There is no ‘Right’ Answer – Every family must do what is in their heart

hands in shape of heartOften we are faced with decisions that we need to make on whether we will help our loved one in addiction.  When we first start dealing with the wreckage of a loved one’s addiction we are often uninformed and ill equipped about what to do, I know I was.  It seemed whatever I did just made things worse and I became more resentful.  For example many addicts go from rehab to a sober living house.  Although many times there is an agreement that if they relapse they need to figure out where they will go and not give them an option to come home.  Yet when the dreaded relapse occurs, we are faced with this heart wrenching decision – do we leave them out in the cold or take them in?

I’m not for one decision or the other – both have consequences which can be very unpleasant or it could have a good outcome.   In my experience we did what we felt in our heart when faced with difficult decisions.   And sometimes the outcome was not good for my daughter and actually enabled her to keep going down a dark road.  The bottom line is that there is no ‘right’ answer.  Many people will have opinions on what to do – very strong opinions.  But in the end it’s your child and you have to make the decision that is best for you and your situation.  We need to look at each decision and think about whether it will help or whether it will hinder the health and well-being of the people involved.  With each decision and outcome we learn, we adjust, and keep moving forward.  Each family has to work together and make the next ‘right’ decision for their circumstance.

Busting the myth that “All young people experiment with drugs”

Jon DailyJon Daly of Recovery Happens Counseling Center disputes the myth that All  adolescents & young adults ”experiment” with  drugs. Here is the reality, according to Jon:  Statistics show that the rate of drug use remains at a very high  level for young people (1).  Part of the  myth of “experimentation” is that drug use is a naturally occurring “rite  of passage” from adolescence in to adulthood. However, not every young person  has tried or will try drugs. In addition, not all will pass through their drug  use without experiencing negative consequences from their use.   Drug use is risky and unhealthy  behavior.  In today’s society even  “experimentation” can lead to car accidents, driving while under the influence,  unplanned sexual activity, date rape, and sometimes death.  Moreover, the word “experimentation” can be  misleading.  When we get calls from  parents seeking counseling for their adolescent or young adult child, we often  hear the words, “I think my son is experimenting with drugs.”  When asked how long the parent has been aware  of the drug use, the reply can be anywhere from weeks to years.  The parent’s response implies that “experimentation”  is a phase, when “experimentation”  is not a phase at all.  In fact, it is a “one-time  event. ” (2) Once intoxication  has been experienced, the experiment is over.  The user has achieved the results of the  experiment, “I like this feeling,” or ” I don’t like this  feeling.”  Subsequent intoxication  indicates misuse, abuse or addiction.

When  helping young people with substance use disorders, at the end of the day what  we are assess and treating is a “pathological relationship to  intoxication.”  The name of the drug  they are using is an illusion .  They  need to know they are not hooked on weed, they are hooked on intoxication and  therefore must see all intoxicating substances as the same. Take away weed from  the pot smoker and they drink and/or take pills.  Take away Oxycontin for the opiate user and  they use benzodiazepines and marijuana.   This is because they were not hooked on the particular drug, they were  hooked on “intoxication.”   The  focus of treatment for young people is to severe their pathological  relationship to intoxication so as to open up their capacity to have regulating  relationships with their counselor, support groups, rebuilt family  relationships and healthy peer groups.   Such social supports promote dopamine(3), and endogenous opiates (4)  which the user has been chasing on the streets, but can be created in health  relationships as they were intended to.   Helping them and the family to understand this and supporting their  growth in this way is the core of treatment after we have helped them to become  drug-free

How do I love thee? Learning to love and trust during uncertainty

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundI caught an Oprah Lifeclass series where an episode portrayed a young couple trying to recover their marriage after the woman had a fling with another man. “How will her husband ever regain his trust in her?” we ask. Dr. Phil’s no nonsense response was good. Trust is not about trusting the other person to do or not do something in the future. The real trust question is within you – Do I trust that I can handle anything that happens in the future? This whole show centered on thinking differently about trust and love stemming not from another, rather, from yourself.

Naturally, I did what I do; I turned the topic around to how it relates to ME and my children and the family disease of addiction. Before addiction’s collateral damage hit me, I took for granted trust in others and may have inadvertently used love as self-serving. When betrayal hit, it did not occur to me that the first thing to go was trust in me.

Back to the relationship in question. The scenario: A man loves a woman, she cheats on him and his trust in her is broken. He’s hurt and afraid to let his love for her hurt him again. My scenario: A mother has a child whose addiction has progressed to a point that he is no longer trustworthy. She’s hurt and afraid if she continues to love him, he might hurt her again.

I had to think about love, while I thought about trust. Love involves caring, respect, giving, commitment, kindness, tolerance and …trust. I used to think love was reciprocal. In reality, if I love myself enough, then it can be without attachment to someone else. It can be given away, unconditionally, because I am confident enough to not have an expectation or implied reciprocity. If I trust myself enough, I can love others and if they hurt, betray, disrespect, take, are unpredictable, are mean, intolerable and untrustworthy, I will cross that bridge when presented. I TRUST MYSELF ENOUGH TO KNOW I CAN CONTINUE ON, MAKE CHOICES, HAVE HAPPINESS, SET BOUNDARIES (AND KEEP THEM), AND EVEN SAY NO.  I love thee freely!

Uncluttering my life, including my co-dependency

closetLast weekend, I completed a much-overdue task: cleaning out the clutter that had collected in a couple areas of my house.  I realized how therapeutic this activity was for me.  I initially created more mess as I pulled things off the shelf and went through the pains taking sorting process:  Attic? Donation? Keep Handy?  Throw away?  As I sifted through clothes, books, knick-knacks, just to name a few, I started feeling a sense of unburdening.  While I do not like to have a messy house, I have to confess that I do have small, tuck away messy areas.  I have a tendency to do a big clean-up project and then slowly it gets cluttered time moves forward in my busy life.  As I was going through this process I realized this relates to life in general.

When I am organized and on top of the many responsibilities that I have, I feel peaceful and stress free.  And when I am on top of setting boundaries and taking care of myself, then I can better care of those I love.  In my co-dependency, I can let things get out of hand quite rapidly.  Which in turn creates messes that I need to later clean up.

These messes are usually around letting a bad habit creep in – like jumping in and paying a bill for my child that is their responsibility.  I may think, ‘oh, it’s just a small amount and she can really use the help….’ or ‘I’ll help by creating a resume since I’ve done so many…’  Yet, doing these small things can add up to a big message ‘you are not capable, I am’ and ‘why take responsibility when Mom will bail me out.’  I’ve worked hard to undo these types of bad habits and create healthy ones.  Just like cleaning out the clutter around my house, I will continue to clean out the clutter of my co-dependency.

All I want for Christmas is an orange jumpsuit

I used to think that my child’s arrest would be the worst possible thing ever. Talented and energetic enabler that I am, I gave that topic a lot of thought and even imagined that I could keep my kid out of jail.  Note to self:  as Al-Anon so wisely teaches us, we cannot control another person’s addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

Today, with the holidays and winter’s cold blasts at my doorstep, I have a very different perspective on jail time for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. Today, an orange jumpsuit and “three hots and a cot” might be the best gift imaginable for a chemically-dependent child (of any age) and family alike:

  • You’d know where your child is.
  • You’d know your phone wouldn’t be ringing with a desperate or dire phone call in the middle of the night.
  • You’d know you have a chance for a good night’s sleep.
  • You’d know he or she is sheltered and being fed.
  • You’d know he or she was not wandering the streets, a potential victim of assault or street drugs.
  • You know that your child is experiencing the consequences of his or her poor choices and dangerous decisions. And that can be an incentive to change.
  • You’d know (or you’d hope) the legal system would put in place some sanctions, like requiring your child to go to treatment.
  • You’d know that, at least temporarily, the balance of power has changed.  You’ve got some leverage on your side.
  • You know that you and your child have been given the gift of a brighter tomorrow.

Reclaiming your serenity with “re-language”

Mental Illness and AddictionI am so fortunate to have XM radio, and sometimes catch Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass. One day I listened to her with her guest, Iyanla Vanzant.  (To learn more about Lifeclass, click here)

Iyanla Vanzant, an inspirational and new thought spiritual teacher, is such a kick and is always giving out little one-liners that provoke me to think! She’d discuss how Deceptive Intelligence keeps us from spiritual growth and screamed to the viewer: “RE-LANGUAGE!” Make no mistake, re-language was an aggressive verb, a call to action! I applied it to my own experience of codependency with young adult children in addiction:

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: I had to kick my kids out of my home. This is so dramatic and feeds the guilt I held for experiencing a scenario I wished did not have to happen. I took on responsibility, as if I could have done something else to minimize the impact. RE-LANGUAGE: My kids chose not to live by my boundaries, so they left.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: If I let go, they might fail, get arrested, go to jail. There is a dangerous side effect when I think I know outcomes, especially if I believe I can orchestrate the future – Guilt, Disappointment, Denial, Shame. RE-LANGUAGE: I can’t control the choices my kids make, but they have a right to make them, even if I don’t agree with it.

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: His girlfriend introduced him to drugs, I blame her. RE-LANGUAGE: She is a child of God, cleverly disguised as a drug addict (another gem from Iyanla).

DECEPTIVE INTELLIGENCE: When I figure out recovery, I’ll be able to show them how to do it! I believed this to the core. So my early help seeking behavior had an end game! I’d pick up a speaker CD from an AA or recovered Drug Addict, and I’d strategize how my sons could listen to it. If they just listened, then …. I was still thinking what I was doing in Al-Anon would help me to the solution for me my kids. I was still trying to control it. Oh, yeah, definately Deceptive Thinking! RE-LANGUAGE: My children will get recovery when they are ready, on their own, in HIS time, and I’m not in charge. I’m just a child of God,  cleverly disguised as a know it all!

 

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

water flowing“…one lesson every parent needs to teach a child is ‘If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.’”

-Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle

What does it mean to be addicted to loving an addict?

Photo of a mother and son.A while back, my friend spent the night in the ER,  courtesy of her daughter’s addiction.  She wasn’t there for her daughter; she was there because of her daughter.  The addiction was making her sick.  She was so consumed with fear over her daughter’s whereabouts and safety that her heart felt like it was exploding in her chest.  Afraid that she was having a heart attack, her son rushed her to the emergency room. Ironically, they gave her Xanax –her daughter’s drug of choice—to calm her down.

Addiction, the family disease, kills addicts and those who love them.  Sometimes the addict is unscathed while his or her family pays the price.  Many addicts in recovery are horrified to learn how much their parents suffered while they skated merrily along, oblivious or numb to the collateral damage they caused along the way.

Loving our children “’til death do us part” is not healthy or sane.  But where is that “off” switch that lets us walk away from our children for our own sake—and for theirs?  And where do we find the strength to flip the switch? Sometimes our own health issues force us to cry “Uncle.”  Sometimes we run out of money or other resources.  And sometimes we have a moment of clarity and see that we can’t save them unless they want to save themselves; if not, we are all going down with the ship.

The simple act of removing ourselves from the equation often gives the addict an incentive to change.  When cardboard boxes and dumpster diving replace clean sheets and home cooking, that just might trigger the addict’s own moment of clarity.

My child’s addiction is not the sword that I want to die on.  Loving our children means resolving not to participate in their self-destruction. And loving our children means loving ourselves enough to retreat from the line of fire so that we can be present in a way that is healthy for all.

Waving Goodbye to our Beloved Addicts and Alcoholics

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified interventionist.

When addiction comes into our lives, we are so unaware of what to do.

A crisis comes, we have a blowup, and then we kiss and things go good again, and then another blowup happens. Eventually, this is how we get used to living our lives, oblivious to the craziness it brings for all of us.

It’s the “I am so sorry”, the “I’ll do well”, then the craziness starts up again. Or the arrest, manipulation and lying. We want to believe this time will be different.

It is almost like we live our lives believing in an unconscious awareness that our lives depend on them. If they are happy, if they are doing the things that we know leads to a great life, then we can be happy.

After the blowup (or what I call the long sit down), they start to behave as we want. This “they” can be a husband, son, wife etc. It doesn’t’ matter, it all has a sameness to it.

When they start to “behave” then we feel we can breathe again. We go along with a false sense of security that they are now on the right track. In most cases it is a false belief. They will only last so long, because no one can pretend to be who they are not. The drug or alcohol behaviors literally start sneaking back in. Another crisis comes about because we start getting resentful that they are not doing what they promised they would do. What’s really happening is they are not able to take away our fear.

How do we handle this??

WE take back our life. We start our own recovery on a daily basis. The same thing we are asking of them, but this time we do it ourselves. We “do” things every day: Therapy, support groups, Al-Anon, even a couple of open AA meetings regularly. The latter shows us how recovery can happen. We put down strong boundaries. We finally ask them to leave or we leave the situation ourselves and take up residence somewhere else. All of these things we do respectfully.

We cannot control another human being into being what will make us happy. At a healthy level, addiction is like seeing someone drive away after a visit, lovingly waving goodbye at them…WE have no control over them making it home.

Just stay away from Grandma! Setting boundaries to help family members

This was a directive to my son (who paid no attention to my threats).  He was in his disease of addiction. He’d leave my house in a huff and go directly to Grandma’s house to swoon her over. Things changed drastically, and fast. It wasn’t long before I had grandma complaining to me about the lack of follow-through with my son. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and complaints – as if I was the “Agent” representing and responsible to the community at large.  I took on this obligation because I believed it too, but  I was getting resentful. All I wished was that he’d stay away from Grandma because of how it was affecting me and the worry of her well being. Time would reveal the progressive nature of addiction and how the  family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom unique to addiction I subsequently learned.  Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!

  • Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.
    • Grandma: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”
  • Parents: We are not going to buy him another car, he isn’t insurable.
    • Grandma: I co-signed; I knew you would help with payments…
  • Parents: He cannot live in our house, he’s untrustworthy. We believe he has to experience discomfort before he will choose another way.
    • Grandma: He’s temporarily living in my home – we discussed my terms and it’s under control.
  • Parents: We’re concerned for grandma – she has opened her door and won’t listen to any reasoning!
    • Grandma: I can’t turn my back on him and THROW him to the streets!

After bringing Grandma to a few counseling sessions and I witnessed her sentiment I had once felt: Counseling is not giving me the answers I want to hear on how to fix him; therefore, this is a waste of time. I didn’t stop searching for answers. Desperation forced me to find further support and I landed in the Al-Anon Family Group. This is where I learned that I would have to employ boundaries in all my life’s affairs. I learned I could not control my son, his girlfriend, his grandmother, his landlord, his employer… any of THEM. I had choices, and being triangulated was something within my own ability to take control of if I wanted relief and serenity in my life. I found other grandparents in my support group that helped me understand their point of view. I learned compassion and understanding that this disease branches through the family tree, everyone is affected. I learned that the ones I love must decide for themselves, if they want to change, I can’t decide for them.