Many times it seems that I look at the situation at hand and want more progress or have high expectations. Today I was discussing this journey that I have been on with some friends. I was relaying the trials and tribulations that occurred over the past 4 years. Later I began to think about how bad it had become when my daughter was in the depths of her addiction. I thought about how many times I almost lost her from various harmful situations she had been in. I thought about how she became someone I didn’t recognize and I was so desperate to have my daughter back. It made me realize that even though there is still growth and responsibilities to take on, so much progress has taken place. I had to pause and take stock of all the blessings that have occurred through this journey.
There are many blessings but the one that is the most prevalent for me is the fact that traveling this journey with my daughter has led me to experience tremendous growth myself. When I was desperate to help my daughter I was led to discover that the best thing I could personally do for her was to get help myself. I realized that the most loving thing I could do was to become knowledgeable about addiction and what I could do to stop enabling her. Learning that I did not and could not control everything taught me how to let go and be free of the stress that consumed me. This has been one of the blessings and today I took the time to reflect on this and be grateful for these discoveries.
One of the characteristic of addictive behavior is a lack in patience to wait for want you want. This is also characteristic of many people, but it is particularly prevalent when someone has the disease of addiction. It makes sense that when someone is struggling with drug addiction and they are coming down from the drugs that they have an ‘instant’ urgency to fill the void with the next fix. What can happen is that this also transcends to all aspects of the addicts interaction. Even as recovery from the addiction comes into play, the desire to instantly satisfy a craving or desire is a challenge.
As a person who struggles with co-dependency, I know that I play a part in this behavior. Early in my daughters addiction I didn’t understand that many times the urgency of something was not realistic or warranted. I would be convinced that the upgraded cell phone was absolutely essential to getting a job or the gas money was not enough because, because, because,…the list goes on. And while now it seems so obvious to me, at the beginning of the journey I wanted to believe my loved one. As recovery grows and sets in, I see these behaviors dissipate. Partly due to the upgraded conversation we have when a need is expressed. I know to not take on the issues or problems that are not mine and to let her know that she’s capable to fix them and I’m willing to give advice. It might sound like sound parenting to a young adult transitioning into a responsible member of society, and it is, but it can be a challenge to break old patterns and create new healthy boundaries moving forward.
There is no single answer to this question. It depends on your relationship with your parents or in-laws, and your child’s relationship with them.
If grandparents don’t have contact with your beloved, chemically-dependent child, why tell them about the pain and struggle? If grandparents are fragile and sick, don’t add to their worries. In short, if there is no reason for them to know, then there is no reason for them to know. Alternatively, if they are close to your child, they probably already have concerns and may actually be relieved to learn you’re taken steps to get help. And they may be able to offer financial resources to help with rehab.
Possible “land mine” ahead: many of “the Greatest Generation” are in the dark about the biological origins of chemical dependency and may consider this a character or personality defect. Be ready to explain to them that your child has a brain disease and has become chemically-dependent upon drugs or alcohol. Help them understand that there is great hope for sobriety, and that you are taking steps as a family to get help.
It’s critical that grandparents understand you need to be united as a family. That means Grandpa cannot give the addict money, and Grandpa cannot make her home a safe place for the alcoholic to crash. You all need to be united in the conviction that professional assistance is necessary to help your child get healthy again. You need to circle the wagons around your child.
This is not a time for blame or guilt. (Is there ever a time for blame and guilt??) No one made your child an alcoholic/addict, any more than anyone could make him or her diabetic or allergic. No one has the power to make another person chemically-dependent. And no one but the addict or alcoholic has the power to reclaim their sobriety. Long-term recovery is within reach: 23 million Americans have already claimed theirs. If you enlist Grandma and Grandpa in a loving and informed way, your child will have a healthy network to help them claim their own recovery.
I have a friend who has a saying, “I have the right to remain silent, I just don’t have the ability.” While this always gets a chuckle, it also definitely hits home. As a co-dependent I have a tendency to get into other people’s business. But I know I don’t need to step in and solve problems for those around me. This isn’t easy for me, I want to help and relieve the discomfort of those I care about. The problem is that I create unhealthy dynamics when I do this. I teach the person who is responsible for solving the problem that they are not capable. And I put undue burden on myself.
With a loved one in addiction, the problems are never ending. My tendency is to jump in like a paratrooper ready to descend into actionI It feels good to help work through the issues and remedy the situations that arise. But what I have found is that the problems just kept coming and by taking them on, I am teaching the wrong behaviors to my loved one. There is no incentive to safeguard against these problems from coming again and again since they know I would step into action each and every time, they don’t work to avoid them. When I step back and remain silent when the next crisis occurs, my loved one has to step up and figure out how to solve them. But more importantly they begin to figure out how to avoid them in the first place. Sometimes no action when it is not my issue is the best action of all.
It can be difficult to change behaviors that sometimes become a natural reaction. When my daughter was struggling with addiction I became very wary of anything she said or did. As things began to change with time and my daughter began to heal in her recovery, I often had to catch myself and how I was. In the past when certain situations would arise I would have to be very suspect of motives and underlying truths. But as my daughter was coming out of the fog of addiction, she was changing and growing. I would find myself second guessing or projecting past experiences on the current experiences unfairly.
Sometimes it would start with a feeling of discomfort and I would realize that I was not being fair. At times I would even express this to my daughter and apologize for not trusting her when she gave me no reason at the time to distrust. I always found it heartwarming that she would understand and say things like, ‘I know Mom, it is going to take time for me to prove myself to you and the rest of the family.’ The fact is, this is true, but I can also be open and willing as time moves forward to not have the same reaction as in the past. I realize that changes come with time and I will continue to do my part in moving forward.
Slogans are helpful tools to navigate myself in situations that may trigger old ways of reacting. That it is to say, when I am reacting to the environment, I experience some side effects that are no longer useful for me. These show up as frustration or resentments. For sure I’m tweaked. Easy Does It makes me ask the question, Am I trying to force a solution or do I need to step back and rethink this? With addiction, forcing solutions was a true reactionary method I always relied on to deal with tough issues. Now, issues don’t have to be tuff. And what worked yesterday, may not work today, so I have to recognize my behavior and how I’m feeling because for a while, I’m not even aware I’m doing “it”.
A simple example just the other day was when I was trying to print a document. Each time I hit PRINT I did not get the usual “wake up” sound from my printer. No print resulted…so I hit PRINT again with no desirable results. I then hit my PRINT COMMAND with attitude and that catch phrase for insane behavior popped into my head – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I realized I actually was getting worked up by this!
Yesterday, when I hit my print command, a print job was initiated. What’s different? NO PRINT JOB. I was indeed trying to force a solution that worked yesterday (and many many days prior!) Easy Does It! I smiled to myself. Back away from the computer. Get a grip on yourself and come back to it at a different angle. Indeed, a break and new attitude was all that was missing and soon I was able to see that my wireless was not connected. These are basic objections in my life today that remind me there are many reasons things don’t go my way, some I have control over, some I don’t. But when I’m forcing a solution, I learn to catch myself before I’m all bent out of shape!
I was once asked by a friend, ‘What has changed with you since going through this experience with your daughters struggle with addiction?’ It is an interesting question because I can reel off quite of few quick thoughts, but as I think deeper about the question – it quiets me to reflect on the monumental overhaul that has taken place with me, my daughter, my family and even acquaintances in some ways. I have been humbled by this journey. I have learned so much about judgment and how incredibly unfair it is. When I hear of a situation that I may have judged in the past, I think different thoughts…I think about what the person may be going through or how hard it is or how I wish I could help in some way. I have also learned about compassion in the face of hurt and betrayal.
A person struggling with addiction does not want to steal, cheat and hurt the very ones that love them so dearly. They have a disease that robs their brain of logical thinking while active in the addiction, with the only cure to abstain and let the brain heal – this takes time, but it is possible. I’ve learned so many things that have changed me. I am grateful for the little things that happen in my daily life. I’m grateful when the day ends and my family is safe and healthy, I don’t fret about insignificant occurrences that I might have in the past – they simply aren’t important. But of all the things I have learned, the ones I treasure the most are to love unconditionally – I may not like some things that happen, but I still love the people in my life regardless. And to be grateful for all things big or small that happen in my life – I know the darkness that can descend and I choose to be grateful now for each moment of light.
SCENARIO: 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…
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.
This 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.