Monthly Archives: September 2015

The art of saying NO to your addicted child

teenager contemplating futureMy disease is cunning. Left to my own devices, I will say yes when I want to say no or should say no because it’s a request for rescuing. I will over-commit or resent, either way, somebody is not going to be happy (besides me). Saying no seemed mean or disrespectful. What I learned was saying yes could be all that and more to my own sense of well–being and compromise other commitments I already had made.  I always felt guilty.

My recovery began with learning how to NOT COMMIT until I had reasonable to time to really decipher what was being asked of me. Sometimes I have to make choices, doing it all is not a choice if I want serenity in my life. Stall tactics such as “Don’t respond right away”, go into the “Oh-zone” and “buy time” all helped me learn to pause. I had to do this in the beginning because I was in a foreign land, unable to think or speak the language of recovery.  What was really happening?  I was beginning to form healthy and realistic boundaries.

I kept it simple: If my motive was to be liked, or I hoped I could manipulate an outcome, then I’d be in trouble. If my motive was to control, I was in trouble. If my motive was fear, I was in trouble. I picked up new language that progressed:

  • That won’t work for me.
  • I don’t do well in those settings.
  • I’m not able to devote the time you need.
  • Not at this time.
  • Perhaps another time.
  • I’m out on this one.
  • I will do this (something but not all) “meet halfway”
  • I have to think about it, can you contact me in x days?
  • I love you so I won’t.
  • No thanks.
  • No.


Stop the Obsession – Giving up the illusion of control

In rehab there are so many wonderfully transformative changes that occur.  It is truly a place of miracles.  There are also inherent challenges, one being the introduction to more ‘like minded’ people.  Each time my daughter went into rehab, she had a new collection of friends who were also struggling to get clean.  This can be a built in support group and for many they forge lifelong friendships in recovery.  For others this can open a door to a whole new level of drug use.  Sometimes those seeking recovery end up in a relationship that is a bad combination for trying to stay away from the life style that brought them into rehabilitation in the first place.  It is very difficult to enter into sobriety, let alone in a relationship.  It is always advised to avoid starting a relationship the first year of your sobriety.  This is for many reasons, but for one, many relapses occur over the trials and tribulations of relationships.

When our kids become of adult age we no longer have the same ability to know what they are doing unless they give access either by telling us or by signing release forms at facilities they engage with.  Once out of rehab and into a sober living house – it becomes very difficult to know what is truly going on.   We no longer have a way to know what was going on unless our kid decides to tell us.  In rehab my daughter would sign a release to allow them to discuss her case with me so that we could all work together so I was involved.  Part of the experience of rehab is to also help the parents/family members understand their part in the journey and to get educated about addiction.  I’ve learned more about the disease of addiction than I ever could have imagined.  I knew that letting go of managing her life was a big part of my growth-really any parent as their child transitions into adulthood, yet it was like asking me to stop breathing with all the circumstances in motion.  I was so fearful of what would happen to her that I obsessed about what she was doing…was she safe? …was she using again? …was she going to her AA meetings?  …was she in a new relationship that was harmful or helpful?  The list goes on.  I learned that in order for me to help her, the best thing I could do was help myself get out of my obsession about what she was doing and give up my illusion of control.  It was a difficult time and even though it was years ago and I’ve had a lot of learning and growing, an incident with either of my kids where I begin to worry whether it’s about school, friends, jobs, or anything I can find myself beginning to obsess about their wellbeing.  I recognize this and then take steps to put things in perspective and know that I am not in control and that are capable young adults.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

“Miracles are what happens when you get out of the way of yourself.”

Brad Szollose

Taking My Inventory Helps With Boundaries

I discovered in my program of recovery that when I keep the focus on where it should be – me, I’m a better mother, parent, wife, daughter, aunt, friend and so on.  Before rehabilitation, my thoughts and actions were predicated on how my loved ones were doing. If they were struggling, I struggled to rescue and offer unsolicited advice. Alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive disease. Problems would and did escalate. If they did not listen to my advice, I tried harder and harder – as if this was a hearing problem. In my 12-Step program, I learned about the family disease which helped me understand the only control I had was to make a commitment to change what I was doing. This change would be monumental but only took willingness on my part.

Positive results crystalized in Step 4. Step 4 is about taking a complete moral inventory of me. I was accustomed to taking their inventory and uncomfortable about taking my own. Once I started, I realized how much I had to learn about me. At the same time I was beginning to understand why boundaries were so important. Without boundaries, I was being dragged into the drama – a side effect of drug problems. There was a time I did not know where I ended and they began – it was all inter-meshed. The fear for them was beyond words and my response to it was not always kind or respectful. Understanding me; why I act the way I do, why certain things upset me, why I get fearful and fretful helped me break away from old habits and beliefs. I could begin to employ boundaries that were backed up with sense and reason versus fear and meaningless threats. In the process there was the realization that no one would change because I wanted them to. My inventory helped me realize how I was powerless over IT, but not helpless over myself and my relationships.

For a thought provoking exercise on this topic, visit Parent Pathway Meetings-in-a-Box: Boundaries

When a Storm is Brewing – Coping with relapse

For those of us who have lived with loved ones in addiction, you start to sense when things are beginning to go awry. It isn’t one thing that happens but a series of little things you begin to notice. Like fewer texts or phone calls, a sort of distance in the conversation. There are times when we sense something is happening but we can’t quite put a finger on it. Maybe it’s a Mom’s instinct or maybe we also get better at watching for certain signs. Things sometimes begin to shift to a different place in the journey – of each of us on our own and with each other. Things begin to be different than before, yet the same in some ways.


Then it seems we get the dreaded call that there has been a relapse. It never falls that our hearts sink knowing that our loved one is out and using again. Yet over time it becomes different, not because we become hardened or immune, but because we begin to understand that it is there journey. We understand that we can still love them just the same even with the difficult choices and actions they choose. I don’t think the situation ever gets easier, but how we respond and take care of ourselves in the process can get better. Over time I knew that I couldn’t let the actions of my loved one tear my life apart every time something occurred. I would try my best to detach with love and continue with my life as best I could. Of course there was a lot of praying for my loved one and my family to get through the difficult times. I began to realize that this was my loved ones journey and I was resolved to keep perspective about how it affected me.

Would you rappel down a 20-story building to end addiction?

TiffanyThis is a guest post from Linda Chapman, a mom who is tougher than addiction. 

I just signed up to take the Shatterproof Challenge!! On Wednesday, October 14, I will rappel down the 20 story IBM building in Seattle, Washington to bring awareness to the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction, and to help raise money to fund programs for the prevention, treatment, and recovery of this disease. I will be joining others in the fight to end the stigma and shame so often associated with addiction and those who suffer from it. Many hide in secrecy of their addiction and don’t seek the help they need because they’re afraid others will label them as a bad person or someone who’s weak and lacking self-control.

I’ve never met anyone who said they wanted to be a drug addict or an alcoholic. People get to the place of addiction from different angles. The one size fits all approach to the issue has clearly shown itself to be a failure. Addiction can start from just one social drink of alcohol, or from taking prescription pain medications after surgery, from self-medicating for depression or anxiety, or from a one-time experimentation. Addiction is an all-consuming illness that shatters lives.

My daughter Tiffany broke her neck in a terrible car accident and became addicted to the prescription pain medications prescribed by her doctors. This addiction eventually caused her to have liver failure, and after being in the hospital 46 days, she died from internal bleeding. We told her story in the Emmy-winning Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary with the hope that people would understand how easily addiction can destroy those you love. Life will never be the same without Tiffany. We miss her every day. What would Tiffany want me to do now? “Help others”, she would say.

One of the bravest women I know is an angel watching over me now. For you Tiffany – I’m not giving up. In memory of my daughter Tiffany who lost her battle with addiction, I will be rappelling to bring hope to the many others still out there suffering or affected by addiction. If you’re in the Seattle area October 14th, please come cheer me on. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous to take this challenge, but like many who are out there ready to begin treatment, taking that first step is always the most difficult. Learn more about Shatterproof and please consider sponsoring me as  I take on the Shatterproof Challenge.

Linda Chapman – Tiffany’s mom

Ask the Expert: Should I clean out my son’s bedroom while he is in detox?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)Your Question: My son is 24 and living with us. He is about to complete a 4-5 day detox (his 1st and we hope last). Should we go into his room and clean it out? There are things he probably doesn’t want us to find/see. We want to be respectful of his privacy, but did he lose that privilege?

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend:  Before answering your question, I’d like to gently suggest that detox without treatment has very little chance for success. Supporting your son in recovery really calls for residential treatment, ideally for 90 days.  If you really want to help him and support his recovery, I hope you can find a way to line up residential treatment.

It’s critical to understand that detox followed by abstinence versus recovery are really different.  A detox only removes alcohol from the body and brain and creates a scaffold of abstinence, which gives the addict no insight at all into why he or she is using in the first place. In contrast, in recovery, we learn about the brain disease of chemical dependency, and we fill our tool boxes with education, wisdom, coping strategies and other tools to live in a healthy and insightful way. In recovery, addicts and alcoholics also connect with and find support from a community of like-minded people who want the same thing:  sustained recovery.

A 24-year- old addict really shouldn’t live at home. He is much more likely to reclaim his health in rehab or even transitional living (AKA “Half way houses”) while he learns more about recovery and regains healthy self-sufficiency and life skills.

You have every right to live in a drug-free home, and that includes making sure his bedroom is drug-free. If he becomes angry when you go through his room, please make sure he understands that he can choose to live in your home or not, but the price of admission is sobriety.

I’d also invite your family to find an Al-Anon meeting where you can get support and learn how to have good, strong boundaries. I wish you the best.

Ricki Townsend     


Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

praying hands“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

– Corrie Ten Boom

Spiritual Relief from the Anguish of loving an addict/alcoholic son or daughter

I attended a 2 day taping of Echart Tolle TV in Mill Valley. It was like a spiritual injection and renewal of positive inner thinking very similar to my Al-Anon Program of recovery. Interestingly, someone asked Eckart how to reconcile a perceived conflict they had from his spiritual teachings (the power within us) to the concept of a “Higher Power.” That God, which they came to understand through their own 12-Step Program recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous, seemed to be something bigger, higher and outside of them – “up there somewhere.” His response was perfect: the term “Higher Power” is just a language pointer. We have no language that adequately defines this. “Try using INNER POWER instead,” he suggested.

It got me to thinking about my own attempt to get my mind around the Higher Power concept. Al-Anon’s 12- Steps, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, were simply something on poster boards to alert me that my sons would need to pay attention to that so they could get better. I never considered that it would have anything to do with me. Once I realized my part in the illness – the family disease of drug and alcohol addiction, I wanted relief from the anguish and worry. I slowly realized it would take work. I made the decision to obtain a sponsor and I had to work my own 12-Step program of recovery. Until I accepted where I was, I disregarded the concept of turning anything over to a power greater than myself. Why do I need to bother with any of this? I’m not the one with the problem!

The 12-step recovery program through Al-Anon family groups was exactly what I needed. I slowly became willing and embraced the necessary steps for a spiritual awakening. I was using “pointers” in the language of recovery. I heard and casually picked up the term, Higher Power, which came from the people in the program, not the program itself. There are several references in the steps that point to a Power, greater than ourselves and to a God, as we understood Him, the latter was up to me to figure out. There is no wrong way. It was evident Echart made no judgment. He simply offered an alternative language to the term “Higher Power” which to him is “Inner Power.” It is faith that this Power, whatever words you use to describe, that restores us to sanity.

A Mother’s Way Out

authorbackjacketThis is a guest post from D’Anne Burwell, the author of SAVING JAKE: When Addiction Hits Home. It’s the story of her family as they struggled with denial and confusion through the dreadful years of her son’s addiction to OxyContin. D’Anne shares hard-won knowledge, to help other families—particularly parents—to face this devastating disease with strength and ultimately hope.

Four years ago, I stood gripping my kitchen countertop, taking short panting breaths, feeling as if I’d been squeezed inside the darkest tunnel. My son’s lies and excuses had obscured that his life was falling apart. I’d suddenly strung it all together—the soot on his forehead, the hollowed-out Bic pens, the wadded up foil, the ruined finances. My nineteen-year-old son was addicted to OxyContin.

He was so thin I wanted to cry, his skin so pale it seemed translucent. His cough would raise the hair on any mother’s head. I felt torn between cradling him in my arms and kicking him out the door.

I didn’t yet understand that addiction is a disease. I hadn’t yet learned to step back and let my child fight for his own soul. If I had known I was merely at the starting gate, staring at addiction with beginner’s eyes, I might not have had the strength to pick up the keys, put my hand at my son’s back, and steer him toward rehab.

During those wrenching years, I researched addiction until I was dizzy. I was certain I could solve his problem—that I could fix it—but the chaos, the relapses, and fear for my cub reduced me to rubble. My insides hardened up, depression dragged me down. That fear, along with denial, anger, and guilt propelled me into a support group.

Slowly, my focus began to shift to me. When I realized my incessant worry only caused my own suffering, that it did not affect my absent addicted son one way or the other, I loosened my grip on his crisis and started to live my own life. I began yoga and acupuncture, things I never thought I’d do. Tears started to feel like release, not a sign I was falling apart.

And one day, my son walked into his fifth rehab facility.

As he gains time in recovery now, I struggle to remain rooted in myself. Focusing on my own life allows my son the space to take responsibility for his and that has been the light to follow out of these deep dark woods.

You can order a copy of Saving Jake here.