THE EXTRAORDINARY PAIN OF ADDICTION

Dr. MacAfee told me that the pain of addiction is the agony of being trapped. Using becomes critically important because it answers every problem in a person’s life … until it doesn’t. The use is the solution until it becomes handcuffs. The juxtaposition is baffling, and the addict literally has to fight for his life.

My reflection: I never fully understood the grasp that addiction had on my son. His drug use started as a party, and ended as a prison.

Today’s Promise: During the early years of my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I thought that he could simply turn off his drug use. I told him to stop and expected it to happen. In time and with education, I learned that it would take my son great pain and courage to change his life. Our loved ones are unable to see the impact their sickness has on those who care about them. Today, I’ll offer my loved one compassion.

LOVE WILL NOT STOP AN ADDICTION

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

My reflection: All the love in the world will not stop an addict from using because addiction is the antithesis of love. Dr. MacAfee tells of a group therapy session when he asked a young man, “What is your drug of choice?” The boy thought carefully and responded, “more.” MacAfee explained, “The group answered with a consensus of silence, affirmative head nods. No addict ever intends to end up where he’s really going. Substance drives the addict.”

Today’s Promise: Our children are trapped in the disease of addiction and, although it doesn’t always look like it, they loathe the life they are living. Today, I will not feel betrayed. I will not feel self-blame. I will stay close and pray that my child decides to stop, for himself. I will continue to love him through it all, by remaining close, but out of the chaos.

ADDICTION TAKES PRISONERS

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. I lay on my bed and didn’t move for two days. He’s presently in an outpatient methadone program. His addiction has claimed him for five years. Methadone is not the answer I wanted for my son. I want to see him whole, clean, and well again. His drug addiction has had such a big impact on our lives. 

My reflection: No matter how hard I tried to keep my feelings and suffering to myself, my angst seeped into all my relationships, including my family, friends, and work. Yes, addiction has a huge and undeniable impact on all our lives.

Today’s Promise: Addiction takes prisoners: Parents argue, mothers mourn, siblings are heartbroken and angry, while our suffering loved one is in his own world, chasing his next fix. The entire family spirals into chaos and despair, which is why we must learn to take care of ourselves. When we maintain boundaries, participate in our support groups, and lean on faith, we’re better versions of ourselves – and better able to support our family ecosystems. It all starts with reaching out our hands. We are not alone.

HOW INVOLVED SHOULD WE BE IN OUR CHILD’S RECOVERY?

A dad told me: When I visited my son at his halfway house, I asked him, “If you feel yourself slipping or getting into the danger zone, what should I say or do to you to help?” He answered, “Nothing. If I need help, I need to reach out to these people around me. They know my walk.” I felt relieved when he said this to me because I just want to be his dad.

My reflection: As parents, we put huge pressure on ourselves to solve our children’s problems and lift them out of the chaos drugs create. In reality, we’re not best suited for the job. Our children have entire communities in AA, NA, or other groups who know their walk and who are ready to reach out their hands.

Today’s Promise to consider: We, as parents, can offer our children our support, love, and words of wisdom. We can and should Stay Close. But we also must acknowledge that programs like AA and NA are more helpful in providing the help they need. There, they will find people who are also on the path of sobriety. Today, I’ll step aside and allow my child to be part of their recovering community. I’ll be ‘just his mom,’ or ‘just his dad,’ the person who will always love him.

FENTANYL TEST STRIPS: KEY TO SAVING LIVES

My son sent me this picture from a local coffee shop in Los Angeles. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 – 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl test strips can be used to detect the presence of fentanyl in a wide range of street drugs. You don’t need to be a medical professional to run the tests. The user simply dips the strip into water containing a small amount of drug residue and waits a few minutes for the result. The appearance of a single line signifies the presence of fentanyl, and two red lines signify its absence. The strips are inexpensive ($1 each), can be carried in a purse or wallet, and are an evidenced-based method of averting drug overdoses.

My reflection: Most fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths, according to the National Institutes of Health, are linked to fentanyl sold illegally for its opiate-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy  – with or without the user’s knowledge – to increase the drug’s impact, often to tragic effect.

Today’s Promise to consider: Overdose deaths involving Fentanyl have quadrupled. Street drugs are awash with it – sold alone as a powder or added to a wide range of other narcotics. The Fentanyl Test Strip Pilot Program was initiated in San Francisco in August 2017 in response to the rapid increase in Fentanyl deaths. What makes it so effective is that it puts control in users’ hands allowing them to test the toxicity of the drugs they’re about to ingest. Today, let’s not only pray that this program expands around the world, but let’s work to make the strips easily available and widely distributed. This can help save many, many lives.

 

 

WHEN DEALING WITH ADDICTION, EXHAUSTION INTERFERES WITH CLARITY

A mom wrote to me: With addiction, love never dies, but exhaustion can interfere with clarity and decisions. Big picture thinking makes for resilient, compassionate hearts.

My reflection: The words above resonate deeply with me. When my son was in active addiction, exhaustion took a mighty toll on all of us, even him.

Today’s Promise to consider: No matter how much we love someone, exhaustion can take over in the face of hardship. It’s our body’s natural reaction to all the chaos, trauma, problems, money issues, car crashes, fights, physical depletion, and emotional desperation. During my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I finally learned to wait 24 hours to make any important decision. Why? Because most of my immediate decisions were hasty and reactive. Today, let us care for our own needs first. Let us strengthen our inner resources before we respond.

“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.

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.

NO MATTER HOW LONELY, YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Mary Oliver wrote: 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.            
 

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I suffocated in my aloneness. I trusted very few people, felt humiliated by all that was happening in our family’s chaotic life, and looked at other supposedly happy families with envy. Living in addiction’s grasp was the most isolated time of my life.

Today’s Promise to consider: When our families are battling addiction, we feel alone, desperate, and isolated. Poet Mary Oliver offers us an expansive idea of where we can find peace. If comfort doesn’t exist in another person or group, we can access nature’s bounty – both our physical environment and our spiritual selves. Today, let us open our spirits, walk in the woods, breathe sea air, feel the rhythm of the seasons, and find abundance in life, and in our own souls. We can feel lonely in a crowd, but we can feel whole in the natural world that surrounds us.

 

 

WITH ADDICTION, HOW DO WE TRANSFORM DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION, AND ANXIETY?

A dad wrote: Through my son’s addiction, I learned to be forgiving and not disappointed, I learned to be loving and not frustrated, I learned to be patient and not anxious. Our children find recovery in their own way and in their own time.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I never quit loving him, but I certainly was disappointed and anxious. I was also cloaked in deep fear and worry. I’m sure my son felt my emotions and, probably, registered them as rejection.

Today’s Promise to consider: We want our children to be safe, healthy, and happy, but addiction overwhelms with fear, disappointment, and frustration. The father who wrote learned how to transform his negative feelings into gestures of love, forgiveness, and patience. Isn’t that what all our children deserve, especially those who are suffering from the disease of addiction? As hard as it can be, today and tomorrow, and tomorrow again, let us choose love.