The news today was full of articles about addiction, so I thought it made sense to do a brief round-up of some information that can arm and empower parents in their role as advocates for their children.
How about standards of treatment for the disease of addiction? “Right now there are no accepted national standards for providers of addiction treatment,” said Susan Foster, CASA Columbia’s Vice President and Director of Policy Research and Analysis, who was the principal investigator for the report. “There simply is no other disease where appropriate medical treatment is not provided by the health care system and where patients instead must turn to a broad range of practitioners largely exempt from medical standards. Neglect by the medical profession has resulted in a separate and unrelated system of care that struggles to treat the disease without the resources or knowledge base to keep pace with science and medicine.” Toss in some stigma and isolation, stir well with anger or denial, and you have a recipe for a millions of suffering families trying to make their way through the darkness.
As parents, we have to be advocates for our children (in a healthy, non-enabling way, of course). We need to keep dangerous drugs out of our neighborhoods, and we need to battle for effective treatment of the disease of addiction. Luckily, it appears that the passage of the Affordable Care Act bodes well for that, as addiction is now coming out of the shadows as a costly, preventable disease. Money talks…read all about it here.
Quick–take this quiz! Your two boys are young adults, one with a solid recovery under his belt (still an addict, always an addict, albeit an addict in recovery); and one a “Normie” who has never struggled with the disease of addiction. They both have an urgent need to get their cars repaired so they can drive to work, and they are both strapped for cash. You decide to:
A) Lend both of them money.
B) Don’t lend money to either one.
C) Lend money to one and not to the other.
If you answered “C” you’ve just encountered a dilemma often faced by parents of chemically-dependent kids. When stuff like this happens, questions race through my Rubik’s Cube of a brain: if I help my addict child, am I enabling? If I don’t help my addict child, does it convey my lack of confidence and trust? Or if I help my addict child, am I telegraphing to him/her that he/she is incompetent and needs my assistance? If I help my non-addict child, am I sending the same message? Would I assist my addict child if he or she were a Normie?
The bottom line is that when your child is an addict, the rules of the game change. I can’t causally slip him $20 as a gift without wondering how it will be spent, which really isn’t any of my business, and I can’t control his spending, but still….The Pandora’s box of suspicion and innuendo is ever-present: “You aren’t lending me the money because you think I’ll blow it on drugs?” “No, I’m not lending you the money because I need it for groceries.””But you lent my brother money!” ”Yes, I had spare cash to lend at that time but I don’t today!”
It’s never easy, and it’s seldom clear, which brings me to some lessons I continue to work on: setting boundaries, trusting my gut, and trusting my chemically-dependent child.
A police officer pulls over a speeding car. The officer says, ‘I clocked you at 80 miles per hour, young man.’ The driver says, ‘Gee, officer I had it on cruise control at 55, I think your radar gun needs calibrating.’ Not looking up from her knitting the mother says: ‘Now don’t be silly dear, you know that this car doesn’t have cruise control.’ As the officer writes out the ticket, the driver looks over at his mom and growls, ‘Mom, please, can you keep your mouth shut for once?’The mom smiles demurely and says,‘You should be thankful your radar detector went off when it did.’As the officer makes out the second ticket for the illegal radar detector unit, the young man glowers at his mom and says through clenched teeth, ‘Geez, mother! shut-up!’ The officer frowns and says,‘And I notice that you’re not wearing your seat belt – that’s an automatic $75 fine.’ The driver says, ‘Yeah, well, I had it on, but took it off when you pulled me over so that I could get my license out of my back pocket.’ The mom says, “Oh Johnny, you know very well that you didn’t have your seat belt on. I’m always reminding you but you just ignore me.’ And as the police officer is writing out the third ticket the driver turns to his mother and barks in desperation, ‘WHY DON’T YOU SHUT UP??’
The officer looks over at the woman and asks, ‘Does your son always talk to you this way, Ma’am?’
I love this part……….. :
“Outwardly strength is power – to influence others, best the opposition, change your life or the course of history. Then there’s inner strength. Call it resilience, will, moral fiber, or pluck to carry on no matter what. It lets us stand up for our beliefs – and stand down when love, not war, is called for. True strength, it turns out, isn’t about muscle. It’s about backbone.”
In mythology, “shapeshifting”takes place when a being possesses the ability to transform its physical presence. Remember the frog that became a handsome prince when freed by the princess’s kiss? That’s shapeshifting at is best. Sometimes it is purposeful and intentional; other times it springs from a spell or a curse.
I’m using the flames of addiction to shift my shape and transform myself into a wiser, more purposeful, more resilient person. Forged by fire, I choose to opt out of the collateral damage from this disease of addiction. I’m claiming my power to change the course of teen substance abuse in my community by joining hands with other mothers who share the same commitment. Over the last two years, some of these mothers have worked hard to help kids and their parents understand that the innocent first drink or pill at a party can take them down a deadly road they never intended to travel.
The team’s hallmark project is a documentary, Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic, a documentary that features teens in recovery, teens struggling with substance abuse, and parents of kids trapped by their addiction or alcoholism. Collision Course won an Emmy last weekend. I’m thrilled that the team’s tireless work has been recognized. Even more, I am thrilled that people are starting to wake up to the tsunami of teen addiction that is devastating our communities. By spreading the word about Collision Course, I’m helping shift the shape of teen substance abuse, one teen or one parent at a time. You can help too, by sharing Collision Course in your community and shifting your experience of your child’s chemical dependency from hopelessness to helpfulness, and from powerlessness to purpose.
Part 3: The last act of a high school graduation. With a better sense of reality learned the hard way, I had an unconscious surrender. I realized that I could not control or predict the future especially in light of the problems drugs and alcohol were creating in the family dynamics. This final act looked and felt different. Graduation would be significant if it meant anything to him, not me. What I saw was his desire to graduate, not my own. He was the one that studied and attended class seriously. He took the initiative to go on the senior trip, not I. His actions resulted in his graduating with his class and I did not have anything to do with it.
The thought occurred to me: I can’t take credit for the success or failure of someone else…and then the awakening: I’m no longer in control as a parent, I’m just mom. That letting go of my ideas of how the story ends for my children would be a solution to my problems. A few years later with the help of Al-Anon, I learned that there are tools to help me be the supportive mother, free of constant worry and fear. I can strive for unconditional love and this only happens when I chose to change my old thinking and behavior. This has not been an easy change to embrace. I still catch myself having to detach my will for things to go my way.
June is a memory with a new perspective. Had I known the real dangers of drug and alcohol abuse long before graduation, when my kids were little and innocent, who knows how things might have been different. If nothing else, my experience may tip others to get informed and involved, while you still have control as a parent. Fortunately, concerned parents made a documentary that tells it like it is today, Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic (to view click here.) To learn more about the project and the mission of Pathway to Prevention – go to www.pathwaytoprevention.org.
On Saturday, June 9, 2012 the Northern California Emmy Awards ceremony was held in San Francisco, California. The documentary Collision Course- Teen Addiction Epidemic was nominated and received an Emmy in the category of ‘Public/Current/Community Affairs-Program/Special. It was a great honor for the film and all involved in its creation. In addition, the film has been selected to be distributed nation-wide to all PBS stations. This recognition is fantastic because it gives this powerful film a boost which will help it reach many more teens and their parents. The sole purpose of this documentary is to help educate teens, parents, and whole communities of the risks to young people about using substances. These recent accolades will help to reach more families.
Addiction, a most ingenious teacher, gives you many opportunities to hone your appreciation for the moment. The moment– thenow– is all that any of us truly have, whether your child is an addict or not. I was a willing accomplice to my son’s addiction every time I anticipated the worst, and I’ve squandered so much precious time. I anguished over car accidents that never happened while my son safely kicked back and watched TV; I envisioned disaster when he didn’t answer the phone, only to learn later that he had left it in his car overnight. In fact, I worried about his health and well-being so much more than he did, which illustrates the folly of addiction and co-dependency: he was footloose and fancy free, while I labored over how to fix him and his world. Where in that equation is his incentive to take care of himself??
I also used to worry that I had somehow caused my child’s addiction. At the onset, I knew nothing about the disease of addiction, which afflicts almost 10% of Americans age 12 and up.* It is a physical disease of the brain, not a deficit of character or willpower. I was relieved to learn that I didn’t cause my child’s addiction, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I know now that I did not make my child an addict, and, by the same token, I cannot make him stay sober. It’s his call, and I have to trust that he will make it wisely.
But I can reign in my own frantic meanderings and focus on the here and now. I work hard to follow the words of the sage who noted, “Yesterday is but a memory, tomorrow is a dream. Today is a gift, and that is why it is called ‘The present.’”
*statistic is from Moments of Clarity by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, a powerful account of addiction’s grasp by the brave people who speak openly of their recovery.
The following year came ACT II, high school graduation number 2. This time I believed I was managing a young adult who had skipped throughout all grade levels of public education. School was a natural to him and there was no question in my mind of him making the grade– it was a given! The last week of school finals came. He revealed to me a failed grade on the last test of a core subject. He was betting on acing the test, his teacher told him, “ace it and you pass!” Well, you guessed it – he missed the grade! 98% is not 100% which was the necessary mark. He did not get to graduate with his class and would have to take summer school to make up for it. This was certainly a wakeup call for mother – family and friends would soon be here to celebrate a special day!
All the while I listened to what he was saying but not what he was doing. This is a common symptom of co-dependency in the family disease where substance abuse is happening. With blinders on, I struggled and fought for what I considered “normal behavior” like, getting senior portraits, willingly! Or doing chores, getting up at a decent hour and on it goes! The harder I tried to implement my rules on him, the angrier he got and the further away from reality I went.
Thinking I had control, it was denial that kept me from addressing a more serious problem than graduation and irony is I was powerless. Drug and alcohol abuse would steal relationships and healthy family dynamics. Signs are not subtle: the week night car wreck on a country road, an empty liquor bottle in his closet, or the “scene” where police are called to temper an angry outburst that was out of proportion to the situation. There were other blips on the radar, all chalked up to “normal teenage behavior.” It seems denial was a coping mechanism for me and if I could justify the behavior I did not have to address the issues head on.
I later learned that powerless does not equate to being helpless and there is help for parents struggling with this powerful, progressive disease.
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