We bond in groups through the similarities in our loved ones as they go through the many stages of addiction: detox, rehab, relapse, homelessness, incarceration, overdose. We get to know the look, the actions, the talk, the walk…our instincts and intuition become hyper-sensitive and fine-tuned to every phase of addiction. We speak a language that few of our friends could ever comprehend. We are educated about subjects that we never wanted to know about. Addiction is a beast of a disease and we share every gruesome moment of it with one another.
We all want the same thing – recovery. So why is it so difficult to share about recovery? Is it possible to jinx someone? To tempt fate to step in and ruin it all? Do we feel guilty for our good fortune when so many others are still suffering? Shouldn’t we be giving hope and spreading the word that Recovery Happens?
It took years. It took more than a few brutal detoxes. Relapse after relapse. Jail – two first degree felony convictions – 2 strikes in a 3 strike state. It took trips to the ER and ICU. Financial loss…. broken relationships…. the list goes on. And today – my son is in a committed relationship with recovery. Just For Today, and with the understanding that it is one day at a time, he has a little more than one-year drug free. But, the education doesn’t end as he passes the clean and sober milestones. While I know that it’s not the same for everyone, I want to share the top 5 things that I’ve learned in his recovery:
- Recovery is not a one size fits all. It looks different on everyone. Whether it includes working the 12 steps, an IOP, a strong relationship with God, or none of the above, his relationship with recovery is his alone. My boundaries and house rules are about the things I will not tolerate…but I don’t get to choose, or even have to like his method of recovery. As long as recovery continues, I can only love him and support what works for him. His addiction – his recovery.
- PAWS is real. Educate yourself, and above all, for your own sanity and a healthier relationship with your loved ones, understand the fact that PAWS and active addiction often look exactly the same. Irresponsible, anxious, disheveled, lazy, irritable, confused, sleep problems…. all symptoms of PAWS. Learn about the difference between normal mood swings – we all have them – and the extreme behavior that would indicate an underlying mental health issue. You can drive yourself crazy thinking that he’s using again – or recognize the symptoms of PAWS are a normal part of recovery. Common sense will tell you that you cannot undo years of abusing and traumatizing your brain overnight. Give It Time!
- Life is a trigger. Consider how often we as non-addicts are triggered, every day, to react. We grab a cigarette or a glass of wine. We get angry and lash out. Some of us go for a run or go to the gym. These are behaviors that are triggered by something that didn’t go as planned during our day. Life is full of them, and you can’t escape them, no matter where you recover. You can only learn to deal with them, and change the way you react to them. You can’t wrap him in bubble wrap and pack him away in a safe place. He has to face his triggers and learn to conquer them. My job, as his mom, is to cheer him on and support him.
- Don’t label. We use the labels here in our groups with an understanding that it’s to make our communications simpler. But in our home – he’s not my addict son. He’s not my recovering addict son. He’s not a felon. He is simply Michael, my son. He deserves to go through his day not being treated as a guy with a disease. His past, while part of who he is today, does not define him. And, while he owns it, and acknowledges it, and is paying the consequences for it, he’s also working hard to overcome the constant reminder of what’s in his past, does not help him move forward.
- Never stop reinforcing, (even if at the time, it’s an academy award performance), the fact that you love him unconditionally; support his recovery; have faith in him and believe in him. Positive reinforcement. I no longer look for apologies – that comes in the form of his daily progress. I have let him know he has nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t look backwards – you’re not going that way.
A version of this was originally posted on Magnolia New Beginnings
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