In the past whenever a relapse would occur with my daughter, I would wonder what was next… Will this be the last relapse and she will begin moving forward? How long will it be before the next relapse? When will I stop thinking of what happens next? It seems as much as I wonder and contemplate, the real question is the last one – when will I stop thinking about what happens next? That is the perspective that I wish to focus on. I know that what my daughter does is ‘none of my business.’ This is a common phrase that we as co-dependents need to remind ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care or aren’t involved in our loved ones live; it simply means that it is their life and their decisions and I do not get to call the shots. What I may get to do is offer advice, but this needs to be kept in the construct of someone asking for my advice.
It is a delicate journey of minding our own business and letting go so our loved ones mind theirs. By doing this, we let them grow and experience life on their terms. They get to have the consequences; both good and bad. They get to experience the joy of their own accomplishments and the disappointment of their mistakes. All of these are part of life and by interfering in this process we prevent our loved ones from growing and flourishing. I know that the best thing I can do is step back and let go so that my daughter may take control of her life – she is smart and capable!
In Al-Anon I slowly learned how to live life again and I continue this journey of growth and joy. Slow is the operative word here but when I look back over time, I can clearly see how slow the progressive and insidious nature of addiction infiltrated my spirit and soul. By the time I sought help, the family disease was firmly implanted in my life for a good 4 years. It took a host of unhealthy situations for me to surrender and by then the perspective of time had no meaning. I was living in a constant state of unease. I was resentful at one or the other for not doing what I expected. I was anxious about what tomorrow would bring. I was fearful that my loved ones would land in jail. I was angry that they would not do what I wanted them to do and disappointed that they would NOT just stop doing it altogether! I had sleepless nights – I could not put them out of my mind. I constantly worried that they would hurt or kill themselves or someone else. I could not concentrate and I thought all this mindfullness was a productive measure because I was exhausted! Don’t we tire because of how hard we work?!
With the help of Al-Anon, I began to re-learn how to decipher all the stimuli into what needed my immediate attention. All things big and small seemed to have a “10” on the crises meter. It was as if I had to learn how to walk again. The slogan, “First things first” helps me prioritize myself to get a few things done for the day versus being paralyzed unable to do anything but worry. Sometimes it is as basic as “make bed, wash clothes, and fill up the car”. First-things-first helps me take the first step and in so doing, I realize the paralysis is temporary.
During the turmoil of living with a loved one struggling with addiction a lot of hurtful things are done and said. This is not only true of the addict and their behaviors, but also for those of us in the relationships and families surrounding the addict. We often put our focus on the addict and how we need to come to terms with forgiving him or her. It is very healthy for everyone when we can forgive. I believe we all know that forgiveness lends itself to a sense of freedom from a heavy burden. When we forgive it is like a large, collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.
We often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I know that I have a lot of guilt and regret from so many aspects related to my daughters’ addiction. I can easily list a number of things that I would do different now that I know what I know. I can also reflect on how I’ve handled various situations and how it would nice to have a chance to do it different. Yet, we cannot go back, we can only go forward. Part of going forward for me was to forgive myself and to know that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I can also know that I will do whatever I can to help others in the hope that in some small way, I can make a difference. And I can start by forgiving myself.
I made a call to a long time member of the Al-Anon Family Group. He doesn’t know me but I have heard him speak at meetings; his story of hope with his son who is well over 40 years now continues to be a source of great comfort. My intent was for insight – I was anxious about another parent suffering through some tuff days. What, exactly, did I think this anonymous person would do for my friend I hadn’t considered when I made the call.
In my effort to seek help for another, I ended up getting help for myself!
This awesome conversation cannot be duplicated here. But there were key points for me. Like when he said “…this program teaches us rigorous honesty and we must ask ourselves what part we had in the crises we experience today. It is here true recovery begins. Our Higher Power shows us that we have the right to plan ahead; we just don’t have the right to plan an outcome.”
At some point I realized my own co-dependency was rearing its ugly head. I wanted to fix someone else’s
problem. Why? Because their suffering was uncomfortable for me and my reflex was an uncontrollable urge to do something…more. Like more is better or doing something is better than nothing! “Remember”, he said, “we learn in this program that unconditional love means you give it away but you don’t expect anything in return.”
This outreach helped me accept discomfort. And knowing when to do nothing is a wisdom
learned in recovery. It is often discomfort that reveals another opportunity to learn and grow. Like the addict, maybe we too have to feel the heat before we see the light!
Just as I had hopes and dreams for my daughter to be happy, healthy and whole, it occurred to me that I have the same hopes and dreams for myself and my family. Somehow along the way we all became fractured and a little bit lost from our path. It isn’t that we weren’t responsible; it was more that we were a bit distracted from what we needed to do for ourselves. For me it is similar to any Mom who has kids. You enter into motherhood and you get swept up in the day to day responsibilities that become all consuming. Then before you know it, you look in the mirror one day and wonder where you went! It isn’t necessarily that you don’t like where you are, you just wonder at times who you are and how you want your life to be. Typically as Moms we are too busy to be concerned with these deep questions.
At one point in my Mom journey I had taken a major detour which felt like I veered into a dark alley and I was trying to find my way back out into the light. I then knew it was time to focus on my life and my entire family and put less focus on just my daughter’s life. I also knew that the struggles we had all gone through lead to major personal growth for everyone. I became aware that there were many gifts that lie just beneath the surface of the path I had been on. I was open to explore these gifts every step of the journey forward.
When I think of my experience with having loved ones in addiction, I think of all the worry. Torment. Suffering.
Disturbing thoughts of what ifs…Fretful.
Fearful. Worry to the extreme – anxiety disorder.
Doesn’t sound very appealing yet when afflicted, it’s as friendly as your favorite cat, as comfortable as your old worn shoes and as familiar as grandma’s house. That’s my experience.
Worry has been equated as the hamster’s incessant running on the spin wheel in our minds; going nowhere but seemingly expending energy and being exhausted because of it. Naturally, there are physical symptoms associated with constant worry: rapid heartbeat, sweating, interrupted sleep, inability to concentrate, skin lesions, and weight gain or weight loss to name a few.
In Al-Anon, I learned recovery combats worry. I learned that worry is not action in spite of all the energy expended on it. Worry helps no one and if anything, hurts myself. Recovery is action and the first step was to accept that I’m powerless of alcohol.
There was a point in time during my journey with my daughter that I needed to learn more about myself and my co-dependent behaviors. As my daughter had been getting help, I needed to continue to get help in the behaviors that I knew were counterproductive to her recovery and counterproductive to living my life in a healthy way. I had been going to Alanon Family Group (the support group for family members with loved ones who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction). Alanon has been a life saver. I have specifically gone to meetings that are for parents who have children struggling with addiction. It is a wonderful group of people who know exactly what I am going through and how I feel, because they are going through the very same thing. It is a place to express your deepest fears and know that you’ll see many sympathetic nods from others who have been there.
Part of Alanon is working through the twelve steps with the help of a sponsor and an Alanon book explaining how to go through the steps. I found a sponsor who would meet with me every week and help me work through the steps. It was interesting to get the concept of how working through this program was not only a way to help myself but to also help my daughter. The idea is that the healthier you can be, the clearer you can be to make good decisions about setting boundaries and holding your loved one accountable for their actions. It took time and effort to go through the process but I was willing to put in the work. I wanted to have the peace and serenity that others in the Alanon program had.
If your child (of any age) is in rehab, he or she is probably starting to change. This is a good time for you to change, too. Where do you start?
1) Develop your own support system of people who can help you through the Dark Woods of Addiction. Talk with a family counselor who specializes in addiction’s impact on the family. Attend Al-Anon meetings. Start your own support group with other parents…think about using ParentPathway Meetings in a Box to guide your discussions.
2) Learn about the disease of chemical dependency. Understanding addiction and alcoholism as a brain disease takes away a lot of the blaming and finger-pointing and allegations about lack of character or will power.
3) Figure out how you will relate to your child when they leave rehab. What will be the “operating principles” of your relationship?
4) Focus on your own recovery. Understand that you cannot make a person stop drinking or abusing drugs, but you can change the way you deal with their sobriety or lack thereof.
5) Rehab gives your child a choice: he or she can embrace recovery or can return to a life of disease and destruction, as much as that might break our hearts. You have choices, too. You get to choose if you want to be more committed to their recovery than your child is. You get to choose to include your child in your life – or not – if he or she resumes abusing drugs or chemicals. You get to choose to bail them out, or not….to pay their bills, or not. So take advantage of the break that rehab offers, and spend some time thinking about the choices you can make to you reclaim your balance and your health.