Ask the Expert: Does my daughter want me to help or to leave her alone?

mother and daughter on beachYour question: How do I know if my daughter is crying out for help or is really just pushing me away? My daughter is 23 and has had emotional issues dating back to her early teens. When she went off to college, she turned to drugs for self medicating. Our family has been dealing with the ups and downs that come along with this. She now lives 2,100 miles away and I am so afraid for her. I have little knowledge about where she lives. I have her “so called” friends messaging me on Facebook telling me they are afraid for her life and that her addiction is out of control, yet she assures me this isn’t true.

She hasn’t worked in almost a year. She is living from couch to couch and my parents continue to send money. I have asked them not to, but even I cave sometimes (not often) when she calls crying and saying she hasn’t eaten in days. I talked to her twice last weekend. I could tell she was out of it by the sound of her voice and the fact that she was so out of it, she thought she called me. She did call me later that day and asked for money for food. I told her I couldn’t give her money because I was in fear she would use it to buy drugs that could kill her.

I was clear that the way I was willing to help was when she is ready to come home and deal with her problems and get help for them I would put her on a plane in a heartbeat. Of course, she was angry and told me she wasn’t an addict. We have tried multiple times to get her into rehab, but she has checked herself out or quit going. How do I just give up or quit trying? I know she has to want it on her own, but I can’t help but think about the guilt I will carry always wondering if I did enough to try and help her, if she dies from a drug overdose. How do I know if she really wants me to come save her or just leave her alone?

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend: Thank you for your questions. So many parents are grappling with this same distressing situation. It’s so hard to know what is truly going on and how to help.

First of all, mental health issues and chemical dependency often go hand in hand. It sounds like your daughter  may have had some mental health issues in the past, and she is finding relief by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

If her friends are sharing their fears with you, I would tend to believe them over her, in most cases. While in active addiction, we lie to our families to get what we need from them to survive, which is money to buy drugs or alcohol to quiet our screaming brains. I am sorry that your parents do not understand this disease and that they are partnering up with your daughter to support her addiction and a possible overdose. Chemical dependency impacts the entire family, and the entire family must “circle the wagons” to support a loved one in a healthy recovery. Until the whole family is in agreement, your daughter will seek out the weakest link to support her addiction.

You sound like you are healthy in your interactions with your daughter. I would continue to say, “I love you but will not support you in your addiction. I love you enough to let you hate me for this. I will support you in treatment only.”

I recommend you continue to participate in parent Al-Anon meetings. I also strongly encourage you to please seek professional support, just as you would for any other life-threatening illness. I’ve worked with many families long-distance to develop a plan and to find the words and the actions to make it work. Please give me a call at 916 539-4535 if you’d like my assistance. Or there are certainly many other capable family counselors/addiction specialists nationwide who could help guide you on this very tough journey.

I wish you well

Ricki Townsend

Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor
NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

 

What’s it feel like after detox, and how to move on?

siblings talkingWhen your loved one first emerges from detox, he or she will be very raw, hurting, angry, and more. Detox essentially rips the band-aid off of whatever they’ve been doing to self-medicate themselves or to navigate through life in a way that is manageable to them. Now they are out in the open, with nerves fully exposed and nowhere to hide. They also have to look in the mirror and see the damage they’ve done to themselves and others. How painful that must be. No wonder the siren song of self-medication is so unrelenting.

There’s an expression about recovery: “The only thing that has to change is everything.” When you think about how profoundly challenging the world looks to someone in early recovery, that expression makes perfect sense. Someone in recovery needs to figure out an entirely new way of living life. They have to manage their sorrow, shame or grief – whatever they were drowning – without mood-altering drugs or alcohol. They have to learn or re-learn the logistics of school or work. They have to deal with the emotions of righting the wrongs they committed. And they have to mend relationships that have been torn apart. It’s a tall order, and it takes a team of friends and families who love (although they may not like) the person who is struggling to regain their equilibrium. That’s the secret of recovery for all, for as Buddha said, “In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.”

Should we expect Relapse when our loved ones get Rehabilitation for chemical dependency?

When my son entered a 12-Step rehabilitation program after 19 months of using, I was naively thinking 30 days and he’d be back to normal. There was just no way he would use again, it was such a waste of his young years, and surely he saw this. Well, not only did he relapse WHILE in rehab, he subsequently relapsed many times over. I heard others say that with recovery comes relapse. This helped me accept unfavorable outcomes and not be so disappointed, angry or resentful. Later someone shared that relapse expectations can be dangerous and that perhaps I should not expect it or justify it. Think about the addict who may rationalize as do I: “Craig has relapsed a bunch of times before he made it, so what if I have a drink or two.”

What is minimized is that the last time Sabrina relapsed, she went into a coma and never came back; the last time James relapsed, his drug induced high for 3 days left a trail of armed robbery and arrest. The last time Joe relapsed, he hit a pedestrian while driving under the influence, and Sally? She nearly died from insulin shock, no longer in touch with her blood sugar monitoring.

Having this brought to my attention changed my behavior and attitude towards expecting relapse.  Addiction is a deadly serious disease and any attempts to smooth things over, allow or assist the addict to justify relapse while in my sphere of influence cannot be tolerated.  I will not expect it, but I can learn to accept it.  And with love and prayer, a program of recovery from co-dependency, I have faith that a Power, greater than me, will guide us all toward a program of recovery.

Why is it shameful to be the parent of a drug addict?

StressThis is an “encore” post from Eliza

Our children’s substance abuse creates such isolation for beloved addicts and parents alike. It feels like others cannot possibly relate to our struggles as parents of addicts unless they, too, have been hunkered down in the trenches of fear, anger and shame. But I have great hope that as we spread the word about addiction as a brain disease, then the shame of being the parent of a drug addict will begin to dissipate and we can come together openly and constructively to prevent addiction through awareness and education.

So here, for the record, is the official definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine: The ASDM defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”

Physician Michael Wilkes aptly illustrates that point in the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary when he says, “I don’t think it’s any more under someone’s control than skin cancer or breast cancer or an infectious disease. Sure, there’s some role you had initially but once you begin to get the actual manifestations of the disease, you can’t stop it without a significant amount of help.” (You can watch Collision Course here…and then ask your local Public TV station to run it in your area.)

We’ve all experienced the part about the sheer amount of work and terror in trying to derail active addiction. Through education and awareness, we can stop addiction before it even starts. And never forget—there is no shame in having a child with a disease, whether its asthma, diabetes or addiction.

Acceptance of reality is a gift of Al-Anon

bright closeup picture of magic twinkles on female handsOne of the hardest tasks for me is to accept why the holiday season brings on a dreadful feeling of gloom for me. Growing up, I don’t have any negative feelings about the holidays. In fact, I’m very grateful for all the fond memories and joy I experienced. My mom, dad and family get-togethers during Thanksgiving were GREAT! Though my mom recalls a difficult period when we would pack up and drive 3 hours to “grandmas” where she later “put an end to THAT.” I don’t remember anything but having dinner at our house. I always remember my mom cooking and a lot of activity in preparation. There was anxious excitement anticipating the arrival of my relatives. There was always a flurry of political discussions, abundance of food, and comforting smells. There may have been alcohol, I don’t recall. Being the youngest, I watched my older siblings bring home guests from college and they were always interesting characters whether “meditating yoga” in our front yard (the 60’s!) or bringing a new perspective to the table. It was always these memories that I tried to recreate with my family.

The holidays are hard for me because I have dysfunction in my family. I’m newly aware that this is what the reality is. This dysfunction is a result of alcoholism and addiction combined with my perspective of what a family should be and how others should act – all effects of the family disease. It’s no use wishing for the memories to repeat or wishing for my family to be something else. If I continue to deny it, I will stay in my disease. I will likely blame others, try to force solutions and perpetuate the negativity that can come so easily. I continue to work on my attitude and use the tools of the Al-Anon program to help me see things more clearly, accept and appreciate all the blessings I have – and there are many.  For this I am grateful.

 

How “Shatterproof” is ending addiction, one hotel room at a time

iStock_000003937940XSmallShatterproof.org  is a national organization committed to protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by this disease.  And Shatterproof’s taking their show on the road, working with hotels nationwide who have come together to join Shatterproof’s breakthrough Hotel Guest Program  to show commitment as a corporate citizen in their community and to help protect the environment.

This simple program produces cost savings turned into donations to support Shatterproof in its efforts to end alcohol and drug addiction and benefit the environment …at no cost to its hotel guests.

The way the program works is based on these simple principles:

  • Each hotel guest is offered the opportunity to “decline” housekeeping services during their stay-over nights (additional days stayed between day of arrival and day of departure).
  • The time and associated costs (supplies, energy, etc.) required to clean a typical guest room during stay-over, is saved by the participating hotel.
  • This savings is donated in cash to Shatterproof.

This guest gesture of deferring service supports Shatterproof’s mission and saves the environment, , all without any out-of-pocket costs to the guest, or hotel. For those who choose to participate, it is a win/win for all involved.

“This program not only saves save water, electricity and usage of chemicals, a plus for the environment, but also is supporting Shatterproof and its unprecedented effort to tackle the disease of addiction, and bridge the enormous gap in addiction resources.   Shatterproof is a national organization committed to systematically ending this disease, and I am proud to be one of its earliest supporters.”
Mark O’Neill, Area Managing Director at the Equinox, Luxury Collection Hotel in Manchester, Vermont

Find and patronize the hotels that offer this program.  And while you’re at it, consider adding yourself to Shatterproof’s mailing list to stay in the loop about advocacy, resources and opportunities to protect our children and our communities from addiction.

 

There is no ‘Right’ Answer – Every family must do what is in their heart

hands in shape of heartOften we are faced with decisions that we need to make on whether we will help our loved one in addiction.  When we first start dealing with the wreckage of a loved one’s addiction we are often uninformed and ill equipped about what to do, I know I was.  It seemed whatever I did just made things worse and I became more resentful.  For example many addicts go from rehab to a sober living house.  Although many times there is an agreement that if they relapse they need to figure out where they will go and not give them an option to come home.  Yet when the dreaded relapse occurs, we are faced with this heart wrenching decision – do we leave them out in the cold or take them in?

I’m not for one decision or the other – both have consequences which can be very unpleasant or it could have a good outcome.   In my experience we did what we felt in our heart when faced with difficult decisions.   And sometimes the outcome was not good for my daughter and actually enabled her to keep going down a dark road.  The bottom line is that there is no ‘right’ answer.  Many people will have opinions on what to do – very strong opinions.  But in the end it’s your child and you have to make the decision that is best for you and your situation.  We need to look at each decision and think about whether it will help or whether it will hinder the health and well-being of the people involved.  With each decision and outcome we learn, we adjust, and keep moving forward.  Each family has to work together and make the next ‘right’ decision for their circumstance.

Reflecting on the Progress of Personal Growth

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.

Instant Gratification – Learning to have patience

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.

So what do you tell the grandparents about your addicted/alcoholic child?

Choices in RelationshipsThere 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.