"I will never truly heal from losing my son, but I want to honor him now by treating myself and my family right and doing good for the world."
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Episode 14 -- May 28, 2020Good Grief During the Pandemic: Loss without Losing Everything
Many of us are grieving right now. Losing your job, losing your old way of life, or losing the ability to see and hug your friends and family are all different kinds of grief. Some of us have also recently lost a loved one to the coronavirus, to addiction, or to a completely unrelated illness. Today's reading is from our recent release Without Shame: The Addict's Mom and Her Family Share Their Stories of Pain and Healing. Author Barbara Theodosiou lost her son Daniel to the disease of addiction in 2015. We hope this excerpt shows you that you are not alone in your grief, and while we grieve, we cannot lose ourselves.
My teenage son Daniel became addicted to DXM, the active ingredient in some cough medicines, in 2008. In 2015, he died from his disease.
When Daniel first started falling apart, so did I. I couldn't take care of myself. I couldn't do my hair or get dressed or go to the gym--some days I couldn't get out of bed. I ate horribly and I had to take a sleeping pill to get to sleep. I was so scared all the time, that I just kept my hands over my ears and let myself go. My stress level was through the roof thinking about what could be happening to Daniel, and my guilt level was through the roof thinking about having to leave my youngest son, Alexander, to go deal with another crisis. The fear and the guilt haven't gone away since 2015, but a lot of things are different now.
I've learned that I don't need to get involved in every fight and that I need to be more protective of myself and my time. For a long time, when anyone called asking me to speak at a family recovery meeting, or help them find a treatment center, I would immediately drop everything and make a thousand calls to make it happen. I started an online support group called The Addict's Mom (TAM) and stayed up all night to take care of other people's children when I felt couldn't take care of my own. But I've realized now that the truth is, TAM has grown so much bigger than me. It's something I started, and I'm incredibly proud of that, but it has grown to become a community of thousands and thousands of moms, and others, who used to be sitting in the dark, desperate and alone. Now they have each other. Now they're sisters--strangers who have become a family. Sometimes we disagree, but we are all the same in the way it counts. Every day, a TAM mom helps someone else's kids find treatment, writes a letter to a judge in support of someone else's child, visits someone else's child in jail, and supports someone who used to have no one who could understand them. Every day we hear stories of children who have achieved recovery after years of feeling hopeless. And, the horrible reality is, every day on TAM another child dies. Sometimes more than one child. But I can take comfort in the amazing support the TAM moms gave me when the worst happened to my son. At least I know there are always others there to do for that another child's parents what so many people did for me, and that is something I can be truly proud of.
I'm different now. I'm older and sadder and feel the weight of so much time I missed with my family. But for the first time since the day my battle with Daniel's addiction started, I've been able to meet with a group of women and not be the leader. I can go somewhere and not be "The Addict's Mom." I've met a bunch of other women in my neighborhood, and I can just get together with them to play canasta and never even mention addiction. I've learned that I don't have to try to save the world anymore.
I swim almost every day. We have a pool at our house, and I think I only used it once while Daniel was alive. I used to avoid going outside for very long because I would get sunburnt, but I decided that swimming is now essential to my life, so I built a big screen over the pool. Now, I'll spend two hours out there just exercising and listening to music, and I won't let anyone bother me. I eat a lot better. I've never really liked drink¬ing, but now I won't even touch alcohol, and my husband, Rudy, doesn't either.
My main goal right now in life is to spend as much good, fun, quality time with my family as I can. Getting to know them, loving them, and refocusing on what is good in my life. My family, and the simple things that make me happy, have to come first. I'm really so lucky to have all of them. I guess you have to have luck somewhere, right?
My other goal is to work on forgiving myself, which is not easy to do. I know I have to try, because that's one of the most important things Daniel taught me. I know everyone remembers different parts of him, and, for some, his words and actions in his darkest times are what stand out the most. But I knew the true Daniel, and he was the nicest, most for¬giving person I have ever met. He would stay up all night bringing water to the homeless. He was always willing to share everything he had with me, with other moms, and with anyone who needed it. When someone would fall while beating him up, he would reach out to help them up. He was incredible, and he always encouraged me to forgive. I will never truly heal from losing my son, but I want to honor him now by treating myself and my family right and doing good for the world. Outside of me, he will always live on through the legacy he left in his writing and in TAM and in the people who knew him.
I also know now that I was not honoring Daniel by destroying myself and letting my family suffer while he was alive. When your child is experiencing the horror of addiction, your whole life flashes by and you don't live it at all. You discount that you're the child of somebody. You discount your family. You discount the importance of your own life, your career goals. You discount everything about yourself. The message I want to give to every addict's mom is that while you're so involved in your addict's life, you're not honoring your own life. I can pick an addict's mom out from her picture. She looks so sad and disheveled, and I can tell she's sacrificing her money and her marriage and herself. Sometimes hon¬oring your child means realizing that they have a disease and you can't always save them. Sometimes you have to let go of control. I never could do that. I used to sign my letters "Daniel's Mom," and that's part of who I am, but I'm also so much more than that. I'm Barbara.
About the author
Barbara Theodosiou is a mother, activist, and the founder of The Addict's Mom, an online community where tens of thousands of mothers with addicted children can "Share Without Shame." Barbara has been widely recognized for her work as a family recovery advocate, including the receipt of a White House Champion of Change award in 2016.
© 2020 by Barbara Theodosiou
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The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.