Comfortable with Uncertainty.

Comfortable with Uncertainty is the title of a book by the Tibetan Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron. Pema has written many books… and they all have portentous titles such as “Start Where You Are,” “The Wisdom of No Escape” and “When Things Fall Apart.”

Pema is speaking to me.
But a Buddhist would say that there is no me; we are all one.

“It’s not all about you.”
I have heard this before. My daughter would holler this when I would try to get her to conform, behave, listen, follow.
(She said a lot of things… this being one of the milder retorts!)

But she was right.
It’s not all about me.

A yoga teacher once told me that it is the ego at work when we think we can control the outcome of any event. Even if that outcome has no selfish impetus. Even if that outcome is to solely benefit another – like recovery.

She questioned me: “If you didn’t take credit when your eldest aced the SATs, or won the lead in the play, why would you own your other child’s difficulties?” She further explained; “If you believe you are responsible for another person’s failures that too is the ego at play. You are, in essence, believing you have a Godly amount of control over another individual’s actions.”

So, where does this leave me? If I am no longer an active participant do I assume the role of spectator?   Do I alternate between cheering from the sidelines or averting my ashamed gaze?

No. As Pema reminds, “just start where you are.” Starting necessitates setting off, not standing still. Basically; get yourself back into the game.

The thing is, if you keep playing, at some point you no longer keep track of the wins and the losses. It just becomes a series of parade like hills; some up, some down. Eventually you realize others are playing the game too. We are all part of this shifting, moving, undulating life force. There are no bystanders. And there are no ultimate victors.  We are all on the same team.

“A Bitter Pill.”

I hate idioms….cutesy tidbits of advice that fashion themselves as sage life lessons. You’ve heard them; “it’s a blessing in disguise,” “it takes two to tango” and the ever popular, “let sleeping dogs lie.”

You know what? It’s not always a blessing. And one person alone can perform quite a destructive tango. And let sleeping dogs lie? That’s just a lame excuse for not “getting your hands dirty.”

But I have to admit idioms have their place. There was a time when I relied upon them for their simplicity. Caring for an addict can turn the highest functioning brain into unstable mush. Rational thought processes become clouded by lies, self deception, and blind worry. So you adapt. Part of your mind shuts down and does not allow the conscious brain to record one more crippling incident. Another part goes into hyperdrive and busies itself with layers of extraneous nonsense; so much so that sleep can become a luxury. And then there is the imaginary brain. In order to spare whatever functioning grey matter you may have left you simply believe the lies you tell yourself. And the lies being told to you.

Of course none of these behaviors are symptomatic of good mental health. But what else can you do? Try to make sense of your daughter face down in watery ditch in a blue shiny party dress? Try to accept the presence of a hypodermic needle in the side pocket of your new black leather handbag? Believe in the sincerity of the two men who arrive in the middle of the night and roll your bloodied incoherent child onto the soft colored pea stone that comprises your driveway?

This is what you do. You chant an idiom. It becomes a very effective mantra.  Something like:

Tomorrow is a new day.
One step at a time.
Relapse is part of recovery.

Another that has helped is “detach with love.” I have to admit it is hard to detach without feeling anger or pity. Detaching with love is difficult. It feels like not caring. But if you recite it with added inflection on the word “love” – then it almost works.

My all time favorite idiom is “don’t get sucked in by the tornado.” It is very hard to not be reactive. You want to fix the issue, defend yourself, or argue a point. But you can’t win with someone who is actively using. While the world around you is starting to blow hard you calmly recite “don’t get sucked in by the tornado.” Over and over and over again. It’s a form of detaching with self love.

Pretty Rat Cage.

There is a popular TED talk by Johann Hari that has received nearly five million views. In it he reports that after three years of extensive research he is convinced that we are incorrectly addressing addiction treatment. Instead of using punishment as a deterrent we should be saying “I love you.”

I wish I could have said I laughed. Instead my breath died in my throat. Of course I take this particular TED talk a little more personally than most. The premise that a lack of love had somehow been the missing ingredient… well, let’s just say I took umbrage.

Hari bases his conclusion partly on research done in the 1970s by Professor Alexander of Vancouver. Alexander recreated an experiment done earlier in the century that showed caged rats consistently chose heroin laced water over fresh water. In Alexander’s experiment the rat cage was outfitted like a rat “park.” They had room to exercise, ate good food, and had females to fraternize with. The result? The rats hardly ever touched the heroin water. The conclusion? Addiction is about your “cage.” (If only we had prettier more loving cages….)

I venture to say that such a conclusion is over simplified. If this were true the poor would be more likely to suffer from addiction than the rich. (This, by the way, is categorically untrue.) And, from personal experience, if loving an addict cured addiction – well then my daughter would be well. There are thousands of us who love our sick children – love them unconditionally! – and they remain addicted.

However, I do believe that self love is lacking. Parents of addicts report a higher number of children that suffer from low self esteem, personality disorder, social anxiety or depression. I have also heard parents say that these children were uncharacteristically giving…almost to a fault. And that they naturally gravitated to connecting with the “underdog.” Addicts themselves nearly unanimously acknowledge feeling uncomfortable in their “own skin.” They report feeling “different,” “misunderstood,” or “alone.” Hari cites this as failure of social engagement – a result of our bigger homes and social media interactions. But here again I beg to differ. We have always had addicts, even when we had closer knit social circles. The social disengagement is more likely an internal process, not an external one.

I have three children, only one of whom suffers from addiction. I told each one of them that they were important, beautiful, and loved by me. My middle child did not believe me. I could see it in her eyes. When she slept at night I would sneak into her room and whisper these things again into her ear. I was hoping that somehow, just somehow, my words would imprint themselves on her unconscious brain. I was singing her love songs.