I am captivated by Anne Lamott’s book, Imperfect Birds. Certainly, Anne was channeling me as she wrote this novel about a daughter’s secretive addiction.
Her book, although fiction, is uncannily familiar as she describes the seeming innocence of her daughter and friends, who were blatantly using drugs right in front of oblivious parents like me. Instead of “lame,” I prefer to look back at myself as trusting, hopeful, and a firm believer in the innocence and purity of childhood. Drug addiction did not fit into that idyllic picture.
Anne Lamott and I are now kindred spirits, bonded by the experience of addicted children, real or fictional. I am buoyed by this sisterhood of understanding and compassion. It’s the same sisterhood that blossomed at a parents’ Al-Anon meeting where I discovered that many of us were struggling through the dark and uncertain woods. After weeping uncontrollably in a room filled with total strangers, I was brought into the fold. We shared the common threads of grief and despair and even hope, although I couldn’t see that at the time. But I knew I was no longer alone, and that made all the difference.
I’m not far into the book, so I don’t know how the story ends. Guess what? We never know how the story ends until we get there. Until then, we need to forge ahead through the uncertainty, reach out to others who are stumbling alongside us, and head towards the light of day—one step at a time.
I imagine my beloved and chemically-dependent child has triggers that may send him ever so slightly in the direction of relapse. I have triggers of my own that sometimes push me towards an unhealthy engagement with my son, back to the Neolithic days of enabling, co-dependency, anger, despair and addiction to his addiction.
It’s difficult to convey to others how triggers can launch me with the power of a catapult into a place of anger and heartache. How could a simple white lie or overlooked obligation raise my blood pressure and my ire so quickly? Why are things like this—so innocuous and commonplace to others—so upsetting to me? Its’ because they bring back a dark, contentious past of hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart combat with the Enemy Addiction. The most powerful triggers have the ability to transport me back to the bad old days almost instantly and unconsciously.
Author Anne Lamott talks about her own triggers in her book, Grace (Eventually) Thoughts on Faith, “I did not explain or justify my triggers…because trigger implies weapons, weapons imply aim, aim implies combat, combat implies engagement. All I wanted was to feel less engaged, less stuck: I wanted to let it go….I wanted to be a person of peace, who diminishes hurt in the world, instead of perpetuating it.”
Isn’t that what we all want as we walk away from the war zone of chemical dependency? How to reach that space of peaceful disengagement and serenity is another thing entirely. Some of us “Let go and let God.” Others find relief with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. And I’ve heard about repeating a mantra over and over when contronting a trigger. How do you neutralize your triggers so they don’t derail your own recovery?