Monthly Archives: October 2016

Recommended Reading for Parents of Chemically-Dependent Children

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachI think of my journey through the Land of Addiction to walking through a pitch-black forest in the dead of night. Tree branches snagged my clothing, I stumbled over gnarly roots and animals bared their teeth. I couldn’t see these dangers, but I could sense them. They haunted me night and day.

At the same time, I also experienced the kindness of others who reached out to me and, like a fireman’s bucket brigade, passed me ahead to the next set of helping hands.  These hands were the hands of wisdom, compassion and sisterhood.  Sometimes they belonged to real live people who had navigated through the black woods before me; sometimes it was the wise hands of authors who supported and guided me.

Here are some of the most powerful books I’ve encountered along the way,  in no particular order:

  • The Lost Years by Christina Wandzilak describes a daughter’s addiction and recovery from the perspective of both mother and child.
  • Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, a dad’s memoirs and self-discoveries as his son struggles with a meth addiction and he struggles with his own deadly co-dependency.
  • The Mood Cure by Julia Ross provides critical information about the nutritional foundation of recovery.
  • Moments of Clarity:  Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery by Christopher Kennedy Lawford. This is a collection of turning point memoirs by “famous” addicts and alcoholics whose moments of clarity propelled them into recovery.  It offers an inspiring and humbling reminder that we are all vulnerable to this disease, even the rich and famous.
  • Saving Jake – When Addiction Hits Home by D’Anne Burwell.  This articulate chronicle of a young man’s chemical dependency could be written by so many of us:  a loving family, a talented child, the search for answers, the hope of recovery. The book is sprinkled with resources and evidence-based information about the epidemic of chemical dependency that is gripping our nation.

Check out our recommended reading list to find other powerful books that can help you through the darkest night.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beach“Is there ever change without loss? Is there ever not pain before recovery?”

Beverly Donofrio

What are healthy boundaries, anyway, when your child is chemically dependent?

Family DiseaseHealthy boundaries serve two purposes: they protect us from our children’s transgressions, and they inspire our children to take command of their lives. But what the heck are healthy boundaries, anyway?

Healthy boundaries spell out what is permissible in our lives, and what is not.  For example, “You may stay in our home only if you are sober and willing to undergo random drug tests” creates a healthy boundary of common understanding about how the future will be. There is no gray area, no room for misunderstanding.  It is black and white, and it protects the parent while giving the addicted/alcoholic child a very clear set of operating instructions. If the addict were to use again, and the parent were to look the other way, then both parties have breached the boundary, and both need to take action.  the addict needs to immerse himself or herself in recovery, and the parent needs to stick with their guns:  ”I love you, and you broke our house rules, so you need to find somewhere else to live” is hard to say but critical to do.

But the guilt and self-hatred often felt in early recovery lay a perfect foundation for misinterpretation, and what I express as a boundary may instead be perceived as an ultimatum by my child. How to avoid this potentially combustible situation?

Using “I “messages can help avoid creating a sense of blame. For example, “I need to have a drug and alcohol-free home” sounds much less confrontational than “You cannot do drugs in my home. “I love you too much to participate in your suicide” is more loving and kind than “You are drinking yourself to death.” Practice saying sentences like these with love and respect until they become second nature for you, and they will be much easier to conjure up under pressure.

At the end of the day, the language we choose needs to constructively express what we need, which is what our recovery is all about, anyway. It’s not about the addict/alcoholic; it’s about us and how we are changing the rules of the game in favor of our health. (For help setting healthy boundaries, check out our Boundaries “Meeting in a Box.”)

We can’t pin our happiness on having a sober child, although that may be our most fervent wish. When we learn to create and convey healthy boundaries, chances are good that the addict/alcoholic will be more open to changing for the better.

Note to self, from the parent of a young man in recovery

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundA while back, Interventionist and Family Counselor Ricki Townsend sent a powerful e-mail to some of her friends after reading Wayne Dyer’s children’s book, No Excuses.    Ricki wrote, “We must remind ourselves and our children that they can become anything THEY want to be at any time in their lives.  Too often, we start to get in the muck with them instead of surrounding them with love and light and the possibilities of who they can be.  I love this children’s book because it prompted me to remember that I need to hold that vision for our children when they are forgetting it.  The journey is THEIR choice to make.  They must want the new improved life for themselves more than we do.  No, it doesn’t happen overnight, but with each step they can grow, head in the right direction and find peace.”

Thanks, Ricki, for sharing your wisdom on this critical point.  Note to self: keep out of the muck, stay out of the way, leave it up to my son to learn what it’s like to be dirty—or clean; to be addicted—or to be free.

After all, that decision is his to make, as are all the decisions he needs to make as a young adult.  And I can’t be more committed to his recovery than he is.  Epiphany! My powerlessness is really a gift to him, and to me. It frees me, and it puts the burden of responsibility on him, where it rightfully belongs. That’s a journey towards health that I can lovingly support.

Finding gratitude amidst the rubble of a child’s substance use disorder

authorbackjacketI’ve written previously about Saving Jake, When Addiction Hits Home, a new book by mother D’Anne Burwell. As she points out,  there are blessings to be found along the way…gems amidst the rubble, gold forged by fire. Read her eloquent explanation of the gratitude she discovered on her treacherous journey:

”I’ve never been the same since I discovered my son was addicted to drugs. Have I learned more than I suffered? Certainly fear, dread, denial, anger and guilt turned me into someone I barely recognized. Still, as I discovered words to live by, people to support and guide me, love to fuel me, I evolved into someone new, more even-tempered, more empathetic, clearer about boundaries, certainly less intense, less judgmental. I’m crystal clear about what matters to me now: relationships, intimacy, mostly, love, and family. Growth might have happened another way but this difficulty has enriched me – it’s the fight that caused the transformation. Strangely, I wouldn’t exchange those dark years for anything. They made our family who we are, more connected, more respectful, more humble, mote autonomous, much healthier than we would have been. The surprise is that I’ve ended up grateful for the experiences I would have done anything to avoid.”

If you happen to live in the Palo Alto area, D’Anne will be speaking there this Thursday morning. Here are the details:
Thursday, October 22, 2015, 10:00 – 11:30 am
M-A Performing Arts Center (PAC) Cafe
Menlo-Atherton High School
555 Middlefield Road, Atherton CA 94027
Register here:

D’Anne Burwell, local author of the newly released memoir, Saving Jake: When Addiction Hits Home, shares her heartbreak, hope and lessons learned when things fall apart. Her powerful personal story—a family grappling with a teenaged son’s drug addiction—transcends addiction and speaks to us all. Join us to listen to D’Anne’s story of experience, strength and hope. D’Anne Burwell holds a Master’s degree in education and advocates for families of addicts through radio commentaries, parent mentoring, speaking engagements, and her resource-and-information website, She organized the first screening in Northern California of The Anonymous People, and her radio commentaries have appeared on the Perspectives series on KQED/NPR. The mother of two young adults, D’Anne Burwell lives with her husband in Silicon Valley.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics


“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Waving Goodbye to our Beloved Addicts and Alcoholics

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified interventionist.

When addiction comes into our lives, we are so unaware of what to do.

A crisis comes, we have a blowup, and then we kiss and things go good again, and then another blowup happens. Eventually, this is how we get used to living our lives, oblivious to the craziness it brings for all of us.

It’s the “I am so sorry”, the “I’ll do well”, then the craziness starts up again. Or the arrest, manipulation and lying. We want to believe this time will be different.

It is almost like we live our lives believing in an unconscious awareness that our lives depend on them. If they are happy, if they are doing the things that we know leads to a great life, then we can be happy.

After the blowup (or what I call the long sit down), they start to behave as we want. This “they” can be a husband, son, wife etc. It doesn’t’ matter, it all has a sameness to it.

When they start to “behave” then we feel we can breathe again. We go along with a false sense of security that they are now on the right track. In most cases it is a false belief. They will only last so long, because no one can pretend to be who they are not. The drug or alcohol behaviors literally start sneaking back in. Another crisis comes about because we start getting resentful that they are not doing what they promised they would do. What’s really happening is they are not able to take away our fear.

How do we handle this??

WE take back our life. We start our own recovery on a daily basis. The same thing we are asking of them, but this time we do it ourselves. We “do” things every day: Therapy, support groups, Al-Anon, even a couple of open AA meetings regularly. The latter shows us how recovery can happen. We put down strong boundaries. We finally ask them to leave or we leave the situation ourselves and take up residence somewhere else. All of these things we do respectfully.

We cannot control another human being into being what will make us happy. At a healthy level, addiction is like seeing someone drive away after a visit, lovingly waving goodbye at them…WE have no control over them making it home.

The Monster known as Addiction

Addiction is like a monster; it looms in the dark and seems to strike without warning. Often there were days that I would slowly begin to pop up and think maybe the ‘monster’ is gone… The monster was not my daughter; it was the addiction that tormented her night and day. And as the concerned parent who is battling with this monster, you just don’t know when it’s safe to come out of the bunker. This is how it felt to me. I want to be back in my life, carefree and enjoying the simple things that seem to have eluded me. When the phone rang I wanted it to be routine to just pick it up and see who’s calling. Instead it was an instant jolt in my pulse and furrow in my brow with the worry that it might be bad news or a new crisis to deal with. Yes, I have gotten stronger over the past couple of years. I have slowly reclaimed my life and learned to detach from the situations created by my daughter in her addiction. But I never forget to realize how delicate the situation can be. And I also strive to remember that my role is to love and support, but not control.

I have moved forward with cautious optimism. I have hope, I always have hope, that there won’t be another relapse and that life will continue to happen for my daughter in a healthy and productive way. I may have to let go of my previous hopes and dreams, but I have new hopes and dreams for her. And it is that she is happy, healthy and whole.

12 Signs of Spiritual Awakening for Parents of Addicts or Alcoholics

checklist to keep our kids safe
  1. Increased tendency to let things happen versus make things happen.
  2. Frequent attacks of smiling.
  3. Feelings of being connected to others and nature.
  4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  5. Tendency to think and act spontaneously versus react from fear or past experiences.
  6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
  7. Loss of desire to worry.
  8. Loss of interest in conflict.
  9. Loss of interest interpreting the actions of others.
  10. Loss of interest in judging others.
  11. Loss of interest in judging myself.
  12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.


Hula Hoop Visual – a mother’s tool for the family disease of addiction

I recall and still experience people (landlords, relatives, employers, friends) who contact me of a status or question about one of my sons. Never mind they are over 18, adults! Their drug addiction progressed to unacceptable behavior to society at large and the only dependable contact is me. Usually it is a phone call, so the sound of the ring can put me on edge. It’s been a few years since the extreme drama. However, the intensity may have slowed down but not entirely, nor the feelings I get. Each time someone comes at me regarding my child, I take the situation as if I were the one that did it. I’d probably do the same thing if someone were coming at me about a miraculous good deed or achievement they did; I’d take credit for that too! Those scenarios typically don’t happen in a family affected by the disease of alcoholism and substance abuse. My feelings are a force within, so strong I’m propelled to take action: clean it up, apologize, and make excuses. I’ve come to understand this is a common experience for a parent whose child’s early adult years are plagued with substance abuse.  Left untreated, it can lead to many health concerns as did happen to me.

With treatment through Al-Anon, I’ve learned a new way to handle my reactions; one that helps me determine if the matter is mine. There is a saying “if you put on a hula hoop, all things that happen inside the hula hoop belong to me and everything outside the hula hoop belongs to them.” This has given me a visual that is easy to remember. Today, I’m better at handling the “outside the hula hoop” matters as they still come up. It doesn’t necessarily center around addiction or my sons. But I’m learning that it’s a part of life and it’s what people do. People will come at me with matters that don’t necessarily belong to me. When it happens I can relapse to old ways and get defensive or take blame for something I did not do.  Alternatively, I utilize choices in how I react based on recognizing what belongs to me and what doesn’t. These choices are healthier. The feelings of take charge and fix-it are still very strong!  The Hula-Hoop tool is more about my own rehabilitation from my affliction of the family disease of co-dependency.