Monthly Archives: October 2014

I’m the parent of an addict, and I’m TIRED

Photo of a woman. Somewhere along the way, ABC news anchor Elizabeth Vargas confessed, “I am an alcoholic,” she said. “It took me a long time to admit that to myself. It took me a long  time to admit it to my family, but I am. The amount of energy I expended keeping that secret and keeping this problem hidden from view was exhausting.” Kudos to Elizabeth for being honest about her disease. And kudos to her for shedding light on how exhausting it is to keep chemical dependency a secret.

That goes for the families of addicts and alcoholics, too. How much time have you spent orchestrating the appearance of a (fake) happy family? How much angst did you have, wondering if the good child or the angry addict would show up at the holiday dinner table? How many sleepless nights can you count? How tiring has it been to pretend that “Every thing is just fine?”

Such exhaustion takes a toll on our relationships, our health and our outlook on life (through a curtain, darkly). At the same time, it can be healthy to acknowledge the toll that a beloved child’s chemical dependency takes on us as parents. Taking that personal inventory may be the place where we hit bottom, where we say, “No” and “No more.” Let the healing begin.

The Quest for Serenity

It seems in life that we all want to find serenity at some level. Whether it is for a moment or whether we are striving for a day of serenity or a life of serenity. I think I took the feeling of serenity for granted before I found myself trapped in the craziness of the disease of addiction with my loved one. It was almost like waking up one day and feeling like I was in some sort of crazy dream nothing short of a nightmare. Where do I turn? How do I get out? Will this dizzy feeling ever stop? It reminded me of the kids program from when I was growing up where they suddenly exasperated ‘Help Mr. Wizard!!’ Only in my dream there was no Mr. Wizard it was my reality.

How did I regain my serenity or even pieces of it at first? I began by citing the serenity prayer in my mind to try to replace the obsessive thoughts of my daughter – ‘God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’ This helped to calm my mind and my nerves during stressful times. Then I moved on to creating boundaries around my day and activities. I made sure I took care of my priorities and didn’t let someone else’s crisis become my own. I lovingly let my daughter know that she was responsible for the consequences of her actions, not me. Eventually, little by little, I regained the sanity that then lead to serenity. I don’t take my serenity for granted anymore and I know when I am getting off track that I need to stay centered on what’s important and how I take care of myself.

Ask the Expert: How can I keep my daughter from being involved with her “ex-dealer?”

StressYour question: I have a beautiful 25 year-old daughter (only child) who is addicted to opiates.  A few weeks ago, she came to me and told me of her addiction (which I had been enabling for 2 years). She is on methadone right now and does have counseling once a week. She has lost 2 jobs and is currently unemployed. She did move back home with me, and it has created a nightmare for me. I told her she HAS to get a job. The only money I am giving her is for methadone ($13 a day) and gas ($5 a day) to go to treatment and look for a job.

I am resentful because this is putting a financial burden on me. I do not think she is still using opiates because she is drug tested every two weeks. I think she is good just to be on the methadone because she doesn’t have to struggle with where she is going to get money for her fix every day. I think the reason that I am resentful is that she continues and constantly goes to the home of someone who used to be one of her dealers. He is a man who is almost 40 years old and has 2 children. She moved in with him for a while (she said platonic) when she first broke up with her boyfriend. She said that he is now clean and no longer dealing and that he is the one who encouraged her to get clean.

I ABSOLUTELY DON’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS. She is constantly in touch with him even though she is living with me. I know that he would like, and may already be having, a relationship with her. I have told her that I don’t believe being around him is conducive to her getting/staying drug free. I have been to one of the family counseling sessions with her and will continue to do that. I also am looking locally for NA meetings. I guess my question is: How do I deal with her wanting to be with her ex-dealer constantly?

Photo of Ricki TownsendRESPONSE FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND:  Thank you for your willingness to reach out. Your question paints a stark picture of addiction as a family disease that can take down everyone, not just the addict.  Parents get stressed and develop resentment, anxiety and illness as a direct result of their loved one’s addiction.

In my experience, it is only when the addicted person finally becomes so sick and tired of being sick and tired that they reach out for help.  It is the same for family members:  when we get sick and tired, we change the way we handle this situation with our children. It sounds like you are at that point.

Please consider a written agreement that states what you will and won’t accept in your home.  For example, “You may live in my home as long as you find a job within a month and stay sober and attend XX amount of NA meetings each week.  I will pay for methadone and gas only under those circumstances.  You will need to pay for your own telephone.  If you use drugs or alcohol, you will need to figure out somewhere else to live.”

Say it with love and conviction.  Don’t make a rule that you aren’t willing and able to enforce. Give her a good reason to stay sober.

The bottom line is that you cannot want sobriety more than she does and expect her to get better.   You cannot make your daughter keep away from “bad influences,” but you can give her structure and rules that puts the ball of sobriety in her court. She should also be seeking out NA meetings to attend. Don’t do her work for her.  I wouldn’t pay for her phone or let her use your phone, or else you are enabling the very behavior that makes you crazy.  It is your home.  You get to make the rules. You NEED to make the rules.

And you need to concentrate on yourself, so spend your energy finding a parents Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting that you can commit to attending.  You can’t make your daughter sober, but you can learn ways to support her in a respectful and healthy way, rather than suffering each day.  I wish you the best.

Can I stop being a parent now?

This thought popped into my head the other day – can I just stop being a parent now? I realized I was tired of the worry, anticipation, preoccupation, projection, I could go on. But the bottom line is that I just felt a bit exhausted.  I started to contemplate, is there a time when I can just say ‘I’m done’ or ‘I don’t want the job anymore.’ Then the more I thought about it I realized that what was troubling me wasn’t my kids or their actions it was all my rampant expectations that they were either not meeting or may never meet. I think as parents when our kids were young or in their teens we all had this daydream that when they became adults we could quit fretting over their every move. Ha! That is so far from the truth. It seems to me my fretting is about much bigger things – will they be able to get a decent job and earn a living? Will they meet someone who is a good partner in life and be happy? I could list many of these thoughts.
My conclusion is that I don’t need to stop being a parent; I just need to stop fretting. Wow, what a relief when I came to this conclusion. It isn’t being a parent or what my kids do or do not do, it’s me and how I move through life. This falls into the category of ‘there is good news and bad news…’ The good news is that it’s not my kids, the bad news is, it’s me! So what do I do with this? I need to turn my expectations and projections about what is going on with my kids off, completely. Certainly I still have the role of support and coach with my adult children and I realize that will most likely always be the case. That is if I’m lucky and they want my advice of course. What I don’t need to do is spend my energy stressing or obsessing about what they are doing or what might happen in the future. This as we know is easier said than done.  My obsessing lately is not as desperate as it was in the past, but still robbing me of my serenity. It is helpful to have a mantra handy in your mind and draw on it to distract yourself from unnecessary worry. It may not solve problems but it will help to restore your serenity and peace of mind, if even just for the moment.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Reflections on Motherhood and a child with Addiction“It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.”

-J.C. Watts

Choosing Character over Comfort

There are so many times in the day that we get the opportunity to make choices. Do I stay in my warm cozy bed early in the morning or get up to get in a work out? Do I choose the salad and soup or the less healthy hamburger and fries? The list goes on and on. These are examples that while important are certainly not done with serious angst and personal sacrifice. Yet when it comes to relationships and how we deal with conflict or controversy it can be quite stressful. We can choose character building actions that entail facing the issues that are plaguing us or we can choose the comfortable way which would be to ignore or delay a conversation. When I heard this stated as choosing character versus comfort it truly made me stop and think about when I choose comfort over character building.
With our loved ones in addiction it seems we encounter many opportunities to choose character building versus comfort. Early in the journey before I understood about the impact of enabling my daughter I made many decisions to avoid the conflict which made things more comfortable. But when you compound these types of decisions you put yourself in a compromising position to be set up for failure. For example, when my daughter would call me asking for money I had the choice to give it to her and avoid the fight, which was more comfortable, or tell her no and set boundaries. Saying no and setting boundaries is when I began to build character of strength, determination and resolve. Strength because I knew in my heart that she would not use the money for healthy choices, determination because I had to set the precedent that I was not the bank, and resolve because I had to put a stop to the endless struggle of enabling her addiction. In every case that I choose ‘character building’ it not only was the right choice for the moment but also for the long run. When I choose ‘comfort’ it just delayed the inevitable and put off the real work that needed to be done. I am determined to keep focused on character building versus comfort which will help me and those I love.

Progress, Not Perfection on the Co-Dependents Journey

It seems that as the time goes on I am making progress on with my recovery as a co-dependent.  But, yet, I get frustrated that I can’t ‘get it’ right all the time. It’s an interesting paradox to immerse yourself into learning about co-dependency, what it is, how it is negative to yourself and others, how to change these behaviors. Then you have ‘book smarts’ about it, just like any other topic or subject you decide to become proficient about. So, why can’t I turn this information from intellectual understanding to daily behavior? It occurred to me that if I thought about a sports analogy then maybe I could make a parallel that would help me be a little easier on myself.
For instance, if I bought a book on water skiing and read it and studied it and even bought videos on instruction and technique, should I expect to go out on the water and be proficient at water skiing the first, second, third and so on tries at it? Of course we would never expect this. So, why do I think I can read about a behavior and think that I can take this intellectual understanding and instantly turn it into practice in my day to day life? What I’ve found is that with every opportunity to practice, I become a little more proficient. I’ve even found when those opportunities do not come for a bit, that I also become a bit rusty. It is progress, not perfection that I strive for.  As long as I am making progress I am heading in the right direction on this journey.

Music To My Ears – Parents taking action by drug testing their teen

Many of my posts focus on the aftermath of addiction, chronicling the devastation that is inevitable due to severe drug and alcohol abuse. Today I am focusing on the hope for this generation of teenagers. While at my morning workout there was a conversation among the wonderful women in the group. The conversation was about ‘pre-testing’. ‘Hmmmm… ,’ I thought,’ I need to listen to this…’ The Mom’s in the group were talking about how they drug test their teens in order to keep them accountable and give them a reason to tell their friends they can’t try drugs and alcohol.  ‘My parents drug test me and I’ll get grounded or in trouble’. This was music to my ears, a full symphony no less!
One of the ways we can help our teens is to do this act of love. While I am an activist for prevention of teen drug and alcohol addiction and I often talk about the effectiveness of randomly drug testing your kids, it isn’t always clear what parents think of this. It was truly a joy to hear the positive conversation about parent’s drug testing and telling other parents why they do it and having such a constructive conversation amongst the group. The thought of drug testing my kids never even entered my mind when they were in high school. Even when the trouble started with my daughter I didn’t consider drug testing. Thinking back now I realize it could have done several things. It would have forced me to see clearly what was going on – I was in denial and that is a dangerous place to be. It would have validated the seriousness of the drug abuse that was taking place. I would have no longer been able to hope it was nothing serious, I would have known it was very serious. All of this is hind sight, I realize, but worth sharing for others to gain insight. I applaud parents willing to drug test their teens – it is a very loving act that can possibly be the difference between a sober teen or a teen traveling down a road that can lead to eventual addiction.

Letting the Past Fade away – leaving addiction behind

Man on pier - squareIt occurs to me that the tragedies we endured during my loved ones addiction are like a distant shore that is fading away. While I can recall every difficult detail, it is not as visceral as it was when it occupied my life during the tumultuous years of her active addiction. As a matter of fact, I often recount the blessings that have occurred because of this journey and they are plentiful. Still I would have appreciated my daughter being spared the whole experience, but that was not our journey. It falls under the category of ‘life happens’ and we have dealt with it as best we could.
I’ve talked to my daughter about various things that had happened and I’m sure there are much more in her past that I am not aware of, but that is okay. It is not my experience or any of my business to try to delve into it with or without her. I do remember at one point when she was struggling to get clean that she said something along the lines of being a ‘bad person’ because of things she had done.  My message to her at that time was, ‘that was your experience, that was not you or who you are.’ It was important to let her know that she should not let her past experience define who she is, that was a time to learn from not a time to dwell on. I think this is important to emphasize to our loved ones, so they can move away from their ‘experiences’ just like the distant shore that is fading away. Eventually their life becomes filled with good times and the bad times are a fading memory.

A New Level of Gratitude

mother and daughter on beachI was talking to a colleague about how I never really understood what it meant to be grateful until I suffered tragedy and loss in my life. The first big loss came when my sister passed away tragically.  It was so sudden and shocking – it left a huge hole for me and my family. It made me look at those I loved differently, more deeply and contemplate what I appreciate. Then a year after her passing my daughter began to have a serious drug problem. It crept up on us slowly, we did not realize the gravity of what was taking place, we underestimated what we hoped was a short phase in her teenage years. But when it came to full force and recognition that it was beyond recreational partying and was a full blown drug and alcohol addiction, we were devastated.

We have been fortune that our daughter has been in recovery for quite some time now. And although I would have preferred not to have experienced the heart ache and devastation it brought on our family, I do see the hidden blessings in the journey. One of those is that I do not take anything for granted. I know the depths of sorrow and loss; I don’t have to imagine it. I believe that experiencing such a deep pain in your heart brings you to a place of gratitude that is unparalleled than what you have experienced before. At least this has been my experience. Emerging from this experience has led me to many new endeavors that I don’t believe would have interested me before. Therefore, when a friend asked me what is different for me since I’ve been through all this my answer was simple, ‘I wake up every day in such a state of gratitude knowing my family is whole and healthy. I know what’s important and to show my love, unconditionally, always.’ That has been the gift in the midst of all of the trials and tribulations!