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.

 

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.

 

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…

 

The Professional’s Perspective: Why do people become addicted?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis 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.

 

You don’t get a Get Out of Jail Free card just because addiction is a disease

1254880_shiny_brain_[1]I understand that addiction/alcoholism is a brain disease, but that doesn’t let my beloved addict off the hook or give him excuses like, “I can’t help it!  I’ve got a disease.”  And it doesn’t give me an out either.  If I think, “He can’t help it!  He’s got a disease,” then I am giving him a Get Out of Jail Free card.  I am giving him a reason to keep abusing drugs or alcohol.  I am enabling his  self-destruction, pure and simple.

Yes, my child has a disease, one that he needs to manage as he would diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Here are the rules of the game for those with impaired hearts or bad pancreases or chemically-dependent brains: keep away from the things that are bad for you.  Avoid sugar or fatty meat or – for the chemically dependent – any mood altering substance.  Pot, crack, alcohol, pain pills; these are all the same to the diseased addict/alcoholic brain.  Addicted to one means addicted to all.

As an aside:  I know many parents think, “It’s just pot!  How bad can that be?”  I was one of those naïve parents.  I didn’t know that pot had eight times the THC as in years gone by, or that it was causing psychosis among some users. I didn’t know there were more kids in rehab for pot than for all other drugs combined.  And today’s national landscape makes the picture even murkier: if pot is so dangerous, why is it being legally sold around the country?  That’s a mixed and confusing message for teens and adults alike.

My personal mantra for parental recovery is, “Give your beloved addicts a reason to change.”  The flip side to that is, “Don’t give them an excuse to use.” Don’t let them play the disease card.  Hold them accountable for the choices they make.  We can’t stop them from putting their hand to their mouth or a needle in their arm.  But we can stop making up excuses for them.

The Professional’s Perspective: Is my loved one addicted? addict?

Photo of Ricki TownsendThe Professional’s Perspective is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

People often tell me about a loved one’s drinking or drug use, and then they want me to tell them if their loved one is an addict or alcoholic. I would respectfully suggest they can answer that question themselves by asking several other questions:

  • How is drinking or drug use impacting the loved one’s life? How is it impacting others?
  • How is their health? Their job? Their schoolwork? Their family relationships?
  • Have they developed new friendships and left old friendships behind? How’s that working?
  • Do they have legal problems associated with drug or alcohol use?
  • What is their attitude about their lives? Angry? Sad? Argumentative?

When you consider these questions, write down your thoughts – positive and negative – on paper. That can give you perspective and provide support as you objectively assess just how well life is working for your loved one.

And here’s the question I get most often of all: Why don’t they just stop drinking (or drugging)? It’s because addiction/alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It is considered a brain disease, rather than a disease of character or will power.

Addiction/alcoholism is characterized by the inability to stop drinking or using drugs in spite of negative consequences like job loss, DUIs and family issues. It is a physical disease, NOT a disease of character or willpower. And it’s a disease that cannot simply be “loved away”

Without treatment or involvement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can lead to disability, premature death or involvement in illegal activities and incarceration.

Through treatment, people can learn to live healthy lives free of alcohol and other drugs. They can reclaim their lives, their families, their work and their health. And that’s the best answer of all.

Ricki Townsend is a Registered Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, Ncac1, CADC-CAS, Bri-1, Chaplain and Grief Recovery Specialist

Going “sky high” to prevent addiction and honor lost children

SafeLaunchSaferLock is a product designed to keep medications out of the wrong hands. On the SaferLock website, we found this “Sky High” approach to preventing drug abuse while honoring children lost along the way….

SafeLaunch is an innovative nonprofit focused on primary addiction prevention. “We started SafeLaunch to educate parents about brain development,” says SafeLaunch Co-Founder Janet Rowse. “It turns out that most people don’t know that the real risk of teen drug use is due to the fact that the developing brain is up to 600% more susceptible to chemical dependency. We believe that when parents understand the actual addiction risk of early drug and alcohol exposure, they will act to protect their children. Everyone has heard the phrase “‘prevention is the best cure.” SafeLaunch gives parents the tools they need to protect their children from exposure to drugs and alcohol; this is the real cure for addiction.”

One of easiest actions parents can take is to sign the SafeLaunch Parent Pledge, which gives parents simple action steps to increase their children’s chance for a successful, healthy life.

Along with the parent education and teen media contests that SafeLaunch promotes locally along California’s central coast, the founders do something no other drug prevention organization has done: they’ve taken their mission to the air.

Drawing on Co-founder Ron Cuff’s experience in naval aviation, SafeLaunch connects with thousands of families at airshows and aviation events across California. “When we realized that Ron’s solid white Cessna 182 is really just a funny-shaped canvas, we saw the opportunity to use the plane as a teaching tool,” says Janet. The alignment between the aviation community and SafeLaunch is strong. Both are focused on safety, and both encourage youth to think seriously about their future. The Flights Above Addiction interactive exhibit has become a favorite at these events where kids have a chance to paint their dreams on the fuselage of the all-white plane. “We tell the young artists that a great life is like a great flight: You need to plan your destination and keep a clear head to arrive safely,” explains Ron.

In just three years of this program, SafeLaunch has educated over 1000 families about addiction risk and inspired hundreds of youth to think about their futures.

On a poignant note, SafeLaunch invites parents from across the country to pay tribute to a child’s life tragically cut short by drug or alcohol use. “When parents send us their children’s picture and stories, we permanently affix their names and ages to the underside of the wings of the plane and put their stories in the Wind Beneath our Wings album that we share with young families at the air shows. The names and ages are a cautionary tale told silently,” explains Janet.

Keep up with SafeLaunch in action on their Facebook page

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.

Mad Libs revisited for parents of addicts and alcoholics

I’ve heard yet again that a friend’s child is in jail for burglary.  She had been stealing from the neighbors to pay for her heroin. The story is so painfully familiar that it reminds me of the fill-in-the-blanks booklets called “Mad Libs” that my kids used to love when young.

Each Mad Lib involves a story that you customize to make “yours.”  I’ve given you some options so you can create your own version of the young person’s substance abuse saga.  Or feel free to improvise; God knows there is certainly enough raw material out there to claim. Here we go:

”My son/daughter is now in rehab/jail/prison/the hospital/the morgue for shoplifting/burglary/armed robbery/an overdose/drunk driving.  This is the first/second/third/felony/overdose/car accident.

I can’t believe that this is happening to me/my family/our child.  He/she was a great kid/much loved child/honest, joyous person/good student. I had no idea that marijuana was addictive/teens are shooting heroin//alcohol kills kids.  How can this happen to us!? Drug addiction/alcoholism only happens to negligent parents/bad kids/sociopaths/anyone but my child.”

At the end of the day,  millions of American families can tell the same sad story. It’s ironic how the stories sound pretty much the same, with only some minor variations. And  it’s not funny at all that more Americans died last year from drugs or alcohol than from car accidents.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could close the book on those sad tales by helping our children understand what is at stake with that first drug or drink??