Julie Learns to Accept Her Son’s Drug Addiction through Al-Anon and Catholic in Recovery

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Eight years ago, Julie discovered her son was using drugs. This discovery spurred tremendous grief and suffering, leaving her and her husband feeling helpless and unable to help him recover and find healing.

“I literally had no plan of action for helping him, or me, except to try to talk him out of it. I did also engage in a campaign of desperate prayer and managed to get to sleep at night after exhausting myself by reading books of all kinds—novels, spiritual reading, biographies about inspiring people like Mother Teresa, whatever offered some relief from or perspective about the trajectory of grief I was experiencing,” Julie said.

Julie and her husband engaged in a number of lengthy discussions to try to get at the root of her son’s descent into drug use, but these often provided little fruit.

“As a person who is typically driven to get to the bottom of a problem, I was 100 percent engaged in this one, and what I lacked in understanding and tools I made up for with obsession,” Julie shared. “Undoubtedly, my availability to the rest of my family was severely compromised, and I had suddenly lost any desire to confide in or enjoy the company of almost everyone.”

An Invitation for Help

Eventually, someone suggested she attend an Al-Anon meeting to cope. She initially had no interest in attending, since her priority was to get her son off drugs as opposed to learning to accept his (and her) current situation. But eventually, as things continued, she changed her mind.

“As time marched grimly on there seemed to be no end to the terror of the situation; the disconcerting patterns of behavior were punctuated occasionally with different scary events, causing emotional chaos and a foreboding that we were completely outmatched with no hope of resolution. As this sunk in, my husband and I attended our first Al-Anon meeting,” Julie said.

After the meeting, one woman, sensing their desperation, approached and provided them with a list of Al-Anon’s “dos and don’ts” as well as some words of encouragement. Julie began attending Al-Anon meetings regularly, taking in the wisdom and insight about the steps and the recovery process.

“There was much to absorb and I am forever indebted to those who helped me face the reality of my situation with some tools (and permission!) to move ahead with living the life God intended for me to live,” Julie said.

Over time, Julie came to understand this “family disease” of her son’s addiction as a “family calling”: a God-given path to holiness gifted to her and her husband.

“I realized that the ‘offering it up’ that I had learned as a child had a perfect application to my current life,” Julie shared. “I resolved to take to heart Pope John Paul II’s reminder: ‘Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.’”

Integrating Catholic in Recovery

With a newfound understanding of the role her Catholic faith could play in her life, she began looking for Catholic-based recovery groups online. She stumbled upon Catholic in Recovery, and living somewhat close to San Diego was able to attend meetings in person. But circumstances in her life changed, making travel to San Diego too difficult. As a result, she started new groups in the Murrieta area and became a CIR leader.

“With the help of our parish and Catholic Charities, we currently have a general recovery meeting and a family and friends support meeting during the day and are exploring starting a general recovery meeting in the evening,” Julie shared.

Her involvement in Catholic in Recovery has produced tremendous fruit in her life.

“My involvement with Catholic in Recovery has given concrete meaning to things like what it means to live my baptismal call, what surrendering to God looks like, and what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ,” Julie shared. “It has given me a vehicle to give mercy in a concrete way to people who may feel very isolated in the addiction recovery world. Attending Catholic in Recovery meetings regularly helps to incorporate this Truth into how I conduct myself with the insight gleaned by listening to the experience, strength, and hope of the others who are there. I have grown from living in near-constant dread that I might not be able to bear ‘Thy Will Be Done’ to a more peaceful path of acceptance and action based on knowledge and wisdom.”

Advice to Those with a Loved One Struggling with Addiction

For those with a loved one struggling with an addiction or unhealthy attachment, she suggests attending Al-Anon meetings for at least six months to a year, which can help one face the reality of a loved one’s addiction—that it’s, sadly, usually not just a phase.

“Attending Al-Anon meetings helped me understand the impact that addiction has on everyone in the family and that I could follow well-tested principles to experience healing,” Julie shared.

While certainly advocating the importance of Al-Anon meetings, she also highlights how it is necessary to incorporate the spiritual aspects to recovery that are not found at these meetings.

“I think every Catholic I have encountered at a CIR meeting has expressed relief at the ability to freely speak about incorporating their Catholic faith into their recovery,” Julie said. “My advice would be to attend both Al-Anon and Catholic in Recovery meetings, remembering, as they say, ‘to take what you like and leave the rest.’”

For Julie, her Catholic faith continues to shed light on and provide for what is a challenging situation with her son’s addiction.

“My faith tells me that God has a plan for both me and my son; that we are connected as mother and son requires me to engage with him in love and mercy, as modeled by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. The bottom line is that if I do not allow God to be in charge, the alternative is obsession and the futile attempt to take control,” Julie said, then pointing to the necessary role that forgiveness plays in every journey toward recovery. “I have learned that those with addiction suffer terribly. Today, I forgive. I forgive my son. I forgive everyone who may have contributed to his addiction. I forgive myself for parenting mistakes that may have left my son susceptible, for not knowing sooner, for not responding with wisdom.”