It is absolutely paralyzing to learn that your child has substance abuse issues. Where do you turn for help? How do you know what steps to take? What is addiction, anyway? There are endless questions and no consolidation source of answers or support. In addition, the stigma of having an addicted child causes many parents to retract and withdraw rather than seek help. In truth, many families struggle with substance abuse issues, and the support, wisdom and guidance they need are not easily found.Parent Pathway was created for parents, by parents, to provide a place to find peace of mind at a time when their world feels like it is falling apart.
“How’s your day going so far?” This question, often asked at the grocery store by the courtesy clerk, reminds me of a time I’d have to see if my kids were doing all right before I could answer. If they were doing well, then I was doing well. If they were messing up, then my day would be ruined. My attachment to them was so powerful that I was not aware of how much my well-being depended on them.
My concern for them at different stages of their troublesome drug use grew exponentially. Addiction is progressive. If a person does not seek recovery, they will spiral further and further. For my experience, this was exactly what happened. My life depended on them to get sober, and it was not looking good for me. If only he would get sober and start working in a job so he can be self-sufficient…Then I’d be happy! I remember when my son finally asked for help and we financed his treatment, a faith based live in facility. I was ecstatic! Finally! My life is going to get better. One thing was certain, I was able to sleep a full 7 hours. Many rehabs and relapses were on the horizon. Fortunately, during this time I sought help too.
With my co-dependent lifestyle, I was beginning to see health problems associated with years of stress and relying on an addict to make me feel happy. I remember my counselor asked me “do you want to be happy?” “Yes! Yes I do want to be happy!” I replied. “Then go right ahead.” What I did not know then, but have since learned, is my happiness is something I choose. I learned how NOT to rely on anyone to make me feel good. Are there days when sadness hits? You bet there is. That’s life, and I accept that there will be ups and downs. Down is not a destination. Today, I’m doing great, thank you and it’s a wonderful feeling.
Headaches, indigestion, stomach aches, sweaty palms, sleep difficulties, back and neck pain, racing heart, restlessness, tiredness, ringing in the ears, dizziness, skin rash, increased allergies, frequent colds, and more I can’t think of at this moment. These physical symptoms were all typical for me at the summit of trying to manage my son’s progressive drug addiction.
These warning signs were only vindicated by my current drama event of the day; I became more obsessed with his disease, wanting him to change, urging him to get recovery, pleading for his sobriety, believing that if he’d do what I wanted him to do, I would also get better. To exasperate matters, I would take sleep aids, buy skin ointment, or treat myself to a massage believing this would fix my ailments. All the while, never quite understanding, I was merely affixing a Band-Aid to a severed artery.
The underlying issues of my physical symptoms required a drastic 360 degree turn-a-round in the way I was living life. I didn’t go to a doctor because I was tired from last night’s restless sleep. I went because of three, four, five years of continuous symptoms from something that progressed beyond my understanding. Other “stressors” became unmanageable. What used to be easy – work related challenges, staff interactions, management meetings, and interpersonal relationships, all became monumental. All facets of my life were impacted. Loving someone in addiction would require drastic measures and a new way of living. This became possible, but change didn’t happen overnight, and my health would not bounce back in a day or two. There is hope, help and a light at the end of this dark tunnel – it required effort on my part, it began not with him changing, but with me.
While waiting at the vet one day, I picked up an enlightening book called What Dogs Teach Us: Life’s Lessons Learned from Our Best Friends by Glen Dromgoole. I skimmed through the book and found that many of these life lessons apply to man and beast alike. Consider:
- “Appreciate the preciousness of life.” Addiction gives us an ongoing opportunity to practice this concept, trying to find the rainbow in the storm clouds. As they say, practice makes perfect. Keep looking for that rainbow to appear.
- “Good behavior should be reinforced with complements or rewards.” My natural instinct as a co-dependent worrier is to get stressed and cranky. Thanks to addiction, I’ve come to learn the futility of worry. When worry bubbles up in my mind, I now try to wrestle it to the ground. Why should I let worry call the shots in my life? I can be happier when I focus on the positive, and the people around me are happier because I am less preoccupied, maybe even more pleasant.. Win/win.
- “Sassing back can make things worse.” That goes both ways—you sass me/ I sass you, and we both lose. The Al-Anon equivalent of this statement is “Spit out the hook” or “You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to.”
- “Run to the rescue of people in trouble.” Uh oh. Maybe this natural instinct of mine wouldn’t be so problematic if I were Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, but rescuing people is bad for me and bad for them. This adage is healthy only if you are a dog or a paramedic.
- “Co-dependency is OK as long as one of you has four legs.” Amen to that!
- And finally…“Take time to enjoy the smells and sounds and sights around us.” Life is short. If we mire ourselves in fruitless preoccupations about our loved one’s addictions, then our very own lives go passing by while we are looking the other way.