Early in my son’s recovery, I bought a toy shield from a local toy store. It was mottled gray plastic, identical to the one he used as a child for protection against the dragons and demons in our back yard, the monsters in the closet. I made a Gothic banner that says “Genuine Shit Shield.” Just say “Oh” and taped it to the front. In the dark old days, the Shit Shield helped me fend off the crap that addiction hurls my way. Incoming! He’s got bills, tickets, debris from his addiction?? I just say, Oh or Oh?? and hope that he figures it out for himself. Car accident? Oh. No food? Oh. His wreckage is not mine to remove.
And the real beauty of the Shit Shield is that it is portable and versatile—I can carry it in my mind and use it anytime my co-dependent button is close to being pushed. My niece could use a pinch of help paying her Nordstrom bill. Oh? My less industrious teammate would like me to pick up some of her unfinished work. Oh.
We get in the way of our children’s recovery when we solve their problems for them. The only way my child will ever get better is if he suffers from the damage he incurs and decides not to incur it again. My mother’s instinct is to protect him from himself, and that doesn’t work. Every time I put a pillow under his butt, I keep him from feeling the fall. We can love our children to death as we try to keep them safe from themselves. It’s tempting to do, especially when the crap hurtles towards us at warp speed. And that is where the Genuine Shit Shield gives me the protection and backbone that I need to stay strong in my resolve.
These are “notes to self” that I wrote last Thanksgiving. In difficult times, it is helpful to be grateful for what we do have, rather than what we don’t….
We hit the road tomorrow for a family union of three siblings, Grandma and Grandpa and seven grandchildren. My two youngest nieces had not even been conceived the last time we met as a family. They just turned 14; it’s been a long dry spell. I’m taking a breather now before the chaos to count my many blessings:
I am thankful that my son has claimed a life of recovery, one day at a time.
I am thankful that people are beginning to understand addiction as a disease of the brain.
I am thankful that I discovered Al-Anon.
I am thankful for the friends that addiction has ushered into my life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to support others though their own child’s addiction.
I am thankful that my marriage survived our son’s addiction.
I am thankful that I have had the resources to help support my son’s recovery.
And thanks to addiction, I am appreciative of the perspective I’ve gained about what really counts in life.
Count your blessings…..and let me know what you are thankful for.
Over the past year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has been focused on developing a working definition of recovery that captures the essential, common experiences of those recovering from mental or substance use disorders. SAMHSA has also identified 10 guiding principles that support recovery. The principals, while written for and about the addict, apply so clearly to recovery as experienced by the family of the addict, as well.
First, SAMHSA’s definition of recovery from mental and substance use disorders: a process of change through which individuals work to improve their own health and well-being, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential.
Now, take a look to see how the principals of recovery pan out in your life—or not.
SAMSHA’s Ten Guiding Principles of Recovery:
- Recovery is person-driven.
- Recovery occurs via many pathways.
- Recovery is holistic.
- Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
- Recovery is supported through relationships and social networks.
- Recovery is culturally based and influenced.
- Recovery is supported by addressing trauma.
- Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility.
- Recovery is based on respect.
- Recovery emerges from hope.
What do you think about the guiding principles of recovery from substance use disorders? What is missing from SAHMA’s list that you have found helpful in your own recovery? And if one of these principals is missing from your own recovery, you might want to shore up that element in your life to support the strongest recovery possible.
A robin has woven a mossy nest in the crape myrtle tree not far from my kitchen window. I first noticed her several weeks ago as she shredded a nearby nest left over by last year’s Thrasher clan. Mama Robin was intent on eliminating any possible competitors or predators from her turf.
Today, I realized the eggs had hatched when I spotted both male and female perching around the nest, worms dangling from their beaks. They took turns plunging their beaks into the nest, depositing food into the clamoring mouths.
Later, as I watered plants nearby, I watched Mama Robin watch me. Her eyes were alert, and her beak gaped open in a fierce manner, conveying in birdie-speak her willingness to go to battle for her babies. I bet she would have swooped down on me, had I come any closer.
I felt almost nostalgic as I noted her instinctive protectiveness as a mother. What wouldn’t a mother do to keep her children safe?
The ironic thing about addiction is that in our misguided, fear-driven efforts to keep our children safe, sometimes we actually contribute to their vulnerability. We cover and compensate for their bad choices, and they don’t learn to make good ones. We protect them from the dangers they have created in a way that exposes them to even more danger. We keep them safe in their cushy nest, and they don’t learn how to fly.
Emily Dickenson wrote, “Hope is a thing with feathers,” and I’d like to add my footnote: “Trust is letting those feathered wings take flight.”
This posting is dedicated to Tiffany Noel Chapman, a Christmas baby born in December, 1976. She became addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed when she broke her neck in a high school car accident. She died when she was 27, her liver destroyed by the pain pills that her body and brain demanded.
Many people believe that teens “choose” to become drug addicts or alcoholics when they party with drugs or alcohol, but addiction often develops under less voluntary circumstances. Tiffany’s genetic predisposition for addiction was triggered by the pain meds that she needed to take for intractable pain. Her story, while not uncommon, is an eye-opener to those (including me) who had no clue that even doctor-prescribed and doctor-monitored medications can become addictive.
Tiffany’s parents took her home from various ERs after repeated overdoses. Not once did they receive discharge instructions that shed any light on the disease they were fighting. Not once did they receive counsel about rehab or information about resources. They didn’t understand the phantom they were fighting in the dark, without tools or weapons. And they aren’t alone in their not-knowingness: teen addiction and alcoholism aren’t commonly discussed in today’s parenting books. In fact, most physicians have little or no training about addiction or alcoholism, especially as a teen issue, and little wisdom to share with struggling parents.
Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic trailer, reminding all of us to be vigilant and aware that anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.
I read Courage to Change almost every morning as I start my day. This publication from the Al-Anon Family Group offers bits of wisdom in daily, doable doses. The title of the book says it all: recovering from my child’s addiction and freeing him claim his own recovery hinged entirely on my courage to change—to do things differently, to be open to the belief that our lives could be healthier and happier if I could take a leap of faith.
When my kids were little, we sprinkled the closet with Monster Spray to keep the monsters away. Somewhere along the way, it lost its power, and the Addiction Monster hunkered down in our home. Evicting that monster required every ounce of courage I could muster.
What does courage look like? Courage is my unwillingness to tolerate the status quo of addiction, which can become comfortably predictable in its insanity. Courage is my wiliness to take a stand, and at the same time step into thin air, believing that a safe landing lay in storeâ€¦ or at least a landing that is softer than the one addiction offers. My courage was fortified by my conviction that a power greater than me is calling the shots and that things will work out the way they are supposed to.
What does change look like? It is the acknowledgement that things aren’t working and the rules of the game need to be revised. Change meant setting limits, communicating more constructively, respecting boundaries, saying that I will not tolerate that any longer, acknowledging the insanity that had overtaken our lives and refusing to partake in it any longer.
There is familiarity in dysfunction, and changing entrenched habits is hard and scary. But what is more terrifying? The monster in the closet or the potential of recovery for you and your child? Make that leap of faith, muster your courage, and make the hard choices that banish addiction from your home.
I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Moments, Daily Meditations on the Virtues. The back of the book describes it better than I can: “The virtues such as honesty, generosity, love, discernment and trust dwell inside all of us. They are our link with the Divine, the best parts of our character and the highest qualities of our humanity..The virtues help us to know who we are and what we can be.”
This book was given to me by a mom student in the anatomy class I took recently. She mentioned to the class that her young son had been killed several years ago by a drunk driver while riding his bike home from a Little League game.
This ethereal mom walked a walk of tremendous grace, compassion and humanity. There was not a bitter bone in her body over her son’s loss; instead, she continues to dedicate her energy to transforming sorrow into strength, pain into growth, fear into trust. She teaches a Virtues class every six months to introduce the concepts to our community, but she lives and breathes the virtues with every step.
When I am tempted to throw a Pity Party for the missteps and damage done along the way (courtesy of drugs and alcohol), I will reflect on this brave mom, do my best to follow in her footsteps, and spin straw into gold.