Clearly, you don’t know us!

I was having a conversation with my relatively new neighbor today and she asked me if either of our boys had ever “experimented” with drugs or alcohol.  Clearly, this woman barely knows us, in fact, has only met Margaret, our 21 year old, a fourth year UVA student.  She only knows we have two older sons – 28 and 25 years old.  She does not know these other children, while much beloved, and well accomplished themselves now – DEFINITELY not only experimented with substances, but took them to negative heights (if that is even such a thing!), and are now in recovery and living lives shaped by doing so.
What struck me then, and again as I write this, is how FAR my husband and I have come!  That our neighbor, who has lived next door for about a year now, had no clue of the hell we’ve been through, how damaged we were – because we AREN’T anymore!!

Tolerating a Memory, I HATED

In talking to her, and bringing her up to speed, I had to relive a tiny bit of the emotions I felt during those tumultuous years.  I had to remember some of the details of our lives I have fought so hard to not dominate my life.  And, I was forced to tolerate the memory of who I was then and how much I hated it.  And that reminded me of what I want to teach others; as well as, how much I want to cherish my current sense of peace, contentment, and zest for life.

Dealing with Addiction is Dark

I call those years, from when I realized our second son was off the chain – to getting him help and ultimately in treatment – to swallowing the fact our first son was also dealing with addiction and all the negative ramifications that came with that –  as the
dark or lost years.  I was simply lost – barely available – and not at all engaged with the wonderfulness of life.  I barely ate, slept a lot, rarely saw friends, did not entertain at all (and man, do I love to have people over!!).  I read, but not with enthusiasm, and stopped working in the yard (which, previously, I loved to do), and basically, dropped out of my life.

SALTY  replaced my Happy

I remember telling myself I was sick of being sad, angry, lonely, and tired.  I thought I only felt sad, angry, lonely, or tired – but there was also a deep unspoken WANT.  I so badly wanted to escape my situation and reclaim my innocence and earlier existence.  I had a passionate YEARNING to return to my old life of happiness, complacency, and purpose.  At the time, I did not understand, how drastically my sons’ addiction was robbing me of my engagement with life, and slowly, over time, replacing it with the sole survival skill of adapting to being SALTY (sad, angry, lonely, tired, and yearning).

Making it to the “Other” side

 After years of self-recovery, going back to school to get my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling, working at Hope For Families, and developing my method of helping other families and parents come through the experience of loving a child with an addiction, I know it’s possible to teach acceptance and hope to other parents.  Making it through to the “other” side can be done, but it takes humility, willingness, self-awareness, courage, and hope.  These will be challenged and

threatened.  You will have to go against your old sense of self, be humble, be patient, and be willing to see who you can be – maybe who you were meant to be.   You will have to accept that your old self-messaging about yourself and your parenting were most likely wrong.  You will have to let down your guard to see who you might actually become, if you let your life experiences, as negative as they might seem, teach you new lessons, show you views you’ve never seen, and allow fresh ideas to take root and blossom.
Addiction is an ugly word.  And parenting an addict can be ugly.  It sounds terrible, is attached to great judgement, and invites utter intolerance.  However, if it knocks on your door, you can’t deny it.  You will HAVE to answer the door and deal with the thing that comes into your home and becomes part of your life.  You have a choice – live in that hell and probably die –  or learn, grow, and become a person who not only deals with addiction, but also survives it with self-awareness and integrity.  With purpose and mindfulness, and therefore hope and joy.  The ticket is to not tolerate being SALTY and to fight through the negative impact addiction has on you, to get help, and recover for yourself – because that’s all you can truly do.
And, it is possible.  If my new neighbor had met me nine years ago she would not recognize the “me” I am today.  I can’t tell you how fabulous that makes me feel!  I hope, in the not too distant future, you don’t recognize yourself because of how fabulous YOU feel!

Campbell