I’m not sure how and when along this journey with my daughter and our co-occurring addictions – hers with drugs and mine with co-dependency – did I start developing a deep faith. It is a faith not just in a power greater than myself, but a faith that if I learn from others and their wisdom and try my best to follow their footsteps, that I can have the faith to move forward and break the cycle. It seemed that although I have made a lot of improvements in how I interact with my daughter, I still have much to learn. One of the traps that I fall into is when she is doing better, I have the urge to reward her, help her, jump in and make things right for her. I have this overwhelming urge to clean the slate for her and make all her troubles go away. Wasn’t getting clean and sober a big enough burden? Wouldn’t I help a family member be free of a stress if I could?
While logically it may make sense that if you had the ability to do these things you would want to do them, yet it is the very things you should not do. The reason is that part of recovery is making things right and cleaning up the wreckage of your past. If I were to pay DUI fines and clear other slates then what lesson does that teach my loved one? It teaches them that if they fall then someone else will pick them up. This is not a good lesson. It can reach disastrous proportions if not quelled and nipped in the bud early on. I learned this lesson painfully, but I did notice that with each time my daughter and I had an opportunity to engage and evolve in our relationship, we both grew. It is possible to break the cycle of enabling our loved ones when we are aware. And remember – progress not perfection!
As I start this day of thanks it is not difficult to also think about times where I had difficulty feeling thankful about anything. When we go through difficult times with those we love most, it can be confusing when we try to look at the positive aspects of our life. I lost my sister 8 years ago and not a holiday goes by that I don’t have sadness about losing her. She died way too early in her life and even though it was not drugs and alcohol it was an addiction of another kind that robbed another family of a dearly loved member. I know that hardship and tragedy are unwelcome guests in our lives. I understand that life is impermanent; things change without a chance to stop it like an oncoming train. We control our actions but we do not control the actions of others, nature, or the immense world around us.
What I can control is the way I feel and show gratitude. I can decide that I am going to grieve a little at certain moments of the day for my sister, but for the most part I will engage with my family and friends in celebration for the fact that we are together and for all that I am thankful for. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is the one holiday where all of my family comes together to spend the week planning, cooking and then having the big feast of thanks. We have a tradition of everyone sitting down at the table and we go around and say something we are thankful for. After my sister passed away we couldn’t do this tradition for a couple of years, it was just too painful. That is okay, it was a respectful time for her and us to know that while we celebrate, we also mourn her passing. It does not mean we were not thankful; we always have many things to be thankful for. Now as time has moved on we have brought our tradition back to the table. I am thankful for the healing that takes place every day in my life so that I can see its beauty and be grateful for all that is.
With addiction in my family tree, Thanksgiving has the potential for myriad emotions: trepidation, joy, chaos or gratitude, to name a few. Last year, with several years of recovery in our wake, I made note of my many blessings. I try to say a prayer of gratitude every night before hitting the sack, but with Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I’d like to look back on what I wrote down last year about the holiday, which holds potential for both joy and chaos…if I let it.
I am thankful that my son has claimed a life of recovery, one day at a time.
I am thankful that people are beginning to understand addiction as a disease of the brain.
I am thankful that I discovered Al-Anon.
I am thankful for the friends that addiction has ushered into my life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to support others though their own child’s addiction.
I am thankful that my marriage survived our son’s illness.
I am thankful that I have had the resources to help support my son’s recovery.
I am thankful that my faith sustained me.
And thanks to addiction, I am appreciative of the perspective I’ve gained about what really counts in life.
Count your blessings…..and please share with our readers what you are thankful for.
It’s holiday time, a season of both promise and peril. For a while there, we never knew who would show up at our holiday dinner table. The good son or his evil twin? And how do you react to, and prepare for, your child, sober or not?
You can ignore your child’s bizarre or irresponsible behavior, rather than poke a stick in the hornet’s nest. Quite simply, it is so much easier to walk away than provoke their anger or cause a scene. In the meantime, the rest of the family bears the burden of their irresponsibility, especially the “good” siblings who often have to clean up the addict’s mess. I remember getting angry at my sober son for not intervening when his sibling was veering out of control. How fair was that?? So the “good” kid is bears the blame for a sibling’s irresponsible behavior, while the addict skates off scot-free.
Your family events may hang in limbo because you never know who will show up for the holiday dinner or other celebration. Will it be the delightful daughter or the snarling son? The success of the gathering hangs in the balance, hinging on a single person’s ability to throw everything out of whack.
You might remain vigilant and keep an explanation in your back pocket to explain your child’s absence or foul mood. “He’s got the flu” or “She got called into work at the last minute.” Saving face requires a Herculean effort. We all pay a price for these exhausting balancing acts and charades. They deplete us while protecting the addict from the consequence of their poor choices.
There is no easy answer. Maintaining your balance while walking on eggshells (and becoming crazy along the way) or revealing to others that you are struggling with a serious problem can throw the entire family out of whack, if not destroy the day entirely. But there are some preemptive strikes you can take. Check out Carole Bennett’s great advice at “It’s the Holidays- Are Your Boundaries with the Alcoholic/Addict Wrapped Up Tight?” And here’s hoping you’re your holidays are happy and healthy for all.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Hope is in short supply when your child is abusing drugs or alcohol. You hope that you won’t unearth any convicting evidence, but that hope is shattered when you discover the stash behind the light switch. You hope that “the good” kid will magically appear at the Thanksgiving table, but Poof! That hope goes up in smoke when he or she sleeps until late afternoon and then snarls through dinner.
I found my first glimmer of true hope when I finally mustered the strength to tell my son, “Choose rehab, or choose a life without your family. “ My hope arose not from his response (which was three excruciating days in coming) but in the fact that I finally knew in my heart of hearts that things wouldn’t change unless we changed…and I garnered the strength and conviction to draw that line in the sand.
That strength and conviction had eluded me for so long because I was so afraid for my son. I was afraid that if I kicked him out, he would get hurt. I was afraid he would get into even more trouble if he didn’t have somewhere to live. I was afraid he would fall in with a bad crowd, which was such an unfounded fear because he was bad enough on his own. And on some level, I rationalized that confronting his addiction—drawing a line in the sand—somehow made it more real. I know that sounds strange, but a little voice in my head whispered that if I didn’t need to kick him out, then his problem really wasn’t that bad, was it?? That’s denial at its best.
Once I mustered the strength to offer one or the other– drugs or family– then our family had a chance to get better, collectively and individually. My son could choose to seek recovery and I could choose to deny entry to his substance abuse in my life. When I claimed that power, I found a hope that sustains me, one day at a time, no matter what my son does or doesn’t do.
This is an “encore” post from My3Sunz
How do you know when, through your trails and tribulations, you begin to “turn straw into gold” as you experience a spiritual awakening? Here are some of the things you might notice….
- Increased tendency to let things happen versus make things happen.
- Frequent attacks of smiling.
- Feelings of being connected to others and nature.
- Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
- Tendency to think and act spontaneously versus react from fear or past experiences.
- An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
- Loss of desire to worry.
- Loss of interest in conflict.
- Loss of interest interpreting the actions of others.
- Loss of interest in judging others.
- Loss of interest in judging myself.
- Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.
What can you add to this list? Readers, please comment.
We all make choices. Our beloved addicts can choose to seek recovery. Or they may simply abstain from drugs and alcohol. Or they may choose to continue their use and abuse.
What’s the difference between recovery and abstinence? Recovery is working hard to learn how to live without mood altering substances. It can take many shapes and forms including formal programs like AA, Narcotics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery, working with a sponsor, making amends. It may involve personal or family counseling, or working with a doctor to treat co-occurring mental illness. It may include volunteering and serving others: nothing like doing something esteemable to build up one’s sense of self-worth. A solid recovery builds the foundation to live life on life’s terms, with all its ups and downs. Recovery builds a strong person who can weather the storms.
Abstinence means keeping away from mood-altering substances but doing nothing to repair the source or the consequences of the chemical dependency. Abstinence is the absence of the self-work and support that underpins recovery. Abstinence is white-knuckling life, like a cat clinging to a branch high up in a tree. The next gust of wind may well fling the dangling cat from that tossing branch.
As the parent of a chemically-dependent child, are you working a program of recovery, or are you merely abstinent? Are you bolstering your strength with support groups? Getting counseling to repair personal and family wounds? Doing things every day that nourish you in a healthy way? Reading, learning, growing? We can’t make our loved ones choose recovery, but we can choose it for ourselves.
There is so much satisfaction to see a slight corner turned when you have a loved one who is struggling to move out of addiction and into recovery. A friend of mine found the following quote that is so true; “We might be tempted to help release the butterfly from her cocoon. It is human nature to want to assist, but if we do, she will fall to the ground and die; the struggle to free herself strengthens her wings enough to survive and fly.” Eunice Brown, The Compassionate Friends Magazine. While my inclination is to jump in to help in every way possible, I have learned that the very act of helping actually has the opposite effect, it can hurt. I know that this type of co-dependent behavior will hinder progress. Just like the butterfly, without the struggle to free oneself from addiction and all the wreckage that comes with it, then how will one learn to live, to fly, to be independent?
This is a very difficult process even when we intellectually grasp the significance of it’s importance. When someone we love is struggling it is our very nature to want to rush to aid them and spare them from pain, discomfort and disappointment. Yet just like the butterfly the very act of the struggle is what makes us grow strong with experience and a feeling of empowerment that we can do it. It reminds me of when my kids were young and they wanted to put their clothes on by themselves. I had to refrain from helping and it was so difficult and frustrating. I wanted to grab the clothes and help get it over their heads or buttoned up correctly. Yet I knew that they needed to learn in order to grow and my interference just delayed their growth. It is the same as they get older and with struggles like substance abuse it gets even more important to let them struggle so they can get the strength and determination to fly and become whole.
This is an “encore” post from Eliza
Early in my son’s recovery, I bought a toy shield from a local toy store. It was mottled gray plastic, identical to the one he used as a child for protection against the dragons and demons in our back yard, the monsters in the closet. I made a Gothic banner that says “Genuine Shit Shield.” Just say “Oh” and taped it to the front. In the dark old days, the Shit Shield helped me fend off the crap that addiction hurls my way. Incoming! He’s got bills, tickets, debris from his addiction?? I just say, Oh or Oh?? and hope that he figures it out for himself. Car accident? Oh. No food? Oh. His wreckage is not mine to remove.
And the real beauty of the Shit Shield is that it is portable and versatile—I can carry it in my mind and use it anytime my co-dependent button is close to being pushed. My niece could use a pinch of help paying her Nordstrom bill. Oh? My less industrious teammate would like me to pick up some of her unfinished work. Oh.
We get in the way of our children’s recovery when we solve their problems for them. The only way my child will ever get better is if he suffers from the damage he incurs and decides not to incur it again. My mother’s instinct is to protect him from himself, and that doesn’t work. Every time I put a pillow under his butt, I keep him from feeling the fall. We can love our children to death as we try to keep them safe from themselves. It’s tempting to do, especially when the crap hurtles towards us at warp speed. And that is where the Genuine Shit Shield gives me the protection and backbone that I need to stay strong in my resolve.
Check out our Meetings in a Box for tools to help you detach with love and set up healthy boundaries.