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[ Opinion ]

For Those Who Know The Feeling of Desperation That Comes With Loving Someone In Addiction

“Drugs have taken so much from me over the years. Time I can never get back. People I will never see again. Memories I never had a chance to make… And the craziest part of all of this? I never touched the stuff myself.” -Alicia Cook

For most of us with loved ones in addiction, there are very few that can relate to our battle, yes our struggle. There is a group available to help us, and though it may not sound fair (“why should I be the one to attending groups?) Because just as your loved one didn’t chose to live a life as an addict, we didn’t chose to pick up the collateral damage. But please, keep reading, this has literally saved my life.

What IS Nar-Anon?”

The Nar-Anon Family Groups is primarily for those who know or have known a feeling of desperation concerning the addiction problem of someone very near to you.”

1. We admitted we were powerless over the addict — that our lives had become unmanageable.”  -The Twelve Steps of Nar-Anon, Step One

(Taken from the Nar-Anon website (http://www.nar-anon.org/what-is-nar-anon/)

I have been attending Nar-Anon meetings since early August of 2015, when my son (then 18 years old) went out of state to a long term rehabilitation facility for drug addiction. I began going (like so many others) because I hoped I could access some more/different/better/groundbreaking/life-changing/magical help for my son. Turns out that is really not what the group is about.

The group is about getting ME some help.

There is some powerful magic that occurs in a functional and well-run support program, and I am lucky enough to have stumbled upon such a group. By the time you get to a support group for family members of addicts, chances are you’ve had plenty of time to get REAL messed up in your own head and actions.

I have come to feel like this is a necessary unpleasantness: your loved one begins using drugs, maybe this goes on for a long time before you find out, maybe you find out right away. Regardless, most people’s first try, is to STOP the addict from using. If it’s your child (like mine was) you….attempt to regain control in all the old ways that had worked before, while they were growing up.

You will likely try to intervene (and you should). You will likely feel desperate to help. You will likely feel angry. And guilty. You will likely tell yourself that it’s probably just a phase. You will probably try to recruit help from pediatricians and neighbors and certain family members and school administration. If your child is an addict, like mine is, none of this works.

Because there’s this switch lurking somewhere in the addict brain/genetic pile of spaghetti. Doctors sometimes call it ‘a predisposition’. Anyway, there’s a switch. I picture it as a light switch. Once it gets flipped to ‘on’ there is no way to flip it off again. Even if the addict learns to manage their addiction, it never goes away. Sometimes it can be tamed into a permanent dormancy (my father went to his first AA meeting in 1989. He remained sober until his death in 2014). Sometimes, it can rest quiet and inert for years, only to one day come roaring back to life (see Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steven Tyler, Eminem, just to name a few). 

But you still try.

You never think it’s going to be YOUR child who turns into a “junkie”. You can’t leap from reluctant acknowledgement of common adolescent risk-taking behavior (like experimentation with marijuana) to full-blown addiction. This is the beginning. At some point will come the process of finding out. Finding out that YOU can not stop an addicted person from using. At least not permanently. Even if that person is your beloved child.

This process takes time and is extraordinarily painful and very frightening. You will feel like you MUST help your child.

‘Help’ might turn into ‘rescue’. ‘Rescue’ often involves trying to solve the child’s problems in all the areas that will be become affected: school, friends, family relationships, legal issues. 

Eventually, someone will accuse you (or tell you gently, but everything feels like an accusation during this stage) of being codependent. You may find yourself ignoring other family members, neglecting your job, abandoning friendships, isolating, despising your spouse, veering wildly from despair to elation. You will likely find yourself doing things that would have, at one point, seemed ridiculous and impossible: calmly driving across town at 3 am for the 2nd time to pick up your addict at the police station, digging through your addict’s belongings to search for clues, casually throwing away drug paraphenalia when you find it, watching your addict eat with avid interest not present since infancy, driving around your neighborhood looking for your missing addict, making endless phone calls and emails, searching, searching, searching for answers. All of this will change you. You will likely feel out of control, your appetite and sleep patterns will be affected, you will feel like you are walking on eggshells, all of your relationships will change. Your day will be driven by the behavior of the addict. One lucky day, one of your phone calls or email searches may turn up a support group resource. You may go, with nothing on your mind other than the constant hamster-wheel of seeking help for your addict.

And then you go to that first meeting. Sometimes people never go back. Other times, even though it’s not what you are looking for at the time, you might feel a resonance with what is being said, like a tuning fork humming deep within your abdomen.

This was my experience. I went back. And went back again. The first step is admitting powerlessness over our addict. Initially mind-boggling, but after a couple of meetings, I had moments of clarity: “Yes, the only behavior I CAN control is my own!” The moments began to string together. I got a sponsor. I sought out reading material. I read and highlighted certain sentences with a pink marker. A kernel of solace began to unfurl inside my tightly wound chest. It helped. I saw that I was not alone in my struggle. Everyone there GOT IT. There was no reticence, no fear of offending, no shame. The relief and release was visceral.

There are baby steps of progress. I embraced ‘detaching with love’ and ‘let go and let God’ and ‘one day at a time’. I had a couple of my own slogans, too, my favorite being ‘hope without expectation’. I went along like this, reading my daily meditations, listening and sharing at meetings, until the day my son called me, 60+ days into his first attempt at rehab, frantic because of some small issue at his recovery house (all the way down in Southern Florida). 

And…splat. I slid down, down, down the rabbit hole, without even realizing I was going, until I was back at ‘start’ wondering how all the progress I’d been making had vanished. Like the old board game, Chutes and Ladders. I had been climbing up that ladder with my baby steps. One frantic phone call was all it took to derail me.

Temporarily.

That’s what my group reminded me when I ‘shared’ my Chutes and Ladders frustration at the meeting the following week. My setback is temporary and does not invalidate all the stuff I have learned and practiced. Next time (there is always a ‘next time’), I might be able to scale the ladder a little easier, because of what I have learned. Maybe the fall won’t be as precipitous. Perhaps I won’t fall as far. Possibly I will notice I am falling before I hit the bottom…..

‘Keep coming back’. That’s another slogan. ‘It works because you work it’. ‘Work it because you’re worth it’. 

We are worth it. So are they. Our addicts, the reason we started playing the game. 

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