Monthly Archives: July 2012

Don’t Change my World — Change Me

My best friend is now grappling with setting healthy boundaries with her husband and her family.  Chemical dependency isn’t the issue; instead, she has felt herself increasingly pulled into the vortex of their mood disorders and discontent, their traffic violations and other boo-boos, and various other dramas.  She doesn’t even need to have an addict in the family to feel the discomfort of their pull.  Co-dependency doesn’t require drugs or alcohol—just an unhealthy addiction to curing another’s pain or solving their problems.

It is hard to set healthy boundaries.  As a “born fixer,” it has felt almost inhumane to walk away from someone who is struggling. Offering relief, fixing a problem is really core to who I am—it is part of my identity.  When facing my co-dependency with my addict son, I had to do some deep digging to figure out who I was, if not a savior and a saint.

When does trying to fix others go too far and cause more harm than good? Clearly, it is important to jump in when life and limb are at stake; at the same time, it is critical to “change the system” so life and limb don’t become chronically at risk. Once we got through our immediate crisis of detox and rehab, we forged an agreement about how we would move forward.  Among other things, it required that my son get counseling to help him vanquish the incessant call of drugs and alcohol from his head.  I also got counseling to learn how to vanquish my incessant rumination about his addition that played through my head like a broken record.

I’ve made progress on changing my “Fix it” mentality that had portrayed him as broken, and me as the solution. I am much better prepared to face each day, no matter what unfolds. Has my addict son changed?  As him, not me.  Have I changed?  Affirmative.


P.S. Check out Co-Dependent No More by Melody Beattie for help cutting the ties of co-dependency.

Bravery in the Face of Teen Addiction


When I revealed to a friend how I had finally mustered up the strength to set boundaries with my addicted son, she told me, “You were so brave!”  I almost laughed– bravery was the last thing on my mind.  In fact, I was scared to death, and I was scared of death: scared that my son might overdose or die in a tragic accident, scared that my addiction to his addiction was killing me.  I wasn’t brave; I was out of options.  I had tried so many things to fix my son, to make him want to stop using and abusing. None of them worked, but I kept trying and trying and trying. The expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results” must have been written about me.

But once I laid down the law, I became resolute. “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean” became a road map for the way I finally learned to set limits.  I learned to speak my truth and to stick with it.   I learned how to stop caving and waffling under fire.  And I learned to set limits lovingly.  I didn’t let anger and hatred have a seat at my table; instead, I concentrated on what I could do to help my son and help myself, which was learning to say “No” and “No more.”  I wasn’t brave, so I acted strong.

Catch Collision Course at Prime Time in Miami!

This is a guest post from interventionist and family counselor Ricki Townsend. You can send Ricki your questions at via our Ask the Expert tab.
Photo of Ricki TownsendI’d like to share with you the exciting news that our Emmy-award winning documentary, “Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic,” is starting to air nationwide. This powerful documentary helps teens and parents understand how today’s substance abuse epidemic is taking a huge toll on teens, families and entire communities, and how education and awareness can stop chemical dependency before it starts. You can view “Collision Course” and share it here

If you live in the Miami area, you can watch “Collision Course” on PBS-17 at 9:30 PM on Sunday, July 29. Learn the details about the showing here.

“Collision Course” will inspire conversation, action and change. Please spread the word about this resource and get your rehabs, families, schools and community groups in front of the TV to talk about awareness, education, and the prevention of teen substance abuse.  Together, we can stop addiction before it starts.

Phone tips help this mother in co-dependency

If you are like me, you grew up with a sense of duty and obligation to answer the telephone if it is ringing. It’s just not polite to ignore the incoming call! Over time, the phone became my life line to family members, employers, banks, or just shooting the breeze with a good friend. Then, with the advent of the voice mail and growth in technology, I could still get the news if I missed the call. I remember how great it was to be able to “phone home” and retrieve voice mail! The cell phone made it even better, taking care of business and personal outreach while away from the house.

In my home, the family disease of alcoholism and addiction progressed and transformed my telephone from a necessity of convenience to a powerful stress-inducing-power-booster to the agony of involvement. I wasn’t even aware of it. In recovery, I had to revisit who’s in charge and has control at my house: the telephone or me! This is an example of counter intuitive recovery training through a 12 Step Program – the telephone no longer is a luxury for living, for me it has morphed into an archenemy. Strategically placed in many rooms of the house, it often brings bad news.  The ring alone induces anxiety – who knew? I got some tips along the way:

1. Don’t answer the telephone just because it’s ringing or vibrating. You have the power to decide if and when you want to be disrupted by a caller (most people leave voice mail if it’s important)

2. If it’s someone with a crisis, I don’t have to commit to anything without waiting a day or two. I do better if I buy some time before I react because I tend to want to help you with anything.

3. Stop dialing for pain – calling them just to “hear their voice” because I was worried may sound like a good idea, but 9 times out of 10, I regretted it.

4. Unplug the phone at night (worried about an elderly parent? Ask a sibling, neighbor, close friend to be on night call). Truth is, without sleep, I’m no good for anyone.

5. Revisit that answering machine. My cell phone is the “call to” number for family and friends. Who’s leaving voice mail on my house phone? Creditors, bail bonds, Global Tel-link, Politicians, marketing solicitations, strangers – no one for me. Sometimes I employ #1 above and in so doing, I get to hear them leave the message and then I have to re-play the message (hearing it yet again) before I can delete the message! Double the pleasure if you are into pain. See #3 above!

6. Do I really need a telephone at all? I’m not just “dialing for pain” – I’m paying for pain once a month! Note to self: Re-visit the telephone!


Sunday Inspiration

There will always be pain in life. This is something we learn as we progress spiritually. We also learn that if we resist pain, if we fear it, then we create additional pain called suffering. Our resistance to pain stands between us and full-bodied living; it keeps us at war with our problems and from making peace with life’s dual nature. When pain arises in your life and you stand to greet it with calm curiosity, you will know that you making progress on the path.

Chogyam Trunpa

See No Evil, Hear No Evil When Your Child is Chemically Dependent

My friend’s daughter has taken her to the cleaners…..stolen her money, pawned her jewelry, trashed her trust and her relationship. These abuses show no sign of abating.  Still, Mom won’t take action because she doesn’t want her child to go to jail or prison where “bad things could happen to her.”  I’m not passing judgment on her decision:  who’s to say what I would do in her shoes? In fact, as I try to support my friend during this difficult time, I remember sitting on the sidelines of my child’s active addiction, and I wonder what motivated my action—or lack thereof.

I wouldn’t tolerate intolerable behavior at the hands of a stranger, yet I tolerated it from my child. Why is that?  Was I so enmeshed with my  child that I couldn’t see the wrongs that were being done?  Or did the wrongs I experienced pale in comparison to the threats (real or imagined) that incarceration posed? Did I have so little self-love and self-preservation that I was willing to throw myself under the bus of addiction?  Or did I just give up hope, finding it easier to go along with the predictable collateral damage that addiction has ushered in my front door.

Finally, let’s not forget our good friend denial:  if I didn’t name the transgression, then it didn’t really happen; if I didn’t file a police report, then there was no evidence and no criminal; if I didn’t confront my child, then there was nothing really wrong going on.

To the outsider looking in, this behavior is insane.  But to those in the trenches, this crazy co-dependent behavior may be the only way to survive—in the short term, at least.


I Thought I was Alone

The Partnership at Drug launched the “You are Not Alone” campaign a while back. This is an amazing website devoted to support the people who know & love the drug addict. It’s also a good introduction to the concept of the family disease explaining why 85 million people in the United States alone are impacted by drug addiction in some way. This refers to people like me, the parents, the siblings, other relatives, caregivers, and friends. We are the ones anxious, worried, depressed, stressed, and in many cases, financially drained from trying to help the addict.  We lose all sense of hope.

I can remember the difficulty in finding help –my shame and the stigma of my circumstance kept me isolated and I was driven to fix the problem by myself. Once I found support, I soon discovered there were many people just like me in the same situation. I was never alone in this battle like I thought. There is help, and the sooner I stopped blaming myself or wishing the problem would go away, the quicker I found solutions. I soon let go of guilt: I did not cause it to happen, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. But I can get armed with tools to work through it and start feeling better.

Great resources, such as The Partnership at DrugFree.Org.   You can go on line, over the phone and into your community – there are many options: 12 step recovery programs, counseling or parent groups, and individual professional help  – Take care of yourself!

Circling the Wagons Against Teen Drug Addiction

As I talk with other parents about the drug and alcohol catastrophe in our communities, I get decidedly different reactions from dads versus moms.  At the risk of stereotypical generalizations , moms (including me) tend to sweet talk, beseech and beg the child into submission. (“Please, please, please…you are breaking my heart”). In contrast, dads tend to strong arm the child into submission. (Stop drinking/drugging, or I will throw you out of here.”) Problem is, neither one of those approaches works in isolation without the partnership of spouses or other family members.

Everyone needs to be on the same page; I call it circling the wagons.  The consequences of drinking and drugging need to be identically spelled out and enforced by both Mom and Dad, and possibly Grandma, too.  The agreements about moving ahead without drugs and alcohol need to be uphold with equal vigor by all family members.  Otherwise, the wily disease of addiction will find the weakest link and drive a wedge between the family members, and no one will end up sticking to healthy boundaries.

It’s hard to come to agreement about the rules, especially if divorce is part of the equation.  But parental peace of mind requires us to say, “I was clear about the rules; now my child owns the consequences.”

We can’t change others, but we can change ourselves; and striving to reach agreement about expectations and consequences is a very healthy place to start. Check out our Boundaries “Meeting in a Box” to get some tips and tools….

“…and how are your kids doing?”

While waiting for my order one day at lunch, I noticed this lady looking at me. She then got up from her table and approached me stating my name. Who is she? It was like a slow motion movie, she introduces herself, and our “connection” and I reply “OH…yeah, wow!, um…” Back in the day we were part of a small club, young mothers with a lot of energy! I had left the group because my son (the excuse at the time) was having difficulty in school and I felt I needed to be home in the evenings more. Truth was my full time caretaking codependency energy was in full throttle and there was no time for them or myself. But it had been so long, I did not recognize her. Next rolls off her tongue the awkward questions…“How have you been?” – Fine! “What are you doing now?” – Easy to answer – tread cautiously….” How old are your sons now?” The youngest is ___, then right as she ends her next question, “… live nearby?” I interrupt with my questions to her: “how old are your kids?” (It’s getting easier to navigate those people who question everything– I mirror what seems important to them by using their topic of choice – an offensive deflection!

Now she’s off and running…. ”Well, my youngest is 19, first year at “name the college”, the eldest finished at “name the college” and is working at “name the management title” in “name the big city.” Her lips were moving with a whole bunch of information as I feigned interest. It’s not that I’m uninterested, it’s a defense mechanism. I don’t have elevator speech about my kids.

In recovery from the family disease, I have learned that my grown children’s business is not mine to share in detail! Good or bad! And it definitely is nothing to be ashamed of. This makes my responses to anyone’s questions, short and curt, but not rude. I can answer their direct question, “do they live nearby?” with a direct answer, “two of them are local.” Until addiction entered my world, I too would have bragged about my child’s success naively thinking I had orchestrated the whole thing. I know better today, I was never in charge or in control. Mostly, I’m reminded that someone’s good intentions or kind outreach does not always have an alternative motive. It’s what it is, nothing more and nothing personal.

Sunday Inspiration


“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”

-Jacob M. Braude