Our daughter suffers from addiction. While we, her parents, have adapted without much difficulty to the COVID-19 virus epidemic, she has not. For six months our daughter was substance-free. (We tested her.) However, she refused to go to a rehabilitation facility or to join a support group. She did find work that seemed to be good for her, and we were hopeful. Then
COVID-19 struck. Her fragility came to the fore.
For most of her life, our daughter’s anxiety has been a weight she carried around. Now the fear of getting the virus from those she interacted with was apparent. And other issues outside of work arose. She quit her job and went back to using methamphetamine. That was two months ago. She is making an attempt to get sober, and she did agree to sit in on a Zoom Narcotics Anonymous meeting, but she only lasted ten minutes, stating that, “I’m not like those people. I don’t feel comfortable doing this.”
Striving to Go Beyond Merely Coping
We have found help coping with our daughter’s addiction through Nar-Anon meetings, which we attend at least twice a week. All of us work on healing, serenity, courage, and wisdom for ourselves. We hope to go beyond coping with having a loved one suffering from addiction. Our goal is to grow as people, to find our own happiness. To learn how to distinguish between what we can control, and what we can’t control, is an important step.
For such a journey to succeed, 12-Step programs believe that a person needs to learn to be in touch with a Higher Power, to have a sponsor, to participate in 12-Step meetings, and to “work” the steps. How does each person in the group see their unique relationship with their Higher Power - with God? It varies from individual to individual. (This seems to echo the beginning of the Amidah prayer where the syntax clearly suggests that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had their own individual relationship with God.)
To some Nar-Anon members, one’s Higher Power means being aware of the presence of God or a divine force. To others, it means being in touch with something greater than ourselves, or to experience something unexpected, which has a deeper meaning. What follows is an example of a process that actually occurred in our group. (The names have been changed.)
Divine Connections for Healing
Jane in our group was deeply depressed over the recent death of her teenage child from an overdose. She spoke to us about her struggle to keep on living; she was overwhelmed with grief. At exactly the same time, Mary, who also lost her teenager from an overdose, decided to set up a special Nar-Anon group for parents who had lost children to overdoses. Jane attended the first few meetings of that new group. Then Martha came into the picture. She had also lost a child from an overdose. She heard about what had happened to Jane and called Jane to ask for Jane’s help. After speaking to Martha, Jane told our group, “Can you imagine that someone is asking me for help; me who is trying to find a reason to keep going?” Martha told Jane that Jane had helped her. In this process, Jane felt a little uplifted - her depression was lifted a little.
So, what we saw was that Mary, in spite of her depression over the loss of her son, found the inspiration and energy to start the new support group just in time to help Jane. Jane, even in a deep depression, summoned the strength and courage to join the new group. Of all the possible people that Martha could contact, she decided to call Jane. We can attribute what happened with these three Nar-Anon members to the involvement of their Higher Powers or - perhaps - from involvement of one Higher Power.
No Judgment, Only Compassion
In our Nar-Anon group we are taking a journey together. When everyone is listening to a speaker, and not speaking in response, we are acknowledging - being a witness to - the one speaking; and we are not judging the speaker. We, the listeners, are identifying with the speakers and feeling compassion for them. Our quiet acceptance is very supportive and provides much space for the speaker to grow from week to week. Just as we, at a Passover Seder, are reminded to be compassionate toward those who are not free, so do we, as members of Nar-Anon, feel compassion for our members who feel constrained in their lives by having someone close to them who is suffering from addiction.
While listening to a member of our group who is speaking, we know that their growth may be slow, erratic, and painful. We know this because that is what many of us have experienced. How can we describe the personal growth of the people in our Nar-Anon group? I think we can describe it by using Martin Buber’s words: “Persons appear by entering into relation to other persons.”
Buber’s Words Ring True
“Man lives in the spirit when he is able to respond to his You,” states Buber, where God is the “You.” We can be fully present with another human being by recognizing the other as a “whole” person. This is the essence of the I-Thou relationship, according to Buber. As members of a 12-Step program gradually becoming sensitive to our Higher Power, we can find ourselves “living in the spirit,” and responding to the “whole” person who is speaking. For Buber, and for us, this is how we can find meaning in our lives.
Who invited Martin Buber to our Nar-Anon meeting? All of us at our meeting invited him, without even realizing it.
Gary and Ruthanne are retired from careers in healthcare. Working the Nar-Anon steps and appreciating the help we receive from our Nar-Anon friends and Rabbi Paul Steinberg’s Serenity Study Group, we are reclaiming a happy and fulfilling life, after finding ourselves embroiled by the “tornado.” That is what it feels like to love someone in active addiction.