If you have read my posts on New Life Recovery, you are well aware that my son, Aaron, recently achieved a milestone in his life, celebrating one full year of total sobriety. For this miracle, we give God praise and offer him our sincere thanks. However, as we now enter year two of Aaron’s recovery from heroin addiction, there is still an element of fear in my heart, a subject that, in my opinion, is worthy of discussion for parents and loved ones of recovering addicts.
To cut right to the chase, parents (and loved ones) of people in recovery can’t help but worry that their family member may relapse at some point and fall back into active addiction. Potential relapse is a legitimate concern for every parent. When your son displays symptoms of depression, you worry. When your son displays an angry temperament, you worry. When stress occurs within your home, you worry about how it may affect your recovering child. When your child misses a meeting or two, or when he is gone for a longer period of time then he should have been, you worry. If you discover that your recovering child has, for some reason, been in contact with a using friend from the past, you worry. I could go on and on…
When a loved one is engaged in active addiction, fear is a constant intruder within the hearts of those who care about him/her. Concern weighs you down every single day. As Phil Pavona-Aaron’s recovery coach-often says of parents of drug addicts, “Your child’s addiction is the last thing on your mind when you go to sleep and the first thing on your mind when you get up in the morning.” That, my friends, describes the fear that drug addiction inflicts on parents. If your child is addicted to drugs, it is continually on your mind.
But what about a person in recovery? If, as in Aaron’s case, your child has been clean for over one year, does the “fear” disappear? Clearly, the fear diminishes, but it does not ever go away entirely. Drug addiction is the most misunderstood disease of our generation. As a minister, I was one who once referred to drug use as a “sin,” largely in part out of ignorance. While choosing to pick up drugs for the first time is wrong, I have come to discover, through personal experience and education, that it is also a disease. Usage of powerful, life-altering drugs such as heroin, as in the case of my son, Aaron, places the person in a life-long, potentially life threatening struggle. The thought of escape from the pains of life is often present in the mind of the former user, and at times, this pull is very powerful. The recovering addict lives in frequent fear of this temptation and so, too, does his/her family! And so, we live with fear, almost every day. God, please do not let us return to those former days of agony, we pray.
As we have rejoiced in our son’s sobriety of over one year, I have had numerous discussions with well-intentioned people in our community. More often than not, I have come away with the impression that those folks believe that Aaron has overcome his “problem,” he has been clean for over one year and that he is in the clear; problem solved; nothing to worry about! If only it was just that easy. This is one misconception regarding addiction.
Yes, Aaron has come a long way. He has not used heroin, or any other drug, or alcohol, for over one year. As his father, I commend Aaron for his accomplishment! What a great year we have all enjoyed! Our son has returned to us and he is a great guy. Yet, a fear remains. If the great actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, could be taken after over 20 years of sobriety, can anyone feel smug? Relapse is a continual, daily reminder to all of us. We, the parents of recovering addicts, deal with the fear on a daily basis. Perhaps only the loved ones who have lived it can truly relate. The fear is always present, in varying degrees. It could be likened to post traumatic stress disorder.
The recovering addict must continually, day by day, make recovery the top priority in his life. And we, the parents/loved ones, must continually turn our loved one over to God, letting go and letting God. Then, and only then, will we be able to overcome, or at least minimize the fear. The recovering addict must continue to work the program: going to meetings, working on the 12 steps, staying in frequent contact with a sponsor, avoiding those former using friends, and maintaining a personal relationship with God, no matter how long he has been free from drugs. The same principle applies to us, the families of recovering addicts. We, too, must remain active in support groups, such as Families Against Narcotics (FAN), Al-Anon, or Nar-Anon. We can still observe the 12 steps ourselves and read literature produced by Al-Anon. We must never become complacent, and always stay on guard. And, turning to the Lord and putting our trust in him does wonders in regards to coping with the fear.
Never again do I want to see my son stoned. Never again do I want to find a needle in his room. Never again do I want to find him in a life threatening state. Never again do I want to see him in jail clothes, behind bars. Seven years of extreme addiction inflicted enormous fear in my heart. I am a man of faith, but I love my son dearly, and I feared for him. Now, although he has refrained from drugs and has made remarkable progress, an element of fear still remains. Such is the power of drug addiction. Am I weak in faith? Am I not as strong as I should be as a Christian?
On a recent Sunday night, I taught a lesson at New Life Fellowship, the church I am fortunate to pastor (what a loving, caring congregation). The featured verse in chapter five of Joyce Meyer’s book, Tell Them I love Them, was 1 John 4:18, and it spoke directly to me, a fearing father of a recovering addict. Here’s what it says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” The perfect love mentioned in this verse is God, who is love. As 1 John 4:18 states, fear brings torment into our lives. Fear is not of God – it is an instrument of the devil. But, if we will open our hearts to God’s perfect love, he will take away our fears. He will “cast them out.”
We, the parents and loved ones of drug addicts and recovering addicts, live with a daily fear. People who are not in our shoes cannot relate to or understand the fear, but some of you out there know exactly what I’m talking about. Please, know this of a certainty: God loves you, unconditionally. If you will just open your heart to his wonderful love, he can help you with your fear. I, myself, am still working on grasping this teaching and incorporating it into my own personal life, for I am a mere mortal, human being who loves his son. But, as the Bible clearly states, there is victory over the fear. Together, let us look to heaven, and in our human weakness, discover God’s great love for us all, and as a result, find victory over the fear. God bless you!
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