Those of us who have children in addiction feel it in our bones. No, we really do. A shoulder aches out of nowhere. Skin rashes happen. We sleep a lot from emotional exhaustion and for escape. In our son’s latter years of using, I had a surgery, two unrelated E.R. visits, joint pain and more. My husband had a surgery and other procedures. Our son’s been in long-term recovery for seven years and we’ve thus been as they say, healthy as horses. Call it coincidence, I’m just saying.
For decades, neuroscientists have been aware that a specific brain circuit is involved in registering physical pain. Whether you get pricked with a needle or sprain your ankle, many of the same neural circuits come alive to process the pain: the insula, the cingulate cortex and the somatosensory cortex. Scientists have discovered that some of those same neural tissues also give rise to painful feelings and emotions. In other words: we understand “hurt feelings” or a “broken heart” physically.*
Parents of addicts tend to function in a fog of isolation and grief while our child is doing what we think he or she would never do. Most of us don’t know anyone whose child is doing it too, so we trek through the haze often looking for answers where they can’t be found. Not until our son got in treatment did I hear the suggestion that I work my own 12-step program of recovery and start radically taking care of myself. In this context I did the unfamiliar and asked for help.
A sponsor in my 12-step program helped me switch my focus from our son to myself. I learned to pray more, to breathe and resign — or at least cut back — from a long tenure of over-responsibility. I began to regain what I had lost from his years of using drugs and to move on from the leftover behaviors I practiced as a child in an alcoholic home. For decades I’ve been tight with God and He with me, but we started a new era together when recovery practices challenged me to expand His territory. I let Him out of the cage I built that only allowed Him to work within the confines of my evangelical expectations. My recovering friend Ben, passed to me what he was told, “Give God enough room to blow your mind”.
Even though our son is living the dream in sobriety, life still happens around me (you know… people) but it doesn’t have to percolate in my gut. I’m powerless but I’m not helpless. Today is God’s job and if I can’t seem to loosen my grip on letting Him do it — I have tools to pry it loose. I call my sponsor, hit my knees, sit erect and breathe, take a break, a nap or a walk, read stuff that I know will help me. The choice to protect my serenity cancels the stress fiesta.
It’s fascinating that the apostle Paul says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Hmm, that would indicate if I’m a working nut job, I’m blocking peace. That peace he says, is “beyond understanding.” Apparently too much for my puny mind. Don’t have to get it, just let it.
* An excerpt from How The Body Knows its Mind by Sian Beilock, published by Constable & Robinson