To drug test, or not? That is the question facing parents who are concerned that drugs or alcohol are part of their teen’s secret lives. And that is a reasonable concern: prescription pills are the drug of choice for 12 and 13-year olds, and 85% of teens graduate from high school having tried alcohol or drugs that were not prescribed for them.
Drug testing can put your mind at rest or confirm your worst fears. It can also give your child a way to resist peer pressure. No matter how much we parents value rugged individualism, it is the rare child who can say “No” when everyone else is saying “Yes.” Ostracism feels like a very real threat while addiction or overdose are inconceivable outcomes. Being a teen is all about fitting in, and a child who doesn’t go along with the crowd can be ostracized or bullied. ““I really want to party, but my mother is INSANE! She drug tests me, and I don’t want to get busted” gives teens a socially acceptable “out” while letting them retain appear to be one of the herd.
Drug testing also tells your child that you are serious about your standards and expectations. It puts teeth into your rules and shows that you mean what you say. Your kids may assert, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!” and you may fear that your alleged lack of trust will jeopardize your relationship with your kids. You can explain to them that you know how hard it is to be a teen and that you are giving them the gift of being cool and safe at the same time. Then end the conversation. A teen who continues to argue over this indignity is a teen crying out for drug testing.
I drug tested my child halfheartedly and erratically. I didn’t want to find out the truth, and I didn’t know what I would do if the test came up positive. My inability to drug test him revealed my own sense of powerlessness over the darkening storm clouds. And it was so much easier to accept his claims of innocence then figure out how to solve our problem. And I was ashamed to buy drug test kits at my neighborhood pharmacy. And….and….and….
It seems that no matter how much time I spend on relieving myself from the chains of co-dependency, I still struggle with worry. Ok, I suppose that means I’m human, that’s good to know! And maybe, just maybe, the biggest gift of all of this self-discovery is the raw awareness of each and every thought and action that I do. Sometimes ‘denial’ does seem like a viable option, yet I know that my life is much better when I live with eyes wide open dealing with the dilemma of the day. Today’s dilemma is that I recognize that I am beginning to worry about future events, also known as ‘future tripping’. For such a fun sounding phrase, it sure does lead to angst.
When my daughter decided to move back to town it was a joyful situation for so many reasons. She was close to 2 years clean and sober, hard-working, and being a responsible young woman. I could go on and on about the positives. Yet in the back of my mind I struggled with all the what ‘ifs’ that could take place. I am a strong believer of ‘what you think about comes about’. So I consciously had to not let my mind wonder and obsess on all the future possibilities. I have developed techniques to ward off those obtrusive thoughts by engaging new thoughts like a song that I find inspirational or quote or prayer. I also discuss my worries and fears with my daughter. I also think about boundaries that need to be respected and discuss them with her so that we are on the same. I also try to remember that things change and I need to look forward. So many blessings and joys have transpired, and I choose to celebrate those along the journey.
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.
It is such an interesting time when certain recovery milestones begin to occur. In the early days of my daughters recovery I would put on such a celebration at the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 90 day chip, then the 30 day chip, the 60 day chip, the 30 day chip, the…you get the picture. I would put such fanfare on these early recovery milestones because I wanted all the hope that came with it. You would have thought I was the one getting the chip! It’s easy to look back on this and while I think it’s great to celebrate the milestones of recovery, we also need to keep it in perspective. Nevertheless, my daughter is a few months away from 6 years clean and sober – and honestly, I’m not sure I would be any less proud if she’d just gotten her college diploma! It’s been a long journey and it did not come easily.
So is it time to claim victory over addiction? I hardly think so, but it is time to celebrate and sit back and relish the healing and recovery. She has become responsible, performing well in her job, going to college, paying her bills, making good choices. These are all wonderful things to celebrate. Yet I know how illusive addiction can be – it’s like cancer, it’s in remission, healing has taken place and a clean bill of health is declared. Yet, it can reoccur when unmanaged and turn life upside down in a moment. I do not dwell on this possibility, for today I will rejoice in my daughter’s recovery and the healing that has taken place in our family.
There’s a new tool with a heartbeat for our beloved addicts and alcoholics in some treatment centers: therapy dogs. Recovery from chemical dependency is tough and lonely work, and people in inpatient recovery centers often miss the encouragement, companionship and support of their canine companions. Learn how the Betty Ford Center brings unconditional love home in the form of wet noses, kisses and wagging tails that signal better days ahead. “To have this big furry red creature love them unconditionally without judgment….is healing for the patients in a way we could not have foreseen,” reports one staff member at the Betty Ford Center.
The therapy dogs help people connect with emotions, give the residents something to touch and love, keep people from leaving the facility against medical advice, and encourage and cheer everyone in sight. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered for residents and their families. Watch this brief and heartwarming video to snag some of that sunshine for yourself.
Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications. Aren’t all addicts accidental? Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism? No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.” Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.
By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly. Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers. One type is the “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior. The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse. My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way. That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem. In fact, it made it worse.
The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are. That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and co-dependency helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.
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.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in 1969, and it holds timeless wisdom for parents of addicts and alcoholics. The Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief chronicles the reactions we have when we lose the dreams we had for someone…ourselves, or our children, perhaps.
Those steps might look this way when we witness a loved one’s chemical dependency:
1) Denial: He’s not using drugs – he’s got learning disabilities or He wasn’t drinking – he’s just an inexperienced driver.
2) Anger: You’ve stupidly shot up all your college funds.
3) Bargaining: If you fix my child, I’ll never ask for anything again.
4) Depression: I’d rather be dead than go through this hell.
5) Acceptance: I’ve come to accept that I am powerless over my loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse, and that my life has become unmanageable.
The Acceptance step may sound familier because it’s the first step any any 12-step program. It’s the foundation of recovery for addicts and alcohlics, and for those who love them. Acceptance is a good place to end up in Dr. Ross’s model, and it’s a great place to start getting healthy in AA or Al-Anon.
In Scenes of Clerical Life, George Eliot wrote, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.” Eliot must have been writing about me. I’m guilty as charged of being so immersed in the past and wrapped up in future “What if’s?” that I overlook the present. Take this admittedly embarrassing example: last week, I found myself quite challenged by the final pages of a book. The text seemed choppy, the story line absent…..and then I realized I had been reading the appendix of the book and didn’t even know it. Where was I when the actual story ended and the appendix began? Drifting off to sleep in the bathtub; but still, my personal alarm should have shrilled “Be here now!”
So what does this have to do with addiction? I ruminate on past hurts and mistakes and concentrate too much on future worries (which clearly exist only in my mind). All the while, the present slips away like sand in an hourglass.
One of my resolutions is to change my perspective, to shift the focus off my son’s addiction, to stop pigeon-holing him with the way I think. Not to diminish addiction’s ever-present power, but instead to view the whole of my son in a fuller context as a joyous, bright, generous and kind young man who also happens to be in recovery.
When I shift my focus and see the whole of my child, the difficult past and unknown future loosens its grip , creating a clearer vista where I may get a glimpse of the angels at work in my life today.
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