My obsession with (fill in the blanks) affects all my children

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.

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.


What Hope-Springs-Eternal Means to My Serenity

water flowingThere 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.

Here’s how we can eradicate the shame and stigma of addiction

Don Troutman is the founder of Clean & Sober Trhob-house-0011ansitional Living, and he is committed to helping eradicate the shame and stigma of addiction and alcoholism, which often keep people from seeking help. Here are Don’s eight fast facts about recovery from substance use disorder.

“I hope these facts help people leave their misconceptions behind as they approach chemical dependency as a preventable and treatable brain disease. There’s no room for shame and stigma in this evidence-based conversation:

1. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act clearly identifies addiction to alcohol or other drugs as a mental health issue and a substance use disorder (SUD).

2. Twenty-three million Americans are in long-term recovery from substance use disorder. This list includes a past United States President, professional athletes, Fortune 500 executives, actors, musicians, as well as our everyday neighbors.

3. Substance use disorder (the severest form of which is commonly referred to as “addiction”), is a chronic brain disorder from which people can and do recover.

4. In the past year, 8.4% of adults (or 20.2 million adults) in the United States had a substance use disorder. Percentages for the Sacramento region are likely quite similar.

5. What causes substance use disorder? Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, states that that 50 percent of a person’s vulnerability to drug addiction is genetic. And trauma (e.g., poverty, abuse, early death of a parent) changes the brain so that it becomes more vulnerable to more than 40 chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorder

6. Despite an increase in the understanding of the science of substance use disorders, research shows that people with substance use disorders are viewed more negatively than others.
•    Negative attitudes have been found to adversely affect the quality of health care and treatment outcomes.
•    Stigma and shame may keep individuals and families from finding the help they need to get better.

7. Just as substance use disorder impacts individuals, families and communities, recovery improves individuals, families and communities.

8. Finding the right support network is vital to the recovery process. Sober housing, where people choose to live productive lives without alcohol or other drugs, can be an important part of sustained recovery.”

Don Troutman, Founder, CSTL, Fair Oaks, California

Reclaiming your serenity with “re-language”

Mental Illness and AddictionI am so fortunate to have XM radio, and sometimes catch Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass. One day I listened to her with her guest, Iyanla Vanzant.  (To learn more about Lifeclass, click here)

Iyanla Vanzant, an inspirational and new thought spiritual teacher, is such a kick and is always giving out little one-liners that provoke me to think! She’d discuss how Deceptive Intelligence keeps us from spiritual growth and screamed to the viewer: “RE-LANGUAGE!” Make no mistake, re-language was an aggressive verb, a call to action! I applied it to my own experience of codependency with young adult children in addiction:

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: I had to kick my kids out of my home. This is so dramatic and feeds the guilt I held for experiencing a scenario I wished did not have to happen. I took on responsibility, as if I could have done something else to minimize the impact. RE-LANGUAGE: My kids chose not to live by my boundaries, so they left.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: If I let go, they might fail, get arrested, go to jail. There is a dangerous side effect when I think I know outcomes, especially if I believe I can orchestrate the future – Guilt, Disappointment, Denial, Shame. RE-LANGUAGE: I can’t control the choices my kids make, but they have a right to make them, even if I don’t agree with it.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: His girlfriend introduced him to drugs, I blame her. RE-LANGUAGE: She is a child of God, cleverly disguised as a drug addict (another gem from Iyanla).

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: When I figure out recovery, I’ll be able to show them how to do it! I believed this to the core. So my early help seeking behavior had an end game! I’d pick up a speaker CD from an AA or recovered Drug Addict, and I’d strategize how my sons could listen to it. If they just listened, then …. I was still thinking what I was doing in Al-Anon would help me to the solution for me my kids. I was still trying to control it. Oh, yeah, definately Deceptive Thinking! RE-LANGUAGE: My children will get recovery when they are ready, on their own, in HIS time, and I’m not in charge. I’m just a child of God,  cleverly disguised as a know it all!

 

Where is the Hope for your addicted child in the face of despair?

When I follow the years of progression of the disease of addiction with my son, I sometimes see 10+ years having gone down the drain. Now, for a 50 odd year old, one year flies by at the speed of light and a whole lot can be accomplished! For a 20 year old, 10 years seems a lifetime. It’s a matter of perspective. However it feels, it’s still 10 years and sometimes I’m overtaken with despair.

I now realize that the 10+ years past is what it’s supposed to be; I don’t have any right to judge the usefulness of it. I sometimes question, when will he choose recovery? Will he ever? How can there be hope when over and over the same thing happens and it’s never good. This is the time I find myself going to a 12-Step Recovery Program, open to the public: AA or NA , where I can listen to others in recovery.  It’s a good way to get re-energized. I’ve even found recordings on the internet to download of recovered persons who share their story. There is so much hope in their stories. By listening to them, I learn about the disease and it gives me another perspective to understand that recovery happens for each person differently, and on different time lines. Rarely do I hear someone speak on the help they got from their mom or dad. Sometimes there is an honorable mention to Al-Anon, where friends and family learned to stop enabling. The true source of help is inevitably something bigger than me or someone else – the unknown source, a Power, Greater than I – something I’ve come to welcome. I observe that some find recovery early, some get it years and years later.  Sadly, some never get it. For the latter possibility, I’m reminded to be thankful each moment that I’m afforded an opportunity to see, hear or be in some sort of communication with my adult children. Years can fly by or the opposite. Sometimes days, and even hours can drag out for an eternity. Either way, if I stay in the presence of a Power, greater than myself, I can find serenity in the knowledge that when and if they ever decide, someone will be there to offer a new way to do life, with their own hope for the future. I can let go of my need to be overly involved and learn how to be a loving parent, unconditionally, when opportunities present themselves.

Should you step or talk your way to recovery (or do both)?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachWorking the steps has offered powerful tools against addiction or alcoholism ever since they were invented by Bill Wilson more than 60 years ago. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be a powerful ally in the quest for recovery. Turns out, “the 12 steps and cognitive behavioral therapy have a lot in common” according to an interesting article posted on The Fix. Guided by a therapist who works with the chemically dependent, this article points out where the two meet and where they diverge.

I found this article thought-provoking because, as a Blue Chip co-dependent, I have been addicted to my child’s addiction. We all know that drill: if they are sober, we can be happy; if they are using, our world falls apart. If they relapse, so do we. And sometimes we relapse even if they don’t. For those reasons alone, I need the twelve steps as much as my child.

At a minimum, this article was powerful because it reinforced the notion that Al-Anon and AA are not religious; they are spiritual.  The fear of getting cornered by a religious zealot has kept people away from 12-step program unnecessarily.

Take a look at the article and see if it makes sense to you. As parents of beloved addicts or alcoholics, can the twelve steps replace our therapy, or can our therapy replace the twelve steps? Or maybe they work best hand-in-hand.  Only you can tell.

What’s life look like for the family after rehab?

I was expecting, NO – anticipating life to resume to normal once my son “graduated” from rehab. In fact, when asked to do service at an Al-Anon meeting, I said “No” because I figured I would not need Al-Anon anymore, I be “graduating out.” After all, wasn’t the problem fixed soon to be fixed now? That was over 4 years and several more rehabs ago. Needless to say, I have since given service to my group many times over and along the way I have learned a great deal about addiction, the family disease, and my role in recovery. The family disease is like the “ism” – there is no cure, only recovery. Recovery includes acceptance, tolerance and boundaries for what is, versus what is not – how to live in peace, whether the addict/alcoholic is using or not. This disease afflicted my family and there is life after rehab, but recovery is ongoing.

An anonymous Ala-teen member summed it up succinctly:

“Some think that life gets better when the alcoholic recovers, but the bill collectors don’t go away – neither does the arguing. You don’t stop going to meetings because an alcoholic has recovered. That’s like stopping the repairs on our house after a tornado hits and the sun comes out. You might discover you need the meetings more because of the changes – there is also the danger of relapse – and (some) recovering alcoholics become dry drunks. So I do need the program even after the alcoholic stops drinking.”

Well put.

The art of saying NO to your addicted child

teenager contemplating futureMy disease is cunning. Left to my own devices, I will say yes when I want to say no or should say no because it’s a request for rescuing. I will over-commit or resent, either way, somebody is not going to be happy (besides me). Saying no seemed mean or disrespectful. What I learned was saying yes could be all that and more to my own sense of well–being and compromise other commitments I already had made.  I always felt guilty.

My recovery began with learning how to NOT COMMIT until I had reasonable to time to really decipher what was being asked of me. Sometimes I have to make choices, doing it all is not a choice if I want serenity in my life. Stall tactics such as “Don’t respond right away”, go into the “Oh-zone” and “buy time” all helped me learn to pause. I had to do this in the beginning because I was in a foreign land, unable to think or speak the language of recovery.  What was really happening?  I was beginning to form healthy and realistic boundaries.

I kept it simple: If my motive was to be liked, or I hoped I could manipulate an outcome, then I’d be in trouble. If my motive was to control, I was in trouble. If my motive was fear, I was in trouble. I picked up new language that progressed:

  • That won’t work for me.
  • I don’t do well in those settings.
  • I’m not able to devote the time you need.
  • Not at this time.
  • Perhaps another time.
  • I’m out on this one.
  • I will do this (something but not all) “meet halfway”
  • I have to think about it, can you contact me in x days?
  • I love you so I won’t.
  • No thanks.
  • No.

 

This explains everything – making sense of the disease of addiction

Mental Illness and AddictionResearching or reading articles of research on addiction educates me more about why our loved ones continue to do what appears to us a self-defeating, immoral and illegal activity. To think they are choosing or willfully lying is a judgment quickly taken, but the truth is much more complex and physiological.

With stats such as “only 10% of addicts seek help on their own” , that is, even recognize they have a problem, explains a lot. In one such article written for CNN, Dr. Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, states “Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.”  In my opinion, the same holds true for the family members. We don’t seek help readily; we don’t see that we may be part of the problem. Take, for example, a good co-depended parent model: self-authorized to sacrifice their own well-being, at all costs, with a fear based obsession not unlike the addict searching for the next fix. Using ineffective control measures, we have firsthand experience being among the 90%!

I easily equate the addict profile as it applies to me, a concerned parent fraught with hopeless attempts to assist. It explains the anguish, heartache and self-defeating measures those of us in this family disease do.  It explains everything.  Why we continue to ”mother” our 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and older-year olds…as if they are still in toddlers! We ineffectively combat a disease of lies; and the alternative is at first, unfathomable, incomprehensible and counterintuitive.

The other measures that may ultimately “help” result from our own decision to seek help or maybe we were coerced.  However we get there, we are given tools to overcome our own connectedness to the addict and in so doing, contribute to changing that dismal 10%percent that seek recovery. When you know better, you do better.