“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it by the handle of anxiety, or by the handle of faith.”
“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it by the handle of anxiety, or by the handle of faith.”
A family member in addiction unintentionally causes a warped sense of love and self-worth for those who care about them. It seems the more we care, the more vulnerable we are to be hurt, disappointed and our lives become unmanageable. Truth is, the addict/alcoholic doesn’t spend time worrying about how I feel; they are preoccupied with their own feelings. It’s nothing personal. And as they say addiction is progressive, there comes a time that no amount of substance you take will get you that first sense of euphoria, yet the drive to pursue it becomes stronger.
It occurred to me that the relationship and behavior of the addict and the co-dependent in the family disease is similar. I tried to help the addict/alcoholic under the cloak of saving them, but really, it was for my own sense of well-being. If they acted responsible, then I’d feel better about myself and could go on about my own life. When that didn’t work, I’d try another tactic but over time the pursuit to fix them became the obsession. This drive was taken to such an extent I did not care about anything or anyone else, I was too preoccupied. There was a warped belief that my happiness was dependent on them to stop using, and I believed I had power to make that happen. Against all evidence to the contrary, my drive became stronger.
Learning about addiction and the family disease helped me understand and consider my own self-preoccupation without regards to others who care about me. It was nothing personal, I was just preoccupied. The others in my life such as my husband, my sons, my friends, my mother, my sister – could it have been that they were worried about me? Did they try to fix the problem of the addict/alcoholic in their own way so that I would get better? And so it goes. This is why it’s a family disease – no one goes unscathed. At some point some of us make a decision to break the chain of insanity.
I’m quite sure that somewhere along the journey of being a parent, everyone contemplates their effectiveness. This would apply whether or not you have a child struggling with addiction. We all have the desire to be effective at raising our kids. I know that I have wondered at times whether I am doing a good job or is there more I could do. It does not take long to think of all the things that I could have done different at various points along the way. Yet we only get one chance at being a parent. Sure some of us decide to have kids’ later in life but it’s still only one life we get to live, we don’t get a practice shot, we play this out live.
I have been pondering lately on the effectiveness of my parenting. How much of what my kids decide to do or not do is a reflection on me and how I raised them? How much of what they do is just them finding their way and making their own choices; good or bad? I believe that we all do the best we can with what we know at any given time in our life. I believe that it is natural for our kids to step out and try things as they are growing up. And when those things they try end up being a problem like abusing substances, sometimes it leads to consequences that have very unpleasant outcomes. Does this mean I’m a bad parent? I don’t think so. It means that sometimes things happen that are out of our control and we then have the opportunity to look at how we want to move forward and do what we can to support our loved ones. It easy to go down the road of feeling inadequate at our most important job – parenting – but it is important to keep things in perspective and continue to learn and grow at every opportunity.
Our children’s substance abuse creates such isolation for beloved addicts and parents alike. It feels like others cannot possibly relate to our struggles as parents of addicts unless they, too, have been hunkered down in the trenches of fear, anger and shame. But I have great hope that as we spread the word about addiction as a brain disease, then the shame of being the parent of a drug addict will begin to dissipate, and we can come together openly and constructively to prevent addiction through awareness and education.
So here, for the record, is the official definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine: The ASDM defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Physician Michael Wilkes aptly illustrates that point in the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary when he says, “I don’t think it’s any more under someone’s control than skin cancer or breast cancer or an infectious disease. Sure, there’s some role you had initially but once you begin to get the actual manifestations of the disease, you can’t stop it without a significant amount of help.” (You can watch Collision Course here…and then ask your local Public TV station to run it in your area.)
We’ve all experienced the part about the sheer amount of work and terror in trying to derail active addiction. Through education and awareness, we can stop addiction before it even starts. And never forget—there is no shame in having a child with a disease, whether its asthma, diabetes or chemical dependency.
I was reminded the other night about my self-will and if I don’t turn it over to a Power, greater than myself, I limit myself, hurt myself or others and quite possibly alter an event that could have been the best thing ever had I not interfered. I’ve often wondered how many times my fears and self-will actually got in the way of my son’s path. The Al-Anon program helps me see this better.
I recently experienced this phenomena of seeing how my self-will gets in my own way! Today I call these “lessons in humility.” Being humble means I am teachable. I have learned how to recognize my stinking thinking and stop myself before I do or say something I’ll regret later – or missed opportunity! Before Al-Anon, I did not even know I was a hindrance to my own growth and enjoyment much less my sons. Just the other day my art instructor sent us a photo of a Starbucks cup, napkin, empty Splenda packet and a partially eaten donut as the “watercolor painting” we were tasked to do. I rolled my eyes in that familiar, “OMG, what a boring subject and what could possibly be of benefit doing that picture?” I considered not showing up because my self-will tells me I know everything. Fortunately, I did go to class and had my good dose of humility. Turns out, this was the best subject painting I have had to date. The subject was fun, the shadows were colorful, I enjoyed every minute working on it! Had I kept my mind closed and been unwilling to try, I would have missed something really wonderful. Yes, the color of humility is vibrant and necessary for reminding me to keep an open mind, turn my will over and let the day embrace me. Such examples are priceless to my recovery.
Have you ever let a small concern turn into a big bundle of worry? I saw this quote today and it really described how I have experienced this.
“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” Rachel Arthur Somers
I think about times when my daughter has been out and I began to think she should be home by a certain time. When that certain time comes and goes the worry meter begins to go. My questioning mind of ‘maybe she should be home by now’ turns to ‘what if she has done something that is dangerous’ to ‘she must be terribly hurt!’ All of this has no basis except fear of the unknown. I love this quote and how it describes the trickling stream of fear becoming a channel into which all thoughts are drained. I often think ‘What we think about comes about.’ So I try my best not to let my thoughts carry me from the small stream to the big channel of vastness where there is no end. It is not easy to do this. We all love our kids and worry about them, yet I know that I need to keep perspective and deal with issues when I am faced with them, not just my minds fabrication of thoughts. It is a constant awareness that I want to be in a place of serenity and peace, not obsession and fear.
The sorrow, destruction and powerlessness of a child’s addiction weigh heavily on our hearts. In my dimmest hour, devastation for my child was all I could see. It was the only thing that I could imagine. I was blinded by his addiction.
And yet, somewhere along the way I began to spot glimmers of light, personal epiphanies of growth and change and promise. My personal torture morphed into compassion for others. I became grateful for small things that wouldn’t have even caught my eye before. I learned to devote time and energy to the truly important things in my life. My appreciation for strong girlfriends grew hundredfold. The dark cloud of addiction revealed some very silver linings which had been there forever while I had been looking the other way.
What allowed me to change, or what changed in me? I had to admit my powerlessness over my son’s chemical dependency before I could see anything else besides his addiction. When I admitted my powerlessness over his addiction, it released its grasp on me. Don’t change my world, change me.
If you have only recently entered the dark Land of Addiction, I know this seems ridiculous, out of the question. But give yourself time. There are many steps in the experience of a child’s serious illness, and you need to work through them at your own pace. Somewhere along the way, the silver linings will start to catch your eye.
“I am willing to be willing to forgive those who have hurt me.
I am willing to be able to forgive those who have hurt me.
I forgive those who have hurt me.
I see the hurt I have suffered as an opportunity to learn compassion.
I thank life for giving me a spirit that is forgiving and compassionate.”
Isn’t it always our nature to try to control everything going on around us? I know that are many times when I want things to go my way and yet the truth is that we don’t control many things. The obvious ones are things like the weather. We can hope, wish, pray that it is sunny or that it will rain and bring much needed water for our environment. We know that the weather is out of our control but other activities are little bit more elusive. We all want what is best for our children but what happens when their choices in life are not what we had hoped for? I have had to let go of so many expectations of my children. What I want them to do and what they choose to do with their lives are not always congruous.
It hasn’t been very easy to feel that I know what is best for my kids and have them go a different direction. Even the choices my daughter made on substance abuse. I tried everything to control the situation. She became an adult during this time and then it became doubly difficult because I could not make decisions for her anymore. Trying to control what she was doing only led me to stress and frustration. Over time I slowly learned that what she chose to do was out of my control. I could coach and support her but in the end the decision were hers. I learned to go with the flow which meant understanding what she was doing but not get involved in it. I slowly saw how this was alleviating my stress by keeping to my own business and not trying to control hers. It isn’t always easy but eventually you can find peace and serenity while staying in the flow.