Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hope floats, and sinks

I’ve thought a lot about hope because it is such an essential part of recovery for all.  I first felt a stirring of hope when our son cried out for rehab. Finally, a glimmer of light leading out of the madness. I began to tally up the days of his sobriety, mistakenly believing that we’d reach a magic number at some point and our son would be miraculously and permanently healed.  I don’t know if that was hope or ignorance, but it kept me going through some very dark days.

At the same time, misplaced hope can impede recovery because it drives us to take unreasonable action. Because we hope against hope that our children are cured. We write the check for the apartment instead of Sober Living.  We hope they have seen the error of their ways and will resolve to change course this time, once and for all. This time they really really really mean it, so we lend them money again. We hope, above all, that the sheer force of our love for them will give them the strength and conviction to resist drugs or alcohol.  If only it were that simple.

Our hope for their recovery leads us to make mistakes: to rent that apartment for them, to pay their bills until they get back on their feet.  Misplaced hope can make it easier for our kids to stay sick than to get healthy.

Most of all, our children need hope for brighter days. We give them that gift when we honestly and realistically take action that underpins their recovery instead of their substance abuse.

Walking down the memory lane called Teen Addiction

It’s been over three years since our teenage son entered residential rehab.  When I recently uncovered some notes I scribbled after he completed his three-month stay there, I regressed to my stark desperation of that moment.

When we pulled into the driveway at the rehab, I didn’t have a clue about what to expect. We knew only that drugs and alcohol were destroying our son and our family, and that this residential facility came with great recommendations and high hopes.  What was rehab, anyway?  I recognized that word only as it related to sports injuries and physical therapy.

Our son’s stay in rehab helped all of us regain our footing after substance abuse had sapped our joy and strength. For the first time in years, we could see our son start to heal and grow. Through the education, the 12-step work, the group meetings and counseling, he gained self-understanding and insight. He was given the gift of a fresh start.

We were given a break from the insanity and a chance to regroup. We were also given a chance to clearly define what was acceptable in our home and our lives, and what wasn’t.  Our son-yes; drugs and alcohol-no.

The family education changed our lives and the way we interact with our son. We learned about the disease of addiction, its impact on the family, and how to break the cycle of enabling. We learned that addiction/alcoholism is a chronic disease and that the battle is life-long. But we have been armed with knowledge that helps us fight the wily foe.

How hopeless I was at the beginning, and how hopeful I have become. My backward glance reveals miracles that were precious then and shine even more brightly in the rear view mirror.

“She had so many hopes and dreams…being an addict wasn’t one of them”

My Christmas posting every year 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 brain 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 information to share with struggling parents.

Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic, reminding all of us to be aware and vigilant because  anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.

Ignorance is Bliss

While walking my dog one night, I noticed a huge jet flying overhead.  It was impossible to miss since it illuminated the airspace with a massive headlight that projected a cone of white light for hundreds of feet.  I understand the value of a headlight on terra firma, but what purpose could that possibly serve mid-flight?  What could the pilot hope to see?  An extraterrestrial perched on the nose cone?  Another 747 dead ahead?  A large mountain drawing unavoidably near?  All of those things fall squarely into the “Things I don’t want to know about” category.  They would terrify me unnecessarily, and for what?

My son’s addiction and his recovery, for that matter– is much the same: I don’t want to know about the things that I can’t influence, which would include pretty much everything in his life.  My chance to help shape his decisions is long gone, and he is an independent and capable adult now. He’s calling the shots, making the best decisions he can, and I’m staying in my hula hoop.  These days, Mother doesn’t know best, if she ever did!

I’d be better of focusing my attention on things that I can influence like climate change, the national debt and my expanding waistline.  Ooops, I can’t seem to control those either.  Instead, I should pay homage to the wisdom of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, who was obviously way ahead of his time when he enquired, “What, me worry?” I’m a whole lot happier that way.  After all, what’s the point of even looking for those things I can’t control?

Sunday Inspiration

“When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She always starts with an impossibility.”

From Plan B, Further Thoughts on  Faith by Anne Lamott

Judgement Day

When my kids were growing up, I took note occasionally of other mothers who weren’t as engaged/occupied/preoccupied/obsessed with their children as I was. I would observe, in the kindest possible way, “She doesn’t seem to spend much time in the classroom, volunteering, baking cookies, sewing on Scout badges, etc.” Not that I thought I was better in any sense; it just seemed like caring, responsible moms would be joined at the hip with their children like Siamese Twins. Looking back now, the germinating seeds of unhealthy co-dependency were bursting out in full bloom. Aaaah, that good old 20/20 hindsight.

Fast forward to my child’s addiction and the sanity-saving balance I have thankfully regained. Now my perspective is radically different, and I am much more likely to think, “Wow, maybe that mom is spending a tad too much time choreographing her child’s life. Maybe she ought to step back and take up tennis.”

Actually, these days I don’t expend any energy ruminating on others’ involvement with their kids or lack thereof . For one, I’m too busy focusing on my own health and balance. And how can I possibly know what the lives of others might be like? Who am I to set any yardstick of parental prowess?

By the same token, how can anyone pass judgment on me? I am sure I’ve been scrutinized for being too strict, or not strict enough; too involved, or not involved enough; too controlling, or not controlling enough. Yet how could anyone else possibly know what makes me and my family tick? How can any of us judge another without walking in their shoes?

And therein lies yet another gift of addiction: you learn not to pass judgment on others. You learn that you don’t have all the answers, and that we are all trying to be the best parents possible in our admittedly imperfect ways. Addiction is a brutal and blunt teacher of this lesson, but this pearl of wisdom is a treasure to grasp tightly.

Sunday Inspiration

“If you are going through Hell, keep going.”

- Winston Churchill

Hoping against hope

One of my friends is dating a guy whose daughter is addicted to opiates. I’ve spoken with them about my journey and the steps they might consider taking to help her turn the tide. For the moment, they are merely hoping against hope that things will change, now that they have confronted her and said, “No more!”

I understand their reluctance to intervene because I’ve been there myself. Why is it so hard acknowledge and confront our children’s substance abuse? I’ve asked myself that question so many times, looking back on my own reluctance to face the truth, to intervene, to take action with my son. These are some of the reasons I sat on the sidelines:

• It was almost as if taking action really confirmed that there was a problem; and conversely, if I didn’t act, then there wasn’t a problem. Denial 101 at its best.

• Drug addicts don ‘t come from good families. My family is a good family. Therefore, my son cannot be a drug addict, or so I reasoned. I have since learned that addiction does not discriminate, and having a good family or being a good mom is irrelevant to the disease of addiction.

• At times, I was afraid to “awaken the dragon” by making demands for change. Things were bad, but they could get a whole lot worse if I shook things up

• I was afraid of doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, making a mistake.

• I was utterly exhausted and could barely crawl through each day.

• I couldn’t locate resources. Even though I knew things were terribly wrong, I didn’t know where to get help.

• Hope springs eternal: in spite of evidence to the contrary, I continued to interpret my son’s behavior optimistically and inaccurately, believing that I was glimpsing recovery instead of a downward spiral.

Understanding these forces at play helps me forgive myself for tolerating an intolerable situation. And should my friend ask for advice, I will compassionately draw upon memories of my own paralysis and inaction as I support her, wherever she happens to be.

Get out the s**t shield

Early in my son’s recovery from substance abuse, I bought a plastic 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 printed a Gothic banner that says “Genuine Shit Shield.  Just say ‘Oh’” and taped it to the front of the shield. I used that shit shield to fend off the crap that his addiction hurled my way. Incoming! He’s got bills, tickets, debris from his addiction?? I just say, Oh or Oh?? and give him a chance to figure it out for himself. Car accident? Oh.  No food? Oh. His wreckage is his wreckage, not mine.

We interfere with our children’s recovery when we solve their problems for them. The only way our kids can ever get better is if they experience the consequences of their actions and take steps not to repeat their mistakes. My mother’s instinct is to protect my children from their mistakes, and that doesn’t work. Every time I put a pillow under someone’s butt, I keep them from feeling the fall and learning how to stand straight and upright.

We can love our children to death as we try to keep them safe from themselves. It is almost instinctual to do, especially when the crap hurtles towards us at warp speed.  And that is where the shit shield gives me the protection and backbone that I need to stay strong in my resolve.