Grandparents can be subject to the same intensity trying to help the affected grandchild whose life is troubling. I remember a time I thought my father might be a better influence to my son’s problem since nothing I did seemed to be working. But my son would soon abuse the privileges of Grandparent assistance. They became a means of continuing his addiction life cycle. Things changed drastically, and fast. Now I was subject to a deepening sad heart each time: grandpa complained about the lack of follow-through, strange people in their house and inability to wake my son up in the morning. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and requests – and I was getting resentful. I resented the addict for the moral turpitude. I resented my parents for arguing my pleas to stop rescuing. I can’t control my son and my own parents for that matter! Just how powerless I am came to focus.
All I wished was that he’d stay away from the family because of how it was affecting me affecting them. Time would reveal the progressive nature of the disease and the family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom of the family disease. 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.
Grandparents: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”
Parents: We are not going to buy him another car.
Grandparents: We co-signed; he has to be able to get to a job!
Parents: He cannot live in our house he’s not trustworthy. We are concerned you are being taking advantage of as well.
Grandparents: He’s temporarily living here, we discussed our rules – it’s under control.
Parents: We’re concerned about our parents – they are vulnerable and open to getting financially ruined – they won’t listen to any reasoning!
Finding support through the Al-Anon Family Group, I learned many things about the nature of the illness which gave me a better perspective on matters. This was where other grandparents in my support group helped me understand their point of view. They were trying to force solutions just as I had been. Theybelieved they had it under control, just like I did. I learned compassion and understanding that everyone is affected by this disease.
Years ago, when my control and need to know everything mentality was at its peak, the *69 feature on the telephone became a dangerous tool for further pursuit of things to add to my world of loose ends. I was empowered to be an assertive investigator. I was enabled to seek out who called for what reason and why did they not leave a voice mail. Moreover, if the phone rang and I answered, the sound of the “click” provoked me to question WHO HUNG ON ME? The feeling of empowerment – To be able to press those three keys and ring back the unknown caller back was a rush of adrenaline. They would pick up and I’d say “you just called my number,” forcing a response on the other end. The sound of their voice was already a piece of the puzzle. Male? Female? Young? Old? Why did they call my number? The fact they called must be indicative of something… Why? Why? Why? Star 69 and later technology could be abused for the wrong reasons. My need to know WHO WHAT WHERE WHEN WHY seemed important back when the addiction family disease of secrets was fermenting. But in reality this underlying need to know was a symptom of my infinite desire to be in control of matters I may not be aware of and often powerless over. Today it seems clear and obvious. If someone is reaching me, they will leave a message or call back later. I can let go with that knowledge and not pursue it to the depths of insanity. I don’t have to obsess on things that are not my business anymore. ”Why” is a question no longer the center stage of my life.
When I tried to help my sons, nothing worked out the way I had planned. It never turned out how I wanted it to. I thought I had control, power and knowledge to help them over the seemingly little bumps in the road. I could not fathom the ultimate end result of addiction’s role in destroying relationships, trust and core values. But I believed I had responsibility to manage something that was, well, unmanageable! This confused thinking kept me in denial of any other explanation. I was resistant to considering alternatives that didn’t point to the solution I wanted. And all the while I find myself worrying about tomorrow. What will tomorrow bring, how will it play out, what about the future? What about THEIR future? What about MY future? And if I’m not worrying about tomorrow I’m replaying the past. What could I have done differently?
It turns out this is not a very healthy way to live. In the end, I’m not in the presence of the present, I’m somewhere else and soon I’m losing control over everything. How can I possibly help those around me when my life is out-of-control?
Recovery from the family disease helps us let go of useless thoughts about future events that have not happened or wasting time dwelling on the past that can never be undone. We take it slow and are no longer absent from the present. We start to get a better grip on ourselves, and we begin to understand our role in relation to the disease.
Trying to save my son from his repeated failures, broken commitments, and responsibilities of any nature always ended up with mixed messages from me. All I could see was he was either high on something, coming down off of something or getting ready to get on something. During this time I was acting as if this behavior could be switched off by my parental influences. There were so many times I would demand in anger. If that did not work I’d resort to sarcastic methods of getting my point across. Sometimes I’d promise something but would not hold to it – I must not have meant it. It was here that I learned how fear could make me seem wishy-washy. And when I was mean, it was always in situations that I had no business in and no control over. These instances were usually punitive measures hoping to ignite a response or action I wanted to have happen. I wanted him to see it my way and I did not understand the disease.
In order to change, I had to accept that not everyone will see it my way. When I began to learn about boundaries, treating others with respect, accepting other’s behavior even though I may not agree, I remembered this saying: “say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean. “ This helped me to pause before getting involved. It still helps me today. Sometimes I can see where I don’t need to say anything at all! But learning to set boundaries helped me to understand when I would have to speak up, and when these instances happen, I can still be kind and loving.
Isn’t it always our nature to try to control everything going on around us? I know that are many times when I want things to go my way and yet the truth is that we don’t control many things. The obvious ones are things like the weather. We can hope, wish, pray that it is sunny or that it will rain and bring much needed water for our environment. We know that the weather is out of our control but other activities are little bit more elusive. We all want what is best for our children but what happens when their choices in life are not what we had hoped for? I have had to let go of so many expectations of my children. What I want them to do and what they choose to do with their lives are not always congruous.
It hasn’t been very easy to feel that I know what is best for my kids and have them go a different direction. Even the choices my daughter made on substance abuse. I tried everything to control the situation. She became an adult during this time and then it became doubly difficult because I could not make decisions for her anymore. Trying to control what she was doing only led me to stress and frustration. Over time I slowly learned that what she chose to do was out of my control. I could coach and support her but in the end the decision were hers. I learned to go with the flow which meant understanding what she was doing but not get involved in it. I slowly saw how this was alleviating my stress by keeping to my own business and not trying to control hers. It isn’t always easy but eventually you can find peace and serenity while staying in the flow.
Do you recall this commercial?
He’s on the phone; it’s lodged between his head and shoulder so his hands are free. He’s pale and sweat is beading on his forehead. The butcher knife in one hand, his other hand holding the cutting board, the stage is definitely a kitchen setting. He’s having a conversation with someone and at first we think he is getting lessons to carve a chicken. We don’t see who he is talking to yet but it appears someone is instructing him. Then the camera takes us to the other caller – a medical doctor with his white lab coat hanging on a hook behind him, he is dressed in scrubs. The doctor proceeds to communicate what to do, and at some point we understand his instructions are for open heart surgery! He is step by step explaining how to determine where to make the incision on the caller’s own sternum. The caller looks down at his chest with a befuddled and very anxious look. Finally he asks the doctor “shouldn’t you be doing this?”
That is a picture forever embedded in my brain of how my parenting attempts to control my son played out. I would take on roles that did not belong to me, all the while thinking I knew best. Today I can recognize when I’m in over my head, but for a while this wasn’t so clear. I hear alcoholics in recovery say denial of reality is a symptom of their disease. It’s a symptom of my disease too! I have picked up tools in my own recovery to help me figure out if the situation at hand belongs to me or someone else. I stop and think “ shouldn’t you be doing this?” sooner. Whether it’s my Higher Power or a medical doctor, I let go of the urge to think I’m in charge and turn it over to those who know better! And I have this commercial, a mental image, to remind me of the insanity I could easily find myself doing again…
Freedom from controlling behavior, for a co-dependent like me, can be tricky. I have to ask myself if there are motives behind my actions. Am I passively aggressively trying to manipulate an outcome? For example, by saying to my son while he’s in the throes of his addiction, that I won’t be lending money or my car, buying him this or that, or “fill in the blank,” am I trying to manipulate him into sobriety by withholding something? In the end, this “standing new ground” might be just another form of cleverly disguised control.
As I slowly learn to make decisions based on what’s right for me, I can relinquish the impact on others ….what they will or will not do is no longer my primary focus.
There was a time I paid the auto insurance premiums for my twenty-something son. There were motives behind it and when he did not “perform to my standards” I became resentful. First, it was an inconvenience. I had to trek over to CSAA each month and make this payment. Why wasn’t he doing anything to demonstrate he would be handling it on his own? I noticed he was freely eating out most every day or going to Starbucks. I’d quietly count the money he could be saving for…car insurance! Was he even grateful for what I did? Then, I’d rationalize that if I did not pay it and he got into an altercation, I would feel terrible. What if he got in to an accident? What if he relapsed? It was important to me that he had coverage because I was fearful of what could happen to him without it.
This getting overly involved in my loved one’s affairs because of my fears about a future unknown event is a common symptom of co-dependency. My fears were squeezing him further, damaging and unproductive. Learning to distinguish my responsibility from his responsibility has become a huge milestone in busting the co-dependent grasp.
I accept that sometimes I am not able to see things as they really are; this is part of my condition from the family disease. If I’m aware of the situation, I can reflect before doing anything. I can ask myself, “is this something I have control over”? If I choose to engage, are the results going to out-weigh the consequences of it? Once I’ve got the awareness figured out, there is acceptance. I accept that “you do not agree with me” or “you may be right!” or “the situation has nothing to do with me” or “it’s none of my business”. Acceptance does not always mean approval. I can accept where my sons are today, but I don’t have to like it. When I think before I act, I find I have more choices in the relationships I’m in. It can be in the form of no action at all, stalling, saying no, setting boundaries, removing myself from the situation, turning to my Higher Power for guidance or calling someone to talk things over and reason things out. I have learned that if I am at dis-ease over something, I must look inward to my own character traits that are allowing me to feel this way. I have control over how I react to people, places and things – but I’m powerless over “THEM”.
I used to be a reactionary person. This old behavior never once helped me. I would be angry, upset, resentful, impatient and tired from wasted energy. Today, my relationship with my sons, my family and friends is based on respect and acceptance – especially in difficult situations.
I used to think detachment was a form of indifference – Today, I believe it’s just the opposite. Detachment is preceded by acceptance. It was a slow evolution in changing how I think. For a long time I did not want to accept my sons were in trouble with drugs. How could I detach if I falsely believed there wasn’t a problem? Each time I tried to fix them; buy off their debt, provide transportation, fret and fume over another bad news episode, it only got worse. I found myself befuddled, broke and disappointed. But how could I detach if I did not accept I had no control over them?
Detachment is a common word in and around the dynamics of the family disease. The notion of detaching was frightening – the unknown of letting go. Thinking it was not a loving, kind or caring thing for a mother to do when confronted with her young adult child’s substance abuse. Fearful that if I did detach then something really bad would happen. I had to get over myself and the fears I conjured up. Truth was, bad things were happening anyhow and I had not power over it. Once I accepted that, it became easier to let go.
Detachment has become a healthy and sincere act for those I care about. It shows up as unconditional love – quite the opposite of indifference.
An analogy for freedom has been compared to the price for control. All interlocked and very important to the recovery from the family disease.
While I thought I could control the addict/alcoholic, the reality was the addict/alcoholic was controlling me. Want to take a vacation? Well, it would depend on the addict/alcoholic. Could they be trusted out of my sight and supervision? Could I trust them to stay at home? Well, the answer would be no! So I could not and would not take that vacation. How about that re-model? Well, it would depend. It would depend on using that money for a “would like to have” or rehab/crisis pay off/ bail/ etc. etc. Best not plan on any major savings for that, because you never know what’s coming. How about having guests over? Well, it would be depend. If the addict/alcoholic wasn’t around, maybe company could come over, but then how embarrassing if police bang at my door – best not expose ourselves to embarrassment! How about your day? How’s your day today? Well, it would depend on how the addict/alcoholic was doing. I literally would work 10 hours and on the drive home to my house, just 100 yards from my driveway, begin to wonder how my day was going to be….all depending. The price for control any way you look at it was foregoing freedom, yet it seemed impossible to let go of the urge to control.
What does this “freedom” cost? Nothings free! The costs are relinquishing control! It will cost me Acceptance: being willing to accept I’m powerless over people, places and things. Trust: being willing to trust that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Working on my own recovery cost me time, commitment and a little inconvenience. Freedom cost me boundaries: standing up for myself and saying no with kindness and respect.
A small price to pay for a big reward: Freedom from the prison of obsession with the addict/alcoholic’s life. Free of the all-consuming FEAR, ANGUISH, & WORRY. Freedom to DE-TACH from the agony of involvement and trust that it will work out the way it’s supposed to work out and I don’t have to have the answers. Free to make decisions about taking a vacation, saving up for something special, being a little selfish for my own sanity.