Monthly Archives: August 2013

What “The Big House” means to parents of addicts

This is an “encore” post from My Three Sunz

She reached out in desperation – “my son’s been arrested and may go to prison!” When I met up with her I recognized the anguish and sleepless, ringed-worried-eyes, once worn myself. This is the look of a parent whose love for their drug addict child and powerlessness leaves them broken.

First there was the guilt – she missed the phone call from him. She had decided to go to the class she signed up for and, then there was regret – she should have stayed home! Martydom mixed with obsessive spurts of energy focused on detective work; late night internet research for arrest records and prisons. Soon she self-consumed into fearful isolation – projecting the worst outcomes. Driven to fuel the fears, news articles: “Life in solitary, Inmates Hunger Strike; Violent, predatory offenders” to name a few. Undeniably a drug addict turned to criminal activity to support his disease, but NOT this and NOT THERE! He is her child, her son – my son, your child, and our hearts break open – we want to rescue. I know this well, I have the T-shirt.

How could I help? What could I do? My co-dependent nature is to rescue and smooth over the fear and sadness because I feel unease in these situations…I wanted to say “it will all be OK!” But that’s not the truth, it might not be OK, so instead, I listened. How does one go from helplessness to powerlessness, the latter being a state of surrender & acceptance, fueled by trust versus fear? Was she ready? Would I be of help or further complicate matters? For me, it took hard work in my 12-Step Program of Al-Anon.

I shared my own experience of being frightened for my sons’ fate. Like when I read about the prison riot which made front page news. I immediately went to that scary place visualizing my son’s vulnerability in what I conjured up. A mother’s worst nightmare – my imagination ran wild! How I then turned it over to my God Box, realizing no amount of worry or fret was going to influence the outcome of this! I later learned he missed the riot because he “skipped” breakfast – all validating why I have to let go and let God! This was a change in the way I reacted to fears about the future and I was given positive feedback – projecting would no longer serve me, reaching out would.

The Family Disease Comes Home to Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

This is an “Encore” post from Eliza

I was as addicted to my son’s addiction as he was to his drugs and alcohol, and I matched every one of his crazy moves with one of my own.  Knowing that he stored booze in the cavity he cut out below his box springs, I placed a quarter “just so” against the box spring, knowing that it would topple if he went for his stash.  Every night for months, I gently lifted the dust ruffle and checked to see if that damn quarter had deviated from its position. It never did, primarily because he was snitching beer from the fridge (Duh!).  When he was out driving like a madman, I was hot on his trail, trying to track him down in the middle of the night. That was alien behavior to my husband who had removed himself from the whole dysfunctional drama in an equally unhealthy fashion:  like a teeter-totter, he sat on one end, out of the picture; I sat on the other end, horribly enmeshed in the train wreck; and our addict son was smack dab in the middle, a most unhealthy fulcrum in a very sick family.

I couldn’t see my own crazy behavior because (a) I was too close to it (b) I was in denial (c) I was exhausted (d) I was confused (e) all of the above.  The light began to cut through the fog when my non-addict son confronted me and told me that I was crazier than my addict son.  “Man,” he said, “I see where he got it!  You’re even crazier than my brother!”  Did that statement open my eyes?  Yes.  Did I change my crazy ways?  No, at least not immediately.  But I did begin to look at my own involvement in my son’s addiction, and that marked a key point in my own return to sanity.

Ask the Expert: Mom and Dad disagree on how to treat the addict, and it is tearing the family apart

I am a stepparent of a 21 year old heroin addict living in our home. She doesn’t want rehab and my husband won’t stop paying for her car, gas, phone, clothes, spending money etc. We’ve been married a year and his daughter hasn’t gone to school, worked, or helped around the house. I think she was clean for a few months, but now she is taking again…she pawned stolen jewelry in her name to get drug money. I’ve said we have to stop paying for these comforts unless she goes to rehab. He says forced rehab won’t work. He is angry at me and is verbally attacking me and my kids and won’t face the heroin issue of his daughter….he even wants to believe she’s been clean for 3 weeks because she said so. I don’t know what to do. As a stepparent, do I just step back? I don’t want my 2 high school daughters to be around someone on drugs. I want to help his daughter, and I want him to stop blaming and getting angry at me. Please advise .

Photo of Christy CrandellExpert Christy Crandell – Administrative Director and Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center, Author of Lost and Found: A Mother and Son Find Victory Over Teen Drug Addiction

It’s so difficult to see clearly when a loved one is suffering from addiction. My recommendation is for you and your husband to get to an Al-Anon meeting where you will find support for exactly what you are going through. You are right to be concerned about your other daughters. Ultimately, you will need to make some very difficult decisions about what you can and cannot live with. I wish you the best. - Christy

Photo of Ricki TownsendExpert Ricki Townsend – Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NAADAC, Certification Commissioner, Ncac1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1, Member of AIS, NII, NAADAC, Chaplain & Grief Recovery Specialist

Thank you so much for your question. Many families are going through the challenge of having relationships strained by different approaches towards a child’s addiction. I know this is very hard for your husband, also. Seeing his daughter not living to her full potential is painful to watch. Most likely, he thinks that if he cares enough, pleads enough and yells loud enough, then she will get better. But this is a disease, and like cancer, one must get help in order to find remission. When there are fights, there seems to be no resolution to the disease and instead resentment shows up. It is so important for you and your husband to come together on some form of middle ground. Not just for yourselves, but for the whole of your family.

When families pay for the phones, cars, car insurance, clothes etc., they take away the consequences of a child’s addiction from them. Without consequences for any of us, in life, we do not learn what we can and cannot do. If we experience the consequences of our actions, we learn responsibility and accountability and also build self- esteem. Paying for all of the things you have mentioned will only prolong the distress you are going through. Remember, this is a disease and like any untreated disease it, will only get worse. One cannot get better without support from professionals. The same thing applies for you. I would like to recommend you and your husband find a good therapist to mediate and help find common ground.

As parents, we can give our children back their self-respect by giving them back their own choices and consequences. We do this with respect, patience and time.

While there is not a treatment center in the U.S. that you can force an adult to enter, you can exert your power by saying something like, “We will no longer pay for anything in your life but a treatment center. We know you are ill with a disease, and want you to have the chance to become healthy.”

Al-Anon Family Groups is a support group that helps families. I would ask you and your husband find a meeting in your local area. If your husband does not want to go, then please go alone. I would also hope you can take your other children with you, as this must be taking a toll on them.

You will find that you too begin to see you have choices. You have the choice to stay, work through this, or remove yourself and your children for health reasons. I am sorry; honestly, sometimes really hard decisions have to be made. Please don’t hesitate to call me. - Ricki


Ask the Expert: As time passes, it’s hard to cope and hard to change. What’s my next step?

It seems like the more time that passes the harder it is for me to cope. Our son is an addict. He went to rehab last Sept and was gone for a month and when he returned he was the son I had before K2! He has been clean up until last week and he has relapsed. I’m not sure what to do and the strange thing is he is currently on probation for the K2 and he started using again like it does not matter. I must say I am shocked and just cannot believe he is taking this attitude. He appears to not care about things again and has no self-esteem what so ever. He says his life sucks and why bother anymore. I am the perfect example of co -dependency. He is 22 and still lives at home. He has struggled his whole life with other issues and the drug addiction just happened to add to the list. I do almost anything he needs done.

Laundry, dinner…lunches for work… etc… I’m not sure what my next step should be since this is his first relapse and I really do not know what to do as far as breaking this cycle I am in. It’s hard for me as we lost our oldest son in a car accident and I do not want to lose another.  I know deep down what I need to do but could use some advice on how to handle this.

Photo of Ricki TownsendHello and thank you for reaching out.  Since K2 is as deadly as other drugs, I appreciate your fear and concern.

There is much I could answer here, but would be extremely lengthy so I will touch on a couple of comments that I felt concern about with regard to your son.

These are a couple of areas I invite you to look into more:

  • His remark to you about “Life sucks and why bother? -  I would suggest you bring him to a therapist if he is not already seeing one (if he is, please let her know of his comments) I have deep concerns about depression.  I would encourage an assessment.  (a therapist, not a counselor).  I would always recommend a therapist that also has an addiction back ground.  A therapist can delve deeper into his issues.
  • For each one of us, Self-esteem is based on the failures and success we experience from a young age to even old age.  It is a constant journey.  I personally receive my pat on the back from ”me” when I achieve something.  Not when something is given to me.

When I was using drugs, the shame and guilt of my actions brought depression and low self-esteem.  When I had months in recovery and years, my love of “self” grew from the work I put into “me”.  Self esteem grew with each success and each failure.  Failures when looked at in a healthy way with support (sponsors or mentors) can show us where are strengths and weakness are.  This is how we grow.  This cannot be given to us.

There would be more I could share with you and below is my phone number and web address, if you would like to contact me personally.

Thank you so much.

Ricki Townsend
Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor
NAADAC Certification Commissioner
Ncac1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1
Member of AIS, NII, NAADAC
Grief Recovery Specialist


For more expert answers, go here.

The roles we assume in the family of an alcoholic or addict

This is an “Encore” post from My 3 Sunz

Some of you may be familiar with the famous presentation given by Reverend Joseph L. Kellermann titled “ALCOHOLISM, A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial.” You can read the condensed version here.

Written as a script for a never-ending dramatic play, the lead role, played by the alcoholic/addict, is aptly described in ACT I. The supporting actors, the Enablers, the Victims, and the Provokers all come out in ACT II. The third ACT of the drama runs much like ACT I, but the denial and need to continue to deny is much stronger. In fact DENIAL is what keeps the play going, there is no final act, and it just repeats ACTS 1, 2 and 3.

Not that I needed to read about a drama already personally experienced, it nonetheless validated how denial manifests itself: “people do what they say they will not or deny what they have done.”

What struck me was the sentence that I don’t recall seeing before: It is not true that an alcoholic cannot be helped until he wants help. Say again? An alcoholic can be helped ready or not? For a long time I believed that the addict must want help to seek recovery. The truth is the likelihood of them getting help begins when ACT II ends. If there are no supporting actors, ENABLERS, VICTIMS and PROVOKERS, the curtain closes.

When I wanted to quit role playing, I made a decision to find out how. For more information, visit the Al-Anon website.

Ask the Expert: How can a sibling help parents with a brother’s addiction?

QUESTION:  I am not a parent. I am a sibling. My brother has gone to a treatment center already and stayed clean for a few months. My parents let him live in the house. He got a job after treatment and then went back using a few months ago (Oxycontin, pills etc).

I am so scared for my parents and my brother. I have provided them with home drug tests so they can randomly test him— although I think it’s unfair they should be burdened with the responsibility, I feel if they are housing him they have to have a way to test him, right? My dad is looking for a psychiatrist for my brother who has expertise in addiction. I am not sure that is the answer. I do know my brother is depressed so that doesn’t help. His girlfriend is clueless and never realizes when he is on drugs again. Do we clue her in?

I guess my main question is what do we do in this situation? Sorry for bringing up so many different issues on one email. I am eternally grateful for your site. It is helping so much.

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND:  Addiction is hard on our hearts, no matter if we are parent, brother, sister or close friend.

Being a sibling, through, can create additional frustrations. First, coming from a protective mode, we can become frustrated, that our parents are being hurt. Or we can become frustrated with our parents because they won’t do what we think would be healthier for them and for our siblings.  We can also become frustrated because we see them being manipulated and we are powerless to change the circumstances.  Understanding the source of your frustration can help you feel more in power.

As far as relapse, it is often part of this disease.  When I counsel families like yours, I ask that parents do not allow children return to their home. Instead, I ask that the son or daughter move into transitional living, such as a sober living house where they will be randomly drug tested and can live with like-minded roommates. They are usually required to also attend meetings, and have sponsors. The rules vary depending on each transitional living home. Your parents also have the right to set rules about having their own home be a sober home, and passing a drug test may be one thing they require of your brother, were he to remain in their home.

Regarding the psychiatrist, I personally would ask that my client first see a primary care doctor. The primary care doctor may or may not refer your brother to a psychiatrist; if he did, you would know that is someone the doctor trusts. Yes, your brother may need anti- depressants, which a primary care doctor may prescribe. Sometimes we as addicts want a psychiatrist to obtain things like, Suboxone, Xanax, and klonapin. With my clients, I have seen them start abusing those. Again, I don’t know your family member; I am only sharing what I experience.

There are also addiction primary care doctors. They will put requirements on the client like requiring that they attend AA or NA meetings or see an addiction counselor, etc. These are important elements of a strong foundation for recovery.

Those around you might look like they are “clueless,”, yet I believe that they intuitively suspect that something is amiss. You could break the silence and:

1. Have a conversation with your brother

2. Have a conversation with your parents or

3. Have a conversation with all, including girlfriend.

I know it can be scary to face the proverbial “elephant in the room: which is creating havoc, yet everyone looks the other way.  It is healthy for you to face the elephant before it can cause more damage.

Thank you for asking these important questions, which so many siblings are confronting.  I would be glad to talk with you further about my thoughts at  or 916 539-4535.

Sunday Inspiration

Hint: the cage is not locked.

- Nova Knutson



“Love Is” lyrics written through the lens of recovery

“Love Is”  lyrics by Ted Brown, acclaimed New Zealand-born singer, songwriter and guitar player. Ted recounted his story of recovery in yesterday’s ParentPathway post.

Love Is..

Love is not a document, love is not a knife,

Love’s not asking questions about the meaning of your life,

Love is not a velvet box tied up with ribbons and lace..

Love is not a credit card December 24,

Love’s not disappointment or wanting something more,

Love it doesn’t draw you close, just to push you away..

I suspect love is an action more than a state of mind,

not rough around the edges or overly refined,

Love is not standing still, or setting up some pace..

Love is not obsession manipulation or deceit,

not something that buttons up or slides on to your feet,

Love is not resting or waiting for St Valentines day…

Love in love, in love, in love..

Love is not a windfall, love is not a fee,

Love’s not in a bottle waiting to get free,

Love’s not in some tarot cards or numerology..

Not a heart-shaped candy box or hidden in champagne,

not kisses on a postcard through ink that’s tear-stained,

Love don’t play the game of come here now go away…


Love it doesn’t emanate from a single and distant point in space,

But love it makes it’s stand in the corners of a smile on your face…

Love is not a wanderer looking for a home,

Love will be beside you where ever you roam,

Love is in the waters and love is in your bones..

Love it is within you closer that your own heart,

Love with no ending and a never ending start,

Love is the soul and the picture and the music and the art..

Love in love, in love, in love….

Lyrics of Recovery to Inspire Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Parent Pathway is honored to include this guest blog from Ted Brown, acclaimed New Zealand-born singer, songwriter and guitar player.  Ted’s story is an inspiring reminder that our loved ones can find sobriety, even after many years of despair.  Our next post will feature the powerful lyrics to Ted’s single,  “Love Is,”  which looks at the void we all feel inside and try to fill with drugs, drinking, shopping and other empty pursuits.

“I’m Ted and I’m an addict”- the six words that saved my life and set me on a path to recovery. It took twenty years before I was finally ready and the pain and desperation had gotten bad enough, but there I was in a 12-step meeting and in treatment, finally ready and willing to try something different.


I had “dipped my toes” into the waters of recovery before, some detoxes and half finished rehabs- but I really thought that I was different, that for some reason those things that had worked for millions of suffering addicts and alcoholics, just weren’t right for me. I learned later that this is something referred to in recovery as “terminal uniqueness” and that refusal to admit that I was ”just an addict”, had nearly killed me!


I had been using since I was around thirteen and I knew from the first time I took a drink and smoked some pot, that staying high would be my life’s mission. I had always felt different, like I couldn’t cope with life on life’s terms like other people could. My progression as a drug user was “text book” and by the time I was 15 I had used LSD and meth for the first time. By the time I finally got clean I was a full blown heroin addict who had spent years on methadone maintenance.


Although my life was unmanageable for many years, I still struggled through, sometimes with a semblance of normality but often on the fringes, just getting by. I had some success as a musician, I liked to think of myself as kind, funny and loyal, I was (for the most part) a decent human being, but I couldn’t stop using drugs no matter how hard I tried. I simply refused to believe that drugs were the problem; after all, other people used on weekends or had a few drinks and managed to lead pretty normal lives!


It took another addict, someone I had used with to show me that the reason I couldn’t use successfully was because I suffered from addiction and the only cure would involve complete abstinence from all drugs. I ran into that person one morning on my way to score drugs ( the miserable reality of many addicts waking hours) and he offered to give me a ride. I had no idea that he was clean but I knew that there was something different about him and he explained to me that he had been to treatment and now had nearly two years clean.


I don’t think I could have heard it from anyone else. Here was someone who used like I did, who would always be an addict as far as I was concerned- clean, smiling, happy! That’s the value of addicts and alcoholics helping each other and carrying a message of hope and it marked the beginning of my journey from the depths of addiction to a wonderful, full life.





Reality TV and its role in a parent’s search for answers

My emotions ran the gamut when I first discovered my child’s addiction to pain pills.  Horror, terror, and confusion, among other emotions, ping-ponged through my brain.  As I searched for information, I relied on some reputable literature (listed in our book list), as well as some reality shows like Intervention.  The TV shows distressed me immensely, but still, I watched them.  Like rubber-necking a car accident, I couldn’t avert my eyes.

What was I looking for, or at?  First of all, I found some comfort in joining the secret sisterhood known as Mothers of Addicts.  On TV, I could see that other families shared the craziness that had become the hallmarks of our life:  the outbursts, the mysteries excursions, the struggle to keep work and school on track. We weren’t fighting this battle alone.

I looked for similarities with the other families.  Did they have a “normie” child as well as an addict?  Were they as blindsided to discover their child’s illness as I was?  Had they tried the same impotent solutions I had?

The reality shows gave me license to cry.  When I cried for the lost children and the sick families, I was really crying for myself.  I purged my sorrow in a cathartic way.

I always waited with baited breath for the punch line at the end of each segment:  Jane Doe has been sober for 11 months (hope!) or Jane Doe relapsed one week after leaving treatment (dismay). Which fate would be my child’s?

Those shows served a purpose early in the game, but I don’t watch them these days.  I don’t need to. I’ve found more constructive, less heart-wrenching ways to support my recovery. I’ve discovered a real, live support group of kindred moms right in my own back yard.  And I’ve developed my own arsenal of tools to deal with my child’s chemical dependency.  That arsenal includes healthy boundaries and a Higher Power, for starters.

What’s in your tool kit?