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Addiction: for those who just do not get it

I just got off the phone with a member of my chosen family. My wife refers to most of them as my “lost boys.” Sometimes my boys call from college and sometimes they write from prison. It’s always good to hear from them – regardless of where they’re at.

I asked, “How are you?” He laughed nervously and explained, “I’m in an airport in Newark, New Jersey. I’m heading to detox and then on to rehab and I am scared shitless.” My heart swells. I’ve been afraid for this one for a long time. I love my children even more than I hate the disease that steals them from me.

I tell him he’s going to be okay. “This is the day you will look back on as a turning point in your life. From today forward everything can get better.” I’m sure he does not believe this as he’s hearing it. What matters is that I believe it and he can hold on to that.

“Just believe that I believe in you.”

He is a prodigal son. Folks who don’t understand addiction have no doubt seen Facebook memes encouraging them to regard an active addict as someone’s daughter or son. My experience is that too often, an active addict has little or no support in their family and so they become part of my family. To those who just don’t get it – especially if you’re religious, here’s the upshot to the prodigal son:

Luke 15:24, For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

My kids are good people with a bad disease. Their candor with me reflects their trust and but more importantly, their courage. It takes guts to admit you’re scared. By choosing not to hide fear, it loses a lot of its power to limit us.

Hearing from my son made my day. There was a time when he wouldn’t have called. He’d have convinced himself that to call me would inconvenience or burden me. That’s how addiction works – it tells you that the problem is not that you’re drinking – the problem is you’re a horrible person and undeserving of help, acceptance, or love.

Cool coincidence: Facebook served me up a memory of 4 years ago today when I published a blog about how beautiful the gift of desperation is. Short version:

Every child makes themselves promises about what it will be like when they’re an adult. No kid has ever said, “When I grow up I want to be a drunk like my dad.” Addiction creates the manifestation of our worst fears – in the midst of abusing substances, we emulate the behavior of those who abused us.

Some of us bear the shame of having been hateful to others. Many of us were cruel only to ourselves. Either way, what we came to see in the mirror was a shameful and terrifying reminder of everything we swore we’d never be.

Trauma and abuse leave scars that seem impossible to heal. Ignoring, forgetting, distracting, and avoiding failed us all. We sought ways to hide from pain. Drugs & alcohol are incredibly effective toward these ends, but only for the briefest of periods and always at a very high price. When you hurt like hell, relief at any price seems acceptable.

The promise of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other “downers” is relief from the pressure of anxiety and the ache of past pain. The seduction is simple. We see a bottle or a pill and we hear a beautifully sympathetic voice purring, “Poor baby. Let me make it all better for you.”

The promise of cocaine, meth, ADHD meds, and other “uppers” is the opportunity to be ten feet tall and bullet proof. Nobody can hurt us anymore. We feel powerful and prepared to take on the world. We hear an impossibly optimistic voice declaring, “With me you can do anything!”

Ultimately these are empty promises of a force that seeks mastery over us.

The disease of addiction is far more powerful than any individual human being. It is insidious, calculating, and destructive. We came to deny our needs and discard our dreams as we became increasingly obsessive and driven. Addiction inevitably leads to the betrayal of self and the denial of love.

The crash of hitting bottom is unlike any other pain. We’re overwhelmed with undeniable evidence that we have completely lost control of our own lives. We are terrified, alone, and desperate. Incredible as it may seem, this is opportunity. This is where everything is can get a whole lot better.

That’s where my son is today. Please send him some positive energy or a prayer.

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