This Seeking Serenity blog was just awarded one of the “Top Ten Addiction Blogs of 2013″ by Residential Treatment Centers. We’ve got some good company in those ranks, ranging from Suboxone Talk Zone which recently exposed the devious marketing ploy by the makers of suboxone to The Last Chance Texaco, described as “an open, honest and vivid account of stumbling through life as a recovering addict.”
This recognition feels a bit off, kind of like sporting a bumper sticker that reads, “I’m the proud creator of an award-winning blog about addiction.” I certainly never imagined that would be my claim to fame; instead, I secretly yearned for the bumper sticker that sang the praises of my child as an honor student at some prestigious school (not really, but you get my drift). But I will take it. I’m proud to be the co-creator of a resource described as “covering educational, inspirational and informative content, Parent Pathway is a wealth of knowledge. The writing is concise and well written.” My English teachers should be beaming.
Most of all, I am proud that the Seeking Serenity blog is seen as “a wonderful source of comfort when facing a difficult situation.” That was our goal when developing this web site.
You never know how and why the universe delivers its potent gifts, some unbidden. But my child’s chemical dependency has handed me an opportunity to be of service to others, and that is yet another silver lining in my addiction playbook. What are some of the silver linings in your experience of your child’s chemical dependency?
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.”
There are many forms of loss – employment, illness, relocation, and death. Down to the bone marrow type sadness seem so obvious when a loved one dies. For a long while I did not understand the emotions I felt – why did I always end up crying at counseling sessions? “She is grieving for her son,” a licensed family counselor explained to my husband. I was indignant! – After all, no one has died! I expected her to direct us on how to fix this problem. I continued to deny that I was powerless over my young son’s lives. I was certain my feelings of anxiety, sadness and despair could be eliminated once their problems were corrected. This same professional told us to go to an Al-Anon meeting and that local schedules were at the front desk. I barked back, “I do not have a problem! Why would I need to go to a support group”? I didn’t know what Al-Anon was, but I was certain it did not have anything that would help me. It took another 2 years after this professional encounter for the progression of the disease to send me to my knees. My sponsor says “if you think you know everything, then you are not willing to learn.” That’s exactly what was happening back then. I thought I had the answers and knew what needed to happen. But, that said, things did not get better, they got worse. Eventually I came to a place where I knew I could not do this anymore – in desperation, I surrendered! I sought help and became willing to keep an open mind about the help available to me.
I accept that bereavement is a real emotion and I stopped trying to outsmart it or deny it. Yes, my loved ones are living, but I was grieving the loss of my hopes and dreams for them. I was sad they were unable to pull themselves out of “it” with ease and simplicity. I wished they did not suffer and I wished I could save them. It was insanity to think I could cure it and deny how I really felt. I was overwhelmed with sadness and grieved about the way I might have behaved differently knowing better. Truth is I did not know much about addiction. Once I understood the complexity of this disease, I had to let go of that too. When you know better, you do better. Surrendering and letting go of the past helped me move into the present with a new sense of hope, a gain from the senseless loss.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
A child’s addiction/alcoholism is laced with shame. My son’s chemical dependency made me feel like a failure as a parent, so instead of asking for help and support, I kept quiet. When I did bare my soul, sometimes I was treated like a pariah, sometimes I was treated compassionately; but I consistently felt like friends and family didn’t understand addiction as a condition of brain chemistry rather than a deficient character.
I remained torn up about who to tell, and what to say, about our struggles as a family. And then I realized that how I speak about my child revealed my own attitude towards him and can shape your opinion, as well. What sounds kinder: “My addict child” or “My chemically dependent child?” What description creates awareness and understanding: “A disease of the brain” or “A lack of willpower and character?” What kind of language opens the door to treatment and possible recovery, and which language points to contempt and alienation?
I am not whitewashing the issue here or letting those with substance abuse struggles off the hook. Chemical dependency can give rise to horrific behavior—drunk driving, theft, fraud, abuse, neglect….the list goes on and on. That behavior is an outward manifestation of a brain gone awry, unable to let go of the obsession to use and abuse. But what do we gain by choosing language that paints and pigeonholes our beloved children in such a destructive fashion? And what do we lose by describing alcoholism and addiction for what they are: a brain disease in which the unrelenting demands of the survival center of the brain overtake rational thought and reason.
Language can be a powerful tool or a destructive weapon—choose yours wisely.
My son returned to prison for another parole violation. This is no surprise really; this State holds the nation’s highest recidivism rate. Substance-involved people have a hard time following rules and it is this reason most offenders go back to prison. According to the Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism – The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons, April 2011 report, it’s not the commonly held belief that a new crime was committed. Parole requirements that often get broken are not complying with certain technical requirements and punishment is often a short term prison re-sentence.
I’m reminded of when he was in public school. Seemingly simple rules and class requirements were not so easy for him. He’d receive failing grades for not turning in homework and “detention” for not following the rules. With a private instructor, he’d succeed and demonstrate above average competency. Progression. My son’s disease has kept him in a revolving door for a long time.
I’m told addiction is an inside job and that’s understandable to me. I’m told recovery will be an inside job too and I hope my son is able to. One thing is certain, I’m not able to help him in the traditional sense. I have read, listened to and talked to many recovering addicts. Some have been in similar situations like my son. They overcame and turned their lives around. Their mothers were not part of their recovery story but for honorable mention if they had stopped their financial support and rescuing behavior. I’ve seen miracles and know that it is possible. This is the hope that a mother holds onto. There’s another kind of hope I found; it’s the hope that I can accept my son for who he is and where he is and still find joy and happiness in my life. He has a revolving door, not me. I don’t have to go in and out of it anymore.
Researchers recently re-visited the phenomena that we do not see everything that is in plain sight. A new study shows that given a specific task to focus on, people can filter the world around them so aggressively that it literally shapes what they see. This phenomenon has a name: inattentional blindness. The recent story, titled “Why even radiologist can miss a gorilla hiding in plain sight” was aired on NPR radio and I found it fascinating and relative to co-dependency.
I related to the study as it applied to my own life at a time when obsession and tunnel vision regarding my son’s behavior was a 24/7 focus. I saw concerning problems, but I did not see alcoholism. I’d see where I could help, but I did not see it as getting in their way. When I ran through the “tomorrows” and the “to-do’s” for them, I did not see my control. Each time they told me a lie I did not see their contrary behavior. When I lay awake at night fearing the worse, I did not see my powerlessness.
I was alert, focused; giving it all my waking thoughts, yet there was a gorilla in plain sight that I did not see. And I was dancing with the gorilla. It’s not an indicator of weakness or a matter of intelligence. It’s just the way my brain framed the problems that addiction created. I believed what I saw to be true.
In recovery I’m learning to see things differently and at best, accept that what I see may not be the truth. I’m learning to be aware that there may be something more to a situation than what I see. I’m learning to put on my Al-Anon glasses and recognize the gorilla is asking for a dance.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
I’m getting fed up with news magazines and talk show hosts poking fun at people with health concerns and chronic diseases, like addiction. How many more times are we going to be subject to Lindsey Lohan jokes and ridicule? Wasn’t the Charlie Sheen exhibition sad enough? You don’t see anyone laughing at Michael J. Fox’s stuttering or shakes – no! But his disease comes with society compassion and understanding. Addiction is a disease too but the general popular opinion has not been as caring.
I get frustrated with people whose ignorance about addiction and recovery causes them to judge, jury and sentence others who struggle. People who don’t believe in the power of recovery and the ability to overcome and change are often the loudest opponent for any support or reform. People who are so stringent in their own beliefs, they are unwilling to change themselves.
Then I remember my humble beginnings. I once held beliefs and opinions that had no sound basis. I judged others too. The difference between then and now is my own experience with adversity and a desire to stop being fed up. I made a decision to change – and if the people around me had tried to force solutions and answers down my throat I would have resisted to the end. I’m reminded that I can only share my experience, and let people have a right to their own opinion. I have to stop taking it personally and Let Go and Let God.
In learning so much about drug and alcohol addiction over the last several years, one thing has become crystal clear. Our society judges those who have crossed over from a recreational use of any given substance to the brain altering state of addiction. It is done not only from a quiet judgment in one’s own mind but also by the titles used for someone who has the addiction; ‘junkie’, ‘crack head’, ‘meth freak’, the list is endless. We look at those in active addiction as weak, lacking of control and unmotivated. Even when someone has made the struggle to get clean and live a life of recovery they are judged. It’s as if they have a scarlet letter plaguing them. Most people chose only the safe haven of Alcoholic or Narcotics Anonymous to be open about who they are and where they’ve been. It’s in those rooms that they can find acceptance.
The fact is addiction is a disease that alters the brain for which there is no cure. The disease which affects the mid brain manifests in behaviors that the person would most likely never imagine doing if not for the addiction. It is interesting that when someone choses recovery and even when the live a relatively normal life of responsibility they still have to be careful about who they are open to about their situation. There are so many different types of addictions that people face I wonder sometimes whether everyone has an addiction of some sort; exercise, eating, shopping, TV, video gaming, the list is endless. Yet we focus on drug addiction as a scornful situation. We need to see this disease for what it is a disease and help those afflicted just as if they had cancer or diabetes. Only then will we be able to get help for those that need it and help to embrace them in our communities at the same time.