Many times I think about what has been instrumental to my daughter’s recovery. When have I seen the most growth? There are many dynamics that contribute, that is a given. Early in her struggle to overcome her addiction it was a moment by moment, day by day battle to piece together sobriety. But now that she has many months she is not in the crisis mode – she is ‘doing life’ as they say. She is working and taking responsibility for herself. This did not come easily as there was a lot of wreckage that was created during her active using. My expectations during the early days of recovery were basic; stay clean, move forward. But as time went on, I knew that part of her recovery would entail getting a job and learning life skills and responsibilities as she was a young adult.
I have to say that getting a job propelled her forward in a positive direction. She had to get up and show up. She had to work hard and follow directions. I watched her go from an attitude of ‘it’s all about me and what others do for me’ to ‘I worked hard for that paycheck!’ She began to understand the value of money and how much it cost to live on her own. Things did not just appear when she needed them, she had to work for it. It was a real sign of growth when we were shopping one day and I was about to buy something at the grocery store and she said, ‘that’s way too expensive! You can get that somewhere else for a lot less.’ This was never a consideration when she didn’t have to buy things on her own. Now she was able to understand the cost and making trade-offs. I watched her self-esteem rise over time. It is one of the most fundamental jobs we have as parents, to help our children grow into responsible adults. When they take a detour into addiction, it becomes an even more difficult task, but there is hope for recovery.
Last weekend I did a much overdue task which was cleaning out the clutter that had collected in a couple areas of my house. I realized how therapeutic this activity was for me. I initially created more mess as I pulled things off the shelf and went through the pains taking sorting process: Attic? Donation? Keep Handy? Throw away? As I sifted through books, hats, papers, just to name a few, I started feeling a sense of unburdening. While I do not like to have a messy house, I do have small messy areas! The area I was working on was in the garage where I have shelves and cabinets for various projects and activities stored. I have a tendency to do a big clean-up project and then slowly it gets cluttered as I zoom around in my busy life not paying attention to the little things that add up to bigger messes later on. When I was done and all was neat and tidy I realized how this relates to life in general.
When I am organized and on top of the many responsibilities that I have, I feel peaceful and stress free. And when I am on top of setting boundaries and taking care of myself then I can better care for those I love. In my co-dependency, I can let things get out of hand quite rapidly. Which in turn creates messes that I need to later clean up! These messes are usually around letting a bad habit creep in – like jumping in and paying a bill for my child when they are responsible. I may think, ‘oh, it’s just a small amount and she can really use the help….’ or ‘I’ll help by creating a resume since I’ve done so many…’ Yet, doing these small things can add up to a big message ‘you are not capable, I am’ and ‘why take responsibility when Mom will bail me out.’ I’ve worked hard to undo these types of bad habits and create healthy ones. Just like cleaning out the clutter around my house, I will continue to clean out the clutter of my co-dependency!
How many times did my daughter relapse before she committed to living a clean and sober life? I don’t know the answer to that question and I bet if I asked my daughter, she would be hard pressed to know the accurate answer – I’m guessing her answer would be ‘a lot!’ I remember early in the journey when I was very naïve about addiction and thought when she went into a 28 day rehab, ‘finally she will be okay!’ Little did I know that was just the beginning of a long journey of trials and tribulations. Not only for my daughter to overcome her addiction but also for myself to overcome my addiction to my daughter! That’s how my codependency manifested itself, like an addiction to my daughter and her every move. What is she doing? Is she safe? Where is she? Will she call? The questions and worry in my mind played over and over again like the obsession that it had become. I distinctly remember one of her counselors telling me, ‘she’ll start getting better when you stop enabling her.’ Huh? Excuse me…I’m not giving her the drugs!
But when I finally internalized what she was telling me, it became clear that I did not the power to control what my daughter did, I did play a key part in making it easy for her to continue in her addiction. When I started taking away the comforts and started holding her accountable for her actions instead of bailing her out, she started making progress. Not because of me but because she had to make difficult choices. One of the biggest turning points was when I made an agreement with her that I would pay for her sober living rent but nothing else. She had a job so she would have to budget her money for food and other necessities. She didn’t like it at first, but over time her self-esteem soared as she took responsibility for her life. It was so gratifying to watch. Having a job and responsibilities is very healing for those in recovery.
We all know that being armed with knowledge is very powerful. In the case of teenage addiction we are failing our kids and their parents by not arming them with critical information about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the developing teen. I’m guessing if you’re reading this that you are like me and that you have had an experience with your child, or know of someone, who has become dangerously involved in substance abuse. I know so much more now that I wish I had known when my kids were growing up. We are not educating teens or their parents in a way that helps them understand what they are up against. It is always easier to look back and realize this, I understand that. But I also think that knowing what I know now comes with a certain responsibility. I will talk to anyone who will listen and have become an activist in the area of teen drug and alcohol abuse.
I am compelled to write about this because I have recently experienced understanding how some very basic information like ‘prescription drugs are very addictive and dangerous to take’ is not understood by teens and their parents. What may seem obvious to some of us, who have walked this journey with our loved ones, is not at all obvious to others. More information about the effects of substance abuse needs to go out to our communities at the early teenage years and every year thereafter. Awareness does drive prevention, studies and actions in other communities have unequivocal proof. Pathway to Prevention has created the documentary Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic which is aimed at educating parents and teens through stories of young people who have gone through addiction and parents who have traveled the journey with them. I am very hopeful that this documentary will become main stream to educate throughout every community near and far. The heart ache caused by teen addiction is devastating and it is 100% preventable, we just have to convince kids to never take that first drink, pill or smoke.
In the journey of addiction there are only 3 outcomes for those who stay in their drug and/or alcohol addiction. They will eventually end up in jail, ‘locked up’, due to their substance abuse and all of the desperation that it causes and poor judgment that accompanies their using. Second, they could end up ‘covered up’ which is where their addiction leads to death. Death comes in many forms for those in addiction – car crashes driving under the influence, overdose of drugs sometimes on accident, other times on purpose, their body could just give up due to all of the harsh effects of continuous drugs and alcohol. As a parent these are devastating situations. Certainly losing a child to a prison or jail sentence is heart breaking. And losing your child to death is incomprehensible.
The last option and the one that we all carry hope for is that our loved ones will ‘sober up’. Of the three eventual outcomes, we pray endlessly that our loved ones will find recovery. We all wish there was a magic formula that would cure our kids and make them whole again. There isn’t an easy answer, but there are resources along the way. I have found that gaining as much knowledge about addiction as I can so that I can understand the disease will help me to know what I’m up against. I can also attend support group meetings (Al-anon) with other parents to help weather the storm with those who understand. And I can to be positive without being naïve about the realities of the situation. I will envision ‘sobered up’ as the outcome for my loved one and everyone who struggles with the disease of addiction.
Someone mentioned recently what a big smile I had. I responded, ‘Yes, I have a lot to smile about…’ Then I thought about how that wasn’t always the case. There were many days and weeks that would go by with no sign of a smile. This was during the depths of the dark time with my child’s struggle with addiction. I was consumed with worry and obsession about her well-being. I did not find joy in anything, even when there were good things going, because my heart ached with despair. But as I reflect, over time that changed. As I got healthier and realized that I was not in control of the outcome of another person’s life, I began to regain my own. I went from reacting to the day to day crisis to being proactive and in control of my boundaries and my time. This began to give me peace of mind, serenity and sanity.
It’s hard to imagine that you can be happy if your child is not happy. But it is possible to disconnect from the sinking ship that is their addiction and swim to shore. Once I started to get perspective and take care of myself, I realized that if I got stronger and healthier I could be in a better position to help my daughter. It is like the airlines when the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first then help your child. It is the best analogy, how can you save them when you are suffocating yourself? As parents we love our children so much that we would do anything to save them from harm. But the very act of helping a loved one in addiction can, sometimes, have the opposite effect and help keep them in their addiction. I am glad that I am smiling today. I have a lot to smile about…my family is in a good place, my daughter is clean and sober. I am grateful for the happiness that I have and I know that just for today I will enjoy and feel grateful.
Often we are faced with decisions that we need to make on whether we will help our loved one in addiction. When we first start dealing with the wreckage of a loved one’s addiction we are often uninformed and ill equipped about what to do, I know I was. It seemed whatever I did just made things worse and I became more resentful. For example many addicts go from rehab to a sober living house. Although many times there is an agreement that if they relapse they need to figure out where they will go and not give them an option to come home. Yet when the dreaded relapse occurs, we are faced with this heart wrenching decision – do we leave them out in the cold or take them in?
I’m not for one decision or the other – both have consequences which can be very unpleasant or it could have a good outcome. In my experience we did what we felt in our heart when faced with difficult decisions. And sometimes the outcome was not good for my daughter and actually enabled her to keep going down a dark road. The bottom line is that there is no ‘right’ answer. Many people will have opinions on what to do – very strong opinions. But in the end it’s your child and you have to make the decision that is best for you and your situation. We need to look at each decision and think about whether it will help or whether it will hinder the health and well-being of the people involved. With each decision and outcome we learn, we adjust, and keep moving forward. Each family has to work together and make the next ‘right’ decision for their circumstance.
‘No news is good news’ – an age old saying that we often hear. In terms of a loved one with addiction it is a mixed feeling you get when you don’t hear from them as often as you think you should. These are rampant expectations that swirl through my head. Hmmm…I haven’t heard from my daughter in a couple days, what does that mean? Of course my mind plays lots of games with the answer to that question. Even though my daughter has been in recovery quite a while now, I realize my recovery from the trauma of having a loved in such a treacherous situation for an extended period of time holds residual effects for me. In the heat of the addiction, when I didn’t hear from my daughter for days, it ALWAYS meant something bad. I would fret and pace and do all kinds of crazy things to try to figure out what was going on.
Now as we have reached a place of normalcy in our lives, we have a healthy flow of communication. So, when time goes by that is not in our regular cadence it startles me how quickly I let myself begin the wondering and second guessing. Should I casually call her work and see if she’s there and okay? What if something happened to her? How would I know? And although these thoughts come to me, I am very aware of how they don’t belong and I remember the ‘no news is good news’ saying. If something was wrong she would call me! What is so humorous is that when she does call or I call her and finally get ahold of her it is always met with ‘I’ve been working long hours and it’s exhausting!’ or ‘I got together with friends and we had a great time!’. It is a constant reminder to me to enjoy the moments of my life and not let the unnecessary worry, that robs me of my real time joy, control me.