About A Walk on the Wild Side Blog

Writing about addiction for those who love addicts, struggling to stay sane in their walk on the wild side.

Six Months Later on this Crazy Roller Coaster Ride

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I last posted six months ago, celebrating a full year of recovery for my son and his marriage to “the love of his life” and her young son. So much has happened since then. From this dizzying peak, there was a wild downward swoop as his new bride and son disappeared from his life, and a crazy chaotic climb as he gained custody of his two-year old daughter when her mother went to jail.

His bride took off after they had a big fight, as had been her practice in the past when they were dating–backing away and coming back. But this time, although they stayed in touch by phone, she refused to see him, or come back. Then she moved out of town. Now he seldom hears from her, although he sends her gifts and money occasionally. He’s pretty much accepted the fact that this is the end of their so-called “marriage.” We’ve known for a long time she had mental health issues, and he’d hoped when they married he’d finally be able to get her the help she needed. But that wasn’t to be.

I sometimes wish I’d been more discouraging of the whole “let’s get married” idea from the start. I did try to discourage both of them, but maybe I should have pushed harder. Now I realize that if I had talked him our of it, he’d be thinking, if only I hadn’t listened to my mother, If only I’d married her like I wanted, then maybe she wouldn’t have taken off this time. He’d be full of regrets and resentment, no doubt.

So now at least he knows he did all he could to show how committed he was to her and their relationship. The fact that still wasn’t enough shows it probably never would have worked out between them no matter how hard he, or she, tried.

And maybe it was a blessing, for only a few months later he found out that his daughter’s mother was going to jail, and he would need to become the fulltime caretaker of his two-year old daughter.

They’ve been living with us since June now. In so many ways this has been good for him–strengthening his recovery and giving him someone to love and cherish, who needs him and depends upon him. Having her in his life makes him a better man, gives him purpose and resolve and the determination to provide a safe, stable, and loving home for her.

It’s been wonderful for me too, having them both here under our roof, getting to know this amazing two-year-old, falling in love with her, seeing my son healthy and happy, working two jobs, six days a week. It’s been tough at times, going to court, dealing with visitations with the mother and the other grandmother, babysitting an active toddler when I’m so used to a quiet, contemplative life. But I know I’ll miss them when they move out. And I worry about them, how he will cope as a single father, working full time. How they will make ends meet, how they will manage without me there to care for her.

I worry too about what will happen when the mother is released and tries to regain custody. No one, not even her own mother, wants the child to be in her care again. The circumstances of her incarceration are very troubling, and it’s clear she too needs some serious therapy and mental health care.

The roller coaster ride we’ve been on these last 16 years or so with my son’s addiction and recovery is still going strong, still full of hair-raising curves, and exhilarating heights, and stomach-churning drops. The stable, serene life I’ve been hoping for him is still on the distant horizon.

But right now, right here, is a very good place to be. And I’m thankful for this turn of events. The future–while still full of twists and turns, and many daunting hurdles–has an unmistakable hopeful glow.

Hope Resurrected, What a Difference One Year Can Make

Wood_Anemone "Easter Flowers"_-_Hooke_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1247605 CCA year ago on March 27, 2014, I began this blog in tears. I did not believe my son would survive his heroin addiction. It had been going on for over 15 years and the past six months had been especially hard. One overdose on my bathroom floor. Two more several months later. He was alone and lost on the streets. He’d given up hope and so had I. Almost. This blog was my way to hold onto a slim thread of hope and to work through the rage and despair.

A year later, on March 27, 2015, my son married the love of his life and became the father to her 4-year-old son. The matching dates are coincidental. But how eloquently it underscores the progress he’s made in 12 months and the resurrected hope we share.

The journey toward this day has not been smooth, as recorded in these posts over the past 12 months. And the journey ahead will be just as difficult. Next week he will celebrate 11 months of recovery. The week after he will graduate from the court-appointed program he began a year ago, his probation will end, and he will be a free man. He plans to continue in the Methadone program that has been such a great help to him. Without it, I do not think this would have been possible.

But it wasn’t just the Methadone. It was being–finally, at long last–so sick and tired of being sick and tired that the drug life had no more appeal for him. It was finding a good AA sponsor who got him off to a good start. It was meeting a beautiful woman who fell in love with him, and sticking with each other through the bad days and the good. And it was having a mother who dug in hard and refused to give up on him, even when I thought it was a hopeless effort.

I hope this is a message of hope to all the mothers out there trying to help sons and daughters lost to addiction.

Still, the journey is not over. The way ahead for my son and his new family is almost unbelievably hard. That they have the strength and heart to walk that path together humbles me. Neither have been able to find steady work. He still lives in a shed. She lives in a homeless shelter having been timed-out from a program that helps single moms and kids.. They spend time together in motels and at our home. She’s finally been approved for Section 8 housing and has two months to find a landlord that will accept her. If that falls through there’s a program in the Bay Area that helps struggling families, so they will go there. He’s found out that under a new California law he can get his non-violent, drug-related felonies removed, and that will open up new employment and housing opportunities.

I don’t know how this story will end, but they feel stronger together than they do on their own. She has never had any substance-abuse problems, but her life has been extremely difficult and she has mental health issues that have never been addressed. Still, she is kind and smart and sweet, a wonderful mother and crazy in love with my son. They are determined to build a safe and stable and happy life together.

They married alone at City Hall. But they plan a wedding celebration next year on their first anniversary. We’ll find out then what one year will bring them. If it’s anything like this past year, we will be abounding in blessings.

We have so much to celebrate this Easter–the resurrection of hope, the blooming of love, and the promise of a new life.

After the Storm, Sun, Kinda

Birds flying by Angelo DeSantis Nine_birds_flying_over_the_waves_(7681834848)_(2)Slowly, since my last post, my son and I have been working through the hurt and pain of our last encounter. I still feel a little soreness, a little trepidation, around my heart. I’m still half-holding my breath. But things are working themselves out.

He and his girlfriend have made up and are back together, stronger than ever, so they say. They are planning to move in together and looking for transitional housing that takes families.

He and his ex (his daughter’s mother) have renewed their relationship too, as friends, and co-parents. For the first time since she was ten months old I’ve been able to visit with my sweet granddaughter again. She’s two now.

I had both my “grand-babies” visiting this weekend, my granddaughter and my adopted “grandson,” the one who was supposed to have spent Christmas with us. He was able to open all the presents I had saved for him. Child laughter in my home, the two chasing each other around, all gathered in my son’s lap as he reads them “Cat in the Hat.” Kisses and hugs from the little ones. Heaven on earth.

So things are looking up. I should be so happy. But I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall. I feel like the storm clouds are still waiting over the horizon. Waiting for me to turn to full-blown joy before crashing down again, like they like to do.

My son will be 9 months clean, heroin-free, next week. But his work situation is dire, housing unstable, and he’s drinking beer now openly. For all the joy in his life again–the woman he loves recommitted to him, the daughter he loves back in his life, the mother he loves having forgiven him–he still seems tense, on edge, anxious. We both are.

Maybe that’s good. Maybe that will keep us on our toes. Maybe full-blown joy is too much to ask for at this stage of recovery.

Joy without doubt? Without fear? Without reservation? Is such a thing possible for the mother of an addict? Maybe joy in small doses is enough. A child’s kiss. A son’s smile. A mother’s forgiveness.

Baby steps–why do I always forget that?

Yet when I remember where he was last year at this time, having OD’d three times in 4 months, strung out on heroin, lost on the street. When I see how far he’s come. When I read of other mothers whose son’s and daughters are where my son was then–I have to drop my head in gratitude, and pray that all our children come home safely to their rightful place. That all of us, some day, will experience that full-blown joy we yearn for.

Are Some Things Unforgivable?

Despair 1 painting by Lette Valeska, 1954.

Despair 1 by Lette Valeska, 1954.

My son is 8 months into his recovery. That’s the good news.

The bad news? We’ve had a terrible falling out, words said that seem unforgivable, and I don’t know how we will get past this. Or even if we should.

This was, hands down: Worst. Christmas. Ever.

With one small bright spot.

After writing my last post about if you can’t be with the ones you love (my own grandchildren), love the ones you’re with (the child of my son’s girlfriend), I did just that. A few days before Christmas, the little boy spent the night with me. It was a sweet, tender time.

He helped me decorate the Christmas tree, set up the Nativity scene, decorate sugar cookies. We played together, sang together, read books together. We cuddled in bed where I stayed with him until he fell asleep. When he woke up later calling “Grandma! Where are you!” I spent the rest of the night in bed with him. We’d had a lovely time together. I was looking forward to Christmas Eve when he would return with his mom and my son for dinner, then spend the night and open presents the next day.

But it never happened. And I’ll probably never see the little boy again.

After spending weeks preparing to make this the best Christmas ever for them all,the boy’s mother texted me an hour before dinner to say she couldn’t make it after all. She’d been spending the day migrating between the festivities held at the four churches she attends. None of the churches know about the other, and all were trying to help her. One promised her a laptop. Another new tires for her car. She decided she’d rather spend Christmas with them than with us. This infuriated my son, and he broke up with her. We spent a sad, lonely Christmas together–just my son and his dad and me–staring at a Christmas tree and all those lovely gifts we had so joyfully selected and wrapped, which would never be opened.

The next day we went to return the girlfriend’s presents (I held on to the presents for her son, hoping I may still be able to get those to him someday). That’s when things blew apart. When things were said that seem unforgivable.

I used to think it was the drugs, when he would go off on me like this, say these horrible things. I told myself, it’s the drugs, not him, not my son. In his right mind, when he wasn’t strung out, when he wasn’t having withdrawals, he would never talk to me like that, never scream and hurl horrible names at me. But he wasn’t on drugs now. He had no excuse. And the terrible realization that this is how he really feels toward me, how he sees me, that it wasn’t the drugs at all, was devastating.

I don’t know how to get pass this. Are some things unforgivable?

Here’s what happened:

When my son and I were in the store returning gifts, I said something that hurt his feelings. He lashed out at me and stomped off. When I returned to the car, he was still fuming. I tried to explain that what he thought I said wasn’t true, and wasn’t meant in the way he found so offensive. But he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t believe me. He shouted me down when I tried to explain and called me a liar.

The whole time he was shouting at me and calling me a liar, I was picturing him treating his girlfriend like this. He had told me once how she was always lying to him, and even when he called her on it, she would never admit it. It’s the one thing big thing they fought about. I was thinking, if he treated her like this when he thought she was lying, no wonder she didn’t want to be with him, with us, at Christmas, and I said as much. I wanted him to know that if you treat people like this–her or me–you push them away.

Apparently that was the worst thing I could have said to him, rubbing salt in his wound, he said. He hit back screaming the worst things a son could ever say to a mother, calling me names that no mother should ever hear a son call her.

I was shocked and stunned. Nothing I had said should have brought out this kind of hatred and profanity.

I told him to get out of my car, but he refused. He just kept shouting at me and calling me names. So I grabbed the keys and left. We were in the middle of a busy parking lot and I had nowhere to go. I sat on a bench and tried to pull myself together, hoping that by the time I returned to the car he’d be gone. But he wasn’t. And he wouldn’t leave. He insisted I drive him back to my house where all his things were, including three bags of laundry he had washed, and then drive him back to his place.

I was furious, shamed, outraged. I felt violated, abused, sick. I drove him 30 miles home so he could get his stuff, then 30 miles back to his place, all in a furious silence.

By the time I got home, I was physically ill, vomiting, my head pounding. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t see how I could ever get past this, how I could ever forgive him, now that I knew it wasn’t the drugs. Now I knew it was him all along. It’s how he feels about me, how he feels he can treat me when he’s angry and hurting. He has no respect for me, no gratitude, no love for the one person on earth who has always stood by him and believed in him no matter what.

He has no clue how despicable, how unforgivable, his words were. How utterly they ruined our relationship.

I don’t know how to forgive that. I don’t know that I want to. I can’t imagine anything he could ever say or do that would allow me to forgive him for treating me that way, for thinking I deserved it.

He’s texted me a few times. In his opinion, what I said to him was far worse than what he said to me. He says he talks that way and uses that filthy language all the time, so it doesn’t mean anything. I shouldn’t take it personally.

But I do. I do take it personally. Any self-respecting mother should.

And now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I don’t want someone who would treat me like that in my life.

I could rationalize it all in his favor. I could tell myself he was obviously hurting a lot more than I had known about the break-up. He could have been harboring resentment for me for the part I played. He broke up with her in a way because he thought she had hurt me and disrespected me by not coming to dinner and spending Christmas with us. Returning those presents he had picked out for her, dresses he thought she would love and wanted to see her wear, maybe that was more painful than we had realized. Maybe when I said something that he thought was insulting, it all came to a head. And then when I called him on his temper, said if he treated her this way, no wonder she didn’t want to be with him, taking her side as he saw it, maybe it did feel like a betrayal, like the mother he’d defended by breaking up with her was stabbing him in the back. Maybe obscenities are the only way he knows how to express his hurt and anger toward anyone, including me. Maybe. Maybe.

But I’m tired of making excuses for him. The excuses don’t matter. It’s the behavior that matters. I didn’t deserve that. He had no right. Something got broken between us, and I don’t know how it can be mended.

At first I felt I hated him, but now I know I don’t. I’m not even hurt any more. And I do love him still. I care about him. I want him to learn from this and be a better man because of it. Be the man I’ve always known he can be. But how can he be that man if he thinks it’s okay to treat me like that? If I forgive him this time too?

He needs to learn: Some things are unforgivable. Am I wrong?

For the Holidays: Love the Ones You’re With

Christmas wikipedia-commons-718px-viggo_johansen_a_christmas_story

A Christmas Story by Viggo Johansen – Wikipedia Commons

Holidays can be hard. Sometimes painful. We have so many pictures in our minds of how perfect it can be, should be:

Large, laughing families gathered around the table on Thanksgiving Day.

Starry-eyed children opening Christmas presents at Grandmas house.

Yet too often, it’s not like that at all. Too often, for so many reasons, we can’t be with the ones we love. Divorce, addiction, death, and other demands and obligations keep them from us. When it happens too often, when our happy expectations are thwarted again and again, we begin to dread holidays.

When I begin to feel this way, I try to remember the old maxim: “If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.”

It doesn’t mean we stop missing our missing loved ones. But we don’t let missing them keep us from loving and enjoying who and what we have right now. Whenever I’m mindful enough to draw upon that wisdom, it works like a charm.

For Thanksgiving this year, I expecting a full house: My daughter and son-in-law, my son and his girlfriend and her little boy. For us, that would be a big family gathering! I bought a 22-pound turkey and all the trimmings so there would be plenty to last a couple of days and still be able to send left-overs home when everyone took off.

But then my daughter called to say they couldn’t get away after all this year. And then my son’s girlfriend got sick and they couldn’t come. At first I was bitterly disappointed. I had been looking forward to this day and preparing for it for so long. The thought of just three of us sitting down to eat a huge meal seemed sad and lonely.

But then I remembered: Love the ones you’re with. And I thought, could anything be more perfect than this? Our son, alive and well, spending Thanksgiving day with us?

There were only three of us that day, sharing a bounty of food. But it was one of the sweetest and most peaceful Thanksgivings we’ve ever had. We all felt that.

Now as Christmas is approaching, the old anxieties are surfacing as well. I have two young, beautiful grandchildren that I rarely get to see, and probably won’t see this year either. It hurts my heart to miss out on watching them grow up, or being a part of their lives. to grandmother them the way I had always imagined doing. It’s equally hard on my son. He’s so full of guilt and remorse. A difficult time for both of us.

But we will be spending Christmas with a little boy. My son’s girlfriend and her three-year-old son will be spending the holidays with us. He’s a sweet child who calls out “Grandma!” with wide open arms when he sees me. I was so surprised when he first did that. Flattered, actually. And worried.  I didn’t want to correct him and hurt his feelings or his mother’s. He has no grandma of his own.

I think: What can it hurt?  He so wants a grandma. I so want to be one.

But it can hurt. It can hurt a lot. I know how much.

You need to protect your heart, I tell myself. And his as well. We don’t know how long we will be in each others’ lives. We don’t want to fall in love with each other only to lose each other in the end, as I’ve already lost my real grandchildren.

If I let myself fall in love with this little boy, and he’s snatched away from me like they were, can I bear that? Can I go through that again?

I can, I’ve decided.

If I can’t be with the grandchildren I love, I’ll love the child I’m with. Even if we have only this one Christmas together, I’ll love him as only a grandma can, for as long as I’m able.

May we all spend this holiday season loving the ones we’re with.

Six Months Strong and Bulking Up

body building bicep_curl“You’re getting fat,” I tease my son, pinching the roll that is starting to form around his waistline.

“On purpose, Mom,” he tells me. “I’m bulking up. This will all be muscle. You’ll see.”

I don’t doubt him. Already his biceps bulge like barbells. He can bench press 240 now.

He works out every day at the gym. But he doesn’t have the budget that will support the kind of high quality diet that most body builders use when they are trying to put on muscle. Bread, rice, and beans are his stables. He’s not complaining.

A year ago he was lying unconscious on my bathroom floor from a heroin overdose.

Seven months ago, fresh off the streets, he was so skinny you could count every bone in his body.

But now, after six months clean, he’s starting to look like The Hulk. In a good way.

The thing is, the way it was before never seemed real, always seemed like a bad dream. It wasn’t who he really is.

And now I have my son back.

I feel so blessed. I hope every grieving mother who reads this, knows there’s hope for their sons and daughters too. Six months clean can make a world of difference.

There’s much to celebrate this Thanksgiving.

 

Greatest Regret – “Failures in Kindness”

George Saunders by Damon Winter New York Times

George Saunders by Damon Winter New York Times

It’s not often you get major writers speaking of such mundane things as “the need for more kindness” to students graduating from ivy-league schools. But that’s what George Saunders spoke about in a speech that went viral last year.

As the mother of someone suffering from addiction and the stigma of addiction, Saunders’ words touched me deeply. More kindness is what we all need when we are suffering.

You can read the whole speech HERE.

Saunders starts out with this amazing statement:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

We’ve all been there, I think. But kindness is something we can learn, he says, and lists ways how to do that:

Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

Yet kindness, as hard as it is, becomes easier as we grow older. As life kicks us around a bit we learn to become more kind, because we realize how much we need it, and depend upon it, and want it for our loved ones.

Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.

YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.

Wow. To be replaced by love. I can’t think of a more worthwhile goal to strive toward for anyone starting off in life.

Or for anyone whose life is winding down, for that matter. Here are the first 12 lines of that poem by Hayden Carruth that he mentioned:

So often has it been displayed to us, the hourglass
with its grains of sand drifting down,
not as an object in our world
but as a sign, a symbol, our lives
drifting down grain by grain,
sifting away – I’m sure everyone must
see this emblem somewhere in the mind.
Yet not only our lives drift down. The stuff
of ego with which we began, the mass
in the upper chamber, filters away
as love accumulates below. Now
I am almost entirely love.

(From “Testament” by Hayden Carruth)

A Step Up, A Step Down – The Wobbly Road to Recovery

Step-ladder_stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1208202 by Kate Jewell

Step-ladder stile by Kate Jewell WikiCommons

My son is five and a half months clean, still going strong in recovery, but still struggling to acquire the basics in life, what so many of us take for granted: stable housing, stable income, stable relationships.

He lives in a metal shed, what his friend calls “his guest house.” It has a bed, a chair, a table, a refrigerator, and even a TV that plays two channels. Pretty comfy for a metal shed. But there’s no plumbing. No kitchen. No insulation. No heat or air conditioning.

He showers at a local gym. He cooks on a hot plate and microwave oven. He has a portable heater and fan.

It’s a step up, or a step down, depending on how you look at it. Before he moved here he was living in a motel room for $1350 a month. His shed is free, so he’s able to start saving money again, and get caught up in child support payments. So that’s a step up.

It’s a step down because—well—it’s a shed. And his girlfriend and son are no longer living with him. They’ve moved back to the shelter.

But he’s still working, still going to AA meetings with his sponsor, still going to the counseling required by his Prop 36 program, still taking Methadone, and still dating his new girlfriend. He even has been able to see his daughter a couple of times since I last posted here. He’s talked to a lawyer about getting visiting rights.

Life is good, considering he was at death’s door only seven months ago when I started this blog: having been kicked out of rehab, living on the street, two overdoses within a week of each other, and another on my bathroom floor around this time last year.

So I’m happy and hopeful, and more importantly, so is he.

Life is good on the wobbly road to recovery.

Is Addiction a Disease? Or a Moral, Social, & Spiritual Failing?

Brain addictionAddiction as a Disease

The latest scientific, evidence based thinking refers to addiction as a brain disease. People who become addicted have a brain-based disease, or a chemical-based predisposition to becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs. Some of us can drink alcohol and indulge in narcotics without becoming addicted. Others can’t.

When my husband and I were young, we indulged in the common recreational drugs that were available at the time. Occasionally while we were dating, we smoked pot, or took speed, or dropped acid. It seemed harmless at the time. Neither of us became addicted. By the time we got married, we weren’t using narcotics, except for a few puffs on an occasional joint. By the time we had kids, we didn’t do that either. It just wasn’t part of our lifestyle anymore. We continued to drink occasionally. And we still do–mostly beer (him) and wine (me). We might even drink something harder, a cocktail for instance, during special outings or at a back-yard BBQ.

But we don’t worry that we may come addicted. It’s just not an issue.

For our son though, it is an issue. His initial use of alcohol and narcotics led to an addiction that his father and I never got. We weren’t physically or chemically inclined to become addicted. He was.

Was the fact that his narcotic use led to addiction because he was morally weak? Because he was too stupid or weak-minded or self-indulgent that he could not use narcotics moderately for recreational purposes only, as his parents had?

No. My husband and I never struggled with trying to “resist” drugs or alcohol. We could use it or not use it whenever we wanted. We weren’t morally superior because we used in moderation and eventually stopped using because it no longer interested us and wasn’t desired.

Yet because his early drug use led to a severe addiction that lasted years, and our early drug use didn’t, he is considered a social pariah, and we are considered upstanding citizens.

Our drug use never created an overwhelming desire to use more and more. We never had to use “will-power” to stop using. We never had to pray to stop using. We never had to go to rehab or 12-step. It never tried to take over our lives. It never affected us the way it affected our son. We weren’t better than him. Our brain chemistry was just different, so it was never a problem for us.

Believe it or not, some people who use heroin do not become addicted. They just don’t. It is considered one of the most powerful drugs there is, yet if I used it, I know I would not become addicted. Not because I’m stronger than other people who become addicted to it. But because I’m not chemically inclined to do so.

Yet, as a society, we still claim moral and spiritual superiority to people who become addicted. We still blame them for their addiction. We still think they are weak or immoral or bad. We still think it’s their fault. Even those who “know” addiction is a disease, treat addiction like a social or moral or spiritual failing. We’ve become conditioned to think that way.

Even addicts buy into this thinking. Even mothers of addicts.

Addiction as a Moral Failing

I’ve been participating in a movement by mother’s of addicts, where we try to help each other cope with the difficult work we have to do in trying to help our sick children. And we’re also trying to help society understand addiction as a disease, to blaming the victim of addiction for the disease, and to erase the stigma attached to it. Yet even within that forum, I still hear mothers blaming their children for their addiction.

Here’s what one mother wrote recently, a mother who had been an addict herself once. She starts off comparing the abuse of the welfare system to the abuse of drugs:

“Welfare has gotten a bad rap by people who manipulate the system and do nothing to better their situation. Sort of like the addict who continually relapses after they have the tools and are just to hard-headed to use them because they know how to manipulate their addictions right back into a worse situation than they started in.”

This same mother earlier called addiction a disease. Yet she goes on to say that relapse happens not because the disease that went into remission has now returned (as we do with cancer patients), but because they are “too hard-headed” to do what the doctors told them to do. Then she goes on to say that the depression and other mental issues that are produced by the disease are “self-inflicted.” As if they brought this on themselves by becoming addicted in the first place: It’s their fault.

Addiction as a Social Failing

Here’s another statement from a mother, quoting from a drug counseling textbook that she agrees with:

“Addiction is a disease of isolation; addiction is the solution to [that isolation] and the consequence of [that isolation], the addict’s impaired ability to develop and maintain relationships”.

The book admits that addiction is a disease, but then goes on to blame the disease on the “addict’s impaired ability to develop and maintain relationships.” Really?  So people with good relationships and social skills never become addicted? Only socially impaired people become addicted? Only people with “isolation” issues?

These statements are another way of blaming the victim of addiction. He’s inferior, socially impaired, isolated. Therefore he becomes addicted to alleviate the isolation and feel “normal.” This stigmatizes the addict.

The fact is, so-called normal people with healthy relationships and good social skills become addicted. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, actors, musicians, plumbers, teachers, and preachers become addicted. Not just social misfits.

Addiction as a Spiritual Failing

Another mother goes on to say that 12-Step programs are so important for addicts, because they help them discover their “true selves” rather than hiding behind a false “social” self. In other words, people who become addicted weren’t as spiritually evolved or as in touch with their “true selves” as the rest of us. That’s why they need 12-step programs and we don’t.

Again, this is placing a stigma on addicts: People who use drugs are spiritually inferior, less evolved, than people who don’t use drugs.

This is perhaps my biggest gripe with 12-Step programs—the belief that you and I don’t need them. Just the poor, weak addict. The rest of us are already in touch with our “higher selves.”

To be clear: 12-Step programs, which are spiritually based, are wonderful programs for anyone who wants to acquire a spiritual practice, whether they are addicts or not. But to assume that people who are addicts need them more than the rest of us, is to assume that addiction is a sign of spiritual failing rather than a chemical imbalance: If only they had been more spiritually evolved, they never would have become addicted. Do we say this about cancer victims? People with heart disease?

Some addicts may find that 12-steps programs help them to cope better deal better with their disease. It may help them to recover, to keep the disease in remission, to abstain from the alcohol or drugs that will cause a relapse.

Spiritual programs help cancer victims too. It helps them to have hope, it calms and comforts them, it lowers blood pressure, it builds the immune system, it helps them to heal. It may even help them to become in touch with their truer selves. But we don’t assume cancer patients are less in touch with their truer selves than the rest of us.

Just the addict deserves that stigma, it appears.

Breaking the Stigmas of Addiction

The acceptance of addiction as a disease is only now becoming the norm. But there are so many assumptions about addiction still circulating, consciously and unconsciously, that even doctors, addiction counselors, and rehab programs still blame the addict for the addiction, still treat these patients as if they are morally, socially, and spiritually impaired.

Even those whose loved ones are suffering from addiction slip into this mode of thinking.

We need to call them on it when they do. We need to be alert, and dismantle the stigmas wherever they appear.

Addiction and “Turning Pro”

Hero Carlo_Crivelli_-_Saint_George_Slaying_the_Dragon,_1470I just discovered the book “Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work” by Steven Pressfield. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s meant for writers or people who want to create something worthwhile in their lives.

But it’s perfect for addicts, too, because it compares the struggle to live our passion with the struggle to overcome addiction. This could include addictions to drugs, sex,  gambling, money, fame, web-surfing, or even maintaining the perfect house–it’s all the same.

All addictions are mindless or mind-numbing distractions.They are all ways we resist being who we were meant to be, and doing the work we were meant to do.

Let me quote a few things he says about addiction that ring true:

Have you ever noticed that addicts are often extremely interesting people? Addiction itself is excruciatingly boring . . .because it’s predictable–the lies, evasions, the transparent self justifications . . . But the addict himself is often a colorful and fascinating person . . . . [His] story often reads like a novel, packed with drama, conflict, and intrigue.

“Addictions” are not bad. They are simply the shadow forms of a more noble and exalted calling.

Addiction becomes a surrogate for our calling. We enact addiction instead of embracing the calling.

All addictions share, among other things, two prime qualities: (1) They embody repetition without progress; (2) They produce incapacity as a pay-off.

Both addicts and artists are dealing with the same material, which is the pain of being human and the struggle against self-sabotage.

Both artist and addict wrestle with the experience of exile. They share an acute, even excruciating sensitivity to the state of separation and isolation, and both actively seek a way to overcome it, to transcend it, or at least to make the pain go away.

The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways–by transcending it or by anesethitizing it. Borne aloft by powerful enough chemicals, we can almost, if we are lucky, glimpse the face of the Infinite. If that doesn’t work, we can always pass out. Both ways work. The pain goes away.

The artist takes a different tack. She tries to reach the upper realm not by chemicals but by labor and love.

The book is calling all the “amateurs” of the world–those of us stuck in our distracting, mind-numbing “addictions”–to turn “pro.” Turning Pro is changing our mind-set. It’s turning our life around. It’s embracing our higher-self and our higher-calling.

This how-to book starts off by identifying all the ways we avoid being who we were meant to be—through our addictions, our self-doubts, our self-inflicted wounds, and through fear in all its forms. And it identifies what is needed to overcome these, how the “Pro” approaches these very same doubts and fears and resistance in ways that are productive rather than self-sabotaging.

“Turning Pro ” evokes the spiritual in a non-secular way. The author states: “The pain of being human is that we’re all angels imprisoned in vessels of flesh.”  We’re all struggling toward a higher sense of self that we fear we will never reach.

But we can, Pressfield claims: Once we start taking ourselves and our dreams seriously. When we realize it’s worth the hard work to do so, worth the effort to resist anything that would slow our momentum or lower our reach, that’s when we turn our lives around; that’s when we turn Pro.

This is what the struggling addict (in all of us) needs to hear. This book is for those who are tired of the merry-go-round of addiction and want desperately to get off. And it’s also for those who have gotten off the merry-go-round and wonder, now what?

This is what my son needs to hear. And I think he’s ready for it.

Yesterday he told me with such heartfelt conviction: “I’m done with drugs. I’m never going back.” I believe him.

But he also said: “I’m tired of screwing around, working low-wage dead-end jobs. My life is half over. I don’t have time to waste what’s left.”

He’s started to explore a new career choice, something that has always tickled the back of his mind, and he’s excited about pursuing it.  He’s ready for this book.

It ends, appropriately for all struggling addicts, with these inspiring words:

The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns.

You are that hero