A Heart of Peace

by Pam Jones Lanhart
January 20, 2020

Peace—all I want is peace.

In the season of peace, these words are repeated again and again by hurting, wounded persons impacted by substance use—especially around the holidays. Yet for most, peace is elusive. They’ve been living in a combat zone for months, maybe years, with no hope of a cease-fire on the horizon.

The war has been going on for so long, they really don’t remember how it began. The first time they checked their son’s room and the bed was unoccupied. Or the time they opened up their daughter’s car and discovered empty bottles on the floor in the back seat.

And in that moment, there’s a shifting in the heart. Battle lines are drawn. Peace is nowhere to be found.

It begins when we choose sides. They are the addict, the lost one, the prodigal, the troubled child. They are the person whom we love but barely recognize. Whatever is going on with them becomes the enemy. The wrong to be righted. The problem to be fixed. Their loved ones create a story that screams “right and wrong,” “good and bad,” “do or don’t do.”

Next, concerned loved ones seek out facts to validate that story. We search for evidence, monitoring the phones, tracking with GPS, stalking social media, watching their every move. It isn’t long before the search for evidence becomes an obsession. Now, we’re overcome with the need to be right more than the need to love right. This is where the confrontations and the chaos truly begin to take over. They are on one side and we are on the other.

The battle might remain stuck there, but we take it a step further. In order to stay in the fight, we dehumanize our enemy. We make blanket statements: “They’re liars, manipulators, thieves.” With all the hurt they cause, it’s easy to blame. Why? Simply put, we can’t stay in a war if we see our enemy as people, just like us, simply trying to survive another day in their horrid existence.

As we fight on, we disconnect more from the person that we love. We tell ourselves it’s for self-preservation. After all, we must win the battle.

But what if there’s a different way? A way in which we don’t have to be tough or mean or angry? A way that didn’t leave devastated families and broken lives in its aftermath?

What if we could begin to understand that recovery is not only possible but probable? What if love and kindness really can change outcomes?

I have learned through my own battle with my son that they can, but it started with me.

I had to change my heart of war to a heart of peace. But how? Here are some ways that my heart began to change:

  • I learned everything I could about the disease of addiction. I now understand that our loved one’s behaviors make sense to them.
  • I learned that my behaviors can either contribute to the chaos or create an environment of peace. I took a long, hard look at the way I responded to my son. Overreaction, yelling, begging, and threatening didn’t work. When I paused and became intentional with my actions, I gained perspective and peace.
  • I learned that collaboration always works better than confrontation. When I stepped out of my fear, stopped pushing my agenda, and asked my son what he wanted, things began to change.
  • I learned that if I was angry, frustrated, or generally dysregulated, it was because I hadn’t created proper boundaries—safety fences—so that I could be emotionally, spiritually, and physically safe.
  • I learned to allow my son the dignity of self-efficacy through empowering language and logical consequences. I was no longer responsible for his behaviors or his recovery.

Finally, I learned that neither my intrinsic value nor my son’s intrinsic value was going to change whether he got well or not. I was able to recenter myself and focus fully on who I was created to be, understanding that, in time, my son would come to that same realization and trusting fully in my creator for that day and time to come.

Peace doesn’t mean having everything the way we want it to be. But by viewing those with substance use disorder not as them but as still a part of us, peace has a better chance of winning the battle.

Connect with Pam at pam@pamlanhart.com or check out her book and blogs at www.pamlanhart.com.

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Pam Jones Lanhart

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  1. Thank you, Pam, for your words. I learned too that simply listening, not talking in a challenging tone, and calmly giving love changed the dynamics of our conversation. Although my son did not survive his battle with addiction, I have some peace knowing that during his last few months my conversations with him did not cause him further angst. Joyce

  2. So true on so many levels. Peace within me is key to it all.

  3. Joyce, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. The looming possibility of loss always motivates me to walk this journey out in love. Looking back, would I have regrets? Would my son know he was loved? I am glad that you have that assurance. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Thank you so much for your guiding words. As my son moves through recovery I am sometimes lost in what to say and do. Your article gives me hope as I am trying to do the things you have listed above. Creating the environment of peace for them is so important. Thank you again.

    • Becky, you are welcome! We are also gratefully navigating recovery. And I have learned that I can make assumptions that can create further chaos, if not in practice, certainly in my own mind. I am a work in progress just like my son is. And while my journey of recovery is different from his, I have realized that my own recovery greatly impacts my son.

  5. Pam,
    What wise and loving words. I’m still trying to learn some of this. But even when my sons aren’t in their right minds, now I make a conscious effort to make eye contact (even when it’s painful) and leave all traces of sarcasm and anger out of my voice. So hard, yet I can sleep better knowing I have left them their dignity–even if they don’t remember later on.
    Keep Hoping,
    Linda Clare

    • Thank you Linda. Sometimes these are painful lessons through trial and error. I was responsible at times, for creating an all out war. But when we know better we do better and I am grateful to say that our family is a whole family in recovery!

  6. Pam, thank you for your words. They are so true and aligned with our situation and outcome as well. We often told our son, “we believe in you, we are just waiting for you to believe in yourself”. You are such a gift to families.

    • Thank you Kathy! So honored to be working shoulder to shoulder with you.

  7. Beautifully written. Thank you for helping others have hope and feel less alone.

    • Thank you! I’m grateful it was an encouragement to you.

  8. Beautiful. Painfully real.

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