Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance

Mental Illness and AddictionSCENARIO: 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…

 

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

There’s a saying that has been very helpful along my journey through my daughters struggle with addiction – ‘Say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean’. Many times the first part ‘say what you mean’ is the easiest. I can often express what I mean to say, even in the heat of the moment when I’m upset or stressed. The second part ‘mean what you say’ is where the challenge starts for me. I’ll give an example. Early in the journey when my daughter was active in her addiction she had gotten out of rehabilitation and was going into a sober living house. I said what I meant, ‘You need to have a plan if you relapse and use drugs/alcohol again because coming home is not an option’. I truly meant this and I knew it was what was best for her. ‘Mean what you say’ is where you hold your loved one accountable to the consequences of their actions. Those consequences are among the very things that can help someone struggling with addiction to seek recovery.
I remember at one point early in my daughter’s journey while she was living in a sober living house that she called me late one night. She said, “I got kicked out, I messed up, I need to come home, I have nowhere to go…’. Short of getting a call that your loved one has been hurt or worse, this was the call we parents dread when we have said coming home is not an option. This happened quite a few years ago and I have learned so much since then about how the most loving thing you can do is stick to what you said. Late that night I couldn’t bear the thought of where my daughter would go or what might happen to her and I let her come home. Five days later she drove her car while seriously intoxicated and crashed into a tree. By the grace of God, she survived. I had been gently coached by a parent who had been through this when I told him that I let her come home. He said, “Your very actions to rescue your daughter from the consequence of her action may very well kill her one day”. While this seemed harsh at the time – it was 2 days before the accident. His words haunted me, he was so right. I did not hold her accountable due to my fears. I became very resolved from that moment on to ‘Say what I mean, mean what I say and don’t say it mean’ and it has made all the difference in our respective recoveries.

The Professional’s Perspective: Why do people become addicted?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from Ricki Townsend , a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

It’s important to understand that those who become chemically-dependent upon alcohol or other drugs had more vulnerable brains than the “Average Joe” before they even began drinking or using. In my practice, I am often aware that some or all of these factors are playing a part in the development of substance use or abuse:

  • Genetics: People who have a strong history of family substance use disorder often share the same genetic vulnerability to addiction as their family members.
  • Trauma: The ACE study demonstrated that children who are exposed to trauma (e.g., poverty, violence, disease) are more likely to develop 40-plus chronic diseases – including substance use disorder – than those who weren’t exposed to trauma. This is because early childhood trauma fundamentally changes the way the brain works structurally, hormonally and in other ways. For this reason, I prefer to use the term “addictive neurology” rather than “addictive personality.” Viewing substance use disorder through this lens often helps families find forgiveness for their loved one’s transgressions. Leaving blame behind can help point the whole family in the direction of healing and recovery.
  • Mental health issues: People who experience mental health issues like depression, anxiety disorder or bi-polar disorder may find that self-medication Brightens their day, gives them confidence or stabilizes their moods. Essentially, they become dependent upon drugs or alcohol to feel “normal.”
  • Environment: parents who drink irresponsibly or abuse drugs, family anger and shaming, bullying in school, peer pressure to “party”…I’ve seen all of these take their toll. The home environment is particularly critical. Consider the home where a child is raised in a loving, firm and watchful way, where communication is valued and mental health issues are noted and cared for. That child will face life’s challenges with life skills, support and guidance. Contrast this scenario with the child who is raised with guilt or shame – or not even noticed – and whose parents mask their own problems with drugs or alcohol. That child is more likely to self-medicate and navigate life with drugs or alcohol as the rudder.

As we know, life is not a straight line, and a person can take many different paths. Let’s all make wise, healthy and informed choices along the way.

 

How do I love thee? Learning to love and trust during uncertainty

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundI caught an Oprah Lifeclass series where an episode portrayed a young couple trying to recover their marriage after the woman had a fling with another man. “How will her husband ever regain his trust in her?” we ask. Dr. Phil’s no nonsense response was good. Trust is not about trusting the other person to do or not do something in the future. The real trust question is within you – Do I trust that I can handle anything that happens in the future? This whole show centered on thinking differently about trust and love stemming not from another, rather, from yourself.

Naturally, I did what I do; I turned the topic around to how it relates to ME and my children and the family disease of addiction. Before addiction’s collateral damage hit me, I took for granted trust in others and may have inadvertently used love as self-serving. When betrayal hit, it did not occur to me that the first thing to go was trust in me.

Back to the relationship in question. The scenario: A man loves a woman, she cheats on him and his trust in her is broken. He’s hurt and afraid to let his love for her hurt him again. My scenario: A mother has a child whose addiction has progressed to a point that he is no longer trustworthy. She’s hurt and afraid if she continues to love him, he might hurt her again.

I had to think about love, while I thought about trust. Love involves caring, respect, giving, commitment, kindness, tolerance and …trust. I used to think love was reciprocal. In reality, if I love myself enough, then it can be without attachment to someone else. It can be given away, unconditionally, because I am confident enough to not have an expectation or implied reciprocity. If I trust myself enough, I can love others and if they hurt, betray, disrespect, take, are unpredictable, are mean, intolerable and untrustworthy, I will cross that bridge when presented. I TRUST MYSELF ENOUGH TO KNOW I CAN CONTINUE ON, MAKE CHOICES, HAVE HAPPINESS, SET BOUNDARIES (AND KEEP THEM), AND EVEN SAY NO.  I love thee freely!

The Professional’s Perspective: Is my loved one addicted? addict?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThe Professional’s Perspective is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

People often tell me about a loved one’s drinking or drug use, and then they want me to tell them if their loved one is an addict or alcoholic. I would respectfully suggest they can answer that question themselves by asking several other questions:

  • How is drinking or drug use impacting the loved one’s life? How is it impacting others?
  • How is their health? Their job? Their schoolwork? Their family relationships?
  • Have they developed new friendships and left old friendships behind? How’s that working?
  • Do they have legal problems associated with drug or alcohol use?
  • What is their attitude about their lives? Angry? Sad? Argumentative?

When you consider these questions, write down your thoughts – positive and negative – on paper. That can give you perspective and provide support as you objectively assess just how well life is working for your loved one.

And here’s the question I get most often of all: Why don’t they just stop drinking (or drugging)? It’s because addiction/alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It is considered a brain disease, rather than a disease of character or will power.

Addiction/alcoholism is characterized by the inability to stop drinking or using drugs in spite of negative consequences like job loss, DUIs and family issues. It is a physical disease, NOT a disease of character or willpower. And it’s a disease that cannot simply be “loved away”

Without treatment or involvement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can lead to disability, premature death or involvement in illegal activities and incarceration.

Through treatment, people can learn to live healthy lives free of alcohol and other drugs. They can reclaim their lives, their families, their work and their health. And that’s the best answer of all.

Ricki Townsend is a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

Going “sky high” to prevent addiction and honor lost children

SafeLaunchSaferLock is a product designed to keep medications out of the wrong hands. On the SaferLock website, we found this “Sky High” approach to preventing drug abuse while honoring children lost along the way….

SafeLaunch is an innovative nonprofit focused on primary addiction prevention. “We started SafeLaunch to educate parents about brain development,” says SafeLaunch Co-Founder Janet Rowse. “It turns out that most people don’t know that the real risk of teen drug use is due to the fact that the developing brain is up to 600% more susceptible to chemical dependency. We believe that when parents understand the actual addiction risk of early drug and alcohol exposure, they will act to protect their children. Everyone has heard the phrase “‘prevention is the best cure.” SafeLaunch gives parents the tools they need to protect their children from exposure to drugs and alcohol; this is the real cure for addiction.”

One of easiest actions parents can take is to sign the SafeLaunch Parent Pledge, which gives parents simple action steps to increase their children’s chance for a successful, healthy life.

Along with the parent education and teen media contests that SafeLaunch promotes locally along California’s central coast, the founders do something no other drug prevention organization has done: they’ve taken their mission to the air.

Drawing on Co-founder Ron Cuff’s experience in naval aviation, SafeLaunch connects with thousands of families at airshows and aviation events across California. “When we realized that Ron’s solid white Cessna 182 is really just a funny-shaped canvas, we saw the opportunity to use the plane as a teaching tool,” says Janet. The alignment between the aviation community and SafeLaunch is strong. Both are focused on safety, and both encourage youth to think seriously about their future. The Flights Above Addiction interactive exhibit has become a favorite at these events where kids have a chance to paint their dreams on the fuselage of the all-white plane. “We tell the young artists that a great life is like a great flight: You need to plan your destination and keep a clear head to arrive safely,” explains Ron.

In just three years of this program, SafeLaunch has educated over 1000 families about addiction risk and inspired hundreds of youth to think about their futures.

On a poignant note, SafeLaunch invites parents from across the country to pay tribute to a child’s life tragically cut short by drug or alcohol use. “When parents send us their children’s picture and stories, we permanently affix their names and ages to the underside of the wings of the plane and put their stories in the Wind Beneath our Wings album that we share with young families at the air shows. The names and ages are a cautionary tale told silently,” explains Janet.

Keep up with SafeLaunch in action on their Facebook page

Losing the ACA means losing access to addiction and mental health treatment

swing setThe advocacy organization Shatterproof reports that “If the ACA is repealed, Harvard-NYU researchers estimate that more than four million Americans will lose access to addiction and mental illness treatment.

And millions more would be at risk of missing out on future insurance coverage because addiction is considered a pre-existing condition.

We can’t let this happen. According to the CDC, we’re in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history, and drug overdose is now the #1 cause of accidental death in our country. Repealing the ACA without a replacement would make things worse for communities trying to fight back against the epidemic. It’s irresponsible and unacceptable to lose lives in the name of politics.”

Together, our voices carry weight. Tell your representative that repealing ObamaCare will make the opioid epidemic even moire deadly.

Being a Super Hero is exhausting–and dangerous–work if you are the parent of an addict or alcoholic

super woman capeOne of our readers commented on a previous blog post that, “Staying out of the way is a tough one.  Especially for someone like me.  I have spent my life rushing to be a hero.  Here I am to save the day.  Finally, someone reminded me that what I save, when rushing to clear the debris of a using addict, is one thing:  that they survive yet another day without responsibility; leaving them free to create more chaos.  If I do this long enough, they might actually die.”

Being a Super Hero is exhausting.  And saving someone who needs to save themselves is futile and even potentially deadly. How can we remove ourselves from the role of rescuer and enabler?  Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of jumping in to solve their problems, just say “Oh” or “Hmmmm” or “I’ll have to think about that” or “I know you can figure that out.”  If you are accustomed to having the answers for your child, this new approach may make you anxious.  How can they possibly figure it without SuperParent assistance? The truth is they will never figure it out if you always solve it for them. Handing them the power and responsibility of managing their own lives requires both parent and child to change. This is about you, Mom and Dad, as much as your child.
  • If you leap into action to stop a barrage of threats or accusations (for example, “It’s your fault if I can’t get to work!”) then pull out the S**T shield.  Imagine a magical force field that protects your from incoming threats, hatred and abuse.  And tell your child, “I will not tolerate that kind of language,” and let them know they have to leave if they continue to speak that way. (Reminder!  You have the right to a serene and calm home.)
  • Let your child know that the rules of engagement have changed.  When your child accuses you– “You USED to be nice and let me crash on the sofa”–  tell him or her, “I’ve changed.  That’s not OK with me anymore. If you are using drugs or alcohol, then you cannot sleep in my house.”
  • Finally, use difficult confrontations as reminders to take care of yourself. When your child presses you for money, go treat yourself to a coffee or flowers or new paperback. When yoru son complains that you don’t care if his back aches (which is often a result of opioid abuse), then go get yourself a massage.  When your daughter complains that she needs new clothes because left her old clothes at her last crash pad, go put on something warm and cozy.

Tough Love is tough—on them, and on us.  Seize your superpower to take care of yourself and give your child a reason to change.

 

To restore healthy boundaries, check out our “Boundaries Meeting in a Box.”

 

Building your arsenal for the next drug or alcohol crisis

Most parents with a kid, no matter what age, who struggles with addiction, find themselves constantly investigating, thinking, consulting and planning what to do next. With every relapse or major bump in the road, you stop and take a look at what actions have been taken thus far and what you feel is the next ‘right’ thing to do.

At the beginning of the journey of my teen’s struggle with substance abuse I did not have the resources, so I discussed these things with friends and family. They had not experienced this situation with their own kids, so they had difficulty relating.

Eventually, I had an arsenal of resources: the counselors at the rehabilitation center, Al-Anon Family Support, close friends who also had kids struggling with addiction and various books and articles. I learned that it was important to draw on these resources when decisions needed to be made or when I needed insight to keep perspective on what was happening from time to time.

It is important to build these resources to have on hand.  Many times when we are under duress we do not think too clearly. I remember not being at my best when I was upset and full of fear and worry about what might befall my loved one. I often would get stuck and at a loss for what to do. Once I built my support system – going to weekly Al-Anon meetings for parents, reading daily inspiration from others who had struggled through the same path, and various counselors and professionals – I had a way to get the help I needed when I needed it to do the next ‘right’ thing to help my loved one.

A sibling’s view of addiction as a family disease

siblings talkingWhen I first heard that alcoholism is a family disease, I balked at that notion. I did not consider how all my thoughts and energy fields were directed on them: to get them to stop, to get them to see the light, to rescue or make excuses for them. I did not see my behavior at all – after all,they were the ones with the problem, not me! I might admit my stress level increased, but I’d justify “you’d be worried too if your kid was struggling!”

After I joined the Al-Anon family groups and started working the steps, I began to see how my actions, my feelings, my health and well-being were directly proportional to the degree of involvement with trying to control the addict. As the disease progressed, my obsessions increased and I started showing physical symptoms from the stress.

I had the opportunity to understand this from another perspective from a sibling of someone struggling with substance abuse.   She shared how awful it was to see her mother spend all her waking moments worried about her sister. It seemed all her mother did was focus on the sister; wonder and wish she’d get better, always talk about her, often sad about her, …and if her sister was doing well, her mom’s attitude was better. She was learning to please her mom by being the “good daughter.” She believed that she herself could somehow make mom happy. When that didn’t work, she lost all sense of self-worth. The frustration she felt with her mom often made her angry. She wanted to scream “what about me?!! I’m here and I’m doing all the right things”! Then the notion that she could somehow control her addict sister in attempt to “smooth things over” in the family soon became her new obsession.

Hearing her story put things in perspective.  In many ways I related.  I was able to look at how my behavior towards the “problem” might have affected other family members and friends who cared about me. Was I so preoccupied that I closed them out? I was seeing proof from others who shared their experience. There is a commonality of the symptoms. With proof I no longer had doubt about this being a family disease.