The death of dreams for our children who are addicts and alcoholics

Recognizing addiction in loved one Dr. JantzDr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in 1969, and it holds timeless wisdom for parents of addicts and alcoholics. The Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief chronicles the reactions we have when we lose the dreams we had for someone…ourselves, or our children, perhaps.

Those steps might look this way when we witness a loved one’s chemical dependency:

1) Denial: He’s not using drugs – he’s got learning disabilities or He wasn’t drinking – he’s just an inexperienced driver.

2) Anger: You’ve stupidly shot up all your college funds.

3) Bargaining: If you fix my child, I’ll never ask for anything again.

4) Depression: I’d rather be dead than go through this hell.

5) Acceptance: I’ve come to accept that I am powerless over my loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse, and that my life has become unmanageable.

The Acceptance step may sound familier because it’s the first step any any 12-step program. It’s the foundation of recovery for addicts and alcohlics, and for those who love them. Acceptance is a good place to end up in Dr. Ross’s model, and it’s a great place to start getting healthy in AA or Al-Anon.

The scarlet letter – fighting the stigma of addiction

Letter A Tin LettersWhen I first really “got it” that my son was addicted to opiates, I was saddened, shocked, terrified and embarrassed. Somehow, it felt like I was responsible, that I had failed as a parent, that I had led my child astray. I felt like I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” for all the world to see. I expected to start bleeding spontaneously from my heart, my hands. If I had known then what I know now, the isolation would have vaporized and I would have felt in good company. My neighborhood is no different than the rest of the nation, where 20% of high school kids abuse prescription meds, according to a recent CDC study. Helloooo, neighbor! Is that loud teenage cursing coming from your house or mine?

Those feelings abated as I became more educated. For those who insist that addiction/alcoholism is a disease of character, I refer to babies who are born addicted… what juvenile delinquents they are and how they demonstrate a stunning lack of willpower and character. That generally turns the conversation in a different direction.

I know that most people don’t know what I know about addiction/alcoholism:  that it was defined as a disease more than 50 years ago; that brain imaging reveals the misfiring parts of the addict’s brain; that nutritional approaches show great promise for recovery. I try to share that knowledge with others because wisdom is key to recovery for parents and their beloved children.

As addiction becomes more understood and more public, we have an opportunity to support the other moms who are joining our ranks in fear, despair and sorrow. Together, we create a life brigade of experience, strength and hope.

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.


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…


Finding support from other parents for your child’s addiction or addiction

When I first started the journey of my child’s struggle with addiction I felt so alone. I didn’t know anyone in my family or any of my friends who had a child who had become so deeply involved with drugs and alcohol. I tried to talk to people that I knew but didn’t want to share; honestly, I didn’t want it to be true. Saying out loud what was happening in my home was nearly impossible. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and sad and felt completely depleted. When I did share with some people they would be full of suggestions yet they had never dealt with the situation. I spent quite a few months in a silent struggle where only those inside my house knew the full gravity of the situation.

I finally heard from another parent about Al-Anon which is a support group for family members of those struggling with drugs or alcohol. I was reluctant to go to a group setting, let alone share anything about the nightmare that had become my life. But I was so desperate I was willing to give it a try. I eventually found a parent based meeting. The first night when I went and heard parents tell the stories of their precious children that had become drug and alcohol addicted I finally knew that I was not alone. I had finally found other people who knew how I felt and could offer the kind of support that I needed. It also gave me new friends to talk to and meet with outside of the meetings when I needed to bounce an idea or get some advice. Al-Anon is a refuge from a storm where you can take cover and recover with others who have been there before.

What words of wisdom help the parent of an addict or alcoholic?

ENABLING OR HELPING?“What works for you?”  This question was posed at an Al-Anon meeting, with the emphasis being “what works now, where before, the addict alcoholic child’s risky behavior kept you in a tailspin? There are no pat answers, but by the end of the meeting, many people had spoken. Here’s the top 10 from the collective voices in recovery:

  1. Believing your recovery comes first
  2. Stop talking: WAIT (why am I talking?)
  3. You have the right to plan; you just can’t plan an outcome
  4. Stay in your hula-hoop (mind your own business)
  5. By working your 12-Step program which includes attending meetings regularly, reading the literature, working with a sponsor and giving service.
  6. Believing if you have a Higher Power that can restore you to sanity, they do too (and it’s not you)!
  7. You can’t make someone see the light – they have to feel the heat!
  8. Get out of their way, afford them the opportunity to learn and grow from their own trials.
  9. Changed attitudes will aid recovery.
  10. Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean!

Find an Al-Anon meeting near you to get support and gain wisdom. And please share your tips here with other readers.

Do you want to be happy? Then go right ahead!

Photo of three women with smiles.Have you ever caught yourself whining and complaining about them…you know who they are – the ones whose drug and alcohol use is bothering you. The friends of your loved one who just don’t understand or will encourage further destructive behavior. Or relatives & friends who contact you to lay down judgment, offer advice or expect you to do something. This can fuel your bad opinion of yourself already, no? Honestly, the list goes on and on and the scenarios are as varied as DNA. But the whining and complaining remains constant. It’s been described as the “his disease” – he won’t do this and he does that and he said this and he said that. If he’d just stop, get a job; get up in the morning…on and on. I too, fall victim to this self-deprecating behavior. Being a member of the Al-Anon Family Groups, obtaining a sponsor and working the steps has helped me see that the effort and energy spent on THEM, to no avail, might better be served helping me. And I hear it in many ways repeatedly:

  • Stay in your hula hoop
  • Mind your own business
  • Keep the focus on yourself
  • Would you rather be happy or right?
  • Are you seeing the disease or the person?
  • Forgive or relive
  • Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.
  • You can be happy or you can be miserable, same work.

And a new one to my favorite collection:

  • Do you want to be happy? Then go right ahead!


How I went from “not me!” to “me too!” while attending Al-Anon

water flowingWhen my life got desperately bad from the progression of their drinking and drugging, reality was starting to show itself in ways I could not deny: collection calls, unknown callers, unknown visitors, lost jobs, stealing, lying, and arrests to name a few. It was a low point for me – to admit that I was not able to correct, fix or keep up with the increasingly bizarre daily dose of drama!

I came to Al-Anon reluctantly. In fact, I was very annoyed at having to take time out of my busy week to even attend. I was headstrong and stubborn! I would hear others talk about their stories and I would think, “not me.” They would do readings about drinking and alcoholism, and I’d think about my kids’ prescription drugs abuse. With that alone I could not relate, “Not me!” They’d read the steps and when they got to step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” I’d think, my sons have done wrong doing ….but…not me! And then I’d hear about the parent who visited their loved one in the “orange jump suit” and I would adamantly say “not me!” Fortunately, a miracle happened. I heard someone tell my story. I slowly went from “not me” to “me too!” Maybe that’s why we say, keep coming back or stick around for the miracles or try to attend at least 6 meetings before you make up your mind if the program is right for you. The people before me KNEW the “not me syndrome” is part of the family disease.

First things first – learning to move forward during difficult times

Choices in RelationshipsIn Al-Anon I slowly learned how to live life again and I continue this journey of growth and joy. Slow is the operative word here but when I look back over time, I can clearly see how slow the progressive and insidious nature of addiction infiltrated my spirit and soul. By the time I sought help, the family disease was firmly implanted in my life for a good 4 years. It took a host of unhealthy situations for me to surrender and by then the perspective of time had no meaning. I was living in a constant state of unease. I was resentful at one or the other for not doing what I expected. I was anxious about what tomorrow would bring. I was fearful that my loved ones would land in jail. I was angry that they would not do what I wanted them to do and disappointed that they would NOT just stop doing it altogether! I had sleepless nights – I could not put them out of my mind. I constantly worried that they would hurt or kill themselves or someone else. I could not concentrate and I thought all this mindfullness was a productive measure because I was exhausted! Don’t we tire because of how hard we work?!

With the help of Al-Anon, I began to re-learn how to decipher all the stimuli into what needed my immediate attention. All things big and small seemed to have a “10” on the crises meter. It was as if I had to learn how to walk again. The slogan, “First things first” helps me prioritize myself to get a few things done for the day versus being paralyzed unable to do anything but worry. Sometimes it is as basic as “make bed, wash clothes, and fill up the car”. First-things-first helps me take the first step and in so doing, I realize the paralysis is temporary.

Powerless and yet, empowered as the parent of an addict or alcoholic

A Dad’s Road to Recovery

The month’s Guest Blogger, A Dad’s Road to Recovery, features a 3-part  series.  This is Part 3.

Each time my son was arrested, jailed, and released, I had to remember what the rooms of Al-Anon had taught me. I had to hold my son accountable for his actions and not try to rescue him for that was the only way he could learn what addiction was doing to him. It was difficult but not impossible to file a police report each time and watch the felonies stack up. I knew my actions were going to alter his life and take his freedom away but I knew in my own heart it was what had to be done. I learned to accept the concept of letting go after about 6 months in the program. As a father it was difficult to accept the fact I could not fix him and when that acceptance occurred – the doors of my recovery began for the first time to swing open. It was this event that provided me with the motivation to seek out a sponsor and work the steps. When you work the steps it puts you in a whole new dimension and you begin to develop a new thought process. You realize that the only real power you have is over yourself. When I truly understood that I was able to get out of my son’s way and allow him the honor and dignity to determine his own destiny, I knew the hope I had in my heart might lead my son down a different path someday and into his own recovery. But I must stay out of his way – which I continue to do to this day.

Will this ever end? I don’t really know. Only my higher power knows and only my son’s higher power can get him clean. I do know that as long as I have this program, show up to as many meetings as I can, continue to work the steps, and give back via service, I have a shot at not letting all the insanity of the past make me an inferior person. I use the Alanon program to keep my head on straight and get the most I can out of life so that I may enjoy the future.