Jun072017

Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

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.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.


Jun052017

Healthy Brains – How happy thoughts can lead to serenity

brain healthA 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.

Jun042017

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you have peace within?

Jun022017

The scarlet letter – fighting the stigma of addiction

Letter A Tin LettersWhen 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.

May312017

When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

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.

May292017

Locked Up, Covered Up or Sobered Up – Three eventual outcomes of drug and alcohol addiction

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)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.

May282017

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Is your glass half full or half empty?

May262017

Free from Worry – Regain control of yourself in order to help your addicted child

StressSomeone 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.

May222017

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

butterflyFor many of us, co-dependency developed quite naturally and innocently. We were the moms who took care of others when they couldn’t care for themselves. We unselfishly did the work that others didn’t want do, picked up the pieces that others dropped. We are the fixers, the rocks, and when we are sometimes blamed for having generous souls, as if that caused our kid’s addiction– it really hurts. It makes me feel extremely misunderstood. Since when is it a liability to be helpful and supportive?

But I know now about that fine line between support and unhealthy enabling. As I’ve learned, the assistance that I freely heaped upon my son, often unbidden, started to cripple him. I crossed that fine line when I started to do for him the things he could do for himself. Or maybe he couldn’t do them, or couldn’t do them well enough, but I got in the way and pre-empted his growth.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we moms of kids who struggle with drugs often faced other issues that we tried to smooth over for them. Our kids had learning disabilities and floundered in the classroom, and we were their advocates. They had serious medical vulnerabilities, and we ran interference to make sure they were safe and had the medical accommodations they needed. Often, they suffered from depression, and we were there to blunt some of the blows that could pull them further down. These acts of kindness can often spiral into an unhealthy co-dependence, and that’s where healthy support turns into unhealthy enabling. Like the caterpillar that needs to wrestle its way out of the cocoon in order to survive, our kids need to develop their own muscles if they are to thrive. We can’t build those muscles for them.

May212017

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Are you creating life worth living?