Ask the Expert: Acknowledging our powerlessness, we seek words of encouragement

Relapse and Rebound, RepurposeQUESTION: My son started drinking @ age 13. He is now 43 yrs old and has not found sobriety. He has been in & out of rehabs & hospitals for the past 30 yrs. He is dually diagnosed & fails to be compliant with his treatments. He is a chronic relapser. He has a history of harassing, threatening, intimidating, verbally abusing people & destroying other peoples personal or real estate properties.

It has been very difficult to watch his self-destruction. Over the years there is nothing that we haven’t tried to help him get better. We have had to accept our family’s powerlessness over this disease. We had to pursue our own recoveries in order to find some peace & serenity. We needed to let go of him to be happy again.

Many times we thought that he had hit his bottom, but the insidious disease keeps winning & taking him over, again & again.  As much as any parent doesn’t want a child to go to jail, I am hoping that he will be sentenced & kept there. I am hopeful that maybe this is his bottom and he might realize how alcohol has destroyed his life & driven people that love him away. I see this as the last resort for his healing, since nothing else has worked. If jailed for 6 months or more, will he be evaluated & offered rehabilitation? I try to keep up my hope, but if he doesn’t learn from this drastic lesson, what can we expect the next time? This is all very heartbreaking. All I can do is pray. Any words of encouragement, I would appreciate. Who is this stranger, my son?? I read this helpful website every day. I am grateful for it:) Thanks for being there!

prison for addicts Brad DeHavenEXPERT ANSWER: When you get on a plane, the instructions are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children. YOU need to survive and at some point if you assess that everything you are doing is too much and not enough at the same time, then you are enabling the continuance of the same behavior.

Your son’s bottom is different than yours. If everything else that you have tried has yielded this result, then perhaps prison will bring his bottom to him. All you can do is love him and pray because at some point he has to understand how destructive his behavior is to not only himself but those who love and care for him. Addiction travels many difficult paths and you are certainly living one.

Best to you and yours!

Bradley DeHaven

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT ANSWER: You hit this on the mark!! Your child is a stranger. This is a brain disease, and eventually our loved ones are no longer available to us. Their entire lives become addiction.

So many of us have loved ones missing to addiction. I am sorry that there is no magic wand; change must come from him.

You are doing well if you have made your boundaries strong and rigid. You will find kinship and wisdom at meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. please go to a minimum of six meetings, and try different ones until you have found the right one. Celebrate Recovery support meetings are also available to you at most major churches.

I would also encourage working with an addiction therapist who can help you move forward with the pain you are carrying.

It sounds like your son has lost his belief in himself for the time. If you talk to him, let him know you love him and believe in him, but hate this disease and what it has done to him. It is possible to love your child while hating his addiction.

Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

Looking at 2017 through a drug-free window…you might be surprised

bright closeup picture of magic twinkles on female handsThis is a guest post from John Perry, co-founder of Clean & Sober Recovery Services in Orangevale, California.

What could 2017 look like without alcohol or other drugs? Let me count the ways…

No more harm to self or others. Fewer fights. No more trips to the pawn shop to retrieve family jewelry. Fewer trips to the ER. Fewer trips to jail, the courthouse or prison. Fewer car accidents, or accidents in general. No more covering up to Grandma, Grandpa and friends. Less self-hatred. Less sorrow and disappointment. Fewer broken marriages. Fewer lost jobs. Fewer disability claims. Less domestic violence.  Less child abuse. Fewer secrets.

More confidence. More joy. Healthier, happier marriages and families. More honesty. More love. More success at work or school. Healthier bodies and better mental health. More energy. More introspection and insight. More patience. More happiness. More serenity. Improved finances. Wiser decisions at work and at home. More opportunities. Stronger marriages. Better parenting. More presence at holidays, birthdays, graduations. More showing up for life. More future to embrace.

Treatment works.  Make 2017 your year, and claim the gifts of recovery.    


Throwing gasoline on the fire of a child’s addiction

Entering the firestorm of a child’s substance use and abuse can create unimaginable chaos and stress.  Looking back on my experience, I realize that I added to  my stress by going down the road of FEAR. Some say that FEAR is an acronym for “False Expectations Appearing Real.”  This definition rings true for me, and I hope that this post helps others understand how we, at times, are our own worst enemy.

The squirrel in my brain can be prodded into action by many triggers:  an unreturned phone call from my son, a mammogram that calls for additional imaging, even a sideways glance from my husband.  What’s happening?   How bad is it?  What do I need to do to make it better? What do we do if this happens, or if that happens…or…or….or.  The squirrel in my brain races on.

But now, thanks to the guerrilla training I got in the war zone of addiction, I’m learning to redirect myself when my mind spirals into unnecessary worry.  In The Power of Now*, Eckhart Tolle explains how we can choose to create our own pain, or conversely, can manifest our ability to live pain-free by living fully in the present.

When I find myself worrying, I am learning to take note of what  I know to be true at that exact moment. For example, I know that I am a concerned mom, but I do not know for a fact that my son is in trouble.  The mere speculation that he might be in trouble creates the pain that I feel.  And at the end of the day, that speculation is purposeless.  My incessant fretting about my son had no impact whatsoever on his behavior and choices—good or bad.  Maybe he is in trouble, maybe not—but I guarantee that the sleep I lost did not impact the outcome in any way.

I’ve cloistered myself away in a dark place so many times while my son was frolicking with sober friends, playing disc golf in the sunshine.  Yes, there were times when my worst fears came true, but they would have come true whether I anguished over them or not.

So here is the gift I got from addiction:  I understand that worry is a choice.  When I permit the marauder squirrel to tear through my brain, I blind myself to the joy and beauty around me at this moment.  I miss out on the laughter, the friendship, and the little joys in life.  Understanding that I don’t call the shots and relinquishing my fictitious grasp on outcomes saves me from the bottomless pit of fear and rumination.

My 12 Steps to Insanity – a Parody

brain healthAny disorder that affects someone I love, that manifests into altered mood, thinking and behavior has an impact on me. I especially react badly when situations include bizarre, irrational and self-centered behavior.  Left to my own devices, how I respond worsens the situation.  I am amused at being able to recognize how I get to insanity in 12 short steps and grateful I can change my ways today.  My defalt would go like this:

  1. First thing I do is normalize the behavior, deny what’s happening because there are 11 exhausting steps I’ll have to take otherwise! For a while, I’ll coast on seeing what I want to see and hearing what I want to hear.
  2. Next I try to reason with them, because I just normalized the behavior.  I expect to reason with something or someone that has none!
  3. 3rd thing I do is get angry because they are not listening, they are acting irrational and are self-centered.  I belive ANGER will make them notice me.  Having no success there, I move to step 4.
  4. Next I’ll do a complete analysis of their problems because I took a psychology class 30 years ago and am fully qualified.
  5. Very frustrated now, I just wish they did not have the problem in the first place. This step includes a lot of asking “why?”
  6. I try martyrdom because their instability leaves me shaken up. I get a short term fix of feeling better being the victim. This allows me to fully embrace step 7:
  7. Blame. I can blame all my problems on THEM. People afflicted with addiction like blame; they already have a bad opinion of themselves. There is nothing worse than someone being smug after all the dis-ease they have put me through! So I do the next indicated thing-
  8. I build a big resentment.
  9. By this point I’ve worked myself up to a mistaken perception of social & spiritual hierarchy. I begin to formulate pity, on them.  This step includes feelings of guilt.
  10. This is when I begin to notice how much more superior I am OVER others and I spend a lot of time massaging my ego.  This takes daily affirmations.
  11. Noticing my self-anointed superiority of power, I begin to offer concerned, unsolicited advice and suggestions. That may be too soft; I actually force unsolicited advice, solutions and suggestions.
  12. When they don’t respond as I’d like, I try harder, and this time, I know things are going to be different!


A Teen’s Chemical Dependency: Who’s Crazy Now??

I was as addicted to my son’s addiction as he was to his alcohol, and I countered every one of his crazy moves with one of my own.  Knowing that he stored booze in the cavity he cut out below his box springs, I placed a quarter “just so” against the box spring, knowing that it would topple if he went for his stash.  Every night for months, I gently lifted the dust ruffle and checked to see if that damn quarter had deviated from its position. It never did, primarily because he was snitching beer from the fridge (Duh!).   Anyone who observed my nightly ritual would have concluded that I, not he, was under the influence of some mind-altering drug indeed.

When he was out driving like a madman, I was hot on his trail, trying to track him down in the middle of the night. That was alien behavior to my husband who had removed himself from the whole dysfunctional drama in an equally unhealthy fashion:  like a teeter-totter, he sat on one end, out of the picture; I sat on the other end, horribly enmeshed in the train wreck; and our addict son was smack dab in the middle, a most unhealthy fulcrum in a very sick family.

I couldn’t see my own crazy behavior because (a) I was too close to it (b) I was in denial (c) I was exhausted (d) I was confused (e) all of the above.  The light began to cut through the fog when my other son confronted me and told me that I was crazier than my chemically-dependent child. son.  “Man, he said, I see where he got it!  You’re even crazier than my brother!”  Did that statement open my eyes?  Yes.  Did I change my crazy ways?  No, at least not immediately.  But I did begin to look at my own involvement in my son’s addiction, and that marked a key point in own return to sanity.

The New Normal – One that holds happiness, joy, freedom and serenity

In the normal course of events I suppose every parent will worry about their young adults moving out, moving on and learning to be independent, young contributors in the world.

How’s it look in the abnormal course of events?  Seeing your child make choices that lead to increasing incidents of serious trouble and consequences is unbearable to face. This causes abnormal responses from the people who love them. Having a child with chemical dependency is not the norm. And the lifestyle that comes from chemical dependency goes against every moral fabric of character. Living in fear is not normal. Being disrespected, lied to or taken advantage of is not normal. Living in anguish and worry is not normal. Spending every conscience moment thinking, strategizing or anticipating the next move of your child is not normal. Questioning your own values, questioning your own parenting skills, questioning decisions you made early in their development – or, wising for do-overs is not normal. I did this and it’s just plain crazy!  But I did not know another way. This turmoil is not only frightening, but very isolating and lonely.

I’ve since learned about the family disease – how it slowly permeates your fiber of being. The lifestyle of negativity became my new normal. Hope that there is help seemed unobtainable or just not possible, hopeless and helpless. After repeated attempts to fix the problem, some of us hit a wall. Sometimes the wall is an event that “shakes us up.” For me it was the physical ramifications of living in a state of combat, fighting for what was clearly being taken: my child.  Such experiences included what medical professionals call “stress related disorders.” You need to remove some of the stress in your life! Oh that? OK – how? My only idea was to fix the addiction, that was the problem.  Thus, my life would be stress free! But this wasn’t working out so well.

In Al-Anon I learn my terminal uniqueness is relatable to others with similar circumstances – they shared the same thoughts, actions and responses that I had! We are introduced to a concept that removes our old way of thinking and shown how we can make decisions that change our circumstances. The solution is not what we thought it would be, and another form of normalcy is introduced – Photo of three women with smiles.. Then again, what is normal anyway?

Ask the Expert: What do I do with an out-of-control minor?

Recognizing addiction in loved one Dr. JantzYour question:  My son is 16 years old, and he is on probation and he is doing drugs.  His probation officer knows this but doesn’t help us put him in a drug treatment program.  she know that he has been stealing from me a lot and not going to school.  I told her that I worry that he might die from a drug overdoes.  I also asked her to let the judge order him into drug treatment, but she is refusing.  They know he is not going to school, and they tell me it has to be his choice.  I now see why there are so many kids on drugs; their parents have no rights, and we are prisoners in our own homes.  Please help.

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend:  My heart hurts for you, as you are in a very difficult situation with an out-of-control minor.  Because each jurisdiction has different rules and regulations for managing minors, I suggest you find a parents Al-Anon meeting and go there to learn from other parents how they have handled their minor children and used the courts and probation effectively.  Each county and state is different, so seek out the wisdom of other parents who can support you with their experience, wisdom and compassion.  I wish you the best.


The War Zone of Addiction

There comes a time in the chaos of addiction that you stop for one brief second and pop your head up to see what is going on in the world around you. It can be all consuming when you are in what I refer to as the ‘war zone’. The war zone is the time when your child is active in their addiction. The addiction is the enemy, lurking around every corner – you don’t know what to expect, except that it is cunning and baffling. I pick this label of the war zone because I felt like I was doing battle. I had to think about the various scenarios I would find myself in during that time – should I give my daughter money for groceries or will she use it for drugs? If I give her a grocery gift card will she turn it in for cash or sell it? Do I go on the offensive or wait for the next move? With my daughter in rehab, the war zone was on a cease fire…I had time to retreat and regroup. Part of this was stopping to observe the battleground for casualties.

The harsh reality of this is that there are other people in my family besides my daughter. I have a son and a husband. My son is an innocent bystander, collateral damage, if you will. When this reality began to sink in, it was like a shot over the bow. How could I not realize the effect on others in my family? I know that my husband and I were very protective of my son – we did not leave him alone with my daughter when she lived at our house during ‘war time’. We knew it was not healthy. But I began to realize that this entire situation was taking its toll. My son was quietly moving about his life, doing all the normal things that young teens do, but all of the attention was on my daughter. Every waking moment was spent worrying about her and the devastation that had become her life. Once I started seeing things clearly, I realized this is not fair to my son – he deserved to have a quiet, peaceful, happy household. We all deserved this serenity. I decided it was time to focus on him, get back some normalcy to our daily routine. Looking back I knew it was good to make this shift in order to better care for the whole family.

Dust and Commotion with no Forward Motion – Moving forward during difficult times

Have you ever experienced a lot of activity and talk, usually coupled with anxiety and stress, but not coupled with solutions and action? The other day I heard this comment, ‘dust and commotion with no forward motion.’ It stopped me in my tracks, first I laughed at the image in my mind of a bunch of dust swirling around with who knows what debris, then settling into a pile of dirt. The dirt may be yearning to be swept away to the next step in its journey alas it just sits. When I took time to contemplate this metaphor further, which was used to describe a typical family gathering where everyone vents and complains but no action takes place; I realized the applicability to addiction as it applies to the family.We often talk about the insanity that the disease of addiction brings to our families. We know it does not just affect the one struggling with the addiction; it affects the entire family as well as friends who love and care about the addict.

I thought about the early days of my daughter’s addiction we had a lot of drama, but we did not know what to do. We were the dust and the drama was the commotion, and I can reassure you that there was absolutely no forward motion. We would have the crisis of the day, but we did not know what to do. It was a very difficult time. We engaged in the commotion as if we were the ones who had to solve every crisis and problem that came to our loved one in addiction. And while we were there to help and support, we still inadvertently contributed to the commotion and the lack of forward motion by enabling and rescuing which taught our loved one that she was not capable to solve her own problems. Eventually we learned that it wasn’t up to us to ensure things moved forward and in fact our actions sometimes stopped the forward progress.  I have decided I will not engage in the dust and commotion because I know that it will hinder the forward motion.

Recipe for every mom (especially mothers of addicts and alcoholics)

super mom capeFrom When God Created Mothers by Erma Bombeck

“When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”

It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.

One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”

I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

Can it think?”

Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.

There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”

It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”

What’s it for?”

It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

You are a genius, ” said the angel.

Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”