Monthly Archives: April 2016

Tools from the trenches: David Sheff’s book on parenting an addict

Author David Sheff documented his son’s addiction and his family’s torturous quest for recovery in his first book on the topic, Beautiful  Boy.  That book had struck a painful nerve in me, especially the twisted co-dependency that complicated an already complicated picture.  Imagine:  you’ve just had a stroke, and the one thought coursing through your mind is “How is my child?  How is my child?  How is my child?”  That warped sense of priorities seems all too familiar to parents of addicts who often assume second position behind the incessant demands of their child’s substance chemical dependency.

David Sheff hits another home rum with, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy.  This honest, accurate and empathetic book validated my experience.  Here’s a sample of what he writes:   ‘The view that drug use is a moral choice is pervasive, pernicious, and wrong. So are the corresponding beliefs about the addicted — that they’re weak, selfish, and dissolute; if they weren’t, when their excessive drug taking and drinking began to harm them, they’d stop. The reality is far different.”  You can read a longer excerpt of the book here.

They say that, in recovery, all that needs to change is EVERYTHING.  That goes for knowledge and attitudes, too:  yours, mine, our children’s, the public’s.  Clean offers a powerful tool to change the attitudes that impact course of our loved ones’ addiction and recovery.

Disruptive addiction – keeping sane when things implode

I was reminded recently of how difficult it can be when you have an addict in the house. In this case it is a young adult coming back home for a few days. As parents we want to see our kids even if they are wreaking havoc in our home. We hope that maybe next time will be different. We set boundaries and make our expectations clear. We start to forget how stressful it was the last time and how we will do what we can to keep things even keel. Yet when you have an addict in the family it is always unpredictable as to what may set them off. One moment you are enjoying your family and the next something happens and the anger and verbal abuse comes flying out. Suddenly your happy home becomes a place where you fear for what will happen next.

It’s been a long while since this has happened in my house. But I don’t have to think too hard to remember when it did and how incredibly stressful it was. It was the proverbial walking on eggshells always wanting to make sure that something didn’t get said or done that would set off a negative chain of events. I learned the hard way that I really didn’t need to take the abuse and that when I started setting boundaries and sticking to them (the hard part!) that slowly things started to change. An addict is very much like a two year old throwing a tantrum, if you let them get away with it then it will just keep happening again and again. Stay strong in setting and holding your boundaries to protect yourself and your family. This will help you to reclaim the peace and serenity in your household that you deserve to have every day.

What I gained by accepting that alcoholism is a disease

My Love can not save my loved ones.How long did I deny this statement? For many years, I believed it was a matter of willpower. As long as I denied that it was a disease, then I would stay in utter conflict and constant turmoil trying to fight it. In this resistance mode, I was acting as if I knew best, based on no true knowledge about the chemical reaction in the body and the disease of the mind. I would lecture, blame and scold when my loved ones already had a bad opinion about themselves. I would take charge, place orders and expect change, but the outcomes were never what I wished for. I would do it again and expect a different result. The same result would happen and I still tried it again!

Alcoholism is also family disease, and if you were to look into my life, you would have seen evidence that it was not just the alcoholic/addict to be concerned about. I was progressing along with them. I was obsessed with saving those I cared about and in so doing my behavior was certifiable! And all the effort was doing nothing to help the problem. They were getting worse, and so was I.

To learn as much as I could about the disease I read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I went to open AA meetings, the 12 Step program for alcoholics,  and I listened to Alcoholics in recovery on speaker tapes. To get a grip on myself, and to learn more about my relation to the family disease, I went to the Al-Anon Family Groups. I no longer deny that addiction is a disease, and completely understand why willpower is not the issue. I also know it’s a family disease.  I don’t have to know why anymore.  Being able to see my role in the disease dynamic has been a game changer. When you know better, you do better.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you take the time to be grateful?

Walking on eggshells – taking control of the chaos of addiction on the family

Never in my life has the saying ‘Walking on Eggshells’ ever meant so much to me as when I had a teenager struggling with addiction living my house. People use this term quite often but I have to say that if they had a family member abusing substances they would take this to a new level. When you have a loved one who leaves your house in one mood, for instance, a good mood and they come back as an unrecognizable foe, you wonder who abducted your child! For me, the uncertainty and spontaneity of this cause and effect was extremely unsettling. At first it sneaks up on you, you don’t expect the drastic mood swings. I was also not aware of what was happening, I did not realize the extent of the drug abuse that was taking place. I knew that something was going on but could never have dreamed the depths that it was taking as life unraveled before our eyes.

Following the ‘shell’ analogy, I was also ‘shell shocked’ by this. Not wanting things to get out of hand we did a lot of ignoring of the situation and addressing things later when the mood was more approachable. But this got to be inadequate for the tornado that ravished our home. Once we came to terms with the gravity of the situation, we began to confront and manage it. We began to draw boundaries and make consequences clear and enforced them. It didn’t get better at first but we took control and discontinued letting it in our family wreak havoc. The journey took many turns after that, but we were taking care of our whole family, not just accommodating the one who was causing the disruption. We began to stomp on the eggshells and let the issues come forward to be addressed.

Jane’s Journal: Angels and Devils Along the Way

Baby boy socksThis is the fourth blogpost from Jane as she chronicles her own learnings and growth alongside her son in early recovery.

In the 12 chaotic weeks since we learned of our 25-year-old son’s heroin addiction, it feels like we’ve traveled to another country–a war-ravaged place where only the lucky and strong survive. We tried an at-home recovery and failed. We believed he was staying clean and were wrong. We believed we could be part of his recovery and learned that we could, but only as far as he let us.

So at the end of February, after attending one of his many NA meetings, where he’d been leading everyone there to believe (like us) that he was clean, our son called us at 10:00 pm to say he was still using and was tired of lying to everyone. His NA leader was with him and had convinced him it was time to go to detox and rehab, and our son said he was ready to go. This amazing NA leader not only talked him into detox and rehab, he also let him spend the night and drove him there the next morning. I’d asked this favor because if he’d come home that night to his irate father, things would not have gone well.

Next morning, my haggard, sleepless husband went to work and I made phone calls to our son to see what would happen next. He said his NA leader would help him purchase the things he’d need right away and get him to the facility, 45 minutes away. We could bring more of his belongings later. Then, an hour before he was to surrender his cellphone and wallet at rehab, he called to inform me there was a credit card I needed to pay and cancel. He quickly gave me all the passwords and security answers and I began the process, going online to find a $1500 balance. (So THIS was how he was getting cash.) Rushing, I paid the balance, changed the passwords and the mailing address, then– sobbing into the phone to a complete stranger—I explained that I’d paid the card off and wanted to cancel it because my son was an addict. SURPRISE! They refused to do so without his vocal approval, even after I told them I had all the passwords and security answers and he was in the process of checking himself into rehab! This major credit card company was insisting on vocal commands from an addict (read: MALE VOICE, sight unseen) even though I had all the pertinent information. In the last frantic moments before he handed over his phone at rehab, I conferenced him in so they could hear his voice.

The next day my husband and I drove to our son’s new home and hospital. It wasn’t fancy, but clean, caring and professional. We didn’t get to see him but met his counselor–his wonderful, incredible counselor– who although incredibly busy, was committed to our son’s care and willing to work with us on all issues affecting treatment. He listened to us, to our son, and wisely navigated the de-tangling of our emotions and experience. He allowed us to communicate through emails, wherein we gave details about our son, our family, the unique interpersonal dynamics, our son’s personality and experiences as we knew them. Most of these emails were relayed when our son was strong enough to read them, and they covered the gamut: there were encouraging emails, angry emails, sad emails and daily-life emails. It was our own therapy and a way of keeping in touch with him, using his counselor as conduit. Meanwhile we were also slowly revealing his addiction to trusted family members and friends, and many of these people also sent emails via his counselor.

Although we learned later there were drugs offered to him while in rehab, our son detoxed, stayed in treatment, and with one minor episode of trying to snort his sleep medication (which he said was just for the feeling of snorting it, NOT to get high), he emerged 25 days later, clean and sober. What we also learned from his counselor was that he’d been depressed for years and had considered suicide occasionally. A diagnostic session with a psychiatrist was scheduled, and in that session he confessed that although he gave the world the impression of constant optimism, he was indeed depressed. Isolation was his worst fear and enemy.

Depression runs in my family, and I’d had my own experiences, both with serious depression and the miracle of medication at the proper time. But soon we saw the effect on our son, who in less than a week on Prozac emerged from an addict’s chrysalis of anger and confusion. He was calmer, stronger, less reactive and thinking more clearly. Whereas he once balked at anything he couldn’t manage on his own, he now seemed ready to listen and think about needed life changes.

As I write I know there are those who will say such medication is not the answer, but in our son’s case the results were–and still are, 21 days later— a true miracle. He is clean 43 days and now living in a structured, safe halfway house in Florida, where he is tested regularly, required to work or go to school, and uphold the many rules of the house. The house was recommended by his angel counselor in rehab.

Our son is getting up every morning at 8:30, riding a bicycle, applying for jobs and shucking his former nocturnal self for a daytime occupant. He says he is taking life slowly and carefully, going to sometimes two NA meetings per day. He is measured and calm, thoughtful and communicative, texting daily. We make no plans past his 100-day minimum stay there. Meanwhile he and we are “cautiously optimistic.” We all know there will quite likely be more devils in wait for us, and him, as we go forward. But for now we’re all enjoying a break from the madness. For now at least, the angels are winning.

Home Sweet Home when the addict comes to visit

The Fix, a rich website dedicated to “addiction and recovery, straight up,” once featured an article called “Going Home without Going Crazy.” The article offered tips to help those in recovery manage post-addiction trips home, which can be laden with eggshells and bombshells for parents and kids alike. Looking back on the “do’s and don’ts” of parenting an addict reminds me that addiction is a family disease that impacts the system of the family.  The ripple effect touches everyone.  And that ripple spreads in all directions.

So here were the tips offered to addicts/alcoholics in The Fix.  And here’s how they play out for parents.

  • Be a grown up: If you want to be seen as a grown up, start acting as one.” The flip side of this for parents is if you want your kids to act like grownups, and then treat them like grownups, with adult responsibilities and expectations.
  • “Talk to your sponsor.” Parents, this applies to you, too. Talk to your sponsor about the way you may choose to act (NOT react) under certain circumstances.
  • “Hit a meeting.” Ditto for parents. Get the support you need while taking a breather from the family dynamics. Vent in a constructive fashion. Listen and learn.
  • “Go online.” You are already here.   Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of OZ, there is no place like
  • “Distract yourself.” The Fix says it best: “Distract yourself so you don’t wallow in the negative feelings that being back amongst family can stir up.” Exercise, cook fanatically, read, watch a movie, or lend a hand to a friend or neighbor.
  • “Reflect.” Be mindful and in the moment, rather than dwelling on yesterday or investing in future fears or fantasies.
  • “Keep up your routine.” Don’t abandon familiar routines just because your beloved addict or alcoholic has returned for a visit. Remember that a key element in our recovery is taking care of ourselves.
  • “Get off your ass,” AKA, be of service to others.  Helping others helps you.

The heartache of relapse – the pain every parent fears

It is very painful when a loved one relapses from recovery back into addiction. Many times people think or comment, ‘how can they go back to that life?’, ‘Don’t they have more respect themselves?’, and ‘How can they put their family through this all over again?’ The list of questions and judgments are endless. Yet it is simple, addiction is a disease that alters the brain. There is no cure. Once the brain has been altered by a certain amount of drug use or alcohol use it cannot be undone. It does not mean that the person has to live in their addiction; they can find recovery and live a wonderful and productive life. What it does mean is that they are at risk of relapsing back into their addiction.

My heart aches when I hear of someone’s son or daughter relapsing back into their addiction. I know that they don’t want to be in that lifestyle and all of the consequences it brings. I also know how delicate and fragile life can be for those recovery when various challenges come their way. I am always encouraged and hopeful when anyone shifts from addiction to recovery. It is not an easy road. When relapse does occur I instantly think of how difficult life instantly becomes for the addict; everything they love is at risk. I know all too well what it feels like to have a loved one relapse. It is a feeling of total helplessness, while you want to spring into action and help; you know that you can’t control another person. Offering help when the addict decides to get help is something we can do. The other is to stay positive and hopeful that they will come to the point of wanting to get help and know that those who love them will be there to support them along their journey.

Gimme Shelter….or Sober Living

Having young adults return home after rehab is generally a bad idea.  Triggers abound, and  the strained family dynamics that were in play before rehab return in full force.  Everyone is walking on eggshells. It’s even less plausible for adult children who lived on their own before they headed to rehab.  No one wants to come home to Mommy and Daddy, especially a child (of any age) who lived independently before addiction/alcoholism hit home.  And most likely, parents with healthy boundaries won’t want their kids at home again, either.

But where does your child head after rehab?  Here’s an innovative idea from Los Angeles: The Teen Project, which supports kids who have hit the streets for any  number of reasons -  kicked out, “aged out” of foster care, living on the streets because of chemical dependency, or left a dangerous home by choice.

The Teen Project offers a nation-wide shelter locator that can help you or your child find a shelter or a sober living facility nationwide. This shelter locator  an answer to the prayers of many parents and children of all ages who are committed to finding a safe haven where they con continue their recovery.

The Teen Project also offers Freehab, the ONLY free drug treatment center that is dedicated to homeless youth in Los Angeles. It is also the only program that provides treatment and educational training on one unique site. Freehab provides young women exiting foster care, sex trafficked and homeless with everything needed to turn her life around. Freehab is a fully licensed treatment center with vocational school onsite, providing California’s most vulnerable youth with a one-stop shop for a life transformation. The program is one-year long with 90 days of intensive treatment, 90 days of vocational training and 6-months of vocational training and job obtainment. The end goal is transition to permanent housing with a life sustaining career. The core of the training is focused on technology (web development and design) although other career paths are offered in the fields of machining, medical billing, culinary arts and many additional trades.

Hats off to The Teen Project for tossing out a lifeline in time of need. Now, can other communities follow suit?


Grandma and Grandpa and a grandchild’s addiction…the family disease takes a toll

Grandparents can be subject to the same intensity trying to help the affected grandchild whose life is troubling. I remember a time I thought my father might be a better influence to my son’s problem since nothing I did seemed to be working. But my son would soon abuse the privileges of Grandparent assistance. They became a means of continuing his addiction life cycle. Things changed drastically, and fast. Now I was subject to a deepening sad heart each time: grandpa complained about the lack of follow-through, strange people in their house and inability to wake my son up in the morning. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and requests – and I was getting resentful. I resented the addict for the moral turpitude. I resented my parents for arguing my pleas to stop rescuing. I can’t control my son and my own parents for that matter! Just how powerless I am came to focus.

All I wished was that he’d stay away from the family because of how it was affecting me affecting them. Time would reveal the progressive nature of the disease and the family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom of the family disease. Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!

Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.

Grandparents: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”

Parents: We are not going to buy him another car.

Grandparents: We co-signed; he has to be able to get to a job!

Parents: He cannot live in our house he’s not trustworthy.  We are concerned you are being taking advantage of as well.

Grandparents: He’s temporarily living here, we discussed our rules – it’s under control.

Parents: We’re concerned about our parents – they are vulnerable and open to getting financially ruined – they won’t listen to any reasoning!

Finding support through the Al-Anon Family Group, I learned many things about the nature of the illness which gave me a better perspective on matters. This was where other grandparents in my support group helped me understand their point of view. They were trying to force solutions just as I had been. They believed they had it under control, just like I did.  I learned compassion and understanding that everyone is affected by this disease.