WALKING ‘WITH’ OR WALKING ‘FOR’

A friend wrote to me: The hardest thing of all for me is to see that we, families and friends, walk a different and separate path from those we love who suffer from the disease of addiction. How can we feel happiness or find peace when someone we love is in pain? We each have to answer that in our own way. I do not always follow this or do it with grace, but I keep trying.

My reflection: I went down the rabbit hole of grief with my son. As he suffered the ravaging consequences of his disease, so did I. As he fell deeper and deeper into addiction’s grasp, so did it. This didn’t help either of us. 

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s normal for us to feel deeply the pain of our suffering loved ones, but we can take this to the extreme and behave in ways that hurt family members, friends, and ourselves. Boundaries are difficult to maintain and they can be different for each of us, but we can’t allow addiction to swallow us whole. Let us meet our loved ones where they are. Let us pray for grace and wisdom.

THE HARD PART: STAYING OUT OF THE CHAOS OF ADDICTION

A mom wrote to me: Your story meant I was not alone. I loved  my son even as I was terrified and, for so so long, I thought I could do something to fix him. When he 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 for those who love a suffering child, it is so hard at times to not get sick oneself from worry and fear. Depressed. Worn down. Giving in and giving money– which could have killed him. Such a fine line at times to walk.

My reflection: I, too, thought I could heal my son, change his life, and make things better. I couldn’t.

Today’s Promise to consider:  As parents, we often turn ourselves inside-out in an effort to ‘fix’ our suffering loved ones, until we realize that our help isn’t always helping. It took me fourteen years to accept that I couldn’t change my son’s destructive behavior. In time, I learned to stay close and continue to love him while I disengaged from the chaos of his addiction.

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.

LISTENING WITHOUT JUDGING

A mom wrote to me: I know we are not alone, but I hate answering questions about my children. In fact, I avoided a gathering at my mother’s house with some dear neighborhood friends because I didn’t want to be asked how my sons were doing and have to pretend all is well. My dad has passed and his dearest friend 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 am blessed to have shared a few minutes with him.

My reflection: The Big Book of AA says that addiction can only be defeated through rigorous honesty and the help of a power greater than ourselves. There were many times I lied about my son’s addiction and our family problems. After much time and even more failed attempts at hiding the truth, I finally decided to respond honestly. It wasn’t easy, but I released myself from worrying about what people thought of me.

Today’s Promise to consider: Today I will listen to others without judging. I will respect their right to share their truth and I will be there for them, just as others were there for me. When I’m ready to answer questions about my child’s struggles, I will, but I won’t feel coerced into responding. I’ll listen to my gut and follow my heart. I will pray for wisdom.

WHAT DOES ‘LETTING GO AND LETTING GOD’ MEAN?

A mother wrote to me, ‘Letting go and letting God’ must have no strings attached, that is, any expectations of outcomes. Death is a very real outcome in our stories. I remember when a friend confronted me with this. Yes, it is terrifying, and I lived in fear and worry for many years, often reacting in unhealthy ways, trying to fix and control. When I realized nothing I did made my son’s situation any different and, in fact, often made things worse, I hit my bottom. I had to save myself. This did not mean I turned my back on my son. I talked with him often, but I stopped trying to determine if he was sober or if he was using. I realized that I was powerless over another human being, no matter what the situation.

My reflection: Although ‘Let go and let God’ was my mantra for years, I just couldn’t relinquish the thought that I could change my son. I was convinced that love was stronger than the pull of addiction.

Today’s Promise to consider: It’s natural that want to save our children. When they are suffering, we are quick to jump into the fire and rescue them. It took me fourteen years to admit that I was powerless over my son’s addiction. I fought the good fight, but in the end HE had to save himself. Today, I will stay close and love my child, but I will stay out of the chaos of his addiction.

FACING THE PAIN OF ADDICTION WITH THE ‘CANDLE LIGHT’ OF COMPASSION

Gabor Maté, Hungarian-born Canadian physician and author of the highly respected book, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, posits that addiction is rooted in the pain of individual trauma and family history. He emphasizes that addiction must be met with compassion and quotes the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: “Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain, and that’s the reality with addiction.”

My reflection: Dr. MacAfee, my son’s beloved addiction therapist, said, “Shining a flashlight on Jeff and his addiction never helped. I had to work with him with candle light.” MacAfee knew that my son needed gentle understanding.

Today’s Promise to consider: Gabor Maté asserts that addiction is rooted in pain and compassion is needed to counter the suffering. Several years ago, I surveyed forty-one recovering people and asked them, “What made you choose recovery?” Thirty-eight said, “When I was ready to change, someone was there for me after all the destruction. Someone still loved me and had stayed close.” Today, let us stay close and join in prayer that our loved ones choose sobriety. We will be there.

STAY CLOSE THROUGH ADDICTION: ‘HE IS MY SON’

A mother wrote to me: My first-born son is an addict. He is 24, beautiful, smart, and the love of my life. He just received 60 days in jail and to be honest I am thrilled and relieved – at least he’ll be safe and sober for 60 days. Everyone tells me that I should give up on him, turn my back on him, and cut him out of my life. How does a mother do that? I love him unconditionally. My friends think that I am insane, crazy, but he is my son.

My reflection: I tried to cut my addicted son out of my life, but it never worked. I told him to forget the address, but when he called, my resolve crumbled and all I could do was pray that this phone call would be the one that led to recovery. Love for my son is in my DNA. I couldn’t give up on him.

Today’s Promise to consider: It took me fourteen years to accept that I couldn’t change my son’s destructive behavior. In time, I learned how to stay close and continue to love him, while I disengaged from the chaos of his addiction. When he chose to fight for his sobriety, I stepped forward.

RELAPSE: THAT ‘MOTHER’ FEELING

A mom wrote to me: My son and I went to an AA meeting together, and I was delighted and proud that he allowed me to accompany him. His recovery is so important to me (maybe even more important to me than to him?), and I know he has relapsed several times. He’s not honest enough to tell me. I wish he were. I just sense that he has tripped along the way – just a feeling, that mother feeling.

My reflection: At the beginning of my son’s recovery, I wish I had understood more clearly that relapse happens and can happen often. I thought that when my son left treatment he was healed. Wrong. It was at those times that he needed more support than ever – and he needed honesty. Relapse isn’t about ‘catching’ the addict, but it is about everyone learning how to stay centered through life’s daily struggles.

Today’s Promise to consider: If I have the feeling my son has slipped, I pray that I’ll have the fortitude to talk compassionately with him as he battles for his life, again. Relapse is not moral failure; my son is an addict. Relapse, if handled well, can be one step closer to full recovery.

 

RECOVERY: STARTING LIFE OVER, WITH A MEMORY OF A LIFE BEFORE

Dr. MacAfee, our beloved addiction therapist, wrote, Learning to live drug free touches every facet of a recovering person’s life. He has to learn to laugh without using. He has to learn to “do today” without using. He has to learn to be intimate without using. There is no part of his existence untouched by his drug history. It is literally like starting his life over, yet with a memory of a life before.

My reflection: I remember well the day Jeff and I talked with a group of young recovering people, who were attending a sober living high school in Texas. One boy said, “I can’t listen to the same music as before. I have to find new music that I like.” Jeff responded, “I understand. When I got sober, I didn’t even know what color I liked best.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Compassion for recovering addicts is imperative. They have to relearn everything: ways to be social on a Saturday night, what to do on a date, and how to relate to themselves without the cloak of drugs and alcohol. As Dr. MacAfee writes, “It’s literally like starting life over, yet with a memory of a life before.” Today, I’ll remember the courage it takes for my loved one to begin anew.

HOPE IS FRAGILE; FEAR IS POWERFUL

A mother wrote to me: I’m giving up on prayer, I’m afraid. Recovery was going well, I thought. My son was making meetings, new job he likes, nice girlfriend. I was beginning to trust and hope. In the last week, money taken from my purse, relapse, violation of probation. Now it’s back to court and maybe prison this time. I can’t do this again.

My reflection: Fear is powerful. There were many times when my son was in active addiction that I, too, was in danger of giving up hope. Sometimes it felt easier to abandon hope and faith than to risk them being crushed, again.

Today’s Promise to consider: If we lose faith and hope, all is lost. We need to stay close to our children, while allowing them to fight their own battles. I will never give up hope that my child finds her way back home.