This is an “encore” post from Eliza
As our beloved addicts decline, so do we, hell bent on parallel paths of destruction. My son was physically depleted/I was physically exhausted. He had legal problems/I had legal problems (his—which I made mine.). He was addicted/I was addicted to his addiction. It was overwhelming to survey the landscape of destruction that my home and life had become in the wake of Hurricane Addiction.
Just as we work on the twelve steps one at a time, just as we tackle each day—and sometimes each minute—one at a time, we pick up the pieces and move ahead one inch at a time. Baby steps are the order of the day.
Where to begin the repair work? I was very sick myself—heartsick, and physically depleted by the sleepless nights and the days of incessant worry. My baby steps took many shapes and forms, but across the board, felt like huge leaps. Sometimes I could hardly bring myself to turning off my phone in case he called, or in case someone else called about him. It took a lot of practice to think of myself instead of obsessing about my child; in fact, when people asked me about me, I often told them about him. I was consumed with locating him—where was he? What was he doing?
I had to learn to tell my brain “STOP” to turn it off. I worked with a great therapist to understand the role my childhood played in my response to my child’s dangerous choices. It took me a year to learn how to say No with conviction. No with a period; No meaning “End of sentence, end of discussion.” No meaning “No more.”
I had a lot of good role models, other mothers who showed me how to be strong and stay the course. As they say, practice makes perfect, and I am still practicing. What words of wisdom do you other parents have to share about taking those baby steps? What baby steps have helped you get recover from your child’s chemical dependency?
Addiction is maddening. It makes us angry, and it makes us crazy. As I walked the walk of my son’s addiction (and my addiction to his addiction), I journeyed through dark forests of denial, sinkholes of depression and explosive minefields of anger—his and mine.
I was stunned when I first realized the magnitude of my son’s problems, which I took on as my own. I was frozen and numb as I surveyed the damage. It was an out of body experience: this cannot be my life.
At some point, denial morphed into depression and then into outright rage as I began to calculate the cost on so many fronts: mental and physical health issues, property damage, squandered money and the incalculable cost of betrayal. I felt duped and betrayed by someone who I loved. I went crazy trying to make sense of addiction: if he loved me, why did he keep doing such destructive things to himself and our family? Today, I understand that the poor choices of an addict aren’t driven by love at all. But in the depths of my despair, I racked my brain in a vain effort to make sense of the senseless.
I was also mad at the world. Why didn’t insurance pay for rehab? Why didn’t someone warn me about teen addiction the way they told me about chid predators or meningitis? Why couldn’t my friends understand the depths of my pain and despair?
It took a lot of being angry, being introspective, grieving and the good old fashioned passage of time for me to work through my anger. Along the way, I learned that anger, while an essential stage in the grieving process, needs to come to resolution and acceptance. Buddha said it best: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else—you are the one who gets burned.”
For help working through your anger, check out our Anger “Meeting in a Box.“
Never in my life has the saying ‘Walking on Eggshells’ ever meant so much to me as when I had a teenager struggling with addiction living my house. People use this term quite often but I have to say that if they had a family member abusing substances they would take this to a new level of understanding. When you have a loved one who leaves your house in one mood, for instance, a good mood and they come back as an unrecognizable foe, you wonder who abducted your child! For me, the uncertainty and spontaneity of this cause and effect was extremely unsettling. At first it sneaks up on you, you don’t expect the drastic mood swings. I was also not aware of what was happening, I did not realize the extent of the drug abuse that was taking place. I knew that something was going on but could never have dreamed the depths that it was taking as life unraveled before our eyes.When my daughter would come home in an agitated state brought on by drug withdrawal or overuse, we would all be taken by surprise at how she would lash out at us. We were a family that respected each other, we did not use harsh words or any type of violence. But one person in the family began to change and it disrupted the entire eco-system that we had carefully created over the years.
Following the ‘shell’ analogy, I was also ‘shell shocked’ by this. Not wanting things to get out of hand we did a lot of ignoring of the situation and addressing things later when the mood was more approachable. But this got to be inadequate for the tornado that ravished our home. Once we came to terms with the gravity of the situation, we began to confront and manage it. We had another child in our house and it was not good for him. We began to draw boundaries and make consequences clear and enforced them. It didn’t get better at first but we took control and discontinued letting the addict in our family wreak havoc. The journey took many turns after that, but we were taking care of our whole family, not just accommodating the one who was causing the disruption. We began to stomp on the eggshells and let the issues come forward to be addressed.
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.
It’s holiday time, a season of both promise and peril. For a while there, we never knew who would show up at our holiday dinner table. The good son or his evil twin? And how do you react to, and prepare for, your child, sober or not?
You can ignore your child’s bizarre or irresponsible behavior, rather than poke a stick in the hornet’s nest. Quite simply, it is so much easier to walk away than provoke their anger or cause a scene. In the meantime, the rest of the family bears the burden of their irresponsibility, especially the “good” siblings who often have to clean up the addict’s mess. I remember getting angry at my sober son for not intervening when his sibling was veering out of control. How fair was that?? So the “good” kid is bears the blame for a sibling’s irresponsible behavior, while the addict skates off scot-free.
Your family events may hang in limbo because you never know who will show up for the holiday dinner or other celebration. Will it be the delightful daughter or the snarling son? The success of the gathering hangs in the balance, hinging on a single person’s ability to throw everything out of whack.
You might remain vigilant and keep an explanation in your back pocket to explain your child’s absence or foul mood. “He’s got the flu” or “She got called into work at the last minute.” Saving face requires a Herculean effort. We all pay a price for these exhausting balancing acts and charades. They deplete us while protecting the addict from the consequence of their poor choices.
There is no easy answer. Maintaining your balance while walking on eggshells (and becoming crazy along the way) or revealing to others that you are struggling with a serious problem can throw the entire family out of whack, if not destroy the day entirely. But there are some preemptive strikes you can take. Check out Carole Bennett’s great advice at “It’s the Holidays- Are Your Boundaries with the Alcoholic/Addict Wrapped Up Tight?” And here’s hoping you’re your holidays are happy and healthy for all.
Parents of addicts or alcoholics are often advised to “detach with love,” which is much easier said than done. How do you detach with love when the beloved child you raised now appears as a Tasmanian Devil, creating intolerable chaos and destruction in your life? What do you do with your anger, fear and grief? What does “detaching with love” mean, anyway??
For me, detaching with love goes hand in hand with another expression: “Love the addict, hate the addiction.” It means that I now try to intellectually separate my child’s unacceptable behavior from the fundamentally good kid I know him to be because I have come to understand the brain disease of addiction. It means that I choose not to participate at every fight he invites me to because I realize that they are addict-initiated power struggles. It means I reclaim my power to be present in my child’s life on my healthy terms rather than as a defensive reaction to the addict’s shrill mandates.
Most of all, it means that I set healthy limits with kindness rather than fury. I have learned to raise the bar for his behavior by explaining, “I’ve changed, and that behavior is not OK with me now. I will not welcome you in my home/life/fill in the blank if you are using drugs or drinking.” I’ve said No, and I’ve said No More in a loving way because I love my child, because I am worth it and because I owe it to the rest of our family
Detaching with love means that I show respect to my child, and –even more important—to myself by setting healthy limits in a loving way. As I refuse to be the doormat for unacceptable behavior, I lovingly set a standard for how I deserve to be treated. With any luck plus some divine intervention, my change in approach gives my beloved child, and not the addict, a compelling reason to come home.
When I look back on my life and certainly the part where I had a loved one struggling with addiction which led our whole family to a place of pain and suffering, I realize how true this statement is. The greatest growth in my life has been through tragedy. Here is what I learned.
* It was when I was in the deepest place of fear that I had to learn to let go of it in order to survive, to trust, to move forward even if one day at a time.
* It was when I was in the deepest place of sadness that I had to cry, to grieve, and to believe that my heart could heal.
*It was when I was in the deepest place of anxiety that I had to be calm, to breathe, and to have faith when I saw nothing to hold on to.
*It was when I was in the deepest place of anger that I to hold back from screaming, to be understanding, to find a way to forgive even when sometimes it was forgiving myself.
*It was when I was in the deepest place of despair that I had to completely understand that I am not alone, to let go and let God if I wanted to find any peace.
These are the lessons that came from my ‘greatest pains’ that slowly became my ‘greatest strengths’ as Drew Barrymore so aptly put it. Would I have come to the place of serenity that now have without the tragedies in my life? I’m not sure that I would have. I believe I may have found some piece of mind along the way but I know I would not have realized how precious it was or that I would not be as grateful as I am. I am grateful for the lessons along the way and I know that while I would not have chosen these difficulties in my journey, I accept that this is a part of my life that accumulates and becomes all of the pieces of me and who I am.