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

Doing or Not Doing – Detaching to move forward

detachment - moving forwardI’m  writing about detachment, my favorite topic.  In the family disease, I was completely sure the problem resided with THEM and did not realize how attached I was to THAT.   As we say, “turn the binoculars around!”  A simple concept does not come easy, it takes work.  DOING!   It begins with thinking about detachment in a new way.

The first relatable scenario for me was realizing how attached I became to inanimate objects.  Like the clothes in my closet for example.  I’m attached to them and can’t begin to let them go!  Never mind that they have not been worn or seen the light of day for years!  Never mind that they won’t fit well or even be in style.  Yet my closet is stuffed full, and there I stand with nothing to wear because I can’t see – too much clutter! There is a deep rooted fear (in my mind) that my “letting them go” will result in a definitive, almost instantaneous need for one of these articles I just gave away.  It’s a common misconception that removing something will leave a dark hole which translates to a negative emptiness.   I recall a time when I visualized an old article of clothing was just the right thing.  After digging deep into storage bins under the bed, I found, upon closer inspection; it was not at all appropriate or accurate to my memory of it!  Whatever the source or cause of my attachments, it tends to keep me NOT DOING, or holding on.  Sound familiar?  Doing or not doing.

And my attachment to dated clothing may trump the joy of new possibilities: NOT DOING has consequences!  Oddly, we feel safer there, because there will not be a hole.  Is the fear of missing something I bought years ago, worth holding onto?  If it were, I might be buried alive with STUFF.  So the seeds of  detachment can begin with simple measures of DOING something, maybe different, but nonetheless DOING.  There is a possibility the hole will be filled with light!

Parents of addicts/alcoholics: Fix yourself first

We learn how to parent from the way we were parented, for better and for worse.  If you grew up in a family where alcohol or other mood-altering substances played a starring role, you might have learned to keep the boat on an even keel by patching things up or smoothing things over.  Or maybe you looked the other way or simply retreated from the family drama and trauma.  Either way, those methods of coping can spill over from one generation to the next and influence the way we raise our own children.

How do you approach your child’s drinking and drugging?  If you are a “fixer,” you probably shelter the rest of the family from the errant child.  You carry the burden of his or her mistakes.   You enlist the siblings to clean up the messes, or you might even displace the blame onto the “good” siblings.  You keep your spouse in the dark about the missing money or jewelry.  You devote all your time and energy to making things right.

As you soldier on, you are inadvertently keeping the chemically-dependent child from assuming responsibility for poor choices.  As the Al-Anon “Open Letter from the Alcoholic” says,  “Don’t let your love and anxiety for me lead you into doing what I ought to do for myself. If you assume my responsibilities, you make my failure to assume them permanent. My sense of guilt will be increased, and you will feel resentful.” You will also be completely exhausted because you are singlehandedly trying to fix the unfixable:  only the addict/alcoholic can fix himself or herself.

Your job, then, is to fix yourself. To acknowledge that you cannot make your loved one better.  To work on understanding what compels you to keep trying to fix your child.  That quest will bring you wisdom and self-awareness that enriches your life in untold ways.  Your job is to take care of yourself. To treat yourself—to a moment of quiet contemplation in a park, to a meal with your spouse uninterrupted by crisis phone calls, to an evening of laughter with friends. To treat yourself well and, at the same time, give your child a reason to change.

What does it mean to be addicted to loving an addict?

Photo of a mother and son.A while back, my friend spent the night in the ER,  courtesy of her daughter’s addiction.  She wasn’t there for her daughter; she was there because of her daughter.  The addiction was making her sick.  She was so consumed with fear over her daughter’s whereabouts and safety that her heart felt like it was exploding in her chest.  Afraid that she was having a heart attack, her son rushed her to the emergency room. Ironically, they gave her Xanax –her daughter’s drug of choice—to calm her down.

Addiction, the family disease, kills addicts and those who love them.  Sometimes the addict is unscathed while his or her family pays the price.  Many addicts in recovery are horrified to learn how much their parents suffered while they skated merrily along, oblivious or numb to the collateral damage they caused along the way.

Loving our children “’til death do us part” is not healthy or sane.  But where is that “off” switch that lets us walk away from our children for our own sake—and for theirs?  And where do we find the strength to flip the switch? Sometimes our own health issues force us to cry “Uncle.”  Sometimes we run out of money or other resources.  And sometimes we have a moment of clarity and see that we can’t save them unless they want to save themselves; if not, we are all going down with the ship.

The simple act of removing ourselves from the equation often gives the addict an incentive to change.  When cardboard boxes and dumpster diving replace clean sheets and home cooking, that just might trigger the addict’s own moment of clarity.

My child’s addiction is not the sword that I want to die on.  Loving our children means resolving not to participate in their self-destruction. And loving our children means loving ourselves enough to retreat from the line of fire so that we can be present in a way that is healthy for all.

Note to self, from the parent of a young man in recovery

Stack of love letters on rustic wooden planks backgroundA while back, Interventionist and Family Counselor Ricki Townsend sent a powerful e-mail to some of her friends after reading Wayne Dyer’s children’s book, No Excuses.    Ricki wrote, “We must remind ourselves and our children that they can become anything THEY want to be at any time in their lives.  Too often, we start to get in the muck with them instead of surrounding them with love and light and the possibilities of who they can be.  I love this children’s book because it prompted me to remember that I need to hold that vision for our children when they are forgetting it.  The journey is THEIR choice to make.  They must want the new improved life for themselves more than we do.  No, it doesn’t happen overnight, but with each step they can grow, head in the right direction and find peace.”

Thanks, Ricki, for sharing your wisdom on this critical point.  Note to self: keep out of the muck, stay out of the way, leave it up to my son to learn what it’s like to be dirty—or clean; to be addicted—or to be free.

After all, that decision is his to make, as are all the decisions he needs to make as a young adult.  And I can’t be more committed to his recovery than he is.  Epiphany! My powerlessness is really a gift to him, and to me. It frees me, and it puts the burden of responsibility on him, where it rightfully belongs. That’s a journey towards health that I can lovingly support.

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.

Slowly unraveling versus slowly learning to grow and move forward

It seems that when you have traveled the journey of addiction with your loved one over a period of time, you begin to have a sixth sense when things are beginning to falter. I couldn’t always put my finger on it, but I could tell when something was off. Sometimes it was a lack of contact, sometimes it was a particular attitude while talking, and sometimes it was just a feeling. I remember being in one of those modes where I knew something was unraveling. It was as simple as a mention of some new friends – some in recovery, some not, some struggling in their addiction. While I wanted to coach, persuade, and convince her to hang tight to those in recovery, I knew she would follow her own path. I knew I was powerless over what she decided to do.

While I can speculate the chain of events that can lead to ‘unraveling’, it is futile. And it is always a lesson for me just as much as for her. What could I do to ward off impending doom? How could I convince her to stay focused? When should I actively intervene? The answers were simple: nothing, can’t and shouldn’t. I have one job – to ‘mind my own business.’ It doesn’t mean that if she asks for my advice that I shouldn’t give it – I pray for those opportunities for they give me the false notion that I can control something in her life! But they also give me comfort that she wants to engage in healthy discussions. But, Alas, she does not always ask for my advice, she lives her life on her terms. And I am constantly learning to be a bystander in order to help her to continue to learn and grow.

Triggers and Teen Addiction….How Do you Just Say “No?”

I imagine my beloved and chemically-dependent child has triggers that may send him ever so slightly in the direction of relapse.  I have triggers of my own that sometimes push me towards an unhealthy engagement with my son, back to the Neolithic days of enabling, co-dependency, anger, despair and addiction to his addiction.

It’s difficult to convey to others how triggers can launch me with the power of a catapult into a place of anger and heartache.  How could a simple white lie or overlooked obligation raise my blood pressure and my ire so quickly?  Why are things like this—so innocuous and commonplace to others—so upsetting to me?  Its’ because they bring back a dark, contentious past of hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart combat with the Enemy Addiction.  The most powerful triggers have the ability to transport me back to the bad old days almost instantly and unconsciously.

Author Anne Lamott talks about her own triggers in her book, Grace (Eventually)  Thoughts on Faith, “I did not explain or justify my triggers…because trigger implies weapons, weapons imply aim, aim implies combat, combat implies engagement. All I wanted was to feel less engaged, less stuck: I wanted to let it go….I wanted to be a person of peace, who diminishes hurt in the world, instead of perpetuating it.”

Isn’t that what we all want as we walk away from the war zone of chemical dependency?  How to reach that space of peaceful disengagement and serenity is another thing entirely.  Some of us “Let go and let God.”  Others find relief with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  And I’ve heard about repeating a mantra over and over when contronting a trigger.  How do you neutralize your triggers so they don’t derail your own recovery?

Unhitching Your Wagon from an Addicted Child

Having a chemically dependent child brought out the worst of my smothering instincts….oops, make that mothering instincts.  In a vain, misguided effort to protect my son from himself, I did things for him that he should have been doing for himself.  At one point I even became aware that I dove in to answer the questions that my husband asked him at the dinner table.  Part of me wanted to share only the sanitized version of his life with my husband, hoping to spare him the worry and heartbreak that I held close to my vest.  Perhaps I was also trying to convince myself that things weren’t as bad as they seemed.  Perception is reality, especially to a co-dependent mother.

I wanted to protect my child, to fix him, to make his addiction evaporate with a magical kiss. Instead, I became so sickly entwined that when my doctor asked me how I was doing, I responded with a litany of my son’s symptoms and woes  “Wow,” my doctor responded.  “I didn’t even ask about your son, but I guess he is weighing heavily on your mind.”  That was an understatement—getting him better was my singular preoccupation for a torturous stretch of time.

Quite naively, I thought I could outwit and outwill my child’s addiction. But I learned that it doesn’t work that way. Our child’s—and our–recovery requires us to “unhitch” our wagon from our children. At first it seemed selfish—how could I abandon my child??  I slowly learned that moving out of the way and letting my child steer his own course was the healthiest and most loving action I could take, for him and for me.   (Our “Letting Go” Meeting in a Box can help you make the break in a healthy and positive way.)

Where ever you go, you take addiction with you (or not)

At the peak of a child’s chemical dependency, one of my friends and her husband bought a camper so they could retreat into the wild and walk on pine needles instead of eggshells.  Other friends have kicked their kids out of their homes but permitted them to sleep in the yard or in the garage, a safe outpost that (in theory) spares the rest of the home from the insanity.  A mom friend asked me if she should move away from her family’s hometown with her daughter in tow after her daughter left rehab. Or maybe she should send her daughter away instead?   I wondered the same thing myself.

One year, I wouldn’t permit my son into our home when we were vacationing overseas, so he spent one Christmas Eve in the Hotel Honda in our driveway.   Was he in my home?  No.  Was he in my head?  Yes. So moving away from our home or travelling overseas didn’t solve the problem, which wasn’t my son.  It was me.

That’s because, as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, you are there.”  In other words, I bring my baggage along with me. At my darkest hour, I was at least as wedded to my child’s addiction as he was, and I could never leave it behind no matter where I went.  It colored all I saw and did, and I missed out on a lot…all for what??  My incessant obsession did nothing to help him get sober–it only tortured me.

If I have to lug something along with me, why not make it a dream instead of a demon?  Why not choose faith over fear?  We get to pack the baggage in our lives; let’s choose something that will nourish us, rather than deplete us, as we travel down this road called Life.