How much have we lost in this madness of helping our loved ones?
Distant memories of old friendships, good jobs we enjoyed, family members who didn’t understand how we could keep loving, and relationships broken beyond repair. Most of all many of us have lost ourselves. When I stop and look around I barely recognize my life. My answer to that is not to stop too often.
We keep going, patching pieces of what is left together, and putting on the brave face; trying to save someone who often appears not to want to be saved. We keep going.
I encourage you to stop. Take your own advice. Step back for a moment and survey the only life you are going to get. You can’t save anyone but you must save yourself.
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
You knew what you had to do,
at the very foundations – – –
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
as you left their voices behind,
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
as you strode deeper and deeper
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save
Terry Gorski writes, Addiction comes into our lives posing as a friend and then slowly grows into a monster that can destroy us.
(Terry Gorski, Straight Talk About Addiction)
My reflection: I was deluded by addiction. It entered our home and looked like a phase. I shrugged off my concerns with the thought my son’s behavior was normal because many teenagers smoked pot and drank beer. Surely, Jeff would grow out of it. Silently and rapidly, addiction grew fat, fed on our angst and misery and, in the end, mocked us with its strength and power.
Today’s Promise to consider: Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. It’s crucial that we parents pay close attention to the signs of impending danger so that we can intervene early. We are part of the medicine that can heal this disease. Education and closeness are the keys.
Misconceptions about addiction are so pervasive it’s no wonder that those struggling with addiction — and their families — suffer in silence, solitude, and shame.
Even though our society encourages substance abuse at every turn, when someone becomes an addict (often beginning in the teen years), society quickly treats him or her as a vile human being.
In general, people seem to use the term ‘addict’ for anyone who uses drugs, so they make a moral judgment. They don’t seem to understand there is a difference between drug abuse and addiction — that addiction is the place where dalliance ends and disease begins. People seem to view the addict as someone who behaves in a horrible way by choice and therefore is a bad person not an ill person. As a child – a child – substance abuse was a choice Joey made. But, why he started and why he can’t stop are two different things. Addiction snuck up on my son – picked him out of the substance-abusing crowd – and choked him. Substance abuse is a choice. Addiction is a disease.
Also, addiction is often viewed as a parental failing. People don’t seem to understand that I did not cause my son to become an addict. (As a parent, I do not possess that power.) They don’t seem to understand that addiction happens because a renegade sip or snort or sniff crosses an invisible line between want and need. True, I am an imperfect mom. Imperfect parenting, however, does not cause children to become addicts. (If that were so, every child would grow up to be one.) As a parent I made a lot of mistakes, but causing my son to be an addict is not one of them.
There is a widely held belief that only ‘bad’ people become addicts. The truth is that addiction can happen to anyone who takes the first sip or puff or snort or pill prescribed for pain. Even though my son has done some bad things while being an addict, my son is not a bad person. Addiction has nothing whatsoever to do with whether a person is (or was) nice.
Because addiction is so misunderstood, it is viewed as dirty laundry not to be aired. But I believe the truths about addiction need to be brought out into the open. (It is, after all, in dark corners that bad things grow most freely.) We need to think about, talk about, addiction as a disease, not a disgrace.
Sandy is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction.
“First Step Prayer:
I admit that I am powerless over my addict.
I admit that my life is unmanageable
When I try to control him/her.
Help me this day to understand the true meaning of powerlessness.
Remove from me all denial of my loved one’s addiction.”
The first step is probably the most important one in assuring our recovery from the effects of another’s addiction. And it’s because I refused to take it that it took me so long to start to recover. I simply wouldn’t accept my powerlessness over my daughter’s disease. I felt as though I would be dropping the ball and appearing not to care about her. I felt that I had to do everything in my power to save her.
So, deep pockets enabled me to put Angie through four rehabs. Deep pockets also had me paying her rent, paying off her loans, paying back the creditors she got into trouble with. All my “help” simply gave her more money for drugs. In short, deep pockets are dangerous. She might have learned something from the consequences of her actions if I hadn’t kept getting in the way.
My life had, indeed, become unmanageable. I love Angie very much. So I kept making things easy for her. But we can enable our children to death. Now I’ve let go of all my attempts to control her and her disease.
And I feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders.
Trying to locate appropriate treatment for a loved one, especially finding a program tailored to an individual’s particular needs, can be a difficult process. However, there are some resources to help with this process. For example, NIDA’s handbook Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask offers guidance in finding the right treatment program. Numerous online resources can help locate a local program or provide other information, including:
Information for Families
Magnolia New Beginnings
This project has been funded in whole or part with federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, NIH, under cooperative agreement UG4LM012347-01 with the University of Massachusetts- Worcester.
Jeff and I talked about what helps people stay in recovery and he said, Getting sober is just the beginning; learning to live in abstinence is the goal. As human beings, we have a hunger to be seen and to feel connected with those around us. And when we don’t, so often we use drugs to cover the feelings of loneliness – but drugs only isolate us even more. In time, we move further into addiction and further away from the people we love. In groups like AA, we find connections, people who know our walk and won’t judge us. They ‘see’ us, they celebrate our victories and they know how imperative fellowship is. These connections prove to us that we are not alone.
My reflection: Family groups like AA and Al-Anon work. Not only do recovering addicts find a safe space to grow strong within a community of understanding peers, but we, parents, can find a similar environment in Al-Anon. The loving members of Al-Anon saved my sanity when my son’s addiction took me to my knees. There I found people who knew my pain.
Today’s Promise to consider: The family groups of AA and Al-Anon prove to us that we are not alone. When we feel raw and wounded, it takes courage to reach out and allow ourselves to been ‘seen.’ Today, I will pray and hold out my hand in faith and vulnerability.
It is the addict, not my child, I help by keeping silent. So I will speak out. I will try to open eyes and hearts and minds–I will try to help people understand the disease of addiction–before it’s too late. ~Sandy Swenson
A young man in recovery wrote to me: About two weeks after my mom finished reading your book, she and I had an unbelievable conversation. She told me that reading the book was very difficult for her at times, but that your story and her own life were strikingly similar. I think the reason that it was difficult for her had everything to do with the fact that she has never sought any kind of help or support outside of a couple of her friends.
What made the conversation with her remarkable was the tone in her voice and the way she spoke. 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. I mean truly listened. Libby, I believe that you are the first person my mother has been able to relate to when it comes to my addiction and all of the pain our relationship has endured. Something magical happened when she read your book. She finally saw me as her son again. Something in what you wrote allowed her to look me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, be able to stop giving me one armed, sideways hugs, and instead wrap both arms around me. For that, I will be forever grateful.
Today’s Promise to consider: Parents, especially mothers, have a huge influence on our recovering children, even when they are adults. All people want to ‘be seen’ by those they love, but for addicts that need is imperative. Bobby’s last line says it all, “Something in what you wrote allowed her to look me directly in the eyes and finally, after about fifteen years, be able to stop giving me one armed, sideways hugs, and instead wrap both arms around me.”