Someone mentioned recently what a big smile I had. I responded, ‘Yes, I have a lot to smile about…’ Then I thought about how that wasn’t always the case. There were many days and weeks that would go by with no sign of a smile. This was during the depths of the dark time with my child’s struggle with addiction. I was consumed with worry and obsession about her well-being. I did not find joy in anything, even when there were good things going, because my heart ached with despair. But as I reflect, over time that changed. As I got healthier and realized that I was not in control of the outcome of another person’s life, I began to regain my own. I went from reacting to the day to day crisis to being proactive and in control of my boundaries and my time. This began to give me peace of mind, serenity and sanity.
It’s hard to imagine that you can be happy if your child is not happy. But it is possible to disconnect from the sinking ship that is their addiction and swim to shore. Once I started to get perspective and take care of myself, I realized that if I got stronger and healthier I could be in a better position to help my daughter. It is like the airlines when the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first then help your child. It is the best analogy, how can you save them when you are suffocating yourself? As parents we love our children so much that we would do anything to save them from harm. But the very act of helping a loved one in addiction can, sometimes, have the opposite effect and help keep them in their addiction. I am glad that I am smiling today. I have a lot to smile about…my family is in a good place, my daughter is clean and sober. I am grateful for the happiness that I have and I know that just for today I will enjoy and feel grateful.
It is such an interesting time when certain recovery milestones begin to occur. In the early days of my daughter’s recovery, I would put on such a celebration at the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 90 day chip, the.…Well, you get the picture. I would put such fanfare on these early recoveries because I wanted all the hope that came with it – you would have thought I was the one getting the chip. It is easy to look back on this and, while I think it’s great to celebrate the milestones of recovery, we also need to keep it in perspective. Nevertheless, as the years accumulate in her recovery I’m not sure I would be any less proud if she’d just gotten her college diploma! It’s been a long journey, and it did not come easily.
Is it time to claim victory over addiction? I hardly think so, but it is time to celebrate and sit back and relish the healing and recovery. She has become responsible: performing well in her job, paying her bills, making good choices. These are all wonderful things to celebrate. Yet I know how illusive addiction can be – it’s like cancer, it’s in remission, healing has taken place and a clean bill of health is declared. Yet, it can reoccur when unmanaged, turning life upside down in a moment. I do not dwell on this possibility, for today I will rejoice in my daughter’s recovery and the healing that has taken place in our family.
Author David Sheff documented his son’s addiction and his family’s torturous quest for recovery in his first book on the topic, Beautiful Boy. That book had struck a painful nerve in me, especially the twisted co-dependency that complicated an already complicated picture. Imagine: you’ve just had a stroke, and the one thought coursing through your mind is “How is my child? How is my child? How is my child?” That warped sense of priorities seems all too familiar to parents of addicts who often assume second position behind the incessant demands of their child’s substance chemical dependency.
David Sheff hits another home rum with, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. This honest, accurate and empathetic book validated my experience. Here’s a sample of what he writes: ‘The view that drug use is a moral choice is pervasive, pernicious, and wrong. So are the corresponding beliefs about the addicted — that they’re weak, selfish, and dissolute; if they weren’t, when their excessive drug taking and drinking began to harm them, they’d stop. The reality is far different.” You can read a longer excerpt of the book here.
They say that, in recovery, all that needs to change is EVERYTHING. That goes for knowledge and attitudes, too: yours, mine, our children’s, the public’s. Clean offers a powerful tool to change the attitudes that impact course of our loved ones’ addiction and recovery.