“Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.”
Karen Kaiser Clark
This is a guest post from Jon Daily, Founder and Clinical Director of Recovery Happens Counseling Services in Fair Oaks, California. This article was also published in the August/September national run of Counselor Magazine as the feature article.
Myth: All adolescents & young adults (young people) “experiment” with drugs.Statistics show that the rate of drug use remains at a very high level for young people (1). Part of the myth of “experimentation” is that drug use is a naturally occurring “rite of passage” from adolescence in to adulthood. However, not every young person has tried or will try drugs. In addition, not all will pass through their drug use without experiencing negative consequences from their use. Drug use is risky and unhealthy behavior. In today’s society even “experimentation” can lead to car accidents, driving while under the influence, unplanned sexual activity, date rape, and sometimes death. Moreover, the word “experimentation” can be misleading. When we get calls from parents seeking counseling for their adolescent or young adult child, we often hear the words, “I think my son is experimenting with drugs.” When asked how long the parent has been aware of the drug use, the reply can be anywhere from weeks to years. The parent’s response implies that “experimentation” is a phase, when “experimentation” is not a phase at all. In fact, it is a “one-time event. ” (2) Once intoxication has been experienced, the experiment is over. The user has achieved the results of the experiment, “I like this feeling,” or ” I don’t like this feeling.” Subsequent intoxication indicates misuse, abuse or addiction.
When helping young people with substance use disorders, at the end of the day what we are assess and treating is a “pathological relationship to intoxication.” The name of the drug they are using is an illusion . They need to know they are not hooked on weed, they are hooked on intoxication and therefore must see all intoxicating substances as the same. Take away weed from the pot smoker and they drink and/or take pills. Take away Oxycontin for the opiate user and they use benzodiazepines and marijuana. This is because they were not hooked on the particular drug, they were hooked on “intoxication.” The focus of treatment for young people is to severe their pathological relationship to intoxication so as to open up their capacity to have regulating relationships with their counselor, support groups, rebuilt family relationships and healthy peer groups. Such social supports promote dopamine(3), and endogenous opiates (4) which the user has been chasing on the streets, but can be created in health relationships as they were intended to. Helping them and the family to understand this and supporting their growth in this way is the core of treatment after we have helped them to become drug-free.
When my world started falling apart over my drug addiction in my family it became a challenge to get through the day. I realized on reflection that there were many days in a row that I did not smile; the joy had been zapped out of my life. I had the impending dread that I would never be happy until my daughter was safe and whole again. I would go through my days and meet my responsibilities because I knew I had to carry on, but it was hollow and empty. My reprieve came when I found other parents who were suffering and struggling to cope with their children’s wreckage from substance abuse. One thing that struck me with these parents is that I heard laughter which is what I least expected. How can anyone laugh when our children are dying a slow painful death due to their drug abuse?
I found that I needed to pull myself out of the darkness that had become my life and begin living again. It didn’t mean I cared any less nor had fewer concerns, it just meant that I needed to focus on myself and the rest of my family and not just the loved one in addiction. There is a saying, ‘act as if’. This is a very powerful saying, because sometimes you need to ‘act as if’ you are okay before you really are okay. When I began to ‘act as if’ my life could be restored to sanity, and I could enjoy myself even if it were for just brief moments at a time, slowly I began to reclaim my life. It was also a good sign to my other loved ones who needed me, because they needed reassurance that I was there for them. So ‘act as if’ and see how it can help you to move forward in the face of a challenging time.
We had a written agreement in hand when my chemically-dependent son left rehab. It spelled out in no uncertain terms how our lives would intertwine in a healthy way, moving ahead. It cut through the murky gray world we’d been foundering in during his active addiction by stating the new rules of engagement. We all signed it with love in our hearts.
We did the contract more for us, as parents, than for our son. Sure, it gave him direction and definition like:
The contract drew a line in the sand that we could all see and respect. It “had my back,” something this dazed and confused mom desperately needed to uphold healthy boundaries. At the end of the day, the contract defined and drove our relationship and was a strong tool in making our expectations clear to the entire family. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t complicated, but it was powerful.
How many times in our life do we wish we could go back and do something over again? Whether it’s something major or minor, we all have those moments of ‘what if’s’ and ‘if I would have known…’ I’m no different; I have often ruminated about how the journey unfolded with my daughters spiral into alcohol and drug addiction. So many things that I am wise to now that I did not know when it all started. I think of all that has happened along the way and I sometimes cringe at the thoughts. I did spend the first few years mired in guilt and regret over so many aspects of what transpired. I look back on how I didn’t realize the gravity of her substance abuse and how I thought that it was just a passing phase. I compared what she was doing to what I know occurred in my generation of high school and college and felt it would just blow over.
Well things are different for this generation, the drugs are different, the access is different and the internet makes anything and everything just a click away. I have ceased feeling guilty and regretful, I realize that life unfolded and there is no going back. I also realize that I am powerless over other people; maybe I could have affected the outcome, maybe not. We can only put so many controls on our children and while there are many steps we can take to reduce the risks, there is no magic formula. We are all parents who love our kids and are doing our best to raise them into responsible adults. I realize that part of that journey for me included a detour into my daughter’s addiction. We have both grown and become who we are now through the experience. I am grateful for the learning and growth; I chose to look at the positives amongst the heartache and the gifts of recovery.
“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Those in recovery often face “triggers” that test their resolve, triggers exerting a gravitational pull that jerks us back to the dark side. And no, I’m not talking about the addict’s relapse here; I’m talking about the mother of the addict’s relapse.
The cell phone, marvel of modern technology, holds a power that can make me relapse to the fear and utter despair of days gone by. When my old ring tone chimes from someone else’s purse, I jump out of my skin. Pavlov’s proof: I’ve been classically conditioned to associate an otherwise innocuous sound with the experience of terror. And even today, if my son doesn’t answer his phone right away, my busy little mind tends to dive into wild imaginations of doom and gloom. But I have made tremendous progress; in the old days, when my son’s phone went straight to voicemail, I was known to call him 30 times (or more) in one hour. I give thanks every day for recovery from my addiction to his voicemail greeting.
I’ve learned to replace the obsession in my mind with more constructive preoccupations, such as dwelling on a phrase that relaxes me or helps me feel secure. Sometimes, it’s the Serenity Prayer. Sometimes, it’s just asking the Universe to lift my burden of worry. With allies like that in my corner, I know that I am stronger than the siren song of relapse.
I was reminded today how sometimes not giving an answer or advice is the best thing to ‘not’ do. It is always so tempting to jump in with ways to solve problems and help our friends and family. And sometimes that is the right thing to do. But in some situations, sitting back and letting our loved one traverse the maze of their decisions is an opportunity for growth. My son came to me with a concern that he had. It wasn’t major, but it was troubling him. In the past I would have jumped into action with solutions, or worse, distractions so he wouldn’t feel the pain of situation. As a co-dependent, I don’t like others to feel bad. But I’ve learned that it isn’t my business to manage other people’s feelings. So when my son plopped down in the chair across from me, I just sat and listened. I asked some questions to help him think through various alternatives he could consider. But I tried my best not to tell him what to do or distract him by changing the topic. I know my place is to be there to support him and coach him, but not direct and manage him. By staying listening but not intervening I allow him to learn and grow.
I also know that in the past when my daughter would come to me in a crisis due to her struggle with addiction, I learned not to react. This was not easy in the beginning; I didn’t always realize what was taking place. But over time I realized that her problems became my problems when I jumped into action and alleviated her of the consequences. I had been given advice once that if you let 24 hours pass by, many times the loved one would either solve the issue or the crisis would diminish. This is so true! I learned to sit and be patience and trust in the capabilities of those who created the dilemma in the first place.
This is an “encore” post from My3Sunz
For a long time I did not understand how my loved one’s substance abuse was my problem. In fact, I was quick to point out that they were the ones with the problem, not me! Then I heard an analogy of the how this family disease works. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If you put a frog in tepid water and slowly turn up the heat, it will cook to death because it did not recognize the change in temperature was in fact lethal. True or not, the story has been used in 12-step rooms to illustrate the family disease. Alcoholics Anonymous has recognized the family disease since inception, but oddly, there is limited research to support the family disease model. Nonetheless, professionals in the treatment community often look at substance abuse as a disease that affects the entire family. Many professionals suggest the family attend a 12-Step meeting. Another term equated with the family disease is codependency, a condition that develops in relationships where the non-addicted person enables the abuser to continue. According to Wikipedia, “Codependency describes behavior, thoughts and feelings that go beyond normal kinds of self-sacrifice or care taking.”
It took a long time for me to understand this “family disease” notion. I could not deny the similarities of other people in like-situations. Like me, their loved one’s drinking and drugging was upsetting them (to put it mildly). We seemed to share the same symptoms. Upon hearing the frog in boiling water story, it clicked. As the heat turned up, my reaction was to normalize and cope with increasingly bizarre and unacceptable behavior. There were “incidences” that were escalating, but I casually excused it – “Oh, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” As time passed, no matter how bad the chaos and insanity really was, I did not feel the temperature rise!
Eventually, with help, I realized my inability to control them (denying the temperature change) and that I was going to boil to death. My rescuing behavior created an environment that made it easier for them to continue. I was hurting not only them, but myself and others around me too. It was time to jump out of the pot!