she said, “Forgiveness comes in waves.”

Today’s Promise to consider: I don’t have a personal process for forgiving, but I do know that the release of resentment is central to my wellbeing. It’s easy to ruminate on past hurts, but when I consider the pain and suffering of the other person, it’s sometimes easier to let go of my discomfort. As one mom wrote, “It’s anger that keeps us hostage.” If you have a successful process to forgive, please let us know. We can help each other.

WE MUST BREAK THE STIGMA AND SHAME OF ADDICTION

A mom wrote to me: We must break the stigma and shame in order to bring addiction out of the shadows. We need to shine light into our deepest wounds in order to heal. Silence is violence against the truth. Love is the answer.

My reflection: Addiction thrives on pain and chaos. I spent fourteen years trapped in a pattern of fear, defending my heart, trying to protect my family, keeping the secret, and terrified that my son would die. Only when I quit ruminating and began to open up in my support group did the healing begin.  

Today’s Promise: The stigma and shame of addiction keep us locked in silence and secrets. Our minds work overtime as we create scenarios about what might happen because we hope that by anticipating the outcome we will be better prepared for the future. We must not allow ourselves to drown in this quicksand of worry. Our suffering loved ones are already trapped in darkness. Let us release ourselves from the grip of fear. Today, let us raise our voices in hope and love.

BE A BEACON OF LIGHT FOR OUR CHILDREN

A mom wrote to me: Just as our children need to learn how to live in recovery, so do we. We can’t look back, and we must look forward. Using the tools we now have, let us be a beacon of light so our children know where we are when they’re ready.

My reflection: Placing a burning candle in the window is a tradition that dates back to colonial times as a sign that says you’re welcome here, we’re waiting for you.When my son was in active addiction, I wanted him to know that home was waiting for him when he was ready to live in the solution.

Today’s Promise to consider: We can be a beacon of light for our children. When they are drowning in the waves of addiction, they are lost to themselves and to us. Their life is focused on the chase of the high, and there is nothing but darkness. We can stand as a light that says, “When you are ready, your family and life are waiting for you.” We want our children to glow in the world, but maybe we need to teach them how by our example.

NEVER GIVE UP

A mom wrote to me: I only know that to keep on loving is something one never regrets. I only know that hope and prayer work, even if prayers are not answered as we hope. I only know that finding a community can help us do more than survive. There we can find courage when we are most afraid, and there we can find a kind of grace and peace when we most need it.

My reflection: Addiction brings us to our knees, but we can (and must) find the strength to go forward. We have a choice: We can either crumble, and sometimes we do, or we can gather ourselves up and push forward. My dad used to tell me, “Daughter, with your children there is no quit.”

Today’s Promise to consider: There is no perfect family. Our closest relationships are inevitably painful, messy, and hard. The quality of family doesn’t hinge on living a problem-free existence, but rather on how we handle the tough issues. We can use these challenges to strengthen our faith, set boundaries, and learn to communicate with compassion and loving-kindness. Pain can be the bearer of many lessons.

ADDICTION AND SORROW

Therapist Francis Weller writes: Grief and loss touch us all, arriving at our door in many ways. It comes swirling on the winds of divorce, the death of someone dear, as an illness that alters the course of a life. Left unattended, these sorrows can seep underground, darkening our days. This requires finding meaningful ways to speak of sorrow. It requires that we take up an apprenticeship with sorrow. Learning to welcome, hold, and metabolize sorrow is the work of a lifetime.

Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, 2015

My reflection: Addiction is laden with grief. Even though my son is healthy today, I still feel grief – grief for our many years of suffering, grief for the burden he yet carries, grief for families still caught in addiction’s grasp.

Today’s Promise to consider: Many of us know grief intimately as we have suffered intense trauma and even the loss of loved ones. Instead of anesthetizing our grief, let us open our hearts to it. Let us acknowledge it, feel it, share it within our recovering communities, and attend to it. Let us hold it with tenderness and respect. Today, let us invite the healing balm of attention to comfort us and guide us to hope.

ADDICTION IS ISOLATION; RECOVERY IS CONNECTION

Tara Brach told this story: In the first week of life of a set of twins, each one was isolated in her respective incubator. One was not expected to live. A hospital nurse fought against the rules and placed both babies in one incubator. When they were together, the healthier of the two threw an arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. The smaller baby’s heart rate stabilized and her temperature rose to normal. Through connection and love, the weaker twin went on to live and thrive.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, the standard advice for parents was tough love. Although there were some aspects of merit to this thought, in Italy I learned a more effective approach for our family: “Stay Close. Don’t abandon him, but stay out of the chaos of his addiction.” By staying close, my son knew my boundaries, yet he also felt connected. He knew he was not alone in his battle.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today, let us remember Rumi’s words:

Through love all that is bitter will be sweet. 

Through love all that is copper will be gold.

Through love all dregs will become wine.

Through love all pain will turn to medicine. 

Let us join together in prayer that love will be the healing energy in our suffering ones’ lives.

THREE OUT OF THREE: ADDICTION DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE  

A mother wrote to me: I have three children all touched by addiction: A daughter who is doing well in an extended-care program, a son who has been in and out of several rehabs and is currently in jail, and another child who was recently arrested while in a drunken rage for fighting. We are a “normal” family, kids raised in the Church with both parents who were very involved and loving. 

My reflection: How much pain must a parent carry? This mother reminds us that addiction is a disease. It happens in all types of families – spiritual or not, loving or not, and supportive or not. It is an illness and, maybe, no other explanation is necessary.

Today’s Promise to consider: Society often stereotypes those suffering from addiction as coming from neglectful, broken, uneducated, or economically disadvantaged families. Society is wrong. Addiction touches people regardless of wealth, religious affiliation, or family solidarity. Today, let us reach out a hand to another. Let us bring addiction out of the shadows. Society might be mistaken, but we know better.

 

IT’S EASY TO JUDGE…UNTIL ADDICTION ENTERS YOUR HOME

Dr. MacAfee once told me: I was often called into court to be an expert witness about addiction. My goal was not to defend anyone, but to share my knowledge and years of experience about the disease and treatment. Usually the judges and attorneys regarded me distantly, even hostilely. But when their child or loved one was in trouble with drugs or alcohol, I was the first person they called.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I felt judged by others, probably because I judged myself harshly for somehow ‘allowing’ addiction to enter our home. Since then, I’ve learned that our brains make involuntary, non-conscious criticisms of people before we even process who they are or what they look like. Judgment is an automatic reflex.

Today’s Promise to consider: Our brains are hard wired to make fast and effortless judgments. It’s one of the ways we keep ourselves safe, but it also can give us faulty information. Those who suffer from addiction are often automatically judged in the most negative of ways, even when the ‘judger’ knows nothing about the situation. We, who love those who suffer, are often the recipients of unsolicited critiques. Today, let us give the gift to others of not judging. Let us try to harness our brain’s automatic reaction. Let us lead with compassion.

DOES OUR RECOVERY AFFECT THEIR RECOVERY?

A dad wrote to me: I sincerely believe that finding my own personal recovery allowed my son to find his own.

This dad’s comment is complimented by Beverly Conyers, who wrote in MomPowerIn the process of taking better care of my own life, my relationship with my daughter gradually improved. And when conflict with me was no longer a convenient excuse for her problems, she was left face-to-face with the consequences of her own choices. That was the beginning of her recovery. 

My reflection: For years, my son’s recovery seemed to be more important to me than it was to him, especially at the beginning, when he lived as he wanted while I immersed myself in fixing his problems. I needed to let go. He needed to confront the consequences of his lifestyle.

Today’s Promise to consider: Is it possible that by taking care of ourselves and working on our own wellness that our suffering loved ones will, eventually, do the same? Is it possible that by establishing firm boundaries that our loved ones will respect our stance? Is it possible that by staying close but out of the chaos of their addiction that our loved ones might decide to take control of their lives? For many of us, the answers are yes.

“SOMEONE I LOVED ONCE GAVE ME A BOX FULL OF DARKNESS” …  ADDICTION

The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

My reflection: The words ‘love’ and ‘darkness’ are usually contradictory. Most often love is associated with words of light, but shadows take over our world when addiction enters our family.

Today’s Promise to consider: My son, a recovering heroin addict, once gave me a box full of darkness. The poet Mary Oliver was correct that it took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. The suffering taught me compassion; the sleepless nights taught me to appreciate the sunlight; the near deaths taught me to cherish every breath; and the loneliness taught me to reach out my hand to another. No one wants an addiction, no one wants darkness, but with love we can learn to open our hearts to receive the gifts it offers.