There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time. The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow. I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other. The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus. So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions. I wondered which role my children fell into.
Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease. It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.
Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.
When my son was released from incarceration the 2nd time, I was better equipped to not come rescuing like the first time. The first time I arranged to meet him, buy him clothes, toiletries and a hotel room until he found a sober living situation. I paid for his lodging and soon followed with food shopping extravaganzas. Though I believed I was cautiously treading and not helping to the extreme, he was indirectly relying on my assistance and I was relying on his success.
I was reminded that each time I helped in matters he was capable of doing himself; he did not have to focus on the necessities of life. Since those were being “handled” by me, he could focus on other things which may or may not result in favorable outcomes. I carried a hidden expectation that he would find a job and become self sufficient. It ultimately became clear addiction and all the consequences that go with it trumped us all.
It’s a fine line to walk as a mother. Naturally, there are choices one takes, but, if my actions, no matter how innocent or caring, interferes with my son doing for himself, then it’s the wrong thing to do. And here’s a mind bender – I’m still fooling myself if I try to control someone by withholding help if I attach an expectation to it! The “I won’t buy you food, so you will be forced to work!” control mentality. And helping because it makes me feel better doesn’t fly with me anymore. Such disrespect SHOUTS “I’m helping because you are not capable and it kills me to see it” – that is not the message I really want to convey!
Getting out of the way is that way! It’s the way I can give with no hidden, read-the-fine-print mommy babble because it keeps a healthy boundary between us both. There are no strings attached. He may go right or left and it’s not my business. Such was my lesson. I was once again reminded that I’m powerless over this disease. I was once again reminded that if I could not or would not accept the powerlessness part, then I would always be in conflict with him and play a critical role in contributing to the cunning, baffling nature of the disease. I had to get out of the cage and stop dancing with the gorilla. My sons’ 2nd chance has thus far had drastic favorable results and he gets all the credit. All I did was get out of the way with a strong belief he is capable of figuring it out, whatever “it” is. (And I pray for the stranger).
I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”. He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing! I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts! Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time. My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”
Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening. Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation. I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.
My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all. He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.
This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease. I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes, I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.
Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended. Parents discover grieving is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton. First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.
When my son entered a 12-Step rehabilitation program after 19 months of using, I was naively thinking 30 days and he’d be back to normal. There was just no way he would use again, it was such a waste of his young years, and surely he saw this. Well, not only did he relapse WHILE in rehab, he subsequently relapsed many times over. I heard others say that with recovery comes relapse. This helped me accept unfavorable outcomes and not be so disappointed, angry or resentful. Later someone shared that relapse expectations can be dangerous and that perhaps I should not expect it or justify it. Think about the addict who may rationalize as do I: “Craig has relapsed a bunch of times before he made it, so what if I have a drink or two.”
What is minimized is that the last time Sabrina relapsed, she went into a coma and never came back; the last time James relapsed, his drug induced high for 3 days left a trail of armed robbery and arrest. The last time Joe relapsed, he hit a pedestrian while driving under the influence, and Sally? She nearly died from insulin shock, no longer in touch with her blood sugar monitoring.
Having this brought to my attention changed my behavior and attitude towards expecting relapse. Addiction is a deadly serious disease and any attempts to smooth things over, allow or assist the addict to justify relapse while in my sphere of influence cannot be tolerated. I will not expect it, but I can learn to accept it. And with love and prayer, a program of recovery from co-dependency, I have faith that a Power, greater than me, will guide us all toward a program of recovery.
One of the hardest tasks for me is to accept why the holiday season brings on a dreadful feeling of gloom for me. Growing up, I don’t have any negative feelings about the holidays. In fact, I’m very grateful for all the fond memories and joy I experienced. My mom, dad and family get-togethers during Thanksgiving were GREAT! Though my mom recalls a difficult period when we would pack up and drive 3 hours to “grandmas” where she later “put an end to THAT.” I don’t remember anything but having dinner at our house. I always remember my mom cooking and a lot of activity in preparation. There was anxious excitement anticipating the arrival of my relatives. There was always a flurry of political discussions, abundance of food, and comforting smells. There may have been alcohol, I don’t recall. Being the youngest, I watched my older siblings bring home guests from college and they were always interesting characters whether “meditating yoga” in our front yard (the 60’s!) or bringing a new perspective to the table. It was always these memories that I tried to recreate with my family.
The holidays are hard for me because I have dysfunction in my family. I’m newly aware that this is what the reality is. This dysfunction is a result of alcoholism and addiction combined with my perspective of what a family should be and how others should act – all effects of the family disease. It’s no use wishing for the memories to repeat or wishing for my family to be something else. If I continue to deny it, I will stay in my disease. I will likely blame others, try to force solutions and perpetuate the negativity that can come so easily. I continue to work on my attitude and use the tools of the Al-Anon program to help me see things more clearly, accept and appreciate all the blessings I have – and there are many. For this I am grateful.
There was a time I’d spend my waking moments hoping for a positive change in my sons. I would hope that the rehab people would do the trick and in 30 days. I’d hope that magic bullet would find the target and I’d hope that my sons would beat all odds to a full recovery and cure. Once I discovered the hope heard in the rooms of AA, I then changed my tactics. My focus was still on my sons, but this time I had answers! I wanted to make sure they were appropriately informed about AA, were going to AA meetings, essentially, were as excited and interested as I was about AA! I would cleverly leave pamphlets out or suggest a tape I had heard… I’d hope someday they would embrace the gift of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and become a spokesperson, speaker, and well respected sponsor. I just knew they’d get their life back on track with employment, relationships and financial stability, if only.
I constantly had these hopeful dreams for them. Without hope, how could I have gone on? I don’t know why I continued to move towards a spiritual journey of recovery in Al-Anon for myself, but I did know what, when and where to get it. Perhaps it was because nothing I seemed to be doing was helping them. My focus was misdirected but I did not know that at the time. If nothing changes, nothing changes! I slowly realized if I keep the focus on me, my desire to achieve serenity is more likely to be obtained. I kept coming back hoping to hear more stories of hope! And it was not the stories of how their kids were doing well, though helpful and encouraging, it was how well THEY WERE DOING! Serenity was alluring and I was told, “obtainable.” For some reason, I believed them.
Slogans are helpful tools to navigate myself in situations that may trigger old ways of reacting. That it is to say, when I am reacting to the environment, I experience some side effects that are no longer useful for me. These show up as frustration or resentments. For sure I’m tweaked. Easy Does It makes me ask the question, Am I trying to force a solution or do I need to step back and rethink this? With addiction, forcing solutions was a true reactionary method I always relied on to deal with tough issues. Now, issues don’t have to be tuff. And what worked yesterday, may not work today, so I have to recognize my behavior and how I’m feeling because for a while, I’m not even aware I’m doing “it”.
A simple example just the other day was when I was trying to print a document. Each time I hit PRINT I did not get the usual “wake up” sound from my printer. No print resulted…so I hit PRINT again with no desirable results. I then hit my PRINT COMMAND with attitude and that catch phrase for insane behavior popped into my head – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I realized I actually was getting worked up by this!
Yesterday, when I hit my print command, a print job was initiated. What’s different? NO PRINT JOB. I was indeed trying to force a solution that worked yesterday (and many many days prior!) Easy Does It! I smiled to myself. Back away from the computer. Get a grip on yourself and come back to it at a different angle. Indeed, a break and new attitude was all that was missing and soon I was able to see that my wireless was not connected. These are basic objections in my life today that remind me there are many reasons things don’t go my way, some I have control over, some I don’t. But when I’m forcing a solution, I learn to catch myself before I’m all bent out of shape!
SCENARIO: You have received bad news again, either from your son or daughter directly, their employer, landlord, friend, relative, fill-in-the-blanks. This time the emotional roller-coaster is curving through the anger turn. You think, “This is the 6th, 7th, 12th, 100th or another LAST time!” In yet another opportunity to drill into them the PROBLEMS they are creating for themselves, maybe this time you blast them with righteous indignation about the problems they are causing YOU.
ME: “I don’t understand why you do it!” THEM: “I don’t know why I do it!”
Who’s right? Both! “I just don’t understand why” was often said from my mouth. Yet my actions for many years did not indicate any desire to try and learn about it. Moreover, I did not hear myself when I said the words: I don’t understand – I was preoccupied with WHY. Yet it armed me with ammunition: I don’t understand, therefore I will fight-fight-fight.
In recovery I have learned that understanding is mental action of study which is sometimes measured through aptitude tests and scoring. Acceptance is a spiritual action of study with notable behavioral changes in attitude: serenity, kindness, gratitude and love. The further along I get in my own recovery, the less important “why” becomes. Knowledge has provided me with information – it was the resistance to this information that kept me in denial. Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance. And the battle of the non-Al-Anon vs. Alcoholic/Addict continues on or maybe, this time, something changes…
One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight! My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment! A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes. Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.
I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!
Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T. This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check. Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.
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