I ran into a neighbor last night, and after the cursery greetings we both asked the question that tugged at our hearts: “How is your son doing?” Turns out, our kids had been living in parallel hells several years ago, courtesy of their chemical dependency. At the time, neither family knew what was going on right around the corner. We suffered in silence and isolation.
Last night, both boys were doing well–sober, working, working the 12 steps, back in school. It was a joyful gift to be able to share such good news with each other, knowing in retrospect the trauma that had unfolded in our lives. Will sobriety endure? Will our joy last? I can’t say…but what I do know is that the fragility of recovery casts each sober moment in a light of gratitude and appreciation.
Friends have told me about the gift of cancer in their lives, one that brings them extra appreciation for each cancer-free moment. I feel the same about addiction. An unwelcome intruder in my life, addiction reminds me to be appreciative. That is unquestionably much easier when my child is sober. When my son was in the depths of his addiction, I was in the depths of my despair. I wondered how I could be happy if he was so sick. It took tremendous work for me to detach from his illness and find my own serenity regardless of the choices he made. I still work on building that mental muscle each and every day. Days that are free of addiction and co-dependency are sweeter now than ever.
People who have long-term sobriety build it one day at a time. I’m building my long-term recovery, one day at a time.
PS. Check out our Meetings in a Box for help with detachment, finding serenity and more.
This was a directive to my son (who paid no attention to my threats). He was in his disease of addiction. He’d leave my house in a huff and go directly to Grandma’s house to swoon her over. Things changed drastically, and fast. It wasn’t long before I had grandma complaining to me about the lack of follow-through with my son. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and complaints – as if I was the “Agent” representing and responsible to the community at large. I took on this obligation because I believed it too, but I was getting resentful. All I wished was that he’d stay away from Grandma because of how it was affecting me and the worry of her well being. Time would reveal the progressive nature of addiction and how the family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom unique to addiction I subsequently learned. 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.
- Grandma: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”
- Parents: We are not going to buy him another car, he isn’t insurable.
- Grandma: I co-signed; I knew you would help with payments…
- Parents: He cannot live in our house, he’s untrustworthy. We believe he has to experience discomfort before he will choose another way.
- Grandma: He’s temporarily living in my home – we discussed my terms and it’s under control.
- Parents: We’re concerned for grandma – she has opened her door and won’t listen to any reasoning!
- Grandma: I can’t turn my back on him and THROW him to the streets!
After bringing Grandma to a few counseling sessions and I witnessed her sentiment I had once felt: Counseling is not giving me the answers I want to hear on how to fix him; therefore, this is a waste of time. I didn’t stop searching for answers. Desperation forced me to find further support and I landed in the Al-Anon Family Group. This is where I learned that I would have to employ boundaries in all my life’s affairs. I learned I could not control my son, his girlfriend, his grandmother, his landlord, his employer… any of THEM. I had choices, and being triangulated was something within my own ability to take control of if I wanted relief and serenity in my life. I found other grandparents in my support group that helped me understand their point of view. I learned compassion and understanding that this disease branches through the family tree, everyone is affected. I learned that the ones I love must decide for themselves, if they want to change, I can’t decide for them.
When I follow the years of progression of the disease of addiction with my son, I sometimes see 10+ years having gone down the drain. Now, for a 50 odd year old, one year flies by at the speed of light and a whole lot can be accomplished! For a 20 year old, 10 years seems a lifetime. It’s a matter of perspective. However it feels, it’s still 10 years and sometimes I’m overtaken with despair.
I now realize that the 10+ years past is what it’s supposed to be; I don’t have any right to judge the usefulness of it. I sometimes question, when will he choose recovery? Will he ever? How can there be hope when over and over the same thing happens and it’s never good. This is the time I find myself going to a 12-Step Recovery Program, open to the public: AA or NA , where I can listen to others in recovery. It’s a good way to get re-energized. I’ve even found recordings on the internet to download of recovered persons who share their story. There is so much hope in their stories. By listening to them, I learn about the disease and it gives me another perspective to understand that recovery happens for each person differently, and on different time lines. Rarely do I hear someone speak on the help they got from their mom or dad. Sometimes there is an honorable mention to Al-Anon, where friends and family learned to stop enabling. The true source of help is inevitably something bigger than me or someone else – the unknown source, a Power, Greater than I – something I’ve come to welcome. I observe that some find recovery early, some get it years and years later. Sadly, some never get it. For the latter possibility, I’m reminded to be thankful each moment that I’m afforded an opportunity to see, hear or be in some sort of communication with my adult children. Years can fly by or the opposite. Sometimes days, and even hours can drag out for an eternity. Either way, if I stay in the presence of a Power, greater than myself, I can find serenity in the knowledge that when and if they ever decide, someone will be there to offer a new way to do life, with their own hope for the future. I can let go of my need to be overly involved and learn how to be a loving parent, unconditionally, when opportunities present themselves.
Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified Interventionist.
Many of my clients fear the idea of their child’s relapse and wonder about the warning signs. Here are some possible “symptoms” of relapse, with the first three being the ones I see most often in the first year of recovery:
- Not attending Recovery meetings
- Hanging with old friends who were users
- Not working with a sponsor
- Making major changes in the first year, such as moving to a new town or starting a new relationship
As we look at our loved ones in recovery, we also need to take a good look at ourselves because family members can relapse, too. The following are the most common symptoms for those of us who deeply love our addicted/alcoholic children:
- Focusing on the loved to the point that it puts our own health at risk.
- Refusing to believe that our loved ones have a problem with drugs or alcohol. (also known s denial)
- Covering up the messes and keeping secrets.
- Worrying, feeling constantly stressed and walking on eggshells.
- Having a hard time defining where “they” end and “I” begin.
- Yelling and making empty threats about boundaries that we cannot or will not enforce.
Relapse is often described as a part of alcoholism and addiction, as if it were inevitable. That is not always the case. And while you cannot control your child’s relapse, you can control your own. A critical first step in parental relapse prevention is learning about enabling so that you don’t fall into the trap of “If they are happy and safe, then I will be happy and safe.” Find a good family counselor, learn how to create agreements and keep boundaries, and you will be in much better shape to prevent relapse –yours or your child’s — or deal with it constructively if it does occur.
Unthinkable things sums up what happens to parents of drug addicts, at least in my world. Take for example, the phone call I got from a police officer of a special fugitive division. He was looking for my son and wanted my help. He knew my name; he knew all my family members’ names. We talked for 30 minutes about the perils my son faces – he’s concerned, he said. The last time he relapsed – pulled over for a traffic violation – he bolted. This “excites” police officers and the conversation turns to the dreaded, unthinkable – the likelihood that my son might do something that causes a police officer to fire his weapon. He might overdose, be killed by another junkie, and a host of other things. My mind already conjures up the worst case scenarios -these events are happening daily in my community. “You could rescue your son,” he threatens with fear. He suggested luring him in with the promise of money; they would wait around corners in undercover gear.
This put me in a strange, but familiar place. It reminded me of a time when I held onto the pseudo-belief that I have a lot of power and control over my son. With my own recovery from the family disease I know better. This is bigger than me and it’s not my business. Besides, there are always more outcomes than he presented – we don’t know. If I did these things, and my son was harmed as a result, would I be able to live with myself? If I didn’t do the sting operation and my son is killed on the street, would I be able to live with myself? Do I really have that much power?
I decided I would encourage my son to get help as I have always done, knowing this is his life and I’m not in control of it. That was if and when I would hear from him – he does not answer my calls either. Today I have a Power, greater than me that will guide me to a sane position. The perils of drug abuse, addiction and the disease related crimes by young people are unthinkable. And they progress. And their family, who love them beyond measure, can not save them with that love.
I remember when I had to ask my son to leave after many months of not living with integrity in my home.
That was the hardest winter I believe, I have ever gone through. Yes, it hurt not knowing where he was staying. Yes, back then I felt -how could I even survive it? So the only thing I could do was to start living one day at a time. I did this by paying attention to my health. I started going to more of my own AA meetings, and became very involved in my Al-Anon meetings. I started walking the neighborhood every day for 40 minutes.
I read. I prayed. And many – many days I would go to sleep crying. I can tell you on two occasions I actually woke up with tears flowing down my cheeks. I had dreamt about my son.
I am not saying it is easy. It certainly is not. But honestly, what was the alternative? This is what I learned for myself. To live by fear??? Fear of what I would find when I came home from work??
After many things had happened I finally realized I wanted my life back. I wanted my safe haven back. My home. I also knew if their was a chance, I wanted my son back. Eventually at the end of winter, sleeping in the park, on friends couches, and in the back seat of their cars, I finally got that phone call. “Mom, I want help, can I come home?” I picked him up and the next day my son was in treatment.
I pray for all of you that the pain in your hearts become less and less.
Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified Interventionist.
This is a letter that our guest blogger Dad wrote to his son. Because their communication had become so strained, he found his voice in his written word.
To my Son,
I am writing you from my heart and mind. Writing gives me time to find the right words. I am working on myself, and it’s been hard to change. I want to find peace and take care of myself. I’ve stopped fearing the future and am thinking too much of the past. It’s time to live in the present, even if it’s one day at a time.
In the recovery meetings, I am learning a lot about myself. I am crippling you. You can’t learn to grow while living with me.
I’ve stopped feeling guilty and blaming myself for your choices, and I am finding peace of mind. Now I am going to let you be responsible and live with your choices. I am not going to tell you what to do. I believe in you. But we cannot live together.
It’s time you choose your path from now on. But if you choose the dark path of the past, I can’t help or support you anymore. If you chose the clean and sober path, I will always try to help you.
No matter what path you choose, you are my son and I will always love you.
Our “Boundaries” Meeting in a Box can help you learn how to set healthy boundaries.
I heard someone say, “nothing like Arkansas in the rearview mirror!” to illustrate a point about running away from problems. It’s also been termed a “geographic” – meaning, if I move away to another city, state, country, I will leave the problems behind. This sounded like a good idea – boy was I ready to escape! I had entertained those thoughts myself because addiction and drug abuse was creating havoc in my life and I was at wits end. I felt cornered where the only way out was to pick up and move!
I have since learned that running away doesn’t solve anything because I still have to live with myself! I can’t run from me – but early on I did not see my part in the equation. I only saw what THEY were doing. Detach with love! Detach with anger! Detach however you can! These were recurring suggestions. Not knowing how to detach, one thing that did work was to take “mini geographics” with my husband in our travel trailer. These little escapades, new to us, in an old used hunting trailer my husband brought home, became my way to detach. For one long weekend I would go to the mountains, the ocean or a lake and have serenity. Eventually I found my higher power. Eventually I learned how to focus on my life again with no outside influences; phone calls, knocks at the door, newspapers, neighbors. We detached, if but for one weekend at a time!
These road trips were my time: to read, paint, take walks, kayak. I could sleep; sleep some more and read my recovery material. I worked on me, and what I gained was health: spiritual, physical and mental. I fondly think of my old trailer as my “mobile serenity” which helped me understand the solution to my problems begin with me.