Monday, May 28, 2007

A story of hope

Somehow it makes sense to focus on hope this Memorial Day.

As families across the country have sacrificed in recent years to fight a war outside our country, other families have been personally touched by the other war—the war raging around drugs in our own state, county, city, and home.

Today, I don’t know how my son is doing, where he is living, or even if he is alive. But I’ve chosen to entrust his life and well-being to my Higher Power, the God of the Universe, so I can go on with my own life.

And that’s why this story of hope from Pryor, Oklahoma, encourages me today.

I know there is hope. Some days, it’s just so hard to find.

Whether you have an addict in your life or not, what gives you hope today?

Technorati Profile

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Addiction and free will

I read recently that Harvard Provost Stephen Hyman gave a lecture titled, “Compulsion and the Brain: Subverting the Concept of Self-Control.” It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my addicted son, then in his 20s.

So the question is: once addicted, how much choice DOES a person have in using? Do they go on autopilot and just feed the need? Or is there some point at which they can actually stop and evaluate the situation?

In the conversation with my son, I pointed out that the first time he was offered some, he clearly made the choice to use. He agreed. After that, he said, it was harder to tell when it was a choice vs. an automatic reaction. But more than once in the past 14 years, he did make the decision to stop using. Relapse has always followed.

Please take just a minute and read a short portion of Dr. Hyman’s lecture transcript that’s posted at He describes the changes that happen in the circuitry of the brain that cause a person to lose control over goal-setting and goal-seeking.

As a result, because the addicts’ brains are so compromised, Hyman says it is necessary for others — families, friends, and institutions — to fill in and act almost like “a prosthesis” for the brain functions that are missing or disabled. In order to succeed, however, they must be “absolutely relentless,” added Hyman.

But that raises the question, how can family members fill in for missing or disabled brain functions and still maintain a healthy perspective? How can we continue to pull away from a codependent relationship and offer that help without enabling?

Does anyone out there know?

His final point was one of responsibility. “Drug addiction is a very dramatic form of compulsion,” he said. “We are probably a little less in control than we’d like to believe we are.” Nevertheless, Hyman believes that addicts should still be held responsible for their actions.“The fiction that they are responsible may be what gets them to change their behavior,” he said. “A society that errs on the side of holding people responsible is better than a society that errs on the side of giving people excuses.”

There are actually clinically proven reasons for holding people responsible for their actions, Hyman said. Experiments have shown that people function better and are more able to deal with stress when they feel that they are in control.“We are wired for personal responsibility, even if it’s a bit fictional.”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What about the children?

Today my beautiful soon-to-be one-year old granddaughter is safe. She is at the home of grandparents in another state, far from the dangerous choices and actions of her addicted father. Yes, he loves her. No father could have been more elated or joyful when she was born last summer.

But in recent months, this little family has been turned upside down by her daddy’s relapse. And I have feared for her safety as I know meth addicts can be unpredictable and turn violent.

Then I came across this article today.

My heart goes out to these children. Also to their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and yes, even the addicted parents whose choices and actions have made the earliest years of these children’s lives so difficult and danger-filled.

I’m not close enough to see this photo display in the Tucson area, but I would encourage you to view it if you are. Then come back and tell us what you thought and felt.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Detachment, anyone?

Everyone knows that addiction to drugs or alcohol affects not only the addict but also the people in their lives. It strains, stresses and often breaks relationships with those who care for and love them deeply.

Spouses and other family members often find themselves in the midst of chaos, as if a storm were swirling around them. New problems surface, old issues read their ugly heads once again, and everyone assumes their places for act 3 (or 4, 5, or 6) of “Here We Go Again.”

But it’s so tiring to re-live the same scenes, over and over again. Alanon and other 12-step recovery programs teach that changing the patterns of a relationship starts by changing ourselves. Usually we are required to step back from the situation, untangle our emotions and take care of ourselves.

That may not be easy to do, and since change doesn’t happen overnight, it can start with small steps.

In her book Living Successfully with Screwed-Up People, Elizabeth B. Brown writes:

Detachment is releasing someone to be responsible for himself and to bear the responsibility of his own actions. Detachment gives us the objectivity necessary to look at our situation and glean from it the possible good, the lesson that can make the next steps in our walk more steady and focused, and move us toward our goal. Detachment is ceasing to worry and changing our focus, perhaps heroically, from the other person to what is good for us in our life.

Some days, I feel my efforts to detach have been fairly successful. Other days, I'm not so sure.

I wonder how other people have done it. How have you detached from your situation with the addict you care about? What helped? Was it something someone said, something you read, or something else?

Share it here. I would love to know how you’ve done it and how you are doing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

But that's not my REAL son

Earlier today I was talking with a family member about the latest crisis. It was similar to other conversations over the years: "That's not who he is REALLY. That's the Addict doing those things, not my son. My REAL son would never be so hurtful--he's caring, loving, giving. Not the monster out there today."

Not making excuses, believe me. His choices have brought him to this point. But I now understand more about the process that got him there.

According to author Craig Nakken (The Addictive Personality, Hazelden, 1996), the addicted personality is actually created by the illness of addiction and results from the addictive process that happens within a person. In Stage One of the three-stage addiction process, Nakken explains that the Self and the Addict emerge:

"The Self represents the 'normal,' human side that is consumed and transformed by the addiction. Eventully, the addicted person forms a dependent relationship with his or her own addictive personality."

So I wasn't crazy. It really is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation with the Self and the Addict arguing with each other at first, but the Self eventually being swallowed up by the Addict. It explains so much about their behavior, why they don't care about the people they actually love. They are truly not themselves.

The whole situation was different when he was younger and single. He hurt himself through the drug use--yes, his sister and I cared and felt the pain of the incarcerations, but ultimately, it was his life that he stifled. Our lives kept moving right on.

Now, after a stable period--marriage, a baby daughter, learning a trade and being recognized as a valued employee--something snapped, my REAL son is gone and the Addict is again fully in charge. This time, more dangerously than ever.

It's as though someone threw a huge rock into the lake--making the biggest ripples I've ever seen. The ripples created by that enormous methamphetamine rock now reach farther and wider, touching not just his family of origin but now, his own little family he helped create. How long will these ripples slap against our feet, taunting us with the questions?

One ripple whispers, Will this craziness ever end?
Another asks, When will his wife decide she's had enough, and walk away?
This one says, Will his little girl ever know the wonderful person he is inside--her daddy and my REAL son?
And I wonder, Will he even live through this episode?

It's a problem that has consumed not only my family, but families across our country. Read about the Methamphetamine Abuse Treatment and Prevention Act of 2007 recently introduced by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Let me off this roller coaster!

In general, life is like riding a roller coaster. For most people, weeks go by without any major issues--life's looking good and it's a smooth uphill ride. Then problems at work or with the kids make it feel like you've taken the steepest dive on the Blue Streak. You hold onto your stomach until once again, issues are resolved, your "car" has pulled out and you're on the uphill climb.

For mothers and families of those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs, it's certainly a roller coaster ride--except unlike a "normal life" ride, the ups don't come as often and the dips are a whole lot deeper.

Understanding that addiction as well as codependency have spiritual components can help both the addict and family members survive the addiction roller coaster ride.

In his book The Addictive Personality: Understanding the Addictive Process and Compulsive Behavior, author Craig Nakken says: "Addiction is a spiritual disease. Everybody has the ability to connect with the soul and spirit of others. Because addiction is a direct assault against the Self, it is also a direct attack on the spirit or soul of the person suffering from an addiction. A person's spirit sustains life; addiction leads to spiritual death."

I believe this statement also applies to the life of a mother and other family members who love an addict. Life can become so difficult that we can miss out on the beauty of the sunset, the laughter and smiles of friends. We need the support of others who understand and care, and we need to find our own spiritual balance.

Twelve-step programs speak of reliance on a Higher Power, and I write from a Christian perspective because that is my personal belief. In the 14 years of coping with my child's addiction, my faith in a God who loves and cares for me and my family has sustained my hope, even as we walked through the darkest valleys. And the prayers of friends and loved ones have encouraged me.

Anyone who has ever attended a 12-step meeting is familiar with the first four lines of the Serenity Prayer. Here are Reinhold Niebuhr's words in their entirety:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking as Jesus did this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you in the next.

When you're holding on for dear life as your roller coaster takes a sharp dive, or just seeking balance for the day ahead, remember and repeat those words. Pray for strength, courage and wisdom. And remember to ask for the help of a caring and compassionate friend.

Then when you're steady on your feet and ready to reach outside yourself, consider lending a hand to one of the many organizations and groups that are working to share messages of hope and truth. One of these is Mothers Against Methamphetamine, a national faith-based organization whose mission is to educate the public about methamphetamine and other drugs.

In all, you'll be much better prepared next time life's roller coaster whips you around one of those turns and down a long, deep dip.

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere, especially those whose son or daughter is enmeshed in the world of addiction or better yet, growing through the process of recovery.

Some of you will enjoy a close family time today. If you do, be sure to treasure every moment with each child and remember to add it to your gratitude list for the day.

Others may not know where your child is, or he or she may be incarcerated for actions they would have never taken were it not for the influence of their drug of choice.

I've been through it all and there are no pat words or assurances to ease the pain and anguish of a mother's heart that has been broken--maybe for the eighth, ninth, or tenth time. The chaos, destruction and calamities that surround active drug use results in broken trust, broken relationships and broken hearts.

If your heart is hurting today, my hope is that you take comfort in even the smallest joys you find: the happy tune the bird is singing outside your window, the smells of spring after last night's rain, the smile of your sweet grandbaby.

Share your feelings with an understanding friend, and take comfort from God's Word: "May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant." (Ps. 119:76)

Take comfort, and above all, don't give up hope. Please add your thoughts here. Tell us what gives you hope in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of addiction.