Sometimes not giving an answer or advice is the best thing to ‘not’ do. It is always so tempting to jump in with ways to solve problems and help our friends and family. And sometimes that is the right thing to do. But in some situations, sitting back and letting our loved one traverse the maze of their decisions is an opportunity for growth. My son came to me with a concern that he had. It wasn’t major, but it was troubling him. In the past I would have jumped into action with solutions, or worse, distractions so he wouldn’t feel the pain of the situation. As a co-dependent, I don’t like others to feel bad. But I’ve learned that it isn’t my business to manage other people’s feelings. So when my son plopped down in the chair across from me, I just sat and listened. I asked some questions to help him think through various alternatives he could consider. But I tried my best not to tell him what to do or distract him by changing the topic. I know my place is to be there to support him and coach him, but not direct and manage him. By staying clear of these I allow him to learn and grow.
I also know that in the past when my daughter would come to me in a crisis, I learned not to react. This was not easy in the beginning; I didn’t always realize what was taking place. But over time I realized that her problems became my problems when I jumped into action and alleviated her of the consequences. I had been given advice once that if you let 24 hours pass by, many times the loved one would either solve the issue or the crisis would diminish. How true this is! I learned to sit and be patience and trust in the capabilities of those who created the dilemma in the first place.
How many times does one hope it’s the last time? I reflect on a time when I had to gather my strength while knowing that my daughter had relapsed again. It was so disheartening for me, but for her as well. There are so many phases of addiction, but there does come a time when it’s just not fun anymore. While I haven’t had a drug addiction, I cannot say what it is like from experience. But I do know that there is drug and alcohol use that is just one big ‘party’ to young people and then there is addiction. It is not pretty, it is not fun, and it is not a phase. It is an obsession, it is a depression, and it is full of loss and remorse.
Whenever my daughter had relapsed I had an overwhelming urge to travel to where she was just to hold her and love her. I always knew that whatever she did I would be there for her. I did not begrudge her or have anger towards her, I had love and compassion. I knew that she did not want this to be her life, she wanted to move forward, yet the addiction was like trying to run up a muddy hill – you keep sliding and slipping in place or backwards. I would sit with my daughter and listened to her story, what she thought, what she did, how she came back and wanted to get better. My part in her journey was to just love her and support her – she was the one who would make the changes to get off the muddy hill.
I have had the honor of attending an event for a women and children’s shelter. It is a wonderful event where there is a lot of sharing about women who had been homeless and are now self-sustaining. Many of these women have struggled with drug addiction. Some spoke about starting to use drugs at a very young age with parents who also used drugs. Some never imagined what life could be like without using drugs. But each of these women overcame their drug addiction in the face of lots of challenges. The united message from all of them is that they have emerged stronger and more confident now that they are learning to take responsibility for themselves without substance abuse.
The gifts that they described from their life clean and sober were countless. Many had lost their children and now have them back in their lives. Their self-esteem has grown leaps and bounds and they are working on gaining skills. Some of them have already become employed and are making their own way. And while I’d like to think that our teenagers, who had never been faced with the severe disadvantages that these women had, their addiction somehow brought them to the same place. Addiction does not discriminate; it is equally devastating no matter what your socioeconomic standing is. Listening to these women is such an inspiration. They come from very difficult situations and have chosen to seek a life of recovery and rebuilding. They are setting a good example for their children who will be better for it.
There comes a time in every addict’s journey that they finally say ‘enough!’ And there also comes a time in the co-dependents journey that is enabling them where they finally say ‘enough!’ When I reflect on this journey, I sometimes think that the recovery truly starts when that moment of truth arrives. Sometimes it is a long series of small moments of truth that build into a crescendo. No matter what the chain of events, there is always that point that comes. I had a big moment of truth that was a turning point for me, as well as, my daughter.
As my kids were growing up I was always very strict about any talking back, foul language, bad attitude. It just wasn’t acceptable or tolerated. During the course of my daughters addiction talking back, foul language and bad attitude were the status quo. Although I would say, ‘don’t talk to me that way’. It went on deaf ears and I did not enforce a consequence to effect a change.
My moment of truth came when I was getting ready to board an international flight and my daughter called and asked me for something I wasn’t willing to give. It was something I had told her that I would not do, I had finally started saying ‘No’. She texted me a series of horrible expletives and threats that I came to know as ‘emotional terrorism’. Something snapped in me and I knew that I would not allow this abusive behavior to continue. I reluctantly got on the flight with the threats looming in the text message of my phone and I proceeded to write a letter on email to my daughter and when I landed I sent it to her. I wanted her to really internalize what I was saying. It was a long letter, but I will summarize to say that I expressed that the ‘emotional terrorism’ would stop and if I had one more word from her of foul language towards me or emotional threats that there would be consequences, which I laid out. She didn’t talk to me for about a month. But she has never said a harsh word since. It completely shifted the dynamic. We began to create a new healthy relationship where I set boundaries and enforced them out of respect for myself and her.
One of the challenges that occurs when my loved one is in recovery and living responsibly is my desire to help. The problem is that part of healthy recovery is learning to take full responsibility for your life. It is so easy for me to rationalize in my mind ‘She’s doing so well, she deserves the help’ or ‘if I don’t help and she struggles, won’t that hurt her recovery and possibly drive her back towards her addiction?’ I could go on and on… The point is that while it’s only natural to help our loved ones, it has to be weighed carefully with how it will actually ‘hurt’ them instead of ‘help’ them. Struggling with this actually makes me sad. I think of growing up in a family where we helped each other, it was just what we did. If I needed a little boost after college and in the working world, my Mom would often be there to help me through a rough patch or to reach a goal I was striving for. It didn’t come with lots of angst about what I might do with the money or if I would take a step back in my growing into adulthood.
While I can ruminate all I want about this, the reality of the situation is that I am not my Mom and my daughter is not me. She is a recovering addict and I am a struggling co-dependent – our boundaries can go from healthy to dysfunctional in a very short cycle. The positive thing is that I am completely aware of this dynamic. I stop and think about what I am doing and question what is best, not only for my daughter, but also me. Will this help her in her journey to become a self-sufficient adult or will this hinder that very goal? The other positive aspect is that I can openly talk to her about it. Part of our respective recoveries is having the ability to deal with situations as they arise. It is a blessing to be authentic and open in any relationship, and I cherish this with my daughter.
It is very painful when a loved one relapses from recovery back into addiction. Many times people think or comment, ‘how can they go back to that life?’, ‘Don’t they have more respect themselves?’, and ‘How can they put their family through this all over again?’ The list of questions and judgments are endless. Yet it is simple, addiction is a disease that alters the brain. There is no cure. Once the brain has been altered by a certain amount of drug use or alcohol use it cannot be undone. It does not mean that the person has to live in their addiction; they can find recovery and live a wonderful and productive life. What it does mean is that they are at risk of relapsing back into their addiction.
My heart aches when I hear of someone’s son or daughter relapsing back into their addiction. I know that they don’t want to be in that lifestyle and all of the consequences it brings. I also know how delicate and fragile life can be for those recovery when various challenges come their way. I am always encouraged and hopeful when anyone shifts from addiction to recovery. It is not an easy road. When relapse does occur I instantly think of how difficult life instantly becomes for the addict; everything they love is at risk. I know all too well what it feels like to have a loved one relapse. It is a feeling of total helplessness, while you want to spring into action and help; you know that you can’t control another person. Offering help when the addict decides to get help is something we can do. The other is to stay positive and hopeful that they will come to the point of wanting to get help and know that those who love them will be there to support them along their journey.
I was reminded recently of how difficult it can be when you have an addict in the house. In this case it is a young adult coming back home for a few days. As parents we want to see our kids even if they are wreaking havoc in our home. We hope that maybe next time will be different. We set boundaries and make our expectations clear. We start to forget how stressful it was the last time and how we will do what we can to keep things even keel. Yet when you have an addict in the family it is always unpredictable as to what may set them off. One moment you are enjoying your family and the next something happens and the anger and verbal abuse comes flying out. Suddenly your happy home becomes a place where you fear for what will happen next.
It’s been a long while since this has happened in my house. But I don’t have to think too hard to remember when it did and how incredibly stressful it was. It was the proverbial walking on eggshells always wanting to make sure that something didn’t get said or done that would set off a negative chain of events. I learned the hard way that I really didn’t need to take the abuse and that when I started setting boundaries and sticking to them (the hard part!) that slowly things started to change. An addict is very much like a two year old throwing a tantrum, if you let them get away with it then it will just keep happening again and again. Stay strong in setting and holding your boundaries to protect yourself and your family. This will help you to reclaim the peace and serenity in your household that you deserve to have every day.
Isn’t it always our nature to try to control everything going on around us? I know that are many times when I want things to go my way and yet the truth is that we don’t control many things. The obvious ones are things like the weather. We can hope, wish, pray that it is sunny or that it will rain and bring much needed water for our environment. We know that the weather is out of our control but other activities are little bit more elusive. We all want what is best for our children but what happens when their choices in life are not what we had hoped for? I have had to let go of so many expectations of my children. What I want them to do and what they choose to do with their lives are not always congruous.
It hasn’t been very easy to feel that I know what is best for my kids and have them go a different direction. Even the choices my daughter made on substance abuse. I tried everything to control the situation. She became an adult during this time and then it became doubly difficult because I could not make decisions for her anymore. Trying to control what she was doing only led me to stress and frustration. Over time I slowly learned that what she chose to do was out of my control. I could coach and support her but in the end the decision were hers. I learned to go with the flow which meant understanding what she was doing but not get involved in it. I slowly saw how this was alleviating my stress by keeping to my own business and not trying to control hers. It isn’t always easy but eventually you can find peace and serenity while staying in the flow.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
There are times that I can begin to let the challenges of my life become my total focus. Even though I know that living my life from a place of gratitude is where I find the peace and serenity, it is not always easy. I know that there are concerns and life cannot be totally stress free. But it is how I deal with these situations. Do I face them head on and look for the learning and silver linings? Do I see keep things in perspective or let them run rampant in my mind to a place that is not healthy? Sometimes I do well and other times I need to self-correct.
When I come from a place of gratitude it is like the quote from Melody Beattie above. I can turn chaos into order and I can turn confusion into clarity. Being grateful starts your day with a sense of calm and a place of serenity. I have to remind myself daily to be grateful. Sometimes I write down a list of what I am grateful for. You can also keep a journal and refer to it when you are feeling down or stressed. Keep the gratefulness in your heart and that will help to keep the peacefulness in your head!
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.” - Ayn Rand Quote for Overcoming Addiction
Living a happy, joyful life is a right for each and every one of us. Yet sometimes our lives take a turn for the worse; whether an accident, illness or just bad luck we aren’t always in control of these events. In the case of a loved one struggling with addiction we often have the illusion that we can control, contain or somehow change the course. And in our effort to do this we find our own lives in a downward spiral. We wake up one day and wonder how it all got so bad and how in the world am I going to get back to a day without disruption, pain and worry. Yet we all know deep inside that we can somehow, someway find our way back. I love Ayn Rands quote and especially the last sentence, ‘It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.’
The road back may not be easy but we must persevere to a place where we feel whole again. In the depths of my despair I can share with you that there were times when I felt hopeless and helpless. Yet when I pulled from deep within myself I realized that I had to take the steps to get to the world that I desired. I had to ‘detach with love’ from my daughter and her addiction. I did not ever detach from loving her but I did detach from the chaos of her life. In doing so I gave her the opportunity to start solving her dilemmas and it was amazing how she also began to reclaim her life and move towards the life she desired. Step by step the healing began and a horizon to the life we both desired was in reach.