Hidden pain: Emotional anguish or reach for the life ring!
Editor’s note: Ever since the Whig concluded its “Voices of Recovery” series last fall, many have asked the paper to continue discussing recovery and addiction. As an extension of that focus, we now present “Shift the Focus” an every- other- week column by Lorri Irrgang, a local author, recovery advocate and mother of someone in recovery. Join us as Lorri discusses many topics pertinent to the recovery movement.
— If you were to see me today, smiling and happy, you would never know that I had spent many weeks and months in a very dark place. I could not find any peacefulness or even muster a grin. I was filled with worry, overcome with sadness and consumed with fear.
As I approached the Whig about writing this column, I reflected on where I used to be five years ago. I was absorbed with the daily crisis that living with an addicted loved one brings. Even when there were good things happening around me or in my daughter’s life, I was unable to feel any joy. I knew if I was going to feel any peace of mind, serenity or sanity again, I had to jump off the sinking ship and start swimming. But was it possible to disconnect from the sinking ship when it was my son?
At the time, I had little awareness of
how important it was when I took the first step towards acknowledging that I had jumped ship and was treading water alone. I knew I needed to reach out for help and grab the life ring. I am pleased and grateful for the happiness I am able to feel today. Do not be mistaken, however, it took a lot of hard work!
If you bear with me, I will offer you a path toward finding yourself again while maintaining as normal a life as possible. This does not mean you are throwing your child to the wolves. He or she found the wolf pack themselves. Only your loved one can decide to achieve the desired success of recovery. This path in no way, shape or form diminishes the love you have for your child. You have the power to make choices that will help “you” to live a joyful life. This column is my gift to those of you who also feel as if you are drowning with no life ring to hold on to. Put your oxygen mask on first! Would you be able to ignore being pierced with a sword? Would you suffer in silence, be frozen in fear, stuck and in pain with it was penetrating your side? You might try to ignore that fact that you are wounded and deal with the symptoms, but this will lead you to having problems breathing, migraines, body aches, insomnia, numbness and nightmares. You might even try to walk around with the sword in place, but you would be living in denial. Denial is very powerful and allows you to hold onto your pain and suffering. For some, this is a place you recognize, however, it is not a healthy place for parents of loved ones with substance use disorder to remain.
In order to to be of any support for your addicted loved one, you must do exactly what the flight attendant tells you before take off, “Put your oxygen mask on yourself first, then help your child.” It is nearly impossible to be there for or assist anyone else if you are suffocating yourself. We have to acknowledge that parents are humans with needs and desires of their own.
For me, this felt like a foreign concept. How would focusing on my own needs help anyone? My son was sick and he needed my complete attention and commitment as a parent.
The thought of taking that sword out of my body left me with an immense amount of fear. It made me feel that I was deserting my child. The reality is acknowledging the sword and the fact that I was being wounded by this disease also provided me with a different perspective. I could see how my behavior was affecting myself and the world around me. I was no longer able to function or to adequately provide a floatation device for my son. Focusing all of my energy and attention on this fear was destructive to everyone in my family. I was losing control of my life. I was allowing myself to be the victim of my son’s disease. And most importantly, I was on a path of doing irreparable damage between my daughter and I and the other relationships in which I was involved.
I was unable to feel joy and happiness with this sword impaled into my side. I carried such weight on my shoulders from keeping a secret from family and friends, covering up for what was happening in my life. I began to accept that I could not advocate for myself or my son if I was too embarrassed to talk about his drug problem. I needed to pay attention to proper nutrition and exercise for myself. I went for days not feeling like eating. Getting a reasonable amount of sleep was part of my past. I spent hours and days isolating from people and events that would provide social, spiritual and emotional support for myself. I was suffocating without even being aware that I had the choice to put on my oxygen mask and to remove the sword!
My next column, “Oxygen Mask: Begin breathing” will help you to begin the process of removing the sword and starting your personal healing process.
Special thanks to writer, director, actress, orator Angela Shelton for sharing her inspiring words in “Be Your Own Hero.” Visit www.angelashelton.com. You can reach me at www.adafamilytrauma.net or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/adafamilytrauma.