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"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Letter to the Disease by Mary Chalburg
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Realizing I was powerless over you empowered me. I have learned that I can not control you, I did not cause you and I can not cure you. I will continue to live my life even if my son decides to use drugs again...

Intro: Lots of changes!! The first letter I wrote was an assignment for family members attending family night at Gateway Rehab. Writing that first letter helped me tremendously while my son was in the Intensive Outpatient program. The assignment was designed to help family members put all of their thoughts on paper and to express their feelings toward addiction-not the addict in their life. This writing assignment was extremely therapeutic for me.

Dear Addiction,

I felt you were to blame for many problems in my life. I came to realize I was not angry at my father for being an alcoholic or my brother for being an addict; I was angry at You. I was not angry at my brother when he was diagnosed with lung cancer so why would I be mad at him for being addicted to drugs? Along with many people in our society I used to feel that addicts chose to do drugs; therefore, it is their fault when they eventually become addicted to drugs or alcohol. While individuals are responsible for taking that first drink or illicit drug, some people are luckier than others. The fortunate ones can stop after a beer or two or try marijuana and never pick it up again. My child was not able to stop after one or two and he did make bad choices about drugs and alcohol. Fortunately, he is alive today and has learned from his choices. Other kids have not been as lucky. The harsh reality is kids CAN and DO die from using drugs.

My son dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player not a heroin addict. However, experimenting with drugs and alcohol at a young age can ruin plans and in some cases, even take a life. I can only speak from my experience with my son’s drug use. I am similar to many other concerned parents. We find ourselves constantly worrying about our children’s health, social life and where he or she will attend college. My worries went from what colleges will he attend to HOW I CAN HELP SAVE HIS LIFE from drug abuse… Playing in a championship game or attending the prom seems so trivial to me now. Teenage experimentation with drugs quickly progressed to drug addiction.

The night my 18 year old son came to me and told me he was addicted to heroin changed my life forever… my son is 21 years old and recently celebrated 2 years of being clean and sober. He has been able to keep you away. You have not taken his life. I am grateful for this miracle everyday. You have changed my life dramatically. I feel free. I feel alive. I feel emotionally stronger than I have ever felt in my life. Realizing I was powerless over you empowered me. I have learned that I can not control you, I did not cause you and I can not cure you. I will continue to live my life even if my son decides to use drugs again. I will still wake up each morning, thank God for another day, and put a smile on my face. The thought of you does not scare me or control my thoughts. Ironically, the most stressful situation in my life has brought me the most peace.

Sadly, my family was broken into pieces because of you. Five lives took on very different directions because of you. Regardless of an impending divorce, the five of us still celebrate special days, such as birthdays or 2 year Anniversaries together. Parenting children together is an unbreakable bond. It is the strongest connection two people can share. We will continue to keep our three beautiful children our primary focus, nothing can or will change that!

We all dealt with the after affects of you differently. I can only speak for myself and how I dealt with you. Dealing with a loved one’s addiction is complicated. There is no right or wrong way to living with you. There is only the way that best suits each family member. Dealing with you is very personal and no two people deal with you exactly the same way. It is not uncommon for family members to be angry, embarrassed or in denial of your existence.

As a mother, there was only one way for me to deal with you. I looked into my child’s eyes with tears running down his face as he asked for my help and I promised him I would stand by him forever and ever as he worked on his life without you. He needed support and love from his family. He needed to know he was loved unconditionally. This came naturally to me; he was my child, my first born, my flesh and blood. This was not something I had to consider, it was instinctive.

My son is a remarkable young man. He has traveled across the country to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He has shared his story at meetings in front of hundreds of people. This is the same person who years prior had a difficult time looking someone in the eye when he spoke to them. That was when he was using drugs and had a secret… He is open and honest now. He has a passion for life. He lives each day to the fullest!

My message to parents is never give up hope. NEVER. If there is a heartbeat, there is still hope that an addict can change. As for parents, now is the time to change YOUR LIFE, regardless of your child’s drug use. Learn to live again, learn to love and trust again. This is not easy to do especially if a child is actively using drugs. Talk to other parents, join a support group, Parent Survival Skills Training PSST, HAS HELPED NUMEROUS PARENTS TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR LIFE AGAIN.

I learned about addiction and that has changed me. I feel blessed with this knowledge and have returned to school so I can learn how to help others. I have been able to share my personal experience with addiction in the hopes of helping another parent. Along with my personal experience and a degree in Social Work I will be able to help many more people.

In order for change to occur in our addicts, it helps if we parents are willing to make changes. We need to stop allowing the addict in our life to manipulate us. Conversely, we need to stop enabling them. There were many times when I thought I was helping my son and in reality I was doing more harm than good. Whether it was helping with homework (more or less doing the homework!) or not confronting him when one of his stories seemed suspicious; I always seemed to make excuses for his behavior. During his years in high school (using drugs) my “gut” feeling always told me something was not “right”. I could not put my finger on it and I hoped it was just adolescence and whatever “it” was would go away as he matured. Addiction does not just go away.

I encourage parents to follow their gut feeling. If something does not seem right-then it isn’t… Trust your instincts and do not allow feelings of guilt or denial stand in your way of a serious problem. Drugs are deadly. I suggest confronting your teenager when a story does not add up, ask more questions, and check their cell phones and text messages if you suspect drug use. If drug use is suspected do not allow he or she to drive your automobile. The risk of killing themselves or another human being is too great. Be firm with your decisions and stand your ground. By doing so teens will be mad at us but I am a firm believer if your teenager is mad at you then you are doing your job!

My son was mad at me on a daily basis. However, a year ago when Eric and I were on the Marty Griffin radio show sharing our experience Marty asked him,” I bet you were pretty mad at your mom during your high school days Eric? Eric agreed and then said the most magnificent comment a mother could hear, “But honestly, she saved my life and I love her.” My son told Marty Griffin and the entire listening audience that he loved me and I had saved his life- it doesn’t get much better than that… So, if your teen is mad at you today one day he may thank you for saving his or her life someday.

Change is difficult. For us parents, just recognizing that we are being manipulated is the first step. When we stop our enabling behaviors, it will not only change our life but our addict’s life as well.

It is time to take charge of your life again, like it used to be, before drugs or addiction invaded your life. PSST empowers parents of substance abusers.


Anonymous said...

Wow!! Your article is soooo right!! Thank you for your insights. As a parent I want to change the way I deal with my son and your real life story gives me inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I agree, change is difficult. Families with an addict become comfortable and set in their ways. It takes a long time for family members and addicts to be able to make effective changes. I look at change as evolving. It takes time and patience. We need to take a look at ourselves and realize that we have to come out of our comfort zone to be effective and make positive changes that benefits everyone.


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