Always on High Alert

August 31, 2020 - Mary Fran Bontempo

Every summer about this time, I find myself in a bit of a slump. I’m tired. Tired of the heat, tired of the bugs, just tired in general, as in I need rest. Even though summer is supposed to be a time for rejuvenation, I frequently find myself in need of more sleep at summer’s end. It’s almost as though the need to squeeze every moment out of summer’s waning light leaves me depleted. I know the dark, lonely days of winter are ahead, but I can’t seem to make myself jump into more summer “fun,” regardless of how much I know I’ll miss it when I’m shoveling snow in January.

And that’s okay.   

Over the years, I’ve learned not to fight it when my body is telling me it’s tie to slow down, take a break, rest. It’s not been an easy lesson to learn, especially during my son’s active heroin addiction.

When you love an addict, it can be all but impossible to turn off your “high alert” sensor. That electric-like current that runs through you at every moment as you try desperately to figure out how to help your loved one. It goes off constantly. Why is he sleeping so late? Where was she last night? Where did that $20 bill go that was in my purse? Are his eyes red? Why does she seem so agitated?

Addiction doesn’t rest, and consequently, neither do those trying to support an addict. There is always, always a reason to worry, to lose sleep, to fear.

If only that helped.

But it doesn’t. No amount of lost sleep, worry, or fear will make an addict any less addicted. If it could, every addict would be cured in a day. The mantra remains the same: You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you won’t cure it.

Yet to survive it, you must rest. You must find a safe space, even a short amount of time, to release your body and mind from the burden of addiction. For me, it was as simple as a walk, or even better, a nap, because those times when I could drift off to sleep were truly the only times I wasn’t worried. You must unplug your high alert sensor and rest.

Addiction doesn’t take a break, but those who care for an addict need to. No matter what rest looks like to you, give yourself permission to do it. You cannot save anyone from addiction, but in order to be in the fight, to help when you can, you must care for you. Unplug, rest, and turn your high alert sensor to off.


Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.

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