I encourage many of my clients and friends to journal. Writing down our thoughts at the time they take root in the subconscious gives us a wonderful roadmap to refer back to, whether it's the next day or months/years later. It gives us a mirror into our souls as we may be faced with uncertainty, fear, confusion or any other emotional hiccup.
Writing is very therapeutic. People are more inclined to scribble their reflections when they are feeling unbalanced or unsettled. Somehow pouring out our anxiety and trepidations on paper or a computer screen can enable us to take a deep breath. When we are done we often feel that we have given ourselves a shot of penicillin to help ward off whatever infections we are experiencing.
My friend Frank wrote this very moving and compelling narrative about his son. He of course gave me permission to share it with any mothers and fathers that may be struggling with their loved one's substance abuse issue right alongside Frank.
My son, an only child, is now 24 years old and has had a drug addiction for almost ten years. A trying ten years, to be sure. Yet, one moment stands out:
One dark morning in March 2001 two burly strangers came to our house, woke our innocent child up and, as planned, accompanied him to an Outward Bound program in Idaho, and then, three weeks later, to a stark rehabilitation program in rural Utah. He was so young and innocent then; this was one of my darkest hours.
Just six months earlier optimism reigned. Our son had graduated from an excellent private middle school and began high school with the greatest expectations. He was playing on the freshmen football team, taking some advance placement courses, and was extraordinarily popular with girls and boys alike. Yet only a few weeks into his freshman year things quickly began to unravel. From over the counter drugs, to prescription drugs, to marijuana, to cocaine, to mushrooms and to L.S.D. Heroin would come a short time later. By the time he was spirited away to his first rehab program he had been enrolled in four different high schools.
During the next nine years he has had but brief periods of sobriety, having unsuccessfully been through innumerable inpatient and outpatient rehab programs and served multiple incarcerations for drug related offences. Then, ten months ago, he was served two federal indictments for heroin related offences, and now sits in federal prison serving a five year sentence.
But the father-son story is not that simple nor does it end there. Indeed, this difficult and disappointing decade has been transformative to me in a very positive sense.
Ten years later I am a far better person than I was at the outset of my son's disease and the father-son relationship is more meaningful and profound than fathers typically have with their twenty something offspring. I attribute this growth to two things: my experience as an active Al-Anon member and the highly personal connections I have made with others living with the same challenge.
This is what I have learned and what has not only sustained but enriched me:
1. I am not alone. There are so many out there that have dealt with a similar or even more uncomfortable scenario. In many cases my "partners" are fellow Al Anon members; in other instances they are friends or professional colleagues that shared that they too had a close family member struggling with addiction. In both instances, I have found that there is strength in numbers and that people are overwhelmingly kind of heart. You help yourself by helping others. Five years into my Al-Anon experience I have helped innumerable others to deal with similar challenges to my own. Such "giving" has been cathartic to me and has helped put my son's addiction in perspective. I have become a staunch advocate of the adage "it is far better to give than to receive."
2. Spirituality is a blessing. Although I feel that the latent spark of spirituality has always been part of my being, I never considered myself spiritual. Yet the saying "nobody is an atheist in a foxhole" is so true. I have been comforted to learn when and how to turn things over to higher power.
3. Everything happens for a reason. I sort of, kind of, believed this adage ten years ago; now I consider it an absolute truth. I doubt that my son would have survived if he had not been incarcerated; now, ten months into his incarceration, an incredible, beautiful person seems to be emerging. Likewise, our extraordinary father-son relationship would not have developed if it had not been for these years. The personal depth that I have acquired also would not have happened. Never underestimate the opportunities for growth that can merge from the ashes of tragedy.
As our son sits in a federal prison cell 200 miles from his home I am filled with optimism and hope. We speak almost daily, visit often and have exchanged scores of meaningful letters. He has been sober since he entered prison ten months ago and is focused on his nutrition, working out, and attaining as many college level credits as possible. We both recognize that addiction is a disease that must be addressed one day at a time. And we realize that our son will have to address his disease every day for the rest of his life.
Yet, I proceed knowing that as long as we are both breathing the air of our fair earth, I will remain optimistic and focused on the unanticipated good, rather than the bad, that has come out of my son's battle with drug addiction.
Thank you Frank for sharing this; your love and inspiration provides a beacon of hope for many.
If I can be of service, please visit my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and I invite you to explore my new book Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict at www.reclaimyourlifebook.com