Executive summary

  • Suffering is a part of the human condition. And families have power to decide what to think about and how to respond to suffering.
  • Brain science tells us that addiction is a form of suffering; it is a pathological relationship to intoxication* making the substance or activity (be it drugs, sex, devices or gambling) the top priority in life at all costs.
  • Recovery from drug addiction happens when a person chooses get sober and to realign their priorities to be in a healthy relationship with self and others. This is accomplished through the afflicted person’s choice to agree with the love within that offers a better version of self, and in agreement with a loving family and community. A good treatment program helps to make this choice possible.
  • Response to addiction is a choice. You can choose to judge the person afflicted with addiction as criminal and beyond hope. Or you can hold up the hope of your faith in the spirit of power and love and sound mind in every person as your truth despite what is happening. It is possible to hold one another accountable without judging and blame. This is what it means to offer a clean slate; to pursue correction without condemnation in your heart.
  • This science and hope of recovery informs effective prevention strategy to foster open communication about youth issues and healthy ways to deal with stress. In this way, love never fails.

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Last Sunday I saw the movie, Beautiful Boy.  Based upon a true story of the agonizing struggle of an adolescent suffering from drug addiction into his young adult years, the movie reveals the devastating impact this disease has upon the individual and the family. Depending upon your worldview one might conclude that it was simply a sad story because in the end, after numerous treatments and relapses, the young man finally collapses in his father’s lap while sitting on a bench on the grounds of the last treatment facility. Father and son were desperate to feel something other than hopelessness, shame and regret inspired by the destructive experiences associated with this disease. It was a moment of truth about the pain and vulnerability of the human condition.

The epilogue of the movie also tells us that the young man (this father’s beautiful boy) since then is eight years sober. In this regard, every day may be counted as a victory – something people who do not suffer from alcohol and drug addiction can easily take for granted. The character and discipline to stay sober while in recovery from addiction is something to be encouraged and celebrated as evidence of the spirit of power and love and sound mind in every person. This is the ultimate victory lap of resilience, this inherent capacity for self-determination that can never be taken but is so easily surrendered.

Love suffers long and is kind: A prevention and recovery hug

Through fieldwork and research, I have learned that the successful treatment of addiction affirms this truth about family relations: that families are formed from much more than biology. Family bonds are actually formed through a spirit of adoption which is the source of resilience for prevention and recovery responses to adult issues, including addiction. I have learned that the person with the most pain disturbing the peace is the change agent. Much like a canary in the coal mine warning us that there is something wrong that cuts to the core of the soul and cannot be healed in isolation, the rest of the family and community must decide how to respond.

Most importantly, responding to a loved one who suffers from addiction with your confidence in their inherent power of self-determination can lead to a deeper understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of the human condition and thereby strengthen family bonds beyond any worldly measure. In this way, I have witnessed parents respond to their child’s addiction with the hope of their faith.

The most dramatic example is a mother who raised her young adult son out of a 12-year prison sentence for committing armed robbery to satisfy his drug habit three weeks after his 18th birthday. She visited him in prison every weekend for over a decade until his release. Every week she showed up and she beheld her son, not an addict or a criminal. And while they were suffering the devastating consequences of his addiction, she never stopped proclaiming the truth about her son as a divine idea in the mind of God, who despite the circumstances, could rise up. Her son wrote me from prison sharing how critical it was that his mother visited him and that her confidence in him, despite the pain he caused, is what sustained and encouraged him. While in prison he earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and worked in positions as an educator and a first responder on the prison campus. After he was released he began a career in business. This story of a son lost and found, for me, is another form of evidence that love never fails.

At a community event, a father of a son in recovery from oxy was telling me his story, and describing how his young adult son was working to help others complete addiction treatment. This dad was very forlorn. His disappointment and grief hung in the air with every word. He was sad because, in his own mind, his son, his “beautiful boy” and all the dreams he had for him were lost. Finally, I asked him, “How are you receiving your son?” And he looked at me astonished and asked, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Your son was lost to addiction, and from what you have shared, he was returned to you. How are you receiving your son?” And at that moment someone tapped me on the shoulder with a question, and when I turned again to this gentleman, he had left. I choose to believe that he went to give his son a hug.

So let us consider that addiction is more than a disease. It is a call to learn about the human condition, yourself, your child, your faith (i.e., what you choose to believe about power), and to learn how to express love in response to suffering. From a prevention standpoint, parents need to become interested in what interests their child, what breaks their hearts, what inspires them…and if they are seeking altered states, why? And then seek drug counseling and treatment as necessary. The ability of a person to set aside the shame-inspiring experiences of life and stand corrected, to choose to become a better version of him or herself, requires a mercy directed towards self and others. It is a mindset of forgiveness and grace wherein we hold one another accountable and pursue correction with a hopeful, confident heart.

In our response to addiction as parents, a community and as a society, we have the opportunity to experience love that never fails, to choose not to agree with the fear, anxiety, afflictions and outrageous behavior inspired by disease, and hold up hope. Choosing what to think about a child’s suffering can be your personal formula for prevention and recovery; to choose a mindset that makes a healthy relationship possible even as a lie becomes a real experience attempting to murder the truth about our identity as spiritual, powerful, caring beings having a human experience.

For anyone parenting a child with behavioral health issues, such as trauma, depression and addiction, you know this meaning of love in the family that never fails: love suffers long and is kind. To learn more about how a parent can strengthen their role to advocate for healing in response to addiction and other behavioral and mental health disorders, check out: The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child.

(*Source: Jon Daily, Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction: The Pathological Relationship to Intoxication and the Interpersonal Neurobiology Underpinnings, 2012)

Technology, addiction and family relations

Addiction comes in many forms such as sex, drugs, gambling, shopping. Today, we experience the addictive impact of devices and apps disrupting family relations. Devices and apps are cleverly designed to tap the same reward centers of the brain as drugs – to inspire a compulsive desire to stay connected and receive signals of likes and followers that will never fulfill, and always leave you wanting more. And as with drug addiction, the family must decide how to respond. To learn more about regulating the use of technology at home, go to Fresh Start Family Culture Builder.

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

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Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.