10 March 2014

Battling Addictions with Love

Over the course of these past two weeks, I have been in discussions with a dear friend of mine.  She is a young 19.  And an addict.  It's made me think a lot about addictions.  I mean, I too have my own addictions that I'm working on.  I've come to my own understanding that sugar and I don't mix.  Or sadly, we mix too well.  Just a little bit for me, leads me to want and crave more.  And so I have had to cut it out of my life.  My friend is addicted to drugs of all kinds, and alcohol.  Over the course of these past two weeks, we have been having some discussions about God, integrity, self-worth, honesty, and ultimately peace.

When we think of people with drug addictions, our mind takes us to what we've seen on TV and movies, right? The typical drug addict: circles under the eyes, thin, vacant look on his or her face, missing or decaying teeth, zoned out, dissheveled.  You know the type, right?  But this is not the face of addiction in this case.  My friend is young, fresh-faced, beautiful smile, intelligent, fit, vibrant and charismatic.  Yet, she is an addict.

That's just one type of addict.  I'm the another type.  I'm a sugar addict.  It's taken a long time for me to figure this one out, but it's the absolute truth.  My whole life.  And yes, you may not think that a drug addiction and a sugar addiction are anywhere near the same thing.  Her addiction is to illegal drugs.  My addiction is to sugar, which is not only legal but is put in all kinds of foods,not only desserts and sweets, but it's hidden in everything from peanut butter to breads and cereals.  But the reaction is the same, and the emotional triggers that lead to it are the same too.

As our chats have continued this week, we've been touching on everything from protecting her abstinance from relapse, to surrounding ourselves by the right people: People that will elevate us and not bring us down.  We talked about that slippery slope of just one bite (for me), just one hit or drink (for her) and how we’re out of control and it can send us spiraling down.  She doesn’t want to go there.  We talked about understanding that no matter how long the period of abstinence from a substance, that addiction would still be there.  Look at what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman after 22 years of being clean.  There’s a lot of pain there.  She understands the gift of a life…but she says there are times where she allowed herself to just spiral down.  Isn't that true of all of us?  Aren't there times that we just allow that negative spirit to take a hold of us and pull us, resigning ourselves to self-loatheing and feeling sorry for ourselves?  Focusing in on the problems that arise in the darkness rather than the solutions that lie ahead in the light?

I don't know anything about drug addiction.  And I don't really know much about drugs either beyond the scope of what I learned over watching back to back seasons of Breaking Bad, or Nurse Jackie on TV.  But I do know my own reality.  And all I can offer to my friend is my own experience and what I find strength in when I feel the need to reach for a sugary friend rather than dealing with what is stimulating that urge.  

Digging deep, through all the layers, it all goes down to the basic question:  Why am I here?  God's gift to us is life.  But it's up to us to take that gift and nurture it, grow it, and make it flower.  It was funny.  Hearing myself explain this to my friend, I was strengthening my own convictions.  So what is God's plan for us?  We talked about this.  I think each of us has to find our own joy.  What is it that makes us happy?  What is it that makes us feel like we have purpose?  For me, I find the most joy when I am creating and when I am helping the needy.  I often hear, "Your homeless outreach is such a blessing to people."  I don't look at it that way.  The reality is that the outreach is a blessing to ME. And I think anyone who has joined us on our homeless outreach has felt this. Feeding and clothing the homeless is necessary in my life because it gives my life purpose.  Yes, I have plenty of other purpose too.  I am a mom, a daughter, a sister and aunt.  I'm an artist, a wife, and all that. But I think that when we have a passion and a purpose and it's pointed in carrying out Christ's teachings of love and compassion, our lives take on a different meaning. They feel more fulfilled.  I'm totally not blowing my own horn here so please don't take it that way, but when I'm not involved in this work, I don't feel complete. That's when I start feeling empty.  And it's important to feel "full" of life.

And so what is her purpose in life?  I asked my friend, "If I could wave a magic wand and you could be anything at all in life, what would you choose?  What would you want to be?"  She got really quiet.  There was a minute of thoughtful silence.  And quietly she answered, "I think I would like to teach."  Beautiful.  A totally giving and fulfilling profession.  She is brilliant in math and science.  And we talked about the shortage of women role models in the math field and what a blessing she would be to young women, empowering them in their education.  Purpose.  

She is young.  And so the following day, I saw new joy in her when she told me she had applied to community colleges and completed her FAFSA application and sent it in.  I think there is trepidation in going back to school as well. Drugs and alcohol are prelevent in colleges and universities.  And when you're in recovery, being surrounded by your addiction can break you.  And that's where God steps in. 

Since we are created by God, and God is in each one of us, there is tremendous potential in each of us to create our own happiness and spread that light to others.  It's there, but we have to tap into it.  And we have to want to "work it" so to speak.  Without realization of that potential, it's easy to just waffle through life.  And that's when we get caught up in losing our focus.  That's when we are most vulnerable and that's when the door is open to find that happiness outside.  And it happens.

Despite the fact that I have always practiced my faith, I have used sugar as a crutch when it came to feeling my feelings.  Any reason was a good one for chocolate, right?  And I never really thought of it as an addiction before until over Christmas when I found myself having an inner dialogue with myself.  The angel on one shoulder asking myself why I was indulging again when clearly it was not in my best interest, and the devil on the other shoulder saying, "Shut up and pass the chocolate."  Searching inside, I find that my desire to be moderate is there, so why is it so difficult?  

Talking with my friend, she agreed, despite the time in spent abstaining, the addiction persists. Hanging out in the wings, waiting for that weak moment where you think you're in control.  But there is no control, and the downward spiral begins.  The good news is that you are never alone.  Ever.  The bad news is, that tempation is all around us.  \

For her short 19 years, she has seen a lot.  The drugs were there when she needed to fit in, when she was feeling unaccepted, when there was a need for comfort.  The numbness of the high kept her from feeling what was too painful in her young life.  One addiction led to another.  And another.  Tough love didn't work.

What was missing in her childhood was "love" - the unconditional, selfless love of a parent for their child.  What is missing in her life is an understanding of God.  This is what we talk a lot about.  Approaching all things through love.  The concept is foreign to her.  A loving God that cares for us. That is there for us when we need hope and strength.  As she works through her recovery, I see that she's trying to understand.  She wants to understand.  We talk a lot about acceptance and forgiveness, again, not easy concepts to grasp when you don't know God.  But we're getting there.

Last week, as we spent time together, a text message came in.  It was the notice that episode 1 of the Lenten Journey with Fr. Vazken had posted.  She was receptive to hearing it.  And so we sat and listened.  And it was so appropriate because the very first lesson was the desire in ourselves to be well.  And the second lesson, that we can't rely on others for our wellness.  It is up to us to do all that we can to see to our wellness.  Yes, we have the tools and the support from others, but until we can admit to ourselves that we want to be well and take the first steps, it's just not going to happen.

And so that's where we are.  We've been listening to each episode together each night.  Slowly, she is understanding the stability of a loving home.  There is a lot of guilt inside her.  And sadness.  But there is also this beautiful and bright light that I know will shine brightly if allowed to grow.  I shared with her one of my favorite quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King:  "There can be no deep disappointment, where there is not deep love."  Trying to reassure her that there are people that do love her, and that their disappointment in her life's course of events was only because of the love they have toward her.  There are just many different ways of showing it, and what is needed in this case is wrap-your-arms-around-her, and tell her that no matter what, you will love her type of love.

On the third night, she told me of her life.  She shared with me everything she had been through.  More than anyone should have to experience in a lifetime.  The evening ended with a long hug.  In the morning, at work at my desk, I received a message from her.  A quote by Alan Cohen:

Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself.  They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty, and your purpose when you are confused."

This Lenten Journey is going to be an extra meaningful one for both my friend and I.  The road to healing is going to a long one, but hopefully one of strength, peace, and a desire to be well.  We can't do it alone.  We hold on to one another, and God provides the love for us to accept, forgive, and be made whole.

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