“No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible.”
“No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible.”
When you first learn about your child’s addiction, denial kicks into high gear. The first stage in the death and dying process, denial protects us from absorbing too much information at once. Just picture it as a psychological gag reflex of sorts. Working through my denial, I slowly began to wrap my brain around my child’s illness, the unhealthy way our family had adapted, and the work I needed to do on myself in order to get healthy.
But once I began to digest the possibility that my child had a drug problem, I faced with another issue entirely: I really knew nothing about addiction, and I knew nothing about how bad it could possibly get. Again, my lack of knowledge really protected me from being overwhelmed by addiction. If the collective horror of teen substance abuse had been dumped on me all at once, I would have blown my brains out…..they were already short-circuiting, as it was.
Instead, I began to learn about teen addiction in bits and pieces. I immersed myself in Al-Anon, I read voraciously, I watched Intervention and Addicted with horror but I also took comfort in realizing that I wasn’t alone. And I worked with other moms to start ParentPathway and to develop this resource of virtual support. I continue to learn and grow as I hear from other parents as they grapple with their child’s chemical dependency and develop tools to survive–and even thrive–amidst the insanity.
One thing about teen addiction that I couldn’t see at the onset: the rainbow called Hope that was completely obscured by black storm clouds. I had no vision of a brighter future whatsoever. But that possibility remains, although it is often difficult to see or even imagine. But as they say in Al-Anon, “Don’t leave before the miracle occurs.” One day the storm clouds may lift for you and your beloved addict or alcoholic. And you never want to lose sight of that possibility.
My kids suffering always pushed my rescue buttons! And with the progressive nature of the Family Disease, my mom-ma bear protection became ineffective and was my first defeat in my war on addiction. Too cunning and baffling, the serious trouble drugs and alcohol created for all of us required counter-intuitive measures. What’s right is wrong, what’s up is down; it was as if I had taken a tumble through the looking glass. Yet oddly enough, nonsense became logic when looked at differently. I took a different turn and my willingness to try and see things in an unfamiliar way would ultimately be the best thing I could do.
These offensive measures were like being on a hike in uncharted wilderness; the trail markers are Jabberwocky: confusing or missing completely. I would have to believe on other signs to keep the right course. I could use recovery tools that were around me, my Higher Power and my hiking partner to strategize. As hard as it is, as unnatural as it feels, if I wanted to shorten the path to a recovery turnoff, my complete dependence on familiar trail markers would have to change. The “I love you so I won’t…” path was the treacherous climb out of the steep canyon. In small increments I could see sane things reappear in my life. The trail head was always there.
She had a breakdown; her therapist said it was a “spiritual awakening”. Brené Brown, a qualitative researcher, offers an insightful take on what normal healthy grounded wholehearted people possess in terms of character traits. Her light-hearted short presentation on vulnerability and shame from years of her research is worth viewing. What’s interesting to me is her explanation that we cannot mask certain emotions. If we try to mask shame, then we also numb joy. We medicate, spend, overeat, overwork, and/or control our way through discomfort; numbing all faucets of the full emotional spectrum.
At the end of Brown’s video, one of many golden nuggets I appreciated: as parents our job is to understand our children are born hard wired for struggle and imperfection. We all are. Our role is to show them they are not defined by this, they are worthy of love and belonging. Yet we have to believe these concepts ourselves first.
My experience of hitting bottom, my own breakdown, was a necessary predecessor to my spiritual awakening. Al-Anon and working the 12-Steps has helped me get a better grip on ME; it seems I wasn’t very good at anything once the family disease took hold and I started NUMBING the emotions, especially shame and vulnerability. When a child was born, so was a mother. I have my life to work on this and it’s not too late. There is hope. Joy. Sadness. Fear. The emotional spectrum is no longer something I try to filter because I’ll deny the daily miracles.
“In the English language there are orphans and widows, but there is no word for the parents who loses a child.”
- Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
I did not come to the rooms of the Al-Anon Family Group to get what I got. That said, what I got was so much more that what I expected. And what I expected I never got! In fact, many times I find that the contradictions, counter-intuitive measures, completely unexpected outcomes are points of humility which reveal how the universe (Higher Power) is more complex than my simple thinking. Things I use to say I don’t say anymore. I recall a time I said “well, at least there are no grandchildren involved!” Shortly thereafter my son’s girlfriend announced she was pregnant. Wrong again! (Truth is today there are no grandchildren, but this too may pass!) Another time I thought, “at least my youngest son hasn’t substance abused.” Wrong again.
I have learned to remove (or use very cautiously) some words from my vocabulary: NEVER, ALWAYS, MUST, IF ONLY, and WHAT IF, to name a few. I have replaced the old adage: “no news is good news” to “no news is no news”. This reminds me that when I make assumptions based on non-truths, I’m in trouble. Though the saying “its 5 o’clock somewhere” rings some truth to it, if it’s not 5 o’clock where I am, then I don’t need to think about it somewhere else! Seems simple enough, but this type of thinking is very difficult to break. With no news right now I stay in the moment and accept that bad news, good news, world news, whatever news may be occurring, is not for me to dwell on. Put simply, until presented with news of any kind, I can live today, in this moment, and not react to upcoming unknowns out there that I have not yet heard about. Notice I did not mention any problem of obsessing with what wonderful experience and good news story is waiting to unfold? I’m hard wired for doom & gloom. By saying “no news is good news” I was fooling myself into believing this as true. It’s a form of denial and self imposed set-up for a possible disappointment!
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
A wise old-timer once reminded me how things can get worse before they get better when our kids stop sedating themselves with drugs or alcohol. Trust me—that was the last thing I wanted to hear from anyone. I had been counting his days of sobriety….1, 2, 10, 20….and it popped my bubble to learn that there were twists and turns in this path. Newbie that I was, I thought that if we reached some magic number, say, 60 days of sobriety, then it would all be better. Done! History! We are in the clear! How wrong I was.
When teens have been using and abusing for any length of time, their cognitive and social development essentially stops in its tracks at the age they began. Your newly-sober 21- year old may possess the coping skills of a 16-year old. As if puberty wasn’t bad enough the first time around….
On top of that, our kids are quite raw once the sedative power of drugs or alcohol has dissipated. Top off this edgy and vulnerable state with a hefty dollop of remorse and shame, and you’ve got a volcano ready to blow.
And then there is the threat of relapse waiting in the wings.
I am sharing this so you can batten down the hatches for whatever may be coming down the pike and, more importantly, to help you hold on to the promise of recovery during tough times. Yes, newfound sobriety is accompanied by fear and agitation and remorse. But as the fog lifts and our teens develop new tools to deal with life on life’s terms, each day is a tiny bit better for all. You just have to hold on tight to the promise of recovery. Sometimes that hope is the only thing that gets us through the day. Hold on to that hope, and don’t leave before the miracle occurs.
Addiction is maddening. It makes us angry, and it makes us crazy. As I walked the walk of my son’s addiction (and my addiction to his addiction), I journeyed through dark forests of denial, sinkholes of depression and explosive minefields of anger—his and mine.
I was stunned when I first realized the magnitude of my son’s problems, which I took on as my own. I was frozen and numb as I surveyed the damage. It was an out of body experience: this cannot be my life.
At some point, denial morphed into depression and then into outright rage as I began to calculate the cost on so many fronts: mental and physical health issues, property damage, squandered money and the incalculable cost of betrayal. I felt duped and betrayed by someone who I loved. I went crazy trying to make sense of addiction: if he loved me, why did he keep doing such destructive things to himself and our family? Today, I understand that the poor choices of an addict aren’t driven by love at all. But in the depths of my despair, I racked my brain in a vain effort to make sense of the senseless.
I was also mad at the world. Why didn’t insurance pay for rehab? Why didn’t someone warn me about teen addiction the way they told me about child predators or meningitis? Why couldn’t my friends understand the depths of my pain and despair?
It took a lot of being angry, being introspective, grieving and the good old fashioned passage of time for me to work through my anger. Along the way, I learned that anger, while an essential stage in the grieving process, needs to come to resolution and acceptance. Buddha said it best: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else—you are the one who gets burned.”
For help working through your anger, check out our Anger “Meeting in a Box.“
Things certainly look different through the lens of a child’s addiction or alcoholism. With that in mind, I have taken a stab at redefining some common nouns. Take a look:
Addiction/alcoholism: a brain disease that impacts approximately 10% of people who try drugs or alcohol
Co-dependence: a condition that exists when the parent of an addict is addicted to her child’s addiction.
Hitting bottom: when the addict and/or the family decides to change behavior in search of freedom from drugs and alcohol.
Denial: a protective device that keeps us from fully facing the reality of addiction in our family or our community.
Shame: the primary emotion that isolates parents unnecessarily and prevents them from seeking help.
Blame: a counterproductive emotion that gets in the way of recovery.
Relapse: a return to destructive preoccupations with drugs or alcohol.
Recovery: the state of grace when drugs and/or alcohol lose their power to dominate the thoughts of parent or child.
Hope: the sustaining belief in the infinite possibility that things will get better.
These words take different shapes for each of us. How would you define them in your world?