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

Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”.  He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing!  I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts!  Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time.  My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”

Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening.  Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation.  I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.

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.

The Gift of Desperation – Surrendering Old Ways and Choosing Another

In life you need either inspiration or desperation.— Tony Robbins

I heard on a spiritual talk show the statement, “Desperation was a gift, it saved me”.  At first I was curious how one could say that and then recalled that it was desperation that made me seek out a support group for families who have a member addicted to alcohol and drugs.  The hurt and uncertainty was too great to function.

I began to realize desperation is what it takes for most people in codependent relationships to find relief, and that this last resort is the end game towards recovery. It took a long time to understand that desperation was actually a gift. Without desperation, I’d still be fighting, over and over in varying ways, to regain control of the uncontrollable: drugs and alcohol addiction of a loved one.

As with anything, desperation can be a double edged sword. Having utter lack of hope, untreated, without intervention or rehabilitation, one might continue towards a path of insanity, institutionalization or death from related disorders. It certainly is a cross-road and as a gift, it created a change in my arsenal of tactics: listen and learn what others are saying.

And the beauty of hearing other people’s perspective helps me self- analyze my own progress in recovery.  What initially began as a quest to save my sons turned out to be much more than I imagined.  I was initially inspired by the hope that there is a possibility of recovery for them, and nowhere else had I been given that. I even believed there was hope that they too might find the gift of desperation – I realize now that desperation is only a gift if I surrender old ways and chose another. If not, then desperation can further damage.  I don’t know if it is a necessary predecessor to change but that is what did it for me.

We all fall down: when the addict and family relapse

Photo of Ricki TownsendThis is a guest post from family counselor and interventionist Ricki Townsend

In the disease of addiction, as in most diseases, there is the chance of relapse. Both the substance abuser and the family must remember that we are only in remission.  Addiction doesn’t disappear; it is a chronic disease that may include relapse.

What does it look like when remission ends and relapse sets in?  Typically, recovery for all family members has been going well.  The family has been going to Al-Anon.  The addict/alcoholic has been going to AA or NA.  An agreement is in place, and everyone has been abiding by its terms. Things have been getter better, one day at a time, for six to nine months. The rough edges are smoothing out.  The beloved addict is now showing up in an honest way, and everyone starts relaxing.

Bit by bit, though, people become complacent.  The addict misses a meeting, or two.  The parents slack off on the drug testing. Other elements of the agreement are overlooked.  All of a sudden, relapse barges through the front door.

Old behaviors return in full force.  The addict starts using or drinking again, the parents resort to their earlier behaviors, whether enabling or withdrawing from the chaos.  The entire family is in relapse.

This scenario brings heartbreak, anger, stress, and panic.  What do you do now that it’s all falling apart again? How do you get back on track? This is a time to call an addiction professional that you trust and ask them to listen to you, your fears, and your pain.  Then listen to their ideas, which will be much more objective than yours. Is your loved one heading the right direction after relapse?  Going to meetings?  Testing clean?  Humble?  Scared?  Did you stick with your agreement?  What do you need to do differently this time around?  The answers to those questions will guide you as you think about the steps you need to take. Perhaps you will want to invite the professional to mediate between you and your loved one to reset the rules.

Because your family is a “system” with interlocking parts, you need to look at your role in the relapse.  Are you heading the right direction after the relapse? I invite you to breathe, spend some time alone to regain your balance, and consider your next steps. You can’t change the addict, but you can change yourself.  What might you do differently this time around?

There is no one “right” answer for everyone.  You need to find the answer that works for you and your family; the only “must” is that you seek that answer thoughtfully, constructively and respectfully.


Ricki Townsend
Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor
NAADAC Certification Commissioner
Ncac1, CAS, RAS, Bri-

Parents of addicted or alcoholic children: first you think, then you feel

The power of my thoughts can change the way I act. Thoughts drive symptoms. For me, symptoms were anxious feelings. I was fearful that any one of my sons may at any point in time fall into serious consequences. I had obsessive thoughts and continual replay of past events when I may have had a better influence on them. This kept me longing for things I could not have back. Everything in my life was drama. Living with active addiction creates mayhem. Then my thoughts turned to physical symptoms: Panic attacks, blood pressure; an altered immune system that, if left untreated, would leave me in medical crises.

It used to bother me when the doctor would say my problem was stress. I felt it was a cop-out.  What I did not know is that stress is not reality; stress is how my mind reacts to the reality around it. The old adage  “things upset me” versus “I upset me” point of view. But then my mind would say, “my son’s drug problem upsets me, and when he gets better, I won’t have stress anymore.” This type of thinking did not help me or my son in anyway. It kept me in a circular self-defeating mindset.

Sometimes change is forced on us. It wasn’t like I made a conscience effort to seek help for myself, I stumbled on the notion I needed help while searching for help for my sons. I had to experience desperation which opened up a willingness to try a new way to manage an old problem. The disease of addiction is progressive as were my negative thoughts. My symptoms became greater than my desire to maintain familiar tactics.  It was this force, greater than me, that propelled me to change.  I simply wanted to feel better.

The Silver Linings Playbook for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

The sorrow, destruction and powerlessness of a child’s addiction weigh heavily on our hearts. In my dimmest hour, devastation for my child was all I could see.  It was the only thing that I could imagine.  I was blinded by his addiction.

And yet, somewhere along the way I began to spot glimmers of light, personal epiphanies of growth and change and promise. My personal torture morphed into compassion for others.  I became grateful for small things that wouldn’t have even caught my eye before.  I learned to devote time and energy to the truly important things in my life.  My appreciation for strong girlfriends grew hundredfold. The dark cloud of addiction revealed some very silver linings which had been there forever while I had been looking the other way.

What allowed me to change, or what changed in me?  I had to admit my powerlessness over my son’s chemical dependency before I could see anything else besides his addiction. When I admitted my powerlessness over his addiction, it released its grasp on me.  Don’t change my world, change me.

If you have only recently entered the dark Land of Addiction, I know this seems ridiculous, out of the question. But give yourself time.  There are many steps in the  experience of a child’s serious illness, and you need to work through them at your own pace.  Somewhere along the way, the silver linings will start to catch your eye.

This explains everything – making sense of the disease of addiction

Mental Illness and AddictionResearching or reading articles of research on addiction educates me more about why our loved ones continue to do what appears to us a self-defeating, immoral and illegal activity. To think they are choosing or willfully lying is a judgment quickly taken, but the truth is much more complex and physiological.

With stats such as “only 10% of addicts seek help on their own” , that is, even recognize they have a problem, explains a lot. In one such article written for CNN, Dr. Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, states “Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.”  In my opinion, the same holds true for the family members. We don’t seek help readily; we don’t see that we may be part of the problem. Take, for example, a good co-depended parent model: self-authorized to sacrifice their own well-being, at all costs, with a fear based obsession not unlike the addict searching for the next fix. Using ineffective control measures, we have firsthand experience being among the 90%!

I easily equate the addict profile as it applies to me, a concerned parent fraught with hopeless attempts to assist. It explains the anguish, heartache and self-defeating measures those of us in this family disease do.  It explains everything.  Why we continue to ”mother” our 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and older-year olds…as if they are still in toddlers! We ineffectively combat a disease of lies; and the alternative is at first, unfathomable, incomprehensible and counterintuitive.

The other measures that may ultimately “help” result from our own decision to seek help or maybe we were coerced.  However we get there, we are given tools to overcome our own connectedness to the addict and in so doing, contribute to changing that dismal 10%percent that seek recovery. When you know better, you do better.


Consciousness: That annoying time between naps

Having a family member afflicted with addiction has repercussions with other family members – it’s why we say it’s a family disease. I speak from my experience as a parent whose sons’ addiction progressed fully. I remember when life around me was becoming too much to handle. That’s big trouble for a control freak like me who once believed I had complete control of family matters (and members), business and all affairs in my sphere of influence. In fact, I’d still believe this today if addiction had not shown up in my house. Denial became my way of coping. It wasn’t that I denied the reality of the situation; I just did not know what else to do, so I either normalized intolerable behavior or I fought it. Either way I got very tired. I just wanted to sleep. Looking back these feelings of lethargy, isolation, depression and helplessness were all pointing to an eventual state of desperation. Desperation, it turns out, was a gift! Why?

I had to become desperate enough in order to gain humility to admit I needed help – that I did not know what to do and if I continued relying on myself, things were not going to get better. The gift of desperation helped me find recovery through the Al-Anon family groups because I wanted it, not because someone told me I should do it. The gift of desperation helped me become willing to hear other people speak and to listen without opening my mouth. This was difficult at first, because I came with an attitude of necessary justification of my unique situation; it had become my defense mechanism. In the early days of my own recovery, I did not always like what I was hearing in the group meetings – there were no black and white rules of conduct that would fix my kids. However, I was willing to listen because I saw others with similar stories that were living with serenity in their lives. Desperation helped me recognize my own co-dependent behavior which often stemmed from fear. I could not trust in letting go of outcomes, I somehow believed I could control it; intuitively I knew this to be false. The gift of desperation opened doors of opportunity for spiritual growth, friendship and fellowship. When I stopped talking, stopped pretending to know everything and started listening and learning, I gained a new perspective on life. I saw a possibility that I too could have hope, joy and serenity in my life. Desperation helped me discover why I’m worth waking up for. I found me again. Who has time for naps?


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?