“Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.”
“Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.”
I spoke with a friend this week who wanted to know what pearls of wisdom I would impart to help other parents reduce teen substance abuse. I was caught off guard by this question but have been chewing on it ever since. Here is my short list of important things parents should know:
Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.
“We have met the enemy, and it is us” rings so true for us co-dependents. In our heart of hearts, we know that things will remain broken unless something changes radically, but it often takes the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back” to make us alter our ways.
The final straw could be another DUI or a lost job or stolen jewelry or holes smashed in the sheetrock or even something as innocent as a straw from the kitchen drawer…dusted with cocaine. The possibilities are endless.
The proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back can take many shapes, but there is one constant: this is the event or the transgression or the heartbreak that causes us to raise our hands and cry “No more!” We are not raising our hands in surrender; instead, we are raising our hands with the powerful intention of change.
What things can change when we reach that point of “No more?” We might stop paying our kids’ bills or covering for them when they miss work, or fixing their broken cars, or doing their laundry. We might stop doing whatever we did that made them easy to keep drinking or drugging. We might start doing things that will require accountability and responsibility. It is amazing how teens might change when the car disappears, the money spigot is shut off, or they have to fix their own mistakes.
That tiny, final straw can be surprisingly powerful when it gives teen addicts a reason to seek rehabilitation.
“It is the nature of tunnels that if you just keep walking, the light’s gonna show up.”
-Father Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart
Ronald Reagan’s once wayward daughter penned a beautiful tribute to him in a Time magazine where she wrote of his “allowing the residue of my rebellious years and the hurt I caused him to blow away like dust….” I hope I have the grace to fully forgive my son for his youthful transgressions and poor choices. I need to master the art of forgiveness for his sake and for mine.
Forgiveness is a bit like fishing in a catch and release stream. If you don’t let the fish off the hook and release it back into the stream, it will die. And you might die a little bit, too, for causing unnecessary harm. I need to let my son off the hook—figuratively and metaphorically–or I will continue to suffer as I inflict his addiction on me. I need to forgive him in order to neutralize the poison that leaches through my brain when I chewl on past wrongs and bad choices. …to end the self-recrimination of should have//would have/could have….to open my spirit to the possibilities of the moment instead of the fears of the past.
I need to forgive him for his sake, too. He didn’t become an addict intentionally or plan to bring pain on our family. His motives, like most teenagers, revolved around fitting in and feeling better about himself or simply feeling better. If I can fully forgive, I will free both of us from the mistakes of his youth and leave yesterday firmly in our wake.
I heard a thought-provoking quote today at the end of a segment on NPR: “Don’t let the ‘isms’ get in the way of the ‘is.” That resonated with me because I tend to look at my son through the lens of alcoholism/addiction instead of focusing on who he is today: a beautiful, earnest young man who works hard to make recovery his reality.
Before my son headed off to rehabilitation, I was wrapped around the axel of his messed up life. I was all consumed with fixing his mistakes, helping him with the fender benders, the lost paychecks, the academic woes. I didn’t have a name for the demons we were fighting, but I knew it was bad. That changed when he declared, “I am an alcoholic/addict.” I gained a name for the problem and shifted gears into the “ism” mode, seeing everything through the lens of addiction. My near-sightedness was especially pronounced in the early stages of his and my recovery because I was so conditioned to report on tornadoes that I could barely glimpse those emerging snippets of blue sky. I lost sight of my child entirely.
I recognized my myopic behavior and even asked another mother if I would ever be able to see him as anything but an alcoholic/addict. She assured me that I would gain the perspective to see beyond the “ism” as I disentangled myself from him. That’s taken a lot of hard work but three and a half years into my own recovery from co-dependent entwining, I have a much fuller picture of who he truly is. I don’t torture myself with a counterproductive label, and I am able to embrace him more fully, beauty marks and warts and all.
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
-Corrie Ten Boom
I have seen different stages of HOPE in my recovery from the family disease. Initially I was hopeless and helpless after fighting the battle alone…and my first recollection was HOPE for them. I would be completely focused on hearing stories of other parents whose adult children found recovery and sobriety. I’m sure there was more to their story however; I was only able to hear that glimmer of hope. HOPE for me was that it could be possible for my sons to join the millions of others in the rooms of AA or NA. These stories of hope helped keep me going and willing to hear more. Sometimes I would fantasize that my son would not only find recovery, but he would be a circuit speaker and sponsor and ….and then I’d catch myself projecting again.
When I heard from the elders, whose sons and daughters aged 40+ were relapsing or binging – I was very uncomfortable. I did not want to be one of them years from now sharing that story! And my denial kept me from confronting the fact that this too could happen to me. I’d imagine their grown children, middle-aged and substance-abuse scarred, trying to move home, borrow money, bail out of jail, NO WAY – I just couldn’t fathom it. Not me! And then I’d catch myself projecting again.
Yet the elders talked about HOPE for themselves and how they found a life of gratitude. They spoke of Al-Anon as a journey not a destination. How they were able to get through the difficult times, one day at a time, using the tools of the program. This was a new kind of HOPE presented in a different way and there was a certain allure. I guess someday I will be that old-timer because there is no way I could continue without Al-Anon. By reaching out, sharing my story, helping with service, I could be giving back a glimmer of HOPE to someone in need. HOPE: Hearing Other People’s Experience
When my friend answered her front door a while back, she faced an angry young man who wanted to talk to her son. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there for cordial conversation. She sent the kid away, but a stench remained — a bad feeling, a sense of foreboding, a “knowing” that something was afoot. Now she is perched on the edge of High Alert because of what may or may not transpire between two agitated young men. Not her problem to solve, but still, the confrontation brought teen addiction into her home and into her consciousness.
Our addicted teens track their problems into our house like dog poop on a running shoe. Never a welcome discovery, but what to do?? Should I politely ignore the stench or maybe cover it up with air freshener? Perhaps I should ban shoes from the house, or even throw the shoe away. Now, let’s apply those possibilities to our addicted loved ones who bring their messes home. Should we gloss over their mistakes, set boundaries with love or eject them from our lives entirely? It is such a hard call to make, even though I don’t want to be cleaning that carpet over and over and over. But the bottom line is that I am entitled to a home that is free of crap, both literal and figurative.
For me, the key is to consciously grasp what I can and cannot control. I can’t keep my son from stepping in it, but I can keep him from tracking his mess all over my floor. If he chooses to step in poop, I choose to set down rules about how and when he enters my home. Poopy shoes and those who wear them are not welcome in my home.
Maybe when I stop cleaning up his messes he will learn to avoid stepping in them in the first place.
I had a little spat with a girlfriend last week when I commented that she seemed “agitated.” There was no judgment on my end: I had simply observed that she was walking and talking a mile a minute. But what I said and what she heard were two different things entirely. I said “agitated” and she heard “manic,” “hysterical,” and “repugnant.” I know because she told me so in a distressing email where she accused me of not liking her at all. I was stunned to be so misinterpreted and misunderstood. Clearly, we need to talk.
I’ve had the same experience with my son when I offered to help him with one task or another, and he viewed my offer as a validation of his incompetence. “I’m not an idiot!” he would exclaim. Did I say he was an idiot? I don’t think so—but that’s what he heard. What I believed to be helpful, he experienced as hurtful. His experience of incompetence was a reflection of his self-judgment, not mine.
Knowing that, I have shackled my Inner Enabler and now offer to help only when asked. And that’s a relief! Phew, for a while there I thought I had to save the world. No wonder I was tired all the time. Now, I get to kick back and concentrate fully on saving me from myself, one friend at a time, while my child rebuilds the foundation of his self-esteem without any help from me.