As the year comes to a close, it is easy to look back and ponder on the difficulties as they can be many when you have a loved one who struggles with addiction. I’d like to look back, as much as possible, on the things to celebrate as well. Whether it is my loved one who found recovery or who may have experienced moments in recovery, I celebrate both because those moments are small victories in the journey that can lead to more moments and eventually recovery as a way of life.
I must also reflect on those who were lost this past year in their struggle with addiction. It saddens my heart to know that we have lost too many, especially our teens and young adults. Let’s keep a special prayer in our hearts for the families of those who have lost loved ones this past year and hope that they find comfort and support.
As we look forward to the coming year I will focus on praying for the safety of our loved ones and that they find recovery amongst their battle with addiction. There is hope for everyone in this journey. Have a safe and happy new year. Blessings to you in the coming year.
That million dollar question asked by parents of addicts and alcoholics everywhere has an answer you probably won’t like to hear: the sad truth is that you can’t keep your child from relapsing. It is entirely up to him or her. You can’t keep him from swiping Grandma’s meds. You can’t keep her from buying a drink at a bar. It is out of your hands. But you can keep the toxicity of relapse from taking you down, too.
You can set boundaries that may discourage relapse or, at a minimum, protect you when it happens. You can tell your child that sobriety is the price of admission into your home and heart. You can tell him that you won’t support him in any way—food, rent, insurance—unless he is sober. You can tell her that you will no longer play a part in her addiction as a witness or a participant. You can tell her that if she wants your support, you have the right to require a drug test.
You have to be willing to put some teeth into your requirements. As they say in Al-Anon, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.” Be firm, be clear, be resolute. Say it with love. Say it with conviction.
We cannot prevent our kids’ relapses, but we can prevent our own. We can cut ourselves off at the pass when we start to obsess about our son or daughter—Where is he? What is she doing? Is she sober or using? Those pointless ruminations only serve to torture us about something that is out of our hands. When one of those relentless worries worms its way into your consciousness, swap in a new thought, such as the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed
I used to think detachment was a form of indifference – Today, I believe it’s just the opposite. Detachment is preceded by acceptance. It was a slow evolution in changing how I think. For a long time I did not want to accept my sons were in trouble with drugs. How could I detach if I falsely believed there wasn’t a problem? Each time I tried to fix them; buy off their debt, provide transportation, fret and fume over another bad news episode, it only got worse. I found myself befuddled, broke and disappointed. But how could I detach if I did not accept I had no control over them?
Detachment is a common word in and around the dynamics of the family disease. The notion of detaching was frightening – the unknown of letting go. Thinking it was not a loving, kind or caring thing for a mother to do when confronted with her young adult child’s substance abuse. Fearful that if I did detach then something really bad would happen. I had to get over myself and the fears I conjured up. Truth was, bad things were happening anyhow and I had not power over it. Once I accepted that, it became easier to let go.
Detachment has become a healthy and sincere act for those I care about. It shows up as unconditional love – quite the opposite of indifference.
I was as addicted to my son’s addiction as he was to his alcohol, and I countered every one of his crazy moves with one of my own. Knowing that he stored booze in the cavity he cut out below his box springs, I placed a quarter “just so” against the box spring, knowing that it would topple if he went for his stash. Every night for months, I gently lifted the dust ruffle and checked to see if that damn quarter had deviated from its position. It never did, primarily because he was snitching beer from the fridge (Duh!). Anyone who observed my nightly ritual would have concluded that I, not he, was under the influence of some mind-altering drug indeed.
When he was out driving like a madman, I was hot on his trail, trying to track him down in the middle of the night. That was alien behavior to my husband who had removed himself from the whole dysfunctional drama in an equally unhealthy fashion: like a teeter-totter, he sat on one end, out of the picture; I sat on the other end, horribly enmeshed in the train wreck; and our addict son was smack dab in the middle, a most unhealthy fulcrum in a very sick family.
I couldn’t see my own crazy behavior because (a) I was too close to it (b) I was in denial (c) I was exhausted (d) I was confused (e) all of the above. The light began to cut through the fog when my other son confronted me and told me that I was crazier than my chemically-dependent child. son. “Man, he said, I see where he got it! You’re even crazier than my brother!” Did that statement open my eyes? Yes. Did I change my crazy ways? No, at least not immediately. But I did begin to look at my own involvement in my son’s addiction, and that marked a key point in own return to sanity.
As the months and years go on, I feel more hopeful. It’s like peeking out of the bunker to see if the enemy is gone. In this case the enemy is addiction. While I know that addiction never really leaves, it can retreat and hide out, not infiltrate where it is not welcome. The holidays have a way of making me melancholy and, yes, hopeful that as the New Year approaches, that the year will be filled with more joy than tragedy. I know that part of our journey is to endure unexpected occurrences’ like an accident or job loss or any number of things that are seemingly out of our control. What I am hopeful about is that we have the courage to change the things we can and not repeat the very things that derail us from moving forward.
The holidays always bring back such wonderful memories of growing up and traditions that we had. And also of the memories I started with my own family. It has been difficult during the times when addiction was present in my loved one. Those memories of the holidays are painful and sad. And while it is not the case in my family today, I do know that there are still many young people suffering with addiction and their families have a challenging time during the holidays. I am hopeful that there is joy amidst the difficulties for all families who endure addiction, whether in recovery or not. There is always hope for a joyful holiday with family and friends who support us in good times and hard times.
My life got unbearable as the progression of addiction reached unmanageable levels. There was no denying: collection calls, unknown callers who knew my sons, unknown visitors, lost jobs, stealing, lying, and arrests to name a few. It was a low point for me to admit that I was not able to correct, fix or keep them away from dramatic and unfathomable criminal activity. Still, I was not ready to accept I could not control it, not me! I begrudgingly attended an Al-Anon meeting that advertised a parent focus hoping to find answers to a problem that was eluding me. I was very annoyed at having to take the time where I’d have to interact with people I did not know, all because of what my sons were doing, not me.
I would hear others talk about their stories and I would think how their discussion about the problem drinker had no resemblance to my kids’ prescription drug abuse. That’s not me! Someone would read the 12 Steps and when they got to step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” I’d think about what my sons had done wrong ….but…not me! And then I’d hear the parent who visited their loved one in the “orange jump suit” with “3 meals and a cot” and I would adamantly think “no way, not me!”
Fortunately, a change happened. I heard someone tell my story. Over a period of time I slowly went from “not me” to “me too!” Maybe that’s why they would say, “Keep coming back!” Or, “listen to the similarities” or “try to attend at least 6 meetings before you make up your mind if the program is right for you.” They knew the “not-me-syndrome” is a symptom of the family disease.
What possibilities can the upcoming New Year usher into my life? As the parent of a teen who struggled with chemical dependency, I often watched the world go by through some dim, damaged lenses. I’ve been on the lookout for victims or someone to blame (myself included); I’ve made myself a nervous wreck while awaiting disasters that never materialized. I’ve anticipated every flavor and incarnation of relapse so that I would be prepared when it happened. Trust me—relapse happened many, many times in my mind before my son ever experienced it. and it was unnecessarily painful.
How would my world be different if I looked for:
someone to thank instead of someone to blame
someone to admire, rather than someone to judge
something to cherish instead of something to hate
Would this change in perspective protect my child from drugs and alcohol? Most assuredly not. Would it protect me from me? Would it keep me from resorting to my sorry habits, like imagining impending disaster around every bend? Yep– changing my focus could be a game-changer for me.
So I plan to write my bad habits on scraps of paper and ceremoniously ignite them on New Year’s Eve. Some call that a “burning bowl” ceremony; I call it creating a healthier vista on my world, a vista that I can shape. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been.”
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