How My Family’s “Disease” of Addiction Became My Family’s Path to Sanctity

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I was outraged when someone suggested that I suffered from a “family disease” when my child began using drugs. During the ebb and flow of our family’s now eight-year struggle with addiction, I have pondered the idea of addiction as a family disease. How could someone else’s behavior make ME diseased?! 

At the same time, what was occurring with my child was not happening in a vacuum. The distress surrounding this ever-present danger led me to fervent, desperate prayer, and almost overnight, my child’s addiction became the primary focus of my every waking moment. This launched our family, propelled by my alarm and example, into a protracted rescue mission. I thank God that there were people who could show us how to live despite our sorrow and helplessness.

As events unfolded, my husband and I attended our first Al-Anon meeting on the chance that we would meet someone who could shed light on this urgent and baffling situation. That first meeting seemed anti-climactic considering the gravity of the problems we shared with the group and the perceived nonchalance of responses from those attending. 

Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the idea of implementing a concise list that we were given at the meeting to guide our own behavior. Surprisingly, we noted definite improvement almost immediately. I continued attending Al-Anon meetings weekly for roughly one year, perhaps a little longer. I listened intently to others at the meetings and read the literature, as terrifying as that could be at times. 

I caught the gist of things, which was something along the lines of this: you can’t control addiction, so take it easy and try to still enjoy your life as much as possible. I took a stab at applying my newfound tools to live life with a degree of detachment from the daily risks taken by my addicted young adult. Questions remained, however, and I became increasingly uneasy that I was abandoning my child to the destructive, powerful demons that had gutted his engagement in life’s great pursuits.

As part of the reading I do to gain perspective (and/or exhaust myself to sleep at night in spite of my worry), I browsed Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction, which introduced the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It spoke powerfully of God’s love for my son and for all of us. The theme for the year was “be merciful like the Father” in “the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.”

Pope Francis was dedicating an entire year to the emphasis of opening “our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society . . . to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care . . . . [to] open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, [to] let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!”

Pope Francis implored us to “reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own.”

I ached for my son to know this mercy—from me and from others! Yet I had already gleaned that “loving detachment” was a tricky balancing act—too much “mercy” might not be good!

Today I continue to tentatively step through the ups and downs of addiction, attempting to apply principles I have learned through meetings and reading. I also find strength for tough times through the example of others in recovery fellowship. 

There are times it seems I can do nothing. During those times I must remember that God can take any small effort on my part and transform it with His power. There are also times when I can wholeheartedly expend my efforts for mercy without acquiescing to the demands of the addiction—a privilege I treasure.

Suffering continues to be a reality, in all aspects of life, and I find it necessary from time to time to remind myself of the profound words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Mary Poplin’s book, Finding Calcutta:

“My dear children, without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption. Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony and death. All that He has taken upon Himself, He has carried it in the darkest night, only by being one with us has He redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same, all the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but also their spiritual destitution, must be redeemed and we must share in it.”

Viewing suffering this way, in participation with redemption, I came to see the “family disease” of addiction in a more positive way, as more of a family callingmy family’s God-given path to sanctity.

I do not know how our family’s journey will end. But I continue to try and offer my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of each day to share in and redeem the desolation and destitution of this world, trusting Pope John Paul II’s reminder: “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”

Julie is a wife and mother who wants the greatest good for herself and her family—eternal bliss in the Father’s loving embrace. She regularly attends Catholic in Recovery meetings to find, with others, acceptance and joy in the life God has called her to as well as find clarity in the duties of her vocation.