Monthly Archives: July 2016

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Can you set yourself free with forgiveness?

The Gift of Desperation – Surrendering Old Ways and Choosing Another

In life you need either inspiration or desperation.— Tony Robbins

I heard on a spiritual talk show the statement, “Desperation was a gift, it saved me”.  At first I was curious how one could say that and then recalled that it was desperation that made me seek out a support group for families who have a member addicted to alcohol and drugs.  The hurt and uncertainty was too great to function.

I began to realize desperation is what it takes for most people in codependent relationships to find relief, and that this last resort is the end game towards recovery. It took a long time to understand that desperation was actually a gift. Without desperation, I’d still be fighting, over and over in varying ways, to regain control of the uncontrollable: drugs and alcohol addiction of a loved one.

As with anything, desperation can be a double edged sword. Having utter lack of hope, untreated, without intervention or rehabilitation, one might continue towards a path of insanity, institutionalization or death from related disorders. It certainly is a cross-road and as a gift, it created a change in my arsenal of tactics: listen and learn what others are saying.

And the beauty of hearing other people’s perspective helps me self- analyze my own progress in recovery.  What initially began as a quest to save my sons turned out to be much more than I imagined.  I was initially inspired by the hope that there is a possibility of recovery for them, and nowhere else had I been given that. I even believed there was hope that they too might find the gift of desperation – I realize now that desperation is only a gift if I surrender old ways and chose another. If not, then desperation can further damage.  I don’t know if it is a necessary predecessor to change but that is what did it for me.

Unhitching Your Wagon from an Addicted Child

Having a chemically dependent child brought out the worst of my smothering instincts….oops, make that mothering instincts.  In a vain, misguided effort to protect my son from himself, I did things for him that he should have been doing for himself.  At one point I even became aware that I dove in to answer the questions that my husband asked him at the dinner table.  Part of me wanted to share only the sanitized version of his life with my husband, hoping to spare him the worry and heartbreak that I held close to my vest.  Perhaps I was also trying to convince myself that things weren’t as bad as they seemed.  Perception is reality, especially to a co-dependent mother.

I wanted to protect my child, to fix him, to make his addiction evaporate with a magical kiss. Instead, I became so sickly entwined that when my doctor asked me how I was doing, I responded with a litany of my son’s symptoms and woes  “Wow,” my doctor responded.  “I didn’t even ask about your son, but I guess he is weighing heavily on your mind.”  That was an understatement—getting him better was my singular preoccupation for a torturous stretch of time.

Quite naively, I thought I could outwit and outwill my child’s addiction. But I learned that it doesn’t work that way. Our child’s—and our–recovery requires us to “unhitch” our wagon from our children. At first it seemed selfish—how could I abandon my child??  I slowly learned that moving out of the way and letting my child steer his own course was the healthiest and most loving action I could take, for him and for me.   (Our “Letting Go” Meeting in a Box can help you make the break in a healthy and positive way.)

Blaming and Excuses – A Parent Takes Ownership

mom taking ownership with teenage daughterI sometimes ponder how quickly my fear and sadness of having a child with a drug problem resulted in my own physical issues: The teeth grinding at night, hair loss, weight gain, and high blood pressure to name a few. Initially, throwing quick fixes to the symptoms has had high costs: dental work, medical bills and revenue recovery.

With righteous indignation, I had plenty of excuses. If you walked in my shoes, you might understand why. It was easy to blame THEM for what THEY were putting me through. To add insult to injury, the disease of addiction and alcoholism were also affecting my immediate family and I resented that too.

But further contemplation while working the 12 steps of Al-Anon has shown me that I am better off doing a self-examination of myself, my motives and reasons. I had to relearn how to take ownership of my own actions and quit already with the excuses.

My attitude, if left unchecked, models the addict/alcoholic. I can easily blame others and have a distorted view on life. When I take the focus off THEM and work my own program of recovery, I am given gifts beyond measure. Here, true rehabilitation begins at the root cause – ME. I am able to deflect and change the course of how I feel both emotionally and physically.

Addiction and alcoholism: a dark room were negatives are developed

1431793_97522247 resentmentIt’s been said resentments are the dark rooms where negatives are developed. This conjures up a great deal of truth about resentments – all negative. For me, it always came when my sons did not do what I expected and when it really mattered. I usually had a financial or emotional investment in the action I was anticipating. Commonly defined as an emotional feeling resulting from fear or imagined wrong doing, resentments always kept me hostage to negativity; anger, sadness, frustration, contempt, tension.

As I work through the resentments I have harvested with regards to the family disease, I can see where my obsession with the addicts in my life was consuming me and thwarting any possibility of joy and happiness. Depending on other people for things that really mattered to me was the driving force behind my resentments. Since my perspective was disproportionately misdirected, it was as if THEY were held in higher standards than where I held myself.  And my self worth was predicated on them…no wonder I spent so much time trying to control…

It’s been said the amount of time you spend thinking about something should be in this proportion: God first, me second, them 3rd! My understanding of resentments has come full circle, and though I do not find myself having these emotional feelings as much anymore, they are not far surfacing when life happens to throw a curve ball. The difference today is I have a better support system to help me accept what is going on. I have choices in how I react to it.

Try exploring how the expectations we have for our loved ones can set us up for happiness or sorrow in our Meetings in A Box: Expectations.  You may discover your own dark room were negatives are developed.  You may begin to ask what really matters.


Read all About It! Sizzling Stories of Teen Addiction!

A while back, I re-read an article I had torn from the New York Times that debated the pros and cons of keeping alcoholics anonymous. The author writes, “More and more, anonymity seems like an anachronistic vesting of the Great Depression, when AA got its start and when alcoholism was seen not just as a weakness but as a disgrace.”

My reaction at the time had nothing to do with the pros or cons of anonymity.  Instead, I proclaimed an internal Hallelujah that “the disgrace” of alcoholism is beginning to be seen as a vestige of misinformed days gone by. It will be powerful to have more honest conversations about the nature of this disease.  The conversation should also include a discussion of teen substance abuse as a massive public health threat, but that’s probably a few years off.

And the conversation should include bad doctors who capitalize and fuel’s people’s chemical dependency by prescribing unnecessary pain pills.  An article in today’s LA Times features a doctor who was arrested for prescribing an average of 37 Vicodin prescriptions a day to patients he never even examined.

Another article in the LA Times wrote about the rappers who glorify “Sizzurp” or “Lean” in their music, and even in their musical style of slowing down the cadence of their music, doping it down, as if sedated by the codeine/soda/pain pill concoction.  (not so glorious:  the   numerous famous rappers died from this fatal brew).  With our style-makers and influencers of teens today proclaiming the virtues of this brew, can we really expect our kids to Just Say No??

What’s my point?  Addiction is a complex disease further complicated by the media, parasitic doctors, and a celebrity culture that glamorizes a destructive disease.  As parents, it’s important to see these forces at play as we try to understand our loved one’s decisions and perhaps help other families make wiser choices.



Denial: Why I have trouble with the ones closest to me

Denial is a powerful escape from life’s serious problems. For me, reality takes on a distortion, and when I’m focused on my grown child I lose sight of what really is. My tendencies are to not see addiction. I don’t see isolation from family and social settings, and I don’t see self-centeredness, ego or anger to name a few. Unsettling behavior is hard to see with those closest to me. I can’t stand to see the suffering or struggles. Before the tools of recovery to help with my co-dependency issues, I stayed in denial because I didn’t know what to do. I felt obligated and responsible for the substance abuse but I did not know it was much bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever come across. With no tools and working on it alone, denial helped smooth over the trouble, minimizing big issues to a temporary manageable level.

Oddly, if the same behavior was exhibited by a stranger, at least I’d recognize certain signals: danger, concern, disrespect or insensitivity. Most likely I would not tolerate it. But to those I love? I don’t see it or my denial turns it into rationalization or normalization. I thought I would be able to help, but really? How? I’m incapable – I’m just too close. This is why I pray for the stranger, turn the rest over to a Power, greater than myself and for all matters that concern me; I let it begin with me.

To understand the coping mechanism that can perpetuate rather than solve the problem, check out Parent Pathway Meeting in a box: Denial.

We all fall down: when the addict and family relapse

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from family counselor and interventionist Ricki Townsend

In the disease of addiction, as in most diseases, there is the chance of relapse. Both the substance abuser and the family must remember that we are only in remission.  Addiction doesn’t disappear; it is a chronic disease that may include relapse.

What does it look like when remission ends and relapse sets in?  Typically, recovery for all family members has been going well.  The family has been going to Al-Anon.  The addict/alcoholic has been going to AA or NA.  An agreement is in place, and everyone has been abiding by its terms. Things have been getter better, one day at a time, for six to nine months. The rough edges are smoothing out.  The beloved addict is now showing up in an honest way, and everyone starts relaxing.

Bit by bit, though, people become complacent.  The addict misses a meeting, or two.  The parents slack off on the drug testing. Other elements of the agreement are overlooked.  All of a sudden, relapse barges through the front door.

Old behaviors return in full force.  The addict starts using or drinking again, the parents resort to their earlier behaviors, whether enabling or withdrawing from the chaos.  The entire family is in relapse.

This scenario brings heartbreak, anger, stress, and panic.  What do you do now that it’s all falling apart again? How do you get back on track? This is a time to call an addiction professional that you trust and ask them to listen to you, your fears, and your pain.  Then listen to their ideas, which will be much more objective than yours. Is your loved one heading the right direction after relapse?  Going to meetings?  Testing clean?  Humble?  Scared?  Did you stick with your agreement?  What do you need to do differently this time around?  The answers to those questions will guide you as you think about the steps you need to take. Perhaps you will want to invite the professional to mediate between you and your loved one to reset the rules.

Because your family is a “system” with interlocking parts, you need to look at your role in the relapse.  Are you heading the right direction after the relapse? I invite you to breathe, spend some time alone to regain your balance, and consider your next steps. You can’t change the addict, but you can change yourself.  What might you do differently this time around?

There is no one “right” answer for everyone.  You need to find the answer that works for you and your family; the only “must” is that you seek that answer thoughtfully, constructively and respectfully.


Ricki Townsend
Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor
NAADAC Certification Commissioner
Ncac1, CAS, RAS, Bri-

Can I take a break from parenting? Setting and keeping boundaries

Have you ever just wanted to take a break from ‘parenting’? I was talking with my daughter recently about some areas that I am attempting to hold her and her brother accountable with respect to house rules. The dialogue is familiar to many parents, I’m quite sure: clean your room before you take off for the day, empty the dishwasher, get your laundry out of dryer so others can get theirs done. As I was having this discussion I finally said, ‘you know I really don’t want to be a parent anymore…’ My daughter was taken aback and commented, ‘well you are a parent you can’t just stop.’ So I tried to explain that now that her and her brother are adults I would like to move on to being a parent but not actively parenting! I just want them to be responsible adults that I don’t have to nag and work to set boundaries and hold them to it. Is this reasonable? I think so. Is it possible at this point? Not likely.

It takes energy and perseverance to hold our kids accountable to the expectations that are set. Certainly when active addiction is in the family it is extremely challenging and the chaos that surrounds the situation can be stressful and exhausting. How do we muster up the energy for what many times feels like a battle of wills? One thing that I have learned is if I communicate an expectation with consequences, I need to be ready to enforce with logical consequences. I think carefully about consequences and that I must be willing to follow through. It isn’t always easy and I’ve had to work hard at it over the years. But it is worth holding strong on setting boundaries to establish respect for yourself and others in the house. I know when I’ve not held strong on a boundary that I’ve set then that sets the precedence going forward and makes every situation more challenging. Keep working towards healthy boundaries and it will create healthy harmony in the family!

Using the power of the mind to short-circuit addiction’s fears

It all starts with a thought. The thought creates a feeling. Feelings are not necessarily factual. For example, if I say to myself, “Tonight, I’m going to go out for dinner,” I begin to feel hungry and excited that I will get to be served with a meal that I really enjoy. My feelings change physiological conditions in my body. Maybe I begin to wear the Cheshire grin in anticipation or I might even be emitting endorphins, those “feel good” brain chemicals which in turn flood my veins resulting in a natural high. But the truth is, I might not be going out to dinner at all! It’s just a thought!

Loving someone whose substance abuse has led to terrible consequences resulted in a problem for me with regards to my thinking. My thoughts turned from optimistic to obsessive thinking about them. Eventually I began to be pessimistic about everything. I became overtaken by the gloom and doom that drug abuse causes.  This is called the family disease of addiction. These negative thoughts also impact my feelings. I’m worried, sad, fearful and anxious. With these kinds of feelings, my body takes on a dangerous reaction: high blood pressure, weight gain, blood sugar peaks, teeth grinding. My sleep was fitful and my ability to concentrate at work became problematic.

I found out this kind of circuitry can be interrupted with the power of my mind. I can choose to find help to get the tools necessary to regain control of my own thoughts! I also can choose to do nothing. The difference between these two statements: “Things upset me” versus “I upset me” are the most powerful thoughts to which my life goes one way or the other.