Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications. Aren’t all addicts accidental? Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism? No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.” Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.
By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly. Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers. One type is the “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior. The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse. My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way. That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem. In fact, it made it worse.
The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are. That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and co-dependency helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.
In Scenes of Clerical Life, George Eliot wrote, “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.” Eliot must have been writing about me. I’m guilty as charged of being so immersed in the past and wrapped up in future “What if’s?” that I overlook the present. Take this admittedly embarrassing example: last week, I found myself quite challenged by the final pages of a book. The text seemed choppy, the story line absent…..and then I realized I had been reading the appendix of the book and didn’t even know it. Where was I when the actual story ended and the appendix began? Drifting off to sleep in the bathtub; but still, my personal alarm should have shrilled “Be here now!”
So what does this have to do with addiction? I ruminate on past hurts and mistakes and concentrate too much on future worries (which clearly exist only in my mind). All the while, the present slips away like sand in an hourglass.
One of my resolutions is to change my perspective, to shift the focus off my son’s addiction, to stop pigeon-holing him with the way I think. Not to diminish addiction’s ever-present power, but instead to view the whole of my son in a fuller context as a joyous, bright, generous and kind young man who also happens to be in recovery.
When I shift my focus and see the whole of my child, the difficult past and unknown future loosens its grip , creating a clearer vista where I may get a glimpse of the angels at work in my life today.
When 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.
When 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.”
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.
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