Making It Through the Hard Times

People ask: How do you manage to keep (relatively) stable during tough times with the family?

The question led to these five axioms.

1. Distinguish Between What I Can Impact or Control From What Impacts Me

One of the first rules for loving someone who is an addict is that they have to make their own decisions. To be blunt, I cannot “fix” my son’s addictions.

The question, for me, thus becomes: What are the best ways to love him given this reality?

The question seldom yields an easy or obvious answer but the shift in focus, from fix to love, is important for me.

I support, in theory, the oft-stated phrase, “He has to do his work. But there are times when how he does - or does not engage - his work affects “my work.” The reality of love is messier than the theory.

2. Intentionally remind myself that I am not alone.

One of the gifts of writing and speaking about this journey is the acquaintance with others, from Nunavut to Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, who have either struggled with addictions or loved someone who has or both. Socio-economic class and level of education prove irrelevant predictors of who may reach out to say, “me too, I have walked similar terrain.”

I have friends who think their way through their journey, others feel and sense the path. I learn from both.

I have learned to accept help in the form of contact numbers, articles to read, coffee, lunch and casseroles of moussaka.

We have grandchildren, some too young to have the vocabulary of grief and struggle, who climb into my lap and give Papa a hug when something in them senses a disturbance in the Force.

“Don’t be sad, Papa.

You can keep this stuffie at your house.”

In the quiet times, either at 4:30 am or late at night, I go to The New Creed of The United Church of Canada.

“We are not alone,

we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:

who has created and is creating,


In life, in death, in life beyond death,

God is with us.

We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.”

The Lord’s Prayer and the still powerful Psalm 23 always remind me that even though a particular struggle threatens to devour my world, there are larger forces on the loose. At last count, there are least 100 billion galaxies out there each with 100 billion stars all hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds. And each galaxy, like the Milky Way, probably has about 17 billion earth size planets. Even though the pain and struggle are mine, I live within a vast and mysterious multi-verse.

A cousin to this axiom: My life is more than one reality.

It is easy to become pre-occupied, even fixated, on the struggle and push to one side all the other, life-giving, components of my life.

3. Keep Moving

Physically, emotionally and spiritually.

My wife’s family seem powered by Eveready. When tired or under stress my wife says, “I need to go for a walk.” I tend to sink into the couch and reach for the remote. More often than not, my wife is right; a walk works better at improving mood and the sense of capacity to meet the challenge.

At my best, in the morning, I do simple Qi Gong exercises or stretches.

Emotionally, I work at feeling the feelings. Often I need to think about what I am feeling, but I do endeavour to return to the actual feeling and do the work I need to do so I don’t sink into an emotional quicksand. Often this struggle involves acknowledging some form of grief, a connection to a childhood pattern, belief or expectation.

Spiritually, keeping moving means acknowledging the questions, the doubts, the anger and the confusion, as well as the mixture of joy and surprise that are also part of this section of the road. Much of the work seems to take me back to Axiom #1 but I need to surrender fantasy and hope for a magical solution to make it through the valley of the shadow.

Surrender fantasy and hope for a magical solution to make it through the valley of the shadow.

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Writing is my preferred practice; others run, advocate, and research. Bottom line: find a way to do the work.

4. Reach for the Positive

At my best, I start the day by listing the three most important things I need to accomplish during the day. Anything beyond those is a bonus.

Some days, the gravitational pull of the negative can feel irresistible. I watch for the warning lights on my dashboard.

Recently I realized that I had not read anything for two or three months. Nothing, not even cheap thrillers. Not good. For me, reading is a source of light and life, if not simple escape.

When hamburgers, french fries, and soda sound like a great supper (again) perhaps, I am not making the best choices. Do not walk past a bakery or yield to the siren call of $1 soda pop. So good in the moment but they offer false promise.

I try and take my vitamins and medication.

I drive along Beach Drive with the top down on the Fiat and watch my wife snare Pokemon, thinking this Italian roadster has got to be the most expensive Pokemon Chaser in the world. But I like the feel of the sun on my face, the breeze off the ocean, the leather that wraps the steering wheel and the bolsters of the tan seats.

I have no patience or time for people whose presence brings a sense of toxicity.

Easy maxims tend to make me want to throw things.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

“Its okay to be a glow stick; sometimes we need to break before we shine.”

“When you’re going through tough times, don’t worry. Things will get better, and you’ll come out stronger.”

The more theologically phrased are a big red button.

“If God brings you to it; he will bring you through it.”

“It’s all part of God’s plan.”

When my energy has been sucked into a black hole I go to the water park and listen to the kids squeal in delight as they are surprised by spray. I double-dare you not to smile.

5. Accept that Things Will Never “Get Back to Normal.”

Of all the sacrifices involved in the emotional and spiritual work of “walking through the valley,” perhaps none is harder to yield than the wish that if we could find a way around or through this life would return to normal. Doesn’t happen. Can’t happen.

And trying to make it happen is a waste of energy.

For me, as a Christian, the question is not “How can I get back to whatever I thought I had?” but “What will life be like in this next chapter?”

In theological language, I am rooted in the belief that, however, we construe the image, God continues to work to bring about new possibilities that bear the gift of life, even new life.

What do you find helpful during the hard times?

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