There is a dynamic I call the ‘triangle of dysfunction’ which includes a victim, a villain and a hero. What can happen in difficult situations is there is one person who is victimized, either by themselves or by others. In the case of addiction, it could be the addict who is struggling to overcome their addiction. The young addict’s parents become completely consumed with how to help their kid get healthy and overcome their addiction. Often times the parents do not agree on what to do. Certainly this can happen when the parents are still married and can be complicated if the parents are divorced. When the addict does something that results in serious consequences like getting arrested for possession of illegal drugs it can be difficult to determine what to do. When the call comes to the parents to help ‘bail me out of jail’ it is a very difficult situation. On one hand you do not want your child to be in jail and on the other hand you know that they need to take responsibility for their actions. If one parent says ‘no’ I won’t bail you out, and then the other parent says ‘yes’ I’ll bail you out. The one who says ‘no’ becomes the villain and the one who says ‘yes’ becomes the hero.
I’m not going to lobby for which is the ‘right’ thing for the parents to do, but I will lobby that a united front on what to do gets made together to avoid the ‘triangle of dysfunction’. By banding together and discussing the possible ways to handle the response and giving a united front to your kid or young adult you will avoid the chance of being played against one another. It will also show your loved one that you care enough to work together and that you are consistent. By giving different answers or reversing decisions of one parent creates a disruptive and erratic family dynamic. Keep in communication and try to agree together whenever possible. It will foster a positive relationship for all involved.
Is detachment a form of indifference? No care or interest in other people? I think just the opposite! For me, it’s the ability to accept and it’s a slow evolution in changing how I think. I detach my judgment, opinion, and the ever loving need to fix things that are not mine to fix. Detachment is a common word in and around the dynamics of the family disease of chemical dependency. The more attached I am, the higher my expectations. The higher my expectations are, the lower my serenity. Like a teeter totter, one is up and the other is down! But how I feel, up or down, is totally dependent on me. It takes work to make the teeter totter hold center, a balancing act that I’ve come to desire more than the temporary rush of flying up or down. Sometimes, detaching can be fearful – the unknown of letting go. I had to get over myself by first understanding the fears I conjured up.
My good friend to this day admits that his fear and inability to detach from his addicted son by drastic eviction measures was so great he could not get a grasp on it. By his avoidance, he remained miserable and felt helpless, and his son’s disease progressed further. There was a time it could have been easier, but ultimately, when he mustered up the strength and help of others, he realized he had allowed it to go on for so long that it was not only going to be difficult,it would require drastic measures. Given the crystal ball, he would have been moved to act sooner despite those early fears. Today, he sees his part in that, but we all have to come to terms in our own way. “Had I acted sooner”, he said, “the house would not have been trashed to the degree it was and I would have saved months of suffering, not to mention the costs on renovations. But the clincher, in the end, by getting out of the way, making a stand and sticking to it, my detaching ultimately saved my son.” Though he doesn’t take credit for his son’s resultant sobriety, he shares how his part contributed to unacceptable behavior. As we say “nothing changes if nothing changes!” In the end, detachment is completely caring for someone enough to take that first step - quite the opposite of indifference.
Shame, shame…..go away…..Our children’s substance abuse creates such isolation for beloved addicts and parents alike. It feels like others cannot possibly relate to our struggles as parents of addicts unless they, too, have been hunkered down in the trenches of fear, anger and shame. But I have great hope that as we spread the word about addiction as a brain disease, then the shame will begin to dissipate and we can come together openly and constructively to prevent addiction through awareness and education.
So here, for the record, is the official definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine: The ASDM defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
The skeptics in the crowd insist that addiction and alcoholism are choices; the addict chooses to steal, to lie; the alcoholic chooses to drive drunk. Yes- those are choices, made by an impaired brain that doesn’t work properly. That’s a hard arguement to win, but it’s the truth. Ask any doctor who treats addicted infants if their chemical dependency is a conscious choice on their part.
Physician Michael Wilkes aptly illustrates that point in the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary when he says, “I don’t think it’s any more under someone’s control than skin cancer or breast cancer or an infectious disease. Sure, there’s some role you had initially but once you begin to get the actual manifestations of the disease, you can’t stop it without a significant amount of help.” (You can watch Collision Course here…and then ask your local Public TV station to run it in your area.)
We’ve all experienced the part about the sheer amount of work and terror in trying to derail active addiction. Through education and awareness, we can stop addiction before it even starts. And never forget—there is no shame in having a child with a disease, whether it’s asthma, diabetes or addiction.
It’s easy to blame addiction squarely on the addict. After all, they were the ones who crashed the car, ruined the holidays, pawned Granny’s jewelry, alienated the family….the list goes on and on. So here’s that mystifying question: who in their right mind would make such bad choices? And the answer: an addict isn’t in his or her right mind because their mind isn’t working right. The bottom line is that such stunningly bad behavior is a symptom of neurological dysfunction.
It was important to me and my own recovery from my child’s chemical dependency to understand how and why my son became chemically dependent. I did a lot of reading and a lot of listening to experts. For me, fact-based information became the bedrock of my forgiveness.
If you need to understand how substance use disorder came to roost in your home, a wonderful FREE resource is at your fingertips. Coursera has just launched an online course called The Addicted Brain, and you can sign up now to take this class, which just started this week.
“When we know better, we do better,” or so the saying goes. That rings true for me: understanding addiction as a brain disease helped me find forgiveness, see my role in the family disease, make sense of how rehab and recovery “work,” and more. Give yourself the gift of knowledge, and you will find wisdom and tools to help slay the addiction monster who is running wild in your life.
Question:Our family is a good family. We go to church, we eat dinner together. We raised our children to be responsible. How could our son end up stealing and in jail?
Answer from Expert Ricki Townsend: So many families are asking this very same question. Simply put, addiction is a brain disease caused by genes plus factors in the environment. You will probably spot chemical dependency in your family tree, if you take an honest look.
When you consider the impact of the environment on your son’s genetic predisposition. it gets very complicated and the answers aren’t always easy to spot. But there is always some sort of woundedness or pain that drugs or alcohol alleviate. Perhaps your child went through some situations that you didn’t even know about. Perhaps he felt too tall, too short, stupid pressured by peers, or like a loser or outsider in some other respect. When he tried drugs or alcohol for the first time, he experienced how he had always wanted to feel: safe, smart, like he fit in, confident or happy.
Eventually the only thing that matters is the feeling the drugs/alcohol give him. Once chemical dependency takes root, all that matters is getting “the fix” and getting fixed any way they can. So, out the window goes all you have taught your child.
As far as jail, I have seen that, in many cases, this is the beginning of a new life. It can prompt loved ones to take serious charge of their lives. If you keep your child from experiencing the negative consequences of his chemical dependency, you strip him of a powerful reason to change. From jail right into a treatment center can be the ticket to a new life.
How old do our kids need to be before we let go of the ‘mother bear’ mentality. The mentality where we want to protect them from every harm be it little or big. The mentality where we want to jump in even when they are perfectly capable to handle matters themselves. Even though my daughter is in recovery and I still find myself wanting to intervene when it really isn’t my business or necessary. When a friend from the past comes around I find myself rattling off a list of inquiries to my daughter; does he party? Does he drink or do drugs? Is she in recovery? Is she working? The inquisition is endless! Then I have to stop myself and realize it really isn’t any of my business. I think of it like a mother bear instinct; I want to coddle and protect. I have gotten better at keeping arms-length and zipping my mouth shut (if only there really was a zipper, it would be so much easier!)
The reality is that I don’t need to know everything and my daughter is quite capable. She has grown and changed so much in her recovery over the past few years. My inquisition is an insult to her as an adult. I have to accept this and keep positive that the positive trajectory will continue with or without my help. What is interesting is that I have another child who is not in recovery and I find myself wanting to do these same behaviors. I believe the common denominator in all of this is me and my co-dependency. What I have learned over the past few years is that my ‘helping’ others only hurts their growth and maturity. The good news is that I am painfully aware of these behaviors and I try to head them off at the pass when I feel the urge to step in when it is not necessary. I know that the best thing I can do is be there to support my kids with encouragement and to refrain from jumping in when they are capable to handle matters themselves.
Never in my life has the saying ‘Walking on Eggshells’ ever meant so much to me as when I had a teenager struggling with addiction living my house. People use this term quite often but I have to say that if they had a family member abusing substances they would take this to a new level of understanding. When you have a loved one who leaves your house in one mood, for instance, a good mood and they come back as an unrecognizable foe, you wonder who abducted your child! For me, the uncertainty and spontaneity of this cause and effect was extremely unsettling. At first it sneaks up on you, you don’t expect the drastic mood swings. I was also not aware of what was happening, I did not realize the extent of the drug abuse that was taking place. I knew that something was going on but could never have dreamed the depths that it was taking as life unraveled before our eyes.When my daughter would come home in an agitated state brought on by drug withdrawal or overuse, we would all be taken by surprise at how she would lash out at us. We were a family that respected each other, we did not use harsh words or any type of violence. But one person in the family began to change and it disrupted the entire eco-system that we had carefully created over the years.
Following the ‘shell’ analogy, I was also ‘shell shocked’ by this. Not wanting things to get out of hand we did a lot of ignoring of the situation and addressing things later when the mood was more approachable. But this got to be inadequate for the tornado that ravished our home. Once we came to terms with the gravity of the situation, we began to confront and manage it. We had another child in our house and it was not good for him. We began to draw boundaries and make consequences clear and enforced them. It didn’t get better at first but we took control and discontinued letting the addict in our family wreak havoc. The journey took many turns after that, but we were taking care of our whole family, not just accommodating the one who was causing the disruption. We began to stomp on the eggshells and let the issues come forward to be addressed.
Our kids can be relentless when they are in active addiction. They want, they need, they demand, they take, they terrify us with their unpredictable behavior. Often, we say “Yes” out of fear. We say “Yes, you can live here” even though we know we don’t want them in our homes while they are using or drinking. The alternative, the street, seems unacceptably dangerous.
The reality is that our addict children can be very resourceful. They may not end up sleeping in the street; instead, they couch surf or sleep in the Hotel Honda. And yes–sometimes they end up in horrible circumstances with predators who take advantage of their addiction.
The real hope is that the prospect of actually ending up on the streets may give them an incentive to get sober. When we say “No” out of love, we can give them a jump start down the road to recovery.
My son told me that he pulled out of his death spiral relapse because he did not want to be homeless. He did not want to lose his family, who loves him dearly. He did not want to be destitute. We essentially raised the bottom by requiring sobriety in order for us to support him in any way, shape or form. We forced the issue, with sober results–one day at a time. There are no promises, of course, but what could have happened if he waited to hit his own bottom instead of the one we created by saying “No” instead of “Yes?” To that, I say, “Bottoms up!”
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