Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in 1969, and it holds timeless wisdom for parents of addicts and alcoholics. The Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief chronicles the reactions we have when we lose the dreams we had for someone…ourselves, or our children, perhaps.
Those steps might look this way when we witness a loved one’s chemical dependency:
1) Denial: He’s not using drugs – he’s got learning disabilities or He wasn’t drinking – he’s just an inexperienced driver.
2) Anger: You’ve stupidly shot up all your college funds.
3) Bargaining: If you fix my child, I’ll never ask for anything again.
4) Depression: I’d rather be dead than go through this hell.
5) Acceptance: I’ve come to accept that I am powerless over my loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse, and that my life has become unmanageable.
The Acceptance step may sound familier because it’s the first step any any 12-step program. It’s the foundation of recovery for addicts and alcohlics, and for those who love them. Acceptance is a good place to end up in Dr. Ross’s model, and it’s a great place to start getting healthy in AA or Al-Anon.
In Scenes of Clerical Life, George Eliot wrote, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.” Eliot must have been writing about me. I’m guilty as charged of being so immersed in the past and wrapped up in future “What if’s?” that I overlook the present. Take this admittedly embarrassing example: last week, I found myself quite challenged by the final pages of a book. The text seemed choppy, the story line absent…..and then I realized I had been reading the appendix of the book and didn’t even know it. Where was I when the actual story ended and the appendix began? Drifting off to sleep in the bathtub; but still, my personal alarm should have shrilled “Be here now!”
So what does this have to do with addiction? I ruminate on past hurts and mistakes and concentrate too much on future worries (which clearly exist only in my mind). All the while, the present slips away like sand in an hourglass.
One of my resolutions is to change my perspective, to shift the focus off my son’s addiction, to stop pigeon-holing him with the way I think. Not to diminish addiction’s ever-present power, but instead to view the whole of my son in a fuller context as a joyous, bright, generous and kind young man who also happens to be in recovery.
When I shift my focus and see the whole of my child, the difficult past and unknown future loosens its grip , creating a clearer vista where I may get a glimpse of the angels at work in my life today.
My 16 year old daughter has just completed a Juvenile Drug Court program and has been clean and sober for almost 6 months. We have completed an intense program of family groups, one-on-one therapy and weekly teen support group meetings. What are the odds of her relapsing? – Concerned Mom
EXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL:
While relapse is often times a part of recovery it is not ALWAYS a part of it. Research tells us that one year is the “optimal dose” of treatment so continue with her individual therapy and support groups. If, indeed, there is a relapse I think the best thing is to remain calm and remember it doesn’t mean she is going to go back to that lifestyle permanently. She needs to be held accountable for her poor decision but more importantly she will need to process what happened with her counselor in order to make sure she has all the tools she needs to stay sober. – Christy Crandell, Administrative Directorand Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center.
EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND:
Relapse is a complicated issue based on numerous factors. Both you and your daughter need to make recovery your first priority. For you, that means getting the support you need to stay healthy and to have a healthy relationship with your daughter. Going to a Parents Al-Anon meeting, working with a counselor, or attending open AA meetings with your daughter would all be healthy and constructive.
Yes, relapse statistics are high. At the same time, I encourage my families to not get caught up in the numbers because they can only cause you to stress and lose focus on your program. It sounds like you are doing all the right things. Keep up the good work, and concentrate only on your individual recovery programs. I wish you all well and I know you can all stay healthy if you both keep the focus on recovery.
There is an endless supply of guilt and shame in the world of addiction. And when your chemically-dependent child is in early recovery, you certainly don’t have to like him or her. That can be near to impossible to do, anyway, because the hangover of deceit and blame can take a while to blow over. Don’t feel guilty about feeling resentment for the chaos created by addicts and addiction. You don’t have to like your child at the moment. But you do need to love them if you hope to have a healthy relationship in the future.
You also need to love yourself. If you are wearing a hair shirt of guilt, you need to take it off and stop the “Why didn’t I…?” and “I should have….” Self-flagellation never helped anybody get better.
“When we know better, we do better” applies to both addicts/alcoholics and their parents. When our beloved children begin to confront their chemical dependency, they become more capable of managing it. And when we confront our relationship with them and their disease, we can begin to heal as individuals and as a family.
A while back, I caught Dr. Daniel Amen on TV talking about his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age. I am interested in his work, especially since I discovered that the nutritional supplements he recommends seem to help with depression. When my son was first struggling to become sober, he carried his vitamins and nutrients everywhere with him in a shoe box. They kept him on an even keel and took the edge off, much as opiates had done.
Dr. Amen claims that SPEC brain scans reveal that people who think happy thoughts show much “healthier” brain activity than those who think sad thoughts. I didn’t catch his definition of healthy brain activity, but no matter: the point is that you improve your brain function when you are optimistic and positive, rather than negative. That sounds quite Disneyesque and is a tall order for the mother of a teen drug addict, but what have you got to lose?
This approach also dovetails well with that handy Al-Anon slogan, “Fake it till you make it,” which helped me get through many difficult hours. During my son’s active addiction, I awoke most mornings riddled with anxiety. Anticipating some sort of crisis, I greeted each day with a fight or flight state, ready to leap into action and deal with the missing son or the car accident or the threatening phone call. It took a lot of mental muscle-building (and a good therapist) for me to learn to talk myself off the ledge. Now when I am stressed, I flip the switch and reach for Smiley Faces instead of the Grim Reaper, faith instead of fear. That very conscious and deliberate action helps me feel calmer and—yes—happier.
Trust me, I am very much a work in progress. I was born in a state of High Alert, but as I learn how my brain works, I am equipping myself with some powerful tools to reclaim my serenity.
When I first really “got it” that my son was addicted to opiates, I was saddened, shocked, terrified and embarrassed. Somehow, it felt like I was responsible, that I had failed as a parent, that I had led my child astray. I felt like I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” for all the world to see. I expected to start bleeding spontaneously from my heart, my hands. If I had known then what I know now, the isolation would have vaporized and I would have felt in good company. My neighborhood is no different than the rest of the nation, where 20% of high school kids abuse prescription meds, according to a recent CDC study. Helloooo, neighbor! Is that loud teenage cursing coming from your house or mine?
Those feelings abated as I became more educated. For those who insist that addiction/alcoholism is a disease of character, I refer to babies who are born addicted… what juvenile delinquents they are and how they demonstrate a stunning lack of willpower and character. That generally turns the conversation in a different direction.
I know that most people don’t know what I know about addiction/alcoholism: that it was defined as a disease more than 50 years ago; that brain imaging reveals the misfiring parts of the addict’s brain; that nutritional approaches show great promise for recovery. I try to share that knowledge with others because wisdom is key to recovery for parents and their beloved children.
As addiction becomes more understood and more public, we have an opportunity to support the other moms who are joining our ranks in fear, despair and sorrow. Together, we create a life brigade of experience, strength and hope.
Having a child struggling with drug or alcohol abuse is a very difficult situation. We're glad you are visiting our site and we hope you find some peace of mind through the support of other parents and services offered by this site. Please keep coming back!