Monthly Archives: June 2016

No filters in relationships affected by addiction or alcoholism

I loved the movie Silver Linings Playbook . It’s one of those feel good movies and is especially heartfelt for me as a parent struggling with the concept my child may be afflicted with addiction, alcoholism and/or mental illness.

There were many scenes in the movie that made me laugh, cry, and wonder. But in truth, I loved the movie because it has a happy ending. In real life, as I battled and fought for normalcy where there was none, I was not able to see the silver linings when they happened. Maybe I should qualify: the movie ended on an UP SIDE because in recovery I know life offers UPS and DOWNS! I definitely saw alcoholism, co-dependency and mental illness strung together in the family dynamics. How the family copes, denies, accepts and fights the disease as illustrated in this story is relatable to me on many levels. I think the movie did a good job representing how normal people on the outside react to others who are affected. I saw fear, ignorance and then judgment. I related to that too.

But what sticks in my mind today is when the character, Pat, apologizes when he blurts out something inappropriate – he says “I’m sorry, I have no filters when I speak.” There were no filters in my house before recovery. Even as the co-dependent, I’d blurt out things I wished I could take back – filters are broken, clogged or missing in the family disease. Thank goodness for recovery where there is a strategy to help react differently to situations that baffled me before. Recovery is the filter and gratitude is one silver lining.

Throwing gasoline on the fire of a child’s addiction

Entering the firestorm of a child’s substance use and abuse can create unimaginable chaos and stress.  Looking back on my experience, I realize that I added to  my stress by going down the road of FEAR. Some say that FEAR is an acronym for “False Expectations Appearing Real.”  This definition rings true for me, and I hope that this post helps others understand how we, at times, are our own worst enemy.

The squirrel in my brain can be prodded into action by many triggers:  an unreturned phone call from my son, a mammogram that calls for additional imaging, even a sideways glance from my husband.  What’s happening?   How bad is it?  What do I need to do to make it better? What do we do if this happens, or if that happens…or…or….or.  The squirrel in my brain races on.

But now, thanks to the guerrilla training I got in the war zone of addiction, I’m learning to redirect myself when my mind spirals into unnecessary worry.  In The Power of Now*, Eckhart Tolle explains how we can choose to create our own pain, or conversely, can manifest our ability to live pain-free by living fully in the present.

When I find myself worrying, I am learning to take note of what  I know to be true at that exact moment. For example, I know that I am a concerned mom, but I do not know for a fact that my son is in trouble.  The mere speculation that he might be in trouble creates the pain that I feel.  And at the end of the day, that speculation is purposeless.  My incessant fretting about my son had no impact whatsoever on his behavior and choices—good or bad.  Maybe he is in trouble, maybe not—but I guarantee that the sleep I lost did not impact the outcome in any way.

I’ve cloistered myself away in a dark place so many times while my son was frolicking with sober friends, playing disc golf in the sunshine.  Yes, there were times when my worst fears came true, but they would have come true whether I anguished over them or not.

So here is the gift I got from addiction:  I understand that worry is a choice.  When I permit the marauder squirrel to tear through my brain, I blind myself to the joy and beauty around me at this moment.  I miss out on the laughter, the friendship, and the little joys in life.  Understanding that I don’t call the shots and relinquishing my fictitious grasp on outcomes saves me from the bottomless pit of fear and rumination.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you choose hope?

When helping hurts our chemically-dependent children

I recently found an old article in the New York Times called, When Helping Hurts.”  The article explored American parents who are ever more involved in their children’s lives.  They schedule play dates, help them select their college classes, make decisions for their children that their children should be making for themselves.  As authors  Finkel and Fitzsimons write, “We know that all of this assistance has costs—depleted bank balances, constricted social lives—but we endure them happily, believing that we are doing what is best for our children.”

And they are writing about parenting non-chemically dependent children, not addicts or alcoholics!  The diluted sense of personal responsibility increases and the destruction piles on when you dance the dance of co-dependency with a sick child.

It’s a fine line to walk:  how do you know when you are helping, and how do you know when you are hurting? Or, as the authors ask, “How can we help our children achieve their goals without undermining their sense of personal accountability and motivation to achieve them?”  Ask yourself, “Can he/she do this on her own?  If the answer is “Yes,” then get out of the way.

Should you purchase a bus pass or bicycle so she can get to AA or NA meetings:  Yes, that is constructive.  Drive her to AA or NA meetings when she can get there herself, albeit with a bit or work or inconvenience? No, that is crippling.

Should you ask him which AA meetings he is attending or what his sponsor says?  No, that is his business, not yours.  Should you require that he tests clean in order to live in your home or receive your financial support?  Yes, that is your business, your money, your life.

We convey an unspoken message when we help unnecessary:  “You are not good enough.  I am smarter/wiser/stronger.  You cannot make it without my help.” We stand a chance of reclaiming our lives, and letting our children reclaim theirs, only when we support their recovery in a healthy way.

Gratitude and prayers – counting the blessings in life

I have so much to be grateful for but I will focus on one very special gift.  I am thankful for having my family together, healthy and whole.  In the past few years I wondered when I would ever have a holiday when I wasn’t sad because I longed for my family to be together and happy again.  Yet piece by piece here we are.  We are all healthy.  This is a joyful time for our family.  I realize that life is constantly changing, whether you want it to or not so I relish these moments.  I am so filled with gratitude.

Also on this day I pray for those loved ones who have not found their way to recovery.  I pray for their safety and that they find their way to recovery and back to the ones that love them so dearly.  I pray that even if for just one moment they have the clarity that they need to want sobriety no matter how difficult the journey.  I pray for those in recovery that they stay strong in their commitment to sobriety.  And, lastly, I pray for the parents who have lost those they hold most precious.  I pray that they find comfort and healing and support.

How to mind my own business when my grown child struggles

I had heard in recovery rooms that when I take responsibility for my loved ones, I am robbing them of the dignity they deserve to experience life on their own. When I continue to harp, beg, plea, judge or offer advice, I’m ultimately in their business, trying to force solutions and eventually will lose their respect.  Worse, I could be adding to the bad opinion they already have about themselves.

This is not the mother I wanted to be! How could I be concerned but not consumed? How was it possible to love them unconditionally when my fear for their life was at stake? I was so obsessed with their problems, thinking I knew the answer; I would bring home pamphlets from on Alcoholics Anonymous and leave the literature scattered around the house in hopes they would pick it up and see the light!  That never worked either.

After being in Al-Anon for a while, I eventually learned tools to keep the focus on me and stay out of their business. Slowly I began to see results. One example I still remember to this day was when my son called and asked if he could come over for dinner and “talk.” Many recent events had happened that were concerning – I was well aware of where he was: jobless, homeless and alone. I was a little apprehensive, wondering what news he would bring this time. After a nice dinner with general conversation, he shared that he thought he might have a drinking problem. Oddly, I was elated to hear him admit a problem. There were 3 things I was able to do that day that made me proud of my program. I said “oh” which helped me compose my thoughts before blurting out something hurtful or unnecessary. The next thing out of my mouth was that I did not know if he was an alcoholic or not but that there were people who could help him learn about it and that I might still have their pamphlet. (I prayed I still had all the literature long put away). When he was getting ready to leave and I had no idea where he was staying (in his car?) I let him know how much I loved him and that I hoped to see him soon.

The most important lesson for me was that by being non-judgmental, not pretending to know the answer, and further, not turning his confidence into a nagging session, I was able to be the mother I want to always be: RESPECTFUL, CARING, and LOVING. I helped where I could then I allowed him to decide what he would do with it. Then I turned it over to my Higher Power, as I placed my son’s name into my God Box later that night. This released me from obsessive thoughts of worry that before had consumed me.


Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

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Dangerous Tools that Fuels Co-Dependent Behavior – Why?

Years ago, when my control and need to know everything mentality was at its peak, the *69 feature on the telephone became a dangerous tool for further pursuit of things to add to my world of loose ends.  I was empowered to be an assertive investigator.   I was enabled to seek out who called for what reason and why did they not leave a voice mail.  Moreover, if the phone rang and I answered, the sound of the “click” provoked me to question WHO HUNG ON ME?

The feeling of empowerment – To be able to press those three keys and ring back the unknown caller back was a rush of adrenaline.  They would pick up and I’d say “you just called my number,” forcing a response on the other end.  The sound of their voice was already a piece of the puzzle.  Male?  Female?  Young?  Old? Why did they call my number?   The fact they called must be indicative of something…  Why?  Why?  Why?

Star 69 and later technology could be abused for the wrong reasons.  My need to know WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WHY seemed important back when the addiction family disease of secrets was fermenting.  But in reality this underlying need to know was a symptom of my infinite desire to be in control of matters I may not be aware of and often powerless over.  Today it seems clear and obvious.  If someone is reaching me, they will leave a message or call back later.  I can let go with that knowledge and not pursue it to the depths of insanity.  I don’t have to obsess on things that are not my business anymore.  ”Why” is a question no longer the center stage of my life.

Music To My Ears – Parents Taking Action by Drug Testing their teens

Photo of drug test kit.Many of my posts focus on the aftermath of addiction, chronicling the devastation that is inevitable due to severe drug and alcohol abuse. Today I am focusing on the hope for this generation of teenagers. While at my morning workout there was a conversation among the wonderful women that are a part of this invigorating way to start the day. The conversation was about ‘pre-testing’. ‘Hmmmm… ,’ I thought,’ I need to listen to this…’ The Mom’s in the group were talking about how they drug test their teens in order to keep them accountable and give them a reason to tell their friends they can’t try drugs and alcohol because ‘My parents drug test me and I’ll get grounded/in trouble’. This was music to my ears, a full symphony no less!

 One of the ways we can help our teens is to do this act of love. While I am an activist for prevention of teen drug and alcohol addiction and I often talk about the effectiveness of randomly drug testing your kids, it isn’t always clear what parent’s think of this. It was truly a joy to hear the positive conversation about parent’s drug testing and telling other parents why they do it and having such a constructive conversation amongst the group. The thought of drug testing my kids never even entered my mind when they were in high school. Thinking back now I realize if I had drug tested my kids it could have done several things. It would have forced me to see clearly what was going. It would have validated the seriousness of the drug abuse that was taking place. I would have no longer been able to hope it was nothing serious, I would have known it was very serious. All of this is hind sight, I realize, but worth sharing for others to gain insight. I applaud parents willing to drug test their teens – it is a very loving act that can possibly be the difference between a sober teen or a teen traveling down a road that can lead to eventual addiction.

Learning how to let our chemically-dependent children grow

For many of us, co-dependency developed quite naturally and innocently. We were the moms who took care of others when they couldn’t care for themselves. We unselfishly did the work that others didn’t want do, picked up the pieces that others dropped. We are the fixers, the rocks, and when we are sometimes blamed for having generous souls, as if that caused our kid’s addiction– it really hurts. It makes me feel extremely misunderstood. Since when is it a liability to be helpful and supportive?

But I know now about that fine line between support and unhealthy enabling. As I’ve learned, the assistance that I freely heaped upon my son–often unbidden, I might add– started to cripple him. I crossed that fine line when I started to do for him the things he could do for himself. Or maybe he couldn’t do them, or couldn’t do them well enough, but I got in the way and pre-empted his growth.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we moms of kids who struggle with drugs often faced other issues that we tried to smooth over for them. Our kids had learning disabilities and floundered in the classroom, and we were their advocates. They had serious medical vulnerabilities, and we ran interference to make sure they were safe and had the medical accommodations they needed.  Often, they suffered from depression, and we were there to blunt some of the blows that could pull them further down. These acts of kindness can often spiral into an unhealthy co-dependence, and that’s where healthy support turns into unhealthy enabling. Like the proverbial caterpillar that needs to wrestle its way out of the cocoon in order to survive, our kids need to develop their own muscles if they are to thrive. We can’t build those muscles for them.