CAN WE FORCE SOBRIETY?

A young man in recovery told me, You can’t force sobriety on anybody. My mum tried everything. She gave me money, didn’t give me money, made me go to rehab, didn’t make me go to rehab, drove down four or five hours to pick me up, and then left me somewhere. No matter how many rehabs I’ve done or how many counselors or meetings I went to, I never got it, until one day I was just sick of it and had enough. 

My reflection: Many times I tried to force sobriety on my son. I threatened him that if he didn’t go to rehab I would never give him another cent or allow him to come home again. I cried, yelled, and bargained. I would have sold my soul if that would have made the difference.

Today’s Promise: We can try to force our loved ones into recovery. We can demand they live a sober life. But with the majority of addicts, coercion, threats, or even kindness aren’t enough. People have to be ready to change for themselves. For those of us with  suffering children, we can encourage them to enter a recovery community, go to an AA meeting, or talk with someone who is living in the solution. I understand that it’s not my choice, but theirs.

HOW DO I TRUST AGAIN?

A mom wrote to me, I wrote to you a few years ago about my son’s addiction. As every parent, we barely functioned for almost three years. After his marriage of two years ended, he went to rehab and a halfway house for some time. Today, he has a good job, met a great girl, and seems to be doing well. He just announced his engagement and, even though things seem better, I worry. I know I should have a positive outlook, but the past haunts me. How do you ever begin to trust and live without fear?

My reflection, I once asked Dr. MacAfee this same question, “How do I learn to trust again? The past is hard to forget and I worry what might happen in the future.” The good doctor said, “Your feelings are normal. You’ve been vigilant a long time. Be patient with yourself.”

Today’s Promise to consider, Trusting that a recovering loved one will stay well and not return to the chaos of addiction is difficult. Most of us have been deeply scarred by years of turbulence. Today, I’ll be gentle with myself. I’ll breathe, acknowledge my fear, and move toward releasing my worry. My loved one deserves this effort. So do I.

ADDICTION: IT’S NOT A MATTER OF WILLPOWER

A person in recovery told me, Many people out there try to get clean and can’t. I know, certainly in my case, if this were about willpower, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Because when I set my mind to do something, it gets done. Not this. Not this. 

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I told him, Stop. Just stop. I, too, thought that it was a matter of resolve,  strength of character, or pure emotional muscle. It took me fourteen years to learn how wrong I was.

Today’s Promise to consider: If addiction were a matter of sheer willpower, we would have many fewer suffering people. There’s a reason Step One in AA is: We admitted we are powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable. For our family, recovery was found when we acknowledged that willingness, as opposed to willpower, was the bridge to healing. Let us muster compassion for loved ones who are struggling, and let us support their efforts when they become WILLING to seek help.

 

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.

 

 

WILL SURGERY CURE DRUG ADDICTION?

The Washington Post reports that the surgical intervention, deep brain stimulation (already approved to treat epilepsy and Parkinson’s), has been used to treat drug addiction. Gerod Buckhalter allowed surgeons to cut two nickel-size holes in his skull and plunge metal-tipped electrodes into his brain. The electrodes produce electrical impulses that regulate the brain and affect the chemicals and reactions within the brain. “Buckhalter still requires anti-drug mediation, counseling, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He still experiences cravings, depression, and the anxiety that drove his drug use, but for more than 600 days after he underwent the experimental surgery, Buckhalter has not touched drugs again.”

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I searched for a ‘silver bullet’ to cure the disease. I wanted a pill, a person, something or someone to cure him. There was nothing. 

Today’s Promise to consider: Research is shedding light on the disease of addiction and identifying methods for curbing or stopping drug abuse. Deep Brain Stimulation might become a viable option in the future, but according to Ali Rezai, director of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University, who performed Buckhalter’s surgery, “This is not a magical cure. And it’s not going to work for everybody. This is a treatment that allows you to dial down the anxiety, improve the mood, make people more in charge of their bodies, make them less fragile and susceptible.” For my son, recovery was a slow build as he worked the steps, developed a relationship with a higher power, and fellowshipped with others living in the solution. Medical treatments are increasingly effective, but I believe they must be paired with the painstaking process of working a program.

 

SOMETIMES IT’S THE PAIN THAT SETS US FREE

A dad wrote to me: For ten years, I fought the chaos of addiction. With each relapse, I blamed both myself and my son. I was enmeshed in saving him and was convinced that I could. Eventually, the disease of addiction created so much pain in me that I could no longer deny the truth that recovery was HIS decision, his choice, and that I was powerless. I joined a 12-step program, educated myself, and sought out professional help. It takes great pain to set us free, but in our own recovery we find renewed strength, peace, and even serenity.

My reflection: I, too, fought the chaos of addiction. It took me fourteen years until I finally ‘let go and let God.’

Today’s Promise to consider: We parents don’t want our children to suffer. We want to protect them from pain, but sometimes it is the pain that sets us free. Many recovering people have told me that they made a decision to change their life when the consequences of their addiction became too heavy to bear. The same often happens to us.

AM I ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

A mom wrote to me: My son is two years sober, has his own place, has been at his same job for almost two years, and is managing his own money. His best friend, with whom he spends lots of time, just had surgery and has been given pain pills. Unfortunately this brings me to an old, scared place. I wonder if the pain pills tempt him? Do I ask him or just calm my inner self and thoughts? I never really know if talking or even asking would make him upset or be helpful? Am I allowed to ask about the elephant in the room or will that not be healthy for him? The fear is always there, isn’t it Libby?

My reflection: I know this place of fear, this ‘elephant in the room.’ 

Today’s Promise to consider: Maybe the fear of relapse is always in the back of our parent mind. I wonder if it’s in the back of our recovering loved ones’ minds, too? No matter how justified, our worry can’t be laid at the feet of our sons and daughters, who are working hard to stay the course, to live a good life, and to manage their own anxieties. It’s normal to be concerned about ‘what will be,’ but all we have is today. Let us stay close and trust our children. Sure, this is tough, and continued recovery isn’t guaranteed. We’ve been vigilant a long time, but maybe it’s time to put our fears aside and enjoy the present.

RELAPSE AND RECOVERY

A young man wrote to me: As a recovering addict, I know well that relapse happens. It took me many attempts to find sobriety. Each addict is unique in his or her own way, but for me I spent more than a decade avoiding the true problem – myself. Drugs filled the void inside me, an empty space of insecurity and anxiety (and sure a rebellious side when I was young). The road to recovery is a long one and the answer lies within the addict.

My reflection: When my son was in active addiction, I threatened, cajoled, pleaded, and would have sold my soul for his recovery. But all my machinations were futile. My son had to find the answer inside himself, and for himself.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years of addiction’s trauma to accept that relapse happens. By the grace of God, my son survived his many relapses. Lots of families aren’t as fortunate. Throughout it all I was forced to admit that I didn’t have the ability to cure the addiction, fix it, or make it go away. I was powerless, and my son needed to find the answer inside himself.

RECOVERY: THE STATE OF TOTAL SURRENDER

Alessandro Rodino Dal Pozzo, the president of San Patrignano, said, The path to recovery happens when you truly and deeply accept that things have to change.

My reaction: When my son was in active addiction, I thought that I could gauge when he was ready to accept recovery, when the pain had reached critical junctures, and when he would be open to professional help. I never could.

Today’s Promise to consider: Moments of extreme suffering can lead to important epiphanies for those suffering from substance abuse. The Big Book calls the opening that follows these periods, “The Gift of Desperation.” My son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction took him to a place where he was lost and a shell of himself. He was at the crossroads of continuing drugs or dying. He later told me, This was one of the most profound moments in my recovery process.

RECOVERY CAN BE TERRIFYING

My son wrote this in Stay Close about getting and staying sober: I was terrified – faced with getting clean, again. With nothing but failed attempts to reference, sobriety seemed impossible. It’s easier to want to change your life than to actually do it. Following through takes total courage, and I was scared to my bones.

My reflection on the above passage: During the critical months when my son made the decision to change his life, he worked with Dr. MacAfee, an addiction therapist who was highly intuitive and knowledgeable. He explained to Jeff that, when the using stops, a period of grief would inevitably come, for all the lost time, the years gone by, the people hurt, and the trail of destruction. He said, “The grief will overtake you, and it will be hard. But it’s also a sweet time. Savor it.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Our suffering loved ones know the chaos of court systems and legal problems. They know how to lie, deceive, and manipulate in service of their disease. What they need to learn how to do is to live a transparent life – how to be honest and faithful, and how to find serenity. Today, I pray for all those suffering that they source the courage they need to confront the demon of addiction.