Love The Addict, Not The Addiction

This is the mantra of all SUD parents, everywhere, all the time, ad infinitum.

It sounds ludicrous. Similar to “love the sinner, but not the sin.” In reality it’s closer to “love the depressed but not the depression” because addiction is a form of mental illness. No question it can devolve into criminal activity: stealing, dealing illegal drugs, buying said drugs, assault and battery, prostituting, driving uninsured/unlicensed or under the influence, destruction of private property, skipping out on jobs/taxes/bills. If this feels like an unhelpful psychic dump – well, so be it. This is the unvarnished truth of watching the disease unfold.

Sigh. Love the addict, not the addiction.
Still, this is how most of us parents feel. Regardless of the attenuating circumstances.

But it doesn’t come without effort. Especially when you witness their umpteenth battle. Sometimes you are in the crossfire. Sometimes you are the target. It’s not personal we tell ourselves. But it is. Not that we are personally hurt – we learn to move beyond that after a few dozen incidents. Instead we begin a sympathetic slow bleed. Their brain is scrambled and ours is bruised by default.

So what to do if you find yourself ringside again? Eventually we learn it is their fight, not ours. Taking on the role of a health care advocate is invaluable. Be accessible and have an emergency plan ready – a list of places that are insurance card acceptable, and a plan for what you will and won’t support. (And try not to feel guilty if your “won’t” list grows longer over time.)

Until that day comes, can you become a harbinger of peace? You may have to close your eyes to envision it. A friend from long ago told me that at bedtime she places one hand over her heart and one hand over her belly and tries to sync breath and heartbeat – and then she offers it up to her struggling son. A bit woo-woo, yes….but also effective from a “positive psychic dump” sort of place.

Speaking of positive psychic dumps I have been reading Sadhguru’s book, A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting Your Destiny. In it he warns of man’s propensity to rely on articulate memory for direction. Articulate memory being the conscious data we accumulate from everyday living. This “memory data” guides our present and future moments. (Most of us call it learned behavior.) Of course it has built in blinders because it is based on personal experience. This narrows our ability to see what truly is, and to navigate in novel ways. Sadhguru’s thesis mirrors scientific study of the brain: our neurological pathways are built by initial experiences and then reinforced and strengthened by future experiences (which are often predetermined because we are creatures of habit and, well, because we have already built that neural pathway!).

Ah the cyclical nature of disease, brain theory, madness! Who wants out? (Me, me, me!)

So how does one repair a brain sick from habitual emotional reactivity? Teach it to move in a positive direction. It’s not easy (bad, bad brain!) but it gets easier by practicing unfiltered awareness of everyone and everything in the present moment. (Sadhguru coaches setting an alarm on your phone every hour to waken yourself from that cyclical reverie.) Start small. Notice the faces of people around you, the smell of wet grass, the way your body can relax when you allow it too. Build some positive off-ramps to that diseased neurological super highway.

Now none of this is novel – many meditative, yogic and psycho-social practices have been preaching this for centuries. We also know it’s trendy as fu$%. Sometimes the sheer number of bumper stickers and t-shirts can make me want to give a few people the finger. Maybe you want to give me the finger. 🙂

And, yah, some of those future unfiltered moments are gonna be bad. We know they are. As my husband warns, ‘Why live them before they have happened? Why live them twice?’ And sometimes that bad experience will turn into something positive – it happens all the time. So many, many people heal from their addictions. It’s time for me to do the same.

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