My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all. He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.
This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease. I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes, I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.
Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended. Parents discover grieving is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton. First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.
One of the hardest tasks for me is to accept why the holiday season brings on a dreadful feeling of gloom for me. Growing up, I don’t have any negative feelings about the holidays. In fact, I’m very grateful for all the fond memories and joy I experienced. My mom, dad and family get-togethers during Thanksgiving were GREAT! Though my mom recalls a difficult period when we would pack up and drive 3 hours to “grandmas” where she later “put an end to THAT.” I don’t remember anything but having dinner at our house. I always remember my mom cooking and a lot of activity in preparation. There was anxious excitement anticipating the arrival of my relatives. There was always a flurry of political discussions, abundance of food, and comforting smells. There may have been alcohol, I don’t recall. Being the youngest, I watched my older siblings bring home guests from college and they were always interesting characters whether “meditating yoga” in our front yard (the 60’s!) or bringing a new perspective to the table. It was always these memories that I tried to recreate with my family.
The holidays are hard for me because I have dysfunction in my family. I’m newly aware that this is what the reality is. This dysfunction is a result of alcoholism and addiction combined with my perspective of what a family should be and how others should act – all effects of the family disease. It’s no use wishing for the memories to repeat or wishing for my family to be something else. If I continue to deny it, I will stay in my disease. I will likely blame others, try to force solutions and perpetuate the negativity that can come so easily. I continue to work on my attitude and use the tools of the Al-Anon program to help me see things more clearly, accept and appreciate all the blessings I have – and there are many. For this I am grateful.
There was a time I’d spend my waking moments hoping for a positive change in my sons. I would hope that the rehab people would do the trick and in 30 days. I’d hope that magic bullet would find the target and I’d hope that my sons would beat all odds to a full recovery and cure. Once I discovered the hope heard in the rooms of AA, I then changed my tactics. My focus was still on my sons, but this time I had answers! I wanted to make sure they were appropriately informed about AA, were going to AA meetings, essentially, were as excited and interested as I was about AA! I would cleverly leave pamphlets out or suggest a tape I had heard… I’d hope someday they would embrace the gift of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and become a spokesperson, speaker, and well respected sponsor. I just knew they’d get their life back on track with employment, relationships and financial stability, if only.
I constantly had these hopeful dreams for them. Without hope, how could I have gone on? I don’t know why I continued to move towards a spiritual journey of recovery in Al-Anon for myself, but I did know what, when and where to get it. Perhaps it was because nothing I seemed to be doing was helping them. My focus was misdirected but I did not know that at the time. If nothing changes, nothing changes! I slowly realized if I keep the focus on me, my desire to achieve serenity is more likely to be obtained. I kept coming back hoping to hear more stories of hope! And it was not the stories of how their kids were doing well, though helpful and encouraging, it was how well THEY WERE DOING! Serenity was alluring and I was told, “obtainable.” For some reason, I believed them.
SCENARIO: You have received bad news again, either from your son or daughter directly, their employer, landlord, friend, relative, fill-in-the-blanks. This time the emotional roller-coaster is curving through the anger turn. You think, “This is the 6th, 7th, 12th, 100th or another LAST time!” In yet another opportunity to drill into them the PROBLEMS they are creating for themselves, maybe this time you blast them with righteous indignation about the problems they are causing YOU.
ME: “I don’t understand why you do it!” THEM: “I don’t know why I do it!”
Who’s right? Both! “I just don’t understand why” was often said from my mouth. Yet my actions for many years did not indicate any desire to try and learn about it. Moreover, I did not hear myself when I said the words: I don’t understand – I was preoccupied with WHY. Yet it armed me with ammunition: I don’t understand, therefore I will fight-fight-fight.
In recovery I have learned that understanding is mental action of study which is sometimes measured through aptitude tests and scoring. Acceptance is a spiritual action of study with notable behavioral changes in attitude: serenity, kindness, gratitude and love. The further along I get in my own recovery, the less important “why” becomes. Knowledge has provided me with information – it was the resistance to this information that kept me in denial. Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance. And the battle of the non-Al-Anon vs. Alcoholic/Addict continues on or maybe, this time, something changes…
When my son was merely “experimenting” with pot, some family friends stopped by to talk about the cache of pot and rolling papers they discovered in their son’s room. They were trying to tell us, “We’ve got a problem and you do, too.”
I didn’t hear them, and I wonder why. Did part of me say, “It’s just pot—what’s the problem?” If so, I would be in good company: many American parents smoked pot in the 70s and didn’t become addicts, so it seems relatively benign, especially compared with the alternatives. Drunk driving, now that’s a problem. Stoned driving—not so much. And anyway, smoking pot is a rite of passage….something he or she will outgrow. That’s a common sentiment, based on what I’ve heard from other parents who have tried to understand their loose rules and ability to look away from a growing storm. What parents don’t say or know is that there are more kids in rehab today for pot than for all other drugs combined.
Maybe I didn’t hear them because I was in denial about my son’s drug use. I wanted to find another problem with another solution, one I could wrap my brain and energy around. A learning disability, boredom with school, anger issues, and teenage rebellion would fit the bill. I had a name for all those conditions, and a solution, too: academic accommodations, more stimulating activities, therapy, the passage of time. Those could solve the problem; but I didn’t know how to solve addiction, even if I had been able to name it.
My action (or lack thereof) helps me understand why parents today fail to sound the alarm when they discover their child is getting stoned. I didn’t take action; why should you?? Check out our Denial “Meeting in a Box” to get some answers to that question.
I sometimes ponder how quickly my fear and sadness of having a child with a drug problem resulted in my own physical issues: The teeth grinding at night, hair loss, weight gain, and high blood pressure to name a few. Initially, throwing quick fixes to the symptoms has had high costs: dental work, medical bills and revenue recovery.
With righteous indignation, I had plenty of excuses. If you walked in my shoes, you might understand why. It was easy to blame THEM for what THEY were putting me through. To add insult to injury, the disease of addiction and alcoholism were also affecting my immediate family and I resented that too.
But further contemplation while working the 12 steps of Al-Anon has shown me that I am better off doing a self-examination of myself, my motives and reasons. I had to relearn how to take ownership of my own actions and quit already with the excuses.
My attitude, if left unchecked, models the addict/alcoholic. I can easily blame others and have a distorted view on life. When I take the focus off THEM and work my own program of recovery, I am given gifts beyond measure. Here, true rehabilitation begins at the root cause – ME. I am able to deflect and change the course of how I feel both emotionally and physically.
Denial is a powerful escape from life’s serious problems. For me, reality takes on a distortion, and when I’m focused on my grown child I lose sight of what really is. My tendencies are to not see addiction. I don’t see isolation from family and social settings, and I don’t see self-centeredness, ego or anger to name a few. Unsettling behavior is hard to see with those closest to me. I can’t stand to see the suffering or struggles. Before the tools of recovery to help with my co-dependency issues, I stayed in denial because I didn’t know what to do. I felt obligated and responsible for the substance abuse but I did not know it was much bigger and more powerful than anything I had ever come across. With no tools and working on it alone, denial helped smooth over the trouble, minimizing big issues to a temporary manageable level.
Oddly, if the same behavior was exhibited by a stranger, at least I’d recognize certain signals: danger, concern, disrespect or insensitivity. Most likely I would not tolerate it. But to those I love? I don’t see it or my denial turns it into rationalization or normalization. I thought I would be able to help, but really? How? I’m incapable – I’m just too close. This is why I pray for the stranger, turn the rest over to a Power, greater than myself and for all matters that concern me; I let it begin with me.
To understand the coping mechanism that can perpetuate rather than solve the problem, check out Parent Pathway Meeting in a box: Denial.
I loved the movie Silver Linings Playbook . It’s one of those feel good movies and is especially heartfelt for me as a parent struggling with the concept my child may be afflicted with addiction, alcoholism and/or mental illness.
There were many scenes in the movie that made me laugh, cry, and wonder. But in truth, I loved the movie because it has a happy ending. In real life, as I battled and fought for normalcy where there was none, I was not able to see the silver linings when they happened. Maybe I should qualify: the movie ended on an UP SIDE because in recovery I know life offers UPS and DOWNS! I definitely saw alcoholism, co-dependency and mental illness strung together in the family dynamics. How the family copes, denies, accepts and fights the disease as illustrated in this story is relatable to me on many levels. I think the movie did a good job representing how normal people on the outside react to others who are affected. I saw fear, ignorance and then judgment. I related to that too.
But what sticks in my mind today is when the character, Pat, apologizes when he blurts out something inappropriate – he says “I’m sorry, I have no filters when I speak.” There were no filters in my house before recovery. Even as the co-dependent, I’d blurt out things I wished I could take back – filters are broken, clogged or missing in the family disease. Thank goodness for recovery where there is a strategy to help react differently to situations that baffled me before. Recovery is the filter and gratitude is one silver lining.
How long did I deny this statement? For many years, I believed it was a matter of willpower. As long as I denied that it was a disease, then I would stay in utter conflict and constant turmoil trying to fight it. In this resistance mode, I was acting as if I knew best, based on no true knowledge about the chemical reaction in the body and the disease of the mind. I would lecture, blame and scold when my loved ones already had a bad opinion about themselves. I would take charge, place orders and expect change, but the outcomes were never what I wished for. I would do it again and expect a different result. The same result would happen and I still tried it again!
Alcoholism is also family disease, and if you were to look into my life, you would have seen evidence that it was not just the alcoholic/addict to be concerned about. I was progressing along with them. I was obsessed with saving those I cared about and in so doing my behavior was certifiable! And all the effort was doing nothing to help the problem. They were getting worse, and so was I.
To learn as much as I could about the disease I read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I went to open AA meetings, the 12 Step program for alcoholics, and I listened to Alcoholics in recovery on speaker tapes. To get a grip on myself, and to learn more about my relation to the family disease, I went to the Al-Anon Family Groups. I no longer deny that addiction is a disease, and completely understand why willpower is not the issue. I also know it’s a family disease. I don’t have to know why anymore. Being able to see my role in the disease dynamic has been a game changer. When you know better, you do better.
I doubt my husband and I carried a united front when problems started escalating in our family unit as a result of the drug use, abuse and addiction. I can relate to stories of families that split apart due to strong opposing opinions, broken dreams, anger and frustration in the relationships. Blame starts to take on a life of its own.
It seemed in my home, I was at times hesitant to bring attention, make a scene or confront the problem head on. Then again, I was the one who was in the home, seeing the problems, finding the paraphernalia, answering the calls from teachers, neighbors or other parents. It was if I was either in denial or tackling the issues head on. But I don’t recall a shared vision of the seriousness of the problems in the beginning. My husband would discipline if necessary (wait till your father gets home syndrome), go pick up the pieces of a totaled car, post bail or “man-handle” the recalcitrant teenager. But he was also sensitive to my reactions and had growing concerns about his family. At other times he would begin to lecture me on my parenting skills (in round about ways) and I would begin to resent his absence in the daily trauma-drama. Those were the most difficult times in our relationship and it was a miracle we made it through. But we did. And it wasn’t because we are so clever or lucky. We sought counseling and committed ourselves to get the help we needed and learn how to support our children whether in recovery or not.
Today we are united in what we will and will not allow (boundaries) when it comes to our own serenity and livelihood as a husband and wife, parents and as individuals. We can discuss our feelings and concerns with issues that continue to challenge us and we are able to find a mutual ground before making a decision. We have respect and accept each other’s opinions, even though we may not agree. In a sense, we are now acting in a loving and kind way and we no longer have to lecture blame or scold. We have been through some troubling times like all the parents whose children fall prey to addiction. We have also had amazing joy and happiness. Not knowing what the future will bring, we can appreciate our life today and find solace that we may not have been united: we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.