Patricia Byrne

On August 6, 2015 my husband and I watched as our son Kurt, in recovery from heroin, received his 18-month chip. We were at the alumni meeting where he had started his recovery, the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Hospital – CeDAR. We sat in the same room where we first reunited with Kurt three weeks into his recovery. At that time, we were exhausted and feeling overburdened under the weight of the past; a leaden cloak woven out of sadness and fear we mistook for armor. Eighteen months later there we were, in that very same space, watching our son address alumni and clients of CeDAR – some just starting their program, others receiving their 30 day chips or nearing completion of the 90-day program. This was his moment. We are proud for him, rather than proud of him. He earned that chip by slogging through his program one step, one day at a time. He had to pull every thread of that leaden cloak out and study it. He unwove it through hard work and perseverance during some of the most difficult months of his life. He forged his path and he stayed on it. For those in early recovery, 18 hours seems impossible and 18 days a distant goal. For eighteen miraculous months Kurt has been working hard every day.

I am 16 months into my recovery. Addiction is a family disease, so we all need recovery. During a five day family program at CeDAR we learned about ourselves and the role we played in this family disease of addic-tion. They broke down enabling, taught us about healthy boundaries and took us through exercises in communication which helped us speak openly and honestly with our loved one. It is important to validate anoth-er’s words by repeating them before speaking our own. These exercises seemed weighty and awkward at first, but have led our family to more open and honest communication.

We walked into the program filled with blame and anger. Our instructors patiently explained the swirl of negative feelings and anxiety we were experiencing were reflections of sadness and fear. Sadness for the loved one we had ‘lost’ through addiction, and fear that we would truly lose them as we watched them kill themselves. This fear caused us to try and fix the situation. Our loved one’s addiction and life are not ours to repair. Our lives, however, are a different story. We began the journey of healing ourselves.

There was one exercise that sticks with me. A person is asked to stand on a chair and stare at the clock on the wall. ‘This is your loved on in addiction, the clock is the drug of choice’. Others were asked to stand as examples of family members –chief enabler, policeman, sibling who hides, sibling who acts out, etc. They were asked to look up at the addict as he stood on the chair and stared at the clock. We were revolving our family life around someone who was paying no attention – he was star-ing at the clock. We resented that he didn’t appreciate all we did as we tried to save him from himself. He saw none of us, he was staring at the clock. Addiction takes over the brain and tells the addict that all things can be solved with the drug of choice. Angry parents, failing grades, loneliness, depression, anxiety, desperation, self-loathing …. addiction says all of this can be solved by the drug. The fight or flight mechanism in the brain has been re-wired, sending the addict to the drug as a solu-tion to all problems including those caused by addiction. Willpower and reason cannot be heard when drowned out by brain chemistry.

Please don’t wait for the addict to find recovery before finding it yourself. I waited too long. Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, other support groups or therapy can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. Educating yourself on the science of addiction can help you deal with the anger and resent-ment you have toward the addict as you learn what is really going on in their brain. We take addiction’s behavior personally, but it is very rarely about us. We are simply gray shadows in the fog that swirls around them – the addict only sees the clock.

Those in treatment or jail have difficulty when they come home. If they have only had 2-4 weeks of treatment, they are not ready. Thirty days is not rehab, it is detox. Their bodies are free of the drug, but their minds are still hi-jacked. When stressed their fight or flight mechanism sends their brain the signal that the solution is their drug of choice. Their fight is not to look at that clock while they hear it relentlessly ticking in the back-ground at all times. Be gentle, don’t expect miracles overnight.

They are fighting for their lives. Offer emotional support, but don’t do things for them. No micro-managing! Tough stuff. An addict who comes out of 30 days from the best program has only been handed the tools with a quick lesson on how to use them. They are driving the highway with a learner’s permit. They need to surround themselves with others who can show them the way. Their recovery is their own and as you work on your recovery this becomes clearer. Detaching with love from our addicts is not abandonment. We are not giving up on them. We are allowing ourselves to be in a better space to support our loved ones in a healthy way. Acceptance, love and support are something we can give even in the worst of our addict’s manipulation.

It is our nature to close ourselves off when others have hurt us. We don’t want to open ourselves up again, so we wrap that leaden cloak around us. The day I dropped that cloak was the day I realized that it was OK if I was hurt again. My son’s life is worth any pain I encounter. I did not want to lose the connection with my living, breathing son to my stubbornness. I let go of the anger, the hurt, and (most of) the anxiety. I gave up my illusion of control. Today I appreciate every single good day instead of waiting for disaster. Blame and anger are replaced with love and hope as our Village of supporters carry us on our own paths through many more todays.

Published on August 26, 2015
Patricia Byrne is the mother of three. Her oldest son Kurt has been in long term recovery since Feb 6, 2014. Her blog Stop the Silence Speak the Truth ( has been read by millions around the world. She raised her children in Canton MA and presently lives in Palm Harbor FL.