It’s been said that the third time is a charm. The last high school graduation 3 years behind the oldest came with a changed perspective for me. I realized that I could not control or predict the future especially in light of the problems drugs and alcohol were creating in the family dynamics. This time graduation looked and felt different. This time, Graduation would be significant if it meant anything to him, not me. What I observed was his behavior was very different – he had a desire to graduate and it was not from a result of my influence. He was the one that studied and attended class seriously. He took the initiative to go on the senior trip, not I. His actions resulted in his graduating with his class and I did not have anything to do with it. It wasn’t as if I did not care anymore, it was that I did not have that strong of an emotional tie to it. I was a bit more conscientious about hosting a celebration after the ceremony with family members. This was something I asked him about – this time it was a partnership in the decision. This was different and it felt better.
The thought occurred to me: I can’t take credit for the success or failure of someone else…and then the awakening: I’m no longer a controlling parent, I’m just a loving and caring mom. That letting go of my ideas of how the story UNFOLDS for my children would be one solution to my problem. A few years later with the help of Al-Anon, I learned that there are tools to help me be the supportive mother, free of constant worry and fear. I can strive for unconditional love and this only happens when I change my old thinking and behavior. This has not been an easy change to embrace. I still catch myself having to detach my will for things to go my way. This would be something to celebrate, freedom from the bondage of self!
June brings memories. Traditional high school graduation activity returns me to a time that was fraught with emotions: elation as well as disappointments and regrets. I, like most parents, see this milestone as one step further to independence, and really, who doesn’t think about the future great possibilities for our children? I was banking on it!
I falsely believed that when and if my son finished high school, everything would be better than it had been. I held on to expectations of what Graduation would mean to me thinking it might also mean the same thing to him. For me, it meant moving on, maturing, working or going to college. It would culminate at the graduation ceremony – a ceremony of accomplishment and a kick off to the future.
But the years, months and weeks prior to graduation were filled with doubt, anxiety and worry. His graduating was definitely important to me; I had a lot of expectations around it. Imagine the difficulty in “pre-orders” for announcements…invitations, gown & cap, to name a few – what if he didn’t make the grade? The indicators where there: Failed grades in core classes to make up, improved attendance, senior project to complete. How do you plan a graduation reception with relatives and friends if you are not even sure? I was certain I was the only parent with this kind of worry. Graduation is an expensive ordeal– not just the ceremony but all the school events and merchandising around it. My worry about the investment and fanfare for naught was also a driving force in my behavior to make this happen. It was going to happen, no matter what.
He did graduate and I’ll never forget how proud I was and how much I had banked on that event being the solution to all my problems with him. Life lessons have shown me otherwise.
Addiction is a progressive disease. As my beloved child struggled into adulthood, he had many accomplishments all shadowed with the dark & negative impact of drug addiction. The tug of the drug would be his driver and I had no control over it. A few years of my own recovery in Al-Anon Family Groups would reveal that graduation from high school should have been the furthest concern for this loving parent. With a new perspective, what seems important just isn’t! I still hold onto future great possiblilites, addiction is not the end all.
“If he breaks parole, expect the police to come knocking at your door!” This factoid was presented to me by my son. It was on the heels of discussing his brother. Nothing specific mind you, but in generalities since the one in question had gone “underground.” We were wondering what would be the next event and while I was concerned about this relapse, welfare and safety, my son was concerned about what could happen to us.
“The parents are the first line of offense for Parole Agents since our address is the last noted lived-at-location,” he added. True or not, I reminded him that we have had plenty of experience with the police at our door. Though it has been a while since the last uniformed visit, much has changed since then. For one, I no longer live in fear of authority. I’m not the one breaking any laws. I quickly learned that I did not have to invite anyone into my house regardless of what badge and what county they may be representing. I’ve learned a lot about addiction and my relation to it. I have to accept new frontiers as I continue to grow and trust in my Higher Power. At the same time, I must accept my son’s right to deal with life “inside or outside” the walls. I don’t need to interfere or even begin to think I know what’s best. Parole may be one of the many phases of recovery, who am I to say? This wasn’t always my attitude. But I’m grateful for the people who take the recovery message to Hospitals and Institutions. It’s as if I have a feeling of resolve, knowing the message is being carried and the hope that maybe one day my son is willing and able to hear it.
Grandparents can be subject to the same intensity trying to help the affected grandchild whose life is troubling. I remember a time I thought my father might be a better influence to my son’s problem since nothing I did seemed to be working. But my son would soon abuse the privileges of Grandparent assistance. They became a means of continuing his addiction life cycle. Things changed drastically, and fast. Now I was subject to a deepening sad heart each time: grandpa complained about the lack of follow-through, strange people in their house and inability to wake my son up in the morning. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and requests – and I was getting resentful. I resented the addict for the moral turpitude. I resented my parents for arguing my pleas to stop rescuing. I can’t control my son and my own parents for that matter! Just how powerless I am came to focus.
All I wished was that he’d stay away from the family because of how it was affecting me affecting them. Time would reveal the progressive nature of the disease and the family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom of the family disease. Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!
Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.
Grandparents: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”
Parents: We are not going to buy him another car.
Grandparents: We co-signed; he has to be able to get to a job!
Parents: He cannot live in our house he’s not trustworthy. We are concerned you are being taking advantage of as well.
Grandparents: He’s temporarily living here, we discussed our rules – it’s under control.
Parents: We’re concerned about our parents – they are vulnerable and open to getting financially ruined – they won’t listen to any reasoning!
Finding support through the Al-Anon Family Group, I learned many things about the nature of the illness which gave me a better perspective on matters. This was where other grandparents in my support group helped me understand their point of view. They were trying to force solutions just as I had been. Theybelieved they had it under control, just like I did. I learned compassion and understanding that everyone is affected by this disease.
I’m one of those people who struggle with remembering names. I learned in a sales class that using an association with the name helps in recall. For example, I’m introduced to Betty. She has dark, jet black/blue hair. I think of Archie Comic Books, Veronica & Betty. Betty has Veronica’s hair! This amount of time devoted to remembering Betty has only been a few seconds but is somehow lodged in my brain to not forget Jet Black/Blue Hair Betty.
Association comes in handy on other areas of my life, especially when my fears and concerns about my adult children take over my thoughts. These thoughts tend to be negative and are always masked under the cloak of good mothering. I will forget all that I’ve learned about my stinking thinking. I find myself worrying and wondering if he is cold, alone, hungry, hurt and a host of other terrible things. And to add injury, I’ll invite responses to vindicate my negative concerns. I may resort to rescuing and have completely relapsed into codependency. Such behavior is odd when seen from the outside, but for those of us who have a child struggle in addiction or alcoholism; this is how we roll. And it is here I’m triggered to ask myself if I’m doing anyone any good, especially for myself. I’m acting out of self preservation from fear, not the supportive and accepting, loving mother I strive to be. What am I forgetting?
Mothering rhymes with smothering.
My fears and worries turn mothering into smothering. I don’t want to suffocate anyone. I’m not proud to add guilt to someone’s low self esteem and today I have tools to help me navigate out of my own stinking thinking.
Headaches, indigestion, stomach aches, sweaty palms, sleep difficulties, back and neck pain, racing heart, restlessness, tiredness, ringing in the ears, dizziness, skin rash, increased allergies, frequent colds, and more I can’t think of at this moment. These physical symptoms were all typical for me at the summit of trying to manage my son’s progressive drug addiction. These warning signs were only vindicated by my current drama event of the day; I became more obsessed with his disease, wanting him to change, urging him to get recovery, pleading for his sobriety, believing that if he’d do what I wanted him to do, I would also get better. To exasperate matters, I would take sleep aids, buy skin ointment, or treat myself to a massage believing this would fix my ailments. All the while, never quite understanding, I was merely affixing a Band-Aid to a severed artery. The underlying issues of my physical symptoms required a drastic 360 degree turn-a-round in the way I was living life. I didn’t go to a doctor because I was tired from last night’s restless sleep. I went because of three, four, five years of continuous symptoms from something that progressed beyond my understanding. Other “stressors” became unmanageable. What used to be easy; work related challenges, staff interactions, management meetings, and interpersonal relationships, all became monumental. All facets of my life were impacted. Loving someone in addiction would require drastic measures and a new way of living. This became possible, but change didn’t happen overnight, and my health would not bounce back in a day or two. There is hope, help and a light at the end of this dark tunnel – it required effort on my part, it began not with him changing, but with me.
The Power of my thoughts can change the way I act. Thoughts drive symptoms. For me, symptoms were anxious feelings. I was fearful that any one of my sons may at any point in time fall into serious consequences. I had obsessive thoughts and continual replay of past events when I may have had a better influence on them. This kept me longing for things I could not have back. Everything in my life was drama. Living with active addiction creates mayhem. Then my thoughts turned to physical symptoms: Panic attacks, blood pressure; an altered immune system that, if left untreated, would leave me in medical crises.
It used to bother me when the doctor would say my problem was stress. I felt it was a cop-out. What I did not know is that stress is not reality; stress is how my mind reacts to the reality around it. The old adage “things upset me” versus “I upset me” point of view. But then my mind would say, “my son’s drug problem upsets me, and when he gets better, I won’t have stress anymore.” This type of thinking did not help me or my son in anyway. It kept me in a circular self-defeating mind set.
Sometimes change is forced on us. It wasn’t like I made a conscience effort to seek help for myself, I stumbled on the notion I needed help while searching for help for my sons. I had to experience desperation which opened up a willingness to try a new way to manage an old problem. The disease of addiction is progressive as were my negative thoughts. My symptoms became greater than my desire to maintain familiar tactics. It was this force, greater than me, that propelled me to change. I just wanted to feel better. I think I will.
Years ago, when my control and need to know everything mentality was at its peak, the *69 feature on the telephone became a dangerous tool for further pursuit of things to add to my world of loose ends. I was empowered to be an assertive investigator. I was enabled to seek out who called for what reason and why did they not leave a voice mail. Moreover, if the phone rang and I answered, the sound of the “click” provoked me to question WHO HUNG ON ME? The feeling of empowerment – To be able to press those three keys and ring back the unknown caller back was a rush of adrenaline. They would pick up and I’d say “you just called my number,” forcing a response on the other end. The sound of their voice was already a piece of the puzzle. Male? Female? Young? Old? Why did they call my number? The fact they called must be indicative of something… Why? Why? Why? Star 69 and later technology could be abused for the wrong reasons. My need to know WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WHY seemed important back when the addiction family disease of secrets was fermenting. But in reality this underlying need to know was a symptom of my infinite desire to be in control of matters I may not be aware of and often powerless over. Today it seems clear and obvious. If someone is reaching me, they will leave a message or call back later. I can let go with that knowledge and not pursue it to the depths of insanity. I don’t have to obsess on things that are not my business anymore. ”Why” is a question no longer the center stage of my life.
This question, often asked at the grocery store by the courtesy clerk, reminds me of a time I’d have to see if my kids were doing alright before I could answer. If they were doing well, then I was doing well. If they were messing up, then my day would be ruined. My attachment to them was so powerful that I was not aware of how much my well being depended on them. My concern for them at different stages of their troublesome drug use grew exponentially. Addiction is progressive. If a person does not seek recovery, they will spiral further and further. For my experience, this was exactly what happened. My life depended on them to get sober, and it was not looking good for me. If only he would get sober and start working in a job so he can be self-sufficient…Then I’d be happy! I remember when my son finally asked for help and we financed his treatment, a faith based live in facility. I was ecstatic! Finally! My life is going to get better. One thing was certain, I was able to sleep a full 7 hours. Many rehabs and relapses were on the horizon. Fortunately, during this time I sought help too. With my co-dependent lifestyle, I was beginning to see health problems associated with years of stress and relying on an addict to make me feel happy. I remember my counselor asked me “do you want to be happy?” “Yes! Yes I do want to be happy!” I replied. “Then go right ahead.” What I did not know then, but have since learned, is my happiness is something I choose. I learned how NOT to rely on anyone to make me feel good. Are there days when sadness hits? You bet there is. That’s life, and I accept that there will be ups and downs. Down is not a destination. Today, I’m doing great, thank you and it’s a - Wonderful feeling, feeling this way!
Jail Visitation is a familiar setting. I’ve been a visitor here often, and it spans many years. The locations change, but the signs are the same. This is where I go to see my son when his disease lands him there. Over time, my visitation attitude has changed. It used to be I would try to reason with him; tell him what I think he needs to hear, show disappointment because he’s not doing what I think he should be doing and chasing my dream that he will get it this time. It’s too hard to keep working that angle with no benefit. Eventually, my desires for my son’s recovery became no longer necessary to outwardly express them. His incarceration is a result of drug addiction, period, end of story. And when I accept that, my relationship with him is on neutral territory: he’s not on the hot seat, and I’m not the interrogator. It’s this change in attitude that allows me to choose that visit, because jail visitation has many inconveniences. I would inwardly fight the system with its unyielding rules for visitors. Now I endure the rules and regulations about what I wear, what I carry in, and for those 30 minutes, I forfeit a day. But it’s worth it because now I’m just a loving mom visiting my son. After I’m “admitted in” I embrace the 40 minute wait. There is no reading material allowed and our chairs face a TV that is never turned on. As other visitors file through I begin to get anxious about what to do with all that time sitting still waiting for the clock to turn to visit time. There’s really nothing else but to twittle my thumbs. Then I remember that I can invite my Higher Power in; asking for guidance on how I can be fully present with my son. I can turn inward to prayer and meditation. I have concerns, but I’m not consumed by them anymore. I wish his situation will turn to better days, but I don’t dwell on the future too much. And then the fastest 30 minutes of the day flashes by, and I’m grateful that I can visit my son and that he enjoys the time with me as well.