Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sober Living

Dandelion blowing in the wind.The first time I visited my son in sober living, the dining room was crowded mostly with men lined up for the evening meal. I felt apprehensive, on high alert.  It was hard for me to put a finger on my fear, so later I tried to make some sense of my unease.  Was I passing judgment on the pretty scruffy crew, my son included?  Or was it the same apprehension that I feel when I enter a large conference room dominated by unknown faces?  It finally clicked:  I was intimidated by the aura of hope co-mingled with desperation.  I held hope for the residents to seize the brass ring of recovery, yet I was acutely aware that that ring can so easily slip from their grasp.  My son included.

The Mom in me wants to counsel the crowd:”Don’t mess up!” I implore in my mind.”This is life or death!” As if they don’t already know that.

Yesterday, my son brought his laundry to our home where he doesn’t have to compete with others to use the washer and dryer. It was still drying when he left, and I was tempted to fold and stack it when the dryer stopped spinning, as I have done so often before. But I resisted the urge. Today, he called and asked me to run the de-wrinkle cycle while he was en route. Then he arrived and folded his clothes, something he seldom did in the past. A miracle, indeed! His clothes are clean and folded, and I had nothing to do with it. By the same token, he can stay clean and sober all on his own, without any help from me.

Severing the lifeline

Saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” and then setting boundaries is one of the great lessons of addiction.

What does it take to finally cry “Uncle?”  For me, it was the recognition that my sinking child was pulling me down—or so I thought.  In reality, we were so sickly conjoined that I pulled him down/ he pulled me down/ I threw him a faulty life raft called enabling/we sank together into the murky depths. Drowning and depleted, I finally cut him off by telling him he could only be in my life if he was sober.  That simple concept took a long time for me to embrace; and that simple sentence required practice, practice, practice until I could say it convincingly without weeping.

When I cut my son loose and popped to the surface for air, I discovered that he had popped up, too, although quite a ways away from me.  And that’s when recovery began for both of us.

Early in the game, I viewed my child as “the one at fault.”  I now realize there is no “good” person or “bad” person in our unhealthy dance, except for the wily foe we call Addiction. I’ve also discovered how setting boundaries serves us well in all of our affairs, not just with our beloved addicts and alcoholics.  In my quest for self-preservation, I am learning to eliminate the toxic things and people from my life.  It’s hard to do:  I grew up being a pleaser, the Good Girl, sucking it up, not listening to my gut, and tolerating intolerable behavior. But the life-saving skills I’ve acquired along the way are helping me be healthier in other areas of my life.

Judgment Impairs Vision

A couple of years ago I was driving my son to a local transit station.  What happened then is as crystal clear as if it were yesterday.  At the stop light, I quickly glanced his way to see if he was wearing his seat belt. I had not forgotten a previous time I was driving him.  Shortly released from prison, the police officer pulls up next to us and I realize his seat belt isn’t on. This panicked me to no end.   How could I not have noticed and insisted “car rules” but then again, why would I have to?

This time he has acquired tattoos that runs from his shoulder to his wrist on one arm. I’m having trouble accepting it, and I’m aware of it.  Soon I noticed things around me. At an intersection, the car just next to me pulled up to the stop light. Here was a young driver who appeared to be a drug dealer. There were several young people at the corner gas station; they too looked suspect to me – did I just see them nod to that drug dealer driver? And the car on my right, the driver also had a very noticeable tattoo… Somewhere there was loud music BOOM BOOM BOOMING… Everywhere around me were suspicious people, my son’s age, in cars, on sidewalks, parking lots and bus stations, all seemingly with no direction or purpose. It was like the ZOMBIES had all come out in the afternoon. This is an area I drive daily and I never noticed this before!

What just happened here? I was uneasy about his tattoo. Why? One word: Judgment. I was placing judgment on him AND would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned about how people would judge me! So, as sneaky as my EGO can be, I involuntarily defaulted to my old defects of character – placing judgment on those around me – they looked suspicious! This tactic used to work good when I did not want to take a good look at myself. Let’s face it. If I put the focus on them, I don’t see where there is any “me” in the equation. This time, however, I CAUGHT ME!

I never know when I’m going to resort to old habits where character defects surface, but I am able to recognize what I’m doing and stop it soon after. Before Al-Anon I would not have considered my viewpoint the problem. I sometimes look forward to finding another thing I’m wrong at because it’s so humbling! What a gift!

Sunday Inspiration

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our ATTITUDE. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”

 

Charles Swindoll

Anonymous No More

I just came across an article I had torn from the New York Times that debated the pros and cons of keeping alcoholics anonymous. The author writes, “More and more, anonymity seems like an anachronistic vesting of the Great Depression, when AA got its start and when alcoholism was seen not just as a weakness but as a disgrace.”

I’m not here to deliberate the pros or cons of anonymity—I’m here to say Hallelujah that “the disgrace” of alcoholism is beginning to be seen as a vestige of misinformed days gone by.  Of course, I know that’s not universally the case:  I’ve heard people disparage alcoholics as “bad characters,” “weak willed” or a bad seed to be flung far, far away.  They could have been talking about my kid, or yours, if you are reading this blog….and that hurts.

In truth, the conversation should be about a bad disease rather than bad character, and that is the way the conversation is starting to turn. The conversation should also include a discussion of teen substance abuse as a massive public health threat, but that’s probably a few years off.

In the meantime, I’ll take comfort in the fact that people are starting to talk openly about the disease of alcoholism, much the same way cancer came out of the closet about 15 years ago.  We can only wage war on the enemy when we can see it and call it by name.

Sunday Inspiration

“Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature. ”
- C.S. Lewis

Recovery is Right Brain development

It is often said in the rooms of Al-Anon that changed attitudes can aid recovery.  My attitude to the unbearable circumstances of addiction was not great.  You might say I had a real bad attitude.  And this was doing nothing to solve the problem but I did not know what else to do.  Though I did not know at the time, I had to shift from logical, linear, methodical strategizing to a counter-intuitive approach.  I would attack the addict using extreme measures, all calculated and planned and I would do it over and over expecting a change in the result. 

I often wonder what neurologists would see if they were to study the brains of untreated family members afflicted with the family disease of addiction. My guess is subject’s brains would show the left hemisphere abnormally enlarged and the right hemisphere atrophied.  Jill Bolte Taylor, a long time neuro-scientist who shares her personal experience of being a stroke victim in her book “Stroke of Insight” discusses right brain function.  This was all she had left during her stroke. Her experience and education in the study of the brain and behavior captured me with wonder and awe about recovery.  
With only right hemisphere functioning, there is no judgment; no resentment of the past, no future tripping or Ego interpretations.  Her detailed descriptions of experiencing only right hemisphere functions truly captures that part of my life that was missing and necessary for recovery.  In a sense, I have taken 12 steps right from my left hemisphere! 

Sunday Inspiration

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sens of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. ”

-Melody Beattie

 

Powerless over tantrums, parenting class 101

I was thinking about all the parenting classes offered when my kids were babies.  It was in combination with my memories of powerlessness over my son’s tantrums.  One of my sons, as early as I can remember, was a colicky baby and screamer.  When he outgrew blood curdling screams, he turned to the ultimate: the mother of all tantrums.  He’d literally throw himself down bellowing with all his might, face turning red and inconsolable, unreasonable and unbearable.  We would have aborted trips the grocery store, the swim lessons, the preschool outings.  I’d roll him back up into the car, force the car seat on and home we’d go.  When put in his room, he’d bang on the door like a caged wild animal.  After parenting classes, I was taught how to be calm, be prepared for those aborted trips, be firm about the decision to “turn-around and go home” and have him stay in his room until he was finished having his fit.  I had to separate my feelings about it.  Consequences in the purist form.  Ironic today, this was early training on creating boundaries no matter how uncomfortable it was for me. After all, I am the parent. It wasn’t easy or convenient when these episodes happened, but the classes and theory made sense.  I recall the classes were an adaptation of Rudolph Dreikurs parenting curriculum and offered through a school district under adult education.  Back then, I recognized my limited ability of parenting knowledge and easily sought help.  I could not stop his tantrums and I knew this inherently, but I knew there could be a better way of handling it as the parent.  The course taught me to say what I mean, mean what I say, and not say it mean. It promised that my actions would speak volumes.  This particular child became a student that teachers adored.  His intellect and wit carried him well through high school. 

Later, Alcoholism showed up.  All bets are off.  Parenting 101 is out the door.  It infects the family and is cunning and baffling.  How many classes through your local adult education offer parenting classes for prevention and treatment for both child and parent?  Statistics keep going up on the epidemic of drug addiction!  Denial of reality apparently is rampant in the department of education!  There are resources out there but most likely not in the obvious places, at least not for parents. It’s as if we are on our own – but you’re not alone and there is help.

Acceptance and denial is to water and oil.

Source: flickr.com via Carolyn on Pinterest

 

When I have acceptance, my attitude is better. I’m not trying to fix it, change it, or control it. I don’t hold judgment, grudges and resentments. I can even have acceptance when situations don’t go MY WAY because I have re-wired my thinking from denial to acceptance as part of my recovery from the family disease. I first had to accept I was powerless over the disease. Not long after I realized I was powerless, in a much broader sense, over people, places and things.

I learned that I did have control over my response and attitude to all situations, even ones that sadden, frighten, and frustrate me.  With acceptance, I can mirror you the respect, encouragement and loving sentiment I’ve learned to give myself.  Powerless, yes.  Helpless, not so much.

Before the disease of addiction, I’d liken acceptance as a state of mind when all things in the universe were going MY WAY. Because when things went my way, I was happy. Happy = good attitude. What about when things didn’t go my way? Many times in my life I experienced this, but never to the degree as when addiction came into my family. My life had bumps but I was under the delusion I had control over most everything. Any deviations would result in my actions to create a state of getting MY WAY back, reinforcing my delusion of control. Statements or thoughts such as: they are idiots! Obviously uneducated! If they would only… my way or the highway” were used a lot back then.

When addiction became the family obsession, DENIAL became the solution. I could not accept it, so I denied the very problem. “Denial of reality is a symptom of my disease.” Because the disease is progressive, my way was never going to happen… my way. I thought acceptance would mean approval, or submission, or cowardice. People would say, “You’re not going to let that happen are you?” People would say, “What are you going to do about it?” I was not the only one thinking I had control over things, people around me did too!

With acceptance there’s no room for denial. Besides, the two don’t mix well together!