I’m one of those people who struggle with remembering names. I learned in a sales class that using an association with the name helps in recall. For example, I’m introduced to Betty. She has dark, jet black/blue hair. I think of Archie Comic Books, Veronica & Betty. Betty has Veronica’s hair! This amount of time devoted to remembering Betty has only been a few seconds but is somehow lodged in my brain to not forget Jet Black/Blue Hair Betty.
Association comes in handy on other areas of my life, especially when my fears and concerns about my adult children take over my thoughts. These thoughts tend to be negative and are always masked under the cloak of good mothering. I will forget all that I’ve learned about my stinking thinking. I find myself worrying and wondering if he is cold, alone, hungry, hurt and a host of other terrible things. And to add injury, I’ll invite responses to vindicate my negative concerns. I may resort to rescuing and have completely relapsed into codependency. Such behavior is odd when seen from the outside, but for those of us who have a child struggle in addiction or alcoholism; this is how we roll. And it is here I’m triggered to ask myself if I’m doing anyone any good, especially for myself. I’m acting out of self preservation from fear, not the supportive and accepting, loving mother I strive to be. What am I forgetting?
Mothering rhymes with smothering.
My fears and worries turn mothering into smothering. I don’t want to suffocate anyone. I’m not proud to add guilt to someone’s low self esteem and today I have tools to help me navigate out of my own stinking thinking.
Headaches, indigestion, stomach aches, sweaty palms, sleep difficulties, back and neck pain, racing heart, restlessness, tiredness, ringing in the ears, dizziness, skin rash, increased allergies, frequent colds, and more I can’t think of at this moment. These physical symptoms were all typical for me at the summit of trying to manage my son’s progressive drug addiction. These warning signs were only vindicated by my current drama event of the day; I became more obsessed with his disease, wanting him to change, urging him to get recovery, pleading for his sobriety, believing that if he’d do what I wanted him to do, I would also get better. To exasperate matters, I would take sleep aids, buy skin ointment, or treat myself to a massage believing this would fix my ailments. All the while, never quite understanding, I was merely affixing a Band-Aid to a severed artery. The underlying issues of my physical symptoms required a drastic 360 degree turn-a-round in the way I was living life. I didn’t go to a doctor because I was tired from last night’s restless sleep. I went because of three, four, five years of continuous symptoms from something that progressed beyond my understanding. Other “stressors” became unmanageable. What used to be easy; work related challenges, staff interactions, management meetings, and interpersonal relationships, all became monumental. All facets of my life were impacted. Loving someone in addiction would require drastic measures and a new way of living. This became possible, but change didn’t happen overnight, and my health would not bounce back in a day or two. There is hope, help and a light at the end of this dark tunnel – it required effort on my part, it began not with him changing, but with me.
The Power of my thoughts can change the way I act. Thoughts drive symptoms. For me, symptoms were anxious feelings. I was fearful that any one of my sons may at any point in time fall into serious consequences. I had obsessive thoughts and continual replay of past events when I may have had a better influence on them. This kept me longing for things I could not have back. Everything in my life was drama. Living with active addiction creates mayhem. Then my thoughts turned to physical symptoms: Panic attacks, blood pressure; an altered immune system that, if left untreated, would leave me in medical crises.
It used to bother me when the doctor would say my problem was stress. I felt it was a cop-out. What I did not know is that stress is not reality; stress is how my mind reacts to the reality around it. The old adage “things upset me” versus “I upset me” point of view. But then my mind would say, “my son’s drug problem upsets me, and when he gets better, I won’t have stress anymore.” This type of thinking did not help me or my son in anyway. It kept me in a circular self-defeating mind set.
Sometimes change is forced on us. It wasn’t like I made a conscience effort to seek help for myself, I stumbled on the notion I needed help while searching for help for my sons. I had to experience desperation which opened up a willingness to try a new way to manage an old problem. The disease of addiction is progressive as were my negative thoughts. My symptoms became greater than my desire to maintain familiar tactics. It was this force, greater than me, that propelled me to change. I just wanted to feel better. I think I will.
Years ago, when my control and need to know everything mentality was at its peak, the *69 feature on the telephone became a dangerous tool for further pursuit of things to add to my world of loose ends. I was empowered to be an assertive investigator. I was enabled to seek out who called for what reason and why did they not leave a voice mail. Moreover, if the phone rang and I answered, the sound of the “click” provoked me to question WHO HUNG ON ME? The feeling of empowerment – To be able to press those three keys and ring back the unknown caller back was a rush of adrenaline. They would pick up and I’d say “you just called my number,” forcing a response on the other end. The sound of their voice was already a piece of the puzzle. Male? Female? Young? Old? Why did they call my number? The fact they called must be indicative of something… Why? Why? Why? Star 69 and later technology could be abused for the wrong reasons. My need to know WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WHY seemed important back when the addiction family disease of secrets was fermenting. But in reality this underlying need to know was a symptom of my infinite desire to be in control of matters I may not be aware of and often powerless over. Today it seems clear and obvious. If someone is reaching me, they will leave a message or call back later. I can let go with that knowledge and not pursue it to the depths of insanity. I don’t have to obsess on things that are not my business anymore. ”Why” is a question no longer the center stage of my life.
How many times does one hope it’s the last time? I reflect on a time when I had to gather my strength while knowing that my daughter had relapsed again. It was so disheartening for me, but for her as well. There are so many phases of addiction, but there does come a time when it’s just not fun anymore. While I haven’t had a drug addiction, I cannot say what it is like from experience. But I do know that there is drug and alcohol use that is just one big ‘party’ to young people and then there is addiction. It is not pretty, it is not fun, and it is not a phase. It is an obsession, it is a depression, and it is full of loss and remorse.
Whenever my daughter had relapsed I had an overwhelming urge to travel to where she was just to hold her and love her. I always knew that whatever she did I would be there for her. I did not begrudge her or have anger towards her, I had love and compassion. I knew that she did not want this to be her life, she wanted to move forward, yet the addiction was like trying to run up a muddy hill – you keep sliding and slipping in place or backwards. I would sit with my daughter and listened to her story, what she thought, what she did, how she came back and wanted to get better. My part in her journey was to just love her and support her – she was the one who would make the changes to get off the muddy hill.
This question, often asked at the grocery store by the courtesy clerk, reminds me of a time I’d have to see if my kids were doing alright before I could answer. If they were doing well, then I was doing well. If they were messing up, then my day would be ruined. My attachment to them was so powerful that I was not aware of how much my well being depended on them. My concern for them at different stages of their troublesome drug use grew exponentially. Addiction is progressive. If a person does not seek recovery, they will spiral further and further. For my experience, this was exactly what happened. My life depended on them to get sober, and it was not looking good for me. If only he would get sober and start working in a job so he can be self-sufficient…Then I’d be happy! I remember when my son finally asked for help and we financed his treatment, a faith based live in facility. I was ecstatic! Finally! My life is going to get better. One thing was certain, I was able to sleep a full 7 hours. Many rehabs and relapses were on the horizon. Fortunately, during this time I sought help too. With my co-dependent lifestyle, I was beginning to see health problems associated with years of stress and relying on an addict to make me feel happy. I remember my counselor asked me “do you want to be happy?” “Yes! Yes I do want to be happy!” I replied. “Then go right ahead.” What I did not know then, but have since learned, is my happiness is something I choose. I learned how NOT to rely on anyone to make me feel good. Are there days when sadness hits? You bet there is. That’s life, and I accept that there will be ups and downs. Down is not a destination. Today, I’m doing great, thank you and it’s a - Wonderful feeling, feeling this way!
Jail Visitation is a familiar setting. I’ve been a visitor here often, and it spans many years. The locations change, but the signs are the same. This is where I go to see my son when his disease lands him there. Over time, my visitation attitude has changed. It used to be I would try to reason with him; tell him what I think he needs to hear, show disappointment because he’s not doing what I think he should be doing and chasing my dream that he will get it this time. It’s too hard to keep working that angle with no benefit. Eventually, my desires for my son’s recovery became no longer necessary to outwardly express them. His incarceration is a result of drug addiction, period, end of story. And when I accept that, my relationship with him is on neutral territory: he’s not on the hot seat, and I’m not the interrogator. It’s this change in attitude that allows me to choose that visit, because jail visitation has many inconveniences. I would inwardly fight the system with its unyielding rules for visitors. Now I endure the rules and regulations about what I wear, what I carry in, and for those 30 minutes, I forfeit a day. But it’s worth it because now I’m just a loving mom visiting my son. After I’m “admitted in” I embrace the 40 minute wait. There is no reading material allowed and our chairs face a TV that is never turned on. As other visitors file through I begin to get anxious about what to do with all that time sitting still waiting for the clock to turn to visit time. There’s really nothing else but to twittle my thumbs. Then I remember that I can invite my Higher Power in; asking for guidance on how I can be fully present with my son. I can turn inward to prayer and meditation. I have concerns, but I’m not consumed by them anymore. I wish his situation will turn to better days, but I don’t dwell on the future too much. And then the fastest 30 minutes of the day flashes by, and I’m grateful that I can visit my son and that he enjoys the time with me as well.
I have had the honor of attending an event for a women and children’s shelter. It is a wonderful event where there is a lot of sharing about women who had been homeless and are now self-sustaining. Many of these women have struggled with drug addiction. Some spoke about starting to use drugs at a very young age with parents who also used drugs. Some never imagined what life could be like without using drugs. But each of these women overcame their drug addiction in the face of lots of challenges. The united message from all of them is that they have emerged stronger and more confident now that they are learning to take responsibility for themselves without substance abuse.
The gifts that they described from their life clean and sober were countless. Many had lost their children and now have them back in their lives. Their self-esteem has grown leaps and bounds and they are working on gaining skills. Some of them have already become employed and are making their own way. And while I’d like to think that our teenagers, who had never been faced with the severe disadvantages that these women had, their addiction somehow brought them to the same place. Addiction does not discriminate; it is equally devastating no matter what your socioeconomic standing is. Listening to these women is such an inspiration. They come from very difficult situations and have chosen to seek a life of recovery and rebuilding. They are setting a good example for their children who will be better for it.
You can learn more about guest blogger Linda and her daughter Tiffany in the Emmy award-winning documentary Collision Course.
I am often asked, “What do you wish you knew earlier about your daughter’s addiction?” by parents I meet at treatment centers in my community. I think back to how naïve I was and how little I knew about addiction. First off, I was surprised that the pills prescribed to Tiffany were so addictive. The labels on the sides of the bottles warned of the possibility of respiratory failure or liver damage if not using the proper dose. They said not to drink alcohol with this medication or take other drugs with acetaminophen because there could be liver damage. But I thought surely her doctors would monitor her closely, and because I was home with her, I made sure she didn’t take more than she was prescribed. The two pages enclosed with the prescription never mentioned the word “addicted” – only “habit-forming.” I take an aspirin a day and this is habit-forming for me but not addictive. Tiffany was taking pain meds for the pain from her broken neck. I didn’t see this as an addiction – not yet anyway. I didn’t really notice what was happening until she moved out of the house. She was still on Paxil for her panic attacks, and Ambien to help her sleep – both addictive drugs prescribed by her doctors.
I could understand the reasons for Tiffany’s medications at first because breaking her neck in the car accident was both painful and traumatic. Many more prescriptions continued from that point on. My husband and I were clueless at first. Tiffany couldn’t just stop taking her pain medication without going through terrible withdrawals. I wished I was more educated. At first I thought this was the only way she could stop. I didn’t know what detox was or what an interventionist or intervention was all about. When we first came to the ER because Tiffany had overdosed, I thought they would keep her overnight and help her get well. They never gave us places to call or a list of places they recommended for us to go get help. We didn’t know where to look except on the Internet, which offered a multitude of listings. How can you tell the good treatment centers from the bad?
Summing it up, I wish I knew more about addiction – that it is an illness –that Tiffany couldn’t just stop. I had seen addiction in my family tree, but I didn’t see it as an illness. I saw it as making bad choices. I remember thinking – I wished there was someone or somewhere I could go that would teach me about what’s going on in my daughter’s life.
I wish I knew who to turn to for help. Seems like even the family doctor doesn’t really understand addiction. I once went to an addiction specialist who decided she was going to handle Tiffany’s pills and give her 1 pill every 4 hours so that Tiffany didn’t take too many. Even I knew by then how crazy that sounded!
I wish there was a way to find out if you have a predisposition to addiction. Did Tiffany have this OR does addiction just happen if you continue to take addictive drugs like Vicodin over a long period of time? The answer to that question is too late for my beautiful Tiffany, but it may save other children.
There comes a time in every addict’s journey that they finally say ‘enough!’ And there also comes a time in the co-dependents journey that is enabling them where they finally say ‘enough!’ When I reflect on this journey, I sometimes think that the recovery truly starts when that moment of truth arrives. Sometimes it is a long series of small moments of truth that build into a crescendo. No matter what the chain of events, there is always that point that comes. I had a big moment of truth that was a turning point for me, as well as, my daughter.
As my kids were growing up I was always very strict about any talking back, foul language, bad attitude. It just wasn’t acceptable or tolerated. During the course of my daughters addiction talking back, foul language and bad attitude were the status quo. Although I would say, ‘don’t talk to me that way’. It went on deaf ears and I did not enforce a consequence to effect a change.
My moment of truth came when I was getting ready to board an international flight and my daughter called and asked me for something I wasn’t willing to give. It was something I had told her that I would not do, I had finally started saying ‘No’. She texted me a series of horrible expletives and threats that I came to know as ‘emotional terrorism’. Something snapped in me and I knew that I would not allow this abusive behavior to continue. I reluctantly got on the flight with the threats looming in the text message of my phone and I proceeded to write a letter on email to my daughter and when I landed I sent it to her. I wanted her to really internalize what I was saying. It was a long letter, but I will summarize to say that I expressed that the ‘emotional terrorism’ would stop and if I had one more word from her of foul language towards me or emotional threats that there would be consequences, which I laid out. She didn’t talk to me for about a month. But she has never said a harsh word since. It completely shifted the dynamic. We began to create a new healthy relationship where I set boundaries and enforced them out of respect for myself and her.