A Missed 30th Birthday

Tomorrow would have been our son, John Leif’s, 30th birthday. Sadly, he is not here and we are not celebrating. Instead, we are remembering his life and honoring our son by sharing his story with a local recovery group.

In anticipation of our time with a group of 18 and over individuals, including parents or partners, who are trying to recover from a variety of drugs including alcohol, John and I discussed what we might possibly have to say that would be helpful.

We looked back at our journal and our upcoming memoir for options. And we asked a young friend who has been clean and sober for the past five years after over a decade of intense drug addiction. We all had the same idea: discuss shame and its role in addiction and recovery. Because the sense of shame that hangs like low black clouds gathering over our lives any time we as humans engage in something we know is not good for us – or others – is the ultimate loss of self-worth. As shame erodes the very core of our being, I believe it is the hardest obstacle (aside from the physical addiction) for addicted individuals to surmount in seeking recovery. Shame paralyzes us.

We began by sharing JL’s timeline of addiction and his death, showing some clips from his memorial video montage, and reading some excerpts from our upcoming memoir. We discussed the many mistakes we made and regrets we have, information that we did not know, advice we did not take. We discussed the role of genetic links in addiction and the importance of uncovering those family secrets so that we can be better prepared to openly discuss and warn our kids during those high-risk adolescent years.

And we discussed shame and guilt, the difference between them, and how to deal with both. Hazelden Betty Ford Recovery says their “fundamental addiction stigma-smashing strategy is to shine a light on people who are in recovery and expose the reality that people actually do recover from addiction; that it’s a chronic disease that can be successfully managed for life; and that it affects individuals who are every bit as moral, productive, intelligent, talented—and humanly flawed—as the next person.”

Our great hope and fervent desire is to shine a light and help bring encouragement to those battling addiction and alcoholism – to help them not feel “less than” but to know they are precious people who are fighting a disease. We were blessed at the acceptance we felt by the group and their receptivity to us sharing our story. One client said that, although she could not imagine losing a child like we did, she could encourage us that by our openness and empathy we will help save many other lives. Our hope and prayer is that sharing about JL’s death will bring life and wellness to all who hear.