One of the challenges that occurs when my loved one is in recovery and living responsibly is my desire to help. The problem is that part of healthy recovery is learning to take full responsibility for your life. It is so easy for me to rationalize in my mind ‘She’s doing so well, she deserves the help’ or ‘if I don’t help and she struggles, won’t that hurt her recovery and possibly drive her back towards her addiction?’ I could go on and on… The point is that while it’s only natural to help our loved ones, it has to be weighed carefully with how it will actually ‘hurt’ them instead of ‘help’ them. Struggling with this actually makes me sad. I think of growing up in a family where we helped each other, it was just what we did. If I needed a little boost after college and in the working world, my Mom would often be there to help me through a rough patch or to reach a goal I was striving for. It didn’t come with lots of angst about what I might do with the money or if I would take a step back in my growing into adulthood.
While I can ruminate all I want about this, the reality of the situation is that I am not my Mom and my daughter is not me. She is a recovering addict and I am a struggling co-dependent – our boundaries can go from healthy to dysfunctional in a very short cycle. The positive thing is that I am completely aware of this dynamic. I stop and think about what I am doing and question what is best, not only for my daughter, but also me. Will this help her in her journey to become a self-sufficient adult or will this hinder that very goal? The other positive aspect is that I can openly talk to her about it. Part of our respective recoveries is having the ability to deal with situations as they arise. It is a blessing to be authentic and open in any relationship, and I cherish this with my daughter.
I was expecting, NO – anticipating life to resume to normal once my son “graduated” from rehab. In fact, when asked to do service at an Al-Anon meeting, I said “No” because I figured I would not need Al-Anon anymore, I be “graduating out.” After all, wasn’t the problem fixed soon to be fixed now? That was over 4 years and several more rehabs ago. Needless to say, I have since given service to my group many times over and along the way I have learned a great deal about addiction, the family disease, and my role in recovery. The family disease is like the “ism” – there is no cure, only recovery. Recovery includes acceptance, tolerance and boundaries for what is, versus what is not – how to live in peace, whether the addict/alcoholic is using or not. This disease afflicted my family and there is life after rehab, but recovery is ongoing.
An anonymous Ala-teen member summed it up succinctly:
“Some think that life gets better when the alcoholic recovers, but the bill collectors don’t go away – neither does the arguing. You don’t stop going to meetings because an alcoholic has recovered. That’s like stopping the repairs on our house after a tornado hits and the sun comes out. You might discover you need the meetings more because of the changes – there is also the danger of relapse – and (some) recovering alcoholics become dry drunks. So I do need the program even after the alcoholic stops drinking.”
Author and blogger Katrina Kenison is talking about one of my favorite books, Saving Jake: When Addiction Hits Home by D’Anne Burwell. On her blog, Katrina writes, “And then there’s this: D’Anne could easily be my best friend — or yours. With every page, I thought how with a few different strokes of fate, her story could be my story, or any family’s story. In fact, it’s a story that’s unfolding in some variation right now in thousands of homes across the country.”
Katina’s post resonates with readers, who’ve responded with over 150 comments. One reader writes, “Our daughter is 90 days clean and sober following 12 years of addiction to first marijuana with methamphetamine use in the last eight months of her drug use. She has a three-year-old child. We too missed the signs despite having knowledge and experience with addictions. Once we found out the truth of her use, which wasn’t until very shortly before she entered treatment, we were totally honest with people when they asked how she was doing. What amazed me was how often we were met with an “us too” response. Let us all be open and honest and support one another, instead of hiding and smiling and inwardly fearing and despairing. We are in this together and all of us are affected whether directly in our family or extended family or by the sheer cost to our children’s generation of lost souls and lives.”
Visit Katrina’s review of Saving Jake and enter a drawing to win a signed copy of the book…or buy one here.
When people like Katrina Kenison open the curtains on the dark issue of addiction, the shame and stigma of having an unhealthy child can begin to dissipate. Here comes the sun.
With our nation facing an epidemic of deaths from opiates – legal and illegal - we need more candid admissions and truthful language to help others understand that addiction is a condition of brain chemistry and not one of character deficiency.
How I speak about a person or a problem reveals my own attitude towards that person and can shape their opinion, as well. What sounds kinder: “My child the addict” or “My chemically-dependent child?” What description creates awareness and understanding: “A disease of the brain” or “A lack of willpower and character?” Which language opens the door to treatment and possible recovery, and which language points to contempt and alienation?
I am not whitewashing the issue here or letting those with substance abuse struggles off the hook. Chemical dependency can give rise to horrific behavior—drunk driving, theft, fraud, abuse, neglect….the list goes on and on. That behavior is an outward manifestation of a brain gone awry, unable to let go of the obsession to use and abuse. But what do we gain by choosing language that paints and pigeonholes our beloved children in such a destructive fashion? And what do we lose by describing alcoholism and addiction for what they are: a brain disease in which the unrelenting demands of the survival center of the brain overtake rational thought and reason.
Language can be a powerful tool or a destructive weapon—choose yours wisely.
There comes a time in every addict’s journey that they finally say “Enough!” And there also comes a time in the co-dependent’s journey that is enabling them where they finally say “Enough!” When I reflect on this journey, I sometimes think that the recovery truly starts when that moment of truth arrives. Sometimes it is a long series of small moments of truth that build into a crescendo. No matter what the chain of events, there is always a moment of truth that was a turning point for me, as well as for my daughter.
When my kids were growing up I was always very strict about any talking back, foul language, bad attitude. It just wasn’t acceptable or tolerated. During the course of my daughter’s addiction, talking back, foul language and bad attitude were the status quo. Although I would say, “Don’t talk to me that way,” it fell on deaf ears, and I did not enforce a consequence to effect a change.
My moment of truth came when I was getting ready to board an international flight and my daughter called and asked me for something I wasn’t willing to give. It was something I had told her that I would not do, I had finally started saying “No.” She texted me a series of horrible expletives and threats that I came to know as “emotional terrorism.” Something snapped in me, and I knew that I would not allow this abusive behavior to continue. I reluctantly got on the flight with the threats looming in the text message of my phone, and I proceeded to write a letter on email to my daughter. I sent it to her when I landed. I wanted her to really internalize what I was saying. It was a long letter, but I will summarize to say that I expressed that the”emotional terrorism” would stop; and if I had one more word from her of foul language towards me or emotional threats, there would be consequences, which I laid out.
She didn’t talk to me for about a month, but she has never said a harsh word since. It completely shifted the dynamic. We began to create a new healthy relationship where I set boundaries and enforced them out of respect for myself and or her.
Step one is an accepting step. Admitting we are powerless over the substance abuse, admitting our lives had become unmanageable. For me, this step was initially true for only the 2nd part. I could admit my life was a mess but I was not convinced I was powerless over the addict. I still believed I caused it due to some parenting mistake. I still felt deeply responsible for it and I just hadn’t figured out what to do to make it right. Everything up to that point I was doing wrong, OBVIOUSLY! I was desperate for answers from others with experience. If I could get the answer by 12:00 Sunday, I would be on my way, thank you very much.
Seriously, the thought of having to go to repeated Al-Anon meetings to find the answers was not in my game plan. HAVING to go at all was just another feather in my “resentment” cap! Fortunately for me, I had to attend 2 meetings a week for 6 months in order to stay “qualified” for a CODA parent counseling course with Kaiser. What else would it have taken? I was head strong against anything that said “I was not in control” and paralyzed with fear of what the future held for my sons.
Fortunately, I was willing. Fortunately I was able to keep quiet and listen for the duration of each meeting. Fortunately, the Al-Anon family accepted me and understood where I was at. Fortunately, people spoke and they told my story. Fortunately, people show up to meetings! So many things to be grateful for and looking back, I am grateful for having Al-Anon to help me – I could not have survived alone in this disease with what lay ahead. As the progressive disease took its course, I was with friends, I had tools and I had others who understood.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford wrote a great book, Moments of Clarity, which helped me wrap my brain around the power of obsessive, addictive thinking. His book includes often searing memoirs from authors, artists, actors and politicians who bare their souls about what it took for them to get sober. If they—superstars with every possible advantage – fought bloody battles with drugs and alcohol, what hope was there for my son? If they didn’t have an incentive to quit and reclaim their star-studded lives, how could he? What was their moment of clarity that inspired them to seek recovery?
I held onto this book like a holy grail because it offered me hope. It helped me understand addiction as a powerful brain disease, rather than a failure of my son’s character or an incitement on my parenting. Reading Moments of Clarity and attending open AA “young people” meetings let me see the possibility of change.
Knowledge equals power, and knowledge gives us the power to change.
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