Parent isolation and teen substance abuse

1427313_66874007 red headed finch birdI am captivated by Anne Lamott’s book, Imperfect Birds. Certainly, Anne was channeling me as she wrote this novel about a daughter’s secretive addiction.

Her book, although fiction, is uncannily familiar as she describes the seeming innocence of her daughter and friends, who were blatantly using drugs right in front of oblivious parents like me. Instead of “lame,” I prefer to look back at myself as trusting, hopeful, and a firm believer in the innocence and purity of childhood.  Drug addiction did not fit into that idyllic picture.

Anne Lamott and I are now kindred spirits, bonded by the experience of addicted children, real or fictional.  I am buoyed by this sisterhood of understanding and compassion.  It’s the same sisterhood that blossomed at a parents’ Al-Anon meeting where I discovered that many of us were struggling through the dark and uncertain woods. After weeping  uncontrollably in a room filled with total strangers, I was brought into the fold. We shared the common threads of grief and despair and even hope, although I couldn’t see that at the time.  But I knew I was no longer alone, and that made all the difference.

I’m not far into the book, so I don’t know how the story ends.  Guess what?  We never know how the story ends until we get there.  Until then, we need to forge ahead through the uncertainty, reach out to others who are stumbling alongside us, and head towards the light of day—one step at a time.

My obsession with (fill in the blanks) affects all my children

There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time.   The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow.  I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other.  The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus.  So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions.  I wondered which role my children fell into.

Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease.   It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.

Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.

Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”.  He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing!  I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts!  Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time.  My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”

Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening.  Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation.  I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.


What Hope-Springs-Eternal Means to My Serenity

water flowingThere was a time I’d spend my waking moments hoping for a positive change in my sons. I would hope that the rehab people would do the trick and in 30 days. I’d hope that magic bullet would find the target and I’d hope that my sons would beat all odds to a full recovery and cure. Once I discovered the hope heard in the rooms of AA, I then changed my tactics. My focus was still on my sons, but this time I had answers! I wanted to make sure they were appropriately informed about AA, were going to AA meetings, essentially, were as excited and interested as I was about AA! I would cleverly leave pamphlets out or suggest a tape I had heard… I’d hope someday they would embrace the gift of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and become a spokesperson, speaker, and well respected sponsor. I just knew they’d get their life back on track with employment, relationships and financial stability, if only.

I constantly had these hopeful dreams for them. Without hope, how could I have gone on? I don’t know why I continued to move towards a spiritual journey of recovery in Al-Anon for myself, but I did know what, when and where to get it. Perhaps it was because nothing I seemed to be doing was helping them.  My focus was misdirected but I did not know that at the time. If nothing changes, nothing changes! I slowly realized if I keep the focus on me, my desire to achieve serenity is more likely to be obtained. I kept coming back hoping to hear more stories of hope!  And it was not the stories of how their kids were doing well, though helpful and encouraging, it was how well THEY WERE DOING!  Serenity was alluring and I was told, “obtainable.” For some reason, I believed them.

Stop talking and start mending things with your addicted child

Photo of teen girl talking to woman.One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight!  My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment!  A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes.  Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.

I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!

Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T.    This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check.  Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.

To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication

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.

“Ready, willing and able” spells hope for parents of addicts and alcoholics

butterflyI have often said my turning point in recovery from the family disease was to keep an open mind be willing to try the Al-Anon program. I somehow needed to re-wire my beliefs, truths and experience. This would be a completely different way of handling life’s situations – and I held doubt. Yet, I had been broken open by addiction and freely admitted that my life had become unmanageable.

I remember thinking about and using affirmations such as this:

  • I am willing to be willing to consider the Al-Anon program as a solution for healing from the effects of alcoholism/addiction.
  • I am willing to consider the Al-Anon program as a solution for healing from the effects of alcoholism/addiction.
  • I consider the Al-Anon program the solution for my living life happy, joyous and free.
  • I thank life for giving me the fellowship of the Al-Anon family group where there is love and understanding.
  • I see the hurt I have suffered as an opportunity to learn compassion.

And so goes the process – used at every step.  I’ve come a long ways from being angry, resentful and contemptuous.  I sleep at night, I’m not paralyzed by fear.  I have faith, better tolerance and acceptance.  I’m not perfect, but I keep working on me and I’m excited about the growth in my relationship with my loved ones.

Seven Powerful Ways to Find your Sunshine Again

Cathy TaughinbaughCathy Taughinbaugh is a guest blogger and a Recovery Coach working with parents of addicted children. Find her at CathyTaughinbaugh.com.

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell
Are you feeling overwhelmed because of your child’s drug abuse?

When we take the time to get the support we need, our outlook can feel so much brighter no matter what our children choose to do with their lives.

I’ve found an Al-Anon parent meeting that works for me. We often laugh at our meetings, which may seem strange to you. I’ve discover that if you don’t laugh and seek joy, you remain in that well of despair.

To listen, to talk and to learn how you can live a peaceful and serene life even if your child chooses a life of chaos is immeasurable.

Many come to meetings with paper and pencil in hand ready to write down all the things that will fix their addicted child. They are surprised when their paper is blank and they have nothing to write down. There are no easy answers.

Support groups, such as Al-Anon will not fix your child, but they will help you handle the emotional toll of addiction.

We can offer treatment, and there is always hope that our kids will take us up on our offer. Our addicted child may make the decision that they want to make a change.

It is excruciating, but this is their personal journey. We want to control their progress, but they will cross the bridge to recovery when they are ready.

What can you do in the meantime?

You can work on yourself. You can take steps to ensure that you will remain healthy and find some joy.

Here are some ideas on how to let the sunshine back in your life when you are feeling overwhelmed by addiction:

1) Attend a Parent’s Support Meeting.

Finding a parent’s support group that works for you may take some work, but it is a wonderful way to interact with other parents who have experienced addiction with their children. You will realize you are not alone. You can share and listen openly without feelings of shame. Al-Anon meetings are easy to find in every city, but there are others types of parent groups that may better fit your needs.

2) Exercise

Even taking a walk on a regular basis can do wonders for relieving the stress of dealing with addiction. When you find an exercise plan that works for you and make it a regular part of your week. You will begin to feel better, stronger and more hopeful. Your focus will begin to change.

3) Talk to a Professional

If you are feeling excessively stressed, a counselor trained in addiction, can help to relieve your anxiety about your situation. An objective opinion can be a welcome help on even a short term basis. Just knowing you have someone to call if you need to can make a big difference. Get the support you need early on. Don’t wait until you are emotionally exhausted. Ask others for referrals and find someone you feel comfortable with.

4) Find Some Quiet Time

Sit quietly for a few moments each day. Find a comfortable spot in your home. Sit on a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Let your thoughts float by and don’t judge them. It will help to center your thoughts, and give you a chance to stop and focus on your breath. Your mind will welcome the short break. You will begin to access your inner thoughts. Sitting each day each day helps to make us feel happier. Try it and see if you don’t feel some relief.

5) Treat Yourself Well

Going to a movie, or getting together with friends can add a little fun in your life. It will make you feel better. Just the simple act of bringing in beautiful flowers can give you something to smile about. Take care of yourself and give yourself the loving care that you deserve. Don’t do it just once. Make it a regular part of your life. Treat yourself well and you will realize the benefits.

6) Write Down Your Feelings

Writing each day is a soothing way to express our feelings and get our thoughts down on paper. Find three things to be grateful for each day and write them down. Write about something positive that has happened in your life. You may find that making a goal of writing three pages a day gives you a clear starting and stopping point. Of course, you can add more when you feel the need.

7) Let Go of Trying to Control Your Child’s Disease

When you surrender and realize that your child’s addiction is out of your control, a huge burden is released. We realize that we cannot solve our children’s problems. We can love them, and we can support them in healthy ways. When our children take responsibility for their lives, they become stronger. They will become the person they were meant to be.

Find your sunshine again. You can have that good day you’ve been missing, one day at a time.

Cathy Taughinbaugh is a former teacher and mother of a crystal meth addict in recovery. She writes on addiction, recovery and treatment at CathyTaughinbaugh.com. You can also follow her on Facebook at Treatment Talk and twitter @treatmenttalk.

Parents of addicts/alcoholics: Fix yourself first

We learn how to parent from the way we were parented, for better and for worse.  If you grew up in a family where alcohol or other mood-altering substances played a starring role, you might have learned to keep the boat on an even keel by patching things up or smoothing things over.  Or maybe you looked the other way or simply retreated from the family drama and trauma.  Either way, those methods of coping can spill over from one generation to the next and influence the way we raise our own children.

How do you approach your child’s drinking and drugging?  If you are a “fixer,” you probably shelter the rest of the family from the errant child.  You carry the burden of his or her mistakes.   You enlist the siblings to clean up the messes, or you might even displace the blame onto the “good” siblings.  You keep your spouse in the dark about the missing money or jewelry.  You devote all your time and energy to making things right.

As you soldier on, you are inadvertently keeping the chemically-dependent child from assuming responsibility for poor choices.  As the Al-Anon “Open Letter from the Alcoholic” says,  “Don’t let your love and anxiety for me lead you into doing what I ought to do for myself. If you assume my responsibilities, you make my failure to assume them permanent. My sense of guilt will be increased, and you will feel resentful.” You will also be completely exhausted because you are singlehandedly trying to fix the unfixable:  only the addict/alcoholic can fix himself or herself.

Your job, then, is to fix yourself. To acknowledge that you cannot make your loved one better.  To work on understanding what compels you to keep trying to fix your child.  That quest will bring you wisdom and self-awareness that enriches your life in untold ways.  Your job is to take care of yourself. To treat yourself—to a moment of quiet contemplation in a park, to a meal with your spouse uninterrupted by crisis phone calls, to an evening of laughter with friends. To treat yourself well and, at the same time, give your child a reason to change.