Monthly Archives: May 2016

Should you step or talk your way to recovery (or do both)?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachWorking the steps has offered powerful tools against addiction or alcoholism ever since they were invented by Bill Wilson more than 60 years ago. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be a powerful ally in the quest for recovery. Turns out, “the 12 steps and cognitive behavioral therapy have a lot in common” according to an interesting article posted on The Fix. Guided by a therapist who works with the chemically dependent, this article points out where the two meet and where they diverge.

I found this article thought-provoking because, as a Blue Chip co-dependent, I have been addicted to my child’s addiction. We all know that drill: if they are sober, we can be happy; if they are using, our world falls apart. If they relapse, so do we. And sometimes we relapse even if they don’t. For those reasons alone, I need the twelve steps as much as my child.

At a minimum, this article was powerful because it reinforced the notion that Al-Anon and AA are not religious; they are spiritual.  The fear of getting cornered by a religious zealot has kept people away from 12-step program unnecessarily.

Take a look at the article and see if it makes sense to you. As parents of beloved addicts or alcoholics, can the twelve steps replace our therapy, or can our therapy replace the twelve steps? Or maybe they work best hand-in-hand.  Only you can tell.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you love fully in the moment?

The question that parents of addicts or alcoholics dread

“How’s your day going so far?” This question, often asked at the grocery store by the courtesy clerk, reminds me of a time I’d have to see if my kids were doing all right before I could answer. If they were doing well, then I was doing well. If they were messing up, then my day would be ruined. My attachment to them was so powerful that I was not aware of how much my well-being depended on them.

My concern for them at different stages of their troublesome drug use grew exponentially. Addiction is progressive. If a person does not seek recovery, they will spiral further and further. For my experience, this was exactly what happened. My life depended on them to get sober, and it was not looking good for me. If only he would get sober and start working in a job so he can be self-sufficient…Then I’d be happy! I remember when my son finally asked for help and we financed his treatment, a faith based live in facility. I was ecstatic! Finally! My life is going to get better. One thing was certain, I was able to sleep a full 7 hours. Many rehabs and relapses were on the horizon. Fortunately, during this time I sought help too.

With my co-dependent lifestyle, I was beginning to see health problems associated with years of stress and relying on an addict to make me feel happy. I remember my counselor asked me “do you want to be happy?” “Yes! Yes I do want to be happy!” I replied. “Then go right ahead.” What I did not know then, but have since learned, is my happiness is something I choose. I learned how NOT to rely on anyone to make me feel good. Are there days when sadness hits? You bet there is. That’s life, and I accept that there will be ups and downs. Down is not a destination.  Today, I’m doing great, thank you and it’s a wonderful feeling.

When loving an addict makes you sick

Headaches, indigestion, stomach aches, sweaty palms, sleep difficulties, back and neck pain, racing heart, restlessness, tiredness, ringing in the ears, dizziness, skin rash, increased allergies, frequent colds, and more I can’t think of at this moment. These physical symptoms were all typical for me at the summit of trying to manage my son’s progressive drug addiction.

These warning signs were only vindicated by my current drama event of the day; I became more obsessed with his disease, wanting him to change, urging him to get recovery, pleading for his sobriety, believing that if he’d do what I wanted him to do, I would also get better. To exasperate matters, I would take sleep aids, buy skin ointment, or treat myself to a massage believing this would fix my ailments. All the while, never quite understanding, I was merely affixing a Band-Aid to a severed artery.

The underlying issues of my physical symptoms required a drastic 360 degree turn-a-round in the way I was living life. I didn’t go to a doctor because I was tired from last night’s restless sleep. I went because of three, four, five years of continuous symptoms from something that progressed beyond my understanding. Other “stressors” became unmanageable. What used to be easy – work related challenges, staff interactions, management meetings, and interpersonal relationships, all became monumental. All facets of my life were impacted. Loving someone in addiction would require drastic measures and a new way of living. This became possible, but change didn’t happen overnight, and my health would not bounce back in a day or two. There is hope, help and a light at the end of this dark tunnel – it required effort on my part, it began not with him changing, but with me.

What Dogs Can Teach Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

codependent dogWhile waiting at the vet one day, I picked up an enlightening book called What Dogs Teach Us:  Life’s Lessons Learned from Our Best Friends by Glen Dromgoole.  I skimmed through the book and found that many of these life lessons apply to man and beast alike.  Consider:

  • “Appreciate the preciousness of life.”  Addiction gives us an ongoing opportunity to practice this concept, trying to find the rainbow in the storm clouds.  As they say, practice makes perfect.  Keep looking for that rainbow to appear.
  • “Good behavior should be reinforced with complements or rewards.” My natural instinct as a co-dependent worrier is to get stressed and cranky.  Thanks to addiction, I’ve come to learn the futility of worry.  When worry bubbles up in my mind, I now try to wrestle it to the ground. Why should I let worry call the shots in my life?   I can be happier when I focus on the positive, and the people around me are happier because I am less preoccupied, maybe even more pleasant.. Win/win.
  • “Sassing back can make things worse.”  That goes both ways—you sass me/ I sass you, and we both lose.  The Al-Anon equivalent of this statement is “Spit out the hook” or “You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to.”
  • “Run to the rescue of people in trouble.”  Uh oh. Maybe this natural instinct of mine wouldn’t be so problematic if I were Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, but rescuing people is bad for me and bad for them. This adage is healthy only if you are a dog or a paramedic.
  • “Co-dependency is OK as long as one of you has four legs.”  Amen to that!
  • And finally…“Take time to enjoy the smells and sounds and sights around us.” Life is short. If we mire ourselves in fruitless preoccupations about our loved one’s addictions, then our very own lives go passing by while we are looking the other way.

Conquering the muddy hill of addiction

How many times does one hope it’s the last time? I reflect on a time when I had to gather my strength while knowing that my daughter had relapsed again. It was so disheartening for me, but for her as well. There are so many phases of addiction, but there does come a time when it’s just not fun anymore. While I haven’t had a drug addiction, I cannot say what it is like from experience. But I do know that there is drug and alcohol use that is just one big ‘party’ to young people and then there is addiction. It is not pretty, it is not fun, and it is not a phase. It is an obsession, it is a depression, and it is full of loss and remorse.

Whenever my daughter relapsed, I had an overwhelming urge to travel to where she was just to hold her and love her. I always knew that whatever she did I would be there for her. I did not begrudge her or have anger towards her. I had love and compassion. I knew that she did not want this to be her life, she wanted to move forward, yet the addiction was like trying to run up a muddy hill – you keep sliding and slipping in place or backwards. I would sit with my daughter and listen to her story, what she thought, what she did, how she came back and wanted to get better. My part in her journey was to just love her and support her – she was the one who would make the changes to get off the muddy hill.

Ironies of Addiction and Recovery

Baby boy socksThis is another guest post from Jane, who is chronicling her family’s experience with her son’s addiction.

Our son has over 70 days clean.  He received his green key at NA, has a Home Group, a Sponsor and just got a job–one of the requirements for his stay at the halfway house where he’s been living for over a month, post-rehab, in Florida.  He never thought he’d like Florida, but like many things in recovery, he’s finding his temporary home and environment surprisingly pleasant– amazing, considering he was nocturnal and more like a vampire than a human just a few months ago.  For years he said he disliked beaches, beach culture, exercise and sun.  He now has a tan, bicycles daily, and spends an hour or two at the beach whenever he has extra time.

Our son was a rural New Jersey boy, born and raised in the northwestern farmlands but enamored of everything New York City.  So after high school, off he went, eight years ago, to college in the Big City, where he now tells us he spent a good deal of time drinking and smoking pot.  This was no surprise to us, his parents.  We’re realists who did our fair share in college during the 70’s, but we’d warned him many times about the “harder stuff,” the “addictive stuff.”

What’s interesting about my husband, myself and our children is that we’re all very physically sensitive– to chemicals, medications, and many other substances.  Half-doses of medications usually work best for us.  We’re prone to headaches and allergies. Too much sugar, salt, caffeine–almost anything– will usually cause one discomfort or another.  So when our son told us a few years back that he didn’t really care for alcohol and was allergic to pot, we felt relieved.  Our son was actually maturing faster, was adapting to his physical reality better than we had at his age!  Wow.

What our son didn’t admit was that he was still intent on partaking of something.  He didn’t like that he was relatively straight while his friends were imbibing on things that he couldn’t tolerate. So while his friends were doing their pot, their alcohol, their hallucinogens, he gravitated to prescription opiates and, finally, blues– the synthetic heroin hybrid pills chemically tweaked to deliver the ultimate high.  It was a match made in hell.  Our son found something he not only tolerated but loved, and to him, it felt like they loved him back.

And so it began… socially at first, then as an antidote to a contract job at Morgan Stanley that he started enthusiastically and eventually hated; and finally, as an answer to the joblessness that followed and the life he saw slipping away, like his dreams of being the James Bond of Wall Street.  He said to me recently that an addict is born an addict.  The question is whether or not he finds his substance.  He said he knew long ago, when he had his wisdom teeth out, that painkillers were his drug of choice.  I remember I’d taken such care to monitor his doses, handing him one pill at a time as needed.  He says no strategy would’ve worked because sooner or later he would’ve found his way to his “high.”

I find out new things every time I speak to my son on the phone.  He tells me about his past, and about the present:  the subtleties of his NA meetings, the dealers who tempt him as he rides his bike, his need to keep it simple, every day.  We text about the lighter stuff and send emojis.

While our son is finding new ways to live in Florida, my husband and I are trying to find new ways to “be” in New Jersey.  We can’t shake the cyclical waves of anxiety, of gloom and doom.  We worry about if and when our son returns to our area and how that will play out.  We pray he can continue his recovery but can’t imagine living through another episode of his possible drug use. Honestly, we sometimes wish we could find our own “high” to offset the feeling that everything we put our hearts and souls into has imploded.  Like many our age we find ourselves questioning what we thought we knew about this crazy world, about the people in it, about our life.

What I suddenly do know too well, because I’m really paying attention now, is that Addiction is Everywhere.  Some are addicted to drugs and alcohol, others to sex and sugar.  Some are even addicted to fear and pain, not because they chose to be, but because the mental groove has become wide and deep.  That’s us–my husband and I.

As I watch the sun come up I wonder how we can fully extricate ourselves from the darkness of our experiences and start fresh.  I share a few sobs with morning light and then smile as I imagine my husband and I retiring, perhaps to Florida someday, a place we never would have considered before.


Principles of recovery for parents of addicts and alcoholics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)  offers a working definition of recovery that captures the essential, common experiences of those recovering from mental or substance use disorders.  SAMHSA  also identified 10 guiding principles that support recovery. The principals, while written for and about the addict, apply so clearly to recovery as experienced by the family of the addict, as well. 

First, consider SAMHSA’s definition of recovery from mental and substance use disorders: a process of change through which individuals work to improve their own health and well-being, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential. And how does one make those changes? Here are SAMSHA’s Ten Guiding Principles of Recovery:

  • Recovery is person-driven.
  • Recovery occurs via many pathways.
  • Recovery is holistic.
  • Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
  • Recovery is supported through relationships and social networks.
  • Recovery is culturally-based and influenced.
  • Recovery is supported by addressing trauma.
  • Recovery involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibility.
  • Recovery is based on respect.
  • Recovery emerges from hope.

Instead of looking for recovery– or at my beloved addict through the lens of his recovery– I’ve learned to take a good hard look in the mirror.  Do I spot the ten principals of recovery in my life?  If not, it’s time for some inner work. 

As they say, “Don’t change my world, change me.”  These principles are powerful tools to hone my own recovery from the trauma of a child’s addiction. There might be other tools, too; what is missing from SAHMA’s list that you have found helpful in your own recovery?  Please share your ideas and your power with other readers.


Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

What is your perception of courage?

Want to really help? Then ditch your co-dependency and don’t solve their problems

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)Sometimes not giving an answer or advice is the best thing to ‘not’ do. It is always so tempting to jump in with ways to solve problems and help our friends and family. And sometimes that is the right thing to do. But in some situations, sitting back and letting our loved one traverse the maze of their decisions is an opportunity for growth.

My son came to me with a concern that he had. It wasn’t major, but it was troubling him. In the past, I would have jumped into action with solutions, or worse, distractions so he wouldn’t feel the pain of the situation. As a co-dependent, I don’t like others to feel bad. But I’ve learned that it isn’t my business to manage other people’s feelings. So when my son plopped down in the chair across from me, I just sat and listened. I asked some questions to help him think through various alternatives he could consider. But I tried my best not to tell him what to do or distract him by changing the topic. I know my place is to be there to support him and coach him, but not direct and manage him. By staying clear of these I allow him to learn and grow.

I also know that in the past when my daughter would come to me in a crisis, I learned not to react. This was not easy in the beginning; I didn’t always realize what was taking place. But over time, I realized that her problems became my problems when I jumped into action and alleviated her of the consequences. I had been given advice once that if you let 24 hours pass by, many times the loved one would either solve the issue or the crisis would diminish. How true this is! I learned to sit and be patience and trust in the capabilities of those who created the dilemma in the first place.