SHIFT: Less of that, more of this: careful weighing and mindful thinking

Recovery from the family disease involves a shift in attitude and behavior. Years ago my counselor told me that my son would “get it” when “he got it” and I kept asking her “how will I know?” Her flip answer was always “from his changed behavior.” How is a desperate, frightened mother supposed to understand that? I had 5 years of gnarly teenage behavior; never knowing what young adulthood recovery-behavior was supposed to look like. All trust, including my own intuition, was out the window.

It took years of recovery from the family disease, hard work and many sleepless nights to begin to understand the concept “changed behavior”…my own.

I experienced a gradual shift from less of that to more of this.  Each day I’m tasked with weighing my options on how my day is going to be; I have choices and with practice the shift is less noticeable, but more serene.

My SHIFT:

  • Less talk, more listening,
  • Less judgment, more tolerance,
  • Less control, more trust,
  • Less tense, more relaxed,
  • Less egocentric, more spiritual

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!

 

Mars versus Venus and a child’s addiction or alcoholism

Moms and Dads tend to deal with a child’s chemical dependency in different ways. Dads often want to fix the problem, dammit, to make the kid better, to solve all the problems he or she created along the way.  For fixers, all this hard work gives rise to some serious resentment and tests even the best anger management skills.  In contrast, Moms want to soothe the hurt, protect the baby, kiss the booboo away, even if that requires them to bear their pain. For us enablers, speed dialing grief counselors or Jack Kevorkian can be the order of the day.

This disconnect in parenting styles didn’t arise with addiction or alcoholism.  It probably lay dormant all along, but a child’s chemical dependency throws kerosene on the flames of parental disconnect and discontent.  Mars to Venus, we’ve got a problem, illuminated by the flame-out of our struggling children.

In order for the family to get healthy, it is essential to “circle” the wagons, which requires all parties to agree to take the same approach towards chemical dependency.  It requires a common understanding of the disease of addiction and a shared commitment to not enabling, not fixing….simply getting out of the way of our children as they try to right their own ships. It requires us to talk with our spouses/partners when we would rather retreat or cast blame or yell or cry. Being the parent of an addict is not for sissies, but it give us a chance to hone our resiliency, character, and commitment, which are silver linings in an otherwise dark cloud.

The price of freedom if your child is chemically-dependent

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.

The perils of parenting a substance-abusing adult child

It has been said over and again, parents are the biggest influence over their children.  I must of thought that meant for life.  There were times I might have had a moment of influential pride – what I call the “my child is an honor student syndrome.”  I never went so far as to affix it to my car bumper! I was more apt to give my children credit where credit was due.  THEY worked hard at it…HE always had a love for basketball…HE was driven to pursue…I don’t know where they got it!”  But there are situations where rightful ownership is distorted by pride –  “Yep, that’s my boy!” With unsaid attitude: “I raised ‘em right!”

When behavior turns risky and substance abuse leads to addiction, the parental influence becomes nonexistent.  But, like me, most parents don’t stop trying to reclaim their influence.  And if crime related incidences by underage adults happen, we are quick to blame the parents casting quick judgment – “she deserves imprisonment” – “How can the parents allow that to happen?”

Like most of us struggling with an addict in the family, I stressed with martyrdom.  I spent every waking moment trying to prevent or stop the unthinkable consequences of the risky behavior.  I acted as if I had the ability to stop it.  I acted like I caused it.  I acted to regain that parental influence I was entitled to have!  I’ll admit there was a bit of guilt, what I call the  “what will the neighbor’s think syndrome.”

The flip side of giving credit where credit is due is taking responsibility for something I don’t own, good or bad.  It’s easier to allow them the glory of success than to allow them the dignity of living with a disease.  Who wouldn’t give their right arm to take away their pain?  What good did it do in trying?   It is this distorted thinking that causes further problems in helping my children recover from their drug addiction.   The perils of parenting are for life but it’s never too late to improve on it.

I can run, but I can’t hide from substance abuse in the Family

Trying to manage addiction is like willing a train to stop. No matter how hard I concentrate on it, the train is moving with or without me. Depending on my location, I either get run over, passed by, moved or left behind.  Ultimately, addiction moved on but I lost who I was and what was really important to me. I remember my job’s demands were accelerating parallel to the addiction progression in my family. I was traveling several weeks a year away from home and I looked forward to leaving. I fantasized that if I could move far, far, away, the problems would go away. But the worry never left, nor did the problems when I returned home. I could engulf myself in long term projects to avoid feelings of failure as a mother. I heard a speaker at a 12-Step meeting say “everywhere I go, there I am!” and another said “nothing like Arkansas in the rear view mirror!” It made sense, intuitively; running away would not solve my problem because I was somehow connected to it.

At some point I had to face the reality. This was not going away or going to get better unless I decided to do something different. I had to make some changes, but how? Joining a support group with similar circumstances and seeking professional help was a good start. When I started to put the focus on myself and stop waiting for others to change, my life started to get better. My decision to change my behavior versus running away from the problems in my life was frightening at first. But overcoming this fear of unknown was worth the risk of continuing as is. Get on! Get off! Move out of the way…Do something within your control.

The Monster known as Addiction

Addiction is like a monster; it looms in the dark and seems to strike without warning. Often there were days that I would slowly begin to pop up and think maybe the ‘monster’ is gone… The monster was not my daughter; it was the addiction that tormented her night and day. And as the concerned parent who is battling with this monster, you just don’t know when it’s safe to come out of the bunker. This is how it felt to me. I want to be back in my life, carefree and enjoying the simple things that seem to have eluded me. When the phone rang I wanted it to be routine to just pick it up and see who’s calling. Instead it was an instant jolt in my pulse and furrow in my brow with the worry that it might be bad news or a new crisis to deal with. Yes, I have gotten stronger over the past couple of years. I have slowly reclaimed my life and learned to detach from the situations created by my daughter in her addiction. But I never forget to realize how delicate the situation can be. And I also strive to remember that my role is to love and support, but not control.

I have moved forward with cautious optimism. I have hope, I always have hope, that there won’t be another relapse and that life will continue to happen for my daughter in a healthy and productive way. I may have to let go of my previous hopes and dreams, but I have new hopes and dreams for her. And it is that she is happy, healthy and whole.

Which planet reigns — Mars or Venus — when you are parenting an addict?

Moms and Dads tend to deal with a child’s chemical dependency in different ways. Dads often want to fix the problem, dammit, to make the kid better, to clean up the mess he or she created along the way.  For fixers, all this hard work gives rise to some serious resentment and tests even the best anger management skills.  In contrast, Moms want to soothe the hurt, protect the baby, kiss the problem away, even if that requires them to bear their pain. For us enablers, speed dialing grief counselors or Jack Kevorkian can be the order of the day.

This disconnect in parenting styles didn’t arise with addiction or alcoholism.  It probably lay dormant all along, but a child’s substance use disorder throws kerosene on the flames of parental disconnect and discontent.  Mars to Venus, we’ve got a problem, illuminated by the flame-out of our struggling children.

In order for the family to get healthy, it is essential to “circle” the wagons, which requires all parties to agree to take the same approach towards chemical dependency.  It requires a common understanding of the disease of addiction and a shared commitment to not enabling, not fixing….simply getting out of the way of our children as they try to right their own ships. It requires us to talk with our spouses/partners when we would rather retreat or cast blame or yell or cry. Being the parent of an addict is not for sissies, but it gives us a chance to hone our resiliency, character, and commitment, which are silver linings in an otherwise dark cloud.

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.

When the Unthinkable knocks on your front door

Unthinkable things sums up what happens to parents of drug addicts, at least in my world. Take for example, the phone call I got from a police officer of a special fugitive division. He was looking for my son and wanted my help. He knew my name; he knew all my family members’ names. We talked for 30 minutes about the perils my son faces – he’s concerned, he said. The last time he relapsed – pulled over for a traffic violation – he bolted. This “excites” police officers and the conversation turns to the dreaded, unthinkable – the likelihood that my son might do something that causes a police officer to fire his weapon. He might overdose, be killed by another junkie, and a host of other things. My mind already conjures up the worst case scenarios -these events are happening daily in my community. “You could rescue your son,” he threatens with fear. He suggested luring him in with the promise of money; they would wait around corners in undercover gear.

This put me in a strange, but familiar place. It reminded me of a time when I held onto the pseudo-belief that I have a lot of power and control over my son. With my own recovery from the family disease I know better. This is bigger than me and it’s not my business. Besides, there are always more outcomes than he presented – we don’t know. If I did these things, and my son was harmed as a result, would I be able to live with myself? If I didn’t do the sting operation and my son is killed on the street, would I be able to live with myself? Do I really have that much power?

I decided I would encourage my son to get help as I have always done, knowing this is his life and I’m not in control of it. That was if and when I would hear from him – he does not answer my calls either. Today I have a Power, greater than me that will guide me to a sane position. The perils of drug abuse, addiction and the disease related crimes by young people are unthinkable. And they progress. And their family, who love them beyond measure, can not save them with that love.