Hid­den pain: Emo­tional an­guish or reach for the life ring!

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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